February has Come and Gone ….

…. and now it is a few days into March and it really is time I looked back and looked forward.

I haven’t read quite as much as I did in January but I have got back into the habit of writing and I am very happy with what I did read.

‘A February Day’ by Rowland Hilder

These are the books:

‘The House in the Country’ by Ruth Adam – The story of a group of friends who find that if they pooled their resources they can buy the country house they dreamed of during the war. It’s a beautifully told story, it catches a period of social change wonderfully naturally, and I can’t help thinking that it ought to be a Persephone book.

‘The Strange Case of Harriet Hall’ by Moray Dalton – One of a range of intriguing new titles from the Dean Street Press, this is a character-led mystery story. It was wonderfully engaging and entertaining, it had some lovely and distinctive plot twists, and I already have another book by the author lined up.

‘Business as Usual’ by Jane Oliver and Ann Stafford – This book is made up of the letters of a young lady from Edinburgh who ventures down to London to find a job and a home of her own rather than sit at home waiting for her doctor fiance to find the time to get married. It’s wonderful fun, it catches her experience beautifully, and when I had to take this book back to the library I started to look for more of the work of this pair of authors.

‘Smallbone Deceased’ by Michael Gilbert – I see a great many British Library Crime Classics when I visit my local library, which is lovely but it means that it is rare that a single book catches my eye. This one did. It is a very well constructed mystery, set in a legal practice, and if I don’t say more that that it is only because it is the kind of book that it is difficult to say much about without spoiling it for other readers.

‘Kirkland Revels’ by Victoria Holt – My teenage self would have loved this book, but now that I have read so much more I could see the workings of the story. I had to keep reading, there was more than enough to hold my attention,  I cared about what happened to the heroine; but when I reached the end I realised it was time to let go of books like this that I should have read years ago but didn’t.

‘Pawn in Frankincense’ by Dorothy Dunnett – I picked up this fourth book in the Lymond series as soon as I finished the third book and I loved it. The story progressed, characters grew, new characters raised new questions, there were plots twists that I saw coming but there were many that I didn’t. The settings and the set pieces were as good as I have come to expect, there were references and links back to events in earlier books, and though I don’t want this to be over I am so curious to see the whole story. Book five is ready and waiting …..

‘Greengates’ by R C Sheriff – This was my second ‘moving to the country’ book of the month, and I loved it almost as much as the first one. It tells the story of a retired couple who were struggling with the changes, the lack of purpose, that retirement had brought them. It was lovely following the details of their lives, the ups and downs of the move, and the settling into a new life. It made me think of my grandparents, who moved to an end of terrace house at around the same time, and moved next door a while later because they were seeing more and more motor cars driving along the promenade and they were worried that one of them would crash into the end house ….

At the end of January I assembled a pile of books that I planned to read in February, but looking back I can see that I have only read one (‘The Disorderly Knights’ by Dorothy Dunnett) and made a start on one other (‘Eve in Egypt’ by Stella Tennyson Jesse) I had better not do that again. I still want to read the other books, but I picked some of them up and put them down again because they weren’t the right book for the moment, and other books called me more loudly than the books left on the pile.

I will say than I plan to read something from Wales and something from Ireland.

But I want to look back now, because sometimes it seems that books have their moment and then they disappear. I’m going to borrow a game from Audrey and look back at highlights of past February’s. I have ten years of archives now, so here are ten books that I think are well worth remembering.

Here they are:

2009 – The Great Western Beach by Emma Smith – This is a lovely memoir of a Cornish childhood between the wars, written with empathy and understanding, and balancing that with the child’s perspective wonderfully well.

2010 – Martha in Paris by Margery Sharp – This was my second Margery Sharp book. I loved my first, the others were all out of print, but luckily the library had this sequel, and a few others. And so my relationship with an author who would become a particular favourite began …

2011 – Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton – Eight years ago I described this story of a middle-aged woman who moved to France after her children had grown and her husband had left as “a warm hug” and I really can’t think why I haven’t plucked the other books by the author from the shelf yet.

2012 – The City of Beautiful Nonsense by E Temple Thurston – I read about this in an introduction to one of her own books by Rumer Godden, She said “I bought the book and read it; even then I recognised how unashamedly sentimental it was – novels were sentimental at the turn of the century, and this was a love story – but, in spite of that, it’s evocation of Venice cast such a spell that it has been with me ever since…” and I have to agree.

2013 – The Fool of the Family by Margaret Kennedy – The second month seems to be my time for reading my second books by authors who would become particular favourites. I read my Virago copy of ‘The Constant Nymph’, I was curious about the sequel that follow the story of a relatively minor character from that book, and the library had that one in reserve stock too.

2014 – The Twelfth Hour by Ada Leverson – I have to smile at the memory of this romantic comedy, set in the summer season in Edwardian London. It really is a lovely confection.

