As The Evenings Draw In, R.I.P. VIII Begins…

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“Stories can make us look back over our shoulders and question every creak and groan on a dark, quiet night. Stories can cause our hearts to race with ever-increasing tension as we forgo sleep to rush towards a surprising conclusion. Stories can make us suspicious of every character as we challenge the protagonist to be the first to solve the crime. Stories can make us sleep with the lights on, make us pull the covers just a little bit tighter, and can make every shadow seem more menacing than they ever have before….

…. there is something delicious about the ability of the printed word to give us a fright. At no time of the year is this more of a delight than when Summer heat turns to Autumn chill as the days become ever darker.”

The annual invitation from Stainless Steel Droppings to read ….

Mystery
Suspense
Thriller
Dark Fantasy
Gothic
Horror
Supernatural

…. is not to be resisted, and I have a wonderful pool of books on hand ….

The Skull and the Nightingale by Michael Irwin

“When Richard Fenwick returns to London, his wealthy godfather, James Gilbert, has an unexpected proposition. Gilbert has led a sedate life in Worcestershire, but feels the urge to experience, even vicariously, the extremes of human feeling: love, passion, and something much more sinister …”

My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart (for Mary Stewart Reading Week)

“Nothing ever happened to Camilla Haven — until a stranger approached her in a crowded Athens café, handed her the keys to a black car parked by the curb, and whispered, “A matter of life and death.”….”

Hell! Said the Duchess by Michael Arlen

“A female killer stalks the streets of London, sleeping with young men before slashing their throats and mutilating their bodies. The crimes have baffled the police and enraged Londoners, who demand the murderer’s arrest. Mary, Duchess of Dove, a gentle young widow who is beloved by all who know her, seems an unlikely suspect, but the clues all point to her ….”

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

“Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution ….”

The Unforgiving by Charlotte Cory

“The distinguished architect Edward Glass has been recently widowed – with great inconvenience to himself. He impulsively marries Mrs Elizabeth Cathcart, a young widow he knows almost nothing about ….”

The Bones of Paris by Laurie R King

“The missing person in question is Philippa Crosby, a twenty-two year old from Boston who has been living in Paris, modelling and acting. Her family became alarmed when she stopped all communications, and Stuyvesant agreed to track her down. He wholly expects to find her in the arms of some up-and-coming artist, perhaps experimenting with the decadent lifestyle …”

He Arrived at Dusk by Ruby Ferguson

“From the moment William Mertoun arrives to catalogue the library at Colonel Barr’s old mansion on the desolate Northumbrian moors, he senses something is terribly wrong. Barr’s brother Ian has just died, mysteriously and violently, and the Colonel himself is hidden away in a locked room, to which his sinister nurse denies all access ….”

The Family Thief by Annabel Markova

“As Iolanthe and Carol grow up, Iolanthe begins to wonder how well she ever knew her foster sister, and soon her loyalties are tested to destruction in order to save her parents’ marriage, and the family itself ….”

The Prestige by Christopher Priest

“In 1878, two young stage magicians clash in the dark during the course of a fraudulent séance. From this moment on, their lives become webs of deceit and revelation as they vie to outwit and expose one another ….”

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

” Diana Bishop, descended from a line of powerful witches, and long-lived vampire Matthew Clairmont have broken the laws dividing creatures. When Diana discovered a significant alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, she sparked a struggle in which they became bound. Now the fragile coexistence of witches, daemons, vampires and humans is dangerously threatened ….”

And I’ve pulled out my Virago ghost story anthologies too …

Now tell me, do you have seasonal reading plans?

Ten Books for Cornish Holidays

I’ve spotted a lot of Top Ten Holiday Reads  lists lately. Fascinating reading, and they set my mind spinning in a direction that was similar but different.

Ten books to transport you to Cornwall. Or to read on holiday in Cornwall.

I’ve picked books that are in print – and I think they are all available electronically – and I’ve picked wonderfully readable books, old and new, that I can happily recommend.

And her they are …

cORNWALL

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

“The road to Manderlay lay ahead.  There was no moon.  The sky above our heads was inky black.  But the sky on the horizon was not dark at all.  It was shot with crimson, like a splash of blood.  And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea.”  

Daphne Du Maurier fell in love with a house named Menabilly on the north coast of Cornwall. In Rebecca she calls that house Manderlay, and she spins a wonderful tale of suspense intrigue and romance, with lovely echoes of Jane Eyre around it.

Diving Belles by Lucy Wood

Lucy Wood comes from Cornwall, she understands, really understands what makes it so special, and she mixes myth and real life to fine effect in this wonderful collection of short stories.

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley

“Crossing the Tamar for some reason made me feel different inside. It was only a river, yet every time I crossed it I felt I had stepped through some mystical veil that divided the world that I only existed in from the one that I was meant to be living in.”

Susanna Kearsley captures the magic of crossing the Tamar Bridge, leaving Devon and coming into Cornwall, and she captures the magic that draws so many people here in this lovely story of a house, a garden, history, time travel, and above all romance.

Rambles Beyond Railways by Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins crossed the Tamar by boat, a few years before the bridge was built, and he and his friend, the artist Henry Brandling, set out on a 214 mile walking tour.  This account of their travels holds a wealth of  material, wonderful vivid writing and extraordinary insight.

Love in the Sun by Leo Walmsley

“Leo Walmsley gives the reader a true story, classic in its simplicity, of a man and a girl who possessed nothing in life but love for each other and faith in the future, and because of these things, were courageous and happy…”

So said Daphne Du Maurier, in her introduction to a story that is vividly and beautifully written. The man and the girl are utterly real, every detail rings true, and it is so easy to be pulled in, so easy to care.

Tales of Terror from the Black Ship by Chris Priestley

A visitor tells two children stories of the sea as they wait in their home, and Inn on a Cornish cliff, for the storm to abate and for their father to come home. Tales are deliciously twisted, and the final revelation – who the visitor is and why he has come – is perfect.

The Burying Beetle by Ann Kelley

This is the story of twelve year-old Gussie, who has a head full of films and books, who is fascinated by nature and the world around her home in St Ives. She is ill, waiting and hoping for a heart transplant, and that makes life all the more precious, and her story all the more life-affirming. I loved Gussie, and I loved seeing Cornwall through her eyes.

Peril at End House by Agatha Christie

On holiday at a Cornish hotel Poirot encounters an accident-prone heiress, and  he soon realises that her accidents are not accidents at all. A solid mystery, a very nice setting; all in all, a lovely period piece from the 1930s.

Penmarric by Susan Howatch

A wonderful family saga, spanning half a century, telling their story and the story of Penmarric, their grand Cornish home, in five voices. The house, its inhabitants, the world around them come to life in a dramatic, compelling story. I had no idea when I first read it that it was inspired by real mediaeval history ….

