Tuesday 24 January 2023

Just finished and currently reading.

So, it's been quite a good reading month so far. This week I finished two non-fictions I've been reading for several weeks and a crime fiction novel that didn't take me quite as long.

First up, the crime novel which was, Two for Sorrow by Nicola Upson. This is the third book in the author's 'Josephine Tey' series in which she imagines the famous crime author investigating murders in the 1930s, alongside her friend and Scotland yard detective, Archie Penrose.

Josephine is staying at her club in London and, to her delight, no one knows she is there so she has a few days of freedom. Her club, The Cowdray, is for women only and is being run by a former nursing teacher of Josephine's, Celia Bannerman. It's also attached and connected to a teaching hospital for nurses. Archie's cousins, Ronnie and Lettice Motley, who make costumes for West End theatres, are currently working on costumes for a gala night which will raise money for the nursing hospital. Tey is currently working on a fictional account of a notorious baby farming case from the early 1900s, the result of which saw two women, Amelia Sachs and Annie Walters, hanged for the murders of babies who were mainly illegitimate. Celia Bannerman has a connection to one of the hanged women, she was a prison warder at the prison where she was being held and looked after Amelia Sachs on the eve of her death. The Motley sisters employ female ex-convicts and Marjorie Baker is one of them. When she is murdered in a particularly brutal manner, Archie, with some help from Josephine, has to somehow untangle this convoluted mess to see who is connected to whom and where Josephine's historial case fits into it. I don't think I've made a very good fist of explaining this complicated story and plotline. I lost track about two thirds through, trying to remember who was connected to whom and why. That said, the book was quite gripping and Upson's writing is always top-notch. You might even call this book a historical with a crime element, 'maybe'. There is also quite a lot of Josephine's backstory, romance-wise. Will she plump for a lesbian relationship with her friend's ex, Marta? (Having already read book 9, I know the answer to this of course.) All in all, a decent read, if very complicated and full of baby farming detail some might find disturbing, so beware if that's not your thing... but I learnt an awful lot about a subject I previously did not know much about. 

The two non-fictions were, firstly, The View from Mary's Farm by Edie Clark, which was kindly sent to me by Nan from Letters from a Hillfarm. This is a delightful book of essays which have appeared as columns in the Yankee Magazine. In each one she tells stories of how she bought and went to live on an old farm in New Hampshire that was built in 1762, before the USA actually came into being. She talks about so many varied things, mainly country life and what it's like living out in the wilds of the New Hampshire countryside. I particularly loved hearing how she prepared for winter, the awful storms they got and how she hunkered down inside, warm and cosy by the fire. But there was also cooking, the neighbours, the vagueries of her tractor, painting her Adirondack chair (I saw some of those in the Blue Ridge mtns.), Thanksgiving and so on. This collection is beautifully written and I absolutely loved it. I'll be reading it again someday. 

And secondly, The Pleasure of Reading a collection of bookish essays put together by Antonia Fraser. This is pretty much what it says on the tin, the great and the good talking about how they learnt to read and developed their reading tastes. It was interesting in parts but I couldn't help getting the feeling that for many it was a place to display their cleverness and taste for classics that a lot of people will not even have heard of. There also seemed to be a conspiracy to look down on the likes of Enid Blyton, C.S. Lewis and so forth. A few were interesting to me, such as Ruth Rendall, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Wendy Cope, Catherine Cookson. Sue Townsend amused me with this;

The first erotic book I read was about a Spanish bullfighter. I don't recall the title or the author but I certainly remember the delicious anticipation it aroused in me. I couldn't wait to grow up and have a sexual experience. Though Spanish bullfighters were thin on the ground in Leicester.

All in all a bit of a hit and miss collection but not a bad bedtime read.

So current reads. This first of all:


On Basilisk Station by David Weber is a piece of space opera science-fiction. It's the first in the author's Honor Harrington series: Honor is a fairly new captain of a star-ship belonging to the planet Manticore.  For one reason or another, mainly political, the ship and crew end up with a duff assignment in the middle of nowhere but I'm assuming things turn interesting. I'm only 100 pages in and it's good so far. The book is part of my personal aim to read more science-fiction this year. 

And then this:

William Horwood is the author of the Duncton Wood series of books but he also wrote four sequels to The Wind in the Willows. This is the first of them, The Willows in Winter, and a reread for me - I plan to read all four ending with The Willows at Christmas (which I have not read) hopefully some time in December. Please don't throw rotten tomatoes at me for discussing next Christmas in January...

I hope you're all keeping well this cold January and finding lots of good books to read.


Margot Kinberg said...

You've had some good reading, Cath. The Upson sound like a solid read, and sometimes, novels that deal with difficult topics can really get a person thinking. And I admire the way you've been weaving non-fiction in with your fiction. I think that's a really good way to get a broad perspective. My husband likes science fiction, and might really enjoy the Weber, so I'll be interested in what you think of that.

diana said...

I have much enjoyed every Nicola Upson I read , although I was actually averse to reading them at first because of the Josephine Tey connection!

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

You are definitely right about it being a super-cold January, although when the sun does come out, it all looks pretty spectacular (from the comfort of a warm room of course!)

I am still quite tempted by the Nicola Upson series, as I do generally enjoy the 'Golden Age' mystery stories. You obviously seem to be quite happy dipping in and out of the series and not too worried about reading them in any particular order. However, I still would quite like to read book #1 first, just so that I can become acquainted with the characters.

I have read three crime/mystery books so far this year and I have another two on the go, so I am quite pleased with my tally and I am back in my 'happy place' genre. I also read, but have yet to review, an excellent WWII story, which if you are in the market for that genre of historical romance, I can thoroughly recommend ... 'The Last Restaurant In Paris' by Lily Graham.

