Duplicate Death by Georgette Heyer – #1951club

Karen of Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Simon of Stuck in a Book are hosting another of their book clubs this week. This time it’s the 1951 Club and the idea is that we all read and write about books published in the same year. 1951 seems to have been a particularly good year for publishing – I have linked to some of my previous reviews at the bottom of this post – but when choosing what to read this week it was the crime novels from that year which appealed to me the most. The first one I picked up was Georgette Heyer’s Duplicate Death. Heyer is better known for her Regency romances, but she also wrote mysteries and, having read two of them (Envious Casca and Footsteps in the Dark), I’ve been looking forward to reading more.

Duplicate Death brings back characters who first appeared in They Found Him Dead, which I haven’t read yet but will eventually. Although a few references are made to things which I assume happened in the earlier novel, I don’t feel that reading this one first was a problem. At the beginning of the novel, Jim Kane receives a letter from his mother telling him of her concerns about his half-brother, Timothy, who has just become engaged to Beulah Birtley, a secretary in the household of the wealthy Mrs Haddington. Jim’s mother is unhappy because she has been able to discover nothing at all about Beulah’s family or background – surely the girl must be an Adventuress! Reluctantly, Jim agrees to visit Timothy to see if he can shed any light on the matter.

Meanwhile, Mrs Haddington is hosting a bridge party at her home in London. When one of the guests is found strangled after leaving the room to answer the telephone, suspicion falls on several of the people present at the party, including the mysterious Beulah Birtley. Chief Inspector Hemingway of Scotland Yard is called in to investigate, but before he’s had time to solve one murder, another takes place. The second murder appears to be identical to the first – but is it? Have both crimes been committed by the same person? And what is Beulah’s secret?

I enjoyed this book, after a slow start, but not as much as the other Heyer mysteries I’ve read. I felt that the story took too long to really get started; I appreciate that some time needs to be spent on setting the scene, but the characters just didn’t interest me enough to hold my attention throughout the build-up. With the exception of Timothy, they’re an unpleasant bunch of people – and although there are still examples of the witty dialogue Heyer is so good at, I think she does it much better in the Regencies than the mysteries. Once the first murder was committed and Hemingway arrived on the scene, though, the story became a lot more compelling.

I said in my Envious Casca review that, as far as literary detectives go, Hemingway is not a very interesting one. This time I found that I liked him more than I did before. I liked his brisk, no-nonsense attitude and the fact that he doesn’t have any little quirks or eccentricities; instead of bringing too much of his own personality to the investigations, he just gets on with the job, which is actually quite refreshing. His relationship with his assistant, Inspector Grant, works well, although I’m not sure that having Grant returning from his trip home to Scotland speaking Gaelic was really as funny as it was obviously intended to be!

I’m now reading a second book from 1951 – They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie – and hope to post my thoughts on that one before the end of the club.

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More 1951 books previously read and reviewed on this blog:

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer
The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

The Black Moth by Georgette Heyer

the-black-moth The Black Moth, published in 1921, was Georgette Heyer’s first novel, written while she was still a teenager. I came to it having already read lots of Heyer’s other novels because I was advised that this was probably not a good place to start and that I would appreciate it more if I was already familiar with her later work. Now that I’ve read it, I think I would agree with that; I did enjoy it (although it hasn’t become a favourite) but I thought it had a slightly different feel from her later books and didn’t seem as polished.

The story is set not in the Regency period with which Heyer is normally associated, but the earlier Georgian period. Jack Carstares, eldest son and heir of the Earl of Wyncham, is a highwayman – though not entirely out of choice. He was accused of cheating at cards six years earlier and forced to leave the country in disgrace, but now he is back in England and trying to make a living in any way he can.

At the beginning of the novel, Jack discovers that his father is dead and that he is now the rightful Earl. He is reluctant to accept his inheritance, however, preferring to leave the estate to his younger brother, Richard. Jack, you see, was never actually guilty at all; he was covering up for Richard, who was the real cheat and who said nothing, allowing his brother to take the blame. Richard is not completely without a conscience, though, and after learning of Jack’s return, he feels increasingly guilty about what he has done – to the disgust of his wife, the beautiful but selfish and petulant Lavinia.

Lavinia is the sister of the Duke of Andover, who is known as ‘Devil’ by friends and foes alike, and who reminds Richard of a black moth. When Andover and Jack Carstares both find themselves drawn to the same woman, the fates of all of these characters become closely entwined once more and a chain of events is set into motion which could change each of their lives forever.

