the 1976 Club

It’s the 1976 Club which is hosted by Simon of Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings.

For me 1976 has been a bit of a slim year reading wise, since blogging it seems that I’ve only read two from that year:

A Stitch in Time by Penelope Lively

Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart

I enjoyed both of those ones a lot. This week I’m reading a couple of short books by Ursula Le Guin, novellas really, A Very Long Way from Anywhere Else and The Word For World is Forest. These ones are both from Jack’s Le Guin collection, most of which are SF of course but the first one I mention isn’t SF.

I must admit that 1976 has seemed like a fairly bad year for publishing. I can’t say that I noticed at the time, I did work in a large public library back then, but it was also the year that I got married, yes I am fairly ancient, but I was a child bride!

The Wind Off the Small Isles by Mary Stewart

The Wind Off the Small Isles cover

The Wind off the Small Isles by Mary Stewart was first published in 1968. The setting is Lanzarote on the Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa, and 23 year old Perdita is there with her employer Cora Gresham who is a famous English novelist. Perdita is her secretary and as Cora freely admits she half writes the books too. They’re busy seeking out settings for the books, but when Perdita drives down a country track which Cora wants to explore it leads to a house which Cora falls in love with immediately.

There are workmen outside the house and Perdita is sent to enquire about the owner as Cora wants to buy the place, but it turns out that Cora already knows the owner James Blair and he’s another English author – the house is definitely not for sale. Michael is working for James and it’s obvious that he and Perdita are interested in each other, and so begins a suspenseful adventure accompanied by the atmospheric descriptions that Mary Stewart was so skilled at.

This is a lovely little novella at just 96 pages, my copy has the original dust jacket and the beginning of each chapter has a small illustration by Laurence Irving. Unfortunately it seems to be quite expensive online but I was lucky to find a perfect copy for all of £3 in a secondhand book shop.

The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights by John Steinbeck

The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights cover

In the Classics Club Spin number 25 I got The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights by John Steinbeck. I’m a bit of a completist so I intend to read everything by Steinbeck which is probably the only reason I bought this book as I’ve already read a fair few versions of this subject. To begin with I really regretted putting this book on my list as I wasn’t enjoying all the never ending combat between various knights for no good reason, the beheadings, swords cleaving through armour and constant violence, but it did get a bit better further on. I suspect that as Steinbeck wandered further from his original inspiration of Thomas Mallory’s version and reached the ‘other sources’ mentioned on the cover then the stories became less rigid and felt a bit more modern.

After 293 pages the book comes to an end as Steinbeck just couldn’t continue with it. It seems that after Queen Guinevere and Lancelot got together and did the dirty on King Arthur he didn’t have the heart to continue with it.

There is a very long appendix which conists of letters between Steinbeck and Elizabeth Otis his literary agent and Chase Horton. In the letters Steinbeck details how he went about his research which was very detailed, I haven’t read all of the letters but it looks like they may be more interesting to me than the actual book was. You get a real sense of Steinbeck the person, just as you do in his book Travels with Charley.

However if you are planning to read books featuring King Arthur/Merlin I’d recommend the Mary Stewart series to you which is really very good. The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills and The Last Enchantment followed much later by The Wicked Day which isn’t quite as good.

Steinbeck was only nine years old when his aunt gave him a copy of Thomas Mallory’s Morte d’Arthur which the small boy fell in love with, strange spellings and the archaic words fired up a passion for the English language which never left him.

I suspect that his six year old sister who had to perform as his knight didn’t have quite the same enthusiasm for the subject!

Bookshelf Travelling, November 22nd

It’s Bookshelf Travelling time again, this meme was originally hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness, but I’m doing it at the moment.

This week my photo is of a shelf in my book/crafting/ironing room which is home to books by Scottish authors beginning with ‘S’ and they’re almost all Stewarts.

'S' Bookshelf, Katrina's books

J.I.M. Stewart is probably better known as Michael Innes the crime fiction writer. The books he writes as Stewart have an Oxford College setting, something which he was familiar with. He wrote a quintet in the 1970s which goes under the name of A Staircase in Surrey but the individual titles are The Gaudy, Young Patullo, Memorial Service, The Madonna of the Astrolabe and Full Term. I really enjoyed these books when they were first published.

Mary Stewart was very popular when her books were first published. I really like her romantic thrillers which are full of suspense. Her books have been reprinted more recently and she has quite a lot of fans nowadays. I loved her Arthurian/Merlin books which were also published in the 1970s – The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment. The Wicked Day was published in 1983 and that one is about Mordred.

The very last book on the right hand side of the shelf is an ancient one by Annie S. Swan. She sold masses of books. Apparently by 1898 she had published over 30 books, a lot of them were serialised in magazines originally. There are a few of her books free on Project Gutenberg here but not all of the books are by the Scottish Annie Swan, they’ve been mixed up with a Finnish author with a similar name.

Other Bookshelf Travellers this week are –

A Son of the Rock

Staircase Wit

# 1956 Club – some I read earlier

At the moment I’m reading a science fiction book which was published in 1956 – The Man Who Japed by Philip K. Dick, it’s not my usual reading fare but I didn’t have any unread 1956 books of my own in the house so I had to resort to Jack’s books. It’s good to swerve off to pastures new every now and again anyway, but below are some of the 1956 books that I’ve blogged about in the past.

