February’s Reading – my 50th book of the year and some series instalments I enjoyed

February was a very unusual month with lots of warm weather, highly unusual for the time of year. I did have a week off work and we went to Wales for a few days so I had the opportunity to read more, although in the end I finished 25 books in the month which is one fewer than January.

I read more romances than anything else. When I am away I like to read light books which are quickly finished so there were a couple of Regency romances and a few contemporary ones in the final total. Five of the books I read were fantasy novels which is quite a high percentage for me.

This month I finished my fiftieth book of the year which was an audiobook –To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. It is a tale set just before and after WW1 and is about longing and lack of purpose (well, that’s what I thought it was about although I expect that those who know their classics will have a different view). There isn’t a lot of plot and the characters are all considering their lives and the lives of others. I enjoyed it well enough but I have now read two books by this author recently and one by her in the past and I think I am going to leave it at that unless there is a burning reason to read more.

I did notice that quite a lot of my finished books were parts of series. I do like series books – serials as well as series. I think I prefer them to very long books – although the two are not mutually exclusive. I enjoy engaging with characters and events over a longer period of time, and seeing development and change. Here are a few that I finished this month that I think are worth looking at :

  • Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Liani Taylor is the final instalment in her Daughter of Smoke and Bone fantasy Trilogy. I loved the first one, found the second one very dark, and was pleased with how she ended the overall story. It’s a fantasy set in our world but with creatures from an alternative dimension bringing their conflict into world history. It’s not the greatest trilogy I have ever read but I did enjoy it and I think the first book especially was excellent.
  • Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake is another fantasy novel but set in another world where three sisters grow up but only one can be queen. I liked this more than I thought I would as the author wasn’t as predictable as I thought at first.
  • Say You’re Sorry by Karen Rose is the first in a series of crime novels with a romantic edge. She has written several series like this and characters from one do often appear in another (although because I haven’t read all her books for a while I do find that I cannot always remember who they are and how they connect). These are fast paced and well written stories and I really enjoy her books. This one I received free from the publisher via NetGalley but I have purchased others by her in the past.
  • Truthwitch by Susan Dennard. I’ve talked about this book before and it is true that I found it disappointing but the problem was that the author had included too much plot and ideas. It’s worth taking a look at and you might feel that you want to read further on in the series and see if you feel more enlightened about the various ways she represents magic. This was another free book from NetGalley.
  • The Dreaming Suburb by RF Delderfield is a saga set among the people who live in one road over a period of time starting from the end of WW1. It’s well written and very gripping as the author has made all the characters very individual and it is easy to swap from one storyline to another. Although you know that he wants to use the book to give a message to the reader he doesn’t do it to excess – the story is important here. This is a duology.
  • Dawnthief by James Barclay has also been mentioned before. It is a more epic fantasy than the others on this list and the series is a good one even though it stretches to seven books. This is very much a serial over several volumes as none can stand alone.

I do enjoy reading series books as you can see. Some of the romances I mentioned above are parts of series where the books are loosely linked. I have read books this month by Loretta Chase, Eloise James and Robyn Carr which have connections to other novels. Maybe one month I will look at reading only books which are completely standalone !

It was a good month’s reading with lots of excellent books. I am looking forward to March (although not to this deterioration in the weather).

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My holiday reading – going away for a few days means bringing many books !

I am away for a few days this week and I am intending to read a lot because there will be little else to divert my attention – except shopping which might mean that I acquire more books than I read ! I have packed my Kindle and have a few print books to read. I like to bring easy to read books when I go away in order to get into the holiday spirit so here are a few I have packed – I’ll let you know when I get back what I thought of them ! There are eight books here but I acknowledge that I won’t get through all of them in four days – I do like to be prepared for anything though.

No drinking, no dancing, no doctors” by Martina Evans is a book I know little about. I cannot remember where I got it from but I suspect it was on the book table at my local Sainsbury’s where I source a lot of my reading (and dispose of a lot of my surplus volumes). It is a novel reflecting on the life of a woman who grew up in a strict Protestant cult, It isn’t very long so it is worth a go.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin is about a women who emigrates from Ireland to America. I have read his novel “Nora Webster” in the past and really enjoyed it so I picked this one up when I saw it in a charity shop. It is also quite a short book.

