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April 2018 Reading Round Up

A month of much better weather, Brits putting on the shorts and firing up the barbeques at the first higher temperatures. In the south we had our hottest April day on record for many years, a complete contrast to the snow of March. In reading, it was a month of authors beginning with ‘C’, entirely by accident. Whilst carrying on with my 1700s reading – and I’ve another on the list to start afterwards – I read Claire Fuller’s work in preparation for the restart of my conversation events. After having moved venue twice due to closures, I’m hoping I’ve found a good place in Cobbett Road Library, a community/local not-for-profit run hub.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Charlotte Smith: Emmeline – An orphan is finally visited by her uncle after a lifetime of neglect; the man brings his son who falls in instant infatuation with her and so begins a journey of getting away from suitors and finding her own way. Not so good in the context of today, but excellent in its historical context.

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Claire Fuller: Our Endless Numbered Days – At nine years old, Peggy’s father kidnaps her from London, taking her to a remote place in Germany and telling her the world has ended when it hasn’t. A story of isolation and the effects of extremes, that ends with a nod to magical realism.

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Claire Fuller: Swimming Lessons – Gil sees his long-lost wife outside the bookshop and injures himself trying to catch up with her; alongside the narrative of the family coming together to help him are the letters Ingrid wrote to Gil about the lie of their marriage, that she slips in between the pages of relevant novels. This will be on my best of list for this year, it’s an utterly fantastic book – very well written, well plotted, and the literature aspect is incredibly compelling.

No guesses which my favourite was!

Quotation Report

In Swimming Lessons, Claire Fuller posits that ‘writing does not exist unless there is someone to read it, and each reader will take something different from a novel, from a chapter, from a line. A book becomes a living thing only when it interacts with a reader’.

It’s getting to that time of year when shortlists are publicised in earnest and many books are released in time for the longest of days. I’ve got a lot on my list to read (Fuller’s Bitter Orange, Manu Joseph’s latest) and looking forward to it. But first I have to finish the Charlotte Lennox; at 1/3 of the way in, I’m starting to wonder if anyone is going to point out to the main character that her ideas of gallantry and death are based on ancient mythology and cannot be applied to the real world…

Which new releases are you looking forward to?

 
March 2018 Reading Round Up

Snow when everything should be growing; the pre-Easter days; it’s been a funny March. On the first, minor, snow day there seemed to be a collective decision across the city to use bin lids to scoop up what little snow there was in an attempt to make snowballs. It didn’t work, so it was quite nice to have the second patch of days where there was more of it. It was actually kind of nice being stuck inside on the days of ice, forced to do housework or hobbies. Britain doesn’t really know how to ‘do’ snow, particularly the south, so everything kind of stops. My rosemary plant shrugged and carried on flowering; the garlics have formed a support group.

I had a minor reading celebration a few days ago when I reached 75% of the way through Emmeline. The book has got better but still, I’m looking forward to finishing it. March was a month wherein a read a fair amount but much of it was tied up in the tome.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Dorthe Nors: Karate Chop – A collection of very short stories that each have some level of creepy/menacing atmosphere to them. Pretty good; some are stellar.

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Nicolai Houm: The Gradual Disappearance Of Jane Ashland – A woman wakes up in a tent in a Norwegian National Park, knowing how she got there; scenes from the past couple of months show how she came to be in such a place. This is a novel about grief rather than a thriller – though it has an element of that – and a very good one at that.

The Nors was good but the Houm was better. As it happened both were review copies from the same publisher; it’s been a Pushkin Press, Scandinavian translated fiction month.

I’m not yet sure what I’ll be reading once I’ve finished Emmeline – I’m in a bit of a classics phase and it’s somewhat accidental. I’ve been looking at the remaining Charlottes on my list – Yonge and Lennox – and may continue from there, but I downloaded Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko recently, and kind of want to read that. Has anyone read her work?

What happens where you live on snow days? Or, if you don’t get snow days, what happens when you have unexpected weather, whatever that means where you are?

 
February 2018 Reading Round Up

In the first few days of March each year, I listen to a couple of versions of Les Eaux de Mars, a happening that has come to mark for me the coming of spring. But this time I woke up, saw the snow, and realised that the tradition would have to wait. The children on my street are playing; they’ve managed to cobble together small snow balls from snow that melts as soon as it touches your skin, and are skidding along the pavement in lieu of being able to sled. Schools might be closed for safety reasons, but as our last proper snowfall was in 2013, it’s nice to think closures have afforded them an experience of weather we so rarely get.

