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April has been a pretty good reading month for me, ten books read, one of which was quite a tome – and nothing that disappointed. Eight fiction, and two nonfiction, three books read on kindle. Of course, we had the 1936 club earlier in the month hosted again by Karen and Simon. Having already read one title in March, two of this month’s books were chosen for that, two quite different titles for a year that offered a wealth of possibilities. Reviewing things in time for the 1936 club meant I started reviewing out of order – but here in the order I read them is what April brought me in books.

I began the month reading The Years by Virginia Woolf a novel I had been meaning to read since the end of my #Woolfalong in 2016. It tells the story of a family over a fifty year period and is one of Woolf’s most conventional novels. I loved it.

My book group chose to read I know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou in April. The first book in a seven volume autobiography, it depicts Angelou’s childhood and adolescence. I am now committed to reading the rest of the autobiography with my friend and fellow blogger Liz from Adventures in Reading, Running and Working from Home. I’m looking forward to learning more about the life of this extraordinary woman.

A classic mystery for the 1936 club The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White was the inspiration behind Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. I often find I read much faster on kindle – and I fairly flew through this one. Who doesn’t love a mystery on a train anyway?

Also for the 1936 club was Minty Alley by C L R James. The first novel by a Caribbean writer to be published in England. Set in the Trinidadian capital of the 1920s it’s the story of a middle class young man’s experiences of life in a bustling working class neighbourhood.

In the Company of Men by Véronique Tadjo was my February book from my Asymptote subscription – two more have arrived since it did. It is a narrative about the ravages of the West African Ebola outbreak. Weaving the human stories with those of the natural world, showing movingly the absolute inter-connectedness of everything.

Following my previous read, I needed something of a comfort read. Much Dithering by Dorothy Lambert was an absolute delight. A comedy of manners with some memorable characterisation, it’s light, bright and cheerful. A great weekend read.

The much anticipated biography of novelist Barbara Pym The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym by Paula Byrne came out earlier this month and I spent a wonderful week with it – it’s just over 600 pages. Despite the fact the heavy hardback format hurt my hands I loved every bit of it. My review is yet to be written – but I can tell you I found the book, revealing and affectionate, an honest portrayal of a favourite writer.

My book group’s May choice is A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum and with Daphne du Maurier reading week on my horizon I needed to read it a little ahead of time. Another quick kindle read – it’s an excellent debut novel by an American-Palestinian writer. A compelling story about the lives of conservative Arab women living in America.

I had been meaning to read V is for Victory by Lissa Evans for ages. I had so loved Crooked Heart and Old Baggage and it was wonderful to catch up with the characters of Noel and Vee again, and I do enjoy a wartime setting.

The British Library sent me Due to A Death by Mary Kelly recently, and I picked it up as it sounded like it might have more going on than many vintage mysteries and it does. A really intelligent novel, with a fabulous sense of place.

So still four of those April reads to be reviewed – I will get there in the fullness of time.

It’s May tomorrow – and just over a week until Daphne du Maurier reading week starting 10th May. I have realised I might struggle to fulfil my hosting duties this time, as on Tuesday I go back to work properly after shielding until the end of March and then being off sick since the Easter holidays. My reading and blogging is likely to take a severe hit – so if I am quiet that’s why. I have just started my Du Maurier reading with The King’s General – but have only read about three chapters so I’m looking forward to getting back to it later. If I can get two books read and reviewed for the week of #DDMreadingweek I will be delighted – but it will be tricky once I am back at work properly.

As ever I look forward to hearing what you have been reading in April and what you have planned for May.

A few new books have come in just lately, some I have bought, some have been sent to me and some given to me by a friend. What absolute riches! Some of these might get read quite soon. Watch this space. (which would you pick off the pile first?)

Happy bank holiday to those of you in England and Wales and happy May reading to you all.

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March has been a pretty good reading month all in all for me – although I have slowed right down again the last few days. A key reading challenge during March is Read Ireland month and this year I only managed three and really could have done much better, but the three I read were really excellent.

