Saturday 28 June 2014

Three books

I've been doing very little most of this week, apart from reading, due to a fall I took in our backyard last Sunday. Thank goodness for books or I'd have gone a bit mad with boredom. As it was I read three excellent books...

First up, Out of the Deep I Cry by Julia Spencer-Fleming. This is my book 22 for Bev's Mount TBR 2014 reading challenge.

In April 1930 Jonathon Ketcham went missing. He and his wife, Jane, had lost their farm when a dam was created and not long after their four children had died of diptheria. Jane had reported him missing but the police had never been able to find out what had happened to him. Some years later his wife founded a hospital for the poor in his name. Fast forward to Spring in the early 21st. century and the doctor who runs the hospital has gone missing. Chief suspect is a single mother who has concerns about the safety of vacinations, believing they are the cause of her son's autism. She was the last to see him alive but chief of police, Russ Van Alstyne, is not convinced of her guilt. Reverand Clare Fergusson sets about investigating the disappearance of Jonathon Ketchum via historical records, wondering if the two disappearances are connected. She has no idea of the can of worms she is about to open...

This is the third book in Julia Spencer-Fleming's Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series of books. I enjoyed the first two books but I absolutely *loved* this one. Chapters are entitled 'Now' or 'Then' indicating that they deal either with the historical end of the plot or the modern day, and I found this worked extremely well. Both stories were fascinating and the two plotlines interwoven very skilfully indeed. I learnt the terrible toll diptheria took on families before the advent of vacinations. And even once those were established how frightened people were of the process of inoculation and had to be persuaded by doctors to have their children done. I had no idea and also knew very little about the horrors of diptheria, being a child of the fifties and sixties when vacinations against such diseases were commonly accepted and given as a matter of course.

Clare and Russ are two of my absolute favourite crime solving pairs. The background story of their relationship I find rivetting and not a little heart-breaking. I like reading about them as much as I enjoy the actual mystery elements of the books. I also love the New York state setting. I've been lucky enough to go there and the descriptions are spot on... it's so nice to be reminded of this beautiful area and it makes me long to return. I'm so happy that there are another five books in this series to read.

Next, Up With the Larks by Tessa Hainsworth. This non-fiction is my book 23 for Bev's Mount TBR 2014 challenge and my book 5 for the Postal Reading challenge which is being hosted by the Indextrious Reader.

Tessa Hainsworth, her husband, Ben, and their two children live in London. She has a well paid job with The Body Shop and her husband is an actor who has given up his career to look after the children. Tessa's job is very demanding and she realises one day that she hardly sees the children or her husband. Something has to give and the decision is made to up sticks and move the family to Cornwall. Naturally, it's not all as simple as it might sound. The house they buy needs a lot more work than they'd previously thought. They need jobs and apply for plenty but neither of them is successful until Tessa hears, by accident, that the Post Office is looking for a new postman. She applies and gets the job but it's a very steep learning curve she's embarked upon. The job sounds simple and straightforward but in fact there are many complications - isolated Cornish folk often like their post left in bizarre places, they're insular and not always welcoming, their pets are frequently a problem... biting dogs and cats and even vicious geese for instance... and that's without the early hours, wet Cornish winters, and weird stuff that people send through the post.

I thoroughly enjoyed this and gobbled it up in a day or so. Being Cornish (although I don't live there and this was a slightly different area to the one I come from) it was interesting to read how others see us. Embarrassing at times too... the insularity made me roll my eyes quite a lot as I know it's all true. But what comes over very strongly is how much in love with the Cornish countryside and coast the author is. Beautiful descriptions of both made me feel quite homesick. I also really enjoyed reading about the day to day business of being a postwoman. Very interesting, hilarious at times, and damned hard work! The couple's struggle made for a very absorbing read and I plan to get hold of the sequel, Seagulls in the Attic, from the library at some stage.

Lastly, Holy Disorders by Edmund Crispin. I read this for Bev's Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge and it covers the category 'A book by an author with a pseudonym' as Edmund Crispin's real name was Bruce Montgomery.

