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Assignment in Brittany

by Helen MacInnes

Rating: 5 out of 5.


I’m going to give this book the full 5★, even though a couple of parts dragged for me.

Do you know when this book was first published?


When WW2 was still raging on. Ms MacInnes moved to the States in 1937 & communications (of course) aren’t immediate the way they are now. But I’m going to assume that Ms MacInnes had done her research – or even talked to people who had had first hand experience.

Martin Hearn was the body double of a badly injured (in Britain) Breton & is parachuted into Brittany to take his place in a village of people who knew the real Bertrand Corlay well. Martin is also fluent in French, but will he be able to deceive people who knew the real Corlay well – like his mother & his fiancée?

Like I said above, there were some slow patches, but both the beginning & the end were taut & exciting & I found the (view spoiler)

Be prepared for some chauvinism;

And yet it was difficult to restrain his own particular brand of humour when a young woman took herself so seriously: still more difficult when the young woman was so beautiful as this one.

Disappointing from a female author, but unfortunately so common in 2oth century fiction.

I still loved it.

Lonely Road

by Nevil Shute

Rating: 5 out of 5.

After finishing this book last night, I have thought too hard about it not to give it 5★

And this is in spite of a protagonist/narrator who I found very unlikeable at the start, and a very unusual preface and confusing first chapter. I reread the preface after I finished the book and found that everything did in fact work.

The wealthy and usually solitary Malcolm drives drunk (definitely) and has a serious accident(apparently) where he sustains a serious head injury. Even confused, Malcolm is a tenacious character who tries to make sense of his fragmented memories of the night.

After recovering, lonely and away from home in Leeds, he goes to a dance hall. The partner he chooses, Mollie, interests him and turns out to have an important link to his story.

As I am typing this, I realise these are a series of fantastic coincidences, but such is Shute’s skill and, even though this was only his third book, he weaves his story together well, so well that in spite of knowing how the story ends I’m hoping for as better outcome for Malcolm and Mollie

Shute has written a brief Author’s Note at the start of my edition, stating that the first chapter of this book was an experiment that wasn’t that well received by all readers. I like it but would say this book is for patient readers only. But, once this tale gets going, it is nearly impossible to put down.


A Town Like Alice

by Nevil Shute

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Some books I feel I have to give 5★, even if the book has some considerable flaws. For me, Auē was one such book.

A Town Like Alice is another

The story begins gently with an aging London solicitor, Noel Strachan, recounting how he came to meet elderly and wealthy Scotsman, James McFadden, and helped him draw up his will. When McFadden dies, Strachan tracks down his sole surviving relative, Jean Paget. It is fair to say the Noel is charmed by this young lady who says she feels about seventy and will never marry.

So how does this story end up in Northern Australia? I can’t really tell any more without giving away too much of the plot. I can tell you that the middle part of this novel does have considerable impact (in fact some pages were the most powerful I have ever read) & was nearly impossible to put down. I found parts of it very romantic, parts of Jean’s experiences are very distressing. And you have to grit your teeth and swallow a lot when reading about the attitudes of the time, both to women and to anyone who wasn’t white. The use of what would now (if it wasn’t then) be considered racial slurs is very hard to read – I don’t think I have ever seen so many in one book. By the end end it was detracting from my enjoyment of the book, but whether or not Shute shared these attitudes they were authentic for the time and I still admired the hero and heroine of this book very much.

I managed easily to acquire most of Shute’s titles over the years. This one took me longer. I have a feeling this book is a keeper for most people and that is why it rarely turns up in secondhand bookshops.

Further reading; Nevil Shute met Carry Geysel after the war. Due to a misunderstanding he thought her life during WW2 had been even harder than it was.


by Beverly Cleary

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Ah, this was sweet and charming, Cleary writing about a time of innocence that probably never really existed.

But Ms Cleary captures very well the insecurities of the young and the manoeuvring between parents’ wishes and Jane’s own desire to grow up.

Although Jane does have some career ambitions and is part of a successful babysitting partnership, they pale to her desire to be Stan’s girl. I like to think that modern teens think of more than this!

A quick, easy read and I loved spending time with people as nice as Jane & Stan.

August Folly

Rating: 4 out of 5.

August Folly by Angela Thirkell

I’m going to have a problem with my rating though as I gave Wild Strawberries & The Demon in the House 4★, & I liked this one quite a bit more – but not enough to give 4.5★. There were patches where I lost interest.

