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June and July 2022 Reading Round-Up

I read a fair amount in June and July, including some exceptional reads. It was an incredibly enjoyable two months for reading; every book had something particular about it that made things special.

All books are works of fiction.

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Chloe Timms: The Seawomen – On the isle of Eden, women are married off and must produce a child within a year if they are not to be cast into the sea. As Esta draws nearer to her own adulthood, she starts to question everything she’s been told about the evils of the sea and the mermaids therein, and when she runs away from a gang of young men and runs into the water to escape, she meets a man from the sea who offers her a different story to the one she’s always been told. An absolutely fantastic dystopian tale that has become one of my most favourite books.

Megan Nolan: Acts Of Desperation – Our unnamed young narrator is addicted to love and relationships and whilst everyone around her looks askance at her becoming the girlfriend of older Ciaran, our narrator doesn’t care. He’s perfect in his darkness, and it’s worth the hurt, the tears, the drunkenness and cigarettes. We hear from her looking back at the relationship a couple of years into the future from where she has the hindsight to assess the time with a more critical eye. This is a very focused book with a narrator that’s incredibly difficult to like and due to the focus it doesn’t really ‘go’ anywhere in terms of plot or location – this is one to read for it’s literary value and I say that because in that context it is fantastic. Just prepare for moodiness!

Natalie Jenner: Bloomsbury Girls – 1950s London, and the years following the war have been difficult for women who’ve gone from being needed in the workplace to being pushed aside. Vivian definitely feels this as a member of staff at Bloomsbury Books (shop), and Grace in the back offices. But now there’s a new girl, Evie, starting in the rare books section upstairs and it gives Vivian in particular the push she needed to start making changes at the shop. Their days will include breaking the 51 rules the management has in place, sharing a table with some of the biggest literary stars of the day, and Evie’s secret plan to make up for her not receiving a job in academia she was the best candidate but wrong gender for. A lot of fun, Jenner’s inclusion of Daphne du Maurier as well as her inclusion of book auctions and little-known writers is a joy to behold.

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan: Starling Days – Mina throws her shoe over the railings on the bridge but tells the ambulance staff the police she wasn’t looking to jump. Oscar is not convinced and when the opportunity arises for them to work on his father’s flats in England, the couple go there to have a break. Mina’s given up work for a break, and she takes it, but soon Oscar has to return to the US and Mina is left alone, with Oscar’s friend’s sister. It’s difficult to sum this book up but suffice to say it’s brilliant.

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Sally Page: The Keeper Of Stories – Janice ‘collects’ the stories of her clients, homeowners who she cleans for. She doesn’t have a story herself. Or does she? When she begins working for elderly Mrs B, Janice meets her match – another person who likes collecting stories and who doesn’t believe that Janice does not have her own. An excellent page turner with a wonderful slow build-up of character development, a great personified dog, and a very satisfying ending.

Sylvia Mercedes: Daughter Of Shades – Ayleth has been training to become a shade hunter for years (shades take mortal host bodies) and works with Hollis as a team in their local borough, but she wants more. When a call is put out for candidates to work in the most dangerous borough, Ayleth goes against Hollis to travel to the palace and pitch for herself, but of course she’s not the only one after the job and the others have a lot more experience. The first in a seven book series, this novel gives small hints as to the wider theme but concentrates on the basics of an introduction, to create a whole that is incredibly fun and full of promise in terms of concepts of fantastical religions.

Sylvia Mercedes: Visions Of Fate – Ayleth starts work with Terryn in her bid to become the next Evanderian in Wodechran Borough. Not quite as good as book one, but the promise is there for book three.

Sylvia Mercedes: Paths Of Malice – As Terryn and Ayleth continue to investigate the problems of the Witchwood and Terryn continues to avoid calling his shade by its name, the second attempt at a marriage for Prince Gerald begins with Fayline’s convent novice younger sister. Will a marriage happen this time or will Celine suffer a similar fate to her sister and be taken over by a witch? Much better than book two, this is where the series starts to get incredibly good and is, I can say with hindsight, the last book before the pace goes at a rate of knots.

