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Posts Tagged ‘monthly roundup’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spring does feel like it’s finally arrived, the weather is still typically unpredictable but things to do seem milder, and daffodils are out in lots of parks and gardens around here. I am looking forward to the two-week Easter holidays – I’m definitely in need of a break, and I hope for a good bit of reading time, as well as having plenty of other things pencilled in. Nine and a half books read, which these days is pretty good – I managed two books for #ReadIreland17 hosted by Cathy and stepped royally out of my comfort zone with not one but two of the books I chose.

I began March reading The Great Fortune by Olivia Manning, the first book in her Balkan Trilogy, events take place in Romania during the first year of the Second World War. It brilliantly recreates a city living in fear of invasion, and the atmosphere that exists there for a group of ex-pats. I am looking forward to the next two books in the series, I should get around to the next one soon. I have found that I love Olivia Manning’s writing, and have a few books tbr.

A Winter Away by Elizabeth Fair was a review copy sent by Dean Street Press – who publish the Furrowed Middlebrow novels, it made for perfect, lazy weekend reading. A Winter Away takes us to a small English village, and introduces us to twenty-year-old Maud Ansdell, who has come to stay with her father’s cousin Alice and her companion Miss Conway. She starts work as secretary to a local, wealthy eccentric, and becomes involved in the lives and loves of several village neighbours.

My local MP is Jess Philips who has recently published Everywoman, part memoir part feminist manifesto – it is perhaps not my usual reading fare – but I was convinced to read it after attending a talk with Jess Philips at Waterstone’s here in Birmingham. I recommend it heartily to everyone.

The Librarything Virago group are choosing a different Virago author for each month this year – Edith Wharton was our author for March and I had had Roman Fever a fabulous collection of stories tbr for ages. It is one of those collections where every story is quite honestly superb.

Molly Keane’s Conversation Piece was the first of my two reads for #ReadIreland17 and although it won’t be my favourite Keane, it was a good read despite rather too much racing/hunting stuff. Set amongst the shabby, gentility of rural Ireland; the world Molly Keane knew from the inside.

One of my favourite reads of the month was Every Eye by Isobel English – a Persephone novella, with a brilliant final line (that alone should make you want to read it).

The second book which took me outside my comfort zone was Hisham Matar’s brilliantly poignant memoir The Return – it is the story of his father’s disappearance at the hands of the Libyan regime and of his own return to Libya more than thirty years after he left it as a child. It has recently been longlisted for the Orwell prize; awarded for political writing.

Friends and Relations; Elizabeth Bowen’s third novel was my second read for #ReadIreland17 – Elizabeth Bowen qualifies as she was born in Dublin though most of her books are not set in Ireland. This one like several others set in London, where we meet four families linked by two couples who marry a few months apart in the early part of the novel.

My second Dean Street Press book of the month was, Arrest the Bishop by Winifred Peck, one I bought after reading a great review of it somewhere. Review still to come, but I did enjoy this Golden Age crime story set in a Bishop’s palace.

I am now reading A Wreath for the Enemy by Pamela Frankau – which Simon reviewed recently – it was the nudge I needed. I love Pamela Frankau – well I have loved the three I have read to date, and about half way through this one I can say I am enjoying it hugely.

EVASo, April is here with the #1951club on the horizon, hosted again by Karen and Simon. I have three or four books which were first published in 1951 – so just need to decide which I will read. The LT Virago group are reading Elizabeth von Arnim in April, and although I am tempted to re-read The Enchanted April – I have three or four other von Arnims tbr which I will select from instead. I recently bought my mum a copy of The Enchanted April – she’s never read EvA – and I really hope she likes it.

On the subject of reading weeks,someone recently asked me if I was going to be hosting a Mary Hocking week again this year. The obvious time to do it is around her birthday which is April 8th – but I had already decided to not host anything this year – so, sorry, no Mary Hocking week this year.

What have you been reading in March? Anything I should know about?

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The end of February always seems to take me by surprise – and so I find myself rushing to put this roundup together – and it is already March.

Eight books read in February – (and one more started) but it is a shorter month although I can’t help but know (I try not to care about this) that I am already two or three books behind where I usually am and my Goodreads target.

