The Doves of Venus by Olivia Manning

The Doves of Venus cover

The Doves of Venus by Olivia Manning was first published in 1955 and it really couldn’t be any other era. I suppose that to young people reading this book will seem like ancient history as everything is just so different nowadays. I don’t think the type of young women featured in the book exist now, I was born just at the back end of the 1950s – to older parents so a lot of the attitudes seemed very familiar to me.

The setting is London where eighteen year old Ellie has moved from Eastsea where she lived with her widowed mother and older sister. Ellie has hopes of becoming an artist and her relationship with a much older man Quintin leads to her getting a job in a shop painting old furniture. It’s a hand to mouth existence with every penny being counted.

Ellie has fallen hard for Quintin who is married but separated from his wife – off and on, but as far as he is concerned females are just to be used, picked up and put down at his convenience. But the older female characters are often manipulative and avaricious, this isn’t a book that portrays all women as being good while the men are all bad.

London has changed so much since the 1950s and there is now no way that a teenager working in a shop could rent a room in Kensington or Chelsea, and I’m happy to say that in the 21st century mothers have more ambition for their daughters than getting them safely married and off their hands before they are out of their teenage years.

I really enjoyed this one although it doesn’t come up to the heights of Olivia Manning’s Levant trilogy or her Balkan trilogy.

The blurb on the back says: ‘Manning writes always with a poet’s care for words and it is her usual distinction of style and construction that lifts the novel … far, far above the average run’ STEVIE SMITH, OBSERVER

This one was one of my 20 Books of Summer.

London Match by Len Deighton

London Match cover

London Match by Len Deighton was first published in 1985 and it’s the third book featuring Bernard Samson and the various other ‘civil servants’ who were engaged in spying or spy spotting in London and West Berlin during the Cold War era.

As you would expect, nothing can be taken at face value, leaks in the department mean that just about everybody is under suspicion of being a double agent. At the same time there’s a lot going on in the way of office politics and back stabbing and Bernard believes his children are in danger of being snatched.

At 405 pages you would think that this wouldn’t be a quick read but it didn’t take me long (mind you the bad weather might have had a hand in that!) and I find Deighton’s writing to be really good and surprisingly descriptive, something that I appreciate. I’ll definitely be reading the next one in this series which is Spy Hook.

Len Deighton seems to be one of those talented people who have successes in many different arts, that’s always impressive, and slightly annoying of course!

London Match was one of my 20 Books of Summer.

The Demon in the House by Angela Thirkell

The Demon in the House cover

The Demon in the House by Angela Thirkell was published in 1934, a busy year for the author it would seem. She so fell in love with her character Tony Morland who first appears in High Rising – that she had to write more about him. He is of course the twelve year old son of Laura Morland who is a writer, it’s difficult not to assume that the Morlands are based on Thirkell’s own family.

This was a first time read for me as I had trouble finding a copy to buy at what I regarded as a reasonable price, luckily I managed to borrow it from the library, albeit in large print.

As the youngest of Laura’s four boys and never having known his long dead father, Tony is rather pampered, but he’s an exuberant lad, always getting into scrapes, breaking windows, ruining clothes, washing the newly shelled peas down the sink, retrieving them from the u-bend and eating them! You get the idea, he’s a bundle of trouble but at the same time adorable.

This portrayal of the relationship between a young boy and his mother is by far the most realistic I’ve read, despite Tony’s exaggerated character. Every bike outing of Tony’s has Laura imagining the worst. At the end of the book she is sorting out the clothes for his school trunk, he’s moving up to the senior school and going from short trousers to long ones, a huge rite of passage for boys and mothers in those days.

What really surprised me about this book is the many mentions of Hitler. Tony says Hitler murders practically all Germans. He knows what he would do. He’d put an electric shock machine in his telephone and when Hitler answered the telephone he’d get electrocuted. If only it had been that easy.

I read this one for the 20 Books of Summer Challenge.

Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell

Wild Strawberries cover

Wild Strawberries is the second of Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire books, first published in 1934 but my copy is a 1983 Hamlyn paperback.

