Book Review: Bath Tangle by Georgette Heyer

I haven’t read much Heyer and wasn’t aware until I finished that this is one of her least liked books. I just bought it because it was on offer on the Kindle.

This is one of her regency books and there is certainly a tangle between the various men and women falling in love in this novel. I’m not sure I can review this without spoilers, so please be aware that there will be spoilers throughout this review, but I will try not to talk too much about the ending.

Whilst the end pairings resulting from the tangle are entirely predictable I found this novel going a different way than I expected time and time again.

The main character is Serena, the fiercely independent daughter of the Earl of Spenborough. The novel opens just after the death of the Earl. This is an intriguing start that had me wanting to read more straight away. Serena’s Mother died in childbirth and she was brought up by her eccentric and extremely wealthy Father with little restrictions. Her Father re-married and married a woman younger than Serena.

I immediately expected this to be an antagonistic relationship, but in fact the young widow is very innocent and shy and is very friendly with Serena.

At the will reading it turns out that all of Serena’s considerable wealth has been unexpectedly tied up with a guardian and she has been left access to pin money only. [As an aside £600 is probably more than I spend a year on clothes, hair, etc now so it must have been a considerable amount at the time]. The only way to gain access to her money again is to marry a man that her guardian approves of. This is all only made worse when she finds out that her guardian is Ivo, her childhood friend and the man she had previously been engaged to but had jilted close to their wedding date.

Serena throws a bit of a temper tantrum on finding all of this out and we immediately see why she left Ivo, they are very antagonistic to each other and constantly argue and enrage each other. Ivo is abrasive and sees no need to follow polite social conventions. I expected that each would have a redemption arc before ending up together at the end of the novel but I was only half right, and that is where I ended up having issues with this novel.

Ivo and Serena are not pressed together by circumstance to rediscover each other as I expected, instead Serena sets up house with her Stepmother, Fanny, in the Dower house. We see Serena struggling with the quiet life, in mourning at the Dower house, and even more with seeing the changes her cousin is making to the estate.

In the end she is eager to leave the estate she grew up in and Fanny and Serena decide to set up for a few months in Bath. Enter, the first complication to the plot in Major Hector Kirkby, whom Serena was not allowed to pursue a relationship with given their different social positions. She confesses to Fanny that Hector was the only man, amongst the many she has flirted with, that she has loved. It becomes clear that Hector has remained infatuated with her and has put her on a pedestal that Serena is very aware she does not deserve to stand on.

Hector and Serena become secretly engaged, not making it public as Serena is still in mourning. Their relationship is done very well by Heyer. Hector tries not to be bothered by Serena’s outgoing, boisterous ways and her lack of respect for proprietary. Serena in turn tries to be more like the gentle, country wife that Hector is looking for. It quickly becomes clear that they entered this relationship hastily.

Hector then finds out just how wealthy Serena will become when they marry and is dismayed by how much more wealthy she will be than him. Serena cannot see the issue and they fall out, particularly when Hector asks if the money can be tied up for their children so they do not have access to it.

Perhaps not on this scale, but even today one partner earning significantly more than the other can be a contentious issue. Heyer was also the main wage earner in her household so it is not hard to imagine that some of Serena’s frustration at her Father, Ivo and Hector is really Heyer voicing her feelings on the matter.

I think it would be easy to see Serena as hot-tempered and spoiled here but to continually have any possibity of independence or power held just out of her reach must have been incredibly frustrating. Being one of the wealthy elite has not actually brought her any happiness.

So far I was still very much enjoying this story. I felt social issues were being brought up and I felt sure Ivo and Serena would come together, and gradually learn to soften to each other. It is made clear that Ivo does not feel Serena needs any sheltering, and if he does come across quite brutally it seems likely that he will soften and become more responsible as the novel progresses.

The next addition to the tangle is Emily Laleham, the young seventeen year old daughter of a social climber who has been taking every opportunity through the novel to thrust her family into the spheres of Serena, Fanny and Ivo. Suddenly through the Bath gossip Serena and Fanny learn that Ivo and Emily have become engaged.

