10% Report: 100 Years of Books

100 Years of Books

I ditched my 100 Years of Books project when I made a new design for my reading life towards the end of last year.

I didn’t miss it at first, but in time I did, especially when other people – SimonAnnabel – I’m looking at you! – started lovely new projects!

I’ve learned that I need a project, but I also need plenty of space to read other things.

And so I’m picking up the threads again.

 100 different books by 100 different authors – 1850 to 1949!

But I’ve taken away the deadline. It’ll be done when It’s done.

If it can be done.

I’m not going to read books that I don’t want to read just to fill in missing years so I might never finish. But I think I can, if I do a little re-shuffling of books and authors along the way, so that the authors with many books can fit around the authors with not so many.

I’m going to carry on with my 10% reports every 10 books, and because I’ve read a few books from missing years since I ditched the list I’m able to say – here’s my third 10% report!

* * * * * * * *

1865 – Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

I am so pleased to say that I have finally discovered why so many readers love Anthony Trollope. In fact, if it isn’t wrong to say so after reading just the one book, I am now one of them. I’d picked up one or two books over the years and they hadn’t quite worked. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them but I didn’t love them, they weren’t the right books; I had to find the right place to start, the right book at the right time at the right time, and this book was that book.

1867 – Cometh Up as a Flower by Rhoda Broughton

The story is simple, but it is made special by the way it is told. Nell’s voice was underpinned by excellent writing, and Rhoda Broughton’s understanding of character and her command of the story stopped this from becoming a sensation novel. It’s a very human story of love, passion, betrayal, loss …

1891 – Mona and True Love’s Reward by Mrs Georgie Sheldon

At first I thought that Mona might be a little too nice, a little too good to be interesting, but she grew into a very fine heroine. She continued to be good, but she was ready to stand up for herself, she learned to be practical and capable, and she coped well with some very tricky situations.

1903 – The Girl Behind the Keys by Tom Gallon

She was hired, she was given an advance on the salary that was far more than she had expected, and she learned that the work would be not very demanding at all. It seemed almost too good to be true. It was, and it didn’t take Miss Thorn very long at all to work out that the Secretarial Supply Syndicate was a front for a gang of criminals; con men who were ready to use any means necessary to extract money from their victims.

1910 – The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson

I had to love Laura. Her letter’s home were a riot. I loved that she delighted the invitations to tea that the other girls dreaded, because it gave her a chance to examine new bookshelves, and that made the fear of being called on to recite or perform fade into insignificance. I loved her joy when an older girl look her under her wing; and her outrage when she found that she had a young man.

1920 – The Adventurous Lady by J C Snaith

I was intrigued to see J C Snaith described as a ‘teller of enthralling tales.’ I had never heard of the author, and when I went to look for him I found that he was very obscure, but I found a book titled ‘The Adventurous Lady’ that promised so many things I love – a train, a governess, a country house, a play – and so I had to start reading.

1927 – Red Sky at Morning by Margaret Kennedy

William and Emily Crowne were the loveliest of children. They were attractive, they were imaginative, and they played so happily together, caught up in their own world and oblivious to the world around them. They didn’t see how jealous the Frobisher children, Trevor and Charlotte, were. They didn’t know that their father’s notoriety would follow them into their adult lives.

1928 – Grey Mask by Patricia Wenworth

Something else I particularly liked was the way Patricia Wentworth threaded serious questions – about Margaret’s life as a single woman and the choices that she made, about Margot’s vulnerability and the position she had been left in, and most of all about the consequences of not knowing our own history – through an classic golden age style mystery. The story is bold, but its author clearly understands where subtlety is required.

1935 – Four Gardens by Margery Sharp

Caroline  – the heroine of ‘Four Gardens’ – would be of the same generation as my grandmother. My mother’s mother that is; my father’s mother was a good deal younger. They were born when Queen Victoria was on the throne, near the end of her reign but not so near the end that they didn’t remember her. Their values were formed by that age, and by the Edwardian era that followed, and after that they lived through Great War and the repercussions that reverberated through the twenties, the thirties ….

