Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
Emma, Jane Austen
Blotto, Twinks and the Mystery of the Sphinx, Simon Brett
Still Missing , Beth Gutcheon
Strong Poison, Dorothy L Sayers
It’s the Little Things, Erica James
The Queen of New Beginnings, Erica James
Have his Carcase, Dorothy L Sayers
Caroline Crusoe, Mary Gervaise
Creature Comforts , Trisha Ashley
Emma, Alexander McCall Smith
Heirs of the Body (Daisy Dalrymple), Carola Dunn
The Misbegotten, Katherine Webb
opinions )

Five Children and It, E Nesbit
Funny Girl, Nick Hornby
Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
Five Children on the Western Front, Kate Saunders
To All Appearance, Dead, Liz Filleul
The Road to Middlemarch: My Life with George Eliot , Rebecca Mead
Middlemarch, George Eliot
Dandy Gilver and the Reek of Red Herrings, Catriona McPherson
Man at the Helm, Nina Stibbe
Silver, Andrew Motion
The State We’re In, Adele Parks
Several Sherlock Holmes stories on Kindle
The Curse of the Pharaohs, Elizabeth Peters
The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Café, Alexander McCall Smith
thoughts, quite long )

The Case of the Missing Money-Lender, W Stanley Sykes
At Break of Day/The First of July , Elizabeth Speller
Mrs Scrooge, Carol Ann Duffy and Posy Simmonds
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
The Minor Adjustment Beauty Parlour, Alexander McCall Smith
Ten Lords A-Leaping , C C Benison
Christmas at Carrington’s , Alexandra Brown
The Home Corner , Ruth Thomas
As Luck Would Have It, Derek Jacobi
Do You Think That’s Wise? Biography of John le Mesurier by Graham McCann
The Thirteen Days of Christmas, Jenny Overton
The Best of Good Housekeeping at Christmas 1922 - 1962
Christmas at Fairacre, Miss Read
Kevin Pietersen, Portrait of a Rebel, Marcus Stead
Round the Christmas Fire: Festive Stories A collection from Virago
some opinions )

Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers, Alexander McCall Smith
The Hollow Hills , Mary Stewart
A Mystery for Ninepence, Phyllis Gegan
Turned Out Nice Again , Richard Mabey
Hidden Lives A Family Memoir, Margaret Forster
The Perfect Present, Karen Swan
Manna from Hades (Cornish Mystery 1) ,Carola Dunn
This Rough Magic, Mary Stewart
Ribbons and Laces, Ruby M Ayres
thoughts )

I get quite miserable when I don’t have a good book or three on the go, and August was a miserable month for books. Here’s the list:

Mystery Mine, Malcolm Saville
Sea Witch Comes Home, Malcolm Saville
The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection, Alexander McCall Smith
The Two Mrs Abbotts , D E Stevenson
Flowers on the Grass , Monica Dickens
Deck with Flowers , Elizabeth Cadell
Lucretia and the Kroons, Victor LaValle
I Carried the Horn, Christine Pullein-Thompson
Various Pets Alive and Dead, Marina Lewycka
Painter of Silence, Georgina Harding
The Kashmir Shawl, Rosie Thomas
The Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight, Elizabeth von Arnim
and here’s what I thought of them. )

June Books

Jul. 1st, 2012 10:01 am
This month I have been mostly reading books already lying around the house or on the Kindle.


The Forgotten Affairs of Youth (Isabel Dalhousie), Alexander McCall Smith
Glimpses of the Moon, Edmund Crispin
Illyrian Spring, Ann Bridge
Chocolate Wishes, Trisha Ashley
Alice by Accident, Lynne Reid Banks
Bertie, May and Mrs Fish, Xandra Bingley
Call to Romance, Maureen Heeley
I Met him Again, Maysie Greig
Half Sick of Shadows, M C Beaton
Take no Farewell, Robert Goddard
Venetian Rhapsody, Denise Robins
The Glass Painter's Daughter, Rachel Hore
thoughts )

