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August is over already and I am anticipating going back to work next week. August is usually a pretty good reading month for me, and this August was certainly good, seeing me juggle books for the librarything Virago group’s annual All Virago All August, and Women in Translation month. I didn’t just read for those two challenges though, there were three books not for either challenge.

August began with me reading This Real Night by Rebecca West, sequel to The Fountain overflows. Carrying on the story of the Aubrey family it takes us from before the First World War until the time when that terrible conflict touches them personally.

The Power by Naomi Alderman was my very small book group’s August read, proving hugely popular with the whole group, it gave us a lot to talk about. The novel packs a punch – imaging a world turned on its head – where women have all power.

The Orchid House by Phyllis Shand Allfrey set on the island of Domenica, as the daughters of a privileged white creole family return from America and the UK. The story narrated by Lally the old Dominican nurse who has worked for the family for years.

A World Gone Mad the diaries of Astrid Lindgren 1939 – 1945 – the author of the famous Pippi Longstocking stories kept a war journal throughout the war. From her own neutral country of Sweden Astrid Lindgren was able to observe the terrifying situation as it unfolded in the Scandinavian region – as well as keeping a record of the war in Europe as a whole.

One of my favourite reads of the month was Chatterton Square by E H Young, E H Young is one of those Virago authors I particularly love – and Chatterton Square was her final novel. It tells the story of two rather different families living in Upper Radstowe – Young’s fictionalised version of Clifton in Bristol. (In case you missed it I also wrote a short introduction to E H Young here).

As soon as the new novel from Kamila Shamsie arrived I had to start it right away. Home Fire has been longlisted for this year’s Booker prize, and for one will be very disappointed if it doesn’t make the shortlist. It a novel which I think is essential reading for the world we live in, raising so many pertinent issues. It is an extraordinary novel, powerful, perhaps controversial and enormously readable, I urge everyone to read it.

My second read for Women in Translation month was slight little book containing two longish short stories; La Bal and Snow in Autumn by Irene Nemirovsky. These two stories are quite different, one the story of family of nouveau riche and the revenge taken by an unhappy teenage girl on her nasty, selfish mother. The second tale tells the story of a faithful Russian family servant, who in her advancing years follows the family she has served, as they emigrate to Paris.

Another lovely Virago read for AV/AA was Saraband by Eliot Bliss, a beautifully written coming of age story set just before and after the First World War. Thanks to Karen – I have now a copy of Luminous Isle the only other novel published by Eliot Bliss, both novels are said to be highly autobiographical.

Iza’s Ballad by Hungarian writer Magda Szabo, was my third read for Women in Translation month. I read The Door by Magda Szabo this time last year, and had been looking forward to reading more. It tells the poignant story of an elderly mother and her modern city living daughter – and the devastating changes that are brought to her life following the death of her husband.

Stone Mattress nine wicked Tales by Margaret Atwood, was up next (it is one of three books that I still have to review. I love short stories and this collection really is superb.

My very small book group chose The Summer Book by Tove Jansson for our September read, and I decided to pick it up a couple of weeks early. I have reviewed it already because I wanted to get in before the end of Women in Translation month. It proved to be a charming little book, full of wisdom, portraying the relationship between a six-year-old girl and her grandmother during a summer spent on an Island in the Gulf of Finland.

Another collection of short stories came my way with An Unrestored Woman –by Shobha Rao a collection either set during or inspired in some way by the upheaval surrounding Partition in 1947 – with the seventy-year commemorations of Partition having taken place a couple of weeks ago – it felt like a very timely read. It is a powerful collection, and I like the Atwood stories I couldn’t help but gobble it up.

My final read of the month was another Virago book; The Vet’s Daughter by Barbara Comyns. It is a brilliant little novel, unusual a little twisted perhaps but I loved it – and I hadn’t been sure that I would.

So three August books still to review – I am sure I shall get around to them soon, work permitting.

Thirteen books read is very good for me these days – and as I head back to work on Monday I can predict that September’s total will be nothing like that. I always struggle with my reading when I get back to work in September. August was an outstanding month quality wise too – Home Fire, Chatterton Square, Stone Mattress and Iza’s Ballad my stand out reads – though it is hard to separate them from the rest.

