A Year in First Lines

The last month of the year is here, and so it’s time to play a particular game:

“Take the first line of each month’s post over the past year and see what it tells you about your blogging year.”

It’s an idea that started with The Indextrious Reader a few years ago, and I remember that that it really is an interesting way to look back at a year.

So here goes …

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December

Man and Wife by Wilkie Collins (1870)

It is said that Wilkie Collins was at the height of his powers in the 1860s, when he wrote the books generally acknowledged to be his four great novels/

November

THE 100 BOOKS TAG

A few weeks ago I said that I don’t do this thing very often, but here I am doing it again, and planning something else for the not so distant future.

October

DAWN’S LEFT HAND BY DOROTHY RICHARDSON (1931)

The tenth of the thirteen volume series of novels that Dorothy Richardson titled ‘Pilgrimage’ – picks up the story of Miriam Henderson exactly where the ninth ended.

September

THROUGH CONNEMARA IN A GOVERNESS CART BY SOMERVILLE & ROSS (1893)

When work, life, and other things conspire to keep me at home, surrounded by visitors, at the height of the season there is only one thing to do.

August

TO THE BRIGHT EDGE OF THE WORLD BY EOWYN IVEY (2016)

I fell in love with this book; it captured both my head and my heart, completely and utterly.

July

A WOMAN OF LETTERS BY MARCH COST (1959)

I am so glad that I found  March Cost!

June

THE SACRED COMBE BY THOMAS MALONEY (2016)

This was a novel that spoke of many things that I love – in life and in literature.

May

AN A TO Z TO PICK UP THE THREADS ….

A is for A SITE OF HER OWN -ten of Margery Sharp’s novels are back in the world and her publisher – Open Road Media – is showing them off in a lovely little site of her own.

April

I SEE MORE GOLDEN AGE MYSTERIES ….

We seem to be living in a Golden Age for reissues.

March

HONEYCOMB BY DOROTHY RICHARDSON (1917)

Now that I am at the end of the first of the four volumes that collect Dorothy Richardson’s ‘Pilgrimage’ sequence of novels, it seems strange that I had ever feared that the ‘stream of consciousness’ of those thirteen novels would be difficult and that one woman’s consciousness would not be enough to fill all of those pages.

February

THE FIRST A TO Z OF THE YEAR

A is for ANNA HOPE – I thought that ‘Wake ‘ might be a one-off, but I am pleased to report that I have just finished reading her second novel and I loved it.

January

CLUNY BROWN BY MARGERY SHARP (1944)

I have been utterly charmed by Cluny Brown.

And that’s it!

Margery Sharp, Dorothy Richardson and A to Zs seem to dominate my year!

That’s not exactly right, but it’s an interesting snapshot.

Do have a go – it’s a lovely way to look back , and I’d love to see your results.

The 100 Books Tag

A few weeks ago I said that I don’t do this thing very often, but here I am doing it again, and planning something else for the not so distant future.

FictionFan posed these questions to celebrate her 100th TBR Thursday post,  and I  just had to come up with some answers of my own.

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(I hope that literary cupcakes will be welcome at this centenary celebration)

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What is the 100th book on your TBR list? (In the unlikely event that you don’t have 100 books on your TBR, what book’s been on there longest?)

I don’t keep a record of my unread books, and I don’t shelve them separately. I could use LibraryThing to work out what the 100th book was, but what I decided to do was pick a room and count the unread books until I reached the magic number.

My 100th book was:

‘The World is Not Enough’ by Zoe Oldenbourg.

This story, set in twelfth-century France, at the time of the Third Crusade, chronicling the lives and loves of one family, has been waiting for a long time. I really want to read it but I think it’s the kind of book that needs exactly the right moment.

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Open your current book to page 100 (or randomly, if you don’t have page numbers on your e-reader) and quote a few sentences that you like.

“The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine and fifty swans”

From ‘The Wild Swans at Coode’ by William Butler Yates, in the Wildlife Trust’s new Autumn anthology.

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(‘Swan’ by Kristin Vestgard)

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When you are 100, what author(s) do you know you will still be re-reading regularly? (This should be an easy one for those of you who are already over 100…)

This is a question I struggle to answer, but ….

It would be lovely if that could be a time – and to have the time – for re-reading the big Victorian classics.

Agatha Christie too….

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Link to your 100th post (if you’re a new blogger then link to your tenth post, or any one you like). Do you still agree with what you said back then?

I’ve counted back, and this couldn’t have fallen better if I’d planned it myself.

WELCOME BACK INTO THE WORLD, MARGERY SHARP!

There are so many books in the world, the accumulation of years and years of authors writing away, and that is lovely for devoted readers, but it can also be a little worrying. How do we know that we have found the very best books for us? How do we know that the very best book of all is a book we haven’t found yet?
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I worry much less about those things since I discovered the work of a wonderful author named Margery Sharp, and that is why I am so thrilled that Open Road Media has taken the first step to introduce her to a wider audience, many of whom I know will fall in love with her, by issuing ten of her works as e-books.

I still agree with every word!

And this reminds me to say that there will be a third Margery Sharp Day, on 25th January 2017.

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Name a book you love that has less than 100 pages. Why do you love it?

‘Rock Crystal’ by Adalbert Stifter

(Just 81 pages in my NYRB Classics edition!)

