There has been Writing – There has been Shopping – There has been Reading

Time to catch up!

The Writing:

I’m quite sure that you’ll have heard about it already, but I must mention the fabulous new autumn edition of Shiny New Books.

There are far too many wonderful things to mention, but I pick out just a few:

  • Simon has written about one of my favourite books, that has just been reissued, and about one of my favourite authors.
  • You will find me revisiting two of my favourite books, both now available in paperback, in Annabel’s Fiction pages.
  • You’ll also find me writing about The Good Companion by Una L Silberrad. It’s a wonderful book, I’ll be looking out for more of the author’s work, and I found a heroine – from an earlier era – who I’d love to introduce to Lucy Carmichael. Yes – that good!
The Shopping

Our annual day trip to Truro resulted in a very fine haul of books from its two used bookshops and its charity shops.

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I loved ‘The Lonely’ when I read a library copy, so I was very pleased to find a copy to keep. I’m not too sure about ‘Ludmilla’ – described as ‘a charming pastoral legend set in old Lichtenstein’ but as it’s by Paul Gallico I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.

‘The Use of Riches’ by J I M Stewart (who also wrote under the name Michael Innes) is a story of art and intrigue, and so I had to pick it up.

I read ‘Bright Day’ by J B Priestley years ago, I loved it, and it has a Cornish setting, so that one had to come home to be re-read.

I saw a pile of books by Mazo de la Roche, and her name rang a bell but no more than that. I brought home ‘The Building of Jalna’, which on the first book (chronologically) in a long series. I liked the look of them all, but I thought it would be tempting fate to bring home more.

‘The End of Childhood’ by Henry Handel Richardson is the sequel to ‘The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney’, which Cat loved and I know my library has.

‘The Old Ladies’ by Hugh Walpole was a book I had to rescue from a 50p table.

I know that the library has ‘Sissinghurst’ by Adam Nicholson and ‘Millions Like Us’ by Virginia Nicholson, but I also knew that I wanted copies of my own to keep and read at leisure, at the right time.

I know nothing about Mrs Henry de La Pasture, except that she was E M Delafield’s mother and that the Folio Society saw fit to reissue ‘The Unhappy Family’, and that was enough reason to bring the book home.

The Reading

This hasn’t been a great week for finding the time and the clarity of thought that I need to write, but I have been reading:

  • ‘The Provincial Lady Goes Further’ by E M Delafield – the perfect way to change gear Margaret Kennedy Week.
  • ‘The Adventurous Lady ‘ by J C Snaith  – the report will be mixed.
  • ‘Privileged Children’ by Frances Vernon – I was very impressed by I have to track down her other books now.
  • ‘The Eustace Diamonds’ by Anthony Trollope – I liked it, but not as much as my first two Trollopes

I’ll elaborate, I’ll get back to writing, very soon ….

There has been reading, there will be reading ….

…. but for one reason or another there wasn’t as much reading as usual in August, and for those very same reasons I read books that didn’t make too many demands.

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I read just two books for All Very Virago All August.

The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson was an intriguing tale of one girl’s experiences at boarding school a century ago. It left me wanting to now more about the author, and wanting to read more of her work.

‘A Wreath for the Enemy’ was my second novel by  Pamela Frankau  – after The Willow Cabin, which I read for All Very Virago All August – and it confirmed to me that she is very, very good, and that she really should be back in print.

I had to put the first volume of Pilgrimage by Dorothy Richardson to one side. I was loving it, it just wasn’t the right time for me to give a book so special the time and thought it deserves.

But I think that almost everything I read was in the spirit of Virago.

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WITmonth3 + text1I was inspired by Women in Translation Month, and I have come away with a long list of books to read in the future.

I wrote about The People in the Photo by Helene Gestern: a wonderful human story told in letters, emails and texts.

And I fell utterly in love with Valentine and with George Sand’s writing.

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I’ve read a lot of crime fiction, more than I have for a long time.

I revisited two crime series with wonderful female protagonists.

The Winter Foundlings by Kate Rhodes was the best crime novel I have read for quite some time, and will definitely be on my year-end list.

