Book Review Catch-up

I thought I had posted this some time ago. I’m ready to do the next post now… but better late than never!

One of the things I’ve been doing, instead of reviewing, is making jam. The jam above is blackberry and apple jam. Today I made apricot jam and plum and apple jam.

As I’m getting behind in my reviewing these days, I’m putting all these on one post. Because I’ve got all these problems with my head, shoulders and also the thumb of my right hand, I’m attempting to dictate this post. It’s not as easy as you might think. I wonder how bosses managed in the old days, when they dictated letters to shorthand typists. Dictating text seems to be a skill we have lost. Dictating continuous text seems to be a school we have lost.

Diary of an MP’s Wife by Sassy Swire

This was not the kiss and tell shocker that I was led to expect. In the introduction, we are told that people in governmental circles refused to have “that book” in the house. Okay, so former Prime Minister David Cameron enjoyed viewing Keira Knightley’s chest on film. He is a man, and has fathered four children! I recall that Bridget Jones appreciated Colin Firth emerging from a lake in the filmed version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’.

Sassy Swire’s diaries covered the Cameron government, from 2010 to 2016, and the post-Cameron era, up until the end of 2019 (immediately pre-Pandemic). She and her husband, Sir Hugo Swire, a junior minister, were close friends of the Camerons. What did probably upset our Westminster set was that Sassy was very candid about them, although she was fiercely loyal to her husband, (whom she referred to throughout as ‘H’), her father (Sir John Nott, former Defence Secretary in Margaret Thatcher’s time) and David Cameron. She heartily disliked Michael Gove and John Bercow (the Speaker), neither of whom are popular in the country as a whole, and she referred to Boris as ‘His Blondness’, although she did warm to him at the very end. The diaries were edited, obviously, but retained their journal form, with Sassy’s initials and nicknames for those who figured frequently, which were sometimes difficult to recognise. It took me a long time to work out that ‘Von Schnapps’ was Grant Shapps.

Woman of Stones by Meredith Allard

This short novella concerns the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11). The Bible tells us she was sentenced to death by stoning, but, after Jesus suggested that he who is without sin should cast the first stone, her would-be executioners fell away.

Meredith, who I know – virtually – is the editor of The Copperfield Review (which has, in the past, published my work), writes with great empathy for the plight of Jewish women in Biblical times. Women were treated as chattels and placed in what we now call ‘forced marriage’. It was considered unseemly for a Jewish husband to speak to his wife in the street. She also writes movingly about the distress and fear of the animals slaughtered in Jewish rituals. I’m always having a go at writers for poor research but this author’s detailed understanding of everyday life at this time is stupendous,

Dramatic Episodes by Janet Howson

The drama group is putting on a performance of a Midsummer’s Night’s Dream and Shirley is the director. But all the actors have their own lives and personal problems, as does Shirley herself who is entrenched in an abusive relationship. Others, like Sean and Jean, receive once in a lifetime romantic opportunities. Sean, entering middle-age and desperately searching for a partner on Tindr, suddenly strikes lucky, finding two distinctly possible girlfriends in one evening. All of them (except Shirley) think they’ll miss just this one rehearsal… Poor Shirley? Maybe. Maybe not.

Each chapter features a different actor (except the last) and was assigned a drink, presumably because they featured as standalone stories on CafeLit.

Thoroughly entertaining, despite covering some fairly gritty topics. Good characterisation, each person distinct and convincing. Good old fashioned story-telling.

The Pact by Sharon Bolton

The Pact concerns six thoroughly dislikable people, yet it took hold of me from the first page. On five previous occasions, Felix, Talitha, Dan, Xav, Amber and Megan had bundled into a car and driven down the motorway against the direction of the traffic and got away with it – five times. On the sixth occasion, the night before A Level results, Dan is driving. Dan doesn’t want to do this but he succumbs to peer pressure. Dan crashes into another car and kills a mother and two small children.

Is this all Dan’s fault? Is it the fault of all six of them? Do the careers of six very clever and expensively educated teenagers lie in ruins? But, never mind, Megan will take the blame on herself? She’d only have to serve a few years for dangerous driving, wouldn’t she? And Talitha’s lawyer father would represent her, wouldn’t he? And the others would all visit her in jail, wouldn’t they?

Sharon Bolton’s writing is compelling and powerful, realistic and terrifying. She is entirely comfortable writing about rich kids and their parents and she places the action in a setting she knows – Oxford, her home town. I want to read more of Sharon’s work.

Right, now I’ve reviewed these, I can read something else, can’t I? The TBR list doesn’t get any shorter. Btw I didn’t manage to dictate all this. I fell back on typing, I’m afraid.

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