“Two children—Conrad and his little sister, Sanna—set out from their village high up in the Alps to visit their grandparents in the neighboring valley. It is the day before Christmas but the weather is mild, though of course night falls early in December and the children are warned not to linger. The grandparents welcome the children with presents and pack them off with kisses. Then snow begins to fall, ever more thickly and steadily. Undaunted, the children press on, only to take a wrong turn. The snow rises higher and higher, time passes: it is deep night when the sky clears and Conrad and Sanna discover themselves out on a glacier, terrifying and beautiful, the heart of the void.”

I love it for the simplicity of the story, the beauty of the prose, and the evocation of the two children and the world about them

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If someone gave you £100, what would be the five books you would rush to buy?

My first inclination would be to tour the second-hand bookshops of the south-west, but, if I was to step into  my favourite local independent bookshop, what might I buy?

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‘Bookshops’ by Jorge Carrión. I read a wonderful piece in the Guardian a few weeks ago, I’ve read some lovely reviews, and I never could resist a book about books or bookshops.

‘The Forgotten Smile’ by Margaret Kennedy, because I’m still building my collection of her books.

‘The Invention of Angela Carter’ by Edmund Gordon. I’ve been waiting for this biography for such a long time.

‘Every Good Deed and Other Stories’ by Dorothy Whipple, because it’s top of my Persephone wishlist.

‘Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks’ by John Curran. I’ve brought the library’s copy home a few times, and I really want a copy to keep.

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Looking at The Guardian’s list of “The 100 greatest novels of all time”, how many have you read? Of the ones you haven’t, which ones would you most like to read? And which will you never read?

I’ve read 35. That doesn’t sound very good, but I don’t believe in reading books just because they’re classics, and I don’t believe that the same books can work for everyone, because we all have different lives, different experiences and different reading histories. I believe in reading the books you believe will speak to you; and in looking at lists simply for reminders and suggestions of books I might want to read; nothing more.

I want to read ‘Clarissa’ and ‘The Brothers Karamazov’, but I don’t expect to read James Joyce or Samuel Becket in this lifetime.

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What book do you expect to be reading 100 days from now?

I have no idea. I have plans but they’re pretty flexible and I try to read as the mood strikes.

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(‘Our House is Filled with Birds’ by David Brayne)

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Free Question – Create a 100 themed question of your own choice and answer it.

My question:

“Can you create 100 stars from 20 5-star books! Don’t look at book lists, make your selections from the books you can see and the books you can remember!”

My answer:

‘The Feast’ by Margaret Kennedy
‘The Moonstone’ by Wilkie Collins
‘A Pin to See the Peepshow’ by F Tennyson Jesse
‘The Snow Child’ by Eowyn Ivey
‘The Innocents’ by Margery Sharp
‘Case Histories’ by Kate Atkinson
‘Possession’ by A S Byatt
‘South Riding’ by Winifred Holtby
‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ by Alexandre Dumas
‘In a Dark Wood Wandering’ by Hella S Haasse
‘The Meaning of Night’ by Michael Cox
‘Oscar and Lucinda’ by Peter Carey
‘The Custom of the Country’ by Edith Wharton
‘Nights at the Circus’ by Angela Carter
‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens
‘The Return of the Solidier’ by Rebecca West
‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ by Susanna Clarke
‘Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie’
‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte
‘The Great Western Beach’ by Emma Smith

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I’m not going to name names, because I’ve seen a great many people doing this already, and because don’t want to push anyone to do anything they don’t want to do, but if you’ve been thinking of answers – or wondering what you might answer – please consider yourself tagged!

10% Report: 100 Years of Books

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I’ve rather neglected my 100 Years of Books project, and this is my first 10% report in more than a year.

There was a time when that would have horrified me, but I’ve learned to be more relaxed about the whole thing.

I’ve learned that the way to enjoy the project is to take my time; to focus on it when I want to and to put it to one side when I want to read other things. I’m reading the books I want to read. Sometimes I realise that a book I want to read will fill a year; and sometimes I think it’s time I filled another year and see if I can spot a book to fill a gap.

I’ll fill the 100 years one day, but I don’t know when that will be.

The couple of books I’ve added to my list recently have re-awakened my enthusiasm for the project.

I have books I’m eager to read to fill more gaps. In between the books from years already filled, the books from authors already on the list, and the books from years outside my project. That’s why it’s going to take some time!

I do still think that I can do this, and that I won’t have to read any ‘duty books’ along the way.

I want to see the final list one day – 100 years, 100 books and 100 authors!

Today though I just have my latest ten books – here they are:

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1855 – North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Mrs Gaskell constructed her plot very cleverly, drawing in all of her character in the north and in the south. It is in a large part driven by familiar devices – a misunderstanding and an inheritance – but they are woven in so well, every thing that happens, every character, every relationship, every interaction, rings completely true. On my second journey through ‘North and South’ what struck me was the wonderful depth of everything: character, plot, time and place. The has things to say about people, families and communities that are timeless; and it speaks equally well about its period, about the consequences of industrialisation; about the social history of a particular time and place.

1861 – East Lynne by Ellen Wood

I could tell you that ‘East Lynne’, a huge popular success in its day, has unremarkable writing, is horribly contrived, holds no real surprises, drifts into silliness and goes on for much too long.But I could also tell you that I had to keep reading, that I was very well entertained, and that the book was very easy to read.

1877 – Pendower: a story of Cornwall in the time of Henry VIII by Marianne Filleul

I’ve read many novels that consider the reformation at court, and in the light of the marriages of Henry VIII, but I don’t think I’ve read one before that considered its impact on the country. Marianne Filleul caught the fear and the confusion perfectly, and presented the question in its simplest form. Should mass be said in Latin, that sounded beautiful was not understood, or should it be said in plain language for all to understand?

