Murder at Fenwold, Christopher Bush
Dancing Death, Christopher Bush
A Matter of Loyalty , Anselm Audley and Elizabeth Edmondson
An Almost Perfect Christmas, Nina Stibbe
Paradise Lodge, Nina Stibbe
The Key of Rose Cottage, Margaret Baker
Holiday Summer, Decie Merwin
On the Bright Side The New Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 85
Dear Mrs Bird, A J Pearce
The Lie Tree, Frances Hardinge
The Little Teashop of Lost and Found, Trisha Ashley
Dean Street Press are publishing all 63 of Christopher Bush’s detective stories. The first batch of twelve features amateur sleuth Ludovic Travers, who is described as eccentric, although I don’t see it. Christopher Bush came from a humble background yet went on to be a very successful writer and member of the Detection Club. Dean Street kindly sent me two e-books to read. Murder at Fenwold is a country house mystery which I quite enjoyed. The second book, Dancing Death, I’m afraid I gave up on. I couldn’t make head nor tail of it, with its hordes of characters and confusing narrative. As it’s a Christmas story, I may go back to it later.
Nina Stibbe is a funny writer, no question. I like Love, Nina so much that I’ve read it three times. Her latest book, An Almost Perfect Christmas came out on 2nd November and I read it courtesy of NetGalley. There’s plenty of humour here, from how to deal with a turkey (or not), to acceptable gifts and the skill of regifting (what a word!). An amusing, light read but I felt it had ‘produced for the Christmas market’ all over it. I did like this description of Nina’s venerable Christmas tree: ‘Every year it has looked a bit scrawnier, but never has it died. It is the Tithonus of Christmas trees – seeming to possess immortality, but not eternal youth, and no desire to grow or thrive.’ An Almost Perfect Christmas is already listed on Amazon as a bestseller!
After that I read another Stibbe book, which I’d missed: Paradise Lodge. It’s the story of a bright schoolgirl making extra money by working in a nursing home. She’s fifteen! It would create a scandal if such a thing really happened today and got out. The story mixes life at the nursing home, an unsatisfactory home life with a ditzy mum and pressures from school to stop bunking off, pass her exams and make something of herself. It certainly kept my interest.
Blogger Furrowed Middlebrow was compiling yet another list, this time of little known American women writers and one he came up with was Margaret Baker, author of The Key of Rose Cottage. It turned out that she was not American after all, but mention of the book made me want to read it again. It’s a simple, happy story for girls. Three girls are to spend a summer at their aunt’s cottage but as a result of a series of crossed wires, find themselves living there alone and with no money. How they cope with the housekeeping and try to raise funds makes for an entertaining story. Right next to it on the shelf was Holiday Summer by Decie Merwin, who really was American. I’ve written about the book before, here. I really enjoyed these two re-reads.
On the Bright Side The New Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 85 won’t be out until January but I had an advance proof from NetGalley. I liked the first book by ‘Mr Groen’ and wrote about it here. Hendrik is now 85 and this sequel doesn’t disappoint. The Old-But-Not-Dead Club continues to thrive, with its gallant old members determined to make the most of the life that’s left to them. In this book Henk has to face a terrible loss and sometimes finds it hard to keep cheerful in the face of increasing decrepitude, which is described with wry humour. Life in the Amsterdam old people’s home still strikes him as ridiculous and he has trenchant views on events in the world and Dutch politics. He may complain of loss of memory but it’s clear he still has all his marbles. Like the other members of the Club, he keeps on keeping on, maintaining self-respect by being always smartly dressed and never saying ‘No’ to an opportunity to try something new. Picture two octogenarians whizzing along on their mobility scooters, with children waving at them. Or a group of ‘elders’ trying out a new restaurant, where the young staff treat them with respect and kindness. It’s very touching.
Another book not out until next year is Dear Mrs Bird by A J Pearce. (5th April 2018.) This is a first novel and the publishers seem to have high hopes for it. 1940 and our heroine Emmeline dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent. Instead, through a misunderstanding she takes a secretarial job with a failing women’s magazine. The formidable ‘Mrs Bird’ is the paper’s agony aunt but refuses to deal with any ‘unpleasantness’ i.e most of the problems readers write in with. Emmeline secretly and dangerously (for her job) begins answering some of the letters herself because she feels sorry for the writers. This was such a good idea and could have worked well but for me it doesn’t come off. There’s no real need for the story to be set in wartime; early 1950s would have done. It’s really two books: Emmeline and her ambition and Emmeline and the war. Judging by the breathless, schoolgirl style of her writing, she would never have made a war correspondent, so that aspect is rather silly.
huskyteer lent me The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. It’s a children’s book and absolutely brilliant; no wonder it won the Costa Book of the Year prize in 2015. Why hadn’t I heard of it? It’s the best book I read all month. Almost a variation on Fanny and the Monsters (a young Victorian girl fascinated by science), but with magic, fear and mystery.
I thought The Little Teashop of Lost and Found by my favourite Trisha Ashley would be a nice cosy read for a weekend. By page thirty four there had been three sudden deaths and a series of disasters for the heroine, Alice Rose. Fear not, nothing keeps an Ashley heroine down for long. After spending about ten years working as a baker in various Cornish cafés and restaurants, Alice thinks she’s met the love of her life and moves up north with him. Suddenly alone again (can’t put in spoilers), she decides to move to Haworth and open a superior tea shop. Why Haworth? Because her background is strange: she was abandoned as a new born baby on the moors, miraculously rescued, and adopted by a loving father and indifferent mother. She wants to find out who her birth mother is and starts nosing around. Cleverly, each chapter begins with a paragraph or so written by the birth mother. As the book progresses, the mother and child reunion draws ever closer and is a big surprise when it takes place. The great thing about Trisha Ashley’s books is that no one is ever left to struggle alone; there’s always people around to help them and, naturally, a handsome hero.
I may not have been much impressed by the Christopher Bush novels I’ve tried so far, but they certainly have stylish covers.