‘The Stranger You Know’ was Jane Casey’s best book to date, and I already have the next book in the series lined up.

I started a new series with Strangled Prose by Joan Hess.

And now I’m catching up with Deborah Crombie.

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I’ve spent a lot of time in the past:

The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman was a wonderfully colourful story, set in 1799, about women who fought in the ring and out of the ring for their place in the world.

Mona and True Love’s Reward by Mrs Georgie Sheldon were both lovely: utterly readable 19th century intrigue and romance.

After that it felt natural to stay on that century a while longer, with The Mystery of a Hansom Cab by Fergus Hume.

And that was August.

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lavinia-portraitRIP92751September brings RIP IX. Two months of reading the mysterious, the suspenseful, the gothic, the ghostly …..

I’m not sure exactly what I’ll read, but I have a lovely pool of books on hand :

The Vanishing Witch by Karen Maitland
Come Back Lucy by Pamela Sykes
The House by the Churchyard by Sheridan Le Fanu
Cashelmara by Susan Howatch
The Collegians by Gerard Griffin
The Mesmerist by Barbara Ewing
He Arrived at Dusk by Ruby Ferguson
Ghosts and Family Legends by Catherine Crowe
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Two-Thirds of a Ghost by Helen McCloy
The Uninvited by Dorothy Macardle
A String of Pearls by Thomas Peskett Prest
Thornyhold by Mary Stewart
The Dead Letter by Metta Victoria Fuller Victor
The Quick by Lauren Owen
Herring Girl by Debbie Taylor
Lyonesse Abbey by Jill Tattersall
The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes

You’ll see one of my books for Mary Stewart Reading Week  in there, but not the other.

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I have newly reissued novels by Edith Olivier, a new novel by Esther Freud, and no lack of other books I should love to read.

But nothing is set in stone: the important thing is to read the books that call.

What books are calling you? What are your reading plans?

Sixes

It was Jo’s idea a couple of years ago, and now it’s become an annual event – celebrate the first six months of the reading year by putting six books into each of six categories.

Not quite as easy as it looks. I’ve tweaked the categories to suit my reading style, and because I wanted to push disappointments to one site and simply celebrate some of the books I’ve read and the books I’ve discovered.

Here are my six sixes:

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Six books illuminated by wonderful voices from the twentieth century

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield
The English Air by D E Stevenson
The Castle on the Hill by Elizabeth Goodge
Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter

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Six books from the present that took me to the past

The Visitors by Rebecca Maskell
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey
Turning the Stones by Debra Daley
The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Lovric
Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray

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Six books from the past that pulled me back there

Wired Love by Ella Cheever Thayer
Esther Waters by George Moore
Griffith Gaunt by Charles Reade
Nine Pounds of Luggage by Maud Parrish
The Count of Monte Christo by Alexandre Dumas
Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

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Six books that introduced me to interesting new authors

Wake by Anna Hope
Still She Wished for Company by Margaret Irwin
The Lie of You: I Will Have What is Mine by Jane Lythell
Mr Perrin and Mr Traill by Hugh Walpole
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
None-Go-By by Mrs Alfred Sidgwick

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Six successful second meeting with authors

The Auction Sale by C H B Kitchin
The Twelfth Hour by Ada Leverson
A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon
Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell
Mrs Westerby Changes Course by Elizabeth Cadell
Her by Harriet Lane

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Six used books added to my shelves

The Heroes of Clone by Margaret Kennedy
The Serial Garden by Joan Aiken
Portrait of a Village by Francis Brett Young
The West End Front by Matthew Sweet
The Stag at Bay by Rachel Ferguson
Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Boorman

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Do think about putting your own sixes – it’s a great way of perusing your reading, and I’d love to read more lists.

Reviewing the Situation

I have a bad habit of picking up books, starting them, and then being distracted by something else. It generally works well; I have several books in progress and I pick the right one for the moment. But sometimes it gets too much and I have to stop and take stock to see where I’m going.

This is one of those times.

