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Posts Tagged ‘monthly roundup’

December is here – crack open the mince pies and the Christmas books! – perhaps. I am feeling quite bah humbug about it all, as I did last year, but I shall try to get myself Christmas motivated over the coming few weeks.  

Now that we are into the final month of the year, I can confirm that it has been the worst reading year that I can ever remember – if we just look at numbers, but I won’t be looking at numbers and stats this year – I don’t think that would make me feel any better. It’s particularly galling because I haven’t been at work for months so theoretically should be reading more – only it hasn’t worked out like that. Anyway, considering some of the months I have had, November wasn’t too bad.  

We often talk about how a physical book can be a big part of the reader’s reading experience, a beautiful clothbound edition, quality paper or French flaps sparking joy in many of us. In November I was reminded how the physical nature of a book can also spoil a reading experience.  I had decided it was time to get some of the Persephone books I received as gifts the last two Christmases read finally, only I wasn’t in the mood for non-fiction, and the two novels I had are huge! A large Persephone book is not that easy to hold because of the thick paper and the double cover. I decided to read The Deepening Stream anyway – and get myself lost in a big book. Within a day my arthritic hands were really playing up – and the only e-book version I could find was a pdf and practically unreadable – so I tried to battle on. I began to lose interest as the pain in my hands got worse. Eventually I had to set it aside and read something on my easier to handle Kindle. When my hands improved, I went back to The Deepening Stream, and enjoyed it much more, though my hands did begin to complain again. My experience of reading that book was not very positive so my relationship with the novel itself was difficult though I am glad I persevered.

So, struggles aside – this is what I read in November.  

Two Thousand Million Man-Power (1937) by Gertrude Trevelyan – Trevelyan has been a brilliant discovery and I confess to buying two more novels by her that have been reissued by small presses. 

Palladian (1946) by Elizabeth Taylor – a re-read for my book group. Getting back to Elizabeth Taylor is always a treat. This is certainly not her best novel, but there are flashes of her brilliance throughout and I very much enjoyed it again. It’s amazing how much you forget and in re-reading you discover different layers and themes.  

The Deepening Stream (1930) Dorothy Canfield Fisher – the Persephone edition is just over 600 pages and frankly felt heavier than that. Luckily, the novel is very readable, the characters are very likeable. The novel provides a fascinating and no doubt horrifyingly accurate glimpse of life in France during WW1 through the eyes of Matey who we first meet as a child.  

Death of a Frightened Editor (1959) by E & M A Radford – e-book sent to me by Dean Street Press ages ago. Written by a writing partnership I hadn’t come across before. It’s the eleventh book in the Doctor Manson series – but I didn’t feel I suffered from not having read any others. Eight people regularly travel together in the first-class carriage of the London to Brighton train. One evening Alexis Mortenson – editor of a scurrilous newspaper dies from poisoning, a poison which acts very rapidly. Suicide is suspected then ruled out, how did the man come to ingest the poison when he hadn’t eaten or drunk anything for almost an hour before? This had all the ingredients I enjoy in Golden age style fiction – though I think some of the characterisation was a bit flat with one character speaking in such an annoying way I was thoroughly irritated by him.  

A Sunday in Ville d’Avray (2019) by Dominique Barbéris translated from the French by John Cullen. An extraordinarily atmospheric novella taking place on a Sunday in that period between the end of summer and the start of autumn. Our unnamed narrator travels from her home in the centre of Paris to visit her sister in Ville-d’Avray. During the afternoon the sister reveals the story of an encounter she had years earlier with a man, who we never get to know much about.  

Twelve Nights (2020) by Urs Faes translated from the German by Jamie Lee Searle. My second novella read for Novellas is November. Manfred walks through a snowy landscape, back to the childhood home he hasn’t seen in decades, to hopefully meet again the brother from whom he has been estranged for so long. 

Territory of Light (1978) by Yūko Tsushima translated from the Japanese by Geraldine Harcourt. Told in twelve standalone fragments, is the story of an unnamed woman’s first year parenting her daughter alone after separating from her husband. She moves herself and her daughter – who turns three during the story – into a fourth-floor apartment that is filled with light.  My first by the author, but not my last, I am sure.  

 
The Other Day (1936) – Dorothy Whipple – a recent Persephone acquisition I made using the Persephone voucher Liz had bought me for my birthday in May. A new Whipple – what a treat – which means I have read all the Whipples Persephone have re-issued. This is her childhood memoir – Dorothy was born in 1893 and the book charts some of the highs and lows of her first twelve years. I found it utterly delightful. She was apparently reluctant to write it at all, which is perhaps why we only get those twelve years. Very much the story of a bygone age.  

So that was my November – and as always, I would like to hear about yours. 

On to December and I am currently reading One Pair of Feet (1942) by Monica Dickens for my book group – I first read it donkey’s years ago – and I’m enjoying it all over again. After that I may move on fairly soon to some Christmassy reads. This is something I have done before – but didn’t bother with last year. I have short stories from the British Library women writers, Maigret Christmas stories (never read Maigret before, but have meant to) Laurie Lee’s A Village Christmas and a Christmas mystery from the British Library. I am hoping they will help get me in the Christmas mood. Liz is also doing her Dean Street Press December reading event – and I always have some DSP waiting to be read, so I am hoping to join in with that too.  

