Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016, Book Review, Books I have read

The Shrimp and the Anemone – L.P. Hartley #20booksofsummer

Book 8

Classic 4*s
Classic Fiction
4*s

Having absolutely adored The Go-Between last year I eagerly sought out another book by this twentieth century author.
The Shrimp and the Anemone is the first of a trilogy about siblings Eustace and Hilda. Eustace is the younger, a mere nine years old when we first meet him and Hilda is his older sister by four years. Hilda is strongly committed in making sure young Eustace follows the path of goodness, she is his moral guardian in all things. In fact Hilda is scary in the way she both makes Eustace do things, such as talk to an old invalid lady, which I am certain she would not have, whilst also making sure he never strains himself, being in the Edwardian parlance of the day ‘a sickly child’

The book opens with a description of a shrimp being half-eaten by an anemone and the children impotently trying to rescue it with the shrimp ultimately dying but not without it having a profound effect on poor Eustace. The author shows his immense skill in not labouring the point he is making, there is not ‘see the lesson’ tone to this part but the luminance of the writing does set the reader up well for the rest of the book.

Set in inter-war Hunstanton, on the north-west Norfolk coast L.P. Hartley renamed the area Anchorstone and the children spend hours on the beach building fantastic moats with an air of seriousness of endeavour that seems to have quite disappeared in the intervening near century. Set at the time it is, there is no escaping the importance of class, and ‘knowing your place’ with the children’s father a working man, albeit in an office, is subtly compared to the man who picks them up in the trap to take them on a day-out where Eustace is allowed to sit on the box with the driver as a special treat.

The beauty of the book is in reading about the children’s pastimes, Eustace’s illness and their relationships with other members of the household whilst at the same time glimpsing the way they are both mystified by the actions of the adults around them. One thing you can’t accuse this author of is not being able to recreate the way that children view the world, which often authors spectacularly fail to capture in all its facets. As the book progresses we meet others in the vicinity, including Dick Staverly who takes a shine to Hilda who is growing to be a beautiful young lady. Hilda is aware of the effect she has, and that there is a rival for Dick’s attention so all eyes are on her method of handling this quandary which serves to lend another facet to her character.

While the characters of the two children are exceptionally vivid, the rest of the family is far more sketchy. Their father is in turns jovial and irritated by his children, their mother died soon after the birth of their youngest sister, a mere baby. The household is completed by the stern and severe aunt who bustles in and out of the story-line mainly trying to impress the father to take more interest in his offspring.

Whilst there are parallels with The Go-Between this is a far more benign tale, so whilst a secret is at the heart of the book, it isn’t of the same type of moral nature, although it’s important enough for me to want to find out what happens to this family in the next book; The Sixth Heaven.

 

First Published UK: 1944
Publisher: Faber & Faber
No of Pages 240
Genre: Classic Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016, Book Review, Books I have read

Other People’s Secrets – Louise Candlish #20booksofsummer

Book 7

Contemporary Fiction 3*s
Contemporary Fiction
3*s

A boathouse by Lake Orta sounds the most wonderful place for a holiday, and it is a break from life that Ginny and Adam Trustlove need. They have recently had a stillborn son and need to reconnect and find a way forward from this terrible tragedy. The boathouse seems to be the perfect place to do so, peace and quiet and a beautiful blue lake.

The couple have only just begun to settle in when the peace is shattered by Bea and Marty Sale and their three children, Dom, Esther and Pippi who have come to stay at the main villa. Noisy and full of life the couple are spending a last holiday together with their adult and teenaged children before the last, Pippi flies the nest.

The clue to this story really is in the title. All of the holidaymakers are hiding a secret of one sort or another, some easy to discern, other’s less so. From successful Marty who has promised to take a well-earned break from their clothing line who is only too glad to widen the party to include the less outgoing Trustloves to Pippi and the young man she draws into the circle hoping for a summer romance.

The book follows the summer break of both parties though the days of the holiday, and we get to see how the newcomer to the group, Pippi’s find Zach fits in. Because, yes you’ve guessed it he is also hiding a secret!
This book lets us examine each of the characters but the two that stand out for me are Bea who is questioning the intervening years since she was fully involved in what has become Marty’s business and Pippi who is an entitled spoilt little rich girl who is totally unused to getting what she wants.

