Two Quick Reads

I’m rounding off July’s blogposts with what were two very quick reads. The first one is The Perfect Murder by Peter James and it was one of the books chosen to be given away on World Book Night 2014. It’s one of those books which is actually titled Quick Reads, I think they are supposed to encourage non-readers to take up reading, which is I suppose a good idea.

I hadn’t read anything by Peter James before although I believe he is very popular. The Perfect Murder subtitled Marriage Can Be Murder seemed like an apt read for me at he moment as we will be celebrating our 39th wedding anniversary on Sunday!

Anyway, to the book – Victor Smiley and his wife Joan have been married for nearly 20 years. It’s fair to say that they’re driving each other mad. Joan wakes up every night with Victor seemingly in training to be the world’s loudest snorer, he argues with everyone and embarrasses Joan all the time. He has been a disappointment, not even able to father any children.

Victor hates Joan and spends his time at home watching old Morse and Poirot episodes, in fact any old detective shows, and they give him ideas. Unknown to him Joan also has similar ideas. It’ll end in tears all round, you just know it.

In fact for me The Perfect Murder was just mildly entertaining, an okay-ish read, but if like me you read a lot of crime/detective books then you’ll find it very predictable.

The other quick read was Susan Hill’s The Boy Who Taught the Beekeeper to Read. I bought this one at a local library where they were selling off some old books. I didn’t realise when I bought it that it was a collection of short stories and the pages in the front with the vital information had been torn out by the library folks.

So I was a bit perplexed when the first story ended and I went on to what I thought was the next chapter, only to quickly realise it was nothing to do with the first chapter, which must have been a short story. That was disappointing because I thought the first story could have been written up into something much more interesting than it was, as it just ended abruptly on what was a really low note.

But the same could be said for all of the short stories really, especially Father Father, about two young women, still living at home with their parents and when the mother dies the father replaces her very quickly with a new wife barely older than they are. An old story which we’ve probably all witnessed, hopefully at a bit of a distance.

There’s nothing uplifting about most of the stories in this book, if you’re susceptible to depression it could put you on a right downer!

The Small Hand by Susan Hill

I hadn’t intended to read any more ghost stories by Susan Hill after being quite disappointed by her book Dolly but when Michelle of in The Silver Room mentioned that she had been reading it and the next day I was at the library and I saw a copy on the shelf it seemed like serendipity. Anyway I borrowed it and ended up enjoying it much more than Dolly. Not only was the story better, the writing was also superior, to my mind anyway.

Adam Snow is an antiquarian book dealer and on his way back to London after meeting a client who lived near the south Downs he gets lost and ends up driving down a narrow track which leads to a semi-derelict Edwardian house. The house had had a garden good enough to open to the public at one time, going by the sign saying ‘garden open’. On getting out of the car to have a look around he suddenly feels a small child’s hand clutching his own, but when he looks down there is nobody there.

It’s a ghost story so he obviously isn’t going to turn tail and never darken the door again, as most of us would do! He mentions the place to his wealthy clients and the woman does a bit of research on the house and he does eventually end up visiting it again.

Meantime Adam has to travel to France on behalf of his clients, in search of a rare Shakespeare First Folio which is owned by the Monastery Saint Mathieu des Etoiles, they want to sell it and he hopes to secure it for his clients. Things get spookier and spookier, as you would expect.

One quite spooky thing to me was the fact that the day after I started reading this book there was an article in the Guardian about a Shakespeare First Folio which had just been found – in a monastery in France! But this time it was in a monastery called Saint Omer, you can read about it here.

Dolly by Susan Hill

Dolly by Susan Hill was a random choice from the library, it’s a ghost story and I thought I would give it a go in the run up to Halloween. I can’t honestly say that I was very impressed with it.

I must say that I’m not a big fan of ghost stories or anything spooky really, I’m not keen on being frightened especially as until recently I did live in a house which gave me more than a few spooky experiences over the years!

Dolly seems to me to be very deja vu-ish, there are elements of lots of old well known ghost stories, such as The Turn of the Screw, if I’m remembering correctly, but there are really no likeable characters so I wasn’t too bothered what happened to anyone in it. Young cousins Edward and Leonora are sent to stay with their aunt for the summer. Her house is in a remote part of the fen country.

So the setting is good and you can’t go far wrong with an old house in a ghost story, but I found the story itself to be unremarkable, not very scary at all and a bit boring as far as I was concerned anyway.

Flavia de Luce by Alan Bradley

I have blogposts piling up in my brain like multiple snow drifts, so I’m just mentioning two of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series, numbers 2 and 3. For once I was determined to hang off and get the books read in order and I’m glad that I did as Flavia’s relationship with her family and in particular her sisters is developing nicely.

The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag involves a travelling puppet show. The couple who are performing are well known to everyone with TV as they are on the BBC and so the villagers are all desperate to see the celebrities in the flesh – but of course there’s a murder and Flavia rides to the rescue on her trusty bike Gladys again.

Not only are these books enjoyable tales with some great characters but there is some lovely writing too, lots of description to help you picture the scene such as: Bright cobwebs hung suspended like little portcullises of light between the rotted tree stumps. I was absolutely there in that bluebell wood with her.