Serena is surprised but tries very hard not to think too much about the relationship. Fanny on the other hand is horrified. There is over twenty years between them and she worries that angry, powerful Ivo will be a terrifying husband for Emily.

Serena scoffs at this, which I think could again be seen as self-centeredness. The way I read it however was Heyer trying to show Serena’s true regard for Ivo- she doesn’t believe he could hurt someone like that. It does lead again to serious and interesting discussion around young, innocent brides- as indeed Fanny was. Serena thinks that if Emily didn’t want to marry Ivo she could have just said no. Fanny tries to explain that it is not that simple and that a girl may be compelled to agree. This is very effective at showing the different upbringings of the two girls as well as conveying potentially disturbing implications to Fanny and the Earl’s marriage if one reads into it at all- which is rather more depth than I was really expecting.

Up until this point I was really enjoying the novel, it was enjoyable but dealing with complex issues. But then I started to realise just how far through the book I was. There were a dwindling number of pages left in which for these characters to reform. I started to worry the whole ending was going to be rushed, particularly as lies and lovers became ever more tangled.

However, there is no rushed realisation of their increasingly atrocious behaviour, because there seems to be no redemption arc whatsoever. In my opinion, neither Serene or Ivo are particularly likeable in the final chapters.

I went from thoroughly enjoying the novel and being caught up in it, to being left with a slight distaste for the whole affair.

I’d love to hear people’s opinions in this book. Am I pushing my modern opinions into a book where they just don’t belong, or has anyone else been left dissatisfied with Bath Tangle?

On the plus side, this was published in 1955 and can contribute to my much neglected Century of Books challenge

Book Review: I am I am I am by Maggie O’Farrell

This is the story of O’Farrell’s life described through her brushes with death, told out of order, and with glimpses of her life peeking through each tale.

I really wanted to love this book. I was describing it to my other half whilst reading it, and couldn’t understand from my own description why I was just enjoying it but not loving it. I’m still not sure, perhaps the madness of the outside world hampered my enjoyment, I don’t know. Nonetheless, I will gladly recommend this well written, engaging, emotional memoir. This is the story of O’Farrell’s life described through her brushes with death, told out of order, and with glimpses of her life peeking through each tale.

Her writing and descriptions are excellent, drawing me in and setting each scene well. Impressively, given the constant prescence of death throughout, this is not a depressing read. There are some scenes that are hard to read: the chapter about her first and subsequent miscarriages have really stuck with me. Despite this there is a love of life and a sense of humour throughout.

I had picked this up on a kindle offer some time ago, and when I went to read this I only skimmed the description prior to starting the book. Somehow, I missed the key word of memoir on the cover. I spent far more of the book than I should probably admit thinking this was a novel. If nothing else hopefully that proves the book is certainly readable and not at all dry! I’m embarrassed to admit that I started to lose interest after a while finding the number of near misses too high, the style a little gimmicky and some of the brushes with death a bit unbelievable-following one after another as they did.

Knowing it is a memoir, has instead left me impressed at the author’s resilience. Although this is a memoir about near death experiences, the message to keep getting up and carrying on seems like a positive and apt one for the time we have found ourselves in.

Some parting thoughts:

  • That opening chapter is chilling when I think back on it.
  • I hope that I am right in saying, from my own experience, that the version of the NHS and consultants that the author describes no longer exists, or are very much in a minority.
  • I would be happy to hear any recommendations for this authors novels after reading her memoir.

Has anyone else read this? Did you enjoy it? Am I the only one who felt it read like a novel?

Book Review: Murder by Matchlight by E. C. R Lorac

He waited as she had bidden him, amusing himself by visualising the owner of the cheerful Cockney voice. A woman as old or older than himself, he judged (Macdonald was looking fifty in the face), a Londoner undoubtedly, one of the undaunted millions who take blackout and bombs in their stride, and prefer the hazards of those “twin b’s” to the “’orrible ’ush” of the safe countryside.

