The Pocket Detective – compiled by Kate Jackson – A British Library Crime Classic Puzzle book

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This is an unusual thing for me … a review of a Puzzle book. This is a very special one, however, as it is based on the series of British Library Crime Classics and one or two other Golden Age Detection writers, notably Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. Beautifully produced with a 1920s inspired cover of a bewildered puzzle solver, this is a stunning addition to the highly successful series.

At over one hundred puzzles, this book can swallow up many hours of happy activity, even for those whose crossword abilities are themselves questionable (more Inspector Lewis than Morse).For many of them, access to the sixty plus books in the series is not essential, and for some it would be helpful but not a bar to completing the puzzle. For example, there are several “Spot the Difference” puzzles based on covers of the books which can easily be solved from this book alone, though if the original is available it would be more visible. That is the only drawback for me; the pocket size makes it a little tricky to write in for crosswords etc. Having said that, the size makes it very portable, fitting in the smallest bags (or pockets!!) to fill those hours between reading novels full of fictional crime.

The high quality paper makes it easy to write on with a variety of pencils and pens, and the binding withstands the knocks and pressures of being flattened and carried around in various ways. My favourite puzzles are the Kriss Kross, fitting words from a book into a grid, and I just wish I was better at anagrams.

Several friends have inspected this and cast envious glances at it, suggesting that it would make an excellent gift. They have tried their hands at the some of the puzzles, and helped me to work out how to tackle them both with and without the books. I was lucky enough to be sent a copy, but I have seen them in the wild since and my fingers itched to buy more copies as presents. This is a high quality puzzle book, created with a lot of imagination and skill, and it is an excellent investment for yourself and for others.

Meanwhile, I have been tackling the odd puzzle from this book while Northernvicar tackles the fallen leaves in the drive. Being a Vicarage, we have rather a lot, though thankfully also neighbours and friends who help to move them to the side (which is good as my scooter does not like them). He has filled two large wheely bins with them, and has many more to go, as many trees mean many leaves at this time of year. Tonight I have a rehearsal for a couple of Armistice Day concerts that I am singing in, which reminds me to say that if you have the option of seeing Peter Jackson’s “They Shall Not Grow Old” reconstructed films from the First World War, do so if at all possible. It is ninety minutes well spent – memorable images brilliantly edited.

The Old Bank House by Angela Thirkell – A Wallow in the Perpetual Summer of 1949

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This postwar Thirkell novel, as ever featuring the inhabitants of Barsetshire, revels in its interconnectedness. Though it could be read as a standalone, mainly concerning the Grantly family, a vicarage family shown in that difficult period immediately after the Second World War, the surrounding characters and the character of the eponymous House are so interconnected with the previous seventeen novels that it will be better appreciated as part of that long series. Grantlys, Marlings, Leslies, and Adams to name but a few families all have their contribution to make in this 1949 novel. While not the most easy to acquire book by Angela Thirkell, this is a novel of country life and people that will be enjoyed by long standing fans of the series, and provide gentle treats for the newer reader.

The story opens in Edgewood Rectory, set in its ancient landscape, but with a family of the time. Mrs Grantly has some vague notions, but loves her brood of four children who have all grown up with the challenges presented by war. Tom, a major in the Army who has returned to Oxford at his demobilisation, is feeling the confusion of a soon to be older graduate about what he can do with his considerable life experience. Eleanor has found a job well known to readers of Barsetshire, in the Red Cross library, but yearns to find a different employment with a family who will come to seem fond of her. Henry is annoyingly and ceaselessly looking for his call up papers for the peacetime army. Grace is at the annoying stage, literally latching onto various individuals. The Rector, Mr Grantly, is bewildered by his family, but accompanies his wife to see the elderly Miss Sowerby who is regretfully leaving the Old Bank House, an ancient and sympathetically described dwelling which has been bought by the blustering but good hearted Mr Adams. Much comedy ensues around a rare plant, taken care of by a boy in the kitchen away from those who would seek its seeds. This is a book in which romance is found, a gentle departure occurs, and some confusion over resulting employment all contributes to a satisfying end. There is the usual element of kindly farce as misunderstandings and personalities combine to work out in the end. With some splendid set pieces concerning a handsome bull, a well, and some interesting children, this is a delightful book dealing with characters who have become like friends to the long term reader.

