Sunday, 2 August 2020

Books Read in July

July was not a bad reading month for me... nine books read although that sounds better than it is because two of them were mostly read at the end of June.

The books:

45: Crossed Skis - Carol Carnac

46. The Village - Marghanita Laski

47. The White Road Westwards - 'BB'

48. Once Upon a River - Diane Setterfield

49. The Sea Mystery - Freeman Wills Crofts

50. The Honey Farm on the Hill - Jo Thomas

51. A Lesson in Secrets - Jacqueline Winspear.

Maisie goes on her first assignment for the British Secret service. She's asked to pose as a professor at a Cambridge college that's run by, and for, pacifists who are trying to stop another war from happening. It sounds harmless enough but the Secret Service think there may be goings on there which are contrary to British interests. Maisie hasn't been there long before Greville Liddicote, the man who founded the college, is found murdered. She's told to keep a low profile while the police investigate but she realises that she's in a unique position to discover things which they cannot. Another superb instalment of Maisie's investigations. The Nazi party has come to power in Germany and the plot of the book involves groups of Nazi sympathisers forming groups in this country in support of Adolf Hitler. Quite chilling and the subject is handled well. I look forward to more along these lines as World War Two slowly approaches.

52. Jack: A Life Like No Other. Biography of John F. Kennedy which started off very interesting but somehow or other I got a bit bored with it as I went along. This is possibly because it got very political (obviously) and I don't always understand how American politics work. Very good on the personal stuff though.

53. Arabella by Georgette Heyer.

Young Arabella Tallant is about to have her first 'season' in Regency London, courtesy of her godmother. At home she has numerous brothers and sisters and the family is not well off so it's quite important that she makes a good match if she possibly can in order to help her siblings along in life. On the way to London she has an encounter with Robert Beuamaris, a rich eligble bachelor, and encourages him to believe that she's a wealthy heiress. Before long she's the talk of the town in London and all because everyone thinks she's rich and a good catch. At some stage of course, the truth will out, and what then? I think this is my third or fourth reread of what is one of my favourite Georgette Heyer Regency romances. What all of this author's books have in common is the utterly sublime writing, Heyer knew her stuff and wrote with such humour that the books are a joy to read. I will be rereading more of these gorgeous books.

So, not a bad reading month... a mixed bunch, a couple of non-fictions, three crime yarns, and four general fiction books. I seem to be reading much more in the way of general fiction these days, I particularly enjoyed The Village by Marghanita Laski for instance and Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield made for a very interesting reading experience. I like peppering my reading with the odd bit of women's fiction now as well, and Arabella reminded me how much I enjoy historical type fiction (although I know it's not in the 'serious' historical fiction category) so I plan to read more of that if I can.

Onwards and upwards into August. Happy Reading!


Sunday, 26 July 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times

It's time for another Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times post which is being hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.

The idea is to share your bookshelves with other bloggers. Any aspect you like:

1. Home.
2. Books in the home.
3. Touring books in the home.
4. Books organized or not organized on shelves, in bookcases, in stacks, or heaped in a helter-skelter fashion on any surface, including the floor, the top of the piano, etc.
5. Talking about books and reading experiences from the past, present, or future.

Whatever you fancy as long as you have fun.

This week I thought I would do something different and show you the part of my library that's on my Kindle Fire. During lockdown with libraries and bookshops shut if I've wanted a book I've downloaded it to Kindle, via Amazon of course. I do look at the price first and if I think it's too dear I won't buy it. Often though what I'm getting are offers or books at the cheaper end of the range or in some cases actually free.

(I've just realised that in the first two pictures you can see a reflection of my hands at the bottom of the Kindle. It looks like I'm trapped in there trying to get out...)

The first obvious thing is that I have four Maisie Dobbs books by Jacqueline Winspear. I've just finished A Lesson in Secrets (book 8), I went to check on Amazon to see how much the next book was and discovered that the next three were only £1.19 each so I grabbed them all.

Other additions were a bit more random.

A Kilo of String by Rob Johnson is a non-fiction 'moving to Greece' book which looks like fun.

The Kew Gardens Girls was bought because of one of the Amazon 'you might like this emails'. (I know...)

Aria's Travelling Book Shop by Rebecca Raisin I saw on Marg's Blog and as she reads some really good books I grabbed this one.

An Air That Kills by Andrew Taylor is the first of his Lydmouth series that I've been meaning to try for ages.

Behind the Mask by Matthew Dennis is a biography of Vita Sackville-West I downloaded after reading All Passion Spent by her.

The Things I Know by Amanda Prowse was a free book for Amazon Prime members and so was Opium and Absinthe by Lydia King. I haven't read anything by either authors so it will be interesting to do so. Amanda Prowse is especially popular I think.

Canal Pushers by Andy Griffiths is book one in the Johnson and Wilde crime crime series based on Britain's canals. I read about this series on Northern Reader's blog.

Ghost Trees by Bob Gilbert is all about trees in the London Parish of Poplar and was recommended to me by Rosemary at Scones and Chaises Longues

Books on this page include:

The Solitary Summer by Elizabeth Von Arnim who wrote The Enchanted April and Elizabeth and her German Garden of course, both gorgeous books. I think this is one of those free books from Gutenberg.

Gardens of Delight by Erica James is set in Italy and I grabbed it because I loved Summer at the Lake, also set in ITaly, so much.

Oak and Ash and Thorn by Peter Fiennes I downloaded because the author tweeted that it was cheap on Amazon at the moment, and because I loved his Footnotes so much I grabbed it quickly.

All in all I've probably downloaded about 30 books since lockdown, it could be more. It's probably a bit excessive but they were all fairly cheap and there are worse things to spend your money on. I'm sure the publishing industry appreciates all the buying people have been doing too, I gather it's one of the industries that has not suffered during the pandemic.


Tuesday, 21 July 2020

More catching up

Again I'm three books behind with reviews... and I don't even feel that I'm reading that fast, I'm just not reviewing fast enough! So, a quick catch-up post again.

First up, The White Road Westwards by 'BB'. This is my 12th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020 and also qualifies for Carl's Venture Forth under the category, 'A book where travelling is heavily involved'.

So this is one of the most delightful books I've read all year. The author, 'BB' (real name Denys Watkins-Pitchford), used to be a well known author of children's books back in the 1960s but he also wrote some excellent nature and countryside books for adults, several of which I read years ago. In this one he writes about a caravan trip he made with his family in the early 60s, exploring the whole of the South West of England. He visited a lot of places I know well so I suppose that helps. But honestly, this is some of the most beautiful writing I've ever read. He writes so eloquently about the countryside in summer, the birds and animals, the quirky people he comes across, his walks, the weather. Stunning. This will be in my top five non-fiction books of the year. I loved it. There is apparently one about his caravan trip exploring Scotland which I shall certainly be searching out.

