Sunday 12 July 2020

Catching up - three reviews

Three books to catch up on today, starting with Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac. This is my eighth book for the European Reading challenge covering the country of 'Austria'. And it's my 6th. book for Carl's Venture Forth, covering the category of 'A 2020 book purchase'.

A man dies in a house fire and it doesn't take long for the police to realise that it was murder. But who was he? Was he the lodger who rented the room or someone else? In the meantime a tour group is off to Austria for two weeks skiing. It's been a difficult task organising it, with people having to back out at the last minute and strangers taking their place. But, slowly but surely, the group get to know each other on the journey across Europe. A few days in, the easy atmosphere is spoilt when some money belonging to one of the men goes missing. The leaders of the group realise that something isn't right and the main question is, is everyone in the group who they say they are? Well, we all know the answer to that of course but as to guessing what was what and who was who well I didn't manage it. To be honest, for me the joy of this book was in the gorgeous Austrian mountain setting. It's beautifully depicted, mountains, villages, farms and so on. Also interesting was the 1950s 'British people abroad' feel to it, how we behaved and what was expected of us, how we were percieved by foreigners. Interesting from a historical perspective. Carol Carnac is the same writer as E.C.R. Lorac whose real name was Edith Caroline Rivett. She wrote some really excellent crime fiction, I don't think this is one of her best but I nevertheless gave it four stars on Goodreads as it was still an excellent read.

Next, The Village by Marghanita Laski. This is my 10th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020. It also qualifies for Carl's Venture Forth under the category 'A Social Media Recommended Book' (Rosemary whom I met on Twitter recommended it) and for Rosemary's #ProjectPlaces.

The Trevors, Wendy and Gerald, are a very middle-class couple with two daughters, Margaret and Sheila. Sheila is academic and will likely end up with a good career but Margaret is the opposite. She has no aptitude for school work and the hope is that she can snag herself a 'suitable' husband and settle down to domestic bliss with a clutch of children. But this is the mid 1940s and the class divide is alive and kicking even though the Trevors have no money. Unfortunately, there are no young men around who are interested in a very ordinary girl who is not outgoing or vivacious. Except Roy Wilson, but Roy is solidly working class, in fact his mother cleaned for the Trevors before the war. That said, he has a good job in the printing trade with a good salary and is solid and dependable. Margaret and Roy start to see each other in secret, knowing that when it comes out, as it surely will, there will be hell to pay. And of course there is... Well this book is what I would call a 'little gem'. It's a slow-burner, the author takes her time to introduce the characters, tell you who lives in the village and how it's split, housing-wise, ie. middle classes in one area, working classes in another, the solitary upper class female in the Big House that everyone looks up to (I loved her) and so on. Their attitudes soon become very apparent and so does the snobbery. The Trevors are at loss to know what to do about Margaret, they know she's not a good catch for middle class sons around the area but refuse to consider letting her marry where her heart lies. Someone said to Margaret, 'The trouble with you is that you've got no sense of class' and neither does she. She really doesn't care that Roy and his family are an ordinary working family. It's also quite clear to her that Roy's family think more of her than her own do. Things were changing very rapidly in the late 1940s and into the 1950s. The class barriers were coming down like the Berlin Wall in the 1990s but the middle classes were resisting like hell. This is a fascinating book that charts the beginning of the change of attitude they had forced upon them. By the time I married into a middle class family in the 1970s (nothing like the Trevors I hasten to add) no one gave a damn about my working class background. My prospective mother-in-law was more interested in the fact that I read a lot, knitted, made clothes and did jigsaw puzzles, all of which she did too. I could not have been made more welcome. Anyway, if this kind of social history topic interests you then this is an excellent book to read. It's beautifully written and observed and I will certainly read more by Marghanita Laski, in fact I have Little Boy Lost on my tbr pile.

Lastly, Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield. This was a gift from my lovely friend, Pat, at Here, There and Everywhere so it's my 7th. book for Carl's Venture Forth under the category 'A gift that was given to me'. It's also my 11th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020 and also qualifies for Rosemary's #ProjectPlaces, 'the river' being the Thames.

It's the late 1800s and a child is rescued from the upper reaches of the river Thames and brought to The Swan Inn at Radcot. No one knows who the little girl is but there are two possibilities, she might belong to the Vaughans who had a girl, Amelia, kidnapped from her bedroom a couple of years ago, or it might be Alice, the grand-daughter of a local farmer whose son - the child's father - is of very dubious reliability. There is also a third possibility that only one person is aware of. The problem is, for one reason or another, no one can really be sure. What is known is that the child doesn't speak and is, to coin a phrase, 'away with the fairies'. It's a mystery that needs to be solved and Rita, a local nurse, and Daunt, the man who rescued the girl, set about solving it... no easy task as there are a lot of things they don't know about the lives of the people on the river. This is a book that seems to divide people: some love it, some are a bit 'meh' about it, and others can't get beyond the first few chapters. I think I come somewhere between the first two - I liked it, but I didn't love it. I wasn't sure I would even like it after a couple of chapters. It felt over-written and vague and I just couldn't work out who was who and what they were doing in the book. It all came together eventually though and I was glad I persevered. For me the best thing about the story is the setting of the inn and the villages around that area on the Thames. It's very well depicted and I liked the sort of 'fey' atmosphere of the whole book. I liked Rita too, the manner in which she had educated herself to be a medical person was admirable I thought. I loved how open-minded she was. I think, to be honest, that this is not a book to be rushed. I approached it like that, taking time with it, and I think it reaped its rewards. I almost felt too that it was one of those books that would bear reading again immediately. It's rare that I feel that way about a book but I fancy a second reading would give me a better idea of what was going on. I'm not going to do it but I will keep it to reread in a couple of years.