Whatever you’re reading in December I hope you have a wonderful month.  

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October in review

Of course, having hoped that in October I might get somewhere closer to my old blogging routine, I didn’t really get anywhere near it. I did manage one more blog post in October than in September – and I managed to join in with the #1929 club. So, I am clawing my way back.  

I hope you all had a good month of reading during October – autumn has set in, and the nights are really drawing in. Here in the UK the clocks went back to GMT at the weekend, and it’s been raining a fair bit the last few days. Definitely the time to get to grips with some good books. My October reads were largely very successful, only one really failed to hit the spot, and even that had things to like in it. I am going to try and write more fully about one or two of them, but no promises.  

I began October reading a beautiful collection of Irish short stories This Train is For by Bernie McGill (2022), a new to me author. Sent to me by Cathy from 746 books in the summer, it has introduced me to an author I shall want to read again. The writing is exquisite, spare and full of feeling. In this collection are stories of grief, loss sadness and some surprising touches of magic. Many of the stories feature journeys, some physical some of the mind.  

My second read was inspired by Jacqui of Jacquiwine’s Journal – whose review of A Helping Hand by Celia Dale (1966) had me rushing off to buy my own copy. I am so glad I did, it’s a chillingly brilliant novel, reminiscent of Shirley Jackson, with elements of Celia Fremlin, Muriel Spark and Patricia Highsmith. The story of systematic elder abuse (from before such a term existed) by greed, exploitation and manipulation might not be for everyone but it is horribly compelling. Celia Dale weaves the most extraordinary tale of suburban domestic horror around her small group of characters, it makes you wonder what is going on behind the neat net curtains next door.  

My next two reads were both for the 1929 club – I had to get started early in order to stand any chance of writing about them. The first of them was Eve in Egypt by Stella Tennyson Jesse (1929) reissued by Michael Walmer. I have already reviewed this for the 1929 club and had to admit to being a bit underwhelmed. It is a blend of fiction and travelogue and parts of it worked better for me than others.  

Water Weed by Alice Campbell (1929) the first of my two kindle reads in October was sent to me by Dean Street Press and introduced me to a new Golden Age type mystery writer. Slightly longer than the average Golden Age mystery, we see a plucky young American heroine desperately try to prove her long-time friend is innocent of the crime he is accused of. There is actually much more to it than that though – see my previous review.  

Best of Friends by Kamila Shamsie (2022) a new novel by Kamila Shamsie always seems like quite an event, so I had to treat myself to the hardback. One of the books I want to review more fully – so I shall save most of my thoughts for then. Having had such a success with Home Fire no doubt expectations were high for this. Overall, I loved it, it isn’t quite the jaw dropper that Home Fire was, but it is a different kind of story. It is a novel about the ties of childhood friendship and what we owe to those who have known and loved us longest – it is also a novel about Britain today, about power and how we use it.  

Confusion by Elizabeth Jane Howard (1993) my second kindle read is the third book in the five volume Cazalet chronicles. I probably won’t be reviewing this in full – as it is hard to write about books in the middle of series. Here the war is in full swing, one father is missing, presumed dead after two years with no word – but will he turn up one day after all? Almost everyone it seems is having an affair or liaison of some sort – so Confusion is a pretty good title. Everyone seems rather un-moored after living through a long war – as VE days gets closer the feeling of exhausted relief is quite palpable.  

The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (2022) I bought this as soon as it came out in May with birthday book vouchers. I had loved The Mercies, which I only read at all because my book group chose it. This is another historical novel based on something that really happened. The dancing plague that hit Strasbourg during the hot summer of 1518 is the background to this fantastic novel. As more and more women join the dancers in the city square, the city authorities declare an emergency. Musicians will be brought in to help dance the devil out of these women. Living nearby is Lisbet heavily pregnant after a dozen previous lost babies, a beekeeper living with her husband and mother-in-law. Her husband’s sister returns from the mountains after serving a seven-year penance for a crime no one will name – but Lisbet is determined to discover. Then the musicians arrive, and more and more women join the dancers. This is a novel that becomes harder and harder to put down.  

So those were my October reads – only seven but I have stopped worrying too much about that.  

I don’t have too many plans for November – my book group will be reading Palladian by Elizabeth Taylor and as it’s about ten years since I read it, I will be enjoying a re-read of it soon. I shall try to get to some novellas for Novellas in November and I might try some Margaret Atwood essays for MARM – it does very much depend on my mood though.  

So, tell me what brilliant things did you read in October? I always love to know – and whatever you pick up in November – happy reading.  

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Here I am on the 2nd of October trying to work out why I failed to blog much again during September – the month when I was going to try and get back to something close to normal. I don’t know – fatigue is a big factor but it’s frustrating, nonetheless. I am missing that interaction I get from blogging, so I need to try harder. I only managed to write three blog posts during September, and I am again horribly behind reading everyone else’s. Anyway, I read or re-read eight really good books during September and was a good way into my ninth as the month ended. That final one can go into October’s pile though.  

