Posts Tagged ‘monthly roundup’

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.

Read Full Post »

Well August has been a funny old month – stressful and dragging where my house move is concerned – and flying by in other ways. My reading has taken a bit of a hit, because while I continued to be away from work, my reading has been quite a bit slower – definitely stress induced. As has become traditional I wanted to concentrate on #Witmonth and vmc reads for All Virago, All August. I did quite well with #Witmonth – especially as I had already read two #witmonth books at the end of July. However. I did much less well with my vmc reads this year, managing only two, though they were both excellent.

I began the month reading In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova translated from the Russian by Sasha Dugdale. A fascinating book, gorgeously written much lauded by other readers. A mixture of genres it tells the story of the author’s Russian Jewish family, and wider Europe over about a century. It is an incredible piece of work.

I have been reading Maya Angelou’s seven volume autobiography with Liz and our friend Meg. Singin’ & Swingin’ & Getting Merry Like Christmas is the third volume. It concerns her relationship with her son, her first marriage and the beginnings of her life in showbusiness including her time on tour with the cast of Porgy and Bess.

Three Summers by Margarita Liberaki translated from the Greek by Karen van Dyck was one of the books I was determined to read for this year’s Women in Translation month. A beautiful coming of age novel about three sisters in the years before the Second World War. There is a lot more going on in this novel than the premise might at first suggest, themes of marriage, fidelity, women’s roles, the bond between siblings and motherhood are all delicately explored. 

The first of two kindle reads this month, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery translated from the French by Alison Anderson was a book I had been aware of for some time, but really hadn’t known much about it. Renée Michel is a concierge at an elegant apartment building in the centre of Paris, like twelve year old Paloma in one of the apartments upstairs, Renée hides her true self from the world. How these two unlikely people find a common bond is beautifully told.

The British Library are very good at producing anthologies of brilliant mystery stories, Murder by the Book edited by Martin Edwards is a particularly good example for the book lover. Stories from a range of brilliant Golden age writers set in libraries or involving writers.

Another #Witmonth read was a book I had heard about from other bloggers; The Union of Synchronised Swimmers by Cristina Sandu – translated from the Finnish by the author. A novella really, it tells the story of six girls from an unnamed country who join a synchronised swimming team in order to escape the country they are from. It’s quite an odd little novel, but not unenjoyable.  

My second vmc read of the month was Old New York by Edith Wharton, and what a treat it was, she was such a wonderful writer. Four short novels of Old New York in one volume, full of Wharton’s observations of society with all its strictures and pitfalls. Containing themes of class, jealousy, infidelity, and illegitimacy.

As I entered the week when I was expecting to exchange contacts and complete on my flat purchase and house sale, I needed something, diverting but not too challenging. I chose The Snow and the Works on the Northern Line by Ruth Thomas, which I probably originally bought for the title alone. I wasn’t sure whether it would be my kind of thing really, but it proved exactly right in fact, generally well written, but reasonably undemanding, with an engaging witty tone, it was fine if not a little underwhelming.

So, on to September – and really I don’t know what to expect from September book wise – I am not making any plans or putting myself under pressure. I am currently reading A Bite of the Apple by Lennie Goodings, which Liz bought for me for either birthday or Christmas, though not sure which year, and which she selected for me to read now when she came to see the flat and help with book sorting. I shall of course be settling into my new place – and also later this week returning to work after another long break. So, my reading will certainly be affected by all of that. I shall be reading strictly according to mood – and if I am able to read anything at all and really enjoy it – that will be enough.

As ever, I would love to know what you have been reading, and what plans you might have for September.

Happy reading.

Read Full Post »

In some ways June has felt really long, and in other ways it has flown. I started the month in hospital – as some of you know. Eight days in hospital isn’t much fun, so I was grateful for my kindle – which really proved invaluable. I am a lot better than I was, still receiving treatment from district nurses and I won’t be back to work until September. Therefore, I have had a pretty good reading month. I didn’t get chance to do a round up post for May as I went into hospital on the 31st when I would have usually been writing the post – and after I got out it seemed a bit redundant. In May though I only read seven books, a little below my average – but June I made up for it a little by reading twelve (and a bit). Needless to say, four of these books still need to be reviewed – all in good time.

