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Posts Tagged ‘January reads’

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January has been a good bookish month for me – I struggle a little with the post-Christmas grumps and the dark featureless days. I don’t mind cold days or cosy evenings, but I hate the grey skies and the feeling that all the things I have to look forward to are a long way off. Still it was a good month for books – and the start of a couple of reading challenges.

#ReadingMuriel2018 got underway, and so beginning the year as I mean to go on I started with The Comforters; Muriel Spark’s first novel. While it won’t be my favourite Spark, it was an excellent debut. I have seen it described as a comedy of errors, and it is certainly quirky and engaging. A fabulous start, which I have seen lots of others reading.

A History of Britain in 21 Women by Jenni Murray was the book chosen for January by my very small book group. A very personal selection by the author it was an interesting read, which I enjoyed overall, I did have a couple of issues with it – but they didn’t ruin the book for me. It gave us some great discussion points too.

I seem to have had several Stella Gibbons novels for ages, and before I swept all my tbr books to the floor and began going through them, I had got myself very confused about which I had read, and which I hadn’t. The Bachelor, first published in 1944 really is a rollicking good read. A large house in the country – not far from London, gradually fills up with a variety of people seeking shelter. A refugee, an old flame and the disreputable old father of the middle-aged siblings that own the house – it is surprising sometimes, where and when some people find love.

Winter Garden by Beryl Bainbridge turned out to be a bit of an odd novel – though interesting in its way. A middle-aged man travels to Moscow as the official companion to an artist with whom he has been having an affair. Several peculiar incidents lead to paranoia as his lover Nina seems to disappear from the hotel.

Pink Sugar by O Douglas was an absolute joy of a book, a reminder that I had been wanting to read more by O Douglas for ages. Our heroine is Kirsty, thirty and returned home to Scotland, free for the first time in her life. She wants only to do good and decides to take on three children for the summer who have recently lost their mother. Poor clergymen, grumpy landlords, a pretty governess all need to be paired up – but this is a novel far less frothy than the title might suggest.

Robinson by Muriel Spark, my second read for #ReadingMuriel2018 – back in December I went mad and bought four of the new Polygon centenary editions – well I couldn’t resist. Robinson is an extraordinary novel – some themes already familiar from The Comforters, yet again however Spark surprises.

Having decided I wanted to read a little more fiction in translation, I chose Katalin Street by Magda Szabo who I have read twice before. It’s a novel with a more complex structure than those other two – but beautifully written. It tells the story of three families uprooted by the regime following the end of the Second World War.

The other reading challenge I started this month is ACOB – (more of that later) Mary Olivier: a life by May Sinclair ticked off the first year. It is a novel which charts a woman’s life from infancy to middle-age – it is a deeply personal novel, one of the best novels examining a complex mother daughter relationship I have read.

N or M? by Agatha Christie – I have always been a big Poirot fan – but I also have a very soft spot for Tommy and Tuppence – and so wish there had been more of them written. N or M? is set towards the beginning of the second world war and T&T are involved in fighting fifth columnists in a south coast boarding house. Thoroughly enjoyable -full review in a few days.

Three things about Elsie is Joanna Cannon’s second novel – following on from the great success of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep. I pre-ordered it about three months before it came out – and despite its four hundred and fifty odd pages flew through it in two days. Despite the fact it presents a rather depressing view of some aspects of old age – it is a quite unputdownable read.

So, with ten books read in January – each of them published in a different year – I have managed to tick off ten years on my ACOB – which I am pretty pleased with. You can see my progress here – though there isn’t too much to see yet.

Yesterday I started what will be my first read of February – a book in translation from the Asymptote book club for which I took out a three-month subscription. It’s my second read with the club, it’s a book called Aranyak by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay translated from Bengali by Rimli Bhattacharya.

February will see me reading Memento Mori for #ReadingMuriel2018 and The Wife by Meg Wolitzer for my very small book club the week after next. I haven’t planned more than that as yet – as I like to suit my mood where possible. The Librarything Virago group are reading Dorothy Canfield Fisher during February and so I may try to get to The Brimming Cup – although it won’t tick off an ACOB year for me as it was published the same year as Mary Olivier *sigh*.