The use of fantasy and religion in both the Timms and Venatrix books (the three Mercedes) was brilliant – they’re very different (Timms is literary fantasy, Mercedes genre). I also really liked the writing for the reader that Nolan does, a feeling of Charlotte Brontë in a book nothing like the classic author’s, whereas the Jenner was great for its look at literary auctions and past literary figures that aren’t often (if ever?) included in fiction. The Hisayo Buchanan was just great in general, better still than her first book. And Sally Page can write a page turner for commercial fiction as good if not better than any thriller.

It won’t surprise you that so far in August I’ve read more from Mercedes (at the point of posting here, I’ve one more book left to go of the seven). I’ve read Kristin Harmel’s The Forest Of Vanishing Stars for both pleasure and podcast (though on that first alliterative word it’s a difficult book to read due to its subject), and I’ve a Young Adult historical fantasy trilogy waiting on my shelves for a couple of days’ time – I need more fantasy fiction right now!

 
February, March, April, And May 2022 Reading Round Up

I got a fair amount of reading done this late winter and spring, all told. Some absolutely excellent books that kept me from other tasks quite regularly.

The Books
Non-Fiction

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John Bevis: An English Library Journal – Bevis sets out to get a library card from every library authority in England, and some from Wales and Northern Ireland where work-related travel permits. An interesting concept with a certain structure – where a repeat of each interaction would have become, well, repetitive, Bevis interweaves the more interesting anecdotes with slices of library history, both specific to the one he’s visiting and in general.

Natasha Miller (ed.) Jamie Blaine: Relentless – Miller’s teenage years were marked by abuse, and when she gains emancipation early, she starts to chart a course that will lead her to a fantastic career in music and wonderful position as founder of a huge events company. Incredibly compelling and inspiring, a true life story to root for.

Fiction

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Amanda Geard: The Midnight House – After a break-up and problems with her career, Ellie moves back home from Dublin to Kerry; one of the secondhand books she receives from her mum’s friend has an old letter in it that seems related to the mystery of the woman who appeared to have died in the lake at the big house. Great story – a good use of narrative, a good use of the concept of predictability (and unpredictability) and clues, and a hugely satisfying epilogue.

Elizabeth Von Arnim: Elizabeth And Her German Garden – A woman spends as much time as possible in the garden she has created (if not often planted herself, given the time period) and recounts various tales of those she is compelled to socialise with (because it’s apparent she won’t socialise if she could help it, it takes time away from the garden). A book that could easily be mistaken for a memoir, this is an okay book, ‘okay’ mainly due to the main character who could stand to be a little kinder, but there isn’t much going on, nor is there any sort of plot. This is one for a fan of Von Arnim.

Frances Burney: Evelina – A young woman enters society, with some good people and some not so, to various effects, suitors, and lessons. Okay, and better than some books of the same time period (Emmeline, with its similarities) but definitely a first novel.

Grace D Li: Portrait Of A Thief – When Will witnesses the theft of Chinese art from the Sackler Museum, he can’t tell the police much, but what he does leave out is that the thieves slipped him a business card. Do Will and his friends want $10 million in return for 5 heists? The art taken during the looting of the Summer Palace is wanted back and unsuspected students may be the answer. A great story questioning the ownership of looted work, Chinese American identity, which is frankly very fun and completely worth suspending a bit of belief for.

Jennifer Saint: Elektra – So as not to ruin the author’s retelling, I will say that this is Saint’s story of the Trojan War and Elektra’s decisions from the perspective of Elektra, Clytemnestra, and Cassandra. Helen features a fair amount too. Very, very, good – Saint has created a compelling tale whilst sticking to the over all concept of the original myths, keeping all the tragedies and so on.

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Melissa Fu: Peach Blossom Spring – When Changsha is hit during the Second Sino-Japanese War, by friend or foe (it’s not known), Meilin takes her son with the family to safety; this will entail fleeing and becoming refugees in a different land, and we follow Meilin, then Renshu, and then, in turn, daughter Lily. A fantastic if often difficult story, written beautifully, epic in nature.

