The Murder at the Vicarage – Agatha Christie

The local Vicar of St Mary Mead, narrates this murder mystery from the pen of Agatha Christie.

His name is Leonard Clement and he resides at the vicarage with his much younger wife, Griselda and his nephew Dennis. One evening he is expecting a visit from Colonel Protheroe, but when he unexpectedly gets called away to a sick parishioner, his maid lets the colonel enter to wait.

Upon return the colonel is found dead. Shot in the head.

Within hours, someone has handed themselves in.

Then someone else steps forward and claims to be the perpetrator.

But it all just does not make sense.

Shots were fired, but not heard. Letters were written but by which hand. Time is being manipulated.

Everyone was seen, everyone is the little village from the butcher boy, the unknown lady visiting the village,  the curate, even the vicar has an alibi. And whilst everyone was seen, everyone is suspected. The vicar somehow becomes the advocate in getting to the truth and he is being guided by the eponymous Miss Marple;

“There is no detective in England equal to a spinster lady of uncertain age with plenty of time on her hands.”

And so the world is introduced to the lady who has observed human nature from her own little village and can apply the most innocent of goings on to the most complicated of murders.

This is truly one of the classic Agatha Christie novels and shows the skill that the author has of weaving her tale, setting you down on the right and maybe wrong path and seeing if you can find the answer out before the denouement at the end of the book.

I have seen the TV adaptation of this book many a time and knew “whodunit”. However as I was reading, I suddenly started to doubt the version  had seen and that perhaps I was wrong and they have changed it all for televisual effect. (They had not). That just showed me the beauty of Christie’s writing that you actually start to doubt yourself and have to see it all through to the end just to make sure. 

I read my mum’s copy of the book, and it is the one shown above. It is very tatty with yellowing pages and rather broken at the spine. Somehow it felt just right to be reading such a story from such a well handled book. 

Amelia Grey’s Fireside Dream – Abby Clements

Amelia has a dream of a cosy cottage, an open log fire, with all the rooms decorated just so. All her own work. It is a dream, she really lives in a flat in London and is a teacher in a secondary school.

But actions force Amelia to confront her dream head on and finally she is out of London and in the country. Working her way to creating the perfect cottage. It is not going to be easy for Amelia nor is it going to be perfect.

Rather than walking into the perfect place, Amelia and her husband Jack decide to makeover a cottage which needs a lot of work. Jack, is less than reluctant about the whole idea from moving to the country let alone renovating a cottage with no skills of their own.

Amelia is a determined woman and character and she begins to throw her whole energy to this one task. She has mood boards for each room, which precede a number of the chapters as we see this cottage come to life but Amelia’s stability with Jack, her mother and her new-found love, a dad who owes money as well as a rather spiky teenage sister start to crumble.

This is a very light read but for me was  a bit like watching a renovation programme on television from beginning to end, all the details, the stresses and strains of renovating and the problems and discoveries along the way. It felt like the characters were added in after all of that. Which is a real shame, because I thought the book had potential, especially when Amelia found something about the previous owner. But that really was rather glossed over and could have developed a lot more.

A book for fans of dreaming over interior magazines and the like. But if you want a story with a lot more substance then I would pass this book by.

I hate to be disappointed by a book. You spend energy reading it (and obviously money buying it) and you hope to get something back from it. I was sadden that this really was like a Country Life magazine brought to life and that the characters were an afterthought. It was as if the mood boards, which were created take on a life of their own and the story was formed, then there was the case of fitting some characters in. Trouble is they did not fit in well and I found it a struggle to actually like or dislike them.

I enjoyed seeing the cottage develop and yes I would love to live in a cottage with no neighbours, in a village where you can feel part of the community, it was a bit like reading a dream that many people including me have. Reading a dream but not reading a story.

It is with reluctance I would pick up another novel by this author. However I am always prepared to give the benefit of the doubt. 

