Bright Young Dead by Jessica Fellowes – a murder mystery set in the 1920s with famous connections

Bright Young Dead (The Mitford Murders #2) by Jessica Fellowes


The ‘Bright Young Things’ of the 1920s were the celebrities of the time – the young people of a post First World War generation who seemed determined to have a good time at all costs. This book is set in 1925, and is the second in a series of “Mitford Murders” from this author. It does stand alone providing the basic characters are established; that the main part of the action is seen from Louisa’s point of view as a nursery maid and part time companion of the eldest Mitford sisters Nancy and Pamela. She featured in the previous book as having come from a very poor and abusive background, and meeting a young police officer, now sergeant, Guy Sullivan, before finding a work and home with the famous Mitford family.  Having investigated one murder together they become embroiled in this activities of a challenging group of people once more. At this time only Nancy and Pamela are socially active, as the next sister Diana is only fifteen, and the other three sisters are still under the care of a Nanny, Louisa’s immediate boss. This is a carefully plotted book full of the settings and small details of life in London, even in its criminal underworld, and the family home of the Mitfords. The clothes are lovingly detailed, especially as the young people’s group is so concerned with a fashionable appearance. There is a lot of implied distinction between the classes in this book as well as references to the well known gangs of criminals. This is a fast moving book which deals with murder and its aftermath, and the trials of being stuck in a particular situation. 


The book opens with a meeting of some young people to whose society Pamila is being introduced to, though they are known to Nancy. Louisa is present as chaperone and helper, but is conscious of the difference between her position and this group. A treasure hunt, a very fashionable activity at the time, is proposed as part of Pamela’s impending birthday celebrations. Sadly when it takes place there is a suspicious death, and Louisa’s friend Dulcie, a fellow servant, is arrested for murder of a young man. Louisa knows that Dulcie is not completely innocent of crime, and is indeed involved with the infamous Forty, a notorious gang of young women who shoplift in all of London’s expensive shops. By chance, Guy has seized his chance to investigate a spate of shoplifting in London together with a young female officer, Mary Moon. The respective paths of Guy and Louisa overlap at the 43, a nightclub which hosts illegal drinking among other dubious activities, and they discover a mutual interest in tracking down the truth.


This is an interesting murder mystery which also includes a lot of detail concerning the attitudes and lifestyles of various groups of people in London in the 1920s. I found it an entertaining and interesting read, as much for the social history as the mystery. Louisa and Guy are fascinating characters in their own right, and the connection with the Mitford girls is not as central as may at first be supposed. The family name does undoubtedly attract attention but is perhaps not essential to the plot. I found this a worthwhile read and does make the most of the research that the writer has certainly done.    


Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart – a classic murder mystery thriller set on the Isle of Skye

Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart


A thriller and a murder mystery with a strong sense of place; Mary Stewart certainly knew how to plot and pick up the pace into an exciting story as in this novel. Set on the Isle of Skye, with a few geographical changes, the mountains, river side and other features almost become another character in this tautly written story. The weather, with drenching rain and dense mist among other conditions, means that the action is shaped by a lack of visibility or similar difficulties.  Originally published in 1956, this book deals with a mysterious murder in a small community centred around a hotel. Back in London excitement is increasing for the Coronation in 1953, but a group of people have gathered in this distant island for various reasons. The story is narrated by Gianetta, a model from London, who has travelled there after struggling with the long term effects of her divorce from Nicholas. Her arrival provokes discussion of a murder of a young woman some weeks before which was puzzling and seemingly without explanation. As the various guests at the hotel are described, Gianetta wonders just who is guilty, and how to cope with her ex husband’s presence.