One thing I managed in September after weeks of almost exclusively reading on my kindle was to read some physical books – I had rather missed that. Two books read on kindle at the beginning of the month but then I managed to get some physical books off my tbr.  

Oddly enough, the beginning of September now feels like a long way away, when I was reading Marking Time (1991) by Elizabeth Jane Howard on my kindle. The second book in the Cazalet series which has whetted my appetite for more soon. Set toward the beginning of WW2 – we see the changes war brings to the family.  

My next read, Mr. Bowling Buys a Newspaper (1943) by Donald Henderson – a friend had mentioned it to me after she had finished reading it, and I knew I wanted to read it too. Apparently, Raymond Chandler’s favourite novel, it is something of an inverted crime novel. The mystery here is not who the killer is, but whether he will be caught. For Mr Bowling buys a newspaper following each of his murders to see if there is any news on his crimes. The trouble is no one takes much notice of his victims, there is a war going on after all, which is a pity because Mr Bowling really wants to be caught – or thinks he does.  

Of Love and Hunger (1947) by Julian Maclaren-Ross was one of the books that appeared in Jacqui’s blog post about boarding house novels. I admit I hadn’t heard of it but was intrigued enough to buy a copy. These penguin modern classics are such satisfyingly smart editions. We follow the fortunes of Richard Fansawe, a vacuum cleaner salesman in a down at heel seaside town. He lives in a dingy boarding house, never has much money and hangs around town with the other dubious characters who pursue the same, depressing occupation. War is approaching, several of the characters refer to the certainty of it – and whether it will give them another purpose. Against this background Richard meets Sukie, who he finds very desirable – she is also married to his friend. What Maclaren-Ross does so brilliantly here is to reproduce the atmosphere of this town, these disappointed men pursing a hopeless profession.  

A View of the Harbour (1947) by Elizabeth Taylor was a reread. My love of Elizabeth Taylor is well known, I think. I have read more than half her novels twice and have been meaning to re-read the rest for ages, this felt like such a treat. Newby, a coastal village long past its best, everyone looks out on everyone else. Nothing much goes unseen for very long. Bertram, a painter comes to this place, just before the season gets going. Tory, still smarting from her failed marriage has become involved with her neighbour Robert, whose wife Beth is Tory’s friend but is far more involved with the fictional worlds she creates in the books she writes. Mrs Bracey – an invalid, never leaves her house, is a sore trial to her daughters who she pesters for gossip. Her world has narrowed to what she can see from the window or hear about from others. Lily Wilson lives above the town waxworks; she is lonely and a little afraid of the exhibits when she comes back alone at night. She starts frequenting the pub a little more often – for the company. Taylor is as brilliant as ever here – the atmosphere of a sad, grey seaside town and its inhabitants is perfect, her observations as ever spot on.  

Odesa at Dawn (2022) by Sally McGrane was kindly sent to me by V&Q books and I fully intend to review it soon. I am determined to get the three review books I read in September reviewed this month, even if I manage nothing else. Totally outside what I usually read, yet I really enjoyed it. Odesa at Dawn is described as a surreal contemporary spin on the classic spy novel. Fast paced and witty, we really get to see the gritty, dark underbelly of Odesa. I shall save the rest of my thoughts for a full review.  

War Among Ladies (1928) by Eleanor Scott very kindly provided by the British Library, the latest in their women writers series. This was easily my favourite book of the month. Again, I intend to review this one more fully in time. Set in a girls’ High school in the fictional town of Besley – which we quickly realise is a narrow-minded provincial entity, of which it would be disaster to fall foul. The staffroom at Belsley High School is a haven of bitter resentments and spiteful gossip. The staff are all single women living in shabby lodgings, if they lose their job, they lose their pension and all the years they have paid into it. In a school where the failure of one means the failure of all, everyone is under threat. A new teacher arrives, full of optimism but soon gets drawn into the scheming, internal politics.  

The Seat of the Scornful (1941) by John Dickson Carr again sent to me by the British Library, I have quite a number of these BLCC books tbr, I chose to read this one over the others because it is set in Devon. I have a great love of Devon, though Devon itself doesn’t really play much of a part here. Still, it is a thoroughly enjoyable mystery, a small cast of characters, yet still keeps the reader guessing and I thought the twist at the end was quite brilliant.  

I do plan to review some of those books, though certainly not all of them. Fingers crossed I can do a bit better this month. 

The Pachinko Parlour (2018) by Elsa Shua Dusapin translated by Aneesa Abbas Higgins. I was sent to be by Jacqui after she had finished with it. A beautifully understated little novella. Claire travels from her home in Switzerland to visit her grandparents in Tokyo. She and her grandparents are Korean, they had fled Korea at the time of the war, Claire had grown up on another continent, visiting her grandparents in Japan from time to time. It is summer, the heat rises daily, Claire divides her time between tutoring twelve-year old Mieko in a strange apartment in an abandoned hotel (Mieko sleeps in what was once the swimming pool) and lying on the floor in her grandparents apartment, daydreaming. Her grandparents own Shiny, a Pachinko Parlour that draws people in day and night with its promises of good luck. The relationship which develops between Claire and Mieko is wonderfully drawn, as is the awkwardness of the relationship between Claire and her grandparents as she attempts to plan the long-promised trip for the three of them to Korea.  

