The TBR Pile Challenge 2014 …..

I’m signing up for the 2014 TBR Pile Challenge at Roof Beam Reader, because I need something to remind me how many good books I have waiting for me on my own shelves.

2014tbrbuttonIt works something like this:

Pick a dozen books that you have owned for more than a year and not read. Pick two alternates, just in case one or two of that dozen, doesn’t work out. Read them in 2014.

I’m only picking books I really want to read, because life is too short and there are too many great books to do anything else, but I did set myself some other criteria.

I’ve picked my books from different shelves around the house so that I look at all of the other books that aren’t on the list along the way.

Every book I picked has acome from a different place – not for any particular reason, just because I wanted to see if I could work things that way.

And none of these books are on my Classics Club list or anything to do with any other projects, because I want to read a wider range of books next year.

So here are the twelve:

Stratton’s War by Laura Wilson

This one came my way courtesy of ReadItSwapIt a couple of years ago. I really do want to read it, because I like the look of one or two of the books later in the series.

Devotion by Nell Leyshon

I picked this up from a book stall because I recognised the author’s name. I loved The Colour of Milk and I have high hopes for this rather different, contemporary story.

The Phoenix’ Nest by Elizabeth Jenkins

I spotted this one in a local bookshop, sadly now closed, not knowing at the time that it was rare. Searches have revealed noting, it doesn’t get a mention in the author’s biography, but the opening suggests that it is set in an Elizabethan theatre …

The First Last Kiss by Ali Harris

I bought this second novel when it was brand new in local bookshop, because I loved Ali Harris’s first book.

The Mesmerist by Barbara Ewing

This one was sitting on a charity shop shelf, and I had to bring it home.

A Secret Alchemy by Emma Darwin

I spotted this one at a fundraising sale for our local museum.

Eden’s Garden by Juliet Greenwood

This one was ordered from the publisher after reading Claire’s review.

You by Joanna Briscoe

This one dropped through by letterbox, unsolicited, a few years ago, and I like the look of it but I’ve never quite got around to picking it up.

Darkness Falls All Over Again by Nigel Balchin

I bought this one when I was living in London. I remember listening to the radio, hearing somebody pick this as their favourite book set in London. and saying that it was like ‘The End of the Affair’ – but better.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

This was a gift from a very generous Virago Secret Santa a couple of years ago,

Two-Thirds of a Ghost by Helen McCloy

This is a green numbered Penguin that I picked up in a very good second-hand bookshop in Falmouth.

A Wreath for the Enemy by Pamela Frankau

I can remember my fiancé – a trained spotter of Virago Modern Classics – coming home with this one.

And here are my two possible substitutes:

The Children’s Book by A S Byatt

I pounced on this brand new hardback copy when it was being sold very cheaply at a library sale.

The Heart of London by Monica Dickens

This one came from a bookshop in Redruth, on a day when I had to be very picky because there were so many books I would have liked. It made the cut because I love Monica Dickens, and it is such a lovely editions.

Wish me luck!

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


“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 ….

Dark Fantasy

…. 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?

What’s in a Name Challenge: Done!

Four years ago “What’s in a Name” was the very first challenge I signed up for via this blog. It was also the first challenge I completed.

It’s a lovely challenge, and of course I signed up for a second year. A third. And a fourth.

Thanks must go to Beth at Beth Fish Reads for acting as host once again.

I scanned my shelves for six books, with titles each of six categories.  And then I read them.

  • A book with a topographical feature (land formation) in the title:

In The Mountains by Elizabeth Von Arnim

  • A book with something you’d see in the sky in the title:

The New Moon with the Old by Dodie Smith

  • A book with a creepy crawly in the title:

Snake Ropes by Jess Richards

  • A book with a type of house in the title:

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

  • A book with something you’d carry in your pocket, purse, or backpack in the title:

The Book of Summers by Emylia Hall

  • A book with a something you’d find on a calendar in the title:

The Fortnight in September by R C Sheriff

It’s not the list I planned at the end of last year, but I’ve read six lovely books, and I am so pleased that I remembered to read ‘The Fortnight in September’ in September!

Reading Canadian

I’ve been watching The Canadian Book Challenge for quite some time now. It’s so well run, the participants are so enthusiastic, and goodness, haven’t Canadians written some wonderful books?

“The Canadian Book Challenge is an online reading challenge in which participants from Canada and around the world aim to read and review 13 or more Canadian books in a one year span: Canada Day to Canada Day. Reviews must be posted online and participants are asked to share links to their reviews with other participants.”

I argued with myself for some time over whether I should join in this year, because I do have a lot of projects on the go already. In the end I had a look at some book lists, to see if I could do this with books I have on hand; books I know the library has; books that I know I must, must read…

I most certainly can, and so I am in!

There will be a couple of crime books that I shall be slotting in to the Crime Fiction Alphabet.

There will be Virago Modern Classics and a Virago Traveller.

There will be books that Claire and Buried in Print have steered on to my wishlist.

There are a few others too, covering a period of more than one hundred years.

And I am quite sure that I will discover more wonderful books and authors along the way. Suggestions are more than welcome.

