Less Than Angels by Barbara Pym 1955 with an introduction by Sally Vickers 2010. My copy is a virago reprint.
Although the book opens in the VP of Catherine Oliphant, it is, as is usual in a Pym novel, peopled by many. Tom, Digby, Mark, Deirdre, Miss Clovis, Rhoda and Mabel together with slightly off-stage folk like Alaric Lydgate and Miss Lydgate, Prof Mainwaring and Mrs Minnie Foresight and the two faced Father Gemini. It’s about anthropologists and Catherine sets the scene for the reader by observing her fellow customers in a tea-shop. It’s a time of small elegancies in life. Tea arrives in a pot and on a tray. It’s also a time of financial stringencies and the plot, as much as it has one, is about parting elderly women from their late husbands’ fortunes to support ‘field-work’ for hard-up students. It is a delight from the first sentence to the last. Beautifully observed nuances of life as we live it, but with a depth of compaaionate understanding.
Death By Dark Waters by Jo Allen
Billed as the first in a series, this debut novel by Jo Allen about DCI Jude Satterthwaite is an accomplished and confident work. Jude is that staple of the detective mystery being a man who doesn’t suffer fools, has a dysfunctional family and lives alone. In this case, he is also estranged from much of his local community and his long standing girlfriend because he followed the line of duty.
Set in The Lakes, the story opens in a summer grass fire when weary fire-fighters find a body. It’s a child and he was dead before the fire was set. In solving the case, Allen avoids the gratuitously morbid and sets out to show how personality flaws influence everything we do. The book explores its characters deeply and is in essence as much about relationships as crime: how delusional can anyone be? The underlying problem is cleverly and closely plotted with a satisfying degree of uncertainty. There are glimpses of the challenging countryside and an interesting juxtaposition of the ancient, Tarot Reading, and the modern, CCTV analysis. Now eagerly awaiting DCI Satterthwaite’s next case.
Madness Lies by Helen Forbes
The second DS Joe Galbraith novel takes us into the dark underbelly of a vibrant 21st century city. Inverness may be a delightful tourist destination but people, in all their weird variety, live there. In particular, the plot centres on three men, Gordon Sutherland, Chris Brent and Todd Curtis. Are they connected? It’s the major question for DS Galbraith after Gordon is shot in an apparently random attack. As the body count mounts, Galbraith is suspended and his girlfriend’s health spirals dangerously out of control: a ghost walks. Helen Forbes creates as clever and devious a plot as King Lear.
Her characterisation of Sharon Macrae and her sons who form a central plank of the plotline, is informed and at times heart-breaking. The juxtaposition of Uist and Inverness, highlighting the healing power of waves breaking over sand, is a timely reminder of the unreasonable ‘fastness’ of modern life and how it can be different. I confess to thinking Harris is heaven on earth, but can see why Helen might suggest Uist as an alternative. Her lyrical description is testimony to a deeply held attraction but never slows the pace.
In The Blink of an Eye by Ali Bacon
Ali Bacon’s book, In The Blink of an Eye, is a fascinating mix. Is it biography, or romance or documentary? She sets out to tell the hidden stories behind one of the wonders of the nineteenth century and in so doing reminds us that no scientific advance is easily won.
Who were the women in the lives of pioneers Hill and Adamson? She captures the stories of the women in the pictures, but also the women behind the pictures. We learn of their heartaches and triumphs as calotypes and eventually photographs move from the status of near mystical to almost commonplace. Woven throughout is the extraordinay story of that Free Church picture. How does one man capture the likeness of so many? What are the pressures preventing such a work’s completion and how, after many years, does it reach completion? The settings are fascinating. Edinburgh, Ayrshire and Fife. The reminder of life’s frailty before the arrival of antibiotics, humbling. I very much enjoyed it.
The Summer Seaside Kitchen by Jenny Colgan
Chosen for the first meeting of the book group, I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen this book for myself, but I am so glad to have read it. I was expecting the same or similar to the only other of Jenny Colgan’s books I’ve read, Amanda’s Wedding, but it isn’t that at all. In fact, although written with a light touch, contemporary slang and contemporary mores, this book is about bereavement. And a very good book about bereavement it is.
It’s also a very clever book set in a fictional community, but soundly based in the Scandinavian type island community found in Shetland. I loved the cast of quirky characters; the life-changing choices faced by the young; the zeal of the converted and the catharsis of cooking. I’ve never seen the Northern lights, but I’m actively looking at travel plans…
The Creaky Traveller by Warren Rovetch
In the North West Highlands of Scotland
Having spent many, many hours in this part of Scotland, I was interested to read about it from someone else’s perspective and I was richly rewarded for making this impulse buy in one of Assynt’s local shops. We all love positive reinforcement – the Albannach – and I did learn new information. I’m truly hopeful some of the other establishments will also still be operational. Couldn’t agree with all of Warren’s conclusions, but was impressed by his background research.
