Posts Tagged ‘monthly roundup’

August in review

These last few days of August have been something of a disappointment not really feeling like the end of August but more like mid-October – in my part of the UK at least. This post popping up a day earlier than usual as I won’t finish another book by midnight tonight.

September starts tomorrow and with it comes my return to work after months of shielding followed by school summer holidays. It’s going to be a shock to the system – getting back into the old routine, though in many ways I am looking forward to it. Not sure how a return to work, will impact on my reading and blogging but there is bound to be a drop off – so my intention is to write any blog posts at the weekends and schedule them for the following week. That rather depends on my being organised at the weekends and getting down to doing it – so we shall see.

August was a pretty good reading month – juggling things for both #witmonth and All Virago All August – I got through some excellent books, though ended the month on a rare dnf – more of that later. The first three of my #Witmonth reads were actually read in July so I had time to write about them for August – my final tally for #witmonth six books – my final tally for August nine and a half.

The first book of the month however wasn’t for either of those challenges – how easily do we become distracted? Miss Benson’s Beetle is the latest novel from Rachel Joyce. I have enjoyed the other books I have read by her – though they can get a bit sentimental, this one has a darker edge, and is a wonderful story of female friendship, adventure and following one’s dreams. I gulped it down in no time. Definitely my favourite by her to date.

Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen translated from Hebrew by Sonra Silverston. The novel examines morals and responsibilities in the aftermath of a hit and run on a deserted road. I thought this was an even better novel than Liar, which I read last year. There’s an almost thriller like nature to the storytelling which makes this a pacey and gripping read from page one.

The Listener by Tove Jansson translated from Swedish by Thomas Teal is a delicate collection of short stories – some very short. Jansson’s clear, crisp prose, clear vision and her delicate philosophy was a delight to dip in and out of. Jansson’s stories portray a city ravaged by storms, the beauty of the start of spring, childhood, old age and love. Artists feature throughout and as ever her own artist’s eye is evident.

The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye by Brian Flynn and reissued along with quite a number of other Flynn novels by Dean Street Press is a very clever mystery with a brilliant denouement that I hadn’t seen coming. For me it lacked a little in the character development and description that I so enjoy when reading – but I shall still probably read him again.

For All Virago All August The Last of Summer by Kate O’Brien a lovely, slow thoughtful read – rather perfect for summer days in fact. We find ourselves in a small town in Ireland in the last few weeks in the summer of 1939 before hostilities break out between Britain and Germany. Angèle, a young French actress, had been travelling in Ireland with friends when she decide to cut them loose and go instead to the family home of her dead father. Her arrival is unexpected and disruptive.

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa translated from Japanese by Stephen Snyder was one of the books on the International Booker shortlist – the third of them I had read. I thoroughly enjoyed this poignant dystopia of memory and loss – it was definitely the one I was hoping would win – we now know it didn’t. Our unnamed narrator is a young novelist on an unnamed island where things have bit by bit begun to disappear, sometimes people disappear too, like her mother. Random objects no longer exist – hats, ribbons, birds, roses – have disappeared from this world as have many other things. When something disappears it simply has no meaning for the people of the island and can be disposed of easily and unemotionally, burnt or handed over to the memory police. This has made me want to read more by this author.

I had never read a Josephine Tey novel until a friend gave me an old copy of Miss Pym Disposes a couple of weeks ago and I decided to read it straight away. My review is written and will pop up later this week. It was exactly the kind of mystery I like – a mystery which has so much more about it than just the mystery. Written in the 1940s and set in a women’s Physical education college – Tey wonderfully recreates the small and not so small tensions, petty jealousies, and anxieties of a group of young women on the brink of graduating.

Lovely Virago sent me a copy of Growing Up by Angela Thirkell – and despite my often talked about issues with her – it being All Virago All August after all – decided to give her yet another go. I was less upset with Thirkell in this novel than in some others – and I must admit I did enjoy this one – escapist of course and pretty much what I was in the mood for. I shall leave further comment for my review.

Not a VMC of course, Dangerous Ages by Rose Macaulay comes from the British Library Women Writers series – but as a Virago author I claim this for AVAA too. This was a superb read – I have read several novels by Rose Macaulay and recommend her highly. Handheld Press are also publishing a couple of things by her one of which I have ready to dive into soon – such an interesting writer.

