Sunday, 4 October 2015

Six and a bit in September

I read six and a bit books in September.

In August I fell for Paris in Love by Eloisa James (aka Professor Mary Bly, Professor of English Literature, Fordham University, New York), a work of non-fiction that made me want to try her Regency romances. The heroine of An Affair Before Christmas, part of her Desperate Duchesses series, is Lady Perdita Selby, known to her friends as Poppy. Poppy is madly in love with – her own husband, the Duke of Fletcher, but all is not well in their four-year marriage. A good read – will find out sometime why the other duchesses were desperate.

Slow Road to Brownsville by David Reynolds
I saw David Reynolds at the Book Festival, attracted by the premise of his book – an account of the trip he took a couple of years ago, driving by himself from Winnipeg, in the south of Manitoba, Canada, down Highway 83 to Brownsville, Texas.

He’d made the trip to Winnipeg a few years earlier to track down what happened to his grandfather (a story he told in his book Swan River: Memoir of a Family Mystery). It was then that he heard of Highway 83, and was astonished to find out that the road went all the way through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma to Brownsville – 2271 miles.

Whereas interstates are new, American highways, I learnt, more or less all follow the former buffalo trails so his travels were through the old Wild West. He’s a wonderful writer and I’m grateful to him for doing this road trip for me to enjoy vicariously very much indeed.

House of Silence by Linda Gilliard
This is one of the books I mentioned in a previous post Patchwork Pieces.

Orphaned by drink, drugs and rock n’ roll, Gwen Rowland is invited to spend Christmas at her boyfriend Alfie’s family home, Creake Hall – a ramshackle Tudor manor in Norfolk. Soon after she arrives, Gwen senses something’s wrong. Alfie acts strangely towards his family and is reluctant to talk about the past. … When Gwen discovers fragments of forgotten family letters sewn into an old patchwork quilt, she starts to piece together the jigsaw of the past.’

Very intriguing. I liked the way this was told – sometimes by Gwen in the first person and sometimes it’s her in third; Rae, matriarch of Alfie’s family, also has a voice. The family secret is rather weird and wonderful, although with the brooding sky on the cover and an ancient manor house called Creake Hall I expected the story to be more gothicky.

The Carriage House by Louisa Hall
Set in Philadelphia now and described as being Jane Austen meets John Cheever. Didn't agree. Didn’t get past chapter 4. Nuff said.

The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler
Esme Garland is an English girl in Manhattan, a student of art history at Columbia University. Under the terms of her scholarship she’s not supposed to work but circumstances render her in need of extra dollars and she gets a part-time job in a second-hand bookstore – a wonderful shop, sadly one of the few remaining in New York (this was published in 2013). Elegantly written and with great characters – I loved it.

Made me wonder though. Esme’s erstwhile lover, Mitchell, is from one of those rich American families who live in NY and have a weekend ‘cottage’ (ie another massive house) in Long Island. They’re all screwed-up, manipulative and unhappy. Is this how such families are in real life or just in fiction? If anyone knows of a modern novel with a rich American (or any nationality) family who are cheery and appreciative of their lot do let me know.

Took it into my head to reread two school stories (which is why my TBR pile will never get smaller): Lucy Brown’s Schooldays by Dorothy Vicary and The New Girls of Netherby by Judith Carr. Neither stood the test of time.

I was sorry that TNGoN hadn’t because I remember reading it over and over when I was about nine, so much so that I wrote in the back ‘This is one of the best books I’ve got.’ But this time round I couldn’t help noticing the ‘bad writing’: how the point of view jumped around; how the characters never ‘said’ anything – they ‘retorted pertly’, ‘protested indignantly’, ‘returned evasively’, ‘sighed solemnly’, ‘echoed impulsively’ etc. Etc. And the two girls from Ireland were more Oirish than the Oirish (‘’tis a wonderful sight you are, mavourneen … ’).

But I certainly didn’t notice all that when I was nine – what I wanted was to be the heroine, Sally Nicol, because she won a writing competition which led to her being offered a full scholarship to boarding school, to Netherby Hall. That appealed to me because I was not just the only girl in my class in my rural primary at the time, but the only pupil – the thought of boarding school fills me with horror now though.

I did learn a small piece of social history from Lucy Brown (first published 1951) – apparently you could take laddered stockings to be ‘invisibly mended’ in ‘an invisible mending place’. Who knew?


  1. I am in awe of how many books you read in a month, Kate. Very interested in the other one you mention by David Reynolds, "Swan River". My grandad lived in Sifton, Manitoba as a boy in the early 1900s, I think that's definitely one I have to get. Thank you!

    I wonder how you'd ever find an invisible mending place :-) xx

  2. Not sure that rereading two children's books should count, Teresa. I must try and get the Swan River book too - there was a sad story behind it. Hope you like it. Love your comment about the invisible mending place!