Book Reviews

Some Tame GazelleSome Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had read most of Barbara Pym’s later novels before I read this one, written in 1939 but eventually published in 1950 by Jonathan Cape. I enjoy reading everything Barbara Pym has written. Her excellent style of writing and her gentle characters are pleasant antidotes to the brash and frightening world in which we live today.

The only criticism I can make is that perhaps this book is too much centred on the clergy and their over-weening influence on the lives of the Bede sisters – Harriet’s devotion to the current curate, and Belinda’s life-long adoration of Archdeacon Hoccleve, long married to the formidable Agatha.

What a shame that so few novels by Barbara Pym were published and that it was only towards the end of her life that she found the recognition she deserved to have had many years earlier. I could happily go on reading them at the exclusion of many other more difficult books.

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Autobiography of B.C. Hilliam (Flotsam)

Autobiography of B.C. Hilliam (Flotsam)

“Flotsam’s Follies” by B.C. Hilliam

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was published in 1948 and B.C. Hilliam (Flotsam) has an idiosyncratic way of writing, often interspersing the prose of his autobiography with numerous verses, many of which were used in various performances with his long-time partner, Malcolm McEachern (Jetsam), and for “Flotsam’s Follies” which followed after McEachern’s untimely death.

The book is filled with fascinating information about his own colourful life and tales of his theatrical contemporaries, including mention of Garda Hall, Bettie Bucknelle and Paddy Prior, all of particular interest to me. He and McEachern were devoted members of the Savage Club and made many informal appearances there. Hilliam included many of his amusing pencil sketches in his book. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and although it is long out of print, it can still be bought second hand online.

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Murder Among FriendsMurder Among Friends by Elizabeth Ferrars

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is a rather unusual mystery story. One knows right away who is suspected of the murder. She eventually stands trial, is found guilty and is sentenced to death. Only after this does someone question her guilt although it seems irrefutable. She speaks to others who were present at the time and finds out their views of the woman convicted of murder. They all agree that she is incapable of committing murder, but what about the proof?

The book was written in 1946 and is set during the war, so it is rather slow-moving for modern tastes, although it is as well-written as other Elizabeth Ferrars’ mystery novels. It took me rather a long time to read, but I am glad I managed to finish it. I can recommend the book as an unusual mystery novel, quite different from others of the same genre.

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Faint Harmony (Malcolm Craig Trilogy #2)Faint Harmony by Jean Collen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second part of the Malcolm Craig Trilogy and covers his life and career from the beginning of World War II until 1956. Malcolm Craig is a great British tenor who has a very successful career but his private life is not as plain-sailing as his singing engagements.

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Joyce Grenfell Requests The PleasureJoyce Grenfell Requests The Pleasure by Joyce Grenfell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been re-reading several Joyce Grenfell books recently and certainly found this book most enjoyable, in contrast to “Darling Ma” which was made up of a series of letters to her mother, expressing some distasteful (to me) opinions not meant for publication.

“Joyce Grenfell Requests the Pleasure” is the first part of her autobiography which she wrote in later life, and was intended for publication. It tells of her early life, her work as a radio critic and learning the discipline of performing on stage as a professional, rather than as a talented, privileged amateur who knew many of the right people. She writes in a lively and amusing style and gives some interesting insights into the period.

I always find people’s rise to fame more interesting than when they have “made it” and their story becomes a long list of successful appearances and meetings with other famous people, so this book is my favourite of all the Joyce Grenfell books I have re-read recently.

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Greasepaint and Cordite: How ENSA Entertained the Troops During World War IIGreasepaint and Cordite: How ENSA Entertained the Troops During World War II by Andy Merriman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I found this book interesting, well-written and well-researched.

My criticism is that it would have been better if the book had been written twenty or thirty years earlier when more ordinary ENSA entertainers were alive and could have shared their memories of working for the organisation. Instead, a great deal of information had been found in books by – or about – famous performers like Vera Lynn and Joyce Grenfell. I had already read many of the books in the author’s bibliography, so I did not discover much new information in this book as the experiences of forgotten performers were rather thin on the ground.

