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Apr. 27th, 2016


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Reviews Published

100 Book Reviews

Mar. 21st, 2017


A good year for daffodils

Last year, many of my daffodils came up blind, which I couldn’t understand. This year there are hundreds of them out all over the garden and buds promising more. I don’t understand that, either and suppose it’s something to do with weather conditions. I’ve broken my golden rule of taking flower pictures in dull weather (always better) but you get the general idea of profusion, even though the photo shows only one small corner.
more daffs and primrosesCollapse )

Mar. 20th, 2017


The Dark Flood Rises, Margaret Drabble

The last book by Margaret Drabble I reviewed was The Pure Gold Baby, which I liked very much. I see I read it over a weekend. Her most recent novel, The Dark Flood Rises, took me much longer and is the reason I haven’t read many books this month. There it sat on the table and there I sat on the sofa not really wanting to pick it up again. This is because it’s all about ageing and dying, which is a pretty depressing subject for someone my age.

The main character, Fran, is in her seventies but still employed and hyperactive. Her work involves inspecting living facilities for the elderly, a useful way in to the main topic of the book. There is a large cast of characters, mostly comfortably off and many with a literary background. The sometimes tenuous connection between them all is very cleverly woven into the story. It’s a very clever book, written in Drabble’s characteristic style (give me a paragraph from one of her novels and I bet I could guess the author), and absolutely full of literary allusions which I think would pass many people by.

Drabble ponders ways of dealing with age: Fran busily fills every minute while her ex Claude (who is dying) gives in and makes himself as comfortable as possible. The book raises many questions for which Drabble provides no answers. Is it better to die young and avoid old age altogether? Can religion provide consolation? Is life so worth living that it should be clung on to? Call no man happy until he is dead. is quoted at least twice. It’s a good book but one which offers no cheer or hope.

At the market on Saturday, I bought some of those facsimile Crime Club editions of Agatha Christie novels. It was a relief to finish TDFR and turn to Poirot, where a body is just a puzzle and nothing you need care about.

In other news, Winifred Peck's Bewildering Cares is currently free for the Kindle.

Mar. 4th, 2017


The Lark, E Nesbit

Silly me, when I first saw this title, knowing nothing about the book, I thought of birds: The Lark on the Wing, that sort of thing. ‘Lark’ is actually being used in its old fashioned sense of fun. ’Coo, what a lark!’ as young people might have said in 1919, when the book is set. It’s also a Pollyanna-ish way of looking on the bright side of everything.

Jane and Lucilla, young women with expectations, are summoned from boarding school by their guardian/trustee and whisked away to an unknown destination. There they learn that the trustee has absconded after losing their small fortunes, leaving them with a cottage and £500.00 in the bank. Are they downhearted? Of course not, because Jane declares that every difficulty will be ‘a lark’. They begin by almost accidentally selling flowers from their garden. When they are given the use of a large garden nearby, they expand the business into a market garden and employ a gardener. Things do just happen to these girls! The big house also falls into their laps and they decide they must have Pigs, or paying guests to pay for it. Things go wrong but never mind, it’s all a lark!

None of these things would be possible without the (sometimes unwelcome) help of an obliging young man called Mr Rochester, nephew of the owner of the big house. Why did Nesbit choose those particular names for her main love interest in the novel? The two could not be less like Charlotte Brontë’s characters, and a good thing, too. Perhaps it was a deliberate joke. The book is full of descriptions of things: flowers, old china, old silver, clothes, dainty tablecloths. In her introduction, Charlotte Moore suggests that Nesbit did this remembering more prosperous times, when she herself delighted in acquiring lovely things for her home. Here is an example.

‘They were occupied in covering two easy-chairs with bright chintz. I am sorry to say that they had cut up a pair of curtains twelve feet long by six feet wide so as to avoid the extravagance of buying new cretonne to brighten the sitting room which they were arranging for their new guests. The curtains were beautiful, with purple birds and pink peonies and pagodas of just the right shade of yellow to be worthy to associate with the pinks and the purples. The curtains were lined and bordered with faded rose-coloured Chinese silk, and pounds could not have bought their like. Shillings, on the other hand, and not so very many of them either, could have bought the cretonne. Pity, but do not despise these inexperienced housekeepers. They did not know – how should they?’

In that passage you see the authorial tone of the book: wonderfully descriptive and wryly commenting on events as they unfold. This book is a lovely piece of froth, sparkling with Nesbit’s wit and just a touch of magic. The kind of book you might write to cheer yourself up. I am so glad that it’s been reissued as a Furrowed Middlebrow book and many thanks to Dean Street Press for giving me a preview. Highly recommended.

Mar. 1st, 2017


February books

Sober as a Judge, Henry Cecil
The Warrielaw Jewel , Winifred Peck
Keeping Secrets, Sue Gee
The Woman who Walked in Sunshine , Alexander McCall Smith
The Little Beach Street Bakery, Jenny Colgan
A Secret Garden , Katie Fforde
The Second Bride , Katharine Swartz
The Murder at Sissingham Hall, Clara Benson
With the Sun in my Eyes, Beverley Nichols
Currently reading: The Lark, E Nesbit
reviewsCollapse )

Miss Treadway bargain today

This book is 99p for the Kindle today.