While this is not one of the most significant books in the Barsetshire series, it does resolve the difficulties of several characters, even if the ages and generations involved are beginning to get a little hazy. This book represents the post war rationing, and the decline of some of the families who once lived in the large houses they now inhabit part of while still having many civic duties. There are still the class concerns of servants who are unmarried yet mother to several, there are still days in which the Nurses bring up children in nurseries. A man who owns factories and successful businesses can still struggle with social conventions, while a matriarch wonders aloud how to say thank you to American friends who still send food parcels.  This is a book for those who know something of Barsetshire, but also those who are beginning to discover its joys. If you are able to locate this gentle, humourous book, I recommend it as a good read, wallowing in its perpetual summer.


As the clocks go back, I believe I managed to squeeze an extra hour of reading in, which was fortunate as  have a lot of books to finish and posts to write. Last night was a Variety concert in the church Hall – I read an extract from “Bed Among the Lentils”, one of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads monologues. This one features a Vicar’s Wife with alcohol problems….It all went very well, and there was some lovely music played. Meanwhile the temperature has definitely dropped here, and it is dark. More than time to read many books!

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker – Why Silence Becomes a Woman?

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“Silence becomes a woman” could well be the subtitle of this immense novel. Not that women must be silent, can only be silent, but it is a state of being that may well save their life. If they are young, beautiful and fertile, they may survive. Being the daughter of a King, being married to a King will not guarantee it. For this is War. This is the camp of Achilles, and nothing is guaranteed. Except the death of Achillies. Pat Barker’s novel is the story not of heroes with their petty squabbles, their rules of honour, but the depth of what women suffer in war. Briseis is a woman of the royal family, but she is also a woman of Lyrnessus, under long assault as part of the wars of Troy. Part myth, part human, basic and fearsomely real, this is the story of battles, but more the story of the women who had become the slaves of the victors. Barker has written a tremendous novel of choice, of fate, and the sheer grinding ongoing battle to survive as a woman, adopting or being forced into silence.

Briseis is a queen. From an excellent family, chaperoned and veiled though failing to provide royal sons, she has led a charmed life in royal courts. As the novel opens she is running, moving swiftly through the city as the enemy is at the gates, performing the last duties of a daughter in law as it becomes obvious that the city will fall. As she runs to the roof, she witnesses the slaughter of the men of her family, her husband and any boy who may possibly be able to fight. Some women cannot face being captured, and take another way out, but she has the instinct to survive at whatever the cost. The cost is capture and being a prize, a reward for Achilles, legendary warrior, but with a back story of love denied. The sea, the care of Patroclus, the support of the other women in all their variety, could mean that she survives, but at what cost. This is a world of glory and yet basic suffering, when men can play games with the fate of nations, but silence women in every way. Briseis gives voice to all those who subversively survive, who see more than is possible of what motivates beyond courage.

This is a powerful book, not in its length or pretention, as it is the story of people at all levels. Grief, fear and pain are part of it, and there is more than a little death and basic humanity here. There is, however, much to appreciate in its understanding of what motivates people, how they deal with the challenges of not only the great battles but also the grind of life. It is the story of courage and intelligence, miraculous and human forces, and mainly the story of how a woman can exist in the face of momentous events. The narrative alternates between the voice of Briseis and the story of Achilles, but he is not given a voice, just described. This is a superb book of chaos of war, but also the fate of the people who it, in all its human failings. Barker has written a timeless book, which manages to feel contemporary in its appreciation of people and place, yet draws inspiration from an ancient tale.

I really enjoyed this book, if enjoyed is the right word. I admire its sense of place, and yet it has brilliant insight into people. Do not be out off by its subject matter; it can be grim yet it is also wonderful.

Begin Again – Ursula Orange – Four Young Women Discover Life in 1936

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This delightful novel, which was originally published in 1936, marked Orange’s debut. Furrowed Middlebrow and Dean Street Press reprinted this book last year, and it represents a real find, giving a fascinating picture of the lives of four young women in the interwar period. They are subject to crisis and challenges which test their commitment to their life choices, and there is an underlying theme of the reality of the limitations placed on women. Funny, spirited and very much of its time, this is a novel which gives an insight into the lives of ambitious women who are discovering what the world really offers.