So, how was your January for books?

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January is over, and it has been a bit of a shocker, it seems as if many of us are groping our way out of this first month of 2017 blinking painfully. However, this blog is books, just books, so I won’t comment further about everything that has been happening out there in the wider world, I don’t think I can.

Nine and a bit books read in January, (the bit being my current read) which feels not too bad when I consider the distractions I have had.

So here is what I read during January with links for anyone who missed the original post.

In Confidence by Irène Némirovsky (2015)– is a new collection of short stories published by Raglan books, it exposes the secrets and desires of a variety of characters, mainly women. For me there wasn’t a bad story in the collection.

Miss Christie Regrets by Guy Fraser Sampson (2017) is the second book in the Hampshire Murders series by Guy Fraser Sampson. A well plotted mystery which pays affectionate homage to the Golden Age mysteries which are still so popular.

Scenes of Childhood and other stories by Sylvia Townsend Warner (1981) was definitely one of my highlights of the month. The more I read by her the more I love her. This collection is very autobiographical – so much so it is hard not to see it as a collection of memoirs. STW and her family are present as themselves, in every story. An absolute joy of a book.

Reading A Girl in Winter by Philip Larkin (1947) was another absolute joy – thinking about it – there have been at least four absolute joys this month. Last year during the 1947 club reading event – I heard about this wonderful novel by Philip Larkin, his second and last novel as far as I know. It concerns a wartime winter and the memory of a summer. A young European woman displaced by the war, working at a provincial library, looks back to a time when as a young girl, she visited the family of her pen pal.

The Indian Woman by Diana Gardner  (1954)– I took a chance on this pricey second hand book by the author of a volume of short stories I read last year and loved. The gamble paid off, it was a very god read, about small acts of cruelty within a marriage and the destruction of good woman.

I read The Innocents (kindle edition) by Margery Sharp (1972) for Jane’s Margery Sharp birthday celebration. It centres on the relationship between an ageing spinster and a child with learning difficulties that she cares for.

He Who Plays the King by Mary Hocking (1980) took me right away from this modern world and its complexities, into the stories of Henry Tudor and Richard III. It is a story that has been told before many times, but Hocking brings her unique ability to capture the British countryside and the hidden psychology of human frailty to this still enormously compelling story.

No Signposts in the Sea by Vita Sackville West (1961) is a slight novel of only around 150 pages, more of a novella I suppose, it was Vita’s last novel, one she wrote while gravely ill. It is a though-provoking novel about death and the way to live life.

Every Good Deed and other stories by Dorothy Whipple – my third volume of short stories of the month. Oh, I do like a good Whipple, and this collection is certainly good. The first story in the collection is more of a novella at 120 pages, but I probably preferred some of the other stories, although each story is very good and I flew through them all – anyway full review in a couple of days.

So, I am currently reading In My Own Time; almost an autobiography by Nina Bawden – so far it is absolutely great. Which will be added properly to next month’s tally.

No particular or definite plans for February, because I am enjoying being spontaneous this year. However I think I will possibly read The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West for the librarything Virago author of the month.  Speaking of Virago – the people at Virago Press (well whoever runs their social media) have launched a #VMCBookclub. In January they were reading Good Behaviour by Molly Keane – which I read last year. I believe that today they will announcing a book for February. If it should be a book I haven’t read  I might join in. Earlier this month I wrote about my favourite Persephones (a post which garnered this blog the most hits ever!) so I have definitely put myself in the mood for reading more Persephones.

Tell me, what have you been reading? Any exciting reading plans for February?

