Reading Round-Up: February 2023

Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book. Here are my reads for February, 2023.

Scott’s Last Expedition, by Captain Robert Falcon Scott – This one has been on my shelf for years, waiting for its day. I finally picked up Captain Scott’s diaries detailing his doomed final expedition to the South Pole shortly before leaving for my own trip to Antarctica (which, thankfully – and as expected – went much better than Scott’s). I bogged down in quite a few places (especially the endless descriptions of weather conditions, which were certainly top of mind for Scott but which didn’t exactly hold the attention) and spent a fair amount of time lamenting Scott’s poor decision-making – especially those bad decisions that led directly to his death and the deaths of the rest of the members of his Polar Party. But it was an interesting and important read on the history of polar exploration.

Three Letters from the Andes, by Patrick Leigh Fermor – As I thought, this book focused entirely on Peru – so not the part of the Andes I was destined to see at the southern tip of Argentina. But as with everything written by Fermor, it was a beautiful and evocative read. And Peru is quite high on Steve’s and my list of countries to visit soon (with the kids) so I’m sure I will be revisiting this slim but lovely volume.

Object Lessons: Whale Song, by Margret Grebowicz – An interesting, again slim, look at the sounds whales make, their communication, and what those phenomena mean to human culture. This left me with a lot of food for though, especially about the tendency to anthropomorphize cetaceans.

A Nature Poem for Every Winter Evening, ed. Jane McMorland Hunter – I really enjoyed Jane McMorland Hunter’s selections in A Nature Poem for Every Night of the Year, which I read a few years ago, and was delighted that she is now curating seasonal selections (in pretty hardcovers that are a bit easier to hold and read than the giant doorstopper omnibus, too). I bookmarked quite a few poems to revisit, and this volume contained some old and some new favorites. I have the spring volume sitting on my coffee table and can’t wait to dive in.

Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica, by Sara Wheeler – One thing about polar literature, and the literature of Antarctica especially, is that it’s very heavily male-dominated. Looking for a woman’s voice to take on my Antarctic journey, I found Sara Wheeler’s memoir of her time spent “on the ice” – a memoir the great Beryl Bainbridge describes as “essential” – and Wheeler was the perfect company for the long flights and days on the Drake Passage. I loved her description of her initial preconceptions of Antarctica as “the place where men with frozen beards competed to see how dead they could get” and her wise and funny observations of her companions at McMurdo Station and the other research stations and camps she visited over multiple trips to the icy continent. Funnily enough, Steve and I hit it off with another couple in our kayak group while on our trip, and they were both reading Terra Incognita too. We all agreed – it’s a wonderful read.

Well! This is a short list – only five books – as I was too busy having the adventure of a lifetime in Antarctica to do much reading. (Even during the long at-sea days on the Drake, I spent most of my time watching albatrosses swoop behind the ship and looking for whale spouts on the horizon.) But it was a good month of reading in that everything I did manage to read was interesting and enjoyable (or some combination!). Terra Incognita was the highlight of the month, for sure. Now that I’m home, I’m taking a break from ice and men with frozen beards and turning my attention to some springier reading. I’m definitely feeling the pull to my shelves again – I never read much when I am traveling – and looking forward to a longer booklist for March.

What were your reading highlights in February?


The Classics Club Challenge: Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe

It’s amazing to think that Things Fall Apart is a debut novel – because it’s perfect. Perfectly formed and crafted, perfectly compact – just perfect.

When the novel opens, Okonkwo is a young man in Umuofia, a region in southeastern Nigeria. Already gaining prominence as a local wrestling champion, Okonkwo is determined to forge his own legacy and shake off the shame he feels at being the son of a ne’er-do-well father. The novel’s first section showcases Okonkwo’s determined progress from nobody to rich farmer and respected village leader. He’s a complicated character – engaging and interesting, but also brutal and misogynistic at times. (That made for an interesting dilemma to ponder while reading: Okonkwo is not an especially likeable character, but how much of my response to his behavior was directly tied to my 2020s western worldview? I try to approach each book as a learning experience and to question why I respond to certain characters in certain ways.)

As Okonkwo grows to manhood, he piles success on top of success. The reader watches as he clears hurdles, navigates setbacks – like crop losses – and comes back stronger than ever. It seems there is no challenge to which Okonkwo is not equal.

Enter white missionaries. By the end of the first section of the book, there are whisperings that white settlers have started to inflitrate the land. Okonkwo is unconcerned – at first.

But stories were already gaining ground that the white man had not only brought a religion but also a government. It was said that they had built a place of judgment in Umuofia to protect the followers of their religion. It was even said that they had hanged one man who killed a missionary.

Although such stories were now often told they looked like fairy-tales in Mbanta and did not as yet affect the relationship between the new church and the clan. There was no question of killing a missionary here, for Mr. Kiaga, despite his madness, was quite harmless. As for his converts, no one could kill them without having to flee from the clan, for in spite of their worthlessness they still belonged to the clan. And so nobody gave serious thought to the stories about the white man’s government or the consequences of killing the Christians. If they became more troublesome than they already were they would simply be driven out of the clan.

Eventually, white missionaries arrive in Okonkwo’s village and build a church. Soon, the village is divided between those who – like Okonkwo – value and continue to follow the old traditions, and those who are interested in the newly introduced Christian religion and want to see what it’s all about. Tensions rise as the village becomes more and more fractured, and when a local funeral leads to a tragic accident, Okonkwo and his family are exiled for seven years to Mbanta, his mother’s village. At first deeply depressed at the idea of leaving behind the village and all he has built there – because his farm and all his crops will be claimed by other villagers the second he departs – Okonkwo finds companionship and validation among his extended family in Mbanta. Soon he is prosperous again and is able to influence his family members to resist the colonizing newcomers and cherish their Igbo traditions, as his uncle reflects in a speech honoring Okonkwo at a family feast.

“If I say that we did not expect such a big feast I will be suggesting that we did not know how openhanded our son, Okwonko, is. We all know him, and we expected a big feast. But it turned out to be even bigger than we expected. Thank you. May all you took out return again tenfold. It is good in these days when the younger generation consider themselves wiser than their sires to see a man doing things in the grand, old way. A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving. They all have food in their own homes. When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so. You may ask why I am saying all this. I say it because I fear from the younger generation. for you people.” He waved his arm where most of the young men sat. “As for me, I have only a short while to live, and so have Uchendu and Unachukwu and Emefo. But I fear for you young people because you do not understand how strong is the bond of kinship. You do not know what it is to speak with one voice. And what is the result? An abominable religion has settled among you. A man can now leave his father and his brothers. He can curse the gods of his fathers and his ancestors, like a hunter’s dog that suddenly goes mad and turns on his master. I fear for you, I fear for the clan.” He turned again to Okonkwo and said, “Thank you for calling us together.”

