Posts Tagged ‘monthly roundup’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So, May is done. The month of #DDMreadingweek, my birthday and some nicer weather starting to creep in.

The beginning of the month was all about #DDMreadingweek for me, I had to start reading in very good time, so I had books ready to review and talk about.

I began the month reading The Doll: short stories by Daphne du Maurier (2011) a collection of mainly early short stories put together by Virago. They clearly show the writer she would become; she had a fierce storytelling talent right from the start. The title story is particularly memorable.

I then took a break from my DDM reading to read my book group choice on my kindle – The Mad Women’s Ball by Victoria Mas (2019). The Salpêtrière Asylum: Paris, 1885, here the renowned Dr Charcot thrills certain sections of Paris society with his demonstrations of hypnotism on women who have been cast out by society and their families. Women from all sections of society, deemed mad – but really in the main just inconvenient, outspoken, unconventional. Every year a ball is held, the mad women’s ball, where the Paris elite can come and see the mad women dressed up in their finery. An incredibly powerful little novel. All my book group enjoyed it.

 The Glassblowers by Daphne du Maurier (1963) is based on the history of Daphne du Maurier’s own family, it is set in France at the time of the French Revolution. With some fantastic descriptions of the turbulence and fear of those years, it is a brilliantly researched historical novel. I found myself learning quite a lot about the French Revolution.

Next I read one of the books I got for my birthday, A Well Full of Leaves by Elizabeth Myers (1943) one of the newer issued Persephone books. It is always a treat to read a Persephone book. While I can see this might be a novel that divides people, I enjoyed it. This is the story of a childhood, the growth of four siblings to maturity following their bleak and terrible childhood. Narrated by Laura Valley, the third of four siblings, as the novel opens she is thirteen, she has an older sister Anda, an older brother Robert and a younger brother Steve. They live in a horrible little house, in a horrible street with fairly horrible parents. Their father is mainly pathetic, he bets on the horses and loses, drinks a lot, and has been completley dominated by his terrible, bullying wife. Their mother is possibly the worst mother I have come across in fiction. Unsurprisingly there are no happy endings here, but Laura’s relationship with, and the descriptions of the natural world are wonderful.

Mrs Mohr Goes Missing by Maryla Szymiczkowa (2015) is the first book in an entertaining mystery series, two book have so far been translated from the Polish. This novel is more than just a mystery story though, it is also a wry glimpse into turn of the century Polish manners. Set towards the end of the nineteenth century, a time when Poland didn’t exist as an independent country it was partitioned by three empires. Cracow, 1893. Zofia Turbotyńska is a bored housewife, married to Professor Ignacy Turbotyńska of the medical faculty at the university. Zofia goes into full investigative mode when she gets herself drawn in to two deaths at a local retirement home.

Strange Journey by Maud Cairnes (1935) is one of the most recent offerings from the British Library Women Writers series. This was great fun, I seem to love novels like this, not sure how to categorise them. Whimsical, and highly entertaining it is a 1930s body swap comedy. It also has some wry observances of class, manners and relationships.

The Unspeakable Skipton by Pamela Hansford Johnson (1959) – my edition, a first edition that I bought several years ago. It is the first book in the Dorothy Merlin series – PHJ writes several trilogies. A witty satire, this novel follows the fortunes of Daniel Skipton, an Englishman in 1950s Bruges – who sees an opportunity to make some much needed money out of a group of English tourists. I very much enjoy Pamela Hansford Johnson’s writing.

So, that completed my May reading, I did read about a hundred pages of another book on the last day of May, but that can go into June’s pile. Not sure how we have got to June already!

I have no special reading plans for June really. My book group will be reading The Braid by Laetitia Colombani translated from French by Louise Rogers Lalaurie. Other than that, I shall continue to see where the mood takes me. Perhaps I shall read one or two of my newer acquisitions I talked about recently, or go for something I have had for years, like that Pamela Hansford Johnson I just read.

Tell me – What brilliant things did you read in May?

I am currently away for a few days, so I shan’t get any more blog posts out before next week (and I am horribly behind in blog reading too sorry). I hope all of you here in the UK has good bank holiday whatever you’re doing.

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

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

Here’s what I read.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading to all of you in May.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading.

