Monday, July 25, 2016

Remarks on Recent Reads: The Getting Caught Up Edition

Happy Monday to you! My reading has been a bit sporadic, but I've managed to read some books in the past few months that I'd like to tell you about:

It's been awhile since I read Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (originally published in 1932). What I recall about this book is that it's great fun and made me laugh out loud. The heroine is a likable young woman, Flora Poste. After the death of her parents, Flora leaves her life in London to move in with her distant relatives, the eccentric Starkadders, at Cold Comfort Farm near the village of Howling in Sussex. Flora sets about getting everything and everyone's lives in order. This was a fun read that I highly recommend.

In Excellent Women (originally published in 1952), Barbara Pym writes about human nature, lost love, repression and missed opportunities in a 1950s English village. We go into the world of Mildred Lathbury, the daughter of a clergyman. Life gets a bit more exciting when an anthropologist and his wife move to the village. I highly recommend this delightful novel.

Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1975) is a recent acquisition that I found this past Saturday at a used book sale. I sat down on Saturday afternoon to read a couple of pages and couldn't stop until I finished. The writing is beautiful and the story compelling. Living in India in the early 1920s, Olivia is the beautiful but bored English housewife of hardworking civil servant, Douglas. She finds herself drawn to the charismatic, mysterious Indian prince Nawab, and it changes her life forever. The novel begins fifty years later with Olivia's step-granddaughter who has come to India to find answers about the mystery surrounding Olivia and the prince. Such a great novel! 

I was glad to find Little Face by Sophie Hannah (2006) as it's the first of the series that features detectives DC Simon Waterhouse and DS Charlie (Charlotte) Zailer. Alice Fancourt leaves her two week old baby alone with her husband, David, for a couple of hours to go to the gym. When she returns, she finds that the baby with her husband is not her daughter. Is her baby really missing, or is Alice suffering from postpartum depression? Then there is the mysterious death of David's first wife. The fact that DC Waterhouse had a relationship with Alice only complicates his somewhat difficult working relationship with DS Zailer. I highly recommend this novel.

Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books by Paul Collins (2004) is about the author's experiences living and working in one of my favorite places--the town of bookshops known as Hay-on-Wye in Wales. Although things have changed a little bit in Hay since the book was written, I enjoyed spending time in Collins' world and reading about a time when enigmatic bookseller Richard Booth was the self-proclaimed king of Hay-on-Wye. I highly recommend this book. 

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (2002) 
sat on my bookshelf for a lot of years before I finally read it, and it made me wonder what took me so long. The novel set in 1964 is the story of fourteen year old Lily Owens and her search to learn the truth about how her mother died. Lily and the woman who takes care of her, African-American Rosaleen, flee to Tiburton, South Carolina, a town that holds the answers that Lily seeks. Lily and Rosaleen are taken in by three beekeeping sisters. The characters are eccentric, and the story never boring. I came away with a new respect for beekeepers as well. I highly recommend this book.

They Came from SW19 by Nigel Williams (1993) isn't the kind of book I usually read, and I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. Set in the Wimbledon neighborhood of London, the narrator is fourteen year old Simon Britton. His father has died, and his mother is a member of the First Church of Christ the Spiritualist. One of the leaders of the church (a domineering and abusive man), his wife, and his teenage daughter move in with Simon and his mother. Simon is a self-proclaimed ufologist who thinks he has seen a ghostly apparition of his father. The narration of the book contains humor that at times reminded me of Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole books, but I couldn't quite suspend my disbelief for the ending of the book. 

Every time I read a novel by British writer Elizabeth Taylor, I decide it's my favorite. A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor (1947) is no exception. The novel takes place in Newby, a town on the English coast whose best days are behind it. Beth, a novelist, finds herself consumed with writing her latest book. Her husband, Robert, is a doctor who seemingly works long hours as well, but Beth is unaware that he's having an affair with her best friend, the divorcee Tory. Then there's Beth's troubled, perceptive and beautiful daughter, Prudence. A stranger comes to town in the form of Bertram who is an artist. He enters their lives and the lives of others in town, and things will never be the same. I loved the writing, the plot, the humor, the pathos, and of course, Taylor's trademark light touch. I highly recommend A View of the Harbour.

Have you read any of these books? I'd love to know what you think. What are you reading this week?


  1. We like some of the same books. I have Sixpence House and have not read it yet. Excellent Women is a gem and now I want to read Heat and Dust and Little Face. Thanks for the ideas.

  2. I loved Sixpence House...I've wanted to go to Hay-On-Wye ever since. :) And Excellent Women is my favorite Barbara Pym novel. (Oh, and I'm hoping to read Cold Comfort Farm before the end of the's on my list.)

  3. I've only read Secret Life of Bees and it was when it first came out. I did like it though.

  4. I've read Secret Live of Bees and Sixpence. My reading list has just grown! Happy Reading!

  5. I need to read some of these too! Excellent Women is on my shelf.