Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Undertaker's Wife by Dee Oliver

The Undertaker's Wife by Dee OliverI'm not quite sure what I was expecting when I chose this book, some funny macabre tales I guess, but the story wasn't quite what I expected and in the end it wasn't my style.

The book reads a bit like a diary that's trying to be funny but ends up being at best, a bit silly, and at worse, a boring account of daily life/ dating woes etc with some scriptures flung in higgeldy piggeldy. 

I really hate to only give this 2 stars but

It just didn't work. For me.

* Thanks to Netgalley for a free ebook given for review

Give Em The Ax by A. A. Fair

Give 'Em The Ax by A.A. Fair2.5 Stars

I remember watching old B&W films like this when I was a kid. You know, the kind where you sit through an hour of chain smoking, red herrings and bantering thug slang ("Have you got the dope on that jane, Lover? "), and when the curtain falls and the credits start to roll you turn to your companion, "So what happened?"

Well this was kind of like that. WW2, private eye detective agency, a nightclub, long legged cigarette seller, double crossing, legal cross examining and an ax murder. Lots of people and plots that may or may not mesh together, but while the whole package is mildly entertaining, I can't imagine wanting to reread this to fully understand it. And no, I didn't really understand it. 

Bottom line: If you're a fan of WW2 crime/ detective stories of the "dime novel " variety, you might want to check this out. 

SEX: None
PROFANITY: Liberal sprinklings of D, H, GD, B
VIOLENCE: None shown
MY RATING : PG (for profanity)

Moths by Ouida

The title "Moths" is allegorical for Society's women, who either spend their lives munching on ermine and gravitating to flames of corruption, or, as so rarely happens that it's notable when it does, rising to the stars in innocence and purity.

Vere grew up with her grandmother in the wholesome English air. But when she reached the age of 16, she was sent to the Riviera to live with her mother, Lady Dolly, a well liked but ammoral dame of Society. Having Vere under her roof is a thorn in Dolly's side, making her feel old; and Vere's solemn eyes and disapproving demeanor cramp Dolly's spontaneous frivolity. So on the advice of her shallow friends, Lady Dolly decides to get Vere wedded as soon as possible.

She, in effect, sells Vere off in marriage to the highest bidder; a cruel, selfish, loose-living but immensely rich Russian Count. In his depravity, he attempts to singe "The Moth" into becoming like all other society women. Vere stays true to her principles and to her innocence's true love, a famous opera singer by the name of Correze.

This novel is a real indictment on Society and Society's marriages which were often little more than a matching of names and titles but had no love, respect or honor. Both husbands and wives freely embarked in flirtations and "discreet" affairs while whittling away their time, money and usefulness with travel, castle hopping, gambling and more dress changes than a one-man theatre production.

As is usual with Ouida, the writing is impeccable and rich, but very wordy and at times repetitious. She sometimes bends to the weakness of thinking for her readers even when the meaning is indisputable. I found this a bit frustrating. Also, we are made to wait until the last gasping breath for a whiff of a "happy ever after" and for me it was a case of "too little too late".

Bottom line: Not one I would reread any time soon but still a finely crafted novel

SEX: None shown, frequent talk of mistresses
VIOLENCE: Very mild
PROFANITY: Very mild
MY RATING: PG (for thematic elements)

Our Emily by Mary Jane Staples

Our Emily by Mary Jane StaplesSo in "Our Emily", book 2 in the Adams family chronicles, we have the kids all pretty much grown up.

Boots is back from the war, married and making due with his disability until an operation hopefully gives him his freedom back. 
Ned and Lizzy are building a family, Tommy trying to find work in a depressed economy and Sammy making a killing in his various business ventures. Emily is still very much Emily, excelling in her workplace but feeling a failure as a wife.

