Books

The Second-Last Woman in England – Maggie Joel

It is quite clear from the front of the book that someone is about to be hanged and perhaps picking up a book where you already know what is going to happen may seem rather strange. But actually it makes for a rather interesting and intriguing read.

What we don’t know how she got to be the second-last woman to be hanged in England?

Was the murder committed in cold blood? Was it a crime of passion? Anger? Premeditated? Opportunistic?

Well you have to read and find out. It is 1952, the Queen has been on the throne not even a year, the country still mourning the death of a King and the prospect of a new age dawning with young Elizabeth, the country is feeling the after effects of the war, rationing is still in force, much of London is still a building site and the smog is drawing a veil over London. It feels as if the place is suffocating.

It feels as if Harriet Wallis is suffocating in her life. Married to a Cecil, more by chance than design and living in a well to do part of London, where Christmas and almost any memorable occasion is delivered by “a liveried man in a large green and gold van”. (Harrods) Harriet has it all, two children, a nanny, staff and all the time in the world to do as she pleases. She spends little time with her children, they seem to be a tick in the box for convention and not for emotion, they spend more time with various nannies, the last before Harriet’s death, Jean has an ulterior motive to her position in this house. But why exactly does a rather strict chapel girl from Stepney with no family and no experience want to be a nanny?

Harriet is hiding something in this buttoned up world that she lives in. Her history slowly unfolds as the book progresses, one brother works at Buckingham Palace, a hive of activity as Coronation preparations are under way. The other brother has returned from abroad. But where has he been? And why does he not re-enter family life the way convention seems to dictate.

As family and friends  gather for the big day, with the added excitement of the new technology – a television to watch the proceedings, despite being only a short walk from the real life event, a knock at the door brings news for one of them and the resulting events end to where I came in – Harriet Wallis is to hang for the murder of her husband.

This is a rather intriguing and cleverly written book, we know the outcome and the author not only takes us on the build up to that point but also further back so we can see the development of the main characters Harriet and Cecil Wallis, how they met but further back to their own childhoods. This is all done seamlessly and without any obvious jarring when reading. Within these pages, social history is pouring out as well as society and how it was changing post war, but also how some standard were having to be maintained. The business of buying Christmas gifts and the sending of cards is a maelstrom of who sent what and to whom, and passed as a chore for Harriet;

Harriet returned to the neatly handwritten list on her lap. The list showed this year’s Christmas presents divided into two headings and two subheadings: Presents: Received and Sent; Card Only; Receive and Sent. Attached to this was last year’s list against which this year’s had been meticulously cross-referenced…

[Cecil]’I see. So next year we send them something because they sent us something this year, but they don’t send us anything as we didn’t send them anything?’ [Harriet] ‘Yes’.

This was how life was structured for the Wallis’ even on a day such as Christmas. The Coronation Day was going to be the day that changed everything for everyone.

A booked pack full of secrets, lies, changes and everything really tightly packed in that you know at some point it is going to burst and call come tumbling out. You have to keep reading in its anticipation. An excellent read and a very clever idea.

Thank you to the publisher for sending me this novel. The author will be featured on my blog on the 22 June answering some questions, I hope you can pop back and find more out about the author and this wonderful book. 

I will point out that the Second-Last woman to be hanged in England was Styllou Christofi a Greek Cypriot woman hanged for murdering her daughter-in-law. Famously it was the last woman to be hanged in Britain that everyone remembers – Ruth Ellis. For being the last, for being executed by Albert Pierrepoint who did comment about her and  also because films were made based on her, Yield to the Night with Diana Dors which was made some 12 months after her death . I recall having to study this film at university in relation to social history. 

But this book is very much worth of the title historical fiction and it made a refreshing change to read something that was based in the Fifties. I realise now, few books I read have been. 

Books

92 Pacific Boulevard – Debbie Macomber

My journey around the places and with the residents of Cedar Cove is coming to an end but whilst I can still enjoy the characters and their stories I will continue to demolish them.

This time round we are concentrating on the Sheriff Troy Davies, the only real mystery he has to solve is not work related (although there is an interesting professional case he is working on) is why him and his first love, Faith Beckwith have not got over their issues and decided to make a go of it as a couple. It is very apparent that there is a deep burning love for each other there. But when Faith’s house is vandalised and more than once, it is the Sheriff that she wants to turn to but she is holding back.