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Darling MaDarling Ma by Joyce Grenfell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book when it was first published and have reread it recently to find out more about her experience working with ENSA, as one of the characters in my forthcoming novel joins ENSA at the beginning of World War 2.

I found the book interesting and I enjoyed Joyce’s idiosyncratic style of writing, but Joyce did not have to endure the hardships of ordinary performers for she could always afford to stay in comfortable hotels at her own expense, or else she was invited to stay with influential and titled friends. Because of the special privileges she was granted, the book did not really serve the purpose of giving me insight into the experiences of an ordinary ENSA performer.

I admired Joyce Grenfell’s work, but I’m afraid this book exposed her as extremely snobbish with strong prejudice against Jewish people (except for the pianist, Myra Hess, whose musical gifts she admired), Roman Catholics and variety artistes like the Two Leslies who went on an ENSA tour with her. To be fair, perhaps she was a product of her upper class upbringing at that particular time.

As someone else has mentioned, she would have written more frankly to her mother than she did in her autobiography. The book was published nearly twenty years after her death so she would not have expected her private letters to have been published for public consumption.

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The Battle For ChristabelThe Battle For Christabel by Margaret Forster

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a sad and frustrating story about what happens to a little girl when her single mother is killed in an accident at the early age of 36. There is a battle between social workers, the child’s grandmother and aunt, and the mother’s life-long friend who is the narrator of the book. I’m afraid there is no happy ending for anyone in “The Battle for Christabel”.

Margaret Forster is an excellent writer and she certainly held my attention throughout the book, which read more like a sociological document than a novel. I’m afraid there are so many real cases like this today that I felt depressed by the time I had finished reading it. Life is difficult enough – I would prefer to read something more uplifting in future.

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Lavender Road (London at War)Lavender Road by Helen Carey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first of three novels by Helen Carey tracing the lives of certain residents living in Lavender Road, Clapham and is set in the early years of the war. It paints a fascinating and accurate picture of what it must have been like to have lived in those difficult days. The only inaccuracy in the book has to do with the date of a song. Jen aspires to be a professional actress and singer and sings “The White Cliffs of Dover” (published 1941) at an impromptu concert. As the concert took place in 1940 this was a serious mistake on the part of the writer who was so meticulous with her war time-line. It was almost as bad as the novelist Mary Wesley assigning a conductor to a string quartet! I’m afraid I didn’t read any more of Mary Wesley’s books after that, but I find Helen Carey’s novels gripping and well-written, so I shall certainly carry on reading her next novel set in Lavender Road. The title comes from some words in Vera Lynn’s hit song of World War 2, “We’ll Meet Again”. The book is entitled “Some Sunny Day”.

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Some Sunny DaySome Sunny Day by Helen Carey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have just finished reading this book and found it most satisfying. I have read all three books in the Lavender Road series now (having read the third book first)and have grown to love the distinctive and well-drawn characters living in Lavender Road during the early days of the Second World War.

Helen Carey is a brilliant story teller and although the neighbours suffer distressing hardships of war, these books are full of hope for better days to come. Once again I am extremely impressed with the way Helen Carey depicts life on the home front and events which occur in the various theatres of war.

I have been fairly set in my ways as far as favourite writers are concerned, but I have added Helen Carey to my list of favourites and look forward to reading her other books soon.

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On a Wing and a Prayer (London at War)On a Wing and a Prayer by Helen Carey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I came across this book by accident as I was browsing through books in a sale in the local shopping mall. I had never heard of Helen Carey before but I liked the World War 2 setting in London, so I bought it at a bargain price. This book is the third one in a trilogy set in Lavender Road, Clapham, so I have read the third novel last.

I was very impressed with the way Helen Carey managed to create an authentic atmosphere of London in war time, not only dealing with events on the home front, but also the course of the war abroad. The characters in her book are from diverse social classes and each character is vivid and well defined. The stories of her characters intertwine and reach a fitting climax towards the end of the novel.