Here's to continued happy reading and hopefully a slightly warmer February to come :)

TracyK said...

Nice books that you have been reading lately. I have read the first Nicola Upson book starring Josephine Tey and I did enjoy it. I have the next two, including Two for Sorrow. I liked the story in the first book but was a bit put off by Tey as detective. Still, I know that some of the books have very interesting stories, especially the fourth one, Fear in the Sunlight, with Alfred Hitchcock and his wife as characters. So I am sure I will get around to reading them.

I discovered recently that Glen had purchased The Pleasure of Reading at the book sale last year, so I will be giving it a shot also.

That science fiction book sounds interesting, I will wait for your final opinion. And I am very glad you have reminded me that I want to read The Wind in the Willows this year, in an annotated edition. That should have been on my reading goals list.

Lark said...

I like the sound of On Basilisk Station...probably because I've been wanting to read more science fiction and even made it one of my ten bookish goals for the year. I'll have to see if my library has a copy of it. :D

Fanda Classiclit said...

Wait... there are 'sequels' to The Wind in the Willows?! Oh, I must check them on Scribd!
The View from Mary's Farm is interesting too, but I couldn't find a copy in either the print or e-book at Playbooks or Scribd. Oh well..

Sue in Suffolk said...

I've enjoyed several of the Upson books but one or two have been started and not finished, which is odd because usually when I find a good series then I would expect to read all of them.
I like the sound of both the non fiction you have mentioned and now off to check the library website for the second one.

Cath said...

Margot: I absolutely agree that novels dealing with difficult subjects can get you thinking. It's a good thing to know how hard life was for most people back then, the tough decisions they had to make etc.

Thank you, I try to make about a third of my reading non-fiction but it doesn't always work out like that. Plus it's a case of being careful which non-fiction books I choose.

My husband is also into science-fiction and has read some of these Weber books and enjoyed them. I will definitely report back when I've read this one.

Cath said...

Diana: I see where you're coming from when you mention being averse to the Upson books because of the Tey connection. It does feel like an odd thing so to tell the truth I try to forget that it's supposed to be a real person and just read them as good historical detective stories.

Cath said...

Yvonne: 'Very' cold isn't it? We've had heavy frost after heavy frost and freezing fog this morning too. Very wintery and atmospheric but I was glad I did not have to go out in it.

Generally speaking I much prefer to read a series in order but a cousin gave me book 9 in this series because it is set on St. Michael's Mount. Because she will ask if I've read it I went ahead and read it out of order. It was fine but also clear I'd missed some important personal plotlines so I'm now going back to read the intervening books to find out what happened. If you want to read this series I would recommend starting at the beginning and moving through them.

Thanks for the rec of The Last Restaurant in Paris... I will look that up and look out for your review. Are you reviewing on Goodreads or your blog at the moment?

Thanks for stopping by, hope you and Dave are both well?

Cath said...

Tracy: Yes, using Tey as a detective is an odd thing and I well remember the comments when the first book came out. A lot of people were quite uncomfortable about it. I understand it too so tend to read the books as though she's an original character rather than a real person. Yes exactly, the books do have some interesting storylines and are too well written to miss out on. Tricky.

I hope you enjoy The Pleasure of Reading if you get to it. It's ideal for the Books about Books challenge, although I can't remember whether or not you're doing that.

I will definitely report back on the sci-fi. I hope you enjoy The Wind in the Willows, the sequels are excellent too.

Cath said...

Lark: Oh good, I'm glad you're also trying to read more sci-fi this year, I look forward to seeing what you read if you do it. There are some wonderful new sci-fi authors out there now, a lot of them women, so it's an interesting time to be delving into the genre.

Cath said...

Fanda: Yes, there are sequels to The Wind in the Willows, not by Kenneth Grahame but by William Horwood. They're very faithful to the original book and are delightful.

The View From Mary's Farm is not that well known and is very local to New Hampshire so I'm not surprised it's hard to find.

Cath said...

Sue: The Upson series is a good one but I do see how you might've not finished one or two. The books take a while to get going, this one did for certain, and I could easily have given up on it but am glad I didn't,

Did your library catalogue have The Pleasure of Reading?

Vallypee said...

I’ll have to read this more thoroughly late, Cath, but I do like the sound of the View from Mary’s Farm. I’m going to try and get hold of it now.

Cath said...

Val: The View from Mary's Farm is a lovely book but I'm not sure how easy it is to get hold of outside the US.

CLM said...

Now I want to get to #9 in the Upson series!

I guess I only read the first book but I own 2 and 4. I found the style creepily like Tey's own but once I got used to it, I enjoyed the book. If I can remember where the second one is, I will move it higher on my TBR.

I know there is a fairly new biography of Tey that might be interesting to read but she was a very private person so it seems intrusive. I do own the new Christie bio so that may come first.

CLM said...

This would be fun to go see!


Cathy said...

The View from Mary's Farm sounds like something I would really enjoy. Adding it to my list!

Cath said...

Constance: Yeah, that number nine in the Tey series is the best I've read so far. She does St. Michael's Mount very well and the mystery was top-notch.

We've had a TV series to go with Lucy Worsley's Christie book and it was 'so' good. I don't have the actual book yet but I will buy it soon.

You know, when we went to Inverness several years ago it never occurred to me to look for where Tey lived. An opportunity missed!

Cath said...

Cathy: Yes, that one was a real delight, an excellent winter read with all the snow and storms.

Fanda Classiclit said...

Cath, just to let you know that, thanks to your review, I’ve added this book to my wish list. I quoted a passage from this post and link it up in my post