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Following on from my favourite books of the year post – is my December reads. December is a funny old month – it seems to fly by, and famously January goes on for ever. I had an ok reading month – which definitely could have been a lot better as I had some lovely time off work over Christmas – but I seem to have been watching a lot of box sets instead. I also have a bit of a hangover from December to January in terms of reviews still needing to be written.

Oddly, my fickle mood has extended to blogging and I found myself reviewing out of order – so some books I read three weeks ago have still not been written about. Now I am wondering whether I should just break my own rule about reviewing everything – or do one big post of mini reviews – I’ll see how I feel in the coming days.

December began with me reading Watson’s Apology by Beryl Bainbridge (1984) – which was fantastic for two thirds of the book then went a little flat. That is always so disappointing, she is a great writer, however.

Next up was China Court by Rumer Godden (1961), which I read for Rumer Godden reading week. It was absolutely brilliant – I loved the way she was able to weave the story of several generations together so seamlessly. Oddly, I still haven’t reviewed this yet – and I really wanted to. I will try to pull something together in the next couple of days.

Read on my kindle was Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (2020) which has been loved by so many readers and featured on the BBC book programme Between the Covers. A pitch perfect little novella – it’s another I still need to review.   

Murder After Christmas by Rupert Latimer (1944) was a BLCC sent to me quite recently. It seemed perfect for December – and is entertaining in a number of ways. Overall though, it didn’t quite hit the spot for me, but does contain all the ingredients for a great festive mystery.

The Amazing Mr Blunden by Antonia Barber (1969) a modern children’s classic Virago sent to me for review. A ghost story with a time travelling twist, and a very satisfying ending, although not a Christmas story, it was somehow perfect for this time of year.

Another book that was absolutely perfect for this time of year, The Woods in Winter by Stella Gibbons (1970) – and it ended up featuring on my favourite books of the year list. Just a delight from start to finish. I must read more by Stella Gibbons soon.

Which Way? By Theodora Benson (1931) was the last book of the current BLWW list to read. A couple of their recent publications I have read before in other editions so may well reread – but I now have them all looking pretty together on the shelf. This was an experimental 1930s time slip novel – and I enjoyed it much more than I expected (I generally dislike time slip). An unusual little novel which I recommend.

A Song Flung up to Heaven by Maya Angelou (2002) the sixth of the Angelou autobiographies, I only have the final book and some poetry from this boxset collection to go now. It was a quick read, but it’s always entertaining and revealing to read about the life of this incredible woman.

The book I started next; I am still reading on the 1st of January so that can be my first book of 2022.  

As January begins my tbr is looking like it wants to burrow into the flat next door. I have books I bought with Christmas book tokens arriving on Tuesday, and no idea where in the tbr they’ll go. I could sit here, and promise that by December I will have got on top of this chaos, but nobody, particularly me believes that. I would like to improve the situation, but I am hopeless at not acquiring books.

Christmas yielded some marvellous books – as well as book tokens.

My Birmingham bookcrossing secret Santa came up trumps with books by wonderful writers, all from my wish list. We opened our gifts over zoom a few days before Christmas.

Double Vision by Pat Barker

Good Bones by Margaret Atwood

The Tent by Margaret Atwood

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

The Public Image by Muriel Spark – a massive thank you to Sian.

Five Persephone books from family:

The Deepening Stream by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

One Woman’s Year by Stella Martin Currey

Random Commentary by Dorothy Whipple

Round About A Pound A Week by Maud Pember Reeves

A Woman’s Place 1910 – 1975 by Ruth Adam

Vivian by Christina Hesselholdt from Jacquiwine

Summerwater by Sarah Moss and Shuggie Bain from my friend Gill.

Kaggsy sent me a gorgeous little pairing – The Christmas Dinner a Washington Irving short story from Renard Press – such pretty little editions and Holly and Ivy a Christmas story from poet Sean O’Brien published by Candlestick Press.

So, no wonder the tbr cupboard is feeling the strain.

At the time of writing, I don’t have any major reading plans for 2022 – I will join in the challenges I usually do – and I am fairly certain that I will host Daphne du Maurier reading week again in May. Other than that, with fickle being my middle name these days, I will be reading very much according to mood.

Now I just need to catch up with my reviewing.

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So, here we are, into the last month of the year – again. I must be getting old because a year doesn’t feel like a year anymore. I have even started thinking about my books of the year list – but that won’t get posted till New Year.

After a pretty terrible reading month in October, November has been much better – thanks in part to #novnov which gave me a great excuse to read several very little books. I feels good to have clocked up a few more reads in November. In fact I think all but two of my reads in November fitted into one challenge or another.