1885 – Called Back by Hugh Conway

After its first publication, in 1885, ‘Called Back’ was a great success. It sold in huge quantities, it was adapted for the stage; and yet it vanished into obscurity quite quickly. Maybe because the author died young, and maybe because there were other authors who wrote this kind of story – a mixture of sensation and detection – very well. Wilkie Collins is the first name that comes to mind; and I have to say that Hugh Conway wasn’t quite in his league. But he clearly knew how to spin a yarn and how to keep readers turning pages.

1898 – Victoria by Knut Hamsun

This is a very slim novel, and it tells a story that had been told a great many times over the years – the story of young lovers from different classes, pulled together by love but pulled in different directions by life – but it is so well told and so distinctive that I found it irresistible.

1899 – Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondeley

Mary Cholmondeley plotted her story so cleverly, twisting it again and again; and making my heart rise and fall so many times as I followed the fortunes of a cast of characters who became so very real to me. The two storylines are separate, meeting only as the two friends meet, but the book works because each storyline is so good. There are echoes of great authors, there is glorious satire and wit, there is passionate advocacy of a woman’s right to set the course of her own life; and that is all held together by the most compelling of human dramas and writing that is full of heart and intelligence. It feels like a Victorian novel, but it also feels wonderfully subversive.

1919 – The Tunnel by Dorothy Richardson

Reading Dorothy Richardson requires the ability to notice small things and to accept that there are some things that you many never know. I spotted a reference to Miriam’s employment having been found by a family friend, but how she found her lodgings, how she came to know her friends, I don’t know. To complain about that though would be missing the point. This is the story of Miriam’s journey, filtered through her consciousness, and the best way to appreciate it is to stay in the moment with her. There is so very much to appreciate.

1942 – The Vienna Melody by Ernst Lothar

Towards the end of the 19th century Christopher Alt was a renowned piano-maker. He was a master of his craft; the best in Vienna, the best in Austria, and quite possibly the best in the world. When his life ended, he left behind a will containing an extraordinary clause. Because he was a strong believer in family, because he wanted his children, his grandchildren and the generations that followed to remain close, his will said that his descendants must live within the walls of the family home at number 10 Seilerstatte to claim any inheritance . He had hoped to create a harmonious family unit that would live happily side by side and continue the work that he had started, but the reality was rather different.

1947 – The Bull Calves by Naomi Mitchison

Naomi Mitchison spent the Second World War in Carradale, Kintyre. She welcomed evacuees and refugees into her home,  she managed the farm, she organised the local Labour Party, she was involved with her local dramatic society, and she wrote a diary for Mass Observation, of more than a million words. She also wrote this novel; beginning in the dark days of 1940 and working slowly and carefully because she knew that what she wanted to say was important. She wanted to write about the need for peace and reconciliation after war; and she did that in a story set early two hundred years earlier, in the aftermath of the Jacobite rising of 1745.

1948 – Murder in the Telephone Exchange by June Wright

June Wright constructed a very good story of suspense; she doesn’t play entirely fair, withholding significant information from the reader and playing fast and loose with police procedure, but it works well enough.It works because the time and place, the people and relationships are so very well drawn. As she tells her story June Wright illuminates the lives of the telephonists, the work that they do and the lives that they lead. She brings the telephone exchange to life, and she uses her knowledge of the telephonists’ work, of the hierarchy of the telephone exchange, and of the procedures that they must follow to excellent effect as she tells her story.

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

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The Bookish Time Travel Tag

antique_mechanical_clockIt’s a long time since I’ve done anything like this, but englishlitgeek was kind enough to tag me, I loved the theme and the questions that  The Library Lizard set out in the world, and so I decided that it was time.

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What is your favourite historical setting for a book?

Oh my goodness, it is so difficult – almost impossible – for me to pick a setting; because as long as I’ve been reading the most magical thing about books is that they can take me to so many different places and so many times in history.

There is one setting though that has an extra special magic, and I love those authors who have set stories close to my Cornish home and had me believing that the people they wrote about really lived and the stories they told really played out.

I loved the familiar train journey down through the county that John Trevena caught in well in ‘A Pixy in Petticoats’.

I’ve sat on top of a hill near St Just and placed character and events in ‘Penmarric’ by Susan Howatch in places I could see.

I’ve wondered which town centre pubs were visited in ‘The Owl House’ by Crosbie Garstin – The Star, I suspect.

I loved that the title character  in ‘Ruan’ by Bryher walked across the same beach that my dog loves ….

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What writer/s would you like to travel back in time to meet?

I’m a little wary of meeting authors, because I’m shy and would be overwhelmed by some of them, because I can see that some of them valued their privacy and I want to respect that, and because in same cases books are better when you don’t know too much about the author.

But I can think of a few, and I’ve planned a day out with three of my favourite 20th century English lady writers.

I’d spend the morning walking along the River Dart with Agatha Christie. I love the countryside there, and I’ve always admired her riverside home. I’d love to talk to her about books – her own and others she admires – and everything I’ve read about her suggests that we have similar values and would get on well.

I’d call on Margery Sharp in the afternoon. She always looks so at ease in photographs taken in domestic settings, and I so want to tell her how much I love her books. I’d like to ask her what might have happened to Cluny Brown after the surprise ending of the book that bears her name, and I’d hope that she might have a copy of ‘Rhododendron Pie’ – a book that is very scarce and horribly expensive – that I might borrow.