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(Teignmouth seafront from the pier)

cofSo that’s it, Summer is over – as far as I’m concerned, my holiday at the seaside which I came back from last weekend already seems long over. *sigh* (roll on the next holiday). I haven’t made any particular plans for September – except to read pretty much only what I can cope with. The Librarything Virago group’s author of month is Nina Bawden, who many of you will know I like very much, and as I have three or four of her books waiting I am fairly sure to join in. (I failed miserably with Christina Stead in August – she and I are not destined to be friends). I suspect I will be leaning towards easier comfort reads – especially the beginning of the month and I have set aside a couple of Golden age mysteries and an Angela Thirkell in possible preparation as well as a super looking review copy. I am currently reading Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter – which a little over a hundred pages in, I’m enjoying it hugely.

What have you been reading during August? Is there something you feel I must read?

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August in review

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I remember summers, when I would read something like fourteen or fifteen books during August, no work, and perhaps less money than I have now, meaning I stayed at home and read and read. This year – with ten and a half books read – I realise I will never get back to those reading rates – I obviously have too many other things in my life now, I think I’m glad to have that balance though. I think I can blame the Olympics a little too – goodness it was so marvellous and I lost hours and hours of my life to it.

August has all been about juggling – I juggled three reading challenges – finishing #20booksofsummer, and reading things for #WITmonth and #Woolfalong. Today 1st September will be all about finishing that orange spine penguin – Recollections of Virginia Woolf – which I have been reading for my #Woolfalong.

August started with a lovely Peirene press book, The Murder of Halland, I enjoyed the taut atmosphere of a novel which is not a traditional crime story despite its title. Read for #WITmonth it reminded me what a superb publisher Peirene are, I do have three others tbr which I must read soon. My second read unfortunately was bit of a duffer – Challenge by Vita Sackville West is fairly unremittingly dull – read for my very small book group – my suggestion – I was the only one of us to read it. The Green Road was the book I was reading when I went away on holiday – I was away ten days, one night in Somerset, seven in Devon, and one night in Cornwall with friends it was a lovely hot, sunny but busy holiday – which went far too fast. I loved The Green Road, and I am determined to read more Enright. The World my Wilderness is a great coming of age type novel, written by a woman I want to know more about and read more by, it recreates the post war period in London and France beautifully. Desperate Characters by Paula Fox was the novel with which I completed my #20booksofsummer, a novel of a complacent New York couple, shaken out of their complacency over one eventful weekend.

As I travelled from Devon to Cornwall for a party, I was reading The Door by Magda Szabo on my Kindle, by the time I finally arrived home late the following day – I had nearly finished – thanks mainly to the hours of travel from Devon to Cornwall and then from Cornwall to Birmingham across one weekend. I remember a nice polite young man on the train, (oh god I sound about 400 years old) asking me what I was reading, and telling me how he got back into reading with the Millennium trilogy. The Door is a wonderful novel, which has stayed with me – well Emerence the central character has stayed with me – and I look forward to reading my other book by Szabo soon. The Winged Horse by Pamela Frankau reminded me how I had once been determined to track down all Pamela Frankau books – well I now have two others waiting. It would be hard to sum up that book in a sentence, but it was one of my highlights of the month. The Grand Hotel my third read for #WITmonth was another superb novel – one I had seen lots of love for on other blogs – such an array of fascinating characters against the backdrop of Berlin of the 1920’s I loved every page. Blue Skies and Jack and Jill are two short novels published together in my Virago edition, I had seen fairly low ratings of it on Goodreads, thankfully I didn’t allow it to put me off. I thought the novels, although unusual in tone were very good indeed, Hodgman surprises her readers, which is something I like. With the end of August and the end of phase 4 of #Woolfalong looming I rushed to read two more books – and only managed one and a half. Winifred Holtby’s A Critical Memoir which I still need to review and Recollections of Virginia Woolf edited by Joan Russell Noble, which I hope to finish today.