Gianetta has an exotic ancestor, a notorious mistress and model for artists, for whom she was named. She met and married an older man, Nicholas, but their relationship floundered on his bad behaviour and frequent trips for his writing. Despite the fact that it has been some years since their divorce, her parents are unwilling to accept their separation. As she gets increasingly sad, they suggest that she retreats to the hotel on Skye for a break. When she arrives there, she learns that there is a mystery surrounding Blaven, one of the various local mountains. At the hotel, there is an interesting collection of people, including two couples where the attraction of the place is fishing, various men there for the climbing, and a writer. Two teachers are staying for walking and some climbing. Someone who is not interested in such activities is Marcia Marling, an actress between husbands who is also there for a rest with her chauffeur. She is a deeply unsettling presence for at least one of the wives, and when she seems interested in Nicholas, who has mysteriously turned up, Gianetta is also slightly surprised by her own reaction. When two of the guests go missing, everyone is mobilised to search, and it seems a tragic outcome is probable in Gianetta’s mind.  It seems that  a murderer is among them, and various incidents mean that there is a huge amount of mutual suspicion. Gianetta is not a suspect, but as various potential guilty parties emerge, she feels the oppression of suspicion around her and threatening her own life.


This is a brilliantly written thriller with much to recommend it to those who enjoy a good plot, a sense of place, and a closed community murder mystery. The mountains and landscape are so well described that it is almost possible to visualise the cliffs, climbs, bogs and rivers. The cold and wet overrides the fact that it is June, although the fact that it stays light late into the evening is a factor. Gianetta is a vibrant narrator, and the last part of the book is definitely page turning with suspense. I recommend this as a classic mystery thriller written by a writer at the height of her powers, and is still a dramatic classic read today. 


It is fascinating to see how this murder mystery is handled by a woman writer in the 1950s. It is not an intellectual puzzle, but a very active detection story.  It maintained my interest!


My daughter is still improving with pain killers and rest. We actually managed to get a supermarket delivery slot, so a couple of hours were spent fighting with a list and registration. We await the outcome with interest!

The Cosy Tea Shop in the Castle by Caroline Roberts – an enjoyable read of place and romance

The Cosy Teashop in the Castle

The Cosy Tea Shop in the Castle by Caroline Roberts


This is a book of following dreams, a unique building and romance. Ellie is a young woman who is fed up with her job, and takes a huge risk. Her self doubt is touching and realistic, as she panics that her dream will prove to be a step too far. This is a contemporary book of the opportunity to fulfil an ambition of opening a tea shop, making a living from a hobby, having to manage a business. At the same time, there is the first time living away from home in an unusual place, a castle with some issues. The characters introduced are fascinating, ranging from a reticent Lord Henry who actually owns the castle through Doris the gossipy waitress, through to the lively Gemma, cheer leader in chief. The story is very effective in depicting the initial struggles of opening a business, as Ellie realises that ordering supplies, managing staff and maintaining the cash flow is as important as being able to bake wonderful cakes. This is a witty and light read in some ways, with a strong plot and elements of danger. A castle is a  wonderful setting for a romance, but will a secret from the past and a grim future be a sufficient recipe for a happy ending?


The book opens with Ellie attending an interview to take over the leasehold on the tea rooms in the castle near Newcastle where she lives and works. She learnt to bake from her beloved late grandmother, treasuring her cookery books and additional recipes. She has a small inheritance which will pay for the leasehold for the first few months, but is sadly lacking in qualifications and experience for taking on the business, facts which she tries to conceal in the interviews. Faced with the elderly Lord Henry and and the uncommunicative Joe, a manager of the Castle and farm, she decides to bring a choffee cake as proof of her abilities to cook if nothing else. When she resigns her boring job in an insurance office in order to take up residence in the castle, she realises that she will be leaving her close family in Heaton. That is before she has to clean, stock and open the tea shop, work long hours making sure that her cakes are freshly made, and get two waitresses to work well with a new system. This is before her encounters with Joe become far more than merely business like, and the questions of a relationship become overwhelming. 


This is an easy and enjoyable read, which I found especially attractive as I know the areas in which it is based. The characters are extremely well drawn and the setting is well realised, in a castle which is described so well it is easy to visualise. There are set pieces which stand out, as well as descriptions of place which are particularly vivid. I recommend it as an enjoyable and light read which can be enjoyable in so many ways.        



