Monday, 3 May 2010

Three books

There were three books I read last month that I didn't get a chance to review; I'm finding more and more that not everything I read makes it onto this blog, not sure why as it never used to be the case. I think maybe I'm reading a little more quickly now and the increased volume of books means I literally don't have time to review everything. So anyway, this post will be a quick mention of those three books: The Right Attitude to Rain and The Careful Use of Compliments by Alexander McCall Smith and Callander Square by Anne Perry.

The Right Attitude to Rain is book three in the Isabel Dalhousie series, set in Edinburgh. Isabel is a divorced woman in her early forties - a woman of independent means who is the editor of a philosophy magazine. Becuase of her deep interest in philosophy she is always interested in other people's lives and often gets tangled up in their affairs. Her friends and family think of this as meddling: Isabel herself thinks herself duty bound to help people if she possibly can. In this instalment Isabel comes across an American couple in an art gallery. It turns out they're friends of Isabel's relatives from Texas who are staying with her at the moment. She discovers that the husband feels as though his life is in danger and the person he's afraid of is his young wife. Isabel has already noticed the wife's interest in Jamie, her niece's ex-boyfriend and the young man Isabel herself is in love with. This is an incredibly complicated situation, especially as the husband is showing a marked interest in Isabel herself...
In The Careful use of Compliments Isabel's life has changed out of all recognition. I can't say how as it's rather a huge spoiler but Jamie is now a big part of her life. Sadly this has caused a virtual estrangement with her niece, Cat. Two occurances form the basis of the storylines in this fourth book. Firstly, Isabel gets a letter from one of her philosophy magazine contributors, Professor Dove, informing her that she has been ousted from her job and that he is the new editor. Secondly, two paintings by the same Scottish painter come on the market at the same time. Isabel wants to buy one but there seems some doubt about the authenticity of the work. Isabel, of course, sets about investigating.

This series just gets better and better. I love the little investigations Isabel undertakes, her agonising about her behaviour and that of others. I think sometimes she's not hard enough on people, her niece especially needs a good talking to! But on another subject she take beautiful revenge on someone, which was just perfect. I don't think I could love these books more, even though I realise they're not for everyone, being so character driven and 'thoughtful' and not really plot or action driven. And I think those of us who love them are unable to explain to those who don't, why we're so enamoured. Odd.

Callander Square is Anne Perry's second book in the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series of Victorian crime novels. Charlotte and Thomas are now married. Thomas's salary is not huge so they live simply in a small house - a big change for Charlotte who was brought up in a big London town house with servants and so forth. But she is happy, nevertheless. The story begins when Thomas is called to Callander Square to examine the bones of two babies found buried in the central garden of the square. It's assumed they must be the children of a servant girl who killed her babies rather than lose her job and livelihood. Thomas sets about investigating and realises there are many secrets amongst the aristocracy living in the square. Unfortunately this is a time when the police are not popular with the well-heeled and he comes up against a wall of silence. Charlotte and her sister, Emily, take an interest and before long Emily, now the wife of a lord herself, gains entrance to society in the square and gets Charlotte a position as secretary to a general who is writing the military history of his forbears. Between them can they solve this perplexing mystery?

