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cof

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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cof

It’s the first day of December but I’m really not sure where the month went, I don’t feel as if I have had quite enough November yet.

In bookish terms it’s been quite a slow reading month – though I have read an interesting variety of books including two books by the Librarything Virago Group author of the month Margaret Atwood.

Oryx & Crake was the first of those Atwood’s – an incredible work of speculative fiction, which imagines the world as it could be if we don’t watch our step. I’m not sure I had expected to love it as much as I did, now I can’t wait to read the next two books in the MaddAddam series. What a writer Margaret Atwood is!

A bookish Facebook group I’m a member of was having an Angela Thirkell reading week towards the beginning of the month. I chose to read The Headmistress as I had found a fragile old copy of it several months ago while browsing in a second-hand bookshop. My experience of it was a bit mixed – Thirkell is loved by many for her cosy nostalgia – others find her class consciousness – and in this novel attitude to refugees – hard to stomach.

I have managed to dust off a couple of books this month that I have had ages! The first of these Who was Changed and who was Dead by Barbara Comyns is a superbly crafted little novel. A dark, quirky little novel which could also been seen as an allegory, it tells the story of a strange, unhappy family and the peculiar plague which comes to the village just before the First World War.

The second Margaret Atwood book I chose to read was a collection of stories, Wilderness Tips – which tell stories of women and the men in their lives exploring some of the extraordinary choices people make. It really was an excellent collection.

The British Library Crime Classics have produced an incredible array of vintage mysteries for those of us who like to relax with a bit of murder. Somebody at the Door by Raymond Postgate was a good World War Two mystery, and although I felt it sagged a bit in the middle – it is still very readable – and the solution was particularly ingenious.

Over the Mountains by Pamela Frankau is the third novel in the Clothes of a King’s Son trilogy. Taking us from London to Hollywood, from France to Spain and Portugal it completes the story of the Weston family who we first met in 1926.

I seem to have developed a fondness for trilogies, and having finished Over the Mountains, I was reminded of another trilogy I was overdue in catching up with.An Avenue of Stone is the second book in Pamela Hansford Johnson’s Helena trilogy. I read it on my kindle – which I really don’t use often enough – especially when I consider how many books I have squirrelled away on it. I raced through An Avenue of Stone – such a brilliant book – it’s hard to sum up in just a few worlds. PHJ’s characterisation is simply superb – and in this novel Helena is in her late sixties – a woman altered by time and experience from the one we met in Too Dear for my Possessing the first book in the trilogy. It’s an extraordinary portrait – and makes for surprisingly compelling reading.

Another book I have had for an age The Third Miss Symons by F M Mayor. I read The Rector’s Daughter by Mayor – a couple of years ago. That one is in my opinion a far superior work; this much earlier novella is altogether bleaker.

I have finished the month reading Love’s Shadow by Ada Leverson which was loaned to me by Liz. I’ve not had chance to get very far with it yet – but I’m certainly enjoying it so far. I was amazed to see how long ago it was first published. I think I had assumed it to be from the 1930s or 40s – but a quick check revealed it to have been published in 1908. I very quickly had to reassess my idea of the costumes worn by the characters. This is my first experience of Ada Leverson who I had obviously placed in completely the wrong period. Anyway, I’ve read so little of it, it can go on next month’s pile.

December is upon us – and the bed news is that barring miracles or at least being seriously snowed in for four weeks I will (again) not make my Goodreads reading challenge. The only reason I care about numbers is because of the ridiculous numbers of books I have waiting. Oh well – maybe next year?

Sylvia Townsend Warner is the Librarything Virago group author of the month – and I am looking forward to re-reading Lolly Willowes with my very small book group. I may even manage some short stories too.

Other thoughts turn to Christmassy books. I have a couple of tiny little Christmassy books to read that I bought last year and didn’t get around to. Stories by Gogol and Capote, which look charming. I also have a BLCC Christmas mystery Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith which looks excellent and I am considering Winter by Ali Smith too.

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As ever please share what you read during November – anything I should know about?

I particularly want to hear about your December reading plans – especially if they are Christmassy themed.

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October in review

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Two months of the old year left – goodness – how the years fly by these days.

I began October reading The Ghostly Lover – a book which really deserves a better title – it was the first novel by Elizabeth Hardwick, a coming of age novel set in depression era Kentucky.

