The Girl on the Train

  

Title: The Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

Published: 2015

Challenges: Reading England 2015

Rating: Three and a half stars out of five

Synopsis

Every morning on her journey to work Rachel watches the couple who live in a house a few doors down from her ex husband. She imagines the life ‘Jess and Jason’ live and how happy they are in their relationship; it is fair to say that she envies them a little bit.  But what Rachel doesn’t know is that Megan and Scott are just like any other married couple, they have arguments and make up…and then Megan disappears.  Rachel is determined to help and is convinced that she knows something about the disappearance, unfortunately Rachel isn’t the most reliable  witness.  She is an alcoholic.  Her divorce from husband Tom and his subsequent marriage to Anna pushed her into drink and although she knows she was there, on the street Megan, Scott, Tom and Anna live, she doesn’t quite know what she did.

My Thoughts

The Girl on the Train has been much talked about this year.  It is a physiological thriller meant to fill the void for fans of Gone Girl and has certainly been one of this year’s bestsellers.  The narrative flicks between three different female voices and recalls the events leading up to Megan’s disappearance and what happens afterwards as Rachel tries to piece together her part in this mystery.  Rachel’s voice is the most prominent throughout and we discover what pushed her into alcoholism and follow her on her journey to recovery; it is Megan’s disappearance and the mystery of this that spurs Rachel into staying sober.  We also hear from Megan, who also has a difficult past and Tom’s new wife, Anna, who is struggling to cope with the harrassment a drunk Rachel inflicts on their family.   I found all three narrative voices equally engaging and I love this narrative style as it always allows the author a chance to create suspense at the end of each chapter/section and Hawkins certainly does this.  I also liked how we would discover snippets of information about each character’s life throughout the novel, meaning there was always some tension.

I am usually pretty rubbish at solving any kind of mystery or who dunnit in films, TV dramas or novels, but  I was pretty quick in figuring out the ending of The Girl on the Train.  Now this doesn’t mean it was a bad ending, it’s just that maybe it was a little bit too predictable for me.  I found that as soon as I had put the pieces together I was hoping to get to the end sooner, not only to prove myself right but just because I was ready for the end.  I certainly love the inspiration behind the novel and I myself love sitting on trains and imagining the lives of people we whizz past, but I just felt this novel needed a little bit more.  That being said it was a great form of escapism from every day life and I can see why it has been so popular. 


The Kingmaker’s Daughter

 

Title: The Kingmaker’s Daughter

Author: Philippa Gregory

Published: 2012

Challenges: TBR Pile 2015, Reading England

Rating: 4 out of 5

Synopsis

Anne Neville is one of The Kingmaker’s Daughters.  Her father, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick has helped to put Edward of York (Edward IV) on the throne, usurping The Sleeping King and ousting the House of Lancaster.  But of course it is the late 1400s and life in the Royal Household is far from stable.  Although many are happy that Edward is King, lots are far from impressed with his choice of wife, Elizabeth Woodville – the subject of Gregory’s The White Queen.  It is this marriage that causes unrest within the House of York, pitching old friends against one another and brother against brother.  Throughout Anne’s life she is surrounded by numerous plots aiming to deceive and undermine the Royal Household; she is used as a pawn by the men in her life, from her father to her first husband (a challenger to the throne) to her brother in law (George) and to her husband, Richard III.  When Anne’s father switches sides and fights against King Edward, Anne survivors the stigma left by his betrayal and his deceit.  She marries Edward’s brother and rises to become Queen, however she spends her life in fear of Elizabeth Woodville and her suspected witchcraft.

My Thoughts

I forgot how much I enjoy Philippa Gregory’s writing.  I have read the books preceding this one in The Cousins War series (The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Lady of the Rivers) and have the next two books on my shelf and the narratives are just so engaging and interesting.  It is not my favourite area of history but Gregory really makes it come alive and it is so easy to become lost in the world of secrets, treachery and betrayal.  The great thing about Gregory’s novels is that they truly capture the female voice in a strongly male dominated society.  It has been awhile since I read the earlier books in the series but the great thing about this series is that each book is told from a different female character’s perspective so they over lap slightly and you can easily pick up on the links and it is interesting to read about the same event from different view points, especially opposing ones.  

