Thursday, 17 October 2013

Book Reviews: 18 October

The Lady reviews of the best books available to buy or download now


Culture-Books-Oct18-German-Garden-176ELIZABETH OF THE GERMAN GARDEN: A BIOGRAPHY OF ELIZABETH VON ARNIM by Jennifer Walker (Book Guild, £20; offer price, £16)
Elizabeth von Arnim, born Mary Beauchamp, is one of the forgotten fi gures of 20th-century women’s fiction, despite her extraordinary life, her bestseller status before the Second World War and her influence on such famous figures as Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf. This new biography traces how her unhappy marriage to a German count as a young woman launched her literary career as a witty, feminist writer of autobiographical travelogues.

It was a complex life where she mixed with the Bloomsbury set, married Lord Francis Russell – Bertrand’s older brother and another unhappy marriage – and had a passionate affair with HG Wells, as well as falling later for a much younger man. As a reassessment of her life, this book has much to offer, but could have undertaken a more incisive critical exploration of Beauchamp’s literary creations.
Steve Barfield

Culture-Books-Oct18-Novel Cure-176THE NOVEL CURE: AN A-Z OF LITERARY REMEDIES by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin (Canongate, £17.99; offer price, £14.99)
This compendium provides a quirky range of reading suggestions for various ailments and predicaments: from headaches to heartbreak, and stubbed toes to stiff upper lips. Each entry comes with a witty commentary and a literary prescription, in the form of one or more novels. There is also advice on ‘reading ailments’ (Too busy to read? Listen to audiobooks while doing chores.) This book is a great way to broaden your literary horizons – and an entertaining read in its own right.
Juanita Coulson

Culture-Books-Oct18-Yours ER-176YOURS, ER by Terence Blacker (Headline, £9.99; offer price, £9.49)
Based on his play for BBC Radio 4, Blacker’s imagined letters from Her Majesty reflect upon recent events. With amusing opinions about our politicians and the Royals, the sense of implausibility matches that of comedy, leaving us with the feeling that Blacker’s Queen can only ever be a fictional creation.
Lulu Trask

Culture-Books-Oct18-World wedding-176THE WORLD IS A WEDDING by Wendy Jones (Corsair, £14.99; offer price, £12.99)
The sequel to Jones’s The Thoughts And Happenings Of Wilfred Price, Purveyor Of Superior Funerals, it follows Wilfred as he experiences the reality of marriage and fatherhood – very different from his initial expectations. Meanwhile, his ex-wife Grace has a secret that must be uncovered and leads Wilfred back to his past. This enjoyable novel keeps you entertained, yet the deeper and more sombre issues it addresses sustain the reader’s interest and intrigue.
Natasha Howe

Culture-Books-Oct18-Visitation Street-176VISITATION STREET by Ivy Pochoda (Sceptre, £16.99; offer price, £13.99)
On a hot summer’s night in a blue-collar area of Brooklyn, two 15-year-old girls take a rubber raft out on to the river. Only one comes back. The ramifications of this event spread through the streets, affecting the lives of numerous residents. Guilt, suspicion, loneliness and ‘the outsider’ are the themes that run through this novel. Sharply observed, Pochoda does for Brooklyn what Lehane did for Boston.
Victoria Clark


Culture-Books-Oct18-Elfrida-176Power and influence
ELFRIDA: THE FIRST CROWNED QUEEN OF ENGLAND by Elizabeth Norton (Amberley, £20; o­ffer price, £17)
Anglo-Saxon queens get such a poor write-up in the chronicles of misogynistic medieval clerics, and feature so rarely in today’s hugely popular historical novels and biographies, you’d be forgiven for wondering if England had queens at all before 1066. In her biography of the 10th-century Queen Elfrida, Elizabeth Norton leaves us in no doubt about their existence – and their in€fluence.

Accused of plotting the murder of her ‚first husband so she could marry King Edgar, Elfrida was later also suspected of murdering her stepson to put her own son, Æthelred the Unready, on the throne.

Carefully reconstructing Elfrida’s life through surviving documents, many of the more spectacular myths about her are debunked. Concentrating closely on her subject, Norton leaves the reader rather hungry for more detail on the life and society of the period. This enticing glimpse into a world of warring kings, zealous churchmen and marauding Vikings de‚finitely whets the appetite: let’s hope this is the start of a trend for more biographies from this fascinating era.