All of which brings me sadly to my very rare dnf –The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld translated by Michele Hutchison. This was one of several books I bought for my kindle back in July – I thought it sounded interesting but had read no reviews of it. When I began looking at Goodreads I knew I night have made a mistake. When it won the International Booker prize the other day, I decided to take a deep breath and give it a try. Goodreads reviewers having used phrases like graphic, disturbing, grim, disgusting, animal cruelty etc – made me nervous, I ploughed on, through fifty percent of the novel. It really isn’t for me – and so I set it aside – and I won’t be reviewing it. Rijneveld writes well, very visually – perhaps too visually and I am glad they won and have been recognised but honestly this is not a novel for the faint hearted and I gave it a good try.    

So, I end the month reading Father by Elizabeth von Arnim – another from the lovely women writers series from the British Library. Much more up my ally and so far so lovely. It will probably appear in next month’s round up post as my first book of September.

Read Full Post »

The last day of July! Gosh, that really went quickly. The sun is shining today at least, and on these rare and glorious days I do take advantage of the sun and read outside. Let’s hope for a bit more of it.

So, then this is what I read in July, the final book of the month finished just this morning in the garden. Oddly, this last week has been a very slow reading week – no idea why – still my total stands at ten, which considering the last week isn’t too bad – two of this month’s books read on kindle.

My first read of the month was Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles – which was picked at my suggestion by my book group. The novel follows the decline into debauchery of two very different women, Frieda Copperfield and Christina Goering. I enjoyed it, Bowles’ straightforward narrative voice is very engaging and rather mischievous.

Read for Spanish Lit month, Carlos Manuel Álverez’s debut novel The Fallen tells the story of an ordinary family living together in Cuba. It’s a short novel, tender and at times painful. An enjoyable and honest portrayal of Cuban family life.

The Matchmaker by Stella Gibbons was certainly the post that received the most views and comments this month, it seems people love her books. In the first early winter of peace, after the end of the Second World War, Alda Lucie-Brown and her three young daughters move to Pine Cottage in rural Sussex uprooted by the bombing of their family home near London. Alda then involves herself just a bit too much in the love lives of some of her neighbours.

Quicksand & Passing by Nella Larsen – two novellas in one volume. I first read Passing some years ago, but not Quicksand, I decided to read them both back to back. What an extraordinary pair they are. So much to think about.

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo came in my Books That Matter subscription box. It’s a marmite book that’s for sure, and though it gave me a lot to think about and while I didn’t hate it, I did have some issues with it.

Miss Plum and Miss Penny by Dorothy Evelyn Smith a lovely Dean Street Press book I had been looking forward to a lot. What I really enjoyed in this novel is that beneath the story of a spinster’s disrupted village household there are some dark undertones and a slightly subversive tone. This is as far as I have got in reviewing July’s books, but that’s ok, as some of my next reads are for August’s #Witmonth anyway.

Deborah by Esther Kreitman translated from Yiddish by the author’s son. The story of Polish Jews before the First World War. A slow start, but I thoroughly enjoyed this evocative, fascinating novel that took me right into the heart of a community.

Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor translated from Spanish, this Mexican novel is shortlisted for the International booker prize. A fairly no holes barred account, often brutal and very intense. I can see why it made the shortlist. There were moments when I struggled to like this one.

A House in the Country by Ruth Adam – another of the new crop of Dean Street press books. Not to be confused with the Persephone book of the same name. The story of a group of friends taking on a large (33 room) house in the country after years of wartime deprivations.

A Fine of Two Hundred Francs by Elsa Triolet translated from French. Four stories of differing lengths about the French resistance. This turned out to be a slow read, but very evocative for all that.

So, that was my July in books. Here’s to whatever August brings – August of course, as I talked about in a previous post is all about #Witmonth and All Virago All August. I will juggle the two – although the book I am about to start is for neither challenge. It seems I can’t help but get distracted/attracted by other things. So, following a lovely author event via Zoom the other day, my brand new copy of Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce arrived on Wednesday and I am about to dive in. It is just what I am in the mood for. I definitely have more lovely books for Women in Translation month and All Virago all August ready to go too – so I am hoping for a good month of reading ahead.

What lovely things did you read in July? Are you joining in with Women in Translation month or All Virago All August – if so what will be on top of your pile?

Read Full Post »

July! I can’t quite believe that it’s July already, for me the year is speeding along like a runaway train, perhaps for others it’s dragging. While others are starting to venture out into the world again, I am still shielding – till August. I am doing some work from home too. The danger of course that this has all started to feel quite normal.