I’m not sure how much I liked Anne Neville as a character; yes, I know she is a victim of the time period, but she is hardly the most endearing of people.  She is torn so much between her loyalties to different people in her life and her quest to fulfil her father’s ambition and become Aueen warps her and makes her overly suspicious of everyone.  I suppose I did finish the novel feeling sorry for her, mainly because her husband is beginning to become overly flirtatious with his niece, making a laughing stock of Anne in the process.  I was utterly convinced that Anne was going to be pushed down the stairs and that was how she met her death, but clearly I’m confusing her with another poor wife in history.  I was pleased that I remembered one character was drowned in a barrell of wine, so at least I’m not too lost in random historical facts.

A slightly rambled blog post I know, but I’m tired (ha!). I’m going to try not to leave it too long before I read the next book in The Cousins’ War series, but for now on to a favourite author and a fantastic reread. 

Mariana

 
Title: Mariana

Author: Monica Dickens

First Published: 1940

Challenges: Reading the Twentieth Century, TBR Pile 2015 and Reading England

Synopsis

Mariana is a novel following the life of Mary Shannon as she moves from childhood to young adulthood (for some reason I remember reading that they didn’t have teenagers until the 1950s?) to marriage.  It opens at the start of the War and with her new husband away fighting Mary takes off with her dog to a secluded cottage to escape from her worries.  It is here on the wireless that she hears some terrible news and, due to storms cutting off communication lines, she must wait until morning to discover if her worst fears are to be realised.  

The narrative then moves to Mary’s childhood and her love for her Grandparents’ Somerset home, Charbury and her cousin, Denys who Mary is infatuated by.  Her whole childhood and time at school is spent in awe of Denys, keeping a secret engagement and doing anything he asks, such as jumping off a garden wall.  It is not until she visits him at Oxford that Mary realises how silly her girlhood dreams were.  Her life then takes her to acting school (a dismal affair) to Paris and a more public engagement to a Parisian who cares rather too much for the showy and finer things in life and then back to London to meet the perfect man.  And then the War begins.

My Thoughts

I knew I would like Mariana as soon as I read the following lines in the Introduction:

  
I couldn’t think of a better way to sum up England if I tried and just to make it clear I love living in England.  That being said I feel as though it has taken me a long time to read a relatively short book, well 370+ pages.  I’m completely blaming this on moving and I promise that will be the last time for a few months that I blame anything on this…well apart from when I can’t find a certain book because it’s packed in a box somewhere.  In places Dickens’ description is lyrically beautiful; there is a fantastic passage detailing two young men strolling across a sunlit lawn that just instantly brought that image to my mind and made me wish for those hot, lazy summer days.  

In places I laughed and in places I cringed as I was reminded of a young me and all the silly infatuations your teenage years brings.  One particular quotation I snapped on my phone was Granny’s response when Mary asked if her school friend could visit Charbury: ‘Of course, Darling. Bring the whole school if you like.’  I found Mary such an endearing protagonist; she was such an ordinary, young woman, in fact I think she is even described as ‘not a beauty.’  She goes through all the dramas and dilemmas anyone growing up faces, from finding your career path to being fooled by the superficial facade of some people.  Who amoung us hasn’t fallen madly in love with some handsome guy only to find that actually there isn’t that much going on behind the eyes?  

Mariana can successfully be added to the list of Persephone Book I have thoroughly enjoyed.  For me it is the romantic simplicity of the narratives that I truly love and I know I will always be transported to a beautiful world.  

Challenges

Mariana ticks off a book in three lists: 1940 in my Reading the Twentieth Century; book 6 in my TBR Pile 2015 and Somerset in Reading England.

