WWW Wednesday: 28 September 2022

WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I still haven’t finished The Island by Victoria Hislop. I took it away on holiday but didn’t read much of it and now I need to refresh my memory before I can read any more. It is set mainly on the tiny, deserted island of Spinalonga – Greece’s former leper colony and is the story of Eleni and her daughters and a family rent by tragedy, war and passion. 

I’m also reading Godmersham Park by Gill Hornby, a novel about about Fanny Knight’s governess, Anne Sharp and her relationship with Jane Austen, and Never Greater Slaughter by Michael Livingstone, nonfiction about the Battle of Brunanburh in AD937, which Livingstone describes as ‘one of the most significant battles in the long history not just of England, but of the whole of the British Isles.’

The last book I read is Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, a novella that is shortlisted for the Booker Prize this year. I loved it. It is 1985, in an Irish town. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Bill Furlong, a coal and timber merchant, faces into his busiest season. As he does the rounds, he feels the past rising up to meet him – and encounters the complicit silences of a people controlled by the Church. A tender tale of hope and quiet heroism this is both a celebration of compassion and a stern rebuke of the sins committed in the name of religion.

Next I’ll be reading Another Part of the Wood by Beryl Bainbridge as it’s my book for the Classics Club Spin. In a remote cottage in Wales two urban couples are spending their holiday with the idealistic owner and his protege. The beginning is idyllic but catastrophe lurks behind every tree, and as the holiday continues their relationships start to show their cracks.

Although this is a weekly meme l’m taking part once a month at the moment.

Top Ten Tuesday: Typographic Book Covers

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog. The topic this week is: Typographic Book Covers (Book covers with a design that is all or mostly all words.)

At first I didn’t think I’d have enough typographic book covers for a post so I was surprised to find that I have, although some do have a small illustration. These are all books I own, some of which I’ve read (marked with asterisks * and with links to my posts).

I was shocked and saddened to hear that Hilary Mantel died on 22 September, aged 70 after suffering a stroke – here’s a link to an obituary. I’ve enjoyed a lot of her books, including the one list below.

*After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell – Alice is in a coma after being in road accident, which may or may not have been a suicide attempt. She has been grieving the death of her husband, John.

*He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr – a locked room’ type of mysteries/impossible crimes, featuring Dr Gideon Fell, an amateur sleuth.

*Shakespeare’s Restless World by Neil MacGregor – nonfiction that recreates Shakespeare’s world through examining twenty objects. It reveals so much about the people, their ideas and living conditions, who went to see Shakespeare’s plays.

*The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse – the first novel in a trilogy set in Languedoc in the south-west of France. It’s set in 1562 during the French Wars of Religion.

Eight Months on Ghazzah Street by Hilary Mantel – life in Saudi Arabia seen through the eyes of Frances, the wife of an ex-pat British engineer. The streets are not a woman’s territory; confined in her flat, she finds her sense of self begins to dissolve. This was her fourth novel, inspired by the four years she lived in Jeddah.

The Women’s Room by Marilyn French – described as ‘one of the most influential novels of the modern feminist movement.’ It was first published in 1977 to a barrage of criticism

Amo, Amas, Amat … And All That by Harry Mount – a guided tour of Latin featuring everything from a Monty Python grammar lesson to David Beckham’s tattoos. I’ve dipped into this one.

Nothing But the Truth by Adrian Plass – a collection of short stories and parables, both serious and comedic.

Persephone Book of Short Stories – an anthology of women’s short stories organised in chronological order through the twentieth century ranging from 1909 to 1986 with mini biographies at the back. I’ve read some of these.

*Somewhere Towards the End by Diana Athill – a memoir about what it is like getting towards the end of her life. At the time of writing she was 89 years old and looking back on her life with few regrets. She died in 2019 aged 101.

Undercurrent by Barney Norris

This is another short review of a book I read in the summer and didn’t manage to review before I went away on holiday. I really enjoyed it.

Random House| 25 August 2022| 257 pages| e-book Review Copy| 4*

Blurb:

Years ago, in an almost accidental moment of heroism, Ed saved Amy from drowning. Now, in his thirties, he finds himself adrift. He’s been living in London for years – some of them good – but he’s stuck in a relationship he can’t move forward, has a job that just pays the bills, and can’t shake the sense that life should mean more than this. Perhaps all Ed needs is a moment to pause. To exhale and start anew. And when he meets Amy again by chance, it seems that happiness might not be so far out of reach. But then tragedy overtakes him, and Ed must decide whether to let history and duty define his life, or whether he should push against the tide and write his own story.