2014-01-22_20-18-01_70Starting from the bottom:

I bought a copy of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell when it was a brand new hardback, and I’ve started reading a few times and drifted away. But a read-along came along at just the right time – and at just the right pace – and I’ve read more than ever before, I have the momentum to see me through to the end. it’s love.

I planned to read The Goldfinch over Christmas, but I was later than I planned finishing my Century of Books, and then other books started calling me. I loved the opening chapters, but then it seemed to wobble a bit, and the adolescent years seem interminable. I want to see it through and I will get back to it. I think …..

I loved How To Be A Heroine: Or, what I’ve learned from reading too much as soon as I saw that title and I placed an order as soon as it appeared it library stock. It’s as wonderful as I hoped, and I’m not going to want to give it back to the library but I’ve been reading at lot of my own books and I really need to make some space on my ticket.

I picked up Red Pottage because it’s on my Classics Club list, because it worked for my 100 Years of Books, and because I’ve spotted others with great taste on books loving it. I followed a trail from Lisa to Hayley to Simon. I loved the first few chapters, but I’ve put it on hold until I’ve caught up with one or two other books.

I pulled The Beth Book off the Virago bookcase for the same reasons, and I didn’t mean to pick it up yet but I loved the first chapter and I had to carry on.

I’m reading The Game of Kings with a group – one of the Lymond novels every two month, so we’ll have read the series by the end of the year. So many people love Dorothy Dunnett, and I’m beginning to see why, but I’m not entirely smitten yet. Time will tell …..

And I’m reading Clarissa in real time. I started a couple of years ago but I fell off the read-along. It was the year my mother was ill and moved into a nursing home, and I didn’t have electronic means then and it just wasn’t practical to carry such a big book around with me. But now I do and so I’m trying again, with a Twitter read-along.

And that’s it.

Everything else has gone back on the shelf, to be started again one day in the not too distant future.

My plan I to keep reading the big books at a steady rate, and to read the smaller books along the way.

I’ll finish the second volume of Strange & Norrell tonight, and I’m going to be ‘Doing Dunnett’ at the weekend.

Then I’ll see where I am. And pick up one or two other books.

Sometimes I wish I was the kind of person who picked up one book at a time, to read from cover to cover before picking up another, but I’m not. I do like my system, I just have to bring it under control.

What works for you?

What are you reading? What are your plans?

A Box of Books for 2013

I have a love-hate relationship with year-end lists.

I have loved lists – writing them, reading them, studying and analysing them – since I was a child. And yet I find it difficult to sum up a year of reading in a list or two. I know that it’s for the best of reasons: I have learned that there are so many wonderful books out there, and so I have learned to read the books that call; the books I want to read, rather than the books I ought to read.

So I’m going to do what I did last year. I’m going to assemble a virtual box of books to capture all of the things that I’ve loved in this year’s reading. It might sound like a list, and maybe it is, but to me feels like I’ve pulled some great books from the shelves because those are the books I want to pull from the shelves right now. It’s not quite so definitive.

And here it is – in the order that I read them:

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Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household by Kate Hubbard

“What a wonderful idea: the story of the sixty something years when Queen Victoria reigned, told through the experiences of the men and women who served her. The experiences of high-ranking courtiers, who were close enough to see how the queen and her family lived, who were not overawed by the world they found themselves in, and who, of course, left letters and diaries to speak for them.”

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

“I must confess that, though I loved the recent film adaptation of The Painted Veil, I have been circling my copy of the book for a long, long time. Because for years Maugham lived in my box marked ‘A Great Author But Not For Me.’ Wrong, wrong, wrong!”

The Love-Charm of Bombs by Lara Feigel

“I was smitten with ‘The Love-Charm of Bombs’ from the very first time I read about it. The prospect of seeing London in the Second World War through the eyes of five remarkable writers – Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene, Rose Macaulay, Hilde Spiel and Henry Yorke (who wrote under the name Henry Green) – was simply irresistible.”

A Pixy in Petticoats by John Trevena

“Some people look at a hedgerow and see just that. A hedgerow. But others see more: a network of different plants, signs of the wildlife that live there, evidence of what the weather had been doing. John Trevena saw those things and he was able to bring that to life on the page, to pull his readers into his village and over the moors.”

