Tuesday 1 December 2020

Two short reviews and books read in November

I'm not at all sure where November went. I thought time would drag with yet another lockdown (it ends on the 2nd. December here in the UK) but it hasn't. Strange.

Anyway, a couple of short reviews first. First up, a Christmas/winter short story collection, Crimson Snow edited by Martin Edwards.

As usual with anthologies this was a mixed bag, some of the authors I'd heard of and some not, some of the stories I loved, some a little less. I marked four stories as being excellent. The Man with the Sack by Margery Allingham sees Albert Campion reluctantly accepting an invitation to a country house for Christmas. When he gets there he realises he's been invited to guard over the expensive jewels of one of the other guests. The reader finds out about something called 'goat-touting' in this. Death in December by Victor Gunn features his detective, Bill Cromwell, who's a bit of a grumbler apparently. He also reluctantly agrees to spend Christmas in a place he doesn't want to be, Cloon Castle in Derbyshire. This one involves an idiot spending a night in a haunted room. Great fun. The snowy hills of Derbyshire are well depicted, Cloon Castle reminded me of Peverill Castle in Castleton in the Peak District. Hadn't heard of this author before so I must look him up. Deep and Crisp and Even by Michael Gilbert has one of his detectives, DS Petrella, out carol singing with the choir. They get invited in by one owner, later a choirboy tells them that the man who hosted them was not the owner of the house. One of those, 'Oh' moments. Clever ending. The Carol Singers by Josephine Bell is another carol singing story. An elderly lady, on her own for Christmas, is pleased to have carol singers sing to her on the doorstep but a second lot that arrive are not there to sing to her... Not a bad anthology, patchy, but those that were good were very, very good so to speak. All of them were well written but the one that's stayed with me is Death in December by Victor Gunn, probably because I know the Peak District quite well and it was so well depicted. 

Next, Happy Old Me by Hunter Davies.

This is an autobiographical account of the life of writer, Hunter Davies', since his wife died: his wife, author, Margaret Forster, died of cancer in 2016 and the couple had been married for 56 years. It recounts how much he struggled, partly with all the official stuff that has to be done when someone dies, but also because he had never before done anything around the house or cooked for himself. Margaret had seen to all that while he did what that generation (my parents' generation) of men usually did, maintenance jobs and outside work. So of course he had to learn how to look after himself and cook and it was a struggle. He also had to learn how to cope with the loneliness of living alone for the first time since he'd been married. The book is also full of interesting anecdotes as they really did lead an interesting life, though I suspect his two earlier autobiographies would be the best thing to read if anyone is really interested in that. Davies is a very readable writer, funny, self-deprecating, honest about his failings and relationship with his wife. It struck me that this is a very 'male' book, a woman of the same age would have a very different take on her practical difficulties and what to do about loneliness in old age - Davies is now 84. I liked this book a lot, for its honesty mainly, whether I would like the author if I met him, I'm not sure. I have his book, A Walk Along the Wall, on my tbr pile for next year.

So, eight books read in November and these are they:

80. Jew(ish) - Matt Greene

81. The Pull of the River - Matt Gaw

82. Information Received - E.R. Punshon

83. The Golden Age of Murder - Martin Edwards

84. Wicked Autumn - G.M. Malliet

85. The Thurday Murder Club - Richard Osman  

86. Crimson Snow - edited by Martin Edwards (see above)

87. Happy Old Me - Hunter Davies  (see above)

A decent mix there, including four non-fiction. All were good but the stand-out book would have to be this:

The Thursday Murder Club was huge fun and and very sensitively written. Looking forward to the next book.

Currently reading:

Which is 700 pages long. I may be some time.

Happy December reading!


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Cath, I think anthologies are a hit and a miss most always. We can always expect a the good with some mediocre. I'm willing to give this a try as I've been looking for more winter/holiday mysteries. I saw there is a new release Agatha Christie collection out (well stories shared previously in a new winter collection.)

DesLily said...

Another month gone! I have been in a funk and my eyes keep getting worse, so I get slower and slower reading! But I love that you read so fast and so much..I wish I could be more like My "Sis"!!