This one revolves mainly around the Leslie family. I remember someone commenting years ago that the Leslies were their least favourite characters, and I can see that some people could find them very annoying indeed, but they’ve suffered tragedies that money can’t cushion. There is a sort of sense of entitlement pervading them but for me there’s just enough charm there to be able to forgive that, although I could see David Leslie far enough – as they say.

Lady Emily Leslie is so disorganised that she can’t get anywhere on time, not even to church, and it holds everybody up. Even when she gets there she causes chaos with her stage whispers as she tells everybody where to sit. The eldest son was killed in the Great War and the youngest son David is absolutely full of himself, has umpteen lady friends and never gives a thought to any of them. John who is son number two is the sensible one. His wife Gay died after just a year of marriage.

With the arrival of a family friend to stay for the summer and some French visitors who have rented the vicarage (I doubt if that was actually possible) the story evolves with the usual bits of romance, uppity servants and mothers of young children who are incredibly relaxed about them, not batting an eye when they cause havoc and mess. After all, why worry when the nanny will sort it all out!

This one is entertaining and interesting as David Leslie is hoping to get a job at the BBC which is in its early days and it seems that any ‘toff’ with the right sort of an accent could get a job there – even women! It’s obvious that most of the young men working there were gay, but sometimes settled for a ‘companionate’ marriage – to the right sort of girl – with money of course.

At one point David Leslie is at the railway station to meet someone and the London bank-holiday train disgorges lots of hikers, a few of which give him the Fascist salute – I wonder just how common that was in 1934, just a year after Hitler took power in Germany.

This book is one of my 20 Books of Summer.

High Rising by Angela Thirkell

It’s the time of the year when if I’m not on holiday then I have people visiting me for a holiday, so I’ve just been too busy to blog recently, but a fun time was had by all as we dashed about the east of Scotland showing friends some sights. But back to blogging:

One of the books on my 20 Books of Summer 2017 list is Angela Thirkell’s High Rising, a re-read for me because I wanted to read them all in the correct order this time around. High Rising introduces many of the inhabitants of Barsetshire, that updated setting of many of Anthony Trollope’s books and featuring some of the descendants of his characters, but that is by the by as it really doesn’t matter if you haven’t read those books.

The book was first published in 1933 but my copy is a modern re-print with an introduction by Alexander McCall Smith. It mainly features Mrs Laura Morland, a widow with four sons, three of whom are out in the world, but her youngest son Tony is still at prep school and he’s the reason she keeps writing her very popular Madam Koska books, she needs the money they bring in to pay for his school fees apart from anything else. Tony is an exasperating little boy, absolutely full of himself and constantly boasting, but there’s a lot of comedy in Tony’s shenanigans. Thirkell had two sons of her own and I’m sure that she was using an actual boy as a template for Tony’s character, he’s obsessed by trains and has an urge to pass on all his railway information to anyone he comes across. Anyone with sons will recognise that stage, although in my day it was more likely to be dinosaurs or F1 racing.

George Knox is really just an adult version of Tony, someone who loves to hear his own voice, but he has taken on a secretary to help him write his books and there’s something odd about her. She seems to be far too familiar considering she is a type of servant, she is behaving more like a wife, and George’s friends fear she will hook him.

Can Laura save George from the clutches of the obviously mentally unstable secretary, whilst shedding her tortoiseshell hairpins? I googled kirby grips/Bobby pins to see when they were invented and it seems to have been in the 1920s, but Laura was sticking loyally to the old fashioned hairpins which do fall out easily, I know as I have some from way back then.

I enjoyed reading this one just as much as the first time I read it. If you want to read my more detailed review from then have a look here.

20 Books of Summer

I was doing well with 20 Books of Summer, until August came along and then I was just too busy running around in the Scottish Borders and Highlands to be able to get much reading done. Also I had four books that I had requested from the library arriving all at once – why does that always happen?! So I just had to read those ones as I had asked for them. Anyway, my list is below with links to what I thought of the ones that I did manage to read.

Thank you Cathy @ 746 Books for setting the challenge up.

