The Riviera Set by Mary S Lovell

Riviera Set

Little, Brown Book Group|November 2016|448 pages|Library book|3.5 rounded up to 4 on Goodreads*

When I read Cath’s review of The Riviera Set: 1920 – 1960: The Golden Years of Glamour and Excess on her blog Read Warbler I thought it sounded fascinating, so I reserved a copy at the library. I has taken me almost a month to read it, but I did enjoy it.

Mary S Lovell explains in her Introduction that this is ‘less of a biography, more the story of a house and those who peopled it between the years 1930 and 1960.‘ The book begins with Maxine Elliott, telling of her early life  – she was an American, born Jessica Dermot in Rockland, Maine in 1868. She was a most remarkable woman who became an actress, famed for her beauty and her pure speaking voice. She came over to England, had successfully entered the Edwardian social scene in 1899 and after divorcing her husband, actor Nat Goodwin in 1908 she established herself at Hartsbourne, a country house in Hertfordshire. During the First World War she bought a barge and fitted it out as a first-aid clinic and soup kitchen to help with the war relief effort, bringing food and medical supplies to thousands of displaced people in Belgium. Many of the people who socialised at Hartsbourne flocked to visit her there. 

And then in 1930 she commissioned the architect Barry Dierks to build  the Chateau de l’Horizon on the land she had bought on a narrow stretch of rocks with a small promontory between Cannes and Juan-les-Pins. This is the part of the book I enjoyed the most, first of all about Maxine herself, then the description of the construction of the Chateaux and the years that Maxine owned it and lived there. Maxine really came into her own there as a superb hostess.

chateau de l'horizon

Regular visitors included Winston Churchill, Cole Porter, Noel Coward, Somerset Maugham among many others – famous actors and actresses as well as members of the aristocracy and politicians. I was interested in Clementine Churchill’s reaction to the Riviera set – she disapproved of their behaviour and often didn’t accompany him on his visits.  She also disapproved of Winston’s gambling at the Casino. Then there were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who lived nearby before the Second World War – the picture painted of them is not flattering – and there was much talk about how to address Wallis and whether the women should curtsy to her. By the time the War approached Maxine had lost her sparkle, suffering from ill health and she died in March 1940.

And after her death nothing was the same – and my interest in the book began to wane. The Chateau was bought by Aly Khan, the Aga Khan’s heir presumptive at the time. There is quite a lot about his time there, his womanising, his marriage to Rita Hayworth and the social scene of the post-war period up to 1960. Nevertheless it is a fascinating and entertaining book about a pampered, luxurious and decadent world.

Reading challenge: Virtual Mount TBR as it is a library book.

The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective by Susannah Stepleton

Narrative Non-Fiction 4*

Adventures of Maud West

The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective, by Susannah Stapleton and published by Picador, is subtitled ‘Secrets and Lies in the Golden Age of Crime‘. With a title like that I thought it sounded just the sort of book I would like – and I did.

It is so intriguing – was Maud West really who she said she was? Susannah Stapleton discovered that she really did exist and was indeed a private investigator with her own detective agency, based in London in the early part of the twentieth century, from 1905 onwards.  The book gives plenty of extracts from Maud West’s own accounts of her investigations under Golden Age crime fiction titles such as The Lady Vanishes, The Body in the Library, and They Do It With Mirrors, for example. But these accounts had me wondering just what was the truth and what was fiction. They are so incredible! Maud was truly an amazing person – a master of disguise, equally able to pass herself off as a man, or a fortune teller, or a parlour maid, and skilled with a revolver, able to face down blackmailers. There are photographs of Maud – at work in her office and in a number of disguises. And it was not just in Britain – she worked all over the place including  New York, Cape Town, Brazil, and Jakarta. 

But what makes the book so good, and what kept me glued to the pages are the details of how Susannah Stapleton went about her research, included within the main narrative of her book. I haven’t come across this before – usually  an author lists the sources used at the end – and there is just such a list (a very long and comprehensive list) at the end of this book.  I was more intrigued by Stapleton’s own methods of research into finding out about Maud than I was by Maud herself.

 I also loved all the details of the changing society in which Maud lived – the role of women in the struggle for equality, details of the living and working conditions and of the crimes that real life private detectives investigated – divorces, missing persons, adultery and theft.

It more than lived up to my expectations, but I am still wondering did she really do what she said she did? Whatever the truth she was a complex woman and a very private one at that.

Many thanks to the publishers, Picador, for my review copy via NetGalley.

WWW Wednesday: 5 June 2019

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?


Currently reading: I’m still making slow progress with reading  D H Lawrence: the Life of an Outsider by John Worthen,  but I’ve almost finished Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck. So, I’ve started to read Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop, one of the books on my 20 Books of Summer list.

Those Who Are Loved is historical fiction, set against the backdrop of the German occupation of Greece, the subsequent civil war and a military dictatorship, all of which left deep scars. I know very little about Greece during the Second World War so I’m finding it very interesting, but it is very slow going. It begins as Themis remembers her life and the conflicts within her family as well as their experience of the war.

