June Books

Jul. 3rd, 2016 10:30 am

Jane’s Parlour, O Douglas
Dark Bahama, Peter Cheyney
The Two Mrs Abbotts, D E Stevenson
The Countenance Divine, Michael Hughes
Love Notes for Freddie, Eva Rice
Death on the Riviera, John Bude
Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal, H E Bates
Death on the Cherwell, Mavis Doriel Hay
A Spool of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler
The Sea Garden, Marcia Willett
A Week in Paris, Rachel Hore
Weekend with Death, Patricia Wentworth
The Butterfly Summer, Harriet Evans
Eliza for Common, O Douglas
opinions (long) )

Not another gardening post but a reference to the number of books around which are about rose gardens. It seems the way to get a book published is to set the story in an old English house with big gardens where roses are grown commercially. My reading of The Rose Garden was followed immediately by The Rose Girls. This was my choice of pre-publication free Kindle book for the month (there isn’t much choice, TBH). Three sisters live in an old, beautiful but crumbling manor house in Suffolk. For three generations their family has run a business from the house breeding and selling roses. Now that their mother is dead, can they keep everything going without sacrificing the house? Each sister had her own difficult relationship with their mother (ghastly woman!) and of course, each has her own love life to cope with. Lots of detail about roses (all named and described, which is nice) and a story you want to know the end of. It will be out on 1st June.

But I’m getting tired of books which are ‘all right’ and went to the library yesterday in search of stronger meat.


Unfortunately, our library is small and the only way to get recent books is to order them. That’s easily done online but then you have to read the book as soon as it’s ready for you, and who knows whether that will be the right time to read it? The pic above shows my little haul. One non-fiction title by an author whose books I’ve enjoyed before; reliable Simon Brett; a Gladys Mitchell because I’ve never read anything by her. I’m on/off, love/hate with Douglas Coupland’s books; let’s hope this is a love. My next read will be Crooked Heart which I snatched off the ‘just returned’ shelf the second I saw it there. I absolutely loved Their Finest Hour and a Half.

Last Saturday, I called in at the library when I was in town and, as so often happens, came out without a book. I take my little notebook (see above) containing lists of authors I’m on the lookout for, but fail to find any of their books. I can only get books by ordering them specially or by a great piece of luck. For some perverse reason, I usually trust to luck. Perhaps I get more pleasure from a serendipitous discovery. Now I’ve found a new way to borrow books, via The Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. Since Amazon emails me every day with offers of items I don’t want to buy, such as plasma TVs, I don’t understand why I wasn’t alerted to this service. Here’s how it works. You return the book via Manage My Kindle. Just go to Your Kindle Library, find the borrowed book, click on ‘actions’ and ‘return this book’ is one of the options. Then you can borrow another. So what was the first book loan I tried?
Shrinking Violet by Karina Lickorish Quinn )
This morning I opened a book I took out of the library a couple of days ago and found this arresting sticker inside:

It's the first I've seen and I must say I don't like being put under pressure.
The book? Agatha Raisin As the Pig Turns.

For the last few days I’ve been feeling desperate for new reading matter, in spite of having several TBR books around the place. My recent visits to the library have left me with a frustratingly empty book bag so yesterday I ventured further afield and came back with this little haul.

For a while now I’ve been wondering if it’s really possible for Laurie R King to have written successful books about a married Sherlock Holmes. Now’s my chance to find out by reading The Language of Bees. I loved Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and have read a couple more of Paul Torday’s books, so into the bag went More Than You Can Say. Silly me, I found I’d already read St Mungo’s Robin but had failed to recognise the cover, so that’s a wasted loan.

Reading the blurb for Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House I now wonder if I dare read it. I already know the story of Saplings so well I could probably write a synopsis, yet I’ve never actually read the book; something I’m about to remedy. Another Persephone book, this time one I’d never heard of: Doreen by Barbara Noble. Not a promising title, is it? Finally, I’ve already started Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker. So far I find her to be a monster.
No, not Shakespeare: Trisha Ashley.