May books

Jun. 1st, 2012 11:53 am

Dennis & Co., William Glynne-Jones
Five Tigers and a Mouse, Mary Gervaise
Thorneyhold, Mary Stewart
Agatha Raisin and Love, Lies and Liquor, M C Beaton
Where Memories Lie, Deborah Crombie
John and Mary and Lisetta, Grace James
Our Kind of Traitor , John le Carré
Shattered, Dick Francis
The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith
The Town House, Norah Lofts
Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace , Kate Summerscale
Symposium , Muriel Spark
The Sense of an Ending , Julian Barnes
The Strange fate of Kitty Easton, Elizabeth Speller
The Amateur Marriage, Anne Tyler
thoughts )

March Books

Apr. 2nd, 2012 11:45 am

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
More about John & Mary, Grace James
Bertie Plays the Blues, Alexander McCall Smith
The Enchanted April , Elizabeth von Armin
A Perfect Proposal, Katie Fforde
Penelope Goes to Portsmouth, M C Beaton
Isa and May, Margaret Forster
A View of the Harbour, Elizabeth Taylor
Wait for Me!, Deborah Devonshire
London Under , Peter Ackroyd
The Adventures of John & Mary, Grace James
Kisses on a Postcard, Terence Frisby
The Matchmaker , Stella Gibbons
John & Mary Detectives, Grace James
How to be a Woman, Caitlin Moran
Still reading: Murder at Mansfield Park, Lynn Shepherd
thoughts )

Freddie de la Hay, the dog of Corduroy Mansions

Anderby Wold, Winifred Holtby
Blotto, Twinks and the Ex-King’s Daughter, Simon Brett
The Music at Long Verney , Twenty Stories, Sylvia Townsend Warner
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, Alan Bradley (Flavia de Luce)
Katherine at Feather Ghyll, Anne Bradley
State of Wonder, Ann Patchett
Humbug, E M Delafield.
Leave the Grave Green, Deborah Crombie
A Conspiracy of Friends, Alexander McCall Smith
more )


Nov. 28th, 2011 08:19 am
Last night I finished State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. Boy, was I glad to get out of that jungle. I kept thinking of The Man who Liked Dickens, brrr. Now to de-stress with the latest Corduroy Mansions collection.

March Books

Apr. 1st, 2011 04:01 pm

Rattle His Bones, Carola Dunn
Mariana, Monica Dickens
Cranford, Mrs Gaskell, free Kindle download
Peggy and the Brotherhood, Elsie J Oxenham
The Camp Mystery, Elsie J Oxenham
Phoebe Deane , Grace Livingston Hill
Letters of a Woman Homesteader , Elinore Pruitt Stewart
The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party, Alexander McCall Smith
The Crow Road, Ann Cleeves
The Dark of Summer , Eric Linklater
Back to Bologna, Michael Dibdin (Aurelio Zen mystery).
My Last Duchess, Daisy Goodwin
Sheer Folly (Daisy Dalrymple), Carola Dunn
Mrs Harris Goes to Paris & Mrs Harris Goes to New York, Paul Gallico
The Eagle of the Ninth , Rosemary Sutcliff
The Silver Branch, Rosemary Sutcliff

thoughts, long )


Our Street, East End Life in the Second World War, Gilda O’Neill
The Return of Hyman Kaplan, Leo Rosten
The Importance of Being Seven, Alexander McCall Smith
Brother and Sister, Joanna Trollope
Perfume, Patrick Suskind
The Way Things Are, E M Delafield
Blaming, Elizabeth Taylor
The Cazalet Chronicles, Elizabeth Jane Howard
Eden Close, Anita Shreve
Murder at the Museum, Simon Brett
After Julius, Elizabeth Jane Howard
thoughts )

Right now, I don’t want anything that’s edgy, scary, weird or deals with social and world issues I can’t do anything about. For the time being I want a duvet of emotional comfort around me and luckily I’m finding it with books and DVDs.

I’ve doted on The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series from the first book and the very latest, The Double Comfort Safari Club, doesn’t disappoint. True, some bad things happen, and to nice people, but the basic goodness of Mma Ramotswe and Mr J L B Matekoni still encourages belief in the possibility of niceness and the value of life. I’m also re-reading O Douglas yet again; she had the same gift of writing about good people without making them boring.
After Henry/Mapp & Lucia/When the Boat Comes In )