Jane and Florence are modern young women who share a flat in London, living independent lives and working in offices. They are Oxford graduates, but in some ways have not seen the benefits of their extended education, which is especially true of Florence as she struggles with secretarial work. Their flat is not glamorous, their lifestyle stretches their money, and for Florence life is lonely. Jane has the attentive Henry in tow, but really cares little for a romance that began in idyllic Oxford years. They are nevertheless a model of modern living for Leslie, whose comfortable life with her loving mother in the countryside seems to be stifling her artistic talents. She is determined to be independent and live in the capital like a modern young woman, hoping to imitate her friends. She invites her friends to meet her mother, hoping that their different lifestyle will influence her chances of independence. Sylvia is the fourth young woman, in love with the idea of love, with the attentive Claud with whom she enjoys a relaxed relationship. She has a loving family, who continue to put up with her despite her often expressed new views. Her younger sister Henrietta has a secret which threatens everything. The humour in this book comes mainly from the dialogue between Sylvia and Claud, and the family’s reactions to challenges. Florence writes her novel, Jane continues to be Jane and the other young women discover what they really want from life. One of the funniest scenes is when Sylvia’s father has decided to be generous, and we hear a running commentary of his pride, yet Sylvia opts to be contrary.

I enjoyed this book greatly as it explores so much about young women’s actual lives in this interwar time. This is a far more down to earth account which is not Mitford like; there is no melodrama but the realities of older adults trying to do their best for their children sometimes despite what they first desire. The parents are politely bewildered by their offspring’s priorities, and try to understand, while there are equally baffled men trying to work out the New Women. There is an almost farce like quality as several characters rush about the countryside, and there is a lightness of tone which Orange maintains throughout this novel. In some ways a book which tries to achieve much in terms of examining people’s true motives, the humour of realistic dialogue always comes through.  I recommend this very human book, for its amusing qualities and reality revealed, and am happy that it now much more easily available.

A few minutes on this book blog will show you that I really enjoy books written in the mid twentieth century by British Women. That explains my love of Persephone Books, and I hope to review their brand new (reprints) very soon. If I cannot find contemporary books, I enjoy books set in the same period but written far more recently! Who am I kidding, I just like books really…Son is worried that I may barricade myself in with books…


Steel and Shadows by Stuart Field – The beginning of trouble?

Today I am kicking off the blog tour for “Steel and Shadows”, a new thriller by Stuart Field. It’s a tough book, interspersed with observations from a trained eye. Details of luxurious living contrast sharply with the brutal acts of terror – terror that will not go unavenged.

Here is an extract:

A taxi pulled up to the long driveway. Inside, a soldier sat, only vaguely listening to the driver chatter on about his opinions on the state of affairs in far-off lands. His passenger, weary from the long journey, gazed out of the window upon the green fields of his home. He was still dressed in his uniform battledress, the creases on the sleeves standing up like blade edges. He had been away for a long time, and now he was content to come home. He did not want any fuss, just a quiet time with his wife and the rest of the family, but he was afraid that his father was bound to come up with some sort of homecoming event.

It all seemed quite surreal to him, being home after spending so long in a land that was barren of luxuries, or even trees and grass as he knew it, so he had to readjust his thinking. Was this all a dream?  Would he suddenly wake up and find himself back in the hell he thought he had left? He slowly touched the car’s window glass, hoping it would actually be there and it wouldn’t fade away as soon as he laid fingers on it. He smiled as the feel of the cold glass sent a tingling sensation down his spine.

He rested his warm cheek against the window and closed his eyes. ‘Oh, that feels good,’ he said, and the cab driver looked at him through the rearview mirror and shook his head. As they neared the house, loud pops could be heard. The soldier opened his eyes with a start and shot upright. ‘Stop the car!’ he ordered, but the cab driver paid no attention.  ‘Stop this car now, God damn it!’

The cab came to a screeching halt.

‘Why shout at me, you crazy man?’ said the driver, as the soldier got out of the cab and listened. Loud cracks echoed through the trees followed by screams: something was terribly wrong.

‘Get the hell out of here and call the police, tell them, get this, there have been shots fired on this estate, and they weren’t sporting guns, they were military weapons, have you got that?’

The driver nodded, ‘military weapons, not sporting guns.’ He dropped the clutch and sped away, leaving the soldier to dart into the cover of the trees.

Making his way slowly through the woods he knew so well, towards the rear of the house, the soldier had not gone far when he saw a figure all in black holding an automatic rifle. He took him to be a sentry, put there to ensure that nobody got away. This was not a robbery, this was an invasion, an execution.


This writing is just a small sample of what to expect – a whirlwind of taut, suspenseful writing….