Oliver Goldsmith: The Vicar Of Wakefield – A well-enough-off vicar’s money is lost and he must take his family to a poorer parish and home resulting in mishaps and, before long, rather Dickensian silly situations well before Dickens’ time. I think there’s a reason it did well in its day. There’s also a reason it’s not so well known now.

Susanna Kearsley – The Winter Sea – Author Carrie travels to Scotland for inspiration and research for her latest book, and once at her destination begins to receive memories of sorts from the Jacobite ancestors she wanted to write about, in particular a young woman whose fate Carrie must find out. A character-driven book with a simple plot in two narratives, the reading ‘journey’ is absolutely wonderful and Kearsley’s writing of the narratives well-balanced – both narratives are just as good.

Yvonne Bailey-Smith: The Day I Fell Off My Island – Erna lives with her grandparents and siblings in Jamaica; one day her siblings are taken by their father to England and Erna will follow in due course. This is giving a fair amount of the book away – half is set in Jamaica, half in England – but it’s necessary to give you an idea of what happens; it’s set in the 1960s.

It’s been a time of variety, which may have been the key. There has been much to love, in fact the only book I took a long time to finish, in relative terms at least, was the Goldsmith. There is some hilarity but there’s also so much everything-and-everyone-is-here and coincidence and so on; if we’re talking comedy, I definitely prefer Horace Walpole. In terms of books I was able to savour (because the ones for podcasts had to be read swiftly!) I loved the Kearsley and the Burney; Evelina was my first Burney, and I’ve moved on to Cecilia though I may need to restart it as I’ve left some months in between readings. I enjoyed Evelina a good amount though I dare say at the moment I do prefer the writer Burney inspired, Austen. One of the books, I think it’s Cecilia, threw me with some random antisemitism – at least for a present-day reader it’s random, I expect at the time of publication it would have been one of those known societal things. I’m generally of the mind that we should view offensive phrases and thoughts in their context but I’m struggling with this one as it is literally ‘person + Jewish = bad’. It’s something historical I want to find out more about.

I have already finished two books in June – Sylvia Mercedes’ Daughter Of Shades, a YA fantasy that was recommended by Intisar Khanani on Twitter (I raced through it and am onto book 2) and Chloe Timms’ The Seawomen which I devoured in two days because I couldn’t do anything else – it is an exceptional novel and out on 14th June. So it’ll be Sylvia Mercedes going forward this month and hopefully another podcast read or two.

What have you been reading?

 
January 2022 Reading Round Up (And Accounting For August To December 2021)

January saw me read four books, which is better than I could have hoped. They were all for podcasts which wasn’t what I’d planned but what needed to happen; February has been more varied in terms of purpose. I have also accidentally ‘cheated’ my system: I read only the very last chapter of The Reading List in January rather than any substantial amount, so technically it was also/really a December read. It was an enjoyable reading month.

All books are works of fiction.

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Imogen Clark: Impossible To Forget – After Angie’s death, four of her closest friends are brought together to find out her written request that they each pitch in to help her daughter as she becomes a young adult; it’s an odd idea, but they agree to do it, it’s just no one really knows why Hope, a younger friend, is there with them. An easy read of the best sort – quick, short chapters, with a story and characters that keep you reading and wanting it to continue.

Kaia Alderson: Sisters In Arms – Americans Eliza and Grace sign up to the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps during WW2; as black women it will be a difficult road to travel but together with their unit they show how important they are and achieve results no other units had been able to. Based on the real life all-black women 6888th postal battalion, this is a compelling story of triumph in the face of many adversities.

Kate Quinn: The Rose Code – A socialite (whose boyfriend is Prince Philip), a shop girl, and a young woman abused by her parents end up sharing their lives when they join the teams at Bletchley Park to help decode the messages from the Enigma machine. A part factual, part fictional, tale about the code-breaking efforts as well as the war lives of three different women and the Park in general.