Strong Poison – by Dorothy L Sayers was a re-read, the October choice of my very small book group, which provided us with an enormous amount to talk about, perhaps surprisingly so.

The Librarything Virago group had selected Margaret Kennedy as the author of the month – and I found myself engrossed in The Oracles, a fairly unusual novel in some respects, but one in which I could see echoes of other Margaret Kennedy novels. It tells the story of a community wrangle over a piece of modern art, and a group of abandoned children who get caught in the cross fire.

Narcissa by Richmal Crompton was a fabulously compelling novel, with one of the most monstrous characters, I have read in a while, at the centre of it. A darker story than the other books by Crompton I have read, but quite unforgettable.

Reader, I married him – a collection of short stories edited by Tracy Chevalier – had been a gift I was really looking forward to reading. The stories, all inspired by that famous final line in Jane Eyre – were something of a mixed bag, but overall, I was a bit disappointed in the collection.

I have fallen out of love a little with the Booker prize the last two or three years, but I still keep my eye on it. This year I happened to read two of the longlisted books, and now two of those that were shortlisted. I can’t say I fancy the winner much – but I am open to persuasion. Elmet was the first of those shortlisted books, and I enjoyed it enormously. Not sure I understand why it was shortlisted and Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie wasn’t – but then what do I know?

Eva Trout by Elizabeth Bowen was the first of two books I read for the #1968club hosted by Simon and Karen. Bowen’s last novel – it has a simply unforgettable ending.

My second read for the #1968club was By the Pricking of my Thumbs, a Tommy and Tuppence novel – the couple are described as (a little tongue in cheek I suspect) ‘quite elderly’ by that I suppose about sixty. It might not be Agatha Christie’s best – but I enjoyed it enormously, finding very hard to put down.

I finished the month reading Autumn by Ali Smith – the second of those Booker Prize shortlisted novels. I haven’t read Ali Smith before – at least I haven’t finished one of her books before – having given up on The Accidental several years ago. This one -chosen by my very small book group as our November read, I enjoyed.

Those final two books of course will be reviewed soon.

I spent a week in my favourite seaside location during half term – and it really helped to re-charge the batteries, and while I was there I had a mooch in a little bookshop I like to pop in to each time I am there. I only came away with two books – a Persephone book The Gardeners Nightcap by Muriel Stuart (complete with matching bookmark) – not sure it’s a book I would have bought new – but I am happy to add it to my collection, and Wet Magic by E Nesbit, which looks perfect comfort reading. I admit, that one is already calling me.cof

November is a month that is perfect for curling up with a book and large pot of tea, but this year has been a very slow reading year so far – so I expect that will continue. However, I have one or two things set aside for the month. This month the Librarything author of the month is the wonderful Margaret Atwood – as well as several potential re-reads, I have three of her books tbr – Wilderness Tips, short stories from the early 1990s and more recent novels, Oryx and Crake and The Hagseed. I feel like the short stories are particularly calling to me – but I shall probably only decide which to read as I pick it up. A Facebook group I am a member of is having an Angela Thirkell reading week next week – beginning November 6th – so as I have a battered old copy of The Headmistress I shall be reading that.

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With December and the end of the year on the horizon, my thoughts have turned to possible reading challenges. I sort of had a year off in 2017, though I paricipated in a few as I knew I would end up doing.

 I am considering two for 2018. 

1. A century of books, I know Simon and others are doing it again. I have never done it before. I will attempt to do it over two years, however, and I won’t make a list before hand. I assume that’s how everyone else has done it?

2. Read the 16 books of the Jalna series by Canadian writer Mazo de la Roche. I will read in narrative order, not year of publication. I have very few expectations really, are these even books I will like? I have purchased the first one.  

Anyone have any thoughts, advice etc. Anyone like to join me? 

So how was your October for books? Any exciting plans for November?

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mde

September is a funny month for me, back to work after the summer holidays and a new school year make it feel a very long and a very short month all at once. Added to which I never manage to read as much as I would like in September. Eight books this month – and some of them were comfort type reads – the final two very short books.

September began with me immersed in Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter I devoured it in the four days before starting back at work. It is a work of extraordinary imagination – introducing us to the colourful world of Fevvers – music hall aerialiste a part woman, part swan phenomenon, or is she?

