Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Viceroy’s Daughters – Anne De Courcy

I went to a talk on ‘The Mitfords’ by Susannah Fullerton (President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia) and she recommended this book.

Based on unpublished letters and diaries, “The Viceroy’s Daughters” is a riveting portrait of three spirited and wilful women who were born at the height of British upper-class wealth and privilege.

The oldest, Irene, never married but pursued her passion for foxes, alcohol, and married men. The middle, Cimmie, was a Labour Party activist turned Fascist. And Baba, the youngest and most beautiful, possessed an appetite for adultery that was as dangerous as it was outrageous.

As the sisters dance, dine, and romance their way through England’s most hallowed halls, we get an intimate look at a country clinging to its history in the midst of war and rapid change. We obtain fresh perspectives on such personalities as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Oswald Mosley, Nancy Astor and the Cliveden Set, and Lord Halifax. And we discover a world of women, impeccably bred and unabashedly wilful, whose passion and spirit were endlessly fascinating.

This book was great – well researched and full of interesting social detail. These women lead fascinating (and salacious) lives. They seemed to know everyone in the public eye, e.g. Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson, Winston Churchill, Oswald Mosley (one of them married him, another one slept with him and the third one had an affair with him!), Nancy Astor and Lord Halifax (the foreign secretary during Word War Two). It was a time of excess in all things, which, of course, makes for fascinating reading. I found the bits about the Duke of Windsor (formerly King Edward V111) compelling – he was so self-centred and self-serving. It’s not just about people behaving badly though – these women supported many charities (Baba was awarded Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her work with the Save The Children Fund).

Other reviews …



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Filed under History, Recommended

The Five People You Meet in Heaven – Mitch Albom

I wasn’t sure about reading this novel, but I think it is important to at least try to read books recommended (or suggested) by other book club members. I thought the writing style was simple and that enhanced the message – I’m sure with this subject matter there is a temptation to be sweet or a bit overblown (just look at Touched by an Angel).

Here is the blurb …

Eddie is a wounded war veteran, an old man who has lived, in his mind, an uninspired life. His job is fixing rides at a seaside amusement park. On his 83rd birthday, a tragic accident kills him as tries to save a little girl from a falling cart. He awakens in the afterlife, where he learns that heaven is not a destination. It’s a place where your life is explained to you by five people, some of whom you knew, others who may have been strangers. One by one, from childhood to soldier to old age, Eddie’s five people revisit, their connections to him on earth, illuminating the mysteries of his “meaningless” life and revealing the haunting secret behind the eternal question: “What was I here?”

The characters, Eddie in particular, are well written – I’m sure we would all recognise people like them in the real world. Albom has a lovely turn of phrase – there is a great bit where he describes children like glasses and how all parents damage their children some just smudge the glass, others crack and others destroy it totally. I did like the inter-connectedness of all people and how our lives and actions affect others – even if we’re not aware of that impact. It was also an interesting view of heaven – we get to make sense of our lives. However, for me, this novel felt like an American self-help book – not that that is a bad thing it’s just not for me.

Here are some other reviews …

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Filed under Fiction - Light

Summer of Love – Katie Fforde


On a much lighter note than yesterday’s post, I’ve read Katie Fforde’s latest offering. I’ve been a big fan since reading The Rose Revived years ago. However, I’ve been disappointed with the last few novels. This one, to my mind at least, marks a return to form. Not quite as good as the early novels, but better than the recent ones.

Katie Fforde writes romance novels – the plot revolves around the romance. In this one, as in some previous novels, there are two romances happening; a young couple  and shall we say a more mature couple?

Here’s the blurb …

Sian Bishop has only ever experienced one moment of recklessness – a moment that resulted in her beloved son Rory. It’s not that she doesn’t love the outcome of that wild night, but since then she has always taken the safer route. So when dependable, devoted Richard suggests a move to the beautiful English countryside, she leaves the hustle and bustle of the city behind, and she throws herself into the picture-postcard cottage garden, her furniture restoration business, and a new life in the country. Her good intentions are torpedoed on a glorious summer’s evening with the arrival of Gus Berresford. One-time explorer and full-time heartbreaker, Gus is ridiculously exciting, wonderfully glamorous and a completely inappropriate love interest for a single mum. But Gus and Sian have met before…Sian has no use for a fling, she simply mustn’t fall in love with the most unlikely suitor ever to cross her path – even if he has now crossed her path twice. But who knows what can happen in a summer of love…

I loved the rural setting and the sense of community Fforde creates (I want to live in one of her villages – I’m sure the light is always golden and it never rains!). This is an escapist read – it’s light, enteratining and doesn’t take too long to finish.

