Jeremy Poldark

by Winston Graham

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“Do you think that Ross is settled down after all his trouble?”

“I always feel,” Dwight said, “That Ross is like a volcano. He may be quiet forever – or erupt tomorrow.”

A very good summary of Ross’s character!

This is the third book in a row in this series, & once again it is a 5★ read for me. Once again the book is a mixture of romance, adventure, humour (in the most unexpected places) & Ross’s prickly, difficult character.

& the good doctor (Dwight Enys) looks to be once again heading for an unsuitable romance. I can’t wait to start Vol 4.

One thing that baffles me. This book was originally titled Venture Once More – a far better title than Jeremy Poldark, given that Jeremy doesn’t make his appearance until the end of the book. 

Mysterious are the ways of the publishing world!

Demelza

by Winston Graham

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is my first completed book of 2022, & it could well be my best fiction read of the year -I loved it that much!

This book continues Ross & Demelza’s journey, & while I don’t think the beginning was a strong as Ross Poldark, from around the 40% mark it becomes a very powerful book. While Ross is a very complex character, Demelza is simple in the best possible meaning of the word – when something feels right to her that is what she does – then, thinks about the consequences later.

But all the characters, whatever their way of life, are well realised & easy for me to remember.

Graham writes beautifully;

He was not a man who spoke his innermost feelings easily, but now he saw himself powerless to help her, and only words of his and not actions would give her aid. ‘Nothing else matters but you,’ he said. ‘Remember that. All my relatives and friends – and Elizabeth, and this house and the mine… I’d throw them in the dust and you know it – you know it. If you don’t know it, then all these months I’ve failed and no words I can give you now will make it otherwise. I love you, Demelza and we’ve had such happiness. And we’re going to have it again. Take hold of that, my sweet. Hold it and keep it, for no one else can.’

Of course this being Ross, there are hidden layers…

I won’t be able to wait too long to continue this saga. &, in a piece of rare good fortune, I went to an op (charity) shop looking for the next two books (Jeremy Poldark & Warleggan) – & there they were.

Should have bought a Lotto ticket!

Cold Harbour Gentlemen

by Ann Lee

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The author (aka Abigail Bok) is one of my oldest friends on Goodreads.

Young Harry Steer is being pushed hard, as his father wants him to rise in the world. The endless cramming makes Harry long for adventure – or even for the outdoors! A chance meeting takes Harry along a path that could not only ruin his own life – it could take his family down with him. A smuggler’s life appears glamorous & well paid at first – but everything comes at a cost.

Ms Lee has completely immersed herself in the the world of Darking (now known as Dorking) and has even created a website for this world.https://www.darkinghundred.com/  I really enjoyed this adventure, which picked up a lot in the final third. Saying that the ending was a little improbable,  but no matter! Enjoy this rollicking tale!

Gentian Hill

by Elizabeth Goudge

Rating: 4 out of 5.

When I started this book I was instantly enchanted – forty pages flew by just like that!

Set in the time of the Napoleonic Wars, this book has another of Goudge’s magical children. Stella & her dead mother are washed ashore and Stella is adopted by good farming folk. When Anthony/Zachary comes into her life, he proves to be the other half of her, but they are too young to make any formal commitment to each other. I’m not totally convinced with the plot developments that Goudge uses to work around this, (and ascribing favourable physical characteristics to being of noble birth!) but I did quite definitely enjoy the journey and spending the time with nice people.

An added bonus was the Christmas content – I loved reading about an English traditional Christmas. What a lucky chance that I was reading at this time of year!

Check to Your King

by Robin Hyde

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I’m trying to decide how I feel about this book – it certainly slowed down my reading pace (that & having the house reroofed – the sound of concrete tiles being removed & crashing to the ground made it hard to concentrate on anything!)

Robin Hyde is considered one of the greats in NZ literature. Born Iris Guiver Wilkinson, she was a free spirit, beautiful, bright & independent, sadly for her, she was born ahead of her time. Her bio on Goodreads is a c&p. It finishes abruptly (mid word!) in 1929 and she didn’t commit suicide (aged only 33) until 1939. So much to try to fit in. Not to elf: I really should fix the Goodreads bio up.