The Pinecone by Jenny Uglow

“In 1869, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, staying with friends near Carlisle, reported in a letter to his mother that he had come across ‘some most remarkable architectural works by a former Miss Losh. She must have been really a great genius,’ he wrote, ‘and should be better known.’ She should.”

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Mariana by Monica Dickens

“Now it has to be said that Mary is not the most sympathetic of characters. She is often awkward, thoughtless, selfish even. But she was real, and for all her failing I did like her, I did want her to find her path in life, her place in the world. Sometimes fallible heroines are so much easier to love.”

Death of Lyndon Wilder and the Consequences Thereof by E.A. Dineley

“It’s a lovely period piece, full of lovely characters, pieces of history, references to beloved books, clever plotting, well-chosen details … and it’s utterly, utterly readable.”

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

“Barbara Pym constructed her story so cleverly and told it beautifully. There is wit, intelligence and insight, and such a very light touch and a natural charm. A simple story, but the details made it sing. It was so very believable. It offers a window to look clearly at a world that existed not so long ago, but that has changed now so completely.”

The Sea Change by Joanna Rossiter

“In ‘The Sea Change’, Joanna Rossiter spins her story around a mother and daughter, both caught up in life changing events – real, historical events – that are very different and yet have similar consequences. She does it so very well that I can scarcely believe it is her debut. But it is.”

The Young Clementina by D E Stevenson

“I was so sorry to have to say goodbye to Charlotte and her world, after being caught up in her life and her world from start to finish. That points to very clever writing and plotting. Charlotte’s world, the people in it, all of the things she lived through were painted richly and beautifully. Her story lived and breathed.”

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The View on the Way Down by Rebecca Wait

“That I felt so deeply for these three siblings, that I was so upset, is a measure of what Rebecca Wait has achieved in her debut novel. I never doubted that she really knew, that she really understood, and that her accounts of depression, of bereavement, of grief, were utterly, utterly credible.  And the simplicity and the clarity of her story and her writing allowed that understanding to shine.”

Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson (re-read)

“Lady Rose was the only child and the heir, thanks to the good graces of Queen Victoria, of the Earl of Lochule. She was pretty, warm, bright,  and her open heart, her boundless curiosity, her love of life, charmed everyone she met. And she grew into a proud Scot and a true romantic, inspired by the writings of Walter Scott, the history of Mary Queen of Scots, and, most of all, her beloved home and lands.”

The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker

“Best of all, the story of the golem and the djinni spoke profoundly of humanity, of its strengths and weaknesses, and of what it is that makes us human.”

No More Than Human by Maura Laverty

“She set off for Madrid,  to become a ‘professora’ – a free-lance tutor and  chaperone. It was an independent lifestyle that suited Delia very well, but it wasn’t easy to establish herself when she was so young, and maybe her reputation would follow her. But Delia was determined, and soon she was setting her sights even higher …..

Lucy Carmichael by Margaret Kennedy

“There was no wedding: Lucy was jilted, and of course she was devastated. She knew she had to carry on, and she knew she had to get away. She hated watching people being tactful, knowing she was being talked about, seeing reminders everywhere. And so, when she saw on opening for  a drama teacher at an arts institute, she grabbed it with both hands.”

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The Vet’s Daughter by Barbara Comyns (re-read)

“Barbara Comyns tells all of this so well, at times painting pictures with every sentence, and balancing the commonplace and the highly improbable so well that I was completely captivated by a story that was somehow dark and colourful at exactly the same time.”

The Misbegotten by Katherine Webb

“I was captivated by ‘The Misbegotten’, a wonderfully readable, utterly compelling story, set early in the eighteenth century. It is story of dark secrets, terrible losses, devastating lies, of the lives that they affect, and of truths that may be brought to light at a very high price.”

Penmarric by Susan Howatch (re-read)

“The story is told in six volumes, by five different narrators: Mark Castellack, his wife, one of his illegitimate sons, and two of his legitimate sons who would, in their turn, be master of Penmarric. Sixty years pass – from the later years of Queen Victoria’s reign to the end of World War II full of every kind of family drama you could imagine. In the wrong hands it would be a mess, but Susan Howatch made it work.”

