Sorry for the Dead by Nicola Upson

As I expected, this book does nothing to resolve any of the loose ends left over from Nine Lessons. And I found it an infuriating book flip flopping between 1915, 1935 and 1948 with seemingly no rhyme or reason. I didn’t particularly like the plot and I thought the resolution was lame.

The plot centres around Josephine’s brief stint as a teacher in Sussex during World War 1, when a girl dies during a storm. The case blows over in 1915, is resurrected in 1935 when the dead girl’s twin is launching her acting career and is resolved in 1948. Woven in and amongst is the story of Josephine realising her sexuality and attitudes towards lesbianism in the early part of the 20th century,

I did actually like having some of the fictional Josephine’s back story filled in. It was the one positive from the book for me.

I don’t really like plot lines where we, the readers, know what actually happened but watch the characters finding their way through the red herrings and twists.

Overall, I didn’t enjoy this book and it will definitely be some time before I pick up the next book in the series.

Nine Lessons by Nicola Upson

There has been quite a gap between reading the previous book in this series and reading this one, so I’ve forgotten quite a bit of the detail surrounding the fictional Josephine Tey’s life. In some ways I think it’s a good idea to have a gap in between books. When you binge read a series I think the author’s ticks, favoured words and idiosyncrasies can become irritative and they tend to put me off a series. I quite enjoyed coming back to this series.

In this book Josephine is in Cambridge looking after house renovations for her partner, Marta, who is working in America. Her detective friend, Archie, is also in Cambridge seeking a murderer. What Archie doesn’t know is that Josephine is keeping a secret about a previous relationship of Archie’s. This complicates how Josephine deals with their relationship.

I liked that Archie is the main character in this story. It makes it more of a straightforward detective novel and there is less of the emotional/sexual angst that can take over in some of the earlier books. A straightforward crime was exactly what I needed. I also liked the fact that the two crime stories turned out not be linked. It’s refreshing that Upson didn’t come up with some convoluted way to link them, which happens in so many crime novels.

It felt as though there were quite a few loose ends left at the end of the book, mainly centring around Archie. I’d like to think that they will be resolved in the next book but since he only occasionally crops up, I expect they will be left dangling for a book or two. I find this quite frustrating. Can we have a separate series, with Archie as the lead, which runs alongside this series please?

This series has been relegated from buy the next as it’s published to buy when find in a charity shop but I’m looking forward to reading it more than I expected after reading this one.

Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden

Another nostalgic dive back into childhood. I’d forgotten about this book until I was looking through collectible books on eBay, trying to find a first edition that would be a suitable present for one of the honorary great-nieces. The title leapt out at me, and I just had to buy it.

The main character, Nona, has been sent from India to live in the UK with her aunt, uncle, and cousins whilst she is at school. She is miserable, lonely, and homesick until a Great-Aunt sends some Japanese dolls to Nona and her cousins. Creating a Japanese home for the dolls helps Nona blossom, make friends, and settle into life in UK.

I enjoyed rereading the book and remembered some of it without remembering so much it was a pointless exercise rereading. I’m slightly surprised I enjoyed it as a child – Nona is a bit of a drip – but that’s probably why it isn’t one of the books I hung onto.

It would have been good to know more about Great-Aunt Lucy and how she came by Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. And in general, this is a short book that is short on descriptions and detail.

On the plus side I thought it was a gentle book: it has a moral and it delivers it without being preachy. I also liked that it had a happy ending without being soppy.

It isn’t the book I chose for my honorary great-niece but if you needed something to read to a small girl who feels she doesn’t fit I’d recommend it.

Cracking the Corporate Culture Code; Unwritten Ground Rules by Steve Simpson

I’m not quite sure where this book came from. It looks like a self-published book, so I probably picked it up as a freebie at a conference, workshop, or networking event.

It’s about creating the right corporate culture so that employees create the right customer service culture. It’s very much focused on customer service and examines why levels are falling across the globe. I found it interesting that although this book was published in 2000, a lot of it is still relevant today and I’ve had several conversations with friends about customer service standards slipping, on the one hand, and how customers are being more pushy and demanding, on the other.