20160827_211135 (1)September means back to work – I know I shouldn’t complain – but oh my those 6.00 am starts hurt, and I am always shocked by how little reading time I have when I am back in my usual term time routine. I am also busy with a few other things happening – an event I have been helping to organise is just three weeks away – and I will have things to do for that too. So September will be about finding the right books for the right time – some comfort reads perhaps. I am aware that phase 5 of #Woolfalong starts today – non-fiction written by Virginia Woolf. Having now read two non-fiction books in a row – and being famously bad at reading non-fiction it may be a few weeks before I get anything read for #Woolfalong, but I am looking forward to those diaries when the time is right. I am enjoying being able to read whatever I like after finishing #20booksofsummer – although I’m looking forward to #ReadingRhys – I have two Jean Rhys books set aside for that. Phew! All these challenges! 2016-09-01_10.48.05

The other thing about holidays is that being out of my usual routine means I keep publishing blog posts at odd times – I don’t suppose it matters – but a normal-ish service will be resumed soon.

What are you all planning for September? – do tell.

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August in review

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A quick little round of my reading month this time, as I am starting to think these round up posts are a bit pointless – and I’m trying to decide if I’ll carry on with them.

I began August with a fairly new publication – The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall a book that imagines the re-introduction of the grey wolf to Britain. Heading off to Devon for a week at the good old English seaside I only packed my kindle, at least then I’m sure of not running out of books. On it –after finishing The Wolf Border – I read Twilight Sleep a jazz age novel by Edith Wharton, The Ice House, a novel of friendship and betrayal by Nina Bawden both for All Virago/All August (thankfully the actual edition is unimportant it just has to have been published by Virago or Persephone in the past). I then got a little fix of golden age crime with Fear Stalks the village by Ethel Lina White, a new to me author. Back to All Virago All August next with a stunning novel from Persephone books – The Happy Tree – which could quite easily make my top books of the year list. Of course August was also Women in Translation month (#WITmonth) and my first of the two books I managed for that was Those who leave and Those who Stay by Elena Ferrante the third book in her acclaimed Neapolitan series. The Ha-Ha by Jennifer Dawson is a classic novel of mental illness, a novel which won the Tait Black memorial prize in 1962. Yet another VMC; The Lying Days by Nadine Gordimer a coming of age novel from South Africa, a beautifully written first novel. I then read The Love-Child by Edith Olivier a very slight little novella, as I don’t have the green VMC edition (yet) I read my lovely Bello books edition, really such a wonderful little book, why I haven’t read it before now is a mystery. I had a brief break from VMC’s with a review copy of Renishaw Hall; the story of the Sitwells by Desmond Seward (I haven’t reviewed this one yet – but will in the next couple of days.) I then read my final VMC of All Virago/All August; The Quest for Christa T. – which I rushed to review before the end of #WITmonth – a complex novel from East Germany, beautifully written, difficult it might be but very impressive. Finally I moved on to The Mill on the Floss a re-read from my Classic Club list that I have been circling for a while – I have read over 400 pages of it – but not quite finished, but I am certainly enjoying it very much, and should finish it by tomorrow.

strangerin the housemy career goes bung

So September is upon us, and this week I will trudge wearily back to work – I am grateful for the long break and shouldn’t moan – but oh my it hurts to go back! So what I choose to read next will need to suit my back to work doldrums. I do have a few potential things lined up though, one of my book clubs will be reading Stranger in the House by Julie summers, while the other will be reading The Big Sleep (not sure if I fancy that or not). The classic Club spun me a number 5 – and number five from my list was My Career goes Bung by Miles Franklin. I should also be getting back to the Forsyte Saga chronicles with the first novel in the third volume; Maid in Waiting. Whatever you’re reading in September I hope it’s a great month for books.

foylesbrumOne bit of other exciting book news here in Birmingham is of course the opening of a new Foyles shop in the Grand Central development above the refurbished New street station. I believe it will open at the end of the month – I will of course be checking it out – merely in the interests of reporting back to you all of course.

