Judy Leigh’s books are just plain fun. Enough said, but I found the audio of this one on Chirp for a reasonable price (I hope the author gets something??) and snagged it.
Lil is living a nice life in her apartment at a nice assisted living facility. She has breakfast everyday at a local cafe, has a good friend Maggie who lives next door with her boring husband Brian, and has her daughter Cassie nearby. So when a local 5-a-side soccer (football) team and a pub owner plan a bus trip (pre-Brexit) through parts France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, Lil signs herself Maggie and Cassie up.
In addition to Lil’s party and the soccer team, there are also snobby Ken and his two fellow tennis club members Sue and Denise and Emily whose Royal Marine boy friend is in the Middle East and Albert the quiet, overcoat-wearing father of the publican. They tour the D-Day battle fields, see Bruges, stay on a Belgian farm, and tour Amsterdam among other places. A nice combination of group events and personal time awaits the travelers. But none realizes all the things in store for them, the fun, the personal growth, a minor epiphany or two….And a love… [No Spoilers].
My very first thought was “N#*kie” must be a less offensive term in the UK [England]. It really put me off–even if it was used in connection with a Jilly Cooper-like novel ******* In spite of this, which nearly made me throw the book back, I trusted my gut and what I knew of Judy’s books and kept on. I’m so glad I did. I loved Lil and Maggie, Cassy, Pat, even “SyUUU-e” (I loved this from the audio book performer) and Denise and Ken! While Ken was deliberately over-the-top, they were a believable bunch with believable lives and travel experiences. I especially liked Lil (to whom I could completely relate) when faced with some lifelong dream choices. I liked too, that the group was respectful of each other. They gathered together and had fun realizing that they might not all be besties at home, but they could get to know each other and enjoy a few minutes together on the road in a sincere way.
I love Judy Leigh’s books because no one is too old to try again, to find love, to have a great life. As I face unwanted unemployment on the eve of my 60th birthday, I needed this story to remind me that life isn’t over.
*****Americans: Jilly Cooper writes sexy romances set in the equestrian sports world of England. One of her characters is rumored to be based upon Andrew Parker-Bowles, ex-husband of Prince Charles’ wife, Camilla.
I needed a book set in North Dakota to finish my 50-state journey of reading across the United States.
“From award-winning, New York Times bestselling author Louise Erdrich comes this vibrant tale of abandonment and sexual obsession, jealousy, and unstinting love.”
Karl and Mary Adare are dumped by a useless mother and make their way separately in life–meeting up at various moments. Mary stays on in Argos, North Dakota where the pair have been sent with their baby brother to stay with an Aunt. This book covers about the next forty or so years of their life of ordinariness interrupted with things like a chef suffering food poisoning.
The reviewers must have read a different book. By the middle, I’d rather have harvested beets in the field by hand. The “comedy” in the book was barely worthy of a smirk. This book was simply DULL. I think life in North Dakota is less dull than this. At least in Minot, there’s an Air Force base.
3 Stars at best
Yes, I’m also Reading Around the World. Check the tag cloud in the right sidebar for links to those posts. Need ideas? Check out A Year of Reading the World.
My Journey Across the United States in Books
For many states, it was hard to choose just one for this post. For others such as North Dakota, Rhode Island, Delaware, Nevada, and Wyoming, I had to do some research to find something. Most are novels, but occasionally I’ve used a nonfiction book. When there were multiple titles to choose from, I’ve simply chosen my favorite. I have read these over my lifetime–not just since blogging came into being. I’ve included D.C. and Puerto Rico in my list as well. Are you on this journey? Leave me a comment or a link. I’d love to see your choices!
If you have not yet discovered London’s Persephone Books, you are in for many, many delightful reads. Their aim is to rescue and keep in print books of the 20th Century from women authors. Blogger Dwell in Possibility makes reading these even a little more fun by having readathons, or in the case of last weekend, a mini-readathon. During readathons, you, obviously, READ books from this publisher’s list and share your reading on social media using the hashtag #PersephoneReadathon. There is even a new Twitter account: @ReadPersephone. Today I’m reviewing my mini-readathon book. I didn’t finish it all in one weekend, though I certainly could have.
