Sunday, 15 January 2017

Kick: The True Story of Kick Kennedy, JFK's Forgotten Sister

I'd read a bit about Kick Kennedy in Wait For Me! by Deborah Devonshire, as Kick married her husband's elder brother, and since then have wanted to read more about the Kennedys in general, just not got around to it. Kick by Paula Byrne was one of Nan from Letters from a Hill farm's favourite books of 2016 and as Nan liked this book so much I decided to give it a go and was lucky enough to find a copy in my local library.

Kathleen Kennedy, known to all except her mother as 'Kick', was born in 1920 and was the fourth child and second daughter of Rose and Joseph Kennedy. She made up one third of the three Kennedy children known as the 'personality kids', the other two being the eldest two boys, Joe junior, and the future president, Jack. But Kick was special. As Joe senior said:

'All my ducks were swans... but Kick was especially special.'

From a very young age she shone. She was brave and fearless, intelligent, charismatic... the sort of person who lit up the room when she entered... everyone but everyone adored Kick Kennedy. It was not an easy family to grow up in though. The children's mother, Rose, was a devout Catholic and dedicated her life to making sure her children were as devout as her. Plus, with so many siblings you had to be something special to be noticed and had to be able to hold your own in family discussions, of which there were many as of course the Kennedys were an intensely political family. They were the first Irish Catholic family to rise to political prominence in America and it was Joe's ruthlessness which had made that so.

In the years leading up to WW2 the family led an idyllic life, educated in the best schools, money no object, and wonderful holidays in Florida and Cape Cod. In 1937 Joe was appointed American Ambassador to Great Britain and the family moved to London in 1938. In less than eighteen months the country would be at war with Germany but until then the Kennedy children became celebrities in a country which had never seen anything like them. The 'personality kids', young and good looking, were especially popular and Kick in particular discovered that men really liked her. They were in fact falling over themselves to court her. It wasn't long before Kick fell completely in love with England, its people, and its ways.

She had many admirers and dated a lot of them but eventually she was to meet Billy Hartington, eldest son and heir to the Duke of Devonshire and owner of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. They fell in love but there was one huge obstacle to their marriage: religion. Kick was Roman Catholic... the Devonshires not just fiercely protestant but historically one of the most anti-catholic families in the land. It was to cause Kick huge heartache and cause a rift with her family that was very slow to heal.

So here we have my first Goodreads five star book of 2017. I *loved* this book to bits... whizzed through it in about 3 days and now want my own copy. (Nan said I would...) The Kennedys are a family that I've wanted to read more about for a while, but I didn't know where to start, so I didn't. Kick, in fact, turns out to be the perfect place. There is much casual information about the family, ie. the parents, Joe and Rose Kennedy, where they came from, what they were about and so on. I say 'casual' because it's put over in a very readable way and there aren't pages and pages of dry reading to plough through. It's all very accessible and easy to absorb.

The book, of course, centres on Kick, but I learnt an awful lot about the two brothers she was closest to as well, Joe jnr. and Jack, because of course Kick didn't exist in a bubble. I knew nothing about Joe other than he died in the war. I knew more about Jack, obviously, but wasn't aware that he was often very ill and constantly in and out of hospital when he was young. Lots of other people come in and out of the story too. Kick was so immensely popular that wherever she went she affected everyone with her vivacity, sheer niceness and ability to make whoever she was talking to feel like they were the only person in the world. Men fell for her in droves even though she wasn't traditionally beautiful, she just had something about her that made people love her.

One of the things that surprised me, even though Deborah Devonshire did touch on it in Wait for Me!, was how the Kennedy family took London by storm when they arrived in 1938. We think the cult of 'celebrity status' is a recent thing. Er... no. The doings of the three Kennedy 'personality kids' were followed massively in the papers and they were photographed constantly, everyone wanted to get to know them and to be seen with them.

Of course, you can't mention the Kennedy family without thinking in terms of sadness and tragedy. Rose Kennedy wrote:

'Rosemary's was the first of the tragedies that were to befall us.'

