The 1954 Club

The 1954 Club starts today, hosted by Karen and Simon, who ask everyone to read one or more books published in 1954 – in any language, format, or place – and share their reviews. Together, they will put together an overview of the year.

Books I’ve read and reviewed on this blog:

  1. Destination Unknown by Agatha Christie
  2. Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
  3. The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

And these I read years ago before I began blogging, so no reviews:

  1. Mary Anne by Daphne du Maurier – fictional biography about one of du Maurier’s who was the mistress of  Frederick Augustus, the Duke of York and Albany (the ‘Grand old Duke of York’), a son of George III.
  2. Lord of the Flies by William Golding – a novel about a group of schoolboys stranded on an island and what happens when their behaviour descends into darkness.
  3. Under the Net by Iris Murdoch – the first book by her that I read when I was a teenager and I didn’t really understand it!
  4. The Fellowship of the Ring by J R R Tolkien – I’ve read all of the Lord of the Rings books more than once in the past and I was hoping to re-read this the first book for the 1954 Club, but have only just started it.
  5. The Two Towers by J R R Tolkien – the second book in the trilogy.
  6. Katherine by Anya Seton – this novel tells the true story of the love affair that changed history—that of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the ancestors of most of the British royal family.

I’ve decided to re-read the Lord of the Rings this year, but my review will not be ready this week!

Ten Books I Haven’t Reviewed

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.

These are books I read before I started BooksPlease. They are all books I read in 2006 and although I may have mentioned them on my blog I’ve not reviewed them.

Looking Back at Books I Read in 2021

2021 was an odd year in many ways and the various events affected my reading. There were times when I didn’t want to read and several times when I certainly didn’t want to write about the books I did read. In total I read 80 books and didn’t write about 19 of them. I will write about two of them at least, a NetGalley book and also The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel.

I began the year determined to read Mantel’s book as I’d bought it in March 2020, but as the months went by I kept reading other books instead. After a good start I just couldn’t get interested in it and I’d loved the other two books in the Wolf Hall trilogy, but this third book was just dragging along. I left it for a few months and finally finished it just before Christmas.

I took part in four Challenges

Back to the Classics – completed 6 out of 12 categories
Mount TBR 2021 – read 40 of my TBRs meeting my target of reading 36 books
Wanderlust Bingo – still ongoing, completed 11 out of 25 categories so far
What’s in a Name? – completed 6 out of 6 categories

My Year in Books 2021 – this is one way of looking at what I read. I saw this on Cath’s blog Read Warbler and was inspired to do my own.

How do you feel? Coming Up for Air by Sarah Leipciger

Describe where you currently live: Above the Bay of Angels by Rhys Bowen

If you could go anywhere, where would you go?  A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson

Your favorite form of transportation is (with): The Railway Children by E Nesbit

Your best friend is: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

You and your friends are: The Killing Kind by Jane Casey (no way!)

What’s the weather like? Ice Bound by Jerri Nielsen

You fear: The Madness of Crowds by Douglas Murray

What is the best advice you have to give? Don’t Look Now by Daphne du Maurier

Thought for the day:   I Love the Bones of You by Christopher Eccleston

 How would I like to die? (from) A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Parry

Top Five Tueday: Book Covers with Plants

Top Five Tuesday was originally created by Shanah @ Bionic Book Worm, but is now hosted by Meeghan @ Meeghan Reads. To participate, link your post back to Meeghan’s blog or leave a comment on her weekly post.

This is my first attempt at a Top Five Tuesday post. This week it’s about books with plants on their covers, so here are mine. I’ve read all of them except for one.

Heat Wave by Penelope Lively, with its cover full of summer flowers, reflecting the long hot summer in the English countryside.

Blurb:

Pauline is spending the summer at World’s End, a cottage somewhere in the middle of England. This year the adjoining cottage is occupied by her daughter Teresa and baby grandson Luke; and, of course, Maurice, the man Teresa married. As the hot months unfold, Maurice grows ever more involved in the book he is writing – and with his female copy editor – and Pauline can only watch in dismay and anger as her daughter repeats her own mistakes in love. The heat and tension will lead to a violent, startling climax.

In Heat Wave, Penelope Lively gives us a moving portrayal of a fragile family damaged and defined by adultery, and the lengths to which a mother will go to protect the ones she loves.

The Lady of the Ravens by Joanna Hickson – a striking cover for this historical fiction about the early years of Henry VII’s reign.

Blurb:

My baptismal name may be Giovanna but here in my mother’s adopted country I have become plain Joan; I am not pink-cheeked and golden-haired like the beauties they admire. I have olive skin and dark features – black brows over ebony eyes and hair the colour of a raven’s wing…

When Joan Vaux is sent to live in the shadow of the Tower of London, she must learn to navigate the treacherous waters of this new England under the Tudors. Like the ravens, Joan must use her eyes and her senses, if Henry and his new dynasty are to prosper and thrive. 