In the meantime, tell me what you’ve been reading and what your plans for October might be.  

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July in review

 

 

A quickish round up of my July reading as I am rather late sitting down to do it. July has been slightly better in terms of number of books read, compared to some months this year, but it should have been even better considering I have had just over a week on holiday from work, plus a couple of sick days before that. Working in a school on a term time only contract means I get six weeks’ holiday – and do I need it. Still recovering from being ill, I can at least not worry about getting back to work for a while.  

I am very much continuing to read according to mood, and my reading mood is ever fickle. It means I may not always be reading in line with particular reading events or challenges. In July I read three books I later realised qualified for Women in Translation month – and as I haven’t had chance to review much of my July reading yet, they can be reviewed in August. A happy accident – I didn’t plan it at all. I also read three books on kindle (and finished one of my others on kindle by buying a second edition – a must when my arthritic hands are really playing up.)  

I began the month reading Women Against Men by Storm Jameson (1982) three novellas published together by Virago originally written in the 1930s. Each story is about a woman and their relationships with men, and other women. Storm Jameson is an excellent writer deserving of more recognition today and these three novellas were brilliantly observed.  

Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns (1950) was of course a re-read for me. Imagine my joy when my book group chose to read it, and everyone loved it. A book which needs little introduction to many, it tells the story of a young couple, who marry despite having few resources, Comyns doesn’t waste our time or intelligence with any romantic notions of being poor and in love, this is the grinding reality, told in the only way Comyns could tell it. A simply wonderful novel.  

Vivian by Christina Hesselholdt (2016) translated by Paul Russell Garrett was given to me by Jacqui for Christmas. A lovely stylish Fitzcarraldo volume – they do make very attractive editions. A novel about the (fictional) life of the enigmatic American photographer Vivian Maier. A novel about art, madness and identity.  

Enbury Heath by Stella Gibbons (1935) a recent-ish book voucher purchase was a pleasure to spend time with. This is a rather bittersweet novel; apparently semi-autobiographical, it was inspired by the time the author spent living on Hamstead Heath in a little cottage with her two brothers. I enjoyed very much the relationships between the siblings and the fact there was a little more sharpness to this narrative than some of Gibbons other novels. Halfway through this one, I had to buy a second copy on kindle to finish it.  

Sticking to my kindle, I next read Transcendent Kingdon by Yaa Gyasi (2020) the first of her two novels I have read. I thought it was outstanding – although no one warned me about the vivisection stuff. A deeply layered novel about an American-Ghanaian family in Alabama it is about depression, science, faith, addiction and loss – one I shall find hard to do justice to in review.  

After Midnight by Irmgard Keun (1937) translated by Anthea Bell was the third novel by this author I have read. A brilliantly atmospheric novel which captures the mood of 1930s Nazi Germany, as we follow Sanna, Gerti and their friends who are trying to be young and have fun, but to what a backdrop.  

An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helen Tursten (2018) translated by Marlaine Delargy. This was a slight, fun read. Five stories about Maud – who is 88 years old, lives alone, has no friends or family, travels widely, and has absolutely no problem with a little bit of murder – when its necessary. I have the second book containing seven more stories about Maud past and present to look forward to.  

Green for Danger by Christianna Brand (1944) was my last full read in July, a new Golden age author to me – and a thoroughly enjoyable mystery. Set in a military hospital during WW2 a small circle of potential suspects doesn’t stop this one from being a really compulsive whodunnit.  

So now we are into August – Women in Translation month – and I have those three books still to review – not sure each warrants a post to themselves; I shall have to see. I am hoping to read more books by women in translation as well, but I just need to see where my mood takes me – I do have quite a few to choose from. So, no more reading plans than that, as my book group are reading a book I have already read.  

I have started August reading The Boarding House by William Trevor (1965) less than a hundred pages in and it’s excellent, superb characterisation and observation. I wait to see what else August brings me.  

Please tell me what brilliant things did you read in July? and what are your plans for August? (What WIT books should I be considering?)  

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Is it just me or did June just fly by? No sooner did it begin than it was over, the longest day been and gone and the first day of July today.

During June, as in the past few months I have just been reading fiction – though within that there is a range, with a mix of modern, vintage and translated books. Seven books finished and another started – five physical books, two kindle books.  

I began the month reading O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker (1991) a novel that has been receiving a bit of attention from bloggers and readers of late – and it’s easy to see why. It is a darkly, strange coming of age novel set in a draughty Scottish castle. As others have said previously, this is a novel with shades of Dodie Smith, Barbara Comyns and Shirley Jackson. It is a wonderfully imaginative novel, slightly gothic in tone, it is rich in vivid imagery, and beautifully written. The novel looks back on the sad, lonely life of sixteen year old Janet who as the novel opens lies dead at the bottom of the staircase in the castle where she lived. It’s a fantastic novel – I’ve not heard of anyone who doesn’t love it. Funnily enough my book group has chosen this for our August read and it wasn’t even my suggestion.

