I enjoy Adèle Geras’s novels because they’re so full of the kind of detail I like about clothes, houses, gardens etc. Cover Your Eyes has all this, as expected, but is also a kind of ghost story, with a mystery buried in the past. There are two main characters. Megan is an aspiring journalist who is dumped by her lover, also her boss. She has previously interviewed Eva Conway, a once-famous fashion designer, at her home, Salix House. When the two meet again, there seems to be a bond between them.

Salix House is at the heart of the novel. Eva and her husband Antoine bought it as a wreck and she turned the house and garden into a thing of beauty. Now Antoine is dead and the house is shared by Eva’s daughter Rowena, her husband and their two little girls. Eva had made the house over to Rowena to avoid death duties and now Rowena wants to sell it, because they can’t afford the upkeep. Eva is utterly miserable at the thought of leaving not only her creation but also her memories, both good and bad. For Eva is constantly suppressing bad memories, to the extent that she has every mirror covered up for fear of what she might see in it. Who or what is this presence which can sometimes be felt or worse, seen? It’s all linked, we know, to what happened to Eva just before the war, when she was sent to England with the Kindertransport and her sister was left behind. Curiously, when Megan visits the house again, then moves in to look after the children, she senses something strange and thinks she sees – someone? – in her looking glass. Possibly it’s because Megan also feels guilty about something in her past. So there we are; a ghost story and an exploration of the nature of guilt and forgiveness.

By the end of the book I’d changed my view of most of the characters. When Megan first appears, broken hearted, she seems a sympathetic character but isn’t she actually rather stupid, having an affair with a married man WHEN THEY NEVER LEAVE THEIR WIVES? Also something of a slag, sleeping with the first available man and then falling immediately for another. Can I really be more old fashioned than Adèle Geras who is, if she will forgive my saying so, even older than I am? Oh well, I’m not a popular novelist and obviously never will be as I am far too strikt. Rowena at first appears shrewish, bossing her mother about. When I knew more about her childhood, I felt sorry for her and started to dislike Eva. As this is fiction, every problem is resolved at the end of the book.

I read the book very quickly and although I don’t think it’s Adèle Geras’s best novel, it is an enjoyable read. It’s published by Quercus and I read it courtesy of NetGalley.

The Kindle edition of this book says that it’s by Sue Hepworth ‘in association with Jane Linfoot’. What does that mean? Elsewhere, Sue Hepworth gets the only credit. Anyway, many thanks to the blogger out there who recommended this book, because I found it a very enjoyable, funny, light read.

Sally is about to be sixty and her husband is living in a cabin in America to get in touch with his inner Thoreau. The children have left home and she thinks, ‘what hope is there of sorting out my life before I die – a has-been writer and a washed-up wife?’ She’s written one book, which sold quite well but times have changed in the publishing world and her agent can’t place the new one. So Sally decides to self-publish, both in paperback and e-book form.

The book is written as a diary so we follow the many trials of the self-publishing author in some detail. ‘You could write a book about self-publishing. My book would contain three words: “DON’T DO IT.”' Her agent has stressed the importance of maintaining a media presence so Sally feels obliged to have a blog and to tweet every day. Her trouble is finding anything to say: ‘The best thing about self-publishing – apart from being able to choose my own book cover (yay!) is that it will give me something to blog about.’ Most diary entries end with the tweet of the day and it’s amusing when a horrendous day produces an anodyne tweet about how pretty the snowdrops or whatever are looking.

There has to be a love interest, and one which will appeal to the, ahem, more mature woman. As soon as Sally meets a handsome man on the local cycle trail and takes an instant dislike to him, it’s obvious where things are going. Of course nothing is that easy. The gorgeous man has poisonous daughters, Sally’s brother and then one of her sons plus girlfriend all move into her house and old friend Wendy seems to be round all the time. How is a person supposed to write? To find out whether the book and the romance are successful, you’ll just have to read the novel. Plus, budding authors could get quite a few tips about publishing from it.