Nearest Thing to Crazy by Elizabeth Forbes

“It was all so horribly believable. And it was unsettling, seeing how easily a life could be knocked off course, a mind knocked off balance. The story built , slowly and steadily, never losing it’s grip, towards a very clever ending. An ending that I really didn’t see coming, but an ending that made perfect sense.”

Frost Hollow Hall by Emma Carroll

“Frost Hollow Hall is more than a ghost story; it’s a story that lives and breathes, and paint wonderful pictures, and it’s a story about love, family, loss, regret, and learning to let go, told beautifully, with both subtlety and charm.”

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The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman (re-read)

“The story begins with Richard as a small child and follows him through the course of his life, in exile when the House of Lancaster is in the ascendancy, and at court when the House of York rises. He becomes a formidable battlefield commander; he becomes a trusted lieutenant of the brother, Edward IV; he becomes the husband of Anne Neville, daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker, who he has loved since child; and eventually, of course, he comes king.”

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton (re-read)

“Now I find myself wanting to do what Alice did at the end of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I want to throw you in the air and say, “You’re just a fictional character!” But I can’t. Because you are so utterly real; not a heroine, not a villainess, but a vivid, three-dimensional human being, with strengths and weaknesses.”

The Goddess and the Thief by Essie Fox

“I loved the way that the story of Shiva and Pravati, and stories of her family, were woven into Alice’s own story. The contrast between India and England was very, very effective, and there were so many lovely things to notice along the way: bookish references, period details, real history – everything you could want.”

High Rising by Angela Thirkell

“It’s a simple story, but it plays out beautifully, because it is adorned with so many lovely dialogues, so many interesting incidents; and because everything works beautifully with the characters and their situations.”

Maidens’ Trip by Emma Smith

“It is a wonderful adventure for three young women  – Nanette, Emma and Charity – all from conventional, middle-class backgrounds, who have completed basic training and have been dropped into the very different world of the boating fraternity.”

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And that is very nearly the end of my reading year.

All that remains is to tell you about the very last book I read for my Century of Books, and to wind up that project …..

Reading Books: Past, Present & Future

I have to do this from time to time. I have to celebrate the books I’ve read, organise the books I’m reading, and think about what might come next.

Past present and future …

The past …..

R.I.P VIII ended at Halloween and, though I didn’t read many of the books I lined up at the start of the season, I was very pleased with the eight books I did read.

RIP8main1My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart
The Misbegotten by Katherine Webb
Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield
Treveryan by Angela Du Maurier
Frost Hollow Hall by Emma Carroll
The Unforgiving by Charlotte Cory
Hell! Said the Duchess by Michael Arlen
The Blackheath Séance Parlour by Alan Williams

I’ve nearly finished Burial Rites by Hannah Kent too, and I’ve made a start on Deborah Harkness’s Shadow of Night.

Two of my RIP books – Treveryan and The Unforgiving slotted into my Century of Books, and I passed the 80% mark in the middle of last month.

The present …..

I have a few books in progress.

I spotted a beautiful 30th anniversary edition of The Sunne in Splendor in the library a few weeks ago, and that made up my mind to re-read it for my Century of Books. I loved it years ago, I love it now, and I’m into the final act.

winters-night-jpgI was warmly recommended Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller to fill a difficult year – 1979 in my century of books – I was intrigued, I ordered a copy from the library, and then I discovered a readalong. Clearly I was meant to read this book, I started to read last night, and I am already smitten.

I’m re-reading Angel by Elizabeth Taylor too, in a lovely new hardback edition. It won’t fit into my century, but it was too lovely to resist and I have books that will fit lined up. Books like And Then You Came by Ann Bridge for 1948, A Little Love, A Little Learning by Nina Bawden for 1965, High Rising by Angela Thirkell for 1933 ….

I had a few books to choose from for 1933, but when I learned that Christmas at High Rising was on the was my mind was made up.