There are some big themes in this story, notably grief and adultery but there are some other aspects of relationships that are less often explored in this type of books – I can’t tell you what because it’s a secret!!

Louise Candlish is excellent at setting the scene, I had no trouble picturing the setting at all but I wasn’t quite so convinced by the characters in this book as I have been in other books by this author. Part of the problem is the speed, all within a two-week holiday, that all the secrets come tumbling out, the characters are so busy reacting to the latest bombshell for them to feel like people you’d know. It isn’t so much that their actions were unrealistic, more that I didn’t have a baseline as a starting point. I wasn’t overly convinced that Bea and Ginny would have shared their innermost thoughts quite so readily, the women came from different worlds and didn’t really have an awful lot in common because of that. But hey this was a holiday and we all know anything can, and does happen then.

Although maybe not as suited to my reading tastes as the other books by this author this is an entertaining read which is entirely suited for holiday reading where you can be transported to another life which is, hopefully, far more hectic than yours.

First Published UK: 2010
Publisher: Sphere
No of Pages 372
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Other Books by Louise Candlish
The Sudden Departure of the Frasers
The Disappearance of Emily Marr
The Swimming Pool

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016, Book Review, Books I have read

The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters #20booksofsummer

Book 6

Little Stranger
Historical Fiction 4*s

It is so difficult to fit this book into anyone genre. It could be historical, being set just after World War Two in post-war Britain but it has far stronger elements of the supernatural than I would contemplate if it were other author, and there is a bit of the psychology of the characters to boot.

Dr Faraday first visits Hundreds Hall in rural Warwickshire as a young boy where he accompanied his mother to the elegant mansion. We first meet him though when he returns as a General Practioner to visit a young servant girl who is laid up in bed who mentions something strange which Dr Faraday swiftly dismisses. However, it isn’t long before he becomes a more frequent visitor over time when he becomes bewitched by the household, and by Hundreds Hall itself.

The wonderful storytelling is enacted through the eyes of this disappointed middle-aged GP, Dr Faraday, who has got to the stage in life where he wonders quite how everything has passed him by. He still lives in cramped rooms, never having the means or the need to invest in anything more. He has his close friends which are married but little else, beyond his work to fill the hours of his day but a family of his own has eluded him.

Normally I am very anti anything supernatural in a book, something I wonder if Sarah Waters was aware of, because although this is for those who want it to be, a ghost story, it can almost be read as a series of events which it is perhaps easiest to blame on the supernatural. Well that’s my justification for enjoying this book quite as much as I did – the rest of you can all enjoy a super scary ghost story to frighten the bejeebers out of you!

The household consists of the elderly Mrs Ayers, her son Roderick who has recently returned from the war and her daughter, the spinsterish Caroline. It is clear from the outset that this is a household who have fallen upon hard times. The Hall is much diminished since the days when Dr Faraday’s had that childhood visit, the retinue of staff have fallen away leaving just a housemaid Betty and Mrs Rush, the daily woman. With many of the rooms locked up those that remain in use are literally disintegrating around the family, with wallpaper peeling and the rain finding holes to drip through the roof. Ultimately this is a character driven novel, set at a particular point in history and the tale that unfolds is disturbing in the extreme as small events become more frequent causing disquiet to spread to every nook and cranny of Hundreds Hall

As is her trademark the lives of all involved in this tale are detailed to the minutest degree, the only author I know who can make each action, gesture and speech add something to the story when put into the hands of many, would promote a grumble about filling rather than substance from me. Instead this author makes these small details add something, not only in terms of raising the tension, but telling us more than would appear about each one of the story-dwellers. The tension she promotes raises steadily right until the end, an ending that I didn’t suspect, but now I’ve read it was most fitting.

Whilst this isn’t my favourite of this author’s books, there was so much to enjoy in all those little details, although I was glad to be reading it in the bright sunshine, rather than on a gloomy winter’s evening.

