Posts Tagged ‘may reads’

Today is the last day of May. May and June are my favourite months of the year, the light is just so good, it doesn’t get too hot usually in the UK, more flowers start appearing, the countryside is so green, and it’s my birthday in May. 

It was Daphne du Maurier reading week earlier this month and I want to say another thank you to those of you who joined in, and to Liz who helped by putting together a page of review links on her blog. It was a more reduced celebration this year from me – everything has become more reduced it would seem, but at least it went ahead. 

It’s been a very slow reading month for me, for all the usual reasons – I had hoped to finish my current read today but I didn’t get much read yesterday, after being out all day, so that book will have to go into the June pile.  Just seven books read this month, one of them hidden away on my kindle. 

Having read my first DDM book of the year the previous month, I started May reading Myself When Young:The Shaping of a writer (1977) by Daphne du Maurier In this memoir Daphne du Maurier wrote about the first twenty-five years of her life, when she herself was nearing seventy, using the diaries she had kept between 1920 and 1932. Reliving her childhood, adolescence and early twenties the memoir ends around the time she marries. 

My re-reading of Rebecca (1938) by Daphne du Maurier was an absolute joy from start to finish. I was left with a huge book hangover, and no wish to write a blog post about it, as that would somehow have spoiled it. It was my third reading of Rebecca and I was surprised at how much I had forgotten – I can’t really say which bits they were. I think my enjoyment of this novel was in part responsible for how slowly I read my next book. 

A collection of short stories Winter in the Air (1955)  by Sylvia Townsend Warner seemed like a good choice, given the aforementioned book hangover. Sylvia Townsend Warner is a writer I really enjoy, her short stories are always good and so I wasn’t disappointed. In these stories we meet abandoned wives, a young girl eloping, a murderer, we witness a schoolboy’s encounter in a railway carriage and a woman return to a village decades after she left. They were just what I needed.

One of the longlisted novels from this year’s Women’s Prize list had already caught my eye before the list was announced. The Bandit Queens (2023) by Parini Shroff was also selected by my book group as our June title. I absolutely loved it. I read it quite quickly on Kindle – which I always seem to read faster on anyway, and I am really looking forward to that book group discussion now. 

Siblings (1963) by Brigitte Reimann translated from German by Lucy Jones was fascinating. Set in East Germany in 1960, the border between the east and west has closed (the wall went up a year later). For Elisabeth the GDR is a chance for East Germany to create a new socialist, fairer future for all. For her brother however it is all about oppression and strictures he can’t tolerate. It made me wonder about how I might have responded had I been angry, in my early twenties and East German in 1960, I suspect I might have been easily persuaded. I find that slightly uncomfortable now. 

Having so enjoyed The Decagon House Murders in April, I couldn’t leave it too long before reading The Mill House Murders (1988) by Yukito Ayatsuji translated from Japanese by Ho-Ling Wong. I found this every bit as enjoyable as the first in the series, although I was able to work out a lot of the mystery myself – which always makes me feel a bit like Poirot. 

Cork Street, Next to the Hatters (1965) by Pamela Hansford Johnson is the third in her Dorothy Merlin trilogy. A don attends a play with Dorothy’s bookseller husband, after which he decides to write a play so disgusting and obscene no one will put it on anywhere – he wants to make a point. Of course, he’s rather naive as to what the theatrical world will stand. It’s a brilliant satire. I won’t be writing a review of it though, as I realise its appeal is probably limited. However for those who like PHJ in particular and writers like her in general I recommend you seek this trilogy out. The premise of this one, probably doesn’t sound very enthralling and yet it’s a hoot – and I read it pretty quickly and was rather sorry there wasn’t more. 

So that was my May – how was yours?

As for June, I really don’t have any plans at all and I don’t know of any reading challenges – other than 20 books of summer which I don’t do, as I can’t stick to a list, I’m far too fickle.  So the world of my tbr is my oyster – I do have a vague plan to get some of my unread Persephones read soon. As I have already read my June book group choice, I could read our July choice which is Tresspasses by Louise Kennnedy, a novel I have been meaning to read for months and not quite getting to. Other than that, only time and my mood will tell. 

So, what plans do you all have for June? Have I missed any challenges?

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So, May is done. The month of #DDMreadingweek, my birthday and some nicer weather starting to creep in.

The beginning of the month was all about #DDMreadingweek for me, I had to start reading in very good time, so I had books ready to review and talk about.

