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January 2020 Reading Round Up

This month has seemed both very long and incredibly short; people do say it’s February that drags, no matter the fewer days. I’ve spoken enough about my reading this month so I’ll simply say here that I managed to finish everything I planned and have made a start on another; two, actually, though the second may be a longer-term read.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Andrew Blackman: A Virtual Love – Various narrators discuss their time and dealings with Jeff, a man who posed as a famous blogger when a woman mistook him for that blogger and proceeded to show a romantic interest. Very good commentary what was in 2013 a current issue and still is today (the environmental issues have expanded, now, too). A re-read.

Andrew Blackman: On The Holloway Road – A man discontent with his life embarks on a journey with a notorious local, aiming to find true freedom in a country full of restrictions. Excellent. (This was a re-read.)

Camilla Bruce: You Let Me In – Aged 74, popular romance novelist Cassie has disappeared, leaving a letter in the form of a manuscript for her niece and nephew to find; in it she explains her version of the story of her childhood, during which she believes she saw fairies (she still does) but that a therapist at the time saw as a coping method for severe abuse and neglect. This is a debut novel by a Norwegian writer; it’s out on 5th March and is absolutely fantastic.

E C Fremantle: The Poison Bed – Frances Howard and her husband Robert Carr have both been arrested for murder and are being held separately in the Tower of London; they each tell their stories. Dark, thrilling, fab.

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Nicola Cornick: The Forgotten Sister – Dudley’s wife, Amy, has died, and, seen by the media as his likely lover, popstar and presenter, Lizzie, finds herself caught up in a suspected murder case; whilst this is happening, we read about Amy Robsart, wife of Robert Dudley, Elizabeth I’s favourite, who was found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs. A thrilling, compelling, tale with time-slip elements and an intriguing, well-thought-out way of offering a solution to the historical mystery. The book will be published late April.

Sherry Thomas: Delicious – An ex-member of the nobility has a relationship with an Earl, and later a one-night-stand with his brother, somewhat unknowingly; years later, her lover is dead and she finds herself in the role of Head Cook for the brother. Strictly okay – the heroine was rather annoying and the plot artificially drawn out.

Susmita Bhattacharya: Table Manners – A collection of stories about human relationships and connections, linked by the theme of food, whether the food is an item, an idea, or a construct. Awesome.

Tracy Chevalier (ed.): Reader, I Married Him – A collection of stories by twenty-one women writers based on Jane Eyre. Seems longer than it is but the stories are all pretty good.

This was a stellar month; five 5 star reads, one 4 star, and only one less than those. I had a ball.

I now have a sort-of plan for this new month; I have three books I’ve started tentatively – subject to change, effectively. One is a book I want to read but is a little longer than I should be reading at the moment, another is a short-ish classic comedy I started purely because I only had my tablet with me and have read the majority of the books I had on there, and the last is a potential re-read. I’m going to take February more slowly in terms of planning – have a basic idea but some options for those.

What books have you started the year with?

2019 Year Of Reading Round Up

This year I read 47 books in total, and have three books carrying over into this year. It’s not a particularly high number, but I’m happy with it. The nine books in November really helped, as did re-reading. (I’ve had a number of re-reads this year, many of which made the best of list for the year I first read them. For this reason I’ve excluded re-reads from this years’, though I’ve included them on my list of personal favourites below.)

As always, books that have been reviewed include a link in the text. From here until my personal favourites list, all books are rated as objectively as possible. If you want to skip the objective list, click here to view my personal favourites.

The Best Of The Best

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  • Raymond Antrobus: The Perseverance – A collection about the poet’s life as a Jamaican Brit, a person in the deaf community, and various related historical and contemporary stories. Utterly fantastic.
  • Samantha Sotto: A Dream Of Trees – As Aiden waits to die he is joined in his hotel room by a stranger, a lady who wants to help him by taking him to his ‘rooms’ in the period between life and death. It’s incredibly hard to sum up this book in one sentence, not least because there is so much mystery involved – it is an incredible and very moving fantasy/magical realism story of souls and unfinished business told with an immense amount of heart.

