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What I read in July 2017

I read three books from cover to cover in July. I have begun reading a book of poetry and another book, which I hope to write about another time.

The Embalmer’s Book of Recipes by Ann Lingard

I borrowed this novel from the library. It is very unusual in the choice of female main characters – a taxidermist, an academic with an unusual DNA sequence and a farmer’s wife. The author has mastered the “show, don’t tell technique” recommended for writers. The time span of the novel is fairly long and the story is developed well, with interesting twists and turns with the focus changing from one character to another. The painful subject of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Cumbria is included in a knowledgeable and sensitive manner. There is also plenty about relationships. The inclusion of scientific and controversial topics in a novel reminded me of the books by Mari Howard, which I have reviewed previously. Highly recommended.

The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass: Adrian Plass and the Church Weekend by Adrian Plass

I read this book for the second time. The first time I reviewed it here. Re-reading it was a completely different experience, because I had visited Scargill House, a retreat centre on which the book is loosely based and met Adrian Plass and his real wife, Bridget. The Adrian Plass of the diary has a wife called Ann. The reason I reread it was that part of it had been read out at an entertainment at Scargill House. I realised that I had forgotten most of the amusing parts. Strangely some of the things, which made me laugh the first time didn’t seem as funny on a second reading – perhaps, because the element of surprise was missing (like hearing a joke, when you know what is coming next). It is good fun anyhow and not without wisdom.

Trains and Lovers: The heart’s journey by Alexander McCall Smith

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I borrowed this novel from the library. It is a beautifully produced hardback book, telling the story of conversation around a table on a train from Edinburgh to London. It is full of wisdom and understanding of human nature. There is also an insight into the world of art, life in Australia in earlier times and more besides. I found it hard to put down.

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What else I read in February 2017

I bought another book in February – The Shadow Doctor by Adrian Plass.

The day it arrived (hand-delivered by the lady, who manages a local bookshop) I was struggling with my health. I needed a book to read, while I rested. This book seemed to be just “what the doctor ordered” if you will excuse the pun. In other words the act of losing myself in a story and considering the way that the characters in the book interacted with one another for the greater good, was just what I needed.

It is not a comfortable read in some ways. Adrian Plass has a knack of making people look at things from a different angle. While he has a reputation for writing humorous books, this perhaps does not come into that category. Some of the early reviews of this newly published book give the impression that it was not what the readers expected.

One of my favourite books by Adrian Plass is An Alien at St Wilfred’s. There we learn that Hartley (whom some might describe as inadequate) is the most important person in the Church of England. The Shadow Doctor helps us to understand, who the most important person in the world is.

Not all the background to the Shadow Doctor’s modus operandi is explained. That is not a problem to me. It allows me to fill in details from my own imagination or to take on trust that only the important elements of the story need to be told.

It is a book I shall almost certainly read again one day.

What else I read in October 2016

In my earlier post I mentioned that I had two library books.  I managed to finish reading both of them before the end of the month.  I did not find another book to borrow from the library.  Instead I decided to reread some books I have at home.  I read An Alien at St Wilfred’s by Adrian Plass from cover to cover on the last day of October.

The two library books I borrowed are A Walk along the Wall by Hunter Davies and The Making of Swallows and Amazons by Sophie Neville.  Both are non-fiction and relate to the 1970s.

Hunter Davies’ book has been republished several times. The issue I read had a new introduction and the appendix listing publications about Hadrian’s Wall had been brought up-to-date (about 10 years ago).  I chose the book because I have visited a few locations along the wall and Lanercost Priory, which was built from stones originally used for the wall.  Reading it gave me lots of background information.  I hope to be able to explore more of the wall in future.  The book is written in a conversational style by an author with an enquiring mind.  While it deals with history, archaeology and geography, it is a story of a series of meetings with people who live(d) or worked along the wall.  There is information about the landowning families of the counties of Northumberland and Cumbria.  I found it fascinating.

Sophie Neville played the part of Titty Walker in the film of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons in the early 1970s.  The Making of Swallows and Amazons is a very readable book compiled from her diary, that of the actress, who played Susan Walker, photos from the time and the memories of others involved.  An appendix includes information about what those involved in the film did subsequently.  There are many black and white photos and some in colour.  I am not sure whether I have watched the film of Swallows and Amazons on TV, but (as a child) I enjoyed the book and others by Arthur Ransome.  I also enjoyed The Painted Garden most of Noel Streatfield’s books.  It is the one about children making a film in Hollywood.  Technology has advanced, so that all sorts of special effects can be achieved nowadays.  In the 1970s there were many practical problems to be solved to achieve the desired effects.  I could go on, but I recommend that you read this book for yourself!

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An Alien at St Wilfred’s is fiction.  I have read it before, probably more than once.  I think it is my favourite of those books by Adrian Plass, which I have read.  Superficially it is about a vicar and organist, who do not get on well together.  But it is much more than that.  It is very funny in a gentle way.  Above all it is a hopeful book.