I began the month reading The Doll: short stories by Daphne du Maurier (2011) a collection of mainly early short stories put together by Virago. They clearly show the writer she would become; she had a fierce storytelling talent right from the start. The title story is particularly memorable.

I then took a break from my DDM reading to read my book group choice on my kindle – The Mad Women’s Ball by Victoria Mas (2019). The Salpêtrière Asylum: Paris, 1885, here the renowned Dr Charcot thrills certain sections of Paris society with his demonstrations of hypnotism on women who have been cast out by society and their families. Women from all sections of society, deemed mad – but really in the main just inconvenient, outspoken, unconventional. Every year a ball is held, the mad women’s ball, where the Paris elite can come and see the mad women dressed up in their finery. An incredibly powerful little novel. All my book group enjoyed it.

 The Glassblowers by Daphne du Maurier (1963) is based on the history of Daphne du Maurier’s own family, it is set in France at the time of the French Revolution. With some fantastic descriptions of the turbulence and fear of those years, it is a brilliantly researched historical novel. I found myself learning quite a lot about the French Revolution.

Next I read one of the books I got for my birthday, A Well Full of Leaves by Elizabeth Myers (1943) one of the newer issued Persephone books. It is always a treat to read a Persephone book. While I can see this might be a novel that divides people, I enjoyed it. This is the story of a childhood, the growth of four siblings to maturity following their bleak and terrible childhood. Narrated by Laura Valley, the third of four siblings, as the novel opens she is thirteen, she has an older sister Anda, an older brother Robert and a younger brother Steve. They live in a horrible little house, in a horrible street with fairly horrible parents. Their father is mainly pathetic, he bets on the horses and loses, drinks a lot, and has been completley dominated by his terrible, bullying wife. Their mother is possibly the worst mother I have come across in fiction. Unsurprisingly there are no happy endings here, but Laura’s relationship with, and the descriptions of the natural world are wonderful.

Mrs Mohr Goes Missing by Maryla Szymiczkowa (2015) is the first book in an entertaining mystery series, two book have so far been translated from the Polish. This novel is more than just a mystery story though, it is also a wry glimpse into turn of the century Polish manners. Set towards the end of the nineteenth century, a time when Poland didn’t exist as an independent country it was partitioned by three empires. Cracow, 1893. Zofia Turbotyńska is a bored housewife, married to Professor Ignacy Turbotyńska of the medical faculty at the university. Zofia goes into full investigative mode when she gets herself drawn in to two deaths at a local retirement home.

Strange Journey by Maud Cairnes (1935) is one of the most recent offerings from the British Library Women Writers series. This was great fun, I seem to love novels like this, not sure how to categorise them. Whimsical, and highly entertaining it is a 1930s body swap comedy. It also has some wry observances of class, manners and relationships.

The Unspeakable Skipton by Pamela Hansford Johnson (1959) – my edition, a first edition that I bought several years ago. It is the first book in the Dorothy Merlin series – PHJ writes several trilogies. A witty satire, this novel follows the fortunes of Daniel Skipton, an Englishman in 1950s Bruges – who sees an opportunity to make some much needed money out of a group of English tourists. I very much enjoy Pamela Hansford Johnson’s writing.

So, that completed my May reading, I did read about a hundred pages of another book on the last day of May, but that can go into June’s pile. Not sure how we have got to June already!

I have no special reading plans for June really. My book group will be reading The Braid by Laetitia Colombani translated from French by Louise Rogers Lalaurie. Other than that, I shall continue to see where the mood takes me. Perhaps I shall read one or two of my newer acquisitions I talked about recently, or go for something I have had for years, like that Pamela Hansford Johnson I just read.

Tell me – What brilliant things did you read in May?

I am currently away for a few days, so I shan’t get any more blog posts out before next week (and I am horribly behind in blog reading too sorry). I hope all of you here in the UK has good bank holiday whatever you’re doing.

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The end of another month in lockdown, and as I am continuing to shield I may not be going anywhere just yet. I hope you all continue to safe, well and as sane as any of us are at the moment.

I have read some brilliant books in May, it was of course Daphne du Maurier reading week earlier in the month, I actually spent two weeks reading her and it was a complete joy. Seeing so many people sharing their enthusiasm for her books was really inspiring. It was also my birthday, I received good lockdown gifts, pyjamas, books, jigsaws, chocolate, and tea. Lockdown birthdays are necessarily quiet, but it was still nice.

