The Story of Twenty One Books

That’s the sum of this month’s book shopping – it was an exceptionally good month.

This may be a long post, but I resolved to record all of my purchases this year.

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20150328_171336These were ‘library building’ purchases. I have a dozen or so authors whose books I am gradually collecting as and when affordable copies appear.

I knew that I wouldn’t be able to give back the library’s copy of The Flowering Thorn back until I had a copy to keep – that’s always the way with Margery Sharp – and I spotted a Fontana edition that was if not cheap then at least much less expensive than many. I do like Fontana paperbacks, but I have to say that in this instance the image and the tagline suggest that the artist and the writer haven’t read the books.

And the rather nondescript book that one is resting on is an first edition of ‘Return I Dare Not’ by Margaret Kennedy!

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The next round of shopping was not at my expense – because I won £50 of books from Harper Collins! At first I was overwhelmed by the choice, but when I saw Vintage on the list of imprints my path became clear.

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  • ‘A Long Time Ago’ filled another gap in my Margaret Kennedy collection.
  •  Remembering Darlene’s words of praise, I picked ‘Here Be Dragons’ to add to my Stella Gibbons collection
  •  ‘A Street Haunting and Other Essays’ by Virginia Woolf looked too lovely to resist
  •  Several people recommended ‘The Black Count’ by Tom Reiss after I fell in love with The Count of Monte Cristo’ so I took their advice.
  • And of course I was going to have a copy of Victoria Glendinning’s much lauded biography of Anthony Trollope!

I’d say that was £50 very well invested.

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Visits to two charity shops I hadn’t been into for a long time paid dividends.

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I remember my parents reading Nevil Shute and Howard Spring, I loved the books from their shelves that I read years ago, and so I was delighted to find two titles I didn’t know in lovely editions.

I saw ‘Death of an Avid Reader’ by Frances Brody in the library and though I liked the look of it I didn’t pick it up because I knew that I had copies of earlier books in the same series at home unread. But when I spotted a like new copy I had to bring it home.

I was always going to pounce on a book by Francis Brett Young that I didn’t have on my shelves. I love his writing. I hesitated over this one because it’s a history of England in verse, but in the end I decided that I didn’t pick this one up I might never see another copy and I might live to regret it. When I came home I remembered that I loved the extract I knew, and I knew that I had made the right decision.

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I picked up two more books when I dropped off several bags of books to another charity shop.

20150328_171629A lovely hardback edition of the collected stories of Jane Gardam that was only published last year for £2 was a wonderful bargain.

I don’t know much about R C Hutchison – and the dust jacket of this book doesn’t give much away – but I picked the book up because it was in condition and it clearly dated from one of my favourite eras. I found some 1950s leaflets from the reprints of society, that somebody must have used as bookmarks inside, adverting authors including Winifred Holtby, Somerset Maugham, Howard Spring and Margery Sharp. I too that as a sign that I should buy the book. When I got home and looked up Hutchinson I found that he had been reissued by Faber Finds and by Bloomsbury Reader, which has to be a good sign.

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And then there was the Oxfam Shop.

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I can only assume that someone with very similar taste to me had been clearing out, because among lots of books I already own I found:

  • Two more by Jane Gardam
  •  Two British Library Crime Classics I I hadn’t meant to start collecting but now I have four and I think maybe I am.
  • Childhood memoirs by Marcel Pagnol, whose books inspired two of my favourite films – ‘Jean de Florette’ and ‘Manon Du Source.’

I looked in again next time I was passing, just in case there were any more. There weren’t, but I found this.

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I know the library have copies, but it was such a nice set.

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Just one more – a brand new hardback that I just had to run out and buy – another  ‘library building’ purchase.

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“The winter of 1924: Edith Olivier, alone for the first time at the age of fifty-one, thought her life had come to an end. For Rex Whistler, a nineteen-year-old art student, life was just beginning. Together, they embarked on an intimate and unlikely friendship that would transform their lives. Gradually Edith’s world opened up and she became a writer. Her home, the Daye House, in a wooded corner of the Wilton estate, became a sanctuary for Whistler and the other brilliant and beautiful younger men of her circle: among them Siegfried Sassoon, Stephen Tennant, William Walton, John Betjeman, the Sitwells and Cecil Beaton – for whom she was ‘all the muses’.