Composer of church music, Geoffrey Vintner, receives an urgent request from friend, Gervase Fen, to come immediately to Tolnbridge in Devon. It seems the organist of the local cathedral has been assaulted and left in the cathedral overnight and was driven mad by the experience. Vintner is needed to take his place, and by the way could he bring a butterfly net with him? Reluctantly Vintner sets off and in the space of a few hours survives three attempts on his life. The church organist dies in hospital and it's not long before another death occurs in the cathedral. Fen, Vintner, a police inspector and sundry other individuals try their utmost to solve this impossible case which seems to involve espionage, Nazis, a raven, moths and butterflies... and even witchcraft.

Another outing with eccentric English professor, Gervase Fen, and whoever he manages to pick up along the way. Fen himself doesn't actually appear until well into the story and the book is as much about Geoffrey Vintner, a middle-aged, unlikely hero, who falls in love at first sight with a beautiful girl, as it is about Fen himself. And it's none the worse for that either. As usual the tale is peopled with eccentric characters and this time they're mainly members of the clergy attached to the cathedral. Fen, as usual, has developed some mad obsession and on this occasion it's moths and butterflies that he bores everyone to death with. There's a lot of action, a lot of humour, a bit of romance, and some nicely described Devon scenery. Not bad at all but possibly not quite as good as The Moving Toyshop or Buried for Pleasure. A joyous series of vintage crime books though and I plan to read them all.


Saturday 21 June 2014

Once Upon a Time VIII

I've no idea where the last three months have gone. March the 21st. seems like yesterday but it's flown by and yet another Once Upon a Time challenge has come and gone.

I signed up for:

Read at least 5 books that fit somewhere within the Once Upon a Time categories. They might all be fantasy, or folklore, or fairy tales, or mythology…or your five books might be a combination from the four genres.

The books I read were:

1. Among Others by Jo Walton

2. Thirteenth Child by Patricia Wrede

3. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

4. Lost Things by Melissa Scott and Jo Graham

5. Death by Silver by Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold

6. The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett

7. Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

So, seven books read for this year's challenge. All were good reads, although a couple weren't quite what I thought they might be... three in fact. Four were very good. I wanted most of the books to be books I owned and five of them were so I'm happy with that. I didn't read several bigger books that I wanted to get off the tbr pile so that's not so good. I *could* have done a bit better than this but I'm in a Vintage Crime mood at the moment so didn't concentrate on fantasy books as much as previous years. Never mind.

Some years I have difficulty choosing a favourite book but not this year. It's:

Among Others by Jo Walton. This one had everything for me, a brilliant first person narrator, a strong mystery element, a 'school' background, and many, many science-fiction book recommendations. Jo Walton is definitely one of my new favourite authors.

So that's it for another year. As always, thanks to Carl for hosting and I'm already looking forward to September and R.I.P.


Wednesday 18 June 2014

Two more mysteries.

Two mysteries today... I don't think they could be more different to be honest, but both were terrific reads.

First up, Buried for Pleasure by Edmund Crispin. I read this for Bev's Vintage Mystery 2014 challenge and as I borrowed it from the library it covers the category, 'A book that you have to borrow'.

English professor, Gervase Fen, has decided to run for parliament as an Independent. He's come to the village of Sanford Angelorum for an extended stay, to canvas in the area, and is staying at The Fish Inn. He thinks he recognises another guest at the pub but can't remember how, and the man seems to be avoiding him. Eventually it dawns on him that he was at university with 'Bussy' and Bussy then reveals that he's now a policeman and is investigating a rather hush-hush case. It seems there's been a suspected poisoning in the village and blackmail is probably involved. Fen tries not to get involved himself but it's almost impossible and before long he's heavily embroiled in chasing after escapees from a local mental home, a non-doing pig, a hotel that appears to be falling down around his ears, poltergeists, and a murder on the golf-course. And all this whilst still trying to campaign for a place in parliament.

This is my second Gervase Fen book and, although I liked The Moving Toyshop slightly more, Buried for Pleasure still has an awful lot to recommend it. The humour is what I like about this series. Yes, this book had a jolly good mystery element to enjoy and to try and figure out... I was spectacularly unsuccessful in the latter endeavour. It's also very much an English countryside and village location story and the setting feels very authentic. The pub, the village characters, their idiosyncracies, all were very well drawn. But it's the humour which gets to me every time. Crispin was so good at ridiculous situations, dryly commented upon by Fen. The recounting of how he tries to get elected is very amusing. The poltergeist in The Rectory too. But I especially loved the non-doing pig, a pig which apparently wouldn't grow and 'fatten up' no matter how much the owner of the pub fed it. She then sold it but it kept coming home. Mad... but charmingly mad, a bit like an Ealing Comedy... 'English eccentricity' sort of thing. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this one and look forward to reading the rest of this wonderfully entertaining series.