Sara Nisha Adams: The Reading List – When Naina dies, Mukesh finds her library copy of The Time Traveller’s Wife, reads it, and starts to wonder if he can improve his relationship with his bookish granddaughter through his new interest in books; meanwhile Aleisha, who Mukesh meets at the library, is struggling at home with a brother who is often out and a mother with a mental illness; the two form an unlikely friendship through the discovery and usage of a reading list no one knows the author of. Perfect book about books, this story uses as its structure the list of books, moving the plot forward as characters and reader alike continue through it.

As said, this was an enjoyable month for books. Alderson’s story introduced me to a slice of history I was unaware of and led to me finding out about the employment of black people in the British army in the same years as well as the general differences (and similarities) between attitudes. I can recommend doing this if you don’t know about it already – both the American and British histories are compelling. (And might, maybe, nowadays be included in school WW2 lessons?…) Quinn’s book taught me more details and introduced the fact that the Queen’s husband had been in a serious relationship prior to their own which led to the palace inviting the former girlfriend, Osla Benning, to meet the later Queen for tea. Quinn changed the timeline a bit but regardless it’s a bonkers and fascinating story to read about. Clark’s book was just pure delight; a great page turner whose author is very aware of what the reader is wondering (and delivers). And Adams’ story is simply the perfect book about books, with libraries, wonderful characters, different ages and cultures brought together… just wonderful.

I’ve been thinking of how to include August to December round ups for last year having not done so at the time. It makes most sense to keep it short as I did account for the books themselves fully in my year round up and there is little point at this stage belaboring things. So here they are:

August: Claire North’s Notes From The Burning Age; Tyler Keevil’s Your Still Beating Heart
September: Hazel Gaynor’s The Bird In The Bamboo Cage; Jennifer Robson’s Our Darkest Night; Rosie Travers’ The Theatre Of Dreams; Wendy Holden’s The Duchess
October: Rebecca F John’s The Haunting Of Henry Twist; Samantha Sotto’s The Beginning Of Always
November: Janie Chang’s The Library Of Legends; Noelle Adams’ Married For Christmas; Patrick Gale’s Take Nothing With You
December: Edward Carey’s B: A Year In Plagues And Pencils

My current reads are mostly classics/older books, and I’m loving it. More on that in the February round up!

 
2021 Year Of Reading Round Up

Well, the past year was absolutely bonkers for reasons we all know and various other reasons that are more personal (and I think we’ve all had enough of those, too). I did finish the year on a positive note – we’ve worked out why my rabbit has been chronically ill and are working towards a proper fix. Hopefully. Crossing fingers. I also ended the year an example of the new definition of fully vaccinated; it’s a statistic I’m happy to be a number in.

I’m not sure I noted every book I read this year – I almost missed one when writing this post that was a glaring omission (a very recent read and podcast recording) so it’s very possible I’ve missed others further back in the year. Given everything, and my incredibly low 36 books (though I did finish a book on the 1st of January and am reading Evelina every day), I’m doing things differently today. I didn’t give many of the below their due, skipping lots of round ups and writing few reviews (I may rectify one or both of those soon – what do you think, is it too ‘late’?). There were lots of re-reads and I read mostly for the podcast. I’ve not been keeping up with new releases. Hopefully this new year, that will change.

No best of this year and no personal favourites. Every book on this list helped me in one way or another.

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Catherine Cho: Inferno – A short while after giving birth to her first child, Cho was sent to an involuntary psych ward in the US (she was visiting from the UK) having experienced Post Partum Psychosis; she details the experience, interwoven with the events to the run up. Stunning book; Cho’s story needs reading widely and her handling of the literature side of things is phenomenal.

Christina Courtenay: The Runes Of Destiny – A young woman finds a Viking brooch on a dig site and is transported hundreds of years in the past where she is taken captive; struggling first to believe what’s happened, she must get used to her new life and not be distracted by the leader of the expedition abroad. A good, fun, follow up to Echoes Of The Runes that expands on the general idea and improves on it by leaps and bounds.