I enjoyed his writing style and his quirky chapters on how to do travelling once creaky. Am looking forward to the Irish version. Isn’t it great when a newly found author has something else on offer?
Stella’s Christmas Wish by Kate Blackadder
Stella’s Christmas Wish by Scottish writer Kate Blackadder is a complex weave of love stories. The love between man and woman threads among the strands of love we feel for family members and for friends; and the passion of art that some live with to the exclusion of all others and normal life.
Stella Greenlaw is a talented business woman and was a rising star in her national firm when disaster struck. At least the reader has to assume disaster because Blackadder cleverly keeps us waiting to reveal the actual reason Stella put promotion before the delightful Ross Drummond. The novel opens with another disaster when Stella’s beloved granny, Alice, falls from a ladder and suffers a concussion. In the absence of any other competent family member, Stella has to go back and take charge. She will come face to face with Ross and so many other lovely people from her growing up years.
The fabric of a small Borders community is skilfully drawn to hold the characters together, but their worlds extend out to Edinburgh, London and Australia as the complexity of those threads intensifies. Who is Charlie and why did Alice think it important enough when he gets in touch to send her younger granddaughter all the way round the world?
Finally we discover what the Christmas Wish of the title is based on and sigh contentedly. Curl up and enjoy…
Displacement by Anne Stormont
Displacement by Scottish writer ANNE STORMONT is a love story for grown-ups that harbours all the teenage angst and uncertainty we remember from that time.
Rachel Campbell’s life has been restricted by looking after her parents whose needs have pulled her back to her native Skye. When her mother dies and Rachel is alone, the enormity of her accumulated loss overwhelms her. In rapid succession, she has lost her husband to divorce, her son to death, her daughter to self-righteous blame and her parents to old age. She goes out into the dark Skye night where, in trying to rescue a sheep, she falls into a burn. Rachel is pulled from certain death by incomer Jack Baxter who has been alerted by her sheep dog.
The long slow process of Rachel’s recovery starts here and encompasses a fascinating cast of characters and an engaging juxtaposition of the landscapes of Skye and Israel. A deeply moving family drama, satisfying romance (with one or two naughty bits), it is set in the real political worlds of Skye and Israel. The book is also a testament to the healing power of friendships – both old and newly made. I loved it.
The Secret of Lakeham Abbey by Sally Quilford
Sally Quilford’s mystery novel, The Secret of Lakeham Abbey, is cleverly constructed. She uses a device and that is the device of letters. People do give away so much of themselves when they write that the reader of this novel is in a privileged position. We know the teenage boy, Percy, is confined to a wheelchair because of an accident when he was a baby. We believe it was an accident for which his mother was responsible. The family’s housekeeper is arrested, convicted and sentenced to death over a murder committed in Lakeham Abbey while Percy and his family are its tenants. Percy believes in her innocence and wears away at everyone connected trying to expose their secrets, truths and lies. Curiously, I didn’t warm to Percy, but I did love the book. Quilford addresses a lot of women’s medical issues many would prefer never saw the light of day. The suppression of women was so easily achieved, some passages will make you shiver. Overall, a good read laced with excellent period detail.
Three’s a Crowd by Kate Blackadder
This collection of previously published magazine short stories is by fellow Edinburgh Writers’ Club member, Kate Blackadder.
Short story writing is an art and the skill exhibited in this debut collection by Kate Blackadder is considerable. I’d read most of the stories before, but magazines go off to the re-cycling and are gone. It’s a delight to have such a varied collection of this writer’s work on my bookshelf. The title story, Three’s a Crowd, comes at the end and is told in the voice of nine year-old Toots. Blackadder captures the voice with exquisite tenderness and the reader is there with Toots in that moment. What moment? Well, once you’ve downloaded this lovely collection for yourself, you’ll know. I thoroughly recommend it. Anne Stenhouse
Belle: the True Story of Dido Belle by Paula Byrne
Looking For Charlotte by Jennifer Young
This novel is Young’s third with publisher Tirrgear and soars to heights of writing maturity some take a decade or more to achieve.
The bald description posted on amazon is entirely accurate, but did not prepare me for the intense and compassionate studies of two bereaved women. Flora Wilson has suffered that living bereavement known as divorce and Suzanne Anderson the reality of a tiny daughter’s death. While Flora may have been very happy to see the back of her useless husband, her children have idolised him and blame her for his departure. She sees them cutting themselves off from her and reducing their contacts to ‘duty’ or emotional blackmail. In the meantime, her unacknowledged attraction to colleague, Philip Metcalfe, is waiting in the wings.