I picked this up at the library, knowing nothing about it, because it’s yet another book about an old house. Sophy Winter has spent years working for other people in historic houses when she inherits one of her own. There’s a classic chick lit set up when she gets there: attractive but horrible man and man she takes a dislike to but the reader knows is right for her. I liked all the detail in this book about the house, the furnishings and how they are restored plus a lot of information about reconstructing an historic garden.

This book is recommended for people who like Katie Fforde. I've enjoyed several of KF's books but her crown may be slipping. A Winter's Tale is much better than Stately Pursuits because of all the detail I've mentioned. This may be chick lit but it's very intelligently written (that's not meant to be as patronising as it sounds). I liked the way that all the elements are there for gothic horror; a ghost, a challenge to the inheritance, rivals in love but Sophy's common sense prevails in the manner of Georgette Heyer's stronger-minded heroines.

I should write in very small letters that I much preferred it to The Little Stranger; I'm going right off literary fiction in favour of the well written, unpretentiously enjoyable. Having said that, I've just picked up my library-ordered copy of this

I'm the very first person to read it! We'll see how I get on with 650 (gulp) pages. I was pleased to spot another Dandy Gilver Murder Mystery while I was there. Less pleased that it was on one of those awful carousels instead of in the crime fiction section where I'd been looking for it. And Howards End is on the Landing is not in their system yet but I'll be first when it is. Ha ha!

Yesterday morning I had an email from the library telling me my requested book was waiting. I rushed down to get it and finished it the same day. This was The Spy Game by Georgina Harding. At last, something to read! Tell me a story! I was fascinated from the start, as I’d expected to be. Anna's and Peter’s mother drives away on a foggy day in 1961. They never see her again. Two days earlier the Portland Spy Ring has been rounded up. As was common then, the children are told nothing about their mother’s death, leaving an opening for fantasy: 'Peter, who was so clever but did not know where you divided stories from reality.'

Peter’s fantasy is that their German mother is not dead but a spy and his theories lead to unhappiness for all. In the end it is not Peter but Anna, after their father’s death, who tries to find out more about their mother’s early life. The book is beautifully written, the sixties period feel exactly right. (Odd that this era of fog, Cold War, black and white, should now have a strange glamour about it.) It also touches on the problems of displacement in post-war Europe with great economy. By the end of the story doubts remain, in Anna’s mind and the reader’s. Is the truth better known, or not? What is identity? Can people reinvent themselves and if so, who are they then? I absolutely loved this book and recommend it highly. Just as well, because I’d had three reading failures on the trot.
books I couldn’t finish )
I've done some silly things today. The first was to hang out the washing first thing. It's been raining ever since. Another was to persevere with reading a book I was hating. Why? I did the sensible thing and gave up. Hem, the others are too silly to mention. Doing better, I got all these books from Ferndown library, so much better than ours.

I've read Highland Fling before but so long ago I can't remember it. If just one of the others pleases me, I'll be happy.
There's nothing on television and no Test Match until Thursday and that means no knitting. So, I had plenty of reading time over the weekend.

A Proper Education for Girls, Elaine Di Rollo. *L This is a rollicking good read, which gets off to a promisingly gothick start. An enormous Victorian pile stuffed to the rafters with 'the collection' and elderly relatives. A bullying father, more than half mad. Twin sisters who've had an extraordinary education. A doctor with terrifying ideas on how to 'treat' female maladies like independence of spirit. Will both girls manage to escape? The publishers haven’t done the author any favours with the horrible cover. Ignore it; the book is good fun.

Delay of Execution, Hazel Holt *L
The trouble with the Sheila Malory mysteries is that I read them too quickly! In this one, Mrs Malory is appointed literary executor of an old friend. She plans to write a biography but discovers things about the late author which she thinks should not be printed. (Shades of Nicola Beauman and Elizabeth Taylor!) She is not the only one with an interest in suppressing the truth and the result is another murder for her to investigate.

