Having whizzed through several books on my recent trip away, I thought it might be best to do a quick round-up – if I try to review all these at length, I’ll be here forever!! So, off we go:

Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

I’ve had this on my tbr for a long time, and to be honest never really grasped what it was about but felt it was one of those books I should read. However, Heavenali’s review here whetted my appetite and I finally picked it up, and found I couldn’t put it down! It’s funny, clever and surprising, and very beautifully written. I found the way she mixed rural drama (while sending it up wonderfully) and the futuristic elements remarkable, and it was worth the wait – I’m glad I finally got to read it.

Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

In the mood for Stella Gibbons after I picked up the book above, and found this volume sitting quietly in the Oxfam Book Shop waiting for me – joy! Only one story (the title) is set on the eponymous farm, but the rest of the stories stand up in their own right. They’re lovely – witty, well written and often with a sting in their tail. I liked this book a lot, but interestingly, reading them so closely after the Katherine Mansfield volume reinforced my feelings about Mansfield’s genius. Gibbons stories are very, very good but don’t have the depth of Mansfield – who is a remarkable writer indeed.

The Greer Case – David Peck

A vintage Penguin I picked up because I liked the sound of it on apenguinaweek. It was very readable too – demolished much of it on the train to Leicester! It’s a retelling of a real-life court case, which took place in the USA in the middle of last century. There is a contested will, an illegitimate child, mysterious past – the whole thing was very well told and readable and intriguing.

Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino

Another return to my beloved Calvino – Invisible Cities is reckoned by some to be Calvino’s best and it’s certainly a book that stays in the mind. It’s certainly not a heavily plotted action thriller – more a series of short meditations. The book is ostensibly a record of Marco Polo’s conversations with Kublai Khan, describing the cities of the empire which he has visited. However, each short piece has a beautiful poetic quality and it soon becomes clear that these are descriptions of the ideas of cities, rather than cities themselves – some are even perceivable as contemporary with the reader, and some obviously futuristic. Calvino seems to be exploring the whole nature of a city, its organic structure, its possibilities and potential. What I love about Calvino is his word pictures – he’s capable of putting the most amazing, unexpected images into your head and they stay there forever. A book I would recommend to everyone.

I Will Not Serve – Eveline Mahyere

A slim little Virago picked up on my travels, and Mahyere’s only book prior to her suicide in 1957. It tells the tale of Sylvie, forced to leave her convent school where she is in love with one of her teachers, Julienne (who is about to become a nun). The book is formed of diary extracts, letters and narration and paints an intense picture of Sylvie’s love and despair compared with Julienne’s calm acceptance of God. Sylvie drinks and hangs around in bars and dreams of becoming an artist with Julienne alongside her. Beautifully written, sad and touching.

Madame Maigret’s Friend – Simenon

I love a good Maigret, and this is one. Seemingly disparate strands come together to reveal a crime and as usual Simenon is in complete control of his characters, his plot and his readers! The involvement of Mme Maigret is masterly and adds an extra element to the story.

Maigret in Montmarte – Simenon

Another atmospheric visit to Paris where Maigret is investigating a murder which will reveal other crimes and also affects the police force a little more closely than usual. One of the things I love about Simenon’s books is the atmosphere they create. The reader is never going to be able to out-guess Maigret or his creator, but that isn’t the point about these stories. It’s the characters and the settings – the rainy Paris streets, the sadness and the seediness, the light and shade in the behaviour of the people. Simenon was a master of his craft and the books are authentic in their atmosphere through and through.

March Violets – Philip Kerr

Oh dear. The one dud for me in the recent batch of reads. I read about these online, with rave reviews and they sounded good – hard-boiled thrillers set in pre-War Berlin. I persevered with this one, although I actually skip read to the end just to find out the resolution. Problems? Well, a lot of them for me. The hard-boiled dialogue was so over-the-top and clichéd I actually got really fed up with it by the end. I hated all the characters – accepting that in pre-War Berlin there wouldn’t be that many nice people about, they were all pretty brutal cardboard cut-outs. The violence and misogyny were just too much and laid on with a trowel. I didn’t find the detective to be anybody I could care about. And having a sequence set in Dachau just seemed to me to be stepping over the line. I have 5 more in the series of these books and I have to say I unfortunately don’t feel like starting another one. I don’t have an issue with hard-boiled thrillers – I love Dashiel Hammett’s books to death – but this book was just nasty and left me feeling a bit tainted.

So – not a bad amount of reading for less than a week. I’m off to cleanse my palate with “Mrs. Miniver”!

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