“She began to tremble, trying to push away the small, clear voice. She wanted to go where they were going tonight, with a pathetic, passionate eagerness. She wanted to visit a night club, to partake of its activities…Simply and honestly she faced and confessed her abandonment of all the principles that had guided her through life. In one short day, at the first wink of temptation, she had not just fallen, but positively tumbled, from grace. Her long years of virtue counted for nothing. She had never been tempted before. The fleshpots called: the music bewitched: dens of iniquity charmed….. She could not deny that this way of sin, condemned by parents and principles, was a great deal more pleasant than the lonely path of virtue, and her morals had not withstood the test” (p. 135).
Guenivere Pettigrew, a spinster of 40 living in 1930’s London, has been accustomed to earning her way as a nursery maid or ladies maid or similar. Currently without a position, but thinking of the amazingly-still-open-Workhouse looming, she goes to one of the two job interviews the Agency has left. Supposedly a position for a nursemaid, the door is answered by the 1930’s version of a Bright Young Thing, albeit one who has climbed up to her position via her voice and the theatre. Miss Pettigrew does not even get to properly introduce herself before she is sucked into the vortex of her potential employer’s amazing social life.
“Nonsense, if you can look good once, you can look good always” (p. 166).
My first thought was more people need an epiphany like that of Miss Pettigrew:
“What would her dear dead mother say if life came back to her body? What did Miss Pettigrew care? Nothing. Freely, frankly, joyously, she acknowledged the fact. She was out for a wild night. She was out to paint the town red….She was out to enjoy herself as she had never enjoyed herself before, and all the sermons in the world wouldn’t change her course.” (p. 167)
“She wore daringly a gown of sheer white.” (p. 180)
I loved this line–that little nuance turns the phrase just slightly to the left.
My second thought was so many people hold on to “What would X think/say?” or “But Father X/Pastor X said...” and let that be an excuse to hide from the world–hide from fun and enjoyment. Miss Pettigrew never once compromised her true beliefs–she just learned to loosen up and enjoy the day.
This was such a fun book! It was a super-fast, but compelling read. Conversations are not burdened with things such as quotation marks or attribution of speakers. The reader is just swept up into that same vortex that caught Miss Pettigrew herself. The original illustrations are clever and so appropriate to both the era of the and to its characters. I liked, too, that most of the characters are self-made, not aristocrats. They were much freer to make friends and romantic attachments. “Delightful” was the word I’ve read everywhere on this gem of a book and delightful is my verdict.
I love reading books set in other countries and other cultures. Pakistan is a country the media tells us to fear, so that made this story even more appealing. The idea of a Pakistani P & P was so clever I couldn’t wait! For the record, I enjoy Jane Austen but prefer to watch or listen to the stories rather than read them so I knew it would have to be an audiobook to fully enjoy it. Thankfully, I finally made it up the library waiting list for the e-audio. It was well worth the wait.
The Binat family has been swindled by relatives and left with only a house in a nowheresville small city in their native Pakistan. The marital prospects for the five Binat daughters look to be nil due to their being in the poor part of the otherwise prominent family. The two oldest daughters, Jena and Alys, teach at a private school and the other three sisters attend the school. The mother, who wants her social position back, is determined they will all marry excellent rich men. Her husband, for whom the betrayal of his family has been the source of a near breakdown, potters in his garden and tries to stay out of the way.
Meanwhile, the family garners an invitation to the top wedding of the year. Mrs. Binat pulls out all possible stops to send her daughters off in the best possible outfits, with the best-looking hair and the best accessories they can manage on their paultry budget. Let the fun begin!
The story shifts with the shifting alliances, makes twists when treachery is uncovered and generally takes the reader on a prom-night-stretch-limo-party-bus of a ride to the predictable happy ending.
The backstabbing relatives, overly abundant gossip and the general cattiness of women are marvelously employed devices in this story. The author has a great ear for dialogue and the voices of the characters each run true. Of course, the daughters are stereotypes. It’s an Austen re-tell! Jena, the quiet one, Alys the bold one, Marie the religious one and Kitty and Lady the bratty younger ones.
I loved this book! It was so much fun. I wanted to hug hapless Mr. Binat, smack Kity and Lady and Sami and Hami [I listened to the audio–sorry if I spelled them wrong] The fun nicknames like Gin and Rum added to the party atmosphere. Get yourself some chai and get ready for a great read.