After reading this excellent novel, Helen Carey has been added to a select list of my favourite writers. I went back to the book sale and bought the two earlier novels, “Lavender Road” and “Some Sunny Day”. I look forward to reading them and I am sure they will be just as satisfying as “On a Wing and a Prayer”.

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'N Stringetjie Blou Krale‘N Stringetjie Blou Krale by E.K.M. Dido
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I haven’t read an Afrikaans book for years and probably I would not have read this one had it not been that I had the task of typing it out. I was surprised that I had a better grip of the language than I imagined, and found the book extremely enjoyable. Apparently the author, E.K.M Dado is the first black woman to have a book published in Afrikaans and her books are very popular in the Netherlands.

The book tells the story of Nomsa, who was born into a Xhosa family in the Transkei, but is eventually adopted by a Coloured family, has her name changed to Nancy, and is raised as a Coloured. For a time she is obliged to deny her origins and Xhosa family.

The book gives insight into Xhosa traditions, and the obsession with racial identity prevalent in South Africa. She marries a Coloured who hates Blacks. After twenty years of marriage, he discovers her origins and turns against her without pity. The novel tells how this conflict is eventually resolved for Nancy, if not for her ghastly husband.

I thought the story was interesting, although it is light on character development. Bennie, the Coloured husband, is completely unlikeable, while Nancy and her Coloured parents are too good to be true. I once read that villains should have some goodness in them otherwise they are not credible. Surely Nancy should have realised that Bennie was a particularly nasty specimen during her marriage and not just when he rejects her because of her true origins?

I had not heard of this writer before, but after reading (and typing) this book, I would certainly like to read more of her work.

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Heartbreak HotelHeartbreak Hotel by Deborah Moggach

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I always enjoy a novel by Deborah Moggach, and her latest book is no exception. The story was light, amusing, and fast-moving and the motley collection of characters – both young and elderly – were well drawn and rounded.

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A Market for Murder (Drew Slocombe Mystery #4)A Market for Murder by Rebecca Tope

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was the first time I have read a book by Rebecca Tope. I found this particular book pleasant and entertaining and it certainly gave me some insight into organic farming and people who are deeply – perhaps almost fanatically – concerned with how the land is managed and how food is grown and produced.

It was meant to be a murder mystery, as one murder and an attempted murder take place during the course of the book. One finds out who the murderer is in the end, but where this book falls short (in comparison to an Agatha Christie, for instance) is that although there is an eventual explanation for the crimes, there seemed to be very little development in the plot as far as the murder is concerned.

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“Sticking Around” by Bernard Spong.

Sticking around by Bernard Spong

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a wonderful and enlightening book by the Reverend Bernard Spong. His interesting, and sometimes painful experiences as a minister and an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa, are very different from my own and were an eye-opener to me. I can thoroughly recommend this captivating book and I am very grateful that Bernard was kind enough to send me a copy of his book. I shall treasure it.

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A Week in WinterA Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the last book Maeve Binchy wrote before her death. I own all her books and am very sorry that I will no longer receive a new Maeve Binchy for Christmas. This book is about the various guests who spend a “Week in Winter” at Chicky’s newly-established hotel situated in a remote area on the West coast of Ireland. All the guests arrive with a variety of problems to solve, and most of them benefit from their stay at the Stone House, where the only leisure activities are walking and bird watching.

Maeve Binchy’s writing is as warm and gentle as ever, and she succeeds in creating each character in her book so that one’s interest is held in their history. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a satisfying yet undemanding book during the holiday season and beyond.

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The Time of Our LivesThe Time of Our Lives by Imogen Parker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had nearly finished this book before I realised that many of the characters from the Palace Hotel of Kingshaven were every day versions of prominent members of the Royal Family! I won’t tell you anything more about this, but it should increase your interest in the book if you work out who these characters represent as you read.

What put me off the scent was because I thought Michael Quinn, his wife and young lover were the central characters of the story although they have no connections with Royalty at all!