As it has been in past years, this February was another success for me in reading, in relation to previous months. I didn’t read as much as I have in other Februarys, but it’s a vast improvement on the last 3 or so months; whilst I actually read similar numbers in those other months, it was mostly forced. I’m in a classics phase at the moment; I’ve finally finished Twelve Years A Slave – not a difficult book but daunting – and read my first Wharton. And I’ve started Charlotte Turner Smith’s minor tome, Emmeline which is proving difficult – my review is going to have to be in two parts: one in the context of the time, a second in the context of today. Romance has been a big help in getting over my lengthy slump and I’ve a few more ready to read, to be turned to when easier reading is required.

The Books
Non-Fiction

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Solomon Northup: Twelve Years A Slave – Northup’s account of his time as a kidnapped freeman from northern states America, when he was taken into slavery in the south. Absolutely worth reading.

Fiction

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Edith Wharton: The Age Of Innocence – A man engaged to a young woman he believes he loves falls for her cousin, who has separated from her husband; society wants rid of her. Fantastic.

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Jessie Greengrass: Sight – A woman, pregnant with her second child, ruminates on the time she was first deciding whether or not to have children and looks on her time as a grieving daughter, as well as a subject for her psychoanalyst grandmother. Super.

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Shannon Stacey: What It Takes – A newly divorced woman moves from her rich, restricted home, to the campsite at the Kowalski’s Northern Star Lodge to find out who she is as an individual, but meets a very eligible friend of her employer’s family. It’s moving towards the ‘I can’t keep going and write about the saga family’s plumber’ situation Stacey spoke about, but it’s still good.

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Sherry Thomas: The Luckiest Lady In London – A rich man with a history of childhood neglect marries a poor woman who is looking for a husband who can provide for her family, and of course neither imagines they might fall in love. The thing I like most about this book is the way the author gives a firm nod to the concept of a romance novel needing a conflict but does not drag it out, creating instead other, less device-like, ways to keep the story going.

In terms of literary enjoyment this has been an excellent month. Every book was very good; even the one that wasn’t quite so good, the Stacey, was still fun to read. At a push I think my favourite would be the Wharton – the mastery of the set up and its execution…

Quotation Report

In The Age Of Innocence a man of great means but lack of general awareness as according to his station in the novel, laments the absence of independent thought of his beloved and looks forward to the opportunity he will have to educate her… to a certain point… she shouldn’t be too knowledgeable after all. Whilst in the same book, a few chapters later, the author of it all produces this fun line:

She sang, of course, “M’ama!” and not “he loves me,” since an unalterable and unquestioned law of the musical world required that the German text of French operas sung by Swedish artists should be translated into Italian for the clearer understanding of English-speaking audiences.

Looking into this new month I’m hoping to start a few books that will be released in the spring and carry on with the classics.

What are you reading?

 
January 2018 Reading Round Up

Well, that went by quickly. Despite the fact that when looking back, January was a long month, it nevertheless seems to have gone by swiftly. The weather may have had something to do with it – there has been rain but also a lot of sun and it’s not too cold – and the days are getting noticeably longer. I finally finished the jumper I’ve been making, with some help from Second Mum. When it came to sewing the seams I had to give up after five attempts – it’s one thing to watch a YouTube video and memorise the instructions and another when it comes to applying it to your own work. As it got to the point where I was avoiding knitting in general I realised it would be better to get help this time and use the knowledge I’d learned to change my next jumper’s pattern so my second attempt would be easier.

My reading went very well. Despite feeling rather foggy for a good portion of it I managed four books, which included two 500 page novels. Those I finished weren’t the best, but I am currently reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah and loving it.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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J Courtney Sullivan: The Engagements – The copywriter who created ‘a diamond is forever’ sees sales hike; an older couple very reluctantly prepare for the visit of their not-yet-divorced son and his new girlfriend; a man ponders his job and the life he wished for; a Parisian takes a chance with a New Yorker; a happily unmarried cousin helps a couple prepare for their wedding. A nice idea but very long and not always well executed.

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Philip Pullman: La Belle Sauvage – Malcolm’s life changes when a group of academics enter his parents’ pub, the convent takes in baby Lyra, and another group of men seem to want to cause harm. Allright on its own, unnecessary as an addition to the series.

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Sarah MacLean: A Rogue By Any Other Name – A man who lost his fortune decides to return and marry his childhood friend when word reaches him that the fortune is to be part of her dowry. Repetitive and overly angsty.