Next, The Sea Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts.

A father and son are returning from a fishing trip when they discover the dead body of a man, in a crate, which has been thrown into the sea off the coast of South Wales. Inspector French of Scotland Yard is called in and the first thing is to identify the body, a task which proves long and complicated. His investigations lead him to Devon and the small town of Ashburton where a local business has recently suffered the loss of two of their executives. It's thought they both died in a bog on Dartmoor late one night, after breaking down and wandering away from the car. Naturally, French believes there's much more to this tale than meets the eye. Another excellent vintage murder mystery from Freeman Wills Crofts. He is definitely one of my favourites of these rediscovered authors. This one was written in 1928 but it actually felt more modern, I had it down as a 1950s book before I discovered the truth. I love the way he plotted so precisely, timing actions down to the last minute. There are 30 of these Inspector French books and I'm always happy to discover one I haven't read.

Lastly, The Honey Farm on the Hill by Jo Thomas. This is my 9th. book for the European Reading challenge which is being hosted by Rose City Reader. It covers the country of 'Greece'.

Nell has spent the last 18 years bringing up her daughter, Demi, single-handed. Demi is the result of Nell falling in love with a young man, Stelios, on Crete, but they rowed when she told him was pregnant so she returned to South Wales to have the baby on her own, living with her grandmother. Now the factory where she works has burnt down and she has the chance to return to Crete as a volunteer worker on a honey farm. She wants to know what happened to Stelios. Most of all she wants to know if he ever really loved her or was she just a holiday romance to him. This was an enjoyable read, not wonderful, but fun. The heroine annoyed me a bit, constantly doing stupid things without apparently thinking at all. But there was a nice sense of a mountain village in Crete, the people and their problems, the food and so on. There's a back story of a herb called dittany which kept the town's economy going but has practically and mysteriously disappeared from the mountain, that was quite interesting. But overall I think I preferred Jo Thomas's Escape to the French Farmhouse which I read in June.


Sunday, 19 July 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times

It's time for another Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times post which is being hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.

The idea is to share your bookshelves with other bloggers. Any aspect you like:

1. Home.
2. Books in the home.
3. Touring books in the home.
4. Books organized or not organized on shelves, in bookcases, in stacks, or heaped in a helter-skelter fashion on any surface, including the floor, the top of the piano, etc.
5. Talking about books and reading experiences from the past, present, or future.

Whatever you fancy as long as you have fun.

This is another set of books I sorted out recently as a 'to be read soonish' selection. I do this on a regular basis, sometimes it works and I read the books, sometimes it doesn't, more often a few get read and the rest put back where I found them! My thinking with these books revolved around picking out a few that are something other than murder mysteries. I love a good whodunnit but just lately I've been craving something a bit different to add to the mix.

I'm concentrating on the nine books between The Historian and Arabella.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is a book I read way back in 2007. I loved it but felt at the time that it was a keeper and would definitely bear rereading. I think that time might have come.

Lady's Maid by Margaret Forster. I've had this secondhand book on my shelves for yonks. It tells the story of Robert and Elizabeth Browning's elopement from the point of view of Elizabeth's maid, 'Wilson'.

Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers. Well, I had to put one murder book in didn't I? But I always think of Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey books as a lot more than just ordinary murder mysteries. This one involves murder at an advertising agency and is one of the few Wimsey books I haven't read.

Sea Music by Sara MacDonald. A family saga story set in Cornwall. Another secondhand book I've had for years.

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley. One of those historical time-travel novels, the time travelled to being the 17th. century.

A Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge. Part one of another family saga type story. I've only read one book by Elizabeth Goudge and that was Green Dolphin Country *many* years ago. I'll be interested to see what I think of her writing now I'm much older.

The New House by Lettice Cooper. Written in 1936 this is the story of one family moving from a large house to a smaller one and covers just one day. Of course, it's much more than that involving family relationships and so forth.

The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason. A piano tuner is asked to travel from London to Burma to tune a piano, the book charts his journey. I've had this for a long time and I see it was published in 2003, I also seem to recall it was one of those books everyone was talking about back then so it'll be interesting to see what all the fuss was about.

Arabella by Georgette Heyer. I've read this two, if not three, times over the years but it's been a while and having read Northern Reader's post about it I went to see if I still had it. No I didn't, so I ordered a copy and am looking forward to another wallow in this lovely book.

I'm actually quite hopeful of getting some of these read. Our library is still not open so I've pretty much been reading from my own bookshelves during lockdown and have been amazed at how many excellent books I've been squirreling away on my shelves!


Sunday, 12 July 2020

Catching up - three reviews

Three books to catch up on today, starting with Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac. This is my eighth book for the European Reading challenge covering the country of 'Austria'. And it's my 6th. book for Carl's Venture Forth, covering the category of 'A 2020 book purchase'.

A man dies in a house fire and it doesn't take long for the police to realise that it was murder. But who was he? Was he the lodger who rented the room or someone else? In the meantime a tour group is off to Austria for two weeks skiing. It's been a difficult task organising it, with people having to back out at the last minute and strangers taking their place. But, slowly but surely, the group get to know each other on the journey across Europe. A few days in, the easy atmosphere is spoilt when some money belonging to one of the men goes missing. The leaders of the group realise that something isn't right and the main question is, is everyone in the group who they say they are? Well, we all know the answer to that of course but as to guessing what was what and who was who well I didn't manage it. To be honest, for me the joy of this book was in the gorgeous Austrian mountain setting. It's beautifully depicted, mountains, villages, farms and so on. Also interesting was the 1950s 'British people abroad' feel to it, how we behaved and what was expected of us, how we were percieved by foreigners. Interesting from a historical perspective. Carol Carnac is the same writer as E.C.R. Lorac whose real name was Edith Caroline Rivett. She wrote some really excellent crime fiction, I don't think this is one of her best but I nevertheless gave it four stars on Goodreads as it was still an excellent read.

Next, The Village by Marghanita Laski. This is my 10th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020. It also qualifies for Carl's Venture Forth under the category 'A Social Media Recommended Book' (Rosemary whom I met on Twitter recommended it) and for Rosemary's #ProjectPlaces.

