Wednesday 14 February 2024

Eight in January


I read eight books in January.


Preloved by Lauren Bravo

Gwen is 38 and has just been made redundant from a job she didn’t much like anyway. She seems to be adrift from old friendships and her relationship with her parents has become distant (the reason for which is slowly revealed). She volunteers to work in a charity shop and this becomes her saviour. It’s not just that she makes new friends (one of whom briefly becomes an unexpected lover, and one gives her bad advice) but in sorting the donated items she manages to sort out herself.

In between Gwen’s story there are chapters on the stories behind some of the donations and gradually we come to realise how these fit together. It’s very cleverly done.

I volunteer for a few hours a week sorting books in a branch of Shelter and that added to my enjoyment of Preloved.

The online strapline for novels rarely live up to their promise (in my experience) but I’ll certainly go along with this one – ‘sparklingly witty and relatable’.

I heard of Preloved through the blog https://portobellobookblog.com/ Joanne and I have (mostly) the same taste in books and her recommendations invariably have me adding to my to-be-read pile.



Limberlost by Robbie Arnott

This was a present from a lovely Tasmanian cousin when she visited last year. It’s a coming-of-age story set in Tasmania during the Second World War. Ned, too young to go to fight alongside his beloved older brothers, longs to buy a boat of his own. He dreams of getting away from working in the family orchard and from his father who’s become almost silent in his worry about his sons in a war on the other side of the world.

Ned finds a way of making money but the path to fulfilling his ambition is far from smooth.

Do love a coming-of-age novel. I learned a lot about various subjects in the book (what a quoll is, for example) – I do like to learn. But my main takeaway was the fabulousness of the writing from this young man who has already won/been shortlisted for prestigious awards.



The Whalebone Theatre by Joanna Quinn

Another absolute corker! Three children, half-siblings, bring themselves up, more or less, in a country house in the 20s/30s – delightful characters all of them. A whale washed up on the beach gradually becomes skeletal and their favourite playground. They grow up; WW2 comes; two of them end up in Occupied France … that’s all I’ll tell you.



Rising Tide by Ann Cleeves

The latest Vera, set on Lindisfarne. Fab as usual, with more shocks than usual.


What Lies Buried by Margaret Kirk

Terrific police procedure, the second in a series, set in Inverness/shire.


Victory for the Op Room Girls by Vicki Beeby

Third in a series (I haven’t read the first two which would probably have been a good idea).

‘With Jess newly promoted to Filterer Officer at RAF Fighter Command HQ, she is delighted to be reunited with Evie and May. However, now that they can enjoy socialising in London, Jess fears her friends will discover the secret she keeps there.’


The Last Voice You Hear by Mick Herron

Best known for his Slow Horses series of which I have read a few. His character here is private investigator ZoĆ« Boehm investigating a possibly suspicious death. I was with her every step of the way (however scary … ) and that of her friend Sarah who gets caught up in the case.


Green Dolphin Country by Elizabeth Goudge

Last month I mentioned that was rereading a book by this author whose other titles are inspired by her background and beliefs. This one starts in the 19th century in the Channel Islands (where her mother’s family was from) and is based on a true story of something that happened to an ancestor. And so we then enter uncharted waters ... two of the three main characters – a young sailor and ten years later a thirtyish woman – take to the perilous seas and end up in New Zealand, during the time of the Maori Wars.

Elizabeth Goudge wrote the book while living quietly in the Devon countryside during the Second World War. She said she ‘made it New Zealand because my ignorance of Australia was, even more, total than my ignorance of New Zealand.’ So much for the advice often given to writers to ‘write what you know’!

Green Dolphin Country brought Elizabeth Goudge to international attention and was made into a film. Further info here. If you want a fabulous long historical to get stuck into these cold February days I would urge this on you.


Lastly … due to technical changes, for some months it has not been possible to Follow this blog, and those who had already Followed were not informed of new posts. This has now been rectified I hope – see the Follow button below the post. Please let me know if it works, or not!


Sunday 21 January 2024

Six in December


I read six books in December.


But first … due to technical changes, for some months it has not been possible to Follow this blog, and those who had already Followed were not informed of new posts. This has now been rectified – see the Follow button below the post.


