April and May have come and gone …

…. and I have not been her nearly as much as I intended to be.

I have been covering an absent colleagues work as well as my own since the middle of March, and that has left me ready to collapse into a chair at the end of the day but not ready to pick up a computer and start typing.

The situation looks unlikely to be resolved any time soon, but I do have some temporary help arriving next week and I hope that will allow me to write more again.

I am going to write a little about the books I’ve read over the last couple of month to have them all ‘on the record’ and to draw a line between the way the past months have been and the way I want future months to be.

I hope to write a little more about the best and the most noteworthy of them next month.

I’ll restrict the books have written about to a single sentence, because now that I’m looking back I find I’ve read more than I thought I had.

Adrian Paul Allinson – The Cornish April

Old Baggage by Lissa Evans – This book gave me something that I don’t remember a book giving me before – the back story of an interesting older character in a book I loved (Crooked Heart). This tells the story of Noel Bostock’s godmother, Mattie, covering the years after she was a suffragette and before she took responsibility for him, and it was every bit as good as I hoped it would be.

Fatal Harmony by Kate Rhodes – I hadn’t expected a new book in the Alice Quentin series after what felt like an ending in the last book, the beginning of a new series and a very long interval, so I was delighted to spot this book. Alice is called in when a musical prodigy who murdered his parents escapes from prison. The story was distinctive, the writing was wonderful, it was lovely to catch up with different characters, and my only small complaint was that sometimes the story didn’t stray a little further from crime writing conventions.

Miss Silver Intervenes by Patricia Wentworth – This isn’t the strongest book in the Miss Silver series, but it was entertaining.

Cruel Acts by Jane Casey – It can’t be easy for authors of police procedurals to come up with interesting new angles, but Jane Casey has done just that for Maeve Kerrigan’s eighth outing – she and Josh Derwent are re-investigating the alleged crimes of a man convicted of murder who has every chance of winning an appeal against his conviction. The developments thorough the story are interesting, the recurring characters and their relationships are evolving nicely, and the book as a whole is a solid addition to the series.

The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton – This sprawling story was lovely to get lost in, and a definite case of the right book at the right time.

The Sun in Scorpio by Margery Sharp – This late novel by one of my favourite authors was a joy, and its heroine reminded me a little of earlier heroines,  and the author herself.

The Ringed Castle by Dorothy Dunnett – I lost some of my momentum with the Lymond Chronicles after the devastating conclusion to one story arc at the end of the last book and it took me a little time to get into this book, I found much to love in the story that played out in Russia and in the story that played out in London, This isn’t my favourite book of the series, but I think that – as with Queens’ Play – I appreciate it more later when I see its place in the sextet,

Cuckoo in June by Ann Stafford and Jane Oliver – I was delighted to find another collaboration by the authors of Business as Usual, but sadly this book wasn’t in the same class as that one. It tells the story of a countrywoman charged with keeping her cousin’s daughter out of London and away from unsuitable young men. The story that follows has its moments, but the narrator was rather dull and the rushed ending somehow it managed to be predictable and unlikely at the same time.

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Adrian Paul Allinson – Summer on the South Coast

East of Suez by Alice Perrin – The short stories in this collection capture the India that the author knew and loved very well.

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson – I found much to appreciate in this story of a young woman who finds her first teaching job in a Sussex town not long before the great war; but there were too many echoes of other books and authors and the characters and their relationships didn’t quite come to life, so I felt that I was watching a staged drama and not looking through a window into the past.

The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan –  This is the follow-up to a first book that didn’t quite work for me, because there was far too much going on, but it did show promise and I was told that this second book was better, and so I picked it up in the library. I read a story that began with an apparent hit-and-run outside a research laboratory and grew into a complex investigation, I found much to appreciate in the characters and the themes, but there was a little too much that I found implausible in the story. It was good enough for me to pick up the next book if I come across it, but not so good that I’m going to go out and look for it.

Handel in London by Jane Glover – Facts about the life of the composer are scarce and Jane Glover has no new revelations and makes no suppositions, but accounts of his work that are both scholarly and accessible and the story of the times and events he lived through made her book a joy to read.

The Secret of Greylands by Annie Haynes – When her husband unmasked as a scoundrel, Cynthia runs away to the remote country home of an elderly cousin, but she soon realises that something is seriously wrong there. The set up of this 1920s mystery  is wonderful but sadly it lurches into territory that is silly and contrived. Annie Haynes has written much better books, and Patricia Wentworth does this kind of thing much better.

