Books · Jottings

I have been to the……..Bookshop

Yes yes I know I don’t need any more books, I have too many but I just can’t resist and I do so love my local Waterstones, I am sure they love me when they see me coming in. The way I have been looking at it for the last few years is that I don’t have any other expensive vices; fast cars, drugs, drink, cigarettes, travelling first class, expensive holidays I am but a simple soul and content with book, cup of tea and piece of cake (less said about the cake at the mo!). So why should I not add more to my collection of books to give me a wider variety to choose from.

They all go off to different homes once read by me, various friends, friends of friends, neighbours, book club attendees, work colleagues and the charity shop so they have a good life once they have left me. Enough of the justifying – what did I get.

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From the top down:

Penelope – Rebecca Harrington. Apologies but I cannot remember where I spotted this book, but it was on my list and the bookseller said it was good and reminded her of herself at 18. Recommendation I am sure.

The Sweetness of Forgetting – Kristin Harmel. I actually fell in love with the cover of this book. It looked whimsical to me. And it had a bakery as a setting so what is not to love!

The Disappearance of Emily Marr – Louise Candlish. Again another book which caught my eye by the cover, the blurb on the back and the first couple of pages.

The Vintage Teacup Club – Vanessa Greene. This has been on my radar for ages. When I saw how much Dot enjoyed it, I knew I had to catch up with reading it.

The Perfume Collector – Kathleen Tessaro. I have read one of this author’s books before – The Débutante. This sounded delightful and intriguing all at the same time. A dual narrative novel, set in Paris and New York.

The Summer House – Santa Montefiore. I am a fan of this author’s novels and this was really picked up because it was on the buy one get half price table and I needed another one to get the deal and I know I will enjoy what I read.

Touch not the Cat – Mary Stewart. I was a bit miffed when I went to my local library that they did not have any Mary Stewart. I wanted to read another one, ready for the Mary Stewart week . This was a bookseller recommendation for the summer in my shop so I was mighty grateful to spot it.

Grand Sophy – Georgette Heyer. Similar to the book above I was also miffed that there was no Georgette Heyer novels in the library either. I set myself the challenge of reading one at some point this year and thought that as it was way into August,  should really be doing something about it. So I have bought a book…….

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul – Deborah Rodriguez. Again this was a book that caught my eye from the cover of the novel. It is the story of a coffee shop in the heart of Afghanistan. This is a fictional début novel from the author.

Alex – Pierre Lemaitre. The reason for this book was that it was plastered all over the front of the store as the book to be reading this summer. It has also been summed up by Simon on his blogtoo! I suppose I was a sheep and wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Vivien’s Heavenly Ice Cream Shop – Abby Clements. I read this author’s short story at Christmas, The Christmas Bake Off and whilst I did not think reading her Christmas novel Meet me under the Mistletoe was the right for the time of year I was delighted to see a much more suitable book for the summer! This book is not pictured, because I had already started it by the time I got round to the picture.

So there you go, I am hoping that some of these will feature on the blog soonest. Do let me know if you have read any of them and how you found them. And as for buying any more books well………..

Jottings

The Emperor’s Ball

It has been that time of year again at work where we have one of our three major functions on the year. The Summer Ball. The two others being Christmas and Trafalgar Night.

Now for the last couple I have posted pictures of the event, of the decorations, the table layouts and the like so you can get an idea of the sort of thing that I get up to in addition to my true role at work which is about money, finances, figures and admin.

I got to thinking, this is my 12th Summer Ball. Eek! Now The enthusiasm of many of those who opt to help out should always be praised and commended but when you get to your 12th and also be in the middle of redundancies, restructure etc it does wear slightly thin and you cannot always be as excited, the old adage. You have seen one you have seen them all springs to mind. So what I have I seen……

1. Golden Jubilee
2. Heaven and Hell
3. Indian
4. Around the World in 80 Days
5. Nursery Rhymes, Narnia, Gingerbread House
6. Black and White
7. A Night in Paris
8. Oscars
9. The Pharaoh’s ball
10.Alice in Wonderland
11.A Masked Ball

As you can see they have all blended a bit and I cannot remember some of their actual titles. This year is still fresh and it was…

12. The Emperor’s Ball

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The Great Wall of China brought to Hampshire

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And of course somewhere to sit,eat and drink and this year outside in the marquee although it rained on the night but cleared up for the fireworks.