Imogen Parker’s book commences at the time of the Coronation in 1953 and the first volume ends at the time of the moon-landing in 1969. Each chapter tells of events in a particular year, so there is not much close cohesion in the plot of the novel.

Imogen Parker writes fluently and the novel certainly held my interest throughout this long novel (543 pages). This is the first part of a trilogy and I look forward to reading the next two novels in the series.

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The Other FamilyThe Other Family by Joanna Trollope

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am always amazed at how well Joanna Trollope creates her varied settings in her novels – in this case, the North East of England,from where the recently dead musician Richie originated. Richie lived and worked in the North East with his first wife and son, then left them abruptly to go off to London with a younger woman, with whom he had three daughters. The northern and southern families are devastated by his sudden death and each one finds it difficult to move on with life without the presence (or absence) of likeable, but thoughtless Richie.

The book deals with the different ways in which members of both families handle the forced and unforced changes to their lives as a result of Richie’s death. As usual, the book is extremely well written and held my interest from beginning to end.

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Choral SocietyChoral Society by Prue Leith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The book is entitled “Choral Society”. This book is formulaic. Three women meet in a choral group. At the beginning of the book each woman has a short-coming. By the end of the book they have resolved their problems in one way or another.

As a musician who has conducted several choirs in my career I thought this book would be of interest to me. Admittedly the three main characters meet because they join a choral group, but the book deals with their separate lives and we hardly hear much about the choral society at all, except that the scratch group starts off singing Gospel songs and later is rehearsing for a performance of “Messiah”.

I have the impression that the three women are extensions of Prue Leith herself. One is a food-writer and, as in previous novels, there is far too much about cooking methods and ingredients, and descriptions of the meals the various characters eat. There are also too many details about the clothes they wear and the names of contemporary dress designers. There is even a very detailed description about a medical procedure to remove excess fluid from one of the character’s knees!

Prue Leith might have had a different editor for this book than for her earlier novels. How could the editor have overlooked so much slang, clichés, and a whopper about “the laird in the manse” which upset my Scottish sensibilities. Doesn’t everybody know that a minister inhabits a manse? What was a laird doing there?

Admittedly there was a performance of “Messiah” towards the end of the book, but it appeared to be done by chorus only without any mention of soloists. Her nebulous description of this performance reminded me of a description of a performance by a string quartet in one of Mary Wesley’s books. When she mentioned a conductor of the said quartet, I refused to go on reading it.

After the disappointment of this book I doubt whether I’ll be buying any more of Prue Leith fiction, although my cooking might benefit from reading one of her cookery books!

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The Soldier's WifeThe Soldier’s Wife by Joanna Trollope
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another excellent novel by Joanna Trollope. In this novel she examines the difficulties faced by soldiers returning from a dangerous tour of duty in Afghanistan. One would imagine that reunions with wives and families at home would be joyous for everyone concerned, but in this novel, this is not the case.

Joanna Trollope explores the difficulties faced by soldiers and the families who have waited to welcome them at home. In this day and age it is not enough for many soldiers’ wives to be home-makers, living for the day their husbands return safely. Some are highly educated and feel frustrated that the successful careers they enjoyed before marrying into the military cannot be fulfilled.

As in most of her other novels, Joanna Trollope manages to examine these problems with sympathy for all concerned. I need not add that she writes beautifully and creates well-rounded and distinctive characters in a few paragraphs. This is a very satisfying novel and I recommend it.

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Daughters-in-LawDaughters-in-Law by Joanna Trollope
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have enjoyed most of Joanna Trollope’s novels and this one is no exception. She has an excellent writing style and is always entertaining. She is at her best describing the dynamics of family relationships and excels in defining each character clearly and laying bear the niggling tensions between family members.

In this novel the parents of three sons, each married to a very different woman, try to play too large a role in their sons’ lives, as well as in the lives of their families. The plot shows how the sons eventually manage to cut their parents’ apron strings and take their place in the adult world. After reading this book I am not struck by the dramatic significance of each twist and turn of the plot, but by the subtle nuances of it.