I haven’t read any of the British Library Crime Classics in a while despite the fact that I have enjoyed all the ones I have read so far. Murder by Matchlight is a recent re-publication of an author I had never heard of. I’m a fan of Golden Age crime fiction in general but this novel had an additional bonus for me- it was published in 1945 and is set during the war. It is an interesting novel and very readable, and I liked that the war time setting was integral to the plot. What made it truly fascinating though was the reality of it… This is a contemporary look at life in London during the Second World War. Blackouts and rationing are not new information to me of course but I feel there must be a realness to the way Lorac has her characters behave and feel given the publication date.

To add the last touch of grotesqueness to a grotesque night, Macdonald found that his share in the final rescue act (probably made, he reflected, at the risk of both their lives to judge from the creaks of the old house) was the salvaging of Mrs. Rameses’ silk stockings (in his pockets) and a quantity of her clothing (over his arm).

This mystery is investigated by Chief Inspector Macdonald after a man is murdered noiselessly in the dark of the blackout on a bridge in Regent’s Park. The mystery is made even more intriguing by the presence of two witnesses who initially kept their presence secret in the dark of the park and were then startled by the noise of the murdered Johnny Ward’s body falling.

The witnesses had only been able to hear what was happening as the only light in the park on this November night had been provided by Johnny briefly lighting a match in order to light his cigarette before he died.

An interesting cast of characters is quickly established as as well as the two witnesses, Johnny lived in a boarding house. As more is revealed about Johnny’s character and life it becomes clear that there could be multiple motives for his murder.

At first I was rather frustrated by the author seeming to use a number of coincidences to move the plot along but these were in fact explained convincingly as more was revealed.

The war time setting is used in the plot brilliantly, from the blackout adding a layer of possible deception to everything to the way that the suspects’ strength of character are seen through how they cope with living in London in wartime.

There are multiple episodes dealing with people being bombed out of their homes that adds a real depth to what could be just a pleasant, cosy read.

When Macdonald reached Dulverton Place the next morning, he was quite prepared for what he found: it seemed a logical continuity with the negative room. The short street still existed as a thoroughfare, but it ran through a level open space where small hummocks of rubble alone had been left by the demolition of bombed premises. There were acres of such open spaces between the Elephant and Castle and Camberwell Green. After one prolonged stare Macdonald made his way back to the main road and stopped the first Civil Defence worker he met. The C.I.D. man stated his identity and then, pointing to Dulverton Place he inquired: “When did that happen?”

“Last February,” was the answer. “Funny thing— that street survived all through the ’40–’ 41 blitz— never touched. Then on the night of February 10th a load of incendiaries came down on it. We got everybody out and put them in the big surface shelter at the end there— and then a big H.E. hit the shelter. Shocking business. Sheer bad luck.”

Macdonald nodded. “All that,” he said. “Some of them survive?”

“Oh yes. A surprising number. My God! I shan’t forget going in with the Rescue Squad… Some things you can’t forget.”

“I know,” said Macdonald, and for a few seconds they both stood in silence.

The mystery itself worked well and I would be tempted to read more of her work, even though it was the 1940s setting that sold me on this. I half guessed whodunit although not why and there were plenty of clues that I did not pick up on initially until they were made clear by the author.

It was a great pick for my 1945 read for A Century Of Books challenge and was the second book in a row I’ve read on my kindle and devoured in one sitting. If you like Golden Age crime or are interested in the Second World War it is well worth a read.

Fact is, I’m a bit tired of the case. It seems to me that the fact that one ne’er-do-well has met a violent end is not a matter of supreme importance in a world which is in the throes of a convulsion which may destroy civilisation itself before we’re through.

Book Review: They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

I haven’t been reading much lately. Work has been a bit manic and I’ve found myself staying late more and more frequently. When I get home I’ve been parking myself in front of the TV instead of curling up with one of the million or so books in my flat.

I guess I have been picking away at several thing: A N Wilson’s doorstop of a book on The Victorians gets a chapter read of it every so often and I’ve been slowly working my way through Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London and Charles Lamb’s Essays of Elia. I’ve even read a couple of Katherine Mansfield’s Selected Stories in the hope that she’ll be the author to convert me to the short story. Yet despite this worthy list I hadn’t actually got close to finishing a book in some time.

