The February Reading Pile #ReadIndies

This month Kaggsy and Lizzy are hosting #ReadIndies month. I thought it could be fun to structure my February reading mainly around reading indie publishers, and it turns out I have books from quite a few independent publishers on my shelves waiting to be read. I think I managed to put together an interesting pile of books to read through this month.

My February to read pile

I think ten books might be a little ambitious but I read sixteen in January and we are still in lockdown so I’m hoping I manage. Only one re-read this month, and it’s Return of the King, so we will see if I cave and reach for a comfort re-read or two before the end of the month.

I’ve also been in touch with an old friend, and we’ve rather re-kindled our friendship via instant messaging about books which has been nice. She makes me look like I hardly read anything, but that’s a pleasant switch from my normal conversations where people often look askance at the amount of reading I do. We decided to do a bit of a book exchange and I received The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde since she knew I was trying to read more classics this year. She also sent me One Day by David Nicholls as a bit of a wildcard as she wasn’t sure if I normally read romance.

It was really exciting to receive books in the post, especially when I didn’t know what the package would contain. I did know of both books though so I’m hoping the next parcel might contain something completely unheard of by me. Still, I am Scottish so I definitely need to remedy the fact that I haven’t read any Robert Louis Stevenson.

On to the indies! I managed to pick seven different independent publishers off of my shelves for this month’s reading.

Greyladies publishing with Near Neighbours by Molly Clavering. I haven’t read any of this author before but she’s also Scottish and I always like to read more Scottish Authors where I can. Greyladies describe their output as “well-mannered books by ladies long gone”. I have a few of their books on my shelves and I loved Little G by E. M. channon which was a sweet, humorous romance: a cantankerous mathematician falling in love for the first time. I’m hoping Near Neighbours has more of that gentle humour.

Girls Gone by Publishing is a publisher I have been reading from for years now. I have a soft spot for girls own stories and GGBP have made so many of these available where it would never have been possible to get hold of one of the rare, expensive original editions. As well as allowing me to flesh out my collection of Elinor M Brent-dyer, they introduced me to Gwendoline Courtney and Clare Mallory who have become favourite comfort reads of mine. Clare Mallory held Josephine Elder’s works, Evelyn Finds Herself in particular, in such high esteem that one of her books is dedicated to her. I have a weakness for books mentioned in books and so I had to get hold of a copy of this. I’m looking forward to trying Josephine Elder’s work and Evelyn Finds Herself seemed like a worthy addition to this month’s pile.

Manchester Happened by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is a collection of short stories based around Ugandan immigrants living in Manchester. I struggle a bit with short stories, and tend to have to space them out so I have started this already and read the first two stories in the collection. It’s well written so far, and I’m guessing takes place over a wide span of years. I’d never heard of the publisher One World. From their website:

“Our fiction list showcases intelligent, challenging, and distinctive novels that sit at the intersection of the literary and the commercial: emotionally engaging stories with strong narratives and distinctive voices. In addition to being beautifully written, we hope our novels play their part in introducing the reader to a different culture or an interesting historical period/event, and deeply explore the human condition in all its vagaries.”

I have been wanting to read Charles Lamb’s letters and essays for years. Charles and Mary Lamb seem so interesting to me. I have had this lovely Hesperus Classics edition of Essays of Elia on my bookshelf for too many years unread. I hope that this is the month I finally read it. First published serialised from 1820, I am curious if his essays still have a relevance to today. It’s a lovely copy, and if I actually follow through on my plan to read more Classics this year, I would definitely consider buying some of their editions.

Similarly, my Alma Classics edition of The Government Inspector by Nikolai Gogol is a lovely looking paperback. I was a little intimidated by this, a comedic Russian play from 1836. It’s definitely outside of my comfort zone! But I’m also excited for it, and I really hope I enjoy it. Interestingly, only around 40% of their titles were originally published in English. I love the idea of making more global classics available. I will definitely be looking out for more of their books.

I couldn’t possibly not include a Dean Street Press/ Furrowed Middlebrow title on this list. I’ve been reading the Furrowed Middlebrow blog for years, and getting access to the titles that have been recently republished has been a delight. A Chelsea Concerto and The Dancing Bear were some of my favourite reads of the last five years and more recently I’ve enjoyed being introduced to authors like Doris Langley Moore and Winifred Peck. It was a toss up for me which novel to include in this list, and although I can’t wait to get my hands on Margery Sharp’s Stone of Chastity I’ve had Elizabeth Fair’s Bramton Wick on my shelves for a long time now and I’m looking forward to finally reading it.