 

A Place For Us – Harriet Evans

This is a very different sort of approach to not just the review but the book as well. It started when I received a letter from Headline, telling me all about a new book from Harriet Evans which will be released in January 2015! In Six months time. Well if that is not a tease what else is?

The book A Place for Us:

“is an emotionally charged novel that will wrap you up in a warm embrace as it nodes to the golden age of epic women’s fiction but with a vibrancy of its own. The author introduces the Winter family, ostensibly a picture perfect household set in the beautiful bucolic surroundings of Winterfold”

Now I have never read anything by Harriet Evans before, I have a vague recollection of perhaps picking up one of her books in the past but never actually reading it. I was intrigued by what was going to happen in this novel, so my interest was piqued.

Then came a parcel:

a place for us

 

In it was the press release, a postcard inviting me to Martha  80th birthday party. It states on the card, there will be an important announcement made. As well as family tree of sorts which shows you the names of characters and how they all seem to be encircled at Winterfold.

Well it would have been rude not to accept the invitation.

So as you can see by the top right hand part of the picture, there is the book – but not all of the book. No Part One on the book. The “digital bods at Headline” have decided to wet literary appetites by releasing this book as a series, digitally starting on the 31St July. (The state of the book is atrocious – this clearly is my fault for getting it wet whilst in a torrential downpour – I hang my head in shame)

And so to the book, we are introduced to everyone that you can see named above.

Martha Winter is turning 80 and she decides to turn her whole families life upside down. But we don’t know why, we don’t know how all we know is that it is going to happen at her birthday party, to which we have all been invited.

Of course we are going to see other people

David, Martha’s husband. The creator of Wilbur the Dog and Daisy, cartoon characters that has kept the money coming in and infiltrated everyone’s household. Trouble is Daisy was not a fantasy character.

Daisy is in fact Martha and David’s daughter who lives in India and hardly ever returns to her family home and everything she left behind. Including Cat.

Florence is Daisy’s sister and she also is not in the vicinity of the family home. She has her parents love of art an is a Professor employed to lecture in the city of her name.

The two girls, have an older brother Bill, who as the local GP is the one who is around his parent’s the most. A character who came across as the reliable one, not flighty or have sort of fancies. Trouble is his life is not all that it seems and his younger wife Karen, seems to be distracted.

Lucy Bill’s daughter is trying to make her mark in journalism, but is struggling that is until the vulture of her editor hits upon the idea of life with the creator of Wilbur and Daisy. Could Lucy be about to bring the past hurtling into the present?

Of course there are more characters, and the first part of this novel is setting the scene, we learn about them from each individual chapter set aside for them but we learn even more when they are mentioned by others. It is a slow start,  but it is the right start, anything else would mean that the book would peak too soon and our interest will wane.

And so it looks like everyone is going to return for the party……..

That is where Part One ends and I cannot wait for Part Two.

This is an interesting idea and I have never read anything in serialisation form before. Not even those books or excerpts that are published in newspapers/magazines. This must have been what it was like when Charles Dickens was creating and weaving his tales. Teasing the reader with all the information and then making them wait, whilst he concentrated on another part of the story. It is certainly working for me.

So what is going to happen in Part Two?

Six in Six – 2014 Version

It has taken me long enough, but I am here with my Six in Six. Thank you to everyone that has participated so far, I hope I have managed to get across to see your blog and comment. At the end of July/beginning of August I hope to round up all those that have participated and of course add all those new categories for future years too!

So without further ado….