Tension (1920) by E M Delafield was first, the last of that gorgeous women writers series from the British Library I had left to read. A brilliant exploration of the effects on someone’s reputation of persistent gossip. Delafield also gives us a brilliant monstrous character in the form of Lady Rossiter.

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine (2010) by Alina Bronsky translated by Tim Mohr was the first of four books in a row I read on my kindle. I find I read quicker on my kindle – also I was stuck in a hospital bed, so I did read quite quickly that week. I enjoyed Bronksy’s unique, quirky storytelling and her use of an unforgettable, unreliable narrator.

The Late Mrs Prioleau (1946) by Monica Tindall was another good read from Dean Street Press. Monica Tindall does an excellent job of very gradually building up a picture of the titular character – who we first encounter in her coffin on the day of her funeral – as does her new daughter-in-law Susan, our narrator.

Small Pleasures (2020) Clare Chambers – a book that has been pretty hyped but is probably deserving of the fuss. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Set in the 1950s a local newspaper reporter nearing middle age investigates a woman’s claim her daughter was the result of a virgin birth, and in the process becomes drawn to the family and in particular her new friend’s husband.

A Crime in the Neighborhood (1997) Suzanne Berne, won the Women’s Prize (orange prize as was) back in 1999. In this novel we see the world through the eyes of nine year old Marsha. The novel captures a time and place to absolute perfection – the stifling heat of a hot summer, the dizzying uncertainties of childhood. As an adult, Marsha can look back upon that summer of 1972 as a time when a terrible crime rocked the suburb where she lived, and how it seemed to be intertwined with the upheavals going on within her own family.

My next read was I Am Not Your Baby Mother (2020) by Candice Braithwaite for my book group. A fascinating examination of black motherhood and in particular the way it is perceived by both the media and by white people – especially I’m afraid those working in the medical industry. I found it hugely readable and quite an eye opener.

The Lamplighters (2021) by Emma Stonex was a lovely birthday gift from my friend Meg. She knows I love a lighthouse and the cover is a beauty. A really compelling read with some lovely descriptions of the sea and its incredible power, not to mention all those details of lighthouse living.

Gather Together in My Name (1974) by Maya Angelou – is the second volume in her autobiography. I am reading them alongside Liz and our friend Meg. A slimmer book than volume one, but every bit as engaging. The more I learn about this woman the more I love her.

Love in Winter (1935) by Storm Jameson is also a second instalment – in this case the second book in a trilogy. The Mirror in Darkness trilogy begins with Company Parade which I read seven years ago. This is a slower type of read, a more complex kind of novel, in which not a huge amount happens despite the 400 odd pages. I really enjoyed it and I hope I won’t wait seven years to read the third book – which I have had tbr for years.

The Winterlings (2014) by Cristina Sánchez-Andrade translated from Spanish by Samuel Rutter. July is Spanish lit month and I wanted to make sure I read at least a couple of things. Knowing that I usually review a week or two after I have read the book – I decided to get one in early. I have had this quirky novel tbr for a couple of years, it is rather unusual but I really enjoyed it.

English Climate: Wartime Stories (2020) by Sylvia Townsend Warner – I have already reviewed this, as it is Sylvia Townsend Warner reading week this week. A wonderful collection of wartime stories written between 1940 and 1946 by an author I find fascinating.

Birds in Tiny Cages (1964) by Barbara Comyns. I was so pleased to find this facsimile edition online several months ago and have been saving the pleasure of reading it. It may not be quite classic Comyns, but there is lots of little Comyns touches throughout and I really enjoyed it. Admittedly, I may not be very objective when it comes to Barbara Comyns. Also, queue excitement – I ordered a copy of Out of the Red into the Blue a couple of days ago – I had almost given up hope of finding a copy. I won’t really believe it’s the right book until it arrives. But that will complete my Comyns collection – not all the same edition though of course.

So, on to July, and as I mentioned above it is Spanish lit month – and I am currently reading Holiday Heart by Columbian author Margarita Garcia Robayo. My book group have chosen (at my suggestion) 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak. Other than that, I shall probably wait to see where my mood takes me.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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?

Read Full Post »

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?

Read Full Post »

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?

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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?

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »