A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford
I heard this author on an old “Desert Island Discs” and thought that I would try her amazing bestseller. I came to it with an open mind. Honestly, I found it pretty tedious. It’s about a self-made millionaire who drags herself up by her bootstraps. Not for me but can millions of people be wrong?
The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman
Regency romance meets demon slaying. A friend thought it might appeal and I can see why but it didn’t really.
The Long Long Afternoon by Inga Vesper
An excellent whodunnit written in English by a German author. I am filled with envy.
Trouble at Law by Cyril Hare
Another whodunnit: a legal one from the golden age of crime fiction. I quite enjoyed it but the plot was a bit challenging to follow; much turns on the Statute of Limitations.
Making it Up as I Go Along by Marian Keyes
Appealing short essays by the ever excellent Marian Keyes.
Kiss Myself Goodbye by Ferdinand Mount
This is an interesting which I found really enjoyable. The author investigates his rich aunt’s secret life story. I will tell you this, it is quite the story.
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
Another detective story. Only alright. It’s a story within a story and, if you ask me, he could have done without the framing device.
Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
I found this really, really interesting. The clue is in the title. North Korea is a very odd place and people lead extraordinary lives cut off from the rest of the world. This book was published in 2010, I think so perhaps things have changed a bit but not much, I’d say.
Diary of a Somebody by Brian Bilston
This guy writes funny poems and he got a whole book out of it. Not bad. Mr. Waffle really enjoyed it.
Giggling in the Shrubbery by Arthur Marshall
A lovely collection of letters from (largely) English women about their experience of boarding school in the first half of the 20th century.
Apeirogon by Colum McCann
This is a beautifully written book. In essence it’s about the fathers of two young girls (one Israeli, one Palestinian) who were killed respectively by a Palestinian suicide bomber and an Israeli soldier. But it goes all over the place in an interesting way. It reminds me a bit of WG Sebald’s meanderings. I really liked it but it was very, very sad so possibly not ideal pandemic reading.
Diary of an MP’s Wife by Sasha Swire
I quite enjoyed this entitled Tory view from the inside of British politics over the period 2021-2020 but it ultimately became a bit tedious. I would recommend all the same.
The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman
This is the second in the Thursday murder club books. These are lovely books. Great characters, great plots, set in an old people’s home.
An Education by Lynn Barber
This is a memoir by a well-known journalist. The author is very frank and does not spare herself or anyone else. Harsh at times but interesting.
The Once And Future Witches by Alix Harrow
I don’t know what possessed me to borrow this. It is basically a fantasy novel set in the late 19th century about three sisters who are also witches. I got into it in the end but it was a bit of a slog.
The Lost Words by Robert MacFarlane
This is really a children’s book but I heard someone talking about it on a podcast and got it out of the library. It is beautifully illustrated and a clever idea: it is a series of poems about words for things from the natural world that are apparently disappearing from children’s vocabularies. Not arcane words but very ordinary ones like conkers and bluebells. Seems a bit unlikely to me. Nevertheless would make a lovely present for the under 6 in your life.
The Farm by Lough Gur by Mary Fogarty
I loved this book. It’s the story of Mary O’Brien as told to her (Anglo-Irish) friend and covers the period 1858-78. It was first published in 1937 and apparently generated a storm of controversy as people thought it was all strongly edited by the friend. But it rang true for me. My mother was born in that part of the world in 1936 and was brought up on a reasonably big farm nearby. A lot of the experiences described as happening on a farm in the 1850s weren’t too hugely different from what my mother told me about her own upbringing on a farm in the 40s (my grandfather used to go out on his horse and trap and pick up people to work in the house in hiring fairs; there was an old neighbour who never washed as it “took all the oils out of your skin”; my grandmother fed dozens of people who worked on the farm every day). Our heroine attended the same girls boarding school that my mother subsequently attended and all the boarding school stuff brought back memories of my mother. The nuns woke them in the morning by saying “Praise be to Jesus” and until I read that I had forgotten my mother telling me about it (still a practice in the late 40s/early 50s when she was there). Mind you, my mother was never a morning person and I’m not quite sure that this wake up call had the effect intended.
It was lent to me by a friend (she of the 50th birthday in Holland) who is from the same part of the world and she loved it as well. It may be a bit specific but if you’re from North Cork or South Limerick, this is the book for you.
Re-educated: How I Changed My Job, My Home, My Husband and My Hair by Lucy Kellaway
Again, a really enjoyable book. I’m on a bit of a roll here. What I liked about this was how her views changed as she went through the experience. I have lots of views on people who know nothing about teaching but decide to set up a teaching charity (her); academies in the UK (where she taught) and the belief that just because you’ve had a great career in the city, you’ll make a great teacher. However, the author does acknowledge her failings and definitely learns something along the way but the idea that teaching is a vocation which can be done by a gifted amateur with little training, is, in fairness, anathema to most Irish people. Teachers are relatively highly paid here, go through lengthy and rigourous training and are hugely respected. Also Ireland is still a much more equal society than England (I mean almost everyone in Ireland was poor 150 years ago). All of that helps to bring about better outcomes across all schools. But in fairness, she can’t change the world and she is trying. She puts into words some thoughts about the middle-class safety net that means that children can fail or try other avenues in a way that is much less open to working class children which expressed something I have been reflecting on a bit myself. Recommended.
Baby it’s Cold Outside by Emily Bell
Exciting disclaimer: this was written by a relative. It’s for a Christmas readership and, as Mr. Waffle said, it’s like a love letter to Dublin. If you plan to visit Dublin you could do a lot worse than follow in our heroine’s footsteps around the city. It is mostly very sweet but occasionally acerbic and laugh aloud funny. I would really recommend as a fun Christmas read. Updated to add: I understand it’s currently 99 p on Kindle. Get that Christmas shopping done early etc.