Filled with hope and characteristic warmth, Undercurrent is a moving and intimate portrait of love, of life and why we choose to share ours with the people we do.

A few years ago I read Turning for Home by Barney Norris and thought it was a moving book with emotional depth. Undercurrent has very much the same tone, plumbing the same depth of emotion, as he tells the story of a family’s grief and loss as well as love.

The main story centres around Ed and his immediate family, but the narrative includes the stories of his grandparents and great grandparents. He had a troubled childhood, living on a farm in Wales with his mother, stepfather and stepsister, Rachel. His mother wants him and Rachel to take over the farm when she dies, but neither of them want to, which leaves Ed feeling guilty and frustrated. But when his mother becomes seriously ill and dies he has to make a decision.

It’s also the story of his grandparents and great grandparents, beginning in 1911 in India when Arthur, an Englishman met and later married Phoebe a young Indian teenager. When the First World War broke out they moved to England and Arthur enlisted in the navy. She never got over leaving India and sank into depression and melancholy. Their son, Leo, was greatly affected by his mother’s mental illness and caring for her and the farm became too much for him, resulting in tragedy. The women in the family followed the same pattern as Phoebe – following the men, their lives changing for better or worse.

I don’t feel I have done justice to this novel, finding it quite difficult to review. It’s a quiet thoughtful book that explores the nature of our relationships and emotions. The central theme is the pull of home, that sense of belonging, of attachment to a place, and how our past has shaped our lives. Alongside this there is the desire for a new life, and new experiences. It is beautifully written.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy via NetGalley.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on My Fall 2022 To-Read List

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog. The topic this week is: Books On My Fall 2022 To-Read List.

Some of these books are ones that have been on my TBR list for ages, and some are more recent additions from NetGalley. This is a list of books I want to read, but that does not mean I’ll read them all this autumn as I’m a mood reader and looking at my list of books on my Summer 2022 To-Read List I see that I read just one. Planning what to read next rarely works for me.

  1. Another Part of the Wood by Beryl Bainbridge
  2. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
  3. Mrs March by Virginia Feito
  4. The Island by Victoria Hislop
  5. Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
  6. Never Greater Slaughter by Michael Livingstone
  7. Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
  8. Coffin Road by Peter May
  9. The City of Tears by Kate Mosse
  10. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

The Classics Club Spin Result

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin is number …

which for me is Another Part of the Wood by Beryl Bainbridge. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by 30 October 2022.

Synopsis:

In a remote cottage in Wales two urban couples are spending their holiday with the idealistic owner and his protege. The beginning is idyllic but catastrophe lurks behind every tree, and as the holiday continues their relationships start to show their cracks.

I’m so glad this is my spin book as this has been on my TBR list for 6 years. I’ve enjoyed all of Beryl Bainbridge’s books that I’ve read so far and so I’m hoping to love this book.

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

White Rose, Black Forest by Eoin Dempsey

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This is the second of several short posts as I try to catch up with writing reviews of books I read earlier this year.

White Forest, Black Rose by Eoin Dempsey is a World War 2 novel which is different from other books set during the War that I’ve read before, told from the perspective of a German who opposed the Nazis. It is set in the Black Forest, Germany in 1943, where Franka Gerber is living alone in an isolated cabin, having returned to her home town of Freiburg after serving a prison sentence for anti-Nazi activities.

It is December and the Forest is blanketed in deep snow when she discovers an unconscious airman lying in the snow wearing a Luftwaffe uniform, his parachute flapping in the wind. Taking him back to the cabin she saves his life, but whilst he is unconscious she hears him speak in English and so it seems that he is not who she first thought he was. Both his legs are broken and, having been a nurse, Franka is able to set the bones, and tries to discover his true identity. Trapped in the cabin they both gradually reveal details of their past lives and learn to trust each other.

It is a tense, claustrophobic novel and as soon as he is able to walk they decide to leave the cabin and so begins a race against time, as they are hunted by the Gestapo. Can they trust each other enough to join forces on a mission that could change the face of the war and their own lives forever?

White Rose, Black Forest is a novel inspired by true events, although the author doesn’t clarify what is fact and what is fiction. I enjoyed it, especially the historical aspects. The White Rose movement in Germany was a non-violent intellectual resistance group in Nazi Germany, who conducted an anonymous leaflet and graffiti campaign that called for active opposition to the Nazi regime.