June was the first month since lockdown – and possibly this year when I feel as if I have started to read a little more. I’m about fifty pages shy of having read twelve books in June – two of them secreted away on my kindle. I have also read a little more widely and diversely this month, with a couple of non-fiction (although they weren’t what I think of as proper non-fiction) and a couple of novels in translation and some new fiction.

I began June with A World of Love by Elizabeth Bowen, a lovely first edition I bought with birthday money from ebay – it was quite reasonable and in very good condition. It was also the last of her novels I had to read. It is a novel of great subtlety, focussing on the lives of a group of people in a large house in Ireland.

Following a conversation with Karen from Kaggsy’s bookish ramblings during our weekly lockdown Zoom call I picked up The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin. I gulped it down, I thoroughly enjoyed the subtlety of this one, the fact it wasn’t too heavy on the action, is why I especially liked it. Fremlin is an excellent writer of suspense fiction, in which she weaves a psychological mystery around a domestic setting.

Journal by Katherine Mansfield was the first of those non-fiction books I read. I have struggled more than usual to read non-fiction – so this seemed a good one to try, as journals, biography, memoirs are more narrative driven than other kinds of non-fiction. I did enjoy this book – perhaps my review made it sound like I didn’t – but I was definitely not in the right mood after all – and that spoiled my experience of it. Katherine Mansfield remains a big favourite with me though. There are many beautiful moments throughout however, and the reader does get a real sense of who Katherine Mansfield was.

Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondeley is a late Victorian novel that is satisfyingly many things at once. A novel of what was then termed ‘the New Woman’ while also having something of the sensation novel about it. It is a novel that satirises the smug, complacency of the middle classes and some aspects of the clergy – demonstrating how women needed independence. Here is a story of a close female friendship, romance, adultery, a suicide pact and the search for fulfilment. It zips along at a marvellous pace, becoming hard to put down. 

There has been a lot of talk on social media about The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet (which I read on kindle.) Very recently published I think it deserves all the attention it is getting. The Vanishing Half is a brilliantly compelling read – it’s a story of race, of colour, exploring the American history of ‘passing.’ It is also a story of belonging – of finding your place in the world.

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi is the first book in translation I had read for about three months. Winner of the Man Booker International prize 2019, it is a novel of Omani society through the lives, loves and losses of one family. It has really whetted my appetite for more in translation, and since reading it I have pulled two more books in translation from the shelves.

Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols is technically non-fiction but as I said not what I think of proper non-fiction. This is the first book in Beverley Nichols’ second garden trilogy. After the Second World War Beverley Nichols decided he wished to buy a large country house with extensive gardens. Early in the book Nichols finds his perfect house, a large Georgian house in five acres of grounds. It is delightful and thoroughly entertaining.

Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall had me going off and researching a little about the author – who I knew nothing about. I definitely now want to read more by her. It is a coming of age story; Selina Boyce is the younger daughter of Barbadian immigrants living in Brooklyn, New York during the Depression and Second World War. It is very evocative of a time and place and of a community. Marshall shows us with some poignancy what it was to grow up black and female. 

In the mood for some short stories, and with plenty to choose from I picked up Cocktail Bar by Norah Hoult which I first saw reviewed by Cathy at 746 books during read Ireland month. It is a wonderful collection, which I will review soon. I discovered, what a prolific writer Norah Hoult was, and I am pleased that New Island books have re-issued this collection and one of Hoult’s novels. Many of you will be familiar with her novel There Were No Windows published by Persephone books.

My second novel in translation read in June was After the Death of Ellen Keldberg by Eddie Thomas Petersen published by Handheld Press. A modern Danish novel which I must say I enjoyed a lot – it is set in Skagen a seaside fishing town in winter. Not wanting to pre-empt my review too much but I found it quirky, atmospheric and very compelling.

Dean street press books do make for great weekend reading I find. Not at Home by Doris Langley Moore (another kindle read) was no exception. A novel of domestic disharmony set just after the end of WW2 – there is a character I loathed so much – but quite enjoyed loathing and I longed to see what would happen to her.

At the time of writing I am close to the end of The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara is an Argentinian novel shortlisted for this year’s International Booker prize, that I am reading for Spanishlit month (which seems to be July and part of August).

Gosh this post is already rather long – so I will just say that my plans for July include at least one more book for Spanishlit month and my book group read of Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles. Other than that, I shall see where my mood takes me.

Happy reading everyone – tell me what brilliant things did you read in June?

Read Full Post »

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.  

