Books

December Roundup

Looking back at the posts I did last year around this time, I was checking to see whether I had actually done a December Roundup post or whether it had got lost in the mists of Books of the Year. It did not and I have yet as you read this got round to posting about the books of the year for me. Hopefully by the time you are reading this, the post though is scheduled to appear!

So what of December’s reading. Well I had hit book 100 of the year at the end of December so challenge completed in that sense, I used December as my indulging month, mainly because work was flat out right up to the 21st December when I finished and my brain could not and would not cope with great tomes

Christmas themed reading started in November and it continued apace and you cannot go wrong really with a Debbie Macomber and A Merry Little Christmas and it also meant I read the last Cedar Cove book as well. Katie Fforde was a new discovery for me in 2012 and so I topped up with her little short story for this year Staying Away at Christmas. I really want to read some more Katie Fforde in the coming months. Christmas was the theme of my book club’s choice in December; M.C. Beaton – Agatha Raisin Kissing Christmas Goodbye. Not quite Christmas but certainly cosy crime and something that the month was rather dominated with.

Upon finishing work, I needed a quick fix read and so I turned to M.C. Beaton – Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham and was now back to reading them in order. It is always hard to put it down when finished, as I just want to read the next and when they only take an afternoon, evening and morning to read it is even harder! I turned to some other cosy crime reading with Carola Dunn – Damsel in Distress and was reintroduced to Daisy Dalrymple. I have another few on my shelf, but I am so tempted by the offer on The Book People, the next 12 books for only £10. I can find room for them, that is not an issue but should I buy them? Probably a daft question to fellow book lovers!

Cosy crime sated for the month, I did not really go for anything graphic or violent but rather more mysterious with Louise Douglas – In Her Shadow. This was an author I was introduced to through reviewing and not an author I would have previously picked up. Her latest novel, although I was a bit late in reviewing it was great and I heartily do recommend this author and will look out for previous novels.

Another author I have read before was Ali McNamra – Breakfast at Darcy’s. I was taken with the fact that the name is the same as mine (surname) and therefore I felt I would like this book. Sadly I didn’t and upon reflection of this and the first of her novels I read, I was disappointed and feel sad in saying that I will not read any more of hers in the immediate future at least.

But December, was a discovery of a new author Kathleen Tessaro – The Debutante. One of my friends had their eye on this book, a couple of times they had been round and wanted to read it, so I thought I better get round to reading it so I could pass it on. Oh how wonderful it was, it had something of the Downton Abbey and Mitford Sister’s about it and I has the potential for a sequel.

And as the month ends I finish with two rather differing books. I meet Heloise Goodley – An Officer and a Gentlewoman* the telling of a rather brutally honest tale of changing career path in your late twenties and go from being a ‘big thing’ in the city to face down in mud all in the name of Queen and country. A choice that this author made, and a book that makes me feel very humble about paper pushing job for the military.

Familiar author Maureen Lee‘s new novel After the War is Over* is now out and I picked this one up to read, as I have read all her novels and it just seems right to keep on reading them as long as she keeps on writing them. They were books, that I read when I was transitioning from young adult books, to adult books in my late teens and escaping all that teenage angst!

Not a bad month, and not a bad year all in all reading wise. I will be reflecting on that in coming posts.

* Book review yet to appear on this blog.

Books

The Debutante – Kathleen Tessaro

Big houses invariably have their secrets and Endsleigh is one of them. Everything is now being sold as there is no longer anyone who is alive to inherit. Enter Cate and Jack who are tasked to catalogue all the items for auction. 

Cate has her secrets as she arrives back from New York and goes to help her aunt, the owner of an auctioneer’s and valuers. Retreating into work and another world, the world of Endsleigh to escape her thoughts. They are suddenly all exposed for everyone to see and the glimmer of happiness may be lost forever.

Jack, faithful employee of Cate’s aunt is also using work to escape his thoughts. That the woman he loved was not being honest even down to the day she was tragically killed. Can Jack let his barriers down and think about loving someone else, even if they have a past which is too close to home for him to deal with?

