Books

Agatha Raisin & the Day The Floods Came – M.C. Beaton

It was by pure coincidence that I picked up reading this book when the country was in the-midst of some of the worst rain and floods for a number of years. All exacerbated when it comes over Christmas and plans with friends and family go by the wayside.

It is a flood and a body, dead of course in a wedding dress that Agatha witness that draws her into another case. Trouble is she is still smarting from her divorce to James, her other part-time lover Sir Charles has branched out into pastures new and even when she retreats abroad in the hope of forgetting these men, she stumbles across a honeymoon couple. It seems that she cannot get away from love wherever she goes.

When she was abroad the bride drowns and now back at home, Agatha witness something so similar she begins to think that there must be more to it all than the suicide that the police say it is. Agatha has to get involved and even uses a disguise to ask the probing questions that the police seem to be avoiding. Enlisting Roy, a previous employee and a somewhat faithful hapless puppy in her scheme to finding all about the dead girl in the wedding dress and who exactly killed her.

Agatha is at her best in this book, her age is a real struggle for and she is determined not to be left on the shelf, she wants to be desirable and loved trouble is her personality don’t make her those things and many see her as aging inappropriately. Even her new neighbour who happens to be a crime writer is not falling over himself to get to know her and Agatha cannot understand why, surely she must be desirable?

You do have to feel sorry for Agatha, but sometimes not for very long because you think she sometimes gets what she deserves. Although I find the Vicar’s vocal dislike for the women humourous. That is the beauty of these book, simple plain fun reading.

Books

The J.M. Barrie Ladies’ Swimming Society – Barbara Jane Zitwer

American architect, Joey has come over from the States to oversee the project of restoring a once great home, Stanway House in a Cotswold village. Work is her life, she has put on hold any form of relationship as they have gone badly in the past and she has even let friendships slide over time. This includes her close friendship with Sarah. Joey is portrayed as overworked and overwrought with life.

Now with the opportunity to come to England with work, she feels that perhaps she can reconnect with Sarah, who married an Englishman and moved to fulfill a very different life to Joey. Everything is intertwined within the plot and the characters as Sarah’s mother in law happens to come from the village where the house that is to be restored is situated. It all seems serendipitous but sadly life has moved on for Sarah and also for those who have been involved in Stanway house.

Joey has to accept that change is inevitable and that some are going to embrace it whilst others are going to fight what once was and hark back to days gone past. Joey has to accept that she herself has changed and that friendships are formed in the most unlikely of places with the most unlikely of people.

This is where Joey dips her toe in the title of the book The J.M.Barrie Ladies Swimming Society, a group of women who swim, outdoors, in all weathers, in a private pond. It is a place where these women come to cleanse their souls and bond together through all that has happened to them and what might happen in the future. Joey has never felt anything like this in the world and it comes as rather a surprise to her.

This is a gentle tale, it meanders along rather like the gentle swimming that the ladies partake in. At times I was slightly bored and did question where this was going, I could see the inevitability of the some of the plot lines and I would have liked to known more about the restoration of the house. But what saved me from putting the book down was the descriptions of the scenery and the seasons. It could have been so much more of a book, it was not, but it was a sufficient read but did not completely satisfy me.

I read this book back in December and really wish I had written the review then, I am sure that it has an effect when I really do come and write them. The book is no longer in the upper part of mind, having read more since then and I do think that perhaps then I am not doing it justice and certainly the reviews seem very wishy washy. (I might be being hard on myself?)

However, if the book has not stuck with me, then perhaps it does not matter when you write the review? What did stick with me was the swimming outside, I do enjoy doing that albeit in a heated pool and not in a natural environment but I think if I found a pond like the one in this book, with the facilities for warm towels and a hot chocolate afterwards I would certainly go and embrace it wholeheartedly. there is something very peaceful and calming about swimming and I can understand why some have an affinity with water. 

Books

The Midnight Rose – Lucinda Riley

Be prepared to pick up this book and be transported not just to another time and place but another continent as well.

