8 books to read in Devon this summer

PUBLISHED: 15:15 09 June 2020 | UPDATED: 15:15 09 June 2020

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From murder mystery to art deco design, Annette Shaw selects her top reads for the holidays

New Beginnings at Rose Cottage by Erin Green

It was a pleasure to read Erin’s book. A summer breezes treat! The novel is set in Brixham, perfect for a range of locations, allowing the narrative to flow around bustling harbour scenes and romantic sunsets at Berry Head.

Three women, Benni, Emma and Ruth, book two weeks at Rose Cottage. They’d answered an advertisement: Cosy, picturesque cottage available for solo holidaymakers, offering a comfy home from home with new friends guaranteed. A potentially risky strategy, with no prior knowledge of each other, be it age range or interests!

My usual modus operandi, interviewing the author and exploring their back story, was thwarted by Coronavirus. So, relying on the press release, Erin has two Hons degrees: BA English Literature and BSc Psychology. I feel this combination contributes to the book’s quality and she does an excellent, emotionally intelligent job of writing about three women, each at a turning point.

Published by Headline. Paperback £8.99

B&Bers Behaving Madly by Sharley Scott

Many B&B owners no doubt smile politely when guests at breakfast comment, “We might do this when we retire! What else do you do for work?” It sounds easy. Move to the seaside and open up to holidaymakers. Real life B&Ber Sharley (pseudonym) presents a fictionalised account starring Katie and Jason at Flotsam Guesthouse in South Devon saying: “This job is exhausting and in high season it’s relentless!” On the plus side she reflects on the wonderful friendships she’s made over the years. And there is a solid community of fellow businesses in the area. But you never know who’s going to turn up and what their personal habits may be. Most are decent and kind, some are funny, some are sad. One couple struggled with a few days away whilst coping with OCD and drained the water tank with the number of showers taken. Quite a revelation.

Self-published. Available on Amazon and at bookshops in Dartmouth, Brixham and Crediton. Paperback £8.99

Evil Under The Sun by Agatha Christie

The fact that HarperCollins reissued Agatha Christie’s most famous novel speaks volumes. With sales topping two billion worldwide, she remains the Queen of Crime. Oh, if there’s one author I’d love to have met, possibly including tea at Greenway, overlooking the River Dart...

The novel is flagged up as: A sun-drenched story of desire and murder with a conclusion you’ll never see coming. Thought to be set on Burgh Island in South Devon, the story opens at Leathercombe Bay where Hercule Poirot is on holiday. When Arlena Stuart steps through the door, everyone’s eyes are on her. In less than 72 hours she is dead.

The web site agathachristie.com says it all. “On the release of the novel in June 1941 a reviewer for The Guardian wrote “Is it going too far to call Mrs Agatha Christie one of the most remarkable writers of the day?”

Published by HarperCollins. Paperback £8.99

Nine places in Devon associated with Queen of Crine Agatha Christie - how many have you visited?

Agatha Christie by Cathy Cook

I’ve included this one as a companion to Evil Under The Sun for a couple of reasons. First, it’s essential reading for would-be novelists of the genre! Secondly, Cathy delves into the secrets, mysteries and tricks of the ultimate crime writer. It’s a brilliant collection of facts and figures as well as notes on aspects, such as methods of murder. Cathy writes: “Her use of poisons was so detailed and expert in her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, that she earned the ultimate accolade – a review by the Pharmaceutical Journal.”

It’s one of those books you can dip in and out of and explore Agatha’s life and interests. In 1973 she participated in Michael Parkinson’s Confession Album, saying her ideal value was courage, her favourite state of mind was peaceful and greatest happiness - listening to music. Her own literary influences were Graham Greene, Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens.

Published by The History Press. Paperback £9.99

Seaside 100 - A History of the British Seaside in 100 Objects by Kathryn Ferry

What makes the seaside special? Donkeys? Piers? Sticks of rock? And how did these end up in resorts from Blackpool to Minehead? This a delightfully quirky and hugely informative book that brings back memories of childhood holidays and sheds light on everything so many of us hold dear, including knitted swimsuits, before package deals to the Med.

In the chart at 93 we have the history of the John Hinde postcard, “…that highlighted the new popularity of Devon..” Entry number 73 is about pottery. Devon Blue “speaks of the sea and sky along the English Riviera,” a sturdy souvenir inscribed with the appropriate place name. It was produced until the 1980s by a group of potteries around Torquay and Bovey Tracey.

Kathryn is a historian and lecturer interested in architecture, design and seaside culture. She grew up near the coast in North Devon and is currently the national expert on beach huts.

Published by Unicorn. Hardback £14.99

Art Deco Britain by Elain Harwood

For readers interested in architecture this is definitely a book to place on the coffee table. It’s a superb celebration of a range of iconic Art Deco buildings of the interwar years from shops to offices – such as the Daily Express on Fleet Street. In the introduction Elain writes about the enduring “…influence of American classicism and the sources of decorative modern styles from around the world.” Many were showcased in 1925 at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs held in Paris – hence the name Art Deco.

Devon has several impressive examples such as the Burgh Island Hotel. On the north coast the Saunton Sands Hotel, constructed between 1933 and 1936, is described as “a beached liner above the rolling breakers and acres of sand dunes.” In Plymouth, a photo of the Tinside Lido looks inviting. The pool was finally completed in 1935 and echoes the glamour of the Art Deco era.

Published by Batsford. Hardback £20

50 Gems of North Devon by Denise Holton and Elizabeth J. Hammett

Being out and about may be curtailed but there’s no harm in forward planning or enjoying a spot of armchair travel. From the wildness of Hartland to the quaintness of Clovelly, Denise and Elizabeth portray North Devon as enticing and exciting for everyone from surfing dudes to fans of ancient churches.

They include lots of photographs, points of interest, historical notes and practical information for locations such as Arlington Court, once the home of the Chichester family and now owned by the National Trust. Walkers and cyclists will be pleased to know that the Tarka Trail, named after Henry Williamson’s book Tarka the Otter, is one of the longest, continuous traffic-free paths. With whispers of ghosts and rocking cradles, smugglers and wreckers, Chambercombe Manor, near Ilfracombe, sounds well worth a visit. Dating back to the Domesday Book, it was once the abode of the Duke of Suffolk, father of Lady Jane Grey.

Published by Amberley. Paperback £14.99

100 20th -Century Gardens & Landscapes. Edited by Susannah Charlton and Elain Harwood

According to the Met Office, April 2020 was one of the sunniest on record but sadly spring was a tad inaccessible as lockdown confined us to barracks. Filled with uplifting and colourful images in different settings, this book is a perfect reminder of what awaits now and next year.

Over time, gardens have changed, and in a brief history Susannah refers to people creating “a significant outdoor space or garden room.” One of the Devon sections is about Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst. They bought the Dartington estate in 1925 and visitors will observe how much thought and love has been poured into the restoration. The wisteria is heavenly as it wraps around the buildings leaving an abiding memory of perfume and flowers. Coleton Fishacre (now National Trust) is also featured. Built by Rupert D’Oyly in 1926 where the garden descends to the open sea via planting of rare species and tree ferns.

Published by Batsford. Hardback £20

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