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May 2019



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September Books

Born Scared, Kevin Brooks. Full review I forgot to post last month
Holding, Graham Norton. Review soon
Secrets Can’t be Kept, E R Punshon
The Amazing Adventure of Jane Smith: A Golden Age Mystery, Patricia Wentworth
Today Will be Different, Maria Semple. Review soon *****
Sidney Chambers and the Forgiveness of Sins, James Runcie
Magpie Murders, Anthony Horowitz. Review soon
A Leap of Faith, Trisha Ashley
It Might Lead Anywhere, E R Punshon
A Chelsea Concerto, Frances Faviell
Currently reading:
Mozart, John Suchet
A Peacock for the Footman, Rachel Ferguson

Here’s a review of Born Scared which I unaccountably forgot to post in September.
‘The much anticipated follow-up title from the multi-award winning author of The Bunker Diary, recipient of the 2014 Carnegie Medal.’
This raises high expectations!
‘Elliot is terrified of almost everything.
From the moment he was born, his life has been governed by acute fear. The only thing that keeps his terrors in check are the pills that he takes every day.
It's Christmas Eve, there's a snowstorm and Elliot's medication is almost gone. His mum nips out to collect his prescription. She'll only be 10 minutes - but then she doesn't come back, Elliot must face his fears and try to find her. She should only be 400 metres away. It might as well be 400 miles...’

I was intrigued by the idea of a boy who has a severe anxiety disorder and is dependent on medication. Elliot spends most of his time in his ‘fear proof’ room and hardly ever leaves the house. He describes the background to the illness which has apparently been with him since birth and how the doctor (one of only three people in the world he’s not scared of), at last found the pills which work for him. Then a disastrous slip up at the pharmacy means that he has the wrong pills, and on Christmas Eve. Elliot’s desperation at the thought of the loss of his medication is brilliantly described. Fear forces him out of the house in the snow in search of Mum and Aunty Shirley, who should have the right pills. The ensuing journey, lost in the dark and snow, would be a nightmare for anyone. It’s even worse for Elliot because there are *people* about, and to him all people are ‘monkems’ and terrifying. These people are actually trying to help him but he keeps running.

It’s odd that a boy who spends all his time in one room is suddenly fit enough to walk, run and climb in awful weather conditions. This is where the book started to go wrong for me. From being a psychological study it turns into an adventure: a battle between a psychopathic criminal and a boy who seems to have developed superpowers. The book was quite interesting enough without these unlikely happenings. Who will read this? It seems to me to be a book for weird kids, who in my opinion shouldn’t be let near it.
Read courtesy of NetGalley

I read three mysteries published by Dean Street Press last month, because they were briefly free for the Kindle. Bargain! Secrets Can’t be Kept by E R Punshon is the twentieth book in the Bobby Owen series. It’s wartime and ‘now followed a distant rumbling in the upper air to tell of the wrath of Britain passing overhead to answer those who had so wantonly provoked it.’ Punshon sometimes expressed views not entirely relevant to the story. The difficulty of finding help in the home (Bobby’s wife Olive would love a cook), is a common theme of the period. I also read the twenty second book, It Might Lead Anywhere. I didn’t enjoy this as much as some of the others: too much thinking and not enough action. Clever, though.

Another freebie was Patricia Wentworth’s The Amazing Adventure of Jane Smith. It’s hard to believe this was her first mystery novel (1923) because it’s so accomplished. The plot is quite preposterous but the story gripping and I love all the detail Wentworth put in about houses and gardens. She was one of those writers who bother to tell you exactly which flowers were to be seen. She used a device in this book which appeared again in Grey Mask,
by which people in a criminal conspiracy are known only by numbers. Chalet School readers will enjoy this: ‘the thought occurred to her that Henry was a solid comfort.’ Recommended.

I do enjoy James Runcie’s Sidney Chambers books but they are getting a little formulaic. In The Forgiveness of Sins, Sidney is promoted to be Archdeacon, which should keep him out of trouble. But it just follows him around. It’s a pity that Sidney’s daughter Anna isn’t made more of a character now that she’s walking and talking.

Trisha Ashley’s A Leap of Faith, was new to me but turns out to have been
previously published in 2001 as The Urge to Jump. Re-titled and repackaged to match her other books, it doesn’t quite fit. I did enjoy it; plenty of humour and food in it as usual but I’d say her books have definitely improved since this one. For anyone wanting to give Trisha Ashley a try, I’d suggest starting with A Winter’s Tale, which introduces characters who reappear in later books.

You may think I’ve been going over the top about Dean Street and Furrowed Middlebrow. Not so. I’m not enjoying A Peacock for the Footman at all.


Rachel Ferguson

When Scott mentioned how good RF's book were months ago, I found one on Amazon for pennies, but couldn't get into it at all. It's buried among piles of books on the shelves so I can't even remember what it was!

Makes me wonder if there is a reason that some books have never been reprinted!

Re: Rachel Ferguson

I'm on the third tedious chapter and still waiting for something to happen!
I've pre-ordered the Chelsea Concerto one (after your fabulous review Barbara - thank you!), but was already hesitant about the RFs (and more so now!) I can't wait to hear what you thought of the new Maria Semple one - count me as one who absolutely loved Bernadette, so have great hopes. Like you, I'm having a great deal of fun with the Patricia Wentworths and how glorious it is to have a whole bunch of them just sitting there on my Kindle for whenever I feel like her reliable charm. Hope you're enjoying the sunshine today in Dorset too. Golden hour in West Hampstead now with lots of lovely light coming in the big bay window.
Sounds like you're having a good day! October weather can be so beautiful.

To put you out of your misery, I loved the Maria Semple book and thought it better than Bernadette. I'll put those reviews up in a couple of days, to give people a break :-)
Wonderful news! Thanks Barbara - will be eager to read the review when you post!