Wednesday 22 May 2024

Read Along: For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

I'll be hosting a read along of Susan Schaeffer Macaulay's book, For the Children's Sake on Substack. My first post will be in early June and will cover the Introduction and Chapter 1.

Whether you are a parent, home educator, a teacher, a grandparent, an aunty or uncle, or you have a heart for children, this book will show you how to extend learning to every facet of life. Good and true ideas may be found in many different contexts and this balanced and practical view of education and life will be beneficial whatever your background or beliefs.

For more details see here.




Friday 17 May 2024

Crooked House (1949) by Agatha Christie




Crooked House is one of Agatha Christie’s special favourites – she said that writing it was pure pleasure and she considered this book one of her best.

I saved it up for years, thinking about it, working it out, saying to myself: ‘one day, when I’ve plenty of time, and want to really enjoy myself- I’ll begin it!’

There is no Poirot or Miss Marple, but there is Charles Hayward, a young man who comes back to England after five years' war service to ask Sophia Leonides, the woman he loves, to marry him. But a problem arises. Sophia’s rich grandfather, Aristides, dies suddenly and his doctor suspects poison. With the whole household under a cloud, she will not accept Charles’ offer of marriage until the situation is resolved. If it ever can be.

Charles’ father is none other than Assistant Commissioner for Scotland Yard. The Leonides case, being under his jurisdiction, he suggests that Charles get information from the ‘inside’ – with Sophia’s full knowledge, of course. And so Charles is introduced to the family and ends up doing some detecting on the side.

I’d always taken a certain amount of interest in my father’s police work, but nothing had prepared me for the moment when I should come to take a direct and personal interest in it.

Crooked House is a clever story with a very surprising and unsettling end! Agatha Christie displays some psychological leanings in this book – the influence of hereditary being one:

Most people can deal with one weakness – but they mightn’t be able to deal with two weaknesses of a different kind.

Charles asks his father if there is a ‘common denominator’ of murderers and he replies,

‘Yes, I’ve never met a murderer who wasn’t vain…It’s their vanity that leads to their undoing, nine times out of ten.’

Josephine Tey’s Inspector Grant made the same observation about the vanity of murderers in The Singing Sands and The Franchise Affair.



Thursday 7 March 2024

A Daughter of the Land by Gene Stratton Porter

 A Daughter of the Land was published in 1918. It’s a little different – you might say darker – than some of her other novels and doesn’t seem to be as well-loved as some of her other books. It is less sentimental than Freckles or Girl of the Limberlost, and its protagonist, Kate Bates, isn’t as romanticised as some of Porter’s other female characters. She blunders through life and makes some unwise decisions. Kate learned the hard way. She was impulsive and headstrong; her upbringing had left her unprepared to navigate life outside of her own family. Despite her flawed character, I liked the realism of the story with its sharper view of life and how Kate’s character developed during the course of the story. 



Kate was the youngest child in a large family. She wanted to teach as her older sisters had done, but her mother wanted her to stay at home and help her with the farm work. Her father had always driven himself and his family like slaves and her mother went along with what he wanted. He was the richest farmer in the county, land was his one and only God. But he refused to hire help, keeping his sons as ever-ready help by promising them two hundred acres of land each with a house and some stock while keeping the deeds to their land under lock and key. His sons were under his authority and in his power. The women of the family were,

Kate is the only one who rebelled against this and left home, taking ‘the wings of the morning,’ – Opportunity.

Gene Stratton Porter, besides being an author, was an amateur naturalist and this shows in her writing. Kate was drawn to the land and was tireless and hardworking. In many ways she was selfless and took the hard road,

In other ways she was thoughtless and willful and had to live with the consequences of decisions she made in ignorance or impetuosity. But she did learn and observed that,

This is a book I’ve had for a while, so I’m pleased that my book club chose it this month and pushed me to read it. I haven’t read anything by Gene Stratton Porter for some time and I liked this one, partly because it was a little different from some of her others, but mostly because it explored how adversity made a woman out of an ignorant and headstrong girl. A redemptive and realistic story.