The Poppy Factory , Liz Trenow
Diamond, Jacqueline Wilson
Dangerous Lover, Sonia Deane
Summer of Love, Katie Fforde
As Berry and I Were Saying, Dornford Yates
Saving Grace , Jane Green
It Started With Paris, Cathy Kelly
opinions )

I’ve written before about how much I enjoy Trisha Ashley’s chicklit for the intelligent person. In no time we have references to the Bröntes, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens (I found ‘Barkis is willing’ very funny), Frank Zappa (that’s an unusual one) and Bob Dylan. Her books are always well written, with nothing to irritate. Every Woman for Herself was first published in 2002, so is earlier than the others I’ve read.

You wouldn’t expect a book which begins with a divorce and a case of manslaughter to be funny, but Every Woman for Herself manages it. Artist Charlie Fry (née Rhymer) is suddenly informed by her rat of a husband that he’s divorcing her, everything is fixed and she just has to sign a few papers. Shocked, if not that sad, she prepares to go back to her family for a while. Home is the Parsonage (an affectation of her father’s, since it’s no such thing), inhabited by a bunch of very eccentric characters. Ran, the father, is a writer who keeps a series of mistresses in the Summer Cottage. His latest is Jessica, known as the Treacle Tart. She has moved into the house with her twin girls, an unprecedented threat. Ran hoped to raise an extraordinary family and he succeeded. Tough, outspoken (she’s terribly rude to Jessica) Emily, a wonderful cook, runs the household and dabbles in white witchcraft. Anne, usually overseas as a war correspondent, is home recovering from cancer. Wars didn’t seem to last long once she’d (Anne) arrived – I think they took one look and united against a greater peril. The really clever one is Branwell, an academic whose behaviour is definitely abnormal. He occasionally returns home to recover his equilibrium. The other members of the household are faithful retainers Walter and Gloria Mundi, brother and sister who live in a separate cottage. Gloria is a mother figure for the children. Like Emily, she has the power of sight and tries to interfere in people’s lives (for their own good as she sees it) by reading tea leaves and brewing vile potions.
more )

The heroine isn’t really called Miss Bun, of course. Her name is Miss Pringle and she is a baker’s daughter. Sue Pringle’s mother is dead and her father, a domineering man whom nobody likes, forces Sue to leave school at fourteen in order to keep house for him. Then he marries again, and two women in one house just don’t fit. So here’s Sue: nineteen years old, uneducated, living at home in a small Scottish border town and depending on her grandparents for love and kindness. One day, wealthy Mrs Darnay is in grandfather’s shop bewailing her lack of a cook. Sue immediately offers her services, to grandfather’s distress. Her mind made up, Sue packs a case and sets off for Tog’s Mill. Little does she suspect Mrs Darnay’s cunning plan. She and her French maid disappear in the night, leaving Sue alone in the house with Mr Darnay, an artist. She decides that he is helpless around the house and declares that she will stay to look after him. The impropriety of the situation is obvious to all but the two involved and Sue is quite a strong-minded young woman. She finds herself fascinated by Darnay’s work, conversation and attitudes. Without realising it, she is being educated at last but also, just to complicate matters, falling in love with him. The rest of the book is about what happens, much of it highly unlikely but Romantic.

What’s worrying about that? I hear you ask. This book was first published in 1939. At one point Sue says, ‘I like Franco. He has a nice face.’ ‘Stupid, ignorant girl’, you think. Ignorant she may be, but the reader is not allowed to think her stupid; rather, according to D E Stevenson, she embodies all the sterling qualities of the lowland Scot. Towards the end of the book, Sue has tracked down Darnay’s London dealer, Hedley. The following appalling conversation takes place.
‘Gaga!’ declared Edward, waggling his head idiotically.
‘Gaga!’ cried Mr Hedley indignantly. ‘Why on earth can’t you speak English? Need we have Yiddish words foisted upon us? It’s time Hitler …but no matter.’

Time Hitler what? Am I reading this wrongly? I’m usually tolerant of outmoded and repugnant attitudes in books written between the wars, saying, autre temps, autre moeurs, but this is 1939! This one brief incident put me right off the book and off Stevenson.

The charm of the book lies almost entirely in the descriptions of the landscape, language and people of lowland Scotland. None of the characters engaged me much. I’m thankful that D E Stevenson wrote better books than this one, and it will be a while before I read another.
No, not for me: more romantic fiction. It’s one of those weird things, but whenever I do find something good at the market, it’s within five minutes of sticking the parking ticket on the windscreen and setting off hunting. Last Saturday my very first stop was by two promising-looking boxes of old books. I didn’t know whether to admire the seller’s cheek or correct his arithmetic because when I asked how much the books were, he replied, ‘thirty pence each or five for £1.50’! I bought some from him and another elsewhere. Since then, I’ve read three of them, one after the other.