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy

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Title: Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy
Author: Helen Fielding
Published: 2013
Challenges: TBR Pile 2015 and a third book for London in my Reading England challenge, but that doesn’t really count.
Star Rating: 4 out of 5

*WARNING CONTAINS SPOILERS*

Synopsis
Bridget Jones is back…albeit older and with two young children in tow. She has moved on slightly from the life of a carefree thirty-something singleton plagued by the horrors and the minefield that is dating and is now a widowed fifty-something plagued by the horrors and the minefield that is dating. Yes after sailing off into the sunset with the lovely (although slightly too sensible for me) Mark Darcy at the end of The Edge of Reason, Mad About the Boy sees Bridget struggling to come to terms with the sudden death of Mark and the chaos and tribulations of raising two children alone whilst trying to fit in school concerts, trips to visit her mum and Aunt Una in their glamorous retirement home, business meetings about potential scripts, dates with men met over the Internet and the possibility of what we all ultimately dream for…a perfect romantic mini break! Ha!

Mad About the Boy explores the difficulties of suddenly finding yourself single in your early fifties and realising that the dating world you used to inhabit has completely changed. No longer is it a world of office romances and meeting through friends, but instead it is dominated by dating websites and all the difficulties this brings. Not to mention the difficulties of dating a man 20 years younger. Although Mad About the Boy isn’t just about dating and Bridget’s love life, it deals with the everyday dramas of family life and the various issues of family life in an endearing and heart warming way.

My Thoughts
I originally started reading Mad About the Boy not long after its release; my friend picked up an airport copy on a trip to Malta and after she devoured it on the flight there I added it to my holiday reading. However I started it on the flight back and didn’t get much further than that. I decided to add it to my TBR Pile for 2015 as I didn’t really have any motivation to pick it up again but I felt as though I should finish it and find out Bridget’s fate, especially after I had read the first two instalments. I forgot how easy to read Fielding’s writing is, in Bridget she has created a lovable character who is far from perfect but copes all the same. I like the diary style, especially the added information at the start of each day’s entry detailing silly extras such as ‘number of Twitter followers lost, entire bags of cheese eaten, amount of time spent worrying about lack of communication from toyboy’. I was also pleased to read updates on the lives of some of Bridget’s friends and family, including her ‘f**kwit’ ex boyfriend, Daniel Cleaver and her crazy and overpowering mother. For some fans of Bridget I am sure the hardest bit was coming to terms with the death of Mark Darcy; I liked how Fielding introduced the death early on in the novel but didn’t reveal how it happened until part way through, creating some mystery surrounding the whole thing. I do think killing off Mark was a good move as I’m not sure how interesting Bridget’s diary would have been if it was just full of ‘smug married ness’ and I couldn’t imagine Mark and Bridget ever actually getting divorced.

My favourite parts of Mad About the Boy were definitely the bits exploring online dating. I have had a fair amount of experience of online dating which when I say it makes me feel like some ridiculous failure at dating in ‘real life’ but I guess that comment is incredibly rude to the millions of people who use online dating sites and slightly hypocritical as I willingly used it. I find the whole process very unromantic, but unfortunately it is a part of the technological age we live in. Fielding perfectly describes the confusion this style of dating brings, the waiting for replies, the nosing at profiles and hoping the other person doesn’t know you are spying, the whole ‘are they really who they say they are’ dilemma and perhaps the most common online dating experience of all – endless messages back and forth and yet never actually arranging a face to face date. I loved these parts of the novel because they are so relatable and offered such a true snapshot of dating in the twenty-first century.

I have read a few reviews criticising how Bridget Jones has changed from a haphazard, yet endearing singleton to an unrealistic and unachievable portrayal of an upper middle class life many of us could never achieve. And yes I agree that it is highly unlikely that I will end up living in a gorgeous mansion in a posh part of London or have the luxury of never needing to work and being able to afford a nanny etc but surely reading is supposed to offer some form of escapism…I’m never going to live in Westros or a Jilly Cooper’s Rutshire, but I can dream.