Guest in the House by Philip MacDonald

The Towers of Trebizond by Rosa Macaulay

Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart

The Silent Pool by Patricia Wentworth

The Long View by Elizabeth Jane Howard

The 1965 Club

1965 club

Ages ago I decided to take part in The 1965 Club which is being hosted by Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings, but I got mixed up with the dates and read a book a month too early, so if you are interested you can read my thoughts on what should have been my first read of the week The Looking-Glass War by John le Carre.

Previous books from 1965 that I’ve read are:

Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken

The Town in Bloom by Dodie Smith

Ninth Life by Elizabeth Ferrars

Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart

I’ve just finished reading The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff and I’ll blog about that one tomorrow.

The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart

The Gabriel Hounds cover

The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart was first published in 1967. The setting is the Middle East, High Lebanon and with that and just about everywhere else that is mentioned such as Syria now being completely unrecognisable having been bombed to hell and back – I found that aspect of the book really sad. Politicians – HUH!

Apart from that the book was just okay, I’ll give it a 3 on Goodreads I think, for me it dragged a fair amount although it did heat up quite a bit towards the end.

Christy Mansell is a young English woman from a wealthy family, she’s in Damascus and intends to visit her great-aunt who had settled nearby years ago, building a large palace for herself. Great-aunt Harriet is an eccentric who has modelled herself on a Victorian called Lady Hester. Before Christy can visit her aunt she bumps into her cousin Charles, he had been her hero in her younger days, he’s a few years older than Christy, they look very alike and their fathers are identical twins. There had been a sort of tongue in cheek expectation that they would get married (so far so shuddersome as far as I’m concerned!!)

When Christy reaches her great-aunt’s palace it’s evident that the place is falling apart and her aunt is on her last legs. She’s being attended by some suspect characters and Christy realises that her appearance there isn’t at all welcome. She’s determined to get to the bottom of it all.

As I said, it does get more interesting towards the end although for me it didn’t come close to her usual suspense and I found the romance side of it to be distinctly icky!

My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart

My Brother Michael cover

My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart was first published in 1959 – a very good year I think! But my paperback copy is from 1971.

The story begins with Camilla Haven sitting in a crowded cafe in Greece where she’s on holiday on her own after the break up of a long term relationship, She’s writing a letter to her friend back in the UK and bemoaning the fact that nothing exciting ever happens to her, no sooner has she written that when a man throws car keys onto her table and says that the car he has ordered is waiting for her. There’s been some sort of mix up as she hasn’t asked for a car but eventually Camilla decides to take the car and drive it to Delphi, it’s apparently a life or death situation that the car is delivered there and she had been planning on visiting Delphi anyway.

There she meets Simon who is a Classics teacher back in England and Simon is on a mission to visit his brother’s grave and to discover more about his death. Michael had been in the British army and involved with the Greek resistance fighters during World War 2 – a terrible time for the Greeks as the Nazis treated them so badly, but to make matters worse the various factions of Greek freedom fighters fought amongst themselves, so it was difficult to know who to trust. As the story unfolds it transpires that Camilla also finds it difficult to know who is on her side.

I really enjoyed this one, Mary Stewart was obviously very fond of Greece and the Greeks, as I recall she used it as a setting a few times. There’s plenty of suspense in this one and I can’t help thinking that Mary Stewart would have had a far higher profile and reputation if she had been a male author.

This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart

This Rough Magic cover

This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart was first published in 1964 and the setting is the Greek island of Corfu, where Lucy Waring, a young aspiring actress is invited to stay with her sister for the summer. Her acting career has come to a bit of a halt so it’s an ideal opportunity for her, especially when she discovers that her sister’s neighbour is a famous thespian Sir Julian Gale. His son Max is staying with him, in fact it seems that Sir Julian isn’t in the best of health.

It’s a wee bit of an English enclave on that part of the island, there’s also a photographer who is working on a book of photos of the island and its animals and a dolphin features fairly prominently. But there’s plenty of local colour and of course romance.

Corfu is apparently supposed to be the setting for Shakespeare’s The Tempest from which Stewart took the title for this and which is one that I’ve been intending to read for absolutely yonks now, and I really wish I had got around to it as there are so many quotes from it in the book. Mary Stewart was really well-read.

I enjoyed this one, there’s plenty of suspense although I don’t think it was quite as good as Nine Coaches Waiting.

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2017 Challenge and 20 Books of Summer.

Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart

Madam Will You Talk? cover

Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart was first published in 1955 but my copy is from 1969 as I think you would have realised from the cover. When I was reading this book I didn’t realise that it is actually the first book that she had published, it certainly doesn’t read like a first effort.

Charity is a young widow and when she decided to go on a road trip to Provence she asked her close friend Louise to accompany her. Not long after arriving at their hotel Charity befriends David an English teenager who is staying there with his French step-mother. It transpires that David’s father Richard has been tried for murder but has been acquitted, and when Charity overhears a conversation she realises that Richard is in France and is trying to track down his son. She is sure that David is in danger, he certainly seems to be terrified of his father.

I really enjoyed this book which is a mystery, adventure, romance and travelogue all rolled into one. There are some lovely descriptions of the countryside and there’s a hair-raising high speed car journey with Charity as the expert driver, something quite advanced and new for a female character in 1955 I think.

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2017 Challenge.