October’s Reading – some highlights

October has been a mild month but is ending with quite a bit of rain. I would safely say that winter has arrived – I have had to scrape ice off the car windscreen in the morning, have now taken to wearing my thickest coat, and the boots have been excavated from their summer resting place under the bed, given a dust off and donned.

I read 26 books in October which is slightly fewer than most months. I think that this is mostly because I didn’t read many romances and light novels. These are not always shorter but are usually quicker to read and some months I read more than others – not all books take the same time or concentration to read. I am on 296 books read for the year so far so I am estimating 350 for the year as a whole. Of course, I could just read short and easy books between now and then but there really isn’t any point in trying to get a higher figure – there are no medals available and reading is not a competitive activity.

I am still reading a lot more books on paper than on my Kindle(s). This is because I have a huge amount of paper books which are unread (charity shops !) and I am trying to get them out of the way. This strategy would work a lot better if I didn’t keep acquiring more ! I spent last weekend at Chester at a history festival and bought five new paper books and treated myself to a few more of the history titles I wanted on audio. I am not even going to contemplate how many books are on my Kindle and audio waiting lists – at least they don’t take up so much room !

It has been a good month for reading and here are eight highlights – they are all very different and one, or more, of these recommendations might introduce you to a new favourite :

On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming is a memoir which must be read in print because the photographs and pictures sprinkled throughout the book form part of the content. Actually, I found that even in my hardback that they often weren’t very clear but photos on a Kindle don’t really work at all. This memoir is about the author’s mother who found out that her whole family had been keeping a big secret from her about her origins. The author doesn’t give us a straightforward narrative but it is compelling and this is an excellent book which stands up with great memoirs such as Hidden Lives by Margaret Forster and Bad Blood by Lorna Sage. I was advised to read it by my friend Jane for which I thank her.

Moon of Gomrath by Alan Garner is actually a children’s fantasy and the second in a series. I read these books, starting with the Weirdstone of Brisingamen when I was a child as I grew up near to where they are set and they were encouraged reading at school. I found them scary then and pretty scary now. The author knows his folklore and mixes lots of it into the book but he is careful for the supernatural to remain very alien to the children. One mistake can have lots of consequences and some of them can be permanent. I was delighted to find many creatures in common with those Guy Gavriel Kay uses in the Fionavar Trilogy. Definitely worth a read if you are not familiar with the author’s work.

Selling Hitler by Robert Harris is the story of the Hitler diaries which came to light in the early 1980s and which convinced newspaper journalists and historians that they were real when, in fact, they were a poor forgery. The author takes us through the story and shows us how some people became so invested in the story, financially and reputationally, that they were unable to believe that they weren’t real. I found the book captivating. I like this sort of factual, true crime like book – this one reminded me of Denial by Deborah Lipstadt especially since one historian features heavily in both sets of events.

A totally different book is Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames. This is a book about a bunch of elderly mercenaries who are called out of retirement for one last mission. The author has a wry wit and inhabits his imaginary kingdom with a variety of monsters and hurdles for our elderly heroes to overcome. I love this sort of fantasy and this author was a new one to me – enjoyed by readers of Joe Abercrombie, Glen Cook, and James Barclay among others.

My fifth book (these are in no particular order) is Life Class by Pat Barker. This author specialises in books about WW1 and this one is the start of a new trilogy. The subject matter is art and its relation to war – what is real and what should we portray ? It is a good read, as you would expect from this author, and raises some interesting questions. To be enjoyed by all of us who loved the Regeneration trilogy.

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin is a slight book but interesting. It is the story of Mary the Mother of Jesus after his death told from the point of view of her old age. It is captivating in style and the author is careful to hint rather than assert about things which are not part of the tradition of the church. I liked it but did think that it could have been more rooted in history rather than so vague. It is a brave writer that chooses to write of Mary in this way but I think most people of faith will find it interesting.

The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi is science fiction and the second in a series. It is set far in the future and deals with a series of worlds where the ability to travel between them is beginning to fail. I liked it especially because of the author’s ability to use humour. I don’t read much of this sort of epic science fiction but I did in the past. A recent, similar book I read was Leviathan Wakes by James A Corey which is the beginning of a series which I am currently working my way through.

The Printer’s Coffin by MJ Carter is set in London during the early part of Queen Victoria’s reign. It is a crime novel but the author uses it to talk about a number of social history themes such as poverty, education and rebellion. It seems pretty well researched to me and it is nice to read a book rooted among “ordinary” people and not just the titled and wealthy. It is similar to Arrowood by Mick Finlay.

As you can see, it was a good month and I am certainly anticipating that November will be full of the same variety.

Keep reading ….