I’ve linked to where you can get my copy of the book, which is published by Norilana Books. I have a few of their publications and I like the print and the covers, but there are the occasional typos. They are also more expensive than when I bought mine years ago. Porter’s books are free online.

Linking to TBR 24 in ’24 at Rose City Reader.

Saturday 14 October 2023

Book Beginnings: The War on the West

 Linking up with Rose City Reader's weekly Book Beginnings

The War on the West: How to Prevail in the Age of Unreason by Douglas Murray (2022)




"In recent years it has become clear that there is a war going on: a war on the West. This is not like earlier wars, where armies clash and victors are declared. It is a cultural war, and it is being waged remorselessly against all the roots of the Western tradition and against everything good that the Western tradition has produced.''

Murray, a British author and journalist, describes “Western” societies as European countries or countries descended from European civilization. He wrote this book to address the one-sided view of the West that has come from ‘politicians, academics, historians, and activists who are saying things that are not simply incorrect or injudicious but flat-out false.’

''In order to be able to judge the West, you would have to know at least some of the history of the rest. The only thing modern western populations are more ignorant about than their own history is the history of other people outside the West. Yet such knowledge is surely a prerequisite to being able to arrive at any moral judgements.”

The author sites a poll of young British people carried out in 2016 that found that 50% had never heard of Lenin and 70% had no idea who Mao was. 41% of 16- to 24-year-olds who had grown up after the fall of the Berlin Wall had positive feelings about socialism, while 28% felt the same sentiments about capitalism:

“One possible reason for this is that 68 percent said they had never learned anything in school about the Russian Revolution.’’

From the back cover:

“If the history of humankind is one of slavery, conquest, prejudice, genocide and exploitation, why are only Western nations taking the blame for it?’’

I'm about a third of the way through this book and although the subject matter is heavy at times, the author is articulate and thoughtful. His thoughts on the dearth of historical knowledge, although not surprising, is alarming. 



Saturday 23 September 2023

Book Beginnings

 Each week Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings:

Share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires. Please remember to include the title of the book and the author’s name.

I've just started a book I've had for a while: The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman, which was published in 1962. Tuchman was a superb writer, and for this work she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1963. The book concentrates on the first month of World War I and opens with this paragraph:

So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens - four dowager and three regnant - and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.



In the Foreword of my copy of the book, Robert K. Massie said that the paragraph above took her eight hours to complete.

Barbara Tuchman had a sardonic sense of humour which she used to describe some of William II, the German Emperor (Kaiser)'s antics. He hated his uncle and had come to England to 'bury Edward his bane; Edward the arch plotter, as William conceived it, of Germany's encirclement...'

He flew into one of his rages and scolded (King Leopold) for putting respect for Parliament and Ministers above respect for the finger of God (with which William sometimes confused himself).



Sunday 23 April 2023

The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey (1929)




This is the first in Tey’s Inspector Grant series of which there are only six, which is unfortunate because Alan Grant one of the most likeable detectives in fiction. 

The Man in the Queue is a mystery surrounding the stabbing murder of a man who was lined up outside a London theatre waiting to be admitted to the last performance of a popular musical. No one had witnessed his murder and the press of people around him kept him upright until the doors to the theatre opened and he fell forwards.
He had nothing upon his person to reveal his identity and a loaded revolver was found in his pocket.
Inspector Grant is brought in to cover the investigation and by a painstaking process and some good luck, he manages to identify the victim and from there, the prime suspect.
One of the most interesting aspects of this book was the exploration of circumstantial evidence: how facts, evidence, and motives come together to pinpoint a suspect. In Grant’s mind there was a clear case to incriminate his suspect, but something felt wrong. What if all this was merely a series of accidents that were completely unrelated? What if he had arrested the wrong man?

‘Was the man by any remotest possibility telling the truth? If not, he was the most cold-blooded wretch Grant had ever had the unhappy lot to meet. But the man appeared unconscious of Grant’s scrutiny; he seemed wholly absorbed in his story. If this was acting, it was the best Grant had ever seen, and he deemed himself a connoisseur.’