Feb. 27th, 2017


Two new books for February

Katie Fforde is always a reliable light read. I was of course attracted to a book which has so much in it about gardening. Philly is a young woman who lives with her charming grandfather and runs a small nursery. Her best customer is Lorna, an older woman who is restoring the garden of a big house. The house belongs to Peter, whom she’s known forever and has a tendresse for but he’s taken up with an extremely managing younger woman whom he met on the internet. Peter’s mother Anthea is one of those formidably energetic seventy-somethings we’d all like to be one day. Two more characters then enter the scene: Jack, a sculptor and Lucien, a handsome young man who has broken with his grand family in order to follow his dreams and become a chef.

The garden restoration is perhaps too quickly and easily achieved but this is fiction and at least Katie Fforde bothers to put in some plant names. The ‘Secret Garden’ of the title is found at the bottom of Anthea’s garden: it has a wall and a door covered in brambles and everything! No need of a robin to show the way. This is also transformed remarkably quickly into a magical place.

There are three sets of lovers in this book and it’s nice that two of them are older couples. Lorna’s doubts and fears about starting a new relationship in her fifties are very convincingly described. I found the book a little thin but enjoyed it very much while I was actually reading it. Gardens and happy endings: what’s not to like?
The Second BrideCollapse )

Feb. 18th, 2017


Today's book bargain

Three Angela Marchmont novels by Clara Benson are currently free from Amazon for the Kindle. The titles are: The Murder at Sissingham Hall, The Mystery at Underwood House, The Treasure at Poldarrow Point. These mysteries are set in the 1920s.

I'd completely forgotten that I'd previously read The Murder at Sissingham Hall. I see I described it as an enjoyable light read.

Feb. 13th, 2017


The Woman who Walked in Sunshine, Alexander McCall Smith

Mma Ramotswe, founder and owner of The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Gabarone, Botswana, sat in her office, a steaming cup of redbush tea in front of her. Her former secretary and now colleague, Mma Makutsi, was busy at her own desk. ‘Mma,’ said Mma Ramotswe. ‘I have some news.’
‘You have some news, Mma? What is this news? I hope it is good news.’
‘It is about Mr Alexander McCall Smith. He has written another book about us. It is the sixteenth book.’
‘Ow!’ said Mma Makutsi. ‘Sixteen books! That is a lot of books, Mma. I think Mr Alexander McCall Smith is a very clever man. It is very clever to write sixteen books about the same people.’
‘Yes. Mr Alexander McCall Smith is a very clever man. He writes many other books as well.’

Mma Ramotswe reflected for a while on how it all began. After her beloved daddy Obed Ramotswe, that great judge of cattle, had become late, she had been very sad. But she had bought her house on Zebra Drive and started her own business. Later she had married that good and kind man, Mr J L B Matekoni, proprietor of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. There had been many cases since that time. She sighed. Those were exciting days. But now?
‘I have been thinking, Mma,’ she said.
‘Yes? What have you been thinking, Mma Ramotswe? Have you been thinking about the sixteen books?’
‘I have been thinking that there is nothing more to say. That is what I am thinking.’
‘What are you saying, Mma? Are you saying there is nothing more to say about us?’
‘Yes, that is what I am saying. That there is nothing more to say.’
‘I think you are right, Mma. Sometimes there is nothing more to say about a thing. That is well known.’

Mma Ramotswe drank her tea. Outside, the sun beat down. Soon there would be rain. The grass would grow and the cattle would feed. Life would go on.

Thousands of miles away, callmemadam was reading the book the ladies had been discussing. ‘I think it is time for this series to end,’ she thought. ‘That is what I think.’

I read this book courtesy of NetGalley.

Feb. 6th, 2017


The Warrielaw Jewel, Winifred Peck

I enjoyed Bewildering Cares (reviewed here), and thought I’d try one of Peck’s detective novels, reissued by Dean Street Press. Her detective stories had previously sunk without trace and, according to the introduction to this one, merited the barest mention in her obituary. This is very unfair as The Warrielaw Jewel is far better than many crime stories currently being published again. I loved it!

The story is told in the first person by Betty, an Englishwoman married to a Scottish lawyer. She’s looking back to the early days of her marriage, before the First World War. It’s a book full of interest for anyone living in or knowing Edinburgh and it’s gossipy, village-y society. As a new bride, Betty is plunged into a round of visits to and from people in her husband’s upper middle class circle. Amongst these are the extraordinary Warrielaws. The family were once great landowners but now two spinster sisters live in an old, decaying house, looked after by a loyal servant. The house and its contents belong to the elder sister, Jessica and Betty’s husband John is her lawyer. ‘All Warrielaws hate each other’ is one of many sayings about the family and it’s soon obvious. Miss Mary shares the house with dominant Jessica, who infuriates her many relatives by selling off treasures from the house and giving the money to her charming nephew, whom she dotes on, rather than spending it on the house.

The Warrielaw Jewel, known as the fairy jewel, is an ancient and beautiful thing and everyone is outraged when Jessica decides to sell it. But, the jewel disappears, a murder follows and a man is on trial for his life. For Betty, now closely involved, this is a period of horror. The mystery is absorbing and the book full of clues. At one point, towards the end, the author states that the reader now has every detail necessary to solve the crime and issues a challenge to do so before the end of the book. I was only partly right. There’s plenty of basic detective work involving timings, investigated by John’s friend Bob Stuart, an astute retired policeman. I won’t give anything away. The characterisation is what made this book special for me. A large cast of oddities and the Edinburgh background make it a real novel, not just a puzzle. Not a dull word in it.

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