Back from a sweltering London and very glad to be home in the cool. Mother of all thunderstorms this afternoon with lightning and torrential rain but now we have that lovely fresh smell from the earth and the leaves. Bliss.
Jen and Marcus receive an invitation to spend a week in Italy in a friend's villa. Sounds good but owner of the villa, Sam, happens to be an old flame of Jen and, as Marcus spends most of his time travelling and their seven year old son, a rather spoiled Alfie, is still sleeping in their marital bed, the joys of motherhood and marriage are a tad worn. A temptation for Jen but nothing can go wrong if she accepts - can it?
There are assorted other guests as well and a slightly odd housekeeper, who seems more than usually curious in Sam and his doings, a TV star separated from his wife who comes along with his two children, Dave and Tara, a couple with whom Jen and Marcus are friends and debating whter they should have a child or not and, in short, a good cast of characters to sling into the mix, sit back and see what happens.
An enjoyable read, nothing stunning but well written though I felt it fell off a bit at the end and if I say this is a perfect Beach Read, I am not being patronising. Lie on the sun bed, factor 30 on, cool drink to hand, this book and chill.
Note: cover features a headless woman. Think this idea may have been done to death by now somehow.
OK you look at the cover and you think of Another Chick Lit and yes that is what it looks like, but in this case, the women protagonists are not young skinny things only interested in sex and shopping, these are women of a certain age - I prefer to say mature - with worries and insecurities. Wisdom is not necessarily acquired with age, having one's heart broken can happen no matter how old or young you are.
This is the story of three friends; Bea who is a publisher in a company recently taken over, with a demanding new boss and a rival editor who is clearly after her job. She has a monosyllabic son and is now back on the dating scene after a nasty divorce and is finding it all a bit sticky. Kate seems to have a happy marriage with a charismatic and interesting husband, but who is finding it difficult to cope with empty nest syndrome now that their last child has left. Her husband seems to be more and more remote - is he having an affair? What can she do? Then Ellen, a widow, rather mumsy and not exactly a stunner, who has devoted herself to her children and suddenly finds herself in the middle of an raging affair with the handsome Oliver several years younger than herself.
As well as being a story about the loves and lives of Bea, Kate and Ellen it is also a story of friendship and how tensions and betrayal can stretch it to the limit. If you know something about your friend's partner to their discredit do you keep quiet or do you risk your friendship by speaking out? This is a dilemma I have faced in the past and it is a tricky one I can tell you.
Female friendship is a wonderful thing. I have many friends and acquaintances and a wonderful family, but I have three close friends without whom I could not have managed in the last ten years or so when I have gone through a marriage failure, divorce and having to start a new life all over again. To have good friends you have to be a friend in return and support each other through problems and upsets and then enjoy the happy times. I found myself becoming very fond of Bea, Kate and Ellen and the sometime insecurities and jealousies that can happen in close relationships like this. In the end of course, they stick by each other and the friendship is not broken though it is tested.
And What do Women Want? I think we want to be happy, as simple as that, but it is learning to recognise when you are content and not to keep yearning for the unobtainable. Sometimes what you least expect to bring you joy, does. I have certainly found that to be so.
I met Fanny Blake last week at the Oxo Tower and she was lovely and such fun and interesting to talk to. She has been in publishing for years so I rather think that Bea's experiences might just be based on real life....
What can one say about the Stephanie Plum series? Not a lot really, save that this one dropped through my letterbox on Saturday morning, was seized upon by me and read straight through. Within ten minutes I was helpless with laughter at the antics of Stephanie and Lula and the inevitable chasing after a defaulter on a bail bond and the inevitable antics that occur which always, but always, include a food throwing incident. In this book they are on the trail of a defaulter who is convinced he is a vampire, will not come out during the day and sleeps in a coffin. Every time they try to arrest him he tries to sink his 'fangs' into Lula's neck. This guy is 72. 'Nuff said.
No character development at all. Nothing has changed with Stephanie, her life in the Burg and her difficulty in choosing between her boyfriend Morelli, the Italian Stallion and the mysterious and unutterably sexy Ranger.
