The Mobile Library Reading Group meet 3 times across the year, the group is made up of members of the Mobile Library who get on the Mobile across the City, from stops such as Falcon Lodge, Edgbaston and Kings Heath. This will be our first meeting of the year we always meet at the Library of Birmingham and use one one the wonderful rooms that are available there.
So the books we have read this Spring are:
The Girl With A Clock For A Heart - Peter Swanson
The Kashmir Shawl - Rosie Thomas
Vespasian Tribune of Rome - Robert Fabbri
Until Death - Ali Knight
Extraordinary People - Peter May
Miss Carter's War - Sheila Hancock
Buried in Time - Andy Conway
The groups firm favourite is: The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas -
Following the death of her father a young woman sets out to discover more about her grandparents lives. A beautiful shawl is the clue that she follows up to Kashmir. The narrative unfolds at an empathic pace, describing the internal and external lives of the women set in two different time frames and the men who swirl in and out of their lives, affecting them deeply.
It is thoroughly lovely book, beautifully written, evocatively describing the beauty of India’s mountain region, both harsh and lush. I don’t usually like to switch between two time frames in a book as I find it very distracting, but these time frames were not too far apart and it was gently done. The grandmother, Nerys is a very strong and admirable character, who faces many dangers but always does her loving best for everyone. Mair, the granddaughter is a bit lost but following Nerys through India gives her a purpose. It is obvious that the author has spent time in Kashmir and loves the country of India.
The coming of World War ll and the independence of India and the separation, were momentous events in a relatively short period of time and forms the other backdrop to the story. The character of Rainer is a very heroic one, he is a hero to the last, saving Zahra from her cruel father and giving her a lovely life. Caroline Bowen is a delicate flower, through her and her child, the characters bond deeply together. I loved the houseboat Srinagar and I found her description of the lake and the colours of the light absolutely entrancing. Her descriptions of the village where Zahra is taken and the life there are vividly real.
The shawl production was very interesting, but the way the Kashmir shawl was made was very detailed and I could appreciate the sheer artistry of such a garment made by a master craftsman. It put Indian history in to context and I could see how real and dangerous the times were and how much people were affected by the changes of war and independence. This was time for Indian people and British people who knew no other life thane the Raj.
I liked this book straight away because it is so beautifully written and the characters involve you immediately. It is passionate and absorbing story. Most of all, there is a touch of magic in this book. The conclusion also sat well with me as it was very realistic as to how people really live their lives. I loved the whole book so could go on and on about passages I enjoyed!
Reviewer Margaret H
Nerys Watkins and her missionary husband leave Wales for a posting in India. Set in the time of the 2nd World War it is a tale of the times, of restriction and hardship, gossip, interracial relationships, love and duty. While husbands are away from at war and following their missions, wives are left behind to fend for themselves and get to know who they really are – in the lake side city of Srinagar.
An inspirational story told by Mair Ellis, the granddaughter of Nerys, who returns to India to trace the history of the mysterious Kashmir shawl and its sad and involved past. I found the women of wartime more avid, real and interesting than the modern day parts of the story – Mair seemed a colourless and flimsy character in the way the story is written, compared with the rich narrative of the past.
The Srinagar passage and the love story of Nerys and Raines stood out – well written and authentic - believable and very romantic in an austere setting. I learnt many things about the life and times of 1940’s India, Kashmir shawl making and mission in India.
I liked the book from the beginning because of the storyline, but found the writing fairly tedious at times, laboured and too much detail of boring events. Saved by the characters of the women!
Reviewer: Su R
This novel takes place in current day Wales, India in the days of the British Raj and also present day India.The main Welsh character is Mair, she is also the one who spends time in today’s India. The main characters in India are Nerys, the wife of a missionary to India, Caroline Bowen, and a woman whose name escapes me, whose initials are MM. Both of these women are married to British colonists.
The novel starts in Wales, then moves to India and moves between these two countries throughout the book. I found this irritating initially because I was just getting in to the Welsh story when it moved to India. I was just getting into the Indian story when it moved back to Wales by which time I’d partly forgot what was happening in Wales. However as the book progressed there were large chunks of India and I loved the book, finding it hard to put down. The shawl of the title belonged to Nerys, who was Mair’s Grand Mother or possibly great Grand Mother. Mair, her brother and sister were interested to know the history of this extremely beautiful shawl. Mair, being the only one of the three who was single so had no family ties was persuaded by her brother and sister to travel to India, find out about the lives of her Grand Parents and the history of the shawl.
The novel brings up issues of class, race, British expansionism, misogyny.