Here is her Wikipedia bio;

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robin_Hyde

In the beginning, I was surprised and charmed by the light, whimsical tone in the tale of the self styled Baron de Thierry, probably the most bat shit crazy err…eccentric of all of NZ’s pioneers. Part English, part French, believed to be born in the Dutch republic, de Thierry tried to establish his own sovereign state in early 19th century New Zealand. Missionary Bruce Kendall and two Maori Chiefs did the equivalent of selling de Thierry the Brooklyn Bridge when they sold him 40,000 acres of land.

This picture of de Thierry when young and idealistic. I like the way he is shown surrounded by clouds. It does seem very appropriate. Later pictures show him as looking old and disillusioned. He ended his days as a piano teacher in Auckland.

This is a very short summary of de Thierry’s life. Believe me, there is a lot more to it than that.

Like I said, I was charmed in the beginning. The style reminded me of Nancy Mitford’s Madame de Pompadour which was written around twenty years later. Unlike Mitford’s book (which really draws the reader in) in parts I really struggled with this book, which veered between being a history and historical fiction. It is only 288 pages long, but it took me a month to complete.

I want to read more Hyde, but I may continue with her most famous novel, The Godwits Fly just to make sure her style is for me.

Ross Poldark

by Winston Graham

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I absolutely loved this book.

All the characters were so alive, so three dimensional. I had no trouble keeping even quite minor characters sorted out. After (part) reading The Mirror & the Light finding that my aging memory can still keep track of large character casts if the book is compelling enough is quite a relief! The book contains everything – major setbacks, romance, tragedy, family life and humour. It is not surprising that two different TV series have been made from the Poldark saga.

The three main female characters Demelza, Verity & Elizabeth were what I particularly loved. They are all nice people but none of them are saints. I particularly like the joy that Demelza brings to the page, skipping around with huge bunches of wild flowers, yet also working so hard.

As well as giving us compelling characters, Graham does some of the best writing of a blighted romance I have ever read.

She pushed the bolt across the door and sat abruptly in the first chair. Her romance was over; even though she rebelled against the fact, she knew that it was so. She felt faint and sick and desperately tired of being alive. If death could come quietly and peacefully she would accept it, would sink into it as one sank into a bed wanting only sleep and self-forgetfulness.

So beautiful and tender. & unlike many male writers, Graham doesn’t disdain to give us clothing descriptions. It is a criticism often levelled at Georgette Heyer, but I enjoy it as part of the historical novel experience.

I now also own parts 2-6 in this series. I can’t wait to read Demelza i hope that all of these books hold my interest – I think it will depend how much detail there is about tin mining, which to be honest, doesn’t interest me at all!

Wide Sargasso Sea

by Jean Rhys

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Not an easy book to read or review.

Jean Rhys was inspired (some may even say obsessed) by Bertha Mason (in this book mostly called Antoinette Cosway.) from Jane Eyre. I reread Jane Eyre in preparation for this read, as this novella is considered a prequel. In my case as I mention in my review of Jane Eyre this was definitely needed, as I believe when I read Jane Eyre in the past that I read an abridged or heavily censored edition. For someone who has read a “full” edition & who has a decent memory, a recent read probably isn’t necessary – & it won’t help!. To be honest, even with a recent read, I was still confused! I found that helps reflect the confusion in both Antoinette & Rochester’s minds. & I felt the heat, the lushness – & the rage Rochester feels when he thinks he is being manipulated by everyone including his family back in England.

Rochester believes he is in a corrupt & decadent society…

..& he is both young & immature.

I found it better to relax into the beauty of the writing & not try to pick at faults. I know this isn’t my usual way, & I could do that because the novella is so short.

Reading the notes & introduction of my copy this particular novella had a very chequered history. It was started many years earlier by Ms Rhys, partially destroyed and then heavily rewritten by Rhys. This may explain the incoherence. I was captured by this book, but anyone reading the reviews on Goodreads will realise it is not for everyone.

