The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
This was a bookclub book and I wouldn’t have read it otherwise as I’m not a huge fan of detective fiction. But I really enjoyed it and so did Mr. Waffle. It’s a murder mystery set in an old people’s home and it is very cleverly done. Excellent.
The Silver Branch by Rosemary Sutcliff
The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff
Frontier Wolf by Rosemary Sutcliff
I got these three books out of the library. They’re books for children about Roman Britain. I found they got better as they went along. They’ve really sparked an interest in Roman Britain for me. Not exactly recommended though as they can be hard enough going.
OK Let’s Do Your Stupid Idea by Patrick Freyne
The author is an Irish Times journalist and quite funny in the paper. These pieces are funny in places but also quite serious from time to time. Overall though a quick and easy read.
Dusty Answer by Rosamond Lehmann
I found this pretty tedious. Self-obsessed teenager goes to Oxford in the 1920s. All a bit atmospheric for me. Apparently a big hit when it came out and somewhat autobiographical.
Making Conversation by Christine Longford
This is written for laughs. Funnily enough it is also about a self-obsessed teenager who goes to Oxford in the 1920s. The same kinds of things happen as happen to the heroine of Dusty Answer but this heroine views them completely differently. Laugh out loud funny in parts it is overall a bit episodic and not really a novel. But enjoyable enough in a mild way.
The Smile of the Stranger by Joan Aiken
This children’s book turned up on my bedside table and I have absolutely no idea how it got there*. I enjoyed it very much actually. I think there’s a whole series so I might look for some more. Lots of adventuring and conspiracy in late 18th century England.
*Updated to add, I’m just off the phone from my sister-in-law in England and she says she gave it to me for my 50th birthday. Sorry about that but isn’t it good that I liked it?
The Mirror Dance by Catriona McPherson
The latest Dandy Gilver book. I really enjoy these and have read all of them at this stage. An English woman married to a Scot works as a detective all over Scotland. Great descriptions of places in Scotland which really make me want to visit them. And I love Dandy who is an interesting heroine and comments on the changes she has seen over her lifetime – the books start in the early 20s or even late teens and now we’re in 1937.
The Glass Hotel by Emily Saint John Mandel
This is inspired in part by the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme. I can see why people might find it interesting or enjoy it and it moves along at a reasonable clip but it just didn’t do it for me.
Sovereign Ladies by Maureen Waller
Daniel bought me this history of the Queens regnant of England in the belief that my enjoyment of the Pope-Hennessey biography of Queen Mary betokened a more general interest in the history of English Queens. It didn’t really and it took me a while to get going on this. It was interesting enough though. I didn’t know a huge amount about the Tudors and the Stuarts and I found both Queen Marys pretty interesting characters.
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
I was really looking forward to reading this and it is well written and science fiction, normally a completely winning combination for me. I mean I did enjoy it mildly but it was a bit over long I thought and the mystery at the heart of the novel took too long to be revealed.
The Complete Short Stories Volume 1 by Somerset Maugham
Dear God in heaven. Somerset Maugham is a racist, misogynistic, bigoted misanthrope. I have never in my life read anything so uniformly gloomy and negative about all of humanity and offensive about almost all of it. He can be funny in places but he is always mean. A brilliant writer though. I don’t know that I’d try another volume, I’m not sure I could stand another prolonged period inside his head.
Jours sans Faim by Delphine de Vigan
This is about anorexia and, I would bet, pretty autobiographical. It’s largely set in the hospital where the narrator is being treated. It’s interesting about how she thinks and what started her on this path and how she is recovering.
Mr. Wilder and Me by Jonathan Coe
I think Jonathan Coe is a terrific writer but this story of a woman who worked with Billy Wilder in the 70s didn’t do it for me. Very readable but just not a great story. I had no idea that Billy Wilder was an Austrian Jew whose mother died in the holocaust though and I found some of the information in the story interesting but it just didn’t work as a novel. He might have been better off writing a Billy Wilder biography.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
I really enjoyed Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and I was very much looking forward to this as was Michael who had just finished Jonathan Strange. It’s a very different book, for one thing, it’s a lot shorter. I found it hard to get going but once I got into it, I enjoyed it as did Michael. It’s about a man who is trapped in a parallel world which is an enormous building. Very clever.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Again, Matt Haig is an author whose books I have generally enjoyed. Notwithstanding its period at the top of the bestseller lists and the cleverness of the conceit – at the end of our lives, we get to see how things would have been different if we made other choices – I thought it was not his best work. I liked the idea that all of our choices bring good things and bad things; it is a comforting thought and obviously true. I am not convinced that it was sufficient to sustain a whole book. It was grand.
Magnificent Journey: The Rise of the Trade Unions by Francis Williams
I bought this ages ago, on a whim, in a second hand book shop and I read it slowly and painfully over the months of this last lock down. It’s written in the 1950s and the author is convinced that trade unionism’s progress will continue its upward trajectory forever. I’m glad he died before Mrs. Thatcher got in. It’s a bit turgid and having completed it I know far more about the internal workings of English trade unionism in the 1920s than I really want to. But it was interesting in ways like a historical period piece. It put the Dublin 1913 strike and lock out into the wider context of what was happening in the UK for me. What I found funny about the book was how insular it was – it rarely looked to events elsewhere in the world and then often only to assert that trade unions were not communist oh no indeed or if they were in part they were nor in the whole (remember it was written in the 50s). Women and their involvement in the movement barely get a look in. Events in Ireland are also given short shrift (some of the Black and Tans were brought back from Ireland to sort out the miners but that and the lockout reference were about it). I finally understand why the miners were so important in the 1970s and 80s and the role they played in the development of the unions. Look, interesting in its way buy extremely hard going and an obviously partisan account.
The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman
I didn’t enjoy La Belle Sauvage (part 1 of the trilogy) hugely but I loved this book. I have only two quibbles: firstly it relies on readers remembering all the details of book 1 of this trilogy and indeed those that proceeded (the Northern Lights books) and secondly it ends very abruptly right in the middle of the story with no attempt to bring the threads of this book to a conclusion – we’re obviously going to have to wait for book 3 for that. That said, I still loved it. I enjoyed the new details in the world Pullman created and the characters and their backstory. Each chapter ends on a cliff hanger; what’s not to love? Recommended.
The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
This is the story of a group of college friends who go away together every year. They’re ten years out of college, there are lots of tensions, they got stuck in snow in Scotland at new year and one of them is murdered. I really enjoyed this. A snag is that three of the narrators are women from the friend group and their voices are insufficiently different to tell them apart so that can be a bit confusing. Overall, I found it undemanding and entertaining though.