I started the month with the first of the books I read in preparation for DDM reading week, The Birds and other stories. There are six long short stories in the collection, each of them fully immersive and of a satisfying length. In these stories, we find ourselves on the English coast, in a remote European mountain village, a sun soaked holiday resort for the wealthy and a rural English landscape. The opening title story is the most memorable of course, absolutely chilling and utterly brilliant.

The Flight of the Falcon was next – a thoroughly interesting and immersive novel with a tremendous sense of place. A young Italian man working as a courier with a tourist company travels back to his hometown, where the past is everywhere. There are simmering resentments, jealousies, and fragile allegiances at the town’s university, though at the heart of the novel there is a mystery about an old woman’s death – and a brother’s obsession.

The Parasites offered yet another kind of narrative from DDM and I started to really see just how varied her writing is. This is a pretty autobiographical novel about three theatrical siblings.

My final book for DDM reading week was The Scapegoat, it’s a novel of doppelgangers – two men meet and swap identities. You may initially have to suspend disbelief, but once you do, this is a fantastic read.

The Skin Chairs by Barbara Comyns was my next read, narrated by ten year old Frances it is classic Comyns. Comyns presents us with an adult world seen through a child’s eyes, several eccentric characters combine with the strange and the macabre.

The first of the books I have still to review is Wave me Goodbye edited by Anne Boston, a wonderful collection of Second World War stories – packed with the kind of writers I love, there were a few stories I was reading for the second time but that was no hardship. Sylvia Townsend Warner, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Pym, Olivia Manning and Jean Rhys are just some of the women writers collected here.

The Murder of my Aunt by Richard Hull from the brilliant British Library was a thoroughly enjoyable golden age mystery, told in a wonderfully arch tone – it is wickedly wry and has a brilliant twist.

On my trusty old kindle, I read The House Opposite by Barbara Noble a Furrowed Middlebrow title from Dean Street Press. It is a brilliant depiction of living through the London blitz. It is a very vivid picture of the times, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

My book group went with my suggestion of Dusty Answer by Rosamond Lehmann for our June read. I first read it just over ten years ago, so it has been a great joy to re-read it. At the time of writing (early Sunday evening) I have less than a hundred pages to go – and I suspect I won’t quite read all of those pages by midnight, but it can still count for May – just.

Plans for June? I don’t really have any. Though I am reminded by the arrival of the Persephone biannually that I haven’t read any Persephone for a while. I have five tbr and four of those are non-fiction – and that is the problem. I read very little non-fiction anyway and have definitely been in even less of a non-fiction mood than usual. Still, I may try one of them. Other than that, I will go where my mood takes me.

What have you been reading in May? I always enjoy hearing about brilliant books I should be looking out for.

Whatever you are reading and whatever you are doing, locked down or venturing nervously out into the world, I hope you stay safe and well.  

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May has been a lovely reading month for me. Of course, #DDMreadingweek was a particular highlight – and it looks like I will be doing it again next year.

I’ve read nine books during May, and not a bad one among them. So now it’s June – and I am looking forward to summer – with a couple of seaside breaks booked, and maybe a bit more reading time.

I began May reading The Psychology of Time-Travel by Kate Macarenhas for my book group. A book combining women scientists, psychology and time travel. Everyone in our book group loved it.

A Touch of Mistletoe by Barbara Comyns was a pure delight, I have loved everything I have read by her. This book took some tracking down, so I needed it to be brilliant – and it was. There’s darkness here of course, Comyns’ style is such that she shields us from the true misery that lies beneath.

The Breaking Point Stories by Daphne Du Maurier – was my first read for the reading week, for me it was more like ten or twelve days though as I started early and finished late. These eight suspenseful stories cross the boundaries of reality several times, depicting people as they reach their breaking point. The stories take us from Devon, to London to Venice To Hollywood and the Greek mountains. Again, Du Maurier showing us what a wonderfully versatile storyteller she was.

The House on the Strand by Daphne Du Maurier – my second read for DDM week and my second book (perhaps ever, never mind during this month) featuring time travel. It will almost certainly be on my books of the year list – my goodness I loved it. Such wonderfully inventive, compelling storytelling.

Well I just couldn’t get enough, so I then moved on to Mary Anne by Daphne Du Maurier a biographical novel about Mary Anne Clarke; DDM’s great-great grandmother – who was an extraordinary character.