The title is a bit of a misnomer as the book dwells equally as much on Sammy and his enterprises (and possible romance) as it does on Emily and Boots. (In fact, the cover picture is of Susie, not Emily at all, although they got the hair color wrong)

I found this book weaker than the the first one (Down Lambeth Way). It seemed to rely too heavily on cheeky banter/ flirting than real happenings and some of the humor was rather off color. I especially didn't like the flirting carried on by married individuals to those not their mates.
It is still a good story but some bits were disappointing to me.

SEX: A few brief, non-explicit-but-still-tmi-moments, (may not be appropriate for young readers); some off color humor and innuendos, frank talk about making love, conception/ contraception, as well as illegitimacy and sowing wild oats.
VIOLENCE: A few get beat up (not described blow for blow)
MY RATING: PG-13 (for sexual content)

Down Lambeth Way by Mary Jane Staples

Down Lambeth Way by Mary Jane Staples"Down Lambeth Way" is the first book in a 29 book series of the Adams saga. The covers in the series look YA but they're really not. By that, I don't mean to say they're neccesarily inappropriate, but it depends on the age of the reader, some subject matter may be a little mature or intense for very young readers. (I'll explain in the content section below).

I think first books in a series are very much like pilot episodes on TV. Some time is by neccesity taken up in the introduction of characters, setting the scenes, the backgrounds, the personalities etc. For the first 80-100 pages you might just assume its a cheeky cockney YA story with lots of playful characters but not much substance. But its so much more. Just give it time.

In this series, we start with a cockney family, fatherless since the Boer war, a mother who makes due with the help of "Uncle" (the pawn broker) and her enterprising children. When the story begins, the children are quite young, the oldest being 14 or 15, but over the course of the book, about five years elapse and everyone is forced to grow up.

The first serious thing (well, aside from getting head lice) that the family experiences, is a murder in the neighborhood, and their good friend and neighbor is being tried. There is a court trial with several characters being cross examined.

Around the same time, war is declared and we experience the reality of life on the front as well as its aftermath.

Between that there is love, courtship, marriage, political intrigue, and plenty of tea and cockney humor.

I always love Mary Jane Staples books (aka Robert Tyler Stevens), he manages to combine just the right amount of serious subject matter with humor and action to keep me engrossed page after page and leaving me with a warm fuzzy feeling. I don't understand why his books never really "made it" in the US but I'm happy they can still be found through online sites.

SEX: Fade to black, mentioned frankly but not explicitly [ for example, one character is taught the "mysteries " by a female ambulance driver on the front. There is also frequent mention of underclothing and particularly breasts being either firm, pouty, perky, overflowing, soft as pillows, nipples showing through, as well as one touch and some cheeky innuendo ]
VIOLENCE: War time violence, nothing gory but people are injured. A woman is murdered.
PROFANITY: Some, mostly British in nature

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Paradise Place by Warwick Deeping

Paradise Place by Warwick DeepingAfter spending some years in prison for manslaughter, John Hallifax disappears. The next news of him is a letter received by his wife, postmarked from Paris, telling of John's death from consumption.

Rachel remarries for so-called stability, this time to a wealthy philisoper, a "secretary bird with trousers"; a passionless man in love with only himself and the applauds of society. 

Meanwhile, a rough, Esau-like man calling himself John Bamfield has taken lodgings in a slum area of London named "Paradise Place" and has tacked up his shingle as an herbalist. He's a hairy, bearded man of the earth, ready with his fists, quick with his wits, and carrying a secret about him...

I loved this. I haven't had the pleasure of a hero like this in some time and I warmed to the "tough softie"; he's stubborn but completely unselfish and very human. Rachel also felt very real, she was sad, she was happy, she was conniving and I rooted for her. 

The ending is satisfying and no part of the story lags. Excellent.

SEX: Yes, but not shown to reader
VIOLENCE: Mild, a couple fisticuff fights

Patsy by Henry De Vere Stacpoole

Patsy by Henry de Vere StacpooleThis is so very different from H.V. Stacpoole's "Beach of Dreams" and "The Man Who Lost Himself" that it took me several chapters to get my bearings and understand just what I held in my hands. I think I know now.

