My Week in Books: 21 March 2018

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.


A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Currently reading:

The Tenderness of Wolves

The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney, set in Canada in 1867. A man has been brutally murdered, a woman finds his body and her seventeen-year-old son has disappeared. She has to clear his name, heading north into the forest and the desolate landscape that lies beyond it, Also tracking him is what passes for the law in this frontier land: trappers, sheriffs, traders. As the party pushes further from civilisation, hidden purposes and old obsessions are revealed.

I’m not enjoying it so far as much as I hoped, or expected. It may be because I can’t get the characters clear in my head and have to keep turning back the pages to identify them.

I’m also reading a rather strange book, The Daffodil Affair by Michael Innes, one of his Inspector John Appleby mysteries. It’s not at all what I expected but I am enjoying it. Set in the Blitz there’s a haunted house that has vanished, a horse, called Daffodil that has been stolen and two girls have been kidnapped. Appleby and another detective, Hudspith investigate. It is bizarre with elements of the absurd.

Recently finished:

The last book I finished is The Good Liar by Catherine McKenzie. An explosion rips apart a Chicago building, the lives of three women are forever altered.

Cecily whose husband and best friend were inside the building. Kate, who fled the disaster and is hoping that her past won’t catch up with her, and Franny, a young woman in search of her birth mother, who she says was also in the building. The story is told through each woman’s perspective. They all have secrets  – but who is the liar?

I’ll post my review soon.


I have so many books I want to read next, but right now I can’t decide. I really should start Little Dorrit, my Classics Club spin book soon. It was originally published  in nineteen monthly instalments, each consisting of 32 pages and I can’t imagine being a reader in 1855 keeping track of a story in monthly instalments over 2 years! I hope it won’t take me that long.

Little Dorritt

Blurb (Amazon):

When Arthur Clennam returns to England after many years abroad, he takes a kindly interest in Amy Dorrit, his mother’s seamstress, and in the affairs of Amy’s father, William Dorrit, a man of shabby grandeur, long imprisoned for debt in Marshalsea prison. As Arthur soon discovers, the dark shadow of the prison stretches far beyond its walls to affect the lives of many, from the kindly Mr Panks, the reluctant rent-collector of Bleeding Heart Yard, and the tipsily garrulous Flora Finching, to Merdle, an unscrupulous financier, and the bureaucratic Barnacles in the Circumlocution Office. A masterly evocation of the state and psychology of imprisonment, “Little Dorrit” is one of the supreme works of Dickens’s maturity.

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

The Smiling Man by Joseph Knox


Transworld Publishers| 8 March 2018|392 p|e-book|Review copy|5*


Snow Scenes in the Garden

The snow from the beginning of March had nearly all gone, with just a few areas in the back garden still covered in snow, when it started snowing here today. We’ve had snow flurries all day but it’s all gone now.

This is what it was like at the beginning of March in the heaviest snow fall we’ve had since 2009. This view is from the kitchen of the decking where the snow had piled up in front of the patio doors.

Heidi looking at the snow

The photo below is of the end of the garden next to the field.

the garden over the stream

And this close up shows how the snow had blown into drifts along the back fence.

The view from the front window – blackbirds, chaffinches and sparrows. At one point there were six blackbirds and lots of little birds – I tried to get a photo of all them together, but they kept flying away.


Below, a close -up of a nuthatch on the fat balls.


We had a couple of rare visitors too – first a woodcock

And then an otter – the first time we have ever seen one in the garden. I watched it come up from the stream, dripping wet early one morning. It made its way to the back door and had a look at Heidi’s cat flap! She was scared stiff.

My Friday Post: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

At least two of my blogging friends, Cleo and Helen, have written reviews of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, which have tempted me to at least have a look at this book. I hesitate because it’s written in the present tense, which often irritates me. So I decided to borrow a copy from the library and I collected it yesterday.


The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Day One

I forget everything between footsteps.

‘Anna!’ I finish shouting, snapping my mouth shut in surprise.

My mind has gone blank. I don’t know who Anna is or why I’m calling her name. I don’t even know how I got here. I’m standing in a forest, shielding my eyes from the spitting rain. My heart’s thumping, I reek of sweat and my legs are shaking. I must have been running but I can’t remember why.


