Posts Tagged ‘1920s’

When Tom Sherbourne returns to his native Australia, mentally scarred by his experiences in World War I, he takes up a position as lighthousekeeper on a remote island called Janus Point off South-West Australia. While back on the mainland for a short time, he falls in love with and marries Isabel Graysmark and she comes to live with him on the island, where they are the only two inhabitants.

Their happiness is all but destroyed by two miscarriages and a stillbirth, so when a boat lands on the island with a dead man and a healthy young baby onboard, Tom and Isabel make the decision to raise the child as their own. But while they live a life of solitude on the island, it becomes clear that back on the mainland, their decision has affected the lives of many others and there will be far reaching consequences for all involved.

There was a lot to like about this book. I think the author has a lovely turn of phrase and captured the remoteness of life on Janus Point very well. Tom was a very well drawn character, although I thought Isabel was less so (this may have been because I far preferred Tom; during the course of the story Isabel’s decisions put me off her). I wanted to read until the end and did so, but I felt the story took a long time to get going, and the final third of the book was strung out more than it had to be. Some of the characters also made strange choices, even taking into account the unusual circumstances that people were coping with.

That all said, it was difficult not to sympathise with everyone involved in such a sad story. I do feel the pace of the storyline plodded in places and a fair chunk could have been cut out of the last section of the book but nonetheless the slow unfolding of what happened somewhat matched the pace of life on Janus Point so maybe this was a deliberate move on the author’s part.

Overall a fairly enjoyable book and I would probably read more by M.L. Stedman.

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In the summer of 1924, a young poet, tortured by his experiences as a soldier in World War I, kills himself at a party at the grand Riverton House, witnessed by Hannah, the aristocratic lady of the house, and her sister Emmeline, who have never spoken to each other since.

In the present day, a film company are making a movie about the events and approach 98 year old Grace, Hannah’s former lady’s maid, the only person still living who was there that night. As Grace looks back over her life, the story of the family’s life at Riverton and the events that led to the tragic night of the party are revealed.

I was looking forward to reading this book, I like a bit of historical fiction when I’m in the mood, especially if there is an element of mystery thrown in. However, I found that the story took ages to get going and at 150 pages in (the book is just under 600 pages long) I was still waiting for the story to really get started, and found myself getting slightly bored. When the story did pick up though, I started to really enjoy it, and the last quarter rattled along brilliantly, with an excellent ending that kept me guessing.

The writing style flows well, which is what kept me going even while I was waiting for something to happen; I would say that the book could have been about 150 pages shorter throughout and that would have kept the story tighter. I did like the dual timelines, with the older Grace looking back over her life, but the younger Grace’s story being told as though it was in the present not the past. This also meant that there was a lot of foreshadowing although we know from the very beginning that it is going to end with the night of the infamous party.

Overall a decent read, and an author I would probably explore further.

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I have thoroughly enjoyed previous novels by Sarah Waters, and had high hopes for this one. The story is set in the early 1920s, and Frances Wray and her mother have fallen on hard times, and are forced to take in lodgers. When Leonard and Lilian Barber arrive, Frances is shaken out of her small world, and drawn into their lives. However, when passion mounts, the consequences are shocking and everlasting.

This is a strange book in that it starts off being fairly slow moving – in keeping with the pace of Frances’s life. Every day is the same for her – housework and spending time with her mother, before retiring to bed. But as her new lodgers arouse her interest and she gets drawn into their lifestyle, the pace picks up. The last third of the book is a very different tone and I did get very absorbed, staying up late to find out how the story ends (without revealing any spoilers, I would have to say that I found the ending surprising, but in a weirdly anticlimactic way).

I cannot say I didn’t enjoy the book, but whereas with Waters’ previous novels Fingersmith, Affinity and The Night Watch, I couldn’t put them down, with this one I found myself not really engaging until the last part. The characters were not particularly likeable, which was not a problem, as I don’t believe they were written to be. They were believable though and the idea of Frances, being an intelligent woman trapped in claustrophobic lifestyle, was convincing.

Overall, not one of Sarah Waters’ best, but still worth the read and I will continue to read anything that she writes.

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This is the sixth book in the Phryne Fisher Mystery series, and probably my favourite one so far. In essence, our feminist, intrepid sleuth is bored, and goes undercover at the Farrell’s Circus, where she has friends, to try and find out who is trying to sabotage the circus, and who murdered Mr Christopher, one of the acts. Phryne, so usually able to hold her own in almost any situation, finds herself out of her depth and lacking in friendship. Not to mention that she is not able to easily call on her friends and Detective Inspector Jack Robinson (although Jack does take a bigger role in this book than in previous adventures). Without her usual back-up she has to rely on her own wits, but anyone who is familiar with the series knows that she has plenty of those!

