A passage to India – E M Forster 

I started reading this as a library book and enjoyed it so much I bought the beautiful Hodder and Staughton edition pictured above.

This is a story about colonial India and how the British and Indian cultures clash and come together during that time.

It’s very much a book of its time and it portrayal of Indians is at times racist, however it’s also very scathing of the British treatment of India and their attitudes so it makes an interesting read. 

The language is poetic and the story ambles a little, it takes a long time to get to the point of the story. However once you realise that it takes about two thirds of the story to get to the main scenes it’s a very book to give you the colour and feel of the time and place it’s set in.

There’s no great plot, no twists or turns or unexpected happenings. It’s quite straightforward and very honest. A good read. 

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Death on the Riviera – John Bude 

Another of my British Library Crime classics collection. This one by John Bude, I have several of his books now. Apart from a propensity to litter his books with repetitive Latin words his books are very enjoyable.

This one is less about a murder than you might think from the title and more about counterfeit bank notes. However towards the end of the book the murder of course does happen in a nicely fantastic, improbably, but possibly could just work fashion.

A very enjoyable read and possibly one of my favourite of the collection so far. It manages to capture some of the flavour of the Riviera too and even has a little romance involved. I think my next BLCC may well be another John Bude. 

Aspects of the novel – E M Forster 

This book is actually a series of lectures which were given by Forster at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1927. The lectures are broken down as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. The story
  3. People
  4. People continued
  5. The plot
  6. Fantasy
  7. Prophecy
  8. Pattern and rhythm
  9. Conclusion

The style is very approachable and chatty. I was worried that this would be quite a full, dry book but it’s actually quite an engaging read in parts.

The book starts well and in people he introduces the famous ’round’ and ‘flat’ characters and some interesting concepts.He ‘s also not above tearing some quite famous authors world to pieces which adds to the interest.

However around fantasy and prophecy it seems to lose it’s its way a bit and become loose and woolly and it never really recovers from there which is a shame.

Nevertheless it’s a good read for any aspiring authors or book critics, or anyone with a love  for E M Forster’s works.

The mystery at Underwood House -Clara Benson

This is the second book in the Angels Marchmont series, this time it is written directly from Angela’s point of view.

I felt like I got to know Angela better in this story. There were interesting snippets about her life, her background, and her personality. It certainly left me feeling like I would like to get to know her better.

The writing was better in this book too, not that it was bad in the first one by any means, but it felt like the author was really getting into her stride.

I’d read a few reviews of both the books and they all said the murderer was less easy to guess in the second book than the first, but I actually guessed who did it in this book quite quickly, along with most of the reason why. It was probably just a lucky guess though and didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book.

This certainly isn’t high brow reading but if you are lying home at bed I’ll  (like I currently am unfortunately) then these books and a cup of tea sound like heaven. Mine’s  a peppermint tea please…

The murder at Sissingham Hall – Clara Benson

This is the first in the Angela Marchmont Mystery books, a set of detective/crime novels set in the 1920’s.

Despite being a modern book this has all the hallmarks of a classic 1920’s crime novel, a house party, a spurned liver, an affair, an Inspector from Scotland Yard who is shown up by a amateure detective, what’s not to love?

In the whole it’s an enjoyable book. It’s not written from Angela Marchmont’s perspective, in fact she seems to be a secondary character in the book and I don’t feel at the end of the story that I’ve really got to know her at all.

There’s some good personal realationship storylines to the book and the murderer isn’t immediately obvious, and there’s a plot twist.

It’s probably not the most difficult crime novel out there, and I thought the ‘big reveal’ of whodunit was a bit to East. Nevertheless I enjoyed the feel of the story and the setting. It felt a bit Georgette Heyerish to me, (detective not regency) but with a better plot.

I ordered the second one in the series at the same time, so that’s tonight’s reading sorted.

The pursued- C S Forester 

I picked this book up at random from the library just before Christmas and I’ve only just got round to reading it. I’ve read a few of Forester’s Hornblower books, but because I never enjoyed them as much as Alexander Kent’s Bolitho series I never really made an effort to seek his books out.

This one caught my attention because it wasn’t a Hornblower book. I wasn’t aware that Forester had written several crime novels. This one was referred to as his ‘lost novel’ as a variety of circumstances meant it wasn’t published until 2011, a good many years after it was first written in 1935.

It’s quite a brutal, chilling novel. Marjorie arrives home to find her sister dead’ apparently it’s a suicide. But their mother suspects differently and eventually they realise Marjorie’s husband is responsible. The book chronicles how they deal with this.

The storytelling is interesting, in that whilst it’s told through Marjorie’s point of view it’s actually the story of her mother that you are reading.

This is not for the feint hearted, there are some quite disturbing scenes in the book. However it’s a fascinating read and an interesting glimpse into middle class life in the 1930s.

Cotillion – Georgette Heyer

This was picked at random out of a collection of Georgette Heyer’s when I was rush out the other day and needed a book in my handbag as a just in case book. As it happened I didn’t need it (we seemed to be plagued to sit in traffic jams last year and I got a bit frustrated the second time in a week when I didn’t have a book with me.

When I got home I decided to re read it anyway. This has never been one of my favourite Georgette Heyer’s and when I re read it I couldn’t think why. For some reason this time, and it’s probably  about the 7th time I’ve read it, I’ve suddenly realised how good it is.