The First Wife by Emily Barr

The story of a girl from a Cornish village who loses her home when her grandparents die, moves to town, and finds herself caught up in a story elements of chick lit, strands of a psychological thriller, and echoes of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. It’s wonderful fun!

I’m waiting now for Emily Barr’s new book, the story of a woman whop disappears from the train between Penzance and Paddington. A train I have travelled on so many times …

There are more books of course, by these authors and by others.

Have any of these books, or have any other books, transported you to Cornwall, I wonder … ?

The Library Reservations Project: Hooray for Lists

Earlier in the year I ditched the idea of restricting library reservations and changed my project into one to celebrate the magic of library reservations.

The Library Reservations Project1

I’ve tried to strike a balance between not ordering too many books and not forgetting about them by using the list making facilities on my library’s website. I have a ‘soon’ list, a ‘maybe one day’ list and a ‘please put it into stock’ list.

A few weeks ago I ditched the idea of restricting library reservations and changed my project into one to celebrate the magic of library reservations.

I’ve tried to strike a balance between not ordering too many books and not forgetting about them by using the list making facilities on my library’s website. I have a ‘soon’ list, a ‘maybe one day’ list and a ‘please put it into stock’ list.

They are growing at a healthy rate, and reminding me that I need never run out of great books, and I don’t need to break the bank to but them all

And here’s list of ten interesting prospects for the future:

Heroines & Harlots: Women at Sea in the Great Age of Sail by David Cordingly

I really don’t remember how I found this one, but I love the title, I love stories of the sea, and so I popped it on a list.

Memories: incorporating Perverse and Foolish and Memory in a House by Lucy M Boston

I read such praise for Lucy M Boston’s two volumes of memoirs that I had to look for a copy. I found one, but I was distracted by Yew Hall, her one novel for adults, and so this one went in to a list to be ordered another day.

The Knot by Jane Borodale

“When Henry Lyte brings his young bride Frances home to his Somerset estate, he hopes she will share in his devotion to the garden – a refuge of fruit trees and flower beds, with a knot of herbs at its heart. Henry is a scholar, and his life’s work is his ‘herbal’ – a book of plants and their medicinal properties, intended for those who cannot afford physicians’ expensive cures.But life on the edges of the flood plains makes Frances uneasy, and there are strange rumours abroad concerning the death of Henry’s first wife – rumours that can be traced to Henry’s step-mother Joan Young, a grasping woman eager to seize control of the family’s lands. And while Henry cannot tear himself from his studies, he stands the risk of losing everything he loves.”

I liked Jane Borodale’s first novel – with just a few reservation – but I think this could be lovely – and a real progression – so I out it on the list, ready to order when the historical novel reading bug next strikes.

The Cornish Fox by C H B Kitchin

I spotted Streamers Waving by C H B Kitchin in the Faber Finds catalogue, I liked the look of it, I read it, I loved it, and it slotted nicely into my Century of Books. When I looked to see if the library had any more of his books I was intrigued by this title. I haven’t been able to find out anything about it, but I’ve added it to my list to be read one day when the century is done.

The Hive: the Story of the Honeybee and Us by Bee Wilson

Bee Wilson’s Consider The Fork has been on my bedside table for ages. It’s lovely, but it’s a dipping into and reading the same bit over and over again kind of book, and I don’t really want to reach the end. But I checked to see if Bee Wilson had written anything else, and I found this, and listed it to order when I finish my consideration of forks. And not just forks pretty much anything else you might find in a kitchen too …

Pied Piper by Nevil Shute

I read a few of Nevil Shutes’ novels from my parents’ shelves back when I first started reading grown-up books. They didn’t have this one, but Darlene gave it a very warm recommendation, and that’s a good enough reason to add it to my library lists.

The White Lie by Andrea Gillies

“On a hot summer’s afternoon, Ursula Salter runs sobbing from the loch on her parents’ Scottish estate and confesses, distraught, that she has killed Michael, her 19 year old nephew. But what really happened? No body can be found, and Ursula’s story is full of contradictions. In order to protect her, the Salters come up with another version of events, a decision that some of them will come to regret. Years later, at a family gathering, a witness speaks up and the web of deceit begins to unravel.”

I ordered this not long after it was published, but I couldn’t find the time to read it before I had to return to, to be passed on to the next person in the queue. This was before I could make lists on my library account and I nearly forgot it, but Cat wrote about it not so long ago, and I listed it to make sure I don’t forget it again.

Lucy Carmichael by Margaret Kennedy

I’ve fallen in love with Margaret Kennedy’s writing, and I’m slowly working my way through a number of her books that the library has in reserve stock. This one is next. because I love the idea of the story – a heroine jilted on her wedding day strikes out on a new path in life – and because it will fill a vacant year on my Century of Books.

And Then There Was One by Joyce Dennys

I stumble across this childhood memoir purely by chance, and I listed it ready to order once I’ve read Joyce Dennys’s  much loved Henrietta novels. I own the first, and I’ve spotted a copy of the second in my local library.

To Serve Them All My Days by R F Delderfield

This is another book I read from my parents’s shelves years ago – and I remember a very good television adaptation too. I was delighted to spot it when I was looking to fill difficult years in my Century of Books, checked the library catalogue, found a copy, and listed it so I wouldn’t forget.

…. and that’s ten!

Another Spin with the Classics Club

It’s here again – The Classics Club Spin.

  • Pick twenty unread books from your list.
  • Number them from one to twenty.
  • On Monday a number will be drawn.
  • That’s your book, to read in May and June.

Shall I do it again?

whirlingdervishesegypt

 

Of course!

Last time it worked beautifully. I read the book for the number that came up – The Leavenworth Case – and I read another that called me as soon as I put it on my spin list – Mariana.

And so I have another list of books.

Some I know I’m going to love, some I’m a little intimidated by, and some I’m a little uncertain about.

The Five Oldest Books on My List:

1. Manon Lescaut by Abbe Prevost (1731)
2. The Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennox (1752)
3. A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe (1790)
4. A Simple Story by Elizabeth Inchbold (1791)
5. The Coquette by Hannah W Foster (1797)

*****

Five French Classics:

6. The Red and the Black by Stendahl (1830)
7. Old Goriot by Honore Balzac (1835)
8. The Count of Monte Christo by Alexandre Dumas (1844)
9. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857)
10. Pot Luck by Emile Zola (1882)

*****

Five very big books:

11. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery (1848)
12. Bleak House by Charles Dickens (1851)
13. Villette by Charlotte Bronte (1853)
14. The Daisy Chain by Charlotte M Yonge (1856)
15 . Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877)

*****

Five from the twentieth century

16. Fidelity by Susan Glaspell (1915)
17. Cullum by E Arnot Robinson (1920)
18. The Shutter of Snow by Emily Holmes Colman (1930)
19. Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sea by Patrick Hamilton (1935)
20. Fenny by Lettice Cooper (1953)

*****

And now I must wait …

Ten Authors Whose Books I Seek

I’ve spotted a few lists of ‘must buy’ authors today, inspired by a meme at  The
Broke and the Bookish
. Now I could come up with a few, of course I could, but the thing is, I know new books and mainstream reissues will go on being there, maybe not for ever but for long enough that I can pick them up when I’m ready.