The Trevors, Wendy and Gerald, are a very middle-class couple with two daughters, Margaret and Sheila. Sheila is academic and will likely end up with a good career but Margaret is the opposite. She has no aptitude for school work and the hope is that she can snag herself a 'suitable' husband and settle down to domestic bliss with a clutch of children. But this is the mid 1940s and the class divide is alive and kicking even though the Trevors have no money. Unfortunately, there are no young men around who are interested in a very ordinary girl who is not outgoing or vivacious. Except Roy Wilson, but Roy is solidly working class, in fact his mother cleaned for the Trevors before the war. That said, he has a good job in the printing trade with a good salary and is solid and dependable. Margaret and Roy start to see each other in secret, knowing that when it comes out, as it surely will, there will be hell to pay. And of course there is... Well this book is what I would call a 'little gem'. It's a slow-burner, the author takes her time to introduce the characters, tell you who lives in the village and how it's split, housing-wise, ie. middle classes in one area, working classes in another, the solitary upper class female in the Big House that everyone looks up to (I loved her) and so on. Their attitudes soon become very apparent and so does the snobbery. The Trevors are at loss to know what to do about Margaret, they know she's not a good catch for middle class sons around the area but refuse to consider letting her marry where her heart lies. Someone said to Margaret, 'The trouble with you is that you've got no sense of class' and neither does she. She really doesn't care that Roy and his family are an ordinary working family. It's also quite clear to her that Roy's family think more of her than her own do. Things were changing very rapidly in the late 1940s and into the 1950s. The class barriers were coming down like the Berlin Wall in the 1990s but the middle classes were resisting like hell. This is a fascinating book that charts the beginning of the change of attitude they had forced upon them. By the time I married into a middle class family in the 1970s (nothing like the Trevors I hasten to add) no one gave a damn about my working class background. My prospective mother-in-law was more interested in the fact that I read a lot, knitted, made clothes and did jigsaw puzzles, all of which she did too. I could not have been made more welcome. Anyway, if this kind of social history topic interests you then this is an excellent book to read. It's beautifully written and observed and I will certainly read more by Marghanita Laski, in fact I have Little Boy Lost on my tbr pile.

Lastly, Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield. This was a gift from my lovely friend, Pat, at Here, There and Everywhere so it's my 7th. book for Carl's Venture Forth under the category 'A gift that was given to me'. It's also my 11th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020 and also qualifies for Rosemary's #ProjectPlaces, 'the river' being the Thames.

It's the late 1800s and a child is rescued from the upper reaches of the river Thames and brought to The Swan Inn at Radcot. No one knows who the little girl is but there are two possibilities, she might belong to the Vaughans who had a girl, Amelia, kidnapped from her bedroom a couple of years ago, or it might be Alice, the grand-daughter of a local farmer whose son - the child's father - is of very dubious reliability. There is also a third possibility that only one person is aware of. The problem is, for one reason or another, no one can really be sure. What is known is that the child doesn't speak and is, to coin a phrase, 'away with the fairies'. It's a mystery that needs to be solved and Rita, a local nurse, and Daunt, the man who rescued the girl, set about solving it... no easy task as there are a lot of things they don't know about the lives of the people on the river. This is a book that seems to divide people: some love it, some are a bit 'meh' about it, and others can't get beyond the first few chapters. I think I come somewhere between the first two - I liked it, but I didn't love it. I wasn't sure I would even like it after a couple of chapters. It felt over-written and vague and I just couldn't work out who was who and what they were doing in the book. It all came together eventually though and I was glad I persevered. For me the best thing about the story is the setting of the inn and the villages around that area on the Thames. It's very well depicted and I liked the sort of 'fey' atmosphere of the whole book. I liked Rita too, the manner in which she had educated herself to be a medical person was admirable I thought. I loved how open-minded she was. I think, to be honest, that this is not a book to be rushed. I approached it like that, taking time with it, and I think it reaped its rewards. I almost felt too that it was one of those books that would bear reading again immediately. It's rare that I feel that way about a book but I fancy a second reading would give me a better idea of what was going on. I'm not going to do it but I will keep it to reread in a couple of years.


Sunday, 5 July 2020

Reading challenges, the first 6 months of 2020

Well, here we are, halfway through the year (and what a year!) I thought I would do a reading challenge update to see how far I've got and chart my progress. This year I decided to do just two reading challenges, it hasn't quite ended up like that *cough* but those are the two I concentrated on for the first five months anyway.

First up, Bev's Mount TBR 2020.

I signed up to read 12 books for this challenge this year. So far I've read 10, 6 non-fiction and 4 fiction. That's not to say that I've only read 10 of my own books this year. In fact I've read 34, but of those 34 I decided that only 10 would qualify for Mount TBR because they're either long books or have been sitting on my TBR mountain since Noah and The Flood.

Next, The European Reading challenge which is being hosted by Rose City Reader.

I signed up for:

FIVE STAR (DELUXE ENTOURAGE): Read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.

So far, I've read 8 books for this challenge. I've visited Iceland, Ireland, Germany, Albania, France, Italy, Austria and the UK. To all intents and purposes I've completed this one but have no intention of leaving it there. I'm hoping to read at least 10 books and if possible, more.

So for the first 5 months I kept to my intention of only doing 2 challenges. And then Carl came along with a delightful summer reading experience entitled, Venture Forth.

The idea is to spend June and July reading whatever you fancy and maybe fulfilling various prompts. My prompt list is in this post and so far I've read six books that qualify.

Another reading experience I loved the sound of is Rosemary's #ProjectPlaces. That runs till the end of December and simply involves reading books where the title is a place of some sort. My post about that is here and so far I've read 3 books that qualify. I intend to read a lot more.

So, that's my challenge update for the first six months of 2020. Hopefully the second six months will be equally productive.


Friday, 3 July 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times

It's time for another Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times post which is being hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.

The idea is to share your bookshelves with other bloggers. Any aspect you like:

1. Home.
2. Books in the home.
3. Touring books in the home.
4. Books organized or not organized on shelves, in bookcases, in stacks, or heaped in a helter-skelter fashion on any surface, including the floor, the top of the piano, etc.
5. Talking about books and reading experiences from the past, present, or future.

Whatever you fancy as long as you have fun.

This week it's all about rivers, a small stack I created recently because I do enjoy reading about them: people travelling up and down rivers, people swimming in them, people living beside them and so on. It's always interesting to read about how a river influences people's lives.

From the bottom:

Down the River by H.E. Bates. He wrote The Darling of Buds May of course and Fair Stood the Wind for France and is better known for his fiction than non-fiction I suspect. This book is about the twin rivers Bates grew up with, the Ouse and the Nene, and is beautifully illustrated by Peter Parkington. I put a few pics of the paintings in this post.

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield. I've just started this fiction book. It's based in an inn on the upper reaches of the Thames. I'm not sure what to make of it to be honest. I like the plot but am not convinced about the manner in which it's written. Odd.

Meander: East to West along a Turkish River by Jeremy Seal. I had no idea that the word 'meander' came from an actual river that 'meanders'. How fascinating! This is the story of the author's trip along the river in a canoe. I've had this one for quite a while...

