Top Ten Tuesdays: Books I Loved with Fewer than 2000 ratings on Goodreads

I must apologise. I wrote this post a few days ago and then completely forgot to schedule it. Work was frantic today then I had a leaving dinner for a colleague then came home to statistics drama (don’t ask!) so only remembered about this post just now.

Nonetheless it is still Tuesday… Just, which means I get to make a list! That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesdays lists give me an excuse to make a list each week.

I feel like this week’s list was made for me as I read a lot of lesser known authors.

Elizabeth of the Garret Theatre by Gwendoline Courtney

I loved this book so much when I read it. I read it for the first time a couple of years ago and I’ve read it several times since. It’s a great family story about four sisters getting a new Stepmother and it only has 48 ratings on Goodreads

Little G by E. M. Channon

This is another potential comfort read about a grumpy professor who is charmed against his will by the children next door and the young woman who helps to look after them. This was re-published a few years ago by Margin notes books and has since sadly gone back out of print. Impressively it doesn’t even seem to have an entry on Goodreads.

A Chelsea Concerto by Frances Faviell

I fell in love with this book. Every so often a book comes along that you literally cannot put down. For me this Memoir of life in Chelsea during the blitz and it’s sequel (which was actually written earlier) The Dancing Bear about life in Berlin just after the war were truly un-put-down-able. I am so glad they were re-published by Furrowed Middlebrow and Dean Street Press but I think it’s such a shame that both of these have less than a hundred ratings on Goodreads each.

Underfoot in Show Business by Helene Hanff

I’ll admit 84 Charing Cross Road (and its sequel the Duchess of Bloomsbury Street) are my favourites of Hanff’s work, but this is a humorous gem too about Hanff’s earlier working years. With 511 Goodreads ratings it’s clearer a lot less well known than some of her other works.

The Exiles by Hilary McKay

I loved this hilarious trio of books about four sisters when I was younger. I re-read this a few years ago in a fit of nostalgia and was still laughing out loud. Can’t believe this only has 850 Goodreads ratings, were Hilary McKay books not a part of everyone’s childhood?

The First Violin by Jessie Fothergill

I can’t even remember how I stumbled across this 1877 novel but I really loved this tale of an English girl who travels to Germany and falls in love with a mysterious German man. I can’t remember how I came upon this but I can’t believe it’s so little known these days and has only 75 Goodreads ratings… It deserves more.

Madensky Square by Eva Ibbotson

I’m not normally a fan of books involving infidelity but I loved this story. It’s also set in Vienna before the first World War so I was probably always going to adore this.

Gerald by Daphne Du Maurier

This biography of Gerald Du Maurier is rather interesting. Whether because Gerald seemed like an interesting character, because it was a biography written by his daughter or because his daughter was Daphne du Maurier, most likely a combination of all three but regardless this was an interesting read that somehow has only 77 ratings.

Bewildering Cares by Winifred Peck

This is another Furrowed Middlebrow reprint that I recently enjoyed about a week in the life of a Vicar’s wife in 1940. I think Peck definitely counts as a forgotten female author with just 86 ratings on Goodreads.

The Public Image by Muriel Spark

My recent introduction to Spark via this book sent me scurrying to find more of her work, but this is clearly not one of her more well known novels with only 547 ratings.

Some books that I wrongly thought might be under 2,000 ratings…

Deathless by Cathrynne M Valente- 2097 ratings

Flush: A Biography by Virginia Woolf- 4130 ratings

The School At the Chalet by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer- 3471 ratings

Come Tell Me How You Live by Agatha Christie Mallowan- 2535 ratings

Graveyard Shift by Angela Roquet- 6568 ratings


Top Ten Tuesdays: Favourite Couples in Books

It’s Tuesday, which means I get to make a list! That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesdays lists give me an excuse to make a list each week.

There are some really great couples portrayed in books, and I have no doubt that when I read everyone else’s lists I will realise even more that I have missed.

Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe. There are hints at this from the very first book, Anne of Green Gables and it all comes to a head in Anne of the Island, one of my favourite and most re-read comfort reads. I love how natural the two are together and I think they really balance each other out.