Thanks to the wondrousness that is currently my library, I’ve been able to read the two latest offerings from Alexander McCall Smith (though I’ll probably buy them anyway, to match the rest). First, The Lost Art of Gratitude. *L
‘Detective series’ is a somewhat misleading description of the Isabel Dalhousie novels. Rather than page-turning mysteries we have slightly odd happenings which bother people and which Isabel feels obliged to investigate. There’s less description of events than there is stream of consciousness writing, in which Isabel’s thoughts wander, even while she’s on the phone or talking to someone else. It’s all very agreeable because she is an intelligent woman with an agreeable, indeed enviable lifestyle. Strolling around Edinburgh and its environs is also very pleasant. If I have a niggle with this particular title it’s the constant harping on about Scotland and Isabel’s pride in her son Charlie’s Scottishness (he even has a baby kilt). ‘What?’ you may say, ‘It is set in Edinburgh after all.’ Yes, but if I were to write a book about the wonderfulness of being English, someone having ‘English eyes’, for goodness sake, people would suspect me of BNP sympathies. 'Snot fair.

As usual, it’s the basic decency of the McCall Smith world which appeals. I liked this about books:

‘Children like simple tales,’ said Isabel.
‘And we don’t?’
Isabel thought about this. It was just too easy to say that adults did not like stories that were simple, and perhaps that was wrong. Perhaps that was what adults really wanted, searched for and rarely found: a simple story in which good triumphs against cynicism and despair. That was what she wanted, but she was aware of the fact that one did not publicise the fact too widely, certainly not in sophisticated circles. Such circles wanted complexity, dysfunction and irony: there was no room for joy, celebration or pathos. But where was the fun in that?

I think a lot of us are looking for that sort of fun sometimes.

Next. Corduroy Mansions )

How Green are my Wellies?*, Anna Shepard
Lilies That Fester, Hazel Holt
Mary Todd’s Last Term, Frances Greenwood
Teatime for the Traditionally Built, Alexander McCall Smith
The Murder on the Downs, Simon Brett
The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart
The Cipher Garden, Martin Edwards*
Silent in the Grave, Deanna Raybourn
Singled Out. How two million women survived without men after the first world war, Virginia Nicholson
Green Grass, Raffaella Barker
Nella Last’s Peace
Reviews )

A lot of people seem to have had what they call a bad reading month, by which they mean they haven’t read much. We’re not all in some Stakhanovite competition to see who can read the most books. One might read a lot of bad books or just one superlative one; which is more worthwhile? (rhetorical question). I only managed half a dozen but the first was very good indeed.

Miracles of Life by J G Ballard. Lent to me by [profile] huskyteer and finished within twenty four hours. Ballard is not really my kind of writer but I loved Empire of the Sun. It still bugs me that Hotel du Lac won the Booker prize in 1984 when Ballard’s wonderful novel was on the shortlist. Ballard was brought up in Shanghai, the privileged child of a prosperous expat. community surrounded by the appalling filth and poverty of the native Chinese. He spent two and a half years in a Japanese internment camp then after the war travelled to a depressing, defeated-seeming England, where he felt like an alien. These events help to explain how in spite of a public school education and Cambridge, despite living in the same suburban house for fifty years, he has managed to remain an outsider in his head. This autobiography is beautifully written and reads like a novel. Highly recommended.
more books )

The camel bookmobile is exactly what it sounds like: a mobile library which transports its books by camel. This sounds impossibly exotic but it really exists; the author Masha Hamilton has travelled with it and she gives an address to which book donations for the library can be sent. In the novel American librarian Fi, (thirties, unmarried), decides against the advice of her friends to volunteer for work with the mobile library, taking books and, she believes, literacy and broader horizons to remote villages in Kenya. Not surprisingly, things don’t turn out exactly as she had imagined and not everyone in the village of Mididinga welcomes her or the books.

The author has obviously given much thought to the problems of two cultures meeting and one of the themes of the book is the question of whether the mission is actually cultural imperialism, although that phrase is not used. Conflicts in the village between old and new ways of thinking are represented by different characters; the author obviously loves them but how can an outsider possibly even guess at what goes through the mind of an African peasant? This is a problem and I thought there was rather a rose-tinted view of life in the bush.

Readers are bound to compare this book with Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. For me, McCall Smith’s Africa is better described and more convincing and the books better written. Critics have had fun (see Radio 4’s Dead Ringers) with the slow pace of the chronicles of Mma Ramotswe but I have always argued that the prose reflects the slower pace of life of the characters. I found the same technique applied in The Camel Bookmobile began to pall about half way through the story, when I began mentally begging the writer to ‘Get on with it!’ It was still an enjoyable and different read.
I'm late with this but I've written about most of them already.

