I have met Simon Brett a couple of times though I wouldn’t expect him to remember me. We were once both speakers at the same conference on ageing and he was quite impressed, I seem to remember, when I said my eldest
granddaughter (then just a littl’un) thought OAP stood for Old And Proud.
Lots of the questions he was asked by our audience were about his Feathering series
of crime novels - the village of Feathering being loosely based on Tarring, just up the road from me (as in, Tarring and Feathering, get it?!)
I immediately went
to the library to borrow one of these books, which detail the crime investigations of an unlikely couple of friends, Carole, an ex-civil servant, and Jude, a healer. I then, as is my wont when I find a book I enjoy, proceeded to read a good number of the novels.
They don’t take themselves too seriously but offer lots of acute social observations to make the reader laugh, all the while trying to decide on the least likely character to have committed the murder. (Lots of murders happen in Feathering; it’s
such a good thing that the residents of real-life Tarring are more law-abiding.)
It’s a while since I have returned to Feathering but The Killing in the
Café, which I borrowed from the library, was exactly the same mixture of mystery and mirth I remembered. Perhaps the relationship between Carole and Jude was explored in a little more depth, with family worries making the uptight Carole open up a bit
more to her friend.
If you like your crime novels deep and complicated then Simon Brett may not be for you. If you like them frothy, unlikely and with many
a merry sideswipe at conventions, then you might want to give the Feathering series a try.
The Killing in the Café does introduce a few changes -
Jude and Carole have swapped their customary chardonnay for Sauvignon blanc. Otherwise it is business as usual for our amateur sleuths.
Maeve Binchy books to me are what a comfort blanket is to a baby. The ultimate go-to read when I want to access my Inner Feel-Good Factor.
I thought I had read just about every novel written by the Marvellous Maeve - then I came across “Minding Frankie” in the book-shelves of the Guild Care charity shop and was as sure as I could be that this was a story yet to be revealed.
It’s not that Maeve Binchy doesn’t deal with tricky topics: “Minding Frankie” covers death, alcoholism, the enduring legacies of dysfunctional family
life. It’s the story of young Noel, an alcoholic no-hoper, who discovers he is to be a father to a baby born to a dying mother. Minding Frankie will either make him or break him.
Two very different women are doing their best to influence the turn of events. Moira is the social worker who believes Frankie will be far better off adopted by a steady nuclear family. It’s an unsympathetic portrayal of a social
worker which my sister, herself a former social worker specialising in child protection, will almost certainly think is unfair. Plus Moira’s back story is unremittingly sad, going a long way to explain her stance when it comes to wanting every baby to
have a guaranteed happy childhood. As readers, however, our sympathies are all with Noel so even acknowledging the sadness in Moira’s life doesn’t make us like her better.
The other woman is Emily, the American cousin who arrives in the community and ever so gently shakes it up, somehow seeing what is needed to bring folk together, to help them realise their dreams and to hold Noel together until he
is strong enough to stand alone. I found the comparison between the two women and the way each chose to work, fascinating.
As is usual with Maeve Binchy novels
there is a massive cast of characters, many recognised from previous books. I sometimes felt as if I needed a family tree, and / or a map of the village so that I could ensure I was making the right connections.
At the heart of the story is Frankie - and the way a whole community comes together to help Noel bring her up and keep her safe. The end of the story is both heart-breaking and heart-warming.
The blurb on the back cover of Robert Goddard’s “Take No Farewell” warns the reader not, on any account, to be tempted to read the last pages first, because in so doing “you’ll spoil the book’s
Occasionally, if I am finding a book a little heavy going, I have been known to flick through the pages to see if events are likely
to speed up a bit. I realise that this is not something I should admit to, having set myself up as a Reviewer of Books but I am nothing if not honest. Anyway I had the warning on the back cover plus a teasing prologue to stop me on this occasion.
As it happens, I wasn’t in the least bit tempted to read ahead. I love a good murder mystery and was fully engrossed in this tale of a man setting out to prove the
innocence of a woman accused of murder - a woman he had loved and betrayed twelve years before.