Paper Cup by Karen Campbell

Kelly left her Dumfriesshire home many years ago and lives on the streets in Glasgow. She’s an alcoholic, sometimes a violent one. But a series of events, including a moment of unexpected kindness, see her leaving the city to walk all the way home. This is the story of her journey. She meets some generosity along the way; other reactions to her dishevelled appearance are not so warm … and she acquires a dog.

Cleverly told, with flashbacks to show why she became estranged from her loving family, this is both gritty and tender.


The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

Read for book group.

‘ … explores the raw and tender places where Black women and girls dare to follow their desires, and pursue a momentary reprieve from being good.

There is fourteen-year-old Jael, who nurses a crush on the preacher's wife; the mother who bakes a sublime peach cobbler every Monday for her date with the married Pastor; and Eula and Caroletta, single childhood friends who seek solace in each other's arms every New Year's Eve.’

Love in many forms, unexpected, interesting.


The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty

(By the sister of the more famous Liane.) While away for the weekend, four school friends, now in their thirties, learn each others’ secrets via the (I think rather unlikely) device of writing them down anonymously. Well told, though, in a way that the reader is left guessing who the author of ‘the fifth letter’ is.


A Spoonful of Murder by J M Hall

The book, the first in a series, is billed as ‘hilarious’ – it’s not and it does the author a dis-service to thus describe it.

It’s easy to see where J M Hall got his inspiration … he has three retired teachers who meet every Thursday for coffee. When an ex-colleague dies they suspect it was murder.

There are a lot of characters and it was sometimes hard to keep track of them.

Having got these wee gripes out of the way, I will say that I enjoyed this a lot and will definitely read the follow ups – and will pass them on to my retired teacher sister. I expect she will share Liz’s opinion of her grandson’s classroom.


Death in Good Time by Jo Allen

The eleventh DCI Jude Satterthwaite police procedural, this time with an intriguing Gothic atmosphere.


Joy of the Snow by Elizabeth Goudge

I have a lot of titles on my to-be-read list (print and e-) but I love to reread … or, as in this case, re-reread. It’s the autobiography of the Elizabeth Goudge, author of many books for adults, and for children – she won the Carnegie Medal in 1946 for The Little White Horse, cited as a favourite childhood book and inspiration for her own writing by J K Rowling.

I love the story of her early life being brought up in various English cathedral cities due to her father’s employment in theological colleges. Her Guernsey mother sounds wonderful, unfortunately not very healthy but very vivacious. (It’s always sad to read of health problems which these days might be cured or at least alleviated.)

However, on this rereading and having, since the previous time, been published myself, I was frustrated that she hardly mention her writing. Her books for adults are lengthy and most of them are clearly inspired by where she was brought up and by the theological discussion she would have been used to hearing and taking part in. But one of them, whose title I shall divulge next month when I have finished rereading it, is an extraordinary feat, far outside her own experience. I would love to know how she managed it.

Thursday 14 December 2023

Seven in November

  I read seven books in November.

Connective Tissue by Eleanor Thom

I love books by someone tracing their hitherto unknown family history. This is couched as a novel because Eleanor Thom has had to fill in gaps but in essence it’s her finding out about her mother’s side of the family. Her grandmother, Jewish single mother Dora, lives in Berlin in 1937 and because of her father’s immigration status finds that she is ‘stateless’ and is forced to move to the UK to work as a domestic servant – as it turns out of course that means that she lives while relatives she leaves behind do not. 

‘Helena’, as the book’s protagonist is called, decides to find her long lost family after the birth of her baby who has an unexplained medical condition, echoing the author’s own experience.


This is Eleanor Thom’s second book; her first, The Tin-Kin, explored in fiction her grandfather’s, (Dora’s husband) side of the family.


The Lady of the Manse by Lavinia Derwent

The Mouse in the Manse by Lavinia Derwent


 Lavinia Derwent is (or was) best known for her books for children, including the Sula series, but these are autobiographical. They are an easy, nostalgic read but kind of make you gasp when you think about it. In her late teens, Lavinia (although that wasn’t her real name) found herself ‘the lady of the manse’ when her minister brother got his first charge and needed a housekeeper. With very little money, and none at all for her own use, she looked after the large, draughty manse and in addition to housework and cooking had to fulfil various parish duties.


One amusing story is that of a neighbour’s boy, ‘Wee Wullie’, who is in awe of the young red-haired minister, believing him to actually be God.


It doesn’t cross her mind not to do as her family wanted and it did lead to her career; to make some pin money she began to write articles. 