The Pull of the River by Matt Gaw. Another author canoeing rivers, lots of them this time, all over Britain. I think this was very popular when it came out in 2018 so I'm looking forward to reading it.

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. I believe this classic is based on and around The Thames in London and I've been meaning to read it for years. Hopefully this is the year I'll get around to it... all 800 pages.

Other books about 'rivers' that I've enjoyed, Waterlog by Roger Deakin, Down the Nile by Rosemary Mahoney, The Cruellest Journey by Kira Salak, A State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, Brazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming, The Gift of Rivers edited by Pamela Michael, Lost Lands, Forgotten Stories by Alexandra J. Pratt. And I have more on my TBR pile of course.

So nice to get back to these 'Insane Bookshelf' posts after a couple of weeks away.


Sunday, 28 June 2020

Books read in June

Well, we're only a couple of days away from the end of June and I'm unlikely to finish another book, so I thought I'd do my end of the month book run-down and include several short book reviews. Anyway, five books read this month and these are they:

40. The Farm at the Edge of the World - Sarah Vaughan

41. All Passion Spent - Vita Sackville-West.

As a young girl Lady Slane secretly wanted to be an artist. Instead she marries a man who becomes a well known politician and they produce six children. Her life is full of order and structure, always doing her duty, organised by all and sundry. Now that her husband is dead her six children assume that this will continue and 'Mother' will live with one of them and do what they want her to do. But Lady Slane has other ideas and buys a house in Hampstead. She's to live on her own for the first time in her life and do exactly as she pleases. This was so delightful. You can't help rooting for Lady Slane as she defies her awful children and gets to know some rather odd characters. Everyone in it comes beautifully to life, the children all very much individuals, the French maid, Genoux, in her eighties like Lady Slane but still looking after her. I particularly liked Mr. FitzGeorge a reclusive millionaire with very odd collecting habits who fell in love with Lady Slane as a young woman in India. I rather fancy reading something non-fiction about Vita Sackville-West now, must see what I can find.

42. To War With Whitaker - Hermione Ranfurly. This is my 9th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020 challenge. It also qualifies for Carl's Venture Forth under the category 'A book connected to one of the world wars'.

I think this is one of the best books I've read about World War 2. It's written in diary form by Hermione, Countess of Ranfurly (1913 - 2001) wife of Dan, Earl of Ranfurly. When war broke out Dan was posted to the Middle East but Hermione had no intention of moldering away in England and set off after him, with the idea of getting a secretatial job somewhere close. She struggled because civilians were not really being employed by the services in a warzone, but in the end she overcame all and ended up with jobs in several different Middle Eastern spots working for some of the very top brass. A year or two in and Dan is taken prisoner and taken to Italy. Hermione swears not to return to the UK until the couple are reunited. I knew very little about the war in the Middle East, I didn't realise that such a lot was going on in Egypt and what was then Palestine, and that we had such a huge presence there. This book gives a real flavour of what was happening behind the scenes and the movements of figures like Churchill, Roosevelt, Eisenhower and so on. She mentions Peter Fleming several times and I assume this is the travel writer brother of Ian Fleming; Freya Stark was also a friend. I think Hermione Ranfurly must've been an amazing woman and I was curious to find out what happened to her after the war, luckily it turns out that there's another book, Hermione: After to War with Whitaker which I now own. 'Whitaker' by the way is the couple's butler!

43. Escape to the French Farmhouse by Jo Thomas. This is my second book for Rosemary's #ProjectPlaces, the 'place' being a lovely old farmhouse in Provence.

Del is married to Ollie who begged Del to move to France to live in an old farmhouse with him. She gave up her much loved job, did as he wanted, six weeks later they're moving back to England as Ollie hates it in Provence. But Del, realising the marriage is pretty much over, changes her mind at the very last minute and decides to stay, watching Ollie and the removal van disappear into the distance. Now Del has to find a way to make a living in a small French town. The owner of a local brocante gives her an old book of recipes that use lavender, which of course grows everywhere in Provence. Del starts by making some biscuits and eventually gets a market stall in order to sell some of her baking produce. She's shocked when a teenager steals one of the packages and drops something that needs returning. Del goes in search of the thief and that one act very much changes her existance in France. This must sound a bit cosy and to some extent it is, lovely Provence setting, gorgeous old farmhouse, colourful locals etc. But there is a background theme of homelessness which was a little more sobering so while this was a lovely read it did have many realistic moments. I really enjoyed it to be honest and will read more by Jo Thomas, in fact have already downloaded a couple to my Kindle.

44. Fireside Gothic - Andrew Taylor. Three really excellent supernatural long short stories in this volume. All have a slight flavour of M.R. James about them, especially the first, Broken Voices, set in a cathedral. I've read one of the author's novels, The American Boy, but really must try something from his 'James Marwood & Cat Lovett' series that is so popular.

Hard to believe we're now halfway through the year. Happy summer reading!


Friday, 26 June 2020


I'm pleased to report that my husband is now home from hospital. He was in for almost 2 weeks and had a pretty rough time of it, but it could have been worse. He did not have to have a drain in to get rid of the fluid around his lungs, the strong antibiotics did that job. He has to continue to take those now for 4 weeks and is 'as weak as a kitten' as we say, with no appetite at all. Hopefully now that he's home that will improve. At least he's not stuck in hospital getting no sleep and feeling miserable. All praise to the NHS, I've no idea what we would do without them. Watching some of what the nurses and doctors have to cope with my husband said they deserve sainthoods.

Thanks to everyone who left messages of sympathy and support after my last post, it is *so* much appreciated. I hope to be back within the next few days with an end of the month book post (where the heck did June go?) I haven't read heaps this month but what I have read has been very good.


Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Taking a blogging break

I'm taking a few weeks break from my blog. My husband was admitted to hospital on Saturday with suspected pneumonia. They're still not quite sure as they've discovered fluid in the cavities around his lungs which could be the usual sort of fluid, whatever that is, or blood from a burst blood vessel, which could have happened after over exerting himself in the garden. Unfortunately they can't do the procedure to check for 5 days, until they're sure he hasn't got Covid-19. He's tested negative but they have to be completely sure. As you can imagine this is all very worrying and blogging is not a priority at the moment, but I will be back, hopefully in 2 or 3 weeks when he's better and back home. I will be reading your bookish posts though, in quiet moments, which will be a nice way to cheer myself up. Stay safe!

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times, week 13

It's time for another Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times post which is being hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.

The idea is to share your bookshelves with other bloggers. Any aspect you like:

1. Home.
2. Books in the home.
3. Touring books in the home.
4. Books organized or not organized on shelves, in bookcases, in stacks, or heaped in a helter-skelter fashion on any surface, including the floor, the top of the piano, etc.
5. Talking about books and reading experiences from the past, present, or future.