After his seven years of exile are over, Okonkwo returns to his village to find it changed beyond recognition. The white missionaries have invaded every aspect of village life and only a few villagers seem to still hold true to their traditions. When a Christian convert unmasks a village elder during a religious ceremony – a deeply evil act – Okonkwo and a few other villagers reach the limit of their endurance and call for war against the colonizers. I won’t share more of the plot, because you really should seek this book out to read for yourself – but I will say, as anyone who has read anything about the history of colonization in Africa can guess – things don’t go well for Okonkwo.

“Does the white man understand our custom about land?

“How can he when he does not even speak our tongue? But he says that our customs are bad, and our own brothers who have taken up his religion also say that our customs are bad. How do you think we can fight when our own brothers have turned against us? The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”

I’ve had Things Fall Apart on my to-be-read list for ages, and I’m so glad I finally got to it. It was a slim volume and a fast read – I think I read it in one or two sittings – but packed full of beautiful writing and difficult concepts to consider. As we in western countries engage more and more with our own legacy of colonialism and erasure, this should be required reading. I’m sure I will revisit it, since there was so much to turn over and consider here; this is a book that will reward multiple re-readings for years to come.

Have you read any Chinua Achebe?

The Classics Club Challenge: Sylvia’s Lovers, by Elizabeth Gaskell

Not nearly as well-known as North and South or Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell’s Sylvia’s Lovers follows along with Gaskell’s unusual (for Victorian times) featuring of a working-class heroine. Sylvia Robson is the daughter of a relatively prosperous – but by no means wealthy – farmer in northern England. When the novel opens, she is just coming into the bloom of her young womanhood, and her beauty is the talk of her local environs and responsible for enchanting her cousin Philip. Sylvia finds Philip, when she thinks of him at all, an annoyance and a bit of a pedantic.

Aside from Sylvia’s beauty, the other hot topic of conversation is the press gang. Under constant stress from Napoleon, the British Navy has turned to the shameful practice of impressment – rounding up able-bodied civilian men, kidnapping them, and forcing them to serve on Naval ships. No man, save for the very old, the very young, and the clearly disabled, was safe from roaming press gangs – although certain professions, including whalers, were supposed to be exempt from impressment. But “supposed to be” and what really happened were two different things, and the town is waiting with bated breath for the return of the “Greenland whalers” who base there in the winter. When the first ship appears in harbor, the press gang strikes and Charley Kinraid, chief harpooner, is shot and wounded. The town is abuzz with gossip about his heroism, and Sylvia is fascinated by Kinraid.

Kinraid has a reputation: he’s a bit of a womanizer and a heart-breaker. When he starts to court Sylvia – helped along by Farmer Robson’s lively interest in the whaler’s tales – Philip is dismayed. But their courtship is cut short by the press gang. Watching Charley be carried off, Philip promises to tell Sylvia what has happened to the whaler – but he says nothing. Sylvia, believing her fiance drowned, mourns and also grows up and grows more beautiful.

To be sure, it was only to her father and mother that she remained the same as she had been when an awkward lassie of thirteen. Out of the house there were the most contradictory opinions of her, especially if the voices of women were to be listened to. She was ‘an ill-favoured, overgrown thing’; ‘has as bonny as the first rose i’ June, and as sweet i’ her nature as t’ honeysuckle a-climbing round it’; she was ‘a vixen, with a tongue sharp enough to make yer very heart bleed’; she was ‘just a bit o’ sunshine wheriver she went’; she was sulky, lively, witty, silent, affectionate, or cold-hearted, according to the person who spoke about her. In fact, her peculiarity seemed to be this – that every one who knew her talked about her either in praise or blame; in church, or in market, she unconsciously attracted attention; they could not forget her presence, as they could of other girls perhaps more personally attractive. Now all of this was a cause of anxiety to her mother, who began to feel as if she would rather have had her child passed by in silence than so much noticed.

Philip’s decision to conceal Charley’s true fate from Sylvia is a fascinating plot. As a character, he is complicated. His broken promise destroys his life, Sylvia’s life, and several more lives by extension – to share more would be to spoil the plot. His motivations are the central question of the book: is it genuine love? Is it vindictiveness? Is it both? Did Philip truly love Sylvia? Did Charley?

Sylvia is a passive character. While she is operating with very imperfect information – Philip actively conceals Charley’s whereabouts from her and allows her to think he has drowned, on the flimsy basis that he’s probably going to die in some Naval battle or another, anyway – she generally just lets events happen. Now that’s partly a reflection of the realities of life in Victorian times, for a young woman – but several of Gaskell’s other heroines would have been a lot less passive. I can’t see Cynthia Kirkpatrick, for example, just sitting back and letting romantic drama grind her down. Cynthia is in charge of the romantic drama, thank you.

I think it’s Sylvia’s passivity that made this book a bit of a tepid reading experience for me. There’s a lot of dialogue, which makes the reading hard going, and Gaskell tends to veer into melodrama the longer things drag out. But that wouldn’t stand in the way of a really fabulous read if the heroine was a stronger character. Unlike the wonderful Molly and Cynthia of Wives and Daughters, or the strong and principled Margaret of North and South, Sylvia is bland and generally uninteresting. Her defining characteristic is physical beauty, and it’s on that basis – and that alone – she has two men falling at her feet. It’s hard to root for her or even to care, really, about what happens to her. Philip is the most well-rounded character – and it is interesting to consider whether he’s the novel’s hero or villain or anti-hero – and Charley comes across as little more than a plot device. It’s just all – bland.

Elizabeth Gaskell has written some of my favorite novels – Cranford in particular, and Wives and Daughters, both rank near the top of my desert island library list – but this isn’t one of them. If you’re new to Gaskell and want to start someplace, I suggest starting with one of those or with North and South.

Have you read Elizabeth Gaskell? Which of her novels is your favorite?

