Thursday, 4 February 2021

Nine in January


I read nine books in January.


Snow and the Works on the Northern Line by Ruth Thomas

It’s been too long since Ruth Thomas’ last book, The Home Corner (2013) so I was delighted to see she had a new one out (and also that it was serialised on Radio 4).

She has such a sly wit; you are always on the edge of snorting with laughter. Here she pokes gentle fun at archaeologists, academia, museums and museum shops, and poetry classes. All of which ticked boxes for me.

Her Things to Make and Mend and short stories are also highly recommended.


The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

Read on Kindle. Like approximately 62,999,999 other people worldwide I watched Bridgerton and loved it. Will get round to reading the novels from which the series is made but in the meantime The Duchess Deal was touted as ‘for fans of Bridgerton’.

Here, the hero looking for a duchess to give him an heir wasn’t  a flawlessly good-looking young man – he’d been shockingly scarred on one side at the Battle of Waterloo and his former fianc√©e had run away screaming; understandably all that has made him reclusive and angry.

Emma is a struggling dressmaker who arrives at his house with the aforementioned fiance√©’s wedding dress for which she has not been paid and finds herself proposed to.

There are scenes later on, when the couple find themselves adrift in the back streets of London, which are reminiscent of Georgette Heyer – always a good thing.


10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak

Read on Kindle for book group. Short-listed for the Booker Prize in 2019.

Brothel-worker Tequila Leila’s has 10 minutes and 38 seconds to live. As her life ebbs away she remembers her unhappy, abusive childhood but also delicious, sensuous things – smells and tastes of life in the Middle East. And she remembers her five good friends who are, although she doesn’t know it, trying to find her; we learn more about each of those friends in turn. Lyrically written.



The Killings at Badger’s Drift by Caroline Graham

Read on Kindle. I’ve never seen Midsomer Murders but I know it’s the fictional crime capital of England. I read somewhere about the original novels that sparked the series; the article said how well written they were and that they had more depth than in their TV life.

Here, an elderly spinster dies in her own home which hardly seems suspicious but her doughty friend, the wonderfully named Miss Lucy Bellringer, is sure she was murdered. She manages to convince Chief Inspector Barnaby and soon the seamy side of tranquil Badger’s Drift becomes the focus of his attention. Excellent and satisfying …


A Place of Safety by Caroline Graham

… so I bought another one. This has a do-gooding ex-vicar giving ‘a place of safety’ to young offenders, some of whom are more reformed/reformable than others.

Barnaby is a great creation. Unlike many fictional policemen, he has a happy home life (his only ‘problem’ is that his wife is a really terrible, salad-burning, cook) and his actor daughter and son-in-law add interest.


Apple Island Wife: Slow Living in Tasmania by Fiona Stocker

I have been to Tasmania so I was looking forward to being there again vicariously by reading this account of a young British couple settling in a rural five acres of it and aiming to be self-sufficient, after busy working lives in urban mainland Australia.

I guess I hoped it would have a flavour of The Egg and I, a famous, comical account of two townies trying to live the dream and/or that it would have gorgeous writing like Island Wife, an account of moving to a Hebridean island.

But, compared to these, the telling of what this couple did was banal. They almost could have been anywhere, with wallabies. Some amusing small events are spun out to a numbing degree. There’s no exploring of the island other than their own little corner of it.

‘Apple Island’ makes for a pretty title but the name has not been appropriate for many decades, not since Britain joined the EEC (as it was then), stopped importing apples from Tasmania, causing the collapse of the industry. 

Oh – hang on a minute, maybe…


The Last Piece by Imogen Clark

Read on Kindle. When mother and grandmother Cecily suddenly ups and offs to a Greek island on her own for a week her three daughters are aghast, especially uptight Felicity who relies on her for some childcare.

Their dad knows why she’s gone but he’s not telling. And I’m not going to tell you either because that would be a big spoiler. But I can say that we go with Cecily to Greece and for a bit of her history, and also follow the sisters, two of whom are having dramas of their own back home.


The Saturday Morning Park Run by Jules Wake

Read on Kindle. Accountant Claire is trying to make partner in a prestigious firm and works round the clock. She has a lovely one-night stand with Armani-suited Ash but then he goes quiet. Visiting the doctor for a cut on her hand that isn’t healing, she finds herself signed off for a month with stress

She plans a few weeks of pottering around the house she’s bought but barely spent time in – but life has other ideas, firstly in the formidable shape of Hilda, an elderly woman in search of a project and a friend, secondly with the daughters of Claire’s wayward sister, and thirdly with a much-changed Ash. Oh, and park running.

Loved the multi-generational aspect of this, a real feel-good read.


The Cost of Living by Rachel Ward

This (punny) title kept popping up, waving to get my attention. And I’m very glad it did. It’s a cosy crime (well, the crimes, attacks on women connected to the supermarket, are far from cosy but the gory bits are well off stage).

The amateur sleuth is a bright twenty-year-old supermarket checkout girl called Bea, and her sidekick is the newest member of staff, the gormless-seeming Ant, with whom Bea was at school.

Terrific, and there are two more in the series, also with punny titles, to look forward to.

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

My year in books (maybe ... )


In school I was 



People might be surprised by 



I will never be 



My life in (full) lockdown was



My fantasy job is



At the end of a long day I need 



I hate 



I wish I had



My family reunions are 



At a party you’d find me with



I’ve never been to 



A happy day includes



The motto I live by



On my bucket list is



In my next life I want to have 



I’ve pinched this idea from a post on Joanne Baird’s terrific blog

She, in turn, was inspired by 746 books


How has your book year been?






