Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

I’ve never read this, but saw it on TV with a friend when I was in my teens. I don’t remember much about it other than “I saw something nasty in the woodshed” but I do remember enjoying it immensely, so picked it up at the library.

Flora Poste’s parents die when she is 19, leaving her only a modest income. After staying with a friend for a while she decides on a plan; she will write to all of her relatives and ask to live with them for a while. She chooses to stay with the Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm, and sets about generally busybodying and fixing things.

I suspect I’ll be buying my own copy, and probably the DVD as well. The book is similar in some ways to Northanger Abbey but I enjoyed this much more. The characters were more engaging; still larger than life, and the book was still a parody, but I never actually wanted to slap any of them. Flora should be quite annoying but somehow she never is, and she definitely had more about her than Susan in Northanger Abbey. It was a very comforting (and fairly short) read, and very funny. Where else would you find cows called Pointless, Aimless, Graceless and Feckless? Definitely recommended.

The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay

This is a book that caught my eye in Borders a couple of years ago but for some reason I didn’t buy it. I was reminded of it by LibraryThing (great website, but doing nothing to help me reduce the To Read pile!) and picked it up from the library.

The book is about Rosemary, a young girl from Tasmania who moves to New York following her mother’s death. She finds work in a second-hand book shop staffed by an eccentric collection of people. It’s great fun getting to know them and soaking up the atmosphere of the shop, and to watch Rosemary develop in confidence as she experiences all of the early adulthood milestones like falling in love.

I really enoyed this book, it has the perfect pace and atmosphere to just curl up with it and enjoy the ride. I’ll probably be buying my own copy because it’s great comfort reading.

Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Philips

This book is about the Greek gods who are still around, and living in London, but are growing increasingly weak, and what happens when two perfectly ordinary mortals manage to change things for them.

I immediately liked the premise of this book and wasn’t disappointed when I read it. It’s a fairly light, fluffy read, and Neil Gaiman covers a similar topic in a much meatier way in American Gods. Having said that I don’t think this novel was meant to be similar and I enjoyed it for what it was, plus I’m much more familiar with the mythology surrounding these gods than I was with those Gaiman wrote about so I got more of a kick out some of the jokes and references.

The gods are painted well I think – they’re very spoiled and childish in some ways, as most of us probably would be if we’d had to share the same house with the same people for thousands of years. The love story is very chick-lit, but I’m quite partial to that. The book is fun and enjoyable, great weekend reading when your week has been as busy as mine was!

The Pirate’s Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson

This is a book I’ve had my eye on for a while, mostly because the cover looked interesting and because it had pirate in the title… As it turned out it wasn’t about an actual pirate, but I knew that before I got round to reading it.

The book is about two women – Ida, who meets the actor Errol Flynn as a young girl in Jamaica, and May, the daughter she had with Flynn. It switches main characters about halfway through and one of the things that impressed me most about the book is the way the switch is made – you don’t really notice it happening, and then suddenly realise the story is about a different person. I thought that made it a very skillful piece of writing.

The book is reasonably long at almost 500 pages but never gets heavy or bogged down. Both women’s lives, though very different in many ways, are fascinating and the landscape of Jamaica is captured really well (at least I think it is, I’ve never actually been there). It’s set against a backdrop of huge upheaval but that never intrudes on the story. This means that when the family are faced with the reality of the situation it’s still quite shocking, even though you knew what was going on in the background.

I really liked both Ida and May, and would like to read more about Ida as she is in the latter part of the book. I guess that’s one downside to the novel switching points of view but I actually think that worked well to keep the story fresh.  There are a huge number of supporting characters that you warm to immediately, particularly Ida’s father Eli and May’s friend Derek. It doesn’t shy away from any of the difficult subject matter but neither is it allowed to overtake the story.

Overall I really enjoyed this, worth getting your teeth into.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

This was one of my book club reads. My overall thoughts are that it was ok, but I didn’t love it.

The story follows Catherine, a girl in her late teens who’s basically growing up and finding her way in the world. She goes to stay in Bath with some family friends, and for the most part the book covers her time there, the friends she makes, the balls she goes to and the boys she likes. There’s also a brief stay at Northanger Abbey.

I found the structure a little bit odd. My version was around 220 pages and for roughly the first 200 not a lot happens really. There are a teen chick-lit things going on – the balls and plays they go to, details of her friendships and the usual romance angsty things. Things really kick off at around page 200 and twenty pages later it’s all sorted…

In fairness I’ve since discovered that the book is a parody on the kind of novel that was popular at the time, however it’s difficult to judge how successful it is without being familiar with that style. The book is reasonably engaging – I liked the main character and things worked out the way I wanted them to, albeit a bit abruptly. A lot of the supporting characters were very exaggerated but I did laugh at them – despite the age of the book I think most of us have come across people like the Thorpes. Despite that, and despite knowing that it was a parody, it just didn’t quite do it for me. However it was a reasonably enjoyable read.

Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison

I’m running out of Sookie Stackhouse books so have been looking for a similar series for a bit of light reading, and this came up on Amazon’s recommendations.

