“Books to the ceiling, books to the sky, my pile of books is a mile high. How I love them! How I need them! I’ve have a long beard by the time I read them.” Arnold Lobel
Better late than never, a round up of last month’s books. I had grand plans of spending my Christmas holidays devouring hundreds of literary treats, but devoured considerably more of the edible varieties. Never mind.
Robin Stevens, Arsenic for Tea
I reserved the next couple of Murder Most Unladylike books back in September after devouring the first, and happily this one didn’t disappoint. The second installment sees us visit our heroine Daisy at home, when her birthday tea is interrupted by… a murder. Easy reading but with some lovely attention to detail, this one kept me guessing right until the end and was arguably more enjoyable than the first.
Hannah Rothschild, The Improbability of Love
I’m in two minds about this one. I read it knowing very little about the plot, other than it received rave reviews, but if I’m honest I struggled to see why. Following the history of the (fictional) painting of the title, I found it slow to get going and I struggled to keep interest in all of the (not particularly well written) characters, but I enjoyed the mystery in-between the less meaty plots. As a former art history student, it was always going to be vaguely up my street, but I’m not sure I’d rush to suggest it to others. It’s clear the author has a huge amount of knowledge but I’m not sure it translates to fiction.
M. C. Beaton, Death of a Dreamer
After ploughing through The Improbability of Love, it was time to return to something considerably less taxing – and this hit the spot. Easy reading and decidedly comforting, we see our policeman hero Hamish MacBeth manage to solve murders, woo visiting tourists, and drink quite a lot of whisky in the process. Despite having missed quite a few of the previous books, it wasn’t particularly important as the characters are surprisingly well drawn without background information and the supporting cast were as entertaining as the plot. Reliable and inoffensive, it was an easy weekend read.
Julian Fellowes, Belgravia
I wasn’t expecting much from this. Most folk will know Fellowes as the writer of Downton Abbey, but he has somewhat of a pedigree in historical fiction (and an Oscar for Gosford Park) so I shouldn’t have been surprised by how much I enjoyed Belgravia. Starting in 1816, and following two families over twenty five following years, the novel focuses on the importance of scandal – or avoiding it – for Victorian women, and on the snobbery and arrogance of the upper classes. I enjoyed Fellowes’ subtle portrayal of the unpleasant side of wealth, and I was surprised at how he managed to take a rather well used plot and turn it into something considerably more interesting – and dare I say – with a decidedly sympathetic feminist angle.
Robin Stevens, First Class Murder
Two in one month? Well, why not when they’re this much fun. The third of our Wells And Wong Detective Club outings joins them on the Orient Express – of course – where Daisy and Hazel are determined to detect despite Hazel’s stern father. The introduction to Mr Wong, having met Daisy’s family previously, was a nice touch, and added some intrigue to the plot. I really enjoyed the way that old characters popped up and new ones were introduced, so I was glad to read them in order. Fun, a bit silly, but an excellent homage to the Christie which undoubtedly inspired it.
India Knight, Comfort and Joy
I decided to have a bash at a couple of festive novels to get me in the spirit, and this was the first I picked up from the library. An easy reading tale, it was written unusually – with the action taking place on successive Christmases with little explanation of the years in between. I enjoyed the format, it helped carry the story along and made for some interesting plot twists and turns. The characters however? I found them infuriating. It was an interesting plot, focused around Christmas for blended and ‘modern’ families but I found the hugely affluent family setting grating and Knight’s rather bitchy stereotyping, particularly of the single friend, left an unpleasant taste.
Mandy Morton, The Ghost of Christmas Paws
Another foray into the festive novel – this time featuring (bear with me) detective cats. This pastiche is either one of the best or one of the worst novels I’ve read in a long time. I can’t quite work out which. Hettie and Tilly, our heroines, are called to solve a riddle in a Cornish village, where the ghost of Christmas Paws is causing chaos. Part crime, part adventure, there’s some mildly amusing tongue in cheek jokes along the way (lots of Daphne Du Maurier references) and a lot of daft sub plots. Utterly ridiculous with a twist which made me splutter – it did what it said on the cover.