A Month in the Country by J L Carr. I loved this quiet novel, in which not a lot happens and yet so much happens as Tom describes the events of that summer month in the country. And it has a gorgeous cover too!

Blurb:

A damaged survivor of the First World War, Tom Birkin finds refuge in the quiet village church of Oxgodby where he is to spend the summer uncovering a huge medieval wall-painting. Immersed in the peace and beauty of the countryside and the unchanging rhythms of village life he experiences a sense of renewal and belief in the future. Now an old man, Birkin looks back on the idyllic summer of 1920, remembering a vanished place of blissful calm, untouched by change, a precious moment he has carried with him through the disappointments of the years. Adapted into a film starring Colin Firth, Natasha Richardson and Kenneth Branagh, A Month in the Country traces the slow revival of the primeval rhythms of life so cruelly disorientated by the Great War.

The Overstory by Richard Powers. This was recommended to me by a friend and I bought this last year but I still haven’t read it yet. I love its cover.

Blurb:

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 Way Through the Woods by Colin Dexter – an Inspector Morse book. An atmospheric cover for this mystery that Morse solves from crossword type clues, with plenty of twists and turns and vivid descriptions of the scenery and locations.

Blurb:

They called her the Swedish Maiden – the beautiful young tourist who disappeared on a hot summer’s day somewhere in North Oxford. Twelve months later the case remained unsolved – pending further developments.

On holiday in Lyme Regis, Chief Inspector Morse is startled to read a tantalizing article in The Times about the missing woman. An article which lures him back to Wytham Woods near Oxford . . . and straight into the most extraordinary murder investigation of his career.

20 Books of Summer Starts Today

Today is the start of Cathy at 746 Books20 Books of Summer. I previously listed the books I thought I’d read, but I’m already making a change and substituting Blue Moon by Lee Childs for An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris.

So, these are the 20 books that I’m hoping to read this summer:

  1. The Railway Children by E Nesbit
  2. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell.
  3. Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K Jerome
  4. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift.
  5. Sing, Jess, Sing by Tricia Coxon
  6. An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris
  7. The Dressmaker by Beryl Bainbridge
  8. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
  9. The Killing Kind by Jane Casey
  10. The Girl Who Died by Ragnar Jónasson
  11. True Crime Story by Joseph Knox
  12. Just Like the Other Girls by Claire Douglas
  13. The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles
  14. Coming Up for Air by Sarah Leipciger
  15. The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles ** – as Rosemarykay pointed out in the comments I’ve duplicated this one, so I’m changing it to Heresy by S J Parris
  16. Loch Down Abbey by Beth Cowan-Erskine
  17. A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Parry
  18. The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
  19. Katheryn Howard, The Tainted Queen by Alison Weir
  20. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

A Reading Plan for the Coming Week?

Last weekend I planned posts for the week ahead. I managed to stick to the plan, but I did find it a bit stressful. So, this week I’m taking it as it comes. I may do a Top Ten Tuesday post and a review post of The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville, but that is by no means a definite plan. I’ll be busy next week in the garden, now that the grass is growing along with everything else!

And I may pluck up courage and visit Barter Books – that will be exciting!

Do you plan your posts, I’m wondering? Do you find it helps or hinders?

Six Degrees of Separation from Shuggie Bain to The Secret Life of Bees

It’s time again for Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

Shuggie Bain is by Douglas Stuart and it won the Booker Prize in 2020. I haven’t read it.

This is a story of a young boy growing up in poverty in a dysfunctional family in the 1980s. Shuggie’s mother, Agnes, is an alcoholic, and his father, Shug, is a taxi driver who despises his wife’s addiction to ‘the drink’, cheats on her whenever the opportunity arises, and ultimately abandons her to a low-income housing development called Pithead, a depressing colliery where residents survive on government handouts. It’s Douglas Stuart’s first novel.

My first link is to another Booker Prize winning book, The Gathering by Anne Enright, the winner in 2007. It’s a dark and disturbing novel also about a dysfunctional family. The narrator is Veronica Hegarty and it is through her eyes that the Hegarty family story is told as they gather at her brother’s wake in Dublin. Liam, an alcoholic, had committed suicide by putting rocks into his pockets and walking into the sea at Brighton. 

My second link is from a fictional character who put rocks in his pockets to drown himself to a real person who committed suicide in the same way -Virginia Woolf. In his biography of her, Quentin Bell described how she made her way to the river bank, slipped a large stone into her coat pocket and drowned herself.

My third link is from a suicide to a death that seemed at first to be a suicide but then turned out to be murder, in Gallows Court by Martin Edwards, set in 1930s London. There’s tension and suspicion about who is telling the truth, and who is not who they appear to be. You just cannot believe anything as it’s full of illusions and tricks to baffle and mislead.