Lucinda Riley is a skilful writer when it comes to the dual narrative, she does it so well, that it seems that the two stories set some hundred years apart in this novel bear no relation to each other. But of course they do as they the story weaves from 1911 to the present, and evokes many emotions through the characters and shows class, tradition, love and war in many forms.

In the present day we meet Rebecca Bradley, an American film actress, who has the world at her feet and has the world press there to watching her every move. She flies to London to take part in a period drama film, and ends up at Astbury Hall, Dartmoor, Devon playing a young girl in the 1920s. It is a far cry from the life she leads and she uses the fact that she can escape into a past life through her character to actually escape from the person she is or is at least becoming. The press cannot reach her there and neither can her famous actor boyfriend. Rebecca has time to breathe freely.

Halfway round the world Ari Malik is struggling to come to terms with his life, he has neglected his personal life for the sake of his business and career. However it is not fulfilling and when the death of his great-grandmother, leaves him a quest he now has the means to escape and discover something about her past and his future. Ari is unsure why him of all her descendants was chosen. Perhaps the journey to Astbury Hall will answer everything?

It is Ari’s great grandmother who we get to know in the past narrative to this story, in fact it is her who tells it to us. Anahita Chaval is nobility in terms of Indian culture, but the death of her father means that she is some what impoverished. We are transported to the heyday of the British Raj, Riley has brought to the page and let it jump out and envelope us; the smells, the sounds, the sights and the warmth of India where we can glimpse a life of Indian Royalty.

It is into royalty that Anahita becomes a companion to Princess Indira, a rather spoilt brat of a girl who sulks until she gets her own way. However, Anahita somehow seems to be the calming influence and they forge a lifelong friendship that takes them through their days in India and also to England when they are both sent to school. Anahita thrives at school, whilst Indira knows her destiny and just treats it all as some social whirl. When they are despatched to Astbury Hall one summer, because war is looming they find their lives change very much.

Astbury Hall is the tie that binds the present day with the past, it is where Ari, Anahita and Rebecca are all drawn to. It does not give up its secrets easily and it is fiercely protected by Mrs Trevathan the housekeeper who only attends to the present day Lord Astbury.

Ari learns the truth about this house and Anahita’s role in it with patience and insight.

Rebecca learns that ghosts can perhaps never be laid to rest and that they manifest themselves in some startling ways.

Anahita learns to love deeply and honestly, without regard for social class, status, money and colour of skin.

As readers we finally learn how all of this comes together, how each part of the story fits with the other parts. There were times when I could predict what was going to happen, but they were few and far between which is why I had to keep on reading. I was saddened that the book had to end at some point as I wanted more, but it was right it did end.

Lucinda Riley has left a legacy with this book. Her passion is in this book, it did not feel like a formulaic novel with a dual narrative. Riley has given us the colours of India, rich, bright and vibrant, to the classic English house and countryside. The difference between cultures just not in the present day; the american actress versus the fading English aristocracy but in the past where; the poor Indian girl versus the rich moneyed American girl.  The characters get right under your skin, you care about them, you want to see happiness but you also want justice. Good must overcome prejudice and ultimately over evil actions to.

This is an absorbing read and with nearly 700 pages to get through you will be drawn in. An excellent read.

Books

Poirot and Me – David Suchet

The title explains this book. If you are expecting a book about David Suchet’s early life and some kiss and tells then you will be very disappointed. You simply need to love David Suchet’s portrayal of Poirot and you will love this book.

This book is about the love and perhaps sometime hate relationship between Suchet and that little Belgian detective who has graced our screens for 25 years and been in the written form for nearly 100.  

The book opens ironically enough with the end, the end of the character Poirot in the filming of Curtain. (He actually went and filmed three more after this so as not to end on the end). Suchet goes back to the beginning and explains how he was chosen to be Christie’s most famous creation and how he inhabited his world with equal obsession and passion from the beginning. We are getting a glimpse into this world as well as the world of making television dramas on the scale that sometimes we would only expect to see in a cinematic form.