Reading Round-Up: January 2023

Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book. Here are my reads for January, 2023.

Christmas Days, by Jeanette Winterson – I had this on audio and saved it for almost a year, to listen around Christmas. It was a lovely festive listen – Winterson alternates between holiday-themed short stories and sharing recipes from her personal holiday traditions (along with stories from her life). As with most volumes of short stories, some were more of a success than others – I particularly enjoyed several spooky Christmas ghost stories – and I really liked the recipe interludes.

The Children of Green Knowe, by Lucy M. Boston – Tolly goes to live with his great-grandmother at the rambling old house long known as “Green Knowe” and encounters three ghostly – and very mischievous – former residents of the house. Their adventures over Christmas are sweet and just eerie enough to be delightfully spine-tingling. There is a little bit of a time-slip adjacent element, which I love.

The Office BFFs: Tales of The Office from Two Best Friends Who Were there, by Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey – I’ve had my eye on this for ages, and it was waiting under the Christmas tree courtesy of my mom. I loved The Office when it was airing, and I really enjoy reading the oral histories of the show that are starting to come out (last year I read and loved Brian Baumgartner’s – a.k.a. Kevin’s – Welcome to Dunder Mifflin). Kinsey and Fischer’s book is also written in that tag-team style, but reviews the history of the show from the vantage point of their friendship. Knowing about their offscreen sisterhood of the heart, it’s even funnier to watch Fischer’s Pam and Kinsey’s Angela bicker and snipe. If you are a fan, do check this one out.

The Windsor Diaries: 1940-45, by Alathea Fitzalan Howard – Howard was a young girl living with her grandfather and aunt in an estate on the grounds of Windsor Castle during the World War II years – so she regularly encountered two other young girls in the neighborhood – the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, who were sheltering at Windsor during the Blitz. Howard was a year old than Princess Elizabeth and several years older than Margaret, and she took dancing and drawing lessons and socialized regularly with the Princesses, even attending sleepovers with them at the Castle several times. Her diaries from those years made for fascinating reading about the Princesses’ daily lives. Prince Philip makes an appearance (fifteen-year-old Elizabeth confides in Alathea that he is “her boy”) and Alathea especially loved Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, who was genuinely kind to her. I especially enjoyed reading diary entries where Alathea overthinks royal protocol – there are pages devoted to whether she should continue calling her friend “Lilibet” or whether, in their late teens, it would be more appropriate to switch over to “Princess Elizabeth” – and her somewhat snarky comments about the Princesses’ hair and clothes. Trigger warning, though – there are references to self-harm, so if that is the kind of thing that you cannot read about, skip this one.

Yours Cheerfully (The Emmy Lake Chronicles #2), by A.J. Pearce – After reading Dear Mrs. Bird in December, I couldn’t wait to find out what happens next to Emmy, Bunty, Charles, and all of their friends. Yours Cheerfully finds the staff of Woman’s Friend re-shuffling after Mrs. Bird sailed off into the sunset (with all the good grace of a warship). Meanwhile, the magazine responds to a government call to help the war effort by spotlighting female war workers with the goal of recruiting more women to work at factories. But as Emmy writes up her feel0good stories, she discovers that the women’s lives in the factories are much more complicated than she is allowed to write about. Emmy’s efforts to support her new friends just might land her – and Woman’s Friend – in a whole heap of government trouble. This was a fun and delightful read.

Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship, by Isabel Vincent – Isabel Vincent is a recent transplant to New York, struggling to get her arms around a new job as an investigative reporter at The New York Post and to navigate a floundering marriage, when she meets Edward. Edward is a friend’s nonagenarian father, recently widowed and struggling, himself, to find a reason to go on. Isabel’s friend Valerie asks Isabel to look in on her father and having dinner with him – “he’s quite a good cook” – and a beautiful friendship results. Edward cooks sumptuous dinners – sending me down goggle rabbit holes trying to find the exact recipe for his apricot souffle and cauliflower soup – and in the process, Isabel and Edward heal each other. It’s a beautiful read.

How Much of These Hills is Gold, by C. Pam Zhang – Ba is dead; Ma is gone; Sam and Lucy are on the run. Pam Zhang’s new release re-imagines the American west as a land of giant tigers and massive buffalo skeletons. This is a sibling adventure story with a light magical realism element; it is gritty and dark. Definitely worth the hype, but darker than I like (the real world is plenty dark enough).

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry Potter #1), by J.K. Rowling – A re-read that needs no introduction from me at this point. The kids are on a major Harry Potter kick right now, and this has been Nugget’s and my bedtime reading. (We’re now on to the second one).

Philosophy for Polar Explorers, by Erling Kagge – This slim volume is a fast read but packed with wisdom. Kagge was the first person to complete the Three Poles Challenge – reaching both the North Pole and the South Pole and attaining the summit of Everest – and Philosophy for Polar Explorers collects his life lessons from those adventures. Nothing earth-shattering here, but nice to read and packed with cool photos..

Winter in the Air, and Other Stories, by Sylvia Townsend Warner – I bought this book entirely for the cover, and apparently I was not the only person who did so. (It is gorgeous.) Happily, it’s also an excellent read. I’ve noted in weekly reading recaps that there are only a small handful of writers who can hold my attention over an entire volume of short stories, and Sylvia Townsend Warner is one of that select group. As always, not every story was a favorite, but there are so many gems in here.

Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery – Another re-read and another read-aloud, and another one that needs no introduction for me. Over ,months now, Peanut and I have been slowly reading our way through Anne and enjoying ourselves hugely. Note for parents considering reading this one aloud – have plenty of tissues for that penultimate chapter. I sobbed my way through it as Peanut and Steve watched with concern. I knew it would be hard to read, but man. Anyway – now Peanut and I are checking our schedules to find time for her to watch the classic movie version with Meagan Followes. Am I way too excited to share that with her? Am I planning to make homemade raspberry cordial (non-alcoholic) to celebrate? Yes on both counts.

Smallbone Deceased (Inspector Hazelrigg #4), by Michael Gilbert – I love a mystery novel on audio, and this was a fun one. A body is discovered in a deed box within the office of a London solicitor, and the police have a puzzle on their hands. Who was Marcus Smallbone, and why was he killed, and what on earth was his corpse doing in a box on a law firm shelf? When the killer strikes a second time, the stakes go through the roof. While this wasn’t as wonderful as Death in Captivity, another novel by Gilbert and republished by British Library, it was a fun read and excellent on audio.