As Cate and Jack set about their work, a discovery by Cate means that the mystery of the house is carried on a lot longer. It belonged to Irene Blythe, debutante of the nineteen thirties who had an even more famous sister – Diana ‘Baby’ Blythe who made a mark on society and whose mysterious disappearance has never been solved. Will Cate discover the truth and perhaps find her true self? Or will past secrets never be buried and remain a problem for all those left?

This is an excellent book which built slowly on the story of both the Blythe sisters, (very much in the ilk of the Mitfords) and also the friendship between Cate and Jack. It deals with some rather raw subjects, death, bereavement, unrequited love, forbidden love and forced love in both the present story and the past. The past is told through the form of letters which gave an interesting angle and made a change from the flashback or alternate chapters in telling the story. This combined with the story being divided into three parts and there being no chapter definition meant we were flowing through the tale. It did not ever become fast paced but remained a page turner for me.

This is not some fluffy escapist novel it has much richer layers that need to be peeled away for the reader to enjoy it. Some may find it too slow, and at times I can see how. For me it could have had a stronger ending, but it did have one which left you thinking – what was going to happen to those that were left now that Endsleigh was out of their lives, no matter how it touched them.

This is the first book I have read by this author and I am going to look out for some others as I was rather captured by this story. It had a combination of many things which I enjoy in a novel – the big house, history, the dual time frame and the use of letters to also tell the story of some of the characters. It was a book to curl up with and escape into. A very clever romance and as I say in my review not a fluffy tale which is easily forgotten. 

What resonated with me was some of the descriptions of the beautiful furniture, paintings and items that were discovered by Cate and Jack. Even when Cate described visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum..

“The vast lobby of the Victoria and Albert Museum was a mixture of classical marble architecture and sleek modern interiors; a winding, undulating Chihuly chandelier hung over the information desk; azure and emerald glass twisting in long serpent tentacles like and aquatic, faceless Medusa”. 

I had recently seen what was described above:

V and A EntranceThe photo does not do it justice. (Although I would hate to have to dust it!)

Many mention as I did about the Mitfordesque slant of the characters in this book and the fact that I had recently read about the Mitford Sisters, that I was building on that by reading this novel. Even though I gave up with the book I read about them, I had obviously read enough for much of it to stick and I felt that it enriched my reading more. I certainly would like to read more about the Debutante’s in the future.

If you do ever get to read this book, then I recommend that you read the Author’s Note at the back, this consolidates the ideas that Tessaro had for the book, but also gives some fascinating potential reading for some rather sad subjects which seem to have been swept under the carpet. To mention it in detail would spoil the book for those who have not read it.

Books

Book Club #7 – Agatha Raisin and Kissing Christmas Goodbye – M.C. Beaton

Well last book club of the year, combined with a little bit of a Christmas party that was the way we were going to do it this time round. Now it would be fair to say that I was a bit nervous about this one. For two reasons, mainly the choice of book which I did describe to everyone as ‘Enid Blyton for adults’ and secondly because what on earth were we going to talk about – it was not just an easy lets find some book club questions on the book on the internet! I had to do my research as I realised from my last book club that winging it without questions just does not work! This time I was prepared and to my surprise we  had rather a lot to talk about.

Now to begin with, after cards and presents were exchanged and gossip caught up on and wine poured (bring your own – I provide only the glasses) we got down to have a quick recap on the previous book. (The Last Ten Seconds).  Mainly because many were missing that day, C on holiday, K in hospital. K had still tried to read the book, and I did say that perhaps it was not the right time for her, as she was struggling. Interestingly enough though a few days after that she did pick it up and was suitably gripped by it, not reading it before going to bed but certainly reading it and she loved it. So much that she did get to reading it before bed. K readily admits as did L about the book, not a book they would have normally read. C enjoyed it to and the fast pacing of the book was great.

Oh what a contrast good old Agatha Raisin is. I am pleased to say that everyone loved it. S enjoyed it but would probably not read another. L again enjoyed it and even though we joined the series in book 18, she did not feel she had missed out on anything by not reading the previous novels. In contrast K, was struggling to get into it as she felt she was missing out on too much background. She has since said though she has got into it and is enjoying it. C thought is was fun and quick to read and Agatha was a good character and had some redeeming features.

