Veraby Elizabeth von Arnim

‘She had the trust in him, he felt, of a child… He was proud and touched to know it, and it warmed him through and through to see how her face lit up whenever he appeared. Vera’s face hadn’t done that’

Lucy Entwhistle’s beloved father has just died; she is twenty-two and alone in the world. Leaning against her garden gate, dazed and unhappy, she is disturbed by the slightly sweaty presence of Mr. Wemyss, also in mourning – for his wife Vera, who has died in mysterious circumstances. Before Lucy can collect herself the middle-aged Mr. Wemyss has taken charge: of the funeral arrangements, of her kind aunt Dot, but most of all of Lucy herself – body and soul.

I picked this book mainly because of the title, we have a Vera of our own! A strong headed, independent border collie mix. Nothing like the women in this book! Well, aunt Dot was somewhat strong, but ultimately not enough.

In the introduction, by Xandra Hardie, she said ‘Vera roused a furore among those in England who knew the true identity of the author, and recognized the figure to whom she (Elizabeth) had been married, upon whose personality she based Everard Wemyss.’ It was Elizabeth’s second husband, Francis Russell, whom she married after the sudden death of her first husband. My interest was piqued!

The book was well written, kept my interest even though I thoroughly disliked the characters. Lucy was so weak and Weymss was so HORRID! I really had to finish it to see Weymss get his in the end. I was sorely disappointed. I was a little surprised at aunt Dot and would have gladly run Weymss over with a bus myself if given the opportunity! So I guess the book was a success in that it stirred up strong emotions in the reader and the characters, though unlikable, made a lasting impression! I’m looking forward to reading more by von Arnim.


2529493by Penelope Lively

London 1935: A chance meeting in St. James’s Park sparks a love affair that reverberates through three generations of women and the major events of the twentieth century – from the devastation of World War II to the social revolutions of the 1960’s to a journey of self-discovery at the end of an era.

By chronicling the choices and consequences that comprise a family’s history, acclaimed author Penelope Lively offers an intimate, profoundly moving reaffirmation of the force of connection between generations.

I just discovered Penelope Lively, better late than never! I so enjoyed this novel. I love generational tales and her characters are such well written characters you get invested. I’m on a mission now to read all her books. Just ordered The Photograph from paperback swap.

We first peek into life with Lorna and Matt. Two very different backgrounds meeting on a park bench. Lorna is from a well to do family and detests everything that comes with that. She balks ever step of the way and then she meets Matt and her world changes forever. She leaves it all behind for a life with Matt, an up coming artist, a wood engraver. They start life together just before WWII in Somerset England, in a tiny farm cottage with no running water or heat. They are in love and so happy. Lorna learns to be self-sufficient and do things she never dreamed she would ever do. Matt is honing his art and becoming a known name in the field. Lorna learns she is pregnant…

‘And she was perfectly content. So be it. They had not meant this to happen, not just yet, but no matter. Already, her condition was coming to seem just another facet of this new life. She thought: a year ago I would never have dreamed that there could be Matt, that we could be here, like this, that I would feel as Ido, that I could have become a new person. And in another year everything will be different yet again. It is always like that, and always will be; you are forever standing on the brink, in a place where you cannot see ahead; there is nothing of which to be certain except what lies behind. This should be terrifying, but somehow it is not.’

Molly is born and their world just enlarges with more love. Then the impending war changes everything.

I really wanted Lorna and Matts story to go on and on, but the war changed everything and now we move into Molly’s life.

Molly was very young when her dad died. Lorna remarries, though she need gets over the loss of Matt, but dies while Molly is still young. Molly has memories of her mom and vague memories of her dad. She is strong and self-sufficient…

‘Her parents seemed to her now to be somewhere far away, as though you looked through the wrong end of a telescope. At the same time, they were constant, frozen forever in a particular instant of recollection: her father dressed as a soldier standing in a doorway, her mother in the office here in the Fulham house, her hands on the typewriter, looking up with a smile. Her mother wiping a cut on Molly’s leg with cotton wool that becomes bright with blood; her mother pinning washing on the line, and Molly hands her the pegs; her mother standing at a window, here in Fulham, and when she turns around her eyes are shining with tears.

