2009: A Year in the Library … and a Year in the Pub


Let’s start in the library.

J. Kaye from J. Kaye’s Book Blog hosted the 2009 Support Your Local Library Challenge.

You could commit to reading 12, 25 or 50 library books in 2009. I went for the maximum, and I knew it wouldn’t be a problem.

Here are a few reasons why I love  libraries:

  • I am lucky to have a good public library service – I can order any book in the county or in a large reserve stock for just 50p.
  • I also belong to the wonderful Morrab Library. There are only 19 private subscription libraries in the UK and this one is just a few minutes walk from home.
  • I can still visualise where my favourite books were in the library when I was a child.
  • Without libraries I wouldn’t be able to read anything like as widely as I do.
  • I pass the library as I walk home from work. A little look around the shelves after a difficult day is wonderfully theraputic!
  • I like to think I can influence what the library stocks by ordering and borrowing books. I have been known to borrow under-borrowed books that I own to help their statistics.
  • Don’t book lovers have a duty to support libraries? If we don’t we can’t assume they will still be there and then how will people who can’t afford to buy books read and how will other people discover books?
  • I first met my fiancé in the library!

I’ve  read 106 library books this year.

Some wonderful new authors and a few books that I hadn’t heard of until I saw them on the shelves.

I’ve added some to my shelves since, there are more I’d like to.

And I’ve uncovered a few put of print gems.

The full  list is here.


And so to the pub

The 2009 Pub Challenge was hosted by Michelle at 1morechapter.com.

Read at least nine books published for the first time in your country in 2009. I’ve done 3 rounds – 27 books.

Here they are:




(There are a few more I’ve read but not written about yet and, I suspect, a couple I’ve missed.)

Some great books – the ones I’ve starred are la creme de la creme!

What’s in a Name Challenge: Complete!


This was a lovely challenge. Lots of time was spent happily browsing for titles to fit the categories.

And now I’ve read my 6 books for the 6 categories.

Here they are:

1. A book with a “profession” in its title

A Bookseller‘s War by Anne and Heywood Hill

2. A book with a “time of day” in its title

The Swan in the Evening by Rosamond Lehmann

3. A book with a “relative” in its title

Brother Jacob by George Eliot

4. A book with a “body part” in its title

Every Eye by Isobel English

5. A book with a “building” in its title

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

6. A book with a “medical condition” in its title

Among The Mad by Jacqueline Winspear

Thank you to Annie for hosting!

Among The Mad by Jacqueline Winspear

Among The Mad

Number 6 in the Maisie Dobbs series is special indeed.

Picture the scene;

Central London. The year is 1931, and it is Christmas Eve. Private investigator Maisie Dobbs has just left her office. She encounters a man – clearly a shell-shocked veteran of the Great War – intent on suicide. Maisie served as a nurse in that war and the things she has seen, then and since, have made her deeply sypathetic to the coninued suffering of the men who fought . She tries to intervene, but she cannot stop him.

Another man sees the incident, and it sets him on a course of action.

He issues threats to the authorities. Threats that they take very seriously. And he writes: “If you doubt my sincerity, ask Maisie Dobbs.”

Maisie finds herself being interviewed by Scotland Yard, by Special Branch, and Military Intelligence. Once she makes them understand that she is not involved with what is going on and that she can bring valuable insight into the investigation, she is hired.

It is a dark and difficult investigation. Oswald Moseley and his blackshirts may be implicated. The man may have come from a lunatic asylum. There are political power-games. The storyline is dark and compelling.

But more important are the themes that are explored. Both in the current case and in the ongoing storylines of the series. The damage caused by the war, the political and social unrest that came after, the treatment of mental illness, and maybe most importantly of all, the question of just what our responsibilities to society are.

“She showed care. That is all I have asked for, these many years, that people are concerned, and that in their actions they demonstrate care. It occured to me that the woman did not wait for someone else to approach Ian. She did not ignore him. She walked towards him without looking in another direction. I noticed that. I have come to notice that people do not look at the Ians of this world, but instead turn their heads here and there.”

Yes, there is much, much more to this book than a mystery.

Jacqueline Winspear paints a wonderful picture of London between the wars and she balances all of the elements perfectly as the story unravels in clear and lucid prose.

My only slight concern is that Maisie is maybe a little too perfect. In her professional dealings, her dealings with friends and colleagues she never puts a foot wrong. her expertise is explicable but the occasional slip might make her a little more sympathetic, and it would be interesting to, maybe one day, learn about something completely new alongside this intelligent and insightful heroine.

It doesn’t detract from this story, but it is a concern for the future. Because this is a series that has grown wonderfully and I am fascinated to see where it goes next.

For now though the themes and stories of Among The Mad are firmly lodged in my head. Thought-provoking indeed!

An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear

an-incomplete-revengeI enjoy series books, but they often cause me to worry. So may times things go wrong. An author runs out of ideas, the characters lose their interest, or sometimes books just become variants on a familiar formula.

And so I wondered when I picked up Jacqueline Winspear’s fifth Maisie Dobbs book. Particularly as there was a noticeable change in cover design – lovely, but much lighter and brighter.

I am pleased to be able to say that any worries that I had proved to be quite unfounded.

The story opens in London in 1931 with the economy deep in recession. Business is hard to ome by and so Maisie is relieved to undertake an investigation for the potential purchaser of a Kent estate.

