Tuesday 29 December 2020

Favourite books of 2020

Appalling though this year has been, I personally have had an excellent reading year. I suppose that's down to the lockdowns and even when we weren't in lockdown we still stayed at home as my husband is one of the at risk people, not high risk but ceratinly medium. So one of the things I did to pass the time was read. Quite a lot... managing 93 books in all, which for me is not bad... I generally average 60 to 70. Of the 93, 28 were non-fiction. So, not too bad. Shockingly, given how bad I usually am at reading my own books, 75 of the 93 books I read were my own!

A few fiction favourites and links to my reviews:

The Returning Tide - Liz Fenwick

Evening Class - Maeve Binchy 

Iron Lake - William Kent Krueger

The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins 

Summer at the Lake - Erica James

The Village - Marghanita Laski 

The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins

Smallbone Deceased - Michael Gilbert 

Close Quarters - Michael Gilbert

The Thursday Murder Club - Richard Osman 

Choosing a favourite out of those ten is tough as they were all excellent for different reasons and they're a motley bunch. But when all's said and done I think I loved this book the most, this year:

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins kept me glued to my chair and when I wasn't, I worried constantly about the eventual outcome for Marion and Laura. For me that's the sign of a brillaint book.

Now non-fiction:

Footnotes - Peter Fiennes 

To War with Whitaker - Hermione Ranfurly 

The White Road Westwards - 'BB' 

Atlantic - Simon Winchester 

Between the Stops - Sandi Toksvig 

Underland - Robert Macfarlane

The Golden Age of Murder - Martin Edwards 

And my favourite? Oh dear... it's this that I apparently didn't review. (For shame!)

Underland by Robert Macfarlane was a superb study of all things underground, caves, mines, the Paris catacombs, nuclear waste sites, the inside of Greenland glaciers, and the people who explore them or work there. I thought it was utterly brilliant and now want to read more about this fascinating subject.

So that was 2020, or it will be in a few days, and good riddance! Onwards to 2021 and hopefully a vaccine to end all this madness although I think it will take quite a few months to change very much. In the meantime I have my 2021 shelf of books ready to start and I can't wait.


Thursday 24 December 2020

Christmas wishes

A Merry Christmas to everyone who reads my blog and especially to those who also take the time and effort to comment. It's so much appreciated and I cherish the friends I've made and the conversations we have about our love of books and life in general. Have a good Christmas and let's hope for a much better year next year.

This lovely snowy painting is by Danish painter, Peder Mork Monsted. It's called Forest in Winter and was painted in 1915. I love it to bits.

Monday 21 December 2020

The last few books before Christmas

I've been quietly reading my way through three non-fiction and one long fiction book since the beginning of December. It's always a slower reading month for me, for obvious reasons, but this year I feel quiet too, like I don't want to read anything that might test me too much, I just want slow, comfortable reading.

A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett collects together the essays he wrote, his articles for newspapers and speeches he gave. Some were new to me, others I had already read one way or another. I'm not quite sure why I didn't enjoy this as much as I thought I would as I absolutely adore Pratchett's fictional Discworld series. Possibly the fact that I had heard what he had to say on many subjects already did not help. All were very well written though. 

Worst Journeys edited by Keath Fraser was what it says on the tin, an anthology of travel writing stories recounting the authors' worst travel experiences. I was very underwhelmed by this and I normaly love travel writing. A few stood out. One of Dirk Bogarde's wartime experiences from his book Backcloth made me think about reading one or two of his six autobiographical volumes next year. And Jan Morris and Paul Theroux never disappoint. Otherwise, one for the charity shop box. 

The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift is a book I've been reading off and on all year. It's the story of the creation of a garden at Morville in Herefordshire. It's beautifully written, quite autobiographical in nature and very horticultural and historical. The site was a monastry centuries ago so the author uses the form of the medieval books of hours as she takes us through the gardening year. A beautiful book. 

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss is the only fiction book I've read in December. Possibly because it's over 700 pages long...

The 'Monstrous Gentlewomen' are off on their travels to Budapest. Mary Jekyll has recieved a cry for help from Lucinda Van Helsing whom she's never met but presumes is similar to herself and her friends in that she's been changed somehow by her father: the subject of scientific experiments in other words. Mary, Justine and Diana travel on The Orient Express and soon run into trouble, meanwhile Catherine Moreau and Beatrice Rappacinni stay in London but not for long. Soon they're careering across Europe too, worried for Mary and her group who have disappeared somewhere in the mountains of Hungary. This is the second instalment of this fantasy/horror trilogy and is just as enjoyable as the first. It has exactly the same problems but I won't bang on about that again. Suffice to say it was rollicking good fun, I love the European locations, the ideas behind the characters, and the sheer zest of these books. Book three will be on my reading agenda for 2021.


I'm currently reading these two:

The Christmas Chronicles: Notes, Stories and 100 Recipes for Midwinter by TV cook, Nigel Slater, is the perfect slow read for Christmas week. He has a wonderfully gentle, descriptive, sumptious style of writing and you can wallow in it at the end of a long day. Loving it.

Weird Woods: Tales of the Haunted Forests of Britain, edited by John Miller, is one of the British library's 'Weird books' series. I've read several and they can be a bit patchy but this is, so far, rather good. And ghost stories naturally go well with Christmas don't they?

Tuesday 15 December 2020

A fun meme

The idea is to answer the questions with the titles of the books you've read this year.