‘Somebody’s going to be murdered at the ball tonight. It won’t appear to be a murder and so the murderer won’t be caught. Rectify that injustice and I’ll show you the way out.’

It is meant to be a celebration but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed.

But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot. 

The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath…

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice. These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

How can I explain that a strange chap in a plague doctor costume warned me to keep an eye out for a footman – a name that means nothing to me, and yet fills me with a crippling fear every time I hear it?

‘I’m sorry, Evie,’ I say, shaking my head ruefully. ‘There’s more I need to tell you, but not here and not quite yet.’


The endpapers show a plan of Blackheath House and the various cottages in the grounds, together with plans showing the locations of the rooms and where each guest is staying. It reminds me a bit of the game Cluedo.

What do you think – should I carry on reading – or not?


Painting as a Pastime by Winston S. Churchill

Painting is complete as a distraction. I know of nothing which, without exhausting the body, more entirely absorbs the mind.’


Unicorn|1 July 2013|Hardcover|96 pages|a gift|5*

I was delighted on Sunday when my son gave me Painting as a Pastime by Winston Churchill as a Mother’s Day present. I read it straight away and loved it. The cover shows Churchill’s painting of his home, Chartwell. Churchill was forty when he first started to paint at ‘a most trying time‘ in his life and art became his passion and an ‘astonishing and enriching experience‘.

It was in 1915, when he had left the Admiralty and although he was still a member of the Cabinet and of the War Council he knew everything but could do nothing. He had great anxiety and no means of relieving it, left with many hours ‘of utterly unwanted leisure in which to contemplate the frightful unfolding of the War‘. So, he began painting.

I was amused to find out that he took the same hesitant steps that I took – using a very small brush, mixed a little paint and then ‘made a mark about as big as a bean’ on his canvas.’ A friend arrived and told him to stop hesitating and showed him how to use a big brush and splash on the paint, which he did with ‘Berserk fury‘.

But Churchill begins, not by  writing about painting, but about the need for a change to rest and strengthen the mind:

… the tired parts of the mind can be rested and strengthened, not merely by rest, but by using other parts. … It is no use saying to the tired ‘mental muscles’ – if one may coin such an expression – ‘I will give you a good rest,’ ‘I will go for a long walk’, or ‘I will lie down and think of nothing.’ The mind keeps busy just the same.

What is needed are hobbies. And then he goes on to write about reading, and about handling books:

Peer into them. Let them fall open where they will. Read on from the first sentence that arrests the eye. Then turn to another. Make a voyage of discovery, taking soundings of uncharted seas. Set them back on their shelves with your own hands. Arrange them on your own plan, so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are.

But he considers that reading doesn’t provide enough change to rest the mind and that what is needed is something that needs both the eye and the hand – a handicraft. In his case painting fulfils that role. He talks about the fun of painting, the colours and the pleasure he found in not only in painting a picture, but also the pleasure he discovered in a heightened sense of observation, finding objects in  the landscape, he had never noticed before:

So many colours on the hillside, each different in shadow and in sunlight; such brilliant reflections in the pool, each a key lower than what they repeat; such lovely lights gilding or silvering surface or outline, all tinted exquisitely with pale colour, rose, orange, green or violet.

I agree that painting does relax the mind, but I love reading and can be thoroughly absorbed in a book so that I am unaware of the passing of time, just as I also know how quickly time passes  when painting (or in my case in trying to paint). As Churchill wrote:

Whatever the worries of the hour or the threats of the future, once the picture has begun to flow along, there is no room for them in the mental screen. They pass out into shadow and darkness. All one’s mental light, such as it is, becomes concentrated on the task. Time stands respectfully aside, and it is only after many hesitations that luncheon knocks gruffly at the door.

Reading this book was pure pleasure and has encouraged me to pick up my paints again.

One final extract:

Just to paint is great fun. The colours are lovely to look at and delicious to squeeze out. Matching them, however crudely, with what you see is fascinating and absolutely absorbing. Try it if you have not done so — before you die.

Painting as a Pastime was originally published in 1932, one of the twenty three essays in Thoughts and Adventures (whose American title is Amid These Storms).

First Chapter First Paragraph: The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

This week The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman, an author I haven’t come across before. I saw it in a pile of secondhand books for sale and the title caught my eye.