In other news March has seen me accepting an offer on my house and having my offer accepted on a flat about three miles away, in an area I once lived before. My only hope is that everything goes smoothly, still early days.

So, anyway despite house selling distractions in March I managed to read nine and a bit books – the bit will go into April’s round up.

For read Ireland month I started the month with The Children of Dynmouth by William Trevor. An absolutely brilliant novel, with a truly malevolent teenage character at the centre of it. Set in a fictional Dorset seaside town, William Trevor’s sense of place, attention to detail and character study make this my favourite of Trevor’s novels I have read to date.

I think it has become a tradition for me to read a Molly Keane novel for Read Ireland month – this year it was Time After Time one of Keane’s later novels. It concerns a visitor to the home of four elderly, squabbling siblings. It is a subtle, sophisticated novel – something of a slow burn in the beginning but well worth the time spent with it.

I reviewed The Visitor by Maeve Brennan alongside the Molly Keane novel as they shared some similar themes. At just over 100 pages it is a very slight little book, but here not a word is wasted. It takes real skill to produce something this good in so few pages. A writer I shall be reading again when I can.

The first of my kindle reads in March was The Clock Winder by Anne Tyler for Liz’s read-a-long. This was definitely a slow burn novel for me, at first I was underwhelmed by it – but thinking back on it later, I was reminded of so many good things about it. Tyler writes families so well and she manages to make them so real, the reader becomes completely involved with them.

I was fortunate enough to win a copy of The Peacock by Isabel Bodgan from V&Q books thanks to Lizzy Siddal a few weeks ago. I read it straight away as it looked like exactly what I was in the mood for – it was. An absolute gem, quirky, funny, and hard to believe it was originally written in German, the humour often feeling very British.

My second novel in translation of the month and my second kindle read was Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg. Translated from Polish it is a coming of age novel, the narrator a young girl growing up in an agricultural community during the communist years of the 1980s.

It seemed so long since I read anything by Margaret Kennedy that I pulled one of my two Vintage Kennedy editions from the shelf. Together and Apart is the story of a divorce essentially. Kennedy depicts brilliantly the effects the separation, divorce and remarriage of Betsy and Alec Canning have on their family and friends. It is surprisingly compelling, I absolutely loved it. A full review will appear in due course.

Thank Heaven Fasting by E M Delafield came next, a novel in which Delafield depicts a young woman’s launch into society, the desperate search for a husband that was expected at that time. Delafield is very perceptive here, shining a light on some absurd practices and showing once again how for women at this time, options were limited, and really in this society how for many women finding an acceptable husband was a kind of salvation.

There is quite a bit that is a little grim in The Glass Cell by Patricia Highsmith, but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. The first hundred and twenty pages or so are taken up with the main character Phillip’s imprisonment for a crime he didn’t commit. Some of those prison experiences are pretty bad. Following his release, jealousy, suspicion, and the manipulation of him by another character take over his life. As ever Highsmith plays with the reader’s sympathies and knows just when to twist the knife.

Since finishing The Glass Cell, I have been reading The Years by Virginia Woolf but am only about a third of the way through it, two or three very slow reading days responsible for me not making a lot of progress with it. Anyway, that can be my first April book when the time comes.

April is already here; the Easter weekend approaches though with it comes some very un-spring like weather here in the UK we have been told. I hope it’s short lived I really want to return to sitting in the garden with a book after work. After, The Years I must read my book group book Maya Angelou’s I know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I first read it more than thirty years ago – it will be interesting to read it alongside the group. After that Karen and Simon’s 1936 club gets underway. I don’t have as many unread books as I had thought for this year – a couple of kindle reads; A Harp in Lowndes Square by Rachel Ferguson and The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White both look promising as the only other one I have; None Turn Back by Storm Jameson is the third in the Mirror in Darkness series and I have only read the first book (years ago too).

How was your March for books? I love to know what you have been reading and what your plans for April are.

Happy reading.

