Britain

Of Spies and Literature

Do you like spy novels? Ones that mix in politics and love?  If so McEwan's Sweet Tooth is for you.

It's set in the rollicking early 70s in England - a time of drugs, rock and roll, miniskirts, and--on a more serious note--women's entry into careers en masse. It tells the story of Selena, a bright vicar's daughter who loves to read and read fast.  Her mother, in the only moment of life- dissatisfaction she's ever expressed to her daughter, advises Selena to go to Cambridge and study math so she can have a challenging career. Selena, being the good older daughter, follows her mom's advice and gives up studying literature for something better career-wise.

But Selena's real education begins the summer after college.  An older tutor she meets through a boyfriend soon becomes her lover. In the process he teaches her about food, wine, politics, international relations, and how to read the newspapers for hidden facts and government policies. He's grooming her for a role in M15, the spy service.  But then Tony leaves her abruptly after an argument so Selena goes to London and does find a job with M15.

The Colour of Milk

if missing capitals drive you crazy, this may not be the book for you. however, i hope you will try it because the colour of milk brims with a young girl's voice. despite the fact that she lives on an english farm and does back-breaking labor from dawn to dusk under her brutal father's command, mary still possesses a sense of wonder at the world.

the time period covers the years of our lord, 1831 and -32. throughout this compelling novel, mary repeats over and over "this is my book and I am writing it in my own hand". you'll have to finish it to understand why these words resonate.

mary shares the harsh farm work with her mother and three sisters. violet sneaks off at night for sensual adventures in the hay loft. (mary discovers this when she goes out to press her head against the cow she loves dearly and almost the only creature who gives her any comfort). whenever she is not working, beatrice holds a bible in her hand, but when she recites what is inside it, mary notices that she's holding it upside down. hope suffers from the same bad temper as their father and dreams of living in her own house with a rich husband.

The Red House by Mark Haddon

redhouseLike many readers, I loved loved loved The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.  And I had high hopes for Mark Haddon's follow up, A Spot of Bother but was generally let down. That was years ago, and Haddon had sort of fallen off my radar when I recently came across his newest, The Red House

The premise is simple. Wealthy doctor, Richard invites his estranged sister, Angela, her unemployed husband and their three children to share a vacation house in the Welsh countryside knowing she cannot pay for a trip on their own.  Joining Richard is his new wife and her willful teenage daughter.  Their trip initially brims with the hope of forgiveness and family bonding, all nicely tucked away in a cozy modern pastoral setting.  But secrets, resentments, pain and confusion -- both old and new -- follow everyone. The complicated dynamics of this family and their often awkward attempts to set things right are at the crux of this novel.  Can't we all relate?  Being in a family is hard. 

August Books Plus

SnobsWhether you're inside enjoying the cool air or outside braving the weather at pool-side, consider that small country across the pond. Yes, England, and we're not talking about the Olympics but a Downton-Abbey type novel set in contemporary times. Are the rich really different from you and me? Screenwriter, novelist, and actor, Julian Fellowes tackles this subject in Snobs, a novel about a middle-class woman named Edith who would love the wealth and title of the Earl, Charles Broughton, whom she'd love to marry. 

Fellowes knows about castles and big estates. He's the son of a diplomat, and he visited many of the estates he writes about. He's also known struggling actors who aren't sure how they will pay next month's rent. As New York Times reviewer, Jonathan Ames said, Snobs is a "field guide to the behavior of the English aristocracy."  Ames also wrote, "When you read a book, you're lost in time. All the more reason to read Snobs.  It will distract you pleasantly. It's like a visit to an English country estate: breezy, beautiful and charming."

Sherlock

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It's 2011, there have been a series of deaths, they don't seem related to the police and this is what Scotland Yard is saying at their press conference.  Suddenly there is the sound of cell phone after cell phone notifying each reporter and officer in the room they have received a text.  It consists of one word only, "Wrong."   No it is not an admission from a super criminal, it's Sherlock Holmes.  The case is interesting and the game is afoot. Steven Moffat , the current producer of BBC's Doctor Who, has brought Sherlock into the 21 Century and he fits in very well indeed.

The Winter Sea by Susanne Kearsley

Winter SeaThe Winter Sea by Susanne Kearsley.

Is genetic memory just a theory or does it actually occur, or maybe the protagonist in this novel just has a really good imagination?

American historical novelist, Carrie McClelland journeys to Scotland to research her new book concerning an early planned Jacobite invasion in 1708. Her story and her research focus on Slain's Castle, now open to tourists, which was the center of much of the plotting in 1707 and 08. Carrie is soon dreaming of her ancestors who were involved in the intrigue. Is she channeling her long ago many times over great grandmother, is her new romantic interest also a descendant or is it her writer's imagination at work.

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