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January has felt very long – so long in fact that I feel I must surely have read more than nine and a half books – but there it is, nine and a half books and a month that sometimes felt more like three. Thankfully my reading during dreary January has been of a pretty high standard.

virginiawoolfI started the year on a real high reading wise, beginning my year and my #Woolfalong project reading To the Lighthouse (1927). It was a wonderful reading experience, so different from my first experience of it twenty five years ago. Maurice (1971) by E M Forster – another member of the Bloomsbury set I suppose, was the only novel by E M Forster I had never read (not yet read his short stories either). Beautifully written, it paints an extremely honest picture of what life might be for a young man attracted to his own sex in the early twentieth century – no wonder really that Forster didn’t live to see it published. The Land of Green Ginger (1927) by Winifred Holtby I had been saving for a few years – it turned out to be good – although certainly not her best. I was a tad disappointed – only because I had saved it so long, however a lesser Holtby is still pretty good – and definitely still worth reading. I was particularly cheered to learn that The Land of Green Ginger is an actual street – how I would love little address card with that address on! Next I read a Netgalley review copy on my trusty kindle – Exposure (2016) by Helen Dunmore. I always like Helen Dunmore’s writing, and this one was among the best of those that I have read. Her sense of place is always so good, and the atmosphere and tension in this latest novel is pretty much perfect. Actually reading Exposure made me want to read those Dunmore I’ve yet to get around to. Next I found myself returning to Virginia Woolf, re-reading Mrs Dalloway (1925) – which I had originally not intended to do until February. Mrs Dalloway is a fascinating, complex novel – I enjoyed it far more this time too. I think (I hope) I may have finally found my Virginia Woolf mojo. I will probably wait until March to read more Woolf, although I have (or will have) my first round up post for the end of the first phase to post at the end of this month.

Cassandra at the Wedding (1962) by Dorothy Baker is a book I had only ever heard good reports of, a slim book it packs something of a punch in its brilliantly memorable narrative voice, I think I would have liked it to be a bit longer. Leading up to Margery Sharp day I read Britannia Mews (1946) – such a brilliant read, it’s easy to see why it was adapted for a film in the 1950’s. The Half-Crown House (1956) an old novel by Helen Ashton – I assume it to have been one of her later novels as she died in 1958. Set on one day in 1954 it explores the history and family of the house on that day and in flashback. I enjoyed it a lot – although not quite as much as the previous two novels of hers that I read.

Many of you will know I am involved in bookcrossing – although not as active as I once was, though I am currently involved in organising the UK convention, here in Birmingham for September. One of the authors I have arranged to speak is a local author Fiona Joseph – having not read either of Fiona’s books yet I started reading her most recent Comforts for the Troops (2015) – so I could pass it round a few readers who are likely to attend her talk in September. I will review it in the next few days – but I loved it. Set among the women who worked in the Cadbury factory during WW1 I found it very compelling, I particularly loved the local connection of course. I begin February a little more than half way through Cider with Rosie (1959); a book I have meant to read for years – and so when I spotted it at a bookcrossing meet on Saturday I picked it up and began reading it right away.

 

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I do have some plans for February – two book group reads – The Cleft by Doris Lessing and a re-read of Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. I also want to read at least one Mary Hocking novel and I have a couple of more recent novels on my kindle I have been trying to get round to for weeks. Though of course I do really just like picking up whatever takes my fancy at that moment.

So tell me what were your stand out reads for January and what are you planning to read in February?

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janbooksThose of you who regularly read my blog will know that January has been my month of re-reading. I can honestly say that it has been a joy – the re-reading has – January itself has been fairly awful. What with a sore knee stopping me from going out with my walking group, the weather, ice and snow which I loathe making life difficult, then I was ill for two weeks – but I had my reading to keep me happy. I actually read two or three books more than I probably would have done, had I not been ill.

One of the really lovely things about re-reading is how one can read things on different levels at different times in one’s life. This was demonstrated to me particularly while I was reading Jane Eyre. It’s my favourite book I think of all time, and this latest reading of it was the fourth time I had read it, and maybe the time I enjoyed it the most. I couldn’t help but look back in amazement at that funny little eleven year old who first read it. Reading it now in my forties I got out so much that I must surely have missed the first time, and maybe even the second time that I read it. Jane herself seemed to have grown with me in some strange way; maybe I just viewed her with different eyes. One of the books I had chosen to read was Howards End, which was the first E M Forster I read at least twenty years ago, but was later eclipsed in my memory by A Passage to India, though I had remembered it as being hard going. Well I didn’t find it at all hard going this time; I loved it and can report that now Howards End has rather eclipsed A Passage to India. I chose to read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, mainly because I had forgotten almost all the story, but remember being rather impressed with the controversial (1840’s controversy) element, when I first read it. I was impressed all over again. A couple of the books were chosen for their cosy comforting nature, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and even Agatha Christie’s A Caribbean Mystery were great to curl up with while I was unwell. In fact I either retained or increased my love of all the books I read this month.
So here’s the list of what I read in January. I would love to know about any re-reading you have done in January; I know some of you out there have been indulging.