There are plenty of interesting things in this book, the unswerving support of his wife is quite clear and it is obvious that he probably could not have done the role without her. The fact that at any point Suchet could have been disregarded for another actor, he was not actually contracted to play him in subsequent series from series 2. The thought of that now seems unimaginable. The immense detail that Suchet went into to make sure the Poirot was portrayed as Christie envisaged him, led to some disagreements on set.  Throughout the book, Suchet was concerned that he did not want this great detective to be laughed at. With him but not at him. I cannot think of any point when I have wanted to laugh at him – I hope others feel the same. Suchet is Poirot and Poirot for me will always be Suchet.

Interspersed between all this Poirot ‘talk’ is what Suchet was also up to in his career, here in this book merely to place reference and time between episodes of Poirot and the filming schedules. You forget the other work he has done, a lot of it on stage as he has become part of the British consciousness as simply being Hercule Poirot.

This book is for those who love the programme and the actor. It does not give any plot outcome away, though if you are reading this you have probably already got a fair idea of what happens. It is simply the insight and perhaps the workings of an actor’s mind and method.

It is a book full of the love of the little grey cells and there is order and method to the book. Poirot would heartily approve.

I did think I was going to get a bit more about Suchet in this book. But actually having read the book I am so glad I did not. This was a fitting tribute to Hercule Poirot and the culmination of all the stories being filmed and broadcast. 

I am not sure how much is David Suchet in this book and how much is Geoffrey Wansell, you can never tell with books which are a collaboration. I am hoping by the fact that they were friends means that it was in the main Suchet.Sort of ruined the illusion for me. 

I must comment on the cover of the book, the front bringing Poirot (as it should be) the back being Suchet. This for me epitomise how much Suchet became Poirot.  

My only one regret is not being able to go and see Suchet speak about this book and get my copy signed. I could listen to him talk about Poirot for hours! I wonder if I might need to hear this book in the audio version? 

Books

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark

First Edition Cover

Miss Jean Brodie, is everything that you may want as a teacher when you are a young impressionable ten year old in the  last two years of junior school. You want to be able to learn outside under trees and still maintain the childlike quality of playing  at everything. You want to hear fantastical tales of love and adventure. Maths and Science are something which come later and will only get in the way of the art, the romance (and sex) and even revenge.

This is the mid nineteen thirties and Miss Jean Brodie has gathered a set of girls to become known as the Brodie set. These six girls, Sandy, Jenny, Mary, Eunice, Monica and Rose are all different but they all become the same under Brodie’s watchful eye.”Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life.”  as she famously says in the novel. She has plans for them all though they may not realise that themselves. Everything does not necessarily go the way it should, and the book uncovers as we go along, what happens to each of the girls and exactly the prime role Miss Jean Brodie had in their lives.

The group have a fascination with romance and sex, this is very much a strong theme throughout the book. That inquiring mind sort about how it all works and goes where. When they see Miss Jean Brodie embracing the art teacher and spending time fattening up the music teacher they become rather confused as to what Miss Jean Brodie is doing and in some ways Miss Jean Brodie becomes confused herself. Miss Jean Brodie’s schemes come home to roost and she manipulates the girls too far, only one she can trust, but is it the right girl? Will the girls have their revenge by simply leading completely different lives and never be in their ‘prime’ as Miss Jean Brodie was.

The ever presence of Miss Mackay, the headmistress seems to have a campaign to get rid of Miss Jean Brodie to a ‘crank’ school or more forward thinking one than the one she is in charge of. She tries to lull the girls into giving enough away to act upon, but they are wise to her methods and she seems to fail at every turn.

Miss Jean Brodie, is character with some brave elements (radical education techniques, being interested in Fascism) but actually a rather lonely character who seems to be living her life through the young charges she specifically takes under her wing. The fictitious imaginative story that Sandy and Jenny cultivate gives real example to the fantasy that she must have been feeding these girls – out to impress perhaps?

What I loved about this book, was the way the six girls were referred to throughout, so you did not lose at any point who the author was talking about. I admit though, the flitting backwards and forwards about what happens to the girls in the future and what was happening to them at the present did take a while to get into but once you are fully immersed you take it all in your stride and follow this wonderful short tale of a lady living her life vicariously through six particular girls.