So I read eleven books in November which is less impressive than it sounds when you consider how short some of them were.

I began the month with a delightful book that I was sent by MadamBibliophile In Pious Memory by Margery Sharp (1967) – it is probably not strictly speaking a novella – not having that feel of a novella. However a short novel coming in at around 180 pages – sneaking in under that 200 page limit – it got my #novnov reading off to a fabulous start.

All Gods Children Need Travelling Shoes by Maya Angelou (1986) was my first of three excellent reads for nonfiction November. The fifth volume in her autobiography, this volume takes us to Ghana where Maya and her son spend some time living.

My next nonfiction read was the stunning debut Thin Places by Kerri ní Dochartaigh (2021) a book that blends memoir, history and nature writing in a personal and very honest exploration of trauma and healing.

Murder in the Dark by Margaret Atwood (1984) a slim volume of prose poems was my one contribution to this year’s #MARM. It also ticked the #novnov box too by virtue of its size. I am a big Atwood fan – so glad I joined in again this year, albeit with a very slight read.

The Story of Stanley Brent by Elizabeth Berridge (1945) another novella – and one of my favourite reads of the month. Berridge’s depiction of an ordinary man’s life is extraordinary for how she manages to give the reader the feeling of this man’s whole adult life in just eighty pages.

A Peirene Press book I have had ages – probably a couple of years at least – caught my eye. Under the Tripoli Sky by Kamal Ben Hameda (2011) translated by Adriana Hunter a vivid portrayal of pre Gaddafi Tripoli in the 1960’s – it is a coming of age story narrated by an adolescent boy. Hameda is a Libiyan writer, poet and musician who grew up mainly in France and now lives in Holland.

The Abbess of Crewe by Muriel Spark (1974) was one of the Spark novels I didn’t get around to during the Muriel Spark centenary read-a-long in 2018. Spark is always a good choice when looking for quirky novellas. This one was fascinating, a comic satire of the Watergate Scandal. I need to get back to reading the rest of the Spark novels I missed in 2018. I am actually desperately trying to find the last couple of Polygon Collected Muriel Spark hardbacks – I foolishly didn’t buy them all in 2018. So now I have eighteen out of twenty two shelved, two more tbr, and two more still to find.

On my kindle I read The Man who Died Twice by Richard Osman (2021) over one weekend when I wasn’t very well. The longest book I read this month at something like 400 pages, it didn’t fit any challenges but was a perfect poorly read – fun, undemanding and a page turner.

Next up was Pulitzer prize winning The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty (1973) I claim it for #novnov as it just slips into the page limit at 180 pages. In this novel a woman finally comes to an understanding of herself and her past when she returns to her family home of Mount Salus Mississippi – where her father Judge McKelva was a pinnacle of the community. Ten years after her mother’s death the Judge had married again, silly, Fay a woman younger than his daughter. For his daughter Laurel this was a betrayal she could never understand.

Another Kindle read was courtesy of Dean Street Press who sent it as a review copy – The Invisible Host by Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning (1930). Set in New Orleans it is a gripping mystery in which eight people are invited to a surprise party at a penthouse. The guests have no idea who their host is – and once they are all assembled they find themselves at the mercy of an anonymous host who intends to murder them all. Published nine years before And There Were None by Agatha Christie it is suggested by some that it was where she got the idea (ooh controversial) – a real entertaining, page turner – but Agatha Christie was a better writer. At a little over 200 pages it doesn’t quite qualify for novellas in November – but it is a quick little read.

My next read also just fails to qualify as a novella – but as it is really a memoir I will claim it for nonfiction November. The last one of her books I had left to read Out of the Red Into the Blue by Barbara Comyns (1960) felt like a massive treat – reading a favourite author always does. It is the story of Barbara’s time living in Spain with her family – at least the story of the beginning of their time there. I am not very objective about my favourite writers, and I just loved this, and read it slowly to make it last.

I have finished the month reading Watson’s Apology by Beryl Bainbridge (1984) which I am enjoying enormously, but as I am only halfway through that can go into December’s round up.

