Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times

Judith at Reader in the Wilderness hosts this meme – Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times. In this strange and difficult time of self isolation and sickness it is a real treat to get away from the non-stop bad news about coronovirus and to do other things – I think I’m going to write a separate post about what I’ve been doing to keep myself occupied. One of the things is, of course, is reading. Actually I haven’t been reading any more than usual, oddly enough, as the situation has affected my concentration levels and I have been doing other things too. 

I am enjoying this meme, looking round my actual bookshelves and re-discovering books I’ve read or am looking forward to reading. The idea is to share your bookshelves with other bloggers. Any aspect you like:

1. Home.
2. Books in the home.
3. Touring books in the home.
4. Books organized or not organized on shelves, in bookcases, in stacks, or heaped in a helter-skelter fashion on any surface, including the floor, the top of the piano, etc.
5. Talking about books and reading experiences from the past, present, or future.

Whatever you fancy as long as you have fun basically.

Friday Meme 3 April 2020

This week’s photo shows part of one of my book shelves that contains a mix of fiction and nonfiction books, shelved together for no reason other than they are almost all hardback books of a similar height!

You can see the whole shelf on my current header photo.

Thomas Hardy: the Time-Torn Man by Claire Tomalin. This is a biography that I began reading in 2007 and stopped when I had reached 1867 (Hardy was born in 1840) because I decided that it would be better if I had read his earlier books before reading about how he had written them. I’m sorry to say that even though I have read more of Hardy’s novels I still haven’t got back to this biography.

The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle by Kirstie Wark is a novel that I read and enjoyed very much. It’s a story centred on the lives of two women – Elizabeth Pringle and Martha Morrison. Elizabeth has lived all her life on the Isle of Arran and knowing that she is dying and has no living relatives, leaves her house, Holmlea in Lamlash, to Anna Morrison, a woman she had seen years before, pushing her daughter’s pram down the road outside. It’s about family, relationships, especially mother/daughter/sister relationships, about happiness, love and heartbreak, old age, memories and the contrast between life in the early part of the twentieth century and the present.

The Children of Hurin by J R R Tolkien, edited by his son Christopher Tolkien. This is another book that I started and haven’t finished. During the First World War and before Tolkien wrote the tales that became the narrative of  The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings he began writing a collection of stories he called The Book of Lost Tales. These are the tales of Middle-earth from times long before The Lord of the RingsI first read The Lord of the Rings years ago when I was at college,  and have since re-read it a few times along with The Hobbit, so this book is one I really want to read soon – my problem is that there are so many books I want to read and time is precious.

Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks by John Curran, subtitled Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making. This is a fascinating book, exploring the contents of Agatha Christie’s 73 handwritten notebooks about her plots, titles and characters and two unpublished Poirot stories. The notebooks were found  at her home, Greenways, in a locked room, a long narrow room containing shelves and cupboards full of her printed books plus typescripts and manuscripts, letters and contracts, posters, playbills, photos and dust-jackets, scrapbooks and diaries.

And finally two of my husband’s books – The Second World War and Berlin: The Downfall 1945, both by Anthony Beevor. He has read both and recommends them highly. I’m not sure what to say about them, except they each weight a ton –  two enormous tomes! Fortunately I have both books on my Kindle as well as the hardbacks on the shelf, so you never know, one day I may get round to reading them.

WWW Wednesday: 1 April 2020

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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?

Currently reading:

Mystery of Princess LouiseThe Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria’s Rebellious Daughter by Lucinda Hawkesley. I’m finding this a fascinating biography of Louise, Victoria’s unconventional daughter. She was a sculptor and painter, who mixed with the artists of her day much to her mother’s dislike and was involved in many campaigns for reform in education and health. It’s packed with intrigues, scandals and secrets. I’ve read about two thirds of this book I borrowed from the library.

Mirror and LightThe Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel, the final book in Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy about the boy from Putney who climbed his way up to become Lord Cromwell, Secretary to King Henry VIII. I loved the first two books, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, so it was an easy decision to buy the third book in hardback to complete the set. It is heavy, weighing in at 2lbs 13ozs with almost 900 pages and so I’m reading it very slowly. Just like the other two books I think it’s beautifully written, full of colour and detail. Reading it I feel as if I’m there back in 1536.