Tsukiko is an office worker in early midlife. One evening at a bar she encounters a teacher from her high school. They develop a close, loving relationship. “Sensei” as she continues to call him is much older, but they find they order the same foods, like drinking together, and enjoy each other’s take on the world.
“Would you consider a relationship with me, based on a premise of love?” he asks a few years later.
Hopefully, no spoilers. I hate them. Sorry if I give something away without realizing it First, let me say that I loved the sound of the food–I want to try ALL the food in this book!
I’ve only read a handful of Japanese books, so I probably missed miles of symbolism in this one. For example, Sensei always carries a briefcase and in the end, we find something out about it, but I’m still unsure what it means. Some of his pronouncements, some of her acts–surely there was supposed to be more meaning than I understood in them?
This is one of the few older man/younger woman relationships that I accepted and liked but found “off.” Not pervy, not desperate, not cringe-y, just “off” somehow. I found myself hoping Tsukiko would take off for America or move-in with her high school classmate or just adopt a pet. I did not “feel” the relationship between her and Sensei in the way I believe the author intended. I found Tsukiko’s only true-to-life emotion was in the cringy last part where she wonders if a physical relationship even matters.
Read all of the reviews of Japanese Literature Challenge 13here
I tried this audiobook earlier as I was curious to read more about Iceland, but got too confused and quit. I did something I rarely do, I read some reader reviewers on Amazon and got the gist of what was confusing me and tried it again a few months later. This week, it made sense.
Pauline/Sister Johanna reveals her story in an often confusing narrative told in back-and-forth switches in time from her student days in Paris to later in her life and to even later in her life. Her personal story is entwined with the stories of her investigation into tales of abuse in a Catholic School in Iceland. An emotionally blackmailing priest, a headmaster with problems, children who are being abused, and a church hierarchy wanting to hide it all away combine with the dark winter days and gloomy weather of Iceland and the gloomy emotional landscape of her early Paris years to make this story a fascinating, if somewhat dark, read. [Note: Abuse is a topic in the book, but there are no descriptions of the abuse and there is no sex. It is all just there in the background, it is not a focus.] The gloom is enlivened by a dog named after a Beatle and a car named after a Savior.
This story had such promise I took the time to sort it out and try it again–that should be all I need to say! Olafsson can really spin a tale. I do wish, though, that for the sake of the reader he’d take on just a tiny bit of conventional style and put in a date or a place when he switches back and forth in time. This is confusing enough in print, but in the audio, it was often truly frustrating until I got the hang of his storytelling style, by which time in my first attempt, I was hopelessly lost.
In spite of the confusion, this book more than lives up to its hype. The audio was beautifully done by Jane Copeland whose voice was perfect for the story’s atmosphere. I will definitely look for more of Olafsson’s work.
If you’ve seen Tom Cruise’s film The Valkryie you know that not everyone fully supported Hitler. There was a German resistance movement even within the Wehrmacht. One of the Valkryie conspirators was Ulrich Von Hassell. He was later executed for his part in the plot to kill Hitler. His daughter, Fey, had an interesting war as well. This book tells her story from after the time of Valkryie until the end of the war.
Fey Von Hassell was a very privileged young woman who married an equally privilege Italian aristocrat. Not only was Fey the daughter of a Valkryie conspirator, but her maternal grandfather was Kaiser Wilhelm II’s Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz. She grew up on a fine estate and her family’s friends had all been in the Kaiser’s own circle. Her husband’s family had similar connections, only in Italy. After Valkrie, with her husband in Rome in the new Italian government as a cover for his resistance work, Fey is taken into custody and separated from her sons.
As the war grinds to its end, Fey and other “Sippenhäfltlinge” (kin of prisoners) are moved from location to location–sometimes to concentration camps, but never in the same circumstances as the Jewish prisoners awaiting death. They were all Germans, Aryans, but the relatives of “traitors.”