Another Bundle of Books

I really am getting into reading again, it’s great. My mental health has definitely improved with a nice healthy combination of reading and exercise (diet, what diet?). I burned through my first mini pile of books this year and have happily picked out a second.

We’ll see how long this lasts but for the moment it’s having a healthy effect on my physical to read pile (I’m still in denial about my kindle TBR). It won’t last but I am hoping to drastically reduce my TBR this year. At the start of January there were 131 books on my shelves unread… I want it under 50 by the end of the year, but I’ll settle for getting it under 100.

Anyway, there is only one January buy in this bundle. The rest has been pulled from my shelves. Really looking forward to this mix.

Verdict of Thirteen: A Detection Club Anthology- Various. A bit of light, easy reading I hope. Although I can struggle with short story collections.

Little Boy Lost- Marghanita Laski. A re-read for me. I’m really looking forward to this book set in post-war France. I don’t remember an awful lot about this outside of the basic premise.

The Godmother-Hannelore Cayre. A French thriller, that I think might take me a little outside of my reading comfrt zone, but I’m hoping for some dark humour. I’m really looking forward to this one.

Running in the Family- Michael Ondaatje. Unfortunately I haven’t read any of his novels, but I’m looking forward to this memoir about re-visiting his Sri-Lankan childhood.

Nineteen Eighty-four – George Orwell. I thought it was about time to correct the fact that I haven’t read this yet. Not sure how I made it to my thirties without having read it before. I really enjoyed Down and Out in Paris and London when I read it last year so I am looking forward, if slightly intimidated, to this.

The Day Watch- Sergei Lukyanenko. The sequel to the Night Watch which I enjoyed last year. I do like an urban fantasy novel, and I found the Russian setting really enhanced my enjoyment. A rare work in translation for me.

Of course, capping off with my ongoing goal of re-reading Lord of the Rings. I think Two Towers is my favourite part, so I am looking forward to this, but might take a slight break between finishing Fellowship and starting this.

Does anyone else find planning a set pile of books to read helps them to read more? I think I enjoy picking out the pile almost as much as I do reading them!

(I forgot to post this when I meant to so expect to see a follow up post within the next week or so!)

My January Reads

I’ve not been blogging frequently for a while now, but I have at least been reading a lot. Importantly, for me, I feel like I am really starting to enjoy reading again: anticipating each new read; making sure to make time to read every day.

I think if I’m honest with myself, it might be a while before I get properly back in the swing of blogging, but baby steps I guess! I am having a lot of fun with my reading just now though and I am trying to challenge myself a bit. Last year, I mostly read froth. I think given the last year that’s totally acceptable, but I think I’m ready now to get a bit more out of my reading.

The last couple of months, I’ve made myself a little pile of books which I’ve then worked through over the following few weeks. Surprisingly, this has worked really well for me. As well as making sure there is at least a little bit of non-fiction and a classic or a modern classic, I know myself well enough to add in a couple of re-reads and something light.

The Assassin’s cloak is a massive affair, and the entries are arranged in day order from January 1st, although each day jumps around the years. It is fascinating so far, but I am going to spread it out and just read the corresponding month at a time, so I’m not expecting to finish this until December.

Lord of the Rings and Howl’s Moving Castle were both re-reads. I hadn’t read either of them since my teens I don’t think. I only aimed to read Fellowship this month and I think that was the right decision. I have enjoyed it, but it took a while to get going and I really don’t blame Peter Jackson for some of the editing he did in the films. Howl came to my mind, because I had recently seen the Studio Ghibli film for the first time. Another great adaptation in my mind, although quite different in parts from the book. I loved this book, about a young girl in a land far away who gets cursed to become an old woman, and who suddenly finds great freedoms from this. I think I actually enjoyed this read of it more than when I originally read it.

Do you ever buy books purely because they were mentioned in another book? That’s how I ended up with Travel Light, a children’s fantasy story from the 1950s by a prolific Scottish author I’d never heard of. It was mentioned in one of the letters in the sci-fi novel This is How You Lose the Time War. I’m glad I read it, but I can’t say I got as much from it as the authors of the above did.