The novel is full of psychological and social subtleties which tell us so much about how we live our lives in the domestic twenty-first century battlefield. Read it for yourself:
Her Forget-me-not Ex by Sophie Claire
This romance moves from a quiet country town in rural England to the bustling south of France. The transition by half-French Claire is smooth and provides two great settings for the warring exes, Natasha and Luc.
Claire handles her material deftly and the plot twists are introduced with an eye for pace. Just when you thought you’d worked it all out, something else pops up from the characters’ back-stories and trips you. A job well done there, I think.
The separation was caused by the loss of a baby and part of the strength of the tale is in the grieving process Natasha and Luc are still caught up in. All around them Luc’s family are also in despair over the patriarch’s major illness and delight over the younger sister’s marriage. While much is going on, Claire never hurries it and the conclusion is wonderfully satisfactory.
Daffodil and the Thin Place by Dawn Knox
This is a book for children or young teens and I read it during a train journey yesterday. I was captivated by Daffodil Lane and her friends, Amelia and Matthew.
Dawn Knox has written a sympathetic story about bullying, Daffodil yawns at an inappropriate moment during a boring wedding ceremony in her local church. The results of this are at best unfortunate, always funny and sometimes catastrophic. The supernatural, delicately woven history and a female protagonist combine to keep the reader sitting on the edge of the chair to the very end.
The story also includes several mysteries which our intrepid Daffodil solves by dint of her 21st century knowledge and innate common sense. I have no hesitation in recommending this excellent book.
Elizabeth is Missing Emma Healey
I thought this book was wonderful.Having quite recently had a lot to do with two relatives suffering from just such a descent into the horrors of dementia. I was touched by the familiarity and appalled again by the reality of this cruel degeneration.
The slippery nature of truth and the utter inability to get at truth is central to the plot. Healey uncovers her stories with care and patience.
THE OUTRAGEOUS CONFESSIONS OF LADY DEBORAH by Marguerite Kaye, Mills & Boon Historical
The Outrageous Confessions of Lady Deborah is a 2012 publication and by an M&B favourite. I do love that feeling of knowing you’re in the hands of a master story-teller within the first few paragraphs.
Regencies are an ever-popular genre and therefore an ever-increasing challenge to those writing in it. Regular readers know a lot about the history, the mores and the clothes. They know what young and not-so-young ladies of the times could and could not do. Perhaps Kaye stretches the boundaries a bit in this work, but we are so very sympathetic to Lady Deborah’s plight, that we forgive and read on avidly.
And what a plight it is. No spoilers here, but I did understand. Lots of derring-do as well and some beautifully crafted love scenes between the central characters, Lady Deborah and Elliot. Highly recommended.
DEATH SCENE by Sara-Jayne Townsend, MuseItUp
Death Scene is Sara-Jayne’s first book for MuseItUp and is a great read in the amateur sleuthing world. Shari Summers is an actress and singer/dancer whose life has been divided between Canada and the UK. A family crisis of some magnitude forces her back to the UK and she discovers not just illness, but also criminality.
I really enjoyed Sara-Jayne’s depiction of the conflicted natures of adult children caught up in the divorce dealings of their parents.. You’re never too old to feel abandoned, rejected and just lost. She takes three attractive and intelligent women and shows how even those attributes may not be enough.
They may not be enough to save your relationship, your family or even your life. The story-line is delightfully clear over the issues of right and wrong. If you’re conflicted you may have to pay a heavy price.
Oh,and there’s a little romance, too. I’m already looking forward to the next in series, Dead Cool.
MAXIMUM EXPOSURE by Jenny Harper, Accent Press
Maximum Exposure is Jenny Harper’s third novel in her Heartlands’ Series. I bought a paperback copy, but it is available in kindle. Daisy Irvine, the main character, is described as adorable but scatter-brained. She works as a newspaper photographer on a local paper and the novel’s dramatic opening pages are set in that world. The major love interest is Ben Gillies who was a school friend and who returns to the area when his relationship breaks up. They are supported by a host of believable and mostly likeable characters.
Jenny Harper achieves that difficult feat of setting her characters up against life rather than malice aforethought and the writing is fluidly seductive throughout. Daisy is a person sleep-walking through her own life when the novel begins and even the shocking opening pages don’t jolt her out of that, but little by little our heroine comes to understand how the answers to her difficulties are within her own grasp.