1. An Autumn Sowing by E.F. Benson
2. Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
3. Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart
4. Madam, Will You Talk by Mary Stewart
5. A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor
6. A Place to Stand by Anne Bridge
7. The Moon King by Neil Williamson
8. Runyon from First to Last by Damon Runyon
9. Resorting to Murder – Holiday Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards
10.The Suspect L.R. Wright
11. Noble Descents by Gerald Hanley
12. Silence for the Murderer by Freeman Wills Crofts
11. Lament for a Maker by Michael Innes
12. Kim by Rudyard Kipling
13. The Prince Buys the Manor by Elspeth Huxley
14. Headless Angel by Vicki Baum
15. The Weeping Wood by Vicki Baum
16. Justine by Lawrence Durrell
17. Fillets of Plaice by Gerald Durrell
18. Daniel Plainway by Van Reid
19. Love at all Ages by Angela Thirkell
20. A Desert in Bohemia by Jill Paton Walsh

20 Books of Summer Challenge

I’m taking part in 20 Books of Summer @ 746 Books.

I’m doing quite well, and that probably says more about our lack of summer weather than anything else. I’ve actually read more books than these seven since the 1st of June, but you can see below the ones from my original list that I’ve read so far.

1. An Autumn Sowing by E.F. Benson
2. Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
3. Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart
4. Madam, Will You Talk by Mary Stewart
5. A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor
6. A Place to Stand by Anne Bridge
7. The Moon King by Neil Williamson
8. Runyon from First to Last by Damon Runyon
9. Resorting to Murder – Holiday Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards
10.The Suspect L.R. Wright
11. Noble Descents by Gerald Hanley
12. Silence for the Murderer by Freeman Wills Crofts
11. Lament for a Maker by Michael Innes
12. Kim by Rudyard Kipling
13. The Prince Buys the Manor by Elspeth Huxley
14. Headless Angel by Vicki Baum
15. The Weeping Wood by Vicki Baum
16. Justine by Lawrence Durrell
17. Fillets of Plaice by Gerald Durrell
18. Daniel Plainway by Van Reid
19. Love at all Ages by Angela Thirkell
20. A Desert in Bohemia by Jill Paton Walsh

20 Books of Summer Challenge

It has been a silent weekend blogging wise because I was in Glasgow at a Science Fiction convention of all things. That’s Jack’s thing and I was just there to meet up with old friends. I had intended to get online – but just never got around to it, you know how it is!

Anyway as I’ve been catching up with some of my favourite blogs I’ve decided to join in with 20 Books of Summer for the first time. You have to read 20 books between the 1st of June and 1st of September. I think I should manage that. So here is my list:

1. Autumn Sowing by E.F. Benson
2. Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
3. Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart
4. Madam, Will You Talk by Mary Stewart
5. A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor
6. A Place to Stand by Anne Bridge
7. The Moon King by Neil Williamson
8. Runyon from First to Last by Damon Runyon
9. Resorting to Murder – Holiday Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards
10.The Suspect L.R. Wright
11. Noble Descents by Gerald Hanley
12. Silence for the Murderer by Freeman Wills Crofts
11. Crime Out of Mind by Delano Ames
12. Kim by Rudyard Kipling
13. The Prince Buys the Manor by Elspeth Huxley
14. Headless Angel by Vicki Baum
15. The Weeping Wood by Vicki Baum
16. Justine by Lawrence Durrell
17. Fillets of Plaice by Gerald Durrell
18. Daniel Plainway by Van Reid
19. Love at all Ages by Angela Thirkell
20. A Desert in Bohemia by Jill Paton Walsh

I hope to be able to manage to read more than 20 books over the summer, but that very much depends on what the weather is like, if it’s good I’ll be spending time gardening. The books above are all from my TBR piles and I hope that this will make me concentrate on my own books, rather than those from the library. I have to admit though that I just bought about half of these books when we were down in England recently, on our journey back from The Netherlands.

They’re all fairly old apart from the Jill Paton Walsh book and Moon King by Neil Wiliamson and the Mary Stewart and Williamson books can count towards the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge.

So what do you think of my list? Are there any duds on it? Maybe you’d like to join in with a readalong, possibly with the Mary Stewarts – do tell!