March and April Short Book Reviews

To War with Whitaker – Hermione Ranfurly: Funny, acerbic, remarkable diaries of Hermione Ranfurly (I read her childhood memoirs in February) who followed her husband to the Second World War and worked for a series of generals in Egypt and Italy. Her experiences, the contrasts between war and liesure, bureacracy and youthful high spirits, the privileges her rank and youth brought her and the economies needed because of relative poverty make it a delightful read. But by the time the diaries return, self-consciously, to the peaceful country setting in which they started, it is clear that the world, politics, culture and society have changed.

  • Borrowed from my mother
  • Cover is a watercolour painting, which is better than a photo cover (although it was based on several of the photos in the book) and looks consistent with the cover of The Ugly One. Still a bit too khaki.

Step Ball Change – Jeanne Ray: Light and sweet and fast.

  • Borrowed from my mother
  • Staged photo cover, I think of someone kicking up a heel in a red shoe? Accurate to the genre, but racier than the cover to Eat Cake (see below), and this certainly wasn’t a racy novel!

Eat Cake – Jeanne Ray: See above.

  • Borrowed from my mother
  • Staged photo cover, tones of pink: a neatly dressed woman holding a pile of cake boxes – accurate to the story.

All the President’s Men – Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein: The account of the breaking of Watergate by the reporters involved. Gripping and entertaining, but also fascinating for the changes (and lack thereof) in reporting and technology!

  • Bought at the Lifeline Booksale
  • Movie tie-in cover, but that means Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman looking earnest and flared, so that’s good.

Der Tod auf Dem Nil – Agatha Christie: This book is incorrectly titled. It shouldn’t be “Death on the Nile” – it should be “People annoy each other indefinitely on the Nile.” Or possibly “People don’t die on the Nile”. I was sure the death happened earlier in the book last time I read it, but my sense of time may have been dilated by reading it in German.

  • Bought at the Lifeline Booksale. I think.
  • Dreadful sunset photo-cover on a cheap library-style hardback.

Death in the Stocks – Georgette Heyer: So much better than the last Heyer crime novel I read – this was frothy and fast paced and entertaining and modern. I’m often surprised by how current books written in the ’20s and ’30s feel and how old-fashioned the ’50s seem. I know *why*, but if you just read books written then it sometimes feels as if the decades came in the wrong order.

  • Lent at me
  • Too pink, but otherwise a painting of fabulous young people in evening dress is accurate to the feel of the novels (although most of the characters were rather bohemian), and far better than the current sweet, pink, beribboned covers to her regencies.

Strong Poison – Dorothy Sayers: I’m sneaking up to reading Gaudy Night (and the review of it on, on principles of delayed gratification (and also because, as said in relation to that novel, you can reread a book any number of times but you can only read it once for the first time). I enjoyed that this book opened with the summing up in court, but mostly I enjoyed the vigorous opinion of the characters on the correct way to make an omelette, and have been making omelettes (successfully!) a great deal since. In fact, I might have one for dinner tonight.

  • Bought from a big chain bookstore
  • Black and white photo of a woman’s legs and court shoes, walking along a pavement. A bit noirish, but not off-putting and sets the era squarely. It does give the impression of a cover to a well-known book, rather than a cover to draw in unsuspecting readers.

Five Red Herrings – Dorothy Sayers: Too many accents! This circular crime novel with its welter of accents and geographical features and eccentric artists at times felt too convoluted and self-indulgent, but it was Lord Peter Wimsey and many eccentric artists, so it wasn’t  bad. Possibly I wanted more cooking tips. I did like that she had a character discover a vital clue at the beginning and then told the reader that they’d have to work out what it was for themselves and if they’d been paying attention they’d be able to. And I did! Well, I had a strong suspicion, but I’m not an oil painter so I wasn’t sure.

  • Bought from a local crime/SF store on the same evening as the above, in penance for shopping at big chain bookstores
  • I cannot recall what the cover picture was of, but my impressions were as for Strong Poison above.

Also: I also read several Strand short crime stories out loud to my father, include Kipling’s “Faery-Kist” and Sayers’ “The Hanted Policeman”, which was my first Lord Peter Wimsey story, and so far my favourite.

February Short Book Reviews

10+ books this month, and since that obviously makes too short a post, I have added features – where the book was acquired and what I thought of the cover. If I think of any more categories (or there are any suggestions which amuse me sufficiently) I may eventually be able to reduce these monthly reviews to a formulaic checklist which would at least make it more likely for me to get them out early in the month.  Next months’ review post will be shorter, with the unfortunate consequence that you won’t get to hear about Regency gentleman fighting with anacondas in Ceylon (for real! published before Pride and Prejudice! How have I gone this long without Gothic horror!) until after April.

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