 

Publication Date UK: 28 May 2009
Publisher: Little Brown Book Group
No of Pages: 499
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016

20 Books of Summer 2016! Part II #20booksofsummer

20 Books of Summer 2016

Cathy at Cathy 746 has a yearly challenge to read twenty books over the summer months starting on 1 June 2016 and running until 5 September 2016, and I’ve decided to join her.

As I’m competitive I signed up for the full twenty. My personal challenge is to read these twenty books from my bookshelf, physical books that I already own before the end of the challenge. I’m on book nine at the moment (although only up to review number five) and as I only chose the first ten books at the start, I promised I’d add the second set half way through the challenge – so here we are books eleven to twenty!

Books 11 to 20 Summer 2016

The Narrow Bed by Sophie Hannah

The Twins by Saskia Sarginson

They Did It With Love by Kate Morgenroth

Standing In The Shadows by Jon Stasiak

Did She Kill Him? by Kate Colquhoun

The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

Tea by the Nursery Fire by Noel Streatfeild

The Chemistry of Death by Simon Beckett

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

I have been joining Cathy by tweeting my way through the challenge using the hashtag #20booksofsummer. Each of my posts for this challenge have the logo and the number of the book attached.

Like last year there is a master page linking the titles to my reviews as they are posted.

So what do you think of the second half of my choices? Do you have any suggestions on where I should start or perhaps you think some of these need to be put back on the shelf and forgotten about? All comments welcomed!

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Curious Habits of Doctor Adams – Jane Robins #20booksofsummer

Book 5

Non-Fiction 5*s
Non-Fiction
5*s

Oh how I love a well-researched piece of historical crime and was very impressed by this author’s account of George Smith the ‘Brides in the Bath’ murderer and Dr Spilsbury who was an expert witness at this man’s trial in her book The Magnificent Spilsbury and the case of The Brides in the Bath. It was only natural then to seek out this, her next book about a Doctor who was a suspected serial killer.

John Bodkin Adams was born in Ireland, a God-fearing man born of devout parents and moved to Eastbourne with his sister and mother in 1922 where he took up a post as a General Practitioner. It must be remembered that these were the days before the NHS and so the practice was populated by the wealthier patient than a typical GP would see these days. He soon made his mark as a doctor who would turn out at any time of the day or night to attend his wealthy patients. So fond of them, especially the elder ladies, was he, that he often paid visits whether his attendance was needed or not. Jane Robins gives us an account of his years in practice, including his rather dire performance as an anaesthetist at the local hospital.

As interesting as this background is of course I wanted to know about the investigation and subsequent trial. It all started in July 1956 Eastbourne Police received a call about the death of one Gertrude known as Bobbie Hullett who had died, unexpectedly whilst in Dr Adams care, she was only 50 years old. A month later the Metropolitan Police took over from the local force. Detective Superintendent Herbert Hannam and Detective Sergeant Charles Hewett interviewed many residents of genteel Eastbourne where all manner of rumours were uncovered reaching back to the 1930s of inheritance of money and cars and other strange bequests but equally there were testimonials from those who adored the portly doctor. So death certificates were examined, as were wills because Hannam was convinced that Dr Adams was killing for cash and so began the laborious task of sifting through the paper trail.

Jane Robins is brilliant at presenting the facts and opposing views of this trial without seemingly steering the reader’s opinion one way or another for the bulk of the book. This could have been really heavy going with prescriptions for heroin, morphine and other sedatives frequently appearing as evidence along with bequests or presents of the odd gold pen here or a Rolls Royce there and a seemingly never-ending ream of elderly ladies doting on Dr Adams, but it wasn’t I just became more and more fascinated by the tale told complete with contemporary news stories and advertisements and a brilliant reconstruction of the world of the genteel inhabitants of Eastbourne at that time. All of this served to increase my interest in the hidden character of the man. And that is where the author comes into her own when at the end of the book, after the trial and when life in Eastbourne had recovered from all the excitement, she examined the psyche of the Doctor and presented her conclusions, with the help of a couple of expert witnesses of her own.

An absolutely brilliant read which I can’t recommend enough and for those of us who remember the more recent trial and conviction of Dr Harold Shipman, there are plenty of comparisons to be made.