Mary Jo Wyse was featured in a short Cedar Cove novel based around Christmas and she has more of a part in this story as she makes the move to Cedar Cove with her baby daughter, Noelle. But Noelle’s father, David Rhodes who did not want anything to do with them suddenly makes a reappearance which upsets Mary Jo and also David’s father Ben Rhodes who is struggling to come to terms with having a son like he does and trying to do the right thing. It is worrying his wife Charlotte, who is worrying about her daughter Olivia who is going through treatment for cancer. And that is worrying Grace, Olivia’s friend and she gets together some other friends to do something to make Olivia feel better and one of those friends is Corrie McAfee, whose son, Mack is worried about Mary Jo as she is his new neighbour and also he is starting to fall in love with this rather forthright and straightforward woman.

Then we have Rachel who is struggling to deal with her new stepdaughter and all of a sudden something happens which is going to change everything. Rachel’s former colleague, Teri is about to give birth to triplets and her world chess playing husband, Bobby is panicking which is what he does best. Bobby’s driver James is also struggling to deal with his feelings for Teri’s sister, Christie who really does not want to get hurt for another time.

And like all things and people in Cedar Cove, everyone is connected and related, friends and enemies together and apart and each book introduces more people to get to know. But whilst you may think that with that many people you will become confused, you won’t. Macomber’s writing is such that she hits the spot correctly; there is enough to keep you interested if you pick up one of these books through the series, although for a much fuller reading experience it is best to start from the beginning. On we move to the next place in town…1022 Evergreen Place.

Books

Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen

Catherine Morland is obsessed with Gothic Novels and on her first visit to Bath, with family friends Mr and Mrs Allen she finds herself obsessed with something new – love.

All of a sudden her small familiar circle is increased. She befriends Isabella Thorpe a rather self obsessed girl who enjoys the conversation with men in the pursuit of the correct marriage (more financial, than romantic). One of these chosen men actually being Catherine’s brother who she has met previously. Catherine is enamoured by Henry Tilney in a short space of time and this causes some distress to Isabella’s brother John who is enamoured by Catherine himself. What transpire are the imaginations, hopes and dreams both coming true and brought to an end of young men and women in the pursuit of happiness and love.

John (and his family) tries to put obstacles in the path of any sort of relationship between Henry and Catherine. Catherine attempts to appease and please everyone without anyone’s feelings getting hurt. A task she finds most difficult. Isabella now betrothed to Catherine’s brother, feels Catherine’s own burgeoning friendship with Henry Tilney’s sister Eleanor treacherous to their own friendship and she also tries to come between.

Catherine eventually escapes Bath and goes to stay with the Tilney’s at Northanger Abbey. Catherine thinks all her dreams of gothic novels will be played out in a place called Northanger Abbey.

The night was stormy; the wind had been rising at intervals the whole afternoon; and by the time the party broke up, it blew and rained violently. Catherine, as she crossed the hall, listened to the tempest with sensations of awe; and, when she heard it rage round a corner of the ancient building and close with sudden fury a distant door, felt for the first time that she was really in an abbey. Yes, these were characteristic sounds; they brought to her recollection a countless variety of dreadful situations and horrid scenes..

But the visit which was to be a long one is suddenly cut short when news of James having broken off his engagement with Isabella and still the vindictive behaviour of John Thorpe reaches out as far as Northanger Abbey. Despatched back home, Catherine is forlorn and love struck but then an unexpected visit changes everything…..

A neat little novel in my opinion which reflects as much of life in terms of youngsters as it did when it was published more than two hundred years ago. The settings have changed and no doubt the interests, I suppose not many young girls are obsessed with gothic novels now? But I remember being young and worrying about the boy that likes you, the boy that you like. If they smile, if they don’t and all the worries in between. Close friendships with other girls in similar situations and the unity of one sex against another. Reflections on how devious women can be in the pursuit of men.

Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love.