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It always seems to be the last few days or so in February when we begin to really see the promise of spring. There were a couple of mornings last week when I took my morning WFH coffee break outside – albeit in a coat and scarf – but the birds were in fine voice in this industrial part of the city and it took just ten minutes to make me feel so much better.

In reading terms February has been ok, I have definitely slowed down a bit since January, finishing just eight books this month. The first of those was rather underwhelming but all the rest have been great. Four of this month’s reads count towards Karen and Lizzy’s #ReadIndies it has been brilliant seeing so many independent publishers being celebrated – I even discovered a couple I didn’t know about. Of course, as ever I am a few books behind in my reviewing so some will end up being reviewed in March.

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi was that underwhelming read that started the month. A book group read, a Booker shortlisted mother daughter story which no one in the group particularly liked.

One of my read indie choices was Saturday Lunch with the Brownings by Penelope Mortimer a stunning collection of short stories. A theme of domestic disharmony and suffocation runs through this collection. There is nothing warm and cosy about Mortimer’s domestic portraits here, instead we have stories of strained relationships, unhappy children, and infidelity. 

The Feast of Lupercal by Brian Moore was next – a quite brilliant little novel which forms a sort of companion piece to The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne. This novel concerns a Catholic schoolmaster living a fairly narrow kind of life in 1950s Belfast. Moore perfectly captures the sadness of a wasted life – beautifully written and compelling.

Another novel I was prompted to read for Read Indie month was All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison. A rural 1930s setting it is a coming of age novel which I found something of a slow burn but enjoyed a lot in the end. Rooted in the English countryside and beautifully written it was rather a lovely piece of calm once I got going with it.

I don’t know why I chose to read After the Death of Don Juan by Sylvia Townsend Warner now, except that I have had it tbr a long time and it was about time. One of the reasons I like Sylvia Townsend Warner is that she isn’t easily pigeonholed as being like anything/one in particular. I knew this one would be unusual – and it is – but I did like it, it’s not my favourite of her books but I certainly enjoyed the vibrancy and colour which she brings to this allegorical story of eighteenth century Spain.

My Grandmother’s Braid by Alina Bronsky was a book sent to me as part of my Asymptote subscription. Published by Europa Editions it also ticked the Read Indies box. I absolutely loved this book – so much so I bought another book by this author for my kindle. Translated from German by Tim Mohr it is the story of the boy Max living with his grandparents in a residence for refugees in Germany. The grandmother is a dreadful woman, but so comically written that it never gets too much.

Murder’s A Swine by Nap Lombard is one of the British Library’s most recent publications, this review copy only dropped on to my door mat just over a week ago. I was particularly interested in the authorship of the novel, because Nap Lombard was the pseudonym for the writing partnership of Pamela Hansford Johnson and her first husband Gordon Neil Stewart. As a fan of PHJ’s writing already I was intrigued. It turned out to be a really good mystery novel – a bit spine tingling in places and very enjoyable.

I chose to read my next book group read next The Fat Lady Sings by Jacqueline Roy. This title is one of the six Black Britain writing back titles re-issued by Penguin with introductions by Bernardine Evaristo who has been championing the re-issue of these titles. I really enjoyed this novel and the voices of the two women at the centre of the novel – who meet in a psychiatric ward in the 1990s.

So that was February – and there were a couple of books I had wanted to read in February that I didn’t manage to get to – so they may or may not end up in March’s pile.

March sees the start of #ReadIrelandmonth21 an annual reading event hosted by Cathy of 746 books and also of Dewithon. I don’t appear to have anything from a Welsh author for the Dewithon this year, but I do have several by Irish writers. It wouldn’t be Read Ireland month for me without Molly Keane – and I do have one of the few I have left to read on the tbr. It’s one of the more recent editions with the covers I hate, but I will try and look past it. I also have a novella by Maeve Brennan who I have heard such good things of from other bloggers and Mary Costello’s Academy Street on my kindle. However, I have decided to start with The Children of Dynmouth by William Trevor and I’m thoroughly enjoying it so far. How many read Ireland titles I actually manage remains to be seen but I am glad I have such a nice little pile to choose from.