The third one A Red Herring without Mustard was equally as good. At the village fete Flavia goes into a gypsy tent to have her fortune told, for a bit of a laugh of course but the gypsy mentions ‘seeing’ Flavia’s dead mother Harriet and that’s a subject which is bound to grab Flavia’s interest.

Flavia is always about five steps ahead of the police it seems but Inspector Hewitt isn’t one to take umbrage at that. I’ve been indulging myself with this series recently but I think I’ll be taking a wee rest from them, apart from anything else I’ll have to request number 4 from the library. Speaking of which, I now have 8 books out on my library ticket – and I’m supposed to be concentrating on my own books! How did that happen?

Anyway – it did happen and I came across a Susan Hill book which fortunately for me was not the beginning of the series otherwise I would have had 9 books out. I’ve been thinking of trying her Simon Serrailler series, have any of you read them? It’s ages since I’ve read anything by Susan Hill and in the past I’ve found her books to be a bit ‘curate’s eggish’ in other words – good in parts – but sometimes disappointing.

Library Book Sale Haul

Books from library sale

We had already promised to drive my brother to the airport on Saturday before we realised that it was also the library book sale day, so we had to dash around the books in about 10 minutes flat. I didn’t even get a glimpse of the non-fiction, the crowd was still too dense by the time we had to leave. But it was worthwhile I think.

Consider the Lily by Elizabeth Buchan
The Sugar Camp Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini
The Unexpected Guest by Agatha Christie
On Green Dolphin Street by Sebastian Faulks
Diary of an Ordinary Woman by Margaret Forster
The Pure in Heart by Susan Hill
A Step in the Dark by Judith Lennox

Gosh, now that I look at the list I think I must have just got about half-way around the alphabet!

I admit that I chose The Sugar Camp Quilt because of the cover and the word ‘quilt’.

The Unexpected Guest is actually an adaptation of a Christie play and it was adapted by Charles Osborne.

I bought a Judith Lennox book at the last library sale but haven’t read it yet, I have high hopes of getting around to it soon. I’ve just realised that I don’t have the new one in the photo, it has skipped off somewhere!

Has anyone read any of these ones?

Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill

I requested this book from the library because I had read about it on the internet and it sounded interesting to me.

Susan Hill suffers from the same problem that I have which is that I often spend a lot of time looking for a particular book. I always think that I know exactly where it is and I’m sure I saw it only a few days ago, but it doesn’t seem to be anywhere.

Whilst looking for that book she discovered books that she had forgotten about and others that she didn’t even know that she owned. There were hundreds of such volumes and she decided that she needed to re-acquaint herself with her own books. To that end, she decided that for a whole year she wouldn’t buy any new books and would only read those that she already owned, unless it was a book which a publisher sent to her for reviewing purposes or something which she needed to read for research.

The whole book is very chatty, for instance early on she discusses her favourite print fonts which was exactly what my family and I had been talking about just a few days before, my favourites are Johnston (the London Underground) and Gill Sans (the BBC). Admittedly, their father did think we were being a bit strange.

Sickeningly, Susan Hill had her first novel published when she was only 18 and still at school but as a consequence she has come into contact with a lot of authors over the years; publishing is a very incestuous industry. Some people might find the anecdotes about other writers a bit much but I didn’t mind.

She does tend to be a bit snooty about books, she wouldn’t buy a Richard and Judy book club book for instance. But I can outsnoot her there as I’ve never even seen Richard and Judy so wouldn’t know what they recommend. Strangely she isn’t a fan of Jane Austen and won’t read anything by a Canadian or Australian.

She doesn’t like Folio books, they are too perfect apparently. I adore Folio books because they are perfect. But Susan Hill is a strange book reader, she TURNS DOWN PAGE CORNERS! I think she is one of those people who think that a battered book is a loved book, whereas I think it is just an abused book.

In the end, she didn’t do what I thought she was going to do. I thought she would read some of her backlog of unread books and maybe do a few re-reads and write about them. However she chose forty books which are listed at the end and these are the ones which she decided she must take with her, presumably desert island style.

I think I might stop buying books for a while, I don’t know if I’ll be able to last out a whole year without buying books. I’m sure I have more than enough unread books in my house to keep me going.

But the thing is, I love visiting bookshops and so does my husband so either I would have to accompany him to the shop, which would be the equivalent of an alcoholic sniffing around a pub – too tempting. Or I have to wait outside for him and take up tap dancing to stop me from being really bored – it could be a very long wait.

I think I would allow myself to borrow modern books from the library though because I want to read the books which have been recommended by blogbuddies. Is that cheating?

This is the first Susan Hill book which I have read for many years. I remember reading some of her books in the 1970s but in the 80s I read a magazine article which she had written about the very short life and death of her baby daughter. It was very moving and I had just suffered a miscarriage myself so I think I have unconsciously avoided her since then. I might have a look and see what else she has been writing more recently, via the library of course.

If anyone wants to know which books Susan Hill chose for her Final Forty list, let me know and I will add them to this post.