East Lothian is delightfully evoked and those of us who know it well must enjoy the descriptions and observations. Equally, the life-blood of a local paper, toilets and sausages, is used to tragi-comic effect and is universal. The best of the series so far in my view. Roll on the next… Anne
Churchill’s Angels by Ruby Jackson
Churchill’s Angels by Ruby Jackson brings a little known part of the Second World War effort to our attention. Daisy Petrie is an ordinary girl. She left school at fourteen with only basic education and the oppression of being the child her mum decided was ‘delicate’.
Jackson weaves Daisy’s story through with the realities of wartime Britain. She doesn’t stint on the losses and depredations or on the deeply held prejudices and beliefs people suffered from and lived with.
The book is a lovely example of great and genuine story-telling, but occasionally I felt I was being spoon-fed. The working class who provided the back-bone of the services were often folk who left school at fourteen, but, in the examples of both my parents, they were endlessly curious and widely read. I occasionally felt the author overdid their lack of education.
At the same time I really enjoyed the sense of wonder Daisy’s discoveries arouse in the character.
The Tale of King Harald by Tom Williams. Illustrations by Gilli Allan
The Vikings were not ‘nice’ people. Despite many being happy to settle down and farm, there was the business of conquering the locals to get past first. Tom Williams sets about a difficult challenge with clear eyed understanding and equally clear prose. The book is best read as a drama-documentary and the reader is soon marching, carousing, worshipping, looting and fighting along with our flawed hero, Harald. As the tale goes on, Williams shows the young reader that truest of aphorisms, Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
On the plus side, how else would a wounded and orphaned fifteen-year-old turn out? It took a certain kind of character to become such a feared leader, general and king.
The book contains a few interleaved pages of illustrations describing aspects of the Viking age such as Belief and Power. It’s easy to flick past these, so as not to disturb the flow of the story, and go back to linger over the line drawings of some of the artefacts dug out of bogs and burials. Some of it is exceptionally lovely as the Vikings were both wealthy and keen to show that off. Artist, Gilli Allan, has done a great job here and throughout.
The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
The Shock of the Fall is Nathan Filer’s debut novel and a worthy winner of the 2013 Costa coffee prize.
Cleverly structured and written without the melodrama that so often, too often, surrounds the fearsome mental illness Schizophrenia, I felt this work gave a privileged insight to what it must be like for the patient and the family.
Filer poses questions without seeming to. Was there an inciting incident? Was it casual drug use? Is there familial tendency? How do you combat the necessary weeks of sedated boredom while the brain struggles to recover some kind of normality?
And within it all we grow to admire the patient, Matt Homes, his family and those who work as best they can to help.
The only monster here is the disease itself. Matt tells us its name sounds like a snake and shows us how it behaves like a snake slithering through family trees and winding around any normality in silent triumph. Our protagonist has little self-pity once he reaches adulthood and his formidable intelligence analyses with an almost forensic skill. There’s no HEA, only as good as it gets.
Filer is a psychiatric nurse and has no doubt seen and worked with countless individuals suffering from a wide variety of mental illness. His debut novel is therefore privileged, and the richer for it. Clever use of type-faces, drawings and layout allow the reader to glimpse the disordered mind.
Be afraid, but share a little laughter, too.
The Captain and the Countess by Rosemary Morris
Rosemary Morris in the Captain and the Countess, London 1706, is tackling a host of social mores and superstitious beliefs that are strange and difficult for our information soaked age to grasp. That’s why I say stranger than fiction, but you need to read the book to find out what they are. No spoilers here.
The Captain is Edward Howard, a talented artist, who is languishing on half pay while the Admiralty decides about his future. The Countess, is Kate Sinclair, widow of a man for whom no one has a good word, but who is allowed to deprive Kate of her son simply because his ‘male’ view is worth so much more than her ‘female’ one. Kate has set her heart against the mastery of another man and Edward is 9 years younger than the beautiful widow.
Morris knows her period well and delights with carefully chosen historical detail. Isn’t it the detail that brings history alive? The book concentrates on the damage done by holding to apparently incontrovertible belief, but it also has a rich set of sub-plots to keep the reader guessing. Superstition is shown to be comical at times, always damaging and occasionally evil.
The inter-twining of the sub-plots is cleverly achieved, but the central romance never suffers.
Why did I rate it four and not five stars on amazon? A bit of repetition irritated me a little and I longed for more of the high drama scenes to be played out rather than reported. I also felt Morris ‘sorted’ life for too many of the cast and could have left a few plot lines dangling.
The Mysterious Sea by Beth Camp
I read the Mermaid Quilt and Other Tales in two sittings separated by the demands of life and not by choice. It’s a book I’ll go back to because it has some lovely short poems as well as the folk-type stories. Poems need to be read and re-read to enjoy the layers of meaning trapped in them.