So, on to December – and I have absolutely no plans at all really. I will clearly have several of my November reviews still to write up and post – all in good time. I am going to try and read Maya Angelou’s book six – and I have a book of Christmas mysteries which look very inviting. I would quite like to read at least one of the Persephone books I got last Christmas – but as they are both quite chunky that might have to wait till we break up for Christmas (roll on December 17th!). I do like a Christmas book or two so I may have to look to see if I have anything else that will make me feel rather more Christmassy than I do at the moment.

Tell me what brilliant things have you been reading in November? – and what are your December plans?

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October in review

I seem to remember predicting that October would be a bad reading month for me – well I got that spot on. Much less read than usual – and I can’t see it improving much during November. It has been good getting back to work properly, but the pay off is utter exhaustion, and I tend to slump listlessly in front of the TV when I get home and never manage to read for as long as I want to in the evenings.

The little pile of books pictured, doesn’t quite tell the full story, as there was another book – a rare DNF that I read more than half of on my kindle – but just had to set aside, and I have now just started what will be my first book of November. Despite that DNF which was so frustrating – more of that later – the books I did manage to read were actually really good. A very on brand pile for me – a BL women writers book, a vintage, a Handheld press book and Dean Street Press and a darkly comic, quirky novel in translation.

Due to having a couple of my September reads to review during October – I have only managed to review three of my October books. I was away for a few days until Friday evening, and as I was also ill while I was away I just didn’t manage to get my blog done, despite having dutifully taken the laptop with me. What this space – reviews are coming.

I began the month reading Bear by Marian Engel (1976) for the 1976 club. A novel which has more going for it than just that one thing everyone talks about. It has a gorgeous sense of place, and I enjoyed the writing style.

Sally on the Rocks by Winifred Boggs (1915) is one of the gorgeous new publications from the British Library – their women writers series is producing an excellent list. In this novel Winifred Boggs highlights beautifully the inequalities between men and women in the early years of the twentieth century. Sally is a fabulous heroine too.

My third Margaret Kennedy novel of the year Red Sky at Morning (1927) was a good read, though a little baggy in places. Again Kennedy presents us with a complex family dynamic and excellent characterisation.

Next came my DNF – which I wasted four days on. The Healing by Gayl Jones (1998) on kindle and I really don’t know what went wrong. I began really enjoying the book, which I read slowly but happily for two days before getting really bogged down. It is written in a stream of consciousness – but I don’t think that was the problem. I just suddenly didn’t like it anymore and didn’t want to bother – but because I had begun by liking it – I battled with it half-heartedly for two more days before admitting defeat. Wasted days really. I won’t be writing about this one – although I read over half of it.

Then I picked up a review copy (which will remain nameless) which after 20 pages I decided was absolutely terrible and cast that aside too. Deep sigh!

A book I bought not too long ago and had been looking forward to There is no Story There by Inez Holden (1944) is re-issued by Handheld press was fascinating. Like the earlier Night Shift and It was Different at the Time – it presents a view of WW2 that is not often found in literature. This time a group of conscripted workers at a large rural munitions factory.

Somewhere in England by Carola Oman (1943) is the sequel to Nothing to Report that I read in September. We meet again several of the characters from that novel as well as getting to know a few new ones. The war is in full swing, and the main setting for this novel is the hospital that has been set up in the country home of Mary Morrison. A gentle, comfort read for half term was just what I needed.

Daughters by Lucy Fricke translated from German by Sinéad Crowe (2020) was passed on to me by a friend – was also a perfect half term read. The story of two women on a road trip across Europe who are both dealing with difficult fathers. Both funny and moving it’s a thoroughly compelling read. November is German lit month so I can review this one for that – look at me being all organised.

So, on to November and I am hoping to squeeze one or two more books into the month by reading some little books for Novellas in November – though I’m not sure what books I will be reading – very much going with my mood at the moment. Though I am hoping to get to my next Maya Angelou – as I am currently behind my reading buddies – due to my appalling reading month. I am also eyeing up Muriel Spark, some novellas in translation and a little Margaret Atwood for MARM. I had intended to (and still might) re-read Lady Oracle for MARM – but my reading is so fickle at the moment I am not making any promises. My book group are reading Hag-Seed – which I read a couple of years ago – so I will at least enjoy talking about that with them. What I actually manage – remains to be seen – my target is eight books – that might be more of a challenge than it sounds. I have gathered together some possible reads, but we’ll see.

So, what brilliant things did you read in October? What are your plans for November? reading challenges galore at least. German lit month, Novellas in November, Non-fiction November and Margaret Atwood Reading Month – are you joining in? I’m always delighted if I can hit two or three challenges with one book.