DesLily said...

You are, as always, moving right along!! I sent for a new book on JFK. As usual I sent for it by the review.. AFTER I ordered it I looked farther down and found out it's over 800 pages!! It might be a while until I get to it lol I did enjoy The 9 of Us. I kept thinking this is from the youngest female of the boys views might be different.?

Mary said...

Thanks for your viewpoint on Setterfield's book. Perhaps I will try it again in time. Was one of those who couldn't seem to get past the first few chapters, but that was probably a result of trying to read it during the initial days of the lockdown when I was a bit distracted. Your observation about the many characters introduced early on and no clear idea initially of where things were going is likely why I gave it up. Clearly, my mind was elsewhere at the time and I wasn't in a frame of mind to to sort it all out. :)

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Reading your book thoughts Cath reminded me that I have a few unread Persephone books on my loft shelves. I should get to those soon. I have the Setterfield book as well but, this last week I'm feeling easily distracted.

Kay said...

Good to read your reviews, Cath. Hope your husband is doing well in his recovery and you're faring well too. I think I might have the Setterfield book on my Kindle, but not something I'm interested in right now. Take care!

Lark said...

Yay for good books. And all of these sound really good. I don't need any more books on my TBR list, but I'm adding these anyway. :)

Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

I loved Once Upon a River - it's a multi-layered book and I also think I'll re-read it sometime.

I read Little Boy Lost first and then The Village. At first I thought The Village wasn't not as good as Little Boy Lost, which I loved, but as by the end I was convinced I was living in the village, amongst these people at the end of the war. It’s not as heart-rending as Little Boy Lost, but it is absorbing reading.

I haven't read any of the Carol Carnac books, although I have read a few of her E C R Lorac books and thought they were good, so I'll look out for them.

TracyK said...

The first two books definitely have me interested. I thought I had read something by E.C.R. Lorac, but I have not. My husband has read Murder by Matchlight and I think he has another one by her. I would also mostly be attracted by the setting, but I am sure the story would be interesting too.

The Village also sounds very good and interesting. I will just have to decide how much I am willing to pay for a copy. But as I have enough books already, I will take my time looking for it.

I am not sure about the Diane Setterfield book. I have her first book, The Thirteenth Tale and have had it since 2006, when it was new. But I still can't decide whether to read it or not. Someday I just have to dive in a give it a try.

Marg said...

I loved The Thirteenth Tale but I haven't read this one yet.

Have a good week!

Sam said...

Strangely enough, of these three, the one that has me most curious is the one you're most ambivalent about, the Setterfield book. I like stories from that period and the setting appeals to me. With any luck, and a little library cooperation, this one is going on my hold list.

Cath said...

Pat: 800 pages???? Oh, heck. I agree and in fact the Geoffrey Peret book, 'Jack', is giving a completely different perspective on the family. Even so, I think they must've had an idyllic childhood.

Mary: I think it's quite understandable that you struggled with this at the beginning of lockdown. I honestly don't think I would have had the patience with it that I have now. Worth another try perhaps at a loate date, I've had a few books that I've stuggled with on the first attempt but on the second they clicked and I've ended up loving them. The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry was one instance.

Diane: Yes I have a few unread Persephones too, and I plan to get to them soon!

Kay: yes thanks, my husband's doing ok, not quite there yet but getting there. I think you have to be in the mood for a book like Once upon a River.

Lark: I've been terrible during lockdown, adding books to my Kindle willy-nilly. I gather the book trade did very well during lockdown and I am not at all surprised to hear it. LOL!

Cath said...

Margaret: Yes, I definitely think Once Upon a River is a reread candidate. Another one I must read again is The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. A similar sort of book I feel.

I'll be reading Little Boy Lost at some stage. As long as I'm fully prepared to be affected then I'll be ok but I shall wait until I'm in the mood, which might not be for a while.

There are now a few BLCC authors whose books I look out for. Freeman Wills Crofts is one, and also E.C.R. Lorac, those two are always very dependable.

Tracy: E.C.R. Lorac (and Carol Carnac) is well worth a try, I've really enjoyed several of her books.

The Village was good but yes, Persephone books are quite expensive which is why I don't own many. And I've been lucky as I've picked a few up secondhand.

I've found that this lockdown period has been good for diving into books that've been on my tbr pile for years. Quite pleased with how many I've managed to get rid of!