My true ‘must buy’ books are out of print and hard to find titles by authors I have come to love, and books I know I must seize as soon as I see, because if I don’t the chance may never come again.

It seemed like the moment to pull out ten authors whose books I seek:

The Ten

Oriel Malet: I spotted a book called Marraine by Oriel Malet in the library and I recognised her name from the Persephone list. That book was a lovely memoir of her godmother, the actress Yvonne Arnaud. Once I read it I had to order Margery Fleming from Persephone, and it was even lovelier; a perfectly executed fictional biography of a bookish child. Her other books are out of print and difficult to find, but I found one and I was thrilled when my Virago Secret Santa sent me another, all the way across the Atlantic.

Margery Sharp: I read much praise for The Eye of Love in the Virago Modern Classics group on LibraryThing and so I picked up a copy. I loved it too – romance with a hint of satire and a hint of subversion. I was so disappointed that her other books were – and still are – out of print. But I’m slowly picking them up, used copies and library books, and I’m hoping for more.

Leo Walmsley: Looking back, it’s strange to think that when I picked up Love in the Sun in the library it wasn’t with the intention of reading the book. I remembered a local family called Walmsley and I was simply looking to see if there was a connection. But once I had the book in my hand I fell in love with the cover and with a warm introduction by Daphne Du Maurier. And I fell in love with the book, thinly veiled autobiography written with such honesty and understanding. The library fiction reserve provided copies of the three that follow chronologically from this one. The Walmsley Society has recently bought these books back in to print, and others too, but I was thrilled when I stumbled across lovely old editions of Phantom Lobster and The Sound of the Sea.

Angela Du Maurier: Talking of Daphne Du Maurier, did you know that her sister was a successful author too? I didn’t until I found two novels and one volume of autobiography that Truran Books have in print. It was the anecdote that gave the autobiography its title that made me love Angela – she was stopped by a woman she didn’t know who was convinced that she knew her. As she spoke Angela realised she had been mistaken for Daphne, and when she explained the woman said loudly to her companion, “It’s only the sister!” and stormed off. Angela treated the incident as a great joke, and though it wonderful that her sister was held in such regard. And she wrote of her family and her life with such love and enthusiasm that I had to look out for her other books. They’re out of print and its hard to find out much about them, but I liked the one I found in the library fiction reserve – The Frailty of Nature – and I’d love to find more.

Edith Olivier: I had no idea who Edith Olivier was when I picked up my copy of The Love-Child, but it was a green Virago Modern Classic and I have great faith in those. It is a wonderful tale of an imaginary friend, and I’m afraid I really can’t find the words to do it justice. The library gave me a two wonderful works of non fiction, and there are some diaries I plan to borrow one day, but I would love to find another novel. Sadly though, they seem as rare of hen’s teeth.

Elizabeth Goudge: My mother mentioned four authors she though I’d like when I first moved up to the adult library: Agatha Christie, Daphne Du Maurier, Mary Stewart and Elizabeth Goudge. I only picked up me first Elizabeth Goudge  – The Scent of Water – last year, and when I did I realised that she had been right about all four authors. It was simple story but it was so very well told, with both emotional and spiritual understanding. Her books all seem to be out of print, but I have tracked down copies of the Damerosehay novels that I have heard so much good about, and I found one or two others in a charity shop a while back.

Elizabeth Jenkins: I found The Tortoise and the Hare thanks to Virago. I found Harriet thanks to Persephone. I found A Silent Joy and her autobiography, The View from Downshire Hill in the library. I found used copies of Doctor Gully and The Phoenix’ Nest on my travels. I’ve been lucky I know, but I also know that Darlene and Anbolyn both found copies of Brightness and I so want to find one too. And, of course, there are others.

Sylvia Townsend Warner: I first met Sylvia Townsend Warner in a Virago anthology years ago. I forget which anthology and which story, but she stuck in my mind and a picked up Virago’s collection of her short stories. I loved it, and I still think there are few authors who hold a candle to her when it comes to short stories. One fortunate day I found six of her original collections of short stories and a couple of biographies in a second-hand bookshop. I’m looking out for the others, and for her letter and diaries too.

G B Stern: A couple of years ago I spotted a book called  The Ten Days of Christmas in a second-hand bookshop. I picked it up, because I recognised the name G B Stern as belonging to a Virago author and because I wanted to know why there were ten days of Christmas rather than the more traditional twelve. It looked lovely, and so I bought it. It was lovely, and when I picked up Monogram, a sort of memoir, I really warmed to the author. Since then I’ve picked up The Matriarch and A Deputy Was King in Virago editions and Debonair as an orange numbered Penguin, and I’d love to find more.

Francis Brett Young: Last year I spotted a book called White Ladies by Francis Brett Young in the very same second-hand bookshop. I knew the author’s name, because one of his books was in a list of titles readers had suggested to Persephone that Nicola Beauman included in a Persephone newsletter. It looked wonderful, but I couldn’t justify the price – it was a signed first edition. But when I arrived home I checked LibraryThing and I found that Ali and Liz both came from the same part of the country as Francis Brett Young and they loved his books. I found White Ladies in the library’s fiction reserve, and fell in love with rich prose, wonderful characters, and good old-fashioned storytelling. I’ve ordered a couple more books from the library, I’ve picked up a trio of old out of print titles, and I’m hoping to find more.

And that’s ten!

So now tell me, whose books are you hoping to find?

A Box of Books for 2012

I love reading bookish reviews of the year, but this year I have struggled to write one of my own.

A list – be it a top ten, a top twenty, a list by categories – felt too stark, too cut and dried. And I couldn’t find a questionnaire that worked for me.

But then, yesterday, inspiration struck.

I would assemble a virtual box of books that would speak for my year in books. They would be books that had offered something to my heart, my mind, or my soul, in what has been a difficult year.

And I would stick a virtual post-it note to each book, either my thoughts when I read it or a quotation that had picked up to remind me why that book was in my box.

I found that I had twenty-five books. I think that’s just about viable for a single box, as a few of them were little Penguin books and one of them was even littler than that. Though I wouldn’t want to have to carry it any great distance …

Before I show you what is in my box, there are people I really must thank – authors past and present, publishers, sellers of books both new and used, fellow readers – who have all done their bit to make the contents of my box so very lovely.

And now all I have left to say is – Here are the books!

Year end4

Diving Belles by Lucy Wood

Often the books you love are the most difficult to write about. How do you capture just what makes them so very, very magical? Diving Belles is one of those books.It hold twelve short stories. Contemporary stories that are somehow timeless. Because they are suffused with the spirit of Cornwall, the thing that I can’t capture in words that makes the place where I was born so very, very magical.