Claire North: Notes From The Burning Age – On a post-apocalyptic earth, a man is hired as an agent for the factor on one side of the sociopolitical environmental debate, and works as a double agent for the other side, as arguments about government, further climate change, and the value of the old world (us) continue to rage. A unique style of conversation about our current world in the context of the environment and how we might be viewed in the future, one full of poignant moments and pauses for thought.

Diana Gabaldon: Dragonfly In Amber – Back in her own time, and twenty years on from when she spent two years in the Scottish Highlands of the 1700s, Claire Fraser Randall has returned to Scotland to try and find out what happened to Jaime during the Battle of Culloden. She’s brought her daughter, Brianna, who is yet to discover that her father was a man who lived 200 years previously; now Frank has died, Claire is about to change that. Where the first book was pretty much pure fantasy, the second offering builds on the history to deliver something very detailed and historical and, badly-placed sex scenes aside (why tell your daughter all that?), it’s a great piece of escapism. One can only hope that the person who, in the TV series, is told the truth about Claire, also learns it in the book series, too, at some point.

Edward Carey: B: A Year In Plagues And Pencils – As the world started locking down, Carey made an impulsive promise to draw a sketch every day and post it to social media. He did just that for 500 days; this book chronicles 365 of those days: elections, police brutality, climate change, animals running wide, and many artists who created in some form of isolation. A lovely mix of drawings and textual context, stories that will not be easily forgotten.

Elizabeth Baines: Used To Be – A short story collection with the theme of different roads in life. Very, very good.

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Gill Paul: The Second Marriage – First Lady of the United States Jackie Kennedy, and opera singer Maria Callas were connected – both had relationships with the shipping magnate Ari Onassis. Paul looks at the lives, loves, and marriages of both women, the connections between them, and the way context and social values affected them. Called Jackie And Maria in the US, this is a strong, bold, work of fiction that offers possible answers and a well-written story of two famous women.

Hazel Gaynor: The Bird In The Bamboo Cage – The pupils and teachers of a school for western missionary children in China is taken over during the Japanese occupation and life suddenly changes from one of happiness and learning to poverty and danger. Full of information about a part of the War not often considered.

Janie Chang: The Library Of Legends – When the Japanese invade China, the government decrees universities pack up and journey to somewhere safer; we follow a group of teachers and students on the road, in particular Lian and wealthy Shen, whose mysterious servant seems to know more than she lets on, as well as a few politically-minded students, as they travel on foot to the other side of China, taking with them a great literary treasure. A wonderful tale of survival with elements of folklore and a heck of a lot of history rarely discussed in the west.

Jennifer Robson: Our Darkest Night – As the Nazis start to round up Italian Jews, Nina’s father sends her away to the countryside with a friend of a friend. Nico is a Catholic, and Nina is yet to find out is that he’s secretly been helping more people, too. As she starts to get used to the hard work on the farm, an old ‘friend’ comes calling, a Nazi classmate of Nico, and his obsession with being better than Nico changes the relative peace in the family and community at large. A stunning book – from its fairly quiet beginnings it transitions into a harrowing but fantastically-written and important first person narrative of the journey of Jewish people and the splitting of work camp and death.

Kate Forsyth: Bitter Greens – A fictional story of the woman who wrote the popular version of Rapunzel, and how she discovered the tale (it includes a retelling of its own). It made my ‘best of’ list the year I first read it, and it would make my best of list this year if I didn’t have a rule of no repeats.

Kate Forsyth: The Wild Girl – The fictionalised tale of Dortchen Wild who fell in love with one of the Grimm brothers and helped them in their task of collecting fairy tales. Very good, hard to put down.

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Katy Yocom: Three Ways To Disappear – Quinn and Sarah lost their sibling, Sarah’s twin, in childhood; now adults, Quinn tries to get back into her art whilst being a mother to her own set of twins, one with a chronic illness, and Sarah leaves her job as a reporter in dangerous locations to work in tiger conservation in India. Much better than my brief summary can do, this is a super book that explores trauma, conservation, and in the conservation all of the social affects conservation has on humans.

