Posts Tagged ‘dec reads’

Another day another round up – this time my December reading, which overall wasn’t too bad. I don’t think I will get everything I haven’t reviewed so far written about – but I will see how things go. Speaking of seeing how things go, I also want to look a little ahead – more of that later. I got a lot of books and book tokens for Christmas, and some of those books will get read soon, I can’t help myself.  

Liz was running her Dean Street December challenge which was a great excuse to break open some DSP – I always have some waiting to be read. I had also set aside four Christmassy themed reads, but only managed three. I read ten books in December – eight physical books and two on Kindle.  

I started the month reading One Pair of Feet by Monica Dickens (1942), a reread really, though it had been several decades. My book group had chosen it, to my surprise, I hadn’t even been the one to suggest it. I suspected none of them would really love it, I was right. I enjoyed it, but the others found it repetitive, and they didn’t like MD herself and thought the women in it unkind to one another.  

All Done by Kindness by Doris Langley Moore (1951) from DSP was my first of three reads for the Dean Street December challenge. A fabulous comedy of manners that centres around the potential of a pile of old paintings to be a pile of Old Masters.  

Near Neighbours by Molly Clavering (1956) was just a joy, my first novel by her, but thankfully DSP have published a few. A woman nearer seventy than sixty is given a new lease of life following her dominating sister’s death, when she begins to get to know the lively family next door.  

Richardson Scores Again by Basil Thomson (1934) is one of the Golden Age novels published by DSP. I hadn’t read this author before but based on this one I’ll happily read more. Plenty of twists and turns and even an escaped parrot to entertain the reader. Thomson knew the world of policing and his procedural style story is well plotted with good characterisation. 

Then I broke into the Christmassy themed reads. A Maigret Christmas and other stories by Georges Simenon (1951). Three stories featuring Maigret or other (apparently) known characters from Simenon’s novels. This was my first Simenon, and I absolutely loved it, and fear I shall now have to read all the millions of Maigret books. These stories had more than just mysteries, there was great writing, atmosphere, fabulous characterisation, all the things I love. I have been missing out.  

When my hands started playing up, I decided to read A Terrible Kindness by Jo Browning Wroe (2022) on my kindle. I immediately had to buy a second (paperback) copy for my sister, I knew it was the kind of book she loves. I loved it. It features the Aberfan disaster, and a young newly qualified embalmer who rushes to Wales to help in the aftermath. It’s an experience young William will – can – never forget. There’s so much more to it than that though, a beautiful novel of friendship, trauma, redemptive love and kindness.  

Back to the Christmas books with Stories for Christmas and the Festive Season (2022), a collection of Christmas stories by women writers from the British Library women writers series. Containing stories by the likes of Muriel Spark, Stella Gibbons and Margery Sharp. The kind of collection where the reader can’t help but gulp down the stories with greed.  

Also, from the British Library The White Priory Murders by Carter Dickson (1934) a large old house outside of London around Christmas. Where film star Marcia Tait and others of her milieu will be staying and also James Bennett newly arrived from America the nephew of the great detective Sir Henry Merrivale. A seemingly impossible, locked room type murder occurs. To be honest, I was a little underwhelmed by this one, though it got better as it went on.  

A Town called Solace by Mary Lawson (2021) very nearly made it into my top ten books of the year. Set in North Ontario in 1972, It is about three people, seven-year-old Clara, whose older sister has gone missing, Liam who has moved into the house next door, previously occupied by Mrs Orchard who Clara was friends with, and Mrs Orchard in her final illness. Just wonderful.  

My final read of the year was Animal Life by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir (2020) translated from Icelandic by Brian Fitzgibbon which I chose for Annabel’s Nordic Finds challenge which started on January 1st. I would like to review it in full at some point because of the reading event but not sure how much there is to say about it. Not unenjoyable, but a little odd.  

So, then looking ahead to what I might read this year. I don’t intend to make too many plans, though as previously stated I want to reignite my enthusiasm for blogging which has waned the last few months. I definitely want to join in with some reading challenges, this month there is Nordic Finds, The Japanese Reading challenge and The William Trevor yearlong event is also starting hosted by Cathy at 746 Books and Kim at Reading Matters. I have books for these challenges at the ready, my first read of 2023 is Heaven by Mieko Kawakami which I am loving. No firm decision on this yet but I will probably host my Daphne du Maurier reading week in May – as long as there is still interest, and I will be joining in with Karen and Simon’s club weeks and WIT next August. I am sure there will be many more challenges along the way, I like challenges, so I will keep my eyes peeled.  

Last year, I learned to take pleasure in the business of reading, having time to read, even if it’s short, having lots of books to choose from, and lots of bookish online (and real life) friends to recommend more. I am not setting a Goodreads target this year – it doesn’t really matter, if I read more or less than last year – just send me good books (actually don’t, I have gazillions).  

