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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
Non-Fiction

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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.

Poetry

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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.

Fiction

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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?

 
October 2019 Reading Round Up

Breakthrough – I’ve read more this month than I have in a relatively long time. Adding to the month’s list one by one has been an excellent motivation and the fact that there was re-reading to do helped.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Jane Austen: Sanditon – When a carriage accident befalls the Parkers, they are taken in by the Heywoods and when better, they return to their seaside resort of Sanditon with the eldest Heywood daughter, Charlotte. I’ve read this twice now and it was just as good the second time, the promise of what could have been both wonderful to read and understandably a little sad as well.

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Meike Ziervogel: The Photographer – To Agatha’s dismay, daughter Trude falls in love with a local photographer; when Agatha finds out the couple are listening to an anti-Nazi radio station she sees her chance to save her daughter by going to the police about Albert. A very well-written tale of the German experience of the war and its aftermath.

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Naomi Hamill: How To Be A Kosovan Bride – Two young women prepare to marry as Kosovo looks to the future; one will find herself in a traditional marriage, the other, believed to not have been a virgin is returned to her parent’s house but finds freedom in her new status. A stunning look Kosovo post-war, its birth as a new nation, and the mixing of tradition, culture, and outside influences.

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Nicola Cornick: House Of Shadows – Receiving a phone call from her frightened niece, Holly leaves home for the holiday house she owns with her brother, and when Ben doesn’t just turn up as everyone says he will, Holly takes up a meeting he had scheduled with an antiques expert who has the mirror that matches Ben’s reputed pearl. A timeslip novel that goes back to the 1600s and 1800s, this book is super – always compelling, well-paced, and just a joy to read.

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Orlando Ortega-Medina: Jerusalem Ablaze – A boy sees a homeless man and envy takes him from onlooker to problem; a woman discovers a dead body following a storm and feels a sense of possession over it; a priest in training follows a prostitute to a bedroom not knowing the darkness that lies in front of him. The book is a collection of short stories, dark, sinister, and exquisite.

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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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Sara Ramsey: Heiress Without A Cause – Lady Madeleine is a spinster and, bored of her role in society, has taken to acting in a theatre in a low-class area of London; when Ferguson, the owner of the area in which the theatre stands, recognises her he suggests she pretends to be his mistress to lessen any scandal that would occur if she were found out. The basic premise of this book is good and the characters are fairly well developed but the story is pretty thin which means there’s a lot of manufactured threads, repetition, and overuse of the idea that Ferguson is going to end up like his father.

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Virginia Woolf: Mrs Dalloway – On the day it is to happen, Clarissa plans the finishing touches to her dinner party, musing about her life as she goes; the book also looks at the life of her old friend Peter and a couple whose day will make an impression on Clarissa later. I appreciated this but didn’t feel I ‘got’ it. A good book, just not for me.

Of the new books, my favourite was A Dream Of Trees. It’ll be on my best of list for the year, quite possibly along with a re-read or two – I’ll have to see where re-reads fit in the year round up.

November will involve a few more re-reads and potentially the completion of The Secret Commonwealth – I must admit I put it aside after 80-odd pages as this young woman just doesn’t seem like Lyra to me and I’m disappointed with the direction Pullman’s taken with this sequel as it just doesn’t line up with what Lyra was to do when she came back to Oxford at the end of The Amber Spyglass. So we’ll see. If I get to all the other books on my list, I’ll go back to it.

How was your reading October? (And I know a few of you are taking part in R.I.P – how is that going?

 
September 2019 Reading Round Up

I’ve made a breakthrough in my reading – I read more than I have been recently. Part of it was intention, making more time for it, part was picking a good mix of books, and part of it was finally getting it into my head that my rabbits are perfectly happy for me to sit and read around them rather than actively paying them attention. My cats were never like that; there has been a learning curve.

Towards the end of the month, I found comfort in easy reading – the Eloisa James made it to this month’s list and I’ve three other books on the go, including Mrs Dalloway; now on my fourth attempt, I’m getting through it. I’m happy that the numbers are higher and it’s made a long week more positive. I spent the last evening of the month watching Enchanted April, the 1992 adaptation of Elizabeth Von Arnim’s book, and highly recommend it.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Eloisa James: A Kiss At Midnight – A Cinderella retelling, in a fantasy early 1800s, a young woman agrees to pretend to be her half-sister in order to gain a relative’s approval for a marriage; the relative is a prince. A fun historical romance retelling, with just a couple of devices to better align it to the original.

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Maggie O’Farrell: This Must Be The Place – An American in Ireland struggles with his history, which includes two families and a dependence on alcohol; the various members of his families struggle with their own lives and pasts, including his second wife, a famous actress two decades before who ran away to Ireland in order to escape the life she hadn’t wanted. Difficult to follow at times but the literary elements are very compelling.