Sputnik Caledonia, Andrew Crumey
The Provost’s Jewel, Elisabeth Kyle
The Careful Use of Compliments, Alexander McCall Smith
Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer, Jane Brocket
Eating for England, Nigel Slater
When Will There Be Good News? Kate Atkinson
A Company of Swans, Eva Ibbotson
The Secret Countess, Eva Ibbotson
Caught in the Light, Robert Goddard
Another superb thriller with a convoluted plot in which nothing is what it seems. Unusually, a very dark ending.
Caroline at the Film Studios, Barbara Vereker
This is the first of four books about Caroline. I shan't bother seeking out the rest, in spite of the cover.
The Unbearable Lightness of Scones, Alexander McCall Smith
I was longing to read this and am désolée to learn that there will not be another instalment next year.
The Star of Kazan, Eva Ibbotson
I started Madam Will You Talk by Mary Stewart but I realised straight away that I knew the story, although I couldn't remember the book. I think it must have been a radio play fairly recently?
The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters edited by Charlotte Mosley
Why am I reading this? Ghastly old bats.
Coming Up For Air, George Orwell
Re-read of which more later.

A review in the Telegraph a few weeks ago made me think I would like Sputnik Caledonia by Andrew Crumey. Unfortunately, I was wrong, but that’s not to say it’s a bad book or an uninteresting one. Robbie is growing up in Glasgow in the 1960s in an old fashioned socialist household. He dreams not of being an astronaut but a cosmonaut, having been convinced by his father that Russian is Best. He lives mainly in his head (so far, so Black Swan Green) and part one ends with him hearing voices speaking to him from the ancient radiogram in his bedroom.

In part two, Robbie is nineteen, in the same physical spot but a parallel universe in which a 1946 revolution has established a Democratic Republic based on Marxist principles. Robbie has little recollection of his former life but is surrounded by people who are alternative versions of those he has known before. He has no idea what is going on (makes two of us) and is a willing guinea pig in an unbelievably cruel experiment. I found this very hard going, especially all the physics. Part three returns to the present in which a character known only as ‘the kid’ fantasises about Dr Who and is strangely connected to Robert’s family.

All this is very clever in its plotting connections and also, in a Nice Work sort of way, in its literary exploitation of Goethe. At the end though, I’m afraid my feeling was ‘So wot?’ and I was quite unmoved by it.

Also Scottish but very different is a children’s book, The Provost’s Jewel by Elisabeth Kyle, first published in 1950. Elisabeth Kyle is best known for her series of books about Peter and Margot Furze, which began with Visitors from England in 1941. In this book ten year old orphan Walter is allowed by his uncle to fend for himself for a while to prove that he is fit to move to New York. He leaves peaceful Port Angus for teeming Glasgow and, as is the way of such stories, foils some notorious jewel thieves. I found this less engaging than her other books but Glaswegians would love reading about the trams!

Finally, I’m now reading the latest Isabel Dalhousie novel, The Careful Use of Compliments by Alexander McCall Smith. Some people say they like the lady detectives but can’t get into the Edinburgh books and others say just the opposite. I love Mma Ramotswe and I can’t get enough of Scotland Street; as far as I’m concerned it could go on and on forever. I’m less fond of Isabel and her so-called crime solving but I still enjoy reading about life in Edinburgh. Next up, something very English, I think.

I treated myself to The World According to Bertie now it’s in paperback. Goodness, it’s been on my wish list long enough. Of course I’m loving it as I can’t get enough of Bertie, Cyril and sad Matthew. But something odd has happened to the denizens of Scotland Street. I think they must have been reading the novels of Alexander McCall Smith because they are adopting the speech patterns of Gabarone. Take this: ‘Fathers don’t want their daughters to get hurt. And yet they know that there are plenty of men only too ready to treat them badly. They know that.’ Mr J L B Matekoni? Nope, Dr Macgregor, Edinburgh psychiatrist. Really? And here’s Angus Lordie: ‘If one wrote a note to such a hostess one would have to say: ”To one who stayed away.” Yes! That’s what one would have to write.’ See what I mean?



January 2017



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