Charlotte De Ney and Richard Mar

I am a huge fan of all things Ilona Andrews, and they are masters of setting up characters with great chemistry. The obvious choice was to use Kate Daniels and Curran, the Beast Lord from the long “Magic” series where there is an undercurrent of will they/ won’t they in the first few books as well as an awful lot of arguing. There is something about Charlotte and Richard that appeals to me though. They are the main characters in Steel’s Edge, the final book of the Edge quartet, a series of standalone books set in the same world with some connecting characters. Both of them are tired, not old perhaps but certainly older, and definitely not expecting to find romance. Theirs is a romance that comes together despite all their hardships.

Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy

It might be cliche but I can’t not include these two. They were made for each other… When they get out of their own way of course. If you haven’t read Pride and Prejudice what are you waiting for?

Anne Elliott and Captain Wentworth

Yes, another Jane Austen couple, but if anyone deserves two entries it is Austen. Anne is really the opposite of Elizabeth Bennett in many ways, and is so very, very real, and that Letter. It takes a long time for these two to come together but that only adds to the feeling that these two are and will always be perfect for each other.

Nymphadora Tonks and Remus Lupin

Not everyone seems to be convinced of this couple who come together in the fifth Harry Potter The Order of the Phoenix but I have always found them convincing. Their romance is hidden in the pages of the latter Harry Potter books, lurking in the background, and everytime I re-read these books I always hoped to see more of it revealed. If anyone deserved a happy ending it was Professor Lupin, and despite his clear self-sabotaging I think he is a perfect match for Tonks- after all he was a Marauder.

Phebe Moore and Archie Campbell

Another romance that lurks a little in the background, is that of Archie and Phebe in Louisa May Alcott’s Rose in Bloom. Theirs is a quiet romance, or it would be if it were not for Archie’s family who do not believe that orphan Phebe is good enough for him. They fear that Phebe is taking advantage of all the help they have given their servant over the years. Phebe is heartbroken over this. I’ve always enjoyed the little moments we see of the two together and I enjoy this quiet romance.

Irina and Mirnatius

Perhaps a strange choice as these two are certainly not in love at the start of their marriage in Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver and I don’t think they are yet there at the end either, but there seems huge potential for the two to grow to love each other, both have been victims in a way and terribly lonely… Even if the fulfillment of this romance is just in my imagination I think they have the potential to be a great and powerful couple.

Juliet Ashton and Dawsey Adams

A post war setting; the delights of the other characters of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and most importantly a romance that come together through letters and reading.

Beauty and The Beast

This is my favourite fairytale and I love Robin McKinley’s re-telling: Beauty.

Ralph Hollis and Jessica Egerton-Smythe

I adored Cuckoo in the Nest when I was younger (I could probably do with re-reading it soon to be honest). I loved the theatre setting and the interesting cast of characters, and I always enjoyed the portrayal of these two characters.

I must have missed out so many great characters. Who are your favourite couples in books?

January Round up

For such a long month January has been rather pleasant. Although, admittedly towards the end rather diseased.

I’ve been reading…

-My first ever audio book was the must listen Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

-Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading made me smile, and I have to agree with her assertion that the world is divided into people who would be excited if a Tiger came to tea and those who would be dismayed.

-I finally got around to reviewing my first Nora Ephron book

-I had a lot of fun with Gwendoline Courtney’s 1940 adventure story The Grenville Garrison, which has surprisingly strong female characters.

I’ve been listening…

Perhaps I should have been listening to something louder in this rather listless month but I’ve been loving Nina Simone’s Nina Sings the Blues which I return to every so often.

I’ve been eating…

If anyone finds themselves up in the Highlands of Scotland I must recommend visiting the small town of Grantown-on-Spey which is less touristy than Aviemore and which has a lovely high street (with a bookshop!). I was here just after New Year and went for a light lunch at The High Street Merchant, whose walls are covered in local art and whose food is truly delicious. Smoked chicken risotto… Homemade spicy houmous… Crab pasta… So yummy!