I had deliberately set aside some escapist/cosy reads for September, and as I headed back to school after the holidays I chose Quick Curtain by Alan Melville as the first of those to read. I do love these BLCC books, though naturally as with big collection there can be some variety in quality. I enjoyed Quick Curtain, though it won’t be a favourite – I hadn’t expected the tongue in cheek, satirical tone, but once I got used to that, I was thoroughly entertained.

The Librarything Virago group had chosen to read Nina Bawden during September, and I chose to start with Family Money. It tells the story of Fanny Pye, and her adult children. Fanny owns a large, valuable property in London that her children think she should sell. When Fanny is involved in a violent altercation between two men one night, they increase their persuasive efforts.

It seemed far too long since I read anything by Mary Hocking, The Sparrow one of her earlier novels is possibly now one of my favourites. Ralph Kimberley is a London vicar whose dedication to the campaign for nuclear disarmament brings conflict into his relationship with his wife, and his parishioners. When ex offender Keith Wilson comes to stay with the couple and their orphaned ten-year-old niece he brings more conflict and tension with him.

The Brandons by Angela Thirkell was an absolutely delicious cosy read, witty, 1930s middlebrow novel. My favourite Thirkell to date, and the one which has really convinced me to go on reading her – I just have to be in the right mood.

My final three reads of September I have still to review. When copies of The Fourteenth Letter by Claire Evans were being offered on Twitter I snapped up a copy – aware that it would be great September reading. Probably not my usual kind of thing – as I generally don’t like heavily plot driven novels, but this is very readable, superbly plotted, and set in Victorian London it has a wonderful setting too.

The Prince’s Boy by Paul Bailey was one of the books I bought in Paris at Shakespeare and Company – so reading it during a tiring, wet working week, brought back lovely memories of my little trip. The novel itself I found to be a bit of a slow burn – the story of the great love between two Romanian men who first meet in Paris in 1927. Overall, I really enjoyed it, my first Paul Bailey novel. though I do have another tbr.

I tried to finish Familiar Passions last night, – well I do like to finish the month tidily – by completing my final book of the month on the final day of the month – but haven’t quite managed that. My second Nina Bawden novel of the month. It tells the story of Bridie whose much older husband tells her he wants to end their marriage on their thirteenth anniversary, Bridie must find a new life amidst the ruins of the old one – what was a most unsatisfactory marriage. I shall save the rest for my review.

Don’t have many plans for October, but my book group is reading Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers – I read it about five years ago – and I can’t decide whether I have time to re-read it. I do remember some of it – so I will see what other distractions come along. Sayers never disappoints. The LT Virago group will be reading Margaret Kennedy novels, and I have ordered an old copy of The Oracles from ebay to read, which I am looking forward to. Towards the end of October Simon and Karen will be celebrating the #1968club – I have Eva Trout by Elizabeth Bowen and By the Pricking of my Thumbs by Agatha Christie – and may find more when I investigate further.

cofOh, and has anyone seen this – the new hardback edition of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – a thing of beauty, I couldn’t help myself. handmaidstaleendpaper

I also bought a second copy as a gift. You will see I also bought Oryx and Crake – which I always said I didn’t want to read – but I seem to have changed my mind.

autumn#A copy of Autumn by Ali Smith arrived yesterday morning from The Big Green Bookshop (if you don’t follow them on Twitter do so) – I haven’t read any Ali Smith properly before. I tried The Accidental years ago and didn’t finish it – but can’t remember why. Autumn has been chosen by my very small book group for our November read – so time to give her another try.

There it is, autumn is here and the nights are drawing in. So, what are you reading in October and what was wonderful in September?

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mde

August is over already and I am anticipating going back to work next week. August is usually a pretty good reading month for me, and this August was certainly good, seeing me juggle books for the librarything Virago group’s annual All Virago All August, and Women in Translation month. I didn’t just read for those two challenges though, there were three books not for either challenge.

August began with me reading This Real Night by Rebecca West, sequel to The Fountain overflows. Carrying on the story of the Aubrey family it takes us from before the First World War until the time when that terrible conflict touches them personally.

The Power by Naomi Alderman was my very small book group’s August read, proving hugely popular with the whole group, it gave us a lot to talk about. The novel packs a punch – imaging a world turned on its head – where women have all power.

The Orchid House by Phyllis Shand Allfrey set on the island of Domenica, as the daughters of a privileged white creole family return from America and the UK. The story narrated by Lally the old Dominican nurse who has worked for the family for years.