I’ve said that The Black Moth isn’t a favourite, but I did find it fun to read. Unlike some of the later Heyers I’ve been reading recently, such as Black Sheep and Charity Girl, which are more character and dialogue driven, this one is more action-packed and swashbuckling with a plot involving highway robbery, disguises, kidnappings and duels. It’s not as romantic a story as some since the focus is on the relationship between the two brothers, Jack and Richard, although that could be because Heyer was apparently writing this novel to entertain her own younger brother. Jack’s love interest, Diana, is maybe not one of Heyer’s stronger female characters, but I did like her – and was relieved that it wasn’t Lavinia who turned out to be the heroine!

Now that I’ve read The Black Moth, I’m looking forward to reading These Old Shades, which was published several years later and uses updated versions of some of the same characters. It’s one of many Heyer novels I’m hoping to read in 2017!

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I’m taking a break for a few days, so I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of my blog readers a Merry Christmas! I’ll be back next week with my books of the year and December summary.

My Commonplace Book: November 2016

A summary of this month’s reading, in words and pictures.

commonplace book
Definition:
noun
a notebook in which quotations, poems, remarks, etc, that catch the owner’s attention are entered

Collins English Dictionary

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tensyoin

“Barbarians,” she murmured in tones of disbelief. “Barbarians.” Perhaps if she said the word often enough she could defuse the threat. “But in that case…we’re finished. We’re all dead.” It was just as Lord Nariakira had warned. These were not gentle Hollanders. These were other beings, those nameless hordes who’d rampaged across China. Barbarians like those didn’t come in peace. They threatened their lives, their world, everything they knew.

Things were spinning around her. The world was turning upside down. But she couldn’t help feeling curious as well. She wished she could catch a glimpse of these exotic creatures with her own eyes.

The Shogun’s Queen by Lesley Downer (2016)

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“And then do ye wait and see more; there’ll be plenty of opportunity. Time enough to cry when you know ’tis a crying matter; and ’tis bad to meet troubles half-way.”

The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy (1887)

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My family were not readers, but Xavier Mountstuart’s writings had inspired and transported me. I had devoured The Courage of the Bruce and The Black Prince, then graduated to the Indian writings: The Lion of the Punjab, of course, and the tales of bandits and rebels in the foothills of Nepal. I had read of white forts and marble palaces and maharajas’ emeralds; of zenanas and nautch girls in the Deccan; of the sieges and jangals. I had even read a short tract about Hindooism, vegetarianism and republicanism, which had left me a little confused. Mountstuart seemed to me the very acme of Byronic manhood. It was not simply that he was a poet and writer of genius, but that he had lived his writings.

The Strangler Vine by MJ Carter (2014)

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highwayman

“Now, what mean you by that?”

“Just that I am a common highwayman, Miss Betty.”

She stared at him for a moment, and then resumed her work.

“You look it.”

John cast a startled glance down his slim person.

“Is that so, madam? And I rather flattered myself I did not!”

The Black Moth by Georgette Heyer (1921)

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“No, I don’t care for novels,” she said, shaking her head. “I’ve never really understood them, if I’m honest.”

“In what way?” I asked, confused by how the concept of the novel could be a difficult one to understand. There were some writers, of course, who told their stories in the most convoluted way possible — many of whom seemed to send their unsolicited manuscripts to the Whisby Press, for instance — but there were others, such as Jack London, who offered their readers such a respite from the miserable horror of existence that their books were like gifts from the gods.

The Absolutist by John Boyne (2011)

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britannia

Frances struck an attitude, sitting upright with head poised high and left hand outstretched as though she grasped an invisible weapon. “Of course, when I am really posing for Roettier, the engraver, I shall wear a helmet and hold a trident and I shall have flowing, Grecian robes. It was altogether the King’s idea, but James of York thought it should be called Britannia. To represent the nation’s might.”

Lady on the Coin by Margaret Campbell Barnes (1963)

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“My thoughts are my own,” I answered: “and though you keep my person prisoner, these are beyond your control.”

Redgauntlet by Sir Walter Scott (1824)

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“Not to my knowledge, sir,” said the Viscount.

“I’m glad to hear it! But if you had agreed to the marriage I planned for you a son of yours might have been sitting on my knee at this moment!”

“I hesitate to contradict you, sir, but I find myself quite unable to believe that any grandchild attempting — at this moment — to sit on your knee would have met with anything but a severe rebuff.”

Charity Girl by Georgette Heyer (1970)

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aemilia-lanyer-poetry

She has a soft spot for little Peter; he had asked why he needed to learn to read when he first arrived.

“Because without reading you only have half a life,” she’d said, watching his puzzled face. “Reading will open doors for you to new worlds.” He had looked at her in wonder then.