They are locked into Molly’s childhood, her parents. They were somewhere long ago, always there, unchanging. They would never get any older, unlike Lucas, who had gray hair now, and Simon, who was hurtling from childhood into adolescence. She would see them always with her own child’s eye, these distant, immortal figures. What she felt for them was a trace of childhood emotion, which seemed to come smoking back, when their images floated into her head. She became for an instant a child again, experiencing them.

Her adult self saw them differently, as simultaneously remote but deeply personal. She saw them also with detachment, as themselves: young people who had not lived for very long. She felt a strange protectiveness toward them, as though she guarded them in her mind, affording them some kind of survival. But at the same time she knew herself to without them, entirely. To be parentless is to be in some way untethered. For Molly, it was also a recipe for determined self-sufficiency.’

Molly begins an affair with an older, wealthy man. He loves her and wants to marry her but she is not sure and says no. Ruth is born from this union.

Molly raises Ruth by herself. She has a good relationship with James, Ruth’s dad but isn’t sure what love really looks like and holds herself back from any commitments. She won’t allow James to help her much. She like her mother Lorna rejects the pampered, uppercuts life. She tries her hand a different jobs and contents herself with raising Ruth.

Ruth grows up between worlds, that of the middle class and her father’s wealthy lifestyle. She becomes a journalist, marries and has 2 children. She is fascinated with the concept of time – then and now, past, present and future. The concept of space – there, here, elsewhere. I really liked that aspect of Ruth’s character. Reading a letter to her grandmother, Lorna, from a man who was with Matt when he was killed in the war, she considers this…

So that is how it was, thinks Ruth – thinks future. So that – up to a point – is how it was, when then was now. But this evening, as she stares yet again at that careful handwriting – the writing perhaps of a man for whom language did not flow too easily – today then takes on a different complexion. She knows so much that John Marsh could not know. He is trapped within the slide of the present, his present. Ruth, in her own way, knows what will become of his – that the war will end, but not for a while, that Nazism will be routed, that a complicated new world order will emerge, with new nightmares, new Armageddons.

As she reads – the letter, the books – time is collapsed. Past and present seem torun concurrently: what happened, what is thought o have happened.

Loved the end of this book. Ruth brings it all full circle. Wonderful story

My House in Umbria

906270by William Trevor

Mrs. Emily Delahunty–a mysterious and not entirely trustworthy former madam–quietly runs a pensione in the Italian countryside and writes romance novels while she muses on her checkered past. Then one day her world is changed forever as th train she is riding in is blown up by terrorists. Taken to a local hospital to recuperate, she befriends the other survivors–an elderly English general, an American child, and a German boy–and takes them all to convalesce at her villa, with unforeseen results.

I am never disappointed with a William Trevor novel. This is a lovely story. My copy is the HBO movie version so there is a picture on the front cover of Maggie Smith as Mrs. Delahunty. I would have preferred to not have that vision in my mind as I read. I’d have liked to visualize her from the words, but having said that, I did watch the movie on Youtube yesterday and Maggie Smith did a wonderful job of portraying her! On the other hand, Quinty was such an unlovely character in the book and Timothy Spall’s portrayal in the movie was so much nicer than the visual I got from reading. They changed a few thing up in the movie to be able to get the storyline in in a set period of time I believe and they changed the end completely. But it was very good. You can watch it by clicking the link above. I’d read the book first then the movie.

Back to the novel… I really liked Mrs. Delahunty. Would have loved to go to her house in Umbria and visited with her. She had an interesting life. Such a caring heart she had even though life had been hard to her. I enjoyed watching the relationships and healing taking place between the victims of the terrorist attack on her train. And surprised and saddened by the revelation at the end. A good book and a good movie!

The Punch & Judy Murders

IMG_8056by Carter Dickson (John Dickson Carr) 1936

Murder and Marriage

Sir Henry Merrivale (better known to the public, and to his co-workers of the Military Intelligence Department as ‘H.M.’) had disappeared. Two of his young friends were to be married the following day. Then a telegram arrived: MEET ME IMPERIAL HOTEL TORQUAY IMMEDIATELY EXPRESS LEAVES PADDINGON 3:30 URGENT MERRIVALE.

At once everyone was precipitated into the Punch and Judy murders… Hours later, the prospective bridegroom, now a fugitive from justice, and dressed in an unlawfully appropriated policeman’s uniform, stood at the open door of a small library, confronted with a corpse. He was wondering how he could escape from the house before the bona fide police arrived…

Carter Dickson has won a wide following because his plots are tight and logical, his action fast and full of suspense and the atmosphere of his stories is almost uncomfortably convincing.