Kimberly Derting: The Body Finder – A girl who can sense the bodies of murdered people aids the discovery of the killer. Very good young adult fiction.

Kimberly Derting: Desires Of The Dead – Violet steps up her act by working with the FBI. It may not be as creepy as expected but it’s a worthy continuation of the series that begun with The Body Finder.

Kimberly Derting: The Last Echo – Violet and her team take on a man who kidnaps girls to be his girlfriend, and this time it’s more personal than ever before. The best book of the series so far.

Kimberly Derting: Dead Silence – Violet now has her own echo playing in her head, and her next assignment involves a young group of people. Still holding onto that strength.

Lillian Li: Number One Chinese Restaurant – Jimmy Han wants to make something of himself, away from his father’s restaurant but things start to go a bit amiss; this all kicks off after Jimmy’s conversion with family friend Uncle Pang, and as Jimmy tries to work around the issues and becomes close to employee/consultant Janine, the cracks in the lives of those who work at the restaurant start to show, and they’ll need work to overcome. A difficult book to summarise without revealing too much, this is a book that studies immigrant parent-child relationships and other familial relationships in the against the backdrop of a busy restaurant.

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Liz Fenwick: The Path To The Sea – The impending death of Joan causes her daughter Diana to wonder what exactly happened to her father, who died when she was young; it causes granddaughter Lottie, whilst happy to return to the home she spent her summers at, to look at her current relationship and where she went wrong with her first love; and meanwhile we learn the story of Joan’s days as a spy in the Cold War. Three very good narratives (I personally most enjoyed Joan’s) that will appeal to many give its scope, use of time, and the different characters.

Louise Douglas: The House By The Sea – When Edie’s ex-mother-in-law dies and leaves the house in Sicily to her and her ex-husband, Anna’s son Joe, Edie is forced to go to inspect it with Joe despite the hatred she feels for the woman – Anna was babysitting young Daniel the day he died. A great book about forgiveness and redemption with a heroine as well written as any of Douglas’ previous.

Louise Douglas: The Scarlet Dress – Alice disappeared at the caravan park when Marnie was a young child and Will a young man rather in love with the holidaymaker. Years later, the park is being dismantled for redevelopment but hits a problem when a body is found in ground beneath a structure. Marnie has to remember the past, Will has to work with what’s gone on (it had a massive impact on him, leading to career as a thriller writer) and the mystery of what happened to Alice must be solved by everyone remaining whose lives were linked with the park. A good, fast-moving, mystery revolving around a close-knit group.

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.

Nicola Cornick: The Last Daughter – When Caitlin’s body is found in a long-sealed coffin, Serena is forced to confront the past that has alluded her for so long to try and work out how her modern-day twin came to be buried in the 1800s. In a second narrative Anne Neville, wife of a close friend of Richard III’s recounts the story of her earlier years and the strange story told to her by a mystical woman about a familial lodestone with a powerful magic. As strong as Cornick’s previous time slips, this looks at a possible answer to the mystery of the Princes in the Tower.

Noelle Adams: Married For Christmas – Jessica proposes a marriage of convenience between her and her friend so that she can have a family and he can become pastor to their childhood church. Re-read, happy and easy-going Christmas-time book very much appreciated.

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Patrick Gale: Take Nothing With You – Eustace undergoes cancer treatment in an isolated facility in hospital and takes with him a disposable music player with his friend’s cello music on it to help him pass the time. As he listens he looks back on his life – his childhood love of the cello, his progression in understanding his sexuality and his parents’ relationship, and what happened to change the academic trajectory he was on. Fantastic book – full of heart and music.

Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen: The Rabbit Back Literature Society – Ella becomes the long-awaited 10th member of a society that involves the country’s greatest writers – but are they the greatest writers, really? A very good look at ideas and writing in general.

Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen: Secret Passages In A Hillside Town – Mundane, boring, Ollie, who lives in his own world and doesn’t even seem to know or care what his son’s name is, has a blast from the past when a past lover adds him as a friend on Facebook and Ollie starts to be imbroiled in a present-day version of his fantastical childhood. Fantastic, strange, out and out weird – I still haven’t worked it all out but there’s no question; it’s amazing.