Next, The Sixth Lamentation by William Broderick. This is my book seven for the My Kind of Mystery challenge which is being hosted by Riedel Fascination.

An old man is demanding sanctuary at Larkwood Priory, a monastery in Suffolk. The concept of sanctuary is rather an outdated one and the monks don't know what to do. The situation worsens when it's discovered that the man in question is Eduard Schwermann, a suspected Nazi war criminal. In London, young Lucy Embleton discovers that her beloved grandmother, Agnes, has motor neurone disease and probably has not got long to live. Before she dies Agnes wants Lucy to know something important about her life. She buys some notebooks and commences writing about her experiences in Paris when the Germans took over the city. Back in the monastery, Father Anselm is tasked with investigating the Schwermann business as he was once a lawyer and knows his way around the criminal justice system. What he discovers will have long reaching repercussions for many many people, including Lucy Embleton and her family.

Very occasionally I cry at the end of a book. It's rare, but it does happen: this was one of those rare occasions. In one respect this is a darn good mystery... not in the traditional sense of there being a dead body and someone has to find out who killed him or her, with what, and whether it was in the library, the shrubbery or pushed off a cliff... but in the sense where very dark secrets have been kept and someone is tasked with getting to the bottom of it all. The thing that makes this book different is that the background is Paris during WW2 and the purgings of the Jewish people from that city by the Germans. It's serious stuff and possibly not for the faint-hearted. This is not a cozy mystery and some of the details within this book are heart-breaking. They make you ponder on the inhumanity some people seem capable of in times of war. Desperate times I suppose but even so... If anyone ever wondered why The Allies went into the war this would be a good book to give them to explain a few things.

This is definitely one of the best books I've read this year - without a doubt. I gave it a four star rating on Goodreads which now seems a bit mean. A four and a half is more suitable and that's only because some of the action later in the story is court-room based and I'm not keen on court-room dramas. Otherwise this a tightly written book, full of twists and turns, very much a history lesson but also a thoroughly engrossing mystery story. It's the first book in William Brodrick's 'Father Anselm' series, of which there are currently 5 books. The author did the reverse of what Father Anslem did I gather, he was an Augustinian friar before leaving to become a barrister. I shall 'certainly' be reading more in this series and am hoping subsequent books are as good as this one.


Friday 13 June 2014


Two books that feature letters today. I'm a bit behind with the Postal reading challenge I'm doing so these two books will get me caught up to where I should be almost halfway through the year.

First, More Than Love Letters by Rosy Thornton. This is an epistolary novel and therefore qualifies as my book three for the Postal Reading Challenge 2014 which is being hosted by The Indextrious Reader.

Primary school teacher, Margaret Hayton, is a young woman who likes causes. Writing often to her Labour MP, Richard Slater, about various issues - VAT on women's sanitary protection, dog fowling in public parks and so on - all she ever gets in reply is a stock letter. Eventually Richard decides to meet Margaret in one of his constituency surgeries and is shocked to discover that she's not a middle-aged harpy, but a pretty young woman in her twenties. Richard is a trifle shallow. His main aim is to climb out of his back-bench position and get a ministerial post. But getting to know Margaret changes his outlook on life. Margaret volunteers at a local women's refuge, she puts her money where her mouth is on various serious issues and puts Richard's shallowness to shame. Somehow or other he finds himself falling for her but will his newly found enthusiasm for Margaret's causes help him rise to the top of the Westminster ladder... or not?

I think this was Rosy Thornton's first book. I've read a several of her others and enjoyed them very much, particularly Tapestry of Love. More Than Love Letters is easily up with that in the enjoyment stakes, albeit a very different kind of book. It's actually an epistolary novel but as I find it hard to get my mouth around that, let's just say it's a book written in letter form. And boy does it work!