Whew! A busy month of reading and a great start to 2023. Two lovely read-alouds with two lovely kids: that’s got to be the highlight of the month. But as for the remainder of the month, there were so many other highlights – a fascinating historical diary… a beautiful collection of short stories… a riveting classic crime novel… and a fun and frothy look at one of my favorite television shows of all time. Ahead in February, I have lots of reading planned around the theme of my upcoming Antarctic adventure. Brrrrr!

What were your January reading highlights?

2022 in Books: Top Ten

(^Blast from the past! My living room is a bit more crowded these days…)

This is always a hard post to write! Over the course of a year, I average more than one hundred books – actually, I can’t remember the last year when I read fewer than 100 – and many of them are very, very good. How to pick the top ten? It’s never an easy task. And then this year, I added to the difficulty and decided to actually rank my top ten in descending order. I could go on about what a challenge it was to narrow down all the great books I read in 2022, let alone rank them, but – well, it would just be complaining. Let’s get to the books.

10. Welcome to Dunder Mifflin: The Ultimate Oral History of The Office, by Brian Baumgartner and Ben Silverman. One of the first books I read in 2022 was also one of the best. Anyone who was a fan of The Office would love this, but for Dunder Mifflin super nerds, it’s an absolute must.

9. Call Us What We Carry: Poems, by Amanda Gorman. Amanda Gorman shot to national superstardom when she read her spectacular poem, The Hill We Climb, for President Joe Biden’s inauguration. That poem is in her first collection, Call Us What We Carry, but there is so much more. I am not exaggerating when I say that when I finished this book, I hugged it.

8. Death in Captivity, by Michael Gilbert. Considering how many mysteries I read, I am kind of surprised I don’t have more on my top books of the year list. So that goes to show how excellent Death in Captivity is. It has everything – a murder, of course, but also an adventure/escape plot, lots of humor, and a poignant look at a World War II POW camp. And I didn’t guess whodunit. Definitely will be re-visiting this one.

7. Hons and Rebels, by Jessica Mitford. I’m fascinated by the Mitford sisters, and Jessica might be the most interesting one of them all – she certainly broke farther away from her family than any of the rest of them, even Nancy. Her memoir was riveting, and the writing was outstanding too (and so evocative – I loved her description of Nancy as looking like “an elegant pirate’s moll” and I’ll never be able to see Nancy any other way).

6. Four Hedges, by Clare Leighton. Leighton’s garden writing is beautiful, but what really sets this book apart is the stunning woodblock illustrations. I could stare at them for hours.

5. Just William, by Richmal Crompton. Sometimes you want to read a book and howl with laughter. Richmal Crompton’s collection of linked short stories about possibly the world’s most mischievous little boy, and the scrapes he and his friends get into, will be just the thing.

4. The Armourer’s House, by Rosemary Sutcliff. Manderley Press is a new small publisher that is reprinting classics that are especially evocative of a sense of place, and The Armourer’s House, the second volume brought out by the press, takes you right back to Tudor London. I am a big fan of Rosemary Sutcliff’s writing, and this was an especially good one. Just like her Dolphin Ring series (republished by Slightly Foxed, if you’re interested), The Armourer’s House puts you right in it. I would’ve liked it to have been three times as long.

3. Delight, by J.B. Priestley. This 75th anniversary edition of Priestley’s essays about things that delight him is a total joy to read. In addition to the writing – in essays like “Cosy Planning,” which had me nodding along – the book is beautiful and is a delight in and of itself.

2. War in Val d’Orcia: An Italian War Diary, 1943-1944, by Iris Origo. Iris Origo was a really exceptional person – an Anglo-American writer married to an Italian nobleman, she and her husband Antonio sheltered refugee children and Allied soldiers, and provided guidance and sustenance to a string of Jewish refugees, anti-Fascist partisan fighters, and escaped Allied POWs – at great personal risk to themselves. When Nazi soldiers took over their idyllic farm, Origo courageously led a string of sixty refugees, including elderly grandparents and tiny babies, through heavy fire to safety in Montepulciano. Her diaries are riveting reading, capturing what it was like to live through history and make some of it for yourself.

1. The Feast, by Margaret Kennedy. In a year of fantastic reads, this was the standout of all standouts. The Feast opens with a tragedy – a cliff has collapsed on a hotel in Cornwall, and everyone inside the hotel was killed. But not all of the guests were inside, and the plot rewinds to seven days before the disaster, when you see the ill-fated hotel guests arriving. The seven guests killed represent the seven deadly sins, so as the reader gets to know each of the guests and their foibles, it becomes a fascinating intellectual exercise to work out who the victims will be and who will survive (I guessed right on all counts). I was riveted from the very first page, and will read this again and again in coming years.

Whew! I can’t believe I actually did it – my top ten books of 2022, actually ranked in descending order. It was a wonderful year in reading – as they all are, of course. And now, one more lookback post for 2022 before it’s time to turn my readerly attention fully to 2023. Next week: the silliest post of the year, in which I give high school superlative awards to the books I read last year. It’s utterly ridiculous!

Reading Round-Up: December 2022

Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book. Here are my reads for December, 2022.

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The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2023, by Lia Leendertz – I’ve been buying and reading Leendertz’s almanacs every year since they first began, in 2018, and they are always a total joy. In addition to the usuals – seasonal recipes and garden tasks, sunrise/sunset and tide tables, etc. – Leendertz sprinkles in different themes and ideas each year. This year, her theme was myths and legends and each month included a “myth of the month.” I absolutely love these almanacs and will keep reading them as long as Leendertz keeps writing them. (Pro tip: Leendertz also has a podcast, As the Season Turns, which is released on the first of every month, and is a delight to listen to especially in conjunction with reading the monthly chapter in The Almanac.)

The Christmas Hirelings, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon – Pretty classic Victorian Christmas fare from the author of Lady Audley’s Secret. There are poor but genteel children, a curmudgeonly old gentleman, a pudding, disguised identities, you know the drill. It’s fine but not spectacular and I guessed the big twist about a third of the way through the book. But if you are looking for something light and not at all taxing in the lead-up to Christmas, this will do the job – and a nice bonus, if you get the audiobook: the great Richard Armitage reads it. As you know, I adore Richard Armitage and would listen to him read the phone book.