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

In 70 C.E., nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. History records that only two women and five children survived the siege … An extraordinary story. And the foundation upon which Alice Hoffman has built an epic novel. An extraordinary novel.

The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn

“I was almost seventeen when the spell of my childhood was broken. There was no sudden jolt, no immediate awakening and no alteration, as far as I’m aware, in the earth’s axis that day. But the vibration of change was upon us, and I sensed a shift; a realignment of my trajectory. It was the beginning of summer and, unbeknown to any of us then, the end of a belle époque.”

Monogram by Gladys Bronwyn Stern

“Mental collections can be as dearly prized as those we keep behind glass, like snuff-boxes, fans or china cats; or the collection of a man who assembled everything that happened to be the size of a fist. I have a mental collection of moments on the stage, moments of horror, irony, beauty or tension …”

Tom-All-Alone’s by Lynn Shepherd

I read such wonderful prose:  compelling storytelling mixed with vivid descriptions. The sights, the sounds, the smells assaulted my senses.  And I learned terrible things that I might rather have not known, but that I never for one moment doubted were true. Nothing is more frightening than the evil that men do. I heard wonderful echoes of more than one great Victorian novelist; and I saw knowledge, understanding, and great love for their works.

Year end3

The City of Beautiful Nonsense by E Temple Thurston

“You’ve got to see Venice. You’ve got to see a city of slender towers and white domes, sleeping in the water like a mass of water lilies. You’ve got to see dart water-ways, mysterious threads of shadow holding all those flowers of stome together. You’ve got to hear the silence in which the whispers of lovers of a thousand years ago, and in the cries of men, betrayed, all breathe and echo in every bush. these are the only noises in Venice – these and the plash of the gondolier’s oar or his call ‘Ohé!’ as he rounds a sudden corner. “

Alys Always by Harriet Lane

This is a story that brings a clever mixture of influences together beautifully. It could be Patricia Highsmith writing with Barbara Pym. Or Anita Brookner writing with Barbara Vine perhaps. But no, it’s Harriet Lane, and she has created something that is entirely her own. She writes with both elegance and clarity, she balances suspense with acute observation, and she understands her characters, their relationships, the worlds they move in absolutely perfectly.

Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins

I read ‘The View from Downshire Hill,’ Elizabeth Jenkins’ sadly out-of-print autobiography a few year ago and so I was familiar with the story of ‘Harriet’ before I was able to read the book. I knew exactly what would happen, but still I was captivated. Because Elizabeth Jenkins wrote so beautifully, and with such understanding of the characters she recreated, and of their psychology.

The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon

The prose is sparse, the story is short, and yet it holds so much. Every character is simply but perfectly drawn, and each and every one is important. Just a few words of description, a few words of dialogue painted wonderful pictures of lives and relationships. And of a place and time.

The One I Knew the Best of All by Frances Hodgson-Burnett

“The Small Person used to look at them sometimes with hopeless, hungry eyes. It seemed so horribly wicked that there should be shelves of books – shelves full of them – which offered nothing to a starving creature. She was a starving creature in those days, with a positively wolfish appetite for books, though no one knew about it or understood the anguish of its gnawings. It must be plainly stated that her longings were not for “improving” books. The cultivation she gained in those days was gained quite unconsciously, through the workings of a sort of rabies with which she had been infected from birth. At three years old she had begun a life-long chase after the Story.”

Year end2

The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace

A carriage pulled up outside. Mrs Anna Palmer, the young wife of an elderly clergyman arrived. She thought she had come to meet friends of her husband, but she was wrong. She had been very cleverly tricked, and she found herself incarcerated in Lake House, a private asylum for gentlewomen. First she was astonished and then she was outraged. But she was utterly trapped. By the power of a cruel husband, by the strictures of Victorian society, and by her own nature.

White Ladies by Francis Brett Young

“And then, of a sudden, the trees seem to fall back on either side, disclosing with the effect of a fanfare of trumpets breaking through a murmur of muted strings, above, an enormous expanse of blue sky, and below, a wide sward of turf, most piercingly green within the woods’ dense circlet. And in the midst of the green sward stood a house.”

Snake Ropes by Jess Richards

“I am reading reading reading, locked in the stories. I am a wicked daughter, a drunken witch, a terrible scientist, a king with a severed hand, a resentful angel, a statue of a golden prince, the roaring wind, an uninspired alchemist, a fantastic lover who has only one leg, a stage magician with glittery nails, a shivery queen with a box of Turkish sweets, a prostitute wearing poisoned lipstick, a piano player whose hands are too big, a raggedy grey rabbit, a murderer with metal teeth, a spy with an hourglass figure … I am eighteen years old and my real life is here locked inside these books.

Catherine Carter by Pamela Hansford Johnson

It is a love story, set in London’s theatre world in the latter days of Queen Victoria’s reign. And it is a tour de force, balancing the recreation of a world, a cast of utterly real characters, and a perfectly constructed plot quite beautifully.

Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt

“There are two courses open to a gentlewoman when she finds herself in penurious circumstances,” my Aunt Adelaide had said. “One is to marry, and the other is to find a post in keeping with her gentility.” As the train carried me through the wooded hills and past green meadows, I was taken this second course; partly, I suppose, because I had never had an opportunity of trying the former.”

Year end5

Shelter by Frances Greenslade

Forty years ago, two sisters were growing up, in a small town, set in the wild countryside of British Columbia. Maggie and Jenny Dillon lived in an unfinished cabin home with their quiet reliable father, Patrick, and their imaginative, free-spirited mother, Irene. A happy family. Maggie tells their story. And she tells it beautifully. Her voice rang true and she made me see her world, her sister, her father, her mother. I understood how the family relationships worked, I understood what was important to them. And I saw enough to understand one or two things that Maggie didn’t.

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

“All Hollingford felt as if there was a great deal to be done before Easter this year. There was Easter proper, which always required new clothing of some kind, for fear of certain consequences from little birds, who were supposed to resent the impiety of those who do not wear some new article of dress on Easter-day.’ And most ladies considered it wiser that the little birds should see the new article for themselves, and not have to take it upon trust, as they would have to do if it were merely a pocket-handkerchief, or a petticoat, or any article of under- clothing. So piety demanded a new bonnet, or a new gown; and was barely satisfied with an Easter pair of gloves. “

The Fortnight in September by R C Sherriff

They settled into their holiday routine. Mr Stevens secured a beach hut, and they would bathe, play ball on the sand, watch the world go by. They would visit familiar attractions too. And journey out into the surrounding countryside. There was time and space to think too. Mr Stevens worried about his position in the world. Dick wondered where he was going in life, what possibilities were open to him. Mary fell in love. And Mrs Stevens broke with convention to sit down with he landlady, to offer a sympathetic ear when she spoke of her concerns about the future. Lives were changing, and the world was changing.