Rosemary said...

Hi Cath

I am far, far more behind with reviews than you are - I don't know how you do it.

I too find most anthologies a mixed bag - eg the one I read recently, Stella Gibbons' 'Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm'. The title story was not my thing at all, but some of the others were much better.

I wondered what you thought of the GM Malliet, as I have struggled with her more recent output, and from reading other reviews I don't think I'm alone. Despite that, I keep going back to her. Some series seem to have a certain inexplicable pulling power, even when you know you're almost certainly going to be irritated and/or disappointed by them.

I'm surprised that Margaret Forster did everything for her husband - she seemed a fairly liberated sort of woman, but clearly not in the domestic setting! I haven't read this book so I shouldn't make assumptions - but of course I will - in that I bet Hunter Davies soon found someone to do all that stuff for him. As you say, women, when widowed, have different concerns. My mother was widowed very young, and her problems were almost all money-related.

I've put the Martin Edwards Golden Age of Murder on my wish list for the family secret santa that my son has organised this year. I must say it's a relief only to have to think of a present for one person this time!

I hope your husband is continuing to recover well?


Lark said...

I can't believe it's December either. Time has been so blurry this year; it's hard sometimes for me to even keep track of what day of the week it is. At least you got some good reads in in November. Here's to even more good books in December. :)

Susan said...

HAPPY OLD ME sounds like an interesting read. I always think I've trained my husband pretty well to wash dishes, cook on his own, etc. until I go out of town and I get texts asking how to use the washing machine or wondering where the can opener is kept. LOL.

TracyK said...

I am not much further into Crimson Snow but I will finish it this month. I was curious about Happy Old Me. It sounds interesting. I have read a couple of shorter pieces about couples who lived together a long time and what it felt like when one of them died. Usually sad, how can it not be?

Lark put it very well, time has been blurry. Especially lately, for me.

You had a very good reading month. I read one 500 page book at the end of November, and will read another 500 page book early in December (Little Women), but I haven't attempted anything with 700 pages for a while. I will be waiting to hear how you liked the Theodora Goss book.

Cath said...

Diane: Yes, very few anthologies are brilliant from start to finish. I feel lucky when only 3 or 4 are average, mostly it's fifty-fifty or worse. Yes, I saw that there's an AC Christmas anthology coming out. Knowing me I'll probably look into that for 'next' year.

Pat: Sorry to hear your eyes are still giving you trouble.

Lockdown has made me read more, probably when I should've been doing other things. I know I've not been getting enough exercise for instance.

Rosemary: The only way I can keep up with reviews is by doing these little short ones. Otherwise I'd spend all my time here at my pc doing blog posts and I don't have the stamina quite honestly.

The G.M. Malliet had me in two minds. I liked being able to picture the setting as I feel sure it's close to where we used to live in Minehead (the Quantocks were a matter of miles away). Although it might be the Mendips. But I suppose I wanted a bit more from the writing and less proof that the author is American... the 'catsup' example was a real 'What?' moment for me. Yes, I definitely have series I go back to despite some irritations. My current read, European Travel for Monstrous Women comes smack into that category. Theodora Goss is an American writing Victorian England. Thus, naturally, a 14 year old Victorian girl says, 'Awesome!' and 'Whatever!' It drives me nuts but I like the premise and spirit of the book enough to shudder and move on. My husband and daughter, who I speak to about this sometimes, have no problem with this sort of thing so I'm aware that it's me being pedantic.

I didn't know a lot about Margaret Forster before I read Happy Old Me. She definitely was very liberated and forward thinking according to her husband, very definite opinons and so forth. But still he didn't do anything in the house. What isn't clear is why... I mean whether he refused at the start of their marriage and so it continued or whether it was as he claimed, that she liked to do it all herself. But he would say that wouldn't he, if he didn't want to appear to be some kind of dinosaur. Yes, you're right, he found a cleaner because he found housework too 'boring'. And cooking became a chore he had to do but he kept it simple and ate a lot of toast. And then there's what he decided to do about 'female company'... which I felt most women would not have done. (I like the quote, 'Any woman who's looking for a husband has cleary never had one'). My mother and father separated when I was five and her problems were of a financial nature and to do with my brother's health, finding 'male company' I don't think ever occurred to her, she had too much on her plate to have time for that.

