A busy month is December, but I have nevertheless managed to fit in three books between the cooking and cleaning, not to mention long moments admiring our snow out of the window.
It's gone now and mild weather is supposed to come in over the next day or two but it was lovely and wintery while it lasted - about a week all told as it's been really cold here in the UK.
Anyway, books. I shall talk about the three as briefly as I can manage. First up, The Hygge Holiday by Rosie Blake.
Clara is Danish but is having an extended touring holiday in the UK, hiding from something that happened in Denmark. She lands up, mid-autumn, in a village called Yulethorpe which has been steadily declining since most of the shops shut. The last shop, a toyshop, is in danger of shutting too because the owner is fed up and has had enough. She's off to Spain but not before Clara suggests she run the shop for her while she's away and live in her flat above the shop. Said flat has a foul-mouthed parrot already in residence plus it's a mess so Clara sets about Hygge-fying the whole place. She also transforms the toyshop with some really good ideas. Enter stage left the owner's son, Joe, a high-flyer in The City, who cannot believe Clara has no hidden agenda but is doing all this for nothing. Sparks fly. So, I was slightly underwhelmed by this. It wasn't terrible by any stretch of the imagination, it was just a bit ordinary. I presume most people know what 'Hygge' means these days, the Danish idea of being cosy and comfortable in winter, real fires, candles, that sort of thing. And the sense of that was quite nice, but not quite enough somehow, I wanted a bit more. But it was fine and I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads.
Next, The Vanderbeekers of 141st. Street by Karina Yan Glaser.
The Vanderbeekers, Mum and Dad, twelve year old twins Isa and Jessie, nine year old Oliver, six year old Hyacinth and four year old Laney, live happily on 141st. Street in Harlem. Except that that happiness is shattered when the children's parents tell them that the owner of the brownstone they live in is not renewing the lease for their apt. It seems their exuberance is too much for Mr. Beiderman and he wants quieter tenants. And so begins a campaign by the children to win the house owner over, which is not easy because he never leaves his top floor apt. Neighbours talk secretly about something that happened a few years ago but the children can't discover the secret. They're to be out by Christmas so they don't have long to fulfil their mission. Can they do it? This is of course a children's book (middle grade would it be called?) but don't let that put you off, it is utterly charming and a really delightful Christmas read. The children are all very different with their own personalities and interests - Oliver reads, Hyacinth is a crafter, Isa plays violin, Jessie is a scientist etc. I loved the neighbours, and the neighbourhood, the house, all of it. This is a book set in recent years but I would say that it does have the feel of something from the 1950s or 60s. The internet is rarely mentioned and the children are allowed to roam fairly free in Harlem. I wondered if that was realistic. No matter, I really did love this charming book with its very strong sense of New York city and there are three if not four sequels. Five stars on Goodreads.
If anyone knows of any more books set in New York with a strong sense of the city I would love recommendations. In exchange I'll suggest one of my own and that is, Forever by Pete Hamill about an Irishman who moves to New York in 1741 and doesn't die, so lives throughout the city's history. I thought it was wonderful. Oh, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is fantastic too.
So, the last book is Jumping Jenny by Anthony Berkeley.
So, most of the action in this vintage crime novel (published 1933) takes place at a fancy-dress do one night. Roger Sheringham, author and amateur detective, is present. He's a keen observer of people and watches a woman who is the wife of their host's brother. She's an attention seeker, says she wants to get drunk and keeps saying she might commit suicide. Continuing to watch, Sheringham notices that she seems determined to annoy and embarrass everyone. So when she's found hanged on a mock-up of a gallows on the roof, no one is particulary surprised and the police seem happy to call it a suicide. Except that it turns out it wasn't and she was murdered. All of the party members come under scrutiny and all had some reason to want the woman gone, particularly her husband. Even Sheringham himself comes under suspicion and thus feels entitled to get to the bottom of the mystery. Martin Edwards, in one of his books about the Golden Age of crime writing, said that Anthony Berkeley was a writer who let his strong opinions about marriage and its pitfalls come very much to the fore in his books. He's quite right too, they were all over this book. The writing was excellent, and plotwise I thought it was very clever with a good twist at the end. But I also felt it dragged a bit with all the 'who was where, at what time and why' stuff. I'm wondering if Berkeley's books are for me, they feel a bit clinical somehow, like the author felt a bit superior to the hoipolloi. And I wasn't entirely comfortable with the way the dead woman was described in quite cruel ways throughout. But, as they say, 'The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there'. We've come a long, long way in many respects and I like the way these vintage books prove that. Three stars on Goodreads.
I hope you're all well, finding some good books and are not too crazy busy to read them!