I read seven books in January.
The Bachelor and Spinster Ball by Janet Gover
A black-tie ball under the stars in small-town Australia is the background for this romance between two old classmates. I believe these used to be decorous affairs, allowing men and women in very rural areas to meet potential partners. This one is a more modern fund-raising event but there’s still plenty of potential-partnering going on. Enjoyed this – as I did Flight to Coorah Creek by the same author.
The Road to Harmony: An Appalachian Childhood by J D Ballam
An absolutely beautifully written memoir of growing up on a farm called Harmony in the Appalachian mountains. J D Ballam’s family, and their nearby farming relatives, had to be almost completely self-sufficient and from a very young age he was given a share of the work load; he turned out to be very practical and able to turn his hand to everything whether it was with animals or machinery.
Of course he’s not the first person to write about such an upbringing but what is special about this account (apart from, but not unrelated to, the lyrical writing) is that his childhood was not a century (or two) ago but in the 1970s, and he went on to get a first-class degree in English from the University of York.
A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley
The first book I’ve read in the Flavia de Luce series of novels featuring the eleven-year-old sleuth who is passionate about chemistry, particularly if poisons are involved. She lives on a decaying English country estate with her usually absent father and her two fearsome older sisters. Good fun – and a good plot.
Not That Kind of Girl by Catherine Alliott
When happily married country-dweller Henrietta gets a job in London her life suddenly becomes complicated in unexpected ways. A lovely big chunky read for a winter's evening.
Terms and Conditions: Life in Girls’ Boarding-Schools, 1939-1979 by Ysenda Maxtone Graham
Some nice person gave me this for Christmas knowing my fondness for girls’ boarding-school stories – Malory Towers (I can still remember chunks of In the Fifth), Chalet School, Angela Brazil et al.
The author (whose grandmother was Jan Struther, author of Mrs Miniver) interviewed ‘girls’ who went to (English and Scottish) boarding schools during those years. The schools ranged from the extremely academic Cheltenham Ladies’ College to others where the teaching was minimal. The result makes for a very interesting slice of social history but perhaps you have to be one of those gals to find it ‘the funniest book you’ll read all year’ as quoted on the front.
Published by Slightly Foxed in a lovely little hardback edition, a pleasure to look at and to hold.
Palace of Deception by Helena Fairfax
A novella. Think of a Mary Stuart plot crossed with The Prisoner of Zenda and a dash of Rebecca, but with a setting and a heroine, Lizzie, and hero, Leon, very much its own. I enjoyed the lush descriptions of the strange little country of Montverrier and its mysterious Princess Charlotte, and went on to read the sequel:
The Scottish Diamond by Helena Fairfax
A novella. This time the couple are in Edinburgh where the murky goings on are not confined to the weather … With more twists than the stairs in the Scott Monument, the plot takes us through the capital city and out into the countryside as an old feud is brought to light and Lizzie and Leon wonder who they can trust – including each other.