Set against a backdrop of the madcap parties of the 1920s, the sophistication of the 1930s and the drama and austerity of the Second World War and with an extraordinary cast of friends and acquaintances, Anna Thomasson brings to life, for the first time, the fascinating, and curious, friendship of a bluestocking and a bright young thing.“

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I’ve stayed out of bookshops today, so that is definitely it for March.

It’s been a bit mad – some lovely review copies have landed too – but there won’t be many months like that.

Though we’ll be visiting one or two bookshops when we have a week’s holiday in Devon next month …..

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.

There has been bookshopping ….

…. there often is, but it’s a long time since I’ve found so many interesting titles in the course of just a few days.

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On Saturday morning I spotted a ‘3 for £1’ sale at a charity shop in town. I’ve not had much luck with those sales lately, but of course I have to look, and this time my luck was in.

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Nancy Milford‘s biography of Zelda Fitzgerald has been on my wishlist for ages, and so I pounced as soon as I spotted.

I was very taken with Sarah Moss‘s first novel – Cold Earth – and I’ve been wanting to read her second, and so when I spotted a copy of Night Waking I picked that up too.

And then I needed a third. There was nothing unmissable but I spotted a book by Victoria Holt that I didn’t know – The Silk Vendetta – I liked the look of it and so it became my number three.

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There is a lovely café-bookshop a couple of hundred yards from my mother’s nursing home, and I hadn’t visited it in the nine months I’ve been visiting her. That was because I had Briar with me, but I haven’t taken her since my mother was ill, and became so much more frail than she had been. I would if she asked, but she hasn’t …. and that meant I could look in the bookshop.

I found two lovely numbered Penguins.

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I have loved Daphne Du Maurier‘s writing from a very young age; I read every book the library could offer and, later on, I built a collection of my own, but I never came across a copy of The Du Mauriers before. I knew that it was a history of the family in the 19th century, but I hadn’t realised that it was written as a novel. I was smitten from the first page …..

Tea With Mr Rochester by Frances Towers is already in my Persephone collection, and it is a lovely collection of stories. But it holds ten stories – four less than the original edition. I don’t know why, I don’t know whose decision it was, but I remember finding out and being horribly disappointed that I had left a Penguin copy behind in the Oxfam shop a few years ago.

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I took a couple of extra days off work after Monday’s bank holiday – one for a jaunt and one to catch up with things around the house – and today was the day for the jaunt!

We try to visit St Ives once a year, to look around the town, to visit the galleries, and to investigate some different bookshops.

I didn’t expect much from the first charity shop we visited. There was a very small selection of books, but I spotted the name of a favourite author

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The Landlord’s Daughter and The Room Upstairs both date from the late sixties. The reviews seem to be very mixed, but I love Monica Dickens‘s writing and so, of course, I will give them the benefit of the doubt.

The Oxfam Shop has been a happy hunting ground in the past, and it was again today.

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The Birds in the Trees by Nina Bawden fills a gap in my Virago Modern Classics collection. I loved her books for children – especially ‘Carrie’s War’ but I still haven’t read any of her adult novels. I really must.

Judasland by Jennifer Dawson also comes dressed in Virago green, but it was published as a new novel in 1991, not as a modern classic. I’ve read one of her books – The Upstairs People –  I love her style and I have a feeling  that this comedy, set in academia, could be rather special.

Summer in Baden-Baden is Leonard Tyspkin‘s homage to Dostoevsky and, because Russian novels are calling to me, because it’s a train book, I decided to pick it up.

And, best of all, I found a book by Francis Brett Young. I love his writing, and I love that Mr and Mrs Pennington is the story of the first year of a marriage in the 1920s.

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Now I just need to magic up some more shelf space ….

A Gift for New Years Day: simply because I think that it is lovely ….

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Arthur is gone … Tristram in Careol
Sleeps, with a broken sword – and Yseult sleeps
Beside him, where the Westering waters roll
Over drowned Lyonesse to the outer deeps.

Lancelot is fallen … The ardent helms that shone
So knightly and the splintered lances rust
In the anonymous mould of Avalon:
Gawain and Gareth and Galahad – all are dust.

Where do the vanes and towers of Camelot
And tall Tintagel crumble? Where do those tragic
Lovers and their bright eyed ladies rot?
We cannot tell, for lost is Merlin’s magic.

And Guinevere – Call her not back again
Lest she betray the loveliness time lent
A name that blends the rapture and the pain
Linked in the lonely nightingale’s lament.