Challenges
Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy is the fifth book I have read from my TBR Pile 2015, which makes me very happy as I am ahead of target. I am conscious that I still have my two biggest books to go, but Vanity Fair definitely has to wait until my plane journey to Australia, luckily a friend is reading it at the moment and has only positive things to say about it.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

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Title: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Author: Anne Bronte
Published: 1848
Challenges: The Classics Club, Reading England
Star Rating: 3 and a half out of 5

Synopsis
When a mysterious new tenant moves into Wildfell Hall all the local residents are curious to discover more about her. Mrs. Graham – potentially a widow – and her young son move in and rarely visit or have anything to do with their neighbours, something which sparks great curiosity in a small community. It is certainly that way for Mr. Markham, who is intrigued by the young woman, how she came to live in such a secluded area and just what is her true relationship with her landlord, Mr Lawrence. Told partly through Mr. Markham’s letters to his friend and partly through the private diary of Mrs. Graham, this is a novel that explores the difficulties facing women who marry ‘cads’: men who willingly spend their time and money on alcohol, gambling and pursuing extra marital affairs. Women who don’t have the option of divorcing a husband who is mistreating them, but instead have to quietly cope, knowing that they have very little rights and would be destitute if they even dared to think about divorce.

My Thoughts
I always think I’m not a fan of the Brontes, however when I truly reflect on this I realise that I base this solely on Wuthering Heights, which I find somewhat overrated. I studied Jane Eyre at A Level and it was one of the first books that truly convinced me I wanted to study English Literature at university and I enjoyed Villette when I read it for a Classics Club Spin, so really this is an unfair opinion. Having read books by her two sisters I thought it was time I gave Anne Bronte a chance and as The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is on my CC Reading List, I decided Match was the perfect time to pick it up.

I’m not about to start screaming my love of the Bronte sisters from the rooftops but I was pleasantly surprised with The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Anne is arguably the most overlooked of the Bronte sisters and I never remember hearing about her work when I was at school…or university for that matter, so it was interesting to form my opinions and decide whether this reputation as the least memorable sister is justified.

I found Helen’s part of the narrative much more interesting than Mr. Markham’s as it is where the main part of the action seems to take place. Mr Markham’s narrative focuses on how this mysterious new tenant is perceived by her new neighbours and whilst this is quite interesting in terms of background, I found the reasons she ended up at Wildfell Hall much more interesting. The attitudes of the neighbours help to show the prejudice a woman living alone faced in Victorian times, but it is Helen’s relationship with her husband that truly shows the unfair, sexist society of the time. Helen makes the mistake of marrying for ‘love’ and going against her family’s wishes and is duly punished; her husband is a gambler, drinker and serial womaniser who does little to hide this from his wife and shows no remorse when it is discovered. I felt sorry for Helen, who had no rights and if she had divorced her husband – even though he was in the wrong – she would have been left destitute and without her son. For the time, her act of running away and essentially hiding from her husband was a brave, but reckless one for which she would have been severely judged. It just seems so surreal when I think about the life I lead and how restricting it was to be a woman in Victorian times, something which always fascinates me. I love reading about the difficulties female characters face and how they struggle to overcome these.

Of course this is a novel where are heroine overcomes her personal struggles and lives happily ever after, but I was very pleased that Bronte took the time to clear up the loose ends of all the characters. My favourite was the fate of Annabella, a woman who marries a Lord and one of the first woman Helen’s husband has an affair with. Her husband eventually divorces her (because of course men could divorce their cheating spouses even though women had to put up with it) and she dies poor, destitute and alone in a foreign country with no one to care for her. Of course it is the woman who falls from grace and goes against female conventions who ultimately meets a messy end and the woman who is virtuous and stays true to her morals who lives happily ever after. Thank goodness we have a slightly less black and white society as I’m not sure what my fate would be if I lived in a Victorian novel.

