The Lie by Helen Dunmore

The Lie by Helen Dunmore was published in 2014.

The setting is Cornwall 1920, but the story often slips back to the World War 1 experiences of Daniel and  Frederick, and their childhood together.  Frederick and his sister Felicia are the children of a man who had made money in Australian mines, as Daniel’s mother had been the cleaner for the family she had become close to their mother, when the mother died Daniel’s mother helped with bringing up the children.  But Frederick and Felicia go to private schools, Frederick isn’t interested in learning. It’s Daniel who is the clever one, but he knows he’s never going to be able to stay on at the village school, or have the opportunities that Frederick will have. But they still manage to have a close frienship. When war breaks out they find themselves in the same unit, but of course Frederick is an officer and Daniel isn’t. Only one of them comes back from the war.

I’ve read quite a lot of books which feature WW1 but I think this one depicts the horror of it more than most, and the lack of gratitude and sympathy that those not involved at the front had for the survivors.

This is a great read if you are interested in that era as Helen Dunmore obviously was as she wrote a few books which feature WW1. She was a talented writer, what a sad loss her death was.



The Seal Cove by Helen Dunmore

The Seal Cove by Helen Dunmore was published in 2001. It’s part of a trilogy, the others are The Lilac Tree and The Silver Bead which I’ve read. I just noticed when I started to read this one that my copy is signed by the author.

The setting is Cornwall, Katie and her mother had moved there after the death of her father and things are going quite well for them. Katie’s mother’s paintings have been taken on by a local art gallery, and they’re selling well.

But her best friend Zillah isn’t her normal self, unusually she won’t tell Katie what is wrong with her, but eventually it transpires that her parents are planning to turn their farm into an upmarket caravan park. Two  men have been more or less grooming them and have told them that they will make a fortune, but they would have to get into a lot of debt to carry out the plans. Zillah knows that they will end up losing everything if they do as the men wish, and that they will snap up the farmland for themselves.

Zillah needs the help of Granny Carne, she’s a bit of a local wise-woman, or witch if you believe the rumours. “You go up to Granny Carne’s when you can’t see your way clear ahead.”  But Katie is worried about meeting her.

This one is aimed at older children or young adults, but whether she was writing for children or adults, Helen Dunmore was such a talented  writer,  she’s another author who died too soon.

You can read her Guardian obituary here.

Zennor in Darkness by Helen Dunmore

Zennor in Darkness by Helen Dunmore was published in 1993 and it’s the first book that the author had published. It won the McKitterick prize which is apparently for debut novels by authors over the age of 40. The setting is mainly Spring 1917, in Zennor, a coastal village in Cornwall, close to where D.H. Lawrence has settled with his German wife Frieda.

Clare Coyne is a talented young artist who has always been very close to her cousin John William. But he is preparing to join the army, much to her grief.

The village is full of rumours about D.H. Lawrence and Frieda. Obviously the fact that she is a German is more than a little annoying to people, especially as so many families have suffered the loss of loved ones in the war. Clare befriends them and asks to draw them. Clare’s father isn’t happy about that at all, people say that Frieda is signalling to U-boats from the cliffs, but he’s a vicar and has secrets of his own.

The first part of this novel didn’t quite work for me, it became more interesting when the Lawrences made more of an appearance. Dunmore, based that part on what is known of the movements of the couple who eventually were forced by the authorities to move away from the coast.

This was an enjoyable read but not as good as the other books that I’ve read by Helen Dunmore, which is to be expected I suppose.

Murder at Primrose Cottage by Merryn Allingham

Murder at Primrose Cottage

Murder at Primrose Cottage by Merryn Allingham is the third book in her Flora Steele series, but it’s the first one that I’ve read, I would probably have enjoyed it more if I had read the first two. The setting is Sussex and then Cornwall, apparently in the 1950s but to be honest there isn’t much in the way of 1950s ambience.