Someone at A Distance, Dorothy Whipple *L
I could hardly put this book down. It starts with an unusually convincing description of happy, prosperous middle class family life. The sudden way in which it comes crashing down is brilliantly explained. It’s tougher stuff than you’d expect; the effect on the teenage daughter is heartbreaking, although she is as manipulative in her own way as the villainess of the piece. Odd Girl Out by Elizabeth Jane Howard (1972) has many similarities with this book.

These books all came from the library and if ever I see the Whipple on the sale trolley, I'll snap it up. How I regret now selling this lovely first edition of another of her books.

Still, I was hard up at the time. Oh, besieged? More work on the house has just started and there's a man downstairs.

Yesterday, I actually came back from the library with some books to read. I’ve nearly finished The Girl from the Fiction Department, about Sonia Orwell. Hilary Spurling felt Sonia’s reputation had been besmirched and set out to put the record straight. The Sue Cook I think I’ve seen well reviewed somewhere and Fannie Flagg, well, I’ll give her a try. I only wanted light reading. The Georgette Heyer was a 10p trolley buy and it’s falling apart; the other library reject, by Robert Goddard, is a hardback in excellent condition. Tsk.
What a beautiful song, what an earworm. I only have to hear Bob Dylan’s Make Me Feel Your Love once to have it fixed firmly in my head and I'm obsessed with it this morning. The version you hear on the radio all the time is by Adele but I prefer Bryan Ferry from Dylanesque.

now for the library )

Goodness, I'm hard to please at the moment; I keep starting books and not finishing them. Failures first. Several people have recommended the Lakeland series by Martin Edwards and they sound so promising: lovely setting and lots about gardening. So I started The Cipher Garden and after one chapter was so confused by the number of characters and the difficulty of working out who was speaking to whom that I gave up. Worth another try, perhaps. Completely different is Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn. This has a nineteenth century setting and I can see that in a different mood I might find it fun but for now it just doesn't grip. I've enjoyed Simon Brett's Fethering mysteries and read Death on the Downs in bed, only to find that I didn't like it as much as the others. more successful reading )

I’m having a terrible time settling to reading at the moment. I have any number of books around, started but not finished. Being so stressed out by builders means that the highlight of my day is getting into bed with a hot water bottle and a cosy Mrs Malory Mystery; saddo me. The exception is Hopes and Fears by Charlotte M Yonge which is new to me and totally gripping. I revere that lady so much that she deserves another post of her own.

All the books in the picture above came into the house yesterday. Thin Blue Smoke by Doug Worgul I was lucky enough to win in a draw over on the dovegreyreader blog. ‘A novel about music, food and love’; well, two out of three ain’t bad and dovegrey certainly made me want to read it. From the library comes La’s Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith. I heard this on Book at Bedtime, or would have done if I hadn’t regularly dropped off to sleep before the end of each episode. Let’s hope reading it will prove less soporific. I’ve just ordered Tea Time for the Traditionally Built. I was tempted because The Book People have it for £4.99 but adding on their postage charge made it cheaper from Amazon (with Prime). Goody, another parcel will be on its way.
Also from the library is Anna Shepard’s How Green are my Wellies?. I picked this up thinking it would be about gardening but see it actually deals with green matters generally. Hmm. The author writes for The Times and has a green blog. It will have to be very good to please me.

The top three books on the pile also came from the library but I bought them for ten pence each. This is shocking, really; only one of them is in poor enough condition IMO to warrant throwing out. Damsel in Distress is part of The Everyman Wodehouse series and is in just about perfect condition. Donna Leon: some say one thing, some say another. The books are never in the library or in any charity shops so I was happy to risk twenty pence to find out if I will be a Brunetti fan. Although I’m pleased to have the books, I still think it quite wrong that for every new book coming into the library, an old one has to go.

To add to my weekend’s reading pleasure, Folly Magazine arrived today. [profile] lizarfau, First Term at Cotterford is highly recommended!

At the end of last year I rather rashly pledged myself to take part in the Library Challenge. My first library book of the year is The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher. This was shortlisted for the 2008 Booker prize and was one of the few on the list I wanted to read.

