August Roundup

August is alway a bumper month for reading. I have three weeks off work and it means I can indulge even more. And I was not just indulging in the reading, the food got quite a large look in as the scales have shown.

But you are not here to hear about that, you are here because it is all about the books. First of all I must mention the Books About Town post that I did, only so it draws your attention to this wonderful idea. It really was a great fun way of looking at art and thinking of literature and I hope the benches when sold are put somewhere for others to continue to enjoy. There are more I would like to have seen and if money allowed I would have made a return visit.

From the seeing the benches, it led to me reading Agatha Christie – Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly* and what I loved about this short story was all the essays which were included in the book and is a must for all Christie Fans.

Crime has not featured heavily for a while on this blog for no real reason than I can say. If it has been crime then it has been of the cosy variety. Which is where two series of books that I am reading come into this category. Carola Dunn – To Davy Jones Below finds Daisy finally married to dear Alec and on a ship to America, it is bound not to be a smooth crossing in more ways than one for them. I am interested in how a marriage is going to now feature in these stories.

Marriage is something Agatha Raisin is not much good at or anything to do with love it seems. In the latest of my reading adventures with her in M.C. Beaton – Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House* it seems she really is at rock bottom and cannot find a way to find something to do with her life as well as what to do about not having a man. Agatha simply wants to be loved.

I know you cannot sometimes beat a bit of ‘chick-lit’, women’s fiction or whatever you want to call it. It is pure balm for the soul, especially when you have read some rather harrowing novels (more of that further down the page). When you have previously read works by this author it is like going out with a friend for a cup of tea and a good old gossip. Katie Fforde – Flora’s Lot* was a book I just devoured, it has everything in it and that bit of escapism which makes these books a must read for me. Same can be said of Veronica Henry – Love on the Rocks*, which brings a holiday dream into a reality and taps into something I am sure many of us have wanted to do. Maybe without all the added twists and turns though! I know I can rely on these authors, just like my friends.

Santa Montefiore – The French Gardener is another author I have gone back to. Her books I have found are a bit hit and miss, but there is something about her prose when she is trying to set a scene which does actually work wonders, in this case rejuvenating a lost garden. She has written a fair few books and it was with some surprise that whilst away on my spa break, i noticed about half a dozen women reading her books. There may have been more but they had kindles and you cannot see what they are reading. Though to be fair books outnumbered the kindles greatly! She seemed to be the author to be seen reading.

I think an author that is going to come on leaps and bounds and one no one would know I was reading as it was Vanessa Greene – Summer Evenings at the Seafront Hotel which is exclusively only on kindle. I have had a binge of reading with this author and now am coveting her latest novel.

Hotel’s in many different ways have been a theme in August, not through choice as it is the main summer season and holiday period for many people but all by default. Ellen Sussman – The Paradise Guest House was a very moving book which dealt with the bombings in Bali and how you have to heal as much emotionally as physically. A very different sort of book.

Another hotel which suffered is in the latest novel by Victoria Hislop – The Sunrise*. We are taken to Cyprus, yet again to somewhere meant to be paradise, only to have conflict thrust up on us in a rather ugly way, dividing families and friends. It is a while since I have read any of Hislop and I had forgotten what a great storyteller she can be about real events and places.

Another ‘summer’ book is Helen Walsh – The Lemon Grove,  in the main because it is set in the heat of the summer in Mallorca. But a sizzling novel because it has so many layers and is very much the book to have read. It is dividing people I can see.

War divides people in many ways. This month I have read two books one set in the First World War and one set in the Second World War. Ben Elton – The First Casualty is September’s book club choice and was a book I picked at random because we were wanting to commemorate the First World War in our own way. I had never read any Ben Elton before and was not sure what I was expecting. Not much if I am to be honest. But this was a book which was well written and very well researched and I found it quite harrowing and gruesome, not violence for the sake of it in a book to sensationalise but because it happened. It is real and people were there. It brings up some interesting points and I look forward to discussing it with everyone.

Another book I was not holding much hope out for was Richard Madeley – Some Day I’ll Find You*. Another ‘famous’ person picking up a pen and creating something just for notoriety and money. Again I was taken aback by how good it was and how it dealt with the Second World War and this need to fight, especially be seen to be a pilot as if it was a glorious job. To die was a mere inconvenience. It was good enough that I have gone and bought his second novel which carries some of the character’s lives on.

It is always good to try something new even if you are a bit skeptical about the writing, like the two previous mentioned books. On many blogs I keep seeing one particular author keep popping up. I thought it was about time I actually read one Angela Thirkell – Pomfret Towers. It was like reading a P.G.Wodehouse book and it was a delight. So much so I think I am going to get some more to read.