Rosemary was the Kennedy's oldest daughter, not physically disabled but mentally retarded after a botched birth. Joe Kennedy ordered brain surgery for the young woman and it failed miserably, it made my blood run cold to read about it to be honest. Awful thing. And after that tragedy followed tragedy, starting with WW2 and carrying on after. Even though I knew what happened to Joe jnr., Billy Hartington and Kick herself it still hit me hard as I had felt I'd got to know them by the end of the book. Of course worse was to come with JFK himself but that is not touched on in this book.

So much more I could say about this delightful book. It's overall an excellent read, well written, good with atmosphere (I felt I was right there in the 1920s and 30s) and informative. I now want to read more about the Kennedy family so will investigate to see what's around and what's recommended. I do in fact own Jack by Geoffrey Perret, so will get to that very soon as well. I feel like Kick was a terrific introduction to the Kennedy family and I'm ready now to read on.


Friday, 13 January 2017

A couple of crime titles

My first book reviews for 2017 are two crime stories from series that I started last year or have been reading for a couple of years. Nice to start the year with two reliable authors.

Monastére in the Provence region of southern France is an exclusive hotel converted, as the name suggests, from an old monastry. A large selection of guests has descended including an art dealer, a businessman accompanied by a young woman who is not his wife, a film maker with an American actress in tow and a six strong painting group made up of sundry American, English and French amateur artists. Part of the hotel is home to a famous eccentric artist, Vilotte, known as The Master and practically all of these people plan to see him and talk to him at some stage. After a few days DCI Daniel Jacquot is called in to investigate the disappearance of the woman who accompanied the businessman. There is blood all over her bed but no sign of her anywhere. Jacquot is told not to assume a murder and to quietly look into the situation... in other words to not put out the noses of the important guests. This of course is much easier said than done, especially as Jacquot is not particularly inclined to follow these orders...

Excellent that my second book of 2017 is one I didn't want to put down. This is my second Daniel Jacquot book and both of them have been like this. I can't decide whether it's the quality of the writing, the glorious setting or the fact that the mystery was so good... a bit of all three I think. I had no idea until close to the end who had done what and to whom. And as with the first book there was a nice little twist at the end. There's a bit of romance which works well as it doesn't overpower the story at all and feels 'real' in that there are misunderstandings and difficulties and so on. There are nine books in this series and I'd like to read them all this year. I think the timeline meanders a bit and it's not clear which order the first three or four should be read in but as long as it's not crucial I don't mind that too much. Good series.

Next, Blood Will Tell by Dana Stabenow

It's October in Alaska, Kate Shugak's favourite time of year. She's looking forward to stocking up for the winter and her plan is helped when a moose appears on her land... she shoots it for her larder. The unexpected arrivel of her grandmother, Ekaterina Shugak, is a blessing as she then has help to butcher and store the animal. It takes three days to do this and it's only then that 'emaa' tells Kate why she's there. She's head of the Niniltna Native Association and two of their members have just died... both of them likely to vote with her on a new development project that will affect the local native population. The last thing Kate wants to is leave her cabin to spend weeks in Anchorage. But it's tne annual convention of the Alaska Federation of Natives and her grandmother is sure that Kate could use it to investigate and discover whether the deaths were accidental or something else. Despite her unwillingness, Kate, naturally, has no real choice in the matter... emaa always gets her way.

This is another instalment where we learn more about Kate's Indian roots. The series seems to be split into plots that are either mainly crime based like A Cold Blooded Business where Kate is out on an oilfield or, like this one, Blood Will Tell, where we learn an awful lot about how things actually are for subsistence level natives just trying to hang onto their own land. Plus, how all the various factions in Alaska really work and whose interests they have at heart (their own). To be honest it's a bit disheartening although this book was written 20 years ago so maybe things are better now. Faint hope I suppose. Anyway, as always I enjoyed this, book 6, of the series. There's always such a fabulous sense of place, unsurprisingly as Dana Stabenow lives in the state so knows of what she speaks. The two deaths are almost in the background of this story as we learn about politics in Alaska and watch as Kate deals with her boyfriend, Jack's, fight to hang on to full custody of his son. Not my favourite in the series so far but a jolly good read nevertheless.