For anyone interested in English history from the ‚fifth century to the Norman conquest, this is an excellent starting point, with a full bibliography for further reading. Anglo-Saxon England certainly had queens, and some formidable ones too, like Elfrida: it seems the chroniclers were just too terri‚fied to write about them.
Stephen Coulson


JANE AUSTEN: HER LIFE, HER TIMES, HER NOVELS by Janet Todd (Andre Deutsch, £25; offer price, £20)

Janet Todd, a scholarly authority on Austen, offers a stylishly presented, beautifully illustrated account of the writer’s life and work, including extracts from archive materials. It will appeal to Austen fans, particularly those interested in the woman behind the words on the page.


There is little new interpretation or insight, but this is a celebratory rather than a critical volume. The book examines Austen’s relationships with friends and family, and the places she worked in, from rural Hampshire to fashionable Bath. There is also some discussion of how the assumptions and conventions of her period informed her work.


YOURS TRULY by Kirsty Greenwood (Pan Macmillan, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)

This romantic comedy is mischievous yet touching. In order to save her wedding, Natalie Butterworth has to face the truths she has been avoiding all her life, after a pub hypnotist lets all her secrets loose. Those who love the work of Sophie Kinsella will find this novel very entertaining.

IT’S RAINING MEN by Milly Johnson (Simon & Schuster, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
Friends May, Lara and Clare leave horrible men behind to go on holiday. They end up in Ren Dullem, where they are surrounded by more men, suspicious locals and a mermaid. A comfortingly predictable tale about forgetting heartbreak and finding happiness.
Rebecca Maxted

THE MISINTERPRETATION OF TARA JUPP by Eva Rice (Heron Books, £7.99, offer price, £7.59)
Eva Rice manages to create extremely vivid scenes, immersing the reader into the narrative. This coming-of-age love story follows Tara, a budding singer, attempting to find herself while those around her are forcing her to become someone she isn’t. This is a must-read for all lovers of romantic novels.


  • THE NAME OF THE ROSE by Umberto Eco
  • DISSOLUTION by CJ Sansom


Culture-Books-Oct18-Close bone-176CLOSE TO THE BONE by Stuart MacBride (Logan McRae, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
A thriller that captivates the reader immediately and sustains excitement throughout. MacBride has created genuine characters that, combined with clever plot twists, make this book particularly engaging. Despite the dark, gritty story, there are wonderful moments of black humour woven into the dialogue.
Matthew Leopold


EVERY DAY IS MOTHER’S DAY by Hilary Mantel, narrated by Sandra Duncan (Whole Story Audiobooks, £15.69)
Evelyn and her specialneeds daughter Muriel share their chaotic home with ghosts. A baby and a social worker come into this scene. Duncan’s nuanced delivery brings to life Mantel’s black humour.


With a book and classical music festival in an intimate setting, East Lothian lingers in the memory, says Juanita Coulson

It’s all happening in East Lothian, an understatedly beautiful region that has the highest concentration of historic houses in Scotland – and autumn is the perfect time to visit for a cultural break.

The Lennoxlove Book Festival takes place from 1 to 3 November in the elegant setting of Lennoxlove House. The programme features talks by authors such as Richard Dawkins and Kate Mosse, politicians Douglas Hurd and Alan Johnson, and star broadcasters Jeremy Paxman (on the history of the Great War).


There’s comedian Rory Bremner to lighten the mood and the Family Book Festival with talks and activities for little readers. And it’s not just about books. Lennoxlove House, home of the 16th Duke of Hamilton, boasts an impressive collection of art and antiques, and some more unusal pieces, such as the death mask of Mary Queen of Scots.

Every September it also hosts a classical concert as part of the Lammermuir Music Festival. (This year’s performance, with the Duke in attendance, felt like being a guest at a grand house party.) The music festival lives up to its slogan, Beautiful Music In Beautiful Places – there are 10 days of performances in medieval churches, stately homes not usually open to the public and even the cabin of a Concorde aircraft. If you love books, good music and breathtaking interiors, there’s never been a better reason to head North.

Lennoxlove Book Festival: 0844-357 7611,
Lammermuir Music Festival: for next year’s dates, call 01620- 826685

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