2015 – Girl in the Dark by Anna Lyndsey – This is the story of a civil servant whose light sensitivity grew into a condition where she had to live in darkness, in a room completely and utterly blacked out, wrapped in dense, heavy clothing, because even the faintest hint of light – natural or artificial – would cause her agonising pain. At the time I described it as “the most astonishing, the most beautifully written memoir that I have ever read” and looking back now I am happy to stand by those words.

2016 – Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondeley – I read much praise for this strangely-titled Victorian Virago Modern Classic, I tracked down a copy, and when I read it I had to agree – and to wish that it was in print and that the author was better known.

2017 – The Trespasser by Tana French – Like all of Tana French’s earlier books, this was a fascinating contemporary police procedural; a compelling character study, written with real insight and understanding;  a perceptive state of the nation novel; and a wonderful example of contemporary literary fiction.

2018 – Rough-Hewn by Dorothy Canfield Fisher – This is the prequel to a book that Virago published, exploring the childhoods of the married couple at the centre of that book. I decided that I should read it first, and it is a wonderfully rich exploration of the very different worlds of two children.

Do try this – it stirred some lovely bookish memories for me.

And tell we what you’re reading, what your plans are, and if there is anything interesting happening that I’ve missed.

14 thoughts on “February has Come and Gone ….

    1. She is exceptional, and one of a very select bank of crime writers whose books I collect because I know I will want to revisit. I have a few possibilities for this month, so I’m not sure what I’ll read but I’ll definitely read something.

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  1. Lovely round up Jane, and I do like the look-back at previous Februarys – what fun! Interesting what you say about Victoria Holt – my mum read them when I was in my teens and I used to read them madly too, but when I had a look at one recently I realised I moved on quite a lot since then and I really could read it. So I have a couple of her favourites on my shelves for old time’s sake, but I don’t think I will open them up again.

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  2. what a great idea – I can see how enjoyable it must be to browse through past reads. My reading records are not sufficiently details or far back to do the same, but it has certainly made me think a bit harder about what info to collect for future review!

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  3. That sounds like another great month of reading. I have The Strange Case of Harriet Hall lined up to read soon – and I love Pawn in Frankincense, of course.

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  4. You have already made me add so many books to my TBR and then your game made me add more! lol! But I do love this memory game and I will for sure try it out. I have Red Pottage lying with me FOREVER and now after your recommendation, I will get to it soon! Thank You for lovely post!

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  5. I wrote a comment a few days ago and it disappeared! Now of course I can’t remember exactly what I said, but the gist of it was to thank you for bringing all these wonderful books to our attention. I loved RC Sherriff’s ‘The Fortnight in September’, so ‘Greengates’ particularly interests me, but I also like the look of ‘The House in the Country’, ‘Smallbone Deceased’, ‘Business as Usual’, ‘The Western Beach’ – and indeed almost all of the list. I have just read ‘Miss Hargreaves’ by Frank Baker, which was absolutely wonderful. It’s quite a bizarre book really, but as it’s all set in an English Cathedral town, with lots of gossip about Lay Clerks, Canons and Deans, and as I work in a Cathedral (though not in England) I enjoyed it even more. I chose it as one of my books for Simon Thomas’s (@stuck_inabook) idea of reading only novels with names in the title. We’re also not supposed to buy anything new (that part has not gone so well…); I’m finding having a theme has really reinvigorated my reading. Before ‘Miss Hargreaves’ I read ‘Don’t Tell Alfred’ – Nancy Mitford, and probably not her best, but fun to catch up on Fanny, Uncle Matthew and Davey from ‘Love in a Cold Climate’. Thank you again for your lovely blog Jane, it’s one of my favourites.

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  6. “Business as Usual” sounds the most intriguing to me. Having lived away from the city in suburbs or countryside much of my life, I see moving to the big city as more of a draw than moving away from it.

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    1. I moved into the city from the countryside twice, and each time I realised it was the right decision. I now live in Edinburgh and love it – everything on the doorstep, don’t have to drive anywhere (fantastic bus service and I can walk to most places anyway) lots going on if you want it, but anonymity if you don’t. I feel it frees me up to do whatever I want without having to think about getting there/back, and I can always find somewhere open to buy essentials. I know this is not the fashionable view, but far from being happier in the country I was miserable. I love going out for days in the Pentlands, trips to the beach, etc, but I always like coming back to the city. My daughters, now grown up, were also a lot happier in town – as they got older they could have far more independence without having to rely on me to drive them everywhere. I know some parents see city life as full of dangers, but I think there are more risks in careering around the country lanes in old cars, walking along unlit roads at night, etc. I suppose it’s just horses for courses, as my Irish friend would say, and most of my family is very much of the city.

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  7. Jane, sadly not a great deal to catch up with as I only finished two – albeit big – books in February: the challenging Christian non-fiction The Story of Reality by Gregory Koukl and the super fun Origin by Dan Brown, the latest Robert Langdon adventure. I am thinking I need to treat myself to some shorter, lighter reads this month. Happy March reading! 🙂

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