This was addition to my 20 Books of Summer 2016 Challenge, and one I certainly won’t forget in a hurry.

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016, Book Review, Books I have read

Buried Angels – Camilla Läckberg #20booksofsummer

Book 4

Crime Fiction 4*s
Crime Fiction
4*s

Well book 4 of my 20 Books of Summer 2016 challenge was another sure fire winner and another opportunity for me to catch up with a much admired and enjoyable series.

This is the eighth in the Patrik Hedström and Erica Falck series set in Fjällbacka on the west coast of Sweden and once again I was reminded quite why I love these tales which often link past crimes to present ones. The characters that I feel I have grown to know over the last few years, are all present in this novel and as well as being hooked by the plot I enjoyed catching up with the developments at Fjällbacka police station and of course their personal lives too.

In Buried Angels Erica is keen to find more about an old unsolved mystery where an entire family bar one year old Ebba disappeared from an island. The family was that of the resident headmaster Runes who had opened a school where strict discipline and outside activity to tame the teenage boys was the order of the day. Many of the boys came from wealthy families and Runes ruled both the school and his family; one that consisted of three children from his first marriage as well as his second wife Innes and their daughter Ebba.

Erica’s interest is reawakened when following a bereavement, Ebba moves back to the island to claim her inheritance with her husband Tobias. The pair set about carrying out a restoration project with the aim of opening up the property as a small hotel. Erica is excited about meeting Ebba, she’s sure she will welcome a book to reinvestigate what happened there all those years before but before she can arrange a meeting a fire breaks out on the island, and it looks like arson.

This story is also politically focused with a party called ‘Friends of Sweden’ featuring heavily the in the storyline. They are making moves to halt immigration into Sweden and the author paints a picture of this powerful group of people moving towards to making this a realty. But the past is never far away with some of the schoolchildren who attended Runes school back in 1974 now adults, included in this group is Jewish Josef, who is determined that the part Sweden played in World War Two is not forgotten and to ensure it isn’t, he is planning a new centre to hold all the evidence.

As well as these strands we also follow the life of Dagmar from the time she was a small child living in Fjällbacka in 1908. The first excerpt has her stood in a courtyard as the police arrived to arrest her parents. These short excerpts continue right up to the books conclusion, when their significance becomes clear.

You can always depend on Camilla Läckberg to pull many seemingly disparate strands of a story together and this book does this with dexterity as the past, present and the hopes for the future are gradually entwined closer together for the explosive finale.

The plot and pace are well-judged whereby the reader can absorb the details of the complex plot without feeling that the story drags at any point. Furthermore once again the translator, Tina Nunnally has done a fantastic job so that except for the names, I would never have realised I was reading a book not originally written in English.

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Pictures of Perfection – Reginald Hill #20booksofsummer

Book 3

Pictures of perfection.jxr
Crime Fiction 5*s

What a delightful novel for me to have picked more or less at random from this wonderful author as part of my 20 Books of Summer challenge and one that couldn’t fail to remind me how well this talented author wrote exceptional tales in his many diverse books. This is the fourteenth book in the Dalziel and Pascoe series, and as with any series they are probably best enjoyed if you read them in order although many, this one included, can be read and appreciated perfectly well as a stand-alone novel.

Despite the book opening with a truly terrifying scene in Pictures of Perfection Reginald Hill has given us a slightly gentler read than some others in the series, although don’t be deceived, at its heart are some very black truths along with some almost prophetic happenings!

Two days before the opening in 1980s rural village of Enscombe in Yorkshire, the local bobby (yes as recently as this the local policemen still lived in the villages) goes missing. He didn’t return from his day’s leave and there is no sign of where or why he might have left. Sergeant Wield is called to the scene, he turns up in style and begins the investigation. Not long afterwards and Superintendent Dalziel gets wind that there is something amiss so he and DCI take a visit to lend a hand.