The Scapegoat by Daphne Du Maurier – I read and loved this book as a school-girl, and I loved it still when I revisited it all these years later.

Harvest Home by Hilda Vaughan – A man rides home, from England into Wales, to claim an inheritance that his mother schemed to win for him from his less ambitious cousin; but the woman he loves is in love that cousin. Unrequited love grows into obsession and that  leads to desperate measures. The story is beautifully written, fast moving and using its setting and local traditions and legends very well. I loved it, but I would have liked a little more subtlety.

The Unfinished Palazzo: Life, Love and Art in Venice by Judith Mackrell – One Saturday, after a week of less than satisfactory reading, I picked up this book in the library and sat down for an hour and read. I loved reading about the palazzo and its evolution, I loved the themes and the history that echoed through the lives of the three women who made their mark there, but the stories of the second and third were less interesting the first and the book was more their stories than the palazzo’s. That’s why I have to say that this was a very good book, but it wasn’t as wonderful as I hoped it might be.

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth McNeal – I’ve seen this slice of dark Victoriana compared with The Collector, The Scarlet Petal and the White, and Fingersmith. It isn’t that good, but it is very good, I can see why the comparisons have been drawn, and it’s quite possible that the author could go on to write something that is that good one day.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert – The author writes that “I’ve longed to write a novel about promiscuous girls whose lives are not destroyed by their sexual desires” and that “My goal was to write a book that would go down like a champagne cocktail- light and bright, crisp and fun.” I’d say that she succeeded in those aims in this story of a college drop-out with a talent for sewing sent to stay with an aunt in New York by her wealthy parents ….

That was the last book I’ve finished reading.

As May draws to a close I’m working my way through the last of the Lymond Chronicles, I’m reading one of the less celebrated Persephone books, and I’m waiting for my own copy of a wonderful book that I couldn’t bear to rush through before I had to return it for the next person in the library queue.

I think I’m going to be very happy with my June reading ….

10 thoughts on “April and May have come and gone …

  1. I think it’s very sensible to ‘draw a line in the sand’. Work, by the sound of it, is overwhelming, and one of the tricks that helped me when I was drowning in commitments was to prioritise those that were not negotiable, and deal with the others as best I could, and sometimes never at all. It’s the only way to stay sane.
    (I remember well the feeling of power when I wrote in large red capitals across a task that was supposed to be done that I had already worked a 65 hour week and wasn’t going to do any more!)
    And although it’s not the same, I would also find that there would be a deluge of booklovers’ reviews to read when work banked up. I soon realised that it was a hopeless task to catch up, so I didn’t try. I just started again from new. I think that’s the only way to stay sane as well.
    Look after yourself!

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  2. I completely agree with you and Lisa about the benefits of drawing a line – advice which I should heed more often myself. Thank heavens for reading as a way to keep us (mostly) sane. This is a great list. I really enjoyed Old Baggage too and must get back to the Unfinished Palazzo. Wishing you a happier forward-looking June! 🙂

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  3. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed Old Baggage. It’s a book I’d like to read at some point,
    maybe later this year if the timing works out. I don’t think I’ve heard a bad word against it, always a good sign.

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  4. I’m sorry work has been so busy, that sounds exhausting and stressful. I’m so glad you enjoyed Old Baggage, I loved meeting up with Mattie again and finding out her back story. I have seen The Doll Factory talked about everywhere, and I have been put off it perhaps by the hype. Both those books it’s likened to I loved though. I do hope things settle down at work for you soon.

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  5. The Bears and I are sorry you have been so busy. We miss you being around. I was pleased to see the new Alice Quentin too; like you I thought that series was over. I also felt as you did about The Scholar. As someone who has worked for decades in that educational environment I can promise you the ruse those two students try to pull would have been seen through in week one.

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  6. Sorry to hear work has been stressful – I hope things improve when you get your temporary help. The Doll Factory sounds intriguing and I’m looking forward to reading it myself soon. I’m glad you still found things to love in The Ringed Castle, even if it wasn’t your favourite!

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  7. I really appreciate the need to draw a line and then move on – it’s so easy to get bogged down in something that’s meant to be ‘fun’! I hope you’re able to enjoy your June reading and thanks for the lovely art!

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