The Braid by Laetitia Colombani (2017) translated from the French by Louise Rogers Lalaurie was my book group’s selection for this month. The story of three different women, from different countries who each face unique challenges. These women’s lives are destined to be intertwined by a single object. The stories of the three women are told in alternating chapters, taking us from India to Sicily to Canada in the company of three very different but equally determined women.

Apricot Sky by Ruby Ferguson (1952) was a delightful read at the end of my half term holiday. A book that the reader is sad to finish, such is the pleasure of spending time with the characters. Set in the Scottish Highlands three years after the end of the war, featuring a large lovable family, their optimism, love and humour set against the ups and downs of normal (sometimes chaotic) family life is absolutely irresistible. Adventurous children, a little romance visitors, picnics and highland walks are the order of the day here, and though in some ways not a lot happens, it is a joy to read.

The Return of Faraz Ali by Aamina Ahmad (2022) was the second of my two kindle reads. An incredibly impressive debut novel set in Lahore, Dacca and London in the late 1960s and 1970s. Faraz Ali is a police inspector, in late 1960’s Pakistan. In 1968, Faraz has been dispatched to a police station in Lahore’s red light district tasked by his cold, biological father, with whitewashing the murder of a young girl. The child has been killed by a man of great power, though no one seems to know who. Faraz’s return to Lahore’s red light district, to the place where he was taken from his mother as a young child open ups a lot of old wounds for Faraz and impacts the next few years of his life.

His Master’s Voice by Ivy Litvinov (1930) was read for the Librarything monthly themed read – only now I don’t know if it really qualified *sigh* but I tried. My first book by Litvinov, but not my last as I have her collection of short stories tbr. A detective novel set in Moscow, with a beautifully evocative opening, a young ballet dancer from the famous Bolshoi theatre finds herself accused of murder.

Always Gardenia by Betsy Hanson (2018) the author kindly sent me this attractive hardback copy of her self-published novel set in an American university. An enjoyable, wryly humorous novel about academic colleagues, the trivialities in everyday life, coping with the challenges of widowhood and the complex relationships between mothers and sons. There are also a couple of lovely little dachshunds.

The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak (2021) only my third novel by this writer but she is clearly an exceptional writer. While this didn’t quite reach the heights of utter perfection that 10 minutes, 38 seconds in this Strange World did, it didn’t fall far short. Moving between 1970s Cyprus and modern day England, this novel explores the terrible realities of the conflict that divided the island in two. Part of the novel is narrated by a fig tree – I came to love that tree – I have always had a thing about trees, and I knew I was right, they are pretty special. Still thinking about this one.

As July begins I am reading the book I began on June 28th – it will go into July’s final total. It is an old original green vmc Women Against Men by Storm Jameson first published in 1933. It is three novellas in one volume telling the stories of three women and their relationships with men. I have started the second novella now and again I’m enjoying Jameson’s writing very much.

In July my book group will be reading Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns, one of my favourite writers, it was of course my suggestion. This is both exciting and nerve wracking, but gives me the excuse to re-read the novel which first introduced me to Comyns in 2012. That will doubtless be my next read. The Librarything virago group are reading Irish writers of VMCs – and I have a few Kate O’Brien and a Mary Lavin at least – but I will see what my mood dictates and act accordingly. So it could end up being a fairly VMC inspired month of reading, except I am reading quite fickly these days.

What brilliant things did you read in June and what’s on your tbr for July? I always like to know 😊

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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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In my last round up post at the end of March I was again giving myself a bit of a hard time over how few books I had read, compared to how much I used to read. I have to stop doing that, it’s fairly clear that this is some kind of new normal, and instead of endlessly going on about how little I read, how slowly I am reading, how I have only managed six books in the month etc, I need to just celebrate the books I have read. I had questioned whether I would continue with these roundup posts, I wasn’t sure whether the act of writing them was unintentionally putting me under pressure to have to have a nice pile of books to show at the end of the month. Well, anyway I have decided to continue with these roundups for now – and the piles of books are considerably smaller, and likely to stay that way. This month’s pile made smaller by the fact I read three books on my kindle.

April seems to have flown, perhaps because of the time off work, holiday weeks always go too fast. I managed a little more reading time, had some time away by the sea and slept a lot.

Here’s what I read.

These Days by Lucy Caldwell (2022)– which I had originally wanted to read in March for Read Ireland month but my hastily purchased copy didn’t arrive in time. I had already seen some positive reviews for this so I was quite confident I would enjoy it. This is the story of the Belfast Blitz in April and May 1941 as seen through the eyes of the Bell family, especially two sisters Audrey and Emma. These Days is an intensely moving story, Caldwell’s descriptions of the German raids, the fear of the people and their incredible resilience to come through it.

I read the highly acclaimed novella Assembly by Natasha Brown (2021) with my book group. I was enormously impressed with the writing, and my book group enjoyed our discussion. At the time I read it, I wasn’t so mad about the episodic nature of the story, yet I found it very thought provoking and the book has really stayed with me and I found myself thinking about it afterwards more than I might have expected to.