(The pb of The Lady is expensive online; mine came from a shop swap-box.)


Again, Rachel by Marian Keyes


 Twenty years after Rachel’s Holiday comes a sequel and it’s worth the wait. What happened after she got out of rehab and married Luke? Are they still married? And what about her mad-as-a-box-of-frogs family? Well, they still are mad but that’s all I’m going to say, no spoilers.


 Exiles by Jane Harper


The third book to feature Aaron Falk (following The Dry and Force of Nature); set in small town Australia. Aaron is actually a forensic accountant but he gets involved in the case of a missing woman when he goes to stay with a friend. Excellent, as are the other two.


The Wayward Miss Wyckenham by Melinda Hammond


‘Miss Clarissa Wyckenham comes to London to live with her pretty step-mama and finds that Mama-Nell has formed a discreet club for ladies. Soon she is pitched headlong into the scandalous antics of the Belles Dames Club, and finds herself in conflict with the disapproving Lord Alresford … ’

A very enjoyable eighteenth-century adventure and romance.


Skelton’s Guide to Domestic Poisons by David Stafford


Arthur Skelton has gone from being an unremarkable barrister to a much sought after one after winning ‘the legal case of the century’. Now he is charged with defending a woman accused of poisoning her husband. The story itself is satisfying but it’s the characters that make the book– Arthur has several wonderful sidekicks and the dialogue is wonderful.

Sunday 12 November 2023

Five in October

I read five books in October.

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Women’s Prize, a world best-seller – Demon needs no accolades from me but I’ll give them anyway.

Apparently Barbara Kingsolver had finished a novel and wondered what to write next. While in London she visited the Charles Dickens Museum in London and was inspired to follow the structure of David Copperfield and write a version for the late 20th/early 20th century. Demon (a ‘variation’ of his name, Damon) Copperhead (red hair) is the child of a teenage, drug-addicted, single mother … don’t want to give spoilers so I’ll just say that his life gets worse before it gets better.

Demon’s home territory (also the author’s), Appalachia, was and is in the grip of the opioid epidemic that has ruined so many lives. The book is not for the faint-hearted (and it’s almost 600 pages) but it is so worth the effort. It follows the structure of its predecessor and many of the names are similar but you don’t need to have read D Copperfield to appreciate it.

It has its funny and its tender moments amidst the darkness, and wonderful characters – Angus and Tommy are two of my favourites from all the books I’ve ever read.

I found to begin with I could read only fifty pages at a time; it was such an intense experience. But I raced through the last two hundred, eager to follow Demon’s extraordinary young life.

An amazing act of literary ventriloquism.


Godmersham Park by Gill Hornby

 And now for something completely different … I loved this author’s Miss Austen, a fictional account of the reasons why Jane Austen’s beloved sister Cassandra burnt their correspondence.

 Here, she revisits Austenland (that crowded country … ) with an imagining of the life of a real person, Anne Steele, who tutored Jane Austen’s nieces and nephews, the children of her well-off brother Edward Knight. Hard to believe it’s not true. ‘Anne’ is such a well-realised character and her relationship with her employer’s sister Jane is delightful.


One Day I Shall Astonish the World by Nina Stibbe

 Like many people I thoroughly enjoyed Love From Nina, the real letters sent by the author to her sister back home in Leicestershire during the time (in the early 1980s) she was employed as a mother’s help in fashionable Camden, where she met many famous people of whose existence she had never heard before – for example, Alan Bennett used to frequently pop in at supper-time and the event would be pithily reported by young Miss Stibbe.

 So I had high hopes of this novel which came adorned with excited quotes from many big-name authors testifying to its side-splittingness. 

 Reader, I did not crack a smile, not once. It’s billed as ‘the ebb and flow of female friendship over half a lifetime’. But Susan only has one friend, the toxic Norma. She also has a not very happy marriage and a difficult daughter. More a tragedy than a comedy if you ask me.


Ruth Robinson’s Year of Miracles by Frances Garood

 Musician Ruth (35) had plans to go travelling with her best friend but now she’s discovered she’s pregnant by her lovely colleague Amos – who seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth, or at least the face of social media, and is uncontactable.

 Her disapproving religious parents suggest she go and stay with her twin uncles until the baby is born. Perhaps it’s not very original to say that a book has ‘quirky’ characters but I think the epithet is appropriate here – the uncles, the cleaner and her family, the animals, and oh yes, the Virgin Mary who puts in an appearance.