Read Full Post »

Well the lockdown continues – and may last a few weeks yet – and we’re all finding our own ways of coping with the new normal. I really hope you’re all keeping safe and well and finding plenty of good things to read. I read exactly nine books in April – three of them on my kindle, making the monthly book pile look a bit smaller.

I started April reading Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell – which I enjoyed but I do think has been over hyped. Beautifully written with great emotion it tells the largely fictional story of William Shakespeare’s only son who died at eleven years old. It has now been shortlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize, whatever you think of the shortlist it is still a novel worth reading.

Karen and Simon hosted another club week, the year was 1920 and the first book I read was Penny Plain by Scottish author O Douglas. A kind of sweet, Cinderella story, where the reader can be fairly sure of a happy ending.

My second read for the 1920 club was rather different, but equally good. The Happy Foreigner by Enid Bagnold is the fictional account of Bagnold’s experiences in WW1. It’s the story of Fanny; an English woman working with the French army as the First World War comes to an end. Driving officers around the country, witnessing the damage done to the villages she passes through and falling in love with Julien, a French officer.

My Husband Simon by Mollie Panter Downes is one of the three recent publications from the British Library – part of their new Women writers series. The novel is narrated by Nevis Falconer a young novelist, who toward the end of 1930 muses upon her meeting with her husband Simon Quinn four years earlier. It’s a marriage based largely on physical attraction, the two have little in common, and the relationship starts to affect Nevis’ ability to write.

I don’t know what made me pick Midwinter by Fiona Melrose off the shelf, but I’m so glad I did. A thoroughly beautiful novel. This is a novel firmly rooted in the Suffolk landscape, a novel of a father and son, grief, guilt and how we find our way home. Beautifully written and deeply heartfelt.

Next was Christopher and Columbus by Elizabeth von Arnim, a satisfyingly thick VMC that Liz bought me at Christmas. It’s so wonderfully charming, it could easily become my favourite von Arnim. Review next week, I hope.

In May my book group will be discussing Nina is Not Ok by Shappi Khorsandi. One thing my book group does for me – more and more actually – is to force me out of my comfort zone. This is certainly not a bad novel – it just isn’t my kind of novel – and I thought it was just ok. It seems to have a lot of fans though; a pretty high GR rating and two other members of our book group have already admitted to reading and loving it. Our meeting will be on Zoom again, and I thought I had better try and read this book, as I wimped out of our April book, a collection of short stories, I read just two and won’t be reviewing them.

As Once in May by Antonia White is the autobiography of the author’s early childhood – the title so like that of her most famous novel served to confuse people on Twitter when I posted a picture of it. I only came across it by accident and really enjoyed it – White seeming to have had an extraordinary memory for her earliest years.

I raced through Silence in Court by Patricia Wentworth my first by this hugely prolific Golden Age writer. I loved the way Patricia Wentworth creates a fascinating dynamic between the family members involved in this mystery.

So, that was April. Looking ahead to May – and I am mainly concerned with my Daphne du Maurier reading week. As host, I shall start my reading early so I can get my reviews written up in reasonable time. I probably won’t post every day that week – you might be relieved to hear – and I’m afraid no giveaway this year either – sorry. Still, I hope lots of you will be joining in too in whatever way you can. I just need to decide which of the unread du Maurier books I have to read first. Other than Daphne du Maurier, I shall be reading very much according to my mood – as that has worked best for me so far the last few weeks.

Whatever you read in May; I hope you have a fantastic reading month. What did you read in April? You know I like to know.

Read Full Post »

The book pile might look a little smaller this month – but I have been reading on my kindle a bit more lately. I may never love my kindle as much as my books, but it is definitely kinder on my hands.

So, March has finally come to an end, but what can I say about one of the strangest months any of us has ever lived through? The world feels like a strange and unfamiliar place at the moment, scary too, I have taken to hiding from the news. Staying at home all the time feels as if its something I have been rehearsing for all my adult life – unfortunately I can’t be very active at the moment anyway, as my RA is about as bad as its possible for it to be. So, with all that in mind I might have been expected to have read up a storm in March. However, like so many others it would seem, my reading rate has not really increased. There have been a few days when I felt like I was getting right into a reading groove again, then I would find myself sliding back into my previous mood, where I can’t concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes.

I started the month reading Mrs Reinhardt and other Stories by Edna O’Brien for Read Ireland month. In these stories, as elsewhere in her fiction, Edna O’Brien writes with honesty and great perception. Her settings vary, although Ireland appears in several of them. Edna O’Brien successfully portrays the emotion surrounding loves and longings, sexual repression and betrayal.

