The two novels I am reviewing here, Peter Abelard by Helen Waddell and the diary of Isabella M Smugge by Ruth Leigh, are opposites in many ways. Both are physical books. One is an old historical novel and the other a pre-publication copy of a contemporary novel.
Peter Abelard was a book I inherited. I had not read it before. In fact, I vaguely remember choosing it off the shelf as a teenager and being told, ‘You don’t want to read that. Try this one instead.’ The replacement book may have been The Tiger in the Smoke reviewed here.
There is no character list for Peter Abelard, although I suspect that had it been published now rather than in 1933 (the edition I read was reprinted in 1950) such a list might well have been provided. The reader is rather thrown into the story at the deep end. It is set in France in the 12th century. There are some very vivid descriptions, while other things are only hinted at. The Christian beliefs of the time are very important in the story. There are quotations from earlier scholars including Augustine and Origen. The book is well-researched. There are phrases from familiar passages in the Bible, notably Psalm 139. Beliefs about morality at that time were very different from those of the present day. It is not a light read due to the language and the scholarly content, which includes quotes in old French and Latin. These are mostly translated afterwards, but the reader has to recognise or infer this. I found it very interesting.
I first met Isabella M Smugge (pronounced like Bruges) in a blog post in 2020. The novel in which she is the main character is being published by Instant Apostle later this month. (February 2021).
I received a copy through the post from the author, Ruth Leigh. I read it almost immediately, finishing it the day after I received it. It made me laugh, but there are serious issues addressed amidst the humour. The hashtags were fun, especially the oxymoron #planningforspontaneity. It ended with a lot of loose ends. I’ll have to be patient waiting for the sequel to this debut novel.
Readers, who enjoy books by Anna Bell, Sophie Kinsella and/or Stephanie Butland will probably like the diary of Isabella M Smugge.
Ruth Leigh has written a blog post about how she came to write a novel.
My other book reviews may be found here and here.
When I chose four library books I was looking for a mixture of light and more serious reading. The two books reviewed here are both fiction. The second one is a more serious book taking more time to be read.
Don’t tell the groom: Will Penny be able to keep her secret long enough to say I will? by Anna Bell
Don’t tell the groom was the book, about which I tweeted, ‘I accidentally read a book from cover to cover’. I had begun reading it in the car while I was waiting for hubby in the car park. I picked it up again after lunch and read to the end. Like It all began with a Tweet, which I reviewed earlier, this is a lighthearted amusing story with an underlying social problem as a key part of the story. In this case it is online gambling and the gambler’s web of deceit, which make the plot not just interesting but gripping right to the end. There are well-drawn characters and some puzzling things, which kept the pages turning as I wanted to discover the reasons behind them.
The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd
Having read and enjoyed other titles* by Sue Monk Kidd, I picked up The Mermaid Chair, a thought-provoking novel set in an imaginary location in South Carolina. The story explores issues of mental health, love, religion, superstition and life in close knit communities – family, an island, a monastery – using believable characters. The decisions faced by some of the characters make an interesting story with unexpected twists in the plot. As in all good novels the characters undergo a change in the course of the story.
An interview with the author and reading group questions were included in the paperback copy. I was interested to learn that Sue Monk Kidd attended Texas Christian University and is married to a theologian.
*Please click to read my review of The Invention of Wings. I also read Life of Bees before I began blogging about books.
An index of books I have reviewed may be found by clicking here (Authors A-M) and here (Authors N-Z).
Two more books I have enjoyed reading.
I ordered Shadow Doctor The past awaits by Adrian Plass (the sequel to The Shadow Doctor which I reviewed here) before it was published in April, but did not read it until May, when I raced through it. However, while I was compiling this post, I realised that I had forgotten to review it. I have been a fan of Adrian Plass’ writing for a long time and have met him at a few writers’ weekends. An acquaintance commented on Facebook that she had gobbled this book up and needed to read it again slowly. The same was true of me. I reread it in a single day and found that I had forgotten most of it. This is because of the narrative style in this book. There is much conversation and digression among the action. This adds to the suspense and kept me turning the pages. The second reading led me to look up some poetry as background information. I enjoyed this book, which perhaps appeals more to older readers. (I have also read The Shadow Doctor twice for similar reasons.) A number of loose ends from the first book were woven into the sequel. I’d recommend reading these books in the order they were written.
I borrowed It started with a Tweet by Anna Bell from the library. For once I read the blurb on the cover first. However when I started to read the book I really thought I had made a mistake! However after the first few chapters, which formed the basis for the rest of the book, it became a much easier read. (I was out of my depth with text speak, pop culture and TV.) There is much wisdom in this book, which tells a good story with unpredictable twists in the plot. I am glad I persevered with it.