Flora Steele owns a bookshop in Sussex, but when her friend Jack has to go to Cornwall to research a book that he’s writing she decides to accompany him. Jack writes murder mysteries and when he receives a threatening letter just before they set off for Cornwall, he thinks it might be better if Flora stays at home, but she’s determined to go with him.

The morning after they reach their rented cottage (with separate bedrooms) Flora discovers their landlord’s body in the orchard. The locals are quick to point the finger at Mercy Dearlove, the local witch or ‘peller’, and the police don’t seem at all interested in solving the crime, so Flora and Jack oblige and do it for them, and that obviously throws them into the path of danger.

I think the Cornish setting was quite realistic, there seemed to be quite a lot of rain and I remember that from the one time we travelled to that far end of England, as usual everyone said we should have been there the previous week!

I am of course a bit of a nit-picker when it comes to details in books, so I was annoyed that the author seems to think that grammar schools have fees – they don’t and never have had, you get in by academic merit. I was also puzzled by the use of torch and a flashlight in the same sentence as if they are two different things, when they are the same thing with flashlight obviously being the US word for what we call an electric torch, although nowadays the ‘electric’ bit is dropped. But this is quite an enjoyable read anyway and I would read the next one in the series I think.

My thanks to the publisher Bookouture who sent me a digital copy via NetGalley for review.

Mullion by Mabel Esther Allan

Mullion cover

Mullion by Mabel Esther Allan was first published in 1949.

The story begins in Liverpool where Mullion has just been accepted for the high school. She is an only child and things have been tough for her and her parents who had married against the wishes of Mullion’s great-grandmother and had subsequently been estranged from her despite the fact that Mullion’s mother had been brought up by her grandmother due to her own parents’ death. But now Mullion’s great-granny has sent a letter inviting them all to her the Island of Polmerryn for the summer, not only Mullion and her parents but her cousins too.

Great grandmother is a sort of Queen of Cornwall, very wealthy and proud, an utter snob who has fallen out with all her relatives over the years, but now she’s over 90 and frail, it’s time to gather her family around again, but the adults decline the invitation and send the children who are thrilled to be visiting a place which has featured in their imagination and dreams, especially for Mullion. It’s a twelve hour train journey from Liverpool to Cornwall, and that is an adventure in itself for Mullion especially as she meets up with her cousins for the first time on the train. They have all been named after places in Cornwall, but have never been there before.

Mullion has heard plenty of tales from her mother about the castle that she had grown up in and her unsuccessful search for a smuggler’s secret tunnel. Obviously the cousins want to continue with the search.

This was an enjoyable read, I love a Cornish setting and the cousins were all likeable – eventually – and everybody learns lessons, even the great-grandmother.

Mabel Esther Allan wrote over a hundred books and I have a feeling that I read some when I was a youngster. I will read more if I fall over them in a secondhand bookshop!

The Grove of Eagles by Winston Graham – 20 Books of Summer 2021

The Grove of Eagles by Winston Graham was first published in 1963 and the setting is mainly Cornwall although at times the action moves to Spain and London.

The story is told by Maugan Killigrew who has grown up at Arwenack House in Cornwall. Maugan is his father’s eldest son but he is a base son – illegitimate – but as his mother is dead he has been brought up in his father’s household. It’s a busy one as his gentle step-mother seems to be forever pregnant. Maugan’s father is a philanderer and up to his ears in debt despite having an important situation as commander of a castle at the mouth of the River Fal.

Maugan’s ambition is to go to sea and make something of himself, as it’s the 1590s and Sir Walter Raleigh visits his father from time to time Maugan hopes that Raleigh will take him on in some capacity and he can make his fortune at sea. With the second Spanish Armada attacking the Cornish coast in 1597 things don’t quite go to plan for Maugan.

This was a good read, marred only slightly for me by what seemed like quite long sections of sea battles. As ever I’m more interested in the domestic side of history, and of course there’s a romance involved.

Some of the characters were based on actual people who lived in Cornwall at that time, and as you would expect from Winston Graham it’s all very authentic and atmospheric. It’s a fairly long read at 576 pages.