More than enough provide me with my baker’s dozen.


Time to talk about Paris ….

That’s Paris in July, hosted for a third year by Karen at Book Bath and Tamara at Thyme for Tea.

A celebration of the French capital, taking in books, cinema, music, food …

I’ve been pondering books for a while now, and I have come up with far more wonderful possibilities than I could ever read in a single month.

There are the older classics:

Three French writers from the 19th century have been calling me for a while now, and I so want to read Guy de Maupassant, Émile Zola and Honoré de Balzac.

I’m not entirely sure which of their books I shall read, but I’m  drawn to Bel-Ami, Pot Luck and Père Goriot at the moment.


There are the 20th century classics:

I must confess that I had quite forgotten that Jules et Jim by Henri-Pierre Roché was a book before a film until I picked up a used copy a little while ago. I wonder how the two will compare.

I love her writing, and so I know that The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen will be a joy.

And I now that whenever I need a book to fit a particular theme I will fins something on my Virago shelves: this time it’s Pillion Riders by Elizabeth Russell Taylor.


And there’s wonderful, real history:

I want to read Liberty by Lucy Moore, the story of the women caught up in the French Revolution.

The Crimes of Paris by Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler, true stories of crime and detection from La Belle Epoque, looks wonderful.

And when I caught sight of a lovely new edition of Madame de Pompadour by Nancy Mitford I remembered that I had an old Penguin edition of that same biography waiting at home.


So I have a wonderful pool of books to choose from, and I’m sure I will discover more when Paris in July arrives.

There will be films and music too, but I’ll write about that another day.

Do you have plans for Paris in July? Or recommendations maybe?

Another Crime Fiction Alphabet

Can I do it again?

I don’t know, but I’m going to try.

I was thinking, even before the last running ended, that I could read The Quincunx for that tricky letter Q slot …

And then I thought that I could fit in some of those green Penguins that are still unread, and that would help with Reading The 20th Century.

That I could read some of the crime fiction that’s lined up for my Clearing the Decks project.

And when I looked at the timetable I realised that I could fit in a couple of Victorian crime novels to coincide with Allie’s Victorian Celebration.

I have ideas for most letters now, but I’m a little stuck on V and Y. So if you have any suggestions …

Kerrie is the host once more, and you can read all of the details on her blog.

I just have two rules of my own:

  • I will read nothing just for the sake of filling a slot; I will only read books that I would have picked up sooner or later anyway.
  • I will read crime fiction in the broadest sense; any book where crime or or the effects of crime are significant counts. I’d love to fit in a classic or two: Bleak House, Crime and Punishment, Therese Raquin …

Wish me luck!

Oh Queen Victoria …

… so many wonderful books were written during your reign. And so many more, both fact and fiction, have been written about these years too.

And so I never can resist a  Victorian Reading Challenge …

The 2012 Victorian Challenge is hosted by Laura of Laura’s Reviews.

This is how it works:

  • The Victorian Challenge 2012 will run from January 1st to December 31st, 2012. You can post a review before this date if you wish.
  •  You can read a book, watch a movie, or listen to an audiobook, anything Victorian related that you would like. Reading, watching, or listening to a favorite Victorian related item again for the second, third, or more time is also allowed. You can also share items with other challenges.
  • The goal will be to read, watch, listen, to 2 to 6 (or beyond) anything Victorian items.


Now I love making lists of what I might read, and so I have made lists …

Six Victorian Novels

The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens (1841)
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery (1848)
The Warden by Anthony Trollope (1855)
Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell (1866)
The Odd Women by George Gissing (1893)
Liza of Lambeth by W Somerset Maugham (1897)

Six works of non fiction set during the reign of Queen Victoria:

Mr Briggs’ Hat by Kate Coloquon
The Invention of Murder by Judith Flanders
A London Child of the 1870s by Molly Hughes
Magnificent Obsession by Helen Rappaport
Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace by Kate Summerscale
Becoming Queen by Kate Williams

And six novels set in the Victoria era:

Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold
The Whores’ Asylum by Kate Darby
The Seance by John Harwood
The Journal of Dora Damage by Belinda Starling
The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace
The Pleasures of Men by Kate Williams

And I notice that Essie Fox has a new book coming to be published next autumn, which I am sure will be Victorian …

Now I should be very surprised if I read all of those books before the end of next year.

And I may well find other Victorian reading material.

But isn’t it nice to have such wonderful possibilities to ponder … ?

Those Unfinished Books Lying About the House …

There are far, far too many of them.

I don’t mean the  books I’ve picked up and then put down because the moment wasn’t quite right. Or the books that I’ve not got on with and didn’t want to finish.

These are the books that I had made progress with, that I wanted to finish, and yet for some reason I didn’t.

And so I must thank Jillian, at A Room of One’s Own, for hosting The 2012 – Books I Started But Didn’t Finish – Challenge.

It’s exactly what I need!

This is how it works:

The goal:

  • Commit to finish some or all of the books you began to read in 2011 (or before) and never completed.