The Secret Guests by B.W. Black – Two Princesses escape the blitz, only to face other dangers

The Secret Guests eBook: Black, Benjamin: Kindle Store

The Secret Guests by B.W. Black


A book of war time secrets, long memories and much more, this is a fast moving novel about a unique though imaginary situation. It is based on the idea that the two princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, were in real danger during the London Blitz of 1940, and it was decided to send them to a safer place. For reasons which are not made clear, it is decided that they should be sent to the rundown house of a poor duke in Ireland, a neutral country in the war. Not being heavily guarded, the girls’ safety is largely dependent on maintaining the secret of their presence. There is the obvious danger of invasion by German forces as far as Britain, a short distance away across the sea. Also there is the perennial problem of Irish politics and long memories of past injustices and betrayals; the local people and even the small squad of troops are more sunk in their past disputes than is realised. The girls themselves are portrayed as a version of how they are perceived to be as adults, as one of the interesting things about this book is that the reader knows the girls survive. This is a well written book which introduces a lot of ideas and characters in a relatively short space. It is an unusual and effective mystery thriller. 


The book begins with Margaret watching the view from a Buckingham Palace window at the age of ten. Elizabeth collects her, and they go to their parents before setting off for their exile which is meant to keep them safe. A young woman, Celia Nashe, is known to be tough and resourceful, and having been accepted into MI5, looks to be sent on a mission with danger and purpose. Detective Garda Strafford, who has had a difficult past, is apprised of his mission by the Irish minister of external affairs. Both are to spend an indefinite length of time guarding the two girls in a house that has seen better times. Isolated and without a clear idea of what their task entails, both find the house and servants frustrating and the girls icily well mannered. Strafford retreats into a pattern of moody consideration of his lot; as the son of Anglo Irish landowners he has some idea of  the style of life the duke is trying to maintain. Nashe is frustrated that her brave mission is so far confined to being a sort of nanny, sort of guard against the unknown. Although issued with a gun that she is trained to use, the very domestic nature of the setting gives her no clue as to what she is actually supposed to do. The two girls meanwhile are different in their reaction to their uncomfortable confinement, their questionable aliases and seclusion. Elizabeth is strict in her deportment and only reveals her true love for horse riding. Margaret however is overwhelmed with various emotions  and longs for a different sort of freedom.


I found this an oddly paced book with emphasis on some characters and their motives, both within the house and in the area outside, which distracted from the central idea of the girls whose safety is paramount. Having said that, the story does place the characters in their setting, with all their weaknesses combining and leading to the rather brilliant ending. This is quite a different book in that it does not sit comfortably into crime or straight historical fiction; it is a sort of historical thriller which combines so very good characterisation with a clever idea. A concise  and fascinating read, it has many points to recommend it.


This is a different book from those I have been reviewing recently. The author is otherwise known as Benjamin Black, who writes the Quirke crime novels, and is in turn a pen name of John Banville, who won the Booker prize in 2005. So this is an example of an author who uses different names for different genres, and this is the first book I have read in any of them. (though typically I may well have some of his other books on the shelves. I must have a look!


On a more personal note, I am glad to say that my Daughter is getting better, though rather stiff and bruised. Thank you for your good wishes  for her recovery.

Picture Miss Seeton by Heron Carvic – Miss S arrives in Plummergen and begins her adventures

Picture Miss Seeton (A Miss Seeton Mystery Book 1) eBook: Carvic ...

Picture Miss Seeton by Heron Carvic


The first of the ‘proper’ Miss Seeton books, this novel introduces various characters, mainly of course the brave and indomitable Miss Seeton herself, who sometimes does not appreciate what is really going on. Beginning with her getting embroiled in a Carmen – like murder with her trusty umbrella, Miss Seeton soon discovers that notoriety and threats can seriously inconvenience her. This book was originally published in 1968 by the first author, and is now republished by Farrago. Miss Seeton in this book is a retired teacher who has just inherited a cottage in an English village from her godmother, but soon comes to the notice of the police when she is an accidental witness to a vicious murder. As in the prequel which was written more recently, she has a talent for drawing images of people and situations which reveal much more than their outward appearance; their motives and real personality are strongly suggested for interpretation.  Superintendent Delphick, otherwise known as the Oracle, soon discovers that it is possible to find out a lot from the drawings when looking for murders and other problematic individuals. This book introduces some splendid characters in the village, and there are plenty of jokes and witty asides in a story that combines real wit with some interesting observations on the time. 