1945 – Haxby’s Circus by Katharine Susannah Prichard

I read that Katharine Susannah Prichard travelled with a circus when she was researching this novel, and I think it shows. The pictures she paints of the people and their world are wonderful.

* * * * * * *

The full list of what I’ve read is here and my first two 10% reports are here and here.

I’m well on my way to my next 10% already, but I have lots more years to fill and so recommendations – especially for the earliest years – would be very welcome.


The Case is Closed by Patricia Wentworth

Miss Maud Hephzibah Silver made her first appearance in 1929, but readers who met her then had an eight year wait before they could meer her again, in 1937’s ‘The Case is Closed’.

The story is engaging from the start: Hilary has stepped on to a train, after an argument with her fiancé, Henry, and because she had wanted to make a dramatic exit she had got on to the wrong train. As she watched for the next stop an elderly woman approached her, eager to speak to her quickly, while her husband was out of earshot. Hilary was inclined to think she was mad, but when she asked for news of the friend Hilary was staying with, with real concern, she realised that maybe the woman had a genuine interest. And very real fears.

Hilary was staying with her friend, Marion; because Marion was finding it difficult to cope with the aftermath of her husband’s conviction for murder. His was the case that was closed  When Hilary described  the woman and the incident on the train Marion was able to tell her she was. The woman who had wept in court as she reluctantly gave the evidence that made it inevitable that her husband, Geoff, would be found guilty.

Marion had bowed to the inevitable – the loss of her marriage, the loss of the possibility of children, the loss of her position in society – and she slipped away quietly to her job in a dress shop where she was known by a name that was not her own. While she was away Hilary began to examine all of the paperwork about Geoff’s trial, because she was quite that he was innocent.

985385The story played out beautifully, and though I guessed how the mystery would play out the characters and their relationships were engaging and believable. I was involved, and I wanted to be there as events played out.

I understood why Marion was very nearly broken, and just wanted to be left alone to drift through what was left of her life. I felt for her. I also understood what Hilary, who was lovely and more than a little headstrong, had to find out more and desperately wanted to do something. I liked her, I loved her spirit and energy, but  I worried that she would run in to trouble when she began to make enquiries of her own.

Hilary had a very bad scare, and that made her realise that she needed help. She turned to Henry, her sensible, practical estranged fiancé, and he turned to the detective that his good friend – Charles Moray, of ‘Grey Mask’ fame – had recommended. Miss Silver.

I was delighted that Miss Silver was just as I had remembered her. She presented herself as a ‘professional aunt, she knitted at a rate of knots, but she was also a very capable detective. She had followed the case, and she had ideas about how to proceed. Her presence was very low-key though, and it almost seemed that she was steering Hilary and Henry to the solution of the mystery.

And sure enough, a couple of chapters from the end, Hilary had the same thought that I had a couple of chapters from the beginning!

The real strength of this book was the relationship between Hilary and Henry. They had opposite temperaments,  but though  they  squabbled they complemented each other beautifully. I hoped that they’d realise that. And that they’d realise that they loved each other.

So this is a mystery that works because the human story is so good, and because the Patricia Wentworth wrote very well, with warmth and with wit. She picked out exactly the right details, there were some lovely touches, and I particularly liked Hilary’s habit of turning her thoughts into rhyming couplets.

I’d call this a lovely period piece. And maybe issue a warning that some of the attitudes to relationships between classes and sexes are quite dated.

My only disappointment was that the story was a little muddled at the end and that it was wrapped up rather quickly. I would have loved to have seen more of everyone’s reactions to the revelations and to what happened afterwards.

I’d have liked to have spent a little more time with Miss Silver too; but I see that there are thirty more books in the series. I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth

I’d seen Patricia Wentworth’s books in the library, I’d picked up a couple in charity shops, but it was Lisa’s warm praise that had me seeking out the first book in the series and starting to read.