I will more often go with my mood – and that often serves me well. Whatever you choose to read I hope you love it.  

What brilliant things did you read in December? – and what plans if any do you have for 2023?  

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Following on from my favourite books of the year post – is my December reads. December is a funny old month – it seems to fly by, and famously January goes on for ever. I had an ok reading month – which definitely could have been a lot better as I had some lovely time off work over Christmas – but I seem to have been watching a lot of box sets instead. I also have a bit of a hangover from December to January in terms of reviews still needing to be written.

Oddly, my fickle mood has extended to blogging and I found myself reviewing out of order – so some books I read three weeks ago have still not been written about. Now I am wondering whether I should just break my own rule about reviewing everything – or do one big post of mini reviews – I’ll see how I feel in the coming days.

December began with me reading Watson’s Apology by Beryl Bainbridge (1984) – which was fantastic for two thirds of the book then went a little flat. That is always so disappointing, she is a great writer, however.

Next up was China Court by Rumer Godden (1961), which I read for Rumer Godden reading week. It was absolutely brilliant – I loved the way she was able to weave the story of several generations together so seamlessly. Oddly, I still haven’t reviewed this yet – and I really wanted to. I will try to pull something together in the next couple of days.

Read on my kindle was Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (2020) which has been loved by so many readers and featured on the BBC book programme Between the Covers. A pitch perfect little novella – it’s another I still need to review.   

Murder After Christmas by Rupert Latimer (1944) was a BLCC sent to me quite recently. It seemed perfect for December – and is entertaining in a number of ways. Overall though, it didn’t quite hit the spot for me, but does contain all the ingredients for a great festive mystery.

The Amazing Mr Blunden by Antonia Barber (1969) a modern children’s classic Virago sent to me for review. A ghost story with a time travelling twist, and a very satisfying ending, although not a Christmas story, it was somehow perfect for this time of year.

Another book that was absolutely perfect for this time of year, The Woods in Winter by Stella Gibbons (1970) – and it ended up featuring on my favourite books of the year list. Just a delight from start to finish. I must read more by Stella Gibbons soon.

Which Way? By Theodora Benson (1931) was the last book of the current BLWW list to read. A couple of their recent publications I have read before in other editions so may well reread – but I now have them all looking pretty together on the shelf. This was an experimental 1930s time slip novel – and I enjoyed it much more than I expected (I generally dislike time slip). An unusual little novel which I recommend.

A Song Flung up to Heaven by Maya Angelou (2002) the sixth of the Angelou autobiographies, I only have the final book and some poetry from this boxset collection to go now. It was a quick read, but it’s always entertaining and revealing to read about the life of this incredible woman.

The book I started next; I am still reading on the 1st of January so that can be my first book of 2022.  

As January begins my tbr is looking like it wants to burrow into the flat next door. I have books I bought with Christmas book tokens arriving on Tuesday, and no idea where in the tbr they’ll go. I could sit here, and promise that by December I will have got on top of this chaos, but nobody, particularly me believes that. I would like to improve the situation, but I am hopeless at not acquiring books.

Christmas yielded some marvellous books – as well as book tokens.

My Birmingham bookcrossing secret Santa came up trumps with books by wonderful writers, all from my wish list. We opened our gifts over zoom a few days before Christmas.

Double Vision by Pat Barker

Good Bones by Margaret Atwood

The Tent by Margaret Atwood

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

The Public Image by Muriel Spark – a massive thank you to Sian.

Five Persephone books from family:

The Deepening Stream by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

One Woman’s Year by Stella Martin Currey

Random Commentary by Dorothy Whipple

Round About A Pound A Week by Maud Pember Reeves

A Woman’s Place 1910 – 1975 by Ruth Adam

Vivian by Christina Hesselholdt from Jacquiwine

Summerwater by Sarah Moss and Shuggie Bain from my friend Gill.

Kaggsy sent me a gorgeous little pairing – The Christmas Dinner a Washington Irving short story from Renard Press – such pretty little editions and Holly and Ivy a Christmas story from poet Sean O’Brien published by Candlestick Press.

So, no wonder the tbr cupboard is feeling the strain.

At the time of writing, I don’t have any major reading plans for 2022 – I will join in the challenges I usually do – and I am fairly certain that I will host Daphne du Maurier reading week again in May. Other than that, with fickle being my middle name these days, I will be reading very much according to mood.

Now I just need to catch up with my reviewing.

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Here I am popping up with a rare Saturday post because I am a little behind. It is already the New Year and I still have two books from the old year to review. I will try and get those two reviewed and posted next week.

December should have been a month when I could get a lot more reading done – yet I only read 8 books – taking me to the exact number in my Goodreads yearly challenge of 110. A couple of them were fairly chunky, however – and I was pleased to have got two nonfiction Persephone read having read so little nonfiction all year. Two of my December reads made it on to my Twelve books for 2020 list too – so all in all it was a pretty good month.

