A bunch of books I got for Christmas

Not quite a Christmas ~haul post, but I did get rather a lot of books for Christmas and as I always enjoy seeing what people are reading, I figured I’d share.

Clearly I haven’t read all of them yet… Actually half of them are still in Sheffield because books = heavy, especially in a suitcase which is also stuffed with Christmas cake and cheese. I actually can’t remember what all of them are, but here’s what I’ve got from memory – and don’t forget you can follow my IRL-time progress on GoodReads.

1) Good Evening, Mrs Craven – Mollie Panter
A collection of essays covering a housewife’s life during wartime (this ain’t no party),  originally published in The New Yorker and now republished by Persephone.

2) Art Deco Complete – Alastair Duncan
Possibly the heaviest book I own, this glorious tome is packed with art deco porn. It’s coffee table stuff, if your coffee table can stand the weight.

3) The Temptress: The Scandalous Life of Alice, Countess de Janze – Paul Spicer
I really, really like biographies of rich women in the 1920s and this one ties in with another favourite ~scarlet woman – Idina Sackville, who was profiled in The Bolter (and in several Nancy Mitford novels). I’m quite into the Happy Valley business, so this should be a treat read.

4) 1920s Britain – Janet and John Shepherd
I’ll be honest. I added this to my wishlist in a bid to fulfil my desire to own every book about the 1920s on Amazon, without really reading much about it. I mean, it’s nice, but it’s basically a school textbook.

5) Westwood – Stella Gibbons
I’m well aware that this is a classic I should have read – forgive me, I’m on the case.

6) Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
Yes, and this. My step-dad was vaguely horrified at my lack of Stella Gibbons reading, until I pointed out that as the person who raised me it was kind of his fault. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

7) Kitchen Essays – Agnes Jekyll
Another Persephone compilation, this time featuring a series of recipes and food essays written for The Times in the 1920s.

8) West End Front – Matthew Sweet
I’ve wanted this book for a while (since November 11 precisely) and it’s next on my list to read. If you’ve missed hearing about it, it’s essentially about life behind the scenes at the Ritz and other posh London hotels during the war – PROPER SCANDAL. If you like posh scandal, I also recommend a favourite trash read of mine – Stately Passions: The Scandals of Britain’s Greatest Houses by Jamie Douglas-Home.

9) The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
Another classic I’ve somehow missed along the way. Added bonuses; it’s about a butler and it’s set in the 40s.

10) Miss Hargreaves – Frank Baker
I added all of The Bloomsbury Group series to my wishlist and got four, which is a superb start. It sounds like a combination of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day x Mary Poppins, so looking forward to cracking on with it.

11) The Thirties: An Intimate History – Juliet Gardiner
In a bid to move on from my 1920s thing, I’ve got a book about the 1930s see?

12) The Brontes went to Woolworths – Rachel Ferguson
Another one from The Bloomsbury Group series – it just so happens to be a trio of sisters in a bohemian London family in the 1920s, that’s not my fault.

13) Love’s Shadow – Ada Leverson
Another Bloomsbury book! This one shows the slightly OTT covers they all have, which I’ve been attempting to disguise. Pretty sure anyone observing me reading this will assume it’s shit chicklit, when in fact it’s an Edwardian novel about a London couple. IN YOUR FACE, IT’S OLD-TIMEY-CHICKLIT.

14) The Penguin Complete Novels of Nancy Mitford
Well, you all know what this is. Of course as a Mitford monster I have read ’em all, but my life wasn’t going to be complete until I had this doorstopper-sized anthology too.

15) Henrietta’s War: News from the Home Front 1939 – 1942 – Joyce Dennys
A final Bloomsbury book – this one is described as a 1940s version of Adrian Mole, so I can only assume it will be amazing.

16) The World of Jeeves – PG Wodehouse
Well, it wouldn’t be Christmas without some Wodehouse.