Loved every single page of it. If you are feeling fed up or miserable, read a Stephanie Plum. Guaranteed to set you straight. I read these last year just after my lovely mum died and my lovely daughter offed to Australia and left me bereft. Sat on the sofa in a wobbly state for about a fortnight and worked my way through the entire oeuvre and impossible to feel miserable or sorry for yourself when reading this wonderful series by Janet Evanovich.
OK that was my week. Reviews to come, two titles by Anthony Trollope and a debut novel about a serial killer. Yes another one. I am beginning to worry about this......
Just a bijou postette today as I am in full lyinginaheaponsofa mode as it is sweltering. The reason the weather is a source of permanent discussion in the UK is that you never know from one minute to next what it is going to do. Last week it was rainy and grey and quite cold, almost like a November day and we were walking around in wellies and woollies, today the sun is out, blue sky and it is baking hot and we are slobbing out in long floaty skirts and flip flops. It won't last of course, we are promised storms later on in the week, no doubt half way through an important tennis match and Wimbers will be flooded out. You gotta love it.
I am off up to London late this afternoon to babysit my darling Florence and only the joy of seeing her little face beaming at me when I arrive would make my drive along the A12 and through the City of London in these temperatures bearable. She is now up and walking and is such a joyous child, always smiley and happy, except when she is tired and hungry and then we know about it....
I hve a few books to review and catch up on so will do a Round Up tomorrow else I am going to fall further and further behind with the heaps that are awaiting me so will be back tomorrow.
Until then, au reservoir
PS - anybody see the Djokovic-Baghdatis match on Saturday? Fantastic match, crowd revelling in it, terrific tennis and perfect Saturday afternoon entertainment - worth the licence fee alone
I was up in London this week to attend a Not Afternoon Tea with fellow bloggers at the invitation of HarperCollins. When I tell you the venue for this meeting was the restaurant at the top of the Oxo Tower on the South Bank, you will understand why I was happy to accept...
It was a great pleasure to meet up with Simon, from Stuck in a Book again, we are old friends and to meet for the first time Claire of Paperback Reader, Marsha Moore whose book on 24 Hour London I reviewed a while back and who is now working on a novel under the pen name of Talli Roland, Jackie of Farm Lane Books, Amanda from One More Page and author Mel Sherratt who blogs out of High Heels and Book Deals. Hosts for the afternoon were Kat and Elinor who presented us with a goodie book bag and who looked after us beautifully. After starting with a glass of champagne, we then went onto cocktails and we were then each presented with a plate of matching desserts. Just look at how gorgeous they were!
We had the pleasure of meeting with Fanny Blake who, after years of being in publsihing, has written and published her own first book, What Women Want, and such fun to chat and laugh and to found out how she set about it. Also lots of girl chat about matters I will not mention here....
Have read and enjoyed her book and will be reviewing next week.
Other author was David Nobbs who I know well from his activities as a TV screen writer and author of many novels. His latest book is It Had to be You which I took with me and David very kindly signed it for me. We ended up talking about commuting of all things and some of the weird and wonderful things that we had all experienced. It was such a great afternoon, great company, great venue and lots of good conversation.
And it wasn't all over. When we left the Oxo Tower a gentle stroll along by the river, glorious sunny afternoon, to the Globe, magical as ever and then boarded a River Taxi which I have never indulged in before now, and off to the second Tower of the day, the Tower of London. Was rather hoping we would be going in by Traitor's Gate, but of course not we used the main entrance. Best thing about this was the Tower was now shut so we had it to ourselves and marvellous to wonder around with no crowds. The evening function was a joint event sponsored by the Historical Palaces Charity and HarperCollins to launch The Girl in the Mirror by Sarah Gristwood. This book, a first novel by this historian, is all about Elizabeth I and Essex and as my knowledge of their relationship is limited to my reading of Jean Plaidy years ago and the film with Errol Flynn and Bette Davis, I found the talk given by the author absolutely fascinating. It appears that after Essex burst into the Queen's bedroom and caught her sans makeup, sans teeth etc he was hauled off to the Tower where he later had his head cut off. Now I know no woman likes to be caught without her mascara on, but this seems a bit of an over reaction....
Joking aside, a simply fascinating evening and I decided not to be a cheapskate and to blag a free copy from HarperCollins but to lay out some spondoolicks and actually purchase the book - so I did and then I got it signed and am looking forward to reading it very much indeed.