“Like the men who sail to the Americas?”

“Yes, something like that.”

The Girl in the Glass Tower by Elizabeth Fremantle (2016)

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Favourite books this month: The Woodlanders and The Strangler Vine

Charity Girl by Georgette Heyer

charity-girl Continuing to work through my library’s selection of Heyer novels, I came home last Saturday with both her earliest book and one of her last. The first one I decided to read was Charity Girl, which was published in 1970, towards the end of Heyer’s career. It doesn’t seem to be one of her more popular Regency romances; I’ve seen other readers describe it as a recycling of Sprig Muslin and The Foundling, but that wasn’t a problem for me as I haven’t read either of those yet. While I did find a lot to enjoy, though, I would agree that this isn’t one of her best.

The hero of Charity Girl is Viscount Desford who, as the novel opens, is being berated by his father for not marrying his childhood friend, Henrietta Silverdale, and providing him with grandchildren. Desford and Hetta have been insisting for years that, although they are the best of friends, they are not in love – and nothing has changed now that they are both in their late twenties. Following this uncomfortable interview with his father, Desford goes to visit family and ends up attending a party at which he meets a vulnerable young girl called Charity – or Cherry – Steane.

Cherry’s mother is dead and her father has abandoned her, leaving her at the mercy of an aunt and cousins who treat her like a servant. The next day, Desford encounters Cherry walking along the road to London with a suitcase, determined that she is running away from her aunt. Unable to persuade her to go back, Desford accompanies her to London to find her grandfather, Lord Nettlecombe. However, the old man is away from home, so Desford turns to Hetta Silverdale for help. Cherry goes to stay with the Silverdales while he continues to look for her grandfather and absent father, but people soon begin to talk – why is Desford so concerned for Cherry’s welfare? Has he fallen in love at last?

I found Charity Girl an entertaining read, as have been all of the Heyer novels I’ve read, with plenty of the witty dialogue, peppered with Regency slang, which I love in her work. There are some funny scenes too, especially whenever one of Cherry’s disreputable family members makes an appearance. Despite this, though, Charity Girl has not become a favourite Heyer. I liked Desford, but he isn’t a particularly strong or memorable hero, and instead of having so much focus on his search for Cherry’s family, I would have preferred more time spent on his interactions with Cherry and Hetta. I couldn’t tell, at first, which of them was going to be his love interest and, when it eventually became clear, I didn’t feel that I’d seen enough of them on the page together.

Still, I didn’t think this was a bad book at all, so I don’t want to sound too negative about it. I have just started to read the other Heyer novel on my library pile – The Black Moth – and am so far finding it very different from this one!

Two from Georgette Heyer: Regency Buck and Black Sheep

It’s been a while since I read anything by Georgette Heyer and I still have a lot of her books to get through, so I had a nice surprise a few weeks ago when I found two on the library shelf that I hadn’t read yet: Regency Buck and Black Sheep. Neither of these were near the top of my list of Heyer novels to look out for, but I was still pleased to have the opportunity to read them – and I’m even more pleased to say that I enjoyed both.

regency-buck-heyer Published in 1935, Regency Buck was the first of Heyer’s many novels to be set in the Regency period. It follows the adventures of Judith Taverner and her younger brother, Sir Peregrine (Perry), who have recently been orphaned and, under the terms of their father’s will, have been left under the guardianship of his friend, the fourth Earl of Worth. Leaving their home in Yorkshire, the brother and sister set off for London to meet the Earl. It proves to be a more eventful journey than they expected when they have an unpleasant encounter with an arrogant nobleman on the road. Imagine their horror when they discover that this nobleman is none other than Julian St John Audley, who has inherited the title of Earl of Worth from his father and is therefore their new guardian!

Judith is a strong, independent young woman who is used to doing as she pleases; on arriving in London she sets about making a name for herself by refusing to conform to the conventions of society, but Worth has other ideas as to how she should behave. Unable to see eye to eye with her guardian, Judith is grateful for the friendship and support of her cousin Bernard, with whom she has just become acquainted for the first time. Soon, though, Judith has more important things to worry about. It seems that someone is trying to murder Perry – but who can it be?

Although I had my suspicions as to Worth’s true motives, Heyer misleads us so much that we can’t be completely sure whether he is the hero or the villain. I would usually like this type of character, but Worth just never endeared himself to me; I found him unnecessarily patronising and I really felt for Judith and Perry every time they were forced into yet another humiliating conversation with him. I did like Judith – she’s an intelligent, outspoken and rebellious heroine – and I thought Perry was amusing, with all his youthful enthusiasms! As usual, Heyer’s recreation of the Regency period is vivid and immersive and although the main characters are fictional, there are also some real historical figures who make an appearance in the story. I loved the portrayal of the famous dandy Beau Brummell, particularly in the scene where Judith meets him for the first time – a case of mistaken identity!