I do like a golden age mystery, I was curious to meet a lady detective who predated Miss Marple by a few years, and, as checking the catalogue reassured me that my library has most of the books, I wasn’t too worried about the possibility of falling in love with this particular series .

There are thirty-two books in total, and they were published between 1928 and 1961.

Now, let’s start at the beginning.

21076179The story opens with Charles Moray returning to his family home in England after a long absence overseas. He had left because his fiancée, his childhood sweetheart, had jilted him on the eve of their wedding with no explanation at all, and he had returned because his father had died. That hinted at story possibilities, but the actual story came as a surprise.

Charles arrived home at night, without telling anyone he was coming, and he was shocked to find that a gang, led by a man known only as Grey Mask, so-called because he was never seen without his disguise. Thinking quickly, Charles slipped silently into a childhood hiding place that allowed him to watch and listen. He heard talk of to getting rid of an heiress to get her inheritance; his inclination was to act, but he knew that he could not when he caught sight of Margaret Langton, his former fiancée.

Meanwhile, Margot Standing’s wealthy father had been lost at sea, leaving her to inherit a fortune. But there was a complication; the family solicitor explained that her father had left no will, no evidence of his marriage to the mother Margot had never known, and no evidence that she was his daughter. Unless proof could be found her indolent cousin Egbert would inherit; she hated him, and when he proposed she left home, determined to show that she could succeed on her own.

She didn’t know that she was the target of the Grey Mask Gang, who wanted to get her out of the way to be absolutely sure that she would not, could not inherit.

Charles was pursuing Margaret, trying to find out what was going on. Margaret found Margot, at a low ebb because life had played a cruel trick on her, and took her in. Charles realised who Margot was, and stepped in.

That was how the three principals came together.

There was a degree of silliness in the story, there was a degree of coincidence in the coming together of the characters, but the story worked. It was well written, the plot was intriguing, and the characters were engaging.

Charles drove the plot.

Margot was spoiled, she was oblivious to practicalities and the feelings of others, she talked non-stop and she was completely irrepressible, She could have been infuriating, but because her position was so horrible and because she was so good natured, it was easy to like her and to be entertained by her. The letters she wrote to her school-friend overseas were brilliant!

Margaret was the most interesting and intriguing character. She was mixed up with the criminal gang, but she wanted to protect Margot Standing; she said that she did want to resume her relationship with Charles Moray, but it was clear that she cared about him; she would not explain why she jilted Charles, why she lived as she did, why she was involved with the Grey Mask gang.

And then of course there is the detective, Miss Silver, who I haven’t mentioned yet because her presence in the story was very low key. A friend advised Charles to approach her at a time when he was finding more questions than answers, and she acted for him. It was clear that she watched people and had them watched, that she carried out research and had some excellent sources, but she didn’t offer explanations and often it seemed that she was guiding Charles, steering him towards a solution rather than presenting him with answers. I really liked that, and I hope it continues through the series.

Something else I particularly liked was the way Patricia Wentworth threaded serious questions – about Margaret’s life as a single woman and the choices that she made, about Margot’s vulnerability and the position she had been left in, and most of all about the consequences of not knowing our own history – through an classic golden age style mystery. The story is bold, but its author clearly understands where subtlety is required.

I guessed Grey Mask’s identity, but there was always more than enough happening to keep me interested, there was a great twist at the end that I really didn’t see coming, and there a very well executed and suspenseful final drama.

There were one or two loose ends, and there’s a question or two I’d like to ask the author, but nothing that spoiled the book for me.

It’s a book to be enjoyed not a book to be analysed, and now that I’ve read this first book in the series I’m definitely planning on reading more.

Clearing the Decks: The Final Round of Introductions … for now …

I am creating a home library of the books that I think I can let go after reading, or maybe let go without reading at all for my Clearing the Decks Project

The project began last year with one hundred books. By the end of the year forty books had left the premises last year, and so I’m adding forty more for 2012.