Friday, 1 January 2021

Eleven in December

 I read eleven books in December.


The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser

Thea’s been made redundant, and her husband of twenty years has just left her. Salvation comes when she hears that a great-uncle she barely knew has left her his house in a small Scottish town (possibly based on Wigtown ?) – and a large collection of second-hand books.

Cue her relationship with the artistocratic (but reluctantly so) Edward who owns a second-hand bookshop in the town and has a commitment problem.

So far, so like many a romantic plot description … But Jackie Fraser gets deep into the hearts and souls of Thea and Edward, concentrating on them with no sub-plots to speak of, to show a totally believable relationship. I absolutely loved it.


Miss Plum and Miss Penny by Dorothy Evelyn Smith

Dorothy Evelyn Smith is one of those authors who was popular in the 40s and 50s but is now mostly forgotten. Engaging enough, but didn’t inspire me to read more. A pale imitation of Miss Pym.

Alison Penny is forty, single, doesn’t need to work, lives with her family’s old retainer, Ada, who treats her as if she were still a child – and Alison is perfectly happy with that arrangement.

Into her uneventful life comes friendless Miss Plum whom Alison prevents from throwing herself in the pond (or thinks she does) and so finds herself with a guest who outstays her welcome. Miss Plum (her life blighted apparently by her parents thoughtlessly christening her Victoria) eventually departs with the only real beau Alison has ever had but, not to worry, one of Ada’s shepherds pies will make everything all right again.


Home by Marilynne Robinson

Home, along with Gilead and Lila, formed a trilogy of award-winning books (which can be read in any order), set in the small town of Gilead in Iowa in the early 1950s. Then Marilynne Robinson, clearly reluctant to say goodbye to her characters, wrote a fourth, Jack, which came out this year. I succumbed to buying a hardback edition as Blackwell’s were offering (lockdown treat) to send out signed copies. But to refresh my memory of the Boughton family I reread Home first because Jack, chronologically, comes before it.


Jack by Marilynne Robinson

Jack Boughton is possibly fiction’s most heartbreaking character. He's one of the Rev Boughton’s eight children, and despite being much loved by them, he has not seen his family for years. He’s a bum, a petty thief, a drunk, living in a grotty rooming house in St Louis, just after WW2.

He’s clever, he’s musical, he has charm – there are so many times that things could have worked out well for him but his personality can’t allow that; he takes a wrecking ball to anything good.

But when he falls in love with a beautiful and good schoolteacher, Della, and his feelings are reciprocated, the wrecking ball comes from elsewhere – because Della is black and mixed-race relationships were illegal in Missouri (and other American states) at the time.

Like I said, heartbreaking.


Stolen Holiday by Lorna Hill

Needed a break after the intensity of Jack. I know from FB forums that I’m not the only one to have been rereading childhood books over the last few months and I bought a copy of this one through one of these forums. No jacket but that meant it cost £5 and not a ludicrous Marketplace price. Escapism on the wild coast of Northumberland.


The World of Elizabeth Goudge by Sylvia Gower

And so to a biography of Elizabeth Goudge who was a mega-selling author, mostly of historical novels, in her day; one of her books Green Dolphin Country was made into an MGM film. She still has fans as the re-publication of this biography proves.


Hot Winter Nights by Jill Shalvis

Lucas works for Hunt Investigations doing dangerous stuff; Molly is the office manager but wants to do dangerous stuff too. So when one of her elderly neighbours voices concerns about the owner of a nearby Santaland she decides to dress up as an elf and investigate. Their boss orders Lucas to keep an eye on her …


Christmas at Maldington by Anne Stenhouse

A My Weekly Pocket Novel; rightly described on the cover as a ‘great quick read’ and a ‘celebrity drama’. I liked that it was the female character who was the celebrity. Genni Kilpatrick, escaping from her London life which has turned toxic, and hoping for a peaceful time at Maldington House, is asked by local businessman (and stage lighting engineer) Paddy Delford to run the village panto.

Maldington House, in the north of England, was also the setting for A Debt for Rosalie; both available from the DC Thomson shop 0800 904 7260 (UK) or + 44 (0) 1382 575 322 (overseas).


The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

I expected Mr House of Games’ first novel to be good and so it proved. Passed Boxing Day afternoon and evening very nicely, thank you.


Death at Rainbow Cottage by Jo Allen

The fourth in the DCI Jude Satterthwaite mysteries was another page-turner in this series, set in Cumbria. Jude has a series of apparent random killings on his doorstep – and his personal problems are added to by the arrival of a new boss.


A Winter’s Dream by Sophie Claire

A return to the English village of Willowbrook, and to Provence, a delightful combination successfully used in The Forget-me-not Summer and The Christmas Holiday.

This time it’s timid Liberty who is centre stage along with Alex Ricard, the famous, thrill-seeking motorbike champion, who’s in Willowbrook to try to solve a family mystery.

On Liberty’s 30th birthday she resolves to be more open to new opportunities and invitations and to be braver (which includes taking in Alex as a lodger).

As research, author Sophie Claire also embarked on pushing herself out of her comfort zone, climbing a mountain and driving on the ‘other’ side of the road, for example.


A good lesson to learn and a positive and uplifting note on which to end this most challenging of years.