July has come and gone ….

…. and I can’t quite believe that it’s August, but it is, and it really is time I looked back and looked forward.

July was a very good reading month for me.

(Evgeni Gordiets)

This is what I have read:

John Caldigate by Anthony Trollope – This was the right Trollope for me to pick up to continue my voyage through his stand-alone book. It’s not his best but I still found much to appreciate in this story of a careless young man who turns his life around in the Australian goldfields, only to find himself on trial for bigamy when he thinks his life is settled, back in England.

Mad Puppetstown by Molly Keane – Nobody writes about Irish country houses quite like Molly Keane, who has such knowledge and such love for her subject matter. This wonderful tale of childhood, a departure forced by the threat of violence, and a return when much has changed has become a particular favourite, and it would be a good point of entry for anyone who hasn’t read the author before.

The Easternmost House by Juliet Blaxland – This account of a year in a house near the edge of a crumbling cliff opened out into wonderful stories of the countryside and a way of life that the author clearly loved. I loved what she had to say about so many different things.

The Case of the Wandering Scholar by Kate Saunders – I loved Kate Saunder’s first Laetitia Rodd Mystery I looked out for a second book but it didn’t appear and I had almost given up hope when this book appeared. It was lovely to meet characters I had loved again and to follow a very different case, with echoes of both Dickens and Trollope, and with much to think about.

Under a Dancing Star by Frances Wood – I spotted this in the Guardian summer reading guide, the name of the author rang a bell, and I remembered that I loved her last book. This thirties-set story of Bea, who wanted to be a scientist but whose parents wanted to marry well, started slowly but took off when she was sent to visit family in Italy.

Westwood by Stella Gibbons – I have loved many of Stella Gibbons’ books but I couldn’t love this one. There are lovely details of character and life in wartime London in this story of a young teacher who is drawn into the life of the family  playwright she adores, not knowing that she is pursuing one of her friends; but I couldn’t warm to the characters of the story, there were too many tropes that the author has used in other works, and the tone didn’t seem quite right.

The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan – I would have said that this story an eighteenth-century experiment in human isolation that that has unforeseen and disturbing consequences was unbelievable, had I not know that it was inspired by a historical record. I was intrigued, I turned the pages; and I am still thinking about the characters and what their stories told me.

In a Kingdom by the Sea by Sara MacDonald – This is a wonderfully readable contemporary story of a woman who finds herself at a turning point on her life, set in Cornwall, London and Pakistan. I really warmed to her, I found it so easy to empathise with her, and I was swept along by story.

On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming – This account of the uncovering of the past that was hidden to the author’s mother for much of her life has been much lauded, and I can only add to the chorus of praise. I loved the writing, the delicate unraveling of the mystery, the importance given to images, and the love between mothers and daughters.

Miss Carter and the Ifrit by Susan Alice Kerby – I knew this was a fantasy set in World War Two, but I had no idea that I would love the relationship between the two protagonists as much as I did, that the story would be so well thought out, and that I would finish the book bursting with curiosity about what happened next and eager to read anything else that the author wrote.

Last time I wrote about what I was going to read in the month ahead, I only read one out of the nine, and so I thought that I’d better not do that again. I’m not going to do that exactly, but I am going to set out five ideas about what  want to read in August.

  • I want to read something for All Virago All August. It’s a while since I’ve read anything by Angela Thirkell, the next book in her Barsetshire series I have to read is August Folly, and I think its time might have come.
  • I’ve already started a book for Women in Translation Month. Cora Sandel’s Augusta and Jacob is making me think back to Dorothy Richardson’s Miriam Henderson, though it is quite different and a rather more accessible.
  • I want to reduce my library borrowings – I haven’t read a single library book all month, I can’t hang on them for ever and I have reservations waiting for me. I think The Horseman by Tim Pears will be first.
  • I plan to continue my journey through the Wainwright Prize shortlist. Wilding by Isabella Tree and Time Song by Julia Blackburn are both on my bedside table.
  • I m going to start Checkmate – the last book in Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. I may not finish before the month is over, I want to take my time, but I know that its time to take my first step in this final adventure.

August could be another very good reading month ….

The Month Just Gone – June in Books

I can’t quite believe that the year is half over already, but it is and so I should look back and look forward.

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

Thomas Cooper Gotch – Paddling, Whitsand Bay

These are the the books:

The Happy Tree by Rosalind Murray – Only the very hardest of hearts could fail to be moved by this beautifully wrought and utterly poignant account of a life damaged by war and by circumstance. This was another well chosen addition to the Persephone list.

