Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Share in Death

Last year, I discovered the British mystery series with Scotland Yard detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James written by Texan Deborah Crombie. There are fourteen books in the series, and a new one coming out later this year. I started with the second book, All Shall Be Well, and I was hooked. So far, I'm halfway through the series.  

I came across A Share in Death, and it was fun to read the first mystery of the series. It's autumn, and Chief Superintendent Duncan Kincaid leaves London behind for a timeshare, Followdale House, in the Yorkshire Moors with the expectation of having a nice holiday away from it all. He meets the various cast of characters who are also staying at Followdale House.  

It isn't long until there is a murder of one of the employees, and Duncan must abandon his plans. He and Gemma work together, despite problems with the local police, to solve the crime. Is the killer one of the staff at Followdale House or one of the guests? With secrets and motives uncovered, there is a surprising twist when the identity of the killer is revealed.

Crombie is an excellent writer. Each book is better than the last, and the relationship between Duncan and Gemma changes with each book which adds another element of intrigue. So far, my favorite of the series has been Dreaming of the Bones.  

What is your favorite Deborah Crombie novel?     

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Bonkers: My Life in Laughs by Jennifer Saunders

Bonkers: My Life in Laughs by Jennifer Saunders is a memoir worth reading, especially if you are a fan of Jennifer Saunders.  I love French and Saunders, Absolutely Fabulous, The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle, and Clatterford (a.k.a. Jam and Jerusalem).

The first half of the book is the funniest.  Saunders tells some hilarious stories about her childhood.  I liked learning the background of how she and Dawn French met and became friends, and the beginnings of French and Saunders. It was interesting to read about their experiences as they started out as comediennes, and how they wrote the material for their shows.  Along with French, other friends who are famous appear in this book like Joanna Lumley, Ruby Wax, Dolly Parton, Goldie Hawn, and Saunders' husband, Adrian Edmondson.

On the subject of her recent breast cancer and chemotherapy, other reviews have found Saunders to be detached or unemotional about this time of her life.  I didn't take it that way at all.  Saunders comes across as the sort of person who gets on with things, and the passages about this experience were poignant but straightforward.

Saunders follows a somewhat chronological structure in her memoir, but she does divert from that path several times to tell unrelated stories.  It gave me the sense that she was chatting about her life in an informal way rather than in a more formal style.

Bonkers: My Life in Laughs is a great book!  

Monday, June 23, 2014

Books for the Beach (Or Any Kind of Vacation)

In The Beach House by Jane Green, Nan has lived in a rambling old home for many years on Nantucket.  The home is one of the last of its kind with the old houses being torn down in favor of new development.  When Nan, an eccentric widow, learns she is short on funds, she decides to open the house to summer boarders and looks forward to the house being alive again with people.

Besides Nan, Green tells the story of three couples (two of them married), and their relationship difficulties which lead some of the characters to Nan's home for the summer.  It is there that they find resolutions to their problems and love.  Also, Nan has her own problems trying to decide whether to keep the house with all the renovations needed and keeping developers at bay.  Then, there is a surprise visitor that changes everything not only for Nan but also for several of the characters.

I loved the beginning of this book which illustrated how eccentric Nan is.  She doesn't care what people think, and there is something refreshing about that.  What I also liked was getting to know the different characters and their situations before their lives intersected at Nan's house.  The plot has some predictable elements, but it is a nice story.  

I discovered Sue Hepworth not through her books but through her blog which I happened upon last year, and I loved what she had to say.  

Plotting for Beginners by Sue Hepworth and Jane Linfoot is an epistolary novel about Sally Howe.  The novel is set in a small village in Derbyshire in England.  Sally is in her fifties, with grown children who have left the nest.  Now, she faces menopause, and her husband, Gus, has decided to take a year off to have his own Walden experience but in a rustic cabin in the Rocky Mountains.  Sally decides to use the year to reassess her life, get through menopause and jump start the writing career she has always wanted.

While Sally's looking forward to her own solitude, it doesn't happen with visitors popping up wanting to stay at her house.  And to her surprise, she discovers that she's still attractive to the opposite sex.

This book is a fun read.  It's witty and intelligent and wise.  I liked the descriptions of her village.  The journal entries about her writing class and e-mails from fellow class members are entertaining.  Also, I enjoyed reading about Sally's writing process and the challenges of a writing career.  I highly recommend this book.

Sally is back in Plotting for Grown-ups by Sue Hepworth, and this novel takes place several years after Plotting for Beginners.  Sally is sixty, and her marriage to Gus has ended.  To make matters worse, her agent can't find a publisher for her new book.