In My Own Time; almost an autobiography by Nina Bawden got February off to a good start. I like Bawden’s writing a lot – and in this collection of memoirs, Bawden tells us about her childhood, years at Oxford, her writing and the difficulties she and her family faced living with a son with schizophrenia.

Virago Press chose Deep Water by Patricia Highsmith for their February book club, and I was keen to join in, Deep Water was my first ever Highsmith, it certainly won’t be my last. I have now bought The Talented Mr Ripley.

Marghanita Laski’s first published novel Love on the Supertax – is a satirical novel of class during world war two. I really enjoyed it – though its humour is dated – I could see why this one has not yet been re-issued.

Names for the Sea; strangers in Iceland was the first of the two books I read on my kindle during February. With my holiday in Iceland on the horizon, I decided to read Sarah Moss’s account of her year living in Reykjavik in 2009. I felt I learned a lot about Iceland from the book, although her account can be a bit negative, and it’s worth remembering the experiences of a tourist and someone living and working for a year in a place will be wholly different.

Following the Nina Bawden memoir at the beginning of the month, I was keen to read The Birds on the Trees; Bawden’s fictional account of some aspects of her eldest son’s life. The novel was published in 1970 eleven years before her real life son’s suicide.

Toward the end of last year, I read The Magic Toyshop, it made me determined to read more by Angela Carter. Wise Children was recommended to me by several people, and I absolutely loved it. An extravagant, bawdy exploration of almost a hundred years of theatre.

The end of February of course saw me and three friends enjoying a short holiday in Reykjavik and I read Rebecca West’s The Fountain Overflows while there, finishing it about an hour after I got home. Rebecca West was the Libraything Virago group’s author of the month for February. (In March, it is Edith Wharton). I absolutely loved The Fountain Overflows, although I though it a little slow to get going. I have already ordered book two of the trilogy.

Another kindle read, Alys, Always by Harriet Lane which I read for my very small book group – we meet next week. I have still to review it – but although I found it a fairly engaging, easy diverting read, I thought, overall it was a little thin – lacking depth. I’m so often disappointed in modern novels.

I am currently reading The Great Fortune by Olivia Manning, the first novel in her Balkan trilogy – which I read once before in a large, unwieldy omnibus edition. I know I loved it but could remember virtually nothing about it. Determined to re-read it and no longer having the edition I read, I set about re-acquiring the trilogy – this time in separate volumes. I found a nice 1960 hardback of The great Fortune in a second-hand bookshop I always pop into whenever I am on holiday in Devon, The Spoilt City – book two I found in a small 1970s paperback edition, I am trying not to mind that they don’t match.

No definite plans for March, however I have just bought one of the Dean Street Press/Furrowed Middlebrow titles – Arrest the Bishop – and have agreed to have more sent for review. I may also read Edith Wharton, I have had Roman Fever (a collection of stories) tbr for ages – so I might just dig it out. The Women’s Room by Marilyn French is the #VMCBookClub book for March and I may have just ordered it.

So what have you been reading, and what are your plans for March?

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January is over, and it has been a bit of a shocker, it seems as if many of us are groping our way out of this first month of 2017 blinking painfully. However, this blog is books, just books, so I won’t comment further about everything that has been happening out there in the wider world, I don’t think I can.

Nine and a bit books read in January, (the bit being my current read) which feels not too bad when I consider the distractions I have had.

So here is what I read during January with links for anyone who missed the original post.

In Confidence by Irène Némirovsky (2015)– is a new collection of short stories published by Raglan books, it exposes the secrets and desires of a variety of characters, mainly women. For me there wasn’t a bad story in the collection.

Miss Christie Regrets by Guy Fraser Sampson (2017) is the second book in the Hampshire Murders series by Guy Fraser Sampson. A well plotted mystery which pays affectionate homage to the Golden Age mysteries which are still so popular.

Scenes of Childhood and other stories by Sylvia Townsend Warner (1981) was definitely one of my highlights of the month. The more I read by her the more I love her. This collection is very autobiographical – so much so it is hard not to see it as a collection of memoirs. STW and her family are present as themselves, in every story. An absolute joy of a book.