The Professor, by Charlotte Bronte – Bronte’s first novel is a fictionalized account of an English teacher in Brussels, based on Bronte’s own tutor from her time in the Belgian capital. It’s no Jane Eyre or Shirley. Give it a read if you’re in a completionist mood or want to trace Bronte’s evolution as a writer. Full review to come for The Classics Club.

The Franchise Affair (Inspector Alan Grant #3), by Josephine Tey – A young girl goes missing for a month, before turning up with a surprising story – she was picked up by two women and held hostage in an attic, starved and beaten, before making a thrilling escape. Suspicion immediately falls on a mother and daughter pair who making a thrilling escape. Suspicion immediately falls on a mother and daughter, who live on the outskirts of town and somewhat on the fringes of society. The women call upon a local barrister to help clear their names. After being underwhelmed by Miss Pym Disposes, I was considerably relieved to enjoy The Franchise Affair so much. I blazed through it in a day, partly because I was trying to finish it in time to listen to a podcast episode with spoilers on a flight, but also because I just couldn’t put it down. Based on the real-life case of the kidnap of Elizabeth Canning, and featuring Tey’s famous Scotland Yard inspector only in a couple of cameos, it’s a fun and fast read.

God Rest Ye, Royal Gentlemen (Her Royal Spyness #15), by Rhys Bowen – Another fun Georgie mystery, and one that takes place at Christmas! How could I resist? Georgie and Darcy are looking forward to their first married Christmas and planning to host a house party, when an invitation comes in, instead, to join Darcy’s aunt Ermintrude, who lives in a grace and favor house on the grounds of Sandringham Estate. It turns out Wallis Simpson is staying there, too, and then to make matters worse, dead bodies start showing up. Figures! This was a fun mystery for the festive season, and I really enjoyed the audiobook format.

Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women who Created Her, by Melanie Rehak – Just a quick read on my kindle while I was on a business trip, but a really interesting one. Rehak explores the history of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a juvenile adventure book mill that created the Hardy Boys, the Bobbesey Twins, and best of all – Nancy Drew. Tracking Nancy’s history and the different lenses through which her original and replacement ghostwriters approached her, Rehak explores Nancy’s significance throughout the decades. A great read for anyone who grew up on the O.G. girl sleuth – like I did.

The Swallow: A Biography, by Stephen Moss – I really enjoy Moss’s bird biographies and this was a fun entry into the series. Moss follows the swallow from its summer residences to its winter travels and has poignant words to say about climate change and the challenges all of our favorite birds are facing in the coming years.

Dear Mrs Bird (The Emmy Lake Chronicles #1), by A.J. Pearce – This was a fun and mostly light read – although it did get poignant. Emmy Lake strives to be a journalist reporting from the front lines of World War II. When she sees an add for a “junior” at what she believes to be a newspaper, she thinks it’s her big break. Turns out, she is to be a junior typist to an “agony aunt” at a women’s magazine – and her boss, despite running an advice column, is not very helpful. Emmy decides to take matters into her own hands and write back to the readers, and she’ll change more lives than just her own before the book is over.

Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year, by Beth Kempton – If you’re like me, you can get easily overwhelmed with all the added to-dos around the winter holidays. I appreciated Kempton’s wise and reassuring words about slowing down and celebrating the season in ways that are personally meaningful.

Midwinter Murder, by Agatha Christie – A little crime at Christmas is always fun, right? At least when it’s between the pages of a book. I really enjoyed this collection of winter- and holiday-themed mysteries from Agatha Christie. Five of the stories featured Poirot and two featured Marple, so you know you’re getting a good volume!

Sister of the Angels (Torminster #2), by Elizabeth Goudge – I read the first Torminster book, The City of Bells, ages ago, and this slim volume – set at Christmas – is the second. The action revolves around Henrietta and her father, Gabriel Ferranti, as they unravel the mystery of a sad and lonely stranger who appears in Grandfather’s cathedral. This was a fast read, but as delightful as any Goudge, and I enjoyed it.

No Holly for Miss Quinn, by Miss Read – I read No Holly for Miss Quinn every year, usually on Christmas Eve. At this point, it’s as familiar as my favorite Christmas ornaments. I love this story of reserved, quiet Miss Quinn and her struggles when family responsibilities upend her plans to paint her house over Christmas. It was as lovely this year as always.

The Country Doctor’s Commonplace Book, by Philip Rhys Evans – Another tradition – A Country Doctor’s Commonplace Book has been my Christmas Day reading since 2017 (or was it 2018?) when I unwrapped the book under the Christmas Tree. Dr. Evans never fails to have been cackling with laughter at his witty and delightful clippings. This year, I am thinking of starting my own commonplace book – so I read it with extra interest.

The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories, ed. Martin Edwards – While I sometimes struggle with short story collections, that wasn’t the case with The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories. I enjoyed every entry and some of the stories were real gems. I can definitely see myself returning to this collection in future years.

Whew! Quite a December in books – what a way to wrap up the year, huh? I’m always looking for the right balance of holiday and non-holiday reading in December, after one year when I only read Christmas books and burned out bigtime. This year, I think I could have started earlier on the Christmas reading – but I really enjoyed everything I read this month, so maybe not. On the non-holiday front, “The Franchise Affrair” was the highlight of the month. Whenh it came to holiday reading – setting aside my repeats, which are repeats for a reason; they’re old favorites – I absolutely loved “The Christmas Card Crime.” And now – onward! I have a big stack of January reads, including a bunch themed around a big adventure I have coming up later this winter. (About which: more soon.) Can’t stop, won’t stop!

Reading Round-Up: November 2022

Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book. Here are my reads for November, 2022.

Sylvia’s Lovers, by Elizabeth Gaskell – Sylvia Robson is a blooming farmer’s daughter caught between two men, both of whom want to marry her. When one of these lovers – a harpooner on a whaling vessel – is carried off by the press gang to fight in the Napoleonic Wars, Sylvia’s other lover conceals vital knowledge from her and changes all of their lives. This was fine, but it was no Cranford or Wives and Daughters, and the dialect made it hard to follow much of the time. Full review to come for the Classics Club.

Notes from an Island, by Tove Jansson – The writer Tove Jansson and her partner, Tuulikki Pietila, spent much of their lives on an isolated island, which gave Jansson the material for her famous novel The Summer Book. This is her diary of their island days, gorgeously illustrated by Pietila’s paintings. I loved following the gentle rhythms of the two women’s year (and their illegal building projects).