A family secret santa sounds like an excellent idea.

Yes thanks, Peter is continuing to do well. He's now on insulin for his diabetes as the dr. felt it might make him less susceptible to pneumonia. I hope all is well with you?

Cath said...

Lark: 'Yes' to good books in December. But I always get so excited about starting a new reading year and am already making plans and pulling books out and making my 2021 shelf.

Susan: I thank goodness on a regular basis for my late mother-in-law who saw no reason why both her children, son and daughter, should not help around the house and learn to cook. She provided me with a husband who is happy to help me with any housework and actually enjoys cooking. Wherever she is I hope she knows I appreciate the effort she made. And my husband appreciates it too because if anything happens to me he knows he will cope.

Tracy: Yes, and Happy Old Me was sad in places. The author was lost because he'd lost his companion of 56 years. But the book was also upbeat, you can survive that kind of jolt and even thrive eventually.

It's funny but reading on a Kindle makes you braver about starting long books. Because I didn't have physical evidence of the doorstop size of the book I waded in regardless. It's only now, 100 pages in that I'm having second thoughts!

CLM said...

I think I told you how many reserves there were ahead of me for the Osman book. So, cleverly, when my mother asked for a suggestion for my sister's birthday yesterday, I suggested she order it. Naturally, it is lost or delayed in the mail! However, it will turn up and I am sure I will read it faster this way than if I just waited meekly for my turn at the library.

Cath said...

Constance: The first copy of the Osman book I ordered, from Amazon, got lost in the post. I actually wondered whether it had ever been posted... it's so popular I think they're running out of copies. I went into one of our popular book shops yesterday and they didn't have any at all. They're saying sales are so good that only JKR has done better. Suspect Osman is shell-shocked by the reaction.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Cath,

Like yourself, I have no idea where the time has flown by to, the whole year seems to have passed by in a blur and by the time we get our Christmas a deux over and done with, I am hoping for a slightly better 2021, although we are so far down the vaccination rota, I'm not sure how that's going to pan out!

I had such great plans to get jobs done which I usually don't have time for - but that hasn't happened either. My reading / blogging time has increased somewhat though, so there is a small upside to events.

I have always had a real 'downer' on the re-writing of, or adding to, the 'classic' books. However, I think I am going to have to get with the times, as I really like the sound of the Theodora Goss series and I certainly like the suite of cover art. Perhaps I can justify not grabbing any of them just by their sheer number of pages, which would be a marathon read for me!

Happy December :)

Yvonne xx

Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

Cath, I felt much the same as you about Happy Old Me. I have bought one of his earlier autobiogs - The Co-Op's Got Bananas as well as A Walk Along the Wall - hope to get to both next year. Glad to hear Peter is doing well.

Happy Reading in December from me too.

Anca said...

Crimson Snow has such a lovely cover. A short story collection sounds lovely this time of year.

Happy Old Me by Hunter Davies sounds very interesting too. It must be so hard to adjust to living on its own after being married for such a long time.

Cath said...

Yvonne: With what's been going on and us being locked up (kind of...) you might have thought this year would have dragged but it doesn't feel like it at all. Strange. We're probably at about the same level as you on the vaccination rota and my guess is that it will end of Feb. or into March before we're done, although Peter will get done before me I suspect as he's 70. But that's ok. We tend to hibernate in Jan and Feb anyway so we'll just do that and wait to be called. I have books and knitting and jigsaw puzzles so plenty to do.

The Theodora Goss series does not rewrite any of the classic books but it does add to them by taking minor characters and imagining what could happen in their lives. I'm not at all into rewrites either to be honest.

Margaret: Yes, I'm thinking of getting The Co-op's Got Bananas and also reading something by Margaret Forster. I own one of her books, Lady's Maid.

Thank you re Peter.

Anca: I've been living with my husband for 47 years now and I sometimes wonder how on earth I would cope if something happened to him. Not a nice thought.