Reading A Girl in Winter by Philip Larkin (1947) was another absolute joy – thinking about it – there have been at least four absolute joys this month. Last year during the 1947 club reading event – I heard about this wonderful novel by Philip Larkin, his second and last novel as far as I know. It concerns a wartime winter and the memory of a summer. A young European woman displaced by the war, working at a provincial library, looks back to a time when as a young girl, she visited the family of her pen pal.

The Indian Woman by Diana Gardner  (1954)– I took a chance on this pricey second hand book by the author of a volume of short stories I read last year and loved. The gamble paid off, it was a very god read, about small acts of cruelty within a marriage and the destruction of good woman.

I read The Innocents (kindle edition) by Margery Sharp (1972) for Jane’s Margery Sharp birthday celebration. It centres on the relationship between an ageing spinster and a child with learning difficulties that she cares for.

He Who Plays the King by Mary Hocking (1980) took me right away from this modern world and its complexities, into the stories of Henry Tudor and Richard III. It is a story that has been told before many times, but Hocking brings her unique ability to capture the British countryside and the hidden psychology of human frailty to this still enormously compelling story.

No Signposts in the Sea by Vita Sackville West (1961) is a slight novel of only around 150 pages, more of a novella I suppose, it was Vita’s last novel, one she wrote while gravely ill. It is a though-provoking novel about death and the way to live life.

Every Good Deed and other stories by Dorothy Whipple – my third volume of short stories of the month. Oh, I do like a good Whipple, and this collection is certainly good. The first story in the collection is more of a novella at 120 pages, but I probably preferred some of the other stories, although each story is very good and I flew through them all – anyway full review in a couple of days.

So, I am currently reading In My Own Time; almost an autobiography by Nina Bawden – so far it is absolutely great. Which will be added properly to next month’s tally.

No particular or definite plans for February, because I am enjoying being spontaneous this year. However I think I will possibly read The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West for the librarything Virago author of the month.  Speaking of Virago – the people at Virago Press (well whoever runs their social media) have launched a #VMCBookclub. In January they were reading Good Behaviour by Molly Keane – which I read last year. I believe that today they will announcing a book for February. If it should be a book I haven’t read  I might join in. Earlier this month I wrote about my favourite Persephones (a post which garnered this blog the most hits ever!) so I have definitely put myself in the mood for reading more Persephones.

Tell me, what have you been reading? Any exciting reading plans for February?

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It’s already the 1st January and a brand-new year and here I am still rounding up last month. There are always so many blog posts to squeeze into the end of December. Particularly of course my books of the year post. I still have two December reads to review.

December was a pretty good reading month for me, I finished my #Woolfalong reading with The Waves, and read a couple of Christmassy themed books as I like to toward Christmas.

December started very well indeed with me reading A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor – a re-read of what is probably Elizabeth Taylor’s best novel for my very small book group.

It felt like such a long time since I had read a Mary Hocking novel – and so I picked The Mind has Mountains from the self after a discussion about with a fellow Hocking reader on my Mary Hocking Facebook group. It’s a complex, ambitious novel – as I find many of her lesser known works are – a novel I kept thinking about after I finished.I will be reading more Hocking soon, that MH FB group are having a little group read at the end of January.

The Gingerbread Wife was a superb little collection of stories by Sarah Vincent author of The Testament of Vida Tremayne.

An English Murder – was the first of those Christmas themed reads, and it suited my mood perfectly at a busy tiring time, a lovely old fashioned country house mystery, which is also wonderfully clever.

The Waves was my final Virginia Woolf read of the year – although I shall be reading some books I have left, during 2017 too I should think. The Waves is challenging, but I found it much more enjoyable than I had expected and rather poignant. The writing is absolutely exquisite.

The True Heart by Sylvia Townsend Warner was a delight, a book I loved every bit as much as Lolly Willowes. Actually I have loved everything I have read by Sylvia Townsend Warner, she is fast becoming a favourite. The True Heart is deeply charming and wholly uplifting.

The physically delightful Christmas Days by Jeanette Winterson was my second Christmassy read – and a more Christmassy book it is hard to imagine. I loved every bit of it, even the recipes (and I don’t cook much).

Persephone book 117 The Godwits Fly is an excellent novel in many ways though I felt slightly underwhelmed by it, I may have just expected too much of it. The writing is beautiful, and the story though rather sad, mirrors the life of the author whose own life was far sadder I feel.