Read of course for the 1954 club The Gypsy in the Parlour by Margery Sharp (1954) was a fairly expensive e-book, which I was very glad I had stumped up for. Set mainly in Devon in the late nineteenth century, it is the story of the Sylvester family, particularly the women who drive it. As the novel opens, the three Sylvester women – each of them married to one of three brothers, await the arrival of the new, and so far unseen fiancé of their youngest brother-in-law Stephen. After Fanny Davis arrives, life at the Sylvester farm may never be the same again.

My second club read, again on my kindle was Charlotte Fairlie by D E Stevenson (1954). Definitely one of the highlights of the month, every bit of it was a pleasure the read. The novel is named for the central character, Charlotte Fairlie is a young, girls’ school headmistress. Two years into her dreamed of position, she has discovered that to be a headmistress is a very lonely profession. Tessa is a new girl at the school, who Charlotte finds herself feeling a lot of sympathy and affection for, after a tumultuous school year Tessa and her father invite Charlotte to the idyllic Scottish island where they live, during the long summer holidays.

Book of Wayward Girls and Wicked Women edited by Angela Carter (1986) is the last of the books I bought in January with my Christmas book vouchers. It is a fairly chunky collection of short stories. Tales of female sexual disruptiveness, bad manners, and discontent. Written by a host of big names including Grace Paley, Elizabeth Jolley, Katherine Mansfield and Angela Carter herself. There was only one story I didn’t get on with.

Some of you may remember my year of Muriel Spark reading in 2018. Well I didn’t quite get to them all. Territorial Rights by Muriel Spark (1979) reminded me why I love her writing. Set mainly in Venice (one character back in the UK lives in Birmingham, but we don’t see anything of the city sadly) it follows the fortunes of Robert, his father and his mistress, a Bulgarian defector, and a secret from the war. It’s all a bit mad and chaotic and I rather loved it for that. Not her best perhaps, but so what.

With Daphne du Maurier reading week not that long away, I felt I needed to start my reading early, so as to be ready. I chose to read The Loving Spirit by Daphne du Maurier (1931) first. It was Daphne du Maurier’s first novel, and really shows what kind of writer she was to become. It is a fantastic, sweeping story of four generations of a family in Cornwall. It was definitely my best read of the month.

I have begun another book by Daphne du Maurier – The Doll and other stories – but as that one will be finished in May it can go into the May pile.

So on to May. Of course I am rather taken up with Daphne du Maurier reading week. I haven’t decided if I will try and squeeze a third DDM read in yet, after I finish The Doll, I need to read my May book group read The Mad Women’s Ball by Victoria Maas (2019) so it is all a question of time.

Daphne du Maurier reading week begins Monday 9th May and runs until the 15th. There will be a giveaway – I have already bought the prize – more of that during the week. I do hope some of you will be joining in, if you are, tell me what you are planning to read? As for after that, who knows, I shall wait to see how the mood takes me.

Happy reading to all of you in May.

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A fairly brief round up for March. I continue to be (not) enjoying the worst reading year of my adult life. Never have I read so few books by this point in the year – and yes it is only just April, so I keep hoping things will improve. I have said before how I am trying to embrace my reading and not get bogged down in how little I am reading – compared to my past self that is – but it’s hard not to feel frustrated. One week this month was especially bad, due to extra busyness – so even though I am doing better finding little reading slots after I finish work, that week has meant my overall total for the month has not improved on last month.

Here is what I managed to get through – thankfully some thoroughly excellent reads this month again. Quality, after all being the most important thing.

I began March with The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed (2021) which was shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize. Based on a true story, it is an extraordinarily poignant novel about injustice and racism set in Cardiff’s Tiger Bay in the 1950s. The story of Mahmood Mattan, a well-known figure in the bustling, diverse community of Tiger Bay. The area busy with people from all over the world, Mahmood is a sailor from Somalia, living alongside men from the West Indies and Africa.  

March of course is Reading Ireland Month – a reading event I always enjoy. Fools of Fortune by William Trevor (1983) had been on my tbr for quite some time. It turned out to be the first of two outstanding reads for Reading Ireland month. Spanning a period from just after the First World War it tells an unforgettable story of a cycle of revenge and a painful legacy within an Irish family.

Another for Reading Ireland month The Springs of Affection by Maeve Brennan (1998) a superb collection of short stories. There are three groups of linked stories in this volume, which could almost be read as three novellas. Brennan’s writing is fantastic, the kind of writer where nothing need to happen much, and yet she holds her readers rapt. It’s a slightly longer collection than many, but none the worse for that, I loved every bit of it.

One of the books my Christmas book vouchers bought was The Island by Ana Maria Matute (1959). A book I first heard about from Jacqui at Jacquiwine’s Journal. Translated from Spanish, it is a dark, coming of age novel set on the Island of Mallorca during a blistering hot summer as the Spanish Civil War is being fought on the mainland. It is a beautifully written novel, with images that linger long in the mind. The story is narrated by Matia, a fourteen year old girl, who having recently been expelled from her convent school for kicking the prioress, has been sent to live with her grandmother.