Rachel Hore: A Beautiful Spy – When Minnie is approached by a family acquaintance about potential work and later contacted by MI5, she finds herself a spy, spying on British sympathisers of communist Russia and living two lives that cannot be blended together. Based on a real life spy, this is an interesting work that focuses more on the person than the work, showing the reality of life as well as bringing to the fore a woman who could never be noticed.

Rebecca F John: The Haunting Of Henry Twist – 1920s: When his wife, Ruby, dies in an accident and Henry finds himself a new single father, he starts to notice a man hanging around his flat and comes to believe that Jack is Ruby. A wonderfully written book about love and hope against the backdrop of the Roaring Twenties and the Bright Young Things.

Rosanna Ley: The Orange Grove – When Holly bakes a cake to celebrate her business news, she knows it’s one her mother has never made, but doesn’t know why. Ella is shocked by the news but agrees to Holly’s proposal, that they go to Seville together to research products and meet vendors for her forthcoming orange-based shop. There’s just that trepidation – Ella visited Seville when she and and husband Felix were younger, but Felix left early to look after his mother, and Ella stayed on. She wasn’t entirely alone. A great book that blends interesting business trip with a past holiday spirit and an excellent look at the extraordinary in the ordinary.

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Rosie Travers: The Theatre Of Dreams – A recently-disgraced actress moves to the coast to manage a dance school… or at least that’s what she thought she was doing – in actual fact she’s there to help save a historical pavilion from demolition. Good stuff.

Samantha Sotto: The Beginning Of Always – At a New Year’s Eve party on a boat, Elise is bothered by a man who says he knows her from somewhere; who he is and whether he’ll go away becomes a moot point when Elise falls into the Seine and drowns… but doesn’t. She later finds the man, Thomas, who says he’s dying but the doctor’s can find nothing. Together they work to find out the reason they are seemingly connected. Meanwhile we hear from old Paris, where the morgue is full of bodies including one, a beautiful drowned woman whose face is cast into a mold. Very good – Sotto has taken the story of Resusi Annie and the Drowned Woman and run with it in her awesome magical way.

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.

Tyler Keevil: Your Still Beating Heart – Eira’s husband is killed in a senseless attack on a bus and it leaves her completely numb. She decides to go to Prague and, when a man who she suspects is a criminal attempts to discover if she could be a point of contact for trafficking, she agrees to do it. It’s all good until she finds out what she’s been tasked with, and the numbness is replaced with a will to live. An incredibly well told literary thriller told in the second person to great effect.

Wendy Holden: The Duchess – As she prepares for her husband’s funeral, Wallis Simpson looks back at the journey her life has taken, from regular everyday woman to wife of the abdicated King. Told with more credit given to Simpson than most, this fictional account offers a different look at the woman and the history that is rarely questioned.

The stats this year are all over the place, I read very few books for review, and the oldest book on the list is Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly In Amber (1992 – not old at all). I have very much enjoyed what I read, there were some stellar books and none that I wouldn’t recommend. The list may be short but it’s been good.

Hello again, and Happy New Year! Please do tell me what you’ve been reading recently, do include both new and older books, and tell me how your year is going so far!

 
May, June, And July 2021 Reading Round Up

It made sense to put these months together; it was getting late last month to write about my June reading, I’d only finished one book, and then I realised I hadn’t accounted for May either. I did a lot of reading during that week-long heatwave where I spent most hours of the day situated outside. I’m also thrilled to say I’m double vaccinated; the second dose gave me a weird half flu for a few days but I’m glad to have had it. Photos suggest bookshops still exist; I’m looking forward to visiting them.

All books are works of fiction.

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Christina Courtenay: The Runes Of Destiny – A young woman finds a Viking brooch on a dig site and is transported hundreds of years in the past where she is taken captive; struggling first to believe what’s happened, she must get used to her new life and not be distracted by the leader of the expedition abroad. A good, fun, follow up to Echoes Of The Runes that expands on the general idea and improves on it by leaps and bounds.