The Girl at the Window by Rowan Coleman – A young widow takes her son back to the home she turned her back on years ago – a crumbling gothic manor on the Yorkshire moors, very close to Haworth populated with ghosts, and a mystery to be solved.  The story has rather too much going on, but its heart is in the right place,

The Clock Strikes Twelve by Patricia Wentworth – Miss Silver’s seventh recorded case finds her investigating the murder of a family patriarch at his country home on New Year’s Eve early in the war. The mystery is intriguing, the family drama is interesting, and the story is well rooted in its period, making this one of the strongest books in the series so far.

Vintage 1954 by Antoine Lauraine – Four people are transported back to 1954 Paris from the present day after sharing a bottle of vintage wine. The period details were lovely, the story caught many different emotions and it was whimsical, clever and wonderfully engaging.

Dead Man’s Quarry by by Ianthe Jerrold – The heir to an estate on the Welsh borders returns home after many years in Canada, only to be murdered on a cycling holiday. This mystery has a lovely mix of intrigue and human drama, and I’m so pleased to have discovered the author, courtesy of the Dean Street Press.

China Court by Rumer Godden – This book tells the story of the days before and after the death of a Cornish matriarch who knows that her beloved home may be sold by her children, it moves back in time to tell stories of previous generations who lived there, and the whole thing is wrapped around her book of hours. Not many authors could pull that off, but Rumer Godden did.

In July I plan to read the final few chapters of another big book by Anthony Trollope and finish the book by Molly Keane that I started last night. There are lots of other books I’d love to start, but I’m not going to plan because I intend to pick up the books that call loudest without thinking about what I ought to read or what I planned to read.

What I am going to do is look back, because sometimes it seems that books have their moment and then they disappear. I’m going to borrow a game from Audrey again, and look back at highlights of Junes gone by.

I have ten years of archives now, so here are ten books that I think are well worth remembering.

2009 – Miss Cayley’s Adventures by Grant Allen – Miss Cayley is not a typical Victorian heroine. When she was left alone in the world with only tuppence to her name she didn’t seek employment, she set out to see that world and grab any chance that came her way. It’s ten years since I met her, but I still remember the lady and her adventures very well.

2010 – The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini –  I miss the Orange Award for New Writers. Nine years ago I read all three shortlisted novels, this one – the story of a mixed – teenage girl growing up in what had been an all-white suburb in Rhodesia in the late seventies – was my favourite and it won.

2011 – The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton by Elizabeth Speller – This was a mystery, set in England after the Great War, but its themes were timeless. It spoke about how we deal with grief, and how it changes our futures; about the secrets we keep behind the faces we present to the world; and about how much we will do to protect the people and things we love.

2012 – The One I Knew the Best of All by Frances Hodgson-Burnett – This childhood memoir starts off stiffly but it soon relaxes, and it was lovely to see the child who would become an author falling in love with books and gardens. The book is uneven but the good bits are so good that it is well worth reading.

2013 – Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson – This is a beautiful, moving, romantic story, told by a consummate storyteller, and it spoke profoundly. I remember Lady Rose fondly, and can still say that she is a heroine as lovely as any I have met in the pages of a Persephone book.

2014 – Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope. It was five years ago that I finally discovered why so many readers love Anthony Trollope. I’ve read all of the Palliser and Barchester novels since then, and a few others between then and now, and this was the book where it all began.

2015 – Policy and Passion by Rosa Praed – I picked this up because the author has a Cornish name and the title made me think of Trollope. Rosa Praed turned out to be Australian, the book turned out to be an engaging tale of love, family and politics, and I suspect the Rosa Praed liked Trollope, and that his readers would like this book.

2016 – Pendower  by Marianne Filleul – I was reaching for a book by a rather well known author on of the Cornish fiction shelves in the library this book by an unfamiliar author caught my eye. It told the story of two friends from very different backgrounds in 16th century Cornwall, it gave me a new perspective on the reformation, and I am very glad that I brought it home.

2017 – The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett – Well, June seems to be my month for discovering authors who will become particular favourites. I’m only sorry that I didn’t take the Lymond Chronicles out of box marked ‘ I want to read, it, I know I’ll love it, but I have to wait for the perfect moment’ sooner, because I know I am going to have to keep re-reading them to appreciate their richness and detail.

2018 – Another Part of the Forest by G B Stern – This second volume of the author’s memoirs talks about childhood memories, the joy of collecting, Jane Austen, house parties and so many other things – big and small. I can’t quite believe that a year has gone by and the next volume is still sitting on my bedside table.

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

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

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 ….

Looking Back at March

How does a sensitive soul cope when the world around her seems to be going mad?

I’ve been quiet in the online world – just popping in from time to time to put up a post and have a quick look around – because it is impossible to avoid news and discussion that it particularly stressful when you work in finance and shipping for a company that trades worldwide.

The coming of spring is helping me, and I have three forms of therapy:

ART

BOOKS

MUSIC

March‘Spring Time’ by Mary Rose Barton

I had a lovely time putting together this month’s collection of Virago art, and I have other collections making steady progress behind the scenes.

