Book reviews – a big wodge of comfort reading


Pile of comfort readingHello! I’m back! I’ve been ill: really, properly, horribly ill with a Proper Flu that has knocked me out for over two weeks, throwing all sorts of nasty symptoms at me in a random order, letting me think I was getting better then knocking me over again, and including one day when I was literally utterly bed-bound. Matthew has of course been a complete star, even though he’s had a slightly milder form of the flu himself, even trotting out to pick up my running club Tshirt the other evening. Public thank you to Matthew!

So, all I could read (when I COULD read – I don’t think I picked up a book, even, on Monday!) I have been mining my TBR for the easy stuff. This makes my current TBR a bit scary, but I have plenty on my Kindle and plenty of light books around the place, so I’m sure I’ll manage. Rather than devote a few reviews to these somewhat slight reads, I’m going to round them all up here and then get on with things – I do have some slightly more substantial books to review, which will be up next. So, here goes …

Debbie Macomber – “The Inn at Rose Harbor” / “Rose Harbor in Bloom”

(28 March 2015 from Macclesfield / 31 October 2013 via BookCrossing)

I’d had the second of these on the TBR for ages and finally picked up the first one so I could read them in order. Rose Harbor is a B&B run in Cedar Cove by Jo Marie, recently widowed and looking for a new project. Of course, Cedar Cove is the setting for Macomber’s previous long series, so this allows her to indulge her fans by weaving in some of the CC favourites as well as starting a new series with a new centre. Although romantic stories do ensue for the characters who are featured staying in the B&B, there is an emphasis on community and friendship in the books, too, which makes them the kind of DC book I will happily read (I’ve found I don’t like the only-romance ones). These are satisfying, warm and friendly novels, just the thing for the ailing reader.

Lisa Boyer – “That Dorky Homemade Look”

(21 January 2015 – birthday present from Gill)

While I haven’t started doing quilting yet, it’s something I’m interested in, and this is a sweet book about how it doesn’t matter if you use weird fabrics and don’t do things completely perfectly in the hobby, which is quite inspiring. It reads like a blog turned into a book, which works very well  here, and the author is obviously a competent quilter who wins prizes, but it’s got a very funny way to it and was a fun read.

Noel Streatfeild – “Tea by the Nursery Fire”

(12 January 2015 – present from Verity)

A lovely little volume in which the beloved children’s author reconstructs the life of her father’s nanny, Emily Huckwell, following her fortunes from a young nursery maid up the ranks, absorbing lessons from the lovely and not so lovely women she works with and for over the years. It’s quite simple, but a lovely read, and quite an emotional one, too. It gives a good background to “A Vicarage Childhood” which has a lot to say about her father’s disappointment that his children don’t have the same sort of childhood that he had and was a lovely, if quick, read.

Maeve Binchy – “Minding Frankie”

(20 September 2014 – charity shop)

I thought I’d read all of dear departed Maeve’s books but had never heard of this one before. It follows the fortunes of Baby Frankie, who doesn’t have the best start in life, her dad Noel, who doesn’t seem the most promising of fathers, and the community and families (including some from earlier books, which is lovely, but also heart-wrenching) and, as often happens, an outsider, in this case Noel’s cousin who moves over from America temporarily and acts as a catalyst for change and improvement. A lovely and absorbing book, although there is a big dose of melancholy in it.

Georgette Heyer – “The Unknown Ajax”

(28 March 2015 – Macclesfield)

Heyer’s books often start with either a young runaway or a family set-up awaiting the arrival of a stranger, and this is one of the latter. With several offspring departed, cross old Lord Darracott announces that  he has an heir no one has heard of before – and he’s coming to stay. He’s apparently from poor stock, and a soldier, and of course he puts the cat among the pigeons – he’s also supposed to marry Anthea, his cousin, to keep everything in the family, but she’s not keen on that, even though he turns out to be a real support and lovely bluff, Yorkshire chap of whom everyone becomes fond. A lovely, funny read.

Lauren Laverne – “Candy Pop: Candy and the Broken Biscuits”

(28 March 2015 – Macclesfield)

Yes, her out of Kenickie and off BBC 6 Music did a YA book, and I really rather enjoyed it. Your classic single-parent kid in a small seaside town, trying to start a band and obsessed with the brooding chap who runs the only record store in town, but enlivened by a bit of cheeky rock-star magic. There is some drinking and ensuing mess in the book so not for the absolute depths of illness, but it was a cheery and jolly read, with a range of characters and some good set pieces – especially those around starting a band and the first gig. This was meant to be part of a trilogy, but I can’t see that the other books ever came out, which is a shame, as it wasn’t bad at all and an entertaining read.

