Heat Wave by Penelope Lively

 Heat Wave cover

Heat Wave by Penelope Lively was first published in 1996.

Pauline is a middle aged lady, mother of Teresa who is married to Maurice and Teresa is mother of Luke who is a toddler. Maurice is a writer and is years older than Teresa. He’s wrapped up in his own writing career and really doesn’t even have much interest in his son.

Pauline works in publishing as an editor and she has moved out of London and has bought two adjoining rural cottages called World’s End. Originally she had rented out one of the cottages, but when Teresa and Maurice married Teresa was given the use of the larger cottage as a weekend retreat for her small family.

Maurice has decided that World’s End will be the ideal place to finish his travel book so Teresa has them as neighbours for the whole of a very hot summer. When Maurice needs help from a colleague, he and his girlfriend come to stay at World’s End off and on. It gives Pauline an opportunity to observe Maurice closely and she doesn’t like what she sees.

Pauline hasn’t liked Maurice from the beginning and unfortunately she was the one who introduced her daughter to him at a party in her London home. She has the horrible experience of watching her daughter fall for him and as Maurice reminds Pauline so much of her self-obsessed and serial philandering ex-husband she fears for Teresa, but is completely powerless to protect her daughter from what she knows is going to happen. It seems that despite having virtually no contact with her father Teresa is attracted to the same type.

This is a good read with for me a satisfying ending. I do like Penelope Lively’s writing and will be reading more of her books in the future. Nine years before writing this book she won the Booker prize with Moon Tiger.

Wigtown – a book town

Wigtown is in a fairly remote and rural area of Scotland, and that’s the reason why we hadn’t got around to visiting it, despite both Jack and myself being keen readers. Anyway, Peggy arranged for us all to have a few days down in that general direction at Auldgirth.

We didn’t have high hopes of Wigtown after our severe disappointment at Hay-on-Wye where neither of us managed to find anything we wanted to buy, obviously like-minded bookish people had got there before we did.

Jack made one bookseller’s day when he bought a book in his shop, and told him of his Hay-on-Wye experience. But Jack only managed to buy one book, I came back with thirteen books! although I did buy a few of those elsewhere.

books 1

Unexpected Adventure by M.E. Atkinson
Midwinter by John Buchan
The Avenue Goes To War by R.F. Delderfield
The Ringed Castle by Dorothy Dunnett
Man Missing by M.G. Eberhart
Cool Repentance by Antonia Fraser
The Cavalier Case by Antonia Fraser
The Photograph by Penelope Lively
Pied Piper by Nevil Shute
Kate Hardy by D.E. Stevenson
The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff
The Listening Eye by Patricia Wentworth
Out of the Past by Patricia Wentworth

A good haul I think with some really nice covers. Have you read any of them?

There aren’t as many bookshops in Wigtown as I thought there would be, but I can’t complain and feel I was very lucky to pick up the books I did. I can imagine though that some people might go all the way there and be a bit disappointed by the place as there isn’t much in the town at all shop wise. If you enjoy mooching around old graveyards though then make sure you visit the one by the church, it’s very interesting.

You an see images of the town here.

The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths

 The Janus Stone cover

The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths was published in 2010 and is the second book in the series.

Archaeologist Ruth Galloway has been called in to investigate bones which have been found buried in a doorway in an old villa in Norwich. Just how old are they? They were only uncovered because most of the house is being demolished to make way for new homes, but it transpires that the old house had been used as a Catholic children’s home in the past and some members of the police force are jumping to conclusions. Children had gone missing years ago, perhaps they had been murdered and buried there.

In the first book in this series, The Crossing Place, Ruth had a one night stand with Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson and she now realises that she’s pregnant, for her it’s a bonus, but she’s not sure how Nelson will react to the news, and to make matters worse she has now met Nelson’s wife and has become a friend.

Ruth is still living in her remote cottage and someone is trying to frighten her – and succeeding.

I’m enjoying this series and will definitely continue with it. Apart from anything else, I want to know what is going to happen in the personal lives of the main characters. It could be very messy.

Night and Silence by Aline Templeton

Night and Silence cover

Night and Silence by Aline Templeton was published in 1999 and I know that I requested it from the library after reading about it on a blog – but I can’t remember who recommended it – maybe it was you! Anyway, I hadn’t read anything by Aline Templeton before but I will read more of her books. I suspect though that people in Wales wouldn’t be saying that if they had read this one because the setting is a small town in Wales and she doesn’t have a good thing to say about any of the inhabitants, having said that though she didn’t say anything about them that I hadn’t heard said before.