  • I will not give away prizes or otherwise motivate people to complete their goals for this challenge.
  • Instead, I encourage you to self-motivate.
  • Keep your list central on your blog (or elsewhere) and commit to buy yourself some sort of reward when you finish the task. (A book? A bookmark? Whatever you know will inspire YOU.)

The rules:

  • Post a list of the books you began reading in 2011 (or at some point in your life) and never finished reading. (Maybe even say why you stopped reading!)
  • You can list as few or as many titles as you intend to complete in 2012. One or twenty or a hundred – it’s YOUR challenge.
  • You can include whatever genres you please in this challenge.
  • It doesn’t matter how you go about finishing these books. You can combine them with any other challenges.
  • You do not need a blog to participate. You can simply list the books you want to finish in the comments below.
  • List the prize you will gift yourself when you complete this challenge in your challenge post (to make it official.)
  • Write yourself a little manifesto about how you intend to approach these left-over books.
  • Commit to finish your list by the end of 2012.
  • You are NOT allowed to stress if it takes longer than 2012 to finish your list! Just commit again in 2013!!

And so to my list.

There are eight books, and many of them are very lengthy, so I know that I won’t finish them all in 2012.

I am listing them all so that I can choose the right book at the right moment.

My aim is to finish at least four books, and to finish any that remain in 2013.

Vilette by Charlotte Bronte
Hostages to Fortune by Elizabeth Cambridge
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer
The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu
Kristin Lavransdattir by Sigrid Undset

And if I hit my target at the end of the year I will give myself a bonus Green Metropolis top-up to spend on out-of-print titles.

Wish me luck!

Tea & Books …

I nearly passed by the Tea & Books Reading Challenge.

Because I am not a lover of the traditional English cup of tea. Horrible stuff.

But when the weather turns cold I do turn to fruit teas. Those I understand.

And I do like books.

I used to read a lot of big books. LibraryThing can sequence books by page length, and so I can report that the longest book I have read is Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy at 1504 pages.

But that was a long time ago. Recently I’ve been picking up big books, and even though I’ve wanted to read on I’ve drifted away from them.

I think it’s because for nearly five years I walked past the library, during opening hours, on my way home from work. It was so easy to pop in almost every day just in case there was something new. Which was wonderful, but it meant that I almost always had a book due back that had to be read before the big book.

Now library hours have changed and I don’t have that job any more. I look in a couple of times a week, and that has allowed me to have a little more balance.

And so I’m signing up for the Tea & Books Reading Challenge, just to make sure.

Books of more than 700 pages …

Four books for the Berry Tea Devotee level.

They may change, but the books I have in mind are:

The Quincunx by Charles Palliser (1248 pages)
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1232 pages)
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery (800 pages)
Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell (720 pages)

A long Dickens is a possibility too, but I haven’t decided which one yet.

And, while I’m here, I’ll confess to those books sitting about unfinished and aim to finish at least some of them this year:

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (translated by Robin Buss)  (1312 pages)
Kristin Lavransdattir by Sigrid Undset (translated by Tiina Nunnally) (1168 pages)
The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (translated by E G Seidensticker) (1120 pages)
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (1024 pages)

This may be madness, or it may be the best reading plan I ever made.

Time will tell…

A Little Housekeeping as the Year Draws to a Close

A few reading challenges to wind up …

I had fallen out of the habit of reading historical fiction, and I signed up for this challenge  at Historical Tapestry because I missed it, and because I really wanted to lose myself in stories from another age again.

It worked!

Here are the eight books I read:

The Illusion of Murder by Carol McCleary
The Sonambulist by Essie Fox
The Unburied by Charles Palliser
Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch
The Maid by Kimberley Cutter
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The Baskerville Legacy by John O’Connell
Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick

I have always loved this challenge, and I knew that I can easily meet the target of reading eleven books first published in 2011.

I’ve read more than eleven, but here’s a list of eleven I can happily recommend:

Scissors, Paper, Stone by Elizabeth Day
Invisible River by Helena McEwan
The Report by Jessica Francis Kane
The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons
The Sonambulist by Essie Fox
When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton by Elizabeth Speller
Blow on a Dead Man’s Embers by Mari Strachan
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The Translation of the Bones by Francesca Kay
The Picture Book by Jo Baker

Thank you Michelle for hosting this one for another year.

I have Michelle to thank for this one too.

Now I don’t necessarily think of myself as a reader of award-winning books, but there are many intriguing titles that I have picked up from award lists, and I have spotted many interesting books because they have the name of an award – often one that I haven’t heard of – on the cover. So five winners in 10 months sounded like a very nice proposition.

In February I read Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler (winner of the British Fantasy Award for best New Novel in 2004.)

In March I read The Spoilt Kill by Mary Kelly and Blacklands by Belinda Bauer (winners of the CWA’s Gold Dagger in 1961 and 2010.)

And in July I read Monsieur Montespan by Jean Teulé (winner of Prix Maison de la Presse in 2008) and A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (winner of the Pulitzer prize for Fiction in 2011)

Job done!

And finally, I can never resist a Victorian Challenge. This year I read:

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan-Doyle
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
The Ladies’ Paradise by Emile Zola
The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

… and I think that’s it for 2011.