The best find, because it’s quite a scarce book, was The Two Mrs Abbotts by D E Stevenson, a first edition. It’s the third book about Barbara Buncle, by now Mrs Abbott. The other Mrs Abbott is Jerry, married to the elder Mr Abbott’s nephew. This is a pleasant read about life in a small country town during the war. It’s very like some of Angela Thirkell’s books in that it’s virtually plotless, apart from the odd romance, and consists largely of tea parties and conversations. I have to say that Angela Thirkell was a much better writer.


Another first edition and even with a dustwrapper, was Flowers on the Grass by Monica Dickens. I find her a very variable writer; enjoyed One Pair of Feet, didn’t like Mariana, which most people rave about. Flowers on the Grass I liked a lot and read quickly. It’s the story of one man, Daniel, an unsuccessful artist and occasional art teacher. He leads a restless life. The chapter headings are all named for people he interacts with and the effect he has on their lives. I particularly liked ‘The Nurses’, where Monica Dickens was obviously drawing on her own experience. Daniel is the kind of feckless, commitment-phobic yet charming character I’d usually disapprove of but by the end of the book it’s clear what a basically decent chap he is. Probably my favourite of about six Monica Dickens books I’ve read.

Elizabeth Cadell is still a very popular author. I’d only read one of her books before and didn’t think much of it, but I enjoyed Deck with Flowers. A famous opera singer is dictating her memoirs (which will revive the fortunes of a small publishing house), when she suddenly, hysterically, refuses to go on. Her action seems to be connected with the mysterious death of her first husband. Why does she suddenly dismiss her secretary? What is the connection between her friend, the fabulously wealthy maharajah, and the uncle of the main character? There are two romances in the story but the main interest is in the mystery. Enjoyable light reading.


I have an on-off relationship with D E Stevenson, liking some of her books much more than others. Over the years I’ve had plenty through my hands, usually passing them on, something I now rather regret. Celia’s House will be a keeper; I really loved it. As in Ambermere, the house (here, Dunnion), is as important as the family living in it. The story begins in 1905 with Dunnion owned by a Miss Celia Dunne and ends in 1942 with another Miss Celia Dunne living there with her father and cousin. The Celia of the title is obviously crucial to the plot, but we don’t see much of her in the book. It’s far more a family story set in the Scottish borders; the story of a marriage, of love affairs and of the neighbours.

I was struck by how much D E Stevenson had drawn on Mansfield Park. There are amateur theatricals manipulated to allow for illicit liaisons. Little cousin Deb, who gives away her heart once and forever as a child, has the Fanny role. The book was published in 1943 and when a soldier walks up to the house one day during the war, the reader is left to guess the future of Celia and Dunnion. The synopsis given on the back of my copy gives a completely false impression of the story by suggesting that it’s about the struggle between generations. All generations here get along just fine.

This post is really an excuse to reproduce the cover of the old Fontana paperback. I have three of these now. They are so much of their time (around 1970) and so completely misleading!
two more covers )

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 )
My market posts always prove popular. Last week you could have had a tasteful photo of an enormous bowl of fruit. This week, however, I had more luck.

There was a chap there with two big boxes packed with books published by the Valentine Romance Club, an imprint new to me. They were all 1950s editions in lovely dustwrappers and if I had any space at all at home, I’d have haggled with him for a price for the lot. As it was, I decided on a fiver’s-worth.