It slots into the Forest box in the Wanderlust Bingo card and is also one of my TBRs, a book I’ve owned since 2018.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Once more I’m behind with reviews of some of the books I’ve read in June, July and August, so this is the first of several short posts as I try to catch up with writing reviews.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I loved State of Wonder by Ann Patchett!

After a slow start I began to realise that this was a book I was really going to enjoy. In some ways it is similar to Heart of Darkness by Graham Greene, but set in the Brazilian jungle along the Rio Negro instead of the Belgian Congo in Africa. It slots into the River box in the Wanderlust Bingo card. It is also one of my TBRs, a book I’ve owned since 2015 and so qualifies for the Mount TBR Challenge.

Dr. Annick Swenson, a research scientist, is developing a drug that could alter the lives of women forever. But she refuses to report on her progress, especially to her investors, whose patience is fast running out. Anders Eckman, a lab researcher, is sent to investigate. When Dr. Swenson reported that Anders had died of a fever in a remote part of the jungle, Dr. Marina Singh, a former student of Dr. Swenson, is sent to find out what has happened to him.

From that point onwards it gets more and more complicated. First of all it’s very difficult for her to meet Dr. Swenson, and when she does eventually reach her there are all the dangers of the rain forest to deal with, including deadly snakes, hundreds of insects, mysterious natives and exotic diseases plus the intense heat. There are also secrets and lies that are only gradually revealed.

The novel raises questions about the morality and ethics of research into the use of extreme fertility treatments and drug studies in general, along with the exploitation of native populations. It is wonderfully descriptive and I could easily imagine that I was there in the jungle, experiencing the oppressive heat and humidity. I found it all fascinating and I was totally absorbed in the story.

Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: Ammonites and Leaping Fish by Penelope Lively

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.

I was on holiday in the Lake District last week, overlooking Esthwaite Water. There were two shelves of books in our apartment and one of them was Ammonites and Leaping Fish: a Life in Time by Penelope Lively, so I read it whilst we were away. I’ll write more about it in a later post (although I’ve not been keeping up with reviewing the books I’ve read this summer).

This is not quite a memoir. Rather it is a view from old age.

And a view of old age itself, this place at which we arrive with a certain surprise – ambushed, or so it can seem. The view from eighty for me. One of the few advantages of age is that you can report on it with a certain authority; you are a native now and know what goes on here.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice, where you grab a book and turn to page 56 (or 56% of an eBook), find one or more interesting sentences (no spoilers), and post them.

Page 56:

When I was on the other side of the Atlantic a few years ago staying with my best friend in America, she produced a photo she had found of the two of us taken in the early 1980s. We gazed at it with surprised respect; ‘Weren’t we young!’ said Betty. Actually verging on middle age, but never mind – our reaction was in perfect accord: an acknowledgement of those other selves.

Penelope Lively is one of my favourite authors and I’ve been reading her books for years, all of them are enjoyable and this one is no exception. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Synopsis from Amazon:

In this charming but powerful memoir, Penelope Lively reports from beyond the horizon of old age. She describes what old age feels like for those who have arrived there and considers the implications of this new demographic. She looks at the context of a life and times, the history and archaeology that is actually being made as we live out our lives in real time, in her case World War II; post war penny-pinching Britain; the Suez crisis; the Cold War and up to the present day. She examines the tricks and truths of memory. She looks back over a lifetime of reading and writing. And finally she looks at her identifying cargo of possessions – two ammonites, a cat, a pair of American ducks and a leaping fish sherd, amongst others. This is an elegant, moving and deeply enjoyable memoir by one of our most loved writers.

Classics Club Spin

It’s time for another Classics Club Spin.

Before next Sunday, 18 September, create a post that lists twenty books of your choice that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list. On that day the Classics Club will post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List by 30 October, 2022.

Here’s my list:

  1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  2. Another Part of the Wood by Beryl Bainbridge
  3. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  4. The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin
  5. The Stars Look Down by A J Cronin
  6. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
  7. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
  8. The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle
  9. The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas
  10. The Birds and other short stories by Daphne du Maurier
  11. Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
  12. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  13. Daisy Miller by Henry James
  14. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
  15. How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn
  16. Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault
  17. On the Beach by Nevil Shute
  18. Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck
  19. The Invisible Man by H G Wells
  20. Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf

I don’t mind which one is picked as I’m aiming to read all of them in due course! But which one/s would you recommend?