A World Gone Mad the diaries of Astrid Lindgren 1939 – 1945 – the author of the famous Pippi Longstocking stories kept a war journal throughout the war. From her own neutral country of Sweden Astrid Lindgren was able to observe the terrifying situation as it unfolded in the Scandinavian region – as well as keeping a record of the war in Europe as a whole.

One of my favourite reads of the month was Chatterton Square by E H Young, E H Young is one of those Virago authors I particularly love – and Chatterton Square was her final novel. It tells the story of two rather different families living in Upper Radstowe – Young’s fictionalised version of Clifton in Bristol. (In case you missed it I also wrote a short introduction to E H Young here).

As soon as the new novel from Kamila Shamsie arrived I had to start it right away. Home Fire has been longlisted for this year’s Booker prize, and for one will be very disappointed if it doesn’t make the shortlist. It a novel which I think is essential reading for the world we live in, raising so many pertinent issues. It is an extraordinary novel, powerful, perhaps controversial and enormously readable, I urge everyone to read it.

My second read for Women in Translation month was slight little book containing two longish short stories; La Bal and Snow in Autumn by Irene Nemirovsky. These two stories are quite different, one the story of family of nouveau riche and the revenge taken by an unhappy teenage girl on her nasty, selfish mother. The second tale tells the story of a faithful Russian family servant, who in her advancing years follows the family she has served, as they emigrate to Paris.

Another lovely Virago read for AV/AA was Saraband by Eliot Bliss, a beautifully written coming of age story set just before and after the First World War. Thanks to Karen – I have now a copy of Luminous Isle the only other novel published by Eliot Bliss, both novels are said to be highly autobiographical.

Iza’s Ballad by Hungarian writer Magda Szabo, was my third read for Women in Translation month. I read The Door by Magda Szabo this time last year, and had been looking forward to reading more. It tells the poignant story of an elderly mother and her modern city living daughter – and the devastating changes that are brought to her life following the death of her husband.

Stone Mattress nine wicked Tales by Margaret Atwood, was up next (it is one of three books that I still have to review. I love short stories and this collection really is superb.

My very small book group chose The Summer Book by Tove Jansson for our September read, and I decided to pick it up a couple of weeks early. I have reviewed it already because I wanted to get in before the end of Women in Translation month. It proved to be a charming little book, full of wisdom, portraying the relationship between a six-year-old girl and her grandmother during a summer spent on an Island in the Gulf of Finland.

Another collection of short stories came my way with An Unrestored Woman –by Shobha Rao a collection either set during or inspired in some way by the upheaval surrounding Partition in 1947 – with the seventy-year commemorations of Partition having taken place a couple of weeks ago – it felt like a very timely read. It is a powerful collection, and I like the Atwood stories I couldn’t help but gobble it up.

My final read of the month was another Virago book; The Vet’s Daughter by Barbara Comyns. It is a brilliant little novel, unusual a little twisted perhaps but I loved it – and I hadn’t been sure that I would.

So three August books still to review – I am sure I shall get around to them soon, work permitting.

Thirteen books read is very good for me these days – and as I head back to work on Monday I can predict that September’s total will be nothing like that. I always struggle with my reading when I get back to work in September. August was an outstanding month quality wise too – Home Fire, Chatterton Square, Stone Mattress and Iza’s Ballad my stand out reads – though it is hard to separate them from the rest.

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(Teignmouth seafront from the pier)

cofSo that’s it, Summer is over – as far as I’m concerned, my holiday at the seaside which I came back from last weekend already seems long over. *sigh* (roll on the next holiday). I haven’t made any particular plans for September – except to read pretty much only what I can cope with. The Librarything Virago group’s author of month is Nina Bawden, who many of you will know I like very much, and as I have three or four of her books waiting I am fairly sure to join in. (I failed miserably with Christina Stead in August – she and I are not destined to be friends). I suspect I will be leaning towards easier comfort reads – especially the beginning of the month and I have set aside a couple of Golden age mysteries and an Angela Thirkell in possible preparation as well as a super looking review copy. I am currently reading Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter – which a little over a hundred pages in, I’m enjoying it hugely.

What have you been reading during August? Is there something you feel I must read?

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July in review

mde

How on earth did August happen already – phew! I’m sitting here just hours after returning from a short trip to Paris. My first coach trip – which might seem an insane way to travel to Paris – but I really liked it, and will do it again I’m sure. There is after all, a good bit of reading time to be had on a coach trip.  sdr

I read nine (and almost a half) books during July, a lovely mixed bag of things, including two novels by the Librarything Virago group author of the month Rumer Godden.