Whatever you fancy as long as you have fun.

Today's 'shelf' is a pile of books I keep on the top of the bookshelves in the bedroom. They're books about books and thus one of my favourite genres.

From the bottom:

The Pleasure of Reading edited by the writer, Antonia Fraser. I haven't read this and I don't know why. It was produced to celebrate the centenary of booksellers, W.H. Smith, and in it 40 writers talk about their love of reading and the books they love. I'm keeping this one out to dip into.

A Passion for Books edited by Harold Rabinowitz and Rob Kaplan. This is simialar to the previous book, famous people discussing every aspect of reading and books. I've dipped in and out of this over the years but never quite finished it.

What Makes This Book So Great by writer, Jo Walton. I have finished this one and I love it, one of my favourite books about books as it's so personal. Jo Walton describes all the books she's loved over the years and why. It's a sort of a non-fiction version of her fantasy book, Among Others.

The Book on the Bookshelf by Henry Petroski. This is a book on the evolution of bookshelves. I haven't read it yet but I will.

The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell. I see I read this in March 2016 but didn't review it because it was a busy month. I don't remember much about it other than it's a homage to bookshops and I must have liked it because I gave it 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. I fancy it must be time for a reread.

Howards End is on the Landing and Jacob's Room is Full of Books both by Susan Hill. Words can't explain how much I love these two books. I've read them both several times and love how personal to the author they clearly are. And they are *so* beautifully and lyrically written. A joy.

Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman. Again I can't remember a lot about this but believe I've read it twice, obviously quite a few years ago because Goodreads has no record of it so it was before I joined that in 2007. Yet again, time for a reread.

So, have you any favourite books about books you can recommend?


Thursday, 11 June 2020

Catching up... again!

Yet another catch-up post from me. I'm reading quicker than I can review at the moment and two of these books are from May!

The Nine Of Us: Growing up Kennedy - Jean Kennedy Smith. This my second book for Carl's Venture Forth and covers the prompt, 'A non-fiction book'.

Well, everyone knows who the Kennedys are so they need no introduction from me. Jean Kennedy was the eighth of their nine children (Teddy being the ninth and final child) born in 1928 and still alive at 92. She wrote The Nine of Us in 2016... I hope my mind is as agile as this when I'm 88. Anyway, if you're looking for a forthright book about the family, warts and all, this is not it. This is a delightful book about childhood in what must have been one of the closest-knit families in the world. It read like an Enid Blyton novel, wonderful summers at Hyannis Port on Cape Cod, sailing, swimming, playing games. Their parents, Joe and Rose Kennedy, took parenting very seriously and you can't help but be impressed when reading the way they went about creating thinking, politically aware children and adults. I loved this book to bits but it left me with a lot of questions so I'm now reading, Jack: A Life Like No Other by Geoffrey Perret and that of course is answering a few of them, not in a mean spirited way but in an honest and straightforward manner.

Next, The Farm at the Edge of the World by Sarah Vaughan. This is my third book for Carl's Venture Forth covering the category of 'A Checkout from my local Library'. It's also my first book for #ProjectPlaces2020 which is being hosted by Rosemary at Scones and Chaise Longues.

Lucy is a paediatric nurse living and working in London and married to Matt. After making a mistake which could've killed a young baby (it didn't) and discovering that Matt has been having an affair she leaves London and goes home to the family farm in North Cornwall to clear her head. The farm is run by her mother, Judith, and brother Tom... her father died a few years back. Also living there is Maggie, Lucy's elderly grandmother, who was a teenager during the war. Lucy has always had the feeling that there are things the family doesn't know about Maggie's experiences during the conflict. Will they ever learn what these secrets are? Yes, an elderly woman has taken one of the holiday cottages on the farm for two weeks and eventually the truth will out. My daughter passed this library book on to me months ago and I'm only just getting to it as I've been concentrating on getting Mount TBR down a bit during lockdown. I thought it started a bit slowly but looking back I can see that that was necessary as there's a lot of history to relate and a very definite sense of place to establish and build on. I know the area this is set in, the coast not far from the beautiful town of Padstow and including Bodmin Moor. The isolated farm is so typical of remote Cornish farms and of course in the 1940s it would've been even more remote because communications were not as they are now. As such, it's a perfect setting for a novel like this which combines a coming of age theme with survival during the war, a secret love and the desperation that results from that. There's even a couple of nice little twists at the end. I'm not sure why I was surprised that I liked this so much, I suspect the cover led me to expect a different kind of book, something a bit more cosy perhaps. There is a lot of beauty and love in this book, but cosy it is not.

Lastly, Footnotes: A Journey Round Britain in the Company of Great Writers by Peter Fiennes. This is my eighth book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020 and my seventh book for the European Reading challenge 2020, which is being hosted by Rose City Reader; it covers the country of 'The UK'.

Peter Fiennes' reason for writing this book can be summed up with this quote:

'Who are we? What do we want? They seemed like good questions to ask, in the company of our greatest writers, given these restless times'.

Fiennes decides to travel around the UK following in the footsteps of some of our most iconic writers. He begins his travels in Dorset with Enid Blyton who apparently always holidayed in Swanage. He believes her influence runs deep in all of us Brits and I think he's correct. She doesn't get a good press here for one reason or another and he suspects she was banned by the BBC too. As a child I read her avidly and then went on to read other books. So did my daughters and I know many other readers who had this experience. Perhaps a similar set of books these days would be Harry Potter, much maligned but incredibly popular and they get kids reading. Anyway, I liked the author's treatment of Enid, pros and cons, balanced. Next come two chapters on the travels of Wilkie Collins in Cornwall, fascinating and hilarious, I must read the actual book, Rambles Beyond Railways, a slim volume that I own. Celia Fiennes comes next (the author's cousin 10 times removed) a woman who went around Britain in the 1680s on a horse, impressive now, let alone then. Gerald of Wales (1188), Violet Martin and Edith Somerville, J.B Priestly, Beryl Bainbridge, and then Dickens and Wilkie Collins again travelling from Cumberland to Doncaster. There's a chapter on Samuel Johnson and James Boswell in Scotland, wonderful insight into those two. The book finishes with Dickens' last journey in a coffin, to Westminster Abbey, where he did not want to be buried apparently. So why do that? A bit much if you can't have a say in where they put you when you're dead, famous writer or no famous writer.

