Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Foyle's Back!

At long last, one of my favourite television series returns on Sunday, 11 April on ITV (20:00).  Any other fans out there?  I think that Foyle's War is one of the best TV series made in a long while: entertaining, provocative, atmospheric, supremely well acted and with a mystery thrown in.  When I was reading interwar novels a few years ago, a lot of what I learnt through fiction was confirmed and expounded upon in this series.  I learnt a lot about Britain in the World Wars through novels and this excellent programme.  A bonus is that it is set in Hastings, a place I know and love.  I had great fun searching out Foyle's home and other locations in Hastings.  I do hope they'll commission another series...  it is definitely worthy.  For more on Foyle and pictures of Hastings, visit this entertaining site:

Monday, 29 March 2010

McCall Smith Madness in May

There are no less than three - yes three! - Alexander McCall Smith books being published in May. Two brand new ones (The Dog Who Came in from the Cold and The Importance of Being Seven) and one paperback copy.

Although I am quivering with anticipation at being reunited with the residents of 44 Scotland Street in The Importance of Being Seven, it was the new cover of the paperback edition of Corduroy Mansions that caught my eye. It is an illustration by the excellent Iain McIntosh and those of you who read this book online at the Telegraph site or in hardback will recognise some of the scenes and icons from the novel. I think it's quite clever and Freddie de la Hay looks ever so cute (and regal) with his outstretched paw.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Snapshot Sunday

Nessie is alive and well at Scotney Castle, Kent!
(More about this charming house and grounds during the week)


My apologies to you all for the current silence here at Rochester Reader.  Life has been a bit hectic these past two weeks with the consequence that no reading or blogging has been done.  I am currently in South Africa for a few weeks but hope to start posting (and reading!) again now.  I also have a lot of blog reading to catch up on and I look forward to exchanging comments with all you lovely people once again :-)

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Wodehouse Competition at The Book Depository

The Book Depository is holding an exciting competition whereby you could win all 70 of the Everyman edition of Wodehouse books!  All you have to do is to answer three Wodehouse-related questions.  The competition closes on 31 March 2010 and you can enter it here.

How spiffing it would be to own all of these!

Monday, 15 March 2010

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

This is a charming novel written by first-time novelist Helen Simonson - a native of East Sussex, England who has resided in the U.S. for over twenty years.  Her website is an interesting read and includes a breath-taking header picture of the white chalk cliffs of this region.

The novel opens in East Sussex and concerns a 60-something retired major - Ernest Pettigrew - who is grieving the recent loss of his brother Bertie.  Major Pettigrew lost his wife not many years before and continues to reside in their pretty English cottage in the village of Edgecome St Mary.  Although he has a son, extended family and several golf buddies and neighbours, it is clear that he is lonely and the death of his brother brings this to the fore.  It is on the day of his receiving this news that he begins to view the village shopkeeper, Jasmina Ali, in a new light.  She too recently lost her husband and they begin to bond over their love of poetry, Kipling and the beauty of the English countryside.  Mrs Ali awakens a slow burning passion in the Major and inspires a new love of life and friendship. 

The novel's main focus is this gentle love story but it skilfully introduces various subplots and brings them each to a satisfying conclusion.  There is the matter of the twin Churchill guns - given to Major Pettigrew's father by the Maharajah - with one gun bequeathed to the Major and the other to his brother Bertie.  Upon Bertie's death, both guns were to be reunited and passed to the Major but Bertie's family have other ideas.  There is the friction between the Major and his self-involved son Roger and his new girlfriend.  Roger is only concerned with profit and prestige and is rarely able to communicate successfully with his father.

Mrs Ali has her share of recent problems, involving her nephew and her husband's pushy family.  Added to this, the village seems to be under threat by property developers who mean to transform the calm and character of the Major's home.

I found this a highly enjoyable read and an excellent first novel.  Indeed, it is so polished and well executed that it is hard to believe that this is Ms Simonson's first effort.  All of the characters are well drawn and their actions and dialogue believable.  I became fond of the Major (except for his duck shooting!) and Mrs Ali early on and really despised his son Roger for his shallow nature.  East Sussex is beautifully and lovingly portrayed and the seaside town of Eastbourne is easily recognisable in the guise of Hazelbourne-on-Sea with its beautiful long manicured lawns filled with bright and vibrant flowers.  Ms Simonson's descriptions of English locations and English characters are spot on and many a dialogue is spiced with a hint of humour, particularly with the Major's dry wit.