And my input, well the table decorations and colour was a combined effort between my boss and I, although we left quite a lot to the last minute because of the afore-mentioned work issues. Oh and the seating plan. The picture shows a fraction of the area covered and the 75 tables and the 752 people sat around them and only me who had done the seating plan, where tables fit in relation to the set up of the marquee, then just juggling who sits where and who has to be near where, depending on rank, status and position but also who must not be sat anywhere near someone else. There is one couple who were moved rather a lot because no one wanted to sit with them. My phone was red-hot! If they only they knew who they were….. but as I have signed the Official Secrets Act……..

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Books

The Two Week Wait – Sarah Rayner

Two different women. In two different parts of the country.  These two women have one goal – to have a baby. Not knowing each other both these women have to go through the two week wait. 

But how can they help each other?

Sarah Rayner’s novel uses the three main characters from her previous novel One Moment, One Morning. The story is mainly of Lou, who having found love with Sofia and settling into the fact that her mother now knows she is gay, wants something else – a baby. When a health scare makes this a necessary choice sooner rather than later, Lou investigates all her options.

Cath, is a new character and is recovering from having cancer. Cancer which has left her infertile. She adores her nephews and wants nothing more to be able to have children of her own with her husband, Rich. He also realises that he would like to be a father too. They begin to investigate all their options.

What Rayner does in this story is then alternate between the two women as they embark in this life changing journey. It opened up a whole world that I knew little about; IVF, egg sharing and that long two week wait when the recipients see if it has been successful and ultimately in this novel whether Lou and Cath are pregnant.

Rayner handles a very delicate and private subject with care and enough details to feel empathy for the characters as they go through their day to day life and deal with infertility. But there is a casually balanced other side to the story of both Lou and Cath who meet up with people who have very differing opinions to the ways they are going about conceiving a child. This was a fine balancing act which the author does well, and although Cath’s sister in law was an awful character and could have quite held her tongue on occasions she was giving a rounder picture to the novel itself. In Lou’s case it was Adam who was giving a voice of reason and more importantly the voice of doubt about becoming father and the role he would play in raising a child especially if he was not romantically linked to the mother.

Be prepared for this book to surprise you at different points as perhaps your understanding and view of IVF, fertility, egg donors is challenged. It becomes an emotional journey for the reader as it does the characters and no doubt the author.

The author describes this book as more of a sister novel than actual sequel. I did not realise when I started it that it was using the characters from her other novel. It works well as a novel on its own, but I did pick it up because I had read the author previously; I would not have picked it up otherwise, because the topic is not something which has affected me. It deals with the strength of relationships and friendships but it is ultimately a book about infertility which is a brave subject for Rayner to tackle in a book that is somewhat packaged as being rather light and fluffy.

An interesting thoughtful emotional read nonetheless.

Books

Longbourn – Jo Baker

This is the story that may have never been told.

The story of those who are behind the scenes in one of the most famous novels of all time.

This is the story of those that keep Mr and Mrs Bennet and their daughters;  Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty and Lydia fed, clothed and clean. Presenting Longbourn to be as good as Pemberley or Netherfield Park if at all possible.

The story is Pride and Prejudice; but this is merely information. What author Jo Baker has done has given us the story of the servants and whilst may have taken liberties with their characters has remained true to Pride and Prejudice and you can see the story unfold upstairs as those that work tirelessly downstairs struggle.

In fact the two stories are very similar. Meet Sarah, the maid. Tired from working long hours, hands raw from washing in soda and bleach, nose twitching from having to make soap out of animal fat, has rather an outspoken manner about her (Elizabeth Bennet?) and would like nothing more than to experience love and fine and pretty things such as those ladies upstairs. Love for her is more actual, it is not about position or place or indeed money. It is much more pure.

Meet Mrs Hill, the housekeeper.  She is playing the game just like Mrs Bennet. She needs to secure her future and that of her husband Mr Hill and those that work downstairs. By working hard at the cooking and cleaning and making the house presentable, when the time comes for Mr Collins, who is as slimy as Austen makes him out to be, inherits he will be able to easily inherit the staff as well. Trouble is the Bennet girls cannot think of anyone they would rather not marry than Mr Collins. It looks like Mrs Hill might have to well impress her skills on another female to ensure longevity.

Meet James. A mysterious character who walks into town and walks straight into a job at Longbourn. Every good place needs a footman. There is something dark and brooding about him, something of the Mr Darcy perhaps. But he has a past and he would rather that it was kept there for no one to discover. He is charming and helpful (Mr Wickham?) Trouble is, Mrs Hill knows about his past and Sarah has the strong will to want to know.