  • Six books that are related to The Great War or Second World War

Martin Davis – The Year After

Elizabeth Speller – The Return of Captain John Emmett

Mary Fitzgerald – When I Was Young

Anna Hope – Wake

Natasha Solomons – The Novel in the Viola

Monica Dickens – One Pair of Feet

  •  Six authors I have read before

M.C. Beaton

Lucinda Riley

Maureen Lee

Trisha Ashley

Belinda Bauer

Fern Britton

  • Six new authors to me

Jill Dawson

Pierre Lemaitre

Diane Chamberlain

Phil Hogan

Graeme Simsion

Elizabeth Speller

  • Six books from the past that drew me back there

Sara Sheridan – London Calling

James Runcie – Sidney Chambers and The Perils of the Night

Rosie Goodwin – A Mother’s Shame

P.L. Travers – Mary Poppins Comes Back

Jill Dawson – Lucky Bunny

Muriel Spark – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

  • Six crime related books

Alex – Pierre Lemaitre

The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith

Dying in the Wool – Frances Brody

The Facts of Life and Death – Belinda Bauer

London Calling – Sara Sheridan

Henrietta Who? – Catherine Aird

  • Six new books I have bought/acquired but not read

Alison Weir – The Marriage Game

Helen Walsh – The Lemon Grove

Linda Gillard – Cauldstane

Philippa Gregory – The White Princess

Carole Matthews – A Place to Call Home

Angela Thirkell – Pomfret Towers

The Return of Captain John Emmett – Elizabeth Speller

For those that survived The First World War, coming home and readjusting was another battle that many were facing. John Emmett returns having survived although not completely unscathed but it is mental wounds that are the most worrying and has caused his whole personality to change.

John is admitted to a nursing home in the hope that these mental wounds can heal. However, one day he is found dead in the surrounding woods. Assumption by all is that it was suicide.

Mary his sister, believes that there is an actual answer to the death of her beloved brother. She writes to a school friend of John’s, Laurence Bartram in the belief that maybe he will be able to make sense of the fact that someone who has survived a war, takes his own life.

Laurence has been through the same war, his tragedy is the loss of his small child and wife.  He has no one, no interest in anything other than writing a book which will never be finished. What was left for him now he had survived the greatest of horrors?

The letter from Mary sparks some sort of interest to find out the truth about his former school friend. He decides perhaps this will give him a purpose. Laurence starts to unravel a mystery not just at home and find answers for Mary but from incidences during the war.

This is a book which is a mystery, a page turner, you inevitably want to know the truth and see that if there is any evil then it has been overcome with good. However, it has its place in historical fiction. The aftermath of the First World War is rarely mentioned in fiction, apart from the Flu Epidemic which took even more lives. Those who returned are just as important as those who never did. Elizabeth Speller is concentrating on an upper class system, the officers at a particular time and in a particular place to bring together the many strands of this story and the mystery to a conclusion.

This is not a sunny story about war and life afterwards. Some of the topics touched upon are distressing and depressing, but I think it is important that all life is covered when trying to embed war into fiction. The research that the author has done, shines through in the book and for me she has seemed to make sure that she has not held back on anything and captured it well. Though the mystery is not part of the research but the imagination of the author, it has been fitted in well, but sometimes a bit too obviously well for it to be quite believable. That aside, though it is the characters and experiences of war, being a certain class, holding a place in life which is what has made the book for me and fascinated me once again for history.

I am going to see Elizabeth Speller at the West Meon Literary Festival and looking forward to hearing her speak. She is sharing the limelight with Anna Hope whose debut novel Wake I reviewed here. Both have dealt with the aftermath of the First World War and both their books should be read if you want to gain an understanding of post war. Life went on for so many. 

 

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle – Monique Roffey

George and Sabine have a rather odd marriage. There is three people in it. The other woman is Trinidad. Not a third person but the actual country.

When George and Sabine Harwood make the move to Trinidad in 1956, they were only meant to be staying for a minimum of three years which was as long as the contract George had with his company. George falls in love with Trinidad  immediately and begins a love affair with the place from the moment he steps off the boat. Not only is this an island vastly different from the England he left in the mid 1950s but he is more of a ‘someone’. He is important, he can buy land, mark his territory make his way further up the class ladder in this small place. George was never going to be that in England.

Sabine cannot reconcile herself to this place, so different from home. She feels so far away and is permanently hot and is counting the days down until she can return to the cool place of England and not worry about who she speaks to and can be friends with. Sabine is trapped in a place where she cannot speak her mind. The only way she can be free is to get on her bicycle, green and go down meet George from work or simply to try and escape the island which has taken her husband.

