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.
This post includes reviews of two e-books, which are also available in other formats.
Songs for a Saviour’s Birth by William Philip
I read Songs for a Saviour’s Birth as an ebook, which I received free from the publisher, IVP as a ‘thank you’ for completing a survey. I had great difficulty downloading it and finding an app, which could open it, so was not in the best frame of mind when I began reading it using the EPUB Reader app. It is a short book, with five chapters and a commendation. It is also available as a paperback.
As I continued reading I regained a sense of joy. The book is well-written and brings out the excitement of the story as told by Luke. William Philip is ideally qualified to write about the early chapters of Luke’s gospel – he is a physician turned pastor, whereas Luke was a physician who became an evangelist. The book is written in a way, which encourages believers and explains the story to those, who have not previously had a clear explanation of the story. This is an Advent book I found to be compulsive reading and therefore recommend. (Advent this year is from Sunday 29 November and to Christmas Eve, 24 December, inclusive.)
The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae by Stephanie Butland
The first book I read this year was Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland. When I found another of her books on BorrowBox, I selected it (not having been put off by some strong language in the other book). The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae :Ailsa Rae survived now she needs to learn to live… is set in Edinburgh, a city I visited for a day in 2018. (Coincidentally 2018 was part of the timeline for The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae.)
I could relate to the description of the confusing railway station and some of the other places mentioned. The story of someone, who needed a heart transplant is told as a blog, second-person narrative and email correspondence. There is sadness and humour. The experience of the protagonist seems authentic. (Among my friends and acquaintances there are at least two recipients of vital organs.) I really enjoyed this book, which I read in a few days. It was written before the opt-out legislation for organ donation was introduced in England. In Scotland the law is not changing until 2021. https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/uk-laws/
The books featured in this post were ones I borrowed from the library.
Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland is a very interesting novel. The language in the opening pages indicates the frame of mind of the main character. It might put some readers off! She works in a bookshop in Yorkshire called Lost for Words and very slowly reveals why she is happier with books than with people. The story develops with the past affecting the present. There is plenty to keep the pages turning. Questions for reading groups are included. I enjoyed this book, which reminded me of a novel by Margaret Forster in which a female protagonist had a hidden past, although the details were completely different.
Faithful by Alice Hoffman also has a young female main character, affected by past events. This story is set in the USA. I found that I could only read one or two chapters at a time, partly because the American setting and some of the vocabulary were more difficult for me to follow than books written in UK English. There were abbreviations, which I did not understand at all. I have to mentally translate some that I recognise, for example, ER to emergency room and then to casualty or accident and emergency (A&E). It is a good story. At the end I was puzzling about which of the characters the title, Faithful, referred to. One stands out, but there were perhaps others. Although the opening is quite miserable it is a hopeful book. I enjoyed it.