It’s a massive book, 738 pages of it and considering that it’s hard to manage such a heavy book when prone in bed, I read it quite quickly. Now I’m left wondering exactly what sort of book it is. The author gives the answer himself at one point; ‘it’s about people like us’. Oh dear me yes, this novel tells a story, about two generations of two families from the 1970s to the present. I rather feared it might be one of those zeitgeist-y books egged with references to Angel Delight and Vesta curries in order to press the right buttons for a certain readership. I’m pleased to say that Hensher is too good a writer for that and political landmarks like the miners’ strike fit naturally into the characters’ lives.

The action is set mostly in Sheffield, with some scenes in London and Sydney. There’s a wide cast of characters, some more interesting than others, some more interesting as children than as adults (just like life?). There are good things in it; I particularly liked the contrast between the staged English Civil War battle re-enactment in one section of the book and the real battle at Orgreave. It is really a chronicle of birth, marriage and death, with a Life Is Sweet moral to it. I prefer books (unless they’re 19th century, or The Bonfire of the Vanities) to be shorter, punchier and weirder, which is why I think Jonathan Coe’s The Rotters’ Club beats this hollow.

Here’s my next selection from the library.

I may not read them all, so no commitments. I thought I’d try an Agatha Raisin book, since someone commented here that they were awful. I’ve never met Inspector Peach, so I’ll give him a go. The titles you can’t read (that plastic covering) are A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair and Monica Dickens’ Mariana, both published by Persephone. I’m delighted to see the library is now stocking some Persphone books. I’m currently enjoying The Camel Bookmobile.

I’m going to follow the excellent example of geraniumcat and take up the Support Your Local Library Library Challenge next year. I’m not setting myself any targets I don’t think I can meet, so I’m not aiming for fifty. As I said before, I’m already using the library more often and have the jolly little pile above to read.

Dark Puss/Peter the Flautist, whose comments I am often reading on other blogs, is always exhorting people to use libraries instead of buying books. Very laudable but there is a problem: libraries now only keep books for a very short time. I had to buy this Hazel Holt book

from the library (30p); I couldn’t borrow it because they were throwing it out. So if you borrow a book and think you’ll want to read it again, you really have to buy it or it’s gone forever. November Books )
Someone else on my Flist has been extolling the joys of decluttering and I agree that it is very satisfying. When you’ve lived in a big house for a long time and downsizing looms, there’s an awful lot of stuff to be got rid of and one feels less overwhelmed by it all if a box is got rid of every now and then.

One thing I do every year and more than once is to dispose of hundreds of books. I know this will cause raised eyebrows amongst people happy to live with tottering piles but, see above, I don’t like to feel out of control and I buy more books than I can keep. I’ve been going through the shelves in the hall and am rather shocked by what is a keeper and what a goer. IN stay Adrian Mole and Bridget Jones. OUT go Dostoievsky, Gogol and Turgenev. Admittedly, these are old Penguin Classics with browning pages and small print (print is getting smaller, I swear) but something puritan in me says this must be wrong.

But why? What are books for? Classics will always be available. I think the slightly guilty feeling comes from the idea that one ought to have a library and that means a range of reference books and of the great classics. OK, I’m certainly never parting with Jane Austen, George Eliot or Dickens because who knows when I might just have to read them and NOW. Do I need to keep Greek classic plays and the great Russians (I’m excepting Tolstoy, who stays) in case I want to check something? Or to impress visitors? Huh: the only thing visitors to our house ever want to look at is the juke box. I turned out huge numbers of history books years ago on the grounds that they were out of date and never looked at, but I still felt uneasy about it. I do still have a copy of the Penguin History Tudor England by S T Bindoff. It has my name inside, with ‘VI 1 Arts 11’ and I have a strange sentimental attachment to it.

So the boot of the car fills up regularly with neatly tied up carrier bags full of books for the Oxfam book bank. No doubt a number will be dumped but somebody, somewhere may be pleased to find others. I hope so.



January 2017



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