The Runner by Peter May is one of his series set in China. I have read some or all of the others so I know what I am getting with this book. They are crime stories with an American woman and Chinese man getting together to solve crimes in China. These books do have a seriously irritating main woman character but they are very enjoyable nonetheless.

Hag-seed by Margaret Atwood is a retelling of “The Tempest”. I know the play well and the author writes very thought provoking books so I am anticipating enjoying this one. It is one in a series of Shakespeare retellings – I have recently read “Macbeth” by Jo Nesbo and have another by Anne Tyler in my to-be-read pile.

Laurie Graham is one of my favourite authors. I enjoy her amusing but thoughtful novels. I am taking with me The Unfortunates which I have not read before. I don’t know much about it but she has never let me down.

Lisa Gardner is another favourite author. I love her crime novels and think they are some of the most gripping around. I am fortunate to have a copy of her latest Never Tell from NetGalley on my Kindle which I am very much looking forward to reading

Signs for Lost Children by Sarah Moss is the sequel to “Bodies of Light” which I have read. This author writes particularly harrowing books but they are beautifully written and I have read a few others. This pair of books is about a woman who is becoming a doctor in Victorian England. The first book concentrated on her struggle especially against her mother who is a particularly cold and strict Christian. This book seems to be about mental health in Victorian England and contemporary ideas of marriage. I don’t expect it to be at all jolly but I am sure it will be well written.

I was astonished a while ago to discover that I didn’t own and hadn’t read A Place of Execution by Val McDermid. I thought that I had read all her books as she is an author that I very much enjoy. This is a stand alone suspense/crime novel so I can be sure that if any of the other books let me down that this one will be enjoyable.

I wonder how many of these I will get read during my holiday. I also wonder how many new books I will buy – or if I will manage to avoid the charity shops which are so often my downfall. I’ll keep you posted.

 

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This week’s reading – some disappointing and some compelling

It’s been a mixed week or so in my reading life. A few books that I thought would be absorbing have turned out to be slightly disappointing. They weren’t disappointing enough to stop reading them but I didn’t have that great urge to pick up the volume and read it which I often have with books I really love. In fact, finishing these books was a bit of a chore. Of course, it is all a matter of preference and others may have different views– none of these books was badly written but some are just not for me.

I finally finished my audiobook of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. It was long, really long. Much too long in my opinion, although it is regarded as a great classic so I am not sure that my opinion has much weight. I thought that there was way too much philosophising and not enough action. It was an excellent study of the disintegration of someone’s mental health but I did find the eponymous heroine quite wearing by the end despite her obvious problems.

Also disappointing, but for a different reason was Truthwitch by Susan Dennard. This is a fantasy novel based on the idea that people hold different gifts and that one of the two main characters has the ability to read when someone is telling the truth and that makes her very desirable and thus she has to flee from those who would misuse her. It’s a clever idea and very well developed but I thought that the author had too many ideas. There was a lot going on in this novel and I felt a bit adrift. I wasn’t quite sure who could do what, what the threads were, how someone could be a thread sister/brother, the social background of both the women characters and how many sorts of witches there were. There was also some development of themes about old magic as well. There was no problem with any of it except that there was just too much and I felt bombarded with ideas and information.

I read a fictional memoir called The Visible World  by Mark Slouka. It is the story of a man who tries to find out what has happened in his parents’ past during the last war in Czechoslovakia. This book had an unusual, lyrical style. It bounced around from the past to the present and changed from the first person to a third person narrative. The story meandered about with the author telling stories of people met during bus rides and during the investigation that don’t really add to the story. I have a linear mind and like a linear story. It’s probably a limitation of mine but it did make this book frustrating.

Obviously I don’t enjoy every book I pick up but it has been disappointing to have a few recently where I have issues. I did, however, have more books that I enjoyed a lot so they made up for it.

I read Dawnthief by James Barclay. This is a reread and the start of a fantasy series about a group of mercenaries who become involved in trying to save their world from evil. I enjoyed these books in the past and it was a pleasant discovery that I enjoyed them again. The author is good at creating a new world and a variety of characters who fit it well, He is also not afraid to kill off major characters so you really never know what is going to happen next. I am looking forward to rereading the rest of the series as it is so long since I have read them that I have forgotten what happens next. I do like an epic fantasy series.

I started another fantasy series with Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake. It is a Young Adult book about three sisters who have to compete to be queen of their land. I thought it might be quite a straightforward book but the author has included lots of minor characters and some very good magic ideas. I have immediately purchased the next book to see what happens which is always a sign of my satisfaction with a book.

