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, 2021.
The Murder on the Links (Hercule Poirot #2), by Agatha Christie – At this point I think I’ve probably read half or more of Agatha Christie’s prolific output, but this was one I’d not yet tried out. I enjoyed the second installment of Poirot and Hastings, in which the friends travel to France after they are summoned by a desperate letter, only to find they have arrived too late to prevent a murder. But the murder itself is not quite what it seems – fortunately Poirot is on the scene to unravel the knotty threads. I listened to this on Audible, and it was such fun.
O, the Brave Music, by Dorothy Evelyn Smith – The new British Library Women Writers series has been on my radar since it was announced, and I am trying to stay current on releases (I am getting in near the ground floor, which helps – by the time I started buying BL Crime Classics there were too many to stay up-to-date on). O, the Brave Music was a good place to start in both buying and reading: the coming-of-age story of Ruan, an ugly duckling who suffers great losses but is sustained by friendships. I adored it.
The Stubborn Light of Things: A Nature Diary, by Melissa Harrison – I’ve been a fan of Melissa Harrison’s seasonal anthologies (read on) and have been gradually reading them all year. The Stubborn Light of Things is a collection of Harrison’s Nature Notes for The Times, and is a restful and rejuvenating read.
Longbourn, by Jo Baker – Although I normally don’t enjoy Jane Austen adaptations, I’d heard such good things about Longbourn that I decided to give it a try – and it did live up to the hype. “Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of the servants” is the most common descriptor, and that’s technically correct, but there’s much more to it than that. Longbourn housemaid Sarah is the primary character, and she has a story and romance all her own; her life and interests definitely do not revolve around who the Miss Bennets will marry. I loved the different perspective and the new take on one of my very favorite books.
Come, Tell Me How You Live: An Archeological Memoir, by Agatha Christie Mallowan – After divorcing her first husband, Archie Christie, Dame Agatha found love again with Sir Max Mallowan, a renowned archaeologist. Come, Tell Me How You Live is her fascinating memoir of the months she spent traveling in Syria and Iraq with Max, accompanying him on his lengthy archaeological digs. It was both hilarious – I literally LOLed many times – and fascinating.
Frenchman’s Creek, by Daphne du Maurier – Daphne du Maurier is best known for her suspense novels, so I figured Frenchman’s Creek, which I’d not yet read, would make a good chilling choice for the lead-up to Halloween. Joke’s on me, because the action took place over a sultry midsummer; it’s a classic example of hot weather making people behave badly. Bored, restless Lady Dona St. Columb flees her wine- and mischief-soaked life in Restoration London, taking her two children and their nanny to her husband’s country seat in Cornwall. There, Dona is titillated by her stuffy neighbors’ stories of French pirates ravaging the coastline. Soon enough, she finds herself face to face with the pirates’ swashbuckling captain – and obviously, she is immediately and deeply attracted. Dona falls head-over-heels in love with the Frenchman, but when the local gentry mounts a determined effort to capture him, she will have to choose between her desire for a footloose life of romance and adventure, and her equally deep attachment to her young children. I loved this, and will revisit it over and over again – but next time, in summer.
Ghostways: Two Journeys in Unquiet Places, by Robert MacFarlane, Stanley Donwood and Dan Richards – As a fan of Robert MacFarlane’s poetry, I am always looking out for his work and I picked this up in Old Town Books this month. The title seemed appropriately eerie for Halloween, and it was that indeed. Ghostways includes two short pieces: Ness, about a weapons-testing wasteland, and Holloway, about a hidden half-underground world. I loved Holloway, but was underwhelmed by Ness. (Also, note that Ness includes two completely unnecessary swears. Demerits were issued.)
Autumn: An Anthology for the Changing Seasons, ed. Melissa Harrison – It’s a Melissa Harrison month! I enjoyed the last of her seasonal anthologies I’d not yet read, Autumn, very much – although I think Winter is still my favorite.
The Daughter of Time (Inspector Alan Grant #5), by Josephine Tey – Here’s one I’d been meaning to get to for ages, and it didn’t disappoint. The Daughter of Time finds Inspector Alan Grant laid up in hospital, recovering from a leg injury sustained while in hot pursuit of a criminal. Faced with weeks of endless boredom, Inspector Grant is unexpectedly captivated by a portrait of Richard III, one of England’s most notorious kings (he supposedly murdered, or commissioned the murder of, his two young nephews – the Princes in the Tower – to secure his claim to the throne). Inspector Grant finds it hard to believe that Richard III, with a face more suited to the bench than the dock, could be a murderer – or at least that he could have been responsible for this particular murder. He enlists the help of a young researcher and applies his formidable brain to answering the questions: was Richard III responsible for the Princes’ murder? And if not, whodunit? I was glued to every page and my only complaint was that it was all over too soon; I’d have wandered through the sixteenth century with Inspector Grant for hundreds more pages.
The Story of the Country House, by Clive Aslet – A book I unashamedly bought for the cover alone (look how gorgeous!), The Story of the Country House was a fun and fascinating read. Exploring the architectural history of English country houses from the Roman villa to the suburban sprawl of present day, Aslet goes into detail about building materials, architectural trends, and the like. I was expecting a little more diversified subject matter: there was some upstairs-downstairs, some food, some entertaining, etc., but not as much as I thought there’d be. So if you read this, don’t go into it expecting Downton Abbey. But it was incredibly interesting and a beautifully produced book – definitely one to keep on the shelves and refer back to time and again.
The Manningtree Witches, by A. K. Blakemore – I preordered The Manningtree Witches after hearing about it on the Slightly Foxed podcast; the author, A. K. Blakemore, is a celebrated poet so I figured the writing would be gorgeous, and it was. Plus, I can’t get enough historical witch material; you know me. Of course, it gave me nightmares. But as Halloween reading – perfect. (And I did finish it on Halloween.)
Pumpkinheads, by Rainbow Rowell – My annual tradition for three years running now has been to pull out Pumpkinheads as soon as I turn off my lights, blow out the jack-o-lanterns, and bring in the candy. I love this sweet story of friendship, succotash, and hayrides – and the art is the perfect accompaniment. If you’re looking for a Halloween read for next year and you can’t handle anything too scary (connection!) put this on your list.
Whew! Busy bookish October, indeed. My summer reading slump-ish thing is definitely over – even with a weeklong business trip to Seattle (during which I was too busy to read much at all) I managed to knock back twelve books, and enjoyed them thoroughly. The du Maurier and the Tey were definitely my highlights of the month, and any month that includes Melissa Harrison is good with me. I’m looking forward to long cozy nights with my book and my candle into November, too – it’s reading season, friends.
What were your bookish highlights of October?