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Pomfret Towers

I loved this story of a shy girl – Alice Barton – who is persuaded to spend the weekend at Pomfret Towers.  He mother is a friend of Lord Pomfret and he extends an invitation to Alice and her brother Guy.  For Alice the whole thing presents a nightmare of what she should do and say; from thinking the house maid will sneer at her nightdress to wondering what she can talk about with the other guests she fears a social disaster.

But most people are kind and sympathetic and Alice makes some new friends and even falls slightly in love with an artist – Julian Rivers.  Julian’s social climbing mother, Hermione, is a marvellous creation.  She tries to organise everyone and then claims she doesn’t have time to get on with her writing.  She is a successful author – as is Alice’s mother.

The author’s characters live in the mind of the reader long after the last page has been turned.  There are plenty of amusing incidents and the reader can cringe and blush along with Alice as she negotiates the social mine field.   If you want something light to read this book is the ideal one to relax with and forget the stresses and strains of modern life.  It evokes a forgotten world of the upper classes in the nineteen thirties.

Appetite For Death (The Darina Lisle Mysteries Book 9)

Darina Lisle hears from a childhood friend completely out of the blue. When she realises what Jemima wants her to do she is doubtful about taking on the task.  Jemima wants her to find out the identity of her nephew Rory’s father.  Jemima’s sister, Sophie, died giving birth to him.  She was estranged from her family at the time.  Now the little boy is being cared for in his grandfather’s household.

Then Darina’s newly promoted husband – DCI William Pigram – comes up against Jemima’s father – millionaire Basil Ealham – when his girlfriend’s factory is burned down and a man dies in the inferno.  It seems clear that Darina’s investigation is going to cross the official one being conducted by her husband.  Things aren’t going well between William and Darina and William seems unwell.  Can they both complete their investigations and sort out their own problems?

I enjoyed this well written crime novel which combines food and cookery with crime in an intriguing plot.  The mystery definitely kept me guessing until almost the end and then I got the wrong murderer.  The author writes well and has created some memorable and likeable characters.  This is the ninth book in the series though the books can be read in any order

Summer Half: A Virago Modern Classic (Virago Modern Classics Book 43)

Colin Keith decides he can’t depend financially on his parents any longer and applies for a job as classics master at Southbridge School.  He is supposed to be reading for the Bar but he knows he won’t be earning any money for years.  He isn’t really cut out to be a teacher but he acquits himself reasonably well and makes friends with some of the masters and the boys – including Tony Morland – who first appeared in High Rising.

Colin finds himself witnessing the disintegration of Philip Winter’s engagement to the headmaster’s daughter – Rose Birkett.  Rose is a totally selfish and rather beautiful young woman and even her parents are not blind to her faults.  The episode where she commandeers all the coats belonging to the male members of a boating party when they are caught in a thunderstorm is priceless and made me laugh out loud.

This is a real comedy of manners set against the background of a boarding school and the countryside in summer. Naturally the characters are shuffled into the correct order by the end of the story leaving the reader satisfied and still smiling over some of Rose’s behaviour and her incredible ignorance when compared with her well educated and knowledgeable peers.

August Folly: A Virago Modern Classic (Virago Modern Classics Book 45)

Richard Tebben is home from Oxford and he is dreading the coming holiday because he knows he hasn’t done very well in his exams and his parents annoy him all the time.  He needs to find a job but he doesn’t really know what he wants to do.  One of the neighbours is putting on a play – a Greek tragedy – and Richard knows he will be roped into playing a part and he can think of nothing more boring.

Then everything is brightened up by the appearance of the glamorous Dean family in the neighbourhood.  Mr and Mrs Dean and six of their nine clever children are staying for the summer.  Having met them Richard feels that maybe the holiday won’t be so bad after all.  His sister Margaret is home as well and he is glad to see her again.

I loved the characters in this marvellously evocative novel of village life.  The trials and tribulations of young love and the strain of keeping secrets amongst the older people are brought vividly to life.  The amateur dramatics bring out the worst in people and provide amusement to the reader.  I think Thirkell is excellent on relationships between unlikely people.  This book reminded me of Agatha Christie without the murder.

Wild Strawberries: A Virago Modern Classic (Virago Modern Classics Book 114)

The story centres on Mary Preston.  She has hardly any money of her own and has been invited to stay with her Aunt Agnes and her eccentric mother Lady Emily at Rushwater.  Mary falls for the handsome, philandering David Leslie but is he really the right man for Mary?  Could she ever trust him?  What about the glamorous Joan who works for the BBC – what exactly is David’s relationship with her?

The main event is a ball given by Lady Emily for her grandson, Martin, who is seventeen and to which everyone is invited including the French family who have rented the vicarage for the summer.  The author creates a charming world in which anything really life changing happens off stage.  There are heartbreaks and misunderstandings but the reader knows things will work out how they should in the end.

I love the humorous descriptions and the marvellous characters who I remember long after I have turned the last page.  If Jane Austen had been writing in the twentieth century she would have been Angela Thirkell. If you enjoy Nancy Mitford, Ivy Compton Burnett as well as Jane Austen then give Thirkell a try.

High Rising: A Virago Modern Classic (Virago Modern Classics Book 115)

This is the first of Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire novels and it sets the tone for the rest of the series.  The plot is slight but the view it presents to the reader of English society at a certain period of history is charming and nostalgic to twenty first century readers.  Laura Morland – a very successful author of ‘good bad’ fiction, divides her time between her London flat and her cottage in the village of High Rising.  Laura is a widow with four sons – one of whom – Tony is school age.

Laura’s old friend – George Knox – an author of serious books – has just engaged a new secretary. Miss Grey.  George’s friends are quick to name her the Incubus and are keen to persuade George that she is out to trap him into matrimony.  This is a comedy of manners and some of the scenes and descriptions are very funny indeed.  I love Laura – she is scatty and charming and far from perfect.  She can only put her thoughts in order on paper. George Knox is a bit like a make Miss Bates in Jane Austen’s Emma and never stops talking.

I first read this book about fifty years ago.  Both my mother and grandmother were Thirkell fans and her novels were freely available to me when I was growing up.  I don’t think I fully appreciated the humour in them when I first read them.  It is good to renew my acquaintance with this author now that the books are appearing again in electronic and audio book formats.

Murder Take Three: A British Country House Mystery (A Langham and Dupre Mystery)

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley

Donald Langham and his fiancée Maria Dupre are invited to spend the weekend at Marling Hall in Norfolk.  Unfortunately it isn’t a weekend of pleasure as Donald has been invited in his role of private investigator by film star Suzie Reynard because she fears for the safety of her lover, Douglas, the film’s director.

When a murder occurs and almost immediately afterwards someone confesses it seems as though it is an open and shut case but neither Donald or Maria are convinced and continue to investigate.  This is an entertaining and well written story set in 1956 and the period details are accurate and well drawn.  I have read the previous books in this series and enjoyed them and this is a worthy addition to the series.

I like Donald as a character as well as his business partner Ralph Ryland.  They make an unlikely partnership but they do work very well together in spite of their completely different backgrounds.  If you enjoy crime novels without too much bad language and violence and with a period setting then this series is worth a try.