A quick round up of what I read:

For diverse December I started the month with Plum Bun by Jessie Redman Fauset. It tells the story of Angela Murray – a young very light skinned African American woman who leaving her home in Philadelphia heads to New York where she intends to pass for white.

The first of two BLCC books read in December, A Surprise for Christmas edited by Martin Edwards. A really good collection of festive stories told in a variety of styles.

Having so loved Girls, Woman Other last year, Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo was a book I had looked forward to reading and it really didn’t disappoint at all. In this novel we meet Barrington Jedidiah Walker, or Barry to his friends. His voice is immediately engaging, warm, funny, vulnerable a little defensive and often outrageous – he pulls us into his world. It is just brilliant.

Virago sent me Death Goes on Skis by Nancy Spain the second of her books I have read. It is fun and farcical and though a little dated in places it’s perfect escapism.

The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak was yet another big hit – the first novel by her I have read. It is a novel of modern Turkey – but with a beautiful, poignant acknowledgement of its history, and the different peoples who make up its population.

A Very Great Profession by Nicola Beauman is a Persephone book that Liz bought me last year for Christmas. It was the second of my December reads to make it on to that best of list – I just loved it – all about the kinds of books I love, it will remain a wonderful resource.

Crossed the Skis by Carol Carnac – another BLCC mystery and while not a Christmas mystery the story opens on New Year’s Day – and much of the action takes place in a very snowy ski resort – so it felt fairly appropriate reading it a few days before New Year.

London War Notes by Mollie Panter-Downes is a collection of ‘letters’ MPD wrote to the New Yorker during the Second World war – and charts the progress of the war and people’s reaction to it from 1939 through to May 1945. There is so much of interest in it – and MPD’s voice is wonderful and engaging, however I found it a bit dense for over Christmas and started to get a bit bogged down. Probably due to my ridiculous non-nonfiction brain – I should space out my nonfiction a bit I have found in the past. I found the end of the war entries very poignant however and truly delightful.

So now I am looking ahead to 2021 – and wondering what my lists of books read will look like in a year’s time. I want to keep things fluid – while setting myself a few personal challenges. I don’t believe in forcing things too much – but a few challenges can help widen horizons and has been responsible for taking me out of my VMC/Persephone/DSP comfort zone – and I do think that is a good thing.

In 2020 within my 110 books read, I read 17 books by POC writers – some of these were books by British or American writers writing in English, some from writers from other nations across the globe. Oddly enough, I also read 17 books in translation – there was some crossover but of course they weren’t the same 17 books. So that is just over 15% of my reading – and I would really like to get it nearer or even above 20% in both instances – and I have more than enough on my tbr to achieve it – as well as having recently signed up for another year of the wonderful Asymptote book club – a brilliant fiction in translation subscription. My first book just arrived.

In May I hope to host another Daphne Du Maurier reading week – the last two have been so good. There are however lots of other challenges doing the rounds – I don’t feel up to committing completely and yet I really do want to dip in and out of some. My dear friend Liz is reading all the novels of Anne Tyler in 2021 – two each month -and while I certainly won’t do them all I hope to do a few with her – although sticking to a schedule might be my problem. Cathy at 746 books is celebrating the work of Brian Moore this year too, for his centenary – an author I recently remembered my dad was very fond of. I read my first book by him in 2019 – and have acquired more with my Christmas book vouchers to enable me to join in. I asked on Twitter whether anyone was doing anything for the Patricia Highsmith centenary – but I haven’t found anything – and I can’t commit to running one – especially as I know so little about her. However, it seems to be a fitting time to get to know her work better. So, I have acquired three Patricia Highsmith books with those vouchers to add to the one book I have had tbr for ages. Phew, I might be over stretching myself with all those challenges – but as ever, I will go mainly with my mood! Some of my book voucher acquisitions are pictured below – though several are resting on my invisible tbr – i.e., my kindle

 I am looking forward to some great reading in 2021 though – tell me what fabulous things did you read in December? And what are your reading plans for 2021?

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I nearly didn’t bother with this post and am only really doing it to complete the record of my reading year 2019. I have read a little more than most months, mainly because I have been laid up the whole month. Pain is very soporific though, so I haven’t really read that much more. Anyway, all in all a good reading month.

I began December with Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession, a touching debut novel.  It’s a fairly simple story about friendship, about the ordinary uncelebrated people in the world who are capable of changing everything for someone, in small, quiet ways. Leonard and his best friend Hungry Paul see the world a little differently to many of the people around them, united by their own brand of humour, their love of board games and fascinated by facts. 

Mrs Tim Gets a Job by D E Stevenson from the delightful Dean Street Press is the third in the Mrs Tim series. In this novel we see Hester take up employment in a Scottish hotel while her husband remains in Egypt waiting to be de-mobbed and her children are away at school.