What is a delight with reading and blogging is the ability to be able to get books long before they hit the shelves. I spotted Marian Keyes – The Woman Who Stole My Life* on netgalley and was lucky enough to read it. This is very much a departure from the normal Marian Keyes novel and put me in mind of Dawn French’s novel Oh Dear Silvia and Sue Townsend – The Woman who went to Bed For a Year. I look forward to seeing what fans of Keyes think.

If you have been reading this blog for the last couple of months you may well have spotted I have also been lucky enough to get hold of Harriet Evans new novel A Place For Us* the difference being it is in four parts and is being serialised through release digitally first before being published as a complete novel in January 2015. I have only one thing to say about it – I read Part 2 all in one go! And I so want to read Part 3 now!!! (Stamps foot and sulks)

I told you it was a bumper month. And as it closes I have a P.G.Wodehouse on the go as well as reading Marika Cobbold. There is a link here, which Marika will know all about! I wonder what September will bring – more great books I hope.

*Review yet to appear on blog

 

 

 

The Paradise Guest House – Ellen Sussman

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Jamie has returned to what she thought was paradise, the trouble is she had not really experienced the place fully to see its potential and beauty. She was there with Miguel and he had an important question for her.

Paradise was cruelly taken from her last time. There was an explosion.

It was a bomb.

She found Miguel. She could not save him. Something overtook her and she saved others. Until she needed saving herself.

That person was Gabe.

Gabe was in paradise to escape from his past, his grief.

Survival threw these two people together, now Jamie is back and she wants to say sorry and thank you.

Paradise is Bali. The explosion part of our recent past. The bomb really did go off. Paradise was broken, as were people’s lives, both physically and emotionally. Tourists and locals alike. Everyone lost someone or something. Can a place ever come back for that, reinvent itself? Reincarnate?

This book is in some ways a tribute to those who survived and especially those that did not. I learnt much about the island about the people about the aftermath of a terrorist attack. I was moved by such a background to base a story on. The characters for me were not as important as perhaps in some stories as the actual place itself. Bali was the main character. It jumped off the page lyrically in Ellen Sussman’s writing.

I learnt as Jamie began to heal her emotional scars which were very raw when she came back a year later. I learnt as Gabe healed his. And as Bali and it’s people began to see that life goes on, that everything can be reincarnated into something else better, more beautiful whilst holding onto the wonderful memory of past beauty and life.

This is a book which I can’t place. It has a love story at its core between two damaged individuals but actually that is a mere sub plot. It is a book about a place, about an event. I learnt more that way.

Thank you to the publisher for sending this book for an honest review.

This is the second book that I have read by this author and I was a bit wary about picking it up. The first French Lessons did nothing for me and I was left disappointed. Here I think the author has found her correct way with the writing, the story and the characters. I admit it is not a book that I would have ever picked up if it was not sent to me.

I have discovered something new.

To Davy Jones Below – Carola Dunn

Daisy Dal.. Fletcher is back and she is getting used to being married. Having successfully balanced a wedding that suited her status as an honourable and Alec’s as a mere humble policeman with the Metropolitan police they embark on their life together.

Alec’s superiors hope that now Daisy is married she will be less inclined to involve herself in murders and stumble across dead bodies. Oh how little they know Daisy although in the case of this 9th book Scotland Yard were wrong.

After their honeymoon, it seems that Alec’s knowledge and experience are required in America. Especially after successfully helping Caleb Arbuckle’s daughter Gloria in a previous novel. Daisy is not going to be left behind and they join the ship as it makes it’s rather bumpy way across the Atlantic.

As the weather picks up to a storm, it seems that it is affecting the passengers and all of a sudden, there is a man overboard.

Here comes the familiar question in such cases. Did they jump or were they pushed? Or did. Other nature just happen to have a willing hand in their passage out to the treacherous sea.

Alec is with Daisy sharing a moment of newly married bliss when the first man goes overboard. It seems that Alec has the knack of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, just like his wife. Despite being unknown as a policeman on the ship he starts to investigate when seasickness overtakes him and it is left to Daisy to start piecing together the full story.

Then another man goes overboard. It seems this voyage is doomed to be one of murder. Will Alec be able to recover enough to take over from Daisy and ensure that no one else suffers the same fate?

This is one of the stronger Daisy Dalrymple books for me, the storyline is strong and the characters all have their place. My only disappointment was the lack of Belinda, Alec’s daughter who I think has a lot of spirit and makes for an interesting dynamic between the three of them. Daisy is not just a wife (and amateur detective), a writer she is now a stepmother. I think this with the combination of the cross of the classes makes these books a different take on the genre which is becoming ‘cosy’ crime.

