Friday, 17 October 2014

Five in September

I read five books in September. Only five! Must do better.

Ice Dancing by Catherine Czerkawska. Read on Kindle. Set in rural Scotland with a great sense of life in a small community. Narrator Helen’s world is turned upside down when Joe, a Canadian ice hockey player, moves into a cottage nearby. Helen – about to turn 40 and with her only child about to leave home – is feeling that her life with farmer husband Sandy is rather stale and she falls in love with Joe – nine years younger than her and very attractive. Joe returns Helen’s feelings but he has his demons which are slowly and shockingly revealed. A very grown-up love story … and if you are a fan of ice-hockey that would add an extra dimension to your enjoyment.

In 1933, Patrick Leigh Fermor, aged 18, walked from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul. The books he wrote about his travels have become classics of the genre – A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods and the Water and the posthumously published The Broken Road.

In 2011, Nick Hunt began his own ‘great trudge’ to follow in Fermor’s footsteps and using only his books as guides. He trekked for around 2500 miles through Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey.

Fermor had carried little or no money and had relied on a (aristocratic) network of contacts for bed and board, and on the kindness of strangers. In the 21st century Hunt used social networking to plan some free accommodation in advance but like his predecessor found himself on several occasions sleeping rough. He too was sometimes overwhelmed at the bounty shown to him by people who didn’t know him and had nothing to gain.

You would expect much to have changed in the last eighty-four years encompassing wars and occupations and changing political landscapes and technology, and of course it has. But it was even more fascinating to see what hasn’t changed – great swathes of beautiful landscapes, and the interest in and generosity shown to a passing traveller.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
This is a much-hyped first novel – it’s from the point-of-view of a woman with dementia whose memories mix up her sister Sukey who went missing just after the war, and the current disappearance of her friend Elizabeth. And the hype is justified – I’m lost in admiration of how a writer who looks about twelve in her cover pic could get the voice so convincing, tell a great story through her unreliable narrator, and bring it to a satisfactory conclusion.

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens
And now for something completely different … This is, according to the back of the cover, aimed at ages 9+. It’s set in the 30s in a girls’ boarding school and is a kind of cross between Angela Brazil school stories and Hercule Poirot. Daisy Wells (the Hercule character) and Hazel Wong (Hastings) investigate a murder that no one else, apart from the perpetrator, knows has happened. Throw in the suicide the year before of one of the girls – this is strong stuff for nine-year-olds and a long way from Angela’s jolly romps in the dorm and worrying that you’d lost your hockey stick. I think it works though and the heroines are engaging; I would read another one although the period is not as well evoked as in Beswitched by Kate Saunders.

Ace, King, Knave by Maria McCann
Read for book group. Described by Hilary Mantel as ‘Hogarth sprung to life’ and I can only agree with her (I’m sure she would be thrilled to hear). It takes a few pages to know where you are then you settle down and enjoy the roller-coast ride through Georgian London, a page-turner despite having to refer periodically to the glossary – as the author uses (but doesn’t over-use) Georgian words to help bring the period brilliantly to life. For example: Romeville – London; cackler – a preacher; autem mort – a wife, or female beggar impersonating a desperate mother; daisy – a naïve person; fawney – a ring (as in piece of jewellery); three-legged mare – the gallows; plus, as one of the characters is a prostitute, words which would block your spam filter were I to set them down here.


  1. Love seeing your reading list, Kate - haven't read any of those!

  2. Wow five books in a month - I struggled to get through one in September and I used to read such a lot. What an interesting selection - I really like the sound of Elizabeth is Missing x

  3. Thanks, Rosemary. Teresa, I used to read a lot more. Looking on the bright side (?) the more I write the less I read ...