In April I decided to read historical novels. This was part of an attempt to clear the shelves of my to-be-read bookcase by choosing a theme per month and reading 12 books which fell into the category. I have called this my 12 in 12 Challenge and I have a different theme for each month. This should mean that by the end of the year I have read 144 books from my to-be-read shelves and thus reduced the pile significantly. This works particularly well at the moment because I am unable to purchase more books to fill the gaps because of lockdown. Most of the physical books I buy are second hand and sourced from charity shops. I occasionally buy new books but I do try to buy them in electronic form so that they don’t take up any room in the real world. So far I am succeeding in reducing the total and after four months of the challenge I have cleared a couple of shelves – long may it continue.
There were some excellent books in my historical collection and I urge you to have a look at my blogs for the past month. Many of the books were literary fiction but there was a crime novel, a thriller and a Western among them. I was also interested in the number of locations for the stories : London, France, Norfolk, Greece, Ireland, Bristol, New York, Japan, India, Pakistan and the South of the USA. The earliest time in which a story was set was Ancient Greece and the most recent finished in 2008. A lot were set around the turn of the 19th/20th century and two featured WW2 although in different parts of the world. Historical events featured included the Great Exhibition, the Dreyfus affair, the Great Fire of London, the Partition of India, the dropping of the atom bomb on Nagasaki and the siege of Troy. I have enjoyed significant variety in my reading this month.
For May I am going to read books about words, books and writing – a description I have stretched to its limit and possibly beyond when choosing books. This may include biographies of writers, novels about writing or books about manuscripts. Wait and see what I come up with – I was surprised at how many books on my to-be-read shelf fitted this description.
Because of the lockdown in April and the fact that for most of the month I have been off work following recent surgery on my foot I also read a few other books. I will list below those which I think are worth looking at – there is a very wide variety in these too.
- Our Land Before we Die by Jeff Guinn is a factual, history book. I found it quite amazing. It tells the story of a large group of escaped slaves who ran away to Florida and lived with the Seminole Indians (as they were at the time, it is not a word we now use to describe Native Americans). The Seminole people developed a dependent relationship with the slaves who became known as Seminole Blacks and the two groups moved together to Oklahoma, to Mexico and then back to Texas experiencing broken promises, discrimination and extreme poverty. This was an absorbing read about an aspect of American history that was quite new to me – it is an easy read.
- The Last Wolf by Maria Vale is an urban fantasy about werewolves. I like this sort of book and really enjoyed this fantasy of the supernatural mixing with the real world. The author created an interesting narrative for her wolves and continually surprised me in the way that she used the elements that you usually find in this type of novel. It was very enjoyable and I have, therefore, bought the next in the series.
- Bitter River by Julia Keller is a crime novel set in a poor, mountain town in West Virginia. It is one of a series featuring the local prosecuting attorney Bel Elkins. I have read a couple of books in this series and I think they are very good. The author is good at description and there is an anger about poverty and lack of opportunity that is manifest in the main character. The story of who killed the young woman who is found dead in the river is a sad but gripping one.
- The Roanoake Girls by Amy Engel also has a very angry and self-destructive main character. This story is mostly a crime novel in that Lane’s cousin Allegra is missing and needs to be found but it is also a story about a dysfunctional family and the women who are part of it. This is a book where it is quite obvious from very early on what is going on and even who has committed the crime but one which examines the repercussions experienced by many because of the actions of one or two. I liked it a lot and thought that the author was very honest in her depictions of some very flawed and dislikeable people.
- Rosewater by Tade Thompson is set in Nigeria. It is a science fiction story set slightly in the future which assumes that an alien craft has landed in the country and has given unusual powers to some people. The book is very different from a lot of science fiction because it concentrates on the town of Rosewater which has grown up around the craft and its people who either benefit or suffer from what the aliens bring. The main character is Kaaro who is pretty amoral but also continually being forced into using his new powers in ways he doesn’t like whilst experiencing things he doesn’t understand. I’ve read a lot of science fiction and this book was certainly very different from the usual.
I hope that there’s something there that you may wish to try.