David Cordiner has been promoted in the police force, the down side of that is that his promotion means a move to a Welsh valley for him and his wife Tessa. She finds the relocation particularly hard as the small-minded gossiping natives are a bunch of bullies and are happy making newcomers miserable. It’s a huge change from her life in London where she was a successful artist.

When the body of a young nurse is found on a hillside suicide is suspected but quickly ruled out. The investigation turns up evidence that she was only interested in money and expensive clothes and jewellery. She’s one of those women who should have dangerous to know stamped across her forehead.

Meanwhile the local pervert is stalking Tessa and nobody is taking her complaint seriously. Her husband is more interested in his new job and is making the same mistakes that he made during his first marriage.

Will Tessa survive it all and will their marriage break up, will they manage to get out of Wales and resume life as they knew it previously?

Unfortunately this is one of her standalone novels so I don’t think the characters ever appear again. Shame.

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge.

Eyemouth, Scottish Borders (Berwickshire)

Last Friday we took Peggy to Eyemouth, an old fishing town in the Scottish Borders that she had been keen to visit.

As it happens it’s the town that Jack’s mother grew up in, she lived there in the 1920s when her father was the minister/vicar/priest of the Episcopal church there, it’s called St Ebba and when Jack’s parent’s bought their house they called it St Ebba after the church. I’m quite surprised that nobody chooses to name a daughter Ebba nowadays.

You can see Peggy’s post on our Eyemouth visit here.

St Ebba

I only took one photo while we were there.

Eyemouth St Ebba Lifebelt

As you can see it’s of the lifebelt from the lifeboat St Ebba.

Dwarf Pansies – a bonus

Some of my neighbours are very keen on using those power-washer thingies on their driveways, and it has always annoyed me that so much water is wasted on just cleaning up the bits in between the paviours, or whatever it is you call those slim bricks they use for driveways and paths. It’s at times like that that I wish we had water meters, then they might think twice about doing it, but then maybe not, those power-washer wielders have obviously never grown up.

Anyway, I was really chuffed to see that my lack of driveway maintenance had resulted in lovely wee pansy seedlings germinating around the area beneath where I had planted them in a container last year. I think Peggy said these are called Johnnie Jump Ups in the US.

pansies

Just ignore the grassy weeds though!

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

 Britt-Marie Was Here cover

Britt-Marie by Fredrik Backman is a great read. It’s the third book I’ve read by Backman, a Swedish author and they’re right up my street, perfect light entertainment. Having said that the books have a lot to say about society and people who don’t quite fit into the ‘normal’ category. Backman always has a procession of quirky characters, the sort of people who would drive you nuts but you end up loving.

I believe Britt-Marie appeared first in Backman’s second book – My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry – in which she was married to Kent, a rather obnoxious ‘entrepreneur’ who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing. In Britt-Marie Was Here she is looking for a job at the age of 63, despite not having worked outside the home for 40 years. She has left Kent as she couldn’t keep ignoring the fact that she knew he had another woman on the side. As she has problems communicating with people and understanding life in general, her visit to the unemployment office is a bit of a nightmare for her and the woman trying to help her find a job.

Miraculously a job does turn up, but it’s in a town called Borg, way out in the sticks, it’s a very run down area. The financial crisis has hit the town badly and there is almost nothing still open in the place. But the recreation centre is hanging on and Britt-Marie gets the job of caretaker and she gets involved with the local kids and their football team.

Britt-Marie’s life has collapsed around her and her obsessive cleaning is the only thing that she can hold on to. Suffice to say that she must be buying bicarbonate of soda by the catering barrel load. Despite her love of cleanliness she ends up feeding a rat because she realises that they both have potentially the same problem. Since ending up on her own she fears that if she dies she’ll lie for ages before anyone realises, it would only be the neighbours noticing a smell that would alert them to her death. The same thing happens to rats when they die inside a wall or under floorboards.

Despite her social problems, or maybe because of them, Britt-Marie becomes the champion of the football playing youngsters and she learns how important it is in life to support the correct football team. It says a lot about your character.