The book opens with Miss Seeton walking through the streets of London with her trusty umbrella when she sees an altercation between what looks like a young couple. Having intervened, she lands on the floor, but worse is to come when she discovers that the young woman has been stabbed. When questioned by Delphick and Sergeant Ranger, the Superintendent  hits on the idea that she could draw her impression of the attacker, and he is able to identify the attacker as the notorious Cesar Lebel. He realises that Miss Seeton is a valuable witness, but that if she is identified and her whereabouts become public knowledge, she may well be in danger. 


When she moves down to the village of Plummergen she discovers a community partly fuelled by gossip, but also made up of an unusual mixture of people. There is a couple who look after the house and chickens, who become quite strong in her defence when needed. Two women are advanced gossips, while there is a village shop that provides a source of interest. A writer of children’s books is in residence, with a daughter who is proving more than slightly difficult. The vicar is beyond vague, with a more organised sister.  My favourites are Sir George and Lady Colveden and their son Nigel, as they both quietly do good without fuss, while Nigel is sweetly determined to help his childhood friend. When she says in frustration that she could kill him, Sir George replies “Stupid…Wife always first suspect. Hire someone. Don’t let ‘em overcharge”. 


This is a book of slightly ridiculous events, wonderful characters and at the centre, the accidentally brilliant Miss Seeton. Her strange drawings provide the trigger for detection, her insights provoke investigations, but most importantly her dauntless bravery makes all the difference in this story of criminal goings on and life in the country side. Apparently there are at least twenty more Miss Seetons to come – I look forward to reading more as soon as possible.   


I am just about getting used to not writing (and publicising) a review for Saturday and Sunday – which worked out well as Daughter was involved in a car accident on Friday. She is okish now, but her car was most definitely not. Not her fault by the way! On a more cheery note next Sunday I am due to post another book in a English town murder mystery series, so maybe a theme is developing on this blog?

Victory for the Shipyard Girls by Nancy Revell – a slice of wartime life for brave women in 1942

Victory for the Shipyard Girls: Shipyard Girls 5 (The Shipyard ...

Victory for the Shipyard Girls by Nancy Revell


This further volume in the Shipyard Girls series featuring women who worked in the shipyards of Sunderland and their friends and families during the Second World War is mainly set in 1942. There are revelations of the women’s lives and loves centred around an area of intense industry, which also provides a target for frequent bombing raids. This is a book of intense emotions as the women’s experiences overlap and centre on the works, especially as Helen, the owner of the shipyard’s granddaughter is working as the manager. As with other series of sagas this book carries the story onwards, but this novel has its own plot, as the characters journey through several months of wartime experience. It also refers back to events that occurred a few decades before, as one character remembers a life changing series of experiences. There is tension as secrets are kept, but also hope in the form of children who symbolise the future as well as the past. Those who are keen to discover what has happened to their favourite characters will find much to interest them in this book, but it also works as a snapshot of the wartime experience of women. 


The book opens with a wedding, as Rosie finally overcomes her reservations and commits herself to Peter. Not that it is an easy situation; a decision he has made means that he will be absent for much of the novel. Still, there are memories made and a new start for both, which will have an effect on others known to them. Bel is now happily married, but is seized by the urge to discover from Pearl the identity and fate of her father, something which Pearl is intent on avoiding at all costs. Gloria is settling into her role as a mother once more, but without her lover she struggles, concerned not only for her own child but also Helen, who she has begun to see in a more sympathetic light. There is  a grievous threat made to many of the group of friends by an embittered woman, a revelation of family secrets that would hurt several people. Gloria and Rosie choose to act to limit the potential threat, but the machinations of Miriam will still affect more than one life. The bounds of friendship will continue to support the women who live through this difficult time but every relationship is severely tested.