I’m introducing the books ten at a time, and so here are the final ten to make up the hundred I’m going to draw on.

Do let me know if I have a book that you’ve loved and I’ll try to make it a priority. Or a book that you’ve hated and I should think twice about.

The Chinese Shawl by Patricia Wentworth

Tanis Lyle was one of those passionate women who always get their own way. Her cousin Laura hated her. Most women did. But men found her irresistible and she used them mercilessly. So when Tanis was found murdered there seemed to be any number of suspects on hand. But Miss Silver had her own suspicions . . .

A mystery author from ‘my period’ I had yet to try, so when this one turned up on a charity shop sale table I picked it up.

The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel

Langston Braverman returns to Haddington, Indiana (pop. 3,062) after walking out on an academic career that has equipped her for little but lording it over other people. Amos Townsend is trying to minister to a congregation that would prefer simple affirmations to his esoteric brand of theology.
What draws these difficult—if not impossible—people together are two wounded little girls who call themselves Immaculata and Epiphany. They are the daughters of Langston’s childhood friend and the witnesses to her murder. And their need for love is so urgent that neither Langston nor Amos can resist it, though they do their best to resist each other.

I think I bought this at the lovely Any Amount of Books in Charing Cross Road back in the days when I worked just around the corner in Cranbourn Street. Which means I’ve had it for a very long time. I’ve started a couple of times and I’ve liked it but not been sufficiently engaged to keep reading. So next time it’s finish or ditch!

The Prestige by Christopher Priest

Two 19th century stage illusionists, the aristocratic Rupert Angier and the working-class Alfred Borden, engage in a bitter and deadly feud; the effects are still being felt by their respective families a hundred years later. Working in the gaslight-and-velvet world of Victorian music halls, they prowl edgily in the background of each other’s shadowy life, driven to the extremes by a deadly combination of obsessive secrecy and insatiable curiosity. At the heart of the row is an amazing illusion they both perform during their stage acts. The secret of the magic is simple, and the reader is in on it almost from the start, but to the antagonists the real mystery lies deeper. Both have something more to hide than the mere workings of a trick.

I loved the film and I was curious about the book, which I had heard was quite different. So I picked up a copy on ReadItswapIt.

Wicked by Gregory MacGuire

An astonishingly rich re-creation of the land of Oz, this book retells the story of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, who wasn’t so wicked after all. Taking readers past the yellow brick road and into a phantasmagoric world rich with imagination and allegory, Gregory Maguire just might change the reputation of one of the most sinister characters in literature.

There was a time when this book was everywhere; I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, so when I spotted a copy in a charity shop I picked it up.

Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King

Filippo Brunelleschi’s design for the dome of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence remains one of the most towering achievements of Renaissance architecture. Completed in 1436, the dome remains a remarkable feat of design and engineering. Its span of over 140 feet exceeds St Paul’s in London and St Peter’s in Rome, and even outdoes the Capitol in Washington DC, making it the largest dome ever constructed using bricks and mortar. The story of its creation and its brilliant but “hot-tempered” creator is told in Ross King’s delightful Brunelleschi’s Dome.

I read a historical novel set in Florence – I think it was one of Sarah Dunant’s – and it made me want to read about the real history. I asked on for recommendation LibraryThing, this book was mentioned, and so I acquired this copy. I forget where it came from.

Last Train from Liguria by Christine Dwyer-Hickey

In 1933, Bella Stuart leaves her quiet London life to move to Italy to tutor the child of a beautiful Jewish heiress and an elderly Italian aristocrat. Living at the family’s summer home, Bella’s reserve softens as she comes to love her young charge, and find friendship with Maestro Edward, his enigmatic music teacher. But as the decade draws to an end and fascism tightens its grip on Europe, the fact that Alec is Jewish places his life in grave danger. Bella and Edward take the boy on a terrifying train journey out of Italy – one they have no reason to believe any of them will survive…

I bought this new – the synopsis made me think of wonderful books by Kate O’Brien and Maura Laverty, which has to be a good thing.