And so life goes on day to day at Longbourn. Jo Baker, creates characters that you care for, that you want to only see good things happen to. When truths are revealed about some of them, we are taken away from Longbourn and into another world. A world of war, and the destruction of landscape and strength of discipline that forces men into positions that they then try and escape.  I was unsure whether being taken away from Longbourn would detract away from the idea of the book – the servants. It works, although slowly at first as then you actually forget about the Bennet’s and their contemporaries you are far more concerned as a reader about Sarah, James, Mrs Hill et al.

I have never read Pride and Prejudice although I know the story. This books stands alone from that so well, that you would actually be forgiven that it is based on a story which is 200 years old. It is historical fiction with added romance at it’s best. With the added appeal that it is a truth universally acknowledged that we always find those people that work downstairs or behind the scenes just as if not more interesting!

Longbourn is out now in hardback published by Doubleday. 

Thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy to read and also letting this blog be part of the blog tour. If you have missed out : please click here to find out all about washing 200 years ago. 

And I think I will go and read Pride and Prejudice now. The reason I think for not having read it, was the occasions I did pick it up, I could not fall into the way of writing and the language. As I have got older, I have found that it has become slightly easier to pick up these books and expand my reading knowledge further. 

Books

Ghastly Business – Louise Levene

Dora Strang has entered a strange world. In fact they insist on calling her Mrs Strange. She is in fact neither strange or a Mrs, but it is all about perception and what other people think. As a daughter of a doctor, who just did not make the grade to be one herself she has still pitched herself forward into the world of work as a secretary.

Nothing perhaps untoward in that. But it is 1929 and girls of her class are not meant to be working in such professions, and certainly not in London on their own. But Dora is doing all of these things.

She is sent by the employment bureau to be a filing clerk in a department at the hospital. A department which was kept rather separate from the rest. 

A hospital department that did not cure you as more find out what you died of. The department of Morbid Anatomy. The mortuary if you will. It’s eminent head was Alfred Kemble, assisted somewhat crossly by Mr Hubbard who always felt his nose was being put out of joint and the keen nearly qualified doctor, Alex Vazard. Dora Strang found herself more than just a filing clerk.

For some reason this department had been going through filing clerks and secretaries rather quickly, but no one could tell Dora why. The battle of cross referencing this eminent man’s work as well as typing, for which she was not originally employed for begins to take over her life and she is sucked into the work of this department and the lives of her colleagues.

Dora is learning about life from death. She is learning fast about life as she becomes more in love with it all. Her strength and stubbornness as well as not fainting at the sight of a dead body means she could perhaps survive longer than those before her in this particular department.

But there was something she did not bank on – passion, attraction and emotion. All of these were not able to be cross referenced in some report and filed away neatly. They had to be dealt with and dealt with swiftly. For me was Louise Levene’s true undercurrent of the book. The descriptions of death, the fascination of how it can help convict a killer or an innocent person are covered in such detail that you would think this was what the book was solely about. But the people recording, investigating and trying to protect the innocent are more important and it is their story which kept me reading.

The author has captured what could be called “gallows humour”, it made me smile in parts when the passages were related to death and all its ghastly descriptions. The characters were in equal measure quirky and normal, with flaws and faults, that made me chuckle when the passages were related to ordinary everyday things – such as listening to conversations on the bus or being caught reading a rather unseemly newspaper. I could see where the book could of gone and where it went was the right way but there were times where it meandered on, simply being filed away in that filing cabinet ready to be cross referenced at the end for the conclusion.

This is not a murder mystery, this is not true historical fiction, not really romance in its truest sense, more of an acceptance. it is a book which I cannot pigeon-hole other than excellent fiction, a gripping read with the right amount of death and humour. If those two things can ever be combined successfully it has been done so here.

This book does not seem to have much coverage on Amazon, it only has 7 reviews, well 8 now but I highly recommend it for. For its ghoulish ghastly quality and because of the humour. I would certainly read more about Dora Strang if it was ever a possibility. 

I came across the book ages ago when it was reviewed on Jane’s blog here. She has captured this book so succinctly that I wish I could more often in my reviews. I still think after blogging for so long I am trying to find what works for me. I digress. Thank you Jane for introducing me to this book and many others, long may it continue. 

Books

A False Start

Life is too short to read bad books that I know. But what do you do when one of the books you are reading is by author whose work you have enjoyed before? Dither.