Regency Buck is set in London and Brighton, which gives it a slightly different feel from the second of the two books I read, Black Sheep, which is set in Bath…

black-sheep At twenty-eight and still single, it is looking unlikely that Abby Wendover will ever marry. Instead, she is concerning herself with the love affairs of her seventeen-year-old niece, Fanny, whose romance with the handsome, dashing Mr Stacy Calverleigh has become the talk of Bath. Although Fanny’s other aunt, Selina, has been taken in by Stacy’s charms, Abby is convinced he is nothing more than a fortune hunter and determines to free Fanny from his clutches. However, when Stacy’s uncle, Miles Calverleigh – the ‘black sheep’ of the family – also arrives in Bath, Abby finds herself drawn into a relationship which is considered even more unsuitable than Fanny’s!

Black Sheep, published in 1966, is a later Heyer novel. It’s one of my favourites so far and that is largely because of its wonderful hero and heroine. I loved both Abby and Miles and found myself looking forward to every scene they were in together. They feel like two people who really would have liked and understood each other, rather than characters who are just being forced together for the sake of the plot – there’s a genuine chemistry between them and the dialogue really sparkles! I liked the fact that Abby is a little bit older than the average Heyer heroine (she reminded me in some ways of Anne Elliot in Persuasion); she’s a sensible, mature woman whose romance with Miles is of a very different nature than Fanny’s with Stacy.

As I said at the start of this post, I enjoyed reading both of these novels. I was particularly relieved to find that I liked Regency Buck as it doesn’t seem to be a very popular book with Heyer fans! I probably wouldn’t recommend that one to readers new to Heyer, though; of these two, I think Black Sheep would be a much better place to start.

Have you read either of these? What are your favourite Heyer novels?

My Commonplace Book: September 2016

A summary of last month’s reading, in words and pictures.

commonplace book
Definition:
noun
a notebook in which quotations, poems, remarks, etc, that catch the owner’s attention are entered

Collins English Dictionary

~

york-minster

Another high wall appeared ahead of us; York seemed a city of walls. Behind it the Minster loomed. Ahead was a large open space crowded with market stalls under brightly striped awnings that flapped in the cool damp breeze. Heavy-skirted goodwives argued with stallholders while artisans in the bright livery of their guilds looked down their noses at the stalls’ contents, and dogs and ragged children dived for scraps. I saw most of the people had patched clothes and worn-looking clogs. Watchmen in livery bearing the city arms stood about, observing the crowds.

Sovereign by CJ Sansom (2006)

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But whereas the planets are serene in their separateness, knowing any collision with one another likely to destroy them and return them to dust, Fogg remarks that he, along with very many of his race, finds his Separateness the most entirely sad fact of his existence and is every moment hopeful of colliding with someone who will obscure it from his mind.

Restoration by Rose Tremain (1989)

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elizabeth-of-york

“Do you like history?” he enquired.

“Oh, yes.” She turned eagerly to him, forgetting momentarily the splendour of the pageant. “It is about people, you see. The deeds they performed. The way they thought.”

Elizabeth the Beloved by Maureen Peters (1972)

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Writing is a kind of magic. One person sits in a room alone and makes marks on a page that represent the images in her mind. Another person looks at those marks, weeks or months or a hundred years later, and similar images appear in that person’s mind. Magic. Plays and choreography hold yet another level of magic and meaning: the marks on the page leap to action in another person’s body, to be seen by thousands of others. The ability to weave that kind of magic paid well in Las Vegas.

The Hawley Book of the Dead by Chrysler Szarlan (2014)

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He was a good husband. He had comforted her when she’d sobbed violently against his plump chest, then rested dry-eyed against it and tried not to remember all the things she no longer knew about her son. How tall was he now? Had the colour of his hair changed? Did he still wake sometimes in the middle of the night unable to breathe? Did he still like to find beetles in the cracks in a stone wall, or to look for hidden things beneath a rock?
Did he remember her at all?

Rebellion by Livi Michael (2015)

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king-david

But the stories that grow up around a king are strong vines with a fierce grip. They pull life from whatever surfaces they cling to, while the roots, maybe, wither and rot until you cannot find the place from which the seed of the vine has truly sprung.