This book was one of my 20 Books of Summer.

The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier

 The House on the Strand cover

I had a feeling that I might have read The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier way back in the early 1970s. It was first published in 1969, but I definitely hadn’t read it before. The reason I wanted to read it is that a couple of weeks ago I caught the back end of a programme which mentioned that many readers said that Rebecca was their favourite du Maurier book, but older readers tended to plump for The House on the Strand. I enjoyed this one but although it’s years since I read Rebecca I think I still prefer that one.

This is a time shift tale with the action split between the late 1960s and 1332, the setting is of course Cornwall.

Dick is married to an American widow who has two young sons, but at the beginning of the book he is on his own, waiting for his family to arrive at the house which has been loaned to them by his friend Magnus. Magnus is a professor, a scientist who has a laboratory in the basement of the house. Dick’s relationship with his wife Vita is a difficult one, not helped by Magunus’s attitude to his marriage.

Magnus asks Dick to be a guinea pig, helping in research he has been carrying out. It means that Dick has to take some liquid and report to Magnus what effects it has on him. For Dick the effects are amazing, he’s whisked back to 1332, where he can see what is going on in the area around the house he is living in. Although there seems to be no evidence of buildings which existed it seems that there was a lot going on. There was a priory and large farmhouses and Dick is a witness to murders and intrigue, without being able to do anything about them. When the effects of the liquid wear off he’s violently ill, but is unable to stop himself from repeating the experiment, wanting to find out what happens to the people who he is convinced used to live in the neighbourhood.

When Vita and the boys arrive it isn’t so easy for him to find time to take the liquid, and his behaviour causes problems with Vita

Actually it was the contemporary part of the book which didn’t ring quite true for me, mainly because I couldn’t believe in the relationship between Dick and Vita. He supposedly loved her but it seemed to be a sort of love/dislike thing and I must admit that there didn’t seem to be much to like about her.

I intend to read all of her books and only have a few still to read I think. So far I have enjoyed The King’s General most – apart from Rebecca. This book did make me think that I would like to read more about the history of the 14th century – and wouldn’t you know it – this did feature the Black Death!

The Head Girl at the Gables by Angela Brazil

The Head Girl at the Gables cover

I mentioned earlier that I had been reading The Head Girl at the Gables by Angela Brazil. It was one of the books which I bought while we were in Aberdeen recently. I hadn’t read any of Brazil’s books before but as a youngster I devoured Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers books so I thought it would be interesting to compare the two writers.

The Malory Towers books were written for primary school girls I’m sure and I suppose that Angela Brazil was aiming her books at older girls, so it’s maybe an unfair comparison but I have to say that the Brazil books are much better written than Blyton’s. The setting for Head Girl at the Gables is Cornwall, just as for the Malory Towers books.

The book was written in 1919 and the First World War does feature in it with some of the schoolgirl’s brothers away at the front and German spies being thought to be in the area. The Gables is a small private school with around 40 girls in it. It’s owned and run by the two Kingsley sisters, unmarried of course as women teachers had to be in those days.

Their first problem in the new academic year is – who to choose as head girl, there’s no obvious candidate as far as the Misses Kingsley are concerned, but one of the girls takes it for granted that she will be chosen and is very disgurntled when she isn’t.

Porthkeverne is a coastal town, favoured by artists because of its quaintness and presumably its good light. Lorraine and her siblings form friendships with the Castleton children whose father has used them all as models in his popular paintings. It’s all very different from the lifestyle that Lorraine is used to, theirs is a Bohemian life with a young step-mother who had been their father’s model whom he married when his first wife died. She seems to be having a baby a year – poor thing.

There are disappointments which turn out to be for the best, I suppose this type of book was a sort of guide book to life in some ways, but I think they were condemned by some when they were first published as being a bad influence for young girls, which surely contributed to their popularity! So many other writers jumped onto the school story bandwagon but I think these ones were the originals.