So how was your February for books? Tell me what you read that I should know about – and what are your plans for March reading?

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So often, January feels like a really long month – and this year with lockdown 3 in the UK and some not very nice weather it has certainly not felt very short. From here on in, every day is a day closer to spring – I prefer spring to summer – so I am watching for signs.

I am hoping that January has set the tone for the rest of my 2021 reading – it has not been a bad month at all. Ten books read – which is slightly up on my average of the last couple of years – and quite a nice variety of books read – admittedly all fiction, except for a few essays in the back of one of the books.

I still have four of January’s books to review – but clicking on the title will take you to the review if I have written it at this point.

My January book group read was my first book of the year. The hugely popular and quite hyped Where the Crawdads Sing (2018) by Delia Owens. I really enjoyed it – a couple of tiny things irritated me but not enough to spoil what was a thoroughly engrossing read, and it led to a good book group discussion.

Another kindle read, If Morning Ever Comes (1964) by Anne Tyler for Liz’s read-a-long which I am hoping to dip in and out of. Her first novel – and one I thought was really excellent.

O, the Brave Music (1943) by Dorothy Evelyn Smith was the last of the British Library women writers series I had to read. What an excellent series it has turned out to be and this coming of age novel was a real joy.

It was the centenary of Patricia Highsmith’s birth earlier this month, and I chose The Blunderer (1954) to start my Patricia Highsmith reading of 2021 – I am hoping to squeeze in three of four others over the year. It is certainly a good one, and one in which Highsmith shows her uncanny ability to play with the reader’s sympathies and attitudes to her characters.

Lies of Silence (1990) by Brian Moore for another centenary – Cathy at 746 books is hosting a yearlong read-a-long, it is another challenge I shall dip in and out of. This was a very different novel to the first Moore I read a couple of years ago – but so good, tense, and compelling, exploring the moral choices of people caught up in The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Dissipatio H.G. (1977) by Guido Morselli. The first book from my renewed Asymptote book club subscription – took me a little outside of my comfort zone. A lot to admire in this novel – though the narrator’s complex philosophical thoughts are sometimes hard to follow.

The Living is Easy (1948) by Dorothy West, an old VMC I have had tbr for ages. I read two other Dorothy West books a couple of years ago and loved them. I was saving this one, as there are no more books by Dorothy West to read. This is a portrait of a vibrant woman whose drive for social respectability eclipses almost everything else. She isn’t a very likeable character, although I warmed to her a little as the novel neared the end. A brilliant novel if you don’t mind an unlikeable character.

A Persephone novel I had meant to read in December but didn’t get round to – Expiation (1929) by Elizabeth von Arnin. This is another wonderful novel by von Arnim, forgotten for decades until Persephone brought it back. It’s about the close minded cruelty and prudishness of the middle classes and is full of von Arnim’s wry observances and humour.

 Non Combatants and others (1916) by Rose Macaulay – The novel Non Combatants and others make up the majority of this book – an anti-war novel written during the Great War. The last sixty pages or so are made up of some of Rose Macaulay’s journalism and essays and a short story all dating from between 1916 and 1945.

Having felt really fed up in the last week, Mrs Tim Flies Home (1952) by D E Stevenson was just the kind of gentle read I needed to round off the month. Hester Christie is a pleasure to spend time with. This is the fourth and final Mrs Tim book – but I do have other D E Stevenson books to read.

So, that was January.

Looking ahead to February, I have just started reading my next book group choice on my kindle – Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi. I also would like to read The Feast of Lupercal by Brian Moore for Cathy’s Brian Moore read-a-long.  Karen at Kaggsy’s bookish ramblings and Lizzy at Lizzysiddal are hosting #ReadIndies during February. Three of the books I have from January still to write about can count toward that as they will be reviewed in February – a Persephone book, a Handheld Press book and a Dean Street press – in addition to which I have loads of books by independent publishers on my bookshelves and on my kindle – so I will definitely be joining in with more Indies depending on where my mood takes me. The picture below just a indication of what I might choose to read – these are all calling to me at the moment – but my reading mood is nothing if not fickle.