The book posits that the unwritten ground rules within an organisation can help, hinder, or sabotage the success of an organisation. In other words, the culture that exists, in real life within the organisation can help, hinder, or sabotage that culture the organisation thinks it has or aspires to have. This links closely to a webinar and white paper I’ve been catching up on, delivered by Stan Slap. Slap’s position is that you have to understand and work with the various cultures within an organisation to do anything effectively.

The book, webinar and white paper have really made me think about how organisations tackle change programmes and how they perhaps should do it. I don’t yet have a theory or an answer. Perhaps I should write a book about it when I do!

I’m not sure I particularly learned anything specifically about customer service. And I’m not sure I would have had a current use for it if I had.

I certainly think the chapter on sports teams is pointless, unnecessary and has been done to death.

But for a book I’ve been putting off reading for years, I was pleasantly surprised at how much it has made me think.

Theatre Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

One of the Streatfeild “Shoes” books that I didn’t read as a child. I’m not even sure I knew this book existed or, almost certainly, I would have read it.

The book is set in World War II and Sorrel, Mark and Holly Forbes have just moved to London to live with their maternal Grandmother. Their Mother died when Holly was tiny, their father is lost at sea and their paternal Grandfather has died.

They learn that they are part of a famous acting family and, with the help of grants from the Fossil girls from Ballet Shoes, they attend Madame Fidolia’s stage school where they discover hidden talents.

This was an enjoyable read. I liked finding out what had happened to the Fossil sisters after the close of Ballet Shoes, which was one of my favourite books as a child of 6 or 7. It was interesting how matter of factly the war was mentioned in the book: the privations and everyday dangers of living in London, not knowing whether a loved parent is dead or alive are all taken as being part of life. I wonder whether a modern author would be this matter of fact?

There were a couple of niggles: I found Mark to be a bit of a brat and one of the minor characters was horrible and didn’t really get her comeuppance. The most frustrating thing is that the book closes on a happy ending and we don’t know what happened next and how the Forbes lives turn out. I know this gives young readers an opportunity to exercise their imaginations and decide for themselves what happens next but I’m not a young reader, I read this type of book as “braindown” time and I want to be given answers! And yes, I know this makes me sound like a whining, spoilt brat, only child: reverting to type, I guess.

Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

I haven’t read Anne of Green Gables since the BBC serialised it in the 1970s and, after episode 1, Mum and I headed off to the local library to borrow a copy to read. I don’t think I’ve ever owned a copy so, finding a nice one for the vast sum of 50p, I decided it was time to catch up with Anne Shirley again.

It’s always an uncertain event rereading a book you loved when you were a different person. Sometimes it makes you realise just how much you’ve changed and that the rereading has tarnished pleasant memories. At other times it’s just joyous to reacquaint yourself with characters who became “old friends” as a child.

I didn’t read Anne of Green Gables enough as a child for Anne Shirley to gain “old friend” status, but I really enjoyed reading the book, large chunks of which I’d forgotten. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I bought the whole series for my Kindle and binge read the whole series from start to finish!

I’m not sure the stories of the adult Anne are as engaging as the earlier stories. It seems a waste for a character as vibrant as Anne to dwindle into being a mother and a housewife, but I guess that’s what life was like in the period Montgomery is writing in.

I quite enjoyed the last book – Rilla of Ingleside. I started disliking Rilla, but it turned into a good story.

The Girl In The Picture by Denise Chong

You might not know the name Phan Thi Kim Phuc but, if you were alive during the period of the Vietnamese War you will almost certainly be familiar with the photograph of her taken by Nick Ut during a napalm attack in Trang Bang.

This book is a biography of the person behind the image, from her birth into an affluent, rural, South Vietnamese family, the napalm attack and its immediate aftermath, her life under the Communist regime and her defection to Canada.

The author also gives some background on the world political situation at the time, the political situation in Vietnam and tells a little of the story of the others in the photo.

I’ve had this book sitting on my bookshelf since I went to Vietnam but, having bought it in a fit of enthusiasm, I’ve felt a reluctance to pick it up and read it. I’m not quite sure why.