This book made me smile and chuckle in places as Austen address the reader direct about such matters as well as the importance of the novel reflected by herself and in her characters.  How could Catherine even contemplate taking up with John Thorpe with his obvious distaste of novels;

“I never read novels; I have something else to do”

Catherine, humbled and ashamed, was going to apologise for her question, but he prevented her by saying, “Novels are all so full of  nonsense and stuff; there has not been a tolerably decent one come out since Ton Jones, except The Monk; I read that t’other day; but as for all the others, they are the stupidest things in creation.”

Any reader would have I am sure taken an immediate dislike to John, as I did. I wanted to tell Catherine never apologise for reading and enjoying novels. It keeps a great many authors in work.

Luckily Henry had different views

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

I quite agree! But then in the pursuit of men it seems Austen thought that women “especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.”

This is the second Austen I have read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I did have to perhaps concentrate a bit more, the language after all is dated. However, I am glad I have read it and it has certainly not put me off reading other Austen. I see I have a couple more on my kindle for when I feel like drifting back to another time.

I have used this book as one for my own personal 2012 challenge.

 

Books · Cooking · Witterings

Challenges

New Year, new start, new resolutions and new challenges. To be honest I am not one for making resolutions, as I think these can be made at any point in the year not just at the beginning of it. Plus there is the obvious wait as those around you who know that you have made a resolution wait to see you fall flat on your face!

I do know I want to do something different this year, something out of my comfort zone – but as of yet I do not know what it is and well I do not have to make up mind now do I? If anyone has any ideas or thoughts I would love to hear from them. Nothing dangerous to my health or others and nothing illegal!

There is always plenty of reading challenges doing the rounds and I have been reading about lots that many blogs I visit are starting for 2012.  This blog here  is a great start if you want to get involved, it seems to have something for everyone. I am so tempted by lots and lots of them, but I know with reading if I put myself under undue pressure nothing will happen and I will do my best to avoid reading for these challenges. However, they have given me an idea of my own and so I decided to set my own challenges. Without further ado….

Reading Challenges

The three Standard Challenges that I have every year is

  1. Read 50 books in the year
  2. Do not buy any more books
  3. Review every book I read
However, I thought I would perhaps expand this a bit and go for a few more.
New Challenges

The rules are simple for the first 5, read 1 book by that author.

Read 1 Charlotte Bronte Novel

Currently on Jane Eyre and have about 80 pages left and I know I started it in 2011, but I knew I was never going to finish it before the end of year.

Read 1 Charles Dickens novel

Not sure what book to choose here, so might leave that one up to fate. In addition thought with this one, as I live in Portsmouth and never been I am also going to visit Charles Dickens Birthplace at some point between 28 January and 4 November, if I can tie this in with the first Sunday of the month apparently they do some readings as well.

Read 1 Daphne du Maurier Novel

At the moment, I am thinking My Cousin Rachel, simply because I picked it up after having read Jamaica Inn last year and it is still on the shelf unread.

Read 1 Jane Austen Novel

Mansfield Park is the choice here. I already had downloaded this on my kindle after reading Persuasion last year, and then the delightful Rachel on Book Snob had a bit of luck getting hold of a rather beautiful copy, to read and well it would be rude not to join in!

Along with this one, is the fact that I won tickets to the Jane Austen House museum and need to go and experience all things Austenesque before the 31 August.

Read 1 Georgette Heyer Novel

I have never read any by this author and have seen lots and lots on the blogs I visit about her, so I knew that I must at least try one. Any recommendations?

Unfinished Books

I currently have a few unfinished books, they are currently unfinished because I have been struggling with them.

Little Women – Louisa May Alcott I am just finding this quite a difficult read.

The Crimson, Petal and the White – Michael Faber This is a long book, and whilst it is good other books kept getting in the way. 

Wedlock – Wendy Moore I think I need to restart this one completely so I can enjoy it properly. 

I would like to finish 1 of these this year.

Series Challenge

Looking back on 2011 I have picked 3 authors whose series of books I am currently reading and would like to read 3 more in the current series I am reading.

  1. M.C. Beaton – Agatha Raisin
  2. Carola Dunn – Daisy Dalrymple
  3. Debbie Macomber – Cedar Cove Series

I am going to copy this onto a tab at the top of my blog, so I and anyone else can keep a track on them. That way I can also add in more challenges throughout the year as they come to mind, or as some really tempt me.

What sort of challenges are you doing for 2012? Any I might have missed out on?