Books

The Soldier’s Wife – Joanna Trollope

Dan is husband to Alexa, father to twin girls, Flora and Tassy, stepfather to Isabel, son, grandson, son in law, friend and soldier. On return from a six month deployment in Afghanistan Dan cannot seem to find what he is anymore. Being a soldier is the easiest for him than returning to family life, the army life gives him more structure, purpose and plenty of knowns. Families bring plenty of unknowns and no orders on how to deal with them.

Alexa adores her husband and knew exactly what she was getting into upon marriage to Dan and marriage in effect to the army. Constant moving, no property that actually you can call your own, making new friends. Leaving old ones behind as you go to the next posting. Changing schools for the children, in fact it is an upheaval, but with Dan away she is the one to make it work, to fix everything; when he is back she wants to share that responsibility and become Alexa Riley and not Mrs Major Riley.

Dan does not understand, nobody is talking, whilst all around them lives are fracturing in their own way. Isabel is determined to make her point about boarding school, she does not want to be there no one asked her and the only reason she is, is because of the Army, because of Dan. Alexa has a chance of a job, to become herself for a few hours a day, away from the children but she knows she cannot take it, because of the Army, because of Dan.

And so Dan is the catalyst of this story which taps into a conscious of many readers who have experience of not just the Army but the other armed forces as well. I am a  passive observer of such in my working life and can see the correlations that Joanna Trollope has covered. Times are changing and for the better.

It is a story about finding that happy balance, not just for those left at home  those coming back as well.  Trollope taps into something, and shows us inside an institution warts and all. Criticism is abound because it focuses on the more ‘officer’ class soldiers and not the average ‘squaddie’  in the story but actually it reflects everyone’s part. Talking to the Brigadier and his wife, you sense that both Dan and Alexa feel inferior. The book goes a long way to show the class structure, the snobbery, the them and us that makes up part of all these institutions.

A book, which traverses along at a reasonable pace, there was a sense of undercurrent all the way through as the readers are watching something disintegrate. It would not if there was the right time to tell of what has happened at home as well as on the front line. And the right support to deal with wives and girlfriends wanting to not be an extension of their husbands but actually someone to be recognised in their own right. They married the man not the Army, is Trollope’s theme throughout.

It is apparent that research and thought has gone into this book (why shouldn’t it?) because it deals with those who come back from Afghanistan not the people they went with. The scenes where they are dealing with drugs within the regiment, the hard drinking,marriages breaking up, the rehabilitation of those who have lost limbs and the remembrance of those who did not make it back is handled in my opinion well without being too graphic or rose coloured in view. The references to previous conflicts through Dan’s father and grandfather both ex Army was a good tool for reflecting the change that has happened on how returning to domestic and home life  can be dealt with and has been. What the outside world sees is very different from the reality of living with that reunion. Trollope handles it efficiently and effectively, candidly and with empathy without patronising those it is happening to now in the here and now.

Having read only one Joanna Trollope novel many moons ago, I was thrilled to read this book as it has all the composite parts of being an excellent book in typical Trollope style. It would also make a good adaptation for television provided its handled with as much care as Trollope has done with the plot and the characters.

An interesting and thought provoking read, one which I will remember for a long time.

Thank you to Transworld for giving me a copy of the book in return for a review. 

I must go and find some other Joanna Trollope from her back catalogue and remind myself of some of her other great stories that she has written. I remember The Choir more than A Village Affair and I think I probably saw them first on television when I was younger and then ventured into the books because of that. Looking back on my younger reading days, I am not sure if it was these that got me into reading and loving books set in ‘institutions’, villages etc. Or whether it was something else? I endeavour to give it some thought. 

Books

Smut: Two Unseemly Stories – Alan Bennett

Alan Bennett is back with two short stories which are not as exactly ‘smut’ as I would describe them but something perhaps a little bit saucy or different?

The first; The Greening of Mrs Donaldson, tells us about said lady, recently widowed who to make some extra pocket-money rents out a spare room to some lodgers from the local medical school. Much to the horror of her daughter. Through these students Mrs Donaldson takes on another role, that of acting various ailments, illness, diseases and demonstrating to students so they can make proper diagnostic decisions. Mrs Donaldson’s is not that fulfilled any more even when her husband was alive, which is hinted at. So when her lodgers come up with an idea to forgo paying the rent when money is tight, Mrs Donaldson agrees and it leads to a personal awakening for her every night of the week.

The Shielding of Mrs Forbes is for me a dig at all those perfect happy marriages that seems to be portrayed in a Stepford Wife kind of way. Mrs Forbes’ perfect son, Graham is marrying Betty and it is wrong on so many levels for Mrs Forbes but also for Graham. Mrs Forbes is horrified that someone called Betty should marry her son and that such a name is not suitable. But for the sake of keeping up appearances praises her wonderful son who is in banking and not just a banker (Bennett’s irony is apparent in the description of Graham) and despises her daughter in law for not being able to cope and needing the help of her father in law. But Betty is more astute than Graham or his mother give her credit for and deals with everything head on and fulfills all her needs, her father-in-laws, her husbands but nothing can fulfill Mrs Forbes who knows the truth about her son but will not face that head on. Head in the sand would be more appropriate here!