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  • Ali McNamara: Secrets And Seashells At Rainbow Bay
  • Guy Stagg: The Crossway
My Personal Favourites

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I did well on the classics and older decades front – I’ve 13 books noted for ‘pre-1970’ and they are all from the 1940s or earlier which is good. (1970 was the date I chose for the ‘split’ but it nevertheless often seems too young.) I could certainly have done better on the gender front. I did okay on my goals, which I’ll discuss next week. Certainly the biggest change was in the re-reading statistics; I’m happy with the way it’s changed my reading. Beyond the natural consequence – learning more about a book the second time around – I’m also finding I re-read quicker, which for me is excellent as I’m naturally pretty slow.

Quotation Report

In Anne Of Avonlea a woman, so fastidious about her house, lays newspaper down not only on her floors but all the way down the garden path, and requests her visitors to wipe their feet before treading on it. And, unrelated to this, a little boy wonders why male angels can’t wear trousers; he’s the very same boy who later pulls up his plants by the roots to see how they are getting on at the other end. Unsurprisingly, his twin sister’s garden is more successful.

Lawrence, on the changing nature of England:

“I consider this is really the heart of England,” said Clifford to Connie, as he sat there in the dim February sunshine.
“Do you?” she said, seating herself in her blue knitted dress, on a stump by the path.
“I do! This is the old England, the heart of it; and I intend to keep it intact.”
“Oh yes!” said Connie. But, as she said it she heard the eleven-o’clock hooters at Stacks Gate colliery. Clifford was too used to the sound to notice.

In The House Of Hardie the irony of women having the strength to get through multiple births is noted alongside the expectation that they also be completely afraid of mice. Noted also is the fact an education is important in moving up in the world, and that novels ending with wedding ceremonies doesn’t account for the wedding being a beginning.

I’m going to leave this as is. From Good Wives:

Gentlemen, which means boys, be courteous to the old maids, no matter how poor and plain and prim, for the only chivalry worth having is that which is readiest to pay deference to the old, protect the feeble, and serve womankind regardless of rank, age, or color.

In Conversations With Friends, the narrator ponders the idea of kindness, whether it’s more about being nice in the face of conflict, and whether she only wonders whether she’s kind because she’s a woman. Whilst in This Must Be The Place, a teenager, new to the age group, discovers one of the changes that come with moving away from childhood, that lack of total oneness of self and the innocence of a child in regards to the rest of the world and life.

Next up is my film round up post. I’ll be thinking about goals next week and I’ll have a review for you, too.

What was on your best of list for 2019?

December 2019 Reading Round Up

Christmas crept up on me this year and a few reading intentions got lost by the wayside; nevertheless I’m glad for what I did get done and the relative quickness with which I was able to read what I read. I’m picking the remaining books back up again for January.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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E T A Hoffman: The Nutcracker And The Mouse-King – A girl takes a liking to the nutcracker her relative has made for her. When her brother breaks the toy and she stays up to nurse it back to health, she finds herself amid a war between toys and her home’s resident rodents. A simple, lovely, story set in the days around Christmas.

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Nancy Bilyeau: Dreamland – Reluctant heiress Peggy is summoned away from the regular bookstore job she loves to attend her family’s holiday, staying in a luxury hotel not far from the amusement parks of early 1900s Coney Island. The upper class stay away from the parks but Peggy can’t resist and when a girl’s body is found and she is amongst a crowd of onlookers, the distance between her circle and the families at the parks shortens considerably. This is a book with a tremendous amount of atmosphere, history, and a great mystery/thriller story line. It’s due to be published on 16th January.

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Nancy Bilyeau: The Crown – In the time of the Reformation: when Sister Joanna is arrested for supposedly helping a condemned woman, she is offered freedom, as well as the freedom of her father, if she will search for the cursed Athelstan crown for Bishop Stephen Gardiner. Very good.

I enjoyed all three books in December but Dreamland was definitely the best. It was an absolute joy to read; I sat beside my Christmas tree for a lot of it and the book managed to make me feel like it was summer, which was rather lovely. Nancy will be on my podcast next week and my review will be posted in tandem.

Apart from the remaining 2019 reads (Sherry Thomas’ Delicious is my current read) I have a new review copy I hope to get to this January, Camilla Bruce’s You Let Me In which, if the press release is anything to go by, will require all the lights to be on.

What were your last books of 2019?

My Best Of The Decade Round Up For 2010-2019 + Podcast

For today’s podcast, see the bottom of this post. A link to the transcript is included.

Many people are making lists like these and it looks like fun so I’m joining in (if you’re making one, too, do link to it below). I’m doing it now rather than any later because I’ve only a half-plan to read one more book from the decade before the year is out; my reading until January is going to be re-reads and a couple of 2020 publications.