It was a simply wonderful day but so tiring as I had been up at 6am to be in London early to look after Florence until 3pm and by the time I got in the car and drove home I was fairly shattered. Fell into bed and surfaced ten hours later....
My thanks to HarperCollins for their generosity in giving us this terrific time and to Liz and Kat for taking such good care of us.
Been a busy week folks and had a long long long but simply wonderful day in London yesterday, not only with my darling Florence but also with lots of interesting people and had lots of fun. When I tell you I was up at 6am and driving to London and then drove home at 10pm in the evening you will understand that today was a day for lying in a poleaxed heap on the sofa not moving, not doing anything at all except watching Wimbledon.
Of which I will give you my thoughts while I am at it - you know I am going to don't you?
Trying to work out who is the worst commentator of the lot the BBC hire each year. Well, first up I will admit that I find John McEnroe witty, brilliant and huge fun in this role, but also know that there are millions of you out there who disagree. He used to be such a little shit when he played, couldn't stand him and would never watch his matches as I found the way he was allowed to behave by the spineless umpires and referees totally inexplicable. There were several occasions when he should have been thrown off the court and if I had been a linesman and had him ranting and spitting in front of me I would have thumped him. So the transition from little shit to elder statesman was a shock at first but now I find I like him and wonder why he did not show this side of his character when he was playing. He admits that he behaved atrociously and should have been defaulted and dealt with more severely - bit late in the day John baby, but I have now forgiven him.
Boris Becker - poor at first but has now warmed to the role and strikes me as being a nice man. Several of his fellow commentators have said he is a 'good guy' and he is another one who is prepared to admit his mistakes.
Tim Henman - well, what can one say about Tim? Nice Tim, sweet Tim, well dressed and well mannered Tim? Tim who has the most BORING DRONING VOICE IN THE WORLD and is charisma free.
Andrew Castle - morphed from being the British No.1 - gosh we are all overawed - to being a thoroughly good TV presenter and Wimbledon chap. Took part in Strictly Come Dancing a few years ago and admits he was terrified throughout. Easy listening voice, does not intrude when he should not and I really like him (Letter in the paper the other day from a reader who says he drives her mad...)
John Lloyd - also ex British No. 1 (do they all end up at Wimbledon? If so Hello Andy Murray in 2020). Knows what he is talking about and comments well but he does have the most peculiar cockney/American accent with Australian overtones. Prof Higgins would have a field day with him.
Pat Cash - ex Wimbledon Champion. You know he is the one who wears black and white headbands and climbed up into the box to hug his parents when he won. Aaah sweet. Now done by nearly everyone else including Nadal who climbed over to shake hands with the Prince of the Asturias in the Royal Box when he won. PC is the owner of a whiny whingey voice and he does not commentate - he witters. He starts a sentence, not sure how to end it and it dies away in silences and odd words here and there and usually while the tennis is being played. Last year I remember an occasion when he moaned about he BBC canteen and said his chocolate brownie was rubbish, and all the time the tennis was playing. Cannot understand why the BBC hire him.
And now the women. Tracy Austin is another with a thin whiny voice but somehow I don't find her irritating though I know others do. I have just watched an excellent ladies single match this evening and one of the commentators was Lindsey Davenport, the Wimbledon Champion on 1999. Always strikes me as being a very nice lady but that means diddly squat when you are there droning on about forehands weaknesses and being focused and boy, does she drone. Virginia Wade - don't let's go there. Just what IS her accent - does anybody know
Sue Barker - what can one say about the redoubtable lady who keeps it all together, interviews with grace, authority and style and never seems to be lost for a word or flustered. She deserves a medal for the number of times she can ask Will Andy Murray Win Wimbledon without rolling her eyes and thinking I am seriously pissed off with having to ask this YET AGAIN, but she has to do it. One of the reasons I want Andy to win Wimbledon, or any Grand Slam for that matter, is to relieve Sue's suffering. I also wish somebody would tell her what clothes to wear, some of her outfits defy description. Perhaps they do....
I won't start on the gruntings of Venus or Serena Williams, the yells of the Shrieking Shack aka Maria Sharapova or Djokovic bouncing his tennis ball 39+ times between each point or the alarming number of men players who play with baseball caps on backwards, or the seriously weird fashion sense exhibited by some of the lady players, yep Venus and Serena you again, or the.........no I will stop because I don't want you getting the wrong idea that I dislike Wimbledon.