Blitz Writing by Inez Holden comprises a novella; Night Shift and a memoir; It was Different at the Time. Together they provide a portrait of a city under daily bombardment, showing the lives of ordinary working people in factories and hospitals.

Mrs Tim Carries On by D.E Stevenson was a lovely bit of 40s escapism – the second book in the series that started with Mrs Tim of the Regiment. This sequel was published with a view to bringing some light relief to Stevenson’s fans living under wartime strictures – but despite that Stevenson never completely shies away from the realities of wartime life.

Jessie at Dwell in Possibility is again hosting the Persephone readathon (May 31st – June 9th) and I again started early and have somehow finished two very different books already. Emmeline by Judith Rossner was the first of them, a little under 400 pages, I had thought it was bigger and would take longer to read. I absolutely flew through it. Emmeline had been on my tbr for ages – and somehow reviews of it had passed me by, and I didn’t know anything about it. Set in the American Midwest in the 1840s/50s it is not a happy story.

Maman, What are we Called Now? By Jacqueline Mesnil-Amar is the wartime diary of the last days of the German occupation of Paris. It’s extraordinarily poignant, endlessly quotable with so much of it resonating with me – it’s a stark reminder – should we need it, of what can happen when extremism takes hold.

I have a few plans for June – I really want to get to grips with some review books I have been sent – I mentioned that in a recent post. Since then I have ticked two off the list. Late last night I started Death in Captivity a WW2 mystery by Michael Gilbert sent to me by BLCC which I have seen some great reviews for. Then, I will have to read my book group choice (cutting it fine as ever) Transcription by Kate Atkinson, it was my suggestion, and now I am nervous about it. My feminist book group were all quite excited at the prospect of reading it, we all said women spies – yay! Since then I have read a couple of reviews in which the readers concerned were rather underwhelmed. I probably shouldn’t have read the reviews. Oh well, time will tell, perhaps I will love it. I have been itching to read Spring by Ali Smith since I bought at Easter, I may find time this month. The LT ‘reading the 1940s’ project continues, and June is a wildcard month – no particular theme – so as I have lots that could easily fit in, I hope to read at least one book.

What brilliant things did you read in May? As always, I would love to know what you’re planning to read in June.

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So that was May! A strange mix of my fiftieth birthday (which was a joy) and a horrible chest infection. Being ill for the last ten days has meant extra reading time though – and looking down the list of things I read, it was a pretty good month.

The month started really well with Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty, my second try at Welty which was much more successful. A slow, evocative read with a stunning sense of place.

The Hothouse by the East River by Muriel Spark for #ReadingMuriel2018 was a strange surreal little book, but one I really enjoyed. Set in New York in the late 60s/early 70s it really shows Spark’s inventiveness.

Having loved the Durrell TV series, I was eager to read Whatever happened to Margo by Margaret Durrell, it underwhelmed a little to be honest, and certainly it lacks the humorous brilliance of Gerald Durrell’s books, but it was entertaining enough.

The Cat’s Cradle Book by Sylvia Townsend Warner is a gorgeous little collection of unusual stories, telling us the traditional stories passed on by adult cats to their kittens. Perhaps only STW could write in such a way, and make it work like she does.

I always enjoy finding a new to me author, and Ellen Foster, Kaye Gibbons’ debut novel was my first by an author I knew nothing about. I have another of her books to look forward to and a couple of commenters filled me in about her and her other books.

The Honours Board by Patricia Hansford Johnson is a school set book for adults, and I know there are a lot of readers who enjoy those. This is another excellent novel from PHJ, who deftly weaves together the various stories of the men and women who live and work at an English preparatory school.

Writers as Readers the anthology of VMC introductions is a book I am sure I shall return to again, a wonderful collection of VMC voices I very much enjoyed dipping in and out.

My fifth book from the Asymptote book club was Brother in Ice by Alicia Kopf one of several books I still have to review. It is a book I wasn’t sure I would like, but I did. It is a difficult book to describe, genre defying, it is part novel, part travelogue part research notes. Using stories of polar exploration, it is also the coming of age story of a young woman concerned about her older autistic brother.

Book two of the MaddAddam trilogy The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood kept me fabulous company as my chest infection really hit. The story in this book runs parallel to that of the one in Oryx and Crake, and in it we see again Atwood’s astonishing imagination.