This book, like the others in the series, is easy to become engrossed in as the situations of so many overlap and also move in parallel. This is a skilfully written novel which features many concerns of the time which went beyond Sunderland, as the fate of nations was still hanging in the balance. Revell’s usual high standard of characterisation is well demonstrated in this book, as well as her gentle development of plot. The sense of time and place also emerges so well from this book, as everyone feels that they must contribute to the war effort, either on the front line, the building and repairing of ships of war, or the taking care of children to allow others to work. I found this a fascinating book, and am keen to read more in this series. 


I am taking Saturday and Sunday off from posting again this week, but I will be gathering my forces for the following weekends. Reviewing a book a day does mean reading many books, which can be easy in many ways – but I do get distracted. I have even started watching “The Crown” again – and once again been impressed by the acting of the leads. I have nearly finished Downton Abbey again, an as for Poldark… Have you been distracted by any classic series?





The Case of the Running Mouse by Christopher Bush – a Dean Street Press classic crime novel

The Case of the Running Mouse: A Ludovic Travers Mystery (The ...


Ludovic Travers is on the case again – still in the Army , as it is 1944, but now being consulted as a detective in his own right. This classic of a woman who has disappeared is the 27th in the series republished by the wonderful Dean Street Press. Over the series Ludovic has developed as a character, and has changed from a vaguely interested amateur to an independent detective who is consulted in his own right in this book. The change is partly because he has been in the Army as an organiser of various military establishments, and the development means that it is perfectly possible to read this book as a standalone adventure. The other continuing character is George Wharton of Scotland Yard, who provides official backing, but Ludo’s attitude to him has changed into being able to predict his techniques and mannerisms, and he goes so far as to silently consider the older man of taking the credit for some of Ludo’s better theories, while issuing criticisms. This is no longer a partnership of detection; in this novel Ludo is taking the initiative into his own hands and avoiding sharing details of his involvement. Curtis Evans’ Introduction makes clear that in this novel Ludo enters the world of “high stakes gaming, where the men are bad and the women worse” on his own. Despite this book being written in wartime (1943), the war is very much in the background, as meaning that one character has lost a leg, and another is widowed. The mystery is all, and whether Ludo can work out just what is going on is the true point of this novel. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel. 


Ludo finds himself on leave for fourteen days in London, with his wife working in the north of England. He is approached by a man, Worrack, who explains that he runs a discreet invitation only gambling club with the backing of a wealthy young widow, Georgina Morbent.The lady has other interests; specifically race horses, and it the reason she gave Worrack for a trip to Ireland to meet with the trainer of her great hopes for racing success. However, it would appear that she has gone missing, and neither Worrack or her sister has heard from her. Ludo agrees to investigate discreetly, and attends the club in question for background. He also meets the widowed sister, Barbara Grays, and her lover Tommy Hamson, as well some extremely dubious characters who apparently owe money and maybe more. It is when a mouse runs that everything suddenly becomes more confusing and even deadly.


This is a well crafted mystery with several red herrings and misdirections which keep Ludo much on the move. There are some well written characters as always, including the female characters who are thoroughly involved in the action. Ludo’s transformation into a detective in his own right maintains the focus well, as he narrates from his own point of view. As a one off murder mystery it works extremely well, as a development in a republished series it is fascinating. I recommend this book as a superb example of Golden Age detective writing from an author who has become less well known.  


This is another Ludovic Travers book which is so well written and plotted. Anxious readers will be glad to know that the mouse itself comes to no harm, despite what else goes on in this book. It is quite comforting to return to Ludovic and his detection, even in a time of war, which is probably a demonstration of its quality.

May Day Murder by Julie Wassmer – a Whitstable Pearl Mystery featuring Faye, a film star

May Day Murder (Whitstable Pearl Mysteries): Wassmer ...