Kind of Cruel by Sophie Hannah

Amber Hewerdine was losing sleep, and it really wasn’t surprising. Her best friend died in an arson attack, the arsonist had never been identified, and now Amber and her husband, Luke, were bringing up her friend’s two young daughters. An incident that happened at a family Christmas spent in a holiday cottage was still troubling her. Luke’s sister, her husband and their two young sons disappeared on Christmas day, not returning until the next morning when the refused to give any explanation of what had happened. And things got worse …

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

I’ve been terribly torn over the question of whether of not to re-read Wilkie Collins. You see, I fell completely in love with his major works when I was still at school, and I was scared that I might tarnish the memories, that his books might not be quite as good as great as I remembered. I’m thrilled to be able to say that my fears were unfounded. The Woman in White was better than I remembered. A brilliantly constructed and executed tale of mystery and suspense, written with real insight and understanding.

Year end1

Thérèse Racquin by Émile Zola

Thérèse was the daughter of a French sailor and a native woman. Her father her to took his sister, a haberdasher, to raise with her son. Camille, a bright but sickly child. It was expected that Thérèse and Camille would marry, and marry they did. Not because either one had feelings for the another, but because it didn’t occur to either of them to do anything else, or that life could offer anything more than they already knew. Zola painted a picture of dark and dull lives, and yet he held me. Somehow, I don’t know how, he planted the idea that something would happen, that it was imperative that I continued to turn the pages.

The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

The very, very best novels leave me struggling for words, quite unable to capture what it is that makes them so extraordinary. The Home-Maker is one of those novels. It was published in the 1920s, it is set in small town American, and yet it feels extraordinarily relevant. It is the story of the Knapp family – Evangeline, Lester and their children, Helen, Henry and Stephen. A family that was unhappy, because both parents were trapped in the roles that society dictated a mother and a father should play.

The Other Half of Me by Morgan McCarthy

As I read The Other Half of Me, Morgan McCarthy’s first novel, I heard echoes of many other stories. Stories of lives lived in grand country houses. Stories of troubled families harbouring dark secrets. Stories of privileged, but troubled, lives … and yet, through all of that, I heard a new and distinctive story.

The Heir by Vita Sackville-West

Blackboys was home, and its faded grandeur gave him beauty, comfort, and a place in the world, a point in history. He came to realise that slowly, as he walked through galleries full of family portraits, as he looked across beautiful gardens towards rolling hills, as he sat, peacefully in his  wood-pannelled library.

The Uninvited by Liz Jensen

“Mass hysterical outbreaks rarely have identifiable inceptions, but the date I recall most vividly is Sunday 16th September, when a young child in butterfly pyjamas slaughtered her grand-mother with a nail-gun to the neck. The attack took place in a family living room in a leafy Harrogate cul-de-sac, the kind where no-one drops litter, and where you can hear bird-song…”

And now tell me, what would you put in your box for 2012?

Of Attics and Rediscovering Books

I didn’t mean to disappear for so long, but I’ve been up in the attic. Not for the duration of course, but for a good few hours. Since I moved home to look after my mother a good few of my books – mainly the ones I’ve read – live up there for lack of space downstairs.

I went up to pull of my Du Maurier collection, for Discovering Daphne, but I got pulled in other directions. It was time to have a good sort out, and to bring my records on LibraryThing bang up to date.

I got rather dusty, but it was wonderful to get a bit more organised and to meet some lovely books I hadn’t seen for a while.

Now – with a few honourable exceptions – I never used to be a re-reader. I used to think that there were so many great books still to be read that I shouldn’t waste valuable reading time going over old ground. But things have changed – I’ve changed – I want to revisit books, to enjoy the familiarity, to see if my responses change …

And so it was time to make a list of the books I most wanted to read again:

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Growing up in Cornwall, when Daphne Du Maurier was still alive and living a few miles up the road, meant that I discovered her books very young. I fell in love and have read most of them more than once over the years. After reading a couple of modern takes on Rebecca it’s time to re-read the original, and remind myself why it’s so special.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

The sequels have just been reissued, but I think I should reacquaint myself with Cold Comfort Farm before I order them from the library.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

The BBC adaptation of the first three Jackson Brodie books reminded me just how good they are, and made me want to go back to the beginning and start all over again.

Under The Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy

Lifetime Reader wrote about this a while back, and reminded me how much I love Hardy. Actually, I want to re-read all his books, but this feels like the place to start.

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman

The first historical novel I read, and finding it again was a joy.

Mullion by Mabel Esther Allen

The perfect Cornish set children’s book. Sadly though re-reading is a pipe-dream. My copy was passed on, the book is now out of print and selling at ridiculous prices, and the library doesn’t have a copy. But I can dream, and hope for a reissue from some enterprising publisher …

Armadale by Wilkie Collins

Lydia Gwilt! Another author I love, and I want to re-read everything Wilkie Collins ever wrote.

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers

I picked up a book by J I M Stewart, whose praise Karyn has been singing, and it mentioned a gaudy dinner. That made me want to pull out Gaudy Night, though I had been planning to re-read DLS in chronological order. What to do?!

Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson

I read this one on holiday last year, when I was on a blogging break. I loved it, and I would like to write about it, but I need to re-read first.

Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell

Sarah Caudwell’s name was mentioned in a LibraryThing discussion a while back, and I thought I must look out for her books. Then I realised I’d already read her books but the details eluded me …

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

I only read North and South earlier this year, but I could so easily go back to the beginning and start reading all over again.

Women in the Wall by Julia O’Faolain

I read this years ago, and I was stunned. I’ve never read anything else by Julia O’Faolain, because I thought nothing could live up to the expectations set by this book.

Angel by Elizabeth Taylor

I saw the film a while back, and I remembered just how much I love the book.

Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey

I don’t know what it is about this book, but I know that I love it.

Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie

My mother was watching this when Briar and I came in from a walk a little while ago. I remembered how clever the plot was and thought that I really should read it again.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

I inherited my mother’s copy as a child and I have read it so many times, but it’s been a while and it’s time to meet the March girls all over again.

There are others too.

But, tell me, what are your feelings about re-reading? Are any books calling you back?

One Book, Two Book, Three Book, Four… and Five…

A few days ago Simon decided to “do a little this-book-that-book-this-book-that-book sort of post that I hope you’ll copy on your own blogs. A quick bit of fun…”

He had a wonderful list, and since then I have read many more.

And now, of course, I must add my own.

The book I’m currently reading

“Our favourite novelists make something thrilling out of the recognisable. They make real a story that, however unlike our own life it might seem, can reach the humanity common to us all – that is the magic of the novel. Faulks on Fiction takes a look at the British novel through its human characters – the heroes, lovers, snobs and villains.”

I can never resist books about books, and this one was infuriating and wonderful in pretty much equal parts.

