Review 1631: Mrs. Tim Gets a Job

It turns out that Mrs. Tim Gets a Job is part of a series. Unfortunately, because I’d rather read series books in order, I never find this out until I mark that I’m reading it in Goodreads. Luckily, the novel seems to stand perfectly well on its own.

The Second World War is over, but Mrs. Tim’s husband is still stationed in Cairo and won’t be getting home anytime soon. Mrs. Tim’s two children are off at school, and she finds herself at loose ends. So, without really consulting her, a friend arranges a job for her at a hotel in Scotland. At first, Mrs. Tim is inclined to turn down the job, but then she gets a letter from her landlord giving her notice to move out.

With trepidation, she sets out to work for Miss Clutterbuck, who she understands is a difficult person. Miss Clutterbuck has been forced to open her family home to the public, and she has a rude manner. Mrs. Tim finds that part of her duties is to talk to the guests, because Miss Clutterbuck can’t bear them.

This novel is written in a light style as a diary, reminding me very much of the Provincial Lady series except gentler and with less overt humor. We follow Mrs. Tim’s progress as she grows to appreciate Miss Clutterbuck, learns how to deal with a housemaid who hates her, and straightens out a guest’s love life. I enjoyed this book very much.

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Review 1630: Scot & Soda

I love Catriona McPherson’s creepy psychological thrillers mostly set in small Scottish villages, and I like her Dandy McGilver mysteries set in the early 20th century, but I wasn’t that enamored with the first of her Last Ditch mysteries, set in present-day Northern California. However, I thought I’d give the second one a try before giving up.

One of the jokes of this series is a Scottish woman as fish out of water. That woman is Lexie Campbell, a therapist. She and her friends from the Last Ditch Motel are on the houseboat she inherited in the last book having a Halloween party. When Lexie tries to haul up the beer she has been cooling in the water, up comes a corpse with a wig and tam on its head. Lexie also spots a ring on his finger.

Detective Mike Rankinson is not exactly Lexie’s friend, so after Lexie has a brain wave when she reads a newspaper story about a horse having its tail cut off, Mike isn’t very receptive. Lexie thinks the events remind her of the poem “Tam O’Shanter.” In pursuit of this idea, she and some friends visit a derelict farm that has a burial mound in it, and they find some women’s clothing with blood on it.

The hallmarks of this series are Lexie’s tiffs with the police, the plethora of eccentric friends, and the confusing myriad of clues. One of the things I like about McPherson’s other books is the atmosphere of small Scottish villages, with some eccentric characters but ones that are mostly believable. In this series, McPherson has tried to create the same atmosphere with the eccentric inhabitants of the Last Ditch Motel. First, there are so many of them that I can’t keep them straight. Second, this doesn’t really work in a big city setting, even in California. Finally, I find her making mistakes about the American side of things, having her characters say things Americans wouldn’t say, for example. I think I won’t be reading more of this series.

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Review 1624: The First Bad Man

The First Bad Man reminds me of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine except on steroids, because while Eleanor is one eccentric character, all of the characters in The First Bad Man are eccentric. I read this novel for my James Tait Black project.

Cheryl Glickman is a bit out of touch with normal human behavior. She is a manager at Open Palm, a martial arts/exercise company, but she has been directed to work from home and is only allowed to come to work one day a week. She has long been in love with Phillip Bettelheim, a much older man who is on the company’s board, and she consults a chromotherapist to treat her Globus hystericus simply because Phillip recommended him and so she can report back to him about it.

When she gets up enough nerve to show some interest in him (she tells him “When in doubt, give a shout”), he responds by asking her whether she thinks it is okay for an older man to be interested in a much younger woman. Of course, Cheryl takes this question as an interest in herself, when he is really in love with a 16-year-old schoolgirl. He continues to update her on the progress of the relationship, using explicit language.

As if this weren’t enough, the owners of the business, who routinely help themselves to supplies and the employees’ food when they come in, force her to let their daughter Clee stay with her until she gets a job. Clee is surly and unresponsive and then physically abusive when Cheryl tries to set her eccentric limits.

Cheryl herself is positive and upbeat most of the time, although she has arranged her house so that it doesn’t get dirty during occasional depressions simply by having almost no possessions. But Cheryl finds a way to respond to Clee that is unusual but ends up lightening the atmosphere.

Cheryl has some surprises for herself in this bizarre but touching novel. I liked it very much.

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Review 1623: Miss Buncle Married

How delighted I was to find out there are actually three Miss Buncle books, since I so enjoyed the first one. This second book continues in the first one’s gently comic, frothy tradition.

Barbara Buncle, now Mrs. Abbott, and her husband Arthur discover that neither of them has been enjoying their active social life. There seems to be no way to get out of it, however, because they’re such a popular couple. So, they decide to move.

