Saturday, 2 May 2015

Six in April

I read six books in April – an eclectic mix this month I think you’ll agree.

Shopaholic to the Stars by Sophie Kinsella

I’ve read all the Shopaholic books of which this is the latest and I am in admiration every time as to how Sophie Kinsella does it – to have Becky Brandon, a character who is, yes, a shopaholic, something I’ve no patience with in real life, and manages to make her sympathetic and lovable. Here she is in her element in L.A. where she and her husband and small daughter are temporarily based. But it’s not all froth and maxing out the credit card, there are darker issues in Tinsel Town plus an intriguing mystery around Becky’s father’s past which will be investigated in the next book during an American road-trip.

A year or so ago I joined the Jane Austen Society (Scottish Branch). At this year’s AGM in March John Mullan was the guest speaker – I’d heard him talk at the Edinburgh Book Festival and on television so knew we were in for a treat. He lectures in English at University College London – lucky students, for he is a most enthusiastic and engaging speaker.

He explores in a very readable way why we still read J.A.’s books two hundred years after they were written, and explains innovations in her writing technique (including introducing free indirect speech to English fiction); her brilliance of dialogue (rendering even minor characters memorable); and games she played with her readers – such as having characters who are important to the novel never speaking directly (for example Mr Perry in Emma); plus he answers the questions you were afraid to ask – Is there any sex in Jane Austen?  How much money is enough? 

When Marnie Was There by Joan G. Robinson
I’ve no idea why this book was not on my radar before. It’s been compared to Tom’s Midnight Garden, one of my favourite ever books, plus the author wrote the Teddy Robinson titles, much loved by my offspring (and me) when they were little. So when I was in Waterstone’s looking for a present and saw it (a new edition) on the classics table in the children’s department I had to have it.

‘Sent away from her foster home one long, hot summer to a sleepy Norfolk village by the sea Anna dreams her days away among the sandhills and marshes. She never expected to meet a friend like Marnie … but no sooner has Anna learned the loveliness of friendship than Marnie vanishes.’

And it did not disappoint, a lovely read – and, from a postscript by the author’s daughter, I read that it has been turned into an animated film by a Japanese film director, the story moved from the Norfolk marshes to the coast of Japan …

Not Just Dancing by Helen Flint
Having finished When Marnie Was There I remembered another book for teenagers I’d acquired from somewhere and hadn’t read (the term YA would not have been used when Marnie was first published nor for Not Just Dancing which came out in 1988). Sadly, when I looked Helen Flint up to see what else she’d written I saw that she died in 2000 at the age of 47. She wrote several books for teenagers, including a couple of others with titles beginning Not Just … 

In this one, Geraldine, champion dancer and on the look out for true love, is appalled to find that she’s been allotted to her mother and her Home Help clients as part of the school’s Work Experience week. A great cast of characters of all ages; I loved it.

 Over the Garden Fence by Patsy Collins
A collection of short stories, all inspired by gardens or flowers; some first published in magazines and some written specially. I interviewed Patsy Collins in my last blog post here.

A few weeks ago we were in St Andrews and went to the recently opened Topping & Company Booksellers. And I can report it was, absolutely topping. I took some very bad photographs of it which I will not share – but there are good ones on someone else’s nice blog here.

They don’t have the ubiquitous café but the owner/manager asked us if we would like tea or coffee and he brought it to us, in china cups and saucers, on a tray, with biscuits. Could life have any more to offer, we asked ourselves, as we sat at a little table surrounded by walls of books. No, we replied, it couldn’t.

Although actually it could – I’ve always wanted to go up one of those ladders that you can whiz across high bookshelves (not while you’re on it … ) so when I spied a copy of Carol Shield’s biography of Jane Austen I climbed up to claim it.

We would have made purchases anyway – the sheer volume of stock and the way it is laid out meant that we found books we’d never heard of before – but after being treated with such hospitality we spent even more.

They have a programme of events (sadly, we live too far away to take advantage of that). One of their recent speakers apparently was Andy Miller about whom the assistant waxed lyrical when I took my books to the till.

Andy Miller had been a very bookish child but realised he’d got out of the habit of reading. He set out to read ‘Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones)’ and he charts the experience in this book described by the Daily Telegraph as ‘High Fidelity for bookworms’.


  1. Thanks for the link to my photos, Kate. Did you really come out of Toppings with only one purchase?

  2. No! But Andy Miller's is the only one I've read so far. Hoping to visit again soon.