Geoffrey Staddon is a believable character, a hero
with flaws. He isn’t immediately likeable in view of his earlier behaviour but there’s no doubting his desire to put things right and for this reason the reader has to be on his side as he struggles against the odds to repay his debt to his former
love. This book was originally published under the title Debt of Dishonour and I can’t quite understand why anyone would think the new title more fitting.
It’s a long book, over 550 pages, and full of twists and turns which keep the reader turning the pages, in doing so uncovering a rich cast of well-drawn characters. The woman at the centre of the story, Consuela Caswell, is something of a mystery
but there’s no mistaking the hatred she stirs up among the public at large, baying for her blood. For, yes, as an explanatory note at the start of the book makes clear, this book was set at the time when a conviction for murder meant death by hanging
- so Geoffrey’s increasingly desperate bid to prove Consuela’s innocence takes on added urgency.
I really enjoyed this book - a good, long read - and,
no, I didn’t guess the surprise ending…
This is another book loaned me by the Eldest of the Darling Daughters and I was really looking forward to reading it, as I loved “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” by the same author, Kim Edwards. “The
Lake of Dreams” doesn’t mesmerise the reader in quite the same way but nevertheless it is an engrossing tale of protagonist Lucy’s journey of discovery, returning to her childhood home and piecing together her family history.
Some of the discoveries are encountered through letters from someone called Rose to her daughter Iris. Using letters in this way helped the author to draw a picture of past times
to help Lucy on her quest - but I found them rather forced, I couldn’t imagine many people writing such letters. The author possibly considered and rejected the alternative of including chapters telling Rose’s story in her own words but I think
I would have found it more realistic.
Embarking on her quest and seeking to lay the ghosts of her father’s death, Lucy left behind her partner, the ever-obliging
Yoshi, and encountered a former love in the person of Keegan, an artist in glass. Keegan, along with Lucy’s mother, was one of the more sympathetic characters in the book; for some reason, I found Lucy much harder to like.
There were so many strands to this story - the mystery of the origin of a set of stained glass windows, the women’s suffrage movement, family battles over land and property - that the reader
could be forgiven for struggling to understand which was the “golden thread” of the story.
I read this book to the end - because I did want to discover
what happened to Rose and her daughter - but all in all it was a bit of a disappointment.
I’m a great fan of Philippa Gregory’s books so when I found The Last Tudor on a supermarket shelf I fell upon it with delight and anticipation. It’s the story of the three Grey sisters of whom Lady Jane
Grey, often called the Nine Days Queen, is famous for the saddest of reasons. Of the lives of her two younger sisters, Katherine and Mary, very little is known.
Last Tudor is divided into three parts, one devoted to each sister and each told in their own words. The first part, written in the voice of Lady Jane, is the shortest, presumably because so much of her story has already been told. It was important to realise,
reading her somewhat priggish views, that Lady Jane was a very young girl at the start of the narration and only sixteen when she went to the scaffold. Remembering that, and recognising how, at the end, she chose to be true to her faith, I warmed to her more
as the events inexorably moved towards her death by execution.
Katherine Grey was very different from her sister, far less serious, more flighty, a bit of a flibbertigibbet
while Mary, the youngest sister, was born short but refused to let her shortness of stature interfere with her pursuit of life. Once again, the sisters tell their own stories in their own words and their individual characters are well drawn. I liked both of
them enormously and willed them to be happy - though much good I did them.
Unfortunately the descriptions of their life and times start to drag for the reader
because both sisters spent most of their lives imprisoned at the whim of Queen Elizabeth who saw them as threats to her throne. This meant that any action recounted was inevitably at second hand, as experienced by the sisters in their separate seclusion. The
depiction of Queen Elizabeth, incidentally, is scathingly critical, at odds with other, more favourable, accounts of the first Elizabeth which is interesting in itself.
Philippa Gregory always casts a searching light on the lives of women in earlier times, seeking to show how, while generally at the mercy of the ambitions of the men in their families who see them as useful pawns in the battle for supremacy, many still
manage to retain their own individuality and sense of self. All three of the Grey sisters, in their different ways, demonstrated this.
All in all, The Last Tudor
was a readable account of the three sisters’ lives, but not my favourite Philippa Gregory book.
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