I read seven books in December.
Shall we Dance? by Maggie Alderson
There’s always something very glam about Maggie Alderson’s novels and this one is no exception. She is a fashion journalist after all. Here, the main character, Loulou, has a vintage clothes shop in Primrose Hill and is the sort of person who wears high-heeled wellingtons to music festivals.
Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie
I read every Agatha Christie, most more than once, when I was young (those long winter nights on the farm … ). When our parents downsized, my sister and I divided the collection between us.
I remembered The Secret Adversary as one of my favourites, very exciting – it’s the first Tommy and Tuppence story. I was looking forward to seeing the recent TV adaptation but was sorely disappointed. Why move it to the 1950s? Why rewrite the story to such an extent? Why make Tommy such a buffoon?
As my husband had never read any Agatha Christie (I know – weird) I pressed The Secret Adversary and N or M? on him (these had fallen to me in the share-out) and he liked them so much that he asked for more.
So I bought him two more Tommy and Tuppences, Partners in Crime and By the Pricking of my Thumbs, 1970s Fontana editions.
He liked those too and I reread PiC myself when he finished it. It’s a book of short stories, some very far-fetched but, hey, this is the queen of crime. She gets away with it as far as I’m concerned. Unlike the TV producers.
The Road to Little Dribbling More Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
Bill travels around Britain (well, England mostly, apart from North Berwick, Ullapool and Cape Wrath), describing his journeys in his witty, informative and often caustic way.
The Lost Woman by Gilly Stewart
Read on Kindle. Set in the Scottish Highlands. Catherine McDonald is trying to turn her family’s home into a hotel but a missing hill-walker brings unwanted attention to the area and some of her family are less than enthusiastic about her plans. Good read, with a great sense of place – as usual from this writer.
So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson
Bought in second-hand bookshop, published in 2003. I could not agree with the title more and had every hope that this American author and I would be kindred spirits. Alas no.
A whole chapter was devoted to a true crime book about murder by baseball bat. After reading it she apparently got anxious about her young son playing baseball, and about the possibilities of other sporting paraphernalia being used as weapons. I could win worrying competitions but I’ll skip that one.
I knew we weren’t on the same planet reading-wise though when she was indifferent to /dismissive of two of my very favourite books.
Housekeeping, subsequent Pulitzer prize-winner Marilynne Robinson’s first novel, was ditched after a few pages as ‘too slow’.
Crow Lake by Mary Lawson was newly published when Sara Nelson read it. She found it ‘pretty close to cliché’ and suspected it would be ‘ignored or even trashed’ by other reviewers. Well, perhaps it’s mean of me to, ahem, crow, but with the benefit of hindsight I know that Crow Lake got brilliant critical reviews, became a best-seller and a beloved book for many people, and that it won the Books in Canada First Novel Award and the McKitterick Prize among other accolades.
But each to their own … in the lists at the back of the book there are a few titles I hadn’t heard of that I'll look out for. Maybe we might even agree over some of them.
Plainsong by Kent Haruf
Read on Kindle. I bought this because I read that it was one of Anne Tyler’s top ten books. It’s contemporary, set in a small town in Colorado, and follows various characters and how they are linked to each other.
I appreciated it more than liked it, I think. The characters stayed in my mind but I found the almost reportage style of writing distancing.
People We Love by Jenny Harper
This is the fourth title in Jenny Harper’s very successful Heartland Series of ‘strong women under pressure’, set in a fictional town in East Lothian, Scotland. Here, Artist Lexie is back in Hailesbank, living with her parents, as they all try to come to terms with her brother’s fatal accident. ‘An engaging and delightful read,’ as Alexander McCall Smith says on the cover.
I’m very pleased to have been interviewed by Jenny Harper about writing serials, and about The Ferryboat (my People’s Friend serial now available as a large-print library book which I might possibly have mentioned before):