I have recently started a true crime book about a Victorian crime called Mr Briggs’ Hat by Kate Colquhoun. I do enjoy a good true crime book and have read a lot of those which re-examine Victorian crimes and give you quite a lot of social history as well. This one is very readable and I am about one third of the way through.

A friend at work gave me her copy of Macbeth by Jo Nesbo. She is a great fan of the author but didn’t enjoy this book at all. This is a modern retelling of the Shakespeare play and I am finding it compelling reading. It is really dark but it is interesting looking at how the author has interpreted the original and retold it. I can’t read a lot at once though so this may take me some time to finish.

A book I have just started is leaving me with mixed feelings. I am not sure if it is going to be added to my disappointing list, or even abandoned. It might, however, pick up and become one of the more enjoyable ones. It is The Perfect Hero by Victoria Connolly.  It has a lot of the usual ingredients of the genre usually described as women’s fiction. The heroine is left some money, opens a guest house, is a fan of Jane Austen and is attracted to the wrong person while the right man is unassertive. I enjoy this type of book but this particular story contains a trope which I find particularly annoying. The author has been seized with lust for a very attractive man (he is an actor) and when she is in his presence she loses her common sense and cannot think straight. If she carries on being struck dumb by his very presence them I shall have to give up on the book however much I like the plot. I shall read some more this evening and see where the author goes with this.

I’m going away later this week and have a number of books packed together with my trusty Kindle. Let’s hope that not too many of them are disappointing to me.

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Audio books I am reading and I recommend

Before I start, I have to confess that for many years I was not a fan of audiobooks. This is something that has been pointed out to me by fellow bloggers who were keen advocates of the medium. I have now seen the light, mostly because of a regular commute which gives me time to listen whilst dealing with motorway traffic. I am now so enthusiastic about audiobooks that I recommend them to everyone !

At present I am listening to “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy. I have never read any Russian literature before and I am not sure that I would ever have attempted any in print but I have listened to quite a few classics and have enjoyed them very much in audio. It is a long book and has taken a few weeks to finish but I am on the last chapters and have long given up hope of any of the characters lightening up a bit ! I am going to need to listen to something short and jolly after this one as a change in mood.

The longest audiobook I have listened to so far is “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas which I really enjoyed despite the length of time it took to get through it. I also enjoyed “Middlemarch” by George Eliot which is another lengthy classic and “Wolf Hall” and its sequel by Hilary Mantel. I am interested to note that these are all historical fiction as they were written about periods before that of the author – I cannot determine why that makes it particularly enjoyable but I have realised that I have listened to very little contemporary fiction.

I have listened to quite a lot of non-fiction and probably enjoy this type of book best on audio. I highly recommend “A History of Britain in 21 Women” by Jenni Murray which contains excellent vignettes of important, feminist women and their achievements; “Dead Wake” by Erik Larson which is a history of the sinking of the Lusitania during WW1; “Hillbilly Elegy” by JD Vance which is a memoir of growing up in poverty in rural America; “The Holocaust” by Laurence Rees which is a history of the genocide of the Jews in WW2;  and “Blood in the Water” by Heather Ann Thompson which tells the sad story of the riot at Attica prison and the inmates’ attempt to find justice – a bit of a mixed bag there and probably something for everyone.

The book I have enjoyed the most though is probably the shortest and that is the reading of “Under Milk Wood” by Dylan Thomas and narrated by Richard Burton. It is an absolute delight and I have listened to it several times. The poem tells of the day in the life of a small Welsh town and is told through a number of voices It is truly poetry brought to life by some excellent speakers.

The joy of audio books is that I can still read whilst doing something else – driving, sitting on a bus, dusting, cleaning, cooking or tidying. I like the opportunity to try new things and the fact that it is so easy to download them on to my phone. All the narrators I have listened to have had good voices although I have speeded a few of them up when I thought their style was a bit leisurely.

I have quite a few audiobooks ready to read with my phone acting as a to be read list and I don’t think I would be without them now. I wonder what other things I have been saying “no” to I would really enjoy if I tried them !

Have a look at my Reading Challenges page on this website – I am starting to fill it with the books I read last year in my A to Z reading challenge. All in all, I have plenty of recommendations for you today !