Interestingly, having read other reviews of this book, it seems that people who have enjoyed previous novels in the series have been somewhat disappointed in this one. For me it is the other way around; the last few novels have been underwhelming for me, but this one was much more enjoyable. The mystery itself was not as enjoyable as Phryne’s experience of circus life. Here we meet a different Phryne – going by the name Fern, she is vulnerable, unhappy and an outsider among the circus folk, and I did enjoy reading about that. The mystery itself was an intriguing one although I felt that the solving of it was rushed and somewhat unsatisfactory – interestingly I remember thinking the same about the television adaptation of this particular book. I liked the colour, flamboyance and excitement of the circus atmosphere though, and the story whipped by quickly enough I also loved the young policeman Tommy Harris – I wish he had been a character in the television series.

Overall, if you are a fan of this series, for my money this is one of the best so far.

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In this fourth instalment of the Miss Fisher series, Phryne is driving in her car when her windscreen is shot out. When she gets out of the car, she sees a young man who was also shot and who dies in her arms. Outraged, Phryne determines to find the guilty parties. However, she also takes on another case, that of missing schoolgirl Alicia Waddington-Forsythe, and Miss Fisher’s two adopted daughters Janie and Ruth are able to help out with this matter.

The investigations take our intrepid investigator – along with her friend and maid Dot, and the rough but reliable Bert and Cec, not to mention her butler and chef Mr and Mrs Butler, into the dark world of anarchists and psychics, and as usual there is danger everywhere.

Lots of humour along the way of course, and Phryne naturally finds time to indulge in a little dalliance with a mysterious man named Peter Smith. Anyone who has read any of the series will be familiar with the style and will know what to expect from Phryne. I have to say that while the books are thoroughly enjoyable, I don’t think that they are actually really well written and on this occasion, the adaptation is better than the book. No Jack Robinson in this story, which is a shame, but we do get to meet Hugh Collins, who is a regular in the TV show.

Overall for an undemanding and quick read, this fits the bill.

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The third instalment of the Miss Fisher series starts with Phryne Fisher waking up on a train to discover that she and her fellow passengers have been chloroformed. After raising the alarm it is discovered that an elderly lady, Mrs Henderson, is missing from the train and is subsequently found dead. The honorable Miss Fisher is soon on the case, but the plot thickens when a young girl who was on the train is brought to her having lost her memory. Now Phryne is not only trying to discover who killed Mrs Henderson, but also where the girl has come from and what has happened to her to cause her to forget everything…

As with the previous two Miss Fisher novels, there is a great sense of fun in this book. However, there is a sinister undercurrent, which deals with the trafficking of young girls and a gruesome murder. The author does traverse this tightrope well though – conveying the characters’ (and by extension the readers’) disgust at the treatment of the girls, while still allowing Phryne’s sense of adventure and her liberated attitude towards sex to come through.

An enjoyable and for the most part undemanding and enjoyable read – if you like ‘cosy’ murder mysteries I would recommend the Phryne Fisher series. However, if complex character studies and intricate plots are more your thing, this series may well annoy you. I like these books very much, reading them as I do, sandwiched between other books.

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This book is the second in the Phryne Fisher Mystery series, and revolves around not one, but two mysteries. The book opens with Phryne meeting a new client – a nervous lady who is convinced that her son is going to murder his father and she wants Phryne to intervene to stop this. When the father does indeed turn up dead shortly afterwards, Bill the son is naturally the main suspect.

The second mystery is the kidnapping of a young girl, whose parents engage Phryne to retrieve their daughter and return her to safety.

Naturally Phyrne, along with her friends Bert and Cec, and trusty maid Dot not only investigates the crimes, but investigates them with panache and cunning, and all while wearing a beautiful wardrobe and seducing a couple of rather gorgeous men!

I think I probably enjoyed this book marginally more than the first one (I gave the first one 3.5 out of 5, I’d give this one 4), which bodes well for the rest of the series. It is an undemanding read, sprinkled with humour and with enough twists to keep the reader interested. As ever, Phryne is loveable, exasperating and stubborn. Fans of the TV series should note that Jack Robinson hardly appears in this book (and in any event, he is entirely different in the show, not to mention still firmly married to his wife) and the main police officer in the story is Detective Inspector Benton.

Another enjoyable instalment from a series that I look forward to continuing to read.

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This book introduces The Honourable Phryne Fisher, Lady Detective – except to those of us who discovered Phryne through the television series adapted from the books. Having loved the show, I decided to start reading the books and see how they compared.