It deals with some serious issues in fact... the abuse of women and the running of women's shelters is its main theme but Margaret has a grandmother who has had a stroke and is trying to remain independent in her own home, and this features rather a lot too. What Rosy Thornton does though is very clever in that she writes about these very serious issues in a way that doesn't depress you. She uses humour with a very deft stroke and it's terribly effective. I laughed endlessly at the WITCH (Women of Ipswich Together Combating Homelessness) minutes of the meetings, at the school newsletters... I'm guessing the author has personal experience of some of the teaching details... and so on. I loved Margaret herself, a delightful character, very genuine and caring. Whether Richard was worthy of her I couldn't really decide, and the only thing which didn't ring true to me was whether he would say quite as much as he did about his intimate feelings in emails to another MP, albeit his best mate. But that aside, I found this book of letters and emails to be a really excellent, fun read, a pageturner handling delicate issues with humanity and great humour. Very nicely done.

Next up, The Turkish Embassy Letters by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. This too qualifies for the Postal Reading Challenge 2014 and is my book four.

Lady Mary Pierrepont was born in 1689, the daughter of the 5th. Earl of Kingston-upon-Hull. In those days girls didn't get an education but Mary secretly educated herself, teaching herself Latin using her father's library. After a strange courtship (her parents did not approve) she married Edward Wortley Montagu in 1712 and encouraged him to take up a political career. He was elected for parliament in 1715 and Mary joined him in London. She became a popular figure at court but after writing a poem alledgedly criticising Caroline, Princess of Wales, Mary found herself in disgrace. Thus, when Edward was apponted Ambassador to Turkey, Mary was happy to go with him.

They travelled across Europe to Vienna and thus to Istanbul, known then as Constantinople, and all the while Mary kept up a constant correspondence with friends and family. Her sister, 'Mar' was one of her main correspondents, but she also wrote to Alexander Pope, the Abbé Antonio Conti and various other ladies who were presumably close friends. The topics were wide ranging depending on who she was writing to. The manners and customs of the Ottoman empire were a favourite subject, especially the everyday lives of women who were in the higher echelons of society. Her rank as wife of the British ambassador appeared to give her access to many places that previous writers about Turkey could not aspire to and she very much enjoyed putting the record straight about mistakes they had made. She was also interested in the fashions of the country, the beautiful architecture, and the goings on at court. She was not backward in coming forward with her opinions of education for girls, child-bearing, the freedom she felt Turkish women had because of wearing the veil, the beauty of Arab poetry either. While there, she observed the Turkish custom of inocculating the population against small-pox and in fact was the first person to introduce inocculation into Britain.

Mary clearly wasn't without her faults as the introduction stresses, but I found her interesting, intelligent - she learnt the Turkish language so that she could converse properly with the Turks - insightful and brave. I enjoyed this volume of letters but did find it dragged a bit in places. On the other hand, I had to keep reminding myself that this was all taking place in the early 1700s when most women certainly did not get the opportunity to go on these kinds of travels or have these experiences. One of my favourite categories of travel books is that of 'early women travellers' so this was an excellent book for me personally and has spurred me on to find more in this vein.

Monday 9 June 2014

The Fair Miss Fortune

Last year, or possibly the year before, I read Miss Buncle's Book by D.E. Stevenson. I thought it was delightful, had a quick look to see what else she'd written and then... well nothing. I didn't do anything more about reading more books by her and I'm not sure why. Distracted by something else I expect. What I didn't realise was that the author was Scottish. In fact, her father was David Stevenson, the lighthouse engineer, and he was first cousin to Robert Louis Stevenson, the author. So not just Scottish but quite 'distinguished' Scottish, a very famous - and talented - family.

Anyway, all that said, a recent random grab from the large print section my local library was The Fair Miss Fortune by D.E. Stevenson.

Captain Charles Weatherby is home on extended leave from the army in India. He's been sent to a drinks party by his mother, even though he would really rather not go as he feels he's rather lost touch with all of his previous village friends. He's welcomed in by a childhood friend, Harold Prescott, whose new home is the venue for the party. Harold lives with his mother but has never left home, except that he and his mother moved from their cottage recently because of a new road being built. Charles discovers that the Prescotts' old cottage has been bought by a young lady, a Miss Jane Fortune, who plans to open tea rooms in the old place.