My Name is Lucy Barton is a novel I kept hearing about since early in the year, it was my first by the author Elizabeth Strout but it certainly won’t be my last.

The Wind Changes by Olivia Manning was a book I received at Christmas as part of my Libraything Virago secret Santa gift – I was away at my Mum’s for a couple of days and needed to start a new book on boxing day. It was Olivia Manning’s first novel – and I liked it a lot. Review to come.

Mothering Sunday was the latest novel from Graham Swift, published earlier this year – only the third I have read by him. I bought it at the festival bookshop while in Hay on Wye last May. I’m not surprised to have seen it on one or two best of lists – it really is an excellent novel.

As the year ends I am disappointed that my reading continues a downward trajectory, I don’t really think mere numbers are important. However, with more and more books waiting to be read, I do want to stop that pattern somehow. I read 116 books in 2016 which is three down on 2015 down from for instance 141 in 2008 – I have only been keeping a record for the last ten years.

Christmas was slightly bookish – well when isn’t it, and here is what I got.

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Smoke by Ivan Turgenev, A Lady and her Husband by Amber Reeves, A Solitary Summer by Elizabeth von Arnim, Alive Alive Oh, Diana Athill, Madame Solario by Gladys Huntington, Rhapsody by Dorothy Edwards (amazed I have never read it).

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The Night before Christmas – Nikolai Gogol, The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, The Wind Changes – Olivia Manning (just read), A population of One by Constance Beresford-Howe, Pélagie by Antonine Maillet, The Imperialist by Sara Jeanette Duncan. Those final three all from the New Canadian library -they look fascinating (I just wish the print was bigger – need to get some extra bright light bulbs). Those three New Canadian library editions, the Willa Cather letters, the Olivia Manning and The Night before Christmas were all from my Virago secret Santa – how spoiled was I?

So here we are in January and I am revelling in not really having any serious reading plans. I have had one reading challenge or another every year for the last six years or so – so I definitely need a year when I can be more spontaneous. I want to get back to reading exactly what I want to read, and discovering what’s at the back of my overladen tbr bookcase.

What did December bring you? Something fabulous I hope.

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October in review

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October’s been a pretty decent reading month for me – based upon the fact I have been in an increasingly downward spiral – numbers wise – for months and months. The picture above topped by my trusty kindle – which I have been having a bit of a conscience about – there are just so many books on it – and it’s so easy to forget about them, and I find, that I read so little on it these days. I do find my kindle so useful, light to hold, easy on my poor old eyes – but when it comes to choosing something new to read I am always drawn back to my real books. I wonder – is anyone else falling out of love a little with the old e-reader?

Anyway, on to October – it began with a lovely review copy – on my kindle – sent by Dean street press who are publishing the Furrowed Middlebrow titles, I read A Chelsea Concerto – a superb memoir of world war two. My next read was for my very small book group – we all loved it, a superb collection of essays; How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis about literary heroines it’s a work of feminism, literary criticism and memoir. Next came two utterly marvellous books for the 1947 club hosted by Karen and Simon, I read In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B Hughes and One Fine Day by Mollie Panter Downes – it seems 1947 was a very good year. My Name is Leon by Birmingham author Kit de Waal was simply unputdownable, it forced me to shed tears, but is a wonderful novel about the bond between siblings, identity and loss. I read that novel a week after I saw Kit de Waal and the wonderful Jackie Kay at the Birmingham literature festival. Goodness, I can still hear Jackie Kay reciting her poetry in my mind – I could have listened to them both all night. The Mussel Feast a slight novella from Peirene Press is a powerful little book, which became a modern German classic when it was published in 1990. My second read for #Woolfalong phase 5 was A Writer’s Diary – and it was simply a beautiful, powerful reading experience.

One of the best things about October is half term, and I started the holiday into the final hundred pages or so of A Writer’s Diary. I then moved on to a lovely old edition of Sing for your supper by Pamela Frankau, the first in a trilogy – I now have the next two waiting. Instead of a Letter by Diana Athill came next making the fourth non-fiction book for me in a month – that must be a record for me, you know what I’m like about non-fiction. I ended the month by racing through Summer Half by Angela Thirkell – it is ages since I read one of those – I need to be in the right frame of mind for Angela Thirkell. I think I needed a comfort read before I headed back to work.