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks (2015)

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Three telephones kept ringing like demented things, and by post, telegram, wireless, and personal appearance the information poured in. Nine-tenths of it quite useless, but all of it requiring a hearing: some of it requiring much investigation before its uselessness became apparent. Grant looked at the massed pile of reports, and his self-control deserted him for a little.

A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey (1936)

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“It is the only thing I know of to his advantage,” Judith said. “I will admit him to be an excellent whip. But for the rest I find him a mere fop, a creature of affectations, tricked out in modish clothes, thinking snuff to be of more moment than events of real importance. He is proud, he can be insolent. There is a reserve, a lack of openness—I must not say any more: I shall put myself in a rage, and that will not do.”

Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer (1935)

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courbette

I heard the fanfare and recognised it; it was the entrance of Annalisa and her white stallion. The trumpets cut through the air, silver, clear and commanding. Old Piebald stopped grazing and lifted his head, with his ears cocked as one imagines a war horse might at the smell of battle and the trumpets. Then the music changed, sweet, lilting and golden, as the orchestra stole into the waltz from The Rosenkavalier.

Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart (1965)

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In books there were people who were always agreeable or tender, and delighted to do things that made one happy, and who did not show their kindness by finding fault. The world outside the books was not a happy one, Maggie felt; it seemed to be a world where people behaved the best to those they did not pretend to love, and that did not belong to them.

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (1860)

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“I might be wrong, but I fancy that however much a girl may admire, or envy, the heroine of some romance, who finds herself in the most extraordinary situations; and however much she may picture herself in those situations, she knows it is nothing more than a child’s game of make-believe, and that she would not, in fact, behave at all like her heroine.”

Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer (1966)

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nondescript

“You’re not shy, Julia,” he said. “It’s what I noticed first about you. How calmly you faced the world with that stupendous, utterly unnatural face of yours, and of course – you know the spirit in which I say that, it’s merely a stated fact – I knew then you were a natural. No no, there’s no doubt in my mind, no doubt at all, but that you’ll thrive.”

Orphans of the Carnival by Carol Birch (2016)

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It happens this way sometimes, we can discover truths about ourselves in a moment, sometimes in the midst of drama, sometimes quietly. A sunset wind can be blowing off the sea, we might be alone in bed on a winter night, or grieving by a grave among leaves. We are drunk at a tavern, dealing with desperate pain, waiting to confront enemies on a battlefield. We are bearing a child, falling in love, reading by candlelight, watching the sun rise, a star set, we are dying…

But there is something else to all of this, because of how the world is for us, how we are within it. Something can be true of our deepest nature and the running tide of days and years might let it reach the shore, be made real there — or not.

Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay (2016)

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Favourite books read in September: Sovereign, Airs Above the Ground and Black Sheep

Top Ten Tuesday: Books to make you laugh (or at least smile)

Top Ten Tuesday

I wasn’t going to take part in this week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) because I didn’t think I read enough funny books to be able to make a list…but when I stopped to give it some thought, I actually didn’t have a problem coming up with ten titles.

I have concentrated here on books which were specifically written to be funny or which contain lots of amusing scenes, rather than just one or two funny moments (the list would have been far too long in that case). Let me know if you’ve read any of these or if you can think of any more.

Three Men in a Boat

1. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome – This tale of three friends (and dog) who take a disastrous boat trip along the River Thames had to be top of my list!

Three Men on the Bummel

2. Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K. Jerome – Our old friends, J, Harris and George get together again for a tour of Germany in this sequel to Three Men in a Boat.

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit

3. Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit by P.G. Wodehouse – I could have included other Wodehouse books here too, but this Jeeves and Wooster novel is the only one I have reviewed on my blog.

Cold Comfort Farm

4. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons – I didn’t find this parody of the British rural novel quite as funny as other people have but it still deserves to be included here.

The Convenient Marriage

5. The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer – Many of Heyer’s novels feature a bit of comedy and some witty dialogue, but this is one I remember being particularly funny.

The Canterville Ghost

6. The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde – This light and entertaining satire is possibly the least ghostly ghost story I’ve ever read!

The Adventures of Alianore Audley

7. The Adventures of Alianore Audley by Brian Wainwright – Some knowledge of the Wars of the Roses might be needed to fully appreciate this tale of a 15th century Yorkist spy.

Don Quixote - Edith Grossman

8. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes – Who would have thought such an old book could be so funny? The humour doesn’t always work but when it does it’s hilarious.

The Uncommon Reader

9. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett – A lovely, witty novel about the Queen’s love of reading.

The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow

10. The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow by Jerome K. Jerome – Yes, it’s another book by Jerome. This collection of essays is not as funny as the Three Men books, but will still make you smile.

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Have you read any funny books recently? What would be on your list?