The Light Between Oceans

It begins:

27 April 1926

On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff’s edge, ending the small newly made driftwood cross. A single fat cloud snailed across the late-April sky, which stretched above the island in a mirror of the ocean below. Isabel sprinkled more water and patted down the soil around the rosemary bush she had just planted.

‘… and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,’ she whispered.

For just a moment, her mind tricked her into hearing an infant’s cry. She dismissed the illusion, her eye drawn instead by a pod of whales weaving their way up the coast to calve in the warmer waters, emerging now and again with a fluke of their tails like needles through tapestry. She heard the cry again, louder this time on the early morning breeze. Impossible.

Blurb from the back cover:

A boat washes up on the shore of a remote lighthouse keeper’s island. It holds a dead man and a crying baby. the only two islanders, Tom and his wife Izzy, are about to make a devastating decision.

They break the rules and follow their hearts. What happens next will break yours.

∼ ∼ 

It’s been made into a film and looks a real weepie, again I hadn’t heard of the film either, starring Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander. The Guardian calls it a ‘swirling, sugar-coated melodrama, a tale of love and sacrifice that isn’t afraid to hit cymbal-crashing levels of sentimentality.’

It looks a complete change of reading for me!

What do you think – would you read on?

Munich by Robert Harris


Munich is about  the 1938 Munich Conference and I found it absolutely fascinating  as I know very little about the period beyond the basic facts – PM Neville Chamberlain was trying to maintain the peace in the face of Hitler’s aims to expand German territory (but I was a bit vague about the actual details) and in 1938 came back from the Munich conference with a piece of paper signed by Hitler, proclaiming that it meant ‘peace for our time‘.


Munich is a mix of fact and fiction. Harris uses two fictional characters, Hugh Legat as one of Chamberlain’s private secretaries and Paul Hartmann, a German diplomat and a member of the anti-Hitler resistance to tell his story. Harris’ interest in the Munich Agreement began thirty years ago when he made a BBC TV documentary, ‘God Bless You Mr Chamberlain’ to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the conference in 1988. He has thoroughly researched the subject, consulting many books (listed in the Acknowledgements) and has seamlessly woven the facts into the novel. It has a a strong sense of place, based no doubt on his visits to what was once the Führerbau, now the Faculty of Music and Theatre and Hitler’s old apartment in Prinzregentenplatz, now used as a police headquarters.

Munich explores the moral dilemma of appeasement, and of making a stand. It portrays Chamberlain as a man of high moral principals, deeply concerned that the horrors of World War One should not be repeated and not as a weak appeaser easily fooled by Hitler. His objective was:

… to avert war in the short term, and then to try to build a lasting peace for the future – one month, one day at a time, if needs be. The worst act I could possibly commit for the future of mankind would be to walk away from this conference tonight. (page 267)

Reading this book has made me want to know more about Neville Chamberlain and I hope to read one of the biographies that Harris lists.

The fictional story of Hugh and Paul, who had been friends at university six years earlier adds additional tension and drama to the already tense story of the Munich conference. As in his earlier books Harris has captured the atmosphere and mood of the times, making me feel as though I’m there with the characters taking part in the action. The key characters are seen through Hugh’s and Paul’s perspectives – Chamberlain and Hitler – and others such as Mussolini, Goering and the other British politicians who travelled with Chamberlain to Munich.  Among the later was Lord Dunglass, described by one of Chamberlain’s secretaries as ‘one of the cleverest politicians she had ever encountered‘; she considered that he would ‘be Prime Minister one day‘. At the time it was inconceivable that a premier could sit in the House of Lords and her prediction was dismissed. However, Dunglass went on to inherit his father’s title and become the 14th Earl of Home and as Sir Alec-Douglas-Home (renouncing his peerage) he did indeed become Prime Minister.

I really like Harris’ straight forward writing style with no flashbacks, fly forwards or ambiguities. I learned a lot from this book and as far as I can tell (as I said I don’t know much about the period) it is an accurate version of what happened at Munich. It is a dramatic story well told – definitely a 5* book!

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Hutchinson; 01 edition (21 Sept. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0091959195
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091959197
  • Source: Library book
  • My rating: 5*