Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Kate Atkinson
A Wilder Rose, Susan Wittig Albert
Virago is Forty, various authors
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce
The Legacy, Katherine Webb
Back When we were Grown-ups, Anne Tyler
Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House, M C Beaton
Rose Under Fire, Elizabeth Wein
Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein
More About John and Mary, Grace James
John and Mary Detectives, Grace James
My Animals and Other Family, Clare Balding
The Fourth Crow, Pat McIntosh
Shadow Baby, Margaret Forster
Hetty Feather, Jacqueline Wilson
Sapphire Battersea, Jacqueline Wilson
When Dovegreyreader posted a review of Behind the Scenes at the Museum, I just had to read it again. Immediately. So I rummaged around, found the book and read it in no time. I enjoyed it very much but was surprised to find it quite different from the book I remembered. How many other books might this be true for, I wonder?
I strongly recommend My Animals and Other Family. Clare Balding has headed each chapter with the name of a beloved horse or dog, then used it as a peg to hang the memories from. Each animal is most beautifully drawn, too. The book starts rather shockingly, giving a strong impression that the Balding parents paid more attention to their animals than to their children. Growing up in such a horsy household was dangerous, too; there are any number of broken bones and other injuries. Clare is certainly a stoic. Her father was a successful racing trainer (now succeeded by his son) and trained horses for the Queen. How many children get given a pony by Her Majesty, or rush into breakfast to find the Queen sitting at the table? While her family and connections may be grand, Clare is as down to earth as you’d expect from her broadcasts and writes refreshingly simply. This is how things were, we got on with it. Not a bad philosophy. Want to know why Princess Anne wouldn’t speak to her for two years? Read the book.
Margaret Forster’s Shadow Baby is about two women who at different times have an illegitimate child who is then adopted. Forster describes the guilt (or lack of it) of the mothers and the attempts of the daughters to track down their mothers. In each case this is done unofficially and amounts to stalking. The story is a little slow, and just when you wonder how there can possibly be any connection between the two cases, a very tenuous link is made. There are no conclusions here, no apportioning of blame, just an exploration of a very difficult issue.
By coincidence, I read two books by Jacqueline Wilson (a cheap find at the market) about another child given away by her mother. Hetty Feather’s mother can’t look after her, so leaves her at the Foundling Hospital. Hetty’s story is told in the first person; believe or not that she remembers being born! She lives first in the country, happy with foster parents and several foster brothers and sisters. When she’s old enough, she has to go back to the Hospital, which she hates. ‘Shudder At The Hardships She Suffers!’, says the dustwrapper blurb. All the girls are trained up to be servants, but this is not Hetty’s plan at all: she dreams of being a writer. Bright, top of the class, highly imaginative, she’s obviously never going to be a model pupil. In the next book, she changes her name to Sapphire Battersea and gallops through various adventures, highly unlikely and rather dangerous for a child of her age. Hetty is a strange mixture of sharpness and almost total ignorance of how the outside world works. She survives through ‘picturing’, imagining a more romantic life for herself and her friends; she only just escapes being totally delusional. Like all Dame Jacky’s books, these are quick, compelling reads. My problem was not liking Hetty very much. A feisty, high spirited heroine is what we usually want but to be so bolshie and downright rude is less endearing to me. Of course, these are the very characteristics which will make other readers love her. Now I have to find the next book in the trilogy, Emerald Star.
The Fourth Crow is the ninth Gil Cunningham murder mystery. I really enjoy these stories set in fifteenth century Glasgow, probably because I know so little about fifteenth century Glasgow. I’ve said before that the books can be very confusing because of the modes of address used and all the complications of Scottish kinship. Sometimes there seem to be just too many characters. So I recommend anyone wanting to try them out to begin at the beginning, with The Harper’s Quine. The appeal for me is the feel of a medieval town and the organization of the households and trades in it.
John and Mary have been bedtime reading. Ultimate comfort.