I took my time in reading this story and found it to be perfectly paced.  It is not a short book at 358 pages but I found the author's juggling of the various plots enjoyable and I let her take her time in leading me to the happy ending.  It is a delicate love story building to a passionate revelation and the tempo seemed to fit the grace and poise of the main protagonists.  

The lovely Penelope at Bloomsbury very kindly sent me this review copy and I was happy that I got to spend time in the country with these quirky, warm characters.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves gentle humour and a well-written tale of English village life and its foibles.


Sunday, 14 March 2010

Snapshot Sunday: Dickens' Chalet

This beautiful swiss-style chalet now stands in Rochester High Street just behind Eastgate House.  There is an appeal to raise funds in order to restore it as it is in danger of being lost.  Anyone who is interested in donating - or of spreading the news - can write or send a cheque to the following address:

Dickens Fellowship (Chalet Fund) 27 Amethyst Avenue, Chatham, Kent ME5 9TX

Thank you to Book Psmith for bringing this to my attention.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

And the Winner is...

Firstly, thank you to all you lovely bloggers who participated in the competition.  My trusty assistant Angus placed the names into a 'hat', shook it well and drew a winner (no peeking!).

Congratulations to Cottage Garden! You have won a copy of The Unbearable Lightness of Scones by Alexander McCall Smith. Please e-mail me at with your address so I can pop this into the post early next week.

As we had such few entries, I would also like to give a small Rochester-related consolation prize to Book Psmith and A Bookish Space. Could you each please e-mail me at with your addresses.
Thanks again for your participation and I hope that Cottage Garden will enjoy the book as much as I did.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

World Book Day! (and Giveaway Reminder)

It's World Book Day today!  Celebrate by giving a relative/friend/colleague/aquaintance a book to promote the joy of reading or check out the website for events near you.

Don't forget to enter my book giveaway by the end of Friday.  You can enter by leaving a quick comment here.  Good luck and happy reading!

Monday, 1 March 2010

Miss Pettigrew: Puttin' on the Savoy

Just a quick post about my thoughts on the film Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.  It was a light, short film which does nicely to pass the time and the locations and interiors were dazzling.  I especially loved the jazz and big band music.  However, don't expect a faithful adaptation of the novel as plots and characters are quite altered.

I stated before that I didn't warm instantly to the character of Miss Lafosse in the novel but I'm afraid that I didn't like her at all in the film.   She was even ditzier and her instant warmth and protectiveness towards Miss Pettigrew in the novel is not to be found in the film.  Miss Dubarry - my favourite supporting character - is greatly changed and is indeed an adversary of sorts rather than being the woman who teaches Miss Pettigrew about the art of 'self-improvement' (in the looks department, that is).  The bond between the two was completely lacking.

The men in the story are also greatly changed, for example, Michael is near penniless and in Nick's employ and he comes across as less feisty and headstrong than his original incarnation.  Still, it was entertaining to see Lee Pace (of Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies fame) playing the role of Michael with an English accent (of sorts).  Joe was played by the great Ciarán Hinds but was alas also not as robust and hearty as the book's depiction.

My favourite character of the film was, of course, Miss Pettigrew as portrayed by Frances McDormand.  Her acting was excellent but it was that of a more downtrodden and penniless (indeed starving) Miss Pettigrew.  I think that the film underplayed her gumption and also muted her physical transformation while at the same time removing her naiveté concerning matters of the heart.  The film exaggerated the frivolity in each character but then contrasted it sharply with the threat of World War II, which seemed to hang over all the characters and served as an impetus for them to live a more purposeful life.

It was an entertaining film but I felt that the novel had more charm and they could have included more of it.  I believe that all of the characters would have translated quite well to the screen without the need for personality transplants.  I was surprised to learn that Winifred Watson sold the film rights as long ago as 1939 and that it was to be filmed as a musical but WWII intervened.  I am therefore grateful that it was produced after such a long time and that it helped the sale of Persephone Books and created greater awareness for them and Winifred Watson.  Enjoy it as a movie that bears some resemblance to the book and you shouldn't be disappointed.