Lost Horizon

by James Hilton

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Shangri-La!

I’d heard the term of course, used for an imaginary paradise, but didn’t realise it came from this book.

Which (other than at a couple of points where it became a bit talky-talky) I loved.

There are four passengers on a plane. They are unaware the plane has been hijacked until they land in a remote part of Tibet. The Lamasery to which they are taken evokes different reactions in the four passengers, & to me, it does sound like heaven – all the books you can read.

“It is significant,” [Chang] said after a pause, that the English regard slackness as a vice. We, on the other hand, should vastly prefer it to tension. Is there not too much tension in the world at present, and might it be better if more people were slackers?”

A quote for modern times.

Pomfret Towers

by Angela Thirkell

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

My favourite Thirkell so far!

I will be honest & say that until I devoured this book, I didn’t quite get the Thirkell Mania that some of the members of the Retro Reads (one of my Goodreads groups) feel. But this title charmed me! It didn’t quite make 5★ because, for me, there was a bit of a lull after an absolutely sparkling beginning.

This book is mainly about shy (extremely shy) Alice Barton receiving a normally much sought after invitation to join a weekend party at Pomfret Towers. While Alice’s shyness becomes tiresome after a while, as a shy person myself, I can understand the agonies Alice went through.

But the party, while a bit difficult & full of lively characters leads to Alice having both her first infatuation & finding true love.

I particularly liked the characters of writers, Mrs Barton & Mrs Rivers. I think possibly Ms Thirkell gave them elements of her own personality. (I can remember reading an article about Thirkell where one of her sons said he loved his mother, but she was completely bonkers!) The good Angela & the bad Angela?

I was also relieved that there was none of Thirkell’s usual casual racism.

If you are wanting to escape to another world (& in 2022 who can blame you!) & enjoy lighthearted humour, I can recommend this book.

The Pursuit of Love

by Nancy Mitford

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I’m a big fan of Nancy Mitford’s & this is the book of hers that I most wanted to read. I have owned Love in a Cold Climate & Don’t Tell Alfred for a while now, but I am glad I waited till I had the first in the series in my hot little hands.

It was worth the wait – I enjoyed this novel very much. There is a lot of Nancy & her family in this. so your enjoyment of this book may depend on how amusing you have found the Mitfords in various works about them.

I have just knocked half a star off – in part because there were a few lulls for me, but mainly because during some of the funniest lines in the book (view spoiler) Truly, the (brief) change in tone was a shock!

But I am looking forward to continuing the series.

Black Narcissus

by Rumer Godden

Rating: 4 out of 5.

If you want to be thoroughly depressed, this is the book for you!

Five nuns arrive at a former harem in the Himalayas that has been gifted to them. A group of brothers has already tried & failed to establish a Catholic stronghold there. While the nuns (lead by the strongminded Sister Clodagh) wonder about this and Mr Dean, the local representative of the British Empire, strongly tries to warn the nuns off, but they are undeterred. But then the insanity starts…

Rumer Godden is one of my all-time favourite authors, but even though I have given this 4★ it would be the novel of hers I have liked the least. The high rating is for the excellent story structure & evocative language, as well as the occasional flash of humour;

“There are several ways,” he said shyly, “in which I’m trying to improve myself. I have a great many books and records and now I’m learning to play golf. Do you know golf, Sister? The English think it’s a very serious game. I was going to learn a much more serious game called cricket, but you need twenty two people…”

(I have to say, The Little General enchanted me!)

The whole novel ripples with madness and repressed sexual tension. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed the read, but I did appreciate the book.

The Maltese Falcon

by Dashiell Hammett

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Finally I’ve read this 20th century detective fiction classic – & overall, it did not disappoint!

Except for the penultimate chapter, which did drag in parts this book moved at a cracking pace & was full of witty lines.

“I couldn’t be fonder of you if you were my own son. But, well, if you lose a son, its possible to get another. There’s only one Maltese Falcon.”

It goes without saying that in a book of this genre, from the 1930’s that there is going to be plenty of casual racism & sexism.

If you can’t ignore that this probably isn’t the book for you.

I checked out why there didn’t seem to be a series for Sam Spade – but this is the only full length novel featuring him. Amazing the impact it had.

Gaudy Night

by Dorothy L. Sayers

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book wasn’t what I expected, but it is none the worse for that!

For one thing, this isn’t a murder mystery.  What this is is a complicated study of relationships in the almost cloistered world of female academia at Oxford in the 1930s. There is a vicious Poison Pen on the loose – who could it be?

This is a world that Sayers knew well. She was one of the first women to ever receive a degree from Oxford and her knowledge of the culture there shines through in every line. there is also a lot of knowledge about women and how they interrelate to each other & some fascinating political insights – the 1930s were certainly an interesting time!

This is a book for a patient reader – which is normally the sort of book I hate! Just shows what a writer of skill can make you accept!