I’m including my 5 star reads from each year and choosing ‘best of’ books from there, and, particularly because I don’t read all that many books in the year they are published, I’m including books no matter which year I read them in. Any future books read from this decade will not be included here; I’m not going to leave this post open to be constantly updated. Some years obviously have more competition than others given length of time since and review copies; the list is a reflection of my time blogging, particularly as I started blogging a couple of months into the decade.

Non-fiction and poetry have been mixed in with the fiction. I’ve used the very first publication date for all books except translations, for which I’ve used the first English translation publication date.

Finally, as there are 70 books here in total I’ve chosen to include covers for the absolute, in my opinion, cream of the crop for each year.


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What have been your favourites these last years?

Today’s podcast

If you can’t view the media player below or to see all the details and transcript, I’ve made a blog page here.

Charlie and Phillip Lewis (The Barrowfields) discuss planning out fictional houses, the detail and beauty of classical music, books about books, and how real life in all its ups and downs makes its mark on your work.

The podcast is also available on iTunes and Spotify.

November 2019 Reading Round Up

November has been brilliant, full of books. I decided on the 30th to try and finish the 250-odd pages I had remaining of the book I was looking to finish next and spent the evening with it to success. I’ve also read a wider variety of books, which most likely helped.

The Books

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Gabrielle Malcolm: There’s Something About Darcy – Malcolm looks at the continuing interest in Jane Austen’s Fitzwilliam Darcy, from early in its publication to the present day. This is a 50/50 book; the first half, which deals with Austen’s near contemporaries and extends just to the 1995 adaptation, is excellent, but the second half is all about fan-fiction, where books are summarised repeatedly.


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Raymond Antrobus: The Perseverance – A collection about the poet’s life as a Jamaican Brit, a person in the deaf community, and various related historical and contemporary stories. Utterly fantastic.


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Julia Armfield: Salt Slow – A collection of short stories about identity, mostly women’s, which takes concepts and realities to their extremes in order to look at them closer. A brilliant collection.

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Nancy Bilyeau: The Blue – 1700s’ Hugenot descendant Genevieve is recruited by Sir Gabriel Courtenay as a spy at Derby Porcelain factory to steal for him the formula for the newest shade of blue; she has agreed because he promised to send her to Venice to train as a painter, but when she comes to know those involved and the reality starts to show itself, she has to make a few decisions. This book is chock full of research to good effect, and whilst the middle is pretty slow it’s worth it as the latter third picks up the pace considerably and the secrets and truths fly everywhere.

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Phillip Lewis: The Barrowfields – Henry looks back on his childhood, his father who tried so hard to be a writer, his distant relationships with mother and sister, and his own attempts to be someone. Utterly fantastic.

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Samantha Sotto: Before Ever After – Shelley’s younger-than-middle-aged husband died and a few years later a boy claiming to be his grandson turns up at her door. Brilliant story combining a mass of different genres.

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Samantha Sotto: Love And Gravity – The cracks in the wall start happening in Andrea’s single digit years and although no one believes her she comes to look forward to the rare sightings of the historical boy, a budding scientist, on the other side of her wall. A great time slip/travel novel that makes use of a box of manuscripts found amongst Issac Newton’s possessions to tell its story.

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Seishi Yokomizo: The Honjin Murders – A couple on their wedding night are murdered in the annex building of the family estate; a three-fingered man was seen around the place the night before and his hand prints are on the wall, but why did it happen? An excellent 1940s novella that is a lot more about the ‘why’ than the ‘who’.

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Stein Riverton: The Iron Chariot – One evening, a little way away from his hotel, our narrator sees the forestry inspector leave the company of a woman the narrator admires, and a bit later the narrator hears the sound of chains rattling which a fisherman says precedes death; the next day a dead body is found. Not bad at all – quite of its time but there’s a lot to appreciate in context.

I don’t have a favourite this month – there are some 5 star reads amongst the above, all but the non-fiction are 4+, and I appreciated various things about every one. It has been a very good reading month all round.

In this last month of the year and decade I’ve a few books to get to that are yet to be started and I hope to finish up a few more; I’m not sure I’ll read as much – Christmas is almost here, after all – but it should be good.

What do you hope to get to in this last month, and what has been your favourite book of the last few weeks?


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