I have to admit I did find the situation that Sian finds herself in (in relation to Gus) very contrived, but you have to get the plot moving somehow!  And if this all seems a bit negative I assure you that I will be reading the next Katie Fforde novel.

Here are some other reviews  …



Filed under Fiction - Light

Mary Barton – Elizabeth Gaskell

When my Victorian book club decided to read Mary Barton as our first Gaskell book (we read three of each author) I was slightly nervous. I’ve read North and South and Wives and Daughters and enjoyed them both, but Mary Barton just sounded depressing. I was pleasantly surprised, however I don’t think it will appeal to a modern audience, but more of that later.

Here is  the plot summary from Wikipedia (read it at your own peril it does give the story away).

The novel was subtitled “A Tale of Manchester Life.” It begins in that city, where we are introduced to the Bartons and the Wilsons, two working-class families. John Barton is a great questioner of the distribution of wealth and the relations between rich and poor. Soon his wife dies–he blames it on her grief over the disappearance of her sister Esther–leaving him and his daughter Mary to cope in the harsh world. Having already lost his son Tom at a young age, Barton now falls into depression and begins to involve himself in the Chartist, trade-union movement.

Having taken up work at a dress-maker’s (her father having objected to her working in a factory), Mary becomes subject to the affections of hard-working Jem Wilson and Harry Carson, son of a wealthy mill owner. She fondly hopes, by marrying Carson, to secure a comfortable life for herself and her father, but immediately after refusing Jem’s offer of marriage she realizes that she truly loves him. She therefore decides to evade Carson, planning to show her feelings to Jem in the course of time. Jem believes her decision to be final, though this does not change his feelings for her.

Meanwhile, Esther, a “street-walker,” returns to warn John Barton that he must save Mary from becoming like her. He simply pushes her away, however, and she’s sent to jail for a month on the charge of vagrancy. Upon her release she talks to Jem with the same purpose. He promises that he will protect Mary and confronts Carson, eventually entering into a fight with him, which is witnessed by a policeman passing by.

Not long afterwards, Carson is shot dead, and Jem is arrested on suspicion, his gun having been found at the scene of the crime. Esther decides to investigate the matter further and discovers that the wadding for the gun was a piece of paper on which is written Mary’s name.

She visits her niece to warn her to save the one she loves, and after she leaves Mary realises that the murderer is not Jem but her father. She’s now is faced with having to save her lover without giving away her father. With the help of Job Legh (the intelligent grandfather of her blind friend Margaret), Mary travels to Liverpool to find the only person who could provide an alibi for Jem–Will Wilson, Jem’s cousin and a sailor, who was with him on the night of the murder. Unfortunately, Will’s ship is already departing, so that, after Mary chases after the ship in a small boat, the only thing Will can do is promise to return in the pilot ship and testify the next day.

During the trial, Jem learns of Mary’s great love for him. In the nick of time Will arrives in court to testify, and Jem is found not guilty. Mary has fallen ill during the trial and is nursed by Mr Sturgis, an old sailor, and his wife. When she finally returns to Manchester she has to face her father, who is crushed by his remorse. He summons John Carson, Harry’s father, to tell him that he is the murderer and to explain that the act was carried out in vengeance against the rich. Carson is still set on justice, but after turning to the Bible he forgives Barton, who dies soon afterwards in Carson’s arms. Not long after this Esther comes back to Mary’s home, where she, too, dies soon.

Jem decides to leave England, where, his reputation damaged, it would be difficult for him to find a new job. The novel ends with the wedded Mary and Jem, their little child, and Mrs Wilson living happily in Canada. News comes that Margaret has regained her sight and that she and Will, soon to be married, will be coming for a visit.

This novel is full of interesting historical detail (some of it quite horrifying – the conditions of the poor!), the characters and the dialogue are superb. From this far away in time it is difficult to say how realistic it all is, but it was very convincing.  Why do I think it won’t appeal to a modern audience? Too much religion – it was definitely an open-hearted loving version of Christianity (not brimstone and hell fire),  but I think modern audiences aren’t use to such overt religious over tones in their reading. I’m glad that I’ve read it, but I won’t be re-reading it.


Filed under Serious