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In the evening I’d go to a dinner party with G B Stern. Her gloriously discursive memoirs have told me that she had an extraordinary circle of friends, that she had wide ranging interests – many of which I share – and that she would be a wonderfully entertaining companion.

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What book/s would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?

There are two kinds of books that I would take. There are books that I’ve read recently and suspect I would have liked even more when I was a little younger; Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels come to mind. There are books by prolific authors I would have liked to have made a start on earlier; authors like Anthony Trollope and Patricia Wentworth.

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But I would leave all of those books here in the present of I could just give my younger self some advice; that there are so many great books in the world already, as well as books still to be written and rediscovered, so there’s no need to read anything that isn’t wonderful; that many of the long, classic novels that look like hard work are nothing of the kind; and that the green Virago Modern Classics that she will see on a display in her university bookshop would be excellent investments ….

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What book/s would you travel forward in time and give to your older self?

I’m not sure that I’d take anything. I’m filling the house with books and I think I have to trust my older self to make her own choices, because I really don’t know how life will change her and influence what she wants to read between now and then.

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What is your favourite futuristic setting from a book?

I really can’t think of one – the books I read all seem to be set in the present or the past.

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What is your favourite book that is set in a different time period (can be historical or futuristic)?

I can never pick a single book, and I could give you umpteen titles, but these were the first five must-mention books that I haven’t mentioned already:

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The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox
South Riding by Winifred Holtby
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey

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Spoiler Time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book just to see what happens?

Never! I learned my lesson a long time ago when I looked to see how many pages were left in a particular book and saw something that ruined the rest of the story.

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If you had a Time Turner, where would you go and what would you do?

I’d go here, there and everywhere!

I’d go to Ireland and visit Delia Scully and her lovely gran.
(‘Never No More’ by Maura Laverty)

I’d go to Venice and have my portrait painted by Cecilia Cornaro.
(‘Carnevale’ by Michelle Lovric)

I’d go to Edwardian London to walk, talk and argue with Miriam Henderson.
(‘Pilgrimage’ by Dorothy Richardson)

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I’d travel north, to Yorkshire, to see a very special garden with my own eyes.
(‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson-Burnett)

I’d love to spend some time exploring Castle Gormenghast.
(‘The Gormenghast Trilogy’ by Mervyn Peake)

I’d board a certain boat, and travel to America with Adeliza Golding.
(‘The Visitors’ by Rebecca Mascull)

I’d settle in Canada for a while, and try to be a good friend and neighbour to Sophie Forrester while her husband is away.
(‘To the Bright Edge of the World’ by Eowyn Ivey)

And when I grew weary of travelling I would visit the library at Hurfew and read and read and read ….
(Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ by Susanna Clark)

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Favourite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in multiple time periods?

“Lying awake at night, Tom hears the old grandfather clock downstairs strike . . . eleven . . . twelve . . . thirteen . . . Thirteen! When Tom gets up to investigate, he discovers a magical garden. A garden that everyone told him doesn’t exist. A garden that only he can enter . . .”

I fell in love with ‘Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce when I was very, very young.

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What book/series do you wish you could go back and read again for the first time?

This is a wish I make often about beloved books. The book where it would make the most difference is ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’ by Agatha Christie, because I would love to read it again without knowing its clever twist.

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I don’t want to push anyone to do anything they don’t want to do, but I will mention some names of others who might be interested and whose answers I’d love to read:

Jessica @ The Bookworm Chronicles

Cirtnecce @ Mockingbirds, Looking Glasses and Prejudices

Helen @ She Reads Novels

Sandra @ A Corner of Cornwall

Lori @ The Emerald City Book Review

Answering those questions pulled some lovely books and ideas from the back of my mind, so please, even if I haven’t mentioned you, do go ahead and answer some or all of them.

Sixes


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It was Jo’s idea, a few years ago now, and it’s become an annual event – mark the end of the first six months of the reading year by putting six books into each of six categories.

It’s not quite as simple as that sounds, but working out what to do is a lovely way of looking back.

I’ve already spotted Jessica and Margaret posting their lists, and I am sure that there are – or there will be – others out there.

As usual, I’ve tweaked the categories to suit my reading style, and to make sure that this is a celebration of books I’m happy to remember.

Here are my six sixes:

Six books that told stories of times gone by

Landfalls by Naomi J Williams
The Ballroom by Anna Hope
The Double Life of Mistress Kit Kavanagh by Marina Fiorato
The Owl’s House by Crosbie Garstin
The Shadow Hour by Kate Riordan
Pendower: a Story of Cornwall in the Time of Henry VIII by Marianne Filleul

Six books that told tales of crime and intrigue

The Murder of a Lady by Anthony Wynne
The Narrow Bed by Sophie Hannah
The Bungalow Mystery by Annie Haynes
Death on the Tunnel by Miles Burton
The Water Room by Christopher Fowler
Silence in Court by Patricia Wentworth

Six books from authors who have never let me down

The Innocents by Margery Sharp
Pray for the Wanderer by Kate O’Brien
The Warden by Anthony Trollope
The Rosemary Tree by Elizabeth Goodge
The Midas Touch by Margaret Kennedy
O Pioneers by Willa Cather

Six books written by women in the 20th century

The Uninvited by Dorothy McCardle
The Small Widow by Janet McNeill
My Cousin Justin – or, Turn Ever Northward – by Margaret Barrington
Good Daughters by Mary Hocking
The Tunnel by Dorothy Richardson
Filthy Lucre by Beryl Bainbridge