But the bits that worked were a lot a lot of fun. I loved the village politics & jostling for power (not so different from small town life, really) and I loved that all the characters had their flaws & quirks – just like real people.

The cricket scene was hysterical – & I lead the list of people who normally never enjoy anything about cricket!

The main things I didn’t like were the contemptuous anti- women remarks that Thirkell puts into some of her characters’ mouths.

& the ending was an (unnecessary) attempt to wrap everything up in a neat, tidy bow. Really Richard’s (view spoiler)[ maturing was enough of a story resolution for me! (hide spoiler)]

& bonus points for this;

“Tell Aunt Louise to boil her head,” said Robin.

I’ve never heard anyone other than my husband use that expression!…

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The Persian Ransom

The Persian Ransom by Evelyn Anthony

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Edge of the seat excitement!

I have quite a few Evelyn Anthony novels, mainly acquired from Little Free Libraries & the like, but I have never read one of her books – until now!

Anthony turned to writing thrillers because the mid twentieth century historical market was saturated. Don’t go into this book expecting the softer edges of a Mary Stewart novel. One of the things I loved about this book was that i wasn’t sure what the outcome for anyone was going to be. There were quieter spots, but they were needed for the admittedly minimal character development – and because (view spoiler)[ there would be quiet times in a hostage situation. (hide spoiler)]

The chauvinist remarks I don’t think (but don’t know) reflected Anthony’s own point of view – she was the main money earner in her marriage – & wasn’t shy about saying so! In 1994 She became the first female High Sheriff of Essex in 700 years. Quite an honour. I’m not so sure about the generalisations about the Syrian & Iranian character. A modern writer wouldn’t use them – but this is a twentieth century book.

I found the ending both satisfying and realistic.

Highly recommended.…

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The Wind Off the Small Isles

The Wind off the Small Isles

The Wind off the Small Isles by Mary Stewart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this book up at a book fair (back when it was hard to find) and I’m glad to have finally read it.

Perdita and her employer, (writer Cora Gresham’s) adventures in Lanzarote may start slowly, but the story really picks up from when Michael enters the story. This will seem a bit of a contradiction in terms as Michael doesn’t have much in the way of personality. But Perdita is a resourceful, brave heroine and Stewart writes so vividly about Lanzerote.

The book cover by Laurence Irving on my edition may look unattractive at first, but it grew on me as the story progressed and All Became Clear. Let’s just say it is very appropriate for the book.

The charming illustrations inside are also by Irving.

Recommended for the Stewart completists.…

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Book Review: Thornyhold


Thornyhold by Mary Stewart

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Well…it was better than Stormy Petrel, but still fell short of the mark for me.

The beginning, although sad and depressing was well written. I felt for the lonely child that Jilly was and loved the relationship with her “fairy godmother”, Geillis.

And as always, Lady Stewart creates a wonderful sense of place, vividly described people. I’m interested in life in post war Britain with all the frustrating hardships and food shortages.

I was fine with the magic realism element.

But this book shares the same major fault that Stormy Petrel has, where Lady Stewart seems to head towards a major plot point and then backs away. For me the instalove was extreme – and for a very anonymous hero. (who also appears to be a negligent father.)

I really liked Rose Cottage, but Lady Stewart’s other two cottage books aren’t for me. Even Rose Cottage I’m unlikely to reread.

It wasn’t really relevant to the story, but I’m glad that Lady S introduced me to the poet Sidney Keyes. Did she know him? Or as a well read woman, did she decide to use her influence with her readership to stop this young man, who was killed in WW2, from fading into obscurity.

A sample poem that Keyes wrote about the grandfather who raised him.

(In memoriam SKK)

April again, and it’s a year again
Since you walked out and slammed the door
Leaving us tangled in your words. Your brain
Lives in the bank-book and your eyes look up
Laughing from the carpet on the floor:
And we still drink from your silver cup.

It is a year again since they poured
The dumb ground into your mouth:
And yet we know, by some recurring word
Or look caught unawares, that you still drive
Our thoughts like the smart cobs of your youth –
When you and the world were alive.

A year again, and we have fallen on bad times
Since they gave you to the worms.
I am ashamed to take delight in these rhymes
Without grief; but you need no tears.
We shall never forget nor escape you, nor make terms
With your enemies, the swift departing years.

Keyes was only 16 when he wrote this. Sixteen!

A remarkable talent was lost. Best poetry I have read this year. 5★…

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