So yes, I do still have two of those October reads to review, hopefully another review up by the end of the week.

And on to November.

I love November in her late autumn colours – bonfire night, the faint smell of smoke in the air as I walk home from work, and watching other people’s fireworks from my bedroom window. I love wearing poppies for Remembrance Day – the Last Post makes me cry. I am a sucker for the lights that start appearing (too early) for Christmas, and I am one of the few Brummies who love The German Markets that come to Brum about midway through November each year. So, yay for November.

#Woolfalong phase 6 – gets underway, but first I will be reading The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter with my very small book group, which I am starting today. I also have several review copies (some pictured below, some on my kindle) I must try and get to (oh the guilt)  though I won’t read them all this month.  Jacob’s Room might be my first phase 6 Woolf read. So, tell me, what will you be reading in November?

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September is always a struggle for me – readjusting to my routine of limited reading after the long holidays. This month I have been absolutely exhausted from the first day back, with a big busy weekend last weekend thrown into the mix. I am finding myself mindlessly slumped in front of the TV more and more these days, and nodding off over my book when I do pick it up. So I have read eight books during September – and some of them were pretty small. Thankfully they were all great, I am realising I need to read according to my mood more often – though that can be hard when juggling reading events and book group reads.

I began the month with a lovely old book that I bought following a review on another blog. Victoria Four Thirty – follows the fortunes of about thirteen different characters who all catch the boat train from Victoria station, destined to link up with the Arlberg-Orient Express – each of them with their own stories in different places. I began Jacqui and Eric’s #ReadingRhys week with Quartet, Rhys’s first published novel – which I had also suggested to my very small book group – we all loved it. Before my second Rhys novel I read Death in Profile by Guy Fraser Sampson on my kindle, a novel which pays homage to the Golden Age of crime. Good Night, Midnight by Jean Rhys explores themes very similar to those in Quartet, but it is a world that she portrays brilliantly, the writing is exquisite, though there is a sad bleakness to these novels which might not be for everyone, but I must say I enjoyed both Rhys novels very much. It was also lovely seeing so much appreciation of Rhys’s work during that week. Another kindle read, No Place by Katharine D’Souza was a lovely comforting read, probably comforting because it was set in a place I know well, my home city of Birmingham. It’s a novel that explores what it is to belong, the characters’ realistic  people you really care about. For phase 5 of #Woolfalong I read  Three Guineas, I had read A Room of One’s Own last year. I enjoyed the first two thirds very much indeed, the final third dragged a bit for me – still I found lots to admire in an essay which is still very relevant today, and which is naturally beautifully written. The Feast by Margaret Kennedy – another fabulous old book which really should be re-issued by someone – was my favourite book of the month. There is something about books set in Hotels – all those disparate groups of people thrown together. I finished the month reading a book I was only given last weekend at that bookcrossing weekend I wrote about here. Pigeon Pie by Nancy Mitford, effervescent nonsense, world war two spies and first aid posts during the very early days of the Second World War before anyone realised just how terrible everything was going to get. A review of that one in a day or two.

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So October is here already, and I am looking forward to my next book group read and the 1947 club. (Remember what I said about juggling reading events and book group reads.) How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis is our next book group read, a collection of essays which takes a look at literary heroines such as Jane Eyre and Cathy Earnshaw. I have three books set aside for Karen and Simon’s 1947 club but if I am going to read them all I had better start early.

a-chelsea-concertoa-footman-for-the-peacockHowever, before I get stuck into those – I am going to read the first of two titles I was kindly sent by Dean Street Press’s new imprint: Furrowed Middlebrow – their collaboration with Scott from Furrowed Middlebrow blog has resulted in nine fabulous looking titles published on October 3rd. A Chelsea Concerto by Frances Faviell, is a memoir of the London blitz. A Peacock for the Footman by Rachel Ferguson was the other title I was sent which I may get to this month as well – we shall see. I am also planning on reading A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf for #Woolfalong.

As always I would love to know what you’ve read this month that I should know about, and what your reading plans for October are.

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