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September has been a sort of year’s beginning for me, for as long as I can remember. As a child I was ruled by the school calendar and the constant promise of weekends and school holidays, and my working life has been pretty similar – over thirty years working in the same primary school, this my thirty first September, and yet it wasn’t quite the same for me this year. I returned to work, after yet another sick leave before the holidays, looking forward to a new school year. Three staff days started the term off and that was that for me, I realised I wasn’t well enough, and so off I went again, not how I had wanted to begin the year. So, I haven’t even met any children yet. Anyway, long story short, I am starting again next week – hoping it will be much better.

So, therefore my September reading hasn’t been as dire as I had predicted (though my October reading might be) – it hasn’t been especially good either, because I have been binge watching Walter Presents dramas and falling asleep most afternoons utterly exhausted for no reason. Still, nine books read, and all of them great, and incredibly three of them non-fiction – I mean who am I?

I began with A Bite of the Applea life with books writers and Virago by Lennie Goodings (2020) a perfect book for me, I absolutely loved it.  Part memoir, part history of Virago including thoughts and reminiscences of over forty years of feminist publishing, this is the story of a publisher and a movement.

Nothing to Report by Carola Oman (1940) another great re-issue from Dean Street Press. Set mainly in the last few months before war breaks out in 1939, among the people of a small English village. There is a sequel I am looking forward to reading too.

I chose to read Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout (2019) the second book by Elizabeth Strout about this character because I was just in the mood for it’s linked short story style. An absolutely brilliant novel – through these stories, Elizabeth Strout creates the sense of a town – Crosby, Maine, and in Olive has created a remarkably real and thoroughly memorable character.

Ordinary Families by E Arnot Robertson (1933) was one of a very large pile of unread old green vmcs I have. Many have been languishing unread for a long time, and this one caught my eye when I was looking for something to read. A coming of age story rooted in a small boating community in the Suffolk marshes.

The Heart of a Woman by Maya Angelou (1981) is the fourth volume in her incredible autobiography. This volume sees Maya becoming immersed in the world of writers and artists in Harlem, going on to work in the civil rights movement and becoming involved with African freedom fighters.

The first of four books I read in September which I have yet to review – but will in the fullness of time. Dreaming of Rose by Sarah LeFanu (2013) was very kindly sent to me by Handheld Press earlier in the summer when I was up to my eyes in moving and reading for Women in Translation month. I finally read it and was surprised at how much I loved it. Surprised because I am not always good with nonfiction. A biographer’s journal it is a fascinating look at how a biographer works and her relationship with her subject. Rose Macaulay is a writer I am already fascinated by so it hit the spot and I went off and bought Sarah LeFanu’s biography of Rose Macaulay on the strength of it.

A nice bit of golden age crime hit the spot last weekend. These Names Make Clues by E.C.R Lorac (1937) sent to me by the British library, it’s one of their more recent publications. A treasure hunt party ends suddenly with the death of a writer – and the next day his agent is discovered dead in his office. Chief Inspector Macdonald is at the party under sufferance and so gets straight down to figuring it all out.

Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri (2018) was a novel I had intended to read for Women in Translation Month but didn’t manage to fit it in. Translated by the author from the Italian – I am fascinated by Lahiri’s decision to start writing in her second language – and have already read one of her literary translations. This is a beautiful novel, delicate and fragmentary in which not much happens – a really lovely piece of writing. I am determined to read more of Lahiri’s back catalogue as I haven’t read much by her at all.

The Doctor’s Wife by Brian Moore (1976) I read for the upcoming 1976 club hosted again by Karen and Simon. I wanted to make sure I had at least one thing read and ready to write about, before going back to work. I will review it during the club week. A novel about an Irish woman who has an affair in Paris with a younger man might not sound especially compelling, it’s an age old type of story, but Moore brings so much more to it. It is insanely compelling.

I am not making any plans or promises for October. I do have a couple of review books I want to get to, including Sally On the Rocks by Winifred Boggs which I am on a blog tour for later in the month. I will be happy enough if I can just enjoy a few books even if it means reading less than usual. At the time of writing, I haven’t even chosen my next read – as I have just finished The Doctor’s Wife a couple of hours ago. I could read something else for the 1976 club – watch this space.

What brilliant things did you read in September? And what are your October plans? Whatever they might be – happy reading one and all.

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