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.
The first four of these books were from BorrowBox. As for my previous book review post I am working from memory, having returned all these books. The Art Fiasco was a Christmas present. While many of the links in this post are to Amazon, I urge you to support high street bookshops and libraries.
I owe you one: Love means all debts are off by Sophie Kinsella
I owe you one was a light read. A chance meeting set the scene for lots of twists and turns. I raced through it, enjoying the description of the characters and development of the plot. It was the second of Sophie Kinsella’s books I have read.
A tale of two families by Dodie Smith is a story of its time. Long ago I had read two books by Dodie Smith: The Hundred and One Dalmations and I capture the castle, but I was unaware of A tale of two families. Like Josephine Tey and Margery Allingham, Dodie Smith was writing in the 20th century. This book is set in the 1970s. The families in the story become neighbours. I found the characters fascinating; some of them were decidedly eccentric. All the loose ends were tied up in the best possible way. I am unsure whether the number in the title refers to one extended family and another family nearby or two nuclear families from the extended family.
In search of a name: a novel Marjoliju van Heemstra
This book read like real-life. An expectant mother researches her family history to decide whether to honour the promise she had made about naming her son. There are a lot of medical details about her pregnancy as well as the story of her research. Events following WW2 are remembered in archived documents and by characters in the story. It is a very interesting book set in the Netherlands.
Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay
Jackie Kay’s memoir Red Dust Road has much in common with In search of a name. Jackie was adopted and decided as an adult to find her birth parents. The story is not told in chronological order. It flips from accounts retold by others of events in her childhood to her own accounts of more recent events. This could make it disjointed, but in fact it works very well. There is intercontinental travel too.
The Art Fiasco: Poppy Denby Investigates by Fiona Veitch Smith
The Art Fiasco is the fifth Poppy Denby book. It is set in the North East of England and includes a historical map of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. There are two mysteries, which Poppy finds herself drawn into while on a visit to relatives. There is also some romantic interest. The status of women in the early 20th century is important in this novel and indeed in all the Poppy Denby series. There is enough background that the books may be read as stand-alone historical novels.