Describe yourself: The Provincial Lady Goes Further
How do you feel: Happy Old Me 
Describe where you currently live: Castle Skull
If you could go anywhere, where would you go: The White Road Westwards
Your favourite form of transportation: Crossed Skis
Your best friend is: The Woman in White
You and your friends are: The Thursday Murder Club
What’s the weather like: Crimson Snow
You fear: A Watery Grave
What is the best advice you have to give: Escape to the French Farmhouse
Thought for the day: Dashing for the Post
My soul’s present condition: All Passion Spent

Saturday 12 December 2020

Historical Fiction reading challenge 2021

I've been a bit undecided about doing any reading challenges next year, thinking I might not do any for a change. But where's the fun in that? Perhaps just the one? So when I saw that Marg at The Intrepid Reader is  hosting the Historical Fiction reading challenge next year I decided I would give it a go. 

The sign-up post is HERE on Marg's blog.

During the following 12 months you can choose one of the different reading levels:

20th Century Reader - 2 books
Victorian Reader - 5 books
Renaissance Reader - 10 books
Medieval - 15 books
Ancient History - 25 books
Prehistoric - 50+ books

Any sub-genre of historical fiction is accepted (Historical Romance, Historical Mystery, Historical Fantasy, Young Adult, History/Non-Fiction, etc.)

I am going to aim for 'Victorian Reader' - 5 books. Perhaps I might even manage to do a bit better than that. We shall see.

These are a few books I plan to read from, suspect there are more on my Kindle.


These are all mine appart from the two on the bottom of the lefthand pile - A Plague on Both Your Houses by Susanna Gregory and Heresy by S.J. Parris are both library books (and 'new to me' series).

Any 'Historical' recs are particularly welcome so suggest away!

Really looking forward to starting this in 2021 and thanks to Marg for hosting.

Tuesday 1 December 2020

Two short reviews and books read in November

I'm not at all sure where November went. I thought time would drag with yet another lockdown (it ends on the 2nd. December here in the UK) but it hasn't. Strange.

Anyway, a couple of short reviews first. First up, a Christmas/winter short story collection, Crimson Snow edited by Martin Edwards.

As usual with anthologies this was a mixed bag, some of the authors I'd heard of and some not, some of the stories I loved, some a little less. I marked four stories as being excellent. The Man with the Sack by Margery Allingham sees Albert Campion reluctantly accepting an invitation to a country house for Christmas. When he gets there he realises he's been invited to guard over the expensive jewels of one of the other guests. The reader finds out about something called 'goat-touting' in this. Death in December by Victor Gunn features his detective, Bill Cromwell, who's a bit of a grumbler apparently. He also reluctantly agrees to spend Christmas in a place he doesn't want to be, Cloon Castle in Derbyshire. This one involves an idiot spending a night in a haunted room. Great fun. The snowy hills of Derbyshire are well depicted, Cloon Castle reminded me of Peverill Castle in Castleton in the Peak District. Hadn't heard of this author before so I must look him up. Deep and Crisp and Even by Michael Gilbert has one of his detectives, DS Petrella, out carol singing with the choir. They get invited in by one owner, later a choirboy tells them that the man who hosted them was not the owner of the house. One of those, 'Oh' moments. Clever ending. The Carol Singers by Josephine Bell is another carol singing story. An elderly lady, on her own for Christmas, is pleased to have carol singers sing to her on the doorstep but a second lot that arrive are not there to sing to her... Not a bad anthology, patchy, but those that were good were very, very good so to speak. All of them were well written but the one that's stayed with me is Death in December by Victor Gunn, probably because I know the Peak District quite well and it was so well depicted. 

Next, Happy Old Me by Hunter Davies.

This is an autobiographical account of the life of writer, Hunter Davies', since his wife died: his wife, author, Margaret Forster, died of cancer in 2016 and the couple had been married for 56 years. It recounts how much he struggled, partly with all the official stuff that has to be done when someone dies, but also because he had never before done anything around the house or cooked for himself. Margaret had seen to all that while he did what that generation (my parents' generation) of men usually did, maintenance jobs and outside work. So of course he had to learn how to look after himself and cook and it was a struggle. He also had to learn how to cope with the loneliness of living alone for the first time since he'd been married. The book is also full of interesting anecdotes as they really did lead an interesting life, though I suspect his two earlier autobiographies would be the best thing to read if anyone is really interested in that. Davies is a very readable writer, funny, self-deprecating, honest about his failings and relationship with his wife. It struck me that this is a very 'male' book, a woman of the same age would have a very different take on her practical difficulties and what to do about loneliness in old age - Davies is now 84. I liked this book a lot, for its honesty mainly, whether I would like the author if I met him, I'm not sure. I have his book, A Walk Along the Wall, on my tbr pile for next year.

So, eight books read in November and these are they:

80. Jew(ish) - Matt Greene

81. The Pull of the River - Matt Gaw

82. Information Received - E.R. Punshon

83. The Golden Age of Murder - Martin Edwards

84. Wicked Autumn - G.M. Malliet

85. The Thurday Murder Club - Richard Osman  

86. Crimson Snow - edited by Martin Edwards (see above)

87. Happy Old Me - Hunter Davies  (see above)

A decent mix there, including four non-fiction. All were good but the stand-out book would have to be this:

The Thursday Murder Club was huge fun and and very sensitively written. Looking forward to the next book.

Currently reading:

Which is 700 pages long. I may be some time.

Happy December reading!