I LOVE IT. I first went in 1964 and saw the Ladies Final, yes I slept out all night (never again), between Margaret Smith and Maria Bueno and used to regularly beat the trail down to the All England Lawn Club for about 15 years and then I stopped going. Not quite sure why but I have a feeling that the arrival of Mac the Mouth might have had something to do with it. Now I am at home with a terrific TV with digital and the red button so I can watch for hours and hours and I do I do. I have seen some stunning matches over the 40+ years I have been watching and think it is the greatest tournament in the world.
And that is why I grumble and moan and bitch about it. It's what us Brits do.
PS and we mustn't forget the silly hat worn by the spectators.
Everyone knows by now how much I love Anthony Trollope and after reading his Autobiography a couple of weeks ago, I love him even more. I have said in the past and will, no doubt, say it again that when you write an autobiography or your letters or diaries are published the character of the writer will come through. There is no hiding place. After reading some diaries and letters of certain people I have realised at the end of these books that I have no desire to meet the writer as I am pretty sure I would not like them. In others, I feel I could hang out with them over a cup of coffee and a Danish and we would all get on pretty well.
And so it is with AT's autobiography which had been sitting on my shelves for years. Sometimes a book can hang around for ages waiting for the time to be right for their perusal and this was the case a few weeks ago. I had got through shed loads of new books, some I loved, others I didn't (I kept quiet about those) and I found I could not take any more and turned to a favourite author. In this case AT and I picked up the autobiography, one of those tiny little Oxford World Classic books with a ribbon book mark. Oh how I loved reading this. Clear that Anthony's childhood had affected him - his mother, the redoubtable Fanny, took herself off to America to set up a Bazaar and to make their fortunes as her husband could not earn enough to look after the family. Anthony's brother Tom appears to be the favoured son and though Anthony has nothing but good to say of him, it is clear that this upset him very much. There was a spell when Anthony was left alone in London, working for a pittance, no friends and left in lodgings and became ill and his mother did not come near him. Tom ended up being her substitute husband when she was widowed as she needed somebody to 'walk me out' and they ended up living in Italy together, joined later by Tom's wife when he married.
No explanation is given for this favouritism but AT seems to try and find a reason for it saying that he knew he was an ungainly, large, rough sort of chap, and he suffered badly at school enduring mockery and bullying from his fellow students. This went on for years as his mother could not think what to do with him and so left him there until he was nineteen.
He eventually got a job in the Post Office and his entrance exam and what this working life was like can be seen in his book The Three Clerks. He led a pretty miserable existence for several years until he asked for and received a post in Ireland, at that time regarded as the Back of Beyond and off he went. He states that his happy life started from this date as part of his duties was to ride around his district checking up on the postal routes, organising deliveries and generally increasing the efficiency of the Post Office (we could do with him now I must say). It was in Ireland that he also met his wife.
By the time I finished reading this autobiography I felt that if Anthony was around now, I would like to go and give him a big hug as I found him a most lovable man. Aware of his shortcomings and faults but warm hearted and generous and with a profound admiration for women's capabilities as is witnessed in their portrayal in his novels.
I then turned to a simply magnificent biography by Victoria Glendinning which I had read several years ago but now decided to re-read in the light of my perusal of the Autobiography and, also, because I had read so many more Trollope's since my first read. Fascinating and very interesting to see how often FG used the autobiography as a source document and then expanded on the entries and her views on his reaction.
Both these wonderful books kept me totally engrossed over a period of four days when I barely spoke to anybody so intent was I on finishing them. For all Trollope lovers I thoroughly recommend both these books and if you don't end up loving Anthony I shall be most surprised.
"No novel is anything, for purposes either of comedy or tragedy, unless the reader can sympathise with the characters whose names he finds on the pages. Let an author so tell his tale as to touch his reader's heart and draw his tears and he has, so far, done his work well" (AT - Autobiography)
Dear Anthony, you have definitely done your work well.....