Several characters from Plotting for Beginners appear in this novel as well as a few new characters.  Sally mixes business and her love life with Kit Wyatt--handsome yet moody publisher/Daniel Craig look alike.

As with Plotting for Beginners, this book is an epistolary novel with the same wit and truthful observations.  Again, I liked reading about the joys and challenges of Sally's writing life, and how she navigates it along with the conflicts of her personal life.  I recommend this book.

I read Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination by Helen Fielding on a recent airplane flight home.  This novel was exactly what I was looking for--an escapist story with some humor and some adventure.  

British freelance journalist Olivia Joules gets involved with some undesirable people.  She's covering a face cream launch in Miami when she meets Pierre Ferramo and his friends.  Is Ferramo a Hollywood producer, international playboy or member of al Qaeda?  Soon, Olivia is working with MI6 and finds herself in places like Honduras, The Sudan, and even Hollywood.

I've read the reviews where people compare this book unfavorably to the Bridget Jones books, and this novel isn't as good, but it isn't that bad, either.

The story moves quickly and takes on some 007 overtones once Olivia starts working with MI6.  Olivia is a brave heroine, and the story is never dull.  If you're looking for this kind of entertainment, then this is the right book for you.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Welcome, Summer

"From brightening fields of ether fair-disclosed,
Child of the sun, refulgent Summer comes."

Francis Thompson, The Seasons: Summer, l.I.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Oh Dear Silvia

Silvia Shute is in a coma, and her prognosis is not good.

In the unabridged audio book of Dawn French’s Oh Dear Silvia, various members of Silvia's family and friends visit her in the hospital. We meet them all—ex-husband, sister, son, daughter, granddaughter, cleaning woman, best friend, and Silvia's nurse.

Silvia’s bedside becomes a place where each visitor comes alone to unburden himself or herself, talking to Silvia and hoping she will hear.  These individuals recall memories and sometimes secrets from the past and hopes for the future. Through this, we learn what a complicated person Silvia is.  We also learn of the decisions she has made and how they have affected those around her.

There is some comic relief, though. I enjoyed the character of Tia, Silvia’s cleaning lady, who stops by the hospital frequently to tell Silvia about current events and celebrity news. Silvia’s sister, Jo, is there for some comic relief as well with her unusual and unsuccessful remedies to bring Silvia out of her coma (one solution involves stuffed animals), but I didn’t find all these scenes humorous.

Besides Tia, another favorite character is Winnie, Silvia’s nurse. She is caring, compassionate, and respectful of Silvia and her family, and the kind of nurse anyone would be lucky to have.

I looked forward to one character getting her just desserts, and there was a hint that this justice would be forthcoming. It would have been more satisfying if this had happened during the course of the novel.

Dawn French is the narrator of the novel and does a fantastic job. The cast features Gareth Armstrong, Jane Collingwood, Beattie Edmondson, James Fleet, Llewella Gideon, Jack Lowden, James McArdle, Pauline McLynn, Patrice Naiambana, Celine Rosa Tan, Maggie Steed, and Ruby Turner. 

Listening to the book felt more like listening to a play which I liked, and the great cast made for a powerful listening experience.

Have you listened to this audio book or read the book? What did you think?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My Summer Reading List

Today, I am participating in Top Ten Tuesday at the Broke and the Bookish.  The task is to list the Top Ten Books on My Summer TBR List:

Cheri and the Last of Cheri by Collette.  In July, I’ll be taking part in the Paris in July challenge over at Thyme for Tea, so some of the selections on my list are for this challenge, starting with these two novels by Collette about a forbidden love affair between a young man and a sophisticated older woman.

The Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty.  This is going to be the summer that I use my Kindle more!  I’ve downloaded this British psychological thriller about a man and a woman who have a passionate affair that ends with the two of them in the Old Bailey.  And one of them is accused of murder.

The Awakening of Miss Prim: A Novel  by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera.  This international bestseller is about a young woman who moves to a remote French village to work as a librarian where she finds challenges and love.

The Beach House by Jane Green.  This is the story of Nan Powell, an eccentric 65 year old widow, with limited funds who decides to open her Nantucket home to boarders.  I chose this books strictly as a beach read.

Euphoria by Lily King.  The reviews have been great for this novel about three anthropologists in 1930’s New Guinea.  One of the characters is loosely based on Margaret Mead.

Her by Harriet Lane.  Lane’s first novel, Alys, Always, became one of my favorite books of last year.  She is an amazing writer, and I can’t wait to read this book which looks equally intriguing.