Six books that I haven’tfitted into a category but can’t leave out

Spring: A Wildlife Trust Anthology for the Changing Seasons
The World Without Us by Mireille Juchau
Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondely
The Song Collector by Natasha Solomons
The Sacred Combe by Thomas Maloney
Woman of Letters by March Cost

Six books that were sitting on my bedside table on the last day of June

‘Ruan’ by Bryher
‘Succession’ by Livi Michael
‘The Secrets of Wishtide’ by Kate Saunders
‘The Wooden Doctor’ by Margiad Evans
‘War and Peace’ by Leo Tolstoy
‘The Button Box’ by Lynn Knight

A Thank you Letter after Margery Sharp Day

Dod Procter Tulips on the dressing tableI want to say thank you to everyone who played a part in this celebration of the lovely legacy of books that Margery Sharp left to the world.

Thank you to everyone who found a book to read, and everyone who spread them the world.

I found some Cornish spring flowers for you all.

I hope that one day soon there will be reissues so that all of us can read much more of Margery Sharp’s wonderful work.

We covered a wonderful range of titles between us.

The Nutmeg Tree (1937)

Audrey said:

I think Margery Sharp has such a gift for drawing characters, and this is what draws me in.  Julia is an aging girl-about-town who wants to pretend to be a lady for her daughter’s sake. When she meets the unsuitable young man, she’s dismayed to discover that he’s all too much like her, and not a good match for her lovely but priggish daughter. Julia’s antics are delightful, but she’s also wonderfully true to herself.

Helen said:

I wasn’t sure at first whether Julia would be a character I was going to like, but I did warm to her very quickly and enjoyed reading about her exploits as she stumbled from one disaster to another. She has such a mixture of qualities, some good and some bad: she can be irresponsible and often acts without thinking, but she’s also warm, friendly and fun-loving.

Karen said:

I have to say that my first experience of reading Margery Sharp was a wonderful one. Her prose is lovely, easy to read and thoroughly engaging, and her characters such fun! I laughed out loud in several places and followed the various scrapes into which Julia got herself with glee. However, I said above that the book was ostensibly light-hearted and there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.

Frances said:

The most appealing aspect of this novel is that Julia is a keen observer of human nature, aware of the trappings of classism and constantly revising her role (and that of others as well) as need or desire dictates. A reader is left to admire her generous nature, her humor. And laugh out loud at the gentle satirical hand of Sharp as she examines the role of women in between world wars in Britain.

Cluny Brown (1944)

Anbolyn said

Like Britannia Mews, Cluny Brown is a dream. I loved all of the characters so much that I didn’t want to leave them. Sharp creates real and delightful worlds with a slightly fairy tale quality that completely envelop the reader – I was enchanted.

Lady Fancifull said:

Margery Sharp assembles a cast of strong and quirky characters, all of whom might seem to be examples of ‘types’ …. but Sharp renders them all much more interesting, much more contradictory, and, all of them, much more likeable. Her pen is sharp, but it is also fizzy, joyous, expansive. There is no spitefulness, no meanness of spirit in her writing.

Mary said:

What a wonderful book!
For the past few days I’ve been in the world of Cluny Brown.
Cluny, who’s real name is Clover goes into service in a house in Devon.
A far cry from London where she has been brought up by her Uncle.
I was soon engrossed in the story and wanted to know what was going to happen to Cluny.

Britannia Mews (1946)

Ali said:

This book kept me company during a very busy week – when I had rather less time for reading than usual. It was a fabulous companion; this is such a compelling novel, endlessly readable – I looked forward every day to getting back to these characters even if it was just for a short time.

Arpita said:

It is an astonishing novel on many levels and depicts a slice of English history that is multifaceted and rich in detail. I’ve enjoyed reading a Margery Sharp novel that is a little different from the other books I have read, but quite, quite lovely!

The Foolish Gentlewoman (1948)

Liz said:

An absolutely charming novel – Sharp falls firmly into the mid-century middlebrow nexus, sitting comfortably with your Dorothy Whipple, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Pym or Mary Hocking. Sharp (ha) and observant about families, education (or the lack of it), class and ageing, she’s maybe a little warmer than Taylor and Pym, although just as incisive and with similar flamboyant, flawed and hilarious characters.

The Gipsy in the Parlour (1953)

Lory Said:

The title, cover, and Victorian setting of this one intrigued me, and I was not disappointed. It was another humorous, breezy read that yet had a serious side in its closely observed characters and emotional insight.

Cirtnecce said:

Sharp, funny, witty and heartwarming…..you cheer the Sylvester women on, from the beginning till the end and you close the book with warm, fuzzy feeling of goodwill all around!”

The Eye of Love (1957)

Simon said:

The most ordinary events are lent a spin of dry humour, but, vitally, Sharp remains intensely affectionate about her characters – and so does the reader. That is the keynote of the novel, that has various twists and turns and interlacing events: Dolores and Mr Gibson may appear ridiculous to many, but Sharp ably makes it so that the reader, like the characters, sees them instead through the eye of love.

Something Light (1960)

Cynthia said:

Exactly as the title describes. Something light and delightful.

Martha, Eric and George (1963)

Arpita said:

‘Martha, Eric and George’ is the third book in the Martha trilogy written by Margery Sharp. If ‘The Eye of Love’ was a lively entree into this delightful trilogy, ‘Martha in Paris’ was a deliciously light and entertaining prelude to the substantial finale of the drama- ‘Martha, Eric and George’, surrounding the central character of Martha.

