Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Eight in August

I read eight books in August.

Home by Marilynne Robinson
In Seven in July I said I’d reread Gilead, the first of three novels set in the early fifties in the small American town of that name and I was about to read the second two, before seeing the author at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

Although it was a thrill to see Marilynne Robinson, her Book Festival talk entitled The Restless Reader was intellectually about three feet above my head. Her novels need concentration but are more accessible.

To recap, Gilead is a kind of letter from John Ames, an elderly Presbyterian minister, to his little boy.

Home is written from the point of view of Glory, daughter of John Ames’ oldest friend – and sister of Jack, the black sheep of the family. Glory has come home to Gilead to take care of her father; the unexpected arrival of Jack – the brother she adores but feels she doesn’t really know – is like an unexploded bomb in their lives.

Lila by Marilynne Robinson
Lila is John Ames much younger wife – they’re an unlikely but very believable couple. Having met Lila slightly offstage in Gilead and Home we now find out about her extraordinary childhood in the dustbowl of the American Depression and the highways and byways that led her to the town of Gilead and to John Ames.

When I finished Lila I felt like going back and reading the others again because all three are so cleverly (and beautifully) written that they can be read in any order. Maybe one day – so little time, so much to read. 

Road Ends by Mary Lawson
One of my top ten ever books is Mary Lawson’s Crow Lake. Road Ends is also set in Ontario, Canada, where the author grew up (aren’t books amazing? They can take your mind anywhere, without queuing or worrying about losing your passport) and in London.

Megan, only girl in a family of brothers, leaves the town in the backwoods, fed up of being the dogsbody at home; her mother floats around, interested only in the latest baby, and her father shuts himself away and reads about faraway places. The story moves between Megan and her new life in London, and the family she leaves behind (ML is particularly good on sibling relationships) – and other folk in the town including, to my joy, two characters from Crow Lake. Go! – no passport required.

Paris in Love by Eloisa James
I’ve moved vicariously from Ontario to France now and this is a lovely account of a couple – she American, he Italian – and their two children spending a year (for various family and work reasons; they usually live in New York) in Paris. Eloisa James wrote Facebook posts about their stay (lots of mouth-watering food descriptions) and these are collected here with some additions.

Eloisa James is the writing pseudonym of Professor Mary Bly, Professor of English Literature at Fordham University in NY. Under her pen name she writes best-selling Regency romance novels. Naturally, having read Paris in Love I was intrigued to read her fiction – more anon.

Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell
Christian Aid Book Sale purchase. AT was a mega-seller in her day (the thirties) and some of her books have been republished by Virago Classics. I was underwhelmed by her Christmas at High Rising, a collection of inter-linked short stories, but gave this ‘sparkling comedy’ a go anyway and was rather charmed by it – set in an English country house presided over by amusingly irritating Lady Emily.

Christian Aid Booksale purchase. Back to America with this one. I’d never read this classic children’s book before and on a day when I was feeling fluey it was the perfect book to get lost in. Fabulous title, fabulous characters, fabulous writing and a fabulous – in more ways than one – plot.

The Sender by Toni Jenkins
Abby, Kat, Pattie and Tessa, four women from Edinburgh, Glasgow, York and Cambridge respectively, all with their own problems and heartaches. Each of them has her own story here, the linking factor being a mysterious card giving comfort and encouragement to the recipient, together with an invitation to meet by St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh on a certain date. The mystery as to who the first sender could be draws the reader along, but each of the stories is good in its own right with a great cast of characters; I was sorry to leave each one but immediately got involved in the next. I didn’t guess who the first sender was; the revelation was a satisfying surprise.

Living the Dream by Celia J. Anderson
Read on Kindle. Strange things happen to Vita on her holiday of a lifetime – she never thought that meeting her late mother would be on the agenda. An American road-trip with a difference.

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