Bluethroat Morning by Jacqui Lofthouse

 I was attracted to this book in a charity shop because of its title – I believe that it means that time of the morning equivalent to twilight in the evening, the point between dark and light.

 Anyway, about it’s Harry Bliss, in his fifties. His much younger wife, Alison, took her own life six years earlier – she was a very famous model turned writer. He’s still being hounded by the press, by one reporter in particular. He decides to search for the reasons for the suicide and is accompanied on that quest by a colleague’s student daughter who is rather obsessed with dead Alison’s glamour. An affair ensues between them, very much encouraged, indeed initiated by the girl … but still –  it left a bit of a nasty taste.

 Described as a ‘literary thriller’. I’d agree with the first word but not the second. Disappointing.


Death at the Three Sisters by Jo Allen

The Three Sisters is a run-down spa on the edge of a lake. A young member of staff comes to a grisly end – why would anyone want to kill her?

Number 10 in the DCI Jude Satterthwaite detective series set in the Lake District. As usual, a satisfying mystery plus an update on Jude’s private life.

Sunday 1 October 2023

Six in September

I read six books in September.

There’s no coming back from this by Ann Garvin

I got a book by this author a few months ago, I thought you said this would work, one of my monthly free e-books courtesy of Amazon Prime. Enjoyed it (love a road trip book). In this one, single-mom Poppy has to earn money fast to make sure her daughter can go to college but when, through an ex-boyfriend, she gets a job in the costume department on a major movie it seems she’s bitten off more than she can chew. Fast-paced fun.


Don’t forget to write by Sara Goodman Confino

Another author I’ve acquired after reading a free e-book. This one is set in the 1960s. I loved it.

‘When Marilyn Kleinman is caught making out with the rabbi’s son in front of the whole congregation, her parents ship her off to her great-aunt Ada for the summer. If anyone can save their daughter’s reputation, it’s Philadelphia’s strict premier matchmaker’.


Murder among the roses by Liz Fielding

An excellent cosy crime, the first in a series, set in the Cotswold town of Maybridge.

‘Abby is horrified to discover the bones of a baby buried under a rose bush. It’s in the garden of her soon-to-be ex-husband Howard’s family home.


The Easternmost House by Juliet Blaxfield

The author lives in, yes, the easternmost house in England, on the Suffolk coast – but for how long who knows? I’d imagined erosion would happen slowly, an inch a year maybe, but no, sometimes a foot of land disappears overnight.

Beautifully written and a lovely book in itself, a soft paperback with flaps and an illustration and a poem or quote at the beginning of each chapter.


The Easternmost House by Juliet Blaxfield

One of the most depressing books I’ve ever read (and I speak as someone who is currently reading Demon Copperhead). It was a shock given that I adore EMD’s Diary of a Provincial Lady books and regularly reread them, enjoying her wry humour.

The exact time for this one is not spelt out but probably early Edwardian.

Cosseted only child Monica is eighteen but has no agency – her mother determines what she will wear, eat, who she can be friends with, even when she should get up in the morning. Monica acquiesces because she is just about to come out as a debutante. Maybe she’ll get a proposal from someone wonderful at her first ball! Or if not, well, as long as she gets engaged and soon to someone – ‘any husband is better than none’.

On reading the Afterword in the Virago edition I think this is meant to be a parody of life for girls in the upper echelons in that era but I found no humour in it. Well, except maybe at the end when, shockingly still a spinster in her mid-twenties (having got herself talked about), our Monica accepts the offer of marriage from an old (old) family friend and on their wedding day she hopes fervently that she will give him a son – I’m pretty sure she has no idea how that will be achieved …

Why depressing? Well, thinking about the stifled lives women lived of course, but also listening to the news more than a hundred years later – are we going to have to go back to having chaperones for girls to keep them safe?


Think of me by Frances Liardet

I loved We must be brave, not just the story but Frances Liardet’s writing. And so it was with her new one.

‘James Acton has come to the village of Upton to begin again. As his grief over the death of his wife eases, he hopes to find new purpose as the vicar of this small, Hampshire parish, still emerging from the long shadow of the war.’

I was some way into when it began to dawn on me that some characters from We must be brave are here too which added extra enjoyment.