Blood Will Tell is my 1st. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2017 challenge.


Friday, 6 January 2017

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Wrap-up post

I thoroughly enjoyed doing Bev's Vuntage Mystery Scavenger Hunt last year. Loads of fun filling in the categories and reading some very good vintage mysteries. Anyway, time for the wrap-up post.

I did the Golden era board which meant reading at least 6 crime books published up to 1960. I read 12 books in all and these are they:

1. The Franchise Affair - Josephine Tey, 1948, Spooky House.

2. A Mystery in White by J.Jefferson Farjeon, 1937, Christmas tree.

3. Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers, 1923, Dead Body.

4. Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey, 1946, More than two people

5. Death of an Airman by Christopher St. John Sprigg, 1934, Plane.

6. To Love and Be Wise by Josephine Tey, 1950, Building other than house.

7. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, 1926, Telephone.

8. The Judge's House by Georges Simenon, 1940, Bird.

9. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, 1951, Jewellry.

10. The Labours of Hercules by Agatha Christie, 1947, Any other animal.

11. The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey, 1952, A body of water.

12. The Santa Klaus Murder, 1936, A yellow object.


Thursday, 5 January 2017

New books

For the first time in quite a few years I didn't receive any books for Christmas. Oddly, I was quite ok with that as I have *cough* plenty of books on my tbr mountain and I really do want to read them. I did however pick up several on a shopping trip with my daughter and grand-daughter between Christmas and the New year.

First of all, this wonderful Collins atlas:

I love physical atlases which show all the mountains and plains and goodness knows what else and I don't own one... or rather I do but it's a Times one that belonged to my mother-in-law and is so massive I can hardly lift it off the shelf. My other atlas just shows the countries and is so ancient the USSR is still shown. So I wanted a new, normal size, physical atlas. Anyway, I saw this in The Works for £10 and just could not leave it there. I know it's a slightly odd thing to be a map freak but there ya go... I love my new atlas to bits.

Then this, also from The Works, costing me the princely sum of £3:

This is The Traveller's Daybook compiled by Fergus Fleming. It gives an excerpt from various books of travel writing for every day of the year. Travellers such as Thor Heyerdahl, Nansen, Isabella Bird, Charles Darwin as well as less obvious people like Ted Hughes, Evelyn Waugh, E.M. Forster are featured. I plan to read this through the year - have already started in fact - and have a feeling I'll end up with a lot of new authors to try when I get to the end. I even wonder if I might want to read it every year.

Next, Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, by Artemis Cooper.

I've been after this biography for a while, waiting to see it in the library or a charity shop, and lo and behold there it was in a British Heart Foundation shop for £1.50. If you're patient this can happen quite a lot... sadly, I'm not always patient enough. I've read Patrick Leigh Fermor's A Time of Gifts, his one fictional book, The Violins of Saint-Jacques and a volume of letters between him and Deborah Devonshire, In Tearing Haste. All these led me to believe he led a very exciting life so I was very pleased to find this as I gather it's a very good biography.

Next, The Lighthouse Stevensons by Bella Bathurst:

Several generations of Stevensons, starting with Robert Stevenson, apparently built every lighthouse around the Scottish coast. The writer, Robert Louis Stevenson was his grandson but before him the name of Stevenson was synonymous with lighthouse building. This is their story. I bought this from Amazon before Christmas, partly because I've wanted to read it for a while but also I thought it would do nicely for the Scottish reading challenge I'm doing this year.