So, tell me what wonderful things did you read in January? and what are your reading plans for February?

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Here I am popping up with a rare Saturday post because I am a little behind. It is already the New Year and I still have two books from the old year to review. I will try and get those two reviewed and posted next week.

December should have been a month when I could get a lot more reading done – yet I only read 8 books – taking me to the exact number in my Goodreads yearly challenge of 110. A couple of them were fairly chunky, however – and I was pleased to have got two nonfiction Persephone read having read so little nonfiction all year. Two of my December reads made it on to my Twelve books for 2020 list too – so all in all it was a pretty good month.

A quick round up of what I read:

For diverse December I started the month with Plum Bun by Jessie Redman Fauset. It tells the story of Angela Murray – a young very light skinned African American woman who leaving her home in Philadelphia heads to New York where she intends to pass for white.

The first of two BLCC books read in December, A Surprise for Christmas edited by Martin Edwards. A really good collection of festive stories told in a variety of styles.

Having so loved Girls, Woman Other last year, Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo was a book I had looked forward to reading and it really didn’t disappoint at all. In this novel we meet Barrington Jedidiah Walker, or Barry to his friends. His voice is immediately engaging, warm, funny, vulnerable a little defensive and often outrageous – he pulls us into his world. It is just brilliant.

Virago sent me Death Goes on Skis by Nancy Spain the second of her books I have read. It is fun and farcical and though a little dated in places it’s perfect escapism.

The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak was yet another big hit – the first novel by her I have read. It is a novel of modern Turkey – but with a beautiful, poignant acknowledgement of its history, and the different peoples who make up its population.

A Very Great Profession by Nicola Beauman is a Persephone book that Liz bought me last year for Christmas. It was the second of my December reads to make it on to that best of list – I just loved it – all about the kinds of books I love, it will remain a wonderful resource.

Crossed the Skis by Carol Carnac – another BLCC mystery and while not a Christmas mystery the story opens on New Year’s Day – and much of the action takes place in a very snowy ski resort – so it felt fairly appropriate reading it a few days before New Year.

London War Notes by Mollie Panter-Downes is a collection of ‘letters’ MPD wrote to the New Yorker during the Second World war – and charts the progress of the war and people’s reaction to it from 1939 through to May 1945. There is so much of interest in it – and MPD’s voice is wonderful and engaging, however I found it a bit dense for over Christmas and started to get a bit bogged down. Probably due to my ridiculous non-nonfiction brain – I should space out my nonfiction a bit I have found in the past. I found the end of the war entries very poignant however and truly delightful.

So now I am looking ahead to 2021 – and wondering what my lists of books read will look like in a year’s time. I want to keep things fluid – while setting myself a few personal challenges. I don’t believe in forcing things too much – but a few challenges can help widen horizons and has been responsible for taking me out of my VMC/Persephone/DSP comfort zone – and I do think that is a good thing.

In 2020 within my 110 books read, I read 17 books by POC writers – some of these were books by British or American writers writing in English, some from writers from other nations across the globe. Oddly enough, I also read 17 books in translation – there was some crossover but of course they weren’t the same 17 books. So that is just over 15% of my reading – and I would really like to get it nearer or even above 20% in both instances – and I have more than enough on my tbr to achieve it – as well as having recently signed up for another year of the wonderful Asymptote book club – a brilliant fiction in translation subscription. My first book just arrived.