Josephine Tey’s books are always satisfying reads and I enjoyed this one as much as her others. Being the first book in the series I thought it would lack some finesse but she didn’t disappoint.
The only quibble I have, if you could really call it that, is that her description of Detective Alan Grant in her first book didn’t match another description that stayed in my mind after reading The Daughter of Time. In The Daughter of Time Grant is confined to a hospital bed after an accident on the job and was wincing at the indignity of being thrown around by a small nurse he nicknamed the midget.

‘…she dealt with his six-feet-odd with an off-hand ease that Grant found humiliating.’

For years I pictured Grant as a tall, solid, garrulous type of fellow and then I read this in The Man in the Queue, which didn’t sit with the picture I had in my mind after reading The Daughter of Time:

‘If Grant had an asset beyond the usual ones of devotion to duty and a good supply of brains and courage, it was that the last thing he looked like was a police officer. He was of medium height and slight in build, and he was – now, if I say dapper, of course you will immediately think of something like a tailor’s dummy, something perfected out of all individuality, and Grant is most certainly not that; but if you can visualize a dapperness that is not of the tailor’s dummy type, then that is Grant.’

The resolution of this mystery came out of the blue and was as unpredictable as it was clever. Once again Tey has Grant romping around the Scottish Highlands which is always a treat.




Sunday 19 March 2023

Death Makes a Prophet by John Bude (1947)


The British Library has been reprinting some neglected old British Crime Classics. I counted 99 in my last check. The last time I looked there were about seventy-four books by a variety of authors including Freeman Wills Croft, George Bellairs, E.C.R. Lorac, John Bude and others. They're rather expensive to buy here but I have found a couple secondhand and picked up some more when I was in the U.K .a couple of years ago.

I've enjoyed a few by John Bude and thought this one looked promising so I bought a new copy. I didn’t regret my pick and thoroughly enjoyed this droll, and at times a little dark, crime novel.

The Children of Osiris was a cult created and led by the High Prophet, Eustace K. Mildmann, a widower with an only son, Terence, who was twenty-one years of age at the time of this story.

The cult, adopting the initials of their full title, referred to their doctrine as the Cult of Coo, or Cooism. Their dogmas included a mixture of Ancient Egyptian beliefs and bits and pieces of lesser-known religions with a modern twist.

The Cult of Coo believed in ‘magic numbers, astrology, auras, astral bodies, humility, meditation, vegetarianism, immortality, hand-woven tweeds and brotherly love.’ Mildmann was a sincere, dreamy man who believed Cooism was the key to all life’s mysteries.

‘His best ideas had always come to him when sunk in a self-imposed trance, or, as he pithily expressed it, “during a phase of Yogi-like non-being.” (“Non-being” figured as a very important factor in the Cult of Coo, though nobody seemed able to define its exact significance.)’

When he moved to the trendy Welworth Garden City in the 1940’s he found the right soil for his ideas and before long a group of intellectuals ripe for the picking. When the Hon. Mrs. Hagge-Smith came on the scene she totally embraced Cooism and became Mildmann’s patron and financial backer.

The author spends the first half of the book building the scene for a murder by introducing the various characters associated with the cult; their backgrounds, quirks, ambitions and petty jealousies. The second half of the book is more serious, although it still has some sparks of humour, and it’s here that Inspector Meredith makes his first appearance.

There are some bizarre and baffling circumstances for Meredith to untangle. This book was quite different to The Lakes District Murder, mostly because of the humorous aspects that Bude scattered throughout, but also because the plot didn’t go into intricate details about things that I knew nothing about.

Some of my favourite parts are those that deal with Terence. Here was an athletic, practical young man with the appetite of a horse and the physique of a boxer. He was the very antithesis of his father who ‘had done everything to undermine his normality.’ From clamping down on his tremendous appetite with a strict vegetarian diet, giving him a very small allowance of sixpence a week, requiring him to wear ‘rational clothing’ which included shorts in the middle of winter, and making him a Symbol-bearer in the Temple.

One day Terence met Denise, Mrs. Hagge-Smith’s secretary and immediately fell in love with her. She didn’t mind him either.