The Starless Sea, by Erin Morgenstern – After The Night Circus it would be hard for any sophomore effort to follow, but I found The Starless Sea a bit disappointing – as my BFF said I would. The concept is great – a hidden subterranean world devoted to stories, and a war between people that would preserve it and people that would bury it forever. But it went on too long, largely due to the extensive detail and random side quests; I almost felt like the author had taken it a personal challenge to jam as much creative detail in as humanly possible.

Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe – Okonkwo is a prosperous farmer and a powerful member of his tribe, proudly committed to the traditional ways of the Igbo people. Achebe’s classic novel follows his despair and downfall when white colonizers arrive and disrupt the generational rhythms of Igbo lives. This was a powerful and stunning read. Full review to come for the Classics Club.

A Chill in the Air: An Italian War Diary, 1939-1940, by Iris Origo – Origo was an Anglo-America writer who maried an Italian nobleman in the years preceding World War II. When war broke out, the Origos sheltered and protected refugees, escaped Allied POWs, Jews, and anti-Fascist partisans – all at great personal risk to themselves. Origo recorded the lead-up to war in the first volume of her diaries, A Chill in the Air, which she never intended for publication. In this slim volume, she repeatedly wrestles with the question of how one man – Mussolini – was able to compel a nation to war against its interests, its inclinations, and even its culture. It’s a fascinating primary source document with lessons for today.

Lovely War, by Julie Berry – A World War I love story narrated by Greek gods – do you need more to convince you to pick this up? Caught in Hephaestus’s golden net, Aphrodite pleads her case to her husband by telling him the stories of two of her favorite couples – James and Hazel, and Aubrey and Collette. To spin her narrative, she gets help from Ares, Apollo, and Hades. I really loved the four main characters, and rooted hard for them all to survive the war and end up happy (I won’t tell you the ending). Berry’s meticulous research and sensitive hand really showed in her description of the Black American regiments – to which Aubrey belonged – and the shameful treatment they received at the hands of their countrymen during the war. And the author’s note at the end is absolutely brilliant. And the whole experience was capped off by the audiobook production, which was wonderful. I highly recommend listening to this one, if you can – although at over 12 hours it is a time commitment.

War in Val d’Orcia: An Italian War Diary, 1943-1944, by Iris Origo – The second volume of Iris Origo’s war diaries picks up in 1943. Italy is now well into the war, and Origo and her family expect to see fighting in their peaceful valley any day, as the Allies advance across the countryside. They continue to shelter POWs and children even when the farmhouse is taken over by Nazis (and Origo continues to record it all, hiding the pages of her diary in boxes buried around the garden). Finally, the Nazis expel them from their home and Origo leads a group of sixty elderly tenants and little refugee children as young as babies, on foot under heavy fire, to safety in Montepulciano. It’s as exciting as a thriller, and much more inspirational.

Lilibet: The Girl who Would be Queen, by A.N. Wilson – I loved A.N. Wilson’s The King and the Christmas Tree last year, so when I saw this new book published in a coordinating edition to that, I had to have it. Wilson imagines Queen Elizabeth II as a young girl, leading up to the moment when she learned she was Queen of England. A quick and delightful read.

A Poem for Every Autumn Day, ed. Allie Esiri – I always have grand plans of daily poetry reading, and it never works out. (Maybe if I kept my nightstand neater I’d notice the books on it…) As is typical, for me, I blasted through this entire daily poetry selection for fall in one day. But I really enjoyed it – I like the mix of seasonal verses with poetry reflecting on significant dates in history.

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova – A young girl, set loose in her father’s library, finds a curious book. It’s almost completely blank, with an image of a dragon in the centerfold – and just one word: DRAKULYA. The girl asks her diplomat father about the book and he’s curiously reluctant to tell her anything. This sets off a literary detective chase around Europe. I loved every word of this – I did note some criticism on Goodreads about the detail, but I was here for every last description of a stained glass window or cup of coffee. It took me almost the entire month to get through it (I read it on my kindle, starting it on a flight home from Seattle on business and then setting it aside for several weeks before coming back to it with a goal of finishing it before December). But worth every minute of reading time.

Whew! November was a busy month in books, indeed. It started off a bit on the disappointing side – I didn’t really love anything I read in the first week or so – but I hit my stride around mid-month and ended with almost too many highlights to count. The highest of the highlights were Iris Origo’s diaries – the only downside there was the sadness in closing War in Val d’Orcia for the last time and having to say goodbye to Iris. (I do have her history of medieval Italian merchant life still on my shelf, and her memoir, Images and Shadows, on my Christmas list – so we’ll be reunited.) Aside from Iris, Chinua Achebe’s masterpiece tops the highlights list, and The Historian was absolutely riveting. Looking ahead, I’ve already had some good reading time in December and I have a stack of festive books for the coming weeks, so watch this space.

What were your reading highlights in November?

Reading Round-Up: October 2022

Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book. Here are my reads for October, 2022.

Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison – Fully reviewed here for The Classics Club Challenge. This was a powerful, unsettling, dreamlike, confusing and fascinating read, and one to which I can certainly see myself returning.

Death in Captivity, by Michael Gilbert – Definitely the highlight of the month here: I absolutely loved this golden age detective story set in an Italian POW camp in the waning days of World War II. An unpopular prisoner – believed by many to be feeding information to the Italian guards – is found dead in a tunnel that some of the prisoners have been digging in an escape attempt. The tunnel was believed to be a secret, and is inaccessible without the cooperation of at least three people. How did the victim get there, and was his death an accident or murder? This is a blend of a locked room detective novel with an adventure story, and I loved every page.

Miss Pym Disposes, by Josephine Tey – I’d been so looking forward to this story of intrigue and tragedy at a women’s physical fitness college, but it mostly fell flat for me.

Death on the Down Beat: An Orchestral Fantasy of Detection, by Sebastian Farr – For my birthday, Steve got me a subscription to the British Library Crime Classics – I know, I’m a lucky lady! This was my first month’s book and it was such a fun one. An unpopular orchestra conductor is shot dead in the middle of a performance, in full view of the entire orchestra and a 2,000-person audience. It turns out there were no shortage of people with a motive for murder, but who had the means and the opportunity? Detective Alan Hope thinks his way through the muddle via letters home to his wife, in which he encloses documents, news reports, and witness statements. I’ve seen some criticism that the author didn’t entirely play fair with the solution, and I think that’s right, but I still really enjoyed it and will revisit it to see if I can spot some of the buried nuggets I missed the first time around.