Next, I read The Elected Member by Bernice Rubens for Shiny new books Golden Booker celebration, so the review will most likely appear there first – though not for a few weeks. I loved it, isn’t it wonderful when a book you have had tbr for an absolute age turn out to be so brilliant you wonder why it took you so long?

On a whim really, I chose to read My Wife Melissa by Frances Durbridge on my kindle – one of a number of Bello books I splurged out on a couple of years ago. I quite enjoyed it – though it did seem to be over almost as soon as it had begun. The story itself is entertaining, but for me there is nothing in the way of character development or setting description to lift it above the ordinary.

Yesterday afternoon I finished Tory Heaven by Marghanita Laski, which I only began on Wednesday evening. The mini Persephone readathon begins today, so despite having other things waiting to review, I shall review out of order and try and get this one reviewed by the end of the weekend. It is a sharply observed satire and a scathing indictment on the social hierarchy of the class system.

As well as all the above, I have read some of Grace Paley’s short stories in the new VMC edition of the Collected Stories. More about that in the coming weeks, as I continue to dip in and out.

Looking ahead to June…
I have just started The Carlyles At Home by Thea Holm – Persephone book 32 – it is about the lives of Jane and Thomas Carlyle when they lived at Cheyne row, Chelsea. I may stray away from my ACOB to read another Persephone book this weekend too, I shall see how I feel and what time I have. I shall of course continue with those Grace Paley stories and I am looking forward to The Takeover by Muriel Spark for #ReadingMuriel2018.

Whatever you’re reading in June I hope you enjoy it, and as always I would love to know about the best things you read during May.


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Posting this May roundup, a day late as I had to make way for my Elizabeth Taylor giveaway yesterday.

Well May was a funny old month. I haven’t been a hundred percent – and although I am pretty much back to full strength now, I found myself signed off work. Forced into more reading time, and feeling pretty grumpy, I immediately spent untold hours retreating into Netflix. I did read more than I usually do – though nothing like as many books as I could have done.

I started May reading Effi Briest by Theador Fontane, one of the latest Persephone titles, it is a German classic which unusually for Persephone publications is already in print in other editions. It is a novel which really should sit alongside such classics as Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary – it was a wonderful read.

The 12.30 from Croydon by Freeman Wills Crofts – one of the British Library Crime Classics was a great piece of escapism. A slightly different take on the usual Golden age mystery – as in this story we know just who the murderer is
– but will they get away with it.

My next read Slaves of the Lamp by Pamela Frankau, sporting a pretty dreadful 1960s cover – was the sequel to Sing for your Supper which I read a few months ago. More superb characterisation from Frankau, as she weaves together stories of theatrical people with those of advertising and the world of spiritualism.

The Librarything Virago group were reading Willa Cather during May, and I chose The Professor’s House as it was the last of her novels I had to read. It is brilliant novel, quietly introspective, it tells the story of a mid-western university professor and the brilliant student who is never far from his thoughts.

Since reading My Name is Lucy Barton, I had been meaning to read more by Elizabeth Strout. I enjoyed Olive Kitteridge even more, the structure is more of linked short stories and the writing is utterly brilliant.

A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark is quite a quirky little novel, there is a hint of darkness perhaps – but the novel heighted for me what an interesting writer Muriel Spark is.

Nina Bawden is one of those writers I reach pretty much knowing I am going like, maybe even love what I find. A Little Love, A little learning is a particularly good Bawden, she is at her best I think when she is writing about families.

The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith is the book of a film I watched a long time ago – of course the book is better – is also the first in a series of five. In Ripley, Highsmith created an enduringly fascinating character.

The third book in the Balkan trilogy, Friends and Heroes by Olivia Manning brought that compelling trilogy to a fantastic ending. I am now looking forward to the Levant trilogy.

A Note in Music by Rosamond Lehmann, was a book I had wanted to read for years. It absolutely didn’t disappoint – her second novel about the disappointments within marriage it written in the most glorious prose.

My very small book group chose to read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, although we don’t meet to discuss it until the week after next. I first read it somewhere between about 1987 (when my edition came out) and the early 1990s and although I had forgotten many of the details – the essence of it had stayed with me. I was simply blown away by it, and gulped it down in two days.

Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham was my final book completed in May. It is the second of the two books reissued by Persephone in April. I can’t adequately express how much I loved this novel. A Canadian novel which tells the story of a young woman who falls in love with a Jewish man, and her father’s horrendous anti-Semitic attitude. It is a definite contender for my best of list at the end of the year.

