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!

Ten Books for Cornish Holidays

I’ve spotted a lot of Top Ten Holiday Reads  lists lately. Fascinating reading, and they set my mind spinning in a direction that was similar but different.

Ten books to transport you to Cornwall. Or to read on holiday in Cornwall.

I’ve picked books that are in print – and I think they are all available electronically – and I’ve picked wonderfully readable books, old and new, that I can happily recommend.

And her they are …


Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

“The road to Manderlay lay ahead.  There was no moon.  The sky above our heads was inky black.  But the sky on the horizon was not dark at all.  It was shot with crimson, like a splash of blood.  And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea.”  

Daphne Du Maurier fell in love with a house named Menabilly on the north coast of Cornwall. In Rebecca she calls that house Manderlay, and she spins a wonderful tale of suspense intrigue and romance, with lovely echoes of Jane Eyre around it.

Diving Belles by Lucy Wood

Lucy Wood comes from Cornwall, she understands, really understands what makes it so special, and she mixes myth and real life to fine effect in this wonderful collection of short stories.

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley

“Crossing the Tamar for some reason made me feel different inside. It was only a river, yet every time I crossed it I felt I had stepped through some mystical veil that divided the world that I only existed in from the one that I was meant to be living in.”

Susanna Kearsley captures the magic of crossing the Tamar Bridge, leaving Devon and coming into Cornwall, and she captures the magic that draws so many people here in this lovely story of a house, a garden, history, time travel, and above all romance.

Rambles Beyond Railways by Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins crossed the Tamar by boat, a few years before the bridge was built, and he and his friend, the artist Henry Brandling, set out on a 214 mile walking tour.  This account of their travels holds a wealth of  material, wonderful vivid writing and extraordinary insight.

Love in the Sun by Leo Walmsley

“Leo Walmsley gives the reader a true story, classic in its simplicity, of a man and a girl who possessed nothing in life but love for each other and faith in the future, and because of these things, were courageous and happy…”

So said Daphne Du Maurier, in her introduction to a story that is vividly and beautifully written. The man and the girl are utterly real, every detail rings true, and it is so easy to be pulled in, so easy to care.

Tales of Terror from the Black Ship by Chris Priestley

A visitor tells two children stories of the sea as they wait in their home, and Inn on a Cornish cliff, for the storm to abate and for their father to come home. Tales are deliciously twisted, and the final revelation – who the visitor is and why he has come – is perfect.

The Burying Beetle by Ann Kelley

This is the story of twelve year-old Gussie, who has a head full of films and books, who is fascinated by nature and the world around her home in St Ives. She is ill, waiting and hoping for a heart transplant, and that makes life all the more precious, and her story all the more life-affirming. I loved Gussie, and I loved seeing Cornwall through her eyes.

Peril at End House by Agatha Christie

On holiday at a Cornish hotel Poirot encounters an accident-prone heiress, and  he soon realises that her accidents are not accidents at all. A solid mystery, a very nice setting; all in all, a lovely period piece from the 1930s.

Penmarric by Susan Howatch

A wonderful family saga, spanning half a century, telling their story and the story of Penmarric, their grand Cornish home, in five voices. The house, its inhabitants, the world around them come to life in a dramatic, compelling story. I had no idea when I first read it that it was inspired by real mediaeval history ….

The First Wife by Emily Barr

The story of a girl from a Cornish village who loses her home when her grandparents die, moves to town, and finds herself caught up in a story elements of chick lit, strands of a psychological thriller, and echoes of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. It’s wonderful fun!

I’m waiting now for Emily Barr’s new book, the story of a woman whop disappears from the train between Penzance and Paddington. A train I have travelled on so many times …

There are more books of course, by these authors and by others.

Have any of these books, or have any other books, transported you to Cornwall, I wonder … ?

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley

For a very long time I wasn’t drawn to the books of Susanna Kearsley. I read a good few positive reports, but I suspected that she would be one of those authors who did what she did very well without being the author for me.

But, with The Rose Garden, I began to wonder. I read so much praise from many different readers, with very diverse tastes. And it was set in my native Cornwall …

I had to find a copy.

The opening chapter captured me. The emotions of Eva, mourning the loss of her sister Catherine, were captured perfectly. I cared, and I wanted to follow her story.

That continued throughout the story. The storytelling was plain, but very, very effective. Every character, every situation, every emotion rang true.

She was travelling from Californian home to Cornwall. To scatter her sister’s ashes where they had always been happy, where they felt they belonged, where they had spent many happy summers with family friends.

Cornwall is captured perfectly, by an author who so clearly understands its heart and soul.

Eva;returned to Trelowarth, the home of the Hallett family. Old friends, who understand her loss, her pain, and offer her love, support, and a place to come to terms with what has happened.

And she can give them something too. As a PR consultant she can help them with their plans to encourage more visitors to come to the house, and to spend the money needed to keep it going.

Eva begins to research the history of the house, and soon she finds the past reaching out to her. First she hears voices. And then she steps back into the past.

To 1715, when Trelowarth was the home of Jacobites, planning to overthrow the protestant King George I and put a catholic claimant, James Stuart, on the throne in his stead.

This is where I worried that things would go wrong. Time slip novels often do, but this one didn’t. I can’t quite explain why. But I’m sure it helped that of those concerned dealt with what was happening wonderfully pragmatically, and so the story could continue apace.

As Eva moves between past and present – tea rooms and rose gardens in the present; smuggling and rebellions in the past – she becomes involved with the lives of all those she knows at Trelowarth.

And with  one Jacobite rebel in particular…

The stories – both past and present – were engaging, with just the right details picked out.

And there was always something happening, so I never stopped to wonder how this could all end.

Eva doesn’t know where she belongs, until a wonderful twist in the tale – surprising but exactly right – resolves things beautifully.

And then I realised that I had read a good old-fashioned page turner.

A story of love, loss, adventure, tragedy, romance … what more could you want?!

Oh Susanna !

I must confess that for many years I have had an irrational prejudice against your books.

You see, back when I was living and working in London I developed an eye problem. I had to take quite a bit of time off work and – disaster – I had to stop reading.

The book I had to put down,  and take back to the library unfinished, was ‘The Shadowy Horses’.

And so – even though my doctor and I soon worked out that I had developed a bad intolerance to sunlight and put things right with a course of steroids, eyedrops, and tinted glasses at all times – the unhappy association remained.

Unfair I know, but there it is.

But as the years passed those feelings faded. And I  was visiting a lot of bloggers – DanielleStaci and Eva, to name just a few – who were saying wonderful things about your books.

When I saw that ‘The Rose Garden’ was set in Cornwall I knew that I had to find a copy.

The emotion of the opening chapter captured me.

And when I turned to the second chapter I realised that you understood the Cornish psyche:

“Crossing the Tamar for some reason made me feel different inside. It was only a river, yet every time I crossed it I felt I had stepped through some mystical veil that divided the world that I only existed in from the one that I was meant to be living in.”

The Tamar Bridge

I have crossed the bridge that links Cornwall to Devon and the rest of the country so many times, and those words capture the sensation perfectly.

I’m afraid there’s a slip in the next paragraph. Daphne du Maurier lived on the north coast, not the south. As a native of the south coast I’d love to claim her, but I can’t. Though I can say that she was living just a few miles away when I first fell in love with her books.

But I’m rambling. What I meant to say is that I can easily forgive a few little inaccuracies if the spirit of the story is right. And the spirit is.

So I’ll go back to reading …