Pumpkinheads, by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks – Reading Pumpkinheads on Halloween night has become a favorite tradition of mine – this is the fourth year running and I’ve come to look forward to spending an hour in the Patch with Josiah, Deja, and all of their friends. It has everything I love about Halloween – pumpkins, hayrides, fall colors, campfires – and none of the spooky stuff. I find something new to smile at every time I read this; this time, it was Patch veteran Todd, who never left because he just really loves being a mime with a jack-o-lantern head. The moment he creepily jumps out of a shrub and Josiah greets him nonchalantly – “Hey, Todd” – too funny.

Bit of a slow reading month! A couple of reasons for this: as you know if you’ve been reading along with my weekly updates, I recently took on some new responsibilities at work, and that’s kept me extra busy – and drained my focus a little bit. Couple that with Nugget’s bedtime creeping later and later, and by the time I hit the couch on quite a few nights in October, I had no attention left to give a book. I never thought I’d see the day… ah, well. Another explanation: I read a couple of chunksters in October – Invisible Man was a time commitment, and I am almost done with Sylvia’s Lovers as of press time, and that one will count toward November’s total. So I was turning pages, you see, just a lot of them in only a few books. Well, low book totals or not, I had a major highlight last month: Death in Captivity is a contender for my top-ten list at year’s end; it was just that good. And I’m looking ahead to a good month of reading in November – I’ve got a few really exciting titles stacked up to get to this month. Watch this space!

What were your reading highlights from October?

The Classics Club Challenge: Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison

The back cover of my copy of Invisible Man (which was actually Steve’s copy, from college) characterizes the story as a “nightmare journey across the racial divide” – it checked out. The 1952 novel opens with the nameless narrator describing his life as an invisible man; he squats in a basement and siphons power off the city grid in order to light his room, blindingly, with dozens or perhaps hundreds of lights, secure in his knowledge that he’ll never be caught and brought to account because he is invisible. But the narrator didn’t always know that he was invisible, and his journey to that knowledge is the compelling story that follows.

The narrator turns back to his childhood and to the moment when his dying grandfather cursed him. His grandfather had – as far as the family could tell – been a subservient, quiet and obedient Black man, in short, everything the white men who ran their Jim Crow-era Southern society wanted. But the grandfather tells the narrator that he has actually been subversive, a double agent in effect, and the narrator will be the same. He just doesn’t explain how, and the narrator will spend the rest of his life wondering about this. As a young man, still puzzling over his grandfather’s curse, the narrator writes and delivers a speech about race that garners him an invitation to a gathering of the white city fathers – where he is roped into participating in a “battle royal” with other Black youth, a barbaric ritual that reduces the young men to a humiliating spectacle. He then delivers his subservient speech and is rewarded with a scholarship to a nearby Black college.

At college, the narrator works hard and earns the esteem of his instructors and college administration, and is rewarded with a plum task: driving one of the white donors around on a tour of the campus and surrounding countryside. Matters quickly get out of hand, and the narrator ends up introducing the wealthy donor to a local farmer who the college would prefer to keep hidden (as one who has committed a horrifying crime against nature) and then taking him to recover at a rambunctious local bar, where a brawl promptly breaks out. This disastrous day is – spoiler alert – the end of the narrator’s college career, and he is promptly dispatched to New York City to make his own way. The narrator arrives, starry-eyed, in Harlem – only to discover that his college President has sabotaged his chances of a responsible white-collar job. Instead, he ends up in a paint factory, where he lasts one day before being injured in a workplace accident and spending an unspecified amount of time in a very strange hospital, where he apparently has some kind of bizarre procedure done (to be honest, that section was wildly confusing to me – as I expect it was meant to be).

Emerging from the hospital after some unspecified time, the narrator finds new lodgings and a new lease on life as a celebrated speaker with a Communist organization. He believes that he has found his place and secured an important, responsible job – just as he hoped for after leaving college – but outside forces attempt to warn him that the white men who run the organization do not view him as an equal and won’t hesitate to punish him if he steps out of his prescribed place. Meanwhile, he begins to experience the sensation of being anonymous in a large city – his first taste being a taste, quite literally, of a yam from a cart. The narrator buys a hot yam with syrup, a messy meal he wouldn’t dream of eating in public in his Southern hometown, and discovers that no one in Harlem cares that he is eating on the street.

I took a bite, finding it as sweet and hot as any I’d ever had, and was overcome with such a surge of homesickness that I turned away to keep my control. I walked along, munching the yam, just as suddenly overcome by an intends feeling of freedom–simply because I was eating while walking along the street. It was exhilarating. I no longer had to worry about who saw me or what was proper. To hell with all that, and as sweet as the yam actually was, it became like nectar with the thought.

The narrator, who describes himself as invisible in the opening pages, is also blind to his circumstances. He believes the Communist organization – a shadowy concern known as “the Brotherhood” – considers him an expert on Harlem and an important asset; he fails to recognize that while he has an exalted status as their trophy speaker, they have no interest in hearing his opinions. And indeed, as an anonymous “friend” warns him, the moment he begins to assert himself he is promptly sidelined: sent off downtown to speak on “The Woman Question.” While the narrator is away, Harlem slips from the Brotherhood’s grasp and another trophy Black member and speaker, Brother Tod Clifton, falls from grace and disappears. When the narrator encounters Clifton again, he is selling racist caricature dolls on the street and is shot by police while resisting arrest. The narrator watches, helpless, as his friend and colleague’s life is snuffed out – a cataclysmic event that sets off the chain of events that concludes with the narrator finally realizing that he is “invisible.”

Why had he turned away? Why had he chosen to step off the platform and fall beneath the train? Why did he choose to plunge into nothingness, into the void of faceless faces, of soundless voices, lying outside history? I tried to step away and look at it from a distance of words read in books, half-remembered. For history records the patterns of men’s lives, they say. Who slept with whom, and with what results, who fought and who won and who lived to lie about it afterwards. All things, it is said, are duly recorded–all things of importance, that is. But not quite, for actually it is only the known, the seen, the heard and only those events that the recorder regards as important that are put down, those lies his keepers keep their power by.