Those two final novels of course I still need to review – but I may have a breather for a couple of days as I have been churning out blog posts this week.

After finishing Earth and High Heaven I reached for an Anita Brookner novel, Family and Friends, most of which I did read during May but I actually finished it over breakfast on June 1st so it can go at the bottom of June’s pile.

And so to June. The Librarything author of the month for June is Margaret Laurence – and I am hoping to get around to The Stone Angel. She is an author I have never read before. Having dispensed with that Anita Brookner – which was very good I have just started reading Mrs Eckdorf in O’Neill’s Hotel by William Trevor I really should have read more of his books than I have.


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May is one of my favourite months, a month of blossom, lighter evenings, bank holidays and my birthday. This year of course May culminated in me spending a couple of days at the Hay Festival – which I blogged about yesterday. I have also read a mix of excellent books.

I began May reading a Pat Barker novel have had for ages, Liza’s England is the story of a working class woman – the same age as the century she lives in. It is a wonderful story of more than eighty years of history – and a woman who lives through those changing times. Mrs Dalloway’s Party was the collection of stories that I chose to begin phase three of #Woolfalong – I loved how it complements the novel Mrs Dalloway. The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante– was a book group read which really packs a punch, a viscerally angry novel, I was surprised by the tone of the book but ended up really loving it. Parson Austen’s Daughter by Helen Ashton, was a Christmas present from my sister, the fourth Helen Ashton I have read – I liked it but it is my least favourite of her books so far. The Testament of Vida Tremayne by Sarah Vincent was kindly sent to me by the author, in it we have a compelling mother, daughter story set in the countryside of the Welsh borders.

Willa Cather’s Lucy Gayheart – was my top read of the month, a story of love, loss and failure it’s deeply poignant, reminding me that Willa Cather is one of my favourite writers. Next two review copies back to back – they’re like buses sometimes – He Runs the Moon an excellent collection of short stories subtitled tales from the cities by Wendy Brandmark, Summer an anthology of writings, includes extracts from well-known novels, essays from some (to me at least) new voices, and poetry. I will be reviewing Summer soon, although I think an anthology will be even harder to review than I find short stories to review. Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay – read on my kindle for my book group – a couple of weeks early to make way for #20booksofsummer – is the compelling story of the poet’s search for her birth parents. I ended the month by reading – in a day – the short novel – La Femme Gilles by Madeline Bourdouxhe. I had only read a review of it a few days ago – I ordered it immediately and began reading it straight from the packaging on arriving home from Hay. Beautiful and devastating I want to read everything by this Belgian writer who is being re- issued by Daunt books who do produce such elegant books.

20booksofsummerSo June is the beginning of #20booksofsummer – and I chose thirty books in which to read twenty from – which I hope will help me stick to the pile. Beryl Bainbridge week is not far away and I have two Bainbridge on that summer reading pile – A Weekend with Claude and A Quiet Life. I also have more Virginia Woolf stories to read, Monday or Tuesday will be up soon. As for everything else I think I pick from that summer pile according to my mood.


My last two posts have not been reviews – and I have three books to still tell you all about. I will get back to reviewing in a couple of days.


beryl bainbridge week


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I began May a little way into a lovely Persephone book, The Young Pretenders by Edith Henrietta Fowler which I absolutely loved – originally a book for children at the end of the nineteenth century, it had me shedding a tear or two. That was followed up with The Story of a new name by Elena Ferrante, an absolutely brilliant follow up to My Brilliant Friend. I chose to read The Custom of the Country for #Whartonreview which has been hosted by Brona’s books this month, it was a wonderful read, and I loved every word. Death at the President’s Lodging by Michael Innes was a complex academic mystery, the first novel in Michael Innes Inspector Appleby series. The White Monkey, book four of the nine books of The Forsyte Saga Chronicles, was fabulously readable and I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with Soames and Fleur in 1922 a time of social and political change. It was fitting I should have been reading it around the time of our General Election. A Sea-Grape Tree (accidently left out of the pictures) was Rosamond Lehmann’s final published novel, coming after quite a lengthy literary silence, it is also the sequel to her masterly 1944 novel The Ballad and The Source, it is a slightly odd little novel, but overall I liked it.