The last book I finished

“In the bustling harbour city of Port Said, Nellie witnesses a mysterious death and this makes her a target for a killer and involves her in international intrigue with the fate of nations at stake. On her journey from the Land of the Pharaohs to the exotic Orient, Nellie meets the most famous magicians in the world, legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt, and Frederick Selous, the real life inspiration for Rider Haggard’s hero in King Solomon’s Mines and for Indiana Jones. As magicians conjure the fantasy and a spiritualist raises the dead, Nellie discovers that the deadly plot begun in Egypt has tentacles around the world.”

Maybe not great literature, but definitely great entertainment. In a rare burst of efficiency I finished reading and wrote about the book (in the post before this one) on the same day.

The next book I want to read

“Map of a Nation tells the story of the creation of the Ordnance Survey map – the first complete, accurate, affordable map of the British Isles. The OS is a much beloved British institution, and “Map of a Nation” is, amazingly, the first popular history to tell the story of the map and the men who dreamt and delivered it from its inception in 1791, right through to the OS MasterMap of the present day: a vast digital database. The Ordnance Survey’s history is one of political revolutions, rebellions, and regional unions that altered the shape and identity of the United Kingdom over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It’s also a deliciously readable account of one of the great untold British adventure stories, featuring intrepid individuals lugging brass theodolites up mountains to make the country visible to itself for the first time.”

I picked this up in the library because it was so beautiful, not really meaning to bring it home. But it was just so readable, and it brought back memories of when I was thirteen years old and had aspirations of becoming a cartographer.

The last book I bought


“This newly translated collection of stories brilliantly evokes the shifting scenes and restlessness of summer. A professor arrives in a beautiful Spanish village only to find that her host has left and she must cope with fractious neighbours alone; a holiday on a Finnish Island is thrown into disarray when a disconcerting young boy arrives; an artist returns to an old flat to discover that her life has been eerily usurped. Philosophical and profound, but with the deceptive lightness that is her hallmark, ‘Travelling Light’ is guaranteed to surprise and transport.”

I’m not supposed to be buying books until I have a new job. And I’m not buying new books but I have to take an occasional look in charity shops and secondhand bookshops. A collection of short stories  by Tove Jansson on a charity shop shelf priced at just £1 was something that I  just couldn’t resist.

The last book I was given

“As she sits in her Bloomsbury home, with her two birds for company, elderly Harriet Baxter sets out to relate the story of her acquaintance, nearly four decades previously, with Ned Gillespie, a talented artist who never achieved the fame she maintains he deserved. Back in 1888, the young, art-loving, Harriet arrives in Glasgow at the time of the International Exhibition. After a chance encounter she befriends the Gillespie family and soon becomes a fixture in all of their lives. But when tragedy strikes – leading to a notorious criminal trial – the promise and certainties of this world all too rapidly disorientate into mystery and deception.”

I loved Jane Harris’s first novel, I heard great things about her second, and so I was delighted to win this from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme. It arrived this morning, and it is absolutely beautiful.

Four Things

and four books with four in the title!

My writing muse seems to have deserted me, and so I am borrowing this meme that I saw at Books and Chocolate to say hello, I’m still here and this is what I’m doing.

I’ve tweaked the questions as some of the originals don’t work for me (I’ve only lived in three different places in my life, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but here), and because I want to reflect where I am this weekend.

So here are my four questions, and four answers to each:

Four Long Books I’m Reading and Loving

  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  • They Knew Mr Knight by Dorothy Whipple
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  • Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch

Four Nice Jobs Done

  • One bookcase tidied, and a few books thinned out to make space for recent arrivals
  • Knitting needles sorted out and put away in an orderly fashion
  • Spin it Again software, to covert old cassette tapes to MP3, reinstalled
  • Summer clothes brought down from the attic, and winter clothes taken up

Four Upcoming Novels Added to my Wishlist

  • The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton by Elizabeth Speller
  • Herring on the Nile by L C Tyler
  • Gillespie and I by Jane Harris
  • Girl Reading by Katie Ward

Four Outings with Briar

  • Bluebell Woods, where those flowers are in full bloom
  • The park, to chase squirrels
  • The beach at low tide, so we could go out on the rocks and look in rock pools
  • Trevaylor Woods, scheduled for tomorrow morning to escape the crowds that have descended on Cornwall for the bank holiday weekend

*****

Normal service will be resumed very soon!

The Longlist for the 2011 Orange Prize

I have loved the Orange Prize from the very beginning, and it has steered me towards some wonderful book over the years.

The longlist for 2011 was published today and, as ever, there were a few familiar names, some new and unfamiliar names and some surprising omissions. I was disappointed not to see Maggie O’Farrell, and I was so sure that Mr Chartwell would be on the list that I ordered a copy thinking I would beat the rush. Wrong!

It’s always the way. And some writers – most notably A S Byatt – don’t allow their books to be put forward because the dislike the concept of a prize for women only. So who knows who has opted out and who has been omitted?

There are more books than usual that I didn’t know before I saw the list, but I do  like the look of this year’s selection. It seems less historical and more international last year. I’ve only read two of the books, but I have several more on order from the library, and a few more that I’d really like to track down.

And here is the list:

Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

“Set in 1950s Sudan, this is the story of the powerful and sprawling Abuzied dynasty. With Mahmood Bey at its helm, the family can do no wrong. But when Mahmood’s son, Nur – the brilliant, charming heir to his business empire – suffers a near-fatal accident, his hopes of university and a glittering future are dashed. Subsequently, his betrothal to his cousin and sweetheart, Soraya is broken off, another tragedy that he is almost unable to bear. As British rule is coming to an end, and the country is torn between modernising influences and the call of traditions past, the family is divided. Mahmood’s second wife, Nabilah, longs to return to Egypt and leave behind her the dust of ‘backward-looking’ Sudan. His first wife, Waheeba, lives traditionally behind veils and closed doors and resents Nabilah’s influence on Mahmood. Meanwhile, Nur must find a way to live again in the world and find peace. “

I know the author but not the book. I’ll look out for it, but there are other books calling me a little louder.

Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch (Canongate)

“‘I was born twice. First in wooden room that jutted out over the black water of the Thames, and then again eight years later in the Highway, when the tiger took me in his mouth and everything truly began.’ 1857. Jaffy Brown is running along a street in London’s East End when he comes face to face with an escaped circus animal. Plucked from the jaws of death by Mr Jamrach – explorer, entrepreneur and collector of the world’s strangest creatures – the two strike up a friendship. Before he knows it, Jaffy finds himself on board a ship bound for the Dutch East Indies, on an unusual commission for Mr Jamrach. His journey – if he survives it – will push faith, love and friendship to their utmost limits.”

I love the sound of this, but the library doesn’t have a copy and I’m not buying books until I find another job, so I am going to have to wait.

Room by Emma Donoghue (Picador)

“Jack is five. He lives with his Ma. They live in a single, locked room. They don’t have the key. Jack and Ma are prisoners.”