The French Gardener – Santa Montefiore

Miranda is very much a city girl, but when with her husband David she moves to the country in attempt to be able to temper their son’s Gus behaviour from school. She finds that maybe the city is not what she originally thought it was and neither is her husband.

Hartington House is where Miranda creates the perfect home for her children, the wild and angry young boy Gus who is looking for a father figure to look up to and his sister Storm who can’t seem to have any friends because of her violent brother. She has created the perfect home for David but he has not fully embraced country life and spends all his week in London and has no wish to interact with anyone when he returns at weekends. Miranda and the children are simply outsiders.

The house is perfect but the garden is not. It was once a garden that everyone in the village envied. The previous occupants of the house were a family who loved life and their garden even more. Miranda thinks that perhaps her family will be complete once the garden is as she learns more about who lived in the house before her. However being a city girl, Miranda needs help but the help she gets come from a stranger.

From a Frenchman who happens to be passing.

This Frenchman seems to have a vision that no one but the past owners have.

What is his story?

The book has a dual story which obviously all interlinks, the house and its garden is the pull in both storylines. How exactly does the Frenchman fit into the past and the present? Whatever he does, he breathes life into the garden and also Miranda and her family.

However it is not just getting the garden perfect that is going to help Miranda finally settle into this new home and life.

This is a typical Santa Montefiore novel, which should not as sound perhaps as scathing as it does. What skill she has as an author is the atmosphere she brings to wherever she is writing about, whether it be in France, Italy, South America or in this case Dorset. You feel the garden growing as you see how Miranda and those before her have nurtured it through love and care and how this simple act has actually given some purpose and meaning to life. For those that have gardens you can see and appreciate the beauty and for those that don’t it is something to behold and aspire to.

An ideal read to brighten up any day whether it be winter or summer.

The Lemon Grove – Helen Walsh

This is the epitome of a summer read – a sizzling summer read. Although that is not a prerequisite of when you read this novel.

Jenn and Greg are on the island of Mallorca. This is their annual holiday, they have been year after year and have built up memories of the place they have shared together and also with Greg’s daughter Emma. This year is going to be different though, Emma is bringing her boyfriend, Nathan.

This is the holiday that is going to change the dynamic of the three of them forever.

The weather is hot, the temperature in the air and between all four of the characters is somewhere just below boiling point. Greg is uncomfortable with his 15 year old daughter and her 17 year old boyfriend. Jenn has assured hin that it will be alright. But then Jenn had only ever seen Nathan, at a distance in the back seat of a car but now he is in front of her….

“…wearing a pair of plain blue swimming shorts, otherwise, he is naked before her. He is muscular, but graceful with it, balletic. He is shockingly pretty……”

The temperature of the book rises yet again. The actions of the characters seem to be reckless. They are on holiday of course when everything seems to merge into a haze. The beauty of bodies and the beauty if the landscape are intoxicating for Jenn, in fact for all of them. You cannot help notice, everything around you in this place.

Helen Walsh has created a novel which has you turning the page in trepidation and disbelief as well as in the deep desire to experience the warmth on your skin and the pleasure of being away from it all. All a combination of such desires and emotions.

The ending was not as anticipated  and if you are looking for such a neatly wrapped ending then you will be disappointed, as the holiday draws to a close, real life beckons and in rather starker terms for them all. However, the holiday will never be forgotten and could like returning to those favourite places always be simmering away underneath the surface.

Worth a read, if only to give an opinion on a book which I can see is dividing its readers.

I coveted this book for a while, because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I am glad I did, I have heard rumblings of something akin to Fifty Shades of Grey (will that book never go away? ) and wanted to make my own mind up. 

And that is the only thing you can do with this book, if you look at the reviews they are so right across the board, not 5 stars or 1 star on Amazon is forging ahead. It is a book which is quite clearly dividing opinion – and I think that is great! 

I thought this was the first novel from Helen Walsh, but there have been some before. Anyone read any and if so would you recommend. 

The First Casualty – Ben Elton

From the cover and the blurb, you know that this is a book about the First World War. You also know that Douglas Kingsley, our detective is being sent out to Ypres to investigate a murder.

All of that in itself, makes for an interesting read but the book starts so far away from it that you begin to wonder quite exactly how all the pieces are going to be woven together. Douglas Kingsley objects to war. Objects so vociferously that he ends up a prison. He ends up being the victim of violence by those who he previously caught and no one can possibly understand the reasons behind his objections. Kingsley cannot understand the legalised violence of war.

There are some dark forces at work everywhere, even during the war and Douglas finds himself knee-deep in war when he never asked to be.