17) Shanghai: The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City – Stella Dong
The Wallis Simpson biography I just finished got me pretty interested in Shanghai in the 1920s and 30s and a bit of searching threw up this book as a good source of stories. This is what I’m reading at the moment and while it is mega interesting, it’s less about casinos and opium and glamorous hotels, more about gangland murders and finances. Still, I’m only half way in so we shall see – it is totally fascinating though and a dead good read – again, my fault for not reading more reviews.

18) Straight on Till Morning: The Life of Beryl Markham – Mary S. Lovell
Mary S. Lovell wrote arguably the most famous Mitford biography, so this should be a good read. This book looks at one the most famous female aviators of the 1930s – check out some of my other favourite female fliers from the era here!

19) On Booze – F. Scott Fitzgerald
You’ve heard me harp on about this before – still amazing to get it!

20) The End of the Affair – Graham Greene
One more classic which I haven’t read before – I KNOW, guys. The real question now is, when will I ever be emotionally stable enough to read it? By the way, don’t panic – I have read other Greene, I’m not a total heathen.

Furcoat does Christmas: Books, beautiful books

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1) and 2) It’s not a topic I imagine you’re supposed to talk about, but The Vice Guide to Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll and Do’s and Dont’s: 10 Years of Street Fashion Critiques are the most popular toilet-reading I’ve ever owned. I don’t suppose it would be a good idea to write that on your Christmas present labels but it’s definitely true. Both are, obviously, NSFW, so not a choice for your mother probably.

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3) One of the most-talked about fashion books this year, Irreverent by Carine Roitfeld is a beautiful compendium of the best of Carine’s career. You also get to see the veteran French Vogue editor’s boobs quite a bit. 4) The internet is divided into two camps; those that love Daphne Guinness and those that can’t stand her. I firmly stand in the adoration camp and Daphne Guinness by Valerie Steele documents the style doyenne’s transformation from heiress to high priestess of fashion.

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5) Fashion books are a no-brainer at Christmas and the Yves Saint Laurent compendium by fashion historian Farid Chenoune would be a happy addition to any coffee table. 6) Slightly tricky to find but available in most gallery bookshops, The and Craft of Gianni Versace by laire Wilcox, Valerie Mendes and Chiara Buss is the ideal gift for anyone who worships at the gold, paisley, spandex alter of Versace. Packed with flamboyant designs, 90s supermodels and textile technology, it’s a right old treat for the eyes.

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7) The Book of Skulls by Faye Dowling came out last year but I still don’t own it, so here it is again. Featuring skulls from the ornate to the graphic in branding for such diverse names as Black Sabbath and Hello Kitty, it’s basically just a big book of nice designs. 8) Art Deco Complete is sub-titlted the definitive  guide to the decorative arts of the 1920s and 30s, which tells you all you need to know really. A beautiful hard backed encyclopedia of style, it covers the lot from interiors to adverts, fashion and food.

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9) I’m sure I’m not the only person living in London who is obsessed with buying historical books about my adopted town. Edward Bawden’s London features 200 illustrations from the famous artist, mostly depicting London in the 1920s and 30s, but also work up to the 50s and the Festival of Britain. It’s dead nice! 10) Not a recipe book, just something to look at, A Visual History of Cookery by Duncan McCorquodale features vintage food adverts, posters, propaganda, catalogues, kitchens… really just everything to do with cooking except how to do it.

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11) Sheffield bonus: Round About Chatsworth by the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire (or Debo Mitford to us) just has lots of nice pictures of Chatsworth Estate sooo… always nice. If you’re in Sheffield or surrounding areas, you can probably pick up a signed copy by Debo herself in one of the gift shops. You should! My signed cookbook is one of my favourites. Imagine! A Mitford pen touched it!

Penguin x Ink project

Notes on a Sacandal by Valerie Vargas

The Rotters’ Club by Han van der Sluys

The Accidental by Judd Ripley

I’m the kind of mug that rebuys duplicate copies of my favourite books just because they’ve been tarted up with a limited edition cover. Recent additions include Eley Kishimoto’s re-imagining of Good Behaviour and, obviously, Penguin’s gold embossed editions of Fitzgerald’s finest works.