First of my two non-fiction reads was Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race. I think a lot of people will have already read this. While it is very readable, it’s definitely a difficult read, and although it’s fairly short I read this across December and January. I think it was important for me to take time to think about and digest this between chapters. Whilst I would like to think as a person I am anti-racist, and I was certainly aware of the concept of white privelege, I think I needed to read this to become more aware of just what I take for granted in life. Left me with a lot to think about, and some self-analysis. I would strongly recommend this book.

My other non-fiction read was When Breath Becomes Air. A surgeon in his mid-thirties is diagnosed with terminal cancer. This book was beautifully written, as much about living your life to its fullest as it was about trying to accept our mortality. The afterword by his wife was particularly beautiful. And I found thread’s of hope all through this short book.

I managed a few short modern classics too. Firstly, Bridge of the San Luis Rey. I really wanted to enjoy this-I liked the premise, and the settings, and some of the characters were very well drawn, but I just couldn’t quite connect with it. I think it might be one for me to read again in another year or two to see if I engage with it more.

I’m not quite sure when in the last year I became a Steinbeck fan, but I definitely have. Like many others I’m sure I read Of Mice and Men at about fourteen in school. I thought it was good but it didn’t leave me feeling a need for any more Steinbeck in my life. Cannery Row was one of my absolute favourite reads last year- I wasn’t quite expecting it to be so humorous. I read Travels with Charley last year as well which I was admittedly more ambivalent about. But I started the year with The Moon is Down, and it’s really a good novella. It was a propaganda novel published in the early 40s that apparently was heavily critisiced for portraying the enemy as human rather than caricatures, but was hugely popular and was published illicitly by various resistance movements in different occupied countries-the afterword in my edition was fascinating and really added to my enjoyment of the novella as a whole. I don’t think this will be my last Steinbeck of the year.

I’m pretty happy with my reading progress so far this month, and as you can see from this post I managed to finish all of these before the end of the month. I’ve started on another bundle which I will post about in the next few days.

How is everyone else enjoying reading in this latest lockdown?

Nonfiction November: Week Two. Book pairings

Week two is all about book pairings. I am of course still running behind- but getting a bit closer to the recommended post days I think!

Throughout the month of November, Katie @ Doing Dewey, Julie @ Julz Reads, Leann @ Shelf Aware, and me, Rennie, invite you to put nonfiction at the top of your reading list with us. Each week’s prompt will be posted at that host’s blog on Monday with a link-up where you can link your post on the topic throughout the week.

Week 2: (November 9-13) – Book Pairing (Julie @ Julz Reads): This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

I think this is really interesting and I’ve spent a fair bit of time thinking about this, I hope my book pairings are of interest. Please let me know if you think there are other works of fiction that would work better with this selection of non-fiction. I would be really interested to hear other ideas.

The most recent nonfiction read of mine has also been one of my favourites of the year. Ryszard Kapuściński’s The Shadow of the Sun details this Polish journalist’s life in Africa over a number of decades. He was Poland’s first correspondent in Africa and covered news in many countries over many years. This book is particularly fascinating as it starts in the 60s and 70s when many nations were becoming independent. He also focuses on the minutiae of life. One of the countries he writes about is Nigeria, detailing the busy, overcrowded life in Lagos, where he lives for a while. I have two books by Nigerian authors and set in Lagos on my to read list and I’m really excited to read both. Both seem to deal with the hustle and bustle of life in Lagos. Cyprian Ekwensi’s Jagua Nana is the authors most famous novel published in 1961. It describes the life of hedonism of the title character in Lagos. My other pairing is more modern, Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister the Serial Killer. This was published in 2019 and was longlisted for the Booker prize. Its meant to be a fast paced and funny thriller, and I think the premise is fairly clear from the novel’s title. I’m intrigued.

On a different note, I also enjoyed reading Ben MacIntyre’s Agent Zigzag and Doublecross. Both are about allied spies and double agents during the Second World War and spend time in various parts of Europe. At the start of Agent Zigzag, Eddie Chapman is imprisoned on Jersey and is still there at the time of the German occupation. Whilst the first novel I am pairing this with is set on Guernsey, it does take a look at the effects the occupation had on the inhabitants of the Channel Islands. As such I am pairing this read with the lovely epistolary novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows.