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Relish - My Life on a PlateRelish – My Life on a Plate by Prue Leith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have just finished reading Prue Leith’s lively autobiography and I enjoyed it very much. I am not particularly interested in cookery, but I have fond memories of seeing Prue Leith’s mother, the brilliant South African actress, Margaret Inglis in “Separate Tables” when my family and I were on holiday in Durban in 1957.

Prue Leith is four years older than me and grew up in South Africa so we shared similar childhood experiences. I found the account of her early years in South Africa, and later years in France and the UK fascinating. With most autobiographies and biographies, the years of struggle are usually far more interesting than the years of success, as the successful years often amount to no more than a brag-list of achievements and awards.

Although Prue Leith discussed her many achievements, her story held my interest to the end of the book, as her personality and humanity shine through in her writing. Despite success, fame and riches, Prue suffered her fair share of setbacks and she does not skim over the setbacks as others embarking on writing the story of their lives might have done.

Not only did Prue succeed as a cook and caterer, but she has published a number of novels in the later part of her life. I have only read one of them but intend to read the others in due course.

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Girl from the SouthGirl from the South by Joanna Trollope
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I did not enjoy this book quite as much as I enjoyed many other Joanna Trollope novels I have read. Perhaps it was because it was partly set in Charleston in South Carolina, and all the other novels have typically English settings with restrained English characters. I thought the author handled the American characters very well and created the atmosphere of the South very well, but, perhaps because I am set in my ways and thought I knew what to expect from Joanna Trollope, I would have preferred another Aga-Saga!

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Death Comes to PemberleyDeath Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought that P.D. James captured the style and mood of Jane Austen’s writing in this book. She assumes that one has a thorough knowledge and understanding of “Pride and Prejudice” as she makes many references to Jane Austen’s book and even introduces characters from “Emma” towards the end of the book. The plot of “Death Comes to Pemberley” was slow-moving as one might have expected in a Jane Austen novel which concerned the minutae of the every-day life of the gentry; nearly three quarter’s of this book is taken up with the happenings of several days, seen from the points of view of the characters concerned in the murder. This necessitated a great deal of repetition of the events.

Jane Austen would probably never have concerned herself with something as distasteful as a murder, while P.D. James had to limit herself to a rather unremarkable murder mystery, quite different from the complicated modern mysteries she has written previously. After the mystery was solved I found the epilogue redundant to the plot. Why did Darcy and Elizabeth have to spend considerable time explaining to each other exactly why they acted as they did in “Pride and Prejudice”?

I enjoyed the book and admired P.D James ability to write in the style of Jane Austen, but I hope she continues to write classic murder mysteries and doesn’t repeat the Jane Austen experiment.

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Passenger to FrankfurtPassenger to Frankfurt by Agatha Christie
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book by Agatha Christie was different from the murder mysteries. It was written in 1970 and reminded me of Buchan’s “Thirty-nine Steps”, in that it was an adventure story where the aims of the people involved were unclear to me, and therefore fairly meaningless. The best part of the book was the quotation by Jan Smuts preceding the story: “Leadership, besides being a great creative force, can be diabolical…” I thought that this quotation could be applied to quite a few diabolical leaders, past and present.

I waded through this book, hoping that I would eventually be gripped by this tortuous tale, but I’m afraid I gave it up when I was half way through. I am too old to waste time reading books which are uncongenial and meaningless to me. I am glad that Agatha Christie did not continue writing novels like this but returned to writing tales of the detective exploits of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple in the few remaining years of her life.

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Love and War in London: A Woman's Diary 1939-42Love and War in London: A Woman’s Diary 1939-42 by Olivia Cockett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book focuses on the wartime diary of Olivia Cockett, which she wrote for Mass Observation. It is edited by Robert Malcolmson. Olivia was 26 when war broke out and is a singular young woman in that she had been working in a clerical position since she was 17 and having an affair since that age with a married man in his thirties, whom she met at work.