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I haven’t had too much reading time, but I’m very happy with the seven books I finished.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins – This is a lovely and distinctive piece of Victoriana; telling the story of a young woman who was born into slavery, brought into the master’s house and educated, and taken to London where she found both love and trouble. A compelling story and evocative prose made this a wonderful reading experience,

The Silver Road by Stina Jackson – This story of love, loss and obsession tells of a father who drives a long road every night, still searching for his missing daughter when everyone else has given up; and a girl with a troubled family life who finds a new home. The set-up is wonderful, the writing is excellent, and I was only disappointed that the latter of the story followed crime novel conventions a little too closely,

A Welsh Witch by Allen Raine – My book for Dewithon –  this year’s Wales Readathon – tells the story of four young people who grew up in a small seaside community early in the 20th century. These characters, their experiences, and the world around them were beautifully realised; and that drew me right into the story.These characters, their differnrt experiences, and the world around them were woven together to make a wonderful story, and I’m looking forward to reading more of the author’s books.

Tangerine by Christine Mangan – This is a cleverly plotted, character driven psychological drama in a vividly realised setting – a story of a toxic friendship and unspoken memories that plays out in Tangier. The comparisons – Patricia Highsmith, Daphne Du Maurier, Donna Tartt – are unrealistic but this is a compelling story and would be an very good holiday read.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Pamela Jenkins Reid – I found myself first in the library queue for this book. So much has been written about it that I don’t think I need to explain what it is about, and I’ll just say that I thought it was very well done, and reading was akin to reading an extended piece in a quality music magazine.

The House on the Cliff by D E Stevenson – This story of a young woman who unexpectedly inherits and falls in love with a house on the coast of Devon was a wonderful comfort read. The story plays to  D E Stevenson’s strengths; it was full of engaging characters, interesting situations, and though I predicted how the story would play out early on I wasn’t sure how it would get there and finding out how it did was lovely.

The Flower of May by Kate O’Brien – My book for Read Ireland 2019 is set early in the 20th century, and it tells the story of a younger daughter who loves her home and family but misses her convent school in Belgium and seizes a chance to travel with the family of her dearest friend. It is beautifully and clearly written, it has a wonderful cast of characters, and it would have sat very well with the selection of the author’s books that Virago reissued.

I have another Dorothy Dunnett book in progress, I’ve just picked up my book for The Radetzky March Readalong , I have an unread Margery Sharp book lined up for The 1965 Club …. but otherwise I’m going to see which books call me next month.

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I’ve been listening to Bach, Debussy and Rimsky-Korskov; but when it comes to songs being sung my tastes are more contemporary; and I find that certain songs will always cast a spell over me.

That’s why I have a playlist of songs this month instead of another list of books.

It was meant to be a list of ten, but there were eleven songs that all had good reasons to be included.

I will still love them this time next month, but I hope that I won’t need them quite as much as I do now ….

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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.

So that was January ….

…. it was going to be the month when I got back to doing a lot more reading and writing about books, and I succeeded on one front but not on the other.

I read more read more this month than I have in a long time, partly because I kept my resolution to drop some minor interests that had been taking up too much time, partly because I had a week when I was too poorly to go to work but well enough to curl up in an armchair with a book, but mainly because I looked more closely at my own books and thought about what I wanted to read and not what I felt I ought to read.

I’ve not written much because first I was curled up in an armchair without the energy to sit up, think and type, and for much of the rest of the month I’ve been playing catch-up and wanting to curl up with a book or a piece of knitting and some music rather than firing up the computer. It’s not that I don’t want to write – I do, and I have lots of things of part written posts and other things I want to write about – but days have been running out without me finding the time, and suddenly the month is over.

February will be different – I think I’m back on an even keel now.

This is the book I didn’t quite finish before the month ended, because it is much too good to rush.

And these are the books that I did finish reading last month.

Some of them I have written about I will write a little more about in the weeks ahead, and some will just be mentioned here.

‘The Wych Elm’ by Tana French is a standalone, and not part of the Dublin Murder Squad series. The crime story was intriguing, but the exploration of what happens when a charmed life is derailed and of coming to terms with the past and with new knowledge about that past is the greater story. I missed the perspective that came from a detective pursuing a case in her other books, I don’t think its her best work, but it was an interesting change in direction, and Tana French a little below par is still top drawer crime writing.

I think that ‘The Call‘ by Edith Ayrton Zangwill might be the best book that I read this month. It is a story of a young woman scientist whose life in changed by Suffragettes and the Great War; wonderfully told by an author who understood that lives and relationships can have many different aspects and that women can be both modern and traditional at the same time. It was lovely to find a new Persephone in the library, but I really don’t want to give it back.