The Denise Robins cover is particularly fine, I think. They all need a good dust.
That wasn’t all )

Yet again ramblingfancy has introduced me to a detective series which I’m going to enjoy. Telling Tales is part of the Vera Stanhope series by Ann Cleeves. I see from the cover there’s been a TV series but it passed me by completely. This story is set in Yorkshire, the flat, coastal part getting towards Lincolnshire (coincidentally the setting for South Riding) and the landscape dominates the book, making it very atmospheric; the sea and the wind seem everywhere. A teenage girl has been murdered ten years before and the case is to be reopened. Secrets and lies abound in the small community and Vera relies perhaps too much on her instincts to find out the truth. It reminded me a little of Anita Shreve’s Eden Close, which I read last year. As is so often the case, the dénouement is less interesting than the steps towards it but I liked the book and will be happy to read more by this author.

ramblingfancy also lent me the latest Catriona McPherson novel, Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder. This one is a Montagu & Capulet story set in Dunfermline. Two department stores, two families whose members all hate each other, two deaths. I loved the descriptions of the shops and the people working in them but much as I like Dandy and Alec, the plot of this one was too convoluted for me. If anyone can beat Dandy to working out the complex relationships between the Aitken and Hepburn families: congratulations!

I have two more crime books lined up. At the market yesterday the nice man who finds books for me had the first Maisie Dobbs novel, hurrah! I’ve been reading them out of order and now I shall be able to see how it all started. He also offered me two Daisy Dalrymple books, one of which, Rattle His Bones, was next on my list to read. I was just as pleased to spot two books by O Douglas, after rummaging through several unpromising boxes.
if you like looking at book covers )

Two re-reads first. Toast by Nigel Slater I read again after watching the TV version. I found that the ending of the book had been changed quite a lot for dramatic effect. Far from just running away after his father died, Nigel stayed at home before going to catering college. On this reading I noticed that he twice mentions Malcolm Saville as a favourite childhood author. Reading My Father’s Fortune sent me back to Michael Frayn’s Spies, which I found just as gripping on a second reading. The first time I read it, I didn’t clock the similarities to The Go-Between. Blind.

A lovely Christmas present from kind [ profile] ramblingfancy was The Book of Stillmeadow by Gladys Taber. I am completely lacking in the pioneer spirit. I like mains drainage, electricity and a broadband connection. So, reading this true story about how Gladys Taber’s family lived on forty acres of land in Connecticut, growing their own food and breeding dogs, I would have the occasional seditious thought, reminded of Kingsley Amis saying (in The Green Man, I think) that farming is ‘like a lifetime of washing up, out of doors.’ The book was first published in 1948 and is very much post-war, with worries about the terrible things which have already happened and fears for a future which contains the atom bomb. The solution seems to be that everyone should live in the country, be as self sufficient as possible and look after their neighbours. This is rather disingenuous considering that Taber had to go to ‘the city’ to earn money to help keep Stillmeadow going. For my taste, there are too many dogs in the book. I would not care to settle myself down in the garden with a book only to be leapt on by a dozen cocker spaniels. Then there’s the disgusting food they ate. Roasts and crocks of beans: OK . Oyster stew, piles of whipped cream with all puddings (shades of the Chalet School) and everything creamed which could be, in a manner familiar to readers of Lake Wobegon Days: I felt sick just reading about it. I think I’d prefer the cuisine of the southern states to that of the north.

In spite of these quibbles and my teasing in a previous post, this is a very beguiling book, just the thing for people wanting a quiet read about the countryside, housekeeping, gardening and nice people. In places I was reminded of one of my favourite films, Mr Blandings Builds his Dream House, which stars Cary Grant. Taber mentions the book herself. Book? I didn't know there was one.
two more )

[ profile] debodacious put me on to Victoria Clayton as an author of light fiction I might enjoy so I grabbed Clouds among the Stars with glee when I saw it at the library. At over five hundred pages it’s light only in one sense but I read it quickly and was sorry when it ended.

The Byng family are eccentrics. Pa is a famous actor, Ma a former actress; they tend to converse entirely in Shakespearian quotations. There’s something Mitford-esque about the children: four beautiful girls and one son. The ‘Fanny’ role is played by Harriet, the only one in the family not entirely self-obsessed and self-confident. As soon as she appeared, I saw her looking like the drawings of another Harriet, the one in Noel Streatfeild’s White Boots, all long legs and long black hair. This is strange because the book gets a name check later. When Harriet and her precocious younger sister Cordelia (twelve going on twenty) are in Derbyshire for Christmas they go skating: (Cordelia) had fallen in love at an early age with Noel Streatfeild’s White Boots. I could see she was planning to cut a dash before a marvelling world, as the beautiful, talented, tempestuous Lalla Moore. There are many other references to children’s books.