Olivia is a very intelligent young woman who read widely. She was not afraid to tackle authors such as James Joyce, T.S. Eliot and Bertrand Russell and preferred serious music to the light music she heard on the radio. Her liberal outlook on life is the opposite to the conventional outlook of her Man. Because they were unable to marry – even their attempt for him to obtain a divorce goes wrong – she has had two illegal abortions before the war.

She describes routine and unusual events of her life during the war concisely and without emotion or self-pity. Once I became used to her style of writing I found the book a fascinating insight into the life of an ordinary, yet, in many ways extraordinary, young Londoner during the war. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in civilian life at that time.

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Tulip FeverTulip Fever by Deborah Moggach
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have read nearly all Deborah Moggach’s novels and enjoyed them very much, but I put off reading “Tulip Fever” as it seemed very different from her modern novels. Apparently the book was inspired by various Dutch paintings which are shown in the book and is set in 17th century Amsterdam.

The plot is rather far-fetched, bordering on fantasy, quite unlike her other well-crafted modern novels. One has to suspend belief at the twists and turns of the plot and none of the characters are well-rounded. Perhaps she meant them to be as one-dimensional as the subjects featured in the paintings. Although there were references to streets in Amsterdam, Dutch phrases, Dutch names and characters whose main diet was herring, I did not get a rich sense of time or place in this novel.

I’m glad I read the book, but I do not think it is Deborah Moggach’s best novel and it might disappoint her admirers.

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Letters and Diaries of Kathleen FerrierLetters and Diaries of Kathleen Ferrier by Christopher Fifield

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From 1949 to 1951 Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth lived at Frognal Cottage, Hampstead, opposite 2 Frognal Mansions, where Kathleen Ferrier lived. The Booths became friends with Kathleen when they met her walking on Hampstead Heath as they were out walking their Cairn terrier, Smoky. Webster had been booked to sing a Messiah with her in 1951, but they were both very disappointed when she had to cancel this performance because of her illness. I was singing much the same repertoire as Kathleen when I began studying with the Booths in 1961 and they often lent me her recordings from their own record collection. Thus, although Kathleen had died tragically young when I was a child, I always felt a close affinity with this wonderful woman with the unique contralto voice of the twentieth century.

I was rather disappointed to find that Kathleen Ferrier’s diaries were little more than concert dates, occasionally with brief remarks about how a particular engagement went. On reflection, she was working hard so would have had little time to write substantial diary entries at the end of a busy day.

The letters more than compensated for the brevity of the diaries. She wrote many business letters to keep her very busy career in order. While many singers might have longed for more engagements, Kathleen Ferrier was overwhelmed with offers, to the extent that she often had to turn engagements down and beg for a few days respite from her agent, Emmie Tillet. She could certainly never have undertaken such a demanding career had she been married with children. Her letters show that her extensive American tours in the late 1940s involved exhausting travel arrangements. She had to pay for her own advertising, travel, accompanist and accommodation on these tours, so she hardly made a fortune at £50 a concert.

Her affectionate, informal letters to her sister, Winifred, her father and other friends were always bright, self-deprecating and humorous. Her letters of thanks to acquaintances were always appreciative and polite. Even when she turned down songs which had been sent to her, or engagements she could not undertake, she did so in a kindly way.

Once again, it was sad to see her grave illness taking hold so that she eventually lacked health and strength to write her own letters and relied on her help-meet, Bernie to write on her behalf.

There is a good bibliography,an extensive index of works in Kathleen’s repertoire, another of places, venues and festivals, as well as a general index.

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DaphneDaphne by Justine Picardie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an interesting and unusual novel covering several strands: the narrator’s research into Daphne du Maurier’s work; Daphne du Maurier researching the Brontes in order to write a biography of Branwell Bronte; and Symington, the disgraced Bronte expert. I found it interesting how the author interwove fictional fact with the narrator’s own story, showing similarities between all the characters of her novel. It has encouraged me to reread my collection of du Maurier novels, and to look at Branwell Bronte in a new light. I would recommend this book as a well-written, gripping and unusual novel.