The latest book re-branding I’ve spotted is Penguin’s Ink project, which sees six British novels given an update from a selection of tattoo artists. Penguin launched the project in the US last year, and now it’s our turn to see some ink-inspired illustration. Unfortunately none of the books are favourites that I want more than two copies of, but they still look nice eh?

[Via Stylist where you can see the rest of the series too.] 

Incredible Bruce Davidson photos of Brooklyn gang, the Jokers

My friend Sofie posted some pictures on Facebook this week from an old Retronaut post. Took me by surprise I have to say, I didn’t think there were any posts left on that site that I hadn’t already pillaged but what do you know? An amazing picture post I’ve never seen!

These images of a Brookyln-based teen gang called the Jokers, and were taken in 1959 by photographer Bruce Davidson. They’re part of a book called (wait for it) Brooklyn Gangs, but you may be disheartened to note it costs over £1,000 on Amazon at the moment. With that in mind, we’d better just enjoy them online for now.

Teenagers really haven’t changed much. Everyone (OK, the Daily Mail) berates today’s generation but young people have always been confused, misunderstood and misinterpreted. If I could make everyone read one book it would be Teenage: The Creation of Youth 1875 – 1945 by Jon Savage which debunks the idea that teenagers were invited in 1950s America and firmly puts pay to the idea that the yoof of today are in any worse than any generation that’s gone before it. It’s a brilliant, inspiring, engrossing read and – don’t let this put you off – was the catalyst for my 1920s obsession. Read it, make me proud.

[See more at How to be a Retronaut]

Fashion at Royal Ascot: Three Centuries of Thoroughbred Style

Last week I was invited to the launch of a book about Ascot style. As a sucker for anything to do with high society and/or fashion I obviously jumped at the chance and the tome in question, Fashion at Royal Ascot: Three Centuries of Thoroughbred Style  combines all the best bits of both.

Although the book appealed as soon as I read what it was about, it was the prospect of the launch itself that really excited me. As those who suffer my inanities on Twitter may have spotted, it was held at Heywood Hill – the bookshop synonymous with Nancy Mitford.

While anyone is obviously welcome to shop at Heywood Hill, the concept of snaffling free booze and mingling with Mitfords in such historical surroundings was an opportunity too good to miss. Even more exciting, a friend of my friends works there and showed us piles of secret Nancy leftovers hidden away in the basement while revealing all sorts of scandalous stories. Too much!

Above we see a shelf of Mitford literature including a few first editions that I inhaled greedily, Nancy’s favourite chair which some chump had just broken and which is now destined to a life in the cellar, and the pigeonholes where orders live now, but where secret letters and special packages once got smuggled.

Adding to the excitement was the presence of a genuine living breathing Mitfordonian granddaughter – alas and alack, I missed which one – and, even better, a speech from Stoker Devonshire – or the Duke, as he is also known. My Mitford dreams came true on Tuesday, I can tell you.

The book itself is a treat for anyone interested in fashion in history and is packed full of beautiful images as well as a good deal of commentary from the author, fashion critic James Sherwood. Released to coincide with the 300th year of Royal Ascot it celebrates three centuries of the event, from hats and handbags to royalty and rioting.

A coffee table-sized thing of beauty packed with pictures from Hollywood interpretations of the races to the likes of Luella and Todd Lynn’s involvement with the event. Obviously my favourite parts cover the 1920s and 30s, as seen above in what has to be the most stylish era of racing.

Now I just need to find a book about Henley style and all my upper class fascinations will be covered…

Making the transition to Filofax

Inspired by the likes of Kris and Gala (and egged on by a very sophisticated, list-writing colleague), this year I delved in to the world of Filofax. I feel like I’m cheating on Moleskine, but whatevs, we’re very happy together. And I still use a Moleskine notepad so… all is not lost.