It takes Barbara quite a long time to find a house she likes. When she visits a solicitor’s office in Wandlebury to view a house, Mr. Tupper, mistaking her for another client, has her read a will in which Lady Chevis Cobbe leaves her estate to her niece, Jeronina Cobbe, on the condition that she isn’t married before Lady Chevis Cobbe’s death. When Mr. Tupper discovers his mistake, he is horrified and asks Barbara to tell no one.

Of course, Barbara discovers the perfect house in Wandlebury, and after extensive renovations, it makes a comfortable home. Shortly after moving there, Barbara meets Jeronina Cobbe, who goes by Jerry. She is an industrious young woman who has been running her own stables to keep afloat financially and is worried about her brother Archie. Archie has been living beyond his means because he thinks he is Lady Chevis Cobbe’s heir.

Barbara and Arthur have been enjoying their new home immensely when Barbara discovers that Arthur’s nephew Sam has fallen in love with Jerry. So, without telling anyone about the will, Barbara feels she must keep the two apart until ailing Lady Chevis Cobbe dies, so as not to deprive Jerry of her inheritance.

If anything, I enjoyed this novel more than I did Miss Buncle’s Book. It’s a lot of fun.

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Review 1614: A Pink Front Door

Stella Gibbons’s books always start out seeming to be froth, but there is an edge to them, I’ve found. Still, she handles her characters’ foibles with compassion.

In A Pink Front Door, her heroine, Daisy Muir, is engaging, but she has one big flaw. She tends to make the problems of a set of misfits her own, much to the discomfort of her husband, James. At the beginning of the novel, she’s trying to keep one silly friend, Molly, from running after men, in particular an Eastern European refugee named Tibbs, who keeps losing both jobs and his lodging. Lodging is difficult to find in post-war London, and the next thing Daisy knows, she has Don, a man she barely remembers from Oxford, at her front door. Don and Katie and their three young children have just lost their lodgings, and Don hopes Daisy can help.

Daisy remembers “little Katie” from university, the most promising student of her year. Later, Katie reflects that she became stupid with love and made only a poor third. Don, however, is only a few months from finally taking his exams to qualify as a chemist, and Katie hopes to find a quiet place where he can work. If he passes, he can take a good job and they can begin a better life, but until now, they have been living in cramped, noisy, unpleasant quarters.

Daisy thinks of a former neighbor and friend of her father, Mrs. Cavendish, a horrible snob who has an entire upper floor free. Mrs. Cavendish, like many of the upper classes, has fallen on comparatively hard times and has lost her last servant. She agrees that the family can move in but insists that the hard-pressed Katie spend some time every day cleaning in exchange for the low rent that is all they can afford. The house is inconvenient. Katie must haul all their water and coal upstairs. It is also not laid out for children. But it is quiet, and Don is finally able to work.

While Daisy is embroiled in the difficulties of her friends’ lives, Molly has homed in on James and has begun dropping by Daisy’s house especially when Daisy isn’t there, making tea for James and babysitting James Too. James himself, usually tolerant of Daisy’s projects, has begun to lose his patience.

Gibbons has an eye for social follies and foibles, and she employs it here with effect. I enjoyed this novel and was touched by its conclusion.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 1608: Tea Is So Intoxicating

Tea Is So Intoxicating is a froth of a novel with silly characters but comments to make about marriage, snobbery, and class. No one here is very likable, but quite a bit is funny.

Retired Commander David Tompkins has purchased a picturesque but inconvenient thatched cottage and decides to run a tea shop from it. His wife Germayne thinks it’s a terrible idea, but nothing can dissuade him. He thinks he is a wonderful cook and has visions of a first-class tea shop; however, his pilot meal, meant to induce an investment from his friend George, is a disaster. In fact, David can’t cook, but he is convinced that he can produce his estimated 240 delicious teas a day.

There is some hope for the cooking, because a friend at his previous job sends along Mimi, a Viennese cake baker. Mimi does know how to bake a delicious cake, but she is the type of woman whom all men want to protect and all woman distrust on sight, apparently with cause.

Mrs. Arbroath used to run the village in 1910 and thinks it is still 1910, not 1950. She is determined to keep the tea shop from opening, claiming it will attract lots of riffraff. In addition, the owner of the local pub, who has opened a small tea garden (also opposed by Mrs. Arbroath), thinks they’ll be too much competition so has barred the Tompkins from his pub.

As all this becomes (I can’t help it) a tempest in a teapot, Charmayne begins to wonder if she shouldn’t have stayed with her first husband, Nigel.

I received a copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 1604: The Stone of Chastity

The Stone of Chastity is a bit of comic froth, poking fun at small village life. It is a farrago of nonsense populated by eccentric characters.

Nicholas Pounce is a recent Oxford graduate who has yet to find a purpose in life and isn’t trying very hard to find one. So, his uncle, Professor Pounce, announces that Nicholas can be his unpaid research assistant in a special project.