Then They Both Die at the End came along and completely swept me back up into reading. I tend to pick up bargains on the kindle every so often and then never read them. Then, unusually, I read this book within a month or so of downloading it, and I have to say it was a great choice to break my reading slump. I’m glad I followed whatever instinct made me pick this up. I’ve never read the author, and I don’t read much YA. What genre this book should be categorised as I don’t know, but I found it just to be a genuinely good book.

First of all though isn’t the title of this novel great? It has a really interesting concept to go with it too. If you are going to die in the next 24 hours you will get a phone call letting you know. It’s a simple premise which is carried out really well. To make things more interesting the characters don’t know when in the 24 hours they will die. It could be a minute after receiving the call or they could have over 23 hours left.

It opens up all sorts of questions: how would you live your final hours? Would you try and be as cautious as possible and eke out as many hours as you can get or try to do as much as possible in the time you have left? Would you want anyone to know? How would you treat someone if you know they are going to die that day?

And the one that particularly got me thinking- do you die because you know you are going to die that day? Do you set a chain of actions in motion that result in your death that would not have occurred if you did not know you were going to die that day?

It’s not often that I will have long, rambling chats about the books I read with my other half but this one really got me thinking and we had a really good conversation about it.

I think what really impressed me about this book though was how positive it was. It could have been really angst ridden and/ or almost a thriller or horror novel, trying to work out how this was happening to them. Instead it was all about learning how to live your life rather than about death. It was about the impact you can make on someone’s life and the importance of friendships, family and found family. For a book with the title They Both Die at the End it was a really positive book with some great take home messages.

This is primarily the story of two 18 year old boys who each receive the phonecall telling them they are going to die. Mateo Torrez is lonely, shy and cautious. He is alone in the world apart from his best friend and his Dad, who is in hospital in a coma. Rufus Emeterio, has lost his family and is in the Foster system. He’s made some mistakes and his actions at the start of the novel hang over him. He is really close with the other boys who are fostered with him and they have a really supportive relationship.

Inevitably, the two cross paths.

The phone calls themselves completely sold me on this author. On the one hand Mateo’s caller is so wrapped up in her own stress that she can’t even summon up the energy to talk to him sensitively. Rufus pleads with his caller that this can’t be right, he’s only eighteen, there must be a way out of this and his caller tells him that it could be worse and tells him a brutal story from earlier that day. Both Mateo and Rufus’ reactions felt realistic although they were both very different and so did the actions of the callers themselves. If your job was to tell people that they are going to die today isn’t it natural that you would eventually become desensitised to what you were doing or that it’s awful nature would become too much and you would just snap back at someone?

There isn’t a lot happening in this novel, but I think that is actually one of the positives of this book, and what makes it so readable. The two main characters’ development is done really well and I found myself empathising with both Mateo and Rufus at different times.

The world building of this Earth that is similar to ours but different in this one significant way is also clever. I particularly liked the use of social media and the way that culture has evolved to include significant numbers of people knowingly going about their final day on Earth, but that people still don’t know how to treat someone in this circumstance.

It is a book with a diverse set of characters, with lots of positive relationships portrayed that manages to be about coming to terms with dying young without being depressing.

This novel does change perspective a lot. This is mainly between Mateo and Rufus but also between various of their friends and other more random characters. These changes in perspective can be a little frustrating but the majority of the time the reader is either with Mateo or Rufus and the interludes with other characters are short. It helps that all of these do weave together in a way that makes sense towards the end of the novel.

I think if I had realised the age of the main characters in this novel I might have been less likely to pick it up, so I’m pretty glad I didn’t realise until I started reading.

I’ve struggled a little to write about this without spoilers and so some of the aspects I liked best about the book I can’t comment on without giving away how the book ends, but I did enjoy the entire book. It’s the sort of story that I think could have been ruined by the ending- and I felt that the finale of this book worked very well.

Finally, this book was published in 2017 so I am actually making some progress with my Century of Books challenge! Although after this slump I am really going to have to pick up the pace.

Top Ten Tuesdays: Books I Loved with Fewer than 2000 ratings on Goodreads

I must apologise. I wrote this post a few days ago and then completely forgot to schedule it. Work was frantic today then I had a leaving dinner for a colleague then came home to statistics drama (don’t ask!) so only remembered about this post just now.