Another excellent series. The mysteries in these books are very good but even more than that I like the glimpse of Victorian life. The hypocrisy and double-standards, especially of men, are featured very strongly and this I find fascinating to read about. Many women, it seems, actually conspired to keep this kind of thing going but it has to be remembered how little power women had at that time, relying on men for their very existance. Being the subject of gossip was one of the worst things that could happen to you and being an outcast from society a very real threat. So you kept your secrets. Fascinating stuff and I plan to read as many books in this series as I possibly can.

~~~oOo~~~

13 comments:

DesLily said...

again we think alike and enjoy reading about the Victorian times!
It is odd though that you like to read books that England is the background and you live there.. I live in the US and I still like to read books that happen in England (especially early eras) Aside from the early goings on in Hollywood (and as much as I love movies made back in the times of dirt roads and cowboys and indians) I don't enjoy reading of them that much.

BooksPlease said...

I read only the middle section of your post because I haven't read the other books myself and have The Right Attitude to Rain sitting waiting for me!

I'm reading the Isabel Dalhousie series in a funny order - as I find the books in the library. I so enjoy the thoughtful, character driven nature of these books.

Cath said...

Pat: I like history and it doesn't matter which country's, I still enjoy it. And English history is so varied for such a small country that I love... especially Victorian because it was such a interesting time. I like certain periods of US history too, particularly the pioneer period and early 20th century. It's all good. :-)

Margaret: It's actually not that easy to read McCall Smith's various series in order. There are so many books, all muddled up on the shelf and they're all so popular that more often than not the one you want is out. Quite frustrating. I've taken to picking them up in other libraries whether I'm ready to read the next one or not! Thank goodness for renewing.

Kay said...

Cath, glad you enjoyed Callander Square. I love just reading one of these along, in between other books. I read them up to book 10 or so and then I stopped for a long time. I'm gradually re-reading the ones that I've read before and hope to catch up to the current book someday. Or not. It wouldn't hurt to always have an Anne Perry waiting to be read. LOL

Lahni said...

I'm one of those that loves Alexander McCall Smith. The Isabel Dalhousie books are my favourites though!!

Cath said...

Kay: I would definitely like to read a lot more of the Pitt series and have two left to read that I own. After that I'll probably try to get the rest from the library as I simply don't have room to buy and store them all. You're so right, it doesn't harm to always have an Anne Perry to read and I particularly want a couple of the Christmas ones to read when that time of year comes around again.

Lahni: It's odd how the likes of us adore AMcS and others just can't abide him... find his books boring etc. I wonder what makes the difference between the two sets of readers? I used to like the Botswana books best but now I think those and Isabel are on an equal footing.

LIzF said...

I used to like the Inspector Pitt books until I discovered that Anne Perry has the irritating tendency to give away the denouements of previous books, perhaps assuming that we will all read them in the correct order! There's nothing worse than getting to a point in a mystery or crime novel and then suddenly realising that you know what is going to happen.
I like McCall Smith's books set in Scotland but really cannot get on with the Botswana-set ones for some reason, no matter how hard I try to like them. I have been told how wonderful they are by so many people but I just don't get it I'm afraid.
BTW I have just finished Raven Black and really enjoyed it so I hope you do. The second in the series, White Night, which I read first, is very good too. It's just a shame that none of the police officers I met while I was a court reporter bore even the slightest resemblence to Jimmy Perez!

Nan said...

I'm with you, Cath. I love this series beyond words, and certainly beyond explaining why. I guess maybe I feel a connection to Isabel. I'm quiet, I'm thinking all the time, and I try to 'do the right thing.' So, I understand her. And I adore the descriptions of her house and garden. I would like to buy the whole series and read them again, one after the other. I've thought of doing this with the Maisie Dobbs books too. Maisie and Isabel aren't so different from one another.

Cath said...

LizF: I've only read two of the Pitt books and yes, I noticed she did discuss the previous book so I was glad I'd read it. Amd clearly going to have to read those in order. I tend to do that anyway.

Ok... I won't tell you how much I love Mma Ramotswe then... ;-)

I've just finished Raven Black too. Completely surprised by the culprit! Excellent first book in the series, am hoping the library will have book two.

Nan: I suspect Isabel's philosophising is not for everyone but I enjoy a meander through her thought processes and nearly always find myself in agreement with her. She has far too much patience with that neice of hers though! LOL. I've never been to Edinburgh and this series makes me want to make the trip.

Marg said...

I just picked up the latest Isabel Dalhousie book from the library today. I think that this is a series that just keeps on getting better and better. I didn't quite know how to take Isabel in the first book but particularly after the 3rd book there is a lot more balance to her!

Cath said...

Marg: I really did think Isabel was a bit snobby in the first couple of books, but she's grown on me and I now find the series compulsive reading to be honest.

Jeane said...

I've enjoyed a book of African fables I read by Alexander McCall Smith; wondering if I'd like more of his work.

Cath said...

Jeane: it's worth a try I think. His books are delightful, imo.