On the whole I think it is quite sad that poor Anne Bronte is overlooked in favour of her sisters, I for one found The Tenant of Wildfell Hall more enjoyable than Wuthering Heights and I’m certain I can’t be the only one with this view. I almost feel a need to read a biography of the Brontes, something which sets alarm bells ringing in my head, luckily I am on a complete book buying ban as the fear of moving all those books again is slowly starting to creep up on me.

Challenges
I have hit a milestone in terms of my Classics Club List as The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is book number 20 ticked off the list…a list I have serious doubts over completing by my March 2017 deadline.
This also ticks another county in my Reading England list as according to some other bloggers the majority of the action is set in Cumbria.

Withering Tights

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Title: Withering Tights
Author: Louise Rennison
Published: 2010
Challenges: TBR Pile 2015, Reading England
Rating: 2 and a half out of 5 stars

Synopsis
Talulah Casey – cousin of Rennison’s famous female protagonist, Georgia Nicholson – is off to a drama summer school in Yorkshire. At 14 she is completely obsessed with fitting in, changing her insecurities and having her first snog with a boy. The school is set in the wild Yorkshire countryside and because of this their summer performance is inspired by Bronte’s Wuthering Heights . Tallulah, after spending a few weeks feeling like the least drama-y (not a word I know) person at the school is offered the lead role of Heathcliffe. Will she put on a performance to ensure she passes the course and returns to the school as a pupil, or will her performance be memorable for all the wrong reasons?

My Thoughts
As a teenager I devoured the Georgia Nicholson series of books and loved the main character and all her crazy antics, so when I saw Withering Tights for 99p on the Kindle I knew I had to buy it. And there it remained, languishing on the Kindle until I decided to add it to my TBR Pile 2015. When I picked it up recently I was expecting to be transported back to my teenage years and the enjoyment I found in the Georgia Nicholson books. This was my first mistake. I forgot that I was no longer a 14 year old girl; I’m 27 years old. I couldn’t relate to the character at all. Yes, I vaguely remember worrying about whether or not anyone was EVER going to kiss me and panicking because I was so much taller than all the boys I went to school with, but at some point I grew up. I’m not saying I don’t worry about things anymore, but now it is more along the lines of money, work, where will I live (my flat is being sold so I need to move out *sob*) and if my boyfriend’s friends will like me. Ok, I’ll admit the last one is a little bit like the teenage characters in Rennison’s books, but at least I’m not spending hours fretting about how to snog someone.

I can’t put this slight negativity down to the fact I am now adult as I have read other books aimed at teenagers and enjoyed them. I guess I was hoping for something a bit meatier and full of scandal and secrets (Pretty Little Liars style). That being said, I can fully appreciate how Withering Tights appeals to teenage girls, whose biggest worries are often fitting in and kissing boys, so for the target audience it’s great, just not a book that I feel crosses the teen-adult reading barrier.

Challenges
Withering Tights counts towards two of my reading challenges, one I didn’t even think about. It is the fourth book in my TBR Pile 2015 and ticks Yorkshire off the list for Reading England.

A Different Class of Murder

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Title: A Different Class of Murder: The Story of Lord Lucan
Author: Laura Thompson
Published: 2014
Challenges: Reading England (second book for London so it doesn’t really count)
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Synopsis
In November1974 in the basement of 46A Lower Belgrave Street, London a murder was committed. A young nanny was bludgeoned to death, followed by a vicious attack on the other woman who lived in the house, Lady Veronica Lucan. I’m not here to suggest that this is not an extraordinary and horrifying event, however what makes this particular murder so enduring in society’s mind is that the suspected murder is Lord Lucan. An aristocrat by birth and a ‘professional gambler’ by career (yeah not exactly a profession in my mind) Lucan had recently lost a bitter custody battle with his estranged wife, had a mountain of debts running up from his gambling habits and just vanished on the night of the murder. Laura Thompson’s book seeks to address the myth surrounding Lucan, his circle of friends and what really happened that November night. Thompson gives a detailed introduction to the Lucan family and his ancestors as well as an interesting discussion on ‘the Lucan circle’ and possible theories as to the true identity of the murder.