In May I hope to host another Daphne Du Maurier reading week – the last two have been so good. There are however lots of other challenges doing the rounds – I don’t feel up to committing completely and yet I really do want to dip in and out of some. My dear friend Liz is reading all the novels of Anne Tyler in 2021 – two each month -and while I certainly won’t do them all I hope to do a few with her – although sticking to a schedule might be my problem. Cathy at 746 books is celebrating the work of Brian Moore this year too, for his centenary – an author I recently remembered my dad was very fond of. I read my first book by him in 2019 – and have acquired more with my Christmas book vouchers to enable me to join in. I asked on Twitter whether anyone was doing anything for the Patricia Highsmith centenary – but I haven’t found anything – and I can’t commit to running one – especially as I know so little about her. However, it seems to be a fitting time to get to know her work better. So, I have acquired three Patricia Highsmith books with those vouchers to add to the one book I have had tbr for ages. Phew, I might be over stretching myself with all those challenges – but as ever, I will go mainly with my mood! Some of my book voucher acquisitions are pictured below – though several are resting on my invisible tbr – i.e., my kindle

 I am looking forward to some great reading in 2021 though – tell me what fabulous things did you read in December? And what are your reading plans for 2021?

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November has whizzed by for me – perhaps because I have been working from home, it has become so hard to tell one day from the next.

November is a month of reading challenges, there are a good number around to join in with – and I did fairly well with #MARM and Novellas in November and even got one in for Nonfiction November. Ten books read – which would have been more if I had stuck to my plan of just reading novellas – but of course I didn’t.

I started the month with the first of three books by Margaret Atwood. Surfacing was a re-read for me, though I remembered nothing about it.  This is a novel about human behaviour, identity, personal and national, grief, loss and memory. I’m convinced that I appreciated this one so much more this time around.

The progress of a Crime by Julian Symons – a fireworks crime story sent to me by the British Library. I read it during the week of Fireworks night. There is little work for the armchair detective to do – but in the atmosphere of the early 1960s the conflict between different generations and its portrayal of police methods The Progress of a Crime paints a vivid picture.

My nod to Non-fiction November came in the shape of Popcorn by Cornelia Otis Skinner – a collection of autobiographical essays from the American actress and writer written during the Second Word War. A really enjoyable collection.

My first of two novellas in translation was A Girl Returned by Donatella Di Pietrantonio translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein, a novel that is both heart-rending and brilliantly compelling at the same time. It is a novel about mothers and daughters, family secrets and the nature of belonging.

Turnpike books kindly sent me copies of the two Barbara Comyns books they have brought out. The House of Dolls – a more minor Comyns perhaps but I loved it. The setting is a small boarding house in Kensington, the house is run by Amy Doll – who lives in the basement of the house with her daughter Hetty. Upstairs reside four middle aged or elderly ladies who between them and under the direction of two; Berti and Evelyn have established an eccentric kind of bordello for elderly gentlemen – finding a little prostitution on the side really helps to pay the rent.

My second read for this year’s MARM was Moral Disorder – a collection of linked short stories – which could almost be read as a novel. The stories are of one woman told in non-chronological order the ups and downs of family life – from childhood through to late middle age. Through these stories it feels like Atwood is recounting the stories of a generation – her generation.

MaddAddam is a very different novel to the first two Atwood books I read this month, showing what huge versatility she has as a writer. The third in the trilogy of the same name – its conclusion gave me reason to hope.

I have had A Month in the Country by J L Carr tbr for a ridiculously long time. Novella November provided me with the perfect occasion to read it. It is, of course every bit as lovely as everyone said – review to come.

I read the The Barefoot Woman by Scholastique Mukasonga translated from French by Jordan Stump for Novellas in November but also with #DiverseDecember in Mind (see below) – as I knew I wouldn’t have time to review it in November. I was very aware I had been skirting around this Rwandan novella for ages – having received it as part of the Asymptote book club when I was subscribing to that. There is a privilege in that choice to look away – which I am aware of – so decided to take a deep breath and get reading. It’s a poignant novel certainly, but nothing like as harrowing as I had feared. I hope to revie this later this week.

My second re-read of the month – The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, my book group’s December pick, and it’s been quite a while since I read it so read it again so I could talk about it. I am remined that there are quite a number of Edith Wharton books I haven’t even read for the first time.

So, that was November – a good month all in all.

