First up, The Warden by Anthony Trollope.
Septimus Harding is precentor of the cathedral at Barchester, which means that he's responsible for the choir. He is also warden of the church-run almhouses, or 'hospital' as it's known, and lives in the lovely attached house with his youngest daughter, Eleanor. Eleanor is almost engaged to John Bold, a well known reformer who tends to take up causes which generally end up in court. Bold decides that his next 'cause' will be that of the elderly men who live in the hospital. The hospital is funded by a very old legacy and Bold feels the warden is making too much money from this will, money which ought to go to the inhabitants themselves. The warden, a gentle and unassuming man, wonders if he might be right in this but of course the church, mainly in the shape of the warden's son-in-law (eldest daughter's husband), Archdeacon Grantly, vehemently disagrees. Confusion and mayhem ensue while the matter is investigated.
This was my very first encounter with Anthony Trollope, apart from a volume of his travel memoirs I read a couple of years ago. I've no idea why I held off so long. Possibly I felt these church based novels might be a bit dry and, granted, the first couple of chapters do require a bit of concentration while the details are explained. After that though the story takes off and quickly becomes unputdownable. You can't help but feel for the unassuming warden as he's pulled this way and that while always trying to do the right thing. The reforming John Bold seems to be in it for self-advancement, and it's hard to understand how he could do this to the father of his prospective wife. And then there's Dr. Grantly, the archdeacon, who's a wonderful character, full of himself but with his heart in the right place. The tale is told with humour and honesty and the writing is just sublime. I loved it and have already downloaded the rest of the Barchester books to my Kindle and started on book two - Barchester Towers.
Next, Flying Visits by Clive James.
A few Brits, as advanced in age as me, will probably remember Australian journalist, Clive James, and the various shows of his that have been on TV in the UK... chat shows, review shows and so on. He was known mainly for his sharp wit and caustic observations. Before he became a TV personality, he was a newspaper journalist working for The Observer here in the UK. Flying Visits includes a succession of articles written by him for that newspaper between the years 1976 to 1983. Basically they recount his trips overseas visiting famous cities - New York, Tokyo, Rome, Salzburg, Paris, Washington, LA and many more. The highlight for me was his trip to China with Mrs. Thatcher and her entourage, told very amusingly and self-deprecatingly - there were times when I was in fits of laughter. The author is so well-known that it's very easy to read the entire book in his voice and I think that helps to 'get' his witty style and makes it funnier. I'm now after getting more of his work and plan to download a couple of volumes of his essays onto my Kindle, plus check the library.
James is now doing a weekly TV review column for the Saturday Telegraph and those can be sampled here. They're well worth a look.
Lastly, Paradise Barn by Victor Watson.
It's September 1940, WW2 is raging, and a dead body has been found, by the canal, in the small village of Great Deeping near Ely in Cambridgeshire. Two best friends, Mary and Abigail, begin to investigate but their fledgling investigations come to a temporary halt when Adam, an evacuee from London, arrives. Adam is an artist, Mary a quiet, thoughtful girl, while Abigail is bossy and exuberant. Between them they make a good team and the three soon find a missing flower press and famous stolen painting in Paradise Barn, one of their playing haunts. But what is the connection between these items and the dead man? Do two new paying guests in Mary's mother's guest house bear any relevance to the case? The children decide to keep their secrets until the case is solved but this unwittingly takes them into more danger than they can possibly imagine.
What a lovely book for young teenagers. I think this is a brilliant way to teach children about the war without them realising they're being taught. The children are very nicely drawn, all very different, character-wise, and their thoughts, fears, reactions are very well presented. The setting of a sleepy Cambridgeshire village is beautifully depicted... the drawing of it at the beginning reminded me of something from a Milly-Molly-Mandy book and to be honest, it had that olde worlde feeling to it. I liked it a lot and will recommend it to my grand-daughter to read as I think she would love it. There is a second book too, The Deeping Secrets, and I already have that on my library pile. The two books were recommended by Jen at Stories for Jennimen.