The locals all know the White Woman on the Green Bicycle.  One day Sabine stumbles across a gathering of locals who all seem to be enthralled by one speaker – Eric Williams. Sabine learns that he is the leader of the new national party and becomes obsessed with him. His values and his ideals, not in a sexual or romantic way. She wants answers to issues which she feels strongly about, those which affect her maids. People it is frowned upon for her to associate herself with.

Sabine decides to write to him, to explain it all. But she does not send the letter. Sabine continues to write over the years and never send the letter, simply keeping them until one day George finds them.

George sees his future in Trinidad. Sabine does not and this third person drives a wedge between them and it is never resolved. We know this from the very beginning of the novel, as it starts at the end. An interesting concept which I was a bit wary of. You know what happens but how is the author going to take the reader back to the beginning and guiding us through to what we already know in the first few pages.

I struggled with the first 200 pages of the book, all from George’s point of view. I did not warm to him as a character and found his attitude racist and he gave the impression of being a white man there to save the country despite the major changes that were happening. He could not see the change.

Past this we are taken through the rest of the story with Sabine. A character who was really struggling to be heard and seen by her husband. She can see the changes and wants to move away from them, back to a safe environment. However, she cannot do anything to convince her husband and I felt let down by her that she could not make the journey away on her own. Whilst Trinidad held onto her husband, Sabine held onto George and was not prepared to let go.

A different book from what I normally read, I wasn’t sure what I was getting with it and although the story was rather boring in parts, I learnt a lot about Trinidad and the political and colonial history of the place from these two ex- pats. It intrigued me that we had the ending first and I wanted to see how that was going to work out. It worked but perhaps not with the impact it could have done. The language is colourful and in keeping with the culture, my technique is to try and hear the words, so I can get more of an idea. This worked sometimes, but not others and I felt I was reading and had no idea what was being said. These are all minor personal preferences.

The book is perhaps bit too long and unless you have a particular interest in colonial history then this may not be the book for you.

I read this for my book club. It was a random choice which I had seen pop up now and again. However, many members are struggling with it and I can see some not finishing it. I have encouraged them to get past the ‘George’ section as I felt the book got better past there. I know the languages is a struggle for some “Let de dog go bite it,nuh,den dey go see somptin”. It takes a few rereads and not even then did I get it all. Much more difficult than The Help and some have commented on the fact it is similar to The Secret Life of Bees that we have previously read. 

I look forward to our discussion – I venture it could be a short one! 

Readers Day III

The first time I went to newbooks magazine Readers Day – I got lost coming out of the train station and it took me ages to find out exactly where I needed to be. I don’t why as I have been coming to Winchester on the train for years?

The second time in 2013, I had eaten something that did not agree with me and certainly did not feel 100%. I was probably grumpy as well as I could not buy any books either.

So this time for their third event, I hoped that it would be ok. I had some money I wanted to spend, on the new Sara Sheridan novel and a Katie Fforde. I had got the times of the trains right, and knew it came it at 0955 giving me time to get to where I needed to be.

I set off full of high spirit, especially as the night before I had seen another author speak, Alison Weir (more of that in another post) and I was really enjoying the thought of a very ‘bookish’ and ‘literary’ weekend. I had a book to read on the train (more of that in another post – as it is a new type of reading and reviewing) and some for the book swap table.

Then five minutes from the station (I had walked in the interest of fitness) it rained. This was not a few spots of rain, this was a deluge and immediate. I was walking into this rain that I became wet, my hair was dripping, my dress was soaked and my cardigan turned from light blue to dark. When I got to the station and somehow managed to purchase a ticket I went and wrang out my dress and did some rather interesting manoeuvres with the hand dryer. Only the front of me was wet. I then wondered whether this day was doomed….