I’ve been watching…

I still haven’t managed to get to see The Favourite despite the good reviews but I did go to see Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse with the other half.

Now I have seen rather a lot of these comic book movies. Some have been good, some great fun and some bloody awful.

This is animated, all bright colours and comic book tropes and I just fell in love with it. It’s a really good story, some good acting, a menacing villain with an actual backstory and was just fun. It has to be one of the best of this genre of movies.

Book Review: Bookworm- a Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan.

A tiger who just turns up, without any explanation or invitation, and stays for tea? BOUNDARIES, PEOPLE. My sense of propriety was offended and the promise of domestic sanctity, upon which my childhood tranquillity largely depended had been breached. There are two types of people in this world – those who long for the

arrival of a tiger at the door and those whose profoundest wish is that nothing so unexpected happens, ever. Ever, ever, ever.

After a brief moment at the start when I was unsure of her humour and then a terrifying moment in the middle when I thought we were going to fall out over Anne Shirley I realised I had found a kindred bookworm and fell down and worshipped this book.

This is a memoir of Mangan’s childhood told via her reading experiences. As she grows older the nature of the books change but we see what they meant to her at that time and learn a little about Mangan’s life along the way. For some reason at first her light, slightly sarcastic humour annoyed me but as I settled into the book it grew on me and it was clear her passion for these books and reading was real and not the mocking I think I read it as in the opening pages.

I love that she assigns as much importance and time to Sweet Valley High as she did to the Classics. It makes it real. I love that every book is a reading copy and that she still has them all. And I really love that she still re-reads these books from her childhood. Throughout, there was a constant refrain in my head of “me too”.

Our books of choice differed in places but the real love and passion for these books, and how they have helped to form who she is today meant that I was drawn in by the whole memoir regardless of the book being discussed.

I read Nancy Drew mysteries and Baby-sitters Club books rather than Sweet Valley High and being that bit younger Harry Potter was of course part of my formative reading where it was missing from Mangans. Yet I was also blown away and changed irrevocably by Goodnight Mister Tom at about the age of eleven. Dimsie and the Abbey Books may have disappeared from libraries by the time I was visiting them but various of the Chalet School books were still there and I couldn’t stop picking them up.

Then there were the little points, that those not a bookworm would not understand. The immediate, overwhelming need to read a book immediately, right now, must finish is conveyed very well. The excitement of a new book by a previously unheard of author; the even bigger excitement of a previously unheard of book by a favourite author.

Ah – ‘skein’. This was my first meeting with the word. It looked strange then and it looks strange now. But I stomped off to ask Dad what it meant and so bent it to my will. It has not come in particularly useful since, but if you make usefulness your metric for life it will not be much of a life. I know this because in all fields other than words it is my metric, and I have had no life at all.

I think though, my favourite part of this book (and I imagine anyone reading this post, or who has even heard of this blog must be a fellow book lover) is that it is not a literary exercise. It is not a best of list. It is personal, sure objectively speaking some titles may have more worth than others, but the volumes included here are the books of this person’s childhood and helped to form who they became. They are particularly memorable for when they were read, or one little memorable sentence, or the time they evoke. Every book we read is a part of us and has helped to make us who we are.

If I was ever to get introspective I imagine Brent-dyer, Rowling, Alcott, Montgomery, Magorian, McKinley et al probably had rather a lot to do with who I am today.

I really would recommend this to anyone who is a bit of a bookworm themselves, I think regardless of your personal taste in books there is something to be found and enjoyed here, and it is a rather joyous book to read.

I’ve been in a little bit of a book rut recently, but this has rekindled my passion for reading nicely even if as a 2018 publication it is a duplication year for my Century of Books.

In the first chapter of the first of the thirty-nine books of the series (yes, thirty-nine. My finances would be put under severe strain, but a completist learns to live with it)

Book Review: The Grenville Garrison by Gwendoline Courtney

This adventure story published in 1940 was my saviour when I was off sick recently. The perfect antidote to being stuck in bed with a nasty bug. Although considering my tally for A Century of Books has not yet reached double figures I was both impressed and dismayed to find out that this and my other most recent read were duplicate years. I guess I need to start paying attention to publication dates before I pick up reads.