I read this Zola book a few yars ago and simply loved it (my review is here). I gather it is being relocated from Paris to Manchester - cannot help but feel that if the BBC can move most of its functions from London to Salford it could film in Paris. They seem to have enough money to chuck around - witness the blanket coverage of the Glastonbury Festival where the BBC staff is in triple figures and has booked up every hotel for miles around.
BUT I am off again so ignore me and read this article. Much though I love the Divine Jane, Dickens and the Brontes, good to see them tackling another author
Pouring with rain at time of writing, grey skies and really it could almost be November. After one of the driest two months for yonks the tennis and cricket season is here in the UK and, naturally, the rain is simply pissing chucking down. It was ever thus.
I had an unpleasant week last week. I was sorting out my finances and getting involved in mortgages and equity releases and it was all getting a bit hairy as everyone seemed to need advance cheque to release information and to cover 'setting up costs' and 'administration fees' and the Inland Revenue have written to me to tell me I owe them tax from about three years ago which they said they would take and never did, and then the Management Company who 'manage' my block of flats refused to send certain info to my solicitors without more upfront costs, and it all got Too Much to Bear and I literally took to my bed feeling totally overwhelmed and miserable.
So feeling thoroughly sorry for myself and then within the space of four hours, I had three telephone calls to say that all was organised, the solicitors said all was well and the Management Company who normally charge a fee if you blow your nose, agreed to release all this info gratis. After the last telephone all I took to my bed again to recover from the shock of them agreeing to do anything without sending out a bill.
Yesterday I went up to London to meet with a friend and to go to the theatre to see Blithe Spirit with Alison Steadman as Madame Arcati. I had been looking forward to this as a few hours to take my mind off all the bureaucratic crap I had to deal with, but now most of that was sorted, I could relax and enjoy the play. It was tremendous fun and my friend Linda had never seen it before and it was great to be with somebody seeing it for the first time. I know that Alison Steadman's performance did not meet with the approval of a lot of the critics, or indeed the play itself, and I can see why - it was very Margaret Rutherford'ish, she had obviously seen the classic film, and though it was very funny and carried off with great aplomb, I was not as taken with it as I was when I saw Penelope Keith in the same role a few years ago. But the play is just so marvellous that it is impossible to see a bad performance and this was far from that. Great stuff.
Coming home on the train in the evening with the crowds and the inevitable crapulous mobile phone calls from all and sundry was, as ever, dire and ghastly but I had taken the precaution of charging up my iPod and so was able to block out all the dross, but oh dear, once again the wave of thankfulness that swept over me when I thought that I no longer had to do this every day.
Today have had a quiet day and have been enlivening my time by following the Test Match via the cricket page in the Telegraph on line which is always texted really wittily by their correspondents. I sometimes join in and today sent off an email about Boycott's miserable moaning yesterday, this elicited a response and then I emailed in to say that I was following the cricket at the same time listening to Die Walkure on Radio 3. I am firmly of the opinion that if you like Wagner you have the correct mindset for Test Cricket. This was then picked up by one Simon stuck on a train in France and he said he would be eating his fingers soon he was so bored so my email back suggesting he should listen to the Wagner then brought up a comment from another reader that could this be the First SMS Test Cricket Romance and could he come to the wedding? It all got a bit silly and this email exchange was only printed because it was raining and unlikely any more play today, but it really made me laugh and lifted my spirits.
The Die Walkure on Radio 3 was simply stunning and a fantastic performance. All neighbours out so I had it on full blast and just wallowed. Wagner and Cricket - bliss.
And then this morning I finished reading Mr Scarborough's Family by Anthony Trollope. HIs last three volume novel to be completed and, as with all Trollope, once I started this I simply could do nothing until I had read it right through it and found out what happened in the end. And there is a last minute twist which I could not have envisaged and I really think that this has been one of the best of this author's works that I have read. There is something so beguiling about Anthony, he draws you in, addresses you the reader and make you feel for the characters and the events until you realise you are at a stage where you cannot put the book down so involved does the reader become. Happens to me every time. I am having a bit of a Trollope fest at the moment and will be writing about it soon. I am not sure that I am beginning to prefer him to Dickens............
Oh and re the above - I still have the Inland Revenue to battle with but I have enlisted the aid of my MP, I have studied the statute about unpaid tax of long standing and I am ready for the fray. I feel one of my letters coming on, what my friends all an Elaine Special.