I would read it again and again. It has much to tell the reader about the time and perhaps about educating young people more than we realise. In this particular edition do read the introduction (after reading the book) because it will give you a much more enriching experience of it.

Gosh this is really a difficult book to review. There is so much to say and to do so would give the whole book away. I wonder if that has something to do with it being a short novel. 

I really did not like Miss Jean Brodie, she was rather a bully who seemed to be almost brainwashing these young girls, granted not into anything dangerous but still I felt she failed these girls and in some way herself. 

This was January’s choice for my book club. I know some of the group are struggling. It will be interesting to hear what they all think. 

Books

The World is a Wedding – Wendy Jones

Wilfred Price is still the  purveyor of superior funerals in Narbeth. It is now 1926 and Wilfred has married again to Flora who he is in love with most deeply.

His past painful marriage to Grace is a memory as she has fled to London, unwanted by her family and with a secret to hide. However the binds that tie Grace to Narbeth are strong, even whilst in London. It seems she has only one choice but to return to Narbeth. Will her presence upset Wilfred and Flora’s wedded bliss?

Whilst Grace has been away, life has changed for Wilfred, he is learning every day not just from reading the dictionary, he has completed A and is now on B but from being married. While he learnt everything about funerals and being the purveyor of superior ones from Mr Auden, he has no one to learn about marriage from. He wants to take it gently with Flora as he knows that perhaps she does not love him as much as he loves her. When a union between them results in tragedy, it seems that perhaps Flora is lost to another world.

Wilfred, conducting himself as a gentleman as much as he can, carries on. He wants to fight for his family and marriage and knows he must provide. He starts up his wallpaper shop, only to come unstuck with it in more ways than one. The gentle humour portrayed here is in contrast to some of the tragedy that is going on. This gives the book its wonderful human frailty quality. However, Wilfred believes in independence and he is content to teach his wife to drive so she can visit her mother, he wants to know her opinion on matters and involve them both in a rich and wonderful life together.

This glimpse of female emancipation far away in the Welsh countryside is reinforced by Grace and her exposure to the Suffragettes, the movement did not cease, after The Great War had ended. Grace starts to see them as the future, but her dark secret has followed her from Narbeth and she cannot accept help from these women. Can she?

This book is rich in character and landscape, it is a story that just travels along with no twists or turns but gives plenty to think about along the way. It is not just Wilfred who is philosophising, as a reader you do the same about the situations the characters are in. A sign of a good book when you care about the characters.

You can read this book without having read Wendy Jones The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals. However to get much more out of this book and that one, I would highly recommend reading it first and then moving on to this novel. You will be pleased that you just for a while, spent some time with Wilfred Price.

Thank you to the publisher for sending me this book for review. I feel most privileged as it is a beautiful hardback copy and the picture of the cover, does not do it justice. I only wish I had the first novel that way. 

This is a fiction book without a doubt, set in the past which I suppose could make is historical fiction. What it can’t do is be put into a pigeon-hole. It does not follow any formulaic pattern as other books do, you actually do not know what you are getting when you pick up this book. That is what makes it a gem and I would recommend to anyone. 

From the press release that was sent with this book, I see the first book it is to be adapted into a TV drama by the producers of Downton Abbey. In my opinion this will make gentle Sunday night viewing and I hope it is given the time, care and money it needs to make it a success. 

Books

Mary Poppins – P.L. Travers

My image of Mary Poppins is one that Disney has almost hard-wired into my brain since watching the film of the same name. It was (and still is) one of my favourites. I never read it is a child for reasons unknown but have now picked it up as an adult.

Why did I never read this as a child? This book creates a completely different world of Mary Poppins. The wind has changed and she has arrived into the Banks’ life to look after not just Jane and Michael but the twins, John and Barbara as well.