I fell in love with Courtney’s Elizabeth of the Garret Theatre, which has recently been republished by Girl’s Gone By under its original title Stepmother, when I read it last year. Sadly, for me this The Grenville Garrison is not in the same league but that didn’t stop me enjoying it.

At the start of this story we are introduced to the Grenvilles who are about to start their summer holidays.

Helen and Audrey meet their brothers Edward and Roy, and their cousin Nigel at the train station on their way back from school. It turns out that their parents are out of the country visiting Nigel’s father who is the ambassador to Czeravia. Unwilling to have their children visit them as there is a possibility of revolution in Czeravia the adults decide that the children are old enough to stay on their own for the summer months.

As if these teens (and their two dogs) spending their summer without adult supervision in a cottage on an island on the river running through the Marquess of Hatherfield’s land is not enough to build a story on, Sir Hatherfield also has a mysterious young companion staying with him.

Then Sir Hatherfield disappears and young Nigel overhears some suspicious strangers plotting in Czeravian. After that there is much danger for each of the Grenvilles as they becoming involved in protecting the Czeravian monarchy.

Yes the plot is as daft as I have made it out to be. Yes it is pretty predictable. No there is no in depth characterisation- the Grenvilles are plucky and honourable and the villains nasty and somewhat incompetent. For all that though it was fun, and the female characters are just as plucky, honourable and courageous as their brothers.

In fact, Helen, the oldest of the girls, rescues her brother, swims in the river in complete darkness and calmly ignores her brothers and any other boys when they try to protect her. They all look to her for help and she comes up with half of their plans. She rows her brothers about, keeps watch in the small hours, and although she doesn’t like the idea of shooting at people is the acknowledged best shot of all the Grenvilles.

I was worried when I started this that Helen and Audrey would be all about the housekeeping while the boys were out adventuring. I should have had more faith in Courtney.

Although I must admit I really wasn’t expecting the guns. There is a whole chapter on how they smuggle the guns into their “garrison” on the island and then they actually shoot people. I must say for a somewhat predictable read I wasn’t expecting that. Audrey, the youngest, isn’t given a rifle because only seniors are allowed to join the rifle club at school and Audrey isn’t old enough to join, which I suppose does seem like a sensible policy, relatively speaking!

This isn’t where I would start with Courtney: I really did fall in love with Elizabeth of the Garrett Theatre and Sally’s Family is also excellent. On the other hand if you come across a copy or are already a Gwendoline Courtney fan it’s well worth picking up. Even if it is just to see a 1940 heroine as bold as her brothers and, perhaps even rarer, who is respected for this by all the male characters in the novel.

“But I don’t think you understand,” Charles said earnestly. “Perhaps if there were just you three boys I might- who knows- accept your help gladly. But you have girls with you, and there might be- in fact I am afraid it is a case of there will be- danger.”

“That’s all the more reason why we can’t leave you in the lurch,” Edward declared, and more murmurs of approval came from the others. “And- well I don’t know about your country, of course, but in these days in England the girls prefer to take their chance with us.”

Rather!” Audrey exclaimed, perching on the table again. “You aren’t keeping me out of any of the fun I tell you!”

“Of course not,” Helen agreed. “We are all in this, Charles, and you are not getting rid of us, even if you want to.”

Book Review: I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Thoughts on Being A Woman by Nora Ephron

Anything you think is wrong with your body at the age of thirty-five you will be nostalgic for at the age of forty-five.

The 2006 read for my A Century of Books challenge, was a somewhat hasty choice. I hadn’t read many books in December and I needed some light relief amongst the stress of the month. When this came on offer on the kindle it seemed like a great choice. After all, I was already familiar with several of Ephron’s films.

This collection of essays is loosely tied together by the idea of getting older and also about becoming your own person and being comfortable in your own skin. However, I didn’t feel there was a lot of substance to most of these and whilst some of them were funny there didn’t feel as though there was any depth to them, as though Ephron was keeping the reader at a distance.