All the while those opening scenes were in my mind but I had little joy in linking this event to the half-truths and misdirection that was being played out in Enscombe by a whole host of delightful characters. We have a beautiful artist is the love object of many of the male inhabitants, the spinster who runs the hall while her father the geriatric squire is regretful that the laws of inheritance have dictated that this should actually go to Guy with his flashy cars and dress sense. Not to be out-done with have the highly religious café owner who serves her delicious cakes with an aside of bible texts, while the vicar is waiting for eviction from the vicarage when it is sold off to make money for the church. One thing the village is in agreement about is that their local school should remain open, with this in mind there is the ubiquitous fund-raising which comes with a plan B, the sale of the village green.

There is so much to delight in within the pages of Pictures of Perfection, from the links to Jane Austen both ostentatious in the excerpts at the beginning of each chapter and slightly more subtle references within the themes themselves, to the moment in history that the book evokes; this was probably the last moments where ‘village life’ could be portrayed in this manner without those who live in such places laughing at the cliché of ‘Olde Worlde Britain’ that it evokes, one where everyone knows each other better than they know themselves often bound by a common enemy or two.

You’ll be pleased and reassured to know with all the periphery views to enjoy within the pages of this novel, there is also a proper plot with a full-blown mystery or two to be solved so my favourite policemen, complete in triplicate; Wield, Pascoe and Dalziel get to business and each in their own way bring pieces of the puzzle back to the police house for examination. Meanwhile the preparations continue around them at the Hall for the ‘Day of Reckoning’, a village tradition where the rents due to the Squire are paid, and it is here that the opening passage is seen from a different perspective. While I never doubted that the trio would solve the mystery of the missing bobby, I did wonder if they would come to a conclusion for the meaning of the Hall’s motto fuctata non perfecta; fear not, all the loose ends, even those in Latin are sewn up, neatly or otherwise!

This was a perfect addition to my 20 Books of Summer challenge the only downside to reading this book on holiday was that I didn’t have ready access to a dictionary – reader, I confess, I needed one more than a few times!!

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

An Awfully Big Adventure – Beryl Bainbridge #20booksofsummer

Book 2

An Awfully Big Adventure
Classic Fiction 5*s

Unfortunately I am away during Annabel’s from Annabel’s House of Books  reading week for Beryl Bainbridge: Reading Beryl but after falling in love with this author’s writing through Harriet Said, I put one on my 20 Books of Summer 2016! list.

An Awfully Big Adventure is set in 1950s Liverpool, a landscape still filled with rations and other post-war deprivations and the theatre. What a mix for this coming of age novel through less than rose-tinted glasses. It is therefore no surprise that Bainbridge chose to borrow her title from the classic play by J.M Barrie, Peter Pan where Peter has a throw-away line:

‘To die would be an awfully big adventure.’

With the title borrowed from a story about a boy who doesn’t want to grow the protagonist, Stella of Bainbridge’s creation is sixteen, far from grown up, yet with her first job as a stage hand in the theatre thrust amongst grown-up lives, a world she struggles to understand.

The setting is brilliant, the boarding house (and its occupants) is easily pictured amongst the bomb scarred streets and the lodgers who bear their own scars from the war. It was Stella’s Uncle Vernon who first proposed working at the Playhouse. Here is a man who champions her to the hilt while she, as is so often the attitude of girls this age, is embarrassed by absolutely everything about him. Despite the way he brags to his boss he is also worried and exasperated by her:

“Debating anything with the girl was a lost cause. She constantly played to the gallery. No one was denying she could have had a better start in life, but then she wasn’t unique in that respect and it was no excuse for wringing the last drop of drama out of the smallest incident.”

Vernon’s wife Lily is a more shadowy figure, forever at the edge of Stella’s life although towards the end of the book she ponders that:

‘it was unjust of her to disregard those thumb-sucking years in which Lily had held her close’

But away from the prying eyes and ears of Uncle Vernon and Lily, Stella visits the phone boxes around the theatre to ring her mother. The reader hears Stella reporting to her mother, but we only get to know that mother says ‘the usual things’

So it’s fair to say Stella is typical of her age, no more so when she develops a crush on the handsome director Meredith Potter, who at first pays her some attention but this is soon diverted by others. Ever the mimic Stella tries out a number of personas on him to try to recapture his interest, but it seems that her love is to go unrequited. In parallels to the play they are putting on at the Liverpool Playhouse when Stella arrive, one that Stella pronounces simplistically the plot is all about people loving someone who is in love with someone else, perfectly sums up the cast. There is much to love in the book as a whole, the symmetry being one of the biggest pleasures for me. The set-up at the beginning of the book which only becomes clear at the very end, is an example of the excellent structure that resounds throughout.