I’ve recently finished The Ruin by Dervla Mactiernan and will be writing more about it in a later post.

Ruin

Blurb:

It’s been twenty years since Cormac Reilly discovered the body of Hilaria Blake in her crumbling Georgian home. But he’s never forgotten the two children she left behind…

When Aisling Conroy’s boyfriend Jack is found in the freezing black waters of the river Corrib, the police tell her it was suicide. A surgical resident, she throws herself into study and work, trying to forget – until Jack’s sister Maude shows up. Maude suspects foul play, and she is determined to prove it.

DI Cormac Reilly is the detective assigned with the re-investigation of an ‘accidental’ overdose twenty years ago – of Jack and Maude’s drug- and alcohol-addled mother. Cormac is under increasing pressure to charge Maude for murder when his colleague Danny uncovers a piece of evidence that will change everything…

My next book could be:

I think, but I could always change my mind, it’ll be Anything You Do Say by Gillian Mcallister, another book that is on my 20 Books of Summer list.

Anything you do say

Blurb:

Joanna is an avoider. So far she has spent her adult life hiding bank statements and changing career aspirations weekly.

But then one night Joanna hears footsteps on the way home. Is she being followed? She is sure it’s him; the man from the bar who wouldn’t leave her alone. Hearing the steps speed up Joanna turns and pushes with all of her might, sending her pursuer tumbling down the steps and lying motionless on the floor.

Now Joanna has to do the thing she hates most – make a decision. Fight or flight? Truth or lie? Right or wrong?

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

Reading in May

I’ve been reading eight books in May, and have finished reading six of them, but only reviewed four of them:

  1. The Butterfly Room by Lucinda Riley 4* –  a family saga spanning generations  revealing the dark secret hidden behind the locked door of the Butterfly Room
  2. Mrs Whistler by Matthew Plampin 5* – not about his mother, but about him and his model and mistress, Maud Franklin
  3. Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings 3* – the basis for the TV series Killing Eve 
  4. The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal 5* –  the story of Iris who dreamed of being an artist and her involvement with the Pre-Raphaelites

The other two books I finished are:

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, which I didn’t enjoy and I’m just writing a few notes here about it. It won the 2017 Edgar Award for Best Novel and was selected by The Sunday Times as one of the top page-turners of summer 2017, so I’m in the minority because I thought it was boring and tedious. The plot is simple – a plane crashes into the sea after taking off from Martha’s Vineyard, just two people survive and the mystery is why did the plane crash and who was responsible. The main part of the book is made up of the long backstories of the people on the plane. It’s not gripping or thrilling and definitely not a page-turner. 1*

However I thoroughly enjoyed The Ruin Dervla McTiernan’s debut novel and I’ll be writing more about it in the next few days. Now this is a page-turner, about a current murder linked to a cold case. It’s complex and compelling reading as DI Cormac Reilly unravels a web of secrets. 4*

I’m still reading two books:

D H Lawrence: the Life of an Outsider by John Worthen, from his childhood in Nottinghamshire to his death at the age of 44. I’m reading this slowly and it will be some time before I finish it. An ‘outsider’, he always felt he didn’t fit in or belong either with his family or his work colleagues or the literary elite of the times.

The other book I’ve been reading is Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck, my Classics Club Spin book that I was hoping to finish by the end of May. I’ve only read half of it so far. It’s a follow up to Cannery Row, with some of the same characters and I’m enjoying its humour and view of life in Monterey in the 1950s.

And now it’s June! I’ll be concentrating on reading the books I’ve listed for the 20 Books of Summer challenge – and hoping I won’t be distracted by too many other books!

My Friday Post: The Greedy Queen by Annie Gray

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

The book I’m featuring this week is The Greedy Queen: Eating with Victoria by Annie Gray, a library book.

Greedy Queen

 

In July 2005 a pair of extraordinarily large bloomers were auctioned in Wiltshire. They sold for £12,900, breaking the record for the previous pair of similarly generously proportioned underwear, which fetched £6,200 a year earlier, and the news of their sale was widely reported across the media.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

Once again she complains of headaches and lethargy, and turned to food as a solace. Creevey remarked that, ‘she eats as heartily as she laughs, I think I may say she gobbles.’

Blurb:

What does it mean to eat like a queen? Elizabeth gorged on sugar, Mary on chocolate and Anne was known as ‘Brandy Nan’. Victoria ate all of this and more. The Greedy Queen celebrates Victoria’s appetite, both for food and, indeed, for life.

Born in May 1819, Victoria came ‘as plump as a partridge’. In her early years she lived on milk and bread under the Kensington system; in her old age she suffered constant indigestion yet continued to over-eat. From intimate breakfasts with the King of France, to romping at tea-parties with her children, and from state balls to her last sip of milk, her life is examined through what she ate, when and with whom. In the royal household, Victoria was surrounded by ladies-in-waiting, secretaries, dressers and coachmen, but below stairs there was another category of servant: her cooks. More fundamental and yet completely hidden, they are now uncovered in their working environment for the first time.