This was a fun romp and a very complex puzzle. Ken Blake is summoned by Merrivale on the eve of his marriage to Evelyn. She tells him go, Merrivale assures him he will be back in time for the wedding the next morning. And the craziness ensues! Spies, counterfeit money, burglary, experiments in metamorphosis and murder! Evelyn shows up later, not to be left out of the fun and the chase begins. I guess It would have been better had I read the Merrivale novels in order, but it was still a wonderful read. Lots of interesting characters, disguises, red herrings and love.

“That new evidence consists of two wildly unrelated questions: 1: is L. alive, or isn’t he? 2: How does the presence or absence of L. concern the question of the counterfeit money? Uh-huh. At first glance it seems like tryin’ to find the relation of a cactus-plant to a bucket of herring: but when we relate them two facts together we’re goin’ to have the truth.”   ~Henry Merrivale

The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually

by Helen Cullen

IMG_8128On an island off the west coast of Ireland the Moone family gathers, only to be shattered by tragedy. Murtagh Moone is a potter and devoted husband to Maeve, an actor struggling with her most challenging role yet – mother to their four children. Now Murtagh must hold his family close as we bear witness to their story before that night.

We return to the day Maeve and Murtagh meet, outside Trinity College in Dublin, and watch how one love story gives rise to another. As the Moone children learn who their parents truly are, we journey onwards with them to a future that none of the moons could have predicted.

Except perhaps Maeve herself.

I had such high hopes for this book. I really expected to love it. I tried. I just didn’t care for it. Maeve deals with mental illness. They really never clarify a ‘diagnosis’. Severe depression for sure. I would say maybe bi-polar. Being married to someone bi-polar I could definitely identify with Murtagh and the kids. Life with someone with mental illness isn’t easy. I would imagine it is different having a mom with it than a dad.  I don’t care what our ‘woke’ world says, mom is the hub that holds the wheel together. We get different things from her than we do from dad. We need them both.

I think, for the amount of pages, the author missed an opportunity to dig into the relationships and the dynamics the mental illness brought to them, a bit more than she did.  It seemed shallow. Definitely not the level of say a Janet McNeill book. I wanted to like Maeve. But the author just didn’t bring it to the level I could feel for her. I see my husband struggle and ache for him, but I never got there with Maeve.

I did like Murtagh though. I liked his deep love for Maeve, his total commitment to her and his family. Maybe because I can identify with him better. I don’t know. I loved the pottery and the island. But 250ish pages into this book on mental illness’ effect on a family, the book took a sudden turn in a whole different direction. Another cultural hot-button. Out of the blue, no warning. I literally threw the book down on the floor and said NO WAY! Did you have to go there and take away from this important topic.  I did not even finish the last 50ish pages. I felt deceived. I’m sorry I paid good money for this book.

I think I need to just stick to my old books, to Agatha Christie, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Ruth Moore, Elisabeth Ogilvie. I am a grumpy old dinosaur who will not go willingly into the ‘woke’ future. Hate me if you must. So I’ve dug out an old copy of a 1936 John Dickson Carr mystery and got me a cup of tea and I’ll just enjoy the past.

Slight Mourning

by Catherine Aird

1823838._SY475_Murder after Dinner

Twelve people sat down for dinner at Strontfield Park, William Fent’s ancestral home. Thirteen would have been most unlucky. For the host, however, the evening could not have been unluckier. By midnight he was dead—killed instantly when his motorcar smashed into another on a bad bit of road. The problem for Detective Inspector C. D. Sloan was the autopsy. The victim, it seemed, was about to die in any event. Along with the cold cucumber soup, crown of lamb, raspberry crémets, and a fine aged port, someone served the lord of the manor a dose of deadly poison. But which of the surviving eleven had the opportunity… and who had the motive to want him dead?

My first Aird book. Only a three star. It was a good puzzle, but I didn’t really warm up to Inspector Sloan. Maybe he’ll grow on me if I read more of her books. Miss Cynthia Paterson, a spinster woman, daughter of the old village minister now deceased, reminded me of Miss Marple. There were pleasant well drawn characters and an ending I never guessed. Good red herring! Got my focus.