"Patsy" is an Irish comedy. And just so you know, Patsy is not a girl but a boy; a rather enterprising, cheeky, very Irish boy. The language is in the vernacular but just enough to be humorous and not so heavy as to be unreadable.

Ok so the plot...well, at its heart we have a lovelorn couple thwarted in love. The man's uncle disapproves of the match and has arranged a more "suitable" suitor for his ward; a man with money (but alas very tight), much older, no sense of humor and a glass eye. Yes, you heard right. A glass eye. And remember this book is a comedy soooo can we just say that things happen with regard to said glass eye.

And then there's Patsy who has just landed a job in the big house as a sort of "fetch and carry" boy. As was mentioned he's a bit of a Cheeky Charlie with extras. In this case, the extras involve a bandit uncle who is the terror of the countryside along with his accomplice. The baddies have got wind that there's people of "quality" staying at the great house and they smell money. A break-in is arranged...and a trap is set. The results are zany and unpredictable. 

I think this could be a 5 star book depending on the audience. I went into it having no idea what it was about and it was entertaining but not one I'd probably reread. However if I had read it when I was a young adult, I would have loved it to pieces. Give it a go, its free on public domain sites like


The Beach Of Dreams~ A Romance by Henry De Vere Stacpoole

The Beach of Dreams A Romance by Henry de Vere Stacpoole4.5 Stars

This author is amazing. "Beach Of Dreams" is my second book by Stacpoole (the first being "The Man Who Lost Himself") and it is very, very good. Don't let the title mislead you. This isn't some kind of island holiday where romance ensues while people sun themselves and drink tequilas. Thank goodness!

Two ships collide, a steam yacht and a full sail fishing vessel. They sink, not too far from a particularly hostile group of islands with basalt cliffs, caves, bitumen pits and sea elephants. Only a few survive, a wealthy lady and two rough sailors. After some unfortunate events, the lady ends up fighting the elements on her own.

When hope seems farthest away, an illiterate, burly, red bearded fisherman is washed ashore...

And I don't dare say any more for fear of spoiling things, but it gets VERY exciting, and the author's ability to evoke a place with all its wonders and dangers is unparalleled.

Its unfortunate that Henry De Vere Stacpoole's works are so scarce. You can find a few overpriced print on demand paperbacks but only his more famous books. Thankfully, many are available on public domain sites for free download. Yay!

Brief violence, and a few racially derrogative comments directed at the chinese. No sexual situations.

The Constant Nymph by Margaret Kennedy

The Constant Nymph by Margaret KennedyAlbert Sanger was a brilliant composer, English by blood, European by choice; a man of loose morals and unpredictable temperament. Following in his wake (and footsteps) is a managerie of children, both legitimate and not. This story focuses on primarily two of these children, Antonia and Tessa, (Tessa being the Constant Nymph of the title) and a young composer named Lewis Dodd whose intimate ties with the family will have far reaching effects...

So this was pretty fascinating. In some ways I couldn't help but think of the old movie "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers" when the bride arrives home only to find instead of a haven, bedlam and destruction with seven men~ her new relatives~ living like animals. This was kind of like that. Sanger's children have had no training other than an intense life-course in music. They enjoy life (or at least accept life) as they find it, but know nothing of traditional education, social graces, culture etc. They live wild and free. That is, until that momentous day when Albert Sanger dies suddenly without a penny and an aunt from England arrives to "rescue" the unfortunate children...

At times, this is a very amusing story; and yet its not a funny book. It has an almost tragic "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" feel to it. We want happiness for the characters and yet shudder to think what that may mean..

FYI: There is a sequel to this called "The Fool of The Family", which focuses on Caryl, the oldest son, a violinist.