Two short stories which were a disappoint to me. Having only read The Uncommon Reader I was expecting so much more and did not get it. I think Bennett was trying to go for a shock value and the randomness of the first story with Mrs Donaldson was not shocking but actually quite a sad tale that actually made me cringe. Mrs Forbes on the other hand was a lighter tale worth a lot more with humour, I felt more of a story could have been fleshed out of it.

Not a book to start with if you have never read Bennett before but passes the time without much effort.

I received this book from Netgalley for an honest review.

Has anyone read any other Alan Bennett that you could recommend other than The Uncommon Reader, which I loved. 

Books

Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch – Sally Bedell Smith

Here we have a biography of the Queen and in her diamond jubilee year a rather fitting book which takes us from the latest royal event, the marriage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton back to when the Queen’s father became King and she thus became Heir Presumptive, right through some seventy plus years back to the marriage of Prince William.

Sally Bedell-Smith has covered nearly everything you could possibly want in a biography of the Queen, her family and the work she does for the country and perhaps the world as a whole. How much of this book is exact truth remains a mystery? I am rather cynical – as do we ever know what is said or thought by those in ‘The Firm’? A quote from David Attenborough in the book sums it up quite nicely I feel.

an institution that “depends on mystique and the tribal chief in his hut. If any member of the tribe ever sees inside the hut, then the whole system of the tribal chiefdom is damaged and the tribe eventually disintegrates”.

I think here is a book where a lot of second-hand information passed through observers, and information drawn from many other sources; television programmes and the ilk. However this books draws all these things succinctly together and gives a very rounded book.

It covers all the Prime Ministers of the UK, from Churchill to Cameron, American Presidents and other world leaders. Her obvious love for the Antipodes which started many years previous is apparent, although perhaps the inhabitants of these islands have other ideas. Her love of horses is well covered and I was slightly bored at some of this and it went into much detail of the process for breeding etc.But then I loved all the pomp and ceremony of many other events such as the Order of the Garter which were explained fully and well. History learning without you even realising it.

Mention is made of all her children both good and bad including the problem that Lady Diana brought to the Royal family as well as on herself. Perhaps Bedell-Smith is a bit harsh on Diana’s memory but I think we know she was not entirely blameless herself. Effort is made by the Queen in all areas of her life both through her families choices (personal and professional) as well as the strangers she meets on a day-to-day basis where she knows that she will have an everlasting effect for the brief minutes she spends engaging with her subjects.

A good book to perhaps refresh your knowledge of what the Queen does every day, day in day out, no matter where she is in the world or who she is dealing with. The attention to detail and routine is paramount and I think this has been laboured slightly throughout the book to the point there the reader loses interest which is what disappointed me the most about it.

An ideal present for anyone who is a fan of the royals but has perhaps not ventured into reading about them yet.

I received this book from Netgalley for an honest review. 

If pushed I am a royalist and I think that this book is really good and certainly one to be reading in the Diamond Jubilee Year. This I did not plan but have fallen into rather as I have a couple of ‘Royal’ related books to read at some point.

I did not know anything that I did not already know, it may well have refreshed my memory of such things in the “oh yeah, I did know that” kind of way. It was perhaps geared more to an American reader than perhaps British which is maybe why I did not learn anything (not that I pick up a book expecting to learn something).

Perhaps as I have quoted in my review we really do not want to know the complete truth about what goes on as then we lose the mystery of the unique place a Queen and the Royal Family have in our lives. However, that said there can be no doubt that whilst that mystery must remain to some degree the monarchy must be acknowledged that they have moved with their times and changed their attitudes and when television programmes are made of their daily work it gives us an insight into something and takes are minds off what else might be going on that we do not know about. I like the element of mystery but I also like the element of ‘nothing changed’

The wedding the next day…was yet another royal tonic at a time when Britain was plagued by urban race riots and rising unemployment. The atmosphere was exultant….

Not last year’s match but that of some 30 years previous at the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer. Is everything cyclical in this world and the monarch goes through whichever is the most appropriate phase. In my years I have seen a change on how the monarchy has changed nad been perceived and as I work  with members of the Armed Forces I see it again in a different light and different perception is projected.

I think I would like to finish this review with a quote from the book, which the Queen is said to have said some decades ago but is still so true to this day

“I have to be seen to be believed”

Books

Deborah goes to Dover – M.C. Beaton

This is the fifth in the Travelling Matchmaker series by M.C. Beaton, which has been republished no doubt to cash in on all the fans of Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth. But if that is the case then so be it. These rather short novels are a tonic, with a bit of historic romance thrown into the mix they while away a pleasant afternoon.