My Thoughts
At some point last year I remember catching the second part of a Channel Four (I think) drama based on Lord Lucan; I missed the first part but I was instantly intrigued. Having been born in 1987 I missed all the drama surrounding the initial case although I have vague recollections of hearing the name ‘Lord Lucan’ but no real understanding of what it meant/who he was. As soon as I saw the programme I knew I wanted to read a book about the case, however I was disappointed when I asked at Waterstones about books on the topic. So imagine my joy when I found out about A Different Class of Murder and when I snapped it up for 99p.

A Different Class of Murder is more than just an exploration of this case, it touches on the history of aristocratic murders and domestic murders and the social changes occurring in the 1960s/1970s. This build up was certainly very interesting however I felt it dragged slightly and I toyed with skipping sections -but I didn’t- and I was certainly pleased when the focus returned to the crime. In places it read like a crime novel or at least a deconstruction of one and I love a good crime novel. I loved the links and quotations from Agatha Christie, which I later found out were largely helped by Thompson’s biography on the crime writer (thank you to Fleur in her World for that snippet). Thompson offers many alternatives to the common belief that it was Lord Lucan who committed this vicious murder and attack on his wife, each of which is equally convincing and believable when you take into account the actual facts and not the opinions of the case. I can see the different sides of the argument, but I also can’t believe that more proof wasn’t required in order to name and essentially hound Lord Lucan.

The discussion on the build up and the murder itself was fascinating and Thompson certainly explores every avenue and possibility and helps to highlight the numerous flaws in the police’s case. It is amazing the number of problems that the police pretty much ignored and I cannot believe that they were able to name and charge Lord Lucan without giving him the option of a defence. The prejudice aimed at Lucan and his circle of friends, particularly from the press, is almost unbelievable at times and Thompson quite rightly states that this would not have been allowed if they were dealing with a working class murder. Perhaps the most memorable and poignant point Thompson makes is as follows:

‘Truth requires that the other side is also heard. Otherwise the solution, however much of truth it contains, can only ever exist in the realms of fiction.’

It is important to remember this when looking at the Lucan case, especially as the police only ever put emphasis on Veronica’s story and appeared to take this as gospel right from the start. I couldn’t say what happened on that November night and I certainly couldn’t explain why Lucan ran if he wasn’t a little bit guilty, but I can definitely understand the morbid fascination with this case. Murder is always an interesting subject and I think one that hasn’t ever been truly resolved is the most interesting of them all. I doubt we will ever discover what really happened that fatal night but Thompson’s book is a great discussion on the possible reasons and I can definitely recommend it.

The Camomile Lawn

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Title: The Camomile Lawn
Author: Mary Wesley
Published: 1984
Challenges: Reading the Twentieth Century, Reading England
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis

‘It is August of 1939 and five cousins have gathered at their aunt’s house in Cornwall for their annual summer holidays.’ Nineteen year old Oliver has just returned from fighting in The Spanish Civil War. He is desperately in love with the beautiful Calypso who claims she is incapable of love. Brother and sister, Walter and Polly have travelled with them for the annual ‘Terror Run’ and orphaned Sophy make up the group. By the end of the evening war has been declared and the lives of the five cousins are dramatically changed. The Camomile Lawn follows the five cousins – and some extended family and friends – throughout the war years and gives a glimpse into how they survived in such turbulent times. The novel takes the reader beyond the war years and into the cousins’ old age, exploring their loves and losses with the ever present backdrop of the camomile lawn and the hope, innocence and lost youth it represents.