I don’t think this can be called a feel-good book because there is plenty of sadness in it, but it is about not giving up hope and building a community in difficult circumstances. A great read.

Red Sky at Night in Fife, Scotland

red sky 6

On Monday night we had a gorgeous red sky as the sun set, the trees almost look as if they are on fire.

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Red sky at night
Shepherds’ delight

red sky 3

Red sky in the morning
Sailors’ warning

Thanfully we haven’t had any red skies in the morning recently – or if we have, I haven’t been up early enough to see it!

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

 The Summer Before the War cover

I really enjoyed Helen Simonson’s book Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand recently so I decided to read her new one The Summer Before the War. It’s quite a chunkster at 580 pages and when I got it from the library I was a bit daunted because I have so many books to read, but the print is quite big so it didn’t take me as long as I thought it would to read it. I can’t say that I enjoyed this one as much as Major Pettigrew though, and I was slightly disappointed that it was so radically different from her first book, but it did grow on me.

The setting is Rye, East Sussex, 1914. That summer was of course a famously beautiful one. Hugh and Daniel are cousins who have a close relationship with their Aunt Agatha and Uncle John, a childless couple who are well-heeled, John is something big in the Foreign Office and so is party to all of the political goings on between Britain and Germany.

Agatha has persuaded the local school board to employ a young woman to teach Latin, but this has made Agatha some enemies. It’s a godsend though for the teacher Beatrice Nash who has been left with virtually nothing to live on after the death of her father as he had not trusted her with the control of her inheritance from him, and has tied it all up under the control of unsympathetic relatives.

As war becomes a reality the town becomes a safe harbour for Belgian refugees, but not everyone is welcoming and it transpires that one young woman has suffered more than others from the attentions of German soldiers.

The subject matter is of course a lot heavier than the first Simonson book and I felt that this book dragged slightly towards the middle, but that may just have been because I didn’t have so much time for reading for a while and didn’t get through it as quickly as I would have liked. In fact the themes of the book are very similar to those of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, they’re just taking place 100 years earlier. There are some really good characters though.

Snobbery, racism, prejudice, bitchiness, family strife – all the usual nastiness that goes to make up almost any society of human beings in fact – appear in each of Helen Simonson’s books. I enjoyed it, just not as much as her first book.

Noble Descents by Gerald Hanley

Noble Descents cover

Recently I read Kipling’s Kim with its colonial India setting, I have to say that I didn’t enjoy it that much, but just a couple of weeks later I picked up Noble Descents by Gerald Hanley which has a post Indian independence setting. I enjoyed that one far more than Kim.

In Noble Descents the characters have chosen to ‘stay on’ in India after independence. Of course for many of the so-called British people India was really their home as they had never even visited England and their family had been in India for generations.

Others had come out from Britain where the jobs they could get were rather low in status and poorly paid. The prospect of living in India where they could afford to have ten servants to shout at was what drew them to India.

Colonel Tim Bingham is one of those ‘staying on’, he’s retired from the army and has always had an affinity with India and an interest in the culture and religions. His closest friend is a Maharajah who feels he doesn’t fit in at all in his own country. He has been educated at an English public school and that culture is the one that he is most comfortable with. After the death of his wife and child the Maharajah feels even less inclined to be what he has been brought up to be.

This is a very readable and at times witty tale involving poisonous marriages and poison pen letters and people from Hollywood intent on making a film.

I found it quite amusing that there are a few characters in it who are making a lot of money from the books they are writing – a very unusual happening in the publishing world and probably wishful thinking by the author.

I was pleased to see my favourite perfume Ma Griffe mentioned a few times – that exquisite perfume as it was described, one character tries to get his boring wife to wear Ma Griffe – but she obviously just wasn’t classy enough!

Ma Griffe by Carven is a Chypre Floral fragrance for women. Ma Griffe was launched in 1946. The nose behind this fragrance is Jean Carles. Top notes are aldehydes, gardenia, green notes, asafoetida, clary sage and lemon; middle notes are iris, orange blossom, orris root, jasmine, ylang-ylang, lily-of-the-valley and rose; base notes are labdanum, sandalwood, cinnamon, musk, benzoin, oakmoss, vetiver and styrax.

India isn’t a favourite destination of mine book-wise but this book had made me think that I might read some more, maybe some of Paul Scott’s books would fit the bill. Have any of you read any of his books?