It was an interesting but not compelling book.

I liked finding out more about the context of the photograph, about the photographer and about the people who have lived with this snapshot of their lives for 50 years. It was also interesting to find out more about life for Vietnamese people in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

What was tricky about the book is that Phan Thi Kim Phuc doesn’t come across as a particularly nice person. In some of the sections about her life in Canada she comes across as a user of people and someone who feels “entitled”. This doesn’t really match up with the biog of her on Wikipedia and nor does some of the story match up with the online biog.

I can understand the desire to write a book about someone in such a famous picture, to want to know who they were and what happened after the picture. But I’m not sure I want to read a book like this again.

The Deathly Portent by Elizabeth Bailey

I rummaged, I found book two of the Lady Fan series and dived straight in.

In this book Lord Francis Fanshawe and Ottilia Draycott have got married and are on their way home from a bridal visit to Ottilia’s godmother. Their carriage breaks down, they have to stay overnight in a village, and they get drawn into a mystery surrounding the death of a blacksmith, a woman who sees visions and accusations of witchcraft. The Fanshawes solve the murder and the mystery.

This book isn’t quite as good as the first book, but it was good enough to keep me engaged whilst I was reading it. On reflection it was a slightly silly story but, given the period it’s set in, I could imagine an accusation of witchcraft gaining traction in a small, isolated village.

My biggest gripe about this book is that the author, through her characters, keeps referring to women as creatures. I know other authors have had characters refer to another in this way but when it’s continual it becomes really irritating.

I may read the next in the series but I’m not in a hurry to go and search for it. Which is disappointing.

The Gilded Shroud by Elizabeth Bailey

Another attempt to find the next crime series I want to read!

This one is set in 1789 – even further from the period I usually read than the last one.

Lord Francis Fanshawe discovers that his sister-in-law has been murdered in her bed and his brother has disappeared, making it look as though Lord Polbrook murdered his wife. Fan doesn’t know how to prove it, but he believes his brother to be innocent, despite the fact that Lord and Lady Polbrook were known to be unhappy in their marriage. Enter Ottilia Draycott, temporary companion to the Dowager Lady Polbrook. Ottilia, who is clever and clear in her thinking solves the murder and she and Fan fall in love.

I liked this book much more than the previous one. The characters felt more real and more likeable. It was an easy book to read, which is what I want from a brain-downtime book.

The disappointing thing was that I worked out who the thief was about halfway through the book and that the thief, and the murderer were the same person about two thirds of the way through.

A more promising start to a series than the Maisie Frobisher book though and I might actually look to see if there is a Kindle deal on book 2.

All At Sea by Liz Hedgecock

This is part of an attempt to find a replacement for some of the detective series where I’ve got to the end of what’s been published.

The heroine of this book, Maisie Frobisher, was, apparently, a minor character in a different series of Liz Hedgecock’ s. The book is set in the 1890s and Maisie is a society woman who has created some sort of scandal and so is leaving England on a ship bound for India.

Whilst on board ship Maisie overhears a discussion about some stolen jewellery, inveigles herself into a search for stolen top-secret documents and deals with a blackmailer.

What did I like about this book?

That it was set in a different period from what I normally read. Although it was a bit tricky remembering this at times as Maisie feels like a modern name, and she acts in a more modern way than you’d expect from a Victorian woman.

I liked the shipboard setting and the period detail. It’s set before the “fishing fleet” started to go to India – at least I think it is – and the slower pace of the journey gave the story time to unfold.

I also liked the character of Inspector Hamilton. He felt much more real than Maisie, who felt half-formed.

I’m put off reading the next book in the series for two main reasons. Whilst this is the first book of this series, the references to “what happened in London” made me feel that I should have read the Caster and Fleet series before embarking on this one. And I’m not interested enough in the character to invest that amount of time in doing so.

Secondly, the plot, overall, felt a bit lame. It is as if the author had the makings of three plots but not quite enough to make a story out of, so she bolted them together.

I might buy the next in the series if it comes up as a 99p Kindle deal. But there again…