My second pairing is Elinor M. Brent-Dyer’s The Chalet School in Exile. This might initially seem like a strange pairing but this children’s novel published in 1940 charts the rise of Nazism in Austria and the need for the school to escape to Great Britain and eventually settle in Guernsey. So there is another channel Islands connection, as well as a daring escape through Europe, and in the second half of the novel a Nazi spy infiltrates the Chalet School.

Nonfiction November- My Year in Non- Fiction. A Late Week One Entry

I have been terrible at posting this year. I’m not really mad at myself- after all, the whole world has had a weird year. But I have read some great books this year and it seems a shame not to share at least some of them. I don’t normally read a great deal of non-fiction. I’ve been trying to get some good stuff out of this year though and part of that has been really trying to broaden my reading horizons. See here for my foray into science fiction.

I’ve been trying to read at least one non-fiction work a month this year, and whilst I haven’t necessarily stuck to that exactly, checking back I have read fifteen works of non-fiction this year which for me is pretty good. The range of topics covered could definitely be broader, but that can be something to work on in 2021.

No surprises here, I didn’t realise Non-fiction November was running until after it started so I will probably be posting each week slightly (a lot) late but I’ll try and post them all before the end of the month.

Each week’s prompt will be posted at that host’s blog on Monday with a link-up where you can link your post on the topic throughout the week.

This year’s schedule:

Week 1: (November 2-6) – Your Year in Nonfiction (Leann @ Shelf Aware): Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

I like a list so here is my non-fiction reading so far for 2020.

February: Spam Tomorrow- Verily Anderson

March: Agent Zigzag- Ben MacIntyre; To War with Whitaker- Hermione Ranfurly; Shakespeare- Bill Bryson

April: The Moon’s a Balloon– David Niven

May: I am, I am, I am- Maggie O’ Farrell

June: Hidden Figures- Margot Lee Shatterley; Born a Crime- Trevor Noah

July: Travels with Charley-John Steinbeck

August: Down and Out in Paris and London- George Orwell; No Woman’s World: From D-day to Berlin- Iris Carpenter;

September: Wishful Drinking- Carrie Fisher

October: Double Cross- Ben MacIntyre

November: The Shadow of the Sun, My African Life- Ryszard Kapuściński

I can’t lie this list contains a plethora of memoirs- but sometimes I find they can be the most interesting way of learning about concepts/ times/ places I am not familiar with. Nonetheless- I definitely need to read some more scholarly works too. Another ambition for 2021 perhaps?

I find the Second World War, and women’s role in it fascinating. I read a lot of contemporary fiction from that era too. So it’s no surprise to me that I found Anderson and Ranfurly’s accounts fascinating. Ben MacIntyre was a new to me author this year and his works read almost like novels to be galloped through. Double Cross and Agent Zigzag both cover the stories of allied spies and double (triple?) agents and their role in the wars outcome and were both eminently readable. I have one of his accounts of the cold war on my kindle awaiting a read. I think however my favourite Second World War read of the year was Iris Carpenter’s account of her time as a female journalist on the front. My kindle version didn’t have any references and I did get a little bogged down in all the names- of people and divisions. Carpenter clearly expected all of these names to be familiar to the reader. However, her story was fascinating and I would highly recommend, for both the insight into what it meant to be a journalist (male or female) at the front but also for a view of what came after liberation.

My favourite piece of non-fiction this year was hands down Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime. I have recommended this to everyone since reading it. If you haven’t read it- I really would recommend. Noah describes his life in post-aparteid South Africa with humour. The book is entitled Born a Crime because Noah has a white Father and a black xhosa Mother. Its eminently readable and despite the subject matter genuinely funny in parts. At the same time it doesn’t gloss over anything, and is a book I’m inclined to think everyone would gain something from.

Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris in London sent me scurrying of to add more Orwell to my bookshelves. I found this to be unputdownable although there were several months between my reading of his account of eking out a living in the slums of Paris and his account of his brief homelessness in London. This book was published in 1933 and is a sometimes harrowing, sometime funny account of life in poverty in these two cities at this time.

