Expo 58, Jonathan Coe
White Holiday, Viola Bayley
Good Husband Material , Trisha Ashley
Wish Upon a Star, Trisha Ashley
A Vintage Affair, Isabel Wolff
The Museum of Things Left Behind , Seni Glaister
The Confectioner’s Tale , Laura Madeleine
Memoirs of a Professional Cad, George Sanders
The Rose Garden, Susanna Kearsley
Famous Writers School, Steven Carter
huskyteer lent me Expo 58, which I *loved*. Thomas thinks of himself as an ordinary, dull civil servant with a dull job, a dull wife and little hope of a more interesting future. Then he’s informed by the powers that be that he is to go to Brussels to run part of the British exhibit at Expo 58, a pseudo-English pub called The Britannia. He enjoys the new job, not least because of the beautiful women he meets but fails to realise that he is being used by the security services as an unwitting stooge. I found this and the period detail believable and spot on and I simply loved the double act spooks Radford and Wayne. And the joke. Five stars.
Another loan from huskyteer was Famous Writers School, which I’d never heard of. From the title, with its ambiguous lack of an apostrophe, I expected something odd, and got it. Wendell runs a correspondence course for aspiring writers, which he claims will set them on the road to fame. They cough up, he sends them an example of his own writing (significant) and sets an assignment which he then comments on. (Critiqued is the word, but I really hate that usage.) So we get his writing and that of some of his students. Talk about an unreliable narrator! You can’t believe a word Wendell writes; he’s a complete fantasist and creep. The best parts of the book are the excerpts of a projected novel sent in by Dan. This story is so gripping that you wish you could just read it and forget Wendell and the other students. Unfortunately Wendell, who can’t write for toffee himself, realises the quality of Dan’s work and is obviously bent on plagiarism. A quirky book with two stories going on, both enjoyable in their way.
Just a quick mention of the next two. It’s so long since I read White Holiday that I’d forgotten how good it is. Good as ‘an exciting adventure story for girls’ anyway. Viola Bayley wrote another fifteen books with an exotic (for the time) place name in the title; the others are all called ‘Somewhere Adventure’ and are worth reading if you like old children’s books. Memoirs of a Professional Cad is another offering from Dean Street Press. It’s entertaining but totally unreliable as a memoir; George Sanders was very good at sending himself up.
Now for The Rose Garden, which I bought when it was a Kindle daily deal and I wanted something light to read. Eva’s sister has died and she decides to return the ashes from LA to Cornwall, because of happy holiday memories. As children, they had stayed at Trelowarth with family friends. On her return Eva finds herself welcomed like one of the family and becomes involved in plans to develop the family rose business and save the house for posterity. If this had been all there was to the story I’d have enjoyed it, as there’s nothing I like better than a good restoration-of-old-gardens-and-house book. But there’s an extra dimension: time travel. Eva finds herself randomly slipping back into the eighteenth century and meeting the then inhabitants of the house. Instead of being scared stiff, like a normal person, she is so drawn to a certain man that in the end she has to choose between past and present. By coincidence, I’ve now watched the first two episodes of Outlander, recommended by Mrs Miniver’s Daughter as romantic tosh. Another heroine meets romantic interest in the past but I haven’t got far enough yet to know what her decision will be. Both book and TV series follow the unwritten rule of time travelling and historical fiction: the characters must always be on what to me is the wrong side. They say history is written by the victors but the losers triumph in fiction, over and over again. That would make a good post, if ever I can be bothered to write it.