Although this reads a little more like a series of vignettes at first, the linking only truly becoming apparent at the end, individually as well as together each of these is vivid and simply fascinating. Fairly early on I realised that what is blatantly obvious to the reader has completely passed Stella by, and so only the sternest heart can’t overlook her slightly odd manner and have a little sympathy for the poor girl! But when she decides to make Meredith jealous, she sets in chain a sequence of events that slowly becomes apparent, making for a sublime ending.

I am now a firm Beryl Bainbridge fan, I love the darkness, the cleverness, the period details and the sardonic humour. Luckily, I have another title waiting to read on my bookshelf. I simply can’t believe it took me quite so long to discover such this national treasure.

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016, Book Review, Books I have read

The Poison Principle – Gail Bell #20booksofsummer

Book 1

Non-Fiction 4*s
Non-Fiction
4*s

Here is the very first of the books I’ve read in my 20 Books of Summer 2016! To find out about the rest of the books on my list, I have dedicated a page which if all goes according to plan will include the entire list of my book reviews by 5 September 2016.

And what a start to the challenge – this is one of those fascinating books where you don’t know quite what you are about to learn from one page to the next. If you too love learning more about poisons and those who administer them, you can’t go wrong with this book. Even for those of you who don’t have quite the same niche interest as me, there is plenty to ponder on the literary side, those myths, fairy tales through Shakespeare and Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and taking in a few other’s along the way.

The backbone of the book is the discovery the author made that her paternal Grandfather had poisoned two of his young sons in their Australian home in 1927. The author started to unravel the truth behind this family tale in 1980 by contacting her Grandmother’s sister who one afternoon agreed to be interviewed and told her the facts, the background to the perpetrator William Macbeth, and what life was like for the family at the time, and afterwards.

The book does read a little like a stream of consciousness but fortunately that stream is one of knowledge coupled with intelligence so it maintains a loose kind of structure. Along the way we learn about the origins of some of the popular poisons, famous poisoners which include those who used this method as suicide, forensics and even a poisoned circus elephant gets a place in this eclectic read.

My interest in poisoners has me fairly well-versed in the most infamous of this group including Crippen, Florence Maybrick, Madeline Smith amongst a whole host of others and I got to know some new ones too with the mini case histories the author provides us with. Gail Bell also looks at the notion that poisoning was a woman’s crime, sneaky and devious and using the traditional woman’s nurturing hand to provide poison rather than sustenance. She examines the statistics which bear out the truth that most non-accidental poisonings are against family members. As you can tell there is a lot to enjoy and discover but perhaps as a pay-off there is little that goes too deeply below the surface which I have to confess suited me perfectly – this is perhaps a friendlier read than the more learned book that The Secret Poisoner was and fortunately doesn’t include the gut-wrenching descriptions of poisons doing their work in the human body. What Bell does give us is a look at what action different poisons take on the body, a physiological study rather than one of the symptoms which again, I use the word again, was fascinating!

I have to confess that the subject matter took a turn for the truly bizarre when the author gave some of the characters, including Cleopatra, an imaginary rescue through quick action of those around them, for me the book could have lost these imaginations.

By the end of this meandering look at a whole range of poisoners both real and literary, we find out the truth of what happened to the poor Macbeth boys. A sad tale indeed for the whole family, including the author’s father who was fostered out to a rural farm to carry out chores for his bed and board.

I’d like to say a big thank you to Hayley of Rather Too Fond of Books who took the time to suggest this one to me following my review of The Secret Poisoner – that’s the best aspect of book blogging – I would never have come across this book, published in 2002 by Macmillan without such a recommendation.

To see what everyone else is reading look out for #20booksofsummer on twitter or go and check out the list of participants at Cathy 746 and of course the lovely Cathy herself, who came up with this challenge!