Although she does talk a little about reading, which I enjoyed, and I certainly agreed with her description about being engrossed in a good book.

Halfway through, I return to New York to work, to finish a movie, and I sit in the mix studio unable to focus on anything but whether my favorite character in the book will survive. I will not be able to bear it if anything bad happens to my beloved Marian Halcombe. Every so often I look up from the book and see a roomful of people waiting for me to make a decision about whether the music is too soft or the thunder is too loud, and I can’t believe they don’t understand that what I’m doing is Much More Important. I’m reading the most wonderful book. There’s something called the rapture of the deep, and it refers to what happens when a deep-sea diver spends too much time at the bottom of the ocean and can’t tell which way is up. When he surfaces, he’s liable to have a condition called the bends, where the body can’t adapt to the oxygen levels in the atmosphere. All this happens to me when I surface from a great book.

There are some interesting parts. I really enjoyed her floundering from one celebrity chef to another as she tried different styles of cooking; She writes rather brilliantly about the abusive relationship she is in with her apartment building and I of course enjoyed the tidbits about reading and the little she said about When Harry Met Sally. I just don’t think much of it will stick with me for any length of time.

This was right around the time endive was discovered, which was followed by arugula, which was followed by radicchio, which was followed by frisée, which was followed by the three M’s—mesclun, mâche, and microgreens—and that, in a nutshell, is the history of the last forty years from the point of view of lettuce. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

This wouldn’t put me off reading more of hers, but I didn’t love it as much as I had hoped to. However, I was looking for light relief and an undemanding read at a stressful time so perhaps I did pick the perfect read.

Top Ten Tuesdays: New-to-me Authors I Read in 2018

It’s Tuesday, which means I get to make a list! That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesdays lists give me an excuse to make a list each week, and this one was a fun one because I read quite a few New-to-me Authors last year.

Margery Sharp. I read Sharp’s The Nutmeg Tree right at the beginning of January. Light, funny and altogether delightful, I am looking forward to making her fourth acquaintance this year.

Muriel Spark. A fellow Scot, who made enough of an impact with The Public Image that I have already indulged in buying two more of her novels.

Michael Innes. Another Scot! Innes was one of Golden Age crime novelists and I rather enjoyed Death at the President’s Lodgings when I read it on holiday this year. I have the second in the series on my kindle so I may dip into his work again at some point this year.

Nora Ephron. Perhaps a little bit of a cheat, as I was certainly already familiar with her films. However, one of the last books I read in 2018 was a collection of her essays (there should be a review of these up in the next couple of days) . I wasn’t blown away but I think there was enough of interest that her novel is still sitting on my wishlist.

Anthony Berkeley. Another holiday read, and another golden age crime novelist. I read the Poisoned Chocolates Case and was certainly entertained by the unique method of story-telling which I won’t spoil here. I’m a little worried I have peaked by starting with his most famous novel but I would definitely be happy to pick up another of his novels to try.

Elizabeth Caddell had been on my radar for quite a while so when I came across a tatty copy of The Frenchman and the Lady I had to pick it up. A funny, light read from a prolific author writing in the period I most interested in- I will definitely be returning to Caddell again.

Margaret Atwood has been an author I have been planning to read for a very long time. When I picked up Bodily Harm in December and instantly started reading it, I felt a combination of excitement at discovering a new author and anger at myself from leaving it fir so long. I would be very surprised if I don’t read another Atwood soon.

[Apologies about the delay posting my December book reviews, between holidays and work stuff I’ve been running a little behind. There should be some new reviews up very shortly.]

I thought I had read a lot of really promising new to me Authors last year- and I think there are some great names up there but the year was not all good luck. I am rounding out the list with three authors I probably won’t be returning to this year: K. M. Shea, Bonnie Hennessey and Miranda Hornfleur. I only read one novel by each, and none were rank bad, but they all rated as so so for me, and I have far to many books on the TBR and my wishlist to have any plans to sample them further. I read a fairytale re-telling from each of them.

I think overall I read some amazing authors this year.