I hadn’t realised just what a feminist novel A Lady and her Husband by Amber Reeves would be before I read it. Another fabulous offering from Persephone books got July off to a superb start.

Save me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald was picked by my very small book group, and gave us lots to talk about – I was left feeling sad for the woman behind the novel, and a little underwhelmed by the novel itself.

Patricia Highsmith has been one of several writers whose work I have only started reading this year, Strangers on a Train is the third of them. Hugely compelling, full of tension and atmosphere it was her first novel – and what a debut it was.

Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden has been on my shelves for a long time, I think I bought it as soon as the new Virago editions came out. The LT virago group’s author of the month for July, Rumer Godden was a prolific writer – a good storyteller – this, one of her earliest novels, telling the story of a group of nuns in the Himalayas was made into a film in 1947.

Murder of a Lady by Anthony Wynne, published by British Library Crime Classics, is a Scottish locked room mystery from the 1930s. It introduced me to another prolific mystery writer of the Golden Age.

The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller – my first non-fiction read for a little while. A book about books, it is also a memoir, exploring how the author found his way back to reading seriously, and how that transformed his life.

Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves by Rachel Malik, a newly published novel – I read few of those and this one turned out to be my book of the month. A wonderful impulse buy, a debut novel inspired by a story from the author’s own family – I realised after I had finished how the story and the style suits a reader of vintage fiction so well – probably why I loved it so much.

Afternoon of a Good Woman by Nina Bawden. I still have this to review of course, it concerns Penelope (the good woman of the title) a magistrate on the day she leaves her husband. Penelope begins to examine her life, balancing it against the cases that come before her that day. It is a slight, serious work of introspection, which I think is very impressive.

The Battle of the Villa Fiorita by Rumer Godden – read entirely on my coach trip, it was a lovely undemanding, compelling read. Rumer Godden is good at writing from the point of view of children, and in this novel, she examines the turmoil of children when their parents’ marriage ends. Their inability to see their mother as a person in her own right as they battle and scheme to get her back – going as far as travelling alone to Italy to intercept her with her fiancé.

I am now reading This Real Night by Rebecca West – the sequel to The Fountain Overflows – which I am enjoying very much, and will be my first book for AV/AA (All Virago All August) which of course started over on Librarything, but has been taken on by a few other readers and bloggers too. Essentially it is reading Virago authors – (new virago, old green editions or even Virago published authors in other editions) – we now also include Persephone books.

During August, I might be seen juggling books like mad, I always want to read as many for AV/AA as I can, but I also like #WITmonth – and have several books I could read for that too. I also need to read The Power for my very small book group – just as well I’m not at work. The librarything author of the month is Christina Stead – who I have never read, but think of as being challenging. I have A Little Tea, A Little Chat – which of course is a green virago – so I should try and get to that.

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You may have seen my book acquisition post yesterday – well, I wrote it before I went away, since when I have bought two more. I think you can all probably guess from where. While I was in Paris our tour took us into the Latin Quarter for dinner on Saturday evening. I found a few minutes to walk from Boulevard St Germain to Shakespeare and Company – well I had to didn’t I. I was with another lady from the coach, and we were under time constraints so I could only spend a few minutes there. What a lovely place – and how exciting to buy two books with a Paris setting – The Prince’s Boy by Paul Bailey and The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundas – which I have read before but wanted to re-read and didn’t have a copy of. I bought a lovely tote bag and had my books stamped so they will be a lasting reminder of my first trip to Paris.

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Did you read anything in July I need to know about? I always love recommendations – dangerous though they are. If you are joining in any of the reading challenges during August what are you planning to read?

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June saw me returning to work after four weeks off sick during May, this is certainly reflected in the amount of reading I have done, I have been so tired! Anyway, I completed eight books, and although I have started another, my tiredness the last two days has meant I haven’t been able to get very far with it. I am indulging in a very lazy weekend – hoping to get quite a bit of reading done.

I rarely post anything personal – in fact I am a little nervous of doing so – but I just wanted to mention that this week I was finally diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I don’t want to make a big thing about it – other people are living with far worse things – but it is changing some of the things I do. The diagnosis wasn’t unexpected – I knew that was the most likely explanation for my symptoms and at least now I have begun treatment. Like with many conditions I suppose I can expect good days and bad, and so this may be reflected in the amount I post here and the regularity of those posts. I try to post twice a week or more – and intend to stick to that as much as I can, but if I go a little quieter – or my reviews seem shorter – it might just be because I have had a bad week. The majority of my energy must naturally go into my job.