And last but not least, On the Shores of the Mediterranean by Eric Newby:

I've read several books by travel writer, Eric Newby, and enjoyed them all, especially Love and War in the Apennines. I didn't know he'd done a tour of the Mediterranean countries with his wife, using all kinds of transportation, and written this book about their experiences. Having read Carol Drinkwater's book where she did something similar, but based on the olive tree, I had to have this and nabbed a copy from Amazon Marketplace. It's 500 pages but I think I will love it.

And the good thing about all of these books (apart from the atlas) is that they all qualify for Mount TBR 2017.


Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Mount TBR 2016 Final Checkpoint

Time to wrap up my main reading challenge for 2016, Bev's Mount TBR 2016.

My aim was to climb Mont Blanc and in the process read 24 books. This I finally achieved on the 22nd. December. I got off to a roaring start and was usually 3 or 4 books ahead of where I should have been for most of the year, but I tailed off in the autumn. Never mind, I made it and that's the main thing.

The Words to the Wise According to Mount TBR: Using the titles of the books you read this year, see how many of the familiar proverbs and sayings below you can complete with a book read on your journey up the Mountain. Feel free to add/subtract a word or two to help them make sense:

A stitch in time... [to learn] The Old Ways
Don't count your chickens... Follow That Bird!
A penny saved is.... [for] The Bookshop that Floated Away
All good things must come.... [to] The Daughter of Time
When in Rome... [visit] Pompeii
All that glitters is not... A Mystery in White
A picture is worth a... Resorting to Murder
When the going gets tough, the tough get.... To Love and Be Wise
Two wrongs don't make... [an] Angel With Two Faces
The pen is mightier than..... The Fifth Elephant
The squeaky wheel gets.... [to] Greece on my Wheels
Hope for the best, but prepare for.... The Fellowship of Ghosts
Birds of a feather flock... [to] The Singing Sands


Saturday, 31 December 2016

Catching up

Time to catch up on a couple of reviews... as always I seem to be behind. First up, my 24th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 challenge, The Fellowship of Ghosts by Paul Watkins. This is also my 5th. book for the European Reading Challenge 2016 covering the country of 'Norway'.

I'm pinching the Goodreads synopsis for this one: Acclaimed writer Paul Watkins describes his spellbinding solo trek through the wilds of Norway's Rondane and Jutunheimen mountains—grand but harsh landscapes where myth and reality meet. His adventure takes him through valleys bordered by thousand-foot cliffs, roaring waterfalls wreathed in rainbows, blinding glaciers, and shimmering blue snowfields. Yet this is also some of the harshest, most challenging terrain in the world. Watkins's route follows razor-thin ridges, hair-raising paths, and vertigo-inducing drops. An engaging and reflective memoir, The Fellowship of Ghosts captures the profound connection between the Norwegian landscape and the myths, peoples, and dreams that it inspires.

Norway seems to be one of those countries that doesn't get written about a lot so when I saw this on Goodreads somewhere I nabbed myself a copy from Amazon. The author, Paul Watkins, follows in the footsteps of several walkers and mountain climbers who wrote about their experiences in Norway in the late 19th. and early 20th. century. The area covered is the mountainous part of southern Norway, but Watkins also explores fjords, various towns and a little of the capital city, Oslo. He recounts quite a lot of history as well, ranging from the vikings all the way up to WW2 and the country's occupation by the Nazis. He also talks about those other earlier explorers and what they got up to and how they coped with the conditions. It's all fascinating and I enjoyed it very much, particularly the section where he discusses supernatural experiences people have had in these mountains. Algernon Blackwood even based one of his ghost story novellas on a weird experience he had there. The Willows can be read here and I've downloaded it to my KIndle to read very soon. The Fellowship of Ghosts is a nice addition to the 'mountains' section of my travel writing shelf and not to be parted with.

Next, a crime fiction story, The Frozen Shroud by Martin Edwards.