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January’s Reading in statistics and highlights

I’ve only just got used to being in 2019 and suddenly we’re at the end of January – not quite sure how that happened !

During the month I read 26 books which is much the same as last year. Only three were non-fiction which is a bit disappointing as I was aiming for 25% this year. I read twice as many on paper as on the Kindle which is a definite plan in order that I reduce the number of physical books I own. Over half the books were written by women which is pretty usual for me. I read 6 crime novels, 6 science fiction/fantasy and 5 romances.

I kept a note of where the books I read were set and it was mostly the UK and USA but we did travel to Tahiti, Netherlands, France, Brazil, Venezuela, Kenya, and Belgium as well as a few fantasy worlds.

I’ve talked about the month’s reading as I went along so please have a look at my previous blogs for comments on some of them. There are four I haven’t mentioned to date that I thought were worth bringing to your attention :

  • “Lonely Road” by Nevil Shute – this is a novel written in the 1930s and it is a thriller. As a story it is not overly exciting but what really moved me was the author’s writing about loneliness. The main character is wealthy and accomplished but very alone. In the course of what happens in the book he meets a woman from a very different background and slowly he begins to thaw and to share his life. It is, in my opinion, a very powerful piece of writing and I found it very emotional.
  • “Written from the Heart” by Trisha Ashley – a contemporary novel about a writer and her loves. It is great fun and written with an edge so that it doesn’t fall into the trap of being too sentimental and although you think you know where the story is going the author can still surprise. I have all this author’s books because I like her style – this one was provided free via NetGalley.
  • “The Christmas Sisters” by Sarah Morgan – another contemporary novel about three sisters who gather in their parents’ home for Christmas. Lots of secrets come out and all the sisters are facing challenges that mean that they have to find a solution. It certainly doesn’t have to be Christmas to read this novel and I am pleased to say that again the sentimentality was kept to a minimum. This novel was provided free in exchange for a review by Amazon Vine.
  • “The Go-Between” by LP Hartley – a minor modern classic that you often see references to especially as it has quite a famous opening line (“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”). I saw it in a charity shop and thought I’d read it because I have heard of it. The book is set at the beginning of the twentieth century and is about a young boy visiting the country house home of a friend who becomes involved in taking love notes between two people. He is totally oblivious to the implications of a lot of what is happening and because of how he is used his ignorance eventually leads to disaster. I am pleased I read it and I did enjoy it but it is not a book I will reread.

And as we are now in February I have another pile of books to read, many of which I am very much looking forward to – I’ll fill you in on them as I progress.

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“Difficult” women in this week’s reading

There is a concept in films, TV and books of the heroine who is Too Stupid to Live. These are the women who stroll merrily into dark, abandoned houses or trust suspicious looking men who have evil intentions. You know them. When you come across them you are inclined to shout “Don’t do that” loudly because you know that no good will come of it !

This week I have been reading a romantic suspense novel by Marliss Melton and I came across a prime example of the species. This character is rescued from a South American country at the beginning of the novel by Navy SEALS where she has been doing good work with orphans. She decides that she needs to return and despite every other character in the book, the authorities and this reader telling her not to go, off she trots to a dangerous location, even though one of the characters has found another way to retrieve what she is fetching. Guess what ? She has to be rescued again, not once but twice. Strangely, her rescuer, one of the aforementioned SEALS decides that her complete stupidity is a recipe for a long and happy life and all ends well. As you may be able to tell I found this all deeply irritating.

I do understand that people often need rescuing and that the strong man coming to the aid of the hapless female is a common theme in novels but I didn’t expect to see it in a recent novel written by a woman.

I listened to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s adventure novel “The Lost World” this week. It was written in the early years of the last century and the author dispenses with the two women characters in the first chapter so that he can concentrate on the brave actions of the men. I quite enjoyed it but there were some racist attitudes which made me feel uncomfortable when they occurred. It’s another book set in South America though.

I have also read two biographies this week, both of problematic women. The first was “Josephine” by Carolly Erickson about the life of the French Empress. It’s a cracking read as her life was fascinating. The book shows what few options she had as an impoverished aristocrat and how she used her body, looks and influence to live the life that she wanted. She did make some dubious decisions but it is debatable how much freedom her position gave her to do what she wanted. If you are at all interested in the lives of influential women I would give it a go.