Reviewer: Margaret S
A story of two women separated by 70 yrs. but linked by a beautiful Kashmir Shawl and a lock of hair. It's a story of mystery history and a love story linked into one. Despite their differences the two women are brought together by this beautiful shawl, which Mair and her brother and sister found when clearing his house after his death. The other siblings took the furniture, but Mair opts for the Shawl. Inspired by the Shawl and a lock of hair which she found hidden in the Shawl, she decided to travel to India, to investigate why her grandparents would have bought something so frivolous and kept it for so many years.
Her grandparents Nervys and Evan went to India in 1941 to India as missionaries Mair to make a journey to Srinagar where she meets up with a couple, an American Buddhist Karen and her Swiss born husband Bruno. Mair finds that the shawl is Kashmir is good quality, she is asked by the shopkeeper if she would like to sell it, but Mair is looking for answers and not money. The parallels between the two women's journeying to Srinagar are similar Mair also finds room on a houseboat , decaying and neglected a far cry from the one her grandmother shared with Myrtle and Caroline .However Mair continues her pursuit of the scourge of the shawl ,travelling to small villages in scourge of its makers .Nerys too makes a journey to Srinagar and becomes friends with a Swiss mountaineer and a magician Rainer Stamm who becomes a member of the team helping to conceal Caroline's pregnancy to arrange a hideaway for her delivery. And also make arrangements for the child's safety. Mair is hunting the story many years later but with very different intent. Eventually the only way to save the child is to send her away with starling results this plot kept you guessing right to the end. As we read Nervys story the layers of secrecy and mystery, her grandmother appears to be doing the same. Maris pursuit of the Shawl eventually narrows down the location where the shawl is made and the mysteries unfolds with startling results.
I particular liked Nerys because she must have been quite courageous especially in 1941 in the remote Himalayan and she is sent away by her habanero with the British couple they becomes friends , when Caroline become pregnant after an affair with a local nan and the three women hatched a plan to conical Caroline's shame from the British community. The passage that stood out for me: The discovery of the Shawl, Mair trying to trace he grandparent’s story and Evan Watkins and their time in India as missionaries’ .Perhaps the hardships of the life of missionaries. And the beauty of India. I decided I liked the book from the description of this beautiful Shawl and the hidden family secret and solving the puzzles that had become stagnant In time. And also the international boundaries and the fun filled days in India.
Reviewer – Mrs O
More Books More Reviews
The Girl With A Clock For A Heart by Peter Swanson
The story of George and his college sweetheart – Audrey/Jane/Liana. She disappears after one term at college and is reported dead, George doesn’t hear from her for many years – then she’s back asking for help, running scared.
I love this book! George and Liana are both brilliant characters, one staid, steady, same, reliable – the other a mistress of change, deception, guile and nerves of steel. I had read it before when it first came out, but had forgotten how well it was plotted, and how good the ending is. A great read – hard to put down – read it in 2 sittings.
The passage that stands out for me is: the passage when George realises Audrey (Liana) isn’t dead and how he deals with his visit to her home town. I did learn how fascinated I am by actors and the roles that they play.
I knew right at the beginning that I would really like this book, I love the writing style and was hooked from the first page ….twice!!
Reviewer: Su R
A young man at college loses girlfriend only to meet her years later but wishes he hadn’t!
The story starts out ok but then too many other people get involved, the ending was very weak.
It was ok if you can keep up with who is who.
Reviewer: Eric S
Until Death by Ali Knight
A suspenseful thriller full of twists and turns – a real page turner! Kelly has a past and is being used by a manipulative and violent husband/s (therein lies the tale) Georgie is the young customs officer with the criminal family – trying to better herself in her career, who becomes entwined in Kelly’s story – I liked her!
Michael is husband number 1, Christos is husband number 2 – both to be avoided at all costs, but unfortunately Kelsey/Kelly loves both – at first…
She has the last laugh in the ending which is better than I‘d imagined. I liked the conclusion – it stood out because it tied up the loose ends in an interesting and unusual way – good strong women characters – even the baddies!
I learnt how precious Rosewood is!
Liked it right away easy writing/reading style and the characters grew. Unusual themes and wanted to read more of her books. Reviewer: Su R
Extraordinary People by Peter May
Enzo Macleod, a forensic expert (a Sean Connery figure!) takes on a bet that he can solve an old mystery using his methods. This takes us on a treasure hunt of body parts and clues around the Paris catacombs and rural France. Enzo involves a host of characters, a journalist his girlfriend, a student of his, his daughter and her boyfriend to name but a few. All was going well with this Dan Brown like plot until the slapstick episode when the student Nicole’s father breaks in. following this unlikely incident when they end up friends, are several breath-taking leaps of guesswork, leading to more discoveries of body parts. One by one the culprits are unmasked with the help of the internet which hadn’t been available at the time of the murder. Enzo blithely insists on digging things up with thinnest of evidence. Eventually, after an overlong sequence in the catacombs, all is revealed and why.