The Sun is Scorpio (1965)

Lisa said:

I found Cathy a very interesting and sympathetic character. In some ways, she reminded me of Cluny Brown. Both are the proverbial square pegs, full of life and energy, refusing to conform and constantly seeking their own way. But Cathy has a purpose in life, a mission, which Cluny lacks.

In Pious Memory (1967)

Kirsty said:

Interesting – and often amusing – little details have been placed by Sharp at intervals.  Arthur Prelude’s obituary in The Times, for instance, ‘measured five and a half inches’, the sole vegetarian fare served at the wake is muesli, and Lydia, the youngest Prelude daughter, is described as looking young enough to be able to slide down the banisters.

The Innocents (1972)

I said:

Margery Sharp was such a perceptive writer; she understood all of her characters so well, and she knew that there were no heroes and no villains, just fallible human beings, some wiser than others. Even though I knew this story it held me, it had my heart rising and falling, from the first page to the last.

And Leaves & Pages recalled reading this book, saying:

Happy 111th Birthday, Margery Sharp! May the re-publishers please get going on bringing you back into print. Someone? Persephone? Grey Ladies? Virago? The early works are quite simply stellar, though I admit there are some minor bobbles later on.

I think that’s everyone, but if it isn’t let me know and I’ll put things right.

I’m looking forward to seeing who reads what next.

I hope that we might do this all again next year.

And that before then we might throw a few more bookish birthday parties ….

 

A Box of Books for 2015

Some people make year-end lists, but I prefer to pack a box of books as each year draws to a close.

I have always loved lists – writing them, reading them, studying and analysing them – since I was a child. And yet I find it difficult to sum up a year of reading in a list or two. And so I approach things a little differently.

I assemble a virtual box of books that would speak for my year in books.  And I would stick a virtual post-it note to each book, with my thoughts when I read it, to remind me why that book was in my box.

I try to pick my favourites; and I also try to pick a cross-section of what I’ve read, so that when I look at a box I know where I was in my life as a reader that year. This hasn’t been my best reading year, but I’ve come to realise that my tastes have changed a little and I think I have a clearer idea now of what I want to read in the future.

This year’s box holds twenty books. I think that’s just about viable for a single box, though I have to say I wouldn’t want to have to carry it any great distance …

Books that I re-read aren’t there, because of course I know I will find them in the boxes of the years when I read them for the first time. And I only allow an author one book a year, because I have to draw a line somewhere.

Before I show you what is in my box, there are people I really must thank – authors past and present, publishers, sellers of books both new and used, fellow readers – who have all done their bit to make the contents of my box so very lovely.

And now all I have left to say is – Here are the books!

* * * * * * *

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The Curiosity Cabinet by Catherine Czerkawska..

“This was the beginning of a very real love story, complicated because each had their own history and complications in different parts of the country.

That story was told beautifully, with sensitivity and understanding. These people and their lives were real; they were fallible and they were fragile.

I was so very taken with that story that I was disappointed when I realised that it was going to be told with another story, set on Garve many years earlier. But I was soon every bit as interested in that story.”

The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope

‘Plantagenet Palliser, the Duke of Omnium, was Prime Minister! He headed a coalition government, and he had risen not so much as the result of his own charisma and ambition, more because there was no other candidate acceptable to all of the parties and willing to do the job. Now to rise to such a position is a great thing, but I feared for the new Prime Minister. He was too honest, too sensitive, and too unwilling to compromise his principles. Wonderful qualities in so many ways, but qualities you would want in a right-hand man, that would make you want to pick him for your team or hold him up as a role model; but not qualities that would make him a great leader of men.’

Weathering by Lucy Wood

“The world that Lucy Wood creates lives and breathes; and it’s a world where nature is very, very close. I could feel the rain; I could hear the river. The river and all of the life in and around it has much of a place as the people who move through the story.

The story ebbs and flows, it moves backwards and forwards in time, and it works beautifully. One every page there’s an image, an idea, or a memory, and this is a book to read slowly, so that you can pause and appreciate every one. And so that you can appreciate how profoundly this novel speaks of mothers and daughter, how our relationships and the roles that we play evolve, how our understanding of each other and the world around us change overtime.”

The Luminaries by Eleanor  Catton

I loved this book – the story, the structure and the writing – and I meant to write about it, but I never did. I plan to read it again, and to write about it them. For now though, here are its opening words:

“The twelve men congregated in the smoking room of the Crown Hotel gave the impression of a party accidentally met. From the variety of their comportment and dress – frock coats, tailcoats, Norfolk jackets with buttons of horn, yellow moleskin, cambric, and twill – they might have been twelve strangers on a railway car, each bound for a separate quarter of a city that possessed fog and tides enough to divide them; indeed, the studied isolation of each man as he pored over his paper, or leaned forward to tap his ashes into the grate, or placed the splay of his hand upon the baize to take his shot at billiards, conspired to form the very type of bodily silence that occurs, late in the evening, on a public railway – deadened here not by the slur and clunk of the coaches, but by the fat clatter of the rain.

Such was the perception of Mr. Walter Moody, from where he stood in the doorway with his hand upon the frame. He was innocent of having disturbed any kind of private conference, for the speakers had ceased when they heard his tread in the passage; by the time he opened the door, each of the twelve men had resumed his occupation (rather haphazardly, on the part of the billiard players, for they had forgotten their places) with such a careful show of absorption that no one even glanced up when he stepped into the room.”