May Day Murder by Julie Wassmer


Solving a murder in Whitstable takes local knowledge, inspiration and a sure instinct for people. All of which Pearl, a private detective who has spent her life living in the town, certainly has in great quantities. Her training as a police officer several years before has given her a background of knowledge of the more technical police procedures, as well as her friendship with DCI Mike McGuire. This book is the third in a series which features Pearl, her colourful mother Dolly, and her son Charlie. Happily this book can definitely be read as a standalone, as the author inserts many details concerning Pearl, her friends and the place itself. Her other business, running an oyster restaurant and catering for events, leads her to make contacts in the community although she is well known already. In this particular book a retired film star, Faye Marlow, has returned to the town where she was born and grew up. Her arrival raises emotions for many people, and the drama proves not to be confined to a film screening. As the centre piece event, the opening of the May Day celebrations draws near, tensions erupt in several ways, culminating in the very public display of a murdered body.


As the book opens, the outrageous Dolly is leaving Pearl in no doubt that Faye’s return reminds more than a few people of the trouble she caused when younger. Faye got a lucky break of an audition for a film in Hollywood as a young woman, and rapidly found a career in America before retiring with her husband to France. Her departure for America was after she had been engaged to successful local businessman, Jerry Wheeler, and abandoned their relationship in favour of stardom. Her return to the area has been negotiated by Pearl’s friend Nathan, working with a young woman from the town, Purdy. Both of them have a great enthusiasm for films, and they were extremely pleased to greet Faye, her P.A. Barbara, her chauffeur Luc and maid Rosine. Pearl is summoned to a borrowed house in the grounds of the Castle, a local landmark, with a lunch she had originally made to be eaten in her restaurant. Meeting Faye she appreciates how charming she is, but equally how demanding she could be as befits her star status. One or two events bring lots of people, eager to see the film star returned, but at least one person finds that old passions arise again with messy results. It is when a body is found in dramatic circumstances that DCI McGuire reappears on the scene professionally, aware that working with Pearl has caused him problems previously. It is a central part of the series, however, that he finds Pearl deeply attractive, and she is also interested in him. It is a sad fact that every time that get they get closer, something happens which diverts them.


This is a book which is very entertaining with a strong sense of place and characters that are realistic, strongly drawn and enjoyable. Whitstable is a community which is central to the story and the descriptions of the place really bring the story alive. The murder is a central part of the narrative, with all the tensions of an investigation and other issues. This is a really interesting series of books which combines descriptions of delicious food, the places in which the events happen and more. I really enjoy the settings, the characters and the plots of these books, and I would like to read more.    


This was a book that I discovered as the daughter’s room was being cleared of her stuff to be taken to her new house. There was a lot of it! Happily as the way through to the selves is clear I am discovering lots of treasures. Not that it stops me wanting to buy some new books of course!

The Colours by Juliet Bates – an intensely written book with a overwhelming sense of place


This book shows a very clever overlap between characters as the time spans between 1912 and 1981. It tells the story of a girl then woman, Ellen and her son Jack, who both have a unique hypersensitivity to colour, sound, views and people’s appearance. Ellen in particular sees and hears colour, smells the particular odour that people give off, is sensitive to the feel of sand, dust and much else. Jack shares some of her sensitivity to colour but both have a fixation with a view over sea to a particular point of land, known locally as the Snook, with a tower. Both are told that they emerged from the area, part of the sand and isolated countryside of the north east of England. This book manages to be both highly detailed as it describes a tree, a sliver of stone and grains of sand caught up in a hem. It also carries through great sweeps of landscape and views, the feelings that are created with the sights and sounds in the immediate environment. A realistic and intense read in many ways, it looks at people’s lives and loves over several decades, as the story alternates between the woman and man. This is an ambitious and complex story of fear and love, the power of the church in one person, the overwhelming obsession with place. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this wonderful book.