The Mirror & the Light

by Hilary Mantel

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

I have just watched the TV series Anne Boleyn. I found it a little disappointing – mainly because “Henry VIII” just didn’t have the presence you expect. But it reminded me I hadn’t finished this series.

This book was another disappointment – one I should have been prepared for really. Lots of my friends have read it & given it 4 or 5★, but there just didn’t seem to be much buzz around it in the bookish world after it was published although there was certainly plenty before. Never a good sign.

The beginning starting with Anne Boleyn’s execution was thrilling and there was some beautiful writing, then more beautiful writing, but the pace was extremely slow. The book only seemed to have any vitality when Henry or (surprisingly) Jane Seymour were on the page.

This reminds me of Sue Grafton‘s later books. When the author is a mega success I guess the editor is hesitant to be too heavy with the red pen. I abandoned this book at 348 pages and I feel 100 pages could have been pruned, even at this early stage. I didn’t feel like ploughing on to see if things improved.

DNF at 39.4%

The Infinite Air

by Fiona Kidman

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I read Fiona Kidman’s This Mortal Boy last year and it was one of my favourite reads of 2020. I thought Kidman did a marvellous job of recreating a life of a nearly forgotten figure from New Zealand history, Albert Black.

With famed Kiwi aviator the enigmatic Jean Batten, not so much although I do value Kidman’s more sympathetic than usual interpretation of Miss Batten’s life.

Jean came from a seriously dysfunctional background. Her mother Nelly was obsessed with Jean and neglected her sons, her father was a notorious philanderer. Not too surprisingly, the marriage didn’t work out! Her brothers in Kidman’s interpretation were left to make their own way in the world – in a twist I didn’t know, the younger brother John became a Hollywood actor who did very well for a time.

Jean meanwhile grew into an astonishingly beautiful young girl.

Jean at 15

Highly intelligent, she was also a gifted dancer and pianist. Her father was happy to encourage Jean in her dreams to become a concert pianist. But Jean, even though she was living in near poverty with her mother was determined to fly.

Where Kidman’s account differs from many others, both in newspaper accounts and biographies, is that she doesn’t see Jean as a heartless gold digger who ruthlessly obtained money from men to follow her flying dream. Some of them were infatuated with her beauty but who want to control her- and certainly didn’t understand her. This is indeed the strongest part of the book. I loved being gently lead to a different interpretation of Jean’s character.

Kidman even portrays Jean’s great love Beverley Shepherd as someone who would want to control her.

But the most controlling person in Jeans life was her mother, Nelly. Does Jean ever realise this?

For me, the book quality tails off quite a bit in Jean’s post fame years. It is almost like Jean & Nelly are cardboard cut-outs pasted into different scenes. Jean may have been happy to keep her mystique, but I was a little disappointed.

No Bed for Bacon

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dagglebelt almost snatched the held-out pumpkin in his eagerness. His big chance had come. “Now just watch me a minute,”he pleaded. He planted his feet in an open fourth. He threw up one pumpkin. He threw up another. He threw up the third. “Juggler, “explained the Master of the Revels. Breathing heavily Dagglebelt caught the first pumpkin. He clutched at the second. He missed the third. “A bad juggler,” said Burghley disappointed. “It was an accident,” said Dagglebelt. He picked up the pumpkins. He tried again. “Dolt,” cried a raw voice from an upper storey. “Run away and practice while you still have hands to do it with.” Dagglebelt gave one glance. He abandoned his pumpkins. He ran. Elizabeth of England withdrew from the window. She was smiling.

If this strikes you as funny (or like in my case, mildly amusing) this might be the book for you! There were only a couple of parts that I laughed out loud (the best one was Elizabeth of England choosing her outfit for the day) but I read most of it with a smile.

A wild mixture of Shakespearean fact & the authors’ equally wild imagination (they were both Fire Wardens during WWII when they wrote this together) , until near the end when this tale started to drag a bit.

I was curious what a pantoble was. Some of the characters threw one quite a bit. Sounded like a small piece of furniture. The (uninformative definition) I googled said it was another name for a pantofle. (which sounds like a pastry)

It is actually;

a type of footwear.

Good fun!

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