Mary Poppins is a much darker version than the screen one, she is strict and sometimes rather grumpy, we have no idea of her age but she is incredibly vain and the children pick up on that, looking in numerous shop windows as they pass.  Mary Poppins seems to wander across into a fantasy world quite easily (she does not question it and neither should we as readers), talking to birds and the wind as do the twins explaining to the readers that all children of that age understand; tea on the ceiling; going into chalk pictures on the street with Bert, Christmas shopping with angels and even to the night at the zoo when it is the humans who are the attractions and in cages and that the centre of it all is of course Mary Poppins.

Mary Poppins is of course no ordinary nanny and P.L. Travers certainly brings that across in this book which is like a collection of short stories, they have no real connection with each other, other than the characters within them. You never know why Mary Poppins chose the Banks’ family and Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane to become her home and work place for a while, it matters not, as you can suspend that realism and be lost in the fantasy world that is created but of course the wind will change and Mary Poppins surely must go to another family……?

This is actually the first book in The Complete Collection which I bought as I had never read them as a child and my mum assures me that we did not have them. I wanted to go and see Saving Mr Banks, but however it was on for only two weeks at the cinema and those two weeks were very busy! I will wait for the DVD and in the meantime enjoy the books…..

…and the film. Reading the first book and all about Travers and the film has not put me off the film at all (It is one of my top three). I watched it all the time as a child and wore out a video copy we had recorded off the TV as well as an actual video bought, thank goodness when we went to DVD!  It kept me and continues to keep me entertained for hours!

Books · Jottings

A Challenging 2014?

Where do I want my reading to take me in 2014? Anywhere and everywhere I suppose but I do not want to tie myself down to much either because I feel like I am under too much pressure much as I am tempted to sign up for lots of interesting challenges out there.

What did I achieve last year and how am I going to apply that to this year?

  • The aim in previous years was to read 50 books, for 2013 I went for 100 because I invariably get there and I did as well. So 100 books for 2014!  
  • Read 1 Challenge. I read 2 out of the 3 authors I set myself – Georgette Heyer and Charles Dickens. I did not get to visit Dickens place. I have not set myself this challenge this year. 
  • Series Challenge 3 Authors, 3 Books. I did pretty well with this one, 3 Agatha Raisin & 3 Debbie Macomber read and only 2 by Carola Dunn. I make that 8 out of 9! I also completed reading the Cedar Cove series by Macomber. For 2014 it is going to be the same three authors and of course three books. 
  • Read 3 of Agatha Christie, P G Wodehouse and Autobiographies. This one did not go as well, 2 for Christie and 1 for Wodehouse and the Autobiographies category. In 2014 I am going to stick with Wodehouse and also Christie, as I can add to the list of all her works I have read found at the top of this blog. 
  • Book Bingo. Well it was a great idea, but I feel it was not relevant and looking back I could now probably make books fit the categories, which seems silly. This one will not carry over to 2014. 

So what can I do new for 2014? Well I do need to read some more books off my shelves (and floor, bedside unit, behind the sofa) and so I had a blitz of all my books, got them all resorted onto my To Read Shelf on Goodreads and there is 153 books as of 5th January. I put them on in no particular order and there are some authors bunched together but they all want to be read at some point.

I used a random number generator on the internet to pick 12 random numbers. Found the corresponding books which match the number on the list and the idea being that I read these books during 2014.

12 being 1 a month was my thinking. I have called this challenge Random Reads.

Here are the 12 numbers picked

Here are your random numbers:

80	40
135	7
129	15
9	65
75	101
122	51

Timestamp: 2014-01-05 12:45:19 UTC

And if you want to know what books they are well you will have to look at my 2014 Challenge tab (found at the top of the blog). Please note that I have not included any of the books on my kindle. I am too frightened to even contemplate making a list of them.

There are lots of challenges out there and I enjoy reading about everyone’s choices and I know I am so tempted to join in with most of them, but I will stick to my rather eclectic few I have created.

Happy Reading in 2014!

Books

Carrot Cake Murder – Joanne Fluke

Hannah Swensen, is cooking up carrot cake this time in her tenth cosy mystery. For a change it is a warm summer and everyone has gathered for a family reunion – not Hannah’s family but her assistant and partner in the bakery Lisa and her husband Herb. Family have come far and wide for this get together, with dancing, catching up and plenty of eating too.