Lady Susan

by Jane Austen

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Possible alternative titles…

Lady Fortune Hunter?

Mistress of Deceit?

Mommie Dearest?

This early work (written around 1794, but not published until 1871* well after JA’s death) was Jane as I had never seen her!

This is the first time an epistolary novel has truly worked for me and it works because all the characters are completely unguarded in their letters.

My dear Alicia, of what a mistake were you guilty in marrying a man of his age! Just old enough to be formal, ungovernable, and to have the gout; too old to be agreeable, too young to die.

I was really surprised by how ruthless Lady Susan was and I do have a sneaking admiration for her, although I pity her daughter and anyone else who gets in her way!

Facts are such horrid things!

Like that ever stopped Lady S!

Readable and great fun! Even if you don’t normally enjoy JA’s books you might like this one!

* I’m really surprised this was originally published in the Victorian era when this novel is so amoral!

Right Ho, Jeeves

by P.G Wodehouse

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I laughed outloud so many times whilst reading this book, in which poor deluded Bertie thinks he can manage other people’s affair better than that most impeccable of manservants, Jeeves. It isn’t a spoiler to say that of course Bertie can’t, & much hilarity ensues.

In particular you should look out for Aunt Dahlia giving instructions to Bertram what he should look out for when going for a walk & an impassioned speech from the French chef, Anatole.

I’m not knocking half a ★ off for one piece of casual racism. (I’m wondering if it has been censored from other copies as none of my friends at Retro Reads have mentioned it) but because just before the peerless Jeeves  resolved everything,  there was a portion where it dragged. The resolution though was highly satisfactory & left me craving more Wodehouse!

Black Beauty

by Anna Sewell

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A Goodreads member requested some of the Black Beauty quotes be cleaned up. I owned this copy and it became easier to reread and try to fix as many quotes as I could while reading. (I should note that doing this is quite definitely a one-off & that I was intending to read this book next year anyway!)

This is the story of Black Beauty’s rise and then fall through the ranks through no fault of his own. BB’s voice is quite definitely Ms Sewell’s, a kindly woman who wanted to see horses (still the main form of transportation in the 1870s) treated (quite a bit) better. You really feel that BB has a few things he wants to get off his chest!

They always seemed to think that a horse was something like a steam-engine, only smaller. At any rate, they seemed to think that if they only pay for it, a horse is bound to go just as far, and just as fast, and with just as heavy a load as they please.

Sewell/BB do feel compassion for the poor working class cabbies who have no choice but to work horses they have rented seven days a week. Ginger’s  tragic end still moved me to tears!

Anyone who is thinking of buying a horse (or any other domestic animal) should read this.

Sewell died a few months after this book was first published. I hope she did get at least to taste a small measure of the book’s success.

Jane Eyre

by Charlotte Bronte

Rating: 4 out of 5.

‘ll start off strongly recommending this Penguin edition.

Firstly I loved the cover

– even though I doubt that Jane ever wore pink.

This edition was also very well annotated. I don’t think I have ever made such good use of notes at the back of a work of fiction.

&, last but not least, I read Michael Mason’s very good introduction after I completed the book as I have had too many reads ruined for me by spoiler filled introductions (looking at you Martin Edwards) While not at the Edwardian (heh) level of spoilers, I still think I made the right choice. This was a very thoughtful introduction, that made the point;

Jane Eyre is a novel which it’s readers tend to remember inaccurately at certain points. It may not be mis-remembered more than other novels, but it is mis-remembered more conspicuously than most…

I think this is very true. I have no memory of [Jane’s desperate flight from Thornfield Hall, & her cousins, the Rivers family. My memory of this book is so much more… um chaste that I’m wondering if my previous readings (all over forty years ago) were abridged/censored editions. I was certainly unprepared for the passion in this book.

So I started the book fully prepared for the self-righteous Victorian cruelty to the orphaned Jane, I think I expected the rectitude but was unprepared for the passion. Rochester & Jane’s declaration of love for each other are truly beautiful. Jane remains true to herself and her beliefs throughout except when St John (who I personally really disliked) was doing a form of Christian grooming on Jane. To be honest, I welcomed this (in a literary sense) as the book after Jane runs away from Rochester became a little dull.

Other flaws were a bit earlier. Rochester [ dressing as a fortune teller  – that was a little silly. & Charlotte, as a storyteller, just about ties herself in knots trying to explain Rochester’s pursuit of Miss Ingram. Rochester never looks more unappealing then he does when he tries to explain that to Jane. & frankly, like Heathcliff, Rochester never looks that appealing to me. If any of the Bronte’s ever wrote a male lead that didn’t look like an arrogant sod, please let me know.

While I didn’t totally love this book I admire it enormously -so ahead of its time! & in parts I was totally enthralled. The one thing I didn’t stop doing was admiring Jane.

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