SEX: Talk of mistresses and loose living. Nothing intimate shown to reader.
PROFANITY: Mild (D's, B's)

My Son, My Son by Howard Spring

My Son, My Son by Howard SpringIf I was to sum this book up in one sentence it would be, To a large extent, for good or bad, we are a product of our upbringing.

William and Dermont are two close friends who plan and plot and ultimately live their lives through their two sons, Oliver and Rory. 

William is a man who lived a hardscrabble life but pulled himself up by his bootstaps to become a successful novelist. He determines to never let his son lack a thing. He must have everything money can buy and become an even greater man than his father. 

Dermont is a frustrated Irish radical but with marriage, a growing family, and a booming carpentry business tying his hands, he must pass his political fervor onto the next generation. His son will right the wrongs he himself could only dream about ..

Well, be careful what you wish for.

"My Son, My Son" is a saga spanning about 35 years. WW1 will arrive when the two sons become of age, with consequences that rock both families to the core. And brooding for decades, the Irish rebellion finally reaches a crescendo with Bloody Sunday and catapults Ireland into confusion, mayhem and terror.

This is my first Howard Spring book and I found him immensely readable. I would compare his style as a cross between Diane Pearson and Warwick Deeping. The male protagonist here is not particularly likeable but at the same time is very human and so its hard to look away. The last 100 pages are unputdownable.

Recommended for adult readers who like chunky family sagas from the turn of the century.


SEX: One steamy scene which eventually fades to black but takes a while in doing so (two pages). Surprising for a book written in the 1930s
VIOLENCE: Some wartime fighting. Nothing very graphic but people do die.
PROFANITY: Fairly liberal sprinkling of D's, B's and religious cussing.

This would have been 5 stars for me except for 1) some unlikable people were main characters and 2) major foreshadowing in the narrative that ammounted to spoilers. I really dislike that.
But it is so completely engrossing that 4 stars seems almost stingy...

A Rose Of Yesterday by Francis Marion Crawford

A Rose of Yesterday by Francis Marion CrawfordI love Francis Marion Crawford but this book earned my "Oh dear" rating of two stars.

Here's the basic storyline:

Two young men are in love with the same woman. Being that they're good friends, one man gallantly steps aside and lets the other woo and marry her. Of course its the wrong man. The husband becomes a monster, drinking and beating his wife and son.

The son, from too many blows on the head, is mentally simple, but he grows into a strapping man. It was at this point that he got tired of the abuse and gave his father blow for blow. (Yes, he kept track. Every blow was recorded with a drop of ink on his building blocks ...creepy, right?) In fact it may have been this violent crescendo that addled the father's brain, putting him in an insane asylum where he spent the next several years...

Its at this point that lover #2 (the good guy who has been pining for the last twenty years) enters the story and tries to get the woman to divorce her husband and marry him. She won't. And then, by some strange twist of fate, husband regains sanity and is due for release....

And that's all you really need to know. The rest is implausibly far fetched with a lazy plot conclusion. 

The sad thing is that this actually had a really good storyline. But oh my goodness, what happened? The author destroyed the potential of this with rambling, mind wandering tangents that took the story way off course or stalled it completely. I know. I'm being harsh. But really, Mr Crawford, you leave me flabbergasted.

Don't let this be your first sampling of this author's work. Try "A Roman Singer" or "The Children of The King" or even "The Heart of Rome". But give this one a miss.

Seven Men came Back by Warwick Deeping

Seven Men Came Back by Warwick DeepingI really loved this and wished it could have been a hundred more pages but I suppose a good place to conclude a book is at a place that leaves the reader wondering and wanting more. Not that there are loose ends here, there aren't. I just wanted to hang around a bit longer in the company of the characters. 

Basically the name of this book is the synopsis as well. Seven soldiers who survive the war (WW1) and make a pact on Armistice day; they call themselves "The Seven Club" and reunite each year on November 11th to keep in touch. They're not all likeable personalities but its interesting how circumstances make or break people. The strong don't always spell success and the lowly don't always remain subservient. Time and opportunity make for an ever evolving flow of events, leaving nothing in its path unchanged.