Fourth, there’s another apparent suicide in The Serpent Pool, a Lake District Mystery, by Martin Edwards. Bethany Friend drowned in the Serpent Pool, a lonely, isolated place below the Serpent Tower, a folly high on a ridge. DCI Hannah Scarlet, in charge of the Cumbria’s Cold Case Team, investigates her death with the help of historian, Daniel Kind.

Fifth, from the Serpent Tower my chain moves on to the Eiffel Tower in Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner. It combines crime fiction and historical fiction, as Eugénie Patinot takes her nephews and niece to the newly-opened Eiffel Tower in 1889. They sign the visitors’ book, and then Eugénie collapses and dies, apparently from a bee-sting.

And the final link is to bees in Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Lives of Bees, (I’ve had this book for 6 years and it’s been hidden in my Kindle ever since – unread!). It’s a coming of age tale set in 1960s South Carolina’. It tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. This book also links back to Shuggie Bain as both are their authors’ debut novels.

My chain began in Glasgow, moved to Dublin, various places in England and then Paris before ending up in South Carolina. The links include Booker Prize winners, dysfunctional families, suicide, murder and bees.

Next month’s chain (May 1, 2021) will begin with Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary, a book I’ve never come across before.

Novellas in November: Short Classics

It’s the final week of Novellas in November and the focus is on classic literature.

Animal Farm by George Orwell, first published in 1945, is an allegorical novella, of the Russian Revolution and the rise of the Soviet Union. It tells the story of a farm where the animals rebel against the farmer, Mr Jones, and throw him off the land. They hope to create a society where they are all equal, free and happy. Ultimately, the farm ends up in a state that is as bad, if not worse than it was before, under the dictatorship of a pig named Napoleon. It begins as the old boar Major tells the animals about his dream of overthrowing the human race when the produce of their labour would then be their own and he incites them to rebel. In the story that follows the Major is based on Marx, Farmer Jones on the Tsar, the pigs Napoleon and Snowball are based on Stalin and Trotsky respectively. Their revolution began by declaring that all animals are equal and ended with the added phrase but some animals are more equal than others.

This is one of those classics that I knew the story roughly, but had not read the book, until this month. I was surprised, although I shouldn’t have been, at the violence of the deaths in it and the pathos of Boxer’s story. Boxer, a cart horse is described as an enormous beast. He is hardworking, but naive and ignorant, struggling to learn the alphabet, representing the Russian working class who helped oust the Tsar. He is shown as the farm’s most dedicated and loyal worker – convinced that ‘Napoleon is always right‘, but eventually he is betrayed by him.

It is a deceptively easy read that can be read on two levels either as a simple fairy tale style story – initially Animal Farm had a subtitle, A Fairy Story – or as a satire against Stalin. It is thought provoking and moving.

~~~

I’ve read several short classics since I began writing this blog. These are some of my favourites:

Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon by Jane Austen. Lady Susan is a finished novella, whereas The Watsons and Sanditon are two unfinished fragments. I loved these stories. Told in a series of letters, Lady Susan is the  story of an unscrupulous widow who plans to force her daughter into a marriage against her wishes. Lady Susan is an attractive and entertaining and totally wicked character, who nevertheless almost manages to fool people for some of the time at least. She is also trying to captivate her sister-in-law’s brother, whilst still holding on to the affections of a previous lover.

The Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan, a fast moving action-story, beginning with an international conspiracy, involving anarchists, financiers and German spies. Richard Hannay, having found Scudder, murdered in his London flat, fears for his life and goes on the run, chased by villains in a series of exciting episodes, culminating in the discovery of the location of the ‘thirty-nine steps’. Hannay is a remarkable character, resourceful, and a master of disguise. As well as fleeing for his life he is searching for Scudder’s notebook, which contains clues to the international conspiracy.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote, a quick read and very entertaining. The narrator is not named, although Holly Golightly calls him ‘Fred’ after her brother. He’s a writer and at the beginning of the book he is reminiscing about Holly with Joe Bell, who ran a bar around the corner on Lexington Avenue. They hadn’t seen or heard from Holly  for over two years. She used to live in the apartment below Fred’s in a brownstone in the East Seventies in New York. Her past is almost as unknown as her present whereabouts. She’s a free spirit, charming and carefree, but craves attention.

Ethan Frome

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. Even though Ethan Frome is a tragedy there is light to contrast the darkness, and there is love and hope set against repression and misery. It’s a book where I hoped the ending would be a happy one, although I knew it couldn’t be. Trapped in an unhappy marriage, Ethan’s life had changed when his father died and he had had to give up his studies to work on the farm. His wife Zeena had always been ill and needing help in the house, which was why her cousin Mattie came to live with them. At first it worked out quite well, but Ethan couldn’t shrug off a sense of dread.