Wednesday, 6 May 2009

April's book round-up

Maelstrom by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough (L)
The New Moon with the Old by Dodie Smith - re-read
Matter by Iain M. Banks (L)
Leaven of Malice by Robertson Davies - re-read
The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun
Tempest-Tost by Robertson Davies - re-read
Fifth Business by Robertson Davies - re-read
The Stabbing in the Stables by Simon Brett (L)
More Than Love Letters by Rosy Thornton
Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees
A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong
Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris (L)
Crampton Hodnet by Barbara Pym
The Cruellest Month by Hazel Holt

I’ve only just noticed how appropriate my first April book was, The Cruellest Month, by Hazel Holt. This was from early in her excellent Mrs Malory series, and is quite simply my favourite so far; I picked it off the pile to read having just returned from Oxford. Exhausted by a very demanding conference (or more exactly, very demanding delegates), I wanted something to remind me that it’s a city I love, and it met my requirements perfectly. Sheila Malory sets off to combine a bit of quiet research in the Bodleian with a visit to her old college friend and some maternal fussing over her student son. Her friend also has a son, a pleasant but reserved young man, who gets on better with Sheila (his godmother) than he does with his bossy, outgoing mother, and he is quick to confide in Sheila over an accidental death in the library. The deceased wasn’t a pleasant woman, and Tony is convinced that all is not as it seems. The ever inquisitive Sheila is soon chatting away to all and sundry, teasing out the background.

I read these books as I come across them, all in the wrong order, and it doesn’t seem to matter in the least. Sheila is one of those people you dread sitting next to a train – she would have your life story out of you within the first hour, and you’d have confided things you wouldn’t tell your best friend. Fortunately, unless you also happened to be a murderer, you wouldn’t feel too uncomfortable about it, because she’s so extremely nice, and she’d probably go off with your address so that she could send you that useful recipe for gingerbread – before you knew it, you’d be exchanging Christmas cards for years. But however comfortable a companion she may be, there’s wit and intelligence there too, and a strong moral sense, but right to the end the reader doesn’t know how Sheila will deal with the difficult decisions which are the inevitable result of her curiosity. Early books in the series are hard to come by (although US readers may find reasonably priced copies on Abebooks), but it’s possible to find the later ones in libraries. If you can get hold of The Cruellest Month, do!

There will be more on April’s books in the next few days, I hope, though blogging time is hard to find. I am now resigned to finding myself too tired to write in the evenings, so have resolved to try to find an hour or so before I start work in the mornings. I’ve never been an early bird, but now it seems that I’m no longer a night owl.

Not me!
Photo by Ryly


  1. Spot on about Hazel Holt; you've got Sheila Malory beautifully. Like you, I've read the books out of order, prefer the earlier ones and am frustrated by how how hard they are to get hold of. I look wherever I go!

  2. Well, that was utterly perfect! I want her to be real! I haven't had any trouble so far getting the three I bought - Investigates, The Cruellest Month, and No Cure for Death. I went online and found used sellers. I often go to and click on used and new, and find many sellers and low prices. I'm not sure, but I would guess amazon uk would be the same.

    I have The Crow Road by Banks yet to read, and I have read his 'whisky' book twice! And I'm not even a whisky drinker.

    I'm very eager to hear about the others - especially the Thornton and Mirrlees and Pym books.

    Thank you for just the best writeup!

  3. Callmemadam, thanks, I've enjoyed blogging about them.

    Nan, I think they are much more readily available in the US, but one of the ways in which I try to limit my bookbuying, is by not ordering books from across the Atlantic unless there are exceptional circumstances. I talked about the Mirrless book recently, but Pym will have to wait a little until I have time to do her justice. I love The Crow Road.