Although the novel follows all seven men, the focus is on an ex-officer named Sherring. A man whose only niche seems to be in command and who is not so adept or as satisfied in managing his own affairs.

Another fascinating read by Deeping.

SEX: None shown to reader but talk of infidelity, prostitution.
PROFANITY: Mild (Mostly D's)

An Iceland Fisherman by Pierre Loti

An Iceland Fisherman by Pierre Loti. H.A. MelconThis is the kind of book that is hard to put down and when you do, you can't stop thinking about it. The plot is simple. A group of Breton fishermen who get their living off the coasts of Iceland, and their families who are left behind for most of the year waiting, watching...and praying .

Most of the story centers around two characters, young Sylvester who is recruited for the French navy and his cousin of sorts, Yann, a strong, powerful able seaman who, in his late twenties is being pressured to marry. However, Yann argues that the only wife he'll ever have is the sea.

The author describes coastal Brittany in such simple but vivid terms that I felt I was there, kicking browned seaweed along the rocky paths and winding my way among stunted trees and bushes bent permanently in blown positions . And the storms at sea....terrifying.

Although this is not a very long novel, I felt that the main characters were pretty well developed; there were times I had to choke back the tears when the emotion became too much. Yes, it's a bittersweet story but a very good one.

Available for free on Public Domain sites

Highly recommended

CONTENT: PG (for very brief but strong violence and some racially offensive descriptions of the Chinese)

Old Wine and New by Warwick Deeping

Old Wine And New by Warwick DeepingWhen Spenser Scarsdale, journalist, age 40, returns from the Great War, he finds the world a changed place; sensationalism has taken the place of sentiment and sobriety, class and manners have given way to vulgar "me-ism" and cheap thrills. Scarsdale, a Victorian at heart, can no longer place his finger on the pulse of humanity, and as a consequence his writing becomes unsalable.

We follow Scarsdale from disillusionment to depression to despair until we worry for his very life. But at the very "gates of hell" there is a glimmer of hope, and the love and understanding of one good woman who believes in him...

Scarsdale is the Anti-Alpha male. He's shy, self deprecating, unassuming, and gentle. Some readers won't like him. They'll label him "weak", a "pushover", "naiive", "lacking in virility" etc. But honestly, I found him a refreshing (and realistic) change of pace. And yes, while there were times (especially in the first half) where I wanted to shout, " Noooo! You big, galloping nimwit, don't do it!", I have to say by the second half I was gripping the arm chair and rooting for him with tears in my eyes. I wanted so badly for him to succeed and if/ when he did, I didn't want him to change one bit.

Lovely story and semi autobiographical.
Recommended for lover's of cozy, realistic fiction.


SEX: None

The Marigold Field by Diane Pearson

The Marigold Field by Diane PearsonDiane Pearson always delivers a riveting and memorable story. Its difficult to give a synopsis of this one because it is largely character, rather than plot, driven.

Many years are covered here and two wars (The Boer War and WW1) but they are only really important in the way that they affect the characters and not for the events themselves. 

Briefly, The Marigold Field centers around three people: Jonathan Whitman and the two Pritchard sisters, Betsy and Annie. (Along with several minor characters who never seem very minor at the time, including Jonathan's cousin /wife, Myra).
Betsy is plain and good, Annie is pretty, selfish and conniving, and Jonathan is a man striving to make his way in an unfair world.

There is no part of the novel that lags or tangentizes (I made that up), its absorbing in an almost soap opera kind of way and yet nothing except life really HAPPENS, but still you read on, open mouthed, and feel that it is enough. 