Stuart Field was born in the UK, in the West Midlands. He
spent his early years in the army, seeing service in all the
known (and some unknown) hotspots around the world. He
now lives in Germany with his wife Ani. When not engaged in
highly confidential security work, he writes thrillers which
perhaps mimic his life-experience more than the reader would
like to believe.

East End Angels by Rosie Hendry – Life in the London Blitz

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A saga of the Second World War, but this time quite a special one, Rosie Hendry’s book is about three women who undertook one of the most dangerous jobs on the Home Front: ambulance driving in London. The danger that they tackle every night as the Blitz starts in 1940 is the main drama of the book, yet they are young women with real and challenging family backgrounds. The addition of the beginnings of romance is an added complication and for the three young women discovering new relationships is a new dimension to their lives. There are tragedies and barriers to negotiate, both real and in life, but ultimately there is some hope as real friendship survives all.

Stella, or Frankie, is new to Station Seventy – Five as well as driving, and she soon discovers that there is far more to her role than manging large vehicles. An unusual introduction to Winnie reveals a sense of flexibility regarding rules, which can mean both trouble and survival, not least for a small dog called Trixie. A third young woman, Bella, completes the trio at the centre of the novel, with her sadness at her family’s loss. Personality clashes and a firm boss can make life complicated, but personal crises are soon to be swallowed up in the overwhelming danger each character faces as German planes begin their nightly raids. Nevertheless, each woman must face concern about loved ones as both civilian and military family and friends are in dangerous and threatening circumstances. Winnie has to battle a forceful family despite her brilliance in her work and her seemingly luxurious living conditions. Bella’s living arrangements continue to be difficult, though she develops a unique insight into people’s lives. Frankie has to cope with challenging relatives as well as her real fears of managing in devastating circumstances. Places in London such as St. Paul’s cathedral become symbols of survival as there is no peace for the people of London, and exhaustion sets in for many.

This book is engaging, as each character seems to work as a real person in difficult circumstances. It is not overly melodramatic, as contemporary accounts of the blitz back up many of the events explored with a sure touch. The writing style does not wallow in the tragic, and Hendry packs in many events in this confident narrative. I enjoyed her creation of the characters, as she shows a deft touch at conveying emotions and motives. It is a very readable book, with a skilful realisation of what will keep the reader involved. I look forward to discovering further books in this series.

Meanwhile I have enjoyed rereading (for about the third time) “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” for the next Bookworms meeting in November. It is different from the film! I think that they are both enjoyable in their own way, as long as I remember that they are different things. I read it in two sittings….…and-a-book-group/ ‎  is my review from some time ago

So Here It Is – Dave Hill – The Autobiography of a Slade Star

Superstar of the Seventies, Dave Hill is the memorable one from the group Slade. Not the singer, but a guitarist with a unique taste in stage costume. This is his story, simply told but rich in detail, of not only his life but the life of a singular group who stood outside the mainstream by producing their own distinctive sound. This book, written in the first person by a man with a life experience not totally different from many people of his generation, is not the record of stardom and celebrity tantrums. Instead it records the struggle for financial stability through the music he loves and belonging to groups that have gelled together through some unusual circumstances.

Dave Hill was born and brought up in Wolverhampton, in a community which supported the small clubs and venues that were the setting for early musical ventures of groups which could be set up with unsophisticated equipment. At that stage there were no colleges which offered high tech. courses on musical production, and only basic musical experiences through records which were carefully selected. On a personal level, while Hill’s family were apparently supportive of his budding music career, there were some pressures from his mother’s long term illness. He is honest about the trials of identifying who could work with whom, and the influences on their first songs and indeed hit records. He also recognises the difficulty of being famous and having a following in the clubs with little actual money, despite the input of managers who seemed to have been uniformly honest. There are stories of the pressures of touring, doing small venues and the times when it looked as if Slade had peaked. Their failure to attract success in America is quite a familiar story for many musical acts, and Hill points out the differences between the different parts of the United States that  cause problems for anyone to try and influence the entire country. He tells the story of each of their hits very naturally, showing them as the result of much hard work rather than sudden inspiration. He comments on the sound which made Slade stand out, as well as his experimental approach to clothes and hair which made him the memorable member of Slade. He also tells us of his wife, Jan, and her difficulties while he was on tour, with a small daughter and in a large house but away from family support. This is essentially story of a family supporting Hill while he made records and toured with both versions of Slade. He details his health problems, but actually comes over as a really positive person, grateful for opportunities which he has made the most of through the years.