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Nick Alexander: You Then, Me Now – Becky has been trying all her life to get her mother, Laura, to tell her about her father. She manages to get her mother to holiday with her where the romance started; Laura has always found the idea of telling her daughter the truth difficult due to the trauma associated with that time. The only thing that doesn’t work is the resolution which is contrived; this is a very good book in general with superb characterisation and theme work.

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Sally Rooney: Conversations With Friends – Two lovers-turned-friends meet an affluent couple and become embroiled in their chaotic marriage. The story itself is average but as this book isn’t so much about story as it is everything else that makes up a novel, the whole is really rather good.

I enjoyed all four books immensely for different reasons. The James: an easy read and a very good book of its genre; O’Farrell: the use of literary styles and the playing with linguistics; Alexander: the way it went about depicting the impacts of emotional abuse on a young person, later resulting in sexual abuse; Rooney: the methods used to show feelings and the effects of depression.

Quotation Report

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.

My immediate plan is to finish Mrs Dalloway which shouldn’t take too long given its relatively short length and my progress. I then plan to move on to a book that arrived in the post, and follow that with whatever takes my fancy.

Did you watch any adaptations this month?

 
August 2019 Reading Round Up

This month I finished two books and began two more. In terms of available reading time, I’m calling this a success. I also went back to using the library which I had effectively forgotten due to having lists of other books; I started a new book yesterday and it’ll be on September’s list. One book-related thing I did this month was visit the grave of Alice Liddell, the (likely, if you go by the amount of evidence) muse of Lewis Carroll for Wonderland – it’s in a church graveyard in Lyndhurst, New Forest. It’s a bit of an ‘icky’ story as Carroll was quite taken by Alice and later asked her parents for her hand, but it’s still interesting for its literary value. I decided to go inside the church, too, which proved a good idea; they’ve a lot of information currently on stands and there was a lady there who welcomed me and told me even more. (I wouldn’t say to go out of your way to visit, but if you’re passing Lyndhurst it’s worth it, and I recommend stopping for a cream tea at the Mad Hatter’s cafe, too. I’ll see about writing a slightly longer report and including photos.)

Both books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Anne Melville: The Daughter Of Hardie – continuing the saga that begun with two pairs of siblings, book two follows the children of the one marriage that resulted, with a fair-sized focus on the youngest child of the house who, with the onset of the First World War, finds more options available to her than the women of the previous generation. A solid continuation: a few bumps but well worth reading.

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Elizabeth Chadwick: The Irish Princess – A fictionisation of the life of medieval royal, Aoife McMurchada/MacMurrough, this story looks the Irish politics of the day, the constant warring between rival rulers, the Norman-British influence, and Aoife’s relationship with Richard de Clare of Chepstow (then Striguil). The history, where factual, is interesting and well accounted for but the book drags a lot.

I enjoyed reading the Melville a lot – I was worried for a while that it wouldn’t at all match the previous book but given a bit of time it really did. In terms of the Chadwick I enjoyed the history lesson but it took me a while to get through it all; I tend to find her books either excellent or not so good and this is one of the latter, more developmental editing needed.

For September I’m continuing the two books already begun. I’ll then work from there; I want to keep my options open.

Do you have any authors you find hit or miss?

 
July 2019 Reading Round Up

This summer is getting away from me… The rain was too much, the heat has been on occasion too much which is saying something – it went down to 27 degrees celsius here one evening and felt very cool. I’ve not been reading as much as I ‘should’ because of various marketing areas needing to be covered but those are paying off, and there were family events aplenty; I’m looking forward to more time later this month. The one thing I have done a lot of in the context of this blog is watching films. I’ve watched more already in July than the entirety of the first half of the year, it is objectively ‘easier’ to watch films than read books. (I highly recommend the new Aladdin.)

The Books
Non-Fiction

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Michelle Obama: Becoming – The former First Lady looks back on her life, from birth to the White House, discussing her time in general as well as her career in light of social issues. Not perfect but pretty good.

Fiction

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Ali McNamara: Secrets And Seashells At Rainbow Bay – A woman is approached by a person looking for the next person in line to inherit a castle; he’s finally found her, a single mother whose luck has flown. This starts off very well and the basic idea is solid but it starts to get a bit silly as it continues.

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Louisa May Alcott: Good Wives – Continuing the story, Meg gets married and life changes for everyone as Amy goes away and Jo seeks a career in writing. Very good, most especially in context.

My favourite was the Alcott for all reasons – the way it mirrored her life and the teachings she included it due to the way she seems to have felt judged is highly interesting to read. I’ve a few posts in planning to write about this book further to the review posted last month. The research so far has been fascinating and I look forward to continuing it.

Quotation Report

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.

This month I want to finish a couple of books I’ve had languishing not on my to-be-read exactly but my… non-dusty stack? I’ve been reading a few pages every few days. And I want to get back to the classics phase I started. I’ve also got a review copy ahead that I’m really looking forward to, the sequel to the reprinted in early May of The House Of Hardie.

Forget the books this time around – how has the weather been treating you?

 

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