I really wanted a gold leather version (inspired by my beloved Ladydate), but astoundingly, such a thing doesn’t exist. I settled for what appeared to be the next best thing – the metallic bronze Domino Snake, in ‘personal’ size. I say ‘settled for’, and ‘next best thing’, but it was love at first sight really – and the bronze is more like gold really anyway.

Work has only just got back to normal, so my Filofax is still a little lacking in lists and dates, but I did want to share the all-important storage wallet. My research tells me it’s the done thing to keep something of interest in here, so I opted for a Mexican lotería card, predictably featuring ~LA CALAVERA~. I think I will change it around to fit with my mood, as I have an entire lotería kit which doesn’t actually get played with, and I do like La Sirena a great deal too…

It’s not all skulls though, as my Filofax also includes a rabbit with a lil’ bell in it. My cousin lives in Japan, and sent me it for Christmas, but alas my phone doesn’t have space for phone charm, so it lives here. Ah.

I’m excited about filling my Filofax with all sorts of neat stuff over the coming years – here’s some Flickr inspiration (via Gala):

PS I can’t find a suitable pen anywhere. I want a gold one, but Parker pens are stupidly expensive, and no-one else seems to sell nice gold fountain pens. Wah wah wah.

Any Human Heart: A look at the style behind the show

I blogged a few weeks ago about how excited I was about Channel 4’s adaptation of Any Human Heart. Unfortunately, mere days after I’d written that blog, Virgin Media canceled our TV and Internet as part of an almighty account cock up. Every day I came home and stared at the blinking AP:52 screen (it’s the screen of doom) on our box, wondering when television would once again be a part of our life.

Missing Wagner was bad enough, but missing the only tv series I’ve been excited about in months? It sucks. What made it even better was the fact that both Andy and I said on several separate occasions, ‘oh well, we can just watch it online later’, only to remember that this option wasn’t available either.

Anyway, last night a hero of a technician (he said, “you must have wanted to kill yourself without the internet” – how did he know?) came around, and made everything better. The first thing we did, then, was watch Any Human Heart.

And, as promised, here are my thoughts on the styling. Be aware; spoilers ahead – but only for episode one!

Continue reading “Any Human Heart: A look at the style behind the show”

Luella’s Guide to English Style

Many moons ago, when I was temping for a certain tabloid broadsheet, one of my jobs was typing up press releases for the literary desk. We got press releases for every book that was due to be published over the next six months, and from that synopsis, I had to write another synopsis.

One of the books I was most excited about was Luella’s Guide to English Style. Luella was one of my favourite designers, and at the height of her success. A book by Luella Bartley was therefore A Very Good Thing.

Sadly, the day of the launch came and went, and no book emerged. Still, good things come to those that wait, and after a good long wait, the book is here! Actually, the book came out in October, but what with being busy and the ol’ Internet meltdown, I haven’t quite got round to telling you about it. UNTIL NOW… DUN DUN DUN.

The book is a handsome wedge of a thing, which prompted my friend to ask me if it was a bible. It’s heavy, embossed, and has a rather tasteful neon pink elastic bookmark. It is written, of course, by Luella Bartley – who was an established journalist, and indeed Vogue editor before becoming a designer. Needless to say, she has a way with words. The book also features illustrations by Zoe Taylor and Daniel Laidler, as well as some rather excellent photographs.

The book is divided in to ten sections: Introduction; The Seven Stages of Woman; The British Bosom; Birds of Britain: A Guide; Love, Sex & Tomboys; Tribes of Britannia; Typical English Garb; Pretty in Pink; English Classes; and Shopping.

The Seven Stages of Woman covers the journey (‘veritable romp’) from childhood to ‘Granny Nirvana’, and the varying stages in between. From sulky teenage swagger to dressing for a ‘proper’ job, and being a pensioner – including the Queen, Marianne Faithful et al.

I did enjoy the British Bosom chapter, which covers ‘the Shelf’ and various other varieties. Not entirely sure why it fitted in, but I enjoyed it and – well, after all, good underwear is the foundation of any outfit I suppose.