I enjoyed this book more than I imagined that I would. It is consistently written and genuinely interesting in its celebration of a life partly lived in publicity and a pre –internet celebrity. It is a smashing book, full of interest and warmth for family and friends, and reviving memories for many.

This was a different sort of book for me, but I really enjoyed reading it. It was responsible for a few misspent hours on Youtube as well…

Wedding Bells for Land Girls by Jenny Holmes – An engaging novel set in Wartime Britain

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Melodrama, varied characters, rural life and a wartime setting all make this book a great immersive read. While being presented as a book featuring a group of girls, there are some satisfying aspects of a book that is truly page turning for many readers. Land girls all working in farms and for widely differing landowners have different experiences, but all are subject to the romance and drama of living away from home, often for the first time. Exactly how much difference the setting of war in 1942 makes to emotions is as frequently with such novels, and indeed real life, made more intense. Younger men are on leave from various military forces; the urge to join up or be conscripted affects many lives. Holmes handles the frustrations, fears and drama of lives lived on the edge well, and while there are certain points at which credulity may be stretched a little, it is all controlled well and the essential characteristics of each character is consistent.

This was the first book I have read in this series, so I was grateful that there is a list of characters at the beginning of this book. It opens with a wedding, which is a useful device for introducing many of the characters and their relationships to each other. We also see them behaving in the ways which will emerge through the novel, with slightly unsure Grace marring her long term love, Bill. Brenda is a down to earth and strong character who roars around on a motorbike even when en route to a wedding, where new comer Doreen is seen as a big character always attracting attention. Joyce is shown as a concerned figure in looking after the newer girls, while being attracted to the troubled Edgar. There is some black marketing by a wholly bad character, and it is this element of the novel which seems a little too extreme in what is otherwise a well balanced narrative. The older people in the village are a little easily dismissed; I got a little confused between some of the older women as to who was acting as manager of the Land Girl’s Hostel. I did think that the relationship between Grace and her new mother in law was well described. The actual work undertaken by the Girls sounds accurately established, and there are good sketches of the large horse who undertook a lot of work when there were fewer tractors. The somewhat fierce sister was convincing, and many of the situations are at least resolved by the rather fast ending.

Overall I enjoyed this book, as it had plenty of interest and was truly difficult to put down. While one or two elements tipped over into the unlikely, the overall emotionally charged situation is well handled. The impending departure of some of the men into various military organisations and the urge to make the most of time remaining was very well realised. There is no wailing about individual plights, and I found the action kept moving really well. This is an engaging read, full of action and excellent characters, and I will be searching out the next book soon.

This is yet another type of book that I have found recently. I am reviewing a pop star autobiography tomorrow, and I am looking at different books as picked up in Meadowhall last Friday. My new Waterstones card has finally been activated, so I was able to get a copy of Pat Barker’s “Silence of the Girls”. I also found William Boyd’s “Love is Blind” and Sarah Perry’s  “Melmoth”. Having recently embarked on “The Corset” by Laura Purcell, I have some serious reading to do!

The Case of the Murdered Major by Christopher Bush – Ludovic Travers in the Army!

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Another Ludovic Travers Mystery, this time originally published in 1941, but this time the genial amateur detective is in a far different role. This book has recently been reprinted by Dean Street Press, and marks the first of Bush’s books set in and dealing with wartime experience. Featuring life in a closed community, and giving many details of military procedure, this is a fascinating insight into the claustrophobic conditions in a prisoner of war community at the outbreak of war, but more specifically giving an acute perspective on the human interactions which precipitated a fictional murder, and the deductions which allowed it to be solved. In a way a brilliant book about a man who upset many, this is also a technically clever book of mystery and motive.