Great Minerva! and Great Judkins! are the exclamations of the day. But the real world does break into the storyline with brothers being called up to the army and those aforementioned German spies.

This was better written than I had expected, I must admit that I bought the book because I was drawn to the cover. I do like those Blackie and Son covers.

I know that by complete coincidence another blogger whom I follow was also having her first experience of reading an Angela Brazil book as I was reading this one, but I can’t remember who it was and can’t find the blogpost which is annoying as I wanted to link to it.

Amended: Thanks Barb. It was Leaves and Pages.

Voices in Summer by Rosamunde Pilcher

Voices in Summer was first published in 1984, which seems like yesterday to me but I had to remind myself that it is actually 30 years ago – amazingly. A few times in the book there is reference to a character looking for a telephone box to call someone and things like that really date it. I don’t know about you but any mention of a phone box and I can smell one, not a pleasant memory I’m sure you’ll agree. I can imagine that some younger people will be reading Pilcher’s books for the charmingly nostalgic atmosphere, the way my generation reads books like Angela Thirkell’s, harking back to a gentler society – even in wartime!

Voices in Summer is set in Cornwall, which is where the author was born and grew up but she married a Scot and after that she lived in the Dundee area I believe. She certainly lived most of her life in Scotland and is generally regarded as a Scottish author.

This one is a light read, good for beach reading or when you’re travelling and don’t want to concentrate on much. It’s a bit of a romance with some mystery thrown in for good measure.

Laura is recently married, to Alec a well off businessman, and their story begins in London where they live. Laura is Alec’s second wife and she feels the presence of her predecessor hanging heavily in the house. Not that the first wife is dead, but she ran off with a younger man and poor Laura is having to live in her house with her choice of furniture and has even inherited the first wife’s friends.

I saw shadows of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca in this one, there are quite a few similarities, not that it comes up to the standard of Rebecca. I’m the sort of reader who enjoys a lot of description in books, especially of landscapes but I do feel that Pilcher takes it all just a wee bit too far and she leaves nothing to the imagination. It’s almost as if she is writing in the stage directions too.

I mention that because I think that there are times when there are just too many words and it all gets in the way of the storyline and I just want to say to her — och get on with the tale!

Never happy – I hear you say. Or pernickety besom!

Of course this is another one which I read for the Read Scotland 2014 Challenge.

Manna from Hades by Carola Dunn

Manna From Hades is the first book by Carola Dunn which I’ve read, but it won’t be the last. Although it was first published in 2009, the book is set in Cornwall of the late 1960s or 70s, as the author spent a lot of her time there when she was growing up. She has definitely captured that atmosphere.

Eleanor Trewynn has spent a lot of her life living abroad as she and her husband spent their working lives helping those less fortunate in far flung countries. Now that she is retired and she is a widow she is living in a small Cornish village, having just had enough money to buy a small house, the ground floor of which she has turned into a charity shop, while upstairs she has her home.

Whilst gathering donations for the shop Eleanor discovers a small case full of jewellery amongst the clothing but has no idea who donated it, and so begins a mystery! I’m not going to say any more about the storyline as I don’t want to spoil it for people!

This is an entertaining sort of easy reading book which harks back to the time when female detectives were a rare thing and women weren’t allowed to wear trousers to work. Something which I’m sure people can hardly believe nowadays but until the equality of the sexes laws came about in the mid 1970s that is what life was like for women.

It says on the front cover A Cornish Mystery and that was one of the reasons I chose this book because if a book is set in Cornwall then it’s a plus for me. I just realised recently that the Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton is set in Cornwall and I loved those books so they probably kick started my love for Cornwall, long before I ever managed to visit the place – and I wasn’t disappointed when I eventually got there.

Anyway, I’m keen to read more of Carola Dunn’s books, even if they don’t have a Cornish setting. Although Dunn was born and raised in England she now lives in the US – Oregon I believe.

My thanks to Jo at The Book Jotter who encouraged me to start reading Dunn’s books, although Jo hasn’t read this one yet.