Anyway. I loved this book to bits. Yes, it was interesting, I learned a lot about what some of these world famous writers were really like, their quirks, their various travels and travails and so on. But most of all I loved Peter Fiennes's writing style. He's funny and down to earth and tells you the things you really want to know not a load of dry information. 'Real' writing. I've been reading pretty intensely from my tbr mountain during lockdown to try and remove a few books off the shelves and into the charity shop box. But this one's not going anywhere: I love it too much and it will be reread at some stage. After I'd finished it I immediately went to Amazon and downloaded his first book, Oak and Ash and Thorn: The Ancient Woods and New Forests of Britain. (I love that he took the title from Puck of Pook's Hill by Rudyard Kipling and naturally that made me get my copy of that out to reread.) I can't wait to read it or to see what he comes up with next, whatever it is I'll buy it.


Tuesday, 9 June 2020

#Projectplaces 2020

I'm a bit late to this party but that's because I've only just got to know Rosemary who blogs at, Scones and Chaise Longues. At the beginning of the year Rosemary created a personal challenge and encouraged anyone who was interested to join in. It's called 'Projectplaces 2020' and simply involves reading books whose titles include a place name of some sort. This can be very widely interpreted:

What is a place name? Does it need to be a town? A country? A village? Can it include a house name, or even something as vague as The Homesick Restaurant? And does it have to be 'real'? - what about Cold Comfort Farm, Hangover Square or even Kirrin Island?

So I decided not only to join in with this year long project but also to take her words to heart. I had a brief look at my shelves and came up with this pile. (If I'd had a 'long' look it's likely the pile would've collapsed the shelf...)

Some of these will double up for other challenges or reading projects I'm doing, the European Reading one, Mount TBR, Venture Forth etc. And all but one are TBRs, the 'one' being Puck of Pook's Hill by Rudyard Kipling which I read about 30 years ago. I've also tried to mix up the genres for a nice bit of variety, so I have three murder mysteries, a fantasy, a supernatural story, four non-fictions and so on.

I'm pretty sure that more will be added as the weeks go by and maybe not all of these will be read. I'm looking at this lot as my summer reading along with the books for Carl's Venture Forth, and some will be read for both.

I don't usually take on summer reading challenges but this year, with lockdown still affecting us due to my husband's underlying health issues, I'm determined to have fun wherever I can find it.

Are you reading anything in particular for summer? Joining any summer challenges? Whatever you're doing enjoy your summer reading plans.


Sunday, 7 June 2020

Six Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books are my Favourite and Best.

Books can be linked in obvious ways – for example, books by the same authors, from the same era or genre, or books with similar themes or settings. Or, you may choose to link them in more personal ways: books you read on the same holiday, books given to you by a particular friend, books that remind you of a particular time in your life, or books you read for an online challenge.

A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the ones next to them in the chain.

This month's Six Degrees begins with Normal People by Sally Rooney.

I'll use the Amazon blurb to describe this one:

Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in the west of Ireland, but the similarities end there. In school, Connell is popular and well-liked, while Marianne is a loner. But when the two strike up a conversation - awkward but electrifying - something life-changing begins.

This is a major new TV series too but I haven't seen it and probably will not read the book which, as the blurb states, is set in the Republic of Ireland. As is:

Evening Class by Maeve Binchy is a delightful book about a motley group of people taking Italian at evening class. Their main reason for doing so is to travel to Italy. The same aim that three people in my next book have.

Summer at the Lake is about a disparate group of new friends who also travel to Italy for different reasons, a wedding, to bring back memories etc. Another book with 'Summer' in the title is:

Summer Half by Angela Thirkell. This is one of my favourite Thirkells, set in a school, but with all the humour and insight you would normally expect from one her gorgeous novels.

Also set in a school is:

Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey concerns Miss Pym who goes to give a lecture at a college for female prospective PE teachers and ends up staying to investigate a murder. A superb book and I've liked all of her books apart from Brat Farrar which I've yet to read.

Another book where a single lady of mature years investigates a murder is:

A Murder is Announced is, of course, a Miss Marple mystery by Agatha Christie. This one is set in the small village of Chipping Cleghorn - in The Cotswolds I would assume with a name like that - and as such was an absolutely delightful study of village life. I loved this little quote and still do:

"Miss Marple gave the [shop] window her rapt attention, and Mr. Elliot, an elderly obese spider, peeped out of his web to appraise the possibilities of this new fly"

How brilliant is that?

So today my Six Degrees post has taken me on a trip from Ireland to Italy and thence to rural England during three decades, the 1930s, 40s and 50s. The first book was called Normal People and it strikes me that every book I've chosen this time is about just that... normal, ordinary people just doing their thing.

Next month will begin with What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt.


Friday, 5 June 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times, week 12

It's time for another Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times post which is being hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.

The idea is to share your bookshelves with other bloggers. Any aspect you like:

1. Home.
2. Books in the home.
3. Touring books in the home.
4. Books organized or not organized on shelves, in bookcases, in stacks, or heaped in a helter-skelter fashion on any surface, including the floor, the top of the piano, etc.
5. Talking about books and reading experiences from the past, present, or future.

Whatever you fancy as long as you have fun.

This is my shelf this week:

As I've said before I specialise in random piles of books and here're a couple more, although they're vaguely crime and horror themed so not as random as all that.

The lefthand pile:

The Glimpses of the Moon, a 'Gervase Finn' vintage crime story by Edmund Crispin
Beware of the Trains, a short story collection by Edmund Crispin that I grabbed at RHS Wisley.
Brat Farrar, the only Josephine Tey book I've yet to read.
Silver Bullets, werewolf short stories selected by Eleanor Dobson
Thrones, Dominations - Dorothy L. Sayers and Jill Paton Welsh
The Crystal Egg & Other stories - H.G. Wells. That title story is superb.
Murder Must Advertise - Dorothy L. Sayers. One of just a few LPW books I have left to read.
Murder in the Bookshop - Carolyn Wells
A Killing in Quail County - Jameson Cole, tbr for 'Oklahoma' (US states challenge).

The righthand pile:

Night Music: Nocturnes Vol 2 - John Connolly. Love his weird short stories.
Ten Year Stretch edited by Martin Edwards & Adrian Muller. A 10 years of Crimefest collection.
Mysterious Air Stories, edited by William Pattrick. The 'railways' version of this was excellent.
Forget the Sleepless Shores - Sonya Taffe. Supernatural short stories.
Covenant with a Vampire - Jeanne Kalogridi
Unnatural Fire - Fidelis Morgan. Murder in the time of Charles II.
Desirable Residences, short stories by E.F. Benson the author of the Mapp and Lucia books of course. Not sure what it's doing on this pile except that he wrote some brilliant ghost stories, a few of which are in this volume. Have moved this onto my 'current' pile as I fancy reading some of these soon.