James Compton, of the Compton Corporation, is the potential purchaser of the Sandmere Estate, but he has concerns.The present owner, a younger son who became heir when his brother was killed in the Great War, has run down the estate and it is very nearly bankrupt. And there has been  a spate petty crime and vandalism in the house, and at the accompanying brickworks. The Compton Company needs to be certain that there is nothing amiss before taking ownership

When Maisie arrives in Kent she finds a community at war.  The landowner, the local villagers, the incoming workers for the hop-picking season – both travelling gypsies and working Londoners – dislike and distrust each other. 

And there seems to be a deeper mystery – why is their a stony silence about the night that three members of a Dutch family were killed in a Zeppelin raid?

Jacqueline Winspear has skilfully avoids the pitfalls that so often befall series books.

Her plot is well-constructed, complex and compelling. It has its roots, as do all of her plots, in the Great War but she takes a new angle that feels entirely  appropriate. That war did change so many lives in a multitude of ways. The resolution is striking and thought provoking.

Characters and the times and places that they live in are wonderfully evoked, and every detail rings true. Maisie’s personal story continues to develop. Changes happen and more changes seem to be on the horizon, and it feels entirely right. Even after life changing events life can hold more twists and turns.

If only all series worked this well …

Library Loot

More wonderful library books this week:


Olivia Manning: a Life by Neville Baybrooke and June Braybrooke

“Olivia Manning was a superb writer – extravagantly funny and deeply serious at the same time – but her talent was not fully recognised in her lifetime. This beautifully written biography puts the record straight. Born in 1908 in Portsmouth into a naval family, she seized independence at the first opportunity, making a penurious life for herself in London as a furniture painter at Peter Jones, before signing up as a wartime ambulance driver – although she had never learned to drive. Her personality was as idiosyncratic her novels. Her husband, Reggie Smith, was equally a ‘character’ – a BBC producer, self-proclaimed communist and life-long philanderer. Both indulged in affairs, but their unusual marriage was sustained by his lifelong support for his wife’s gifts. After their adventurous war (Reggie was then in the British Council – and probably a spy) they became the centre of London literary life, numbering among their close friends Iris Murdoch, Muriel Spark, Stevie Smith, Ivy Compton-Burnett, Anthony Burgess and Laurence Durrell. Olivia Manning died in 1980 in their house on the Isle of Wight; a cat lover, she left most of her money to the Wood Green Animal sanctuary. “

I’m plannining on reading Olivia Manning’s The Doves of Venus for a challenge soon, so when I saw this book in the library I picked it up to see if it had anything to say about that book. It proved fascinating and I discovered that June Braybrooke wrote inder the name Isoble English. I am reading her novel Every Eye now, and so I have a literary triangle of sorts!


An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear

“1931. Maisie Dobbs’ new case takes her investigation into the pastoral beauty of the Kent Weald where acts of arson, theft and vandelism around the village of Heronsdene have gone suspiciously unreported for more than a decade. With the country in the grip of economic malaise, Maisie is relieved to accept an assignment from an old friend who wants her to uncover the truth behind these crimes, before he can buy part of the magnificent Sandermere estate at the heart of the village.

It’s hop-picking time and Londoners, including Maisie’s assistant Billy Beale, wanting to escape the Smoke for the summer, set up camp in nearby fields. Gypsies, too, have arrived to work the land. Maisie discovers the villagers are bitterly prejudiced against outsiders and, even more troubling, seem possessed by the legacy of a war-time Zepplin raid.

She has less than a month to find out why no one has been brought to justice and why secrecy shrouds the village. She must draw on all of her finely honed skills of detection to solve one of her most intriguing cases.”

It’s lovely to find this on the shelves before I’d thought to check if it was in stock at my branch. I’m intrigued that the cover style is quite different from Jacqueline Winspear’s last book. Does it signal a change in direction or just a change in marketing strategy I wonder?


The Secret Life of Aphra Behn by Janet Todd

“Aphra Behn (1640-1689), poet, playwright, novelist, traveller and spy, was the first woman to earn her living as a writer. This biography uses recently-discovered documents in England and the Netherlands to unmask this elusive author whose works include “The Rover”, “The Fair Jilt”, “Love Letters Between a Nobleman and his Sister”, and “The Forc’d Marriage”. Returning to England after the Great Fire from Antwerp, where she is believed to have spied for Charles II, Behn became a witty and versatile contemporary of Dryden, Rochester and Wycherley. As well as recounting Behn’s story and analysing her works, Janet Todd illuminates the political and social background of the period: the court intrigue, the theatre and its protagonists, and London life before and after the Restoration. Behn was also involved with the Popish Plot and the Monmouth Rebellion, the Stuart kings, Nell Gwyn, the Duchess of Mazarine and many others.”

Doesn’t that sound amazing?! I acquired a lovely green Virago Modern Classics edition of Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister last year and I wanted to learn a little more about its author and her times before I started reading. This is a fairly hefty tome but it looks very readable.


UFO in Her Eyes by Xiaolu Guo

“Silver Hill Village, 2012. On the twentieth day of the seventh moon Kwok Yun is making her way across the rice fields on her Flying Pigeon bicycle. Her world is upturned when she sights a UFThing – a spinning plate in the sky – and helps the Westerner in distress whom she discovers in the shadow of the alien craft. It’s not long before the village is crawling with men from the National Security and Intelligence Agency armed with pointed questions. And when the Westerner that Kwok Yun saved repays her kindness with a large dollar cheque she becomes a local celebrity, albeit under constant surveillance. As UFO Hotels spring up, and the local villagers go out of business, Xiaolu Guo’s startling parable of change imagines an uneasy future for rural China and its relations not only with Beijing but the wider world beyond. “

I have yet to read A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, and I’ve read mixed reports, but I spotted this on the new book shelf and it seemed worth a try.


What did you find in the library this week?

See more Library Loot here.