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August has been a wonderful reading time for me. A month with no work, and plenty of reading time – it’s maybe surprising I didn’t read more than I have – but what do the numbers matter? I have worked my way through a lovely bunch of book this month. For a lot of members of the Librarything Virago group, August is all about All Virago/all August. It doesn’t matter if you read the book in a Virago edition – just as long as it has been published by Virago at some point in its history – it was hard choosing which ones to read I have so many TBR. There has also been the #GreeneforGran reading tribute going on during August too – and I read two Graham Greene novels. Here then is the full list. Thirteen books read; one non-fiction, nine for AV/AA and 2 for #GreeneforGran.

81 The Odd Women (1893) George Gissing (F)
82 Good Daughters (1984) Mary Hocking (F)
83 Emma (1815) Jane Austen (F)
84 Breakfast with the Nikolides (1942) Rumer Godden (F)
85 Stamboul Train (1932) Graham Greene (F)
86 The Secret Adversary (1922) Agatha Christie (F)
87 The Judge (1922) Rebecca West (F)
88 The Glimpses of the Moon (1922) Edith Wharton (F)
89 Careless People (2013) Sarah Churchwell (NF)
90 A Few Green Leaves (1980) Barbara Pym (F)
91 Indifferent Heroes (1985) Mary Hocking (F)
92 The Ministry of Fear (1943) Graham Greene (F)
93 The Lost Traveller (1950) Antonia White (F)

The first two books of Mary Hocking’s Fairley family trilogy were a joy, and I know a lot of fellow Viragoites were reading them too – Mary Hocking has turned out to be a wonderful discovery for many of us. Careless People by Sarah Churchwell, was a fascinating and compelling read, a non-fiction book I will keep it has inspired me to re-read/read more by and about F Scott Fitzgerald. Emma was a re-read – and I absolutely loved it – liking the character of Emma herself far more this time than I did when I first read the novel in my late teens or early twenties. The Ministry of Fear was that wonderful thing; an atmospheric bit of escapism. Unfortunately, for me Edith Wharton’s The Glimpses of the Moon was disappointing only a three star read, while The Judge, The Odd Women and The Lost Traveller (review to come) were all fabulous Virago reads.

2013-08-31 16.31.01So on to September. I go back to work on Monday after the summer school holidays. My first read of the month will be Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy for my on-going Hardy reading challenge – now I think Tess was my least favourite Hardy back in the day – but I really think I am more ready for it this time. There are no unpleasant surprises now – I know it all – and can just revel in Hardy’s world and Hardy’s words. I have it in two editions – well three if you count the emergency Hardy collection I have on my kindle (yes I know!) – so I will be reading it in a Wordsworth classics edition when out and about – and in my beautiful hardback Folio edition at home.
I am also planning on re-reading A Room with a view for the classic club spin, and Crampton Hodnet for the Barbara Pym read-a-long. I have also set aside the third novel in the Mary Hocking trilogy and the next book in the Antonia White quartet. I have also set aside a Persephone novel – Housebound, and The Pre-war House by Alison Moore – sent to me by Alex in Leeds. I also have a desire to read Uncle Silas by Sheridan Le Fanu and The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen. I have left a couple of fairly huge books off my September pile that I have been wanting to read, because I know I always read a little more slowly when I first get back to school after the holidays, it’s as if I have to re-adjust to my normal routine, the much shorter reading time comes as a shock – and there is so much good telly on in the autumn. Still this pile is one to contemplate with pleasure.

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What will you be reading during September?

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I had originally planned that during August I would be reading just Virago Modern Classics. Needless to say this didn’t happen. I did get distracted by other things – for various reasons. As I work in a school, August is a wonderful time for me – because I just get so much reading time, so I always read far more in August than many other months (April and December are often quite good too). This August has been fabulous – I did read a good number of VMC’s aswell as two Persephone books and three non-fiction. Fifteen book completed and one that I got about half way through and didn’t finish (the first so far this year).