#scifi month – dipping my toe in the water

I very rarely read any science fiction. Ilona Andrews kinsman novellas and multi-genre Innkeeper books are about my limit generally. However, I have been trying to read more broadly and diversely this year and this has included being open to book recs for genres that would normally pass me by.

I tend to have at least one print and one kindle book on the go at any time. In a surprisingly fortunate coincidence the novels I am currently reading in each media are both Scifi. I am going to try and pretend I didn’t buy each of these for their title alone.. . And it wouldn’t be a complete lie. They have both received good reviews. But at the end of the day, how can you not buy a book entitled This is how You Lose the Time War?

I was flicking through my posts to read on WordPress and lots of #scifi month posts were peppered through my feed. It seemed like such a strange coincidence when I am currently dipping my toe into the genre, so I figured I had better put a post up.

The first book I’m reading is This is how You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Goldstone. I always wonder how co-authoring works. Do they each take a character or sections or is the whole book written together? I love that my copy of Good Omens has an afterword about this. I feel like every book should.

The synopsis on the inside cover states:

“Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.

Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?”

Physically, its a lovely book. Even better it’s epistolary. I love an epistolary novel, this one is a bit different- each short chapter ends in a letter (or at least that is the case in the first third of the book which I have so far read). As the title suggests there is a lot of jumping around in time; as two rival agents on different sides of a war both try to win ultimate victory for their side by meddling with the timelines. I think it is a little bit cheeky of me to say this feels different and original- I read so little science fiction. How on earth would I know? But I am really enjoying this so far, and it’s rather different for me.

One of my initial timid attempts at Science Fiction during lockdown was a Becky Chambers novella, To be Taught if Fortunate. The recommendation I had been given was actually for the first wayfarers book, but I sometimes find long novels intimidating and decided on the stand alone novella instead. I’ve finally decided to brave that initial space opera novel The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. I must say, I find this to be another excellent title.

The synopsis on the back cover reads:

“When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The ship, which has seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past.

But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptillian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. Life on board is chaotic, but more or less peaceful – exactly what Rosemary wants.

Until the crew are offered the job of a lifetime: the chance to build a hyperspace tunnel to a distant planet. They’ll earn enough money to live comfortably for years… if they survive the long trip through war-torn interstellar space without endangering any of the fragile alliances that keep the galaxy peaceful.

But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.”

I’ve decided I can justify 500+ pages because not only has it been recommended to me several times but I keep hearing/ reading buzzwords like ‘heartwarming’ and ‘optimistic’. I kind of feel like that is what I need right now. I’ve really not read much of this yet. However, so far it is very readable and I’m getting a bit of a Firefly vibe.

Let’s see if my science fiction experiment is a success. Have you read either of these? Are you a fan of the genre?

The Baby-sitters Club

So, a few weeks ago, I was having a bad week. I was self isolating for seven days and stuck in the house and slowly going mad. Work, which I normally hate, has been one of the few things letting me have a semblance of normality i.e. sanity.

I couldn’t face anything, even reading. I tore apart my bookcases (they are double depth) trying to find something, anything. Even my old friends: the Anne books and the Chalet School series, normally there for every minor crisis wouldn’t do. Finally, in the very back of the bottom shelf in my dining room I found something to read. The Baby-sitters Club is a series of over a hundred books, plus super specials plus mystery books and super mysteries. When I was a kid I devoured books and discovered the baby-sitters club. At one time I must have owned at least 50 of them, and read even more borrowed from the library.

Apparently, I kept some of the specials and mysteries. The series was originally written by Ann M. Martin and then at some point the series was taken over by ghost writers. The essential premise is that a group of 13 year old girls (and occasionally one boy) babysit for their local community and are also best friends. They are fairly formulaic but are enlivened by Claudia Kishi’s outrageous fashion sense and odd moments of humour and surprising insightfulness. Even if every single book has an identical chapter at the start describing each of the characters.

Each chapter is written in first person, and in the specials the character narrating changes from chapter to chapter. The first page of each chapter is “written” in that character’s handwriting. The baby-sitters actually even have distinct-ish characters.

In three days I read: one of the original series, two super specials, four super mysteries, and four of the newer series “baby-sitter forever” (the ease of Amazon and the Kindle app is both a blessing and a curse). They were easy, light and they kept me from going insane. After binging the mysteries I even graduated to some classic crime, and some Girl’s own novels.