Nonetheless it is still Tuesday… Just, which means I get to make a list! That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesdays lists give me an excuse to make a list each week.

I feel like this week’s list was made for me as I read a lot of lesser known authors.

Elizabeth of the Garret Theatre by Gwendoline Courtney

I loved this book so much when I read it. I read it for the first time a couple of years ago and I’ve read it several times since. It’s a great family story about four sisters getting a new Stepmother and it only has 48 ratings on Goodreads

Little G by E. M. Channon

This is another potential comfort read about a grumpy professor who is charmed against his will by the children next door and the young woman who helps to look after them. This was re-published a few years ago by Margin notes books and has since sadly gone back out of print. Impressively it doesn’t even seem to have an entry on Goodreads.

A Chelsea Concerto by Frances Faviell

I fell in love with this book. Every so often a book comes along that you literally cannot put down. For me this Memoir of life in Chelsea during the blitz and it’s sequel (which was actually written earlier) The Dancing Bear about life in Berlin just after the war were truly un-put-down-able. I am so glad they were re-published by Furrowed Middlebrow and Dean Street Press but I think it’s such a shame that both of these have less than a hundred ratings on Goodreads each.

Underfoot in Show Business by Helene Hanff

I’ll admit 84 Charing Cross Road (and its sequel the Duchess of Bloomsbury Street) are my favourites of Hanff’s work, but this is a humorous gem too about Hanff’s earlier working years. With 511 Goodreads ratings it’s clearer a lot less well known than some of her other works.

The Exiles by Hilary McKay

I loved this hilarious trio of books about four sisters when I was younger. I re-read this a few years ago in a fit of nostalgia and was still laughing out loud. Can’t believe this only has 850 Goodreads ratings, were Hilary McKay books not a part of everyone’s childhood?

The First Violin by Jessie Fothergill

I can’t even remember how I stumbled across this 1877 novel but I really loved this tale of an English girl who travels to Germany and falls in love with a mysterious German man. I can’t remember how I came upon this but I can’t believe it’s so little known these days and has only 75 Goodreads ratings… It deserves more.

Madensky Square by Eva Ibbotson

I’m not normally a fan of books involving infidelity but I loved this story. It’s also set in Vienna before the first World War so I was probably always going to adore this.

Gerald by Daphne Du Maurier

This biography of Gerald Du Maurier is rather interesting. Whether because Gerald seemed like an interesting character, because it was a biography written by his daughter or because his daughter was Daphne du Maurier, most likely a combination of all three but regardless this was an interesting read that somehow has only 77 ratings.

Bewildering Cares by Winifred Peck

This is another Furrowed Middlebrow reprint that I recently enjoyed about a week in the life of a Vicar’s wife in 1940. I think Peck definitely counts as a forgotten female author with just 86 ratings on Goodreads.

The Public Image by Muriel Spark

My recent introduction to Spark via this book sent me scurrying to find more of her work, but this is clearly not one of her more well known novels with only 547 ratings.

Some books that I wrongly thought might be under 2,000 ratings…

Deathless by Cathrynne M Valente- 2097 ratings

Flush: A Biography by Virginia Woolf- 4130 ratings

The School At the Chalet by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer- 3471 ratings

Come Tell Me How You Live by Agatha Christie Mallowan- 2535 ratings

Graveyard Shift by Angela Roquet- 6568 ratings

Top Ten Tuesdays: Favourite Couples in Books

It’s Tuesday, which means I get to make a list! That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesdays lists give me an excuse to make a list each week.

There are some really great couples portrayed in books, and I have no doubt that when I read everyone else’s lists I will realise even more that I have missed.

Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe. There are hints at this from the very first book, Anne of Green Gables and it all comes to a head in Anne of the Island, one of my favourite and most re-read comfort reads. I love how natural the two are together and I think they really balance each other out.