Drying out on the train and a very fast walk to the lovely setting. What greeted me was some cups of hot coffee and delicious pieces of cake. The Early Grey Tea bread has now been added to a list of things I must bake very soon and I need to seek out a recipe. But the best bit once I had settled myself with a second cup of coffee (and more cake) was the wonderful people you meet and the knowledge that they are all there because they love reading, they love books and they love talking about them.

I made my purchases early on in proceedings and then had to make sure I picked up a Katie Fforde book that I had not read (thank goodness for Goodreads) when I was stopped by Guy Pringle (who runs the event) and who had remembered me, which is also what makes this event so friendly and said he would be coming to me with questions for Sara Sheridan as I had recently blogged about her. Mild panic meant I had to quickly flick back and see what I had written. Luckily nothing controversial and I found the questions I wanted to ask her. Why the character names Vesta and Mirabelle? Churchill and Bevan? I admit to being a bit slow on the up take as although I had worked out the Churchill reference, I had not even thought of Bevan and relating it to Aneurin Bevan.

Here I will put my hand up  and say that I am now even more of a fan of Sara Sheridan. What a wonderful lady to listen to as well. We learnt about her background, Scottish author but university took her to Trinity College in Dublin.  The beauty of accents I think makes all the more for a richer voice and also can make the most innocuous sentence sound threatening “I like your baby”. (It did sound menacing)

It is her historical fiction that I know her best for and have read The Secret Mandarin and when she took a rather odd departure to ‘cosy crime’ I wondered how it would work. Sara admits to liking cosy crime and actually upon discovering the wonderful Agatha Christie and The ABC Murders when she was a young teenager curiously wondered if she had written any more? The Mirabelle Bevan books, set in the 1950s thanks to a discussion with her dad about a woman he saw on Brighton Beach, are likely to be around eleven books in total for the series. How delightful that there is more to come.

But it is always interesting to know more behind the author, the fact that Sara Sheridan has ghost written some celebrity books and did not divulge anything – but left many of us wondering? But also that some people may only recognise the name in the context of journalism. The phenomenal amount of research that she does to make sure she gets it all right had me harking back to my days as a history student and immersing myself in information from the period you are looking at. I really miss them days. Sara admits to being a swot and she made it really cool!

I could go on and wish I had a tape recorder to replay what was said. I avoided taking any notes because I just wanted to absorb so much that was being said. England Expects the third novel in the Mirabelle Bevan series is purchased, signed and waiting to be read.

Where was Guy and Mel from newbooks going to take us next? Well Guy admits it was going to be a bit of a risk. A publisher and not one from a major publishing house but Adam Freudenheim from Pushkin Press. This is the man behind the people who bring us the stories, he is the one who introduces us to some forgotten works of fiction and some new pieces as well. How does a man from America come to be in England via Berlin? Through an interesting determination to work within the literary world I think would be my answer from listening to him. No doubt his time at Penguin has influenced a lot of his choice of works now published. Plus the fact that him and his editorial team speak a vast amount of languages which can only be a bonus when discovering something that has been a phenomenal hit in Holland but never printed in English. Whilst at Penguin he is the man who brought us Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada, a book I have seen but never picked up or attempted to read.

I have always found translated fiction a little bit scary. I have read one Jo Nesbo but that is all. Adam made it all seem very accessible and more so when he introduced The Letter for The King that his children had enjoyed as much as Adam did as each chunk of translation was sent through. I think if your kids enjoy something and are enthusiastic about it then it must be a winner. I am certainly going to look for this book and give it a go. The morning ended with Adam signing books that Pushkin had published which must be a first and I hope he enjoyed the experience and questions from readers as much as I did listening and learning.

What has always worked is good food and good company. We were not let down again, the sandwiches were delicious, the Quiche melted in your mouth and the chocolate brownies were slabs of deliciousness which I devoured along with as much fruit as I could in the vain hope one would cancel out the other? (Don’t worry I know it does not).