There’s no strong dashing hero for the heroine to fall in love with, Freddie is considered a bit of a fool by his family. Jack, who could be a strong dashing hero is instead a bit of a cad.

Whilst Kitty, whilst determined, lacks some of the strong minded independent streak that some of my favorites Heyer heroines have, such as the grand Sophy, or Fredricia.

However I like the slow build in this story, the gradual romance. There’s less dictatorial passion and a more protective kindness. The resulting couple would be a blaze of glory, but actually this is one of Heyer’s pairings that I could really see resulting in longstanding happiness.

So this quieter, but rather charming book, has inched its way up the list into one of my favourite Heyer’s, one of the ones I’ll reach for when I’m ill or in need of a comforting pick me up.

The subtle knife – Philip Pullman 

This is the second instalment in Philip Pullman’s trilogy, and I enjoyed it far less than the first. In fact once I finished it I remembered that I never actually bothered with the third one as a child.

I didn’t mind the change of point of view from Lyra to Will, and I enjoyed seeing things from other secondary characters points of view. But there are too many characters to keep track of easily, I prefer David Eddings who usually keeps his numbers down to 5 or 6 in the main group.

There were also several new worlds introduced in this book and at times it what hard to remember who was doing what in each world.

The motivations behind the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sides are vast and a bit incomprehensible. The whole thing is turning into a theological debate and I think I should have read some Milton first.

I will try to persevere this time and read the third book, just to see what happens, but I hope it recovers the charm, consistency and direction of the first instalment. This one seemed to go everywhere at once and achieve very little.

Winter Holiday – Arthur Ransome 

This was my own choice for January reading and it was a bit of light relief after The Power.

This was also the first time since childhood that I have read one of Arthur Ransome’s books and I remembered how much I enjoyed them as a child. Winter Holiday never came my way before, so the story was new to me, although of course some of the characters weren’t.

At 484 pages this is not a young child’s book although there is a strong feel of the famous five about it at times. Children going off and having adventures by themselves, or in this case sometimes with Captain Flint, and getting into all sorts of trouble.

Like the famous five it is very much a book of its time with a certain amount of innate sexism (the girls are there to do the cooking etc) bit less so I think than the famous five.

I don’t think this would be my favourite book of the series, although Dick’s character’s fun, I’m less fond of Dorothea, it almost seems like she was added to the story to show what real ‘little girls’ are like, to highlight how much better Susan, Nancy etc are.

There’s also quite a lot of hanging around in the book. Whilst they do get up to some excitement in the meantime the main part of the adventure is all in the last few chapters, and the tests consists of them waiting for it to happen. This is mostly due to a rogue case of mumps, but does slow the book down a bit.

Despite all this I found the story thoroughly enjoyable and it awakened my love of Swallows and Amazon’s. At some point soon I need to read the series again and discover the few books I didn’t read the first time around.

It does help that I’ve seen some of the books with the most beautiful covers. Whilst I try not to judge a book by its cover it’s hard not to want to read one that looks like this:

The Power – Naomi Alderman

This is the Mumsnet book club’s fiction choice for January. I started reading it without knowing what it was going to be about although I had a vague idea that it was a dystopian book of some kind.

It tells the story of four people, three women and one man, over several years when women develop “the power” which gives them a physical advantage over men and totally changes the balance of political and personal power in the world.

The first half is easy to get behind, reading about women who have been trafficked  as sex slaves using their power against the men who imprison them, or teenage girls using it to push away boys trying it on a little bit to far with them. You feel like getting behind them, and believing in what they are doing.

Then slowly everything gets darker, more violent. Seen through the eyes of the male journalist who is initially a strong supporter of these women but who discovers that being an attractive man in a world where women have all the power is not always a good thing, his views echo the path the book takes.

This is well written in most places, although I found the emails on the end pages a bit clunky and obvious, and the writing got a bit chaotic and lost steam towards the end almost as if the author did the same. This may have been for effect, for the story, but I wasn’t a fan of that part.

What the book did do well was leave me feeling confused, disturbed and even a little angry, not at the book, or the author or myself, just angry. It’s thought provoking and terrifying and as a woman really makes you think very hard about yourself deep down. There have been, and still are, countless atrocities against women simply because men have greater physical power. There is still an imbalance in society as a whole no matter how hard we work towards equality. The book makes you question though whether if women suddenly got a greater physical power would we be better leaders? Would we be less violent, more nurturing, more peaceful. Or would we in fact commit as many attrocities on men as we could, simply because we could.

I don’t know whether the book got the answer to that right. Lets face it, no one has the answer. After reading it though I feel less sure of my own views on this. This is one hell of a thought provoking book. At the end there is a footnote/comment about a couple of archeological finds mentioned in the book, this to sums up a lot about equality, and where we stand with it at the moment:

The book refers to an archeological find of a soapstone head as the Serving boy and a bronze female figure as the Priestess Queen. These are based on real archeological finds from a society which was probably fairly equal for men and women. The author writes:

despite the lack of  context, the archeologists who unearthed them called the soapstone head illustrated ‘Priest King’ while they named the bronze female figure ‘Dancing girl’. They’re still called by those names. Sometimes I think the whole of this book could be communicated with just this set of facts and illustrations.’

I think she’s right, but I’m still glad she wrote the book instead.