Top Ten Tuesday: Books with Geographical Terms in the Title: Rivers

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

The topic this week is Books with Geographical Terms in the Title (for example: mountain, island, latitude/longitude, ash, bay, beach, border, canyon, cape, city, cliff, coast, country, desert, epicenter, hamlet, highway, jungle, ocean, park, sea, shore, tide, valley, etc. For a great list, click here!) (Submitted by Lisa of Hopewell)

There are many books I could have chosen for this theme, but I decided to choose those with the word ‘River/s’ in the title. These are all books I’ve either read (marked with an *) or are books I own but haven’t read yet.

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch* – This is a magical reading experience, and a fast-paced police procedural of a very different kind. It’s fantastical in the literal meaning of the word; an urban fantasy set in the real world of London. It’s a mix of reality and the supernatural. Peter Grant is a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard who is assigned to work with Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale (who is the last wizard in England) as part of a special and secret branch of the Met, dealing with all things magical and supernatural.

River of Darkness by Rennie Airth – the first novel in his John Madden trilogy, published in 1999. It’s set in 1921 and a terrible discovery has been made at a manor house in Surrey – the bloodied bodies of Colonel Fletcher, his wife and two of their staff. The police seem ready to put the murders down to robbery with violence, but DI Madden from Scotland Yard sees things slightly differently.

River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh – In September 1838, a storm blows up on the Indian Ocean and the Ibis, a ship carrying a consignment of convicts and indentured laborers from Calcutta to Mauritius, is caught up in the whirlwind. River of Smoke follows its storm-tossed characters to the crowded harbors of China. There, despite efforts of the emperor to stop them, ships from Europe and India exchange their cargoes of opium for boxes tea, silk, porcelain and silver.

The Secret River by Kate Grenville* – one of my favourite books. It is historical fiction, straight-forward story-telling following William Thornhill from his childhood in the slums of London to Australia. He was a Thames waterman transported for stealing timber; his wife, Sal and child went with him and together they make a new life for themselves. William was eventually pardoned and became a waterman on the Hawkesbury River and then a settler with his own land and servants.

Rivers: A Voyage into the Heart of Britain by Griff Rhys Jones* – Griff is passionate about rivers and opening them up for people to use. The waterways of Britain are the ancient transport routes only superseded by road and rail relatively recently. He writes about the history of rivers – telling how the monks were the first people to use the rivers, creating the water meadows to irrigate the land, how people settled near rivers, how the towns grew up, how they were above all working rivers, and how we have lost our ancient connection with rivers. It is fascinating, complete with line drawings, maps and colour illustrations.

Mystic River by Dennis Lehane – Three boys’ lives were changed for ever when one of them got into a stranger’s car and something terrible happened. Twenty five years later they have to face the nightmares of their past. I’m not sure what to expect from this book, not having read any of Lehane’s books before, but a reviewer in the Guardian described it as one of the finest novels he’d read in ages.

The River Midnight by Lilian Nattel – this is about the fictional village of Blaska, a small Jewish community in Poland at the turn of the 20th century, when Poland was under Russian occupation. It is told from the perspective of a group of women, including Misha, the midwife, Hannah-Leah, the butcher’s wife, and Faygela, who dreams of the bright lights of Warsaw. Myth meets history and characters come to life through the stories of the women’s lives and prayers, their secrets, and the intimate details of everyday life.

Many Rivers to Cross by Peter Robinson – the 26th Inspector Banks book, in which he and his team investigate the murder of a teenage boy found stuffed into a wheely bin on the East Side Estate. But Banks’s attention is also on Zelda, who in helping him track down his old enemy, has put herself in danger and alerted the stonecold Eastern European sex traffickers who brought her to the UK

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield* – An intriguing and mystifying book, a mystery beginning in the Swan Inn at Radcot, an ancient inn, well-known for its storytelling, on the banks of the Thames. A badly injured stranger enters carrying the drowned corpse of a little girl. It’s mystifying as hours later the dead child, miraculously it seems, takes a breath, and returns to life. The mystery is enhanced by folklore, by science that appears to be magic, and by romance and superstition.

The Riddle of the River by Catherine Shaw* – Set in Cambridge in 1898  Mrs Vanessa Weatherburn used to be a school mistress until she married Arthur. Now with two children (twins) she acts as a private investigator. Vanessa is enlisted by her friend, journalist Patrick O’Sullivan to investigate the death of a young woman found floating, reminding her of Ophelia, in the River Cam.