A book that needs no introduction, and it’s the first of the two I’ve read. Of course it had to be on the list!

The Pleasure Seekers by Tishani Doshi (Bloomsbury)

“August, 1968: Babo Patel arrives in London from Madras, with curly hair, jhill mill teeth and dreams of becoming a success. When he meets the beautiful, auburn-haired Sian Jones, he falls in love instantly. She, like him, is in search of something bigger than what the home she left behind can offer. But when Babo’s parents learn of his intention to marry ‘some girl from God knows where’ he is given an ultimatum: he can only marry Sian if they agree to live in Madras for two years before returning to London. As the years pass by, the calamities, quirks and heartaches of first love, lost innocence, and old age unfold across cultures and generations of this mixed-up family in a topsy-turvy world.”

I love the sound of this, and I’ve ordered it from the library.

Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty (Faber & Faber)

“I stare at the photo. I try to read his gaze, each fold on his face, the slight frown. I study the photo in the same way that a spy might study the face of a counterpart in a rival organization. I am calm as I make this promise: I am going to find out what you love, then whatever it is, I am going to track it down and I am going to take it away from you. Two police officers knock on Laura’s door and her life changes forever. They tell her that her nine-year old daughter Betty has been hit by a car and killed. When justice is slow to arrive, Laura decides to take her own revenge and begins to track down the man responsible. Laura’s grief also re-opens old wounds and she is thrown back to the story of her passionate love affair with Betty’s father David, their marriage and his subsequent affair with another woman. Haunted by her past, and driven to breaking point by her desire for retribution, Laura discovers the lengths she is willing to go to for love.”

This is the second of the two books I’ve read, and I’m a little surprised to see it on the list. For me it started brilliantly but lost its way.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (Corsair)

“Jennifer Egan’s spellbinding novel circles the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other’s pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs, over many years.”

I’m afraid I haven’t got on with Jennifer Egan’s writing in the past, so I’ll take a careful look at this one if I come across a copy, but it’s not a priority.

The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna (Bloomsbury)

“Freetown, Sierra Leone: a devastating civil war has left an entire populace with terrible secrets to keep. In the capital’s hospital Kai, a gifted young surgeon is plagued by demons that are beginning to threaten his livelihood. Elsewhere in the hospital lies Elias Cole, a university professor who recalls the love that obsessed him and drove him to acts that are far from heroic. As past and present intersect, Kai and Elias are drawn unwittingly closer by Adrian, a British psychiatrist with good intentions, and into the path of one woman at the centre of their stories.”

Wisely praised and forecast to be on the list and here it is. I don’t doubt the quality of the book but I’m not sure it’s the book for me. Again though, I will look carefully when I come across a copy.

The London Train by Tessa Hadley (Jonathan Cape)

“Paul lives in the Welsh countryside with his wife Elise, and their two young children. The day after his mother dies he learns that his eldest daughter Pia, who was living with his ex-wife in London, has moved out from home and gone missing. He sets out in search of Pia, and when he eventually finds her, living with her lover in a chaotic flat in a tower block in King’s Cross, he thinks at first he wants to rescue her. But the search for his daughter begins a period of unrest and indecision for Paul: he is drawn closer to the hub of London, to the excitements of a life lived in jeopardy, to Pia’s fragile new family. Paul’s a pessimist; when a heat wave scorches the capital week after week he fears that they are all ‘sleep-walking to the edge of a great pit, like spoiled trusting children’. In the opposite direction, Cora is moving back to Cardiff, to the house she has inherited from her parents. She is escaping her marriage, and the constrictions and disappointments of her life in London. At work in the local library, she is interrupted by a telephone call from her sister-in-law and best friend, to say that her husband has disappeared. Connecting both stories is the London train, and a chance meeting that will have immediate and far-reaching consequences for both Paul and for Cora.”

I’ve liked – if not loved – a couple of books by Tessa Hadley, and this one has had a lot of praise, so I’ll definitely look out for a copy.

Grace Williams Says it Loud by Emma Henderson (Sceptre)

This isn’t an ordinary love story. But then Grace isn’t an ordinary girl. ‘Disgusting,’ said the nurse. And when no more could be done, they put her away, aged eleven. On her first day at the Briar Mental Institute, Grace meets Daniel. He sees a different Grace: someone to share secrets and canoodle with, someone to fight for. Debonair Daniel, who can type with his feet, fills Grace’s head with tales from Paris and the world beyond. This is Grace’s story: her life, its betrayals and triumphs, disappointment and loss, the taste of freedom; roses, music and tiny scraps of paper. Most of all, it is about the love of a lifetime.”

I’ve seen this in the library and thought I might give it a try one day. And I will the next time I see it.

The Seas by Samantha Hunt (Corsair)

“The narrator of “The Seas” lives in a tiny, remote, alcoholic, cruel seaside town. An occasional chambermaid, granddaughter to a typesetter, and daughter to a dead man, awkward and brave, wayward and willful, she is in love (unrequited) with an Iraq War veteran thirteen years her senior. She is convinced that she is a mermaid. What she does to ease the pain of growing up lands her in prison. What she does to get out is the stuff of legend.”

Strange, but interesting. Hopefully I’ll be able to track down a copy.

The Birth of Love by Joanna Kavenna (Faber & Faber)

“It is Vienna, 1865: Dr Ignaz Semmelweis has been hounded into a lunatic asylum, ridiculed for his claim that doctors’ unwashed hands are the root cause of childbed fever. The deaths of thousands of mothers are on his conscience and his dreams are filled with blood. It is 2153: humans are birthed and raised in breeding centres, nurtured by strangers and deprived of familial love. Miraculously, a woman conceives, and Prisoner 730004 stands trial for concealing it. London in 2009: Michael Stone’s novel about Semmelweis has been published, after years of rejection. But while Michael absorbs his disconcerting success, his estranged mother is dying and asks to see him again. As Michael vacillates, Brigid Hayes, exhausted and uncertain whether she can endure the trials ahead, begins the labour of her second child.”

Another book that had been widely praised and forecast to be on this list. It’s been on the “one day” list but it hasn’t turned up in the library. Maybe I should place an order.

Great House by  Nicole Krauss (Viking)

“During the winter of 1972, a woman spends a single night with a young Chilean poet before he departs New York, leaving her his desk. It is the only time they ever meet. Two years later, he is arrested by Pinochet’s secret police and never seen again. Across the ocean, in the leafy suburbs of London, a man caring for his dying wife discovers a lock of hair among her papers that unravels a terrible secret. In Jerusalem, an antiques dealer has spent a lifetime reassembling his father’s study, plundered by the Nazis from Budapest in 1944; now only one item remains to be found. Connecting these lives is a desk of many drawers that exerts a power over those who possess it or give it away. And as the narrators of “Great House” make their confessions, this desk comes finally to stand for all that has been taken from them, and all that binds them to what has disappeared.”