The second book I read was “The Temptress” by Paul Spicer about Alice de Janze who was one of the Happy Valley set of white colonisers living in Kenya between the wars. Alice did not live a happy life and she obviously had a serious mental health condition but it is difficult to see what she did with her time and energy apart from several marriages, lots of pets and plenty of adulterous affairs. Whilst feeling sorry for her I did think that a lot of her issues came from being bored and trying to entertain herself – of course, it was what was expected of rich, society women at the time. I’ve read a few books about the time and place (I recommend “White Mischief” by James Fox, “Child of Happy Valley” by Juanita Carberry and “The Bolter” by Frances Osborne). Many of them centre on the murder of one of the settlers, Lord Erroll, but I found the descriptions of their way of life fascinating and actually quite uncomfortable.

I enjoy biographies of women and novels with strong women characters and, as you can see, I have certainly read quite a variety in the last week. I am now reading a biography of Bonnie Prince Charlie (who I suspect has his own issues) and a few fantasy novels. My current audiobook is “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy which is the story of yet another “difficult” women – it is over thirty hours in length so it will be a week or so before I discover how much her problems are of her own making and how much society takes a hand.

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A lifelong love of reading

I was present the other evening whilst a very young relative opened his birthday presents. Among the plastic car track and Lego he had received two books – one by David Walliams and one by Roald Dahl. He’s a bit young to read them for himself but his face lit up when he opened the parcel and he has been promised nightly readings by his mother. It was delightful to see the next generation of our family enthralled by good storytelling.

The next day I met a colleague at work on the stairs leading to our offices. She was holding a novel so we had a quick discussion about it. The book was “The Skylarks’ War” by Hilary McKay. It’s an award winning children’s book which she was reading to see if it was suitable for her nine year old granddaughter. She highly recommends it and she commented that both her daughter and now her daughter’s daughter are avid readers. She was delighted to see the love of books pass down another generation.

I don’t necessarily believe that everyone has to read in order to be a fully rounded human being but I do find great joy in seeing the love of reading develop and grow in people of all ages.

My father was a contributory factor in my love of reading and he introduced me to a number of genres. I read my first adult fantasy novel from his shelves – “Lord of the Rings” by JRR Tolkien. I need to confess now that I am not a huge Tolkien fan although I do appreciate the place he has in the history of fantasy writing. I soon moved on from him to many other authors and many other types of fantasy.

Since the beginning of the year I have started or finished a few fantasy books, each of which are very different from the others. You may want to try one or more of these :

  • “Interesting Times” by Terry Pratchett – an amusing and slightly satirical view of our world through adventures in the Discworld. This isn’t one of his best, although it is still very good, and if you are new to his work I recommend starting with “Wyrd Sisters” or “Guards, Guards” – they are all very funny and they do count as fantasy.
  • “The Green Man’s Heir” by Juliet McKenna – a fantasy set in the folklore of England with old powers pushing their way into the modern world. I liked this a lot although I think that the novel was a bit flawed in the way in which it tried to combine two narratives. I recommend that you give it a go if you are looking for something a bit different in the fantasy field – I am pretty sure that the author will be writing a sequel too.
  • “The Wise Man’s Fear” by Patrick Rothfuss – a traditional epic fantasy with some great writing. This is the second in a series so you are going to need to start with “The Name of the Wind” and be prepared to give this time as it is long, very long.
  • “The Magician King” by Lev Grossman is also the second in a series but is a very different sort of fantasy. It is sort of a Harry Potter/Narnia hybrid but with grown up behaviour. It is about people from our world who train as magicians and can access other worlds. Start with “The Magicians” for this one to make sense.
  • “Truthwitch” by Susan Dennard – a fantasy novel that I have just started which is set completely in another world where there are all sorts of magic and some witches are very much sought after because of their power. So far I am enjoying it a lot especially as the descriptive writing is very good and I feel that I am immersed in another world.
  • “The Screaming Staircase” by Jonathan Stroud – a novel set in an alternative Britain where ghosts are a reality and there is a need for Psychic Investigation Agencies such as Lockwood and Co. This is the first in a series about the members of this company and I have enjoyed the first few pages.

So there’s a snapshot of my fantasy reading – ghosts, witches, magicians, magic school, alternative worlds, dryads, wood nymphs, epic battles and sapient luggage. With so many worlds to explore it is no wonder that I remain a reader, let’s hope that our new, emerging readers keep the joy they have found in books throughout their life as I have.

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