Yet another reading challenge caught my eye last week. Naomi from The Writes of Womxn is hosting #DiverseDecember – and I probably had intended to read more diversely than I have managed this year so it struck a chord. As Naomi explains…

“#DiverseDecember is a month of reading and recommending books by Black, brown and indigenous writers. It is an opportunity to discover new books, to consider our reading habits and to make a permanent change in what we choose to read.”

Already this year I have encountered some wonderful books that would fit into the category above. Titles like The Vanishing Half, Queenie, Such a Fun Age, Quicksand & Passing, Brown Girl, Brownstones, Celestial Bodies and Dust Tracks on a Road – any of which I would recommend if you’re looking for #DiverseDecember inspiration. So, scanning my shelves (and my kindle) I realised I had quite a pile of really marvellous looking books – and quite a diverse group in themselves.

The problem I shall have is in choosing which to read – as I can’t possibly read them all. Here’s my pile (in addition my kindle contains The Distant Traveller by Attia Hosain, Mr Loverman by Bernadine Evaristo and The Enlightenment of the Greenage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar)

Do you have any recommendations from the pile?

As always I would love to know what you have been reading in November and what if any plans you have for December.

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October has flown by – and I have today arrived home from a week’s self-catering in Devon with my mum – we’re in a bubble. It was wonderful to get out of Birmingham for a little while and to see the sea. Though it is also nice to get home and be on my own again, and I am looking forward to my own bed tonight. My reading continues to be a little slow, though I sped up a little last week, just eight books read this month. While the numbers might not be huge – what I read was very good indeed.

I began the month reading The Last Resort by Pamela Hansford Johnson for Simon and Karen’s 1956 club. She is definitely an underrated writer – and I really enjoyed this complex, subtle novel. I have just bought another of her books to read soon.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid was my book group’s choice for October – and it proved a really good book to discuss. A thought provoking, compelling read into the bargain.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman a much anticipated debut – and it is such an enjoyable witty novel – quite deserving of all the hype. I loved the fact that the main characters are mainly older people.

From the British Library Women Writers series Tea is so Intoxicating by Mary Essex was a novel that was right up my reading alley. When David Tompkins decides to open a tea garden in his village not everyone is happy – including his wife.

I finally got around to reading The Finishing School by Muriel Spark, her final novel, which I bought for my Muriel Spark year of reading in 2018. It is sharp, witty and brings us full circle – showing her still at the height of her powers.

Clash by Ellen Wilkinson is a novel I have been wanting to read for ages – and when I plucked it from the shelf I knew instantly I would love it. Review still to come. A novel about the General Strike of 1926, trade union activism and the labour movement – I found it enthralling.

Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth is my book group’s November read which I decided to get on with before November’s reading challenges got in the way. I found it a really good, often unusual read about chickens, animal rights activists and their attempted audacious heist.

As I am writing I am finishing off Rhododendron Pie by Margaery Sharp, Margery Sharp’s first novel famously difficult and expensive to find is being re-issued by the lovely Dean Street Press in January.  They kindly sent me two e-books for review – and I’m afraid I just couldn’t wait to read this one – and I have to say I have enjoyed it very much.

So that was October – and now I am looking ahead to November. In November there are all kinds of reading challenges that can help distract us from everything else that is going on. November is MARM (Margaret Atwood reading month), Novellas in November, Non-fiction November and German Lit month. Phew!!

I am hoping to join in some if not all of these – not sure if I have anything German. However, I do have some Margaret Atwood set aside – and loads of novellas. So, Novellas in November is the challenge I am concentrating on – it is hosted by Bookish Beck and Cathy at 746 books. I may just manage to read more physical books if they are small. Looking through the pile I hastily got together I can see a few non-fiction titles of novella size too – ticking off two challenges. Similarly, I think I have decided to re-read Surfacing by Margaret Atwood – I can barely remember a thing about it – and its size make it perfect for Novellas in November. I am nothing though, if not a fickle reader, so I may not just read novellas – though I do have a fabulous selection to choose from.