Ok, back to books. I started June in the company of Anita Brookner – and I enjoyed it enormously. I have often said how I couldn’t read several Brookner novels in a row, but I really shouldn’t leave it so long next time. Family and Friends opens with a wedding photograph, a group of family and friends in the 1920s, Sophia Dorn – always called by the diminutive Sofka – her eldest son; Frederick, the pride and joy, her daughters; Mimi and Betty all in white, while Alfred the youngest and favourite sat crossed legged at the front with assorted other children. This wedding photo and the ones which follow later in the novel form a frame for telling the stories of these family members and their hangers on. The final photograph coming on the last page – it is the last one in the album we are told by the unnamed narrator.

Photography featured in my second read of June, and was the only one which slightly underwhelmed me – and I’m still not sure why. Mrs Eckdorf in O’Neills Hotel by William Trevor was short listed for the Booker prize in 1970, and tells the story of the inhabitants of the eponymous hotel, which are gradually revealed by the interfering Ivy Eckdorf, a photographer. Ivy Eckdorf is a producer of large coffee table books – in which she has explored the desperate lives of communities in a variety of locations around the world. She had heard about O’Neill’s Hotel in Dublin from a barman – he had described the inhabitants, the hotel’s faded glories, and it had fired her imagination.

The Virago group on Librarything chose Canadian author Margaret Laurence for June, and The Stone Angel was one of two Laurence books I read in June (and I have bought a third). Oh, what joy to discover a new author. The Stone Angel is a simply wonderful novel, Margaret Laurence explores the life of one woman, Hagar Shipley, moving back and forth through different periods of her life. As the novel opens we get a snapshot of Hagar’s childhood, as aged ninety Hagar begins to reflect on her past.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy – has certainly divided opinion since it was published. I’m not going to pretend it is an easy read, I can understand people getting lost in the middle – but even those complicated political bits fascinated me. I loved it – and the characters have stayed with me since I finished it. It starts with Anjum – born Aftab – part of Old Delhi’s Hijra community – a community which has existed since long before the more accepted term of transgender came into use. Born with both male and female genitalia, Anjum leaves her family and finds a home of sorts with the Hijra community. She longs for motherhood, her desire driving everything she does. Later Anjum takes up residence in a graveyard, where surrounded by the dead she builds a makeshift shelter – which over time becomes the Jannat Guest house – home to other waifs and strays. Anjum is a fabulous character.

I was a bit late posting for Margaret Kennedy day but I really enjoyed The Forgotten Smile. The Forgotten Smile is a later Margaret Kennedy novel – one offering the reader a wonderful escape to another world. The majority of the novel takes place on Keritha, a tiny Greek Island, largely forgotten by the rest of the world. A place of Pagan mysticism and legend, where the cruise ships don’t stop and aren’t really welcome. It’s a place out of step with the modern world and is perfect for an escape.

The Devastating Boys by Elizabeth Taylor is possibly her best collection of short stories, each of the eleven stories is quite perfect. On of things that Elizabeth Taylor can do in her short stories is to have her characters step fully formed from the pages, and the reader is immediately involved in their lives. These stories take place both at home and abroad, and concern a variety of types. We have remembrances of childhood holidays and the infatuations they bring. Loneliness and humour sit side by side throughout this delicious collection.

I do love an Agatha Christie – whether it is a re-read or one I haven’t read before (there are some), I always enjoy settling in with one. The Clocks is one I couldn’t remember if I had read or not, firmly rooted in the 1960s Poirot who only makes a couple of brief appearances is really getting on a bit.

My last book of June was my second Margaret Laurence novel, A Jest of God – a review next week – but it was another big hit with me.

I have now started read A Lady and her Husband by Amber Reeves a lovely Persephone book, I have read about 100 pages so far and I love it.

I don’t have many plans for July – other than Save me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald which was chosen by my very small book group, I am looking forward to that. The Librarything Virago group has chosen Rumer Godden for July – a fantastic choice and I have a couple waiting to read – so shall almost certainly join in with that.

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What are your reading plans for July – read anything in June I need to know about? Let me know.

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