The Sun King by Nancy Mitford.  I love reading books about or by one of the Mitford sisters, and this book has been gathering dust on my bookshelf for too long.  I’ve read some of Nancy Mitford’s fiction, but I’ve never read any of her non-fiction.  The Sun King looks like an interesting and informative look at King Louis XIV at Versailles.

The Last Time I Saw You by Eleanor Moran.  This novel deals with the complex friendship between Olivia Berrington and her friend Sally and what happens when Olivia gets a call to tell her Sally has died in a car accident.

Summer in the Country by Edith Templeton.  This novel, having been compared to a Turgenev comedy, takes place in Bohemia.  It tells the story of the resourceful Birk family who live in Castle Kirna and about the visit of their eccentric summer guests.  I’m looking forward to reading this book is spite of the ghastly cover art.

Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton.  Catherine, divorced and with grown children, decides to make a new start.  She buys a house in the Cevennes mountains of France.  I’ve read the first fifty pages, and this story looks like it will be the perfect summer read.

Saturday, June 14, 2014


Charade by John Mortimer has been languishing on my bookshelf for a few years.  

Written in 1947 but not published in America until the 1980's, the story takes place during World War II and is about a young man who joins a film crew at a seaside English village where the main battle is against the rain.  Much of the story deals with the naive young man and his encounters with the eccentric characters that comprise the film crew.  The crew spends a good bit of time in the pub while waiting until the rain stops to film army training maneuvers on the beach. 

Charade has some funny and laugh out loud moments, but I never understood whether the story was a murder mystery or a comedy.  The blurb on the book presents the story as a murder mystery.  The murder or "accident" doesn't take place until over halfway into the book.  Because the person killed is so disliked, it doesn't appear that there is much momentum to solve the crime.  Or is a cover-up derailing the murder investigation?

I wanted to like this book, but there were too many unanswered questions.

Wildfire At Midnight

Wildfire At Midnight by Mary Stewart takes place at the time of the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953.  The main character, Gianetta Drury, a young woman in her twenties who is divorced and a fashion model, decides to leave the chaos of London for a small lodge on the Isle of Skye in Scotland.

Once she has arrived at the lodge, Gianetta learns that there has been a murder of a young woman earlier in the month.  Also, she discovers that her ex-husband is a guest at the lodge.  There are several other couples staying at the lodge along with Roderick Grant, the dark handsome mysterious Scotsman.  In the course of her stay, two other murders occur.

What I liked about this book was the setting of the remote Isle of Skye.  Stewart’s descriptions of the landscape are vivid.  I found it easy to be transported there.  If you are looking for atmosphere, this book has it all—misty mountains, dangerous mountainsides, and fog that rolls in quickly.  Also, the motive for the murders was different and interesting. 

This book is a quick read, and a good example of why Mary Stewart was such a great storyteller.

I was saddened to learn of Mary Stewart’s recent death.  Below is a link to her obituary from The Daily Telegraph:

What is your favorite Mary Stewart novel?

When Washington Was in Vogue

When Washington Was in Vogue by Edward Christopher Williams is told in letters from World War I veteran Davy Carr to his army friend, Bob Fletcher.  The story takes place during the 1920's in Washington, D.C., and chronicles Davy's experiences as he moves among the elite circles of African-American Washington society.

Davy rents a room in the Rhodes' household, and this is where he meets Mrs. Rhodes' youngest daughter, Caroline.  Caroline likes to smoke, flirt, and always has an invitation to a party or a dance.  Davy heartily disapproves of this behavior.  Will Davy come to his senses and see what’s right in front of him?  Or will love and happiness elude him?

The novel touches upon issues of race, segregation and politics.  The story also deals with the idea of beauty and what it meant for African-American women whose skin was too dark or too fair.  Davy is an academic, and his opinions of what happens around him are interesting and sometimes snobbish and sometimes comical.  His eloquent letters capture the joie de vivre of the 1920's with lively characters involved in dinners, dances, and other social engagements, as well as a night out in Baltimore at a questionable establishment.  The love story is the thing that takes center stage, though.

When Washington Was In Vogue was originally a serial in a magazine in 1925 and 1926 with no author attached.  In the introduction to the book, Adam McKible tells of conducting research for a book and coming across the installments of this story.  He realized that the story was important and copied everything he found for a future project.  It was years later when he discovered the identity of the author and was able to get a publishing company interested in the manuscript.  Thus, a notable work of the Harlem Renaissance was saved.

The author, Edward Christopher Williams (1871-1929), had the distinction of being the first African American to be a professionally trained librarian in the United States.  Besides his distinguished career as a librarian, Williams was a prolific writer of articles, short stories, plays and poems.

I enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.