I found myself in this predicament recently with the book Fear in the Sunlight by Nicola Upson. Now I have read all her other books; An Expert in Murder, Angel with Two Faces and Two for Sorrow and looking back on the reviews I enjoyed them. They all feature Josephine Tey (yes that Josephine Tey) and her friend and police Inspector, Archie Penrose and I have found them captivating and wanted to read them.

But with Fear in the Sunlight, something is missing. Well rather there is too much – there is so much going on that I am throughly and utterly confused and I persevered to page 155 in the hope the fog would clear, that it would become obvious like it has in some of her previous work. But the fog is still there.

I have gathered the book is set in Portmierion, I have also ascertained that the famous director and his wife Alfred and Alma Hitchcock feature as themselves and are up to something to do with a film version of Tey’s book A Shilling for Candles. There are many guests in the hotel who have backgrounds and history to the area which has brought them there. Then of course there is the staff and the locals. On top of that there is the characters of course of Josephine Tey, there to celebrate her birthday, Archie Penrose, then his cousins, Lettice and Ronnie, as well as Marta and Lydia, lovers and friends of Josephine. Too many people to cope with initially, and there was much assumption that we knew a lot about the latter few characters that I mention. I am not really sure of where the plot was. I am sure you can see I have paid attention to some of the book to have got this far in describing it to you but still it was all too much.

I had a look on the Amazon reviews, and there were a couple that had the same problems as me, too much on the characters, and less on the plot.

I had to do what I knew was best. I had to put this book to one side. Or in my case filed on the kindle. Perhaps one day it will be okay and I will pick it up again with vim and vigour and I will have no fear of it of it. I am intrigued by her next Tey novel so I will give it a go but I do so with slight trepidation.

I am pleased I had the courage to put the book down, I am pleased that also I recognised this and did not plough on regardless, but I am slightly disappointed as I so enjoyed her other novels.

Books

At Bertram’s Hotel – Agatha Christie

Miss Marple is on a journey to her past. She has come back to Bertram’s Hotel where as a girl she can recall a splendid time being had. Many many years later she returns there but it is very much different for the Bertram’s of the past but at the same time it is much if not exactly the same and nothing has changed at all.

Miss Marple is naturally suspicious, there is more to this place than is obvious. Her friend Lady Selina seems to be recognising people for she knows that aren’t. The whirlwind celebrity that is Bess Sedgwick is staying there, delighting in shocking people wherever she goes and in whatever she does. Then there is Elvira Blake, staying with her godfather and guardian on the way to stay with cousins after returning from finishing school in Italy. She is desperate to break away from her guardians and start living her own life with her own money,without the conditions that go with the small fortune. Regular visitor, Canon Pennyfather, forgetful and muddled is using Bertram’s as a base whilst he goes to a conference. But then he forgets something quite important and seems to disappear. And then there all the American Guests; are they really here for a taste of Edwardian England in the Sixties?

The world is learning about jewelry thefts and train and bank robberies and the horror of the world and the police are not getting results. But among the decor, the food, the excellent service the police are watching what is going on at Bertram’s Hotel. Could there be a connection? Bertram’s remains removed from it all with its Edwardian Glamour and Afternoon Teas. But then with a twist of a plot which Christie is known for, this quiet little hotel is starting to become more prominent and when the noise of a gunshot is heard, it becomes even more well known. But all the time Miss Marple is watching and listening and slowly everything starts to fall into place.

A traditional Miss Marple story, which shows you a glimpse of her past and her position as well as the skill of seemingly being completely invisible to those around whilst taking everything in at the same time. Her astuteness and ability to compare characters to those from her beloved St Mary Mead, indicate that all the world can be seen in such a small village and that there is not always a need to come to London. But I think for Miss Marple, this was closing the door on the past.

A enjoyable Christie novel that ticks the right boxes.

I caught the Joan Hickson version of this book a few weeks back and remembered how different it was to the Geraldine McEwen one. I like both equally, the more recent version plays fast and loose with the story – in fact rather fast and loose. Whilst Hickson is very much as the book, and quotes lines from it quite clearly and concisely to get a sense of Christie’s true writing. 

What fascinated me more, was my love of stories in hotels, and also the fact that I had forgotten that this featured a Train Robbery. It is 50 years since what has become known as ‘The Great Train Robbery’ (1963) something which fascinated me, even more so when it was pointed out to me on Waterloo station on many a visit was where one of the perpetrators sold flowers. I wonder when Christie wrote this novel and added a train robbery into it she was referring to recent events?