Deep Waters; mysteries on the waves edited by Martin Edwards – is a fabulous collection of golden age short stories. Each story has water somewhere at the heart of it, pieces written by a host of famous golden age names, and several that were new to me.

A review copy from Virago that I was very excited to read was The Street by Ann Petry. The Street concerns a beautiful, bright young woman who wants only to make a good and honest home for herself and her eight year-old son Bub. Lutie Johnson has already had a lot to put up with in her life – and she is determined it will be better for her son. Lutie is an extraordinary character, the novel brilliant and devastating.

Another good novel from Dean Street Press was Peace, Perfect Peace by Josephine Kamm, which perfectly demonstrates the domestic and emotional difficulties that came along after the war ended. What Josephine Kamm does well in this novel is to show us how with the coming of peace not everything in the garden was immediately rosy.

Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume was a Christmas gift last year, it was definitely time I read it. I thought it was a brilliant novel, though it is a little dark in places. It’s poignant exploration of loneliness and loss and the extraordinary restorative nature of friendship. In this case the friendship is between a man and a dog. Two misfits, cast adrift by the world around them, come together, and find companionship and understanding.

Another Christmas gift from last year was Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban, a new author to me. A quirky tale of two lonely people, told in two voices, the novel is ultimately a touching portrayal of how they re-define their lives. Turtle Diary is a novel about freedom – what it means and how it’s achieved. Told in the alternate diary entries of William G and Neaera H, it is the story of an obsession; the release of sea turtles from the zoo into the English Channel.

I read Christmas mystery The Night of Fear by Moray Dalton on my kindle – such a compelling story I flew through it. Scotland Yard detective Hugh Collier is visiting his friend Sergeant Lane when news comes in of a sudden death in a large country house a couple of days before Christmas. Collier accompanies Sergeant Lane to the house where they find a Christmas house party in some disarray. A game of hide a seek in the dark had been in progress – the guests sporting fancy dress, when one guest; Edgar Stallard had been found dead in an upstairs gallery.

With my kindle all primed and ready to go – I then finally read The Sum of Things by Olivia Manning. The third book in the Levant trilogy, and the sixth book overall in the epic Fortunes of War novels, I found it as unputdownable as the previous five volumes.

Having so loved I’m Not Complaining by Ruth Adam fairly recently, I found a copy of one of her later novels on ebay. So Sweet a Changeling – one of four books from 2019 I still have to review – portrays the emotional ups and downs and official struggle, a couple have to adopt the little girl they have been caring for.

I received The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters as part of my bookcrossing secret Santa parcel and it looked so good, I decided to read it straightaway. Despite being very nearly 600 pages, I found it a very quick read, although not all the characters are that likeable, I found it readable and compelling.

It seemed ages since I had read a Muriel Spark novel, regular readers will know what a fan I have become. Aiding and Abetting one of her later novels is a wonderfully strange take on the Lord Lucan mystery.

So that was December – and I have made absolutely no plans for my January reading at all. I am going with mood. My book group will be reading and discussing Girl, Woman Other by Bernardine Evaristo, which of course I have already read, and which made it onto my books of the year list. I am going to be catching up with reviews over the next week or so I hope, still struggling to get everything done, but I’ll get there. I have begun the new year reading a Persephone book – well I do have several tbr – I’m about 150 pages into Milton Place by Elisabeth De Waal and finding it very good indeed.

Tell me about what you read in December – I always love to know.

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Following the two other round-up posts I have done this week a December in review post seems a little redundant, but it helps to complete the picture of the year.

I read nine and a bit books in December – the bit will now have to be my first book of 2019 – finished my A Century of Books and scored a wonderful pile of new books at Christmas.

I began the month reading A Saturday life by Radclyffe Hall, a comic novel about a precocious child, artistic experience and the possibility of reincarnation.

Olivia by Dorothy Strachey (published under the pseudonym of Olivia) was a little surprise, I hadn’t expected to enjoy it so much. Olivia is sixteen when she is sent to Les Avons a finishing school near Paris, run by two mademoiselles. This is a school of an entirely different kind. It is a school where there are few rules, where laughter and passionate discussion are actively encouraged. Olivia revels in this atmosphere so unlike anything she has experienced before.

The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay is a novel with a famous opening line – but it is worth reading for more than that. The novel follows the progress of a group of characters as they embark upon a journey from Istanbul to Trebizond. They are, Laurie – our narrator, her Aunt Dot (Dorothea Ffoulkes Corbett) and Dorothea’s friend, high Anglican priest Father Hugh Chantry-Pigg.

I’ve loved everything I have read by Diana Athill and Stet – an editor’s life was no exception. Shining a light on fifty years of publishing, her work alongside André Deutsch, and the writers she worked with, I can see why Stet is a favourite with many Athill fans.

