Sunday, 28 July 2013

Clover Cottage - Frances Cowen

I think it's time for a post about summer holidays and I miss being at the stage when a six-week summer holiday stretched ahead into the distance and it was a an awfully long time until September. I suppose it still is, though summer holidays lose their magic when you're still in the office.

However, a good vintage example of a summer holiday novel is Clover Cottage by Frances Cowen. My copy has plain green boards and no-one's really interested in a photo of those, especially as the corners are bumped. The Amazon listing has a Peal Press DW which doesn't really show itself to advantage. 

The book seems to have been written immediately after the Second World War as mentions of shortages of housing, wood, furniture and a general feeling of 'making do' with very little. The father's a sailor in the Merchant Navy, so away for much of the time. Mother's trying to survive in a tiny flat with a brood of children from responsible eldest daughter, a few scrappy siblings and an attention-absorbing baby. The family can't afford a longed-for summer holiday in the country and are thrilled when they inherit a country cottage from the mother's great-aunt. The country, of course, is a far better place for children to grow up. They can run wild there, just coping with petrol shortages, no car and limited public transport, but they'd get all the fresh air denied to them in a smoggy city. Friendly local farm-folk also provide a puppy and some (non-rationed) good food.    

Cowen's novel runs much in the same vein as Gwendoline Courtney's Sally's Family, though Courtney is much the better writer. Finding and refurbishing a thatched cottage is a very good story: the local craftsmen pitch in to help a village family and, even if the family don't find an attic full of antiques, they do find that doing up the house brings them together.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Sunday reading

Peaceful day's reading today - not reading novels or contracts or hunting down family histories - just reading the weekend papers for pleasure. I'm ashamed to say that I don't often finish the weekend papers until midweek the following week in a bit of a rush because the recycling's due. It's still 'summer filler' season so we have the 'where the famous are going on holiday' and what said famous readers (or so they claim) will be reading when they get there. You generally see more popular page turners than worthy tomes by the pool and the beach anyway. That grumbled, I do like the paragraph summaries of books that I've probably missed. I'm still working my way through my BEA haul and will try Sarah Dessen's latest as well as Dirty Wars as soon as I feel strong. The latter is a very heavy hardback and I'll need to find a bookrest of some description.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Corinna Chapman mysteries

I've been delving into my 'will read it one day, I promise' list that's either shelved or scattered about the house propping up the wall while waiting for shelf space. Heavenly Pleasures was a very welcome present last year and I've spent the last fortnight reading every Corinna Chapman mystery that the wonderful Kerry Greenwood has published. Friends from Australia and New Zealand had said all kinds of positive things about her novels and I can only say that I wish I'd discovered them sooner. For those who haven't had the treat of a Corinna novel, these are set in present-day Melbourne. Corinna's a baker and lives in a 1920s block of astonishing elegance. These are non-violent mysteries that allow you to puzzle your way through missing girls, stolen bonds and suspected poisonings while enjoying fannish references to Babylon 5, Georgette Heyer and Star Trek, though they leave you wanting chocolate fondant muffins or some very fresh bread and butter.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

The Gin Lovers - Jamie Brenner

For me it was just as much fun (OK, in 90 degree heatwave also a bit of an endurance test) to walk around New York (New York Public Library, Fifth Avenue, Rockerfeller Center, Metropolitan Museum of Art) as it was to experience the air-conditioning of the Javits Center and the superlative Book Expo America in late May and early June. You might read about the show in advance, you'll see the programme and you'll see who's exhibiting. None of that will prepare you for the scale or the friendliness as advance reading copies are shoved at you with recommendations to find a ticket to this signing or the other. I'd gone over to learn, to talk to people and hear something at the conference. I wasn't, quite, expecting to see so many authors or collect quite so many books. Some authors I knew and wanted to meet; others were entirely new to me and I'd like to introduce Jamie Brenner. Book signings are scheduled all day at Book Expo America, so you realise very quickly that without a time-turner or a buddy-system you will miss out on some events and you'll need to prioritise and just go with the flow. I happened to be walking past when Jamie Brenner was doing a signing and I'm so pleased I did as I now own a much-admired copy of The Gin Lovers.

I have a weakness for historical novels and was drawn to The Gin Lovers with an enticingly nightclubby red light cover art and suggestions of jazz and cocktails. English politicians do rail against binge-drinking, but England has never, unlike the US, banned the sale of alcohol entirely. It's in this climate of polite society toasting with sparkling water in public with the daring young visiting speakeasies during the night that we see exactly how dangerous and enticing alcohol is. It's the conflict of the traditional and the modern as the unhappily-married Charlotte Delacorte is tempted into a life of jazz, cocktails and seduction while trying to coax her louche sister-in-law to return to the gilded cage of her Fifth Avenue townhouse. Charlotte's married well in search of security and soon realises that she's exchanged poverty for other anxieties.

I happened on Jamie's signing at BEA and she's lovely, as is The Gin Lovers. This seems a change in direction for her as she's written several other contemporary novels also set in New York. I'm, selfishly, hoping we see more of Charlotte Delacorte as she's a beautifully conflicted heroine whose loss of naivete is shown in such a sympathetically believable way.