The household is upset when Pa is arrested for murder. This is one of several plotlines (none of which matter very much) and serves the same function as the disappearance of parents in children’s books (there we go again): it leaves everyone to their own devices and allows Harriet and Cordelia to visit Pye Place with Rupert Wolvespurges and Archie, every woman’s perfect gay man. Hawk-eyed readers will spot that anyone called Rupert Wolvespurges will be a hero. He is straight out of Georgette Heyer, as is some of the language; Jonno, heir to Pye Hall, speaks of girls having ‘a fit of the sullens’, which is hardly modern usage. When the family fortunes fall, with Pa banged up and Ma selfishly off having a chin tuck, Rupert steps in to help, on condition everyone gets a job. Harriet finds work as a journalist, writing mostly about ghosts, so ghosts and mysteries tend to dominate life at Pye Place. It’s not a ghost story though, or even really a mystery, as it’s the characters, their conversations and the descriptions of places which make the book so enjoyable. Harriet finds somewhere to write: A narrow flight of stairs led from the drawing room to what was called the Little Parlour. It was hardly more than ten feet square, with painted green panelling and an arched window that looked on to the waterfall. It had in it a desk, a table lamp, an armchair and a bookcase. There was a charming little fireplace with Delft tiles … Don’t you want to appropriate it immediately for your study?

What with all the actors involved, the lovely sisters and the police (Chief Inspector Foy is a delight) there’s quite a tangled web of fluctuating relationships. The reader’s sympathy is always, quite rightly, with Harriet; trying to please everyone (succeeding only too well in some cases), left entirely in charge of Cordelia, the only worrier in the family and the fondest of her Micawber-ish father. Does it come right for her? Aha! I recommend this book highly as a lose-yourself-in-it romantic novel.
Three lightweight books I’ve just read back to back:
Castle in the Air by Maysie Greig
Can’t Wait to get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg
Miss Buncle’s Book by D E Stevenson

Guess which one I liked best? )

Does Eva Ibbotson write for children or for adults? I’d say A Song for Summer (lovely book) is for adults and The Secret of Platform 13 for children. The two novels I’ve just read come somewhere between the two and I’d categorise them as romances; romances strongly influenced by Georgette Heyer.

In A Company of Swans Harriet is the daughter of a Cambridge professor who leaves her upbringing to his mean spirited, narrow-minded sister and refuses to let the brilliant girl go to Girton. These two are pantomime figures, a pair of Murdstones. Harriet is well trained in classics but has another secret love: the dancing classes she is allowed to attend each week. She is offered a place in a Russian touring ballet company which her father of course refuses for her and so she rebels. This is all highly unlikely since she is eighteen and has never danced on stage but the author knows this and explains it away.

The hero, Rom, one of Ibbotson’s brilliant but rebellious misfits, is impossibly handsome, brave, athletic, clever – and rich. So, like a true Heyer hero, he is able to act above the law and fix things to be the way he wants them. Here’s an example of the Heyerish-ness. Harriet wants to speak to Rom but finds her intentions misunderstood; to his great disappointment Rom sees her as just another dancing girl and she finds herself being groomed for the bedchamber. Expecting to be ‘ruined’, as she puts it, she says, ‘I don’t know what to do’. He realizes she is virtuous, then
‘(she) lifted her face with perfect trust to his.
Which made it difficult for Rom to do what he intended…But he mastered himself…And his voice suddenly rough, “No breath of scandal shall touch you while I live”.
See? Pure Heyer.

The other day I noticed this book in a ‘three for two’ display of children’s books in W H Smith’s. I wouldn’t buy this for a ballet-mad eight year old as there is quite a lot of (pure and non-explicit) sex in it. A lovely romance for older girls, though.

I loved A Secret Countess so much that I read it almost at a sitting. Another Heyer-eque romance, I’d say. Anna is an aristocratic Russian exile forced to earn her living. Rupert has returned from the (First World) war to take over the earldom and estate he inherited when his elder brother was killed. There are shades of Lord Peter Wimsey here when the butler says, ‘there’s no doubt who was the finer gentleman’. Rupert has been inveigled into a promise of marriage to one of the nastiest women you could ever hope to read about but his sense of honour will not allow him to break the engagement. Will true love conquer all? If you know your Heyer, you know the answer.



January 2017



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