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January 2019



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May Books

The List
Towards the End of the Morning , Michael Frayn
Olive Kitteridge *L, Elizabeth Strout.
The Scholarship Girl , Josephine Elder
Gone Away , Hazel Holt
Jane’s Parlour, O Douglas
The Gentle Art of Domesticity*L, Jane Brocket.
Drama at Silver Spires*L, Ann Bryant.
The Adventures of Margery Allingham *L, Julia Jones
The Beckoning Lady, Margery Allingham.
The Fashion in Shrouds, Margery Allingham
The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers *L, Paul Torday.
You’re a Brick, Angela! The Girls' Story 1839 - 1985, Mary Cadogan and Patricia Craig.
Taken by the Hand, O Douglas.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Fannie Flagg.
Agatha Raisin and Kissing Christmas Goodbye, M C Beaton.

I re-read two of O Douglas’s books last month. Jane’s Parlour is set between the Scottish borders and London and includes several familiar characters from other novels. Taken by the Hand is a slightly unbelievable fairy tale in which a quiet, old-fashioned girl finds happiness unexpectedly. These books are my top comfort reads at the moment and I’m currently re-reading Eliza for Common, about a girl growing up in a Glasgow manse.

I’ve often wondered what The Gentle Art of Domesticity was like and now I know.

My library had three books from Ann Bryant’s School Friends series about the modern boarding school Silver Spires. Each book has a different narrator and each agrees that Silver Spires is the best school in the world. The girls are tremendously supportive of each other but there’s always a Nasty Girl out to make trouble. The books might seem to belong to the classic school story tradition but I found them less convincing than the Trebizon series and I didn’t think much of that.
Drama at Silver Spires is narrated by Georgie. The plot hangs on whether or not she gets to play Amy in a school production based on Little Women. I quite enjoyed it. Rivalry at Silver Spires is the story of Grace, who has a sports scholarship and wants to excel at swimming. Then unpleasant messages about her start appearing in the Silver Spires chatroom. I found this less interesting, probably because it was about sport rather than drama. I abandoned it and didn’t bother reading the third book I’d borrowed.

After reading Julia Jones’ The Adventures of Margery Allingham I moved straight on to a re-read of The Beckoning Lady. I still maintain that it’s not as good as other Allinghams of the period. A very enjoyable read but the plot is opaque, to say the least and at the end I still wasn’t sure what had really happened. The Fashion in Shrouds, a much earlier book, is more reliable. Interesting that Julia Jones said in her biography that Pip’s role in helping with the books was to make things clearer.

I really enjoyed Paul Torday’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen but I found it hard to concentrate on The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers until I got into it. There have been many non-fiction accounts of the recent financial meltdown. THOLCS shows how just a few people were affected. No fears; if you don’t understand economics, in spite of or because of Robert Peston, it’s easy to follow the financial shenanigans in this story. Eck, the main character, is a retired army officer who takes a job with Bilbo, whom he knew at school. Bilbo runs a hedge fund and makes a lot of money. Eck, a good socialiser, signs up clients without ever really understanding how the business works. Charlie Summers is an unsuccessful conman, always on his uppers. His life becomes involved with Eck’s, with a very strange result. This is a slight novel but very enjoyable and reminiscent of Alexander McCall Smith. It might have been called When you ain’t got nothin’, You got nothin’ to lose.

You’re a Brick, Angela!, Mary Cadogan and Patricia Craig. I skimmed through this hoping it might give me a clue for an impossible quiz I’ve been trying to do. No clues, just a reminder of how very much I dislike this snarky, didactic book. Nothing pleases the authors; even Ransome gets sniggered at for Titty’s name. If you’re interested in children’s books, far better to read something by a writer (Victor Watson, for example) who actually enjoys them and won't dismiss pony books because of an authorial objection to hunting or diss all your favourite authors.

I’ve enjoyed several books by Fannie Flagg, so I was pleased to pick up Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. Whistle Stop is a small American town which only exists because of the railroad. In 1986 Mrs Threadgoode is in a retirement home and relives the past through chats with her visitor, Evelyn. We go from the twenties to the present, noting the social changes and the end of Whistle Stop as a community when the trains stop running. I didn’t enjoy this as much as the later books, particularly Standing in the Rainbow, but it is full of charm.

Agatha Raisin and Kissing Christmas Goodbye, M C Beaton. I see I’ve missed at least one book in the series as Agatha is now running her own private detective agency. Sometimes a formulaic, easy to read book is what you need and I enjoy Agatha for that reason. I also like the way she never gives up on life.


I want to know more about The Gentle Art of Domesticity and what you thought! I've seen such wildly differing reviews of it.
It's very pretty but so me, me me and also 'my husband and children'. It was the latter put me off, really. I can't imagine writing a book in which I kept boasting about my child's achievements.
Having discovered O Douglas, I acquired all the novels within a year. I insisted on dustwrappers and I don't think I paid more than £4.00 for any of them. Recently, I've seen them going on eBay for 99p. Does the Scary Shop principle work in reverse?


Your May Books

I so loved Jane's Parlour, and have high hopes of finding those inexpensive O. Douglas' books! I loved the Hazel Holt. I was thinking that if you like Fannie Flagg, you might like Bailey White. Not really like FF but still southern and so real. Most of her books are nonfiction. More here:



I've listened to unabridged audios of many of her books, and her voice is perfect for her writing. You may hear it:


Re: Your May Books

I'll certainly be looking up Bailey White; thanks for the links.

Hope you find the O Douglas books!
Looks like a great month of reading. I was rereading O Douglas too. I too found them quickly and cheaply - though not so easily with dustwrappers and see Greyladies have republised 3 now too. Don't like You're a Brick, Angela! either, but I really loved the Jane Brocket enough to buy the American edition as well!!
My O Douglas re-reading is getting out of hand. I'm glad the books are being republished but the old hardbacks are still cheaper, if you can find them. Glad you agree about You're a Brick!
O. Douglas' books sound lovely, just the kind of thing that I'm in the mood to read.
I think you'd like them! Some have been republished by Greyladies.


I'd been wondering wheter to read You're a Brick, Angela! and now I won't. Academics can sometimes get on my nerves. Nicola@vintage reads
The book is very 1970s Guardian wimmin. I was one myself I suppose but the negative attitude to almost every book ever published for children is irritating. My complaint is that the book is *not* academic, that is, not detached. The authors seem to find what they are looking for (OK, so do academics), which is anti-feminism, snobbery etc. etc. so they can have a good sneer.


O Douglas

I have two Olive Douglas books, not yet read. But they are so pretty I would like to add more to my collection. Apart from hunting for them on Abe, is there anywhere I can look for a full list of her books? She's not listed on www.fantasticfiction.co.uk

Re the Janet Brocket book (she's had three more published since The Gentle Art of Domesticity) I think this is just a pretty coffee-table book, nothing more, nothing less. But it does make us lesser mortals feel a tad inadequate that we don't sew, bake, quilt and also write best-selling books whilst making supper, cleaning the floors, making the beds, even perhaps going out to work!
Margaret P

Re: O Douglas

Penny Plain
The Proper Place
The Day of Small Things
Jane's Parlour
Ann and her Mother
Eliza for Common
The Setons
Taken by the Hand
The House that is our Own

Also her autobiography, forget its name,using her real name, Anna Buchan, and a biography of her brother John.

Agree about the inferiority complex!