For my 1993 slot of A Century of Books I read A Virago Keepsake, a collection of essays published in 1993 to celebrate Virago’s twentieth anniversary. Twenty pieces by or about Virago writers – many of them reminiscences of the beginnings of Virago, and the start of careers. There were very familiar voices with pieces by Margaret Atwood and Maya Angelou, other writers were new to me. A collection very much of its time.

The Old Man and Me by Elaine Dundy was one of my highlights of the month. In Honey Flood we have a fascinating unreliable narrator. In a city of bohemians, drug users, hipsters, jazz clubs and smoky bars, Honey sets about meeting C.D McKee, a legendary Englishman of enormous proportions and wealth. She is a young woman on a mission, and she needs to reinvent herself to put her plan into action.

Basil Street Blues by Michael Holroyd was recommended to me by someone on Twitter – a family memoir in which Holroyd writes honestly about his family, taking something of a back seat himself.

Playing the Harlot by Patricia Avis was my final book for ACOB, first published in 1996 having been initially refused publication when it was first written. Set among the raffish literary crowd in which Avis moved – which included Philip Larkin, we follow Mary and her friends and lovers through several years of complicated relationships.

Appointment in Arezzo – a friendship with Muriel Spark by Alan Taylor is a wonderful book, having read Spark’s autobiography Curriculum Vitae last month, this book provides another layer of understanding about Muriel Spark.

So, yes rather untidily I do still have two books from 2018 to review – I will get back to reviews soon.

In 2019 I will be reading more of whatever I please – fewer challenges this year. Though I am looking forward to the Librarything virago group’s year long reading event. Reading the 1940s – which is something which will be very easy to dip in and out of. There is a theme for each month – January has the theme of family. There aren’t really any rules – most of us will probably read mainly Virago and Persephone editions/authors though I can see Dean Street Press editions and perhaps Vintage editions creeping in too. I already have lots of books that will fit so I will probably join in quite a lot. Pretty much anything goes – published in the 40s or set in the 40s – fiction or non-fiction, set anywhere in the world, we’re certainly not restricting it to the war years.

In a couple of weeks, I will be re-reading Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym with a Barbara Pym FB group I started a few years ago. My book group will be reading Milkman by Anna Burns, so that will probably be my next read. I am currently reading Mrs Tim of the Regiment by D E Stevenson on my kindle – and enjoying its relaxed and witty tone.


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December is such a busy time, with Christmas to prepare for and evenings out to enjoy – culminating however in some time off work for Christmas. Still I managed some good reading time in the midst of all of that.

Librarything finished the year reading the work of Sylvia Townsend Warner, with which I happily joined in and of course I always like to find some Christmas themed books to read.

I started the month reading Love’s Shadow by Ada Leverson, who in my review I said I hadn’t read before – later I discovered I had read The Limit – and hadn’t loved it. It is hard to keep track!

My very small book group had chosen to read- Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner giving me the perfect excuse to re-read it. It is just as good the second time.

Another Little Christmas Mystery by Lorna Nicholl Morgan, was a very enjoyable little winter mystery but it’s not really set at Christmas. The novel has been retitled to appeal to readers like me, it’s worth reading. Plenty of snow but not a sprig of mistletoe or strand of tinsel in sight.

The selected stories of Sylvia Townsend Warner is a fantastic collection – spanning forty years of her writing life, it shows perfectly, what a consummate short story writer she was.

Alive, Alive Oh! By Diana Athill is another of her wonderful collections of memoirs, I love her spirit and attitude to life and ageing. I happened to read this just a few days before the author’s 100th birthday.

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote was a slim little book I bought last Christmas and didn’t get around to. It contains three little stories for the festive season.

Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith was recently re-issued by the British Library Crime Classics as their fiftieth title. It is a clever, intelligent mystery, which was marred a little by the anti-Semitic treatment of one character.

Winter by Ali Smith – also set at Christmas – was the perfect read for the Christmas weekend, I flew through it, finishing it on Christmas Eve. It made my twelve books of the year list at the last moment.

Long Live Great Bardfield the autobiography of Tirzah Garwood is a brilliant account of the lives of artists Tirzah and her husband Eric Ravilious along with the many people they knew. It is one of three books I still have to review.

The Lime Tree by César Aira was my first book to arrive from the Asymptote book group, a novella from a prolific Argentinian writer whom I have to confess to not having heard of.

Chedsy Place by Richmal Crompton really was my last book of the month and the year – I finished it late on New Year’s Eve – it’s always nice to finish the year tidily.

So, in looking ahead to January, I must begin by looking ahead to my reading challenges this year. I want to try and read a bit more fiction in translation, but that will be only one book a month at the very most.