There we go: comfort reading extraordinaire. I also fitted in finishing a book on the children of rock stars and one on Harry Selfridge, as well as starting the most detailed book about Dolly Parton EVER; more on them later.

Book reviews – My Summer of Love and A Vicarage Childhood


TBR April 2015Two books about growing up today, one quite sweet and anodyne and the other a lot more tangy and dangerous. Both are by authors who I really like and whose work I have read before, so I knew where I was with them to an extent, but both were a little different to the books I’d already read by them. One was written this century and one last century. So, let’s talk about them …

Noel Streatfeild – “A Vicarage Childhood”

This was a rather lovely memoir by the popular children’s author of her own early life as a rather uncompromising child, the middle of three daughters and seen as the untalented and “difficult” one, who starts the book getting thrown out of the school where her sisters have and are prospering. There are cousins, too, including one who is practically raised by her family as his parents are out in India. There’s a lot of period detail, carefully commented on from her adult perspective, and it’s only gradually that it dawns that these are the pre-1914 years and a shadow is looming which intrudes right at the end of the book with somewhat devastating effect. It’s a portrait of a family that has obviously benefited from hindsight and an adult’s viewpoint, very understanding of the family dynamics and looking forward in quick flashes to the life that was to come for all of them. Very enjoyable.

Helen Cross – “My Summer of Love”

Another uncompromising heroine here in this novel centring around Mona, member of a rather chaotic and shifting pub household who has recently lost her mother and is met as she is bridesmaid for her sister Lindy. It’s 1984 and there’s a murderer on the loose in Yorkshire, so everyone’s on guard and twitchy, but no one seems to notice her growing relationship with posh Tamsin up the road. Mona is constantly striving for what she can’t have – whether that’s a secure family unit, money, glamour or love, and at 15 she just goes for it, running off, trying to sabotage her Dad’s new relationship and alternately battling with and baiting her overweight and abandoned “step-brother”. While anyone could be the murderer – and I don’t think we find out who is – Mona runs around free, plays fast and loose with reality, is appalled by and horribly tempted by Tamsin and commits acts of violence herself.

The book is very edgy, starting off blood-soaked in the fumes of the meat processing factory that looms over the streets where Mona lives. There is some quite strong violence which is very well done but I found a little too much (being famously feeble where such things come up). But it’s a compelling story and also soaked in hope and the atmosphere of the 1980s.


Edith Sitwell and Michael RosenTwo books came in after a trip to London – oops! I popped down to meet up with Emma, Beth and Grace and ostensibly to have lunch and maybe buy a sponge bag (the glamour!). I instructed the Volante ladies not to allow me anywhere near the Charing Cross Road, and then we wandered into Fopp (which we don’t have in Birmingham) and found these two lovelies. How could I resist a biography of Edith Sitwell when I collect books on the family, or a book on the alphabet when I have a weakness for such things? So I didn’t. Oh well!

Anything nice in your shopping baskets recently? Have you read either of the reviewed or purchased books?

State of the TBR – April 2015


TBR April 2015This post is brought to you by the word “Oops”. I was doing quite well with my reading, getting through a fair few good books, and then I went to Macclesfield and the TBR ballooned again. On the plus side, I can see the books I got for Christmas, on the minus side (shhh) I had to commandeer a bit of Matthew’s TBR shelves for my Pile. Oh well, all good books, anyway.

Currently readingI’m currently reading a couple of good if slightly edgy books – Helen Cross’ “My Summer of Love” (yes, the one that was made into a film) is starting off well but redolent of murder and heavy with the blood of the tannery across the way from where the protagonists live (so not one for teatime, perhaps) and “How’s Your Dad” is a much more carefully researched and serious book than I’d expected about rock stars’ offspring (although it’s sadly a little out of date, so some of the subjects are no longer with us).

Coming upComing up, I’ve got a slightly uneasy mix of what I might venture to call Hard Books and then some nice novels. The Hard Books aren’t all hard, really – the Iris Murdoch interviews promise to be great reading, but I will have to concentrate properly and have the old post-it tabs at the ready for anything that will link up with my research, and the Iser book is also one for my research. The other two are more Of Interest than For Research, though, and then there’s a Maeve Binchy I’ve inexplicably not yet read and the grand treat of a Robertson Davies trilogy.

April 2015 1Oh, and finally, just in, but not to be read as such – the lovely Kaggsy, LibraryThing Virago Group and blogging friend, had been in touch to check which Iris Murdoch first editions I had, and then produced this one, found in a local charity shop! Thanks so much, Kaggsy! I’ve got eight of them now – they’re not super-valuable but they’re very special to me. I did find her a lovely early edition of one of her favourites a while back, so book karma strikes very nicely. Still haven’t met her in the flesh, however …

That’s all for now. How are your TBRs looking, dear readers? And that’s not even counting the ones on my Kindle …