They were surprisingly enjoyable. I dare say I’ve learnt the wrong lesson but I’m taking this to mean never get rid of books.

And, of course, that it’s okay to just concentrate on getting through this time however we can.

Some parting thoughts:

  • I really can’t read Jessi’s hand-writing. How on earth did I decipher these when I was eight?
  • Claudia, you are definitely my favourite member of the BSC. The artyness, hiding Nancy Drew books around your room, the completely out there fashion.
  • Maybe I was an irresponsible thirteen, but I really can’t imagine anyone trusting me to babysit their small children at that age, and Jessi and Mal are only eleven!
  • The more modern Baby-sitters forever series tries to modernise things a bit, but I actually think the original books don’t feel that dated.
Did anyone else read these when they were younger? Who was your favourite of the baby-sitters?

Book Review: Bath Tangle by Georgette Heyer

I haven’t read much Heyer and wasn’t aware until I finished that this is one of her least liked books. I just bought it because it was on offer on the Kindle.

This is one of her regency books and there is certainly a tangle between the various men and women falling in love in this novel. I’m not sure I can review this without spoilers, so please be aware that there will be spoilers throughout this review, but I will try not to talk too much about the ending.

Whilst the end pairings resulting from the tangle are entirely predictable I found this novel going a different way than I expected time and time again.

The main character is Serena, the fiercely independent daughter of the Earl of Spenborough. The novel opens just after the death of the Earl. This is an intriguing start that had me wanting to read more straight away. Serena’s Mother died in childbirth and she was brought up by her eccentric and extremely wealthy Father with little restrictions. Her Father re-married and married a woman younger than Serena.

I immediately expected this to be an antagonistic relationship, but in fact the young widow is very innocent and shy and is very friendly with Serena.

At the will reading it turns out that all of Serena’s considerable wealth has been unexpectedly tied up with a guardian and she has been left access to pin money only. [As an aside £600 is probably more than I spend a year on clothes, hair, etc now so it must have been a considerable amount at the time]. The only way to gain access to her money again is to marry a man that her guardian approves of. This is all only made worse when she finds out that her guardian is Ivo, her childhood friend and the man she had previously been engaged to but had jilted close to their wedding date.

Serena throws a bit of a temper tantrum on finding all of this out and we immediately see why she left Ivo, they are very antagonistic to each other and constantly argue and enrage each other. Ivo is abrasive and sees no need to follow polite social conventions. I expected that each would have a redemption arc before ending up together at the end of the novel but I was only half right, and that is where I ended up having issues with this novel.

Ivo and Serena are not pressed together by circumstance to rediscover each other as I expected, instead Serena sets up house with her Stepmother, Fanny, in the Dower house. We see Serena struggling with the quiet life, in mourning at the Dower house, and even more with seeing the changes her cousin is making to the estate.

In the end she is eager to leave the estate she grew up in and Fanny and Serena decide to set up for a few months in Bath. Enter, the first complication to the plot in Major Hector Kirkby, whom Serena was not allowed to pursue a relationship with given their different social positions. She confesses to Fanny that Hector was the only man, amongst the many she has flirted with, that she has loved. It becomes clear that Hector has remained infatuated with her and has put her on a pedestal that Serena is very aware she does not deserve to stand on.

Hector and Serena become secretly engaged, not making it public as Serena is still in mourning. Their relationship is done very well by Heyer. Hector tries not to be bothered by Serena’s outgoing, boisterous ways and her lack of respect for proprietary. Serena in turn tries to be more like the gentle, country wife that Hector is looking for. It quickly becomes clear that they entered this relationship hastily.

Hector then finds out just how wealthy Serena will become when they marry and is dismayed by how much more wealthy she will be than him. Serena cannot see the issue and they fall out, particularly when Hector asks if the money can be tied up for their children so they do not have access to it.

Perhaps not on this scale, but even today one partner earning significantly more than the other can be a contentious issue. Heyer was also the main wage earner in her household so it is not hard to imagine that some of Serena’s frustration at her Father, Ivo and Hector is really Heyer voicing her feelings on the matter.

