November has been a really busy work month. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t been reading as much, but that rather a lot of what I have read has been seriously non-taxing, something I could just pick up and put down again without loosing the thread. I don’t like that. After a time my brain starts to feel woolly and I crave something with a bit more bite to it. With luck, December will be better – busy no doubt, but not with things that demand my intellectual energy.
Book Group reads this month were Helen Dunmore’s Exposure, which I reviewed here and Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread which I reviewed when I first read it quite some time ago now. Both of these were re-reads, which is happening too often where my Book Groups are concerned. I look to these to introduce me to new works but that hasn’t been the case this year. Maybe better luck next time round.
I only managed one book for the Years of My Life project and that was hardly taxing. However, Enid Blyton’s The Rockingdown Mystery brought back some wonderful memories, especially when I realised that this was the book that first sparked my love of Shakespeare. In that respect I couldn’t have picked a better starting place for a project intended to help me look back on the world that shaped me.
My one major disappointment was Laura Wilson’s The Other Woman. I had really been looking forward to this. I loved her sequence of novels about DI Ted Stratton and even though I’m not normally a reader of one-off thrillers, for Wilson I have always made an exception. However, I’m afraid I couldn’t even bring myself to finish this, her latest book. It wasn’t just that I couldn’t warm to any of her characters, I couldn’t believe in them. They weren’t even stereotypes, they were caricatures. And when we reached what I would technically call the Igniting Moment of the story, or that point at which you realise which way the tale is going to develop, not even my famed ability to believe six impossible things before breakfast each morning was sufficient to stop me laughing out loud. With deep regrets the book went back to the library.
I also made the mistake this month of going against my self-imposed resolution only to accept books for review that I knew I definitely wanted to read regardless, and consequently there is a discussion of a novel coming in the next weeks about which I had real reservations. In my own defence the author had been recommended to me by someone whose judgement I would normally trust, but I know that he is a friend and I think that may have influenced her own considerations. In future I shall just say no.
Other than that it has been a month of crime fiction, some of it good and some of it considerably less so. Probably the best of these was Francis Brody’s latest Kate Shackleton mystery, Death in the Stars and of its type Michael Innes The Secret Vanguard was enjoyable too. However, I decided not to go back to Angela Marsons’ series after reading the first, Silent Scream, and Jessica Fellowes’ The Mitford Murders and Guy Fraser-Sampson’s Death in Profile proved not to be time well spent either.
So, all told, not the best of months. I can only hope December will be better. It should get off to a good start because the Monday Book Group is reading Ali Smith’s Autumn. I have been putting off reading this knowing that it was on our list and I have seen some excellent reviews around the blogging world. I also have Winter on reservation from the library. It would be great if that turned up as well. (Library service, I hope you’re paying attention.) There is no Wednesday Group this month. It falls too close to Christmas and so often coincides with parents’ evenings, school plays, concerts and discos, that we decided a couple of years ago to give December a miss. At this time of the year you simply can’t fit everything in.
The Year of My Life project should fare better this month too. I have to get Greene’s The Third Man back to the library by the 14th, so as soon as I’ve read the Smith it will be onto that. I also have both of the Nancy Mitford books on hold, having decided to read The Pursuit of Love before going on to the 1949 publication Love in a Cold Climate. I hope the title of the latter won’t prove to be too prophetic about the weather we can expect over the next few weeks; curling up over a good book is so much more pleasurable if you’ve been able to get out for a good long walk as well. We had our first snow last Tuesday!
Inevitably, there will be some crime fiction. I have Eva Dolan’s This Is How It Ends and Helen Fields’ Perfect Death from NetGalley. Both of these are published in late January, so any reviews won’t appear until then, but I shall definitely read them over the Christmas period. Dolan is a long established favourite, although I am a little wary about this latest novel as it isn’t part of her existing series. However, she is a good enough writer for me to enjoy the journey on a stylistic level whatever surprises the plot may hold. Helen Fields is a writer I encountered for the first time this year and Perfect Death is the third in her series set in Edinburgh and featuring DI Luc Callanach. She is one of a group of crime novelists I’ve discovered recently who have all grabbed me from the very first novel and if you haven’t read her books, which start with Perfect Remains, then I strongly recommend them.
And, as the perfect Christmas present, on the very day itself, the latest short story in Jodi Taylor’s Chronicles of St Mary’s will pop into my in-box. If you don’t know these books then no words of mine can adequately describe them. The only thing I can say is that whatever you may think it isn’t time travel. At St Mary’s they investigate major historical events in contemporary time. Call it time travel and you will have Dr Bairstow to answer to, or even worse, Mrs Partridge, and that would be enough to ruin anyone’s Christmas. As well as the full length tales, there is now a Christmas tradition of a short story filling the time gap between one novel and the next, so I shall spend Christmas day with much loved friends, who will no doubt get themselves into all sorts of scrapes before finally managing to make the world a better place for someone – even if it isn’t always themselves. What more could anyone ask?
Have a good month.