These are all part of my TBR mountain which I haven't counted but which must run into the four or five hundreds, possibly more as I have a huge number on my Kindle and Nook too. Lockdown hasn't helped much either because, with the libraries still shut, if I've wanted a book I've just thought, 'What the heck' and bought it for my Kindle. Lost cause. Just as well I don't give a damn. LOL! (I know I should...)


Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Catching up

As per usual I'm several books behind with reviews so this is a quick catch-up post for a couple of them.

First, Summer at the Lake by Erica James. This is my first book for Carl's Venture Forth and it covers the prompt: A book set somewhere I have never been but would like to visit

It's also my sixth book for the European Reading challenge covering the country of 'Italy'.

Floriana is a tour guide in Oxford, Adam is a property developer and Esme is retired and lives alone. None of them know each other until Floriana is knocked over by a car and the other two go to her aid. The three somehow become friends. They learn that Adam has recently been ditched by his longterm girlfriend and is struggling to accept it. That Floriana had a best friend whom she suddenly realised she was in love with... when she told him he rejected her and her world fell apart. Now, after two years, she's had a wedding invitation from him and doesn't know whether or not to go... it's to take place at Lake Como in Italy. Esme has some history with Lake Como, her father took her there as a 19 year old and she fell in love for the first time. So, will Floriana go to her wedding... and will she have company? I seem to be developing a taste for this kind of story, which I think started with The Returning Tide by Liz Fenwick back in February. I do like them to be well written though, so I'm trying to be careful what I pick. I saw Erica James's books recommended on a blog I read so thought I'd give her a go and am very pleased with the outcome. The writing is excellent, good dialogue, amusing narrative, the people felt real, especially Esme. And how nice to have an octogenarian take centre stage in a book! I've never been to Lake Como but would absolutely love to go. I imagine it to be gorgeous and it certainly feels like it from this book. The atmosphere of the area jumps off the page and it was interesting to contrast the Lake Como that Esme experienced in the 1960s with that of the modern day where there are now many more tourists. A super read. I'm not sure if every book Erica James wrote will interest me but I will definitely be reading more by her.

Lastly, The Body in the Dumb River by George Bellairs

The body of James Teasdale is discovered in the river near Ely in Cambridgeshire. This is odd because Teasdale actually lives in Yorkshire with his wife and three daughters. He's a rep who's on the road most of the week, only returning at the weekends, and this was a weekend. But it seems that James Teasdale has been living a double life as 'Jim Lane'. Unbeknown to his wife, her husband isn't a rep at all, he runs a hoop-la fairground stall and has another woman in his life. He tours the fairs around the country but avoids the north where his wife lives. He is both popular and successful. So who killed a man that it seems everyone liked? I was a little bit underwhelmed by this Superintendent Littejohn instalment. I've read one or two others in the series and quite liked them but this one was a bit pedestrian in my opinion. I wasn't very interested in anyone in it or what happened to them. I also did not get a very strong sense of either Cambridgeshire or Yorkshire. The only thing that kept my attention was Teasdale's awful family, they were very well portrayed, especially the snobbish wife and her appalling father. Looking on Goodreads I see that this is book 35 in the Inspector Littlejohn series, I suspect the author might've been a bit bored with him by that stage.

So I had a bit of a decision to make. I started this a couple of days ago.

It started ok, but... a hundred pages in and I'm bored stiff. There's not one character I feel anything for and nor do I care what happens to any of them. What to do? Abandon it or plod on? I've abandoned it. And started this:

One hundred pages in and I love it. *So* interesting and readable. Ah well, such is life... and books.


Sunday, 31 May 2020

Books read in May

My notebook tells me that I've read eight books this month. It really doesn't feel like it. How odd. What's more disturbing is that we're four weeks away from being halfway through the year. Now that is scary!

Anyway, the books are:

32. To Say Nothing of the Dog - Connie Willis

33. The Provincial Lady in America - E.M. Delafield. The third book in the omnibus I own. Not reviewed but it was delightful... funny, beautifully observed, a real pleasure to read.

34. The Vineyards of Champagne - Juliet Blackwell

35. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

36. Summer at the Lake - Erica James

37. The Body in the Dumb River - George Bellairs

38. Footnotes - Peter Fiennes (to be reviewed)

39. The Nine of Us: Growing up Kennedy - Jean Kennedy Smith (to be reviewed)

It seems I might be a bit behind with reviews. (In fact I have two short ones done of books 36 and 37 and 39 will be joining them soon in a 'catch-up' post.)

So anyway, that was a very interesting reading month. Why? Well usually eight books might include four, five sometimes six murder mysteries. This month? One. My May reading included two non-fictions, a science-fiction, two contemporary fiction books written by women (not my usual fare), one crime yarn and two classics (I'm counting The Provincial Lady books as such.) And here's another odd thing, I loved all of them apart from the crime story which I didn't hate at all but just found a trifle pedestrian.

I can't even choose a favourite this month because five of them were so good. I'm looking back at May and thinking what a super month it was for books! I really hope June will be equally as excellent.

These are the three books I'm reading at the moment:

The Kennedy book will be finished today, the other two will be my first books for June. And June will also be spent having a good time with Carl's 'Venture Forth' for which I've already finished one book and almost finished another.

Happy reading in June!


Friday, 29 May 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times, week 11

It's time for another Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times post which is being hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.

The idea is to share your bookshelves with other bloggers. Any aspect you like:

1. Home.
2. Books in the home.
3. Touring books in the home.
4. Books organized or not organized on shelves, in bookcases, in stacks, or heaped in a helter-skelter fashion on any surface, including the floor, the top of the piano, etc.
5. Talking about books and reading experiences from the past, present, or future.

Whatever you fancy as long as you have fun.

This week my shelf is connected to my last two posts about Carl's Venture Forth reading programme.

I did as I often do with these reading experiences and collected together a selection of books that fit the prompts. It's so much fun to do! Venture Forth will run from now until the end of July so this is basically two months reading. Can I read them all? Thirteen books? My instinct is to say 'no' but in fact I think I probably could but whether I actually 'will' is another matter. We shall see as I have no intention of putting pressure on myself to do so, I want to have fun with this after all.

The pile on the left:

Travels with Tinkerbelle - Susie Kelly
The Nine of Us - Jean Kennedy Smith
Woodswoman - Anne LaBastille
Walter and Florence - Susan Hill
To War with Whitaker - The Countess of Ranfurly
The Shell Seekers - Rosamunde Pilcher
The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins
A Kentish Lad - Frank Muir

Standing upright:

Munich - Robert Harris
Dr. Thorne - Anthony Trollope
The White Road Westwards - 'BB'
Once Upon a River - Diane Setterfield
The Pull of the River - Matt Gaw

A motley bunch if ever there was one but that suits me perfectly. There should be something there to suit all of my moods but one thing I have just noticed is that there's no crime fiction apart from The Moonstone. I rather suspect a more modern murder mystery or two will elbow their way in there somehow.