As happens in wartime, miscommunication hampers Fey’s ability to make sense of it all. Arriving at one destination, some of the little party of “Prominenten” prisoners, who by now included prominent POWs such as two men providentially named “Churchill,” but who were, in fact, no relation to Winston, are reunited with their seized children, but Fey is not. As Himmler uses the group as a bargaining chip, Fey becomes determined to make a change in her life that seems impossible, but that gives her comfort to survive teh moment.
Finally, at war’s end, she realizes the intended change in her life cannot take place and that she must try to find her children again, all the time fearing that they have been given new names and perhaps even been adopted by a new family. Bureaucracies of several nations now stand in her way, yet she and husband Detalmo, are determined to find their boys.
I do not seek to minimize Fey’s very real trauma, but I was somewhat relieved to read her words of angst at having been in the camps, however briefly, and not had to suffer as the Jewish prisoners did. At no time did she go hungry. Occasionally in travel, there were uncomfortable conditions and yes, her life was in danger from bombing and later from execution–an extremely traumatic idea to live under. Unlike those in the concentration camp awaiting their deaths, Fey’s suffering was confined to about a year at the end of the war. Did she suffer trauma? Of course many times over. But nothing compared to the Jews.
She was right to be proud of her father, whose personal moral code could not stomach Hitler. No one could resign a commission under Hitler, so he did what he could and helped plot to kill the man. Her husband, too, worked with the resistance in Italy to end the war. Those are proud accomplishments speaking of the best morals and true courage.
I have read other books on German aristocrats in the war and most leave me wondering “why are you complaining?” [See the bottom of this post for reading suggestions]. Fey, though, had a mother’s greatest nightmare come true and lived through it. That, too, is a proud accomplishment. That the search for her sons was not that arduous compared to that of many displaced persons, does not lessen the trauma the events inflicted on her.
I must confess that author and historian David McCullough is a secret crush of mine! His wonderful voice, narrating stories on PBS’ American Experience, his amazing prose in his long list of books–wow. This man is the real deal. But, when this book came out in 2011 I was shocked that I couldn’t stick with it. Had he failed me at last? Fast-forward to last week when I needed an audiobook for my commute. My heart raced as I read about the audio version in the library catalog: David McCullough AND Edward Herrmann. I’m that geeky–it was a love story for my ears! The late Edward Herrmann is/was also a crush of mine. Sigh. What a difference the format can make.
From the early years of the 19th Century many Americans began crossing the Atlantic to study, sculpt, paint, read, write, wine, and dine, in Paris. From artists to statesmen from doctors to writers, citizens of the young American nation went back to “the old country” or at least back to Europe and straight to Paris to taste a more cultured, less Puritan lifestyle that, by-and-large, agreed with each of them. James Fenimore Cooper, Mark Twain, Senator Charles Sumner, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mary Casssatt, Theodore Roosevelt Sr and Jr, Harriet Beacher Stowe and Augustus Saint-Gaudens are among the many, many people McCullough discusses in this amazing story. The characters, whether heard from briefly or throughout the book, have their stories woven in and out of the threads of each other’s lives. Teddy Roosevelt, a mere boy on his visit, gets a brief moment. Charles Sumner a long season. It works beautifully.
What an enjoyable audiobook! I sat both my office parking lot and my own driveway listening longer than I should have nearly every day. I found myself pulling up online maps and photos and quotes to expand the story. I felt guilty remembering my despair in 2011 when reading the print version. I’m pretty sure it was me at that moment and nothing what-so-ever to do with my beloved David’s prose, but having Edward read it was so nice, too.
The Classics Club bloghosts the Club and the Spins. It’s a fun concept. Create your list of classics to be read and then read the post announcing the numbered selection from your list to read.
Here is my current Classics Club List
Love for Lydia
The Blue Castle
Groves of Academe
Age of Innocence
Wide Sargasso Sea
Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
Passage to India
House of Spirits
Woman in Berlin
Death in the Afternoon
#13 was the spin result, so I looked at my list and read the delightful Excellent Womenby Barbara Pym.
Mildred Lathbury, a clergyman’s daughter, lives in post-war London and is in real danger of becoming a….gasp….true spinster! She is one of those “useful spinsters,” though, sort of a next-generation “Surplus Woman.” She is the type woman I think of as born middle-aged, who has never considered not following the rules to the letter, always has her checkbook balanced, and never goes to sleep without doing the dishes. She is also not dull!
