The Forgotten Affairs of Youth (Isabel Dalhousie), Alexander McCall Smith
Glimpses of the Moon, Edmund Crispin
Illyrian Spring, Ann Bridge
Chocolate Wishes, Trisha Ashley
Alice by Accident, Lynne Reid Banks
Bertie, May and Mrs Fish, Xandra Bingley
Call to Romance, Maureen Heeley
I Met him Again, Maysie Greig
Half Sick of Shadows, M C Beaton
Take no Farewell, Robert Goddard
Venetian Rhapsody, Denise Robins
The Glass Painter's Daughter, Rachel Hore
By complete coincidence, I read, back to back, two books featuring angels and women who are not quite sure whether or not to believe in them. Chocolate Wishes by Trisha Ashley was one of the 99p Kindle bargains I picked up in the sale. ‘What do you wear for travelling down to London with your ordained ex-rock star former lover, in order to meet a father you only just found out about?’ That sentence gives some idea of how complicated Chloe’s life is. She lives in a strange household with her grandfather, who’s a warlock and famous author, colourful Zillah who keeps house and reads Tarot cards, and much younger half-brother Jake. Years earlier, Chloe gave up university in order to bring up Jake because their feckless mother had disappeared again. Mum was once part of a girl group with two other women. Their children, Felix and Poppy, are Chloe’s best friends, almost like brother and sister. These days Chloe makes a living selling hollow chocolate angels with messages inside. She makes the chocolate herself and there’s a lot of detail about her methods.
The story really begins when grandfather, known as Grumps, announces that their house has been sold and they are all moving to Sticklepond, to a house apparently favourably situated on ley lines. I won’t give a synopsis of the whole story, just say that it involves reconciling pagan beliefs with Christian ones, quite a lot of magic, even more misunderstanding before true love finds a way and lots and lots of chocolate. Plus recipes! Very enjoyable and I’ll really have to read A Winter’s Tale again, because of all the references to Winter’s End.
In The Glass Painter’s Daughter, the angels are glass ones, in particular one featured in a long-lost stained glass window. Fran, a professional musician, returns to the UK because her father is very ill. As so often in Rachel Hore’s books, Fran’s story is mixed up with one from the past. The book is set in London, at the family’s stained glass business. Fran has found her father kindly but secretive; she knows almost nothing about her dead mother. Through researching old diaries and records, she does discover something of the truth and the way her family has been linked to a local church. I enjoyed the book very much but I do have to nit-pick. When Fran visits her father in hospital, she’d ‘even put in an adventure novel by an author he loved.’ Ms Hore, would it kill you to say which author? It might tell us something about the enigmatic father. I also have to point out that ‘to peruse’ does not mean ‘to gaze at’; you do not peruse a window.
The Forgotten Affairs of Youth, is the latest Isabel Dalhousie novel and came from the library. In this mystery she helps an Australian, adopted years before, who wants to know about her birth parents. I had the great pleasure of meeting Mr Cornflower, who appears here under his own name, managing Isabel’s funds. Glimpses of the Moon, by Edmund Crispin was published in 1977 and touted as his ‘First novel for twenty years’ and ‘worth the wait’. I’ve enjoyed other Gervase Fin novels, especially The Moving Toy Shop but I was sadly unable to get through this one. It reads as though it had been written forty years earlier; the facetiousness and attacks on the modern world are intolerable. Surely by the 1970s people had stopped talking about ‘negroes’? The sentences were so convoluted I’d read a whole paragraph and realise I hadn’t taken in a word. What a pity.
huskyteer passed on two books. Alice by Accident is a very enjoyable children’s book by Lynne Reid Banks. The accident is that Alice has a single mother and her father didn’t want her. It’s written in the first person, spelling mistakes and all, in alternating chapters: one intended as a school task and the other telling the truth about her life. I found it very touching and was sorry I finished it in about five minutes because it’s so good. In contrast, Bertie, May and Mrs Fish, by Xandra Bingley, I hated so much at first I thought I’d give up on it. From the cover (think Land Girls and any number of other books about the war) you’d expect a story about old-time farming during the war, something tough but heart warming. Instead, it’s about a ghastly upper class family and, even worse, it’s written in the present tense. I did persevere, just to find out what happened. The writing style is unusual and has been highly praised, although not by me. This book is exactly the kind of thing a Persephone-type publisher will be raving about in fifty years’ time. Huh.
From my shelves, I chose a few of the old romances I’ve picked up and never read. In Call to Romance by Maureen Heeley (Mills & Boon 1952, my copy a 1954 reprint), vicarage miss Anthea decides she must learn to stand on her own feet, leaves large loving family for London, falls for boss Bevil Merringham but doesn’t realize it until the very end of the book. Very similar plotline to others I’ve read but no worse than many more respected books. Maysie Greig’s I Met Him Again was less good, with a very complicated and unbelievable plot. Denise Robins was/is an extremely popular romantic writer; I remember her serials in Woman’s Weekly way back. It’s cheating to include Venetian Rhapsody as I haven’t quite finished it. I’m finding it very interesting as a period piece. In the early 1950s hardly anybody flew anywhere, so Katherine’s flight to Venice is a thrill (and flying was clearly so much more fun in those days) and the descriptions of clothes are really interesting. Katherine is only twenty, yet she sets off on her adventure in a new tweed suit and Jaegar (sic) coat with smart co-ordinating accessories. Another world. You can see the cover here.
Half Sick of Shadows by M C Beaton is another in the Lady Rose Summer & Captain Harry Cathcart series. It’s complete tosh and the author’s staccato style really got on my nerves. Strange that I can enjoy Agatha Raisin but nothing else by this prolific writer. If you want a book you can hardly put down and which will take your mind off everything else, Robert Goddard’s your man. Take no Farewell got off to a slow start, I felt, but became utterly absorbing and ultimately very sad.