1 Some Tame Gazelle (1950) Barbara Pym (F)
2 Jane Eyre (1847) Charlotte Bronte (F)
3 The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) Thomas Hardy (F)
4 The Pursuit of Love (1945) Nancy Mitford (F)
5 My Family & other animals (1956) Gerald Durrell (NF)
6 Persuasion (1818) Jane Austen (F)
7 Howards End (1910) E M Forster (F)
8 Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (1938) Winifred Watson (F)
9 The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) Anne Bronte (F)
10 A Caribbean Mystery (1964) Agatha Christie (F)
11 The Warden (1855) Anthony Trollope (F)
12 Excellent Women (1952) Barbara Pym (F)

IMAG0152That brings me nicely to February and thinking about what I might read next. I have got together what I think is a really nice pile. Suddenly having to choose off my TBR was really rather exciting – and I could have easily gone mad.
I have chosen:
(on my Kindle) Untying the Knot – by Linda Gillard
Peking Picnic – Ann Bridge (currently reading)
Guard your daughters – Diana Tutton
Lost and Found – Tom Winter (sent to me by Corsair)
The Death of Lyndon Wilder and the consequences thereof – E. A Dineley ( also sent by corsair)
The Old Ways – Robert Macfarlane
A favourite of the gods – Sybille Bedford
The Blue Flower – Penelope Fitzgerald
The Easter Parade – Richard Yates
Now of course February is a shorter month – so I may not get through them all – but they do look good.
What do you think you might be reading in February?

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11 books read this month. 9 fiction, 2 non-fiction. I really think I have read some cracking good books this month, what a great booky start to 2012! If the rest of the year is as good reading wise – then I shall be pleased indeed.

1.The Heretic’s Daughter (2008) Kathleen Kent (F)
2. Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) Thomas Hardy (F)
3. The Brontes went to Woolworths (1931) Rachel Ferguson (F)
4.The House of Mirth (1905) Edith Wharton (F)
5.The Sittaford Mystery (1931) Agatha Christie (F)
6. Agent Zigzag (2007) Ben Macintyre (NF)
7. The Many Conditions of Love (2009) Farahad Zama (F)
8. Treasure Hunt (1952) Molly Keane (F)
9. Yesterday Morning (2002) Diana Athill (NF)
10 The Enchanted April (1922) Elizabeth Von Arnim (F)
11 The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton (2011) Elizabeth Speller (F)

Difficult to say which were my top reads of this month as they were all so good – in different ways. Onb reflection though my special mentions this month are:

1. Far from the Madding crowd – Thomas Hardy

Still a wonderful read after all this time. A romantic pastoral, a gripping story with many familiar Hardy themes.

2 The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton

An absolutely fabulous read, an early 20th Century novel of New York society, and the beautiful flawed Lily Bart.

3 The Enchanted April – Elizabeth Von Arnim

A joy of a read, a charming curl up with a hot cup of cocoa of a book from 1922, I read a kindle version available free.

4 The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton

A brilliant page turner, a hard to put down novel and a great read.

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January Reads

1. These Foolish Things Deborah Moggach
2. What a Carve Up Jonathon Coe
3. The Other side of the bridge Mary Lawson
4. Under the Net Iris Murdoch
5.The Italian Quarter Domenica De Rosa
6. Billie Morgan Joolz Denby
7 The Book Thief Marcus Zusak
8 Under The Greenwood tree Thomas Hardy
9 Half a Life V S Naipaul
10 Anita and me Meera Syal
11 Third Girl Agatha Christie
12 Sunrise on Kusatsu Harbor Dan Maloney
13 The Hiding Place Corrie Ten Boom

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