Nobody guessed whodunnit, but then it did not really matter I suppose. We all thought that Phyllis Tamworthy was an unpleasant creature and that actually could it have been suicide and not murder? Well we know it was murder. L commented on it must be a dangerous place to live, rather like Midsomer Murders I suppose. But also that Agatha was very much a Mrs Bouquet (Keeping up Appearances) and that no matter what she does, she always looks stupid by the end of it.

C wanted to go and live in the village and see what it was all about and loved the fact that they all called themselves by  Mrs this and Mrs that! She was not very keen on the epilogue that told us what happened once the perpetrator was caught, and Agatha had her Christmas to end all Christmases, C likes to continue the story without any help.

W commented that it was Penelope Keith who reads the audio versions of these and that immediately seemed the right person to play role on the television. Here again we refer to the wonderful Patricia Routledge who would probably make a good Agatha, and I thought Julie Walters would be good too, as she has a knack of being able to be someone else in the right clothes, think Mrs Overall (Acorn Antiques) and Petula Gordino (dinnerladies).

But what of M.C. Beaton? What else had she written, well I explained to those gathered that although this was book 18, she was now on book 23 (I think) and that it is normally one a year, and she also writes the Hamish Macbeth novels, which were optioned for television. She is somewhat of  recluse perhaps, but I thought that she looked like how I imagine Agatha Raisin to be – and thanks to the speed of iPad showed everyone a picture! Not what everyone was expecting!

So there we go, a book I would never have thought we would discuss at a book club meeting and one that we found plenty to talk about! L has sought out the first book, because she particularly loved the titles of them. They are quick easy reads so great for escapism. K is still catching up with it and S enjoyed it and was what she needed, but will not be reading more. C I think might seek another couple to read and probably so will W. Me, well I have gone back to reading them in order, because I like to do things like that!

So the book club broke up for its Christmas break with lots of lovely food, drink and company. And for the first book of 2013, well I suggested three and the one that seem to get the most interest on the basis that it was fun and something light as January can be a bleak month is Sue Townsend – The Woman who went to Bed for a Year.

Books

Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham – M.C. Beaton

Agatha seems to have hit rock bottom in this book, the eighth in the series. She is still pining after James Lacey, the neighbour who seems to have dealt cruelly with her heart. The British weather has become unbearably hot even for Agatha, village life is getting to her somewhat and she really needs a pick me up but does not know what to do.

The ladies of the village rate the new hairdresser Mr John as the way to brighten up any lady of a certain age’s pecker and Agatha bites the bullet and decides that perhaps she needs a new look if only to find herself attractive and put James to the back of her mind. Mr John has ideas of his own and a date and a further hair appointment later, it seems that Agatha may have found a happy diversion. That is until Mr John is poisoned in his own salon and it is Agatha that happens to find him.

So now Agatha has something to take her mind off James and everything else and begins her own investigating as to why this man was poisoned and poisoned with a fairly untraceable poison – Ricin. As she begins to talk to other ladies who frequented Mr John’s scissors she is faced with a rather mute audience. It seems Mr John even from the grave has a hold on these women and that if they say anything they may have a lot to lose. So Agatha with the help of Sir Charles a fair weather friend who seems to drop in and out of her life depending on his boredom level go and investigate his house but someone else is there and the heat is turned up – as it is set on fire!

Agatha has a lot of explaining to do to the police, and her friend Bill Wong is not being friendly and she cannot garner any information from him so she is back to investigating with or without Charles and getting her hair done a lot – well you know how these hairdressers talk…….

A quick read, and for once I actually worked out who the culprit was, it stood out like a punk at the Carlsey Ladies Society tea! Agatha is a character you can love and hate in equal measure and although she occasionally shows her softer side it is her hard side that seems to get the results!