As the book opens the young Ellen is tending to her father, aware of the enormous importance of their surroundings to their lives. He has always told her that they originated from the sand of the Snook, the red sand that gets everywhere and is nearly impossible to remove. As her father dies, leaving Ellen and her brother Henry without a parent, Ellen is sent to a convent, where the treatment is harsh, as a result of the local priest’s intervention. Belatedly, Henry reclaims his sister and takes her to work for Mrs Tibbs, a blind and sad woman who comes to appreciate Ellen’s gift for description. Jack’s conception and birth changes things, as Ellen must consider life as a sole parent. As he grows Jack discovers that he also values the landscape and views of his native area. As war comes, events overtake both Jack and Ellen, he must learn to survive and use his gift, or at least combine his special insight with a means to live.


This is a very special book which celebrates a gift of sensitivity and obsession, an intensely written overview of lives and experiences which span most of a century. It comments on the cruelty of the treatment of women, especially in the name of a version of religion. There is an overwhelming sense of place for both the characters and reader; the vision of the writer is almost three dimensional, as it effectively conveys the tiniest sound and sight which is summoned up in words. It actually quotes George Elliot concerning the noise created by the smallest creature, that “we should die of the roar which lies on the other side of silence”, as it details the impact of the tiniest creature on the lives of Ellen and to a certain amount, of Jack. I recommend this book to those who revel in both careful writing and superb characterisation.


This is a very good read, and very different from many of the other books I have reviewed here – it is a very special read. As I have said before, I know have access to more of my fiction books, so who knows what will be gracing the next few posts! I also found a few books that I have read and not reviewed yet, so my work here is still to do!

Berringden Brow by Jill Robinson – A woman’s lively experience of life in a small northern town

Berringden Brow

Berringden Brow by Jill Robinson 


This is a witty, clever and honest fictional look at the life of a woman in Berringden Brow in the north of England. Originally published in 2001, this is a pre – internet book that revels in mixed messages of all sorts. This book is subtitled “Memoirs of a Single Parent with a Crush” on Ben, the librarian in the small local library. Jess is a woman with two sons, Alex, thirteen and living at home, and Tom who alternates University with his girlfriend’s house. This book is written in the style of brief chapters which tell of Jess’ life in a small town, covering her friends and relationships, her attempts to find paid work, and her helping others. Not that she is solely a doer of good works, but that she attempts to help those who find the odds are against them , as well as those who struggle with real life. The humour is never forced, but comes in the realistic dialogue with friends and family, and the exasperation with those that she is in contact with as she tries to cope with daily life. It is painfully realistic, as she tries to scrape together enough money to go the cinema, deals with her excitable neighbours and ponders the suitability of going on dates. I found this a fascinating and funny book, full of truthful insights into life, and was really pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.


The front of this book details some of the people that Jess encounters as she tries to find a happy relationship. Ben works in the library, where Jess is a frequent visitor for books, videos and records. They talk about films and much else, joke about local issues including vegetable placements, and agree about the perils of being “Overworked, underpaid, underappreciated”. Having gained a good degree despite extreme family problems, followed by an MA, Jess discovers that she is overqualified for many jobs, and doesn’t have the sometimes slightly bizarre experience demanded for others. She has had a failed serious romance with Robin, and she has spent much time in Africa, but realises all that he now wants from her is a spare room when he occasionally returns to the UK. Adverts for prospective partners produce a disappointing man who adds her to his shortlist owing to proximity, while a pen pal is less advantageous. Her dealings with her sons are often funny, especially as Alex proves to be quite the entrepreneur.  There are touching details about her neighbour and friend Fred, and her inspiration to improve matters. 


Jess is a lovely character, friendly, caring but realistic about many things and people. She gets herself into some interesting situations, partly because of other people’s behaviour. There are references to her difficult background, particularly of her mother. Despite the clever lightness of touch there are points of sadness, which are well handled. Fans of “The Diary of a Provincial Lady” or more recently “Bridget Jones” will find much to interest them in this unusual book, which is an entertaining and enjoyable read.  


This review is the first I have posted since last Friday, which is the longest gap since mid March! I will be trying to post every weekday and the odd day over the weekend. It’s still a lot of books! Happily we have managed to pack up many a lot of daughter’s stuff so I can get to more of my fiction, and only authors C – G are really difficult to get to now! It’s already saved me from buying four books that I found on my shelves. Hurray!