Eventually Charles meets her and ends up offering to help her knock the garden into shape so that she can use it for extra space for tables and chairs. He soon falls in love with the beautiful Jane. Unfortunately it isn't long before Harold Prescott also meets Jane and finds himself falling for her charms. But something isn't quite right. Jane acts in a very odd manner... encouraging one or the other and even, on occasion, seeming not to recognise either of them. What on earth is going on?

I think this could best be described as a charming romance. It reminded me strongly of the kind of story you used to come across in women's magazines like Woman's Realm or Woman's Weekly, back in the sixties and seventies. Except that there is a bit more to this as the writing is exquisite and the plot is quite convoluted. There is also a lovely vein of humour running through the story, mainly associated with some spot-on observations of how people behave. Rampant gossiping and subsequent exaggeration and the trouble that enues for instance. There's one family that never stops rowing and even continues to do so when they have visitors. And Harold's awful mother is drawn with great skill and keen insight. I liked the twist... which the reader knows about of course but the characters in the story do not.

The whole thing was just a joy to be honest. An easy going, charming sort of comedy of manners. I gather it was not published in the 1930s because it was considered too old-fashioned. Bizarre. To me it felt very 1950s so how they could have thought it was old-fashioned in the 1930s is beyond me. But anyway, it looks like it had to wait for 2011 to be published... I think I even read somewhere that it was rediscovered in an attic, though I may well have dreamt that. And now I really will see what else I can find to read by D.E. Stevenson and actually read it.

The Fair Miss Fortune is my book seven for Peggy's Read Scotland 2014 challenge.

Saturday 7 June 2014

Several more brief reviews

As usual I'm behind again with my book reviews. I've been reading a lot this week and thus am three books behind! Time for yet another set of three shortish book reviews.

First up, Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce. This YA fantasy is my book seven for Carl's Once Upon a Time VIII challenge and my book twenty for Bev's Mount TBR challenge.

Alanna and Thom, both of Trebond, are identical twins. The usual thing when children are of an age is that girls go to learn magic and boys go to train to be knights. But Alanna is not interested in magic even though she has the gift of healing. And the last thing Thom wants is to be a knight. Both want what the other is supposed to have... so, daringly, they swap places. Alanna pretends to be a boy and heads off to the castle of King Roald to start her training as a knight. It's an uphill struggle. She's small for her age so has to work harder than the others and there are many petty rules and regulations with punishments that seem never ending. Alanna makes some good friends... and enemies. There will be things that test her to the very limit of her experience and training. Will she survive to fulfill her ambition of being a female knight?

Alanna: The First Adventuere is book one of the author's 'Song of the Lioness' series. This Young Adult book is aimed at the younger end of the genre, say ten to fourteen year olds, but is a book 'anyone' can enjoy. I fair galloped through it as it's nicely written, a pageturner, and huge fun. I've never read anything by Tamora Pierce before but have heard quite a lot about her. It seems she is beloved of the generation who were of an age to read this when it was first published in 1983. I know I would have loved it if I'd read it as a child as there is a lot about it to love. Alanna is a terrific character, honourable and full of pluck and the fantasy universe Pierce has created is an interesting one. There are three more books in the 'Song of the Lioness' series which I do not, as yet, own but plan to at some stage. This may be a book for young adults but it's a fun read for all and I really want to find out what happens to Alanna.

Next, The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin. This is my book twelve for Bev's Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge and covers the category, 'A Locked Room Mystery'.

Poet, Richard Cadogan, feels in need of a holiday, a complete break, perhaps some adventure. On a whim he gets on a train to Oxford where he was a student. He arrives late at night with nowhere to stay and wanders around. Seeing a toyshop he tries the door, finds it surprisingly open and goes in. Upstairs he finds the dead body of an elderly woman, strangled with a wire. Suddenly hearing a noise he, too late, realises the danger he might be in as he is hit from behind and knocked unconscious. Recovering consciousness he escapes via a window. Returning with the police in the morning they find that the toyshop is now a grocery shop and there is no sign of any body: the police are of course doubtful about the poet's story. Cadogan enlists the help of Professor Gervase Fen, who was a friend in their student days, and together they attempt to solve this unsolvable mystery.