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Shannon Stacey: Mistletoe & Margaritas – A widower and her husband’s best friend find themselves becoming more than just friends. This was a semi-carryover from last year; it’s a standalone novella that has since been added to a collection; Stacey is a hit and miss author for me and this one was more of a miss but the shortness of the tale works in its favour – Stacey’s narrative structures are always well thought out.

Out of the four, the Pullman was my favourite and I keen on the MacLean. That said, I’m glad I read the MacLean as I’d been wanting to for a while.

February should see a few review copies, including Jessie Greengrass’s Sight. And I’m hoping to get through the Ngozi Adiche but if not – it’s not a thick book but the print is small – a good portion of it.

How is your new year reading going?

 
2017 Year Of Reading Round Up

This year I read 59 books. Less than I’d hoped but when I looked at it again I realised I’d focused on that ‘5’ – 59 is one less than 60 and 60 is the average number for me. As stated previously, I wasn’t able to read as much in December as I had planned so I’m using some of January to make up for that albeit that I’ve chosen different books. The few times Ana and Iris hosted their Long-Awaited Reads month had a continuing impact on me and when a new year rolls around I find myself thinking of books I’ve had for a while or, in the case of Philip Pullman, books I’ve had for a short time but have been waiting for for years.

As with last year I had difficulty arriving at my previously usual 5 ‘best of’ books so again there are only 3. I believe it is indeed an issue of discernment and experience and I’m just going to go with the flow. There’s a subtle difference between an amazing book and an amazing book that blows you away and I’ll continue to use the differentiation to highlight particular books.

As always, books that have been reviewed have a line underneath them and the title links to the review. Up until my personal favourites list, all books are rated as objectively as possible. If you’d prefer to skip all that, click here to view my personal favourites.

The Best Of The Best

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Kit De Waal: My Name Is Leon – Confused as to why he can’t stay with his mother as he is doing a good job looking after her, Leon is taken in by a foster carer whilst his white brother is adopted. A fantastic look at the British social services in the 1980s and the wider issues involved.
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.
Tom Connolly: Men Like Air – Three British and one American man in New York, living their lives, getting the flu, ending strange relationships, and working in art galleries. Difficult to summarise, I’ve opted to show the comedy element; this is a fab book.

5

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4.5

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4

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3.5

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3

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2.5

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2

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  • Lindsey Hutchinson: The Workhouse Children
1.5

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1

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  • Kitty Danton: Evie’s Victory
0.5

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  • Alison Sherlock: A House To Mend A Broken Heart
My Personal Favourites

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At the start of 2017 I went back a few steps – where previously I’d got into the habit of saying ‘no goals’, in 2017 I said ‘no goals, but’. I’d considered making a vague plan for diversity in all senses of the word and I was compelled to make it formal, albeit that I didn’t set any numerical targets. Lo and behold, whilst I didn’t fail exactly, I definitely didn’t do as well as I’d hoped, so this year I’m purposefully not going to make any plan even though I want to. What I am going to do that I think (hope!) is okay to think of as a goal, is read more of my own books.

One area in which I did do well, at least in context, was older books. I added a count for books published before 1970 to my 2017 list and retrospectively, and found the number increasing without much thought. 1970 feels most right to me – a cut off is difficult and at times I feel 1970 is too young but when readers are calling Angela Thirkell’s 1960s works classics and you want to include Barbara Comyns 1950s and 1960s, that date seems the way to go.

Quotation Report

In Bayou Folk, a woman who seems 125 years old is respected, however, she is not 125 years old… she may be older.

In Get Well Soon an older man wishes people would just get on with the idea of accepting people as they are. And in The Cut, Cairo reminds us that whilst the media talks a lot about a divide and makes it seem all-pervading, most often people just get on with their lives.

In The Shifting Pools, Duncan puts forth the concept of getting over something, healing, and studies it, saying why time doesn’t heal, it merely allows you to scab over, to find new ways to live. Stasis rather than healing.

In School Of Velocity, Jan recommends a musician use the energy in the air as the house lights go down as a kind of armour. Then there’s this:

Accompaniment is a particular skill. You are the bridge between the audience and the soloist, a lens that magnifies the leading melody, a handler to the outsized personality next to you, one player who sometimes has to be two.

And in Rooms Of One’s Own, Mourby quotes from William Morris (“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”) which makes one wonder whether Marie Kondo is a fan.

I missed Wednesday’s post but with good reason – I’m getting back into the swing of things and have 3 posts in the works, it’s just that they’re not finished yet. I may have to write more than one post on La Belle Sauvage because there’s the objective side of it and then the very personal part of my overall experience. We’ll see.

What was your favourite(s) book from last year?

 

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