Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers, Alexander McCall Smith
The Hollow Hills , Mary Stewart
A Mystery for Ninepence, Phyllis Gegan
Turned Out Nice Again , Richard Mabey
Hidden Lives A Family Memoir, Margaret Forster
The Perfect Present, Karen Swan
Manna from Hades (Cornish Mystery 1) ,Carola Dunn
This Rough Magic, Mary Stewart
Ribbons and Laces, Ruby M Ayres
For months, it seemed, there were no Kindle Daily Deals to please me. Then I bought three in one week. The first was the Richard Mabey book about the weather, which I’ve already reviewed. Our library currently has a small display of ‘country’ books. I saw at least three other books there by Mabey, so I have some catching up to do.
How could I resist a series by Carola Dunn which I hadn’t yet come across? So far I’ve read twenty Daisy Dalrymple books and there will be another out in December, Heirs of the Body. Manna from Hades is the first in the Cornish Mystery series. The heroine, Eleanor Trewynn is a woman to take to immediately. She and her husband spent their lives in some of the world’s less pleasant places, working for a charity. When he was killed, she decided to retire to Cornwall, buy a shop to raise money for her charity, and live above it in a small flat. It’s always nice to find a book with an older heroine, though not all will be as scatty as Eleanor. Her job has made her practical but not cautious and she’s forever forgetting to lock up her flat or her car or even to remember where the keys are. Luckily she has a neighbour, a younger man, and an efficient friend, the vicar’s wife to keep an eye on her. She’s obviously going to be like Daisy, always falling over bodies; in this first book a body is found right in the shop. This involves Megan, a detective sergeant who also happens to be Eleanor’s niece. The books are set, according to the author, in a vaguely sixties/seventies era, so Megan’s struggles against sexism in the Force are very much part of the story. I absolutely loved this book, which is a perfect example of the classic cosy murder genre: lovely village setting, pleasant and amusing characters, a puzzling plot. It’s such a treat to find a whole new series but to my annoyance, the Dorset library system doesn’t have the next book, A Colourful Death. I’ve already requested the third one, Valley of the Shadow.
I was surprised to see a book by Ruby M Ayres available for 99p (just for the day), then found that Bloomsbury Books have reissued several titles as e-books. Good for them. I wrote here that I’d found Ruby M Ayres a better writer than expected. Ribbons and Laces is completely different from that cosy book. First published in 1924 it reads like a Victorian melodrama. Linda has been brought up in the proverbial lap of luxury. Then, when she’s sixteen, her father’s business fails, her appalling mother leaves home and her father dies. Linda and ‘Grannie’ are left alone with no money. At this stage of the story Linda seems like a sensible, modern girl intent on earning her own living. She’s always loved playing with ‘ribbons and laces’ and plans to go into a shop. She gets a job in a high class drapers’, selling ribbons and gloves as she’d dreamed of doing when she was a little girl. But oh deary me. Seldom can such a stupid little innocent have been exposed to the big bad world. She mixes with people of a kind she’s never met before and is introduced to a Sir Jasper-type baddie known as The Black Prince. When he sets her up in her own shop with a flat above, the little ninny is the only person who can’t see his ulterior motive, insisting that he is good and kind. Of course there is a nice young man who Really Loves Her (why?) but she won’t listen to him or to The Black Prince’s confederate, who repents in a truly Victorian manner and tries to explain to Linda’s deaf ears why people are turning against her. I hardly need say that things end better for Linda than she deserves. My big disappointment was how little there was about ‘ribbons and laces’ and shopkeeping. I’d really hoped to see Linda make a success of a shop through hard work, like Jane in Dorothy Whipple’s High Wages.
The Perfect Present was on my Kindle, unfinished and forgotten about, when I noticed it was out in paperback and went back to it. It seems destined to be a bestseller whatever I say, but here goes. Laura lives in Suffolk with Jack. She makes jewellery. She meets an incredibly handsome man who commissions a charm necklace for his impossibly beautiful wife. Laura has a list of friends to interview so that the charms will tell the story of Cat’s life. Cue a sudden change in Laura’s life: Verbier for skiing, London for parties, all with rich and horrible people. Throughout the book you’re aware of some mystery in Laura’s past life which makes her hide away and suppress her real self. This secret isn’t revealed until the very end and it’s the only thing which kept me reading, as much of the book was boring. There’s a couple of shockers here which an editor should have picked up on. The anatomically impossible person: a ‘short-haired woman with even shorter legs…’ An easily checked factual error: ‘To paraphrase Paxman, she’d started, so she’d finish,’ Any fule kno that should be Humphrys. Duh. You’ll be pleased to hear that Laura comes to terms with her past and looks to a better future, as should be the case in a romance novel.
Scotland Street is my favourite series by AMS so I was pleased to find it at the library just when I wanted to read it. I could read about Bertie and Co. forever. A Mystery for Ninepence is a run of the mill children’s book made more interesting by the start of the mystery; a boy buys a bundle of old books for ninepence. Those were the days. In Hidden Lives Margaret Forster traces her maternal family line and tries to discover more about her grandmother’s life. Her ability to imagine the woman’s life from sketchy information is remarkable. The main conclusion of the book is that women’s lives improved a great deal in the twentieth century. Hmph, they did if you are Margaret Forster. The book is interesting but I couldn’t warm to the author at all when she wrote about herself. This Rough Magic is about dark deeds in Corfu and has the usual Stewart characteristics of a good setting, a beautiful and foolhardy heroine and shocking villains. A pleasantly diverting entertainment.