Reading Round-Up

I’m not sure I’ve got my head screwed back on yet after the break, but I realise that the number of books I’ve read but not spoken about is growing ever larger. So let’s do a little catching up.

anna quindlenWeeks ago now, I read Anna Quindlen’s Still Life With Breadcrumbs, and it was absolutely charming. Rebecca Winter is a photographer whose reputation has faded after a series of pictures of everyday domestic disorder made her rich and famous. Now the money’s gone, and her marriage is long over, and she is facing a daily struggle with balancing her finances. Both of her parents need expensive care – particularly her mother, lost to dementia, with whom she has never had a good relationship. So to pay the bills, Rebecca moves out of her nice apartment in New York and into a rustic cabin in a rural location out of the city. Here she makes friends with Sarah, the garrulous owner of an English-style tea shop, and with Jim Bates, the local roofer and all-round handyman. The comforting thing about a novel that opens with its protagonist in a miserable situation is that you can be pretty sure of a turnaround in the forthcoming pages. And indeed this is a story about second chances and the possibility of finding happiness that is more durable and fitting than the old happiness that has been lost. I did so enjoy this; it’s well-written and intelligent and as comforting as cocoa. It also provided an intriguing comparison of the woman artist to the Siri Hustvedt novel, The Blazing World, that I was reading at the time (and am, ahem, still reading), but more on that another time.

elizabeth dalyThen I read Elizabeth Daly’s Murders in Volume 2, another Henry Gamadge outing. This begins with Gamadge being called upon by the old aristocrats of New York to solve another initially perplexing mystery. This one involves a wealthy elderly man and the beautiful young woman who claims to be a revenant from his family’s past. Now whereas you might think, aha, this is going to be a Brat Farrar-style mystery, all about whether the young woman is who she says she is, Daly doesn’t take it in that direction. It isn’t long at all before the elderly gent is dead and the young woman has scarpered. And whilst Gamadge realises this will inevitably be a case of cherchez la femme, he has the elderly aristocrat’s difficult and demanding family on his hands and a lot more of the puzzle to solve, particularly when a second body turns up. I just love this series of books. Gamadge is so smart and urbane, but also kind, decent and self-effacing; he is a dear heart. And it’s entertaining to watch him dancing around the extreme and often absurd sensitivities of his well to-do clients. Although these novels are set in the 40s, they feel as if they belonged in the turn of the century, as the cast is made up of the sort of people who would have featured in Edith Wharton novels and are now the dying remnants of their era. But I especially like how clever the solutions to the murders are; Daly was apparently Agatha Christie’s favourite writer, and you can see why.

the sussex downs murderSticking with the old reprint murder theme, I then read The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude. I do wish the covers of these books weren’t quite so appealling, as the stories I’ve read so far have been entertaining but average. I read the one about Death on the Cherwell, which was Enid Blyton with dead bodies, and now this one is… what? Sort of Dixon of Dock Green in the 1930s. The story focuses on an unusual family arrangement – a couple of brothers who live together at Chalklands Farm where the wife of one brother is suspected of being in love with the other one. It’s unmarried John Rother who goes missing one summer evening, leaving his abandoned car behind in a place he wasn’t supposed to be travelling past. In no time at all, the police have decided he’s been done away with, his body dismembered and fed into the lime kilns that provide part of the farm income. The dismembering is discussed endlessly. And of course suspicion falls on the remaining, married brother, the nervy and uptight William. There’s a certain deep-rooted innocence to this murder mystery, which takes familiar plot lines through familiar hoops in a way that was undoubtedly thrilling to an audience in 1930, but which feels just a bit too… familiar to the 21st century reader. I guessed the ending, for instance, which is rare as I’m very gullible when it comes to murder mysteries and willingly take misdirection. But it was charming in its way, and trotted along very neatly and is definitely the sort of book designed to accompany a head cold.

Okay, I have other books to go but this is probably as good a place as any to stop, with Angela Thirkell’s The Brandons and spy writer Charles Cumming ahead of me. I’ll pick up where I left off later in the week. And dear blogging friends, I apologise sincerely for not having replied to comments yet on my past couple of posts. Comments are bloggers’ cat nip, as you know, and I love and appreciate them all. But I’ve been having a bit of a holiday and am not yet caught up. I will, though, for sure.



22 thoughts on “Reading Round-Up

  1. Delighted to see that you enjoyed Breadcrumbs so much. And you shouldn’t apologise – WordPress informs me in their end of year stats roundup that you are one of my most frequent commenters. Many thanks for that!