Girl in the Dark by Anna Lyndsey

“This might be the most astonishing, the most beautifully written memoir that I have ever read.

Anna Lyndsey was a civil servant when light began to affect her. What began as irritation when she worked in front of a computer screen 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.

As her sensitivity increased she tried different things – an indoor job as a piano teacher, any number of therapies – but the progress of her condition was inexorable.”

* * * * * * *

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The Flowering Thorn by Margery Sharp

“Margery Sharp’s 1933 novel – her fourth – is light, bright and witty, and it’s thoughtful, emotional and profound too. Not many authors can do all those things, and I don’t think anyone but Margery Sharp could wrap them up in a book as engaging and readable as  ‘The Flowering Thorn.’

‘The Flowering Thorn’ tells the story of Lesley Frewn. She was a Londoner, and you could probably call her a bright young thing. She had private means – not enough to make her fabulously wealthy, but more than enough to give her a very nice lifestyle. She had a lovely flat, her wardrobe was full of the latest fashions; she loved, art, music and theatre and partying with her circle of friends and suitors. But one day something went wrong.”

Broken Harbour by Tana French

Though Broken Harbour is a classic police procedural, the quality of Tania French’s writing and her depth of understanding of her characters make it much more than that. I might call it a state of the nation novel. I might call it a wide-ranging human drama. I might call it a psychological study.

But maybe I should just call it a very, very good book.

The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse by Piu Marie Eatwell

‘In 1898 a widow named Anna Maria Druce applied for the exhumation of the grave of her late father-in-law, Thomas Charles Druce. Her claim was that he had faked his death 1864 death, because he had been the eccentric 5th Duke of Portland, who had chosen to live a different life under a different name.

Under that name the Duke had worked as a furniture dealer, married, and raised a family. Eventually he decided to end his double life and return to the ducal seat, Welbeck Abbey in Worksop, Nottinghamshire until his death some fifteen years later.’

Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr

“Marianne is confined to bed with an illness that will keep her their for several months. Bored, she starts to draw to pass the time, using an old pencil she found in her grandmother’s workbox.  She draws a house, with a garden, set in rough moorland.

When she falls asleep she dreams that she is standing outside the house she drew. She goes to the door but she finds that she can’t get in, because she didn’t draw a door knob. She adds that the next day, and after the next night’s dream she adds a staircase, so that she can go upstairs to meet the boy she drew looking out of a window.”

The Far Cry by Emma Smith

‘The early pages of this novel were an intriguing character study, so well done that even seemingly unsympathetic characters became interesting, but in India there would much more. Through Teresa’s eyes I saw the wonders of India, and I was as smitten as she was and as Emma Smith had been. She caught so many impressions so very, very well.

“Teresa’s head was full of sound and colour. Her head was a receptacle for tumbled rags of impression, rags torn from exotic garments that could never be pieced entirely together again; but the rags were better.”

The sea voyage, the journey though India, the feelings of strangers in a strange land are caught perfectly; every detail, every description feels so right.’

* * * * * * *

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Song of the Sea Maid by Rebecca Mascull

‘This is a beautifully written story, it speaks profoundly, and I know that I am going to go on thinking about it for a very long time.

It begins in the middle of the eighteenth century, with a girl child who lives on the streets. She and her brother had only their wits to live on, stealing what ever they could to survive from one day to the next. I was captivated by this child, by her life and her spirit, by her utter reality, before I even knew her name. And I knew that I had to follow her story before I understood why.’

Jam Today by Oriel Malet

‘Oriel Malet was a success in the literary world at a very early age. She was just twenty when her first novel, ‘Trust in the Springtime’, was published and she was only three years older when her second book, ‘My Bird Sings’, won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. Her prize money bought her a motorcycle, and a trip to Paris.

‘Jam Today’ tells the story of the six months that the author spent in that city, with her good friend Flavia. The pair had no need to work or to study – though they take a few art classes and do a good bit of reading, for their own amusement and to impress their families – they were there to enjoy life, to explore the city, and to meet the people.

It’s a lovely book; light as air; made buoyant by youth, love, and charm.’

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

‘This story is beautifully and intricately crafted, and it’s clear that attention has been paid to every little detail of character, setting and plot. It rewards slow careful reading, because all of those details are important, they work together, and they draw you right into this finely wrought world.

The plot so cleverly constructed. Sometimes I could see where it was going, sometimes I couldn’t, but in the end it all made wonderful sense.

This is a book that asks questions about life; about how predictable, how predetermined, how comprehensible it might or might not be. You might chose to consider those questions, or you might want to simply enjoy the journey through this lovely book.’

The Usurper: An Episode of Japanese History by Judith Gaultier

‘I saw echoes of other stories in this one; some older stories and myths and some literature from closer to the authors own era. And though the setting is seventeenth century Japan there is much in her story that is timeless and universal. This is a very human story; a little predictable in places but well thought out and constructed.

I have to say though that the story was secondary to the world and the culture that the author wanted to illuminate. My own background in her subject is minimal, but I felt that she used her knowledge well, and that it must have been quite wonderful for her contemporaries, who didn’t have the possibilities for travelling and acquiring knowledge that we are blessed with now, to learn of history and culture on the other side if the world like this.’