In this first Miss Fisher novel, Phryne catches a thief at a dinner party and a couple there are so taken with her quick thinking and detection that they ask her to travel from her home in London to her native Australia; they believe that their daughter Lydia is being poisoned by her husband and wish Phryne to investigate. However, when Phryne arrives she discovers that things are far more complicated than they first seem, and also gets involved with tracking down an illegal abortionist. Busy she may be, but our indefatigable detective also manages to find time for a fling with a Russian dancer!

This book was highly enjoyable in many ways – Kerry Greenwood has an amusing turn of phrase and is very good at picking the humour out of any situation and relaying it to the reader. Given the subjects covered in the book, this is no mean feat! In all honesty the plot is a little bit clunky and gets a bit tied up in itself – it felt like there was maybe a bit too much going on, and the poisoning case was actually less interesting than the search for the illegal abortionist. However, it is the first book in the series and does a good job of introducing us to several characters who (as viewers of the show will know) become regulars in the storylines; Phryne’s maid Dot; the two cab drivers Bert and Cec; and of course Detective Inspector Jack Robinson – although for those viewers liked me who adored the chemistry between Phryne and Jack, well sorry to disappoint but there is absolutely no romance between the two in the book series, and Jack is actually very different to his on-screen incarnation.

Phryne Fisher is a delightfully almost-but-not-quite over the top creation, with charm and more than a touch of impish sauciness. Based on the first book, I can only say that despite it’s flaws, I’m really looking forward to reading more in the series.

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This story is told in two storylines, both of which are narrated by Jennifer Doyle aka Lola Nightingale. In 1916, Jennifer accompanies her roguish father from England to America, where she is given a job with the wealthy de Saulles family. It is there that she meets and falls deeply in love with Rudolfo Gullielmi, a dancer employed by the family, who is having a relationship with Mrs de Saulles.

1926, Jennifer goes by the name Lola Nightingale, Rodolfo is now known to the world as film superstar Rudolph Valentino, and at the beginning of the book, they have just been reunited after a decade apart. Jennifer/Lola has been in love with ‘Rudy’ for the whole time, and throughout the rest of the book she proceeds to describe the events that transpired between 1916, when Rudy vanished from her life, and 1926, when he reappeared.

I enjoyed the book, and thought that the writing was engaging and flowed well. However, I veered between sympathy for and annoyance with Jennifer, who was her own worst enemy. She knows that she drinks too much and dabbles in drugs, which are doing her ambitions as a bidding scriptwriter no good, and she also becomes involved with a horrible abusive man, who is a drug dealer to the stars.

Anybody who knows about Rudolph Valentino’s life and death, will have a certain knowledge of what happens in the ending of the book. I personally really enjoy fiction books that are based around real people and events, and I liked the fact that at the end of the book, the fates of all the real people in its pages (such as Mr and Mrs de Saulles) is revealed.

Overall, while I didn’t love the central character, I did really enjoy the story and am looking forward to reading more by Daisy Waugh.

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This stage adaptation of the popular Julie Andrews film comes courtesy of Willenhall Musical Theatre Company.  They may be an amateur dramatics society, but they clearly have a lot of talent within their ranks, and have put a lot of hard work into this production – and it paid off.

Briefly, the story revolves around Millie Dillmount (Abbie Rai), a young modern woman who comes to New York to find a job with a single boss who she can marry.  For Millie, marriage is not about love, but then she meets penniless Jimmy Smith (Will Phipps), and her plans go awry when despite her intentions, she starts to fall for him.  In addition there is a worrying trend of young women going missing in New York and being sold into white slavery.

This production is jam-packed with lovely songs, and they were performed wonderfully by a great cast.  Abbie Rai was adorable as Millie – and what a voice!  Will Phipps also sang wonderfully as Jimmy Smith.  Daniel Haddon was extremely funny as Millie’s boss Trevor Graydon – he has a couple of terrific songs – and Jenna Guest was perfectly cast as Millie’s friend Miss Dorothy.  The villain of the piece, Mrs Meers, was played with panache and humour by Kelly Ashman, and a special mention for Jenni Rullan as  Head Secretary at Millie’s workplace, Miss Flannery.

The staging was superb – the scenery was wonderfully effective and clever, representing Manhattan in the 1920s, and the scene changes were handled very efficiently.  The song and dance numbers were a joy to watch – I haven’t tap danced for years, but this show really made me want to start again.  I must mention the numbers where all the secretaries were wheeled on stage with matching orange wigs and bright pink tights.  Very cleverly choreographed, and brilliant to watch.

Also, as the play is set in the 1920s, it meant that there were many beautiful and glamorous outfits on show – I don’t know where the company found all those beautiful dresses, but I loved them.

One thing that surprised me was that the ending of the story was changed from the film version.  I have to admit that I personally preferred the film ending, but that is only a very very minor niggle, and didn’t detract from my enjoyment.

Overall, a terrific production with great performances and lots of laughs.


Click here for my review of the 1967 film.



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