Voracious and adventurous in her tastes, Queen Victoria was head of state during a revolution in how we ate – from the highest tables to the most humble. Bursting with original research, The Greedy Queen considers Britain’s most iconic monarch from a new perspective, telling the story of British food along the way.

~~~

With chapters on kitchens, cooks, and ordinary eating as well as extraordinary eating this is a different look at Queen Victoria’s life and reign plus an appendix of modernised recipes.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

 

WWW Wednesday: 22 May 2019

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?


Currently reading: Three books,  D H Lawrence: the Life of an Outsider by John Worthen, Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck and The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal.

I’ve made more progress with D H Lawrence: the Life of an Outsider. It’s a thorough and detailed account of his life and I’ve just got up to 1912 when he first met Frieda Weekley, the wife of Ernest Weekley, a Nottingham University professor of modern languages. Lawrence had finished writing ‘Paul Morel‘ (Sons and Lovers) and had needing a break he decided to travel – to go to Germany. He got in touch with Weekley to ask for his advice.

Sweet Thursday is my Classics Club spin book to read by 31 May. So far I’ve only read a few chapters. This is a follow on from Steinbeck’s Cannery Row which I loved. Set after the Second World War in Monterey, on the California Coast, Sweet Thursday is what they call the day after Lousy Wednesday, which is one of those days that’s just naturally bad.

I’ve included The Doll Factory in my 20 Books of Summer challenge and I made the mistake of looking at it and before I knew it I’d read 20%. It really is compelling reading for me – historical fiction set in London beginning in 1850 as the Grand Exhibition is being built in Hyde Park. Twin sisters Iris and Rose paint dolls for a living but Iris dreams of a life as an artist. This is the period when the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood are making their mark in the art world.

Recently finished Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings, the basis for the BAFTA-winning Killing Eve TV series. I enjoyed this but not as much as the TV version. See my review here.

Codename Villanelle

My next book could be:

As usual I’m not at all sure what it could be, but after reading Codename Villanelle I’ve got my eye on No Tomorrow by Luke Jennings, which continues the story.

No tomorrow

Blurb (Amazon):

In a hotel room in Venice, where she’s just completed a routine assassination, Villanelle receives a late-night call.

Eve Polastri has discovered that a senior MI5 officer is in the pay of the Twelve, and is about to debrief him. As Eve interrogates her subject, desperately trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together, Villanelle moves in for the kill.

The duel between the two women intensifies, as does their mutual obsession, and when the action moves from the high passes of the Tyrol to the heart of Russia, Eve finally begins to unwrap the enigma of her adversary’s true identity.

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

WWW Wednesday: 15 May 2019

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?


Currently reading: Two books,  D H Lawrence: the Life of an Outsider by John Worthen and Before the Fall by Noah Hawley.

Lawrence Worthen001

I’ve made some progress with D H Lawrence: the Life of an Outsider. His mother Lydia is seriously ill with cancer and Lawrence has started to write a novel to include her girlhood, and her marriage moving on to his own upbringing. By October 1910 he was calling the book ‘Paul Morel‘ – which later became ‘Sons and Lovers.’ It will take me several weeks (at least) before I finish the book as I’m reading short sections each day.

Before the Fall won the 2017 Edgar Award for Best Novel.

Before the Fall

Description:

THE RICH ARE DIFFERENT. BUT FATE IS BLIND.

A private jet plunges into the sea.

The only survivors are down-on his luck artist Scott Burroughs and JJ Bateman, the four year old son of a super-rich TV executive.

For saving the boy, Scott is suddenly a hero.

And then, as the official investigation is rapidly overtaken by a media frenzy, it seems he may also be a villain.

Why was he on the plane in the first place, and why did it crash?

I’ve read 72% of this book so far. It begins well, but then it becomes rather disjointed, as it relates each character’s back story in some detail. So any suspense that the opening had built up is fading as I read about each person’s life story up to the time they entered the plane. But with nearly a quarter of the book left to read I’m hoping the tension will rise.

Recently finished:

Mrs Whistler

Mrs Whistler by Matthew Pamplin, a novel is based on the life of the artist, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, and his muse Maud Franklin, covering the years from 1876 to 1880. I loved this book and am in the middle of writing a post about it  – I may finish it today, or tomorrow …

My next book could be:

It could be Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings, the basis for the BAFTA-winning Killing Eve TV series. I’ve had this book for a while – after I watched Killing Eve, which I loved, and it seems a good time to read it now. The second series began on 7th April 2019 on BBC America and all I know so far is that it will be shown here in the UK – soon!

Codename Villanelle

She is the perfect assassin.

A Russian orphan, saved from the death penalty for the brutal revenge she took on her gangster father’s killers.

Ruthlessly trained. Given a new life. New names, new faces – whichever fits.

Her paymasters call themselves The Twelve. But she knows nothing of them. Konstantin is the man who saved her, and the one she answers to.

She is Villanelle. Without conscience. Without guilt. Without weakness.

Eve Polastri is the woman who hunts her. MI5, until one error of judgment costs her everything.

Then stopping a ruthless assassin becomes more than her job. It becomes personal.

Originally published as ebook singles: Codename Villanelle, Hollowpoint, Shanghai and Odessa.

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you?