Her world is unsettled by two women–one a wife, the other a widow, who invade her home and the home of her close friend. One settles on the almost-but-not-quite man of the moment (really, Mildred is too sensible to have hopes anymore, right?) the other dumps her charming, handsome, used-to-being-doted-on-by-spinsters husband. Quandary time!
Will the useful spinster work all things out for the good?
I loved this little book from start-to-finish! A true delight.
Pepys Diary came to my attention many, many years ago when I first read Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road. I finally bought a copy a few years ago and have been dabbling in it between books ever since. It is an amazing read. So, when I saw a new-to-me historical fiction author had a book with his name in the title I decided to give it a try. One minor correction to my assumption: While this book serves perfectly well as a stand-alone novel, it is actually part of a series by the author who uses different people in the Diary as the main character.
When an evil step-mother intrudes on her lift, Bird, finds herself married off to an unpleasant man of lower rank who owns a livery stable. After a few miserable years of soaping saddles and working like made, Bird finally enters a company of players at a theater. Now that theaters are using women in women’s roles, perhaps she can develop a more satisfying life–and get more business for her husband’s stable?
Before she can get really going the plague hits London. Yes–THE plague–this was the 17th Century, after all. But, wait! There’s the discovery of the….limeskin! And, ….. [no spoilers]
What I Loved
Swift makes Pepys would come alive! The characters are so real. I felt so much for each of the women, especially, but also, in an odd way for Bird’s husband as his story was revealed. I had the same sense as I did reading Pepys actual diary that the Biblical adage, “There is nothing new under the sun,” is so very true–and that is what makes this book so good. It shows us real life with believable characters.
Entertaining Mr. Pepys by Deborah Swift
Publication Date: September 12, 2019
Hachette Book Group
eBook. Paperback, Audiobook; 400 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Elizabeth ‘Bird’ Carpenter has a wonderful singing voice, and music is her chief passion. When her father persuades her to marry horse-dealer Christopher Knepp, she suspects she is marrying beneath her station, but nothing prepares her for the reality of life with Knepp. Her father has betrayed her trust, for Knepp cares only for his horses; he is a tyrant and a bully, and will allow Bird no life of her own.
When Knepp goes away, she grasps her chance and, encouraged by her maidservant Livvy, makes a secret visit to the theatre. Entranced by the music, the glitter and glamour of the surroundings, and the free and outspoken manner of the women on the stage, she falls in love with the theatre and is determined to forge a path of her own as an actress.
But life in the theatre was never going to be straightforward – for a jealous rival wants to spoil her plans, and worse, Knepp forbids it, and Bird must use all her wit and intelligence to change his mind.
Based on events depicted in the famous Diary of Samuel Pepys, Entertaining Mr Pepys brings London in the 17th Century to life. It includes the vibrant characters of the day such as the diarist himself and actress Nell Gwynne, and features a dazzling and gripping finale during the Great Fire Of London.
The third in Deborah Swift’s atmospheric trilogy, bringing to life the women in Pepys’ Diary. Each novel features a different character and can be read as a stand-alone book.
‘A remarkably beguiling read. It transported me to the glitter and filth of seventeenth century London’ – Martine Bailey, author of The Almanack
‘The fusion of historical facts and fiction is so flawless that it is hard to know where reality ends and fiction begins’ – Readers Favourite Review
‘Swift is a consummate historical novelist, basing her books on immaculate research and then filling the gaps between real events and real people with eloquent storytelling, atmospheric scene setting and imaginative plot lines’ – The Visitor
‘A novel that transports readers with astonishing and engrossing detail’ – Readers Favorite 5*
‘Pepys and his world spring to vibrant lifeâ€¦ Gripping, revealing and stunningly imagined’ -Lancashire Evening Post
About the Author
Deborah Swift is the author of three previous historical novels for adults, The Lady’s Slipper, The Gilded Lily, and A Divided Inheritance, all published by Macmillan/St Martinâs Press, as well as the Highway Trilogy for teens (and anyone young at heart!). Her first novel was shortlisted for the Impress prize for new novelists.
She lives on the edge of the beautiful and literary English Lake District a place made famous by the poets Wordsworth and Coleridge.
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