Our hero, Ludovic Travers, has become a Captain and Adjutant, or second in command, at Prisoner of War camp somewhere in Britain. Based in an old hospital, there is plenty of room to manoeuvre for the British unit of soldiers who are to guard prisoners and the eventual consignment of German sailors and others dispatched to the site. It is a place apart with fences and guards, which is an ideal setting for a murder mystery as any and all suspects have to actually be on site. Internal alibis are one thing, but the net is drawn around those who have official business in the camp at the time in question. Travers is the ideal man for the job of military administration on which such a security based role is dependent, but there is a downside in the form of the Commandant with whom he is meant to work. Major Stirrop is a quixotic, infuriating, self obsessed man, full of his own audience, full of bluster and no leader. He maddens many of his officers by his frequent changes of mind, inefficiency and unfounded accusations of insubordination. On a personal level several have motives for murder, alongside a group of prisoners intent on escape and acts of disruption. Travers has to oversee difficulties with a variable number of prisoners when counted, mysterious comings and goings and sufficiently weaponry on site to create major problems. Add in some snow and tensions with senior military figures, and Travers has his hands full. It is only when a figure from his own past arrives to take control of the investigation that hope for a solution emerges.

In many ways this is quite a specialised mystery novel, with the intelligent use of the military framework with which Bush was very familiar. All is made clear, however, and the reader would be able to solve it without any real military knowledge, largely owing to the introduction of a civilian professional detective. Superintendent George Wharton makes a welcome character as he is not limited by military regulations, which force Travers into an observation role for much of the investigation. As could be expected, there is a shortage of female characters in this nearly exclusively male setting, but there is one woman to lend further confusion. This is a most impressive work of its type and era, labelled by Curtis Evans in his informative introduction as the first in a trilogy of wartime Travers books. Definitely worth tracking down as a murder mystery with many interesting side issues, and a fascinating piece of wartime fiction in any sense.

Meanwhile our second harvest supper went well, with Northernvicar doing the washing up! (Well, it was either that or barn dance). I spent a happy few hours at Meadowhall on Friday, which is a Northernreader friendly environment, and acquired a few new hardback fiction books. Now “The Silence of the Girls” by Pat Barker is claiming my attention – a little different from the above!

Betsy & Lilibet by Sophie Duffy – Two women, Same birth date, Different Lives

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This in some senses is the story of two women. One is possibly the best known woman in the world; Queen Elizabeth II. The other comes from a family well known only in the local area of London, Elizabeth Sarah Sunshine, Undertaker. It is such a personal, clever book which actually tells the story of the more obscure and fictional Elizabeth, looking back over decades of a life lived amongst the people of part of London. Her family, her friends and her clients make up the back drop of a woman who stayed in one place despite war, peace, happiness and sadness, and the departure of so many in all senses. This is the story of an ordinary life, but as with all seemingly ordinary lives, extraordinary things happen. In the background there are the comments of the more famous Elizabeth, always interesting, sometimes broadly relevant, always well known. I am very grateful to have received a proof copy of this book from the innovative Legend Press.

The two Elizabeths are linked by the same date of birth. One is born royal but never expected to become a Queen, the other is born in a respectable home, but not expected to live. Thus a recurring phrase in the novel is “Keep Baby with Mother”, as the tiny baby and her exhausted mother struggle to survive. Survive she does, and Betsy Sunshine grows, goes to school and makes a friend. This is all described in a detailed way, as she vies with her challenging sister, Margie. As war and the Blitz comes to London, death becomes even more a family business, as even the young Betsy is drawn into the daily job of seeking out and preparing the bodies of the victims of bombs. Grim details emerge of not only ruined buildings familiar from the photographs, but also the sounds and smells of the reality of pulling bodies out of buildings and reconstructing them as far as possible. The physical toughness of her father is described and the shortages of materials makes even the burial of the dead trying, in this vivid description of life at the time. Still life goes on, as the small jealousies of young romances survive and the other Elizabeth appears briefly in the crazy celebrations of peace. Interspersed with so many memories is the ongoing story of a woman in her nineties, living in a care home, contrasting sharply with the rarefied royal lifestyle of ­­another woman whose thoughts can only be guessed at by the sensible Betsy Sunshine.

This is a lovely book, full of real insight into a life of surprising insight from a woman who has frequently stared at death in the face of others. No detail of life is hidden, as Betsy relives her motives for helping others, her hurt at the behaviour of loved ones, her sadness at loss. It is also funny, basic and rewarding as Betsy’s robust sense of humour and love of her family and friends always surfaces even when the circumstances seen grim. There are touching moments as the now elderly Betsy deals with her relatives, as they reveal secrets and fail to shock.  Despite some of the subject matter, or maybe because of it, this is a funny and genuinely amusing book.I greatly enjoyed this story of a long life, well lived, a woman of our time with all the humour of a talented storyteller.

Life is still busy here at the Vicarage, with University sessions and other things beckoning. As always, so many books, so little time!