AusReading Month badge1901, on the other hand, was a tricky year. In the end I decided to re-read My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin, and again it seemed to be meant, because I discovered that this was Australian Reading Month.  A survey of my shelves found books by Eleanor Dark, Kathleen Susannah Pritchard and Henry Handel Richardson that I’d love to read. Or I could re-read Oscar and Lucinda or The Thorn Birds, either of which I could slot into my Century of Books ….

More books than I could hope to read, but it’s good to have choices!

The future …

I can’t think much beyond finishing my century at the moment. I’m clearing the decks as much as I can to get that done – no more book-buying and no more library reservations this year, because I need to focus on the books I have already.

But I bought The Luminaries and The Goldfinch, before the I put those restrictions in place, and they are going the first books of  my new project – of a year of reading the books that call me …

Sixes

It was Jo’s idea last year, and we’re doing it again this year.

Celebrate the first six months of the reading year by putting six books into each of six categories.

It’s not quite as easy as it looks. I tweaked the categories last year to suit my reading style, and I’ve tweaked them a little more this year to make sure that the right books got in.

Here they are!

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Six Books that tugged at my heartstrings

The Night Rainbow by Claire King
The Lonely by Paul Gallico
A Perfect Gentle Knight by Kit Pearson
The Blue Castle by Lucy Maud Montgomery
The Young Clementina by D E Stevenson
Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

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Six books illuminated by wonderful voices from the twentieth century

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
The Fool Of The Family by Margaret Kennedy
A Pixy in Petticoats by John Trevena
Mariana by Monica Dickens
Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton

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Six books that took me to another time and place

Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household by Kate Hubbard
This January Tale by Bryher
The Love-Charm of Bombs by Lara Feigel
In Diamond Square by Mercè Rodoreda
The Pinecone by Jenny Uglow
A Commonplace Killing by Siân Busby

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Six books that introduced me to interesting new authors

Death of Lyndon Wilder and the Consequences Thereof by E.A. Dineley
The First Book Of Calamity Leek by Paula Lichtarowicz
Telling the Bees by Peggy Hesketh
The Sea Change by Joanna Rossiter
Chaplin and Company by Mave Fellowes
The View on the Way Down by Rebecca Wait

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Six books I must mention that don’t fit nicely into any category

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
Yew Hall by L.M. Boston
Orkney by Amy Sackville
A Five Year Sentence by Bernice Rubens
The Asylum by John Harwood
Perfect by Rachel Joyce

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Six Books I started in the first six months of the year and haven’t quite finished … yet …

The Palace of Curiosities by Rosie Garland
The House on the Cliff by Jon Godden
Elijah’s Mermaid by Essie Fox
The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton by Diane Atkinson
Warpaint by Alicia Foster
The Rich House by Stella Gibbons

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Do think about putting your own sixes – it’s a great way of perusing your reading, and I’d love to read more lists.

Sixes

It was Jo’s idea – celebrate the first six months of the reading year by putting six books into each of six categories.

Not quite as easy as it looks. I’ve tweaked the categories to suit my reading style, and because I wanted to push disappointments to one site and simply celebrate some of the books many I have loved. And I’ve done it!

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Six Books that took me on extraordinary journeys

The Harbour by Francesca Brill
A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to the Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh
The City of Beautiful Nonsense by E Temple Thurston
The House on Paradise Street by Sofka Zinovieff

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Six books that took me by the hand and led me into the past

The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn
The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon
Tom-All-Alone’s by Lynn Shepherd
The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace

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Six books from the past that drew me back there

The One I Knew the Best of All by Frances Hodgson-Burnett
A Burglary by Amy Dillwyn
The Frailty of Nature by Angela Du Maurier
Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins
The New Moon With the Old by Dodie Smith
As It Was & World Without End by Helen Thomas

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Six books from authors I know will never let me down

The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks
The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
Closed at Dusk by Monica Dickens
Monogram by G B Stern
Palladian by Elizabeth Taylor
In the Mountains by Elizabeth Von Arnim

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Six books I must mention that don’t fit nicely into any category

Shelter by Frances Greenslade
Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon
When Nights Were Cold by Susanna Jones
Alys, Always by Harriet Lane
The Roundabout Man by Clare Morrall
Diving Belles by Lucy Wood

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Six Books I started in the first six months of the year and was still caught up with in July

The Young Ardizzone by Edward Ardizzone
The Deamstress by Maria Dueñas
Greenery Street by Denis MacKail
Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace by Kate Summerscale
The Warden by Anthony Trollope
White Ladies by Francis Brett Young

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Do think about putting your own sixes – it’s a great way of perusing your reading, and I’d love to read more lists.