The rain held off for lunch, I had dried out although my cardigan was still a wet soggy mess under my chair but I did not care as we were introduced to our next author.

Jake Wallis Simons, is not a name I know as an author. A quick look at the books available to buy showed he was writing some eclectic genres. Both books I saw Jam and The English German Girl looked interesting but I think I wanted to know a bit more if I was going to invest money and time.

Learn I did, not just about the M25 which features in Jam – the story when you are stuck in an overnight traffic jam and the whole colour of society is surrounding you. Based on an experience of Jake’s that he filed for some use at some point. Apparently there is not a neat ending but then life is not like that is it?

Jake also writes for The Telegraph. Another journalist and also a Winchester resident. Now things were slotting into place. I sort of recognised the name but was not sure why. Newspaper articles of course. I am generally not aware of who is writing the pieces I read in the Telegraph which considering I do when I am reading books, this is rather rude. (Note to self – pay more attention) Upon getting home I ‘googled’ and could see that I had indeed read many pieces by him and certainly liked his style and tone of writing. His humour was fun too. Upon being asked to comment on the Coulson/Wade/News International/Phone Hacking he told us all that all Telegraph journalists had received an email saying do not speak of this. Jake did not.

And to be honest, I would have rather baulked about listening to it. However interesting though were his experiences of Creative Writing and the purpose of it being an undergraduate course. This leads on from the earlier remarks in the year by Hanif Kureishi about such courses. The skill and the talent. Which led nicely onto his other novel The English German Girl which was about the kindertransport which was the book that came out of Jake’s PHD course and one that he is following up with a new novel. I look forward to reading both books.

And finally, Katie Fforde. You could say, saving the best to last or that she was the cherry on a very well made cake. However, it was great to interact with someone in the flesh rather than the media of twitter and learn about her experiences with Mills and Boon and how she seemed to have a nemesis who is a friend but has somewhat been in the shadow of her career.

Katie Fforde & Guy Pringle

Yes she does watch television all in the name of research, how on earth would she ever keep up to date on the language which is an ever-moving and changing musical voice of not just the young but the old as well. Ideas come from some many random places, even it seems choir practice threw up a scenario which she just needed to fill in the gaps and the love scene and a book was to be born (Highland Fling).

Her role as President of the RNA (Romantic Novelists Association) is one of head patter and ‘it will be alright dear’ but Katie no doubt does it in a way where it means the most. Of course someone has been there doing it all through her twenty books and no doubt will go beyond – her sisters rather strict guidelines for finding the right home feature in her latest novel The Perfect Match.

Katie is an author I have only recently discovered and whilst I am fairly up to date with her recent work thanks to the publisher, I am so enjoying immensely escaping back with some early stuff. I love the fact that she embraces women as women really are, not flawless, not drop dead gorgeous, not stick thin. Real women, like me. That is why I love her books and now I have met her in person, and she of course has met me I feel even more honoured to read her work. Although seemingly keen to get her signature, I was also conscious of the time and heading back to get the train. Which is why I was first in the queue!

How do you wrap up a thoroughly enjoyable day? I learnt so much, I do miss my days as a student when I was learning from lectures and information would come my way that would set me off on another path.

I also met some lovely people. Guy referred to my blog and I had a couple of people ask me for the address of it. I hope you have found me and I say hello and hope you had a good day as well. I chatted to a lady I sat next to last year, she was on the same train too. Though she probably did not recognise me on the outward journey as I was rather sodden and dishelleved. I can’t recall your name, I do apologise. Hello to Sue who was sat by me and informed me that she subscribed to my blog. I can see you enjoyed immensely Katie Fforde and was just excited as me to see her. It is all rather flattering to get attention from something that started out as a hobby and a way for me to just write about what I have read (and other such nonsense). You never think when you start out on these endeavours there is anyone out there.

So with signed books in hand, I dashed off to get the train…….and guess what…. it was raining……

(Apologies if I have made any faux-pas, this is all done by memory and no notes. So my errors are mine and mine alone!)