Next was my book group read on kindle; Sworn Virgin by Evira Dones in which the author explores a little known tradition, still practised, in remote northern Albanian villages. Here, women who have no wish to marry, and with no male heirs, can declare themselves to be a ‘sworn virgin,’ thereafter, living their lives as men. Adopting a man’s name, clothing and undertaking the work that in these regions are traditionally male. From then on everyone in the community recognises them as male. Hana who has lived as Mark for fourteen years takes up the chance to go to America where she can return to life as a woman.

I had been meaning to read Marilynne Robinson for a long time, and I finally did, starting with Gilead, the first of the series, also on kindle. I think I had avoided it for years because I thought the faith aspects might be too much for me, but I found the book beautiful and poignant. Written in a kind of stream of consciousness, Gilead introduces us to three generations of a family through the voice of the Reverend John Ames a Congregationalist minister from Gilead, Iowa. 

Dean street press books are often great escapism, and Mrs Martell by Elizbeth Eliot really hit the spot. Certainly, they aren’t nonsense though, Elizabeth Eliot’s voice is witty and sharp, she understands the motivations of people – both good and bad. Mrs Martell is a character none of us are supposed to like, in her Elizabeth Eliot has created a marvellous character, selfish, self-serving and always set on getting just what she wants.

The Ante-Room by Kate O’Brien for read Ireland month was a pretty intense read, although with a setting of 1880 provided a rather brilliant escape too. An intense family drama, set over three days of the Catholic calendar: The Eve of All Saints, The Feast of All Saints and The Feast of All Souls.

Don’t Look at me Like That by Diana Athill was a delicious discovery. I have loved so much of her writing in the past, that I was delighted to find she had written a novel too. A novel that is wonderfully evocative of bohemian Oxford and London in the 1950s, a time and place Diana Athill was well placed to know intimately. The novel concerns two friends, exploring aspects of love and betrayal as they move from adolescence to adulthood. This is as far as I have got in reviewing my March reads.

On my kindle I read Postscript to Poison by Dorothy Bowers a golden age mystery from the 1930s. Old Cornelia Lockwood ruled her household with an iron fist, controlling her purse strings and her step-granddaughters in her own inimitable way. When, having apparently recovered from a recent illness Cornelia dies suddenly, it looks like foul play. A Scotland Yard detective is called in to investigate.

Liz and I decided to read The Little Ottleys by Ada Leverson together. This volume is actually a trilogy, the three separate novels originally published between 1908 and 1916, they remain wonderfully bright and funny. I had already read book one; Love’s Shadow a couple of years ago, so having refreshed my memory a little I went straight onto books two and three. Many of the characters from book one don’t reappear in Tenterhooks and Love at Second Sight, other than the Ottleys of the title of course, so there was little room for confusion. So, I suppose I could count this as two books, but I don’t as it’s one volume.

My final read of the month was The Tree of Heaven by May Sinclair – one of the gorgeous new women writers’ series from the British Library. I was surprised how slowly I read it considering how much I enjoyed it, but that was wholly due to my mood. It is the story of a family from the late nineteenth century through to the middle of the First World War. The novel was first published in 1917 before the outcome of that conflict was known.

No idea what April will bring, but I expect I’ll be sat here for most of it. Karen and Simon have their 1920 club – I know I had a couple of books sorted for it, I just wish I could remember what they were and where they are. My book group (we’re meeting by Zoom this month) will be reading Cat Person and other stories by Kristen Roupenian. I just started reading (on kindle again) the new Maggie O’Farrell novel Hamnet – which is longlisted for the Women’s Prize. Only one chapter in but I think I am going to like it a lot.

Hope you all had a great reading month (everything else is just weird) let me know what brilliant books I should know about. Whatever April brings you I hope you stay safe and have some wonderful things to keep you company.

Read Full Post »

Where January seems to crawl by for most people – February flies – and we had one whole extra day of it this year.

In terms of reading February has been a pretty good month – only one book disappointed, though I failed to read quite as much as I expected. I’m also still a little behind in my reviewing – which is in all sorts of disarray because I started reviewing out of order. So, there will be the usual hangover of February books being reviewed in March – that’s become the norm though.

So, in the order I read them, though not reviewed them here is what February brought me in books. Click on links where there are any to go to the review.