Of course, #ReadingMuriel2018 starts today – and I am very excited about that – so many people joining in or planning to join in. I began in earnest, started to read The Comforters in bed this morning. For those who want to keep track of the schedule or share thoughts, links etc I have created a dedicated page for the read-along which you can find here.

a-century-of-booksIf all that wasn’t enough – I have also decided to do A Century of Books. Simon from Stuckinabook and Clare from the Captive Reader are doing it too as I think are several others. This is my first time of ACOB – and I have chosen 1919-2018 as my century. I’m not working to any prescribed list – the idea is I fill in each year as I read a book first published in that year. I understand it gets harder as years get checked off. If you want to follow my progress – and I have said it will probably take me two years – I have created another page here, where you can. Not very much to see yet. I am hoping I can do the majority of the reading from my existing tbr – and I am not going to use any re-reads.

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It’s already the 1st January and a brand-new year and here I am still rounding up last month. There are always so many blog posts to squeeze into the end of December. Particularly of course my books of the year post. I still have two December reads to review.

December was a pretty good reading month for me, I finished my #Woolfalong reading with The Waves, and read a couple of Christmassy themed books as I like to toward Christmas.

December started very well indeed with me reading A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor – a re-read of what is probably Elizabeth Taylor’s best novel for my very small book group.

It felt like such a long time since I had read a Mary Hocking novel – and so I picked The Mind has Mountains from the self after a discussion about with a fellow Hocking reader on my Mary Hocking Facebook group. It’s a complex, ambitious novel – as I find many of her lesser known works are – a novel I kept thinking about after I finished.I will be reading more Hocking soon, that MH FB group are having a little group read at the end of January.

The Gingerbread Wife was a superb little collection of stories by Sarah Vincent author of The Testament of Vida Tremayne.

An English Murder – was the first of those Christmas themed reads, and it suited my mood perfectly at a busy tiring time, a lovely old fashioned country house mystery, which is also wonderfully clever.

The Waves was my final Virginia Woolf read of the year – although I shall be reading some books I have left, during 2017 too I should think. The Waves is challenging, but I found it much more enjoyable than I had expected and rather poignant. The writing is absolutely exquisite.

The True Heart by Sylvia Townsend Warner was a delight, a book I loved every bit as much as Lolly Willowes. Actually I have loved everything I have read by Sylvia Townsend Warner, she is fast becoming a favourite. The True Heart is deeply charming and wholly uplifting.

The physically delightful Christmas Days by Jeanette Winterson was my second Christmassy read – and a more Christmassy book it is hard to imagine. I loved every bit of it, even the recipes (and I don’t cook much).

Persephone book 117 The Godwits Fly is an excellent novel in many ways though I felt slightly underwhelmed by it, I may have just expected too much of it. The writing is beautiful, and the story though rather sad, mirrors the life of the author whose own life was far sadder I feel.

My Name is Lucy Barton is a novel I kept hearing about since early in the year, it was my first by the author Elizabeth Strout but it certainly won’t be my last.

The Wind Changes by Olivia Manning was a book I received at Christmas as part of my Libraything Virago secret Santa gift – I was away at my Mum’s for a couple of days and needed to start a new book on boxing day. It was Olivia Manning’s first novel – and I liked it a lot. Review to come.

Mothering Sunday was the latest novel from Graham Swift, published earlier this year – only the third I have read by him. I bought it at the festival bookshop while in Hay on Wye last May. I’m not surprised to have seen it on one or two best of lists – it really is an excellent novel.

As the year ends I am disappointed that my reading continues a downward trajectory, I don’t really think mere numbers are important. However, with more and more books waiting to be read, I do want to stop that pattern somehow. I read 116 books in 2016 which is three down on 2015 down from for instance 141 in 2008 – I have only been keeping a record for the last ten years.

Christmas was slightly bookish – well when isn’t it, and here is what I got.

Smoke by Ivan Turgenev, A Lady and her Husband by Amber Reeves, A Solitary Summer by Elizabeth von Arnim, Alive Alive Oh, Diana Athill, Madame Solario by Gladys Huntington, Rhapsody by Dorothy Edwards (amazed I have never read it).


The Night before Christmas – Nikolai Gogol, The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, The Wind Changes – Olivia Manning (just read), A population of One by Constance Beresford-Howe, Pélagie by Antonine Maillet, The Imperialist by Sara Jeanette Duncan. Those final three all from the New Canadian library -they look fascinating (I just wish the print was bigger – need to get some extra bright light bulbs). Those three New Canadian library editions, the Willa Cather letters, the Olivia Manning and The Night before Christmas were all from my Virago secret Santa – how spoiled was I?

So here we are in January and I am revelling in not really having any serious reading plans. I have had one reading challenge or another every year for the last six years or so – so I definitely need a year when I can be more spontaneous. I want to get back to reading exactly what I want to read, and discovering what’s at the back of my overladen tbr bookcase.

What did December bring you? Something fabulous I hope.