Nor pry too deeply, lest you should discover
The bower of Astolat a smokey hut
Of mud and wattle – find the knightliest lover
A braggart, and his lilymaid a slut.

And all that coloured tale a tapestry
Woven by poets. As the spider’s skeins
Are spun of its own substance, so have they
Embroidered empty legend – What remains?

This: That when Rome fell, like a writhen oak
That age had sapped and cankered at the root,
Resistant, from her topmost bough there broke
The miracle of one unwithering shoot.

Which was the spirit of Britain – that certain men
Uncouth, untutored, of our island brood
Loved freedom better than their lives; and when
The tempest crashed around them, rose and stood

And charged into the storm’s black heart, with sword
Lifted, or lance in rest, and rode there, helmed
With a strange majesty that the heathen horde
Remembered when all were overwhelmed;

And made of them a legend, to their chief,
Arthur, Ambrosius – no man knows his name –
Granting a gallantry beyond belief,
And to his knights imperishable fame.

They were so few … We know not in what manner
Or where they fell – whether they went
Riding into the dark under Christ’s banner
Or died beneath the blood-red dragon of Gwent.

But this we know; that when the Saxon rout
Swept over them, the sun no longer shone
On Britain, and the last lights flickered out;
And men in darkness muttered: Arthur is gone …

A Little Holiday Book Shopping

A week’s holiday at home always means a trip to visit bookshops in another town, and today it was Truro.

Our first port if call was Pydar Mews Books, which has been a wonderful hunting ground for me over the years.

Here’s what I brought home today.

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I already own Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, but I couldn’t resist adding a numbered Penguin to my shelves.

By Love Possessed by James Gould Cozzens was a random book I picked up because it was a numbered Penguin. It’s a story of small town America and there was a very warm endorsement from J B Priestley on the back cover.

And another numbered Penguin. Clochmerle by Gabriel Chevalier is, it seems, a much loved French comedy, and that was a good enough reason to pick it up.

Amberwell by D E Stevenson was an auto pick up!

The Happy Prisoner by Monica Dickens was a lovely find, as I left a copy behind in another bookshop a couple of years ago and regretWhite Ladiested it. I just love her writing.

I tracked down a particular edition of Jennie by Paul Gallico for a friend a few years ago – she had borrowed a copy, lost it, and wanted to track down another copy of the same edition but didn’t know her way around the internet- and I liked the look of it, so the next copy I saw I picked up. Today!

And another by Paul Gallico: Love Let Me Not Hunger came home because it was a very pretty hardback, and because it was set in a circus and that made me think of ‘The Love of Seven Dolls’ which is a wonderful book.

And finally there’s a copy of White Ladies by Francis Brett Young. I’ve read it, I loved it, and I really wanted a copy to keep. There’s a copy in my local  bookshop, but I couldn’t justify the price of a signed first edition. This slightly worn, slightly later edition I could.

All of those for the very reasonable price of £17.50!

I spent my change from a twenty pound note in the Oxfam shop.

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I’ve just begun reading ‘The Ascent of Woman’ by Melanie Phillips, which is a broad overview of the history of the suffrage movement and I had it on mind to track down a couple of books with a narrower focus. I’m still looking for ‘Rebel Girls’ by Jill Liddington, but I found The Pankhursts by Martin Pugh today.

And my fiancé was exceedingly pleased with a signed biography of a fighter pilot and an interesting volume of local history.

Nothing much on the other charity shop, but we did one or two other things, we bought my mother a nice new pair of slippers, and we had a very nice lunch at The Crab and Ale House.

And on the way back to the car I had a quick look in the library, because the literature collection in the county lives in Truro.

I could have picked up any number of books, but common sense prevailed and I just picked up one.

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The Collected Writings of Zelda Fitzgerald!

Her novel! Short stories! Articles! Letters!

I’m really hoping that nobody else orders this one so that I can hang on to it for a while.

And that was it today, but before I finish I must mention two books I found locally on Monday.

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The paperback edition of Gentleman Prefer Blondes was so pretty, it has the sequel – Gentleman Marry Brunettes starting from the other end, and an endorsement from Edith Wharton.

But it was Linda by John Coates that made my heart leap. ‘Patience’ wasn’t one of my favourite Persephone books, but this book is late, the dust jacket describes it as being more serious than his earlier books without being heavy- which might suit me better – and it’s set against a theatrical background.

It really has been a wonderful week for books!

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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?