Fresh water for flowers

Recently Finished: Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin, translated from the French by Hildegarde Serle. This is a complex novel, multi layered and centred on Violette, a cemetery keeper, switching between different people at different times in their lives.  I’ll write more about later on nearer its publication date in the summer.

Reading Next: This is where it gets difficult as there are so many I want to read. But it will probably be The Dutch House by Ann Patchett and  Queen Lucia by E F Benson, a book first published in 1920 for The 1920 Club hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings is taking place between 13th and 19th April 2020. The idea is that you read a book published in that year and share your thoughts/review with other participants.

But then it could easily be one of these books I’ve mentioned in recent posts:

What do you think – which one would you read next?

Latest e-book additions at BooksPlease

We’re in self isolation right now and one of the things I’m hoping to do is to spend more time than usual reading. And one of the best things about reading e-books is that you don’t have to go out of the house or meet anyone to get them. 

The Overstory by Richard Powers – this was my Mother’s Day present from my son.

An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies, and is sent back into life by creatures of air and light. A hearing- and speech-impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another. An Air Force crewmember in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan.

This is the story of these and five other strangers, each summoned in different ways by the natural world, who are brought together in a last stand to save it from catastrophe.

The Feather Thief : Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson – I’ve been watching Chris Packham’s daily live broadcasts and this is one of the books that he recommended.

One summer evening in 2009, twenty-year-old musical prodigy Edwin Rist broke into the Natural History Museum at Tring, home to one of the largest ornithological collections in the world. Once inside, Rist grabbed as many rare bird specimens as he was able to carry before escaping into the darkness.

Kirk Wallace Johnson was waist-deep in a river in New Mexico when his fly-fishing guide first told him about the heist. But what would possess a person to steal dead birds? And had Rist paid for his crime? In search of answers, Johnson embarked upon a worldwide investigation, leading him into the fiercely secretive underground community obsessed with the Victorian art of salmon fly-tying.

Was Edwin Rist a genius or narcissist? Mastermind or pawn?

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – Longlisted for the Women’s Prize 2020. I’d reserved this at the library, but as it’s now closed I decided to buy the e-book!

Danny Conroy grows up in the Dutch House, a lavish mansion. Though his father is distant and his mother is absent, Danny has his beloved sister Maeve: Maeve, with her wall of black hair, her wit, her brilliance. Life is coherent, played out under the watchful eyes of the house’s former owners in the frames of their oil paintings.

Then one day their father brings Andrea home. Though they cannot know it, her arrival to the Dutch House sows the seed of the defining loss of Danny and Maeve’s lives. The siblings are drawn back time and again to the place they can never enter, knocking in vain on the locked door of the past. For behind the mystery of their own exile is that of their mother’s: an absence more powerful than any presence they have known.

Told with Ann Patchett’s inimitable blend of humour, rage and heartbreak, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale and story of a paradise lost; of the powerful bonds of place and time that magnetize and repel us for our whole lives.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Spring 2020 TBR

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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.

This week’s topic is Books On My Spring 2020 TBR. Some of these books have been on my shelves unread for a long time, some are new additions and others are e-books from NetGalley. These are just the tip of the iceberg and when the time comes to start a new book it might be one of these – or any of the other TBRs on shelves.

First the physical books

Spring 20 tbr

Deadheads by Reginald Hill, the 7th Dalziel and Pascoe novel. Patrick Alderman’s Great Aunt Florence collapsed into her rose bed leaving him Rosemont House with its splendid gardens. But was it murder?

Edwin: High King of Britain by Edoardo Albert, book 1 of 3 in the Northumbrian Thrones series. Historical fiction set in the 7th century-  Edwin, the deposed king of Northumbria, seeks refuge at the court of King Raedwald of East Anglia. But Raedwald is urged to kill his guest by Aethelfrith, Edwin’s usurper.

Sirens by Joseph Knox, the first Detective Aidan Waits thriller, set in Manchester. I’ve read books two and three, so it’s about time I read the first. It’s described on the back cover as a powerhouse of noir by Val McDermid.

The next two books are historical nonfiction:

As I’m currently reading Hilary Mantel’s third book in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, it reminded me that I haven’t read historian, Tracy Borman’s biography of him – Thomas Cromwell: the untold story of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant.

Peterloo: the English Uprising by Robert Poole, about the ‘Peterloo massacre’ in St Peter’s field, Manchester on 16th August 1819 when armed cavalry attacked a peaceful rally of some 50,000 pro-democracy reformers. This is described on the back cover as a landmark event in the development of democracy in Britain – the bloodiest political event of the nineteenth century on English soil.