As is the way in small towns, Hannah is called in along with regular characters to help with the organising and cooking of course. This comes in handy because you know it is not going to be a normal family reunion. When a long-lost uncle, Gus turns up after more than  twenty years in the town where he disappeared mysteriously one night and left a lot of trouble behind, it seems he might be bringing a lot of trouble with him too when he turns up dead.

Hannah starts to wonder about the real reason he disappeared all them years ago and it seems that Mike the local police detective thinks Hannah might be better working with him on this investigation than not. It seems though it is only a one way communication.

This and like all previous Hannah Swensen stories is filled with recipes for you to try and actually once you flick past them, the book is probably cut down by about 50 pages or so. Nonetheless for escapism easy reading this or any of this series of books is just the right recipe.

I tend to pick these reads in the middle of the night, when I wake up and need something to go back to sleep with. They are cosy mysteries, with simply stories, probably saccharine sweet characters and all a bit too American schmaltzy for my liking. However they provide a diversion and are easy reads and sometimes that is all you need in a book. 

Trouble is now I have read 10 of them, do I need to carry on and read more as a small part of me hopes that eventually she will decide which one of her male admirers she is going to actually choose!

Part of me wonders if perhaps I should just read them and record them but not actually review them. They are basically the same, following the same formula but then I should then apply that logic to reading Agatha Raisin books as well surely? One to ponder………

Books

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells – Sebastian Faulks

Times have changed, and roles have been reversed. It is Bertie Wooster who is up with the larks and having to arrange tea and such for Lord Etringham. To any fan, do not fear, the whole world of Wodehouse has not been turned upon its head. It is just Bertie getting himself into another pickle and needing Jeeves to ascertain all the right facts and get him out of the situation in only the way that Jeeves can.

There are wonderful passages of conversation between Bertie and Jeeves as we discover that maybe Bertie has finally found the woman who has made his heart flutter more continuously. Whilst dreaming away the days Bertie meets Georgiana in Cannes, she is a woman with spark and vitality and has none of the lesser qualities that have dogged past loves like Madeline Bassett and Honoria Glossop. There is only one small problem her guardian has other ideas on who she should marry based on the fact that his stately home. Can Bertie make the right impression when he is in fact doing an impression of Jeeves? There is plenty of mishaps and misunderstandings along the way in true style and whilst perhaps there is a slight overtone of too contemporary now and again these glimpses are momentarily and you are drawn back into the story.

Sebastian Faulks rightly acknowledges that this book is a tribute to Wodehouse and the wonderful characters of Jeeves and Wooster and I know some myself included were probably sceptical about an author taking up the mantle of another work. I think Faulks has hit the right spot, it reminds me of all the stories I have read in the past and makes me want to pick up these books and read more of them. I hope those who discover this book without reading any Wodehouse also discover his back catalogue and know that there is much joy and humour held within the pages whether it be a short story or a novel.

Sebastian Faulks is an author I have read before, the wonderful and moving Birdsong as well as Charlotte Gray and then his reworking of another famous author Ian Fleming and his most famous hero; James Bond. I was surprised that he wanted to pick up that mantle again with Wodehouse. But it turns out he is a fan and has read the stories as a boy, as I did as a young girl. I was keen to read the book and I was even prepared to pay for a hardback copy! It only took a couple of days to devour. 

I recommend reading this book and I am going to endeavour to go back and reread some more Jeeves and Wooster in particular. I can reread these books with no apparent boredom. Even watching the tv series starring Fry and Laurie countless times has not dented the enjoyment. This book will stay on my shelf and it will be worthy of a reread for that I am sure. 

What has sparked an interest is the fact that I have not read anymore Bond novels by other authors such as William Boyd and Jeffrey Deaver when I enjoyed the reworking of Faulks version. And with Sophie Hannah writing a novel in the style of Christie and the eponymous Belgian detective Poirot it seems there is a taste for such things. Or if I have my cynical hat on is it these authors estates needing money? Well if it is and the output is as good then so what.