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December in review


As December begins to draw to a close – I have been rushing to get everything I read in December reviewed before the end of the year – and I’m not going to manage it. I published my top books of 2015 post a few days earlier than usual to try and fit everything in, but it hasn’t made any difference. I’m pretty sure of just about finishing my final read of 2015 before midnight tonight (it might be close) but I certainly won’t get it reviewed as well. At the time of writing (or at least starting this post) – there is the book read before that still to be written about too. I suppose I liked the idea of having everything neat and tidy before the New Year, but never mind.

2015-12-29_22.15.53.jpgI hope you all had a lovely Christmas – I had a nice, quiet family Christmas – with some reading time and some great telly. I did receive a few books for Christmas, and two lots of book tokens – always very welcome.  I am particularly excited at the prospect of Parson Austen’s Daughter by Helen Ashton and Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp. Mrs Dalloway will be read in the upcoming #Woolfalong. I provided my family with some instructions as to what to look for on Abebooks – and they did me proud. Troy Chimneys was sent to me by Kaggsy – and Telling the Bees was my Birmingham bookcrossing secret Santa gift. A friend bought me We have Always Lived in the Castle – which I have wanted to read for ages.

Actually December has turned out to be a pretty good reading month for me. I indulged in a little Christmassy themed reading, read a couple of review copies, and a book group read made it on to my top 12 books list.

December began with me reading that book group choice – Nora Webster – such a wonderful novel. A novel depicting grief and the re-building of a life following bereavement has made me want to read more by Colm Toíbín. The Old Man’s Birthday by Richmal Crompton, from Bello books was a joy of a different sort – 1930’s comfort reading, with fabulously drawn characters. From Netgalley I read, Trouble on the Thames by Victor Bridges is one of the British Library thrillers, it was an enjoyable read – though possibly not quite as tense and atmospheric as I had expected. Over the River, again read on my kindle – was the ninth and final of my Forsyte Saga Chronicles, it was a thoroughly enjoyable conclusion to what has been a brilliant series. I will miss all those Forsyte Saga characters. A Snow Garden and other Stories by Rachel Joyce was the first of this month’s Christmassy reads, a lovely little collection from the acclaimed author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. The Visiting Moon by Celia Furse was not a book I had been planning on reading until I saw it reviewed on Leaves and Pages blog and quickly went in search of a copy. It is the lovely story of a nineteenth child’s Christmas visit to her aristocratic grandparents’ country estate. I then found time to finally finish a large collection of Shirley Jackson writings; Let Me Tell You that I have been dipping in and out of since September. A fantastic collection of essays and short stories it would make for a really good introduction to Jackson’s work. Having only read a small amount of Shirley Jackson I am now eagerly anticipating reading more. Another Christmassy collection of stories from Anthony Trollope, Christmas at Thompson Hall & other Christmas stories was next, one of the Penguin Christmas Classics which have been calling to me from afar. Having read enough Christmas books I pulled down a lovely green Virago; The Curate’s Wife by E H Young a fantastic sequel to the earlier novel Jenny Wren. My final book of 2015 was a review copy from Renaissance Books, My Shanghai 1942-1946, a novel – though one based upon the life of the author’s mother’s experiences as a Japanese woman living in occupied China.

January of course sees not only a new year – but the start of #Woolfalong – I have already invested in a few Virginia Woolf books and I’m all ready to get going. To the Lighthouse will be my first read of 2016. I’m not yet making any other definite plans for January – but that Helen Ashton book I received for Christmas is calling loudly to me from the bookcase.

I hope you all have a very happy and healthy New Year – and plenty of great reading ahead of you.

happynew year

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November in review



There have been several reading challenges doing the rounds on blogosphere and social media during November – which I always find difficult to keep up with. The one I did best at was #novellaNovember hosted by Poppypeacockpens – I was reminded how much I love novellas and read a couple of really good examples myself. Unfortunately I failed again to read anything for German Lit month – and I had actually managed to put one book aside for it, just not enough time, maybe next year. Earlier in the month I was alerted to #Nonfictionnovemeber on Twitter – I’m afraid I have no idea who that was hosted by – and so it seems I accidently managed to read one book for that too.

Asstrangers hereflowering wildernessmy mother river

So November began for me with a lovely Persephone book – Vain Shadow by Jane Hervey – it tells the story of a family following the death of the family patriarch over a period of four days. The only novel the author ever published, it is a story of great insight and got my reading month off to a really good start.

Murder at the Manor is a collection of golden age type stories edited by Martin Edwards, my copy courtesy of Netgalley, and the first of two books from the British Library this month.

Bad Feminist, a collection of essays from American writer and academic Roxane Gay, my only non-fiction work in November was chosen by one of my book groups. I was surprised at how readable it was, referencing modern popular culture, it is highly recommended if you want something other than the more academic earnest offerings.

Lolly Willowes had been on my radar for a long time, having already read three other Sylvia Townsend Warner novels. With this novel I was particularly captivated by the character of Lolly Willowes.