SEX: Mentioned frankly, fade to black, some suggestive scenes and an attempted rape
VIOLENCE: Brief war imagery
PROFANITY: Very mild
Recommended Reading Audience: New Adult

*Note: "Sarah Whitman" is the sequel to this

Blind Man's Year by Warwick Deeping

Blind Mans Year by Warwick DeepingI do love Deeping. It's not that he writes earthshaking stories, he doesn't. But he writes about real people with real feelings and you go away feeling at peace and contented.

In Blind Man's Year, we have a wealthy but reclusive authoress living in a remote Suffolk gardener's dream. Due to an unsightly birth mark on one side of her face, she endeavors to soothe her pride by keeping herself to herself and her identity as a famous writer private.

But one day when the fog is particularly dense, a small plain crashes near her property. The young pilot battles for his life and survives but is permanently blinded. His condition being so fragile, the doctor advises against moving him and Rosamund nurses him at her home. Romance ensues.

What I admire about Deeping is how he doesn't take you to the wedding day and then abandon the reader. Marriage is simply part of the story and we get to experience their lives together after the big day, which is far more interesting. 

In this case we see Clive's daily struggles and progress as he climbs his way back to independence, how he masters braille, typing, fruit picking etc and overcomes his fear of the unknown. We also watch Rosalind become the confindent woman she never was, with Clive as her friend and support.

Seeing how Clive and Rosamund interact, sharing the understanding and succor that each needs, is a guaranteed heart warmer. True companionship at its best.

Oh and totally off the point but an interesting tidbit is that in this story we have another Margaret Hayle (like in Gaskill's North and South). 

SEX: None

The White Gate by Warwick Deeping

The White Gate by Warwick Deeping2.5 Stars
Not Deeping's best by any stretch. 

It starts off pretty interesting, a WW1 vet of 40 (and up and coming engineer/ inventor) sets up home in a quiet village where he sets eyes on a rather Ophelia-type young woman living under the tyrannical shadow of her alcoholic mother. Her life is so miserable she loses the will to live and even contemplates suicide. The man decides to make it his mission to bring happiness to this somewhat limpid creature and that's "The White Gate" in a nutshell.

The first half is a solid 3 stars but it dissolved in plot after their marriage and during their honeymoon in France. YAWN.

Happily, this is available on public domain and I did not buy it.

No Hero,This by Warwick Deeping

No Hero This by Warwick DeepingIts extremely unusual to read a book about a medical doctor's experiences during WW1, written by a medical doctor who actually served in WW1. It becomes more than just a story, its semi-autobiographical and you can feel the authenticity. Written in the present tense, it reads almost like a diary.

Brent was quite happy doctoring at home. He had no fighting urge to "blast the Hun". As a matter of fact, it was a quarrel he's wasn't sure he even believed in. But as the menfolk started leaving town in khakis, (some never to return) and the remaining villagers began looking askance at him, his medical partner pointed out that if he wanted a practice after the war was over.....

Brent signed up; "coerced by a cowardly conscience", as he put it.

What follows are the adventures of three years living/ doctoring in the trenches. There were no such things as clinic "bunkers" in some safe spot away from the lines; you went into the trenches and shell holes, dragged the wounded off and tended them as best you could in whatever shelter/ dugout you could find and hope the shells wouldn't blow you all up in the process. (And sometimes they did). 

It was an eye opener for me as I didn't realize just what kind of dangers the medical officers faced and how differently the war affected people. Some became devil-may-care promiscuous, others went home with severe shell shock, other men (from both sides) lost hope, rebelled against the whole butchery and deserted their posts. And more often than not, you couldn't tell those who were capable by looking at their appearance. The most strapping, confident-looking soldier could become a quivering mass of jelly when the shots started firing. 

Written in 1936, before WW2 erupted, I couldn't help but wonder what the author felt as he saw the world changing and gearing up yet again...

A must read and one of Deeping's best.

SEX: None shown, but mentioned matter of factly
VIOLENCE: Some war imagery but not too graphic
PROFANITY: Frequent sprinkling of "D's" and "H's"