Marg: Yes, The Thirteeth Tale was massively popular, which can be difficult in some respects as it must be hard for an author to follow a very popular book.

Sam: Good luck with finding Once Upon a River at the library. That's one of the things I've really missed... obtaining cheap or free copies of books that I don't really want to buy. Hopefully our library will be open soon and I can get back to that.

Mary said...

Ha! Your comment about The Essex Serpent hit the mark with me, too. Another one I couldn't finish, but at least I own it, so will try again in good time.

Cath said...

Mary: Isn't it funny that we seem to have had the same experience with these two books. I just couldn't have cared less when I first tried The Essex Serpent and stopped after two or three chapters. The second time I was more prepared, finished it and enjoyed it. So there you go.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Cath,

I'm stil sitting on the fence a little, even after your thoughtfully worded review of 'Once Upon A River'. I think it will be one of those books I might remember if I have a real gap in my scheduled reading, at that isn't likely to be anytime soon!

'The Village' is definitely off my radar. Your review was lovely and honest and really made my mind up that it just isn't one for me.

'Crossed Skis' is looking good to go for me though, so one out of three isn't too bad! By coincidence, the book I started yesterday as a review request by Harper, 'Chalet' is also about skiing, although as there are two storylines, told in two parallel timelines of 1998 and 2020, I should imagine that the narrative and dialogue is a little more liberal than in your book. So far it is going really well and I am just waiting for the two stories to come together. If all goes well than I might keep on a roll and try 'Crossed Skis' next!

I hope that Peter continues to recover and that you are both well :)

Yvonne xx

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

PS. Sorry for the typos, it's just one of those days where the hands and brain don't want to work together!! :)

Susan said...

ONCE UPON A RIVER has been on my TBR list ever since I heard about it. I just haven't gotten around to reading it. CROSSED SKIS is one I've never heard of. It sounds excellent, though. I love that kind of premise - a group of strangers together in an exotic setting when suddenly they realize everything (and everyone) is not as it (they) seems. Yes, please!

Judith said...

Hi Cath,
Just today received my copy of Crossed Skis! Took a bit of a while, but it's here. I am now suffering from TOO MANY BOOKS syndrome, which actually is a huge blessing, but one that prompts some anxiety. Which one first, and second?? Looking forward.

Cath said...

Yvonne: I think some books are not meant for us and for you that might be Once Upon a River. There are many, many books that I know others have enjoyed but I don't feel even remotely inclined to try and that's fine, each to his own as they say. The Village I wouldn't have down as your kind of thing either by the way. :-)

Crossed Skis might be though, you could have 'skiing' as a little mini reading theme for the summer. LOL!

No worries about the typos, I know those kinds of days. Have a good weekend.

Susan: I think part of the problem with Once Upon a River is that Diane Setterfield had such a massive success with The Thirteenth Tale and whatever she wrote after was bound to recieve extra scrutiny and criticism.

Judith: I had to laugh as I'm suffering from Too Many Books syndrome too. I'm actually removing books from my shelves very successfully at the moment, the trouble is I'm replacing them on my Kindle. I've probably bought between 20 and 30 books since March which is a bit ridiculous. I have heard that the publishing indiustry has not suffered during the pandemic as people have rediscovered reading.

Rosemary said...

Cath, I am so glad that you enjoyed The Village, it has been one of the books of 2020 for me so far. I think it has such depth once you get into it. I even felt sorry for Wendy by the end.

I do know one publisher quite well and she says they have been rushed off their feet during all of this - it is quite a small organisation, so even her house has been full of stacks of books waiting to be posted. I am very pleased for them, they produce beautiful hardbacks, and excellent paperbacks too.

I agree with you about Persephone - their books are expensive, and much as I love them I do get slightly riled by their newsletter sometimes, it often seems to me to be very London-centric and a bit smug. Despite that I am - of course! - always thrilled if I find one in a charity shop, although this is a rare occurrence as I don't think many people part with them. I was lucky with the Marghanita Laski, as I discovered I had an ancient hardback on my shelves that I must have picked up years ago. If it hadn't fitted my project I'd probably never have opened it - which is one reason why these themed reads really work for me.


Cath said...

Rosemary: It took me a little while to get into The Village but it was so worth persevering. As you say, such depth. And a bit heart-breaking in a way, I could hardly believe the suggestion that was made at the end to this lovely couple. Brilliant book. I shall try The New House by Lettice Cooper soon.

Yes, I saw the special lockdown Richard and Judy daily book programme a couple of months ago and they reported that sales of books have gone through the roof during lockdown. It's nice to hear of someone benefitting from this horrible situation.

Devon library seems to have quite a lot of Persephone books so I've reserved a couple that way. Have also picked a couple up on eBay, I could probably get more if I tried but they're never very cheap. I don't get the newsletter these days so I can't remember much about it. It wouldn't surprise me if it was London-centric, most things seem to be. Those of us who live in the far corners of the country might as well be in the far corners of the 'galaxy' for all the notice that gets taken of us.