I picked this book up because again I wanted a light read, and having read book 18 back for my Book Club, I wanted to familiarise myself where I was originally (I do have a thing about reading books in order) and so I demolished this from picking it up Friday Afternoon to Saturday Morning. That is the beauty of these books. Trouble is now I am itching to pick up book 9 and then I do have 10 on my shelf……

Books

Damsel in Distress – Carola Dunn

It seems everything is going okay for the honourable Daisy Dalrymple and her beau Alec Fletcher, a police inspector at Scotland Yard. A rather interesting partnership and one which both their mothers frown upon as treason to their own class.It does not matter to them, but it does not stop Phillip one of Daisy’s chums still trying to propose all the time. But Phillip’s eyes are turned when he meets a young American girl, Gloria. But the course of true love does not run smooth, and because Gloria also happens to be the daughter of a millionaire, there are other people not just Phillip who want her to.

The Damsel, Gloria is now in Distress, she has been kidnapped. Along for the ride unintentionally is Phillip, who happens to then be abandoned rather conveniently at an estate where relations of Daisy live. Step forward Daisy who has a history of helping solve the odd crime or too although before that she does get into a bit of a pickle herself. This has to all be done without the police being involved but how can you do that when Daisy’s beau happens to be the police.  Step forward Alec and you know all will be well. Perhaps Alec will even impress Daisy’s mother, well we can hope as readers.

Another jolly adventure for Daisy, a few scrapes along the way but the denouement is predictable but I did not see it coming  but it is reassuring nonetheless that all will be right and the boy inevitably gets the girl!

A country house murder, with a touch of the Jeeves and Wooster about it with this story and a good example of one of the many of Daisy Dalrymple stories by this author.

You may or may not have noticed but I have been reading some rather easy, comfortable cosy books this December and this one is no exception, and it is a bonus it in fact counts towards one of my own personal set challenges for 2012. Plenty more of these books to read, and they do take slightly longer to devour than an Agatha Raisin, so they will keep me going well in 2013 and beyond no doubt! 

The trouble being when I get into reading these I have a overwhleming desire to head back to Wooster and relive some Jeeves. I have had a thought…..

Cooking · Jottings · Witterings

Merry Christmas

Christmas Present* – Chocolate Guinness Cake with a Christmas Twist

If you have escaped from the melee of wrapping paper, noisy toys, awful television and warring relatives then may I take this opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas.

If you haven’t escaped from any of that then the sentiment still stands and I hope you and yours are having a peaceful day. Plenty of books I hope?

*Recipe by Nigella, Made & Decorate by Me, Eaten by my boss!

Books

Breakfast at Darcy’s – Ali McNamara

Darcy inherits an island, when her Aunt Molly passes away. However it is not that simple and there are conditions to this bequest. Darcy must create a community on the island of Tara, off the coast of Ireland and live there for a year.

Darcy is a city girl, so life on an island is going to be a huge cultural shock. Leaving everything she knows and everyone she knows behind. Although her even more citified friend Roxi joins her, everyone else does not know each other. They all now have to get on and relationships and friendships are formed, lost and re won as the year passes on Tara.

This has the formula of a rather good plot, however it is not as strong as it could have been. Too much was predictable, you could see where most relationships were going to end up. You had the man with the glint in his eye who was always going to break hearts and the mean moody one who is simply misunderstood. Then there was the solicitor and the handyman, the shop girl and the builder. It was just too much the same.

For me it’s strengths lie in the descriptions of the scenery, the weather how it changes so suddenly and how it impacts on them all and the local folklore which seems to go with most island communities. It is that which kept me reading.

I was disappointed with this novel, but for me much better than her début book, that said I do not think I will be seeking out her third.

I have just been back and reflected on what I wrote for Ali  McNamara’s first novel, and I can see that I wanted improvement in structure and more depth to a book. I will say that this book has delivered that, but could have a gone a lot further. I do like the odd twist in a book, even if they are classed as chick lit or women’s fiction. 

The title flummoxed me a bit. I got the name bit, but the “breakfast”was rather a random addition. From the title, I thought some little cafe run by someone called Darcy. From reading the blurb, perhaps it was going to be where we started each day with this character. But no. From reading the book I was still none the wiser! It’s a shame because the book had so much going for it but did not quite deliver.

I don’t think this authors books are for me and I feel rather sad about that.