Rebecca West didn’t allow ‘Sunflower’ to be published in her own lifetime because, though the characters are quite different, it draws heavily on her own experiences as her relationship with H G Wells ended and a new relationship with Lord Beaverbrook was beginning. The prose was dense, but it was lovely too and there was a great deal for a careful reader to appreciate.

‘The Skylarks’ War’ by Hilary McKay is a lovely children’s book, that pitches its story of children who build their own family before and during the Great War quite perfectly; and at the centre of the story is the aptly named Clarry, who belongs in the great pantheon of heroines of literature for younger readers.

I picked up a copy of ‘The Spinning Wheel’ by Angela Du Maurier in the Morrab Library . It had no dust jacket, I knew nothing about what was inside simply on the basis of the author’s name. It was an entertaining saga and I loved the heroine, but it not particularly well executed and it stretched credibility in some places – as seems to be the way with Angela’s books.

‘Consequences’ by E M Delafield is the heartfelt and heartbreaking story of a young woman who wasn’t equipped for the life she was expected to lead and couldn’t find another path. Another excellent Persephone book!

‘The Glass Woman’ by Caroline Lea, set in 17th century, was a dark story perfect for cold winter evenings. I thought that it might be a retelling of an old story, but it proved to be an interesting variation with a very engaging heroine.

‘The Flower Girls’ by Alice Clark-Platts is a character driven crime story about two sisters, one in prison, and one who was below the age of criminal responsibility and assumed to have been lead by her evil sibling. The story is sensitively handled, different perspectives are considered and it did most of what it did very well, but at the moment I don’t have a lot to say about it.

I read ‘Harlequin House’ to mark Margery Sharp’s birthday. It’s not the book to start with if you haven’t read her before, but if you have and you like her style I  would day that it is Margery in a minor key, that it is full of Margery-isms, and that it’s definitely worth looking out for a copy.

I read something somewhere about Wilkie Collins, and it made me want to re-read ‘The Dead Secret’ – the novel that he set in Cornwall. It’s the book of a developing writer – I could guess what the secret was but that didn’t stop me enjoying the telling of the tale and it was lovely to spot ideas he would develop more in his most famous novels.

‘Convenience Store Woman’ by Sayaka Murata is the story of a young Japanese woman who doesn’t find her niche in life until she starts work in a convenience store. The insight, the evocation of the store and  the storytelling were quirky, charming and intriguing

I picked up ‘The Ruin’ by Dervla McTiernan, which I think is the first book in series in a new series of crime novels. The story, the psychology and the issues that the story explored were interesting, but there was too much for one book and so it felt rather superficial and disjointed.

‘The Binding’ by Bridget Collins was a beautiful book, I loved the concept and the issues that explored, but I felt that the characterisation and the storytelling was rather lacking. It was probably written for a different kind of reader, and I do understand why other readers would love it.

I have loved Dorothy Dunnett’s from the start but the third of the six books – ‘The Disorderly Knights’ – set in Malta and Scotland – made me realise quite how involved with the characters I was, it made me realise how carefully things had been set up in the first two books, it gave me more idea of where the story might be headed, and it left me eager to move straight on to the next book.

I’m calling that a very good month’s reading!

This is the pile of books that I have in mind for next month.

I won’t read them all – I have a couple of library books I must get to, I have some new titles on my Kindle, other books may call, and there aren’t as many reading hours as I’d like in the day – but I wanted to assemble a pile of books that I could turn to whenever I wanted something new or something different to read.

These are the books, and the reasons why they are in the pile:

‘Pawn in Frankincense’ by Dorothy Dunnett – because I have to know what happens next!

‘Belinda’ by Maria Edgworth – because I haven’t read anything from the period for such a long time and there’s a guided read in the LibraryThing Virago group.

‘The Pull of the River’ by Matt Gaw – because I love rivers almost as much as I love the sea.

‘The Brimming Cup’ by Dorothy Canfield – because it picks up the story of Neale and Marise, who I met in the book I read for Dorothy Canfield Fisher Day last February.

‘Orley Park’ by Anthony Trollope – because Cirtnecce  mentioned reading this in February and it was on my pile of unread Trollopes.

‘And the Wind Sees All’ by Guđmundur Andri Thorsson – because I want to read at least one translation a month, and because I needed a small book to balance out all of the hefty tomes I was picking up.

‘The Lee Shore’ by Rose Macaulay – because her name has been in the air lately and I wanted to pick up another book I don’t know too much about but picked up because I have faith in the author.

‘Eve in Egypt’ by Stella Tennyson Jesse – because I like the idea of reading about somewhere warm on a cold winter night, and because I like reading books by different members of literary families,

‘The Sing of the Shore’ by Lucy Wood – because she understands the heart and soul of Cornwall, and she is so good at short stories.

I’d planned to write my January in knitting and music too, but I think I’ve been writing for long enough tonight.

I’ll come back to them ….