Professor Pounce has found an intriguing reference to folklore in an old diary. It asserts that there is a stone in a brook in the village of Gillenham, the Stone of Chastity. If a chaste woman steps on it, she can get across the brook, but if an unchaste woman steps on it, she will fall into the water. Note that no one seems to be testing the men.

When Nicholas and his mother arrive at the Old Manor in Gillenham, the house the professor has taken, they find Professor Pounce already in residence along with a sultry beauty, Carmen Smith, whose presence is unexplained.

The first thing Professor Pounce does is make up a questionnaire and have Nicholas distribute it throughout the village. Although the professor asks if people have heard about the stone, he also asks about the recipients’ chastity and seems unable to understand that the villagers may be offended.

They are, and a lot of resentment begins to build, especially among the cohorts of Mrs. Pye, an angry and fanatical Nonconformist. Also offended is the vicar’s wife, who has the Boy Scouts collect all the surveys and destroy them. The professor only gets one back, but it contains electrifying information: not only has the recipient heard of the Stone of Chastity, she has it in her scullery!

I have to admit this novel is funny, although much of its humor is slightly politically incorrect these days. It is funny enough that even this recap is making me laugh. Aside from the silly subject matter, it pokes fun at the rustic villagers as well as the researchers, although it bases a lot of its humor on class.

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 1588: This Is Happiness

My first introduction to Niall Williams was his wonderful novel History of the Rain. That was so good that I confess to having found Four Letters of Love slightly disappointing, just because it wasn’t as good. This Is Happiness, however, is a gem of a novel.

As an old man, Noe Crowe recollects the summer when he was 17. He has been banished to the small village of Faha in West Clare County, because he left seminary school. While living with his grandparents, Ganga and Doady, he’s supposed to find his way back to God.

First, it stops raining, in a village where it always rains. Then Christie arrives to help install the electricity. Christie, we sense, is a charismatic individual with lots of stories to tell. He has come with a mission, and it’s not electricity. He has heard Annie Moonie lives in Faha, and he wants to apologize to her for leaving her at the altar 50 years before.

In the meantime, Noe, in a village studded with eccentric characters, finds he has fallen in love with Sophie Troy, the doctor’s youngest daughter, or is he in love with Sophie and Charlie Troy, or is it with Sophie, Charlie, and Ronnie, all three of the doctor’s daughters?

The novel starts out funny and charming and it just gets better. Hoorah for another fine book by Niall Williams.

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Review 1575: Nothing to Report

Best of Ten!
The circumstances by which I came to read this novel were a bit different from usual. I received Somewhere in England by the same author as a review copy, but when I sat down to read it, I realized it was a sequel to Nothing to Report. So, I immediately sent off for this novel so that I could read them in order.

Mary Morrison, Button to her friends, is an unmarried middle-aged woman living in a village near London in 1939. She has been forced to sell the family home, which is now a school. From her cottage, she seems to be at the center of village life, often being called on for advice, running a woman’s society, and living a busy social life.

Her childhood friend, Catha, Lady Rollo, and her family have returned from years in India and want her to help them find a house. Catha’s youngest son, Tony, a surly university student and would-be revolutionary, is hanging around Mary Morrison’s house trying to avoid his family. Mary’s widowed sister-in-law, Marcelle, has just announced her plans to vacate London and move in with Mary, bringing her daughter Rosemary. Rosemary, in preparation for the move, has shipped her piano to Mary’s house. Mary herself has been trying to organize gas mask training. Finally, Catha’s daughter, Elizabeth, is preparing for her debut to society. In short, things are chaotic. Slowly, events work up to World War II, of course.

I was delighted to read this novel, which I found charming. It has some very funny scenes, such as Lady Rollo’s preparations for going to Ascot, and is at other times quite touching. I loved this book.

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Review 1561: #1956 Club! Sprig Muslin

Seven years ago, Sir Gareth Ludlow’s fiancée died tragically. Since then, he hasn’t met any woman who would make him forget her. He knows it’s his duty to marry, though, so he decides to propose to his shy friend Lady Hester Theale.

On his way to Lady Hester, he meets a beautiful young lady in some difficulty. He learns that in trying to force her grandfather to let her marry, she has run off with the aim of becoming a governess. When her supposed employer turned her away, she presented herself at the inn where he meets her proposing herself as a chambermaid.

Gareth is afraid that Amanda is too inexperienced to know what dangers she may encounter, but she will not tell him her grandfather’s name, so he takes her to Hester. Hester’s family assumes he has brought along his mistress, and her roué uncle spirits Amanda away the next morning.

Sprig Muslin is Heyer at her most ridiculous and fun, as Amanda’s fibs land her and Sir Gareth into serious trouble, requiring, of course, more and more fibs. As usual, her characters are lovable and her wit engaging. I always love reading Heyer, This one, I reread for the 1956 Club.

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