    • Oh you’re welcome and thank you for making me feel much better about my commenting! Yes, Breadcrumbs was charming, thank you for your review which certainly lifted it up my tbr pile!

  2. I thought you wrote “appalling” and not “appealing” and I thought, it’s not that bad… Sussex Downs is like *here*, everything is called Sussex Downs something, so therefore I wish it were a more than average story too.

    • Lol!!

      Ah, I had not realised it was the *moment* for the Sussex Downs. I’ll bet there have been all sorts of books written about them – what a game for a blog post another day!

  3. I really must get back to those Daly books–I actually did read this one you write about. Isn’t she a marvelous storyteller? And yay, I have that Anna Quindlen book on my pile–so happy to hear you enjoyed it–am always ready for a charming sort of read. I love those BL reprints–have yet to collect any but they do look like great fun. Hope January is treating you well so far–it’s Snowing here! Blah! 😉

    • I am in debt to you for so many recommendations, but I maybe remember the Daly one most often because this must be the fifth book of hers I’ve read so far. I love them! And I’d love to know what you think of the Anna Quindlen. It is quite Clare Chambers-ish in an American way, and that as we both know is high praise! 🙂 As for snow – yuck. Not good. I do hope you have a nice warming book to listen to when you are waiting for the bus!

  4. The only Elizabeth Daly I’ve read is Deadly Nightshade and I love Henry Gamadge. I really need to get back to her. And Quindlen is such a good writer. That is certainly one I need to put on my radar – together with Lots Of Candles Plenty Of Cake, which I’ve been meaning to read for quite some time. And I like the catnip analogy – or perhaps chocolate truffles.

    • Oo I saw that Candles book on amazon and put it on my wish list. It does sound intriguing. And I’m so pleased you like Henry Gamadge! He may even be my new literary crush. Chocolate truffles is definitely a good way of thinking of comments!!

  5. Still Life with Breadcrumbs sounds like a great book to have on hand as a comfort read. I shall add it to my list. I agree with you about the covers on those British Library Crime Classics! I’ve read a couple of them and am resisting the rest because they are disappointing.

    • I am both pleased and sorry that we agree about the British Library Crime Classics. Isn’t it a shame!! The covers are just so delicious. But Anna Quindlen is good comfort food – not in the least sickly, but smart and stringent. You might well like her.

  6. You’re so right about those British Library Crime Classics. I too have been seduced (and continue being seduced!) by those beautiful covers but each one I try can only at best be described as okay. It’s a bit of a shame when there are so many wonderful writers from that period who deserve being back in print. [Happy new year for 2015, by the way – I’m a devoted long-time reader but this is my first ever comment!]

    • Faye, I am SO pleased you commented – thank you! And ach! Those British Library Crime Classics. Isn’t it a shame? I am trying to resist A Scream in Soho – my head says, don’t do it, but my eyes keep being drawn to the cover. I completely agree – there must be so many wonderful old classics that need to come out of hibernation. Perhaps the series will get better? (she says, hopefully stroking her credit card…)

  7. Money problems and murder, how cheerful! 😉 At least the Quindlen sounds like it turns out to have a positive end to it. Really looking forward to what you think of The Blazing World as I think I might like to read it.

    • I really MUST get back to it. I put it down before Christmas when I needed some comfort reading and have yet to pick it back up as now SNB is on the horizon and there are suddenly a ton of books I need to read in the next couple of weeks. Eek! But I’ll get there and the Quindlen is the best sort of positive – truthful and unsentimental in the end.

  8. Will add Quinlins to my list, but I’ve committed to reading off my TBR shelf for the next three months. Ran out of room.

  9. I know what you mean about the Already Read pile mountaining up and needing somewhere to put them!
    You’ve reminded me that I also want to read Breadcrumbs – good point about feeling reassured by a novel starting off in misery land, as generally it does get better!

    • Anne, yes, and I always feel a slight sinking in my stomach when a novel begins on a scene of blissful happiness. Dorothy Whipple’s Someone From A Distance is the most painful and yet brilliant example of that! As for the Already Read pile – thank you for the solidarity. You should see mine!

  10. “Breadcrumbs . . . ” is a book that trmpts me so I’m glad to know it was good.
    I’ve managed to read more books that I didn’t review than books I reviewed. I always thought I’d get to them and then the pile grew so much. Mini-reviews are a good way.

    • Oh I do understand how that can happen. I often put off writing about a book after I’ve finished it, thinking I’ll get clearer in my head what I want to say about it, and then time passes until I realise I can no longer recall the names of the characters! But mini-reviews are great. They seem so much easier in prospect. If you read Breadcrumbs, I’d love to know what you think about it!

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