2015-05-30_20.57.06Next came a re-read – a book I really don’t know why I haven’t re-read before – the utterly perfect To Kill a Mockingbird, I loved it so much I didn’t want the book to end. Next I caught up with two book group reads with a wonderful collection of poetry The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy and Margaret Atwood’s re-telling of the story of Odysseus; The Penelopiad. I finished the month with a wonderful early Mary Hocking novel A Time of War – preparing as I was for Mary Hocking week, and some lovely short stories (see below) and continued my reading of All Day Long by Joanna Biggs – which I haven’t managed to finish yet – I’m about half way through – it is brilliant actually but I keep being distracted by other things.
20150417_212144watershipdownSo on to June, next week is all about Mary Hocking reading week for me, and I hope some of you will be joining me. I will be reading the sequel to A Time of War, The Hopeful Traveller. As for the rest of the month, I don’t have many definite plans although I am supposed to be re-reading Watership Down toward the end of the month for a book group.

sylvia Townsend warnerSylvia Townsend Warner reading week:

Some of you may have been aware of a Sylvia Townsend Warner reading week that has been happening in some corners of the internet this last week– mainly on Facebook I think, which I had wanted very much to join in. I realised last weekend though that I wouldn’t be able to fit an STW novel in to a week which saw me catching up with book group reads and preparing for Mary Hocking reading week. However yesterday afternoon I did manage to read two lovely Sylvia Townsend Warner short stories from a wonderful collection called Wave me Goodbye, which is published in an omnibus edition with Hearts Undefeated – this is a book absolutely crammed with the voices of the women writers I love. I will be dipping into this collection more and more I think now that I have whetted my appetite. 2015-05-30_20.43.42

Sweathearts and Wives – tells the story of the inhabitants of Badger Cottage. Married young in 1940, Justina and Midge, decided to throw their lot in together while their husbands are away fighting. Midge has a baby Lettice which absolves her from conscription, while Justina has taken over the work of an auctioneer’s clerk. Into this house come the Sheridans, bombed out of Mitcham, Mr Sheridan away at the war (except when on leave) three children, an Alsation dog and a horse called Shirley.

“Sometimes Justina and Midge discussed what would happen if all their husbands came on leave together.”

Poor Mary – is a more sombre story. Mary is the wife of Nicholas, a conscientious Objector who has spent the years since his exemption working on a farm. Mary had joined the ATS – their views on war differed rather. Their differences had led to their separation. Now, having not seen one another for four years, Mary has come to spend her leave visiting him at the tiny farm cottage where he lives. Both of them feel awkward, they have both changed; the war is nearly over, they each to re-adjust their view of the other.

“In the other room the clock was ticking, the kettle was boiling. Three hours earlier the bed had not seemed his own, now his living-room was not his either, but some sort of institutional waiting-room where two people had made an inordinate mess of a meal.”

In the second section of this omnibus made up of non-fiction pieces, extracts from essays diary entries etc. were three extracts from Sylvia Townsend Warner’s letters here entitled; Bombs in the Country, The New Austerity and The Censor . These I read in just fifteen minutes, and they are wonderfully engaging and humorous. Some pieces in this collection are tiny just a paragraph or two – while others run to a few pages, part of me wants to gobble up the whole volume – which is quite chunky – now that I have dipped into it, don’t be surprised if this volume is referred to again and again as time goes on.

All in all it’s been a pretty excellent month, so what have you been reading?

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At the end of last month I was complaining that I have been reading slowly this year, having so far read fewer books than at a similar point in previous years, and this despite my to be read bookcase being fuller than ever. Well it looks like I will just have to accept the fact that I am reading slower in my old age, it irritates me though as I have so much waiting to read, and don’t know why it has happened.

This month I have read just 9 books – although they were all excellent and after all that is more important. I started and finished the month with a book from my classic club list, and in-between read a couple of fantastic new books, a book for the Edith Wharton reading month hosted by Brona’s books and another book for the Great War theme read. If the quality of what I’m reading remains as high as it has been this month then I will be happy. I have still to review A Changed Man – my final read for the Thomas Hardy reading project which I and some friends embarked upon almost three years ago. Look out for a post about that project on Monday – if you are a Hardy hater feel free to ignore.