Once again thanks are due to The British Library who have recently reissued two more novels for their Women Writers series and sent me both. I simply couldn’t wait to read Keeping Up Appearances by Rose Macaulay (1928) – she’s a writer I admire so much. I wasn’t at all disappointed – I shall keep my thoughts for my review, which I hope to get up next week. Suffice to say it is hugely readable, shot through with Macaulay’s satirical wit, it is a novel about identity and deceit. First published in 1928 – its themes resonate sharply still.

The month ended with a lovely Dean Street Press novel Cecil by Elizabeth Eliot (1962)– I have read three other novels by Elizabeth Eliot, and enjoy the way she tells her stories. In this novel Lady Anne tells us the story of her husband’s step-brother Cecil. We only see Cecil from Anne’s perspective – and yet it is a brilliant portrait – not so much of Cecil himself, but of his mother the dreadful Lady Guthrie – who so dominates Cecil’s life, that she destroys it. Eliot reminds us how we never really know the complete truth about the people around us. I only manged to finish this on the evening of the 31st – so right up to the wire – and at time of writing haven’t started my next read yet.

So, on to April. Two things in particular stand out, the first; two weeks Easter holiday from work, including time by the seaside, and maybe more reading time, the second the 1954 club.

I haven’t decided what I will spend my Easter holiday reading, but it will be exciting to decide next week. I am very much sticking to going with mood – it’s the only way I can approach it at the moment. I had intended to try and read something for the Librarything Virago group’s challenge this moth – but that didn’t happen – and I had wanted to read Lucy Caldwell’s These Things for Reading Ireland month – but my impulse buy didn’t arrive in time – so perhaps I will read it in April instead. At any rate very much looking forward to the holidays – as I know many school staff will be. My book group will be reading Assembly by Natasha Brown, although I will be away when we have our meeting – as we meet by zoom I may be able to join in.

Karen and Simon’s 1954 club is just a couple of weeks away, and I know I have a couple of Dean Street press books by Margery Sharp and D E Stevenson on my kindle from that year. It’s time I had a look to see if I have anything else. There’s plenty to choose from I know, and the fifties are one of my favourite decades to read from.

Well that’s it – and as ever I love to hear what you’ve been reading and what your plans for this brand new month might be.

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Well I do seem to be in danger of forever repeating myself – but I haven’t had the best reading month in some ways. The number of books read is again very low – I look back on the days when I would regularly read 9-10 books a month and more and wonder how on earth I did it – and where did that extra time come from. I can’t really blame February for being short as it’s only two or three days shorter.

Anyway I have a plan of sorts to try and utilise my time better – I think that’s what I probably used to do – as I have always watched quite a lot of TV. I’m fortunate to get home from work fairly early, so I have a lovely slot of time there – before I need to be getting dinner etc – when I can have a good read. The trouble is that lately I have been so exhausted I rarely use that time for reading, I often just slump in the chair with the TV on – not really watching it – scrolling through my phone, and generally falling asleep. I do struggle with fatigue in the afternoons, but I am hoping that with the slightly lighter afternoons, that may improve slightly. I have so many great books I’m looking forward to getting to, that it’s a shame if I continue reading so little. I’ll let you know how it goes.

So, only six books completed – although one was over 500 pages – and I have started a seventh but that can go onto March’s pile as much of it will be read in March. I am taking comfort in the fact that I enjoyed all these very much – and at least one could easily be on my books of the year list.

My first book of February was The Gosling Girl by Jacqueline Roy (2022). It’s a moving and powerful novel, a thoroughly gripping story of institutional racism. It examines the deep psychological effects of a crime committed in childhood, alongside society’s ideas of evil and its reluctance to forgive and forget.

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (2020) was chosen by my book group as our February read – and was a great success. It gave us such a lot to discuss and was an enormously compelling read into the bargain. The author based her novel around the Vardø witch trials which took place in Finnmark, Norway in 1621.

In 1617 around the remote Norwegian island of Vardø a terrible storm arrives with appalling suddenness taking with it most of the men of Vardø who were out fishing. One young woman, Maren stands watching helplessly as the sea takes her father, brother, and fiancé. Now they are an island of women, fending for themselves, until a stranger arrives with his new wife, with orders to bring the women to heel.

My Caravaggio Style by Doris Langley Moore (1959) published by Dean Street Press was a good fit for #ReadIndies – I didn’t do as well with this challenge as I had hoped.

This is a novel about Byron obsessions and an audacious literary fraud. The novel is narrated by bookseller and author Quentin Williams, who decides to try and create a copy of Byron’s lost memoirs – burned by his friends after his death. The author herself knows a good deal about Byron, having had a lifelong obsession with him, and even makes a brief appearance herself in this novel.

The Narrows by Ann Petry (1953) a book I bought with those Christmas book vouchers and was so looking forward t reading. I knew it would take a while, as I was reading slowly, but part of it I read during half term, when I could speed up a bit. Unforgettable characters in a novel about love, lust, class, racism, tabloid journalism, the truth and betrayal – Petry writes her story flawlessly, giving us characters we won’t easily forget. Most of the characters inhabit the area of Monmouth, Connecticut called The Narrows – a black community within what is a largely white town.