Another review copy came next; My Mother is a River by Donatella Di Pietrantonio from independent publisher Calisi Press, a novella that explores that complex mother daughter relationship with tender honesty.

On my trusty kindle I read Flowering Wilderness by John Galsworthy, the eighth book of the Forsyte Saga Chronicles that I have been reading this year – Galsworthy is always such a good storyteller I found it compelling reading.

As Strangers Here, by Janet McNeill was kindly sent to me by Turnpike books – who have now re-issued three of her novels. As strangers Here is set in 1950’s Belfast in the years before the troubles with the underlying tensions of that society replicated in clergyman Edward Ballater’s family.

They Came Like Swallows, another gorgeous novella was my first ever book by William Maxwell, a writer who I know has a lot of fans. I certainly now intend to read more by him soon.

The Santa Klaus Murder, another Netgalley acquisition from the British Library (review to come) a great choice for the season was also my first mystery by Mavis Doriel Hay.

I finished the month reading The King of a Rainy Country by Brigid Brophy – another new to me author- at the time of writing I am coming close to the end of the book, and very much enjoying it. Brigid Brophy may well turn out to be a writer for me to get excited about.

My three stand out reads for the month; Lolly willowes, Vain Shadow and They Came Like Swallows.

lolly willowesvainshadow.they came like swallows


As ever I have more books that I want to read in December than I can fit in – but I do have a few that I am intending to read. Near the top of my list has to be that last Forsyte book Over the River which I am looking forward to and I have been itching to read the lovely Richmal Crompton books that Bello sent me. One of my book groups has chosen The lives of Others by Neel Mukerjee as a longer read to see us over December and January. My other book group will be reading Nora Webster by Colm Toibin – in fact I think I need to read that next. Rachel Joyce’s A Snow Garden a collection of Christmas themed linked stories seem absolutely perfect for this time of year. I still have several review copies waiting to be read as well, I can only do my best.

nora webster.jpgold mans birthdaysnow garden


What will you be reading this December? Have you any Christmassy themed books lined up?

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Back to reviews in a few days – but it seems as if I have run out of days. I’m posting this round up post early to make way for my books of the year post tomorrow. The last two books of 2014 will be reviewed in the first week of 2015, which seems rather untidy, but there it is. With Willa Cather reading week and Christmas holidays it has been a good reading month for me. December was a month which saw me finish Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of time, which has kept me company each month throughout the year. The final book on the list in fact I have only this morning started to read, however it is a slight book and I will definitely have finished it by midnight tomorrow.

My December list: bringing the total of books for 2014 to 131 – a bit below the last few years I think.

121 The Well of Loneliness (1928) Radclyffe Hall (F)
122 The Troll Garden and selected stories (1905) Willa Cather (F)
123 A Lost Lady (1923) Willa Cather (F)
124 Shadows on the Rock (1931) Willa Cather (F)
125 Hearing secret Harmonies (1975) Anthony Powell (F)
126 Tell it to a Stranger (1947) Elizabeth Berridge (F)
127 Because of the Lockwoods (1949) Dorothy Whipple (F)
128 Mystery in White (1937) J. Jefferson Farjeon (F)
129 Christmas Pudding (1932) Nancy Mitford (F)
130 H is for Hawk (2014) Helen Macdonald (NF)
131 Strangers (1954) Antonia White (F)










My stand out reads for this month; (I could easily list about seven of them, but I’ll narrow it to three).
1. A Lost Lady – Willa Cather – a beautiful novel, probably Cather’s best, it tells of the decline of a beautiful woman seen through the eyes of a young boy, later young man.
2. Tell it to a Stranger – Elizabeth Berridge – short stories by an author I’ve not read before, every sentence seems gloriously written.
3. H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald, a fantastic non-fiction book a blend of nature writing and biography, one of the best books of the year – and one which kept me sitting up very late to finish, then perversely I wanted there to be more. Review sometime in the next few days, time permitting.

theforsytesaga1Forsytesaga2theforsytesaga3So then 2015 – it will be here before we know it. During 2015 Karen, Liz and I – and possibly one or two others will be reading the entire Forsyte Saga – there are three large volumes, each split into three main books, though some of the individual books have an interlude tagged on to the end. I read the first volume, many years ago – but never got around to getting hold of and reading the next two volumes. Well now I have a matching set, and I am looking forward to getting stuck in. A quick flick through the first volume today makes it look quite dense – fairly small print and each of the individual books over three hundred pages. Still I have a feeling I will love them, and having company along the way is always fun. At the moment I am not making too many reading plans, I want to read more poetry as I talked about recently, and there is the possibility of another Librarything group read – but nothing finalised yet. In the meantime, if you saw the picture I posted of my tbr a few days ago – you’ll know I have plenty to keep me busy.

So what were your highs of December? And what are your plans for next year?

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