My may list then as follows:

43 Uncle Silas (1864) Sheridan Le Fanu (F)
44 Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant (1960) Anthony Powell (F)
45 Patricia Brent, Spinster (1918) Herbert Jenkins (F)
46 Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 (2014) Francine Prose (F)
47 The Reef (1912) Edith Wharton (F)
48 Wake (2014) Anna Wake (F)
49 Police at the Funeral (1931) Margery Allingham (F)
50 Testament of Youth (1933) Vera Brittain (NF)
51 A Changed Man & other stories (1913) Thomas Hardy (F)

My stand out reads from May:
1 Patricia Brent, Spinster by Herbert Jenkins; oh such a sweet little book, not too serious perhaps but I loved it.
2 Wake by Anna Hope; such a wonderful novel, it deserves to do really well, which I’m pretty sure it already has.
3 Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain; a tome of over 600 pages, but a seriously remarkable autobiography.

20140505_194208waketestament of youth





So on to June – a busy time coming up at work, and tired doesn’t even begin to describe how I’m feeling, despite a short half term and a week off. Actually my stress levels at work have been a little raised this last few months – and I’m not even a teacher!

mary hockingYou have probably seen me banging on fairly remorselessly about Mary Hocking just lately – and I have declared June to be Mary Hocking reading month – you can find out why here. I have already started my first Mary Hocking book, so technically at least half of Letters from Constance could probably be tagged on to the end of the above list – but no matter. I would love lots of people to join in with this reading month – and try to raise the profile of a lovely writer whose books have so undeservedly fallen out of print. It is difficult raising the profile however of someone so few people have heard of. Someone on Twitter contacted me to say they had been let down by an online book seller and couldn’t find her books in the library so might now not be able to join in – how sad! By the way if you are on Twitter please use the hashtag #rememberMary if you are reading or talking about her books. I have three Mary Hocking books waiting to be read, but given my rubbish reading rates – I can’t promise I’ll get to them all – but I am going to try –  I do have a couple of lovely looking review copies to read and my next Anthony Powell is already calling me.

What are you all planning to read? Whatever it is I hope you have a great reading month in June.



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IMAG0224(Photo taken last week in Shrawley Woods – Worcestershire)

My reading for May has had a birthday theme, and I think this may become an annual event. My own birthday was on the 13th of May, a birth date I share with Daphne Du Maurier. So for almost the whole month I read books only by authors who were also born in May. This I called my birthday reading challenge – but really it wasn’t much of a challenge – as challenge suggests something that might be difficult – but in fact this was really quite a joy.

All my May babies books were really excellent but the standout books for the month would be The Pat Barker novels Life Class and Toby’s Room, and the Daphne Du Maurier books My Cousin Rachel and Jamaica Inn, another quiet little joy was William Trevor’s ‘Love and Summer’.
Having read ten books by May babies – I finished my month of birthday reading a few days early so I could read my next Hardy book and my librarything early reviewers book before June’s Pym reading week got under way. Which makes twelve book in all for May – all of them fiction – my non-fiction reading has been even worse than usual this year.

This then is the full list of May reading
47 The Sweet Shop Owner (1980) Graham Swift (F)
48 The Mystery of the Yellow Room (1908) Gaston Leroux (F)
49 A Backward Place (1965) Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (F)
50 Life Class (2007) Pat Barker (F)
51 My Cousin Rachel (1951) Daphne Du Maurier (F)
52 Jamaica Inn (1936) Daphne Du Maurier (F)
53 Toby’s Room (2012) Pat Barker (F)
54 The Sign of Four (1890) Arthur Conan Doyle (F)
55 Love and Summer (2009) William Trevor (F)
56 The Householder (1960) Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (F)
57 Wessex Tales (1888) Thomas Hardy (F)
58 Tango in Madeira (2013) Jim Williams (F)


I have some great things coming up in June. The Barbara Pym reading week is first on the agenda – and I am planning on reading ‘No Fond Return of Love’ and ‘A very Private Eye’ for that, moving on to A Quartet in Autumn later in the month. I also have my classic club spin book ‘Farewell Leicester Square’ to read, which I have heard good things off. Karen at Kaggysbookishramblings and Simon at Stuck in a book were reading ‘A Woman of My Age’ during May and I so wanted to join in, and fellow librarything member Elaine delighted me by sending me a copy – so although I’m a little late to the party I intend to read it this month. I also have a lovely proof copy of Rachel Joyce’s ‘Perfect’ to read – I’ll be reading and reviewing it at the end of the month – it’s published at the beginning of July. I’ve also added three books to my June pile that I have had TBR for ages, and another Virago book I have wanted to read for a while. All in all there’s a good pile there – and look, two non-fiction!

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