The L-Shaped RoomThe L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of my favourite books, which I read a few years after it was first published in 1960. It will be difficult for young readers to credit that fifty years ago it was considered a disgrace for a woman to have a baby out of wedlock and that her parents might disown her for doing so. The heroine of “The L-Shaped Room” even intends to keep her baby, which would have been unthinkable for most girls in 1960, when they were sent to homes for unmarried mothers and had their babies taken away from them at birth to be put up for adoption.

SistersSisters by Prue Leith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I bought this book a year or two ago and had initially given up reading it after a few pages. I decided to try it again recently and was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed it very much. Perhaps some of my enjoyment stemmed from growing up in South Africa at much the same time as Prue Leith did herself and remembering her illustrious mother, the late Margaret Inglis, who was one of South Africa’s greatest actresses of her generation.

Prue Leith had many cookery books published in the earlier part of her life. In the comparatively new genre of novel-writing she is very competent and the book held my interest. Perhaps she might have considered giving the sisters in questions more distinctive names – Carrie and Poppy can easily be mixed up. Carrie is not entirely likeable for most of the book, but (as in the advice given in most writing courses)she changes for the better as the book progresses.

My only criticism is that Prue Leith spent too much time discussing the food the characters were eating – or cooking! I suppose this is understandable as she made a great name for herself as a cook and restaurant owner.

“Sisters” is not great literature but it is a very enjoyable novel. Now that I have read it I look forward to reading more novels by Prue Leith.

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The Middle GroundThe Middle Ground by Margaret Drabble

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am finding the book quite absorbing, although, since it was written in 1980, the feminist and political views expressed by the characters seem rather dated, in the light of hindsight. I expect they were considered quite unusual at the time. Later: I am afraid that as the book progressed I began to lose interest in the main character’s increasingly peculiar life, friends and acquaintances. I finished the book with difficulty and was very disappointed in it as Margaret Drabble has written some excellent novels and is usually one of my favourite authors. I fear this book is not in the same class as others she has written – or perhaps I lacked the intellect to enjoy it.

I have just read the fascinating story of three lively young South African girls who went to Europe in the 1960s to spend a year travelling from place to place without spending too much money on their travels. They made use of youth hostels and managed to go from one place to another by hitching rides. Admittedly they had strict rules about hitching so they never came to any harm. Somehow I don’t think it would be possible to do the same trip today as everything is so much more expensive and the South African Rand has diminished in value. The book is well-written and extensively illustrated. I recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn more about the girls’ fascinating European adventure all those years ago. The book is available in print and Kindle editions. Since writing this review, Elraé Combrink (née Cousins) died  at a comparatively early age. May she rest in peace.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. labrador retriever golden retriever
    May 10, 2013 @ 09:44:55

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Good Reads Book Reviews

The Moon And SixpenceThe Moon And Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Apparently Strickland was based on the artist Paul Gauguin, but if this was the case, there is a very loose connection between the two for this in not a novel a clef. The book held my interest while the narrator had personal contact with Strickland and his wife. Almost from the beginning of the novel, before Charles Strickland had appeared, I thought him a thoroughly reprehensible character.

Admittedly his wife was not an imaginative woman and used her established position in society to cultivate the society of writers and artists although she appeared to be devoid of any artistic talent herself. She obviously regarded her "dull" husband as nothing more than a meal-ticket and she had never encouraged his artistic inclinations. It is only after he leaves her to her own devices that she manages to pull herself together, fend for herself and look after her children without being dependent on a man any longer.

The portrait of a completely self-centred, inarticulate Strickland, who does not care about the opinion of others was well-drawn but after the narrator is no longer in personal contact with Strickland and the rest of the story of Strickland's life is related to him by a third person the story is less satisfactory. I have to admit that I did not finish the last fifty pages of the book. Although I like Maugham's work, this was not my favourite Maugham novel.

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