Miss Hannah Pym decides that her next place to visit is Dover, and with her footman the somewhat roguish Benjamin she sets out for more adventures. That way she will have something to talk to her friend Sir George, brother of her deceased employer about. Is Hannah perhaps after some matchmaking of her own with Sir George and perhaps the travelling is not conducive to this when you are on your own and all around you are potential romances.

This is Hannah’s key skill, despite being a spinster, she can see the potential amongst the fellow passengers on the travelling stage as well as those she encounters when disaster strikes when the coach goes to fast and ends up in a ditch. That is one way to get to know everyone a little better.

Abigail with her mother is off to be married to someone she does not want to, to enable her family to survive. Money is stronger than love. Captain Beltravers is returning to his regiment to forget his marriage but the army is not for him anymore as it took his wife and child and now is taking his happiness.

The coach passengers encounter brother and sister Lord William and Lady Deborah who have spent their idyllic lives hunting, fishing and teasing each other and everyone else. Love comes unexpectedly knocking on their door. When it suits William it does not suit Deborah and then it suits Deborah and not William. Who will triumph and find love along with the others?

You can tell this series is coming to the end with this book (there is only one more left to read – Yvonne goes to York) as there are references to what might have happened to Hannah’s mistress before she ran off with a footman. And Benjamin’s nemesis Lady Carsely is back to seek revenge. So I am off to York to find out if Hannah Pym finally gets herself matched!

Books · Witterings

February Roundup

February has been and gone with an extra day this year, and exceptionally warm weather. Sat outside in the sun reading, albeit with a cardigan on but something which in February’s past would be unheard of. It does mean that the daffodils one of my favourite flowers is out and brightening up the roadside, the garden and the living room!

None of my challenges have been touched this month but that does not matter. Although in some ways I have been doing an anti challenge and buying books! Does that count? Lets not mention it, yes I agree.

So as I look at my ‘daffs’ what have I been reading? Well it feels like February has not been a great month for reading, I have read 6 books which is reasonable and as I do not set myself a target I have nothing to complain about. I think I am disappointed with the fact that I have too many books on the go it just gets me all muddled and a lack of concentration then sets in. This was uppermost in my mind whilst I was reading Helen Dunmore’s – Zennor in Darkness. This book held such promise and I was disappointed with the story. I then felt I could not pick up a book at all for fear of them all being a disappointment. The book did pique an interest in D.H. Lawrence and I learnt a bit about his life which I did not know, and I must commend her descriptions of war, but the rest was just rather disappointing.

Then opposite to all of that, I went from complete disappointment to complete enjoyment of M.L.Stedman’s debut novel The Light Between Oceans (published in April 2012). Another book which is based around the First World War but transports us (no pun intended) to Australia and the Lighthouse keeper down there isolated but not alone.

I then got to the stage when you have enjoyed a book so much you do not want to read a new one, for fear of upsetting the book you have just read. If books were real emotional beings that is. So I went for some easy reading you might say and picked up Lucy-Anne Holmes and (un)like a Virgin. I expected normal fluffy chick-lit and I got more, which as I devoured the book in one day on a very pleasant Saturday I had set aside for myself I found another author who surpasses the cover for which the book is given. It goes with that old saying “never judge a book by its cover”. We all do it I am sure and yes sometimes we get it wrong.

Whilst on about covers of books, I was not drawn to this one and would actually have avoided it in a bookshop because it is pitched for those who watch Scott and Bailey on ITV1. I am not a fan of buying books with the tv-tie in pictures plastered all over the front. I prefer to stick to the original. However, when this landed on my doormat I was intrigued, it is pitched as a prequel to a television programme that was never originally a book so I was in the mood for a bit of crime and dived straight into to Dead to Me by Cath Staincliffe. (Published April 2012). Crime and Thriller books are a fairly new genre to me, I always knew they existed but it  has not been until I started blogging that I have delved more into the genre and found a plethora of authors and books to enjoy.

I seem to be falling into a pattern of reading a gripping book at the beginning of the week and by the time it is finished and Thursday/Friday is round again I am after something a bit more easy-going. I would have thought with the pressures of life it would be the other way round. However, easy reading came in the form of M.C.Beaton and Deborah goes to Dover on my kindle bought for a bargain a while back. Review to follow in the coming days. I have one more of these to go in the series and I will move on to some ‘other’ M.C.Beaton as the whim takes me.

Talking of kindle bargains another one I got before Christmas The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. I started to read a sample and thought this would be good so bought the book, at the same time somewhat surprised that it was actually a children’s novel. It was good but I am not a fan of fantasy genre novels as a rule, Harry Potter not included here.  Sometimes reading a children’s book with adult conceptions and knowledge we perhaps ask for me a bit more?

So that is the books I read and I finish the month with too many books on the go again – too many good books that I want to read? Or too many average books that are not grabbing my attention? You will need to join me in March to see how I get on.