Books, Books and More Books

This year, I am changing the way I read.

Over the years I’ve changed from being a one book at a time reader, into a two book at a time reader, and then a many books at a time reader.

I used to think that was a bad thing, but I’ve realised now that it can work for me.

I’m more inclined to read big books, because with many books on the go I don’t feel that the big book is taking me away from so many other books I want to read.

And so many books benefit from a step away to think about things.

But there are limits, and I think I’ve just hit one.

Time to consider my books in progress:

I’ve been meaning to read The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey for ages. It felt wrong that I had read Nicola Upson’s An Expert in Mirder without having read the book that inspired it. So when The Man in the Queue was chosen as a January group read by the GoodReads Bright Young Things I pulled my copy out.

I have a tendency to whizz through crime fiction, but this time I’m reading a chapter a day and I am appreciating the writing so much more.

It is a long time since I read The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald, and I decided a while back that I should read it again, before watching Baz Luhrman’s film version. I know that isn’t out until the end of the year, but I spotted a readalong this month and so its time seemed to be now.

I’m not enjoying the book as much as I did first time around, but I feel I am giving the book a fair chance by spreading it over a whole month.

At Mrs Lippincote’s by Elizabeth Taylor is another book I read years ago, but I’ve picked it up again to read with the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics Group as we celebrate the author’s centenary. This one is definitely better second time around, and it is repaying careful reading and quiet contemplation.

I picked up The Perfect Summer: Dancing into Shadow in 1911 by Juliet Nicholson a while back on ReadItSwapIt, and I picked it up a few weeks ago thinking that it would be a good book to set the scene before this years WW1 War Through The Generations Reading Challenge.

Each chapter focuses on a different character, and so it suits reading over time. I’ve met the new Queen Mary and the young Winston Churchill, and it has been lovely to see both at a point in their life that I hadn’t really considered before.

And there are many more fascinating people to meet …

I started the Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens last year, but I drifted away from it. I’m picking up the threads and I’m going to finish this one before I pick up any of the other Dickens novels that are calling me.

This isn’t going to be my one of my favourites I’m afraid, but there are one or two characters I love and I am going to see their stories through to the end.

I took my copy of A London Child of the 1870s by Molly Hughes from the shelf for another group read – with the GoodReads Persephone Books Group. It is a wonderful memoir of a happy childhood and I am picking it up and reading a chapter whenever my spirits need lifting. I am so pleased that my library has the two sequels.

I ordered Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons from the library when I discovered that there was only one story about Cold Comfort Farm and that it was a prequel – so no preliminary  rereading was required – and that only a couple of stories were about Christmas.

I’m afraid I’ve ground to a halt on this one. It isn’t that I don’t like it, but I don’t like it as much as I’d hoped. It might be that Stella Gibbons needs the greater expanse of a novel to weave her particular literary magic, or it might just be that I read it at the wrong moment – Charlotte loved it.

So, now that I’ve realised just how many book I have in progress, and now that I’ve noticed someone else has a reservation and is waiting for it, I think I must take it back.

I have owned a copy of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo for years, and it has been one of those books I really wanted to read but never quite got to. But now that there is a year long readalong I have finally made a start.

A proof copy of Diving Belles by Lucy Wood came through my letterbox a little while ago. I read the first few stories and fell in love, but then I decided I had to spin the rest out, as I really didn’t want to come to the last one. But the book is out in a couple of weeks and  I must read on to the end so that I can sing its praises.