Next e-books

The Last Protector by Andrew Taylor, book 4 in his James Marwood & Cat Lovett series, historical crime fiction set in Restoration England. I loved the first three books, so I have high hopes that I’ll love this one too. It will be published on 2 April.

The Lost Lights of St Kilda by Elisabeth Gifford, historical fiction, a love story that crosses oceans and decades. It’s set on a Scottish island in 1927 and in worn-torn France in 1940.

Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin and translated from the French by Hildegarde Serle, to be published in June. A funny, moving, intimately told story of Violette, the caretaker of a cemetery who believes obstinately in happiness.

The Measure of Malice: Scientific Detection Stories edited by Martin Edwards. A collection of classic mystery stories using scientific methods of detection.

The Deep by Alma Katsu, historical fiction set on the Titanic and its sister ship The Britannic. It’s a sinister tale of the occult. Anna Hebbley was a passenger on the Titanic who survived the 1912 disaster and four years later was a nurse on the Britannic, refitted as a hospital ship.

Writing Wild by Kathryn Aalto

Writing Wild

3.5*

‘An exciting, expert, and invaluable group portrait of seminal women writers enriching a genre crucial to our future.’ —Booklist

Blurb:

In Writing Wild, Kathryn Aalto celebrates 25 women, both historical and current, whose influential writing helps deepen our connection to and understanding of the natural world. These inspiring wordsmiths are scholars, spiritual seekers, conservationists, scientists, novelists, and explorers. They defy easy categorization, yet they all share a bold authenticity that makes their work both distinct and universal.

Part travel essay, literary biography, and cultural history, Writing Wild ventures into the landscapes and lives of extraordinary writers and encourages a new generation of women to pick up their pens, head outdoors, and start writing wild.

My thoughts:

Writing Wild: Women Poets, Ramblers and Mavericks Who Shape How We See The Natural World is by Kathryn Aalto and illustrated by Gisela Goppel. Published by Timber Press it will be released in paperback on 1 April, with a Kindle edition to follow on 14 April 2020.

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but I do enjoy reading books about nature, so Writing Wild appealed to me. Kathryn Aalto’s reason for writing her book was to highlight what these 25 women writers have written, their historical significance and the barriers, biases and bullying they overcame to write. It covers two hundred years of women’s history through nature writing, including natural history, environmental philosophy, country life, scientific writing, garden arts, memoirs and meditations and does not aim to dismiss men’s contributions. Gisela Goppel’s portraits of each writer head each chapter. Aalto writes an introduction to each writer and includes excerpts of prose, poems and essays with added recommendations for further reading, plus a list of sources and an index.

Predominantly American and British, some of these women writers are familiar to me, such as Dorothy Wordsworth, Vita Sackville West, Nan Shepherd, Rachel Carson, Mary Oliver, Annie Dillard and Helen Macdonald. Others are new to me, but I would like to read several of their works, such as Andrea Wulf’s book The  Brother Gardeners in which  she explores how England became a nation of gardeners. Wulf, a design historian, writes horticultural and historical history through narrative nonfiction, borrowing techniques from fiction to make nonfiction come alive. Elena Passarello’s Animals Strike Curious Poses essay collection, which Aalto describes as written with  laugh-out-loud humour and depth of empathy, also particularly appeals to me.

One of the things I learned reading this book is the name ‘Cli-fi’. I hadn’t come across it before but of course, it is not a new genre. As Aalto points out it goes back at least to Jules Verne’s 1889 The Purchase of the North Pole. Contemporary examples including Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood and Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour. The writer she chooses to illustrate this genre is Saci Lloyd, an acclaimed writer of cli-fi, whose vivid and action packed books include The Carbon Diaries, about the effects of carbon reduction policies. They are gritty eco-thrillers featuring Laura Brown a 16 year old trying to manage life with a carbon deficit card.

Kathryn Aalto is a writer, designer, historian and lecturer. For the past twenty-five years, her focus has been on places where nature and culture intersect: teaching literature of nature and place, designing gardens, and writing about the natural world. Her work explores historic and horticultural themes with a contemporary twist. She is the author of The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A Walk Through the Forest that Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood (2015) and Nature and Human Intervention (2011). Her website is kathrynaalto.com.