This segued from Dan Brown to Agatha Christie land (Murder on the Orient Express) to a light comedy Indiana Jones type film script with some farcical interludes. The biggest disappointment was learning the reason for the murder was that he made his students feel stupid! It was utterly ridiculous. It is however what you might call a rattling yarn, entertaining but not convincing.
Some of the description of rural France and the life style in villages were very good, conjuring the scene up well. The long catacomb passage at the end was dull and anyway, why does he have to go on his own?
We have not long read about the creation of the catacombs in another better, book. There were too many jarring incidents and notes in the book, due to unnecessary scenes, slapstick and farce, e.g. the breaking of the Presidents glasses and the over detailed sex scene – just no darling! Reviewer: Margaret H
Miss Carter's War by Sheila Hancock
During the war Marguerite had been recruited into FANY which was her cover for being a spy in war torn France. Now after the war she had just completed her studies at Cambridge and was in the first group of women who had received their 1st Class Honours degree in English. This was 1948. Marguerite got a job teaching English at Dartford Grammar School where she met Miss Fryer (Head Teacher) as well as Tony (PE Teacher, homosexual and very left wing), Elsie (11+ pupil very bright), Irene (11+ Pupil and poet),Pamela Baker-Jones (a fee-paying pupil) and many more characters. One of the touching scenes was when Pupils and Teachers went to the Festival of Britain in 1951.
Miss.Scott then moved on to a new mixed secondary school, Risinghill, where one third of the pupils were immigrants, ninety were on probation and many were on the books of the NSPCC. The school was headed by the inspirational Michael Duane who fought long and hard for his pupils. As expected the ʻgreat and the goodʼ who wanted to keep the working class in its place plus the teachers who did not have the courage for change, managed to get the school closed and the one that replaced it was ʻsame old, same oldʼ. The proof of the experimental teaching of Mr Duane was that Mick OʼSullivan, the truant from Risinghill became a successful builder and cabinet maker instead prison fodder.
There were lots more action with many characters including inspirational real people like Miss Fryer, Miss Tudor Craig, Mr Duane, Col. Buckmaster, Dr Peter Chapple and Dr Patrick Woodcock.
The passage that stood out for me is: Elsie is saying all the ʻThank youʼsʼ for what Miss Carter had done ʻbut above all you believed in us, you fought for us and we are deeply, deeply grateful. Marguerite responds ʻMy dears, youʼve reminded me of something I sometimes forget. When we were here in 1951, I was down there by that wall and I said it to someone I loved very much, as I do all of you, “Oh, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, that has such people inʼt”ʼ. (Page 413)
I certainly didn’t realise it took until 1 October 1948 for women to be able to attend Cambridge University and get a degree presented in a formal manner. Also I didn’t realise that a half-a-dozen old fashioned teachers and a couple of bigoted Councillors could close a school like Risinghill by getting the Inspectors in to give a report not based on fact, only based on opinion. Did ʻ brown ʼ envelopes ʼ change hands? Facts should have spoken for themselves. Certainly the concept of Comprehensives was only carried through by a minority of Local Education Authorities. At that time there were teachers in place who had no teaching qualifications. And here we go again. Education is too important to be left to the uninformed and/or bigoted.
When Marguerite was being re-dressed by the Mistress of Cambridge, and was being told to put on a black dress with a white collar and long sleeves The Mistress said ʻ you look a bit disappointed ʼ. Marguerite replies “I am a bit. I wanted to say “See - I got a First, you sad, old misogynist stick-in-the-muds. Look - I’m a woman and very, very clever”. (Page 3) It was great that someone had the courage to take on these boring old *****, if a man had said the same it would be just as invigorating particularly if he had come from a less privileged background. The novel to me was brilliant, primarily because it is the story of the years through my life. People used to talk about the things which are detailed in the book, whether old or young, people seemed to have a view whether it was about petrol coupons or Aneurin Bevan or HIV or Womenʼs Weekly magazine or Judy Garland. Through the years the boundaries have always been on the move. Miss Carterʼs War was a courageous story where after a terrible conflict and terrible things had been done, people like Miss Carter were now fighting for a better world, a better place.