I think this is what's known as a 'locked room' mystery - an impossible crime which takes place in a locked room where none of the obvious suspects could have done the deed. It's my first Gervase Fen book but not the first book in the nine part series, The Moving Toyshop is actually book three. The story itself is a bit mad and really very funny. On the back of the book it says, 'the bookish duo rampage through the university town determined to find the answers' and that's exactly what happens. At times it's totally farcical as they pick complete strangers up to help them with their investigations, get kidnapped, chase suspects through male-only swimming areas where the men swim naked, go careering dangerously around in Fen's car because he's such a terrible driver and so on. The madness is endless... and absolutely hilarious. Crispin was a wonderfully humorous writer and I really did laugh my way through this wonderful book. I can't wait to read more now. I've owned the very last book in the series, Glimpses of the Moon, for years but never read it, realising it might be better to start with an earlier book. I now have three others to read, two grabbed from the library and one bought. So thrilled to have discovered yet another brilliant vintage crime author to read.

Lastly, Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie. This book qualifies for Bev's Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge and covers the category, 'A book that involves a method of transportation'.

Hercule Poirot hates flying. He hates it to such a degree that he wraps himself up in loads of clothes and tries to sleep through the whole journey. Which is rather unfortunate on a particular flight from Paris to England because when he wakes up he finds a murder has been committed. A French woman has been killed... at first it's thought by a wasp, because of the mark on her neck, but then a South-American native blow-pipe is discovered and assumed to be the weapon used. The suspects are limited and Poirot and Inspector Japp can see no motive for the killing from any of them. Things clearly need further investigation because as Poirot observes - *everyone* has secrets. And so it turns out to be...

Hard to believe but this is the very first Poirot novel I've ever read. Naturally I've seen just about every TV drama, starring the brilliant David Suchet, that was ever made... although oddly I don't remember Death in the Clouds at all and am wondering if they ever made it. I'll have to look it up. Anyway, it was so easy to read this with the voices and images of the main actors in mind and that made it even more fun. It really was a very enjoyable read, beautifully written, nicely amusing, quite complicated, and with a little romance thrown in. It was so full of twists I totally failed to guess the culprit and got taken completely by surprise at the denouement. One of those 'Oh' moments. LOL. I read some Agatha Christie as a teenager and a couple of standalone books several years ago which didn't really do a lot for me, but this Poirot has really surprised me with its excellence. Thoroughly enjoyable. I'll definitely be reading a lot more Poirot and perhaps some Miss Marple as the year progresses.


Wednesday 4 June 2014

New books!

I've been on a little book buying binge over the past few weeks. Having been quite restrained since Christmas there were a few I wanted so I er... bought them. Well someone has to keep the book publishers in business! LOL!

Anyway, here are my gorgeous new books... although two are secondhand from AM so *some* recycling has taken place. Click for a larger view of course.

From left to right, top row:

The Hills is Lonely by Lillian Beckwith. I've been aware of this book for years but it was never the right time to read it. Now that I'm doing the Read Scotland challenge it is of course the perfect time to read it.

Pomfret Towers, Summer Half and August Folly by Angela Thirkell. I've only read two of the Barchester books by Angela Thirkell but I really like them and just couldn't resist buying the next three in the series, especially with these fab covers.

Point of Hopes by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett. A new fantasy series to me, but it's been recced by a couple of people so I thought I ought to give it a go. Well that's my excuse...

So that's my mini-book-buying binge over for a few months. I will now try to behave for a bit. Notice I said *try*... *cough*


Sunday 1 June 2014

Two books about children

Two books about children today. One written in the 1950s *for* children and the second written in the 1930s for adults *about* children... or a particular child to be precise.

First up, The River of Adventure by Enid Blyton. It's my book 18 for Bev's Mount TBR challenge and my book 6 for the My Kind of Mystery challenge being hosted by Riedel Fascination.

Philip, Dinah, Jack and Lucy are recovering at home from the flu. They've been very ill and are just about better so the doctor recommends they be taken somewhere warm for two weeks to convalesce. Their mother is now married to their policemen friend, Bill, and he has a casual mission in Syria to see to. He has to look for and keep an eye on a certain suspected criminal and takes the whole family along, not just for a holiday, but also as a cover. They cruise down a river in a launch piloted by a native Syrian, eventually finding their man on a film set. The next day, the children's parents are kidnapped by persons unknown and it's up to the children and the boat's pilot to rescue them.