In the tiny Lake District community of Ravenbank two murders have been committed. One took place before the first world war, the second only five years ago but the similarities are startling. Both women were battered to death in the same spot and a shroud placed over them to conceal their ruined faces. Daniel Kind, historian and friend of DCI Hannah Scarlett, is fascinated by the original murder and talk that the village is haunted by the ghost of the murdered servant girl. There's a lot of digging to be done and head of cold cases, Hannah, eventually becomes involved when another murder is committed. To all intents and purposes each of the killings was separately solved and the culprit found or on the run. Cut and dried. But is it? Perhaps not...

The Hannah Scarlett 'Lake District' series is one of those that every time I pick up a new instalment it never takes more than a page or two for me to sink right into the story and characters and feel right at home. The Frozen Shroud was no exception. I love the setting of The Lakes and author, Martin Edwards, is fantastic at describing the atmophere and landscape no matter what the weather and conditions. These stories are wonderfully atmospheric. This particular story begins around Halloween so is quite ghostly in feel. One aspect I enjoyed was the discussion of the ghost stories of Hugh Walpole, some of which I've read, and the works of Thomas de Quincy who was obssessed with murder of course and lived in The Lake District for a while. Daniel Kind is a historian and very into these kinds of books so this makes the series doubly enjoyable for me. The investigation into the murders made for a good, enjoyable crime yarn... quite complicated and involved. My early guess as to who the culprit was turned out to be correct but I didn't know that until the end. I have to admit to getting a bit frustrated with the complications of Hannah's personal life but that's fine, I think we're supposed to, to be honest. These books are never less than very readable, always well written and one of my favourite crime series of the moment.


Thursday, 22 December 2016

The Santa Klaus Murder

The Santa Klaus Murder, by Mavis Doriel Hay, is another one of the delightful new British Library Crime Classics reissues of vintage crime stories. It's my book 23 for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 and my 12th. book for her Vintage Mystery Cover Scavenger Hunt challenge covering the category 'A yellow object' (star on top of the tree).

The Melbury family have gathered for Christmas at the country house residence of the head of the family, Sir Osmond Melbury. They're all trying to keep him sweet because he's very rich and they want a good share of his money when he dies. What no one expects is that his death will happen within days, but happen it does when he's murdered in his study while Santa Klaus is doling out presents to the family in another room.

The Chief Constable, Colonel Halstock, is assigned the task of solving the murder, he being an old friend of the dead man. It's a poisoned chalice of course. The relatives hate him for questions he has to ask and the amount of delving he has to do. Just about everyone has their secrets and possible motive for killing Osmond Melbury, be it his five children, their various spouses, sundry suitors, employees and ex-employees. The list is endless. Sir Osmond, it seems, was a manipulator and complicated man who thought nothing of playing games with people's lives.

Halstock finds it impossible to trace the precise movements of the large number of people present during the relevant minutes when the murder occurred. Then a revelation throws everything he's learnt into doubt. An actor acquaintance tries to assist him in his enquiries but does he too have an ulterior motive? Is there anyone who hasn't? And why does it appear that everyone in the house is witholding information?

Well, this crime yarn was very enjoyable. It does involve a very large cast of characters and I must admit they were difficult to keep track of at first. Luckily there is a helpful list of who's who at the beginning and I did have to refer to it a few times. Eventually though I did get my head around them all and settled nicely into the storyline which is a traditional country house mystery. And there's nothing wrong with that, especially at this time of year when you're busy and just want a good, fun read.

That said, I thought this was very well written and quite challenging in the whodunnit department. I actually had no idea who'd done the deed until quite near the end and it's good fun when that happens. Perhaps I would've liked a slightly better idea of who the detective, Colonel Halstock, was. He didn't have the depth that we see in, say, Hercule Poroit, with his pedantry and funny little ways that make him so human. But that's being nit-picky. I really enjoyed the story and the setting and thought it was a perfect Christmas read.

The author, Mavis Doriel Hay, is one of those lost authors from the 1930s who has been rediscovered by the BLCC and her books reissued. There are two others available from them, Murder Underground and Death on the Cherwell both of which I plan to read now that I've discovered that the author's writing is very good.