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.