Happy reading and stay safe.


Thursday, 28 May 2020

Venture Forth part 2

So this post is really for my own reference, a place where I can list the prompts I want to attempt for Carl's Venture Forth summer reading programme and the books I actually end up reading.

Some of his prompts I would like to fulfil:

A gift that was given to me: Once Upon a River - Diane Setterfield

A 2020 book purchase: Crossed Skis - Carol Carnac

A used bookstore find

A story that I have read before: Arabella - Georgette Heyer

A social media recommended book: The Village - Marghanita Laski

A recommendation from my husband

A non-fiction book: The Nine of Us - Jean Kennedy Smith

A checkout from the library: The Farm at the Edge of the World - Sarah Vaughan

So those are a few of Carl's prompts, but he encourages us to add a few of our own so these are mine:

A book set somewhere I have never been but would like to visit: Summer at the Lake - Erica James

A book connected to one of the world wars: To War With Whitaker - Hermione Ranfurly

A book of short stories

A book where travelling is heavily involved: The White Road Westwards - 'BB'

A book set in Cornwall

A book connected with the sea

A book about forests, woods, trees

A biography or autobiography: Jack: A Life Like No Other - Geoffrey Perret

A classic

A few possibilities:

I suspect somehow that not all of these categories will be filled in the two months available. There are, after all, 18 of them. But we'll see. The main thing is how much fun it will be trying.


Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Carl's Venture Forth

Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings has posted about his new Summer Reading Program, Venture Forth.

He says:

So I created my own Summer Reading program: Venture Forth. The name is a play on the idea that we are being allowed to venture forth into certain businesses and venues once again, and that reading always allows everyone to Venture Forth on an adventure.

This isn’t a challenge or event like I’ve hosted in the past. It is simply something that I want to do and want to share with you. If you desire to recapture a bit of that childhood summer experience, please feel free to be a part of this, and feel free to use the gif.

There are no rules. No number of books to read. No prizes outside of the great pleasure of reading. As part of the fun I did make a list of prompts that I will check off if I end up doing them, but the only thing motivating factor of my reading is finishing a book, and then going and pulling the next read off the shelves that calls out to me.

Prompts include:

A book with a Michael Whelan cover

gift that was given to me

2020 book purchase

used bookstore find

novel that is part of a series

story that I have read before

book that I read as a child or teen

social media recommended book

graphic novel

children’s book

narrated book

recommendation from my wife (husband in my case)

nonfiction book

title that is part of a series

checkout from my local library

book outdoors (at least 75% has to be read outside)


So, it runs from now until the 31st July and I thought I would participate and see how it goes. It's not a challenge, just a fun thing to take part in for the summer. Anyone is welcome to take part and I hope some will be tempted.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

The Woman in White

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins is a book I've been prevaricating about reading for 'years'. Why, I have no idea. Perhaps I thought it was a difficult read, that I would struggle with the language, plus, it is 'long'. Whatever. In the event that all proved to be nonsense. Yes, it took me a couple of weeks to read but that was fine, plenty of books take me that long, some of which are meant to be savoured and not read at break-neck speed and The Woman in White is one of those. It's my seventh book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020.

Walter Hartright is an art teacher who sometimes takes positions in large country houses teaching young ladies to paint. After attaining such a position in Cumberland he's returning from a last visit to his mother and sister in London before setting off. It's late at night and dark and a woman, dressed all in white, approaches him for help with directions. She seems rather strange and distracted but Walter nevertheless finds a cab and helps her on her way only to observe a couple of men in hot pursuit shortly after.

Arriving in Cumberland and 'Limmeridge', the house that will be his home for many months, Walter meets Marion Halcombe and Laura Fairlie, half-sisters devoted to one another. Laura is the heiress of the family, very beautiful, Marion has no money and is not beautiful but is the kind of person you would want on your side in a crisis. Despite his efforts not to, Walter falls in love with Laura. The problem with this, apart from the difference in their stations, is that Laura is already engaged to be married. Her fiancé is Sir Percival Glyde and it was her father's dying wish that Laura should marry him.

Walter has to leave but is extremely worried about Laura's future. He has seen The Woman in White again and she is desperate to prevent Laura from marrying Sir Percival. Why? The woman disappears before they can find out. The two sisters live with their uncle, Frederick Fairlie, who has inherited the house from their father. The only interests he has at heart are his own and being left alone to enjoy his fragile health, thus he is no help whatsoever in helping Laura to decide what to do. It seems they have no one to turn to in their hour of need.

I'm never much good at reviewing hugely well known classics but these are just a few thoughts and observations of my own about the book.

I don't really think I had much of an idea what The Woman in White was actually about. I think I had some vague idea of ghostly apparitions which turns out to be a long way from the truth. The woman is real and she has a secret concerning Sir Percival which is kept until almost the end of the book and took me by surprise when I read what it was. Meanwhile, all you can do as the reader is hang in there for 600 pages worrying about the two sisters. Even when I wasn't reading the book I was thinking and about Laura and Marion. This is a tense, 'edge-of-your-seat' story, not at all cosy or reassuring in any way.

My favourite person in the book was Marion Halcombe. What she wouldn't do to protect her sister wasn't worth thinking about. Intelligent, loyal, brave, my goodness me no wonder a certain character in the book was very intrigued by her. I didn't feel Laura's personality was quite as well defined, perhaps that's because I'm more interested in character than looks. And if I'm honest I am inclined to the view that the way the hero always falls for the 'beautiful' girl is a mite tedious and predictable. Wouldn't it be nice if a writer gave us a hero who valued intelligence and character over physical beauty? I won't hold my breath.

I'm hard-put to say who I think is the biggest villain of the story. It's a crowded field with Sir Percival and Count Fosco, not to mention Count Fosco's awful wife. But really the person I despised the most was the sisters' uncle, Frederick Fairlie. This was a wonderful depiction of a very weak, self-centred man by Wilkie Collins, I found myself utterly loathing him.

The first sentence of the book begins with, 'This is the story of what a woman's patience can endure...' and that is what it all boils down to: how powerless women were in the Victorian age to be in charge of their own destinies. Especially wealthy women. At one point Laura wishes with all her heart that she was poor like Marion. She can never truly know if any intended husband loves her for herself or is simply after her fortune. A sad tale is what this is and Wilkie Collins had a point to make as vivid as any that Dickens made in his books. Only Dickens manner of illustrating injustice is to whack you round the head with extreme Victorian poverty, Collins' way of illustrating injustice was a bit more subtle... in my opinion anyway.

A brilliant book and many thanks to Pat and Judith who've been encouraging me to read it for ages. So pleased I did so at last.