Charlotte De Ney and Richard Mar

I am a huge fan of all things Ilona Andrews, and they are masters of setting up characters with great chemistry. The obvious choice was to use Kate Daniels and Curran, the Beast Lord from the long “Magic” series where there is an undercurrent of will they/ won’t they in the first few books as well as an awful lot of arguing. There is something about Charlotte and Richard that appeals to me though. They are the main characters in Steel’s Edge, the final book of the Edge quartet, a series of standalone books set in the same world with some connecting characters. Both of them are tired, not old perhaps but certainly older, and definitely not expecting to find romance. Theirs is a romance that comes together despite all their hardships.

Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy

It might be cliche but I can’t not include these two. They were made for each other… When they get out of their own way of course. If you haven’t read Pride and Prejudice what are you waiting for?

Anne Elliott and Captain Wentworth

Yes, another Jane Austen couple, but if anyone deserves two entries it is Austen. Anne is really the opposite of Elizabeth Bennett in many ways, and is so very, very real, and that Letter. It takes a long time for these two to come together but that only adds to the feeling that these two are and will always be perfect for each other.

Nymphadora Tonks and Remus Lupin

Not everyone seems to be convinced of this couple who come together in the fifth Harry Potter The Order of the Phoenix but I have always found them convincing. Their romance is hidden in the pages of the latter Harry Potter books, lurking in the background, and everytime I re-read these books I always hoped to see more of it revealed. If anyone deserved a happy ending it was Professor Lupin, and despite his clear self-sabotaging I think he is a perfect match for Tonks- after all he was a Marauder.

Phebe Moore and Archie Campbell

Another romance that lurks a little in the background, is that of Archie and Phebe in Louisa May Alcott’s Rose in Bloom. Theirs is a quiet romance, or it would be if it were not for Archie’s family who do not believe that orphan Phebe is good enough for him. They fear that Phebe is taking advantage of all the help they have given their servant over the years. Phebe is heartbroken over this. I’ve always enjoyed the little moments we see of the two together and I enjoy this quiet romance.

Irina and Mirnatius

Perhaps a strange choice as these two are certainly not in love at the start of their marriage in Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver and I don’t think they are yet there at the end either, but there seems huge potential for the two to grow to love each other, both have been victims in a way and terribly lonely… Even if the fulfillment of this romance is just in my imagination I think they have the potential to be a great and powerful couple.

Juliet Ashton and Dawsey Adams

A post war setting; the delights of the other characters of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and most importantly a romance that come together through letters and reading.

Beauty and The Beast

This is my favourite fairytale and I love Robin McKinley’s re-telling: Beauty.

Ralph Hollis and Jessica Egerton-Smythe

I adored Cuckoo in the Nest when I was younger (I could probably do with re-reading it soon to be honest). I loved the theatre setting and the interesting cast of characters, and I always enjoyed the portrayal of these two characters.

I must have missed out so many great characters. Who are your favourite couples in books?

January Round up

For such a long month January has been rather pleasant. Although, admittedly towards the end rather diseased.

I’ve been reading…

-My first ever audio book was the must listen Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

-Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading made me smile, and I have to agree with her assertion that the world is divided into people who would be excited if a Tiger came to tea and those who would be dismayed.

-I finally got around to reviewing my first Nora Ephron book

-I had a lot of fun with Gwendoline Courtney’s 1940 adventure story The Grenville Garrison, which has surprisingly strong female characters.

I’ve been listening…

Perhaps I should have been listening to something louder in this rather listless month but I’ve been loving Nina Simone’s Nina Sings the Blues which I return to every so often.

I’ve been eating…

If anyone finds themselves up in the Highlands of Scotland I must recommend visiting the small town of Grantown-on-Spey which is less touristy than Aviemore and which has a lovely high street (with a bookshop!). I was here just after New Year and went for a light lunch at The High Street Merchant, whose walls are covered in local art and whose food is truly delicious. Smoked chicken risotto… Homemade spicy houmous… Crab pasta… So yummy!

I’ve been watching…

I still haven’t managed to get to see The Favourite despite the good reviews but I did go to see Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse with the other half.

Now I have seen rather a lot of these comic book movies. Some have been good, some great fun and some bloody awful.

This is animated, all bright colours and comic book tropes and I just fell in love with it. It’s a really good story, some good acting, a menacing villain with an actual backstory and was just fun. It has to be one of the best of this genre of movies.