Rachel Morgan works for Inderland Security, Inderlanders being the supernatural beings that live alongside humans (vampires, witches,werewolves etc) and always have, but humans haven’t known for that long and are a bit twitchy about it. One day she quits, but it’s not the kind of organisation you can quite and they soon have their people after her. So Rachel is starting up her own company, trying to avoid the assassins and working on a scheme to pay off her IS contract. She’s a busy lady.

I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as I enjoy the Sookie Stackhouse series, I think because Sookie is basically an ordinary girl in an ordinary small town. This book focussed very much on the Inderland community. That said it was a good, enjoyably read. The characters are likeable, Rachel kicks ass (obviously) but there are a number of interesting supporting characters. The story moves along nicely, and I particularly like some of the little touches that demonstrate how different Rachel’s world is (she wears amulets for pain relief, and at one point is given Aspirin which she’s a bit suspicious of…) I’ll be looking out for the rest of the series.

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaulo Guo

This was another book I picked up from the library following a LibraryThing recommendation. It tells the story of Z, a young Chinese woman who is sent to London by her parents to study English. It follows her development in several way; from a timid, scared girl coming to a strange country with little command of the language, her growing up a lot due to her relationship and, in some ways, her independence (which I’ll come back to) and her mastery of English. This illustration is one of the best things about the book – it’s almost like a diary, and the style of writing changes and gets more coherent as Z’s English improves.

From the description and the start of the book I was expecting a gentle love story to while away the weekend and it was, for a while. However it goes a lot deeper than that – Z, for example, jumps straight into a fairly serious relationship and basically swaps one kind of dependence (on her parents) for another (her boyfriend who, to be honest, is a bit of an idiot). It’s fun to see her confidence improve and more of her character come out as she’s able to express herself better, and there are a lot of nods to some of the odder things about Britain and British people that I found quite amusing. It does lose its punch towards the end though, and the ending is quite abrupt which isn’t a surprise given the story, but did leave me vaguely unsatisfied. However I would like to know a bit more about Z’s life after her year in England, so I’d obviously become attached to her.

The Naked Jape by Jimmy Carr and Lucy Greeves

Another non-fiction book so I’m not doing too badly with that goal.

This book is an exploration of humour and, specifically, jokes. It’s a good overview of a subject that I don’t think anyone’s ever really got to grips with and covers history, psychology and contemporary politics, among other things. Each chapter follows a particular theme, and at the end there are a few pages of jokes illustrating that theme. A nice touch is that there’s also a joke at the bottom of each page.

This is kind of a short review, which is no reflection on the quality of the book. As my degree was in psychology it did cover some familiar ground but nevertheless kept me interested (and amused), and I learned some new stuff too which is always good! Recommended.

Conjugal Rites by Paul Magrs

I’ve been waiting for this to come out in paperback for ages, and I rushed out to buy it at the first available opportunity, which was yesterday, and finished it today. It was definitely worth it.

Conjugal Rites is the third in a series of books starring Brenda and Effie, two formidable old ladies who live in Whitby and find themselves drawn into solving mysteries, usually involving supernatural goings on. Throughout the books you learn more about Brenda’s mysterious past along with the mysteries, and get to watch Brenda and Effie’s friendships develop, and there’s a lot of humour alongside the supernatural stuff.

The three books are very different. The first does have a story running through it, but each chapter is also a mystery in its own right. I often describe it as being structured a little like the Treehouse of Horror episodes of The Simpsons. It sounds disjointed but actually works very well to introduce Brenda, drop some hints about her and prove that Whitby really does attract some odd things. Books 2 and 3 revolve much more about one central story, with 2 delving much more into Brenda’s history and 3 more on her future.

This book has been my favourite with 2, although very good, probably the weakest in the series. There is the return of some familiar love-to-hate characters, some old friends and one long-awaited appearance. I can’t go into too much detail without giving a lot away but it’s a brilliant adventure and Whitby is the perfect setting, with Brenda (especially) and Effie being some of my favourite characted ever. I can’t wait for the next one (but I’ll have to).

Black Powder War by Naomi Novik

This is the third book in the Temeraire series, and probably my least favourite so far. It’s still very good, though, and I still recommend the series.

No sooner has their adventure in China finished when Laurence and Temeraire receive orders to go to Istanbul and carry three dragon eggs, one of which is fairly close to hatching, back to England. Needless to say this doesn’t go entirely smoothly, and they spend a lot of time caught up in the Prussian conflict against Napoleon which, again, isn’t all that successful.

This book is a bit more disjointed than the others, and there’s a point where I really dislike Laurence. I’d more or less forgiven him by the end though. I still love Temeraire, and there’s one intriguing new character I think might crop up again and one delightful one. It gives a new perspective on the war in comparison to the first book, one that gives a growing sense of frustration and hopelessness, which is interesting.

Another very good read, although I’m holding off on book 4 because a) I have a huge pile of library books to get through, and b) I don’t want to run out of Temeraire books too soon.

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