I’m afraid that I was the one person in the world who didn’t like The History of Love, so this isn’t a priority.

The Road to Wanting by Wendy Law-Yone (Chatto & Windus)

” Some call it China’s Wild West – a boom town on the border with Burma. In the new Chinese economy of the late 1980’s, the frontier at Wanting is a magnet for outcasts and opportunists. Or the desperate – like Na Ga. To Na Ga, the town of Wanting represents not the beginning of a new life, but the end of the road. Will, her American lover, has thrown her out – as she always expected he would – leaving her with painful memories, a dollar bank account and a one-way ticket back to Burma. Burma, however, holds no appeal for Na Ga. She may have been born in its hills, but she has left them far, far behind. Yet, caught in a cycle of yearning and betrayal, she finds herself inevitably on a home-bound path. Taking the reader on a journey from the remote tribal villages of northern Burma, to ex-pat life in Rangoon under a grim military regime, and then, in shocking scenes, to the brothels of Thailand and the hedonism of Bangkok.”

I must admit that I hadn’t heard of this one before today, but I do like the look of it and so I have ordered it from the library.

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

“A tiger escapes from the local zoo, padding through the ruined streets and onwards, to a ridge above the Balkan village of Galina. His nocturnal visits hold the villagers in a terrified thrall. But for one boy, the tiger is a thing of magic – Shere Khan awoken from the pages of The Jungle Book. Natalia is the granddaughter of that boy. Now a doctor, she is visiting orphanages after another war has devastated the Balkans. On this journey, she receives word of her beloved grandfather’s death, far from their home, in circumstances shrouded in mystery. From fragments of stories her grandfather told her as a child, Natalia realises he may have died searching for ‘the deathless man’, a vagabond who was said to be immortal. Struggling to understand why a man of science would undertake such a quest, she stumbles upon a clue that will lead her to a tattered copy of The Jungle Book, and then to the extraordinary story of the tiger’s wife.”

This one had a lot of attention and it is calling me loudly. Sadly though the library has no copies and I am not letting myself buy new books until I have a new job. So please keep your fingers crossed that one turns up!

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer (Viking)

“In September 1937 Andras, a young Hungarian student, leaves his family and heads for Paris on a scholarship to study architecture. Before he sets off he is given a mysterious letter to post on arrival in Paris. It is addressed to an Hungarian woman and no reason is given why it cannot be posted from Budapest. When Andras arrives in Paris he becomes vitally aware of his poverty, particularly when he enters the home of a richer Hungarian emigre Klara Morgenstern. She is a young widowed woman, and he finds himself falling in love with her. As they begin to meet regularly it is clear that Klara is hiding a terrifying secret, related to the mysterious letter that Andras posted on arrival, which means she is trapped in Paris as war looms closer. And, as Andras and his fellow students’ lives become ever more vulnerable in the shadow of war, the group must shatter in order to survive. Andras is forced home to a labour camp, his brother disappears and Klara risks everything to return to Hungary to be close to her lover.”

Again, I hadn’t heard of this one before today, but as I like the look of it and  I have ordered it from the library.

Repeat it Today with Tears by Anne Peile (Serpent’s Tail)

“A secretive child by nature, Susanna makes a covert list of everything she knows about her absent father, waiting for the day that she is reunited with him. Deeply unhappy at home, living with her overbearing mother and promiscuous sister, she stays out of the house as much as possible. When she finally discovers her father’s name and seeks him out, in the free and unconventional atmosphere of 1970s Chelsea, she conceals her identity, beginning an illicit affair that can only end in disaster.”

I’m not sure about this one but I know the library has it and I will give it a try.

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (Chatto & Windus)

“The Bigtree alligator wrestling dynasty is in decline and Swamplandia!, their island home in the Florida Everglades and gator-wrestling theme park, is swiftly being encroached upon by a sophisticated competitor known as The World of Darkness. Ava, a resourceful but terrified twelve year old, must manage seventy gators and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief. Her mother, Swamplandia!’s legendary and beautiful star attraction, has just died; her sister is having an affair with a ghost called the Dredgeman; her Grandpa Sawtooth has been sent to the mainland to an old folk’s home; her brother has secretly defected to The World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep the family afloat; and her father, the Chief, is AWOL. To save them, Ava must journey on her own to a perilous part of the swamp called the Underworld, a harrowing odyssey from which she emerges a true heroine.”

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin (Serpent’s Tail)

“She is the fourth wife of a rich, rotund patriarch, Baba Segi. She is a graduate and therefore a great prize, but even graduates must produce children and her husband’s persistent bellyache is a sign that things are not as they should be. Bolanle is too educated for the ‘white garment conmen’ Baba Segi would usually go to for fertility advice, so he takes her to hospital to discover the cause of her barrenness.”

Now this sounds interesting, but there are others on this list calling louder. But I would be grateful if the Cornish Library Service would invest in a copy or two.

The Swimmer by Roma Tearne (Harper Press)

“Forty-three year old Ria is used to being alone. As a child, her life changed forever with the death of her beloved father and since then, she has struggled to find love.That is, until she discovers the swimmer. Ben is a young illegal immigrant from Sri Lanka who has arrived in Norfolk via Moscow. Awaiting a decision from the Home Office on his asylum application, he is discovered by Ria as he takes a daily swim in the river close to her house. He is twenty years her junior and theirs is an unconventional but deeply moving romance, defying both boundaries and cultures — and the xenophobic residents of Orford. That is, until tragedy occurs.”

I have heard a lot of praise for Roma Tearne, so I’m pleased to see her on this list, but I’m not sure she is going to be my kind of author. But I will have a closer look at her books when i come across them now.

Annabel by Kathleen Winter (Jonathan Cape)

“In 1968, into the beautiful, spare environment of remote coastal Labrador in the far north-east of Canada, a mysterious child is born: a baby who appears to be neither fully boy nor girl, but both at once. Only three people share the secret – the baby’s parents, Jacinta and Treadway, and a trusted neighbour, Thomasina. Together the adults make a difficult decision: to go through surgery and raise the child as a boy named Wayne. But as Wayne grows up within the hyper-male hunting culture of his father, his shadow-self – a girl he thinks of as ‘Annabel’ – is never entirely extinguished, and indeed is secretly nurtured by the women in his life. As Wayne approaches adulthood, and its emotional and physical demands, the woman inside him begins to cry out. The changes that follow are momentous not just for him, but for the three adults that have guarded his secret

I’ve heard mixed reports and this one really isn’t calling me at the moment. But maybe one day.

*****

 What will win? What will be on the shortlist? I have no idea! But I’m aiming to read a few of those books that are calling me before the shortlist is published, so then I may be able to offer an opinion.

But now tell me – what do you think of this year’s twenty books?:

Is there anything you’d recommend?

Is there anything that you think shouldn’t be there?

Is there anything that should be there, but isn’t?

And which books are you curious about?