I started the month reading Dust Tracks on a Road the autobiography of Zora Neale Hurston. Recounting her rise from a Southern childhood lived in poverty, to when she was taking her place among the leading artists and intellectuals of the Harlem renaissance, Zora Neale Hurston is never less than entertaining and honest. Hurston’s prose is beautiful and endlessly quotable, it was a fabulous start to the month

Will and Testament by Vigdis Hjorth was the book that disappointed. Chosen by my book group, it is a novel about a seriously fractured family, which explores painfully the nature of trauma and memory. Translated from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund it is one of three works in translation I read this month.

The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton was every bit as brilliant as I had been led to believe by Hamilton enthusiasts. I read Craven House last year – and like that novel Slaves is set in a boarding house. It is a brilliant portrayal of bullying when a new resident joins the strange and lonely group living at the Rosamund Tea rooms boarding house.

 With Death in White Pyjamas and Death knows no Calendar by John Bude from the fabulous British Library, you get two books in one volume. I was sent this for review, but if you are in the market for a mystery – then this volume provides good value. Both novels are set at least partly in a kind of country house setting, although the investigations in the second novel take our intrepid detective a good way away from the scene of the crime. I decided to read both novels back to back, both providing great escapism, and two excellent mysteries. I definitely guessed the who in both of them (just call me Miss Marple) – but not the how.

I read Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, for Karen and Lizzie’s Fitzcarraldo fortnight. A novel as brilliant as its title. Reading events are usually responsible for me reviewing things out of order – and I tell myself it really doesn’t matter. In this extraordinary, and endlessly readable novel Olga Tokarczuk is exploring lots of things at once. Examining traditional ideas of ‘madness,’ animal rights and the hypocrisy of religion Drive your Plow… is also a wonderful portrayal of the lives of those living in isolation who don’t conform to everyone else’s way of thinking.

My second read for Fitzcarraldo fortnight was Dark Satellites a collection of short stories by Clemens Meyer translated from German by Katy Derbyshire. This is modern Germany, busy, multi-cultural – Meyer’s settings are the satellite towns away from the shiny heart of the modern city landscape. We have tower blocks, fast food restaurants, stations and industrial units. The people in these stories are wonderfully real, they too are rather out on the edge of things, marginalised people, the unseen and forgotten.

I read Loving without Tears by Molly Keane – one of my favourite virago authors (admittedly there’s a long list) with the upcoming read Ireland month in mind. I knew I wouldn’t get it reviewed until March after all. It is the story of a woman’s attempt to control the lives of her children as they begin to pull away from her and make their own lives. Angel is the monstrous mother, brilliantly portrayed by Keane. I loved everything about this novel.

Still thinking about read Ireland month I began reading Actress by Anne Enright just a few days after it arrived. I had pre-ordered it and forgotten (as usual) when it was due to arrive – it proved a lovely surprise and I couldn’t wait to get started. It is the story of a mother and daughter, the mother the actress, her daughter, telling the story of her mother some years after her death. Enright examines her characters so deftly; it is quite brilliant. I would love to see it on the women’s prize longlist.

I am three quarters of the way through another collection of stories, Mrs Reinhardt and other stories by Edna O’Brien (yes, Read Ireland again) and they are fabulous. However, as I haven’t finished them, it can go onto next month’s pile.

I don’t have any particular reading plans for March – I will definitely be guided by my mood. There could be more books for Read Ireland month as I have several still to choose from, but I need to wait and see what I feel like. My book group will be reading Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones translated from Italian by Clarissa Botsford. It will probably be my next read. I feel as if I have read a little outside of my comfort zone in February, so in March I may choose a few more Viragos and Dean Street press type books to redress the balance.

As March begins, I am easing myself back into work – I did half a day last week – and I’m doing a part time phased return over the next two or three weeks, building back up to my full time hours. It will be hard, so not sure yet how it will impact on the blog – I get really very exhausted these days. I’m planning to keep to my minimum two posts a week, but if I do drop off a bit – you’ll know why.

Hope you enjoy whatever you’re reading in March, and maybe we can all start looking out for those little signs of spring, that make us feel a bit better.

What fantastic things did you read in February? – Anything I need to know about?

Read Full Post »

It’s the 1st February today, and can I really write a January in review post without acknowledging that yesterday was a pretty momentous occasion in the UK? Some of us are feeling rather bruised today – and that is all I am going to say on the matter.  