Diana Gabaldon: Dragonfly In Amber – Back in her own time, and twenty years on from when she spent two years in the Scottish Highlands of the 1700s, Claire Fraser Randall has returned to Scotland to try and find out what happened to Jaime during the Battle of Culloden. She’s brought her daughter, Brianna, who is yet to discover that her father was a man who lived 200 years previously; now Frank has died, Claire is about to change that. Where the first book was pretty much pure fantasy, the second offering builds on the history to deliver something very detailed and historical and, badly-placed sex scenes aside (why tell your daughter all that?), it’s a great piece of escapism. One can only hope that the person who, in the TV series, is told the truth about Claire, also learns it in the book series, too, at some point.

Gill Paul: The Second Marriage – First Lady of the United States Jackie Kennedy, and opera singer Maria Callas were connected – both had relationships with the shipping magnate Ari Onassis. Paul looks at the lives, loves, and marriages of both women, the connections between them, and the way context and social values affected them. Called Jackie And Maria in the US, this is a strong, bold, work of fiction that offers possible answers and a well-written story of two famous women.

Louise Douglas: The Scarlet Dress – Alice disappeared at the caravan park when Marnie was a young child and Will a young man rather in love with the holidaymaker. Years later, the park is being dismantled for redevelopment but hits a problem when a body is found in ground beneath a structure. Marnie has to remember the past, Will has to work with what’s gone on (it had a massive impact on him, leading to career as a thriller writer) and the mystery of what happened to Alice must be solved by everyone remaining whose lives were linked with the park. A good, fast-moving, mystery revolving around a close-knit group.

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Nicola Cornick: The Last Daughter – When Caitlin’s body is found in a long-sealed coffin, Serena is forced to confront the past that has alluded her for so long to try and work out how her modern-day twin came to be buried in the 1800s. In a second narrative Anne Neville, wife of a close friend of Richard III’s recounts the story of her earlier years and the strange story told to her by a mystical woman about a familial lodestone with a powerful magic. As strong as Cornick’s previous time slips, this looks at a possible answer to the mystery of the Princes in the Tower.

Rachel Hore: A Beautiful Spy – When Minnie is approached by a family acquaintance about potential work and later contacted by MI5, she finds herself a spy, spying on British sympathisers of communist Russia and living two lives that cannot be blended together. Based on a real life spy, this is an interesting work that focuses more on the person than the work, showing the reality of life as well as bringing to the fore a woman who could never be noticed.

Rosanna Ley: The Orange Grove – When Holly bakes a cake to celebrate her business news, she knows it’s one her mother has never made, but doesn’t know why. Ella is shocked by the news but agrees to Holly’s proposal, that they go to Seville together to research products and meet vendors for her forthcoming orange-based shop. There’s just that trepidation – Ella visited Seville when she and and husband Felix were younger, but Felix left early to look after his mother, and Ella stayed on. She wasn’t entirely alone. A great book that blends interesting business trip with a past holiday spirit and an excellent look at the extraordinary in the ordinary.

All these books have helped me through the last months, with their balance of fun and escapism with excellent studies and commentary. The fantasies, too, have included their studies. The Gabaldon definitely took a while to read – a few hours in the garden every week or so (it took over four months) – but I’m glad I decided to carry on with the series and am looking forward to getting back to the adaptation.

I’m currently about a quarter of the way through Sharlene Teo’s Ponti and have just begun Tyler Keevil’s Your Still Beating Heart. The first was a present last Christmas and a long-awaited read that I’m enjoying, the second a newer book that employs the second person, which had me intrigued.

It’s been a while: how are you all and what have you been reading?


Charlie and Rachel Hore (A Beautiful Spy) discuss the life and work of a female spy in the years between the First and Second World Wars, the man who inspired James Bond’s M, and how Rachel took care to do right in her representation of a real person.

To see all the details including links to other apps, the episode page can be found here.

 

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