‘Terence…shot a quick glance at the miracle in his midst and asked abruptly:

“I say, don’t think this is rude of me, but do you have manifestations?”

“Manifestations?”

It sounded as if he were referring to insects or pimples.

“Yes, you know – astral visions and all that sort of thing. Spirit shapes.”

“No – I can’t say that I do. I dream rather a lot after a late supper. But I’m not at all psychic, if that’s what you mean.”

“I am,” announced Terence, to Denise’s surprise. “I’m always having astral manifestations. I get quite a kick out of it.” His eyes assumed a dreamy expression and then suddenly narrowed, as if he were trying, there and then, to penetrate the Veil. “It’s marvellous sometimes how clearly I see things. They’re so terribly realistic.”

“Things?” enquired Denise. “What things?”

“Steaks mostly. But sometimes its mutton-chops or steak and kidney pudding. I just have to close my eyes, relax my mind and body, and there they are…You think it’s blasphemous of me to see things like that, don’t you? I know it’s not very high-minded, but -”

“I don’t think anything of the sort. I think it’s very clever of you to see anything at all.”

Terence just couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for peanut cutlets and raw cabbage and he confessed to his new-found friend that he went on the binge the week before and spent ten-weeks pocket money on a good feed.

Inspector Meredith always considered this investigation involving the Children of Osiris to be one of the most interesting, bizarre and exacting of all his cases. I thought it was an unusual mix for a murder mystery but very enjoyable.




Thursday 23 February 2023

We Love L. M. Montgomery Week!

 This week is a celebration of all things L.M. Montgomery. Hamlette is hosting a blog party and you are invited to join in. There are games and prizes to be won or you may just read one of her stories, her poetry, or a biography about the author herself. 




A couple of books by Montgomery that I've enjoyed and written about are:

Anne of Avonlea

Rilla of Ingleside


Places of Interest:

L.M. Montgomery Online

Order of L.M. Montgomery Books

Canadian Encyclopedia



Wednesday 15 February 2023

From My Commonplace Book - Elizabeth Goudge

 



📚 Elizabeth Goudge’s book, ‘The Child From the Sea,’ first published in 1970, is set around the time of the English Civil War. Lucy Walters, the main character, is devastated when her mother leaves her father. Lucy and her brothers are torn between their loyalty to them both…the tangled threads. This passage where her grandmother on her mother’s side is speaking to Dr. Cosin, a Royalist and high churchman, explains why Lucy decides to go with her father:

“…inborn loyalty has a fearsome strength and can cloud our thinking more than any other emotion.”

“Why do you say a fearful strength?” asked Mrs. Gwinne. “Is loyalty not admirable?”

“Certainly. Do we not suspect turncoats? and rightly. They are not usually good men. But very occasionally they may be. The threads of the web are tangled, madam. That is the tragedy of a world riddled by sin.”

“And you?” asked Mrs. Gwinne.

A smile softened Dr. Cosin’s rugged face. “Madam, I have thought deeply about these things, but I am a hot-tempered man and like all such men deeply committed. I love the King, whose chaplain I am, and the Church of England is my firstborn. That last sentence, madam, is one that could be written on my tombstone.”

It had been a dialogue between the two of them, for Mrs. Gwinnes thoughts had wandered to the book beside his plate, and Lucy could not understand all they said. But she knew about the tangled threads for she had discovered them at home in Wales, and she understood what loyalty was. There was disagreement in her home, forcing her to decision, and day by day for months past her heart had been like a ball tossed backwards and forwards between father and mother. Now, looking at Dr. Cosin’s sternly resolved face, it seemed that her heart was at rest as she thought of her father. “He is my firstborn,” she said to herself. 


Later on in the book... 


'...the dilatory reluctance of the law had as yet brought no settlement between William and Elizabeth, only increasing bitterness that shamed their children, but Lucy was learning to live both with the longing and the shame, to love her father as her firstborn and her mother as much as she could, and to pay no attention to what they said about each other. She was like a mother with two quarrelling children confined in different rooms, and went from one to the other with tolerant tenderness.'


Wednesday 11 January 2023

For the Family's Sake - Thoughts on each chapter