I think it would be easy to see Serena as hot-tempered and spoiled here but to continually have any possibity of independence or power held just out of her reach must have been incredibly frustrating. Being one of the wealthy elite has not actually brought her any happiness.

So far I was still very much enjoying this story. I felt social issues were being brought up and I felt sure Ivo and Serena would come together, and gradually learn to soften to each other. It is made clear that Ivo does not feel Serena needs any sheltering, and if he does come across quite brutally it seems likely that he will soften and become more responsible as the novel progresses.

The next addition to the tangle is Emily Laleham, the young seventeen year old daughter of a social climber who has been taking every opportunity through the novel to thrust her family into the spheres of Serena, Fanny and Ivo. Suddenly through the Bath gossip Serena and Fanny learn that Ivo and Emily have become engaged.

Serena is surprised but tries very hard not to think too much about the relationship. Fanny on the other hand is horrified. There is over twenty years between them and she worries that angry, powerful Ivo will be a terrifying husband for Emily.

Serena scoffs at this, which I think could again be seen as self-centeredness. The way I read it however was Heyer trying to show Serena’s true regard for Ivo- she doesn’t believe he could hurt someone like that. It does lead again to serious and interesting discussion around young, innocent brides- as indeed Fanny was. Serena thinks that if Emily didn’t want to marry Ivo she could have just said no. Fanny tries to explain that it is not that simple and that a girl may be compelled to agree. This is very effective at showing the different upbringings of the two girls as well as conveying potentially disturbing implications to Fanny and the Earl’s marriage if one reads into it at all- which is rather more depth than I was really expecting.

Up until this point I was really enjoying the novel, it was enjoyable but dealing with complex issues. But then I started to realise just how far through the book I was. There were a dwindling number of pages left in which for these characters to reform. I started to worry the whole ending was going to be rushed, particularly as lies and lovers became ever more tangled.

However, there is no rushed realisation of their increasingly atrocious behaviour, because there seems to be no redemption arc whatsoever. In my opinion, neither Serene or Ivo are particularly likeable in the final chapters.

I went from thoroughly enjoying the novel and being caught up in it, to being left with a slight distaste for the whole affair.

I’d love to hear people’s opinions in this book. Am I pushing my modern opinions into a book where they just don’t belong, or has anyone else been left dissatisfied with Bath Tangle?

On the plus side, this was published in 1955 and can contribute to my much neglected Century of Books challenge

Book Review: I am I am I am by Maggie O’Farrell

I really wanted to love this book. I was describing it to my other half whilst reading it, and couldn’t understand from my own description why I was just enjoying it but not loving it. I’m still not sure, perhaps the madness of the outside world hampered my enjoyment, I don’t know. Nonetheless, I will … Continue reading “Book Review: I am I am I am by Maggie O’Farrell”

I really wanted to love this book. I was describing it to my other half whilst reading it, and couldn’t understand from my own description why I was just enjoying it but not loving it. I’m still not sure, perhaps the madness of the outside world hampered my enjoyment, I don’t know. Nonetheless, I will gladly recommend this well written, engaging, emotional memoir. This is the story of O’Farrell’s life described through her brushes with death, told out of order, and with glimpses of her life peeking through each tale.

Her writing and descriptions are excellent, drawing me in and setting each scene well. Impressively, given the constant prescence of death throughout, this is not a depressing read. There are some scenes that are hard to read: the chapter about her first and subsequent miscarriages have really stuck with me. Despite this there is a love of life and a sense of humour throughout.

I had picked this up on a kindle offer some time ago, and when I went to read this I only skimmed the description prior to starting the book. Somehow, I missed the key word of memoir on the cover. I spent far more of the book than I should probably admit thinking this was a novel. If nothing else hopefully that proves the book is certainly readable and not at all dry! I’m embarrassed to admit that I started to lose interest after a while finding the number of near misses too high, the style a little gimmicky and some of the brushes with death a bit unbelievable-following one after another as they did.

Knowing it is a memoir, has instead left me impressed at the author’s resilience. Although this is a memoir about near death experiences, the message to keep getting up and carrying on seems like a positive and apt one for the time we have found ourselves in.

Some parting thoughts:

  • That opening chapter is chilling when I think back on it.
  • I hope that I am right in saying, from my own experience, that the version of the NHS and consultants that the author describes no longer exists, or are very much in a minority.
  • I would be happy to hear any recommendations for this authors novels after reading her memoir.