The Dear Departed by Brian Moore (2020) – a collection of stories all of which seem to date from the 1950s and 60s although this edition was produced more recently. Published by Turnpike books it was another for #ReadIndies. Eight tightly written little stories, which I had intended to read last year during the Brian Moore centenary. It may be hard to review a couple of the stories – so I may just write about a few of them. Brian Moore is such a good writer though.

Random Commentary by Dorothy Whipple (1966) is there any better combination? A Persephone book and an unread Dorothy Whipple – it was just what I needed as half term came to a close. Compiled from notebooks and journals kept from 1925 onwards, I found this to be utterly charming and revealing. I shall keep most of my thoughts for my review – but oh my how I loved this book, it makes me want to reread all my Whipples – but then I remember that tbr! Another one that counted for #ReadIndies too – so I did manage to join in a bit.

Moving on to March – and with March comes the promise of spring – though we still face a lot of rainy, cold days – it feels like it’s getting closer. I have no reading plans at all – for even my book group read, Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan is one I read fairly recently. Which means I am going with mood all month. I may join in with the Librarything themed read which is authors of just one VMC – you’d be amazed at what a long list of possibles there are.

As ever I would love to know what your reading plans for March are if you have them – and what brilliant things did you read in February?

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I don’t have a very large pile of books to show for my January reading. I have been reading quite slowly, and I am continuing to really struggle with blogging – though I know I don’t want to give it up. I find it hard to read, no matter how much I want to when I am very tired, and the one thing I can always guarantee to be is tired – no matter what time of day or night it is. I have decided to embrace the slowness of my reading, to enjoy spending more time than I once would have with a set of characters, and to appreciate the reading time I do manage.

I began the month and the New Year, reading a book on my kindle – The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante (2019) translated from Italian by Anne Goldstein. It was the book my book group had chosen for January, and having enjoyed some other books by Ferrante I had looked forward to it. The first half of the book I did enjoy, only it then became rather a drag. Too much introspective teenage angst, too many toxic, uncomfortable relationships. I ended up quite disappointed.

Next I read the first of two green vmcs for the Librarything monthly themed read. For January it was nuns, teachers, and governesses. I Will not Serve by Eveline Mahyère (1958) translated from French by Antonia White. It’s the story of Sylvie; a seventeen year old schoolgirl due to take her Baccalaureate at the convent school of Sainte-Thérèse. Three months before her crucial exams she is expelled from the school, for Sylvie has fallen passionately in love with her teacher, Julienne. Refusing to forget Julienne she writes her imploring letters while exploring the bohemian world of jazz clubs and bars in 1950s Paris.

Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo (2021) was one of the books I bought with Christmas book vouchers, and wanted to read straight away. I really enjoyed it. It is a novel about a woman’s search for her identity, at a time when her life is in transition following separation from her husband and the death of her mother. Finding her father’s diaries from when he stayed with her mother and her family in London, she travels to a small country in West Africa to find him. He is a complex man, once a political activist he became the country’s first president – some would say dictator – a position he held for almost thirty years.

Spinster by Sylvia Ashton-Warner (1958) was the second of those vmcs I read for the Librarything themed read. Based loosely on the author’s own experiences, it is the story of a teacher of mainly Māori children in a small New Zealand town, and the psychological approach she developed in the teaching of reading.

The New Magdalen by Wilkie Collins (1873) is that satisfying thing, a fairly fat Persephone book that makes you want to turn the pages. It is also that rare thing a Persephone novel written by a man. Testament perhaps to Collins’s treatment of women that Persephone decided to reissue it. I had read it before, many years ago, I read a lot of Wilkie Collins once upon a time. There’s nothing quite like settling down with a Victorian sensation novel, and this one has many of those ingredients. Thoroughly enjoyable. I shall be reviewing it soon.

Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou (2013) was the final book in the seven set of autobiographies that I have been reading with Liz and our friend Meg. In this volume the story of Maya’s life is left where it finished in book six. This volume is about Maya’s mother Vivian Baxter and the relationship Maya had with her, after having grown up in Stamps, Arkansas for several years. It is a fascinating and affectionate portrait of an extraordinary woman.

Anna and her Daughters by D E Stevenson (1958) was absolutely the right book at the right time, this is a fully satisfying DES novel – that spans quite a number of years, and sees characters travelling the globe. It was a real joy to spend time with, the ending was just right I thought. I bought this nice old 1950s edition some years ago and had almost forgotten I had it. Thankfully, for the rest of you Dean Street Press have just reissued it.

I don’t have any big plans for February yet – but Karen and Lizzie are hosting #ReadIndies and I hope to join in with that. The Librarything Virago group’s themed read is North American authors – lots to pick from there, so I hope to join in with that too. My book group will be reading The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, which I am looking forward to. What I actually end up reading will depend largely on my mood though – watch this space.

As ever I would love to know what you’ve been reading, and what you plan to read in February.

Happy reading.

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