I started reading The Coward’s Tale by Vanessa Gebbie before Christmas. It was wonderful but it needed more attention than I could give it then, so I pushed it to one side. But now slow reading is paying dividends.

I started The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley weeks ago and I was loving it, but the book disappeared. It turned up a couple of days ago, under a pile of newspapers and magazines on the coffee table, and now I am happily reading on.

I probably shouldn’t have picked up another book, but I have to have a visit to the dentist first thing tomorrow morning, and I prescribed myself a day curled up with a big book afterwards. The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman has been waiting for a while, and once I read the opening I was lost. So tomorrow I shall be in Masada …

That makes ten books. And, even though I’ve decided multiple reads is the way to go, that’s more than enough for now …

Bookish Thoughts as the Year Ends

Try as I might I can’t distill a year of wonderful reading into lists.

But I can answer a few questions from The Perpetual Page Turner

Best Book of 2011

I have read some wonderful books this year, but if I have to single out just one, the book closest to my heart is The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.

Worst Book of 2011

Oh dear. It has to be What They do in the Dark by Amanda Coe. It started beautifully, it had so much potential, but good ideas were ruined as things were taken much, much too far.

Most Disappointing Book of 2011

I have loved Susan Hill‘s crime novels in the past but I was disappointed in her most recent, The Betrayal of Trust. The plot and the characters came a very poor second to themes that the author clearly had strong feelings about but pushed much too hard for me.

Most Surprising (in a good way) Book of 2011

The idea of a novel in verse scared me, but Lettice Delmer by Susan Miles was a Persephone Book, it had appeared in a library sale, and so I gave it the benefit of the doubt. And I found a troubling story quite brilliantly told.

Book Recommended Most in 2011

I found Ten Days of Christmas by Gladys Bronwyn Stern in a bargain bin. It had no dust jacket, no synopsis, and so I did a few searches to try to find out more, but I couldn’t find anyone who had written about it. So I read, I wrote , and I’ve noticed a good few people have ordered copies and a couple more reviews have appeared. I really am thrilled.

Best Series You Discovered in 2011

I read and loved The Return of Captain John Emmett last year, and so I was eager to read Elizabeth Speller‘s second novel, The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton. I was surprised, and delighted to meet Lawrence Bartram again, to see his story progress, and to notice some very interesting hints about where his story might go next.

Favourite New Author in 2011

I’ve found a few new authors I want to keep tabs on, but if I’m going to pick out one I think it must be Rachel Hore. I read The Gathering Storm, I fell in love with her writing, and now I have an intriguing backlist to explore.

Most Hilarious Read in 2011

I am not a great lover of comic writing, but there’s something about Molly Keane, Time After Time was dark, sad, grotesque, and yet very, very funny.

Most Thrilling, Unputdownable Book of 2011

I was intrigued and confounded by True Things About Me by Deborah Kay Davies. I just couldn’t work out who this woman was, why she did the things she did.

Book Most Anticipated in 2011

Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple was surely the most eagerly waited reissue of 2011. And it more than lived up to some very high expectations.

Favourite Cover of a Book in 2011

Most Memorable Character in 2011

Oh, Miss Ranskill! I shall never forget you, and I shall never forget The Carpenter. Barbara Euphan Todd told your story so well in Miss Ranskill Comes Home.

Most Beautifully Written Book in 2011

That would be a book I’m still reading. Vanessa Gebbie’s novel, The Coward’s Tale, uses words – their meanings, their sounds, their rhythms – quite brilliantly. I even find myself reading with a Welsh accent …

Book That Had the Greatest Impact on You in 2011

I was intrigued from the first moment I saw No Surrender by Constance Maud. A suffragette novel! I realised how little I really knew, and this book has inspired me to find out more – The Virago Book of Suffragettes is now sitting on the bedside table.

Book You Can’t Believe You Waited until 2011 to Read

I can remember seeing Mary Stewart‘s books on the library shelves years ago, when I moved up from the junior to the adult library, but it wasn’t until this year that I read one. It was Thunder on the Right, and I loved it …

… a wonderful year of reading … and now it’s time to start another …

HAPPY NEW YEAR!