Using the clear logic that he tried to fight his case for not fighting, Kingsley begins to piece together the death of an Army Officer and published poet. It seems that the war cannot cover up murder. But then Kingsley has to reconcile himself that there is murder all around him, but dressed up in a uniform and covered in mud. Elton leaves nothing to the imagination and described the sheer horror that these soldiers had to face on a daily basis. At times it was squeamish but it really leaves you with an impact when as readers none of us have any first hand experience of it. If the book be commended just for that alone it is a worthwhile read.

This was a book which took some time to get going, the murder is not as you would expect at the beginning but half way through and it seems the pace changes once this has happened, because for so long I could not possibly see where any of this was going and therefore had to keep reading.

This was my first experience of reading Elton’s books. It was well written and did not put on any rose-tinted spectacles to cover some of the nastier elements of war and death. I thought it was a good book to introduce many people to the use of World War One in fiction and also that of using such an event to base, what is also a crime novel as well.

This was my book club’s choice. We thought we should be reading some World War One fiction during the next four years as part of our commemoration.  It was a completely random choice on my part and one that I am pleased about.

I have never read Ben Elton before but of course loved Blackadder goes Forth which is set in the trenches, which he co-wrote. (ironically I disliked the first three series) He could well have just taken that from the screen and turned it into a novel, but he has not and that has made the book for me a much richer experience. I could certainly see though this book on the screen, it reads very much like that, but perhaps that is because of Elton’s knowledge and experience in that particular field. 

The question I am currently asking myself is whether I would read any more of his novels? I am not sure is the answer, so if you have read any and can recommend then please let me know. 

 

Books about Town

London Town in fact.

The National Literacy Trust is working with Wild in Art to bring Books about Town to the streets of London in summer 2014. Trails of benches shaped as open books, decorated by professional illustrators and local artists, will appear for the public to enjoy. It will be a unique opportunity to explore the capital’s literary connections, to enjoy art from some of the country’s top artists and to celebrate reading for enjoyment.

At the end of summer 2014, all the benches will be auctioned at an exclusive event in the Southbank Centre to raise funds for the National Literacy Trust’s vital work to raise literacy levels in the UK.

This is such a wonderful idea and I thought that as I had some time off during August and with the bonus of a special offer on the train (that is now a real expensive way to travel to London for me) I wanted to seek out some of the benches. There was no way I was going to see all 50 of them but thought the ones of some of my favourite books and authors would be a great!

The ones I wanted to see were

P G Wodehouse – Jeeves & Wooster

Jeeves & Wooster (front)

Jeeves & Wooster (back)

Agatha Christie – Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly

Hercule Poirot

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James Bond

James Bond

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Mary Poppins (that is me in the background eating an apple!)

Mary Poppins

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So that is a mere 4, not much to ask really was it.

However it turned into even more. First of all there is one of these benches at Waterloo Station which my mum who accompanied me, spotted as we ascend the stairs from the loo. That is one we did not get a picture of, it was being used all the time. Though I am not sure if people realised just what they were sitting on. Only the Mary Poppins one was damaged, whether by accident or design (why begs the question) I don’t know but I have seen in recent days on Twitter that they do go round and touch up the art work.

Then when we were on our way to the Bond/Poirot bench we came across the Pride and  Prejudice one

Pride & Prejudice

And of course you could not think about that D’Arcy without thinking of Bridget’s version (Bridget Jones Diary)

Bridget Jones Diary

And in the most tenuous link I could think of we go to the Fever Pitch bench. (Colin Firth is the link here)

Fever Pitch

St Paul’s was a good place to spot a lot more

Jacqueline Wilson

Dickens In Liverpool

Then there was the Peter Pan, which when you have a mum called Wendy should really have been on my original list

Peter Pan (back)

Peter Pan (front)

The artwork is superb and if I had the money (and somewhere to put one), I would love to purchase one of these unique bits of art.

Wind in the Willows

Above is a close up – not that you would think that – the Wind in the Willows bench.

Wind in the Willows

Of course that should read Jo in London but you can’t have everything I suppose

Katie in London

There was also the Stormbreaker bench, outside the Bank of England but someone was sat on it reading which sums up the whole idea!

The auction for these benches is on 7 October and I wait to see how much some of these benches go for. I hope whoever purchases them perhaps still lets everyone share them.

Discussion was about the Hercule Poirot bench and the story The Greenshore Folly, neither Mum and I or could place the story and if we did then we related it to Miss Marple. But then that could be where television adaptations blur the true literary pieces. All benches have information attached to them and so we read the information on the bench discovered it was an unpublished book (until recently) and so we had to head to Waterstones Piccadilly (Hatchard’s further down the road did not have it) to buy it! Does the cover look familiar?

More about the book in coming days.