What did you read in October? Are you joining in with any of these reading events?

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September has flown in some ways and in other ways has felt like its lasted months – and I have been reading really slowly. The pictured pile of books above, no doubt telling its own story, though I did read two books on kindle. All things considered though; I am very pleased with what I have managed to read.

 Of course, after months of shielding, and the long school summer holidays, going back to work was like being hit by a train. As well as trying to work, I am still struggling with my RA which hasn’t been stable for almost a year, I shall be starting new medication soon, so I am hoping that will make a big difference. At the moment, any part of the day/week when I am not at work is recovery time, and I often find I am just too tired to read more than a few pages.

I began the month reading Father by Elizabeth von Arnim – a delightful new re-issue from The British Library. In Father one of Elizabeth von Arnim’s later novels she employs both light comedy and poignancy to tell a story of unmarried women reliant upon men for the comforts of home. This is a glorious novel – von Arnim’s tone is humorous though she is making a serious point. Exploring the expectations that were placed on unmarried women in this inter war period. 

My book group chose Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams as our September read, and I looked forward to reading a book I had heard such good things about. I wasn’t disappointed.  It’s a fresh, honest portrait of a young black woman’s sexual exploits, supportive friendship, mental health struggles and recovery.

New publishing imprint V & Q books invited me to take part in a blog tour as part of their launch celebrations. Paula by Sandra Hoffman translated by Katy Derbyshire is a piece of autofiction, in which the author seeks to understand the silence at the heart of her own family.

Another novel from the British Library Checkmate to Murder by E. C. R. Lorac is another really good Second World War Golden Age mystery. A densely foggy night in London during the blackout, and an old miser is found dead by his visiting nephew. The odd inhabitants of an artist’s studio – tenants of the old man – are inevitably drawn into the drama.

I have been delighted to see Rose Macaulay enjoying something of a renaissance lately. Potterism reissued by Handheld press is a brilliant novel – which resonates still quite strongly one hundred years on. Potterism is a satire of the newspaper industry around the time of the First World War and just after.

When twins Jane and Johnny Potter are at Oxford just before the First World War, they despise the newspaper empire that has been built up by their father. They encounter others who think similarly – who see everything that Percy Potter’s newspapers stand for as being second rate, an inauthentic arm of the popular press – that incite gossip, sensationalism, conspiracy theories and what would now be called fake news.

Buttercups and Daisies by Compton Mackenzie was a delightful piece of whimsical escapism. Mr Waterall, a lovely comic creation, who is a pompous, rather delusional character – though not unkind. His enthusiastic purchase of a country cottage (which is little more than a shack) is delightfully portrayed – along with all the trials and tribulations that beset him and his family as a result.

I often reach for Dean street press books during times of tiredness or stress and A Game of Snakes and Ladders by Doris Langley Moore was one of a crop of DSP books I bought recently. Set over a period of almost twenty years mainly in Egypt it follows the fortunes of two women, who start out as friends, part of a touring theatrical company just after WW1. Thoroughly involving and well written, I only wished I could have read it faster.

After finishing A Game of Snakes and Ladders – I decided to start my 1956 reading. For anyone who doesn’t know, twice a year Karen from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Simon from Stuck in a Book host club weeks – where readers will read books originally published in whatever year has been chosen for that club. This time it is 1956 – a very good year by the way. The 1956 club starts on Monday, so still time to find something to read next week. I chose to start with The Last Resort by Pamela Handsford Johnson – though I had a few I could have read instead. I haven’t quite finished it yet – so I shall put it on to next month’s roundup pile. So far it’s very good, Pamela Hansford Johnson is a very good writer.

My reading plans for October include another book for the 1956 club, time permitting,  Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid chosen by my book group – and I’m planning on reading Richard Osman’s new novel The Thursday Murder Club, I recently bought two signed copies to share with my mum and sister – but I get to read one copy first.

Tell me, what great things did you read in September? I love to hear what others have been reading and let me know what your plans for October are.

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August in review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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