 
79 In a Summer Season (1961) Elizabeth Taylor (F)
80 Devoted Ladies (1934) Molly Keane (F)
81 Our Spoons Came from Woolworths (1950) Barbara Comyns (F)
– Losing Battles (1970) DNF Eudora Welty (F)
82 Greenbanks (1932) Dorothy Whipple (F)
83 Why be happy when you could be normal (2012) Jeanette Winterson (NF)
84 The Return of the Soldier (1918) Rebecca West (F)
85 Vera (1920) Elizabeth Von Arnim (F)
86 The Maul and the Pear Tree (1971) PD James & TA Critchely (NF)
87 Bliss & other stories (1920) Katherine Mansfield (F)
88 The Soul of Kindness (1964) Elizabeth Taylor (F)
89 The Other Elizabeth Taylor (2009) Nicola Beauman (NF)
90 Devil by the Sea (1976) Nina Bawden (F)
91 William (1925) E H Young (F)
92 The Lighthouse (2012) Alison Moore (F)
93 The New House (1936) Lettice Cooper (F)

I have also read several of the short stories in Virago’s newly published Complete Short Stories.

 

 This is where I usually pick out 3 or 4 books for special mention. Goodness what to pick this time?I have spent such a lot of time reading and thinking about Elizabeth Taylor this month in preparation for my month of Blog hosting A Soul of Kindness, that these books immediately spring to mind. I just love her work and so enjoyed re-reading that biography.

 

In addition the books I read while on holiday in my beloved Teignmouth (pictured above) on my kindle were also marvelous – in particular The Return of the soldier by Rebecca West and Vera by Elizabeth Von Arnim.

 

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August Reads

75 Started Early, took my dog (2010) Kate Atkinson (F)
76 Last Train to Liguria (2009) Christine Dwyer Hickey (F)
77 Howards End is on the landing (2010) Susan Hill (NF)
78 The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) Agatha Christie (F)
79 Dark Fire (2007) C J Sansome (F)
80 Mennonite in a little black dress (2011) Rhoda Janzen (NF)
81 The Ballad and the Source (1944) Rosamond Lehmann (F)
82 Blood on the Tongue (2002) Stephen Booth (F)
83 Ella Minnow Pea (2002) Mark Dunn (F)
84 White Ladies (1935) Francis Brett Young (F)
85 The Misses Mallet (1922) E H Young (F)
86 The Game (2004) Laurie R King (F)
87 Three Men in a Boat (1889) Jerome K Jerome (F)

Thirteen books read during August. I have been on holiday from work the whole month and so that is why it is a little higher than usual. 8 of them read on kindle, but only 2 non fiction. I am still not  wanting to read non fiction very much – and when it comes to books – if I really don't fancy reading it – I often don't.

Some excellent reads this month, and also a nice variety. Hard to pick just 3 or 4 for special mention but…

1. Last Train to Liguria – Christine Dwyer Hickey – for sheer readability.

2 The Ballad and the Source – Rosamond Lehmann – I love Rosamond Lehmann and this complex ambitious novel is a work of some brilliance.

3 White Ladies – Francis Brett Young – a fabulous old fashioned read, by a sadly forgotten out of print Black Country author.

4 The Misses Mallet – E H Young – recently discovered this 1920's/1930's author and have become a huge fan.

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August reads

74 The Virgin’s Lover    Philippa Gregory (F)
75 Never the Bride     Paul Magrs (F)
76 The Help     Kathryn Stockett (F)
77 Golden Afternoon    M M Kaye  (NF)
78 Oystercatchers    Susan Fletcher (F)
79 The Excursion Train    Edward Marston (F)
80 The Widow’s Tale    Mick Jackson (F)
81 The Princes in the Tower    Alison Weir (NF)
82 The Needle’s Eye    Margaret Drabble (F)
83 The Eyre Affair    Jasper Fforde (F)
84 Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell    M C Beaton (F)

An interesting range of things this month. Special mention must go to:
 The Help by Kathryn Stockett – marvelous novel, I would recommend again and again.
Golden Afternoon by M M Kaye – 2nd part of her wonderful autobiography a must for anyone who like reading about India and the Raj.
and
The Widow’s Tale, Mick Jackson – very good and often funny novel about a woman coming to terms with her husband’s death.
Must also mention the Eyre Affair – a novel right outside my comfort zone – which I prehaps didn’t expect to  like much – but I did.

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