This is the eighth and final book in Enid Blyton's 'Adventure' series. Of all her many series I think this was probably my favourite as a child. I liked the Famous Five and the Secret Seven and the 'R' mysteries but somehow the Adventure series seemed to have more meat on their bones than her other books. The River of Adventure is one I'd not read before (even though I own all of them). Over the last few years I've been rereading a few just to see how they read as an adult, some fifty years after I first read them. Previous books have not seemed all that dated, but this one, written in 1955, did seem a bit old-fashioned. Attitudes toward the native Syrian population were very 1950s, unsurprisingly so of course, but give her her due Enid Blyton was clearly trying to make her young readers think about British attitudes to foreigners and whether we were always fair or perhaps a bit too arrogant. There's a lot of adventure and exciting stuff going on which would please young readers - getting lost in the dark, the journey down river to look for their parents, and then some great 'lost underground' action. Blyton really did do that kind of thing very well indeed. It was a hugely enjoyable, quick read, but not my favourite of the series as an adult... that's The Sea of Adventure, set off the coast of Scotland with beautiful descriptions of the islands. As a child I was very smitten with The Castle of Adventure and The Valley of Adventure but really they're all good, nostalgic, fun reads.

Lastly, Demon in the House by Angela Thirkell. This is my book 19 for Bev's Mount TBR challenge.

The 'demon' in this book is 12 year old, Tony Morland, fourth and youngest son of Laura Morland who we first met in the first of Angela Thirkell's Barchester books, High Rising. It was quite clear from High Rising that Tony is a bit of a handful. Talkative, opinionated, a bit full of himself and really rather annoying to be honest. A Demon in the House is really a series of episodes of his exploits over various school holidays when he's at home. Often his friend 'Donk' who never speaks - mainly because I suspect Tony rarely draws breath long enough to give him a chance to - is staying and is a partner in crime to all kinds of shenanigans. We hear what happens when Tony pesters for a bike and gets a hired one. We hear about his rowing exploits, what happens when they go to see a friend's new baby, a picnic at a beauty spot, his day in bed after a twisted ankle accident which was entirely his own fault. Christmas shopping features and Tony's machinations to find the money to buy his presents. The book ends with Tony moving to a different part of his school where he will again be junior and Laura worrying about how he'll get on, whereas everyone who knows Tony realises that it's the masters and other boys who need to be worrying.

When I first started this I wondered if I would make it to the end as Tony really is quite an annoying boy. A bit 'too' full of himself really, 'delusions of grandeur' is the phrase that springs to mind. Very soon though I found myself tolerating that quite easily as I enjoyed reading the effect he had on other people and how they reacted. His mother's a worrier and worries constantly about him, the household cook adores him, the vicar's daughters likewise. Others, not so much. I loved how Dr. Ford's main conversation with Tony was, 'Shut up!' I almost cheered every time he said it. To be honest, if Tony reminded me of anyone it was Just William. He's not 'quite' that bad but the difference is negligible...

Tony Morland is almost *too* annoying, but I think it helps a lot that the book is beautifully written with enormous charm and humour. It's very 1930s but even though it's well before my time I still found that it made me feel very nostalgic. The Christmas shopping trip to Woolworths especially had that effect as I did that myself in the 1960s when Woolies was still the main shopping store in most towns in England. Certainly it was in Penzance anyway. There's a different world being described here. Life was much slower, manners were very important, pleasures were of your own making not provided by the TV or games consuls. The welfare state did not exist of course so no NHS or benefits. Laura Morland writes what the cook calls 'they rubbishy novels' in order to keep Tony at a private school and give him a better start in life. This is middle-class England in the 1930s but genteel hardship is not at all unknown. Reality is never far from the surface... even Tony knows that Hitler is a potential problem, for instance, when he asks cook what she makes of him.

A super book which I did not expect to like as much as I did. I know I paid over £10 for this on Amazon Marketplace several years ago and blanched a bit at the price. Now I don't mind at all as I absolutely loved it to bits. I have the next book, Wild Strawberries, on my pile to read for June.