Doctor Serocold: A Page from his Daybook by Helen Ashton

‘I found that this is one of those books that captures the story of a single day in the life of its protagonist, and that in doing that illuminates his whole life and the world around him. It’s one of those books for people like me who marvel at the fact that every person they see, every person they pass in the street, has a whole life story; and wonder what some of those stories might be.

Doctor Serocold is an elderly doctor in a small country town. His day begins early, when he is called to the deathbed of his partner, the man who had been his mentor and who has become a dear friend; and it ends late as he watches over the birth of a child, and the start of a new life. The events of the day, and his awareness of his own mortality as he waits for the results of his own medical tests, draw out a rich seam of memories and emotions’

* * * * * * *

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The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West

”The Fountain Overflows’ was Rebecca West’s first book in twenty years; and it was to have been the first volume of a trilogy that would tell the story of her century. She didn’t live quite long enough to complete that story, but after reading this book I am eager to read the next book and to read the final, unfinished work.

This is a story that draws on the authors own life, without being entirely autobiographical; and it tells of growing up in a creative, musical family, from the perspective of one of the children of that family; a girl named Rose.’

 Knock, Murderer, Knock! by Harriet Rutland

It’s lovely to be living in a golden age for reissued golden age crime fiction, but sometimes it’s tricky to decide which books to choose from so many lovely possibilities.

I found many reasons to pick up ‘Knock, Murderer, Knock!’ by Harriet Rutland, and it proved to be an excellent choice. It was a very well told story, and so many things were done so very well that I would have quite happily read on – and looked for the author’s other books – even if there hadn’t been a mystery to be solved.

The writing is witty and literate; the characters and the settings are acutely observed; the plot is very well managed; and the author balances an understanding of convention with a distinctive style of her own to make this country house murder mystery – set in a run-down spa resort – one of a kind.

 The Golden Age of Crime Fiction by Martin Edwards

The discussion of specific titles told me that the author had a wonderful depth of knowledge of subject; and he made me want to read any number of books again in the light of what I had learned as well as reading many others for the first time. I was fascinated as I learned how the authors used their books to refer to each other,  and so many interesting details that I really don’t know where to start.

The narrative moved slowly and steadily through time, but I was so caught up with everything in this book, with the interplay of true crime, social history, lives lived and crime fictions, and with the wealth of wonderful detail, that I hardly noticed. That speaks volumes for the author’s depth of knowledge, for his love of his subject, and for the craftsmanship he deployed in the building of this extraordinary book.

The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric

‘A wonderfully wide-ranging plot, rich with details, taking in European and Latin American history, art and culture, religion and convent life, and a wonderful cast of supporting characters, each with their own story, twists and turns so cleverly until every one of those five narrators has told their story.

That story was theatrical; it was utterly believable – on its own terms – but it was just a little bit larger than life. The shifts between characters who stood for the light and characters who stood for the dark were very effective, and it was only when  the narrative stayed with one side or the other for too long that it lost its hold, just a little.’

 Pointed Roofs by Dorothy Richardson

I have to think about this a little more before I start to write, but I can say now that I am so taken with the new way of writing that Dorothy Richardson found and I am eager to continue my journey with Miriam trough the thirteen volumes of ‘Pilgrimage’.

This is how her story begins:

“Miriam left the gaslit hall and went slowly upstairs. The March twilight lay upon the landings, but the staircase was almost dark. The top landing was quite dark and silent. There was no one about. It would be quiet in her room. She could sit by the fire and be quiet and think things over until Eve and Harriett came back with the parcels. She would have time to think about the journey and decide what she was going to say to the Fraulein.

Her new Saratoga trunk stood solid and gleaming in the firelight. To-morrow it would be taken away and she would be gone. The room would be altogether Harriett’s. It would never have its old look again. She evaded the thought and moved clumsily to the nearest window. The outline of the round bed and the shapes of the may-trees on either side of the bend of the drive were just visible. There was no escape for her thoughts in this direction. The sense of all she was leaving stirred uncontrollably as she stood looking down into the well-known garden.”

* * * * * * *

Now tell me, what would you put in your box for 2015?

And what do you plan to read in 2016?

In a Spin with the Classics Club

I’m really not sure where the last week has gone.

I was caught up in a whirlwind of work, family, furniture moving, and I’m not quite sure what else. Fortunately I spotted a new Classics Club spin ….

forbesringroses

…. and now here I am with my list.

Five books by authors I want to know but have yet to read

1. Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov (1859)
2. Hester by Margaret Oliphant (1873)
3. Fidelity by Susan Glaspell (1915)
4. The World is Not Enough by Zoe Oldenbourg (1946)
5. Fenny by Lettice Cooper (1953)

Five books that I’ve started but never finished

6. Old Goriot by Honore Balzac (1835)
7. Villette by Charlotte Bronte (1853)
8. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1862)
9. The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf (1915)
10. Kristin Lavransdattir by Sigrid Undset (1922)

Five Virago Modern Classics

11. Belinda by Rhoda Broughton (1883)
12. The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West (1930)
13. The Weather in the Streets by Rosamond Lehmann (1936)
14. The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay (1950)
15. A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor (1951)

Five books from my list for the Women’s Classic Literature Event

16. The Three Miss Kings by Ada Cambridge (1891)
17. A Struggle for Fame by Charlotte Riddell (1883)
18. Crossriggs by Jane and Mary Findlater (1908)
19. The Knight of Cheerful Countenance by Molly Keane (1926)
20. Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting by Penelope Mortimer (1958)

…. and now I must wait to see what my book will be ….