Madame Depardieu and the Beautiful Strangers by Antonia Quirke

‘Madame Depardieu and the Beautiful Strangers’ is the story of how a young female film critic’s love-life is affected and nearly ruined by her obsession with male movie stars. As her increasingly hapless hunt for the right man unfolds and her television and newspaper career unravels, our heroine finally begins to understand that difficult truth: that life is not like the movies. Entwined with the narrative of her real-life love affairs is a kaleidoscope of digressions on great screen actors — her dream-life with Gerard Depardieu, a personal ad seeking out Tom Cruise, a disastrous climactic encounter with Jeff Bridges. It’s a helter skelter ride through love and the movies which reads like a screwball comedy. And the screwball is our heroine, who seems to know everything about movies and the human heart, and nothing about anything else.

An impulse buy in a charity shop – the title intrigued me, I had to take a look, and once I’d looked I had to bring the book home.

The King’s Daughter by Christie Dickason

As First Daughter of England, Elizabeth seems to live a life of privilege and luxury. Yet she is imprisoned by duty; a helpless pawn in the political machinations of her father, James I. She trusts only her beloved brother Henry until she is sent a slave-girl, Tallie, who becomes her unlikely advisor. As their friendship grows, the innocent Elizabeth must learn to listen to dangerous truths about her louche father and his volatile court. Can she risk playing their games of secrecy and subterfuge in order to forge her path to love and freedom? Tragically robbed of Henry in mysterious circumstances, Elizabeth must summon all her resilience and courage to determine her own future. As a stream of suitors are invited to court, her father’s unpredictability and the unstable political climate threaten to destroy her one chance for happiness and perhaps even her life.

I’d seen this in the library, I meant to borrow it one day, but then I saw a copy in a charity shop and I couldn’t resist.

Visibility by Boris Starling

London, 1952. As the fog rolls in, the chase begins… A stranger’s approach offering highly sensitive information seemed routine to an ex-spy turned policeman. But when a body turns up instead of state secrets, Detective Inspector Herbert Smith finds himself in a race against time to solve the murder. For he is not the only one after the dead man’s secret. It seems the CIA, KGB and MI-5 are all vying to get to the truth first and some are prepared to kill for it. As the Great Smog descends on London, bringing chaos and death, Herbert finds himself facing one of the greatest evils of the twentieth century. At stake is the biggest prize of all: the key to life itself.

I think I picked this one up in Waterstone’s on a day trip to Truro.

Wedlock: How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match by Wendy Moore

Wedlock is the remarkable story of the Countess of Strathmore and her marriage to Andrew Robinson Stoney. Mary Eleanor Bowes was one of Britain’s richest young heiresses. She married the Count of Strathmore who died young, and pregnant with her lover’s child, Mary became engaged to George Gray. Then in swooped Andrew Robinson Stoney. Mary was bowled over and married him within the week. But nothing was as it seemed. Stoney was broke, and his pursuit of the wealthy Countess a calculated ploy. Once married to Mary, he embarked on years of ill-treatment, seizing her lands, beating her, terrorising servants, introducing prostitutes to the family home, kidnapping his own sister. But finally after many years, a servant helped Mary to escape. She began a high-profile divorce case that was the scandal of the day and was successful. But then Andrew kidnapped her and undertook a week-long rampage of terror and cruelty until the law finally caught up with him.

I must confess that I saw this in the library, thought I must borrow it when I had some space on my ticket, and then I realised that I had a copy at home.  Another book from Waterstone’s in Truro I think.

Any thoughts on this batch?

It brings me up to one hundred books again, so now I must update the project page.

And I’m going to report every ten books. Quarterly reporting didn’t work last year, and I’ve noticed that I have three projects involving one hundred books –  Clearing The Decks, Filling The Gaps and A Century of Books – so I’m going to take stock on each one every ten books.

At least, that’s the idea…