My Thoughts

The Camomile Lawn was recommended to me by a work colleague months ago and I always remembered the title but never quite got round to searching out a copy. With my recent obsession with visiting my local library I decided I needed to order a copy in and finally tick this book off my list. I am so glad I did; I know I say this all the time, but I LOVED The Camomile Lawn . Within pages I was laughing out loud, mainly at the somewhat blasé comments of the cousins towards their Uncle Richard’s lost limb, an injury of the First World War. I quickly warmed to the characters and genuinely cared about their lives and wanted to find out what happened to them and how the war affected them. It was interesting to see how their lives intertwined and how their relationships with one another developed and disintegrated in the decades following.

A lot of the narrative is centred on the war years and it was lovely to read about the freedom this brought some characters, such as Helena who found the opportunity to leave Richard in Cornwall and have a life in London, admittedly as the mistress of a Jewish composer who had fled to England with his wife shortly before the outbreak of war, leaving their son to the fates of a concentration camp. There are some sections set in the present day – well the 1980s – and these create a more mysterious element to the narrative as you wonder how each character came to this point in their life and who will turn up at the final event that draws them altogether: a funeral.

My favourite themes running through the novel centres on the sexual liberation/freedom that seems to arrive with the onset of war. This is not a new concept when reading war literature but I loved how the illicit – and often somewhat incestuous – were almost hinted at and not thrown in your face, as some more recent books/films tend to do. The casual way some of them are mentioned almost reflects the casual attitude some had towards sex and relationships during the war. I always feel I fall in to a trap when reading some war literature, especially novels that are written decades after the war, as I get this romanticised view of the war and the freedom and the excitement of the bombings and air raids that came with it. I am fully aware that this is a skewed view and not 100% reflective of reality, but some authors make it sound so glamorous and exciting. There are some strings to the plot that do explore the horrific side of the war, however these are quickly brushed over, perhaps mirroring the ‘carry on with little fuss’ style attitude that was arguably needed to have the strength to go on and keep some element of humour.

The Camomile Lawn is a fantastic read and I would certainly recommend it. In keeping with my reading habits of this year I have enjoyed this novel and the escapism from reality it brought me. It is a lovely novel and I am keen to discover more of Mary Wesley’s work in my local library.

Challenges
The Camomile Lawn counts towards my Reading the Twentieth Century challenge, ticking off another year in the 1980s and my Reading England challenge, introducing Cornwall to the mix.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

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Title: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Author: Winifred Watson
Published: 1938
Challenges: TBR Pile 2015, Reading England, Reading the Twentieth Century
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 l

Synopsis
Miss Pettigrew is on her last chance. She has no position, no income and her landlady is threatening to have her evicted, which for a lady in her 40s with no family is a terrifying prospect. She has two chances at a job; a maid or a governess. So when she knocks on the door of Miss LaFosse’s London flat the last thing she expects is to be swept into a world of glamour, parties and men. From the moment Miss Pettigrew meets Miss LaFosse she is saving her from various men and helping her to cover up their existence when the next one appears. Miss LaFosse is eternally grateful and takes Miss Pettigrew under her wing as her new friend, introducing her to her glamorous friends and giving her the make over Miss Pettigrew always dreamed off. It is a tale that takes Miss Pettigrew to a world she never thought existed and certainly a world she never knew she could be a part of.