As many of you will know I have been struggling with chronic sciatica for the last two months, complicated by my Rheumatoid Arthritis – so I am off work, with more potential reading time on my hands. While I have read a couple more books than normal this month, my reading rate has not increased by much. Nevertheless, despite being sucked into mind numbing daytime tv and overlong afternoon naps, I have been enjoying reading just whatever I fancy. I think allowing my mood to direct my reading is working well for me, especially at the moment.

I started the month reading Milton Place by Elisabeth de Waal, a lovely Persephone book; an elegantly written novel about the changing fortunes of English houses and the families in them. It is also an unusual love story.

Your Duck is My Duck by Deborah Eisenberg was a good collection of stories, by a new to me author. While a couple of the stories fell a little short for me, the others were of a high standard.

The Way Things Are by E M Delafield only served to remind me that I really haven’t read enough of her novels. A novel both sombre and humorous, it depicts a woman in an unsatisfying marriage, who has her head turned by someone more interesting than her dull husband.

The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen Wilkinson is a really good, locked room style mystery. Though for me the real interest in the novel is in the setting of the House of Commons during the 1930s, and the fact the author herself was a labour member of parliament.

Magda Szabó is an author whose novels many readers have been discovering over the last few years. Abigail is the fourth of them to be published in English, translated by Len Rix. Set during WW2 in Hungary. A spoilt teenage girl is sent to a fanatically puritanical boarding school by her father. This is as far as I have got with reviewing – (I almost always review in the order I read). So, several books I read this month have still to be written about. I’ll get there in the end.

Miss Carter and the Ifrit by Susan Alice Kerby is another lovely offering from Dean Street Press. Another novel set during WW2, it is also a delicious piece of whimsical escapism. A middle aged woman throws a block of wood on her fire and unwittingly unleashes and ifrit (like a genie) who declares himself her slave. Miss Carter decides to name him Joe.

My second collection of short stories was A Romantic Hero by Olivia Manning, and I loved every bit of it. Fourteen beautifully written stories, portraits of lonely childhoods and complicated adult relationships. Olivia Manning is always such a good writer.

Business as Usual by Jane Oliver and Ann Stafford is a review copy from Handheld Press which I had been really looking forward to. It’s not out till March I’m afraid, but it will be worth waiting for. An illustrated novel in letters, a well-educated young woman of good family from Edinburgh is determined to support herself for a year, working in a London department store.

No More Meadows by Monica Dickens is a book I found in a second-hand book shop in Devon last year. I had never heard of it, but really enjoyed it. The ending is a little depressing, but I found the story of a woman leaving her family and her job in a department store to marry an American naval officer and follow him to Washington, to be enormously engaging.

Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald is a fabulous portrait of Broadcasting House during the blitz. A novel that manages to be both touching and funny, Fitzgerald introduces us to a cast of often slightly eccentric but ultimately realistic characters.

Consider the Years by Virginia Graham – a rare collection of poetry. I began reading it for the Mini Persephone readathon last weekend and dipped in and out of it over the whole week. This is a collection of World War Two poetry by the woman who counted Joyce Grenfell as her closest friend. I had to skip a handful of poems as they are written in French or German – and my ability in either is non-existent.

So, in February I will continue to read very much by mood. My book group will be reading a novel in translation, Will and Testament by Vigdis Hjorth. I have missed some book group meetings recently, and I’m very unsure whether I will get to the next one (getting myself from A to B is a major issue just now) but I want to try and read this as it sounds so interesting.  I’m currently about a third of the way into Dust Tracks on a Road, the autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston. One of three beautiful new editions sent to me by Virago. I read Their Eyes were Watching God a few years ago, so looking forward to Jonah’s Gourd Vine at some point in the future. I can certainly highly recommend this one, such incredible writing. These gorgeous new editions are published in a couple of weeks, and the covers alone are just fabulous, I think.

Let me know what wonderful things you have been reading in January, and happy February reading to you all.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

It’s the 1st December today, and November really did fly by, the year is racing to its end, and Christmas is on the horizon. Many of us still have the present buying, wrapping, card writing, work Christmas meal eating to do, and then there is the small matter of an election over here to be endured. I’m not in any way religious but I enjoy our small family Christmases and I am looking forward to a few days away with family. I shall be buying books for various friends and family this year, and I take part in two booky Secret Santas. For me there is no better gift – if you can be sure the recipient hasn’t read it already.

So, back to November and what I read. If anyone were to look back at my October in review post, and the photo I posted of what I might read during November and compared it with the photo above, they would see there are some differences, I remain forever a fickle reader.