I enjoyed the tales, too, and supported Beth Camp’s championing of the female viewpoint. The opening story of a mother’s bereavement is moving and ultimately satisfying. I wonder if the rest of the book followed on because it’s clearly the one Camp invested most in? A worthwhile investment in my view.
A BRILLIANT MARRIAGE by Jean Lamb
I bought this book to read on the strength of a post on Exquisite Quills. It was an easy read.
Jean Lamb peoples her novel with quirky, realistic characters from backgrounds likely to cause anybody serious and severe personality difficulties. I did wonder why there needed to be quite so many people acting out of their circumstances. The novel is called A Brilliant Marriage, but it really roams far and wide over all sorts of issues: returning soldiers from the Napoleonic Wars; inheritance; jealousy; bullying; responsibilities; dishonesty; too much honesty; the mistreatment of children. It is nearly a third of the way through before the Duke and his heiress meet.
My personal preference would have been for a little more interaction between the central lovers and less of the peripheral issues.
AMANDA’S WEDDING by Jenny Colgan
This is the first Jenny Colgan book I’ve read and it was a blast. I know I need to be in a certain frame of mind for humour this full-on and farcical, but it was great fun.
The plot twists were occasionally a wee bit obvious and it’s alarming to wonder where she did her research. Is it the case that this much drinking and sex goes on among our youth?
Suffered a bit from one or two underwritten characters and, as a Scot, I did recognise the stereotypes, but resent their omni-presence.
WATER’S EDGE by Jane Riddell
Water’s Edge marks a very confident debut for Jane Riddell. Described as ‘quiet fiction’ the book contains a lot of well thought out characterisation and she handles the resulting multi-view-point manuscript with skill. Some of the book’s underpinning did show and I became a little weary of constant reminders about the evils of boarding school education and the neurosis of the gifted. Riddell has worked in the Health sphere and has no doubt encountered these factors in her professional life. Overall though, her pages are peopled by believable characters with modern but timeless issues. I really recommend Water’s Edge. Jane was interviewed by Novels Now in April – see archives.
HIGHLAND TRINITY by Catelyn Cash
I enjoyed reading this book for reasons that readers of erotica may not find of the first importance. Catelyn describes, and her characters inhabit, a Scotland I recognise. People who look outward but cherish their heritage are among her secondary characters and that’s really good.
Mharie, Cam and Rob are delightfully disparate and provide some wonderfully memorable comic lines. The storyline is believable, just,and the erotic bits are erotic enough for this reader.
BEHIND THE RAKE’S WICKED WAGER by SARAH MALLORY
Award winning historical novelist, Sarah Mallory, is the author of Behind the Rake’s Wicked Wager and doesn’t that quality show?
The rake in question, Jasper Coale, Viscount Markham, is summoned to prevent a marriage between Mallory’s heroine, Susannah Prentess and a young relative. After much wrong-headed interpretation on his part, he comes to understand what she’s about and it isn’t marriage.
Mallory sets the book in and around Bath and peoples it with a colourful cast of Regency stalwarts together with leads of more interesting cut. Making tried and tested formulas seem fresh is a difficult taks but one that mallory achieves. What did happen to young ladies of good quality who ‘fell’ to the persuasive wiles of unscrupulous men? What happened to their babies? Maggie O’Farrell gave us one possibility in the Disappearing Act of Esmé Lennox and a fierce condemnation of Edinburgh society it was. Mallory’s Susannah Prentess suggests another.
The book has likeable central characters and a host of supporting ones of some depth and interest. I thought her realisation of the young would-be lover, Gerald particularly well drawn.
HER NEW WORST ENEMY by CHRISTY McKELLEN
Christy McKellen’s first romance, Her New Worst Enemy, gets off to a page turning start with a quirky, slightly ditzy heroine. Don’t we love them? And a tall handsome hero. They’ve got much in their favour too.
Ellie is not quite in recovery from being dumped by The Rat, Paul, and Gideon is not at all in recovery from being abandoned as a child by his grandparents and older sister. So far, so what happens next to keep you reading Her New Worst Enemy?
Lots, and I mean lots, of intriguing and inventive action in the bedroom, the kitchen, the shower… All in the best possible taste, folks. Christy’s style and language are attractive too making the book a fast paced, modern read. I had it on my kindle and London to Edinburgh whistled past in no time.
Christy has a secondary plot threaded throughout which keeps the principle one moving as the H & H approach the problem from different standpoints and we get not one, but two happy endings.
Great first novel from Christy McKellen and Crimson Romance. I look forward to future treats.