My thanks to Timber Press for a review copy via NetGalley.

Library Loans 27 February 2020

The mobile library van visit was this week and I borrowed these books:

Library bks Feb 2020

The Mystery of Princess Louise by Lucinda Hawksley, subtitled Queen Victoria’s Rebellious Daughter. On the back cover it says that this is ‘packed with intrigues, scandals and secrets’. I know very little about Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s sixth child, so I’m keen to find out about her. From the opening page I’ve already found out she was a friend to artists, such as Dante Rossetti, James Whistler and John Millais and that she was a sculptor.

Caught Out in Cornwall by Janie Bolitho. I’ve read two of her books before. This is the seventh book in her Rose Trevelyan series of mysteries, in which she sees four year old Beth Jones being carried away from the beach at Marazion by someone she assumes is her father. But her mother insists he is a stranger.

A Body in the Bath House by Lindsey Davis the 13th book in her Marcus Didio Falco series of historical crime fiction mysteries. It’s set in Rome and Britain in AD 75. Falco is Britain and he hates it. A thousand miles from home he realises someone with murderous intentions is after him.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley. A while ago I kept seeing reviews of this book and wondered about reading it, so when I saw it on the library van shelves I decided to see what it’s like for myself. It’s a murder mystery set in a remote hunting lodge in the Scottish wilderness where old friends gather for New Year. The description makes me wonder if it is like In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware about a group of friends who spend a weekend in a remote cottage and everything goes wrong. I’m not sure I’ll like it …

I think I’ll start with The Mystery of Princess Louise – a friend borrowed it before me and said it’s very good, but first I’ll have to finish The Sleepwalker by Joseph Knox, his latest instalment in the Detective Aidan Waits series.

Happy Old Me by Hunter Davies

Happy Old Me

Simon & Schuster UK (21 Mar. 2019) | Hardback |291 pages |  4*

Blurb:

On 8th February 2016,Margaret Forster lost her life to cancer of the spine. The days that followed for her husband, Hunter Davies, were carried out on autopilot: arrangements to be made, family and friends to be contacted. But how do you cope after you have lost your loved one? How do you carry on?

As Hunter navigates what it means to be alone again after 55 years of marriage, coping with bereavement and being elderly (he still doesn’t believe he is), he shares his wisdom and lessons he has learnt living alone again. Revealing his emotional journey over the course of one year, as well as the often ignored practical implications of becoming widowed, he learns that, ultimately, bricks and mortar may change but the memories will remain. 

Part memoir, part self-help, Happy Old Me is a fitting, heart-felt tribute to the love of his life and a surprisingly amusing and informative book about an age, and stage in life, which we might all reach someday. The third book in Hunter Davies’ much-loved memoir series, which includes The Co-Op’s Got Bananas and A Life in the Day. 

Hunter Davies wrote Happy Old Me: How to Live a Long Life and Really Enjoy It in 2018 when he was in his eighty-second year. After fifty-five years of marriage he found he suddenly had to cope with living on his own, doing all the ‘domestic stuff he had never bothered to learn’ and get to grips with being old.

It tells of what he did during his first year after Margaret Forster, his wife died and also looks back at their time together and their family and careers. It is so readable, it’s like listening to him talking. I’ve read several of Margaret Forster’s books so it was good to ‘see’ her from his perspective.

I knew less about Hunter Davies, other than that he’s a journalist and has written several books on a variety of subjects. I’m reading The John Lennon Letters, that Davies edited  and my husband is reading his biography of Alfred Wainwright (I’ll read it later) and we have a copy of his book, A Walk Along the Wall, about Hadrian’s Wall (I’ll be reading that later too). Other books by him that interest me are his biographies of the Beatles and of William Wordsworth and also Lakeland: A Personal Journey. 

Amazon tells me that ‘Hunter Davies was at the heart of London culture in the Swinging Sixties, becoming close friends with The Beatles, and especially Sir Paul McCartney. He has been writing bestselling books, as well as widely read columns for over fifty years for major newspapers and magazines.’

In Happy Old Me he writes openly and frankly, with a sense of humour and a zest for life. I really enjoyed it.

Happy Old Me Contents

When was I happiest? People often get asked that, or ask themselves, especially when they get into their eighties, as if all happiness must be in the past, gone for ever. I always say now. And I mean it. I am happy. I am happy to have had my past and I am happy looking forward to tomorrow. (page 267)