Has anyone else read this? Did you enjoy it? Am I the only one who felt it read like a novel?

Book Review: Murder by Matchlight by E. C. R Lorac

He waited as she had bidden him, amusing himself by visualising the owner of the cheerful Cockney voice. A woman as old or older than himself, he judged (Macdonald was looking fifty in the face), a Londoner undoubtedly, one of the undaunted millions who take blackout and bombs in their stride, and prefer the hazards of those “twin b’s” to the “’orrible ’ush” of the safe countryside.

I haven’t read any of the British Library Crime Classics in a while despite the fact that I have enjoyed all the ones I have read so far. Murder by Matchlight is a recent re-publication of an author I had never heard of. I’m a fan of Golden Age crime fiction in general but this novel had an additional bonus for me- it was published in 1945 and is set during the war. It is an interesting novel and very readable, and I liked that the war time setting was integral to the plot. What made it truly fascinating though was the reality of it… This is a contemporary look at life in London during the Second World War. Blackouts and rationing are not new information to me of course but I feel there must be a realness to the way Lorac has her characters behave and feel given the publication date.

To add the last touch of grotesqueness to a grotesque night, Macdonald found that his share in the final rescue act (probably made, he reflected, at the risk of both their lives to judge from the creaks of the old house) was the salvaging of Mrs. Rameses’ silk stockings (in his pockets) and a quantity of her clothing (over his arm).

This mystery is investigated by Chief Inspector Macdonald after a man is murdered noiselessly in the dark of the blackout on a bridge in Regent’s Park. The mystery is made even more intriguing by the presence of two witnesses who initially kept their presence secret in the dark of the park and were then startled by the noise of the murdered Johnny Ward’s body falling.

The witnesses had only been able to hear what was happening as the only light in the park on this November night had been provided by Johnny briefly lighting a match in order to light his cigarette before he died.

An interesting cast of characters is quickly established as as well as the two witnesses, Johnny lived in a boarding house. As more is revealed about Johnny’s character and life it becomes clear that there could be multiple motives for his murder.

At first I was rather frustrated by the author seeming to use a number of coincidences to move the plot along but these were in fact explained convincingly as more was revealed.

The war time setting is used in the plot brilliantly, from the blackout adding a layer of possible deception to everything to the way that the suspects’ strength of character are seen through how they cope with living in London in wartime.

There are multiple episodes dealing with people being bombed out of their homes that adds a real depth to what could be just a pleasant, cosy read.

When Macdonald reached Dulverton Place the next morning, he was quite prepared for what he found: it seemed a logical continuity with the negative room. The short street still existed as a thoroughfare, but it ran through a level open space where small hummocks of rubble alone had been left by the demolition of bombed premises. There were acres of such open spaces between the Elephant and Castle and Camberwell Green. After one prolonged stare Macdonald made his way back to the main road and stopped the first Civil Defence worker he met. The C.I.D. man stated his identity and then, pointing to Dulverton Place he inquired: “When did that happen?”

“Last February,” was the answer. “Funny thing— that street survived all through the ’40–’ 41 blitz— never touched. Then on the night of February 10th a load of incendiaries came down on it. We got everybody out and put them in the big surface shelter at the end there— and then a big H.E. hit the shelter. Shocking business. Sheer bad luck.”

Macdonald nodded. “All that,” he said. “Some of them survive?”

“Oh yes. A surprising number. My God! I shan’t forget going in with the Rescue Squad… Some things you can’t forget.”

“I know,” said Macdonald, and for a few seconds they both stood in silence.

The mystery itself worked well and I would be tempted to read more of her work, even though it was the 1940s setting that sold me on this. I half guessed whodunit although not why and there were plenty of clues that I did not pick up on initially until they were made clear by the author.

It was a great pick for my 1945 read for A Century Of Books challenge and was the second book in a row I’ve read on my kindle and devoured in one sitting. If you like Golden Age crime or are interested in the Second World War it is well worth a read.

Fact is, I’m a bit tired of the case. It seems to me that the fact that one ne’er-do-well has met a violent end is not a matter of supreme importance in a world which is in the throes of a convulsion which may destroy civilisation itself before we’re through.