Birds of Britain: A Guide is probably my favourite section. It covers Luella’s favourite examples of upstanding British women – and just so happens to include some of my favourite ladies. I mean, the chapter opens with a Vita Sackville-West quote;

Be wicked, be brave, be drunk

be reckless, be dissolute, be despotic,

be an anarchist… be anything you

like, but for pity’s sake be it to the top

of your bent. Live – live fully, live

passionately, live disastrously.

And as you see above, a rather fetching portrait of Vita, accompanied by a nice long discussion about why she’s fantastic. Fashion is just the start. The list of Luella’s women is expansive – and while us die-hard fans of her and her work probably won’t find too many surprises in the list, it’s still a good read – full of facts about interesting people.

Obviously Debo is on the list!

The next chapter is Love, Sex & Tomboys, which does what it says on the tin. It discusses the English woman’s attitude to sex and style – why some women are in the bikini and boob job, and why some (especially Luella ladies) are more into a good pocket, reasonable length skirts, and ‘funny’ vintage knitwear.

Next we trundle merrily on to Tribes of Britannia, which covers all the usual aspects like New Romantics and Punks, but also Pony Club and Sloane – this is Luella, after all. We don’t just hear about the tribes either; we also hear about why or why not people assimilate with certain groups, and how it affects – or doesn’t – their style.

Typical English Garb takes a closer look at the garments which make up looks; the key pieces which define you as a Mod, Rocker, or Raver – and why those pieces say what they do. The indepth guide gives you a history of the items in question, as well as an idea about how they became connected to the afore-mentioned ‘tribes’. I learned stuff! And, of course, the pictures are excellent. Look, there’s Withnail and some chaps in Barbours – got to be good, right?

Pretty in Pink makes for an interesting read, particularly for those who subscribe to the Pink Stinks campaign. English Classes does what it says on the tin; and Shopping is a guide to some of Luella’s favourite shops. Some amazing picks, and some top secret finds too – which I will keep quiet about, because you should buy the book.

I’m a Luella nut, this much we know. I was always going to enjoy a book by her, about her style, her influences, her inspirations. That said, Luella is a fabulous writer, and the sections on clothes, tribes, and icons would surely be interesting for anyone interested in fashion – or just social history I guess. There’s some language which makes me go BLARG, but then I am someone that attempts to avoid the use of ‘girl’ at any time. Some references and comments also feel a bit embarrassingly middle class too – but who am I (or is Luella) trying to kid? Embarrassingly middle class is nothing to be embarrassed about…

You can buy the book online… of course

Mad Men: The Illustrated World

I had planned this weekend to do another Mad Men post, inspired this time by Betty Draper’s fabulous equestrian gear – has anyone ever looked so stylish having a nervous breakdown?

I was all raring to go, anyway, when this morning I got an email about the new Dyna Moe book, Mad Men: The Illustrated World. Betty can wait, this is far more important.

Out just in time for Christmas (on sale November 25!), this beautiful book is the only officially licensed tie-in to the series, and features page after pager of glorious Mad Men appreciation. SWOON.

I am eagerly awaiting a preview copy, but I can already reveal that highlights include:


Sally Draper’s drink menu, (because toddlers should learn to mix a Tom Collins at the earliest age possible), hangover remedies, and in-law-appropriate recipes.


Things every secretary should know (discretion and dry-cleaning, presumably?), how to deal with difficult clients, and, maybe, how to get wee out of your trousers before that all important presentation.


Joan dress up paper dolls!! Beehive how-tos!! Advice on ‘not dressing like a little girl’, perhaps?


Dance like Pete (PHWOAR), brush up on horsemanship skills, and maybe even a few one-liners from everyone’s favourite comedian, Jimmy Barrett?

I’m so excited to see this, and without stating the obvious, it would make an amazing gift for any Mad Men worshipping friend this festive season.

Just a note on the lovely illustrations – they are the work of Dyna Moe, the artist behind the marvellous Mad Men Yourself game.