So far, I haven’t read any of the books I put aside for Christmas reading. The way things are going, I won’t believe in Christmas at all until I hear the carols from King’s on Christmas Eve. Here are two books I’ve been reading thanks to NetGalley: Christmas at Carrington’s by Alexandra Brown and Ten Lords A-Leaping by C C Benison.
Did anyone else watch the Channel 4 series Liberty of London? Rather disappointing, I felt; not as good as last year’s BBC 2 documentary Inside Claridges. Carrington’s, the family-owned department store in Mulberry-on-Sea, is also the subject of a reality TV show, one that is carefully planned and scripted by the producer. Georgie Hart, in charge of women’s accessories, finds herself for a giddying time a media celebrity enjoying fame and freebies. This is the third book about Carrington’s and I’m not the target readership for it. If you use expressions like ‘totes’ and ‘well jelz’, if you hyperventilate at the thought of a high end handbag and refer to the goods you sell as ‘merch’, if you think of nothing but gorgeous (preferably rich) men, this is just the book for you. I am being a little unfair because after all, I did finish the book, did find parts of it entertaining and enjoyed being behind the scenes in a department store. It is a fun Christmas read with a happy ending. There’s a lot of guilt-free cake gorging and even cake recipes! It really needed better editing. I can’t be doing with a ‘wedge of tissues’ instead of a ‘wodge’, ‘bollicking’ for 'bollocking’ or ‘Wedgewood blue’ for ‘Wedgwood’.
Ten Lords A-Leaping is C C Benison’s third Father Christmas mystery. Father Tom doesn’t care for that title and asks people to call him ‘Tom’ or ‘Mr Christmas’. This book opens exactly as the title suggests, with the Leaping Lords, ten Peers who enjoy skydiving, jumping in formation to help raise money for Tom’s church. On this occasion, Tom and the PCC are also jumping, Tom landing with a badly sprained ankle. As a result, he is forced to stay at Eggescombe Hall, the grand home of Hector, Lord Fairhaven, who is one of the Leaping Lords. This introduces Tom to an incomprehensible tangle of family relationships; a family tree would have been very helpful. Soon afterwards he discovers the murdered corpse of another Leaping Lord in the Labyrinth. The victim was a thoroughly obnoxious character, so the list of suspects includes just about everyone in the house. As a priest, Tom finds people confiding in him and has to decide exactly what to tell the police. When there’s a second murder, things hot up and I really only got gripped by the book about 70% of the way through (I was reading it on the Kindle). Yet more complications are introduced, with mysteries and murders going back years and I found it all rather muddling. I wasn’t sure I really liked Tom very much; the nicest thing about him is his devotion to his ten-year-old daughter, Miranda. Her friendship with young Max, Hector’s extrovert sprog, provides the book’s only comic relief. The end of the book sets things up for the next one, which will obviously be called Nine Ladies Dancing. As a priestly detective, I preferred James Runcie’s Sidney Chambers. Ten Lords A-Leaping could have done with a little Britpicking, too.
I picked Ruth Thomas's book up at the library because I liked the cover; as good a reason as any. Luisa McKenzie has failed her Highers, so instead of going to university as planned, she’s living at home and working as a teaching assistant. She doesn’t like the job much, nor is she any good at it. Hardly surprising, as the girl is dripping wet, so much so as to strain one’s patience. I started feeling like her poor, puzzled mother and kept looking out for the mental breakdown. By the end of the book it’s clear that this year in Luisa’s life is just a growing up interlude, and I looked back on the rest with a kindlier eye.
Picking up a reserved book at the library the other day, I spotted The Best of Good Housekeeping at Christmas 1922-1962. This is wonderful social history, full of vintage advertisements, stories and advice. I hope to find time to post about it. In lieu of reading all those Christmas books, I’ve been picking favourite Christmas chapters from other books. In ‘Operation Santa Claus’ from Monica Edwards’ Storm Ahead, Tamzin, Lindsey and Diccon take the train to Hastings to buy toys for every child in Westling, using money donated to help families who’ve suffered from the great storm. It’s magical, as is the final chapter, where Tamzin and friends join the village carol singers and then deliver the presents, which are piled high in Cascade’s trap. One of my top Christmas reads. Then there’s St Nicholas and St Valentine from What Katy Did and the end of The Swish of the Curtain, where the Blue Doors go tobogganing in the dark. There are some lovely Christmas chapters in Lorna Hill’s Wells books, if I can find them. Today’s pick is Jeeves and the Yule-tide Spirit from Very Good, Jeeves.