The entire narrative does have a dreamlike – or nightmarish – quality, with strong magical realism effects throughout. The narrator seems to swim through an increasingly opaque soup of circumstances, and is nearly always in the dark. At the beginning of the book, he describes himself as living in a blinding light box, which he likes – having spent so much time in darkness. (He’s referring to his sewer escape, but the reader knows the darkness is symbolic, too.) But this light is more than just the literal lighting arrangement in the narrator’s room, and is more than just a reaction to time he spends hiding in a sewer at the end of the book; it’s a metaphor for his transition from wilful blindness as a striving college student and “Brother” to an embracing of his own invisibility, and his own existence as a personality outside of recorded history. The light the narrator surrounds himself with symbolizes the dawn of his own consciousness that these organizations that purport to uplift him are actually reliant on him staying quiet and remembering “his place” – and that as soon as he steps outside of his prescribed roles, he will be immediately punished and sentenced to obscurity, or to put it another way – invisibility.

I could go on and on and on… and on… about this book. The edition I read was over 580 pages and there was something thought-provoking on every page; it could be material enough for an entire college course and there’s no way to do justice to the book in one blog post, however long-winded. I found myself focusing on the elements of illumination and darkness; transparency and opaqueness; visibility and invisibility, that swirled in a confusing cloud throughout the book. It was a fascinating read, and I can see myself returning to it again to see what else is there that I missed on this first round.

Have you read The Invisible Man? What did you think?

Reading Round-Up: September 2022

Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book. Here are my reads for September, 2022.

Summer Pudding, by Susan Scarlett – I’ve been wanting to try Susan Scarlett – Noel Streatfeild’s pen name for when she wrote novels for adults – for ages, so I was beyond excited when Dean Street Press brought out a whole collection. Janet Brain (terrible name, but what can you do) joins her frail mother and selfish sister in the countryside after she loses her job due to bombing in the Blitz. Hijinks and miscommunications ensue! Summer Pudding was a total delight – refreshing, absorbing, and such fun for a few late summer afternoons.

Going Solo (Roald Dahl’s Autobiography #2), by Roald Dahl – This is the second time I’ve read the second installment of Dahl’s memoirs (and still have never read the first installment, Boy), and I enjoyed it every bit as much as the first time around. This time, I listened to the incomparable Dan Stevens (better known as Matthew Crawley!) read the audio version, and it was fabulous.

Nella Last’s War, by Nella Last – Another one that had been on my list for ages and rocketed to the top of the pile when a favorite small press (Slightly Foxed, this time) brought out a reprint. I loved the wealth of detail in this very ordinary, everyday account of a housewife’s activities during World War II, but I must agree with the introduction – her husband was just infuriating.

Mr Mulliner Speaking (Mr Mulliner #2), by P.G. Wodehouse – Another audiobook; it’s really fun to listen to the Mulliner stories on audible – rather like you are sitting in the Angler’s Rest with the rest of the clientele, listening to Mr Mulliner discourse on the fascinating lives of his seemingly inexhaustible stash of nephews and cousins. Roberta Wickham – that most mischievous and hilarious of Bertie Wooster’s love interests from the Jeeves books – makes an appearance in several stories, which made this even more fun.

Flower Crowns & Fearsome Things, by Amanda Lovelace – The best poetry is both so universal and so personal that it seems to have been written just on purpose for the immediate reader, and Amanda Lovelace’s poignant, powerful and galvanizing poems read in exactly that way. I loved this collection and can see myself returning to it again and again.

Ruth, by Elizabeth Gaskell – Fully reviewed here, for the Classics Club Challenge. While Ruth will never be my favorite Elizabeth Gaskell novel – so far that honor still belongs to Cranford, with Wives and Daughters a close second – I really did find Gaskell’s novel of society’s cruel treatment of a “fallen woman” an absorbing and thought-provoking read.

September Moon, by John Moore – After reading and loving Moore’s three volume memoir of life in rural England between the wars, I was excited to get an early edition of one of his novels. It’s early September and hop-picking season is about to begin. Tim, only son of a prosperous yeoman farmer, finds himself drawn to Marianne, daughter of his ne’er-do-well neighbor – it must be the hop moon. This was fun and light, although the references to gypsies were quite dated and there was some casual racist language that is all too common for books of this era and always jarring to read. So, trigger warning on that front.

Just William (William#1), by Richmal Crompton – I don’t know what took me so long to get to this very slim collection of linked short stories about a young troublemaker and all of his misadventures. I read it in two sittings, cackling the entire time. William’s adventures in babysitting were definitely my favorite part.

The Pale Horse (Ariadne Oliver #5), by Agatha Christie – Another audiobook to close out the month! I was trying to save The Pale Horse for October – spooky season – but couldn’t wait. The novel focuses on Mark Easterbook, a London-based writer who becomes intrigued with a list of names, found in the shoe of a murdered priest. Who are the people on the list, and how are they connected to the village of Much Deeping and to three self-proclaimed witches who purport to be able to kill with psychology – and seances? This is supposed to be one of Christie’s weakest novels, and I guess it is, but it certainly kept me engaged.

The Lark, by E. Nesbit – This is more of a summer read than a fall, but I closed out September with a real gem – one of E. Nesbit’s final novels, and one of her only novels for adults. Jane Quested and her cousin Lucilla Craye are gently reared young ladies when, just after World War I, they are plucked from school and given the hard news that their guardian has spent their inheritance and fled the country. Whoops! Left with only a cottage and five hundred pounds to get on with, Jane and Lucy set about to earn their living. In the process, they acquire a big house, make a lot of business mistakes, and meet a few handsome young men – as one does. Total comfort, total fun.

Whew! What a month. Three audiobooks! This is a feature of being just about done with my months-long podcatcher cleanout effort, and I’m really enjoying mixing audible into my listening time. “Going Solo” was a highlight, just like the last time I read it, and I also really enjoyed listening to “The Pale Horse.” As for reading of the ink and paper variety of reading, the light and frothy reads definitely made up the highlights of September – especially “Summer Pudding,” “Just William” and “The Lark.” Looking ahead to October, I’ve got my eye on a few fun autumnal reads and am planning to knock out a couple more classics, including – if I have time – the last Elizabeth Gaskell novel I’ve not yet read. Watch this space!

What were your reading highlights from September?