My Thoughts
It is very rare that I finish a book with a huge smile on my face, yes I enjoy a lot of what I read and a lot of it makes me smile, but Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day left me feeling uplifted and just generally happy. Miss Pettigrew’s journey from a quiet, unassuming and slightly scared woman to a confident woman who finally finds her calling in life was a lovely one. It truly showed how someone’s life could easily change in just one day and change for the better. Miss Pettigrew is a lovely character and although she is only 40 – which is hardly old – she seems much older and reminds me of a lovely old lady and an old lady you want to have around in a crisis. Within minutes of meeting Miss LaFosse she starts helping her out and makes her realise what, or who, she truly wants in life. It made me want a Miss Pettigrew of my own, as I know there are times when I desperately need someone else to steer me in the right direction and perhaps having someone impartial can be hugely beneficial. Perhaps one of my favourite chapters centred on a visit to a party and Miss Pettigrew, who has never really had a drink before, has a few too many strong drinks and tells one young man exactly what he needs to hear. I loved the description of Miss Pettigrew after a few drinks and the confidence she felt; ‘she felt grand. She felt brimming with authority and assurance. It was a marvellous sensation. She thought scornfully of her former timid self.’ . I loved how confident and bolshy the alcohol made Miss Pettigrew and how free she felt having drunk, although she did suffer from the sober guilt of ‘have I offended anyone’ which I also enjoyed.

For me the novel explored the idea that you should take advantage of all opportunities that come your way and that helping others will always lead to positive outcomes and I think this is what left me smiling at the end. Miss Pettigrew got exactly what she deserved, in a positive way and I was pleased for her character. To go from having no one and nothing to having everything is a lovely ending.

Challenges
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day falls into three of my challenges for the year, so I am very pleased; I like books that tick more than one box. This is the second book I have read from my TBR Pile 2015; I am happy with the progress I am making with this challenge especially as I have a bit of a head start with two books in one month. This novel also ticks off London in my Reading England 2015 challenge. I only set the challenge of reading 4-6 counties so I am hoping two counties in one month is a promising sign. Finally, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is another book towards my Reading the Twentieth Century, so all in all a good challenge book.

Dumb Witness and the start of TBR 2015

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Title: Dumb Witness
Author: Agatha Christie
Published: 1937
Challenges: TBR Pile 2015, Reading the Twentieth Century and Reading England
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Synopsis
After a serious fall down her stairs, Miss Emily Arundell writes to Hercule Poirot with suspicions that someone is attempting to murder her. Her fall is blamed on the dog, Bob and the ball he likes to push down the stairs, however with her money hungry family visiting, Emily is convinced the real culprit is among them. Could it be the fashionable and out-spoken Teresa? Or is her rakish brother, Charles to blame? There is always quiet, unassuming Bella, who has married a Greek doctor, but then again. After all she remembers putting Bob’s ball away herself. Unfortunately by the time Poirot reads Emily’s letter she is already dead, not from the fall, but from the liver disease that has plagued her for many years. Of course Poirot isn’t entirely convinced this is the case, especially when he discovers that Emily’s family do not benefit from the will, instead her companion, Miss Lawson does. He is anxious to discover the true culprit behind the fall and ensure that no one else comes to any harm; he is adamant that the guilty criminal could strike again.

My Thoughts
I love Agatha Christie and I find she is one of my go to authors; when life is getting a tad stressful and I need some light relief I know I can depend on a Christie novel to cheer me up. Of course Dumb Witness is no exception. It is a novel I have never come across before, having never seen a TV adaptation or heard it mentioned in various readings. As always I failed to guess the murderer, well I had an idea but only in the last twenty pages and my motive was completely wrong. As I have said before this is part of the beauty of Christie’s writing, I like the idea of guessing and hoping that one day I will get it right. Perhaps the most memorable characters were Teresa and Charles, both of whom seemed to exude an attitude of rich and spoilt which contrasted well the the Victorian morals of Emily Arundell. The differences in attitudes and opinions of generations is always interesting and I quite like the idea of a rich, disapproving, old aunt in the country – it reminds me of Jeeves and Wooster, although slightly less jovial. A great read and one less book from my Poirot reading list.

Challenges

Dumb Witness ticks boxes in three challenges; TBR Pile 2015; Reading the Twentieth Century and Reading England as some of the novel takes place in Berkshire. It is the first book on both my TBR Pile for the year and for Reading England so I am pleased to have gotten off the ground with these two challenges.