I started the month reading The Silence of the Girls (2018) by Pat Barker for my book group (which in the end I wasn’t able to get to on the night). A re-telling of The Iliad from the perspective of the women. It was the first of two books this month which let me down a bit. I really like Pat Barker’s writing, and what she has achieved with this novel is remarkable – her understanding of the psychology of men in warfare is spot on. However, I’m not a fan of things set in the ancient world, and the fate of the women in this novel, and their meek acceptance of it, I just found depressing.

The Artificial Silk Girl (1932) by Irmgard Keun was the perfect read for #Germanlitmonth. An evocative portrait of the roaring Weimar Berlin of the 1920s/30s – it is also a wonderfully poignant story of a quirky, radical young woman, whose voice I found immediately captivating. The Artificial Silk Girl was Irmgard Keun’s second novel – banned by the Nazis it had been an instant best seller when it was first published. With the Nazis coming to power in 1933, this novel depicts life just before that tumultuous time.

Hag-seed (2016) by Margaret Atwood Hag-seed is a brilliant re-telling of The Tempest. In the story of a man’s obsession to stage The Tempest and take revenge on the people who ruined him, she in fact tells an updated story of The Tempest. The old story within a story thing, that both Shakespeare and Atwood have employed before. With practised skill Atwood weaves a story of greed, revenge, grief and magic. In Hag-seed she is at her most compelling.

Next was a review copy from Virago, Corregidora (1975) by Gayl Jones, three of her books have been reissued recently, and I was delighted to discover her. Corregidora is often a tough read, painfully raw and uncompromising about the legacy of abuse and slavery and the relationships between black men and women at this period. Corregidora explores themes of race, sexuality and the repercussions of slavery. A compelling read, the ending I will admit left me raging.

After which, I read a book I only bought – completely on a whim – just before I read it – Ring the Hill (2019) by Tom Cox, which was a delightful mix of humour and the natural world. Ring the Hill is a book celebrating hills, mountains get enough attention. It’s written around and about hills, each chapter taking a different hill at its heart. In the company of Tom Cox – who is very good company indeed it turns out – we find out about a Northern hill, a very small hill, cliffs and tors.

I’m Not Complaining (1938) by Ruth Adam was hands down my book of the month. Bought for me by Liz last year, when she drew me in the Librarything Virago group secret Santa (well it had to happen one year). It’s always the sign of a very good book, when you are especially sad to finish it – I loved every word of I’m Not Complaining, I loved the less than perfect narrator and the 1930s social and political maelstrom of a Nottinghamshire town during The Depression. Our narrator; Madge Brigson is a Nottinghamshire primary school teacher in the 1930s, a neighbourhood dominated by large factories and increasingly plagued by high levels of unemployment.

The Girl with the Leica (2017) by Helena Janeczek was another review copy, and unfortunately another disappointment. I had been looking forward to this novel for a while and had even suggested it to my book group I was quite glad in the end they hadn’t chosen it. There is some lovely writing throughout the novel, and the subjects of the book, real life war photographer Gerda Taro and her friends are fascinating. Unfortunately, the novel becomes a little disorienting at times, some sentences rather unwieldy and by two thirds of the way through I found myself getting more and more fed up with it.  

I then treated myself to a biggish book of Persephone short stories – and why the hell not. The Second Persephone Book of short stories (2019) came out earlier this year, and in nearly 400 pages spans very nearly 100 years of women’s writing. If that isn’t exactly right up my reading alley, then I don’t know what would be. Of course, my own Persephone collection is extensive – you can see from my Persephone page, that there aren’t many gaps now. Having read all the other Persephone story collections, there are quite a number of stories I had read before. Still, there is nothing but pleasure in reading them again, several I had forgotten, truth be told, and I then had the pleasure of reading all those stories not previously included in Persephone collections. A full review soon.

I am not making any particular plans for my December reading, because I won’t stick to them. There are several VMC and Persephone books calling to me at the moment as well as several Dean Street Press books. I shall just have to wait and see what floats to the top. I am currently reading Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession which has been loved by so many other readers this year. I only started it late last night. I often read Christmassy books around this time of year, but I haven’t got anything new and though I am tempted to pull my Ten Days of Christmas off the shelf and re-read it I will probably stick to non-Christmassy books this year.

So, what have you been reading in November? Anything I should know about? What are your plans for December? I don’t know about you, but I need to start compiling my end of the year best of list.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »