Back to School Books

The schools go back this week coming, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to recommend some books based in schools or with a school-y element

I’m starting with a recent discovery (thank you NetGalley) – Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens which combines two of my favourite things – boarding school stories and Golden Age detective stories.  Like Mallory Towers crossed with Agatha Christie but with a wry smile, this is the first book about the Wells and Wong Detective Agency – aka Daisy and Hazel – and the very real murder they encounter at their boarding school.  I sped through this during my break and train journey on a nightshift and it was a joy.  There are subtle lessons about bullying and race for the children (I’d say 9 – 12 year olds) and enough sly nods to things for the adults amongst us too.  I’ll be looking out for the next one.

Melissa Nathan was one of my favourite authors of the early 2000s – and her final novel, The Learning Curve – is one of the best novels I’ve read about being a teacher (speaking as a non-teacher of course).  It’s funny, it’s smart, it’s romantic and the characters are all brilliant.  I loved Nicky and thought her relationship with her class was utterly believable and Oscar and his dad Mark are brilliant too.  I cried in Tesco when I read in the front of this book that Melissa had passed away and it saddens me that so many people won’t have come across her work –  so I heartily recommend this.  And as a side note, every year I have found at least one amazing new author from the Melissa Nathan Award Shortlist, so although tragically there will be no more books from Melissa herself, I feel like she’s pointing me in the direction of other people carrying on her fine work.

As previously mentioned, I love a good school story – and it would be remiss of me not to mention my favourite boarding school series of all time in a round-up of books about schools and that’s Elinor M Brent Dyer’s Chalet School books.  I’m working my way up to a full post on the subject so I won’t say too much more, except that if you like school stories set in the 1920s through to the 1950s and haven’t read any Chalet School books, then where have you been.  They are slightly dated now, and children should be given the abridged Armada paperback versions (which take out the smoking and some of the more questionable language) but I still adore them. “I bet Jo could sing it better” is still a running gag between my sister and I when things go badly wrong based on the main protagonist’s ability to cure fever, coma and emotional trauma with her singing voice. The School at the Chalet is the first book and is easily findable on the second-hand book sites – and Girls Gone By Publishing are republishing the unabridged versions in paperback for those of us who can’t afford the very collectible original hardback books.

One of my recent discoveries are Angela Thirkell’s delightful Barsetshire novels from the 1930s – and one of the best of these that I’ve read is Summer Half – where Colin Keith decides to spend a term as a teacher (as you could in those days!) rather than live off his dad whilst he studies for the law.  The focus is on the teachers and their lives and in particular flirtatious attention-seeking Rose – the daughter of the headteacher – who is engaged to one master, but busy flirting with every man she encounters.  It’s delightfully funny, and if you’re a fan of children’s boarding school stories, this may well float your boat too.

And finally, little bit tangential, but I really enjoyed John Le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which starts with a section set in a school, when I read it last year – and I’m not normally a spy/thriller reader.  Well worth a look for anyone who hasn’t read this classic of the genre – although I can’t claim that the school section is the main bit of the plot!

fiction, new releases, reviews, Thriller, Uncategorized

Book Review: A Delicate Truth by John le Carré

Disclosure: I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway – not that that influences what I write…

So, as you may have noticed from the previous posts, I’m not a big thriller reader.  Detective or mystery stories, yes, lots of them and preferably set in any period not now (I’m not a CSI girl).  I have read some John le Carré before – because before watching the film of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I wanted to have read the book – to see if it was going to be too violent for me to cope with (for my post about the contradictions of my job and my aversion to violence in films see this post on my other blog).  I enjoyed it so much that I not only watched the film and most of the Alec Guiness TV adaptation, but also read The Spy Who Came in from the Cold – which is also really good.  I’ve been keeping my eyes out for more of his Smiley series at the library – but hadn’t read any of his newer books* – hence my entry into the Goodreads giveaway (despite the enormous size of the to-read pile) and I was really pleased when I won a copy.

A Delicate Truth
Paperback copy of A Delicate Truth by John le Carré

I’m always very careful not to give away plot spoilers in my synopsis, and it’s quite hard with A Delicate Truth to say much about the plot without saying too much, so I’ve taken my cue for this from the Goodreads synopsis.  The story centres around a top, top secret counter-terror operation in Gibraltar – what happened, how it was set up and whether it was the success that it was meant to have been.

The intertwining plots are carefully and meticulously constructed – I never thought that I knew what was coming next and at the end I still had questions (in a good way) and wanted to know more.  The characters are believable – in some cases horribly so – and you really can imagine that these events could possibly have happened – although you hope fervently that they haven’t.

Le Carré still has the knack for describing the workings of government in a way that feels real, and in addition, in this book he turns his focus on the world of private defence contractors.  I’ve read a lot of news articles about this new aspect of the military world and I can’t claim to know first hand what any of them are really like, but it’s clear that the author isn’t keen, shall we say, on this latest development.  And if anything near of the shenanigans that go on in this book have gone on in real life (and I devoutly hope they haven’t) then he’s got reason.

This is an exciting and page-turning book – which I gobbled up in a day’s commute and an evening’s reading. I would recommend it to anyone who has read his earlier works or people who like a thriller at the cinema and want a book for their summer holiday.  I’m not surprised this has done so well – I’ll certainly be passing it on to the thriller readers in my family (my dad and The Boy).

A Delicate Truth by John le Carré can be found on Kindle or as a proper book all over the place (although my link is Foyles, for reasons previously explained) and you can also see more reviews on Goodreads.

* I nearly put “contemporary books” but then I remembered that the Smiley books were written at the time that they were set in, it’s just me that’s reading them now!