As I love lists could not resist checking this out. Gorgeous pic of the reading room at the British Museum as well.
As I scrawled down the list I began to feel increasingly ignorant and 'But I haven't read ANY of these' was my cry. Thankfully, I ended up with a few and they are:
Eminent Victorians - Lytton Strachey; Diary of Anne Frank; De Profundis - Oscar Wilde; Homage to Catalonia - George Orwell; Venice - Jan Morris; The Female Eunuch - Germaine Greer and A Room of One's Own - Virginia Woolf.
Would be interested in anybody's thoughts and how many of these titles they have dipped into!
An author new to me and I freely admit that it was the cover and the tag line 'a dead body shatters the tranquillity of a Cotswold village' that made me want to check this one out. All very Body in the Library'ish only in this case the body is found in the drawing room. When old Monty Bickerstaffe comes home from his daily foray into the village carrying his supply of whisky, he is rather surprised to find the body of a man who he had never seen before stretched out on his sofa. Monty lives all alone in a crumbling ruin of a house and really does not want to be bothered by anybody, friends, relatives and least of all the police. The locals say they know nothing about it, but when Inspector Jess Campbell searches the upper floor of the house which has been in disuse for many years, it is clear that somebody has been using one of the bedrooms on a regular basis, unknown to Monty and whoever these visitors are, they may hold a clue to the identify of the murder victim.
Along with Inspector Jess Campbell we have Superintendent Ian Carter and, as Jess finds it difficult to form relationships because of her job, it is almost inevitable that Ian is getting over a painful divorce. Stock characters as always. I have mentioned it before, and will no doubt mention it again, but surely somewhere there must be a happily married police inspector/detective? No need to mention Roderick Alleyn and Peter Wimsey....
Great fun, well plotted and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I gather that there is one previous Carter and Campbell novel prior to this one so will keep an eye out for it and on checking inside the book it appears that Ann Granger has written about another 20+ detective titles so on my list she goes.
Classic crime setting here. A disparate collection of people all in one place, all with a secret and in amongst them one person who can ruin their lives. Of course, this person is murdered. The setting is Firstone Grange a newly opened rest and recuperation home, very expensive and exclusive. Harriet Quigley a recently retired headmistress goes there to recover from an operation looking forward to some peace and quiet. Into this house comes Christiane Marchant, a Frenchwoman with a malevolent nature who seems to have the dirt on practically every member of the residents. I will admit that her knowledge and the fact that all the residents are linked together in many ways is a tad far fetched and hard to swallow, but Suspension of Disbelief is sometimes essential to enjoyment and so it is in this case.
The book is witty and amusing with a list of characters such as Kieran - 'A lumpen slowcoach'; Ryan - a 'nasty little scrote'; Neil Slater - 'an estate agent who sometimes wears leather shorts' (don't ask) and other assorted personnel who all combine to make this a very enjoyable and lighthearted read. When I tell you that the nasty Christiane is killed by a euphonium falling on her head, then you get the drift.
The latest Inspector Montalbano book and really there is no need to tell you what it is about as the joy of these books, as with the Donna Leon though not to the same extent, is not the story but the characterisation and the sheer delight with which the reader greets them all.
Montalbano wakes up one morning to find the carcass of a horse on the beach in front of his seaside house. But no sooner do his men arrive, than the body has vanished leaving only a track in the sand. Later a glamorous equestrian champion, turns up at polic headquarters tor eport here horse missing. The horse has been stabled at the grounds of Saverio lo Duca one of the richest men in Sicily who has also lost one of his horses.
I love love love these books and cannot understand why I did not like them straight away - it took me three or four titles into the series before they totally beguiled me. Montalbano is my kinda guy and the wonderful Catarella, manning the switchboard who gets everything wrong, who keeps crashing into Montalbano's office, who hero worships him and tells him when somebody has arrived to see him that they are there 'poissonly in poisson' - well, I adore them both.
And, as ever, the food, oh the food! How Montalbano loves to eat "Adeline had made a salad of baby octopus big enough for four and some giant langoustines to be dressed only with olive oil, lemon, salt and black pepper' and that is just one of the simplest dishes.
I wish Andrea Camilleri and long and happy life and good health so that he can continue to write and publish these books and keep me happy.