Rounding Up and Looking Forward: September~ October 2018

Having been in education one way or another ever since the age of four, for me September always signals the start of a new year.  I can wipe out all the mistakes I made over the last twelve months (and what teacher doesn’t finish every year with the fervent intention to get it right next time round) and start afresh with renewed purpose. Of course, I never manage to live up to my aspirations and so when I look back on the reading I had planned for September I’m not surprised that I didn’t hit quite all of my goals. I did manage to read the new crime novels by Val McDermid and Abir Mukherjee and I am halfway through Helen Field’s latest, so not too bad there.  I will almost certainly finish the Field (Perfect Silence) this evening because I am completely gripped.  She is a writer who gets better with each book.  Not so, unfortunately, McDermid whose characters’ actions are moving progressively into the realms of the absurd. I have already given up on her Tony Hill series and I’m not sure I shall go back for another dose of the Karen Pirie books, Broken Ground being the fifth in that particular sequence.

I read three other crime novels this month. Jo Spain’s The Darkest Place, I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.  I think her work gets stronger by the book, and I can readily believe in the situations she presents and her characters’ reactions to them.  Kate Rhodes’ Ruin Beach is the second in her Ben Kitto series set in the Isles of Scilly. Like the earlier novel, Hell Bay, it provides a wonderful evocation of the physical setting and I find Kitto as engaging a character as Alice Quentin, Rhodes’ other protagonist, proved to be.  I’ve just picked up a copy of Fatal Harmony, the latest Quentin novel, and that will be on the list for next month.  The third crime story was not such a success.  Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler has his ninth outing published later this week and as you will see if you read my forthcoming review, I wasn’t enamoured.  Oh well, you can’t win them all.

My Reading Group books for September were Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire – not a favourite – and J G Ballard’s The Empire of the Sun – a much better book.  I also read two other, what I would call, contemporary novels, the intended Prague Spring by Simon Mawer and Patrick Gale’s Take Nothing With You.  I blogged about both of these and thought they were excellent.  This month’s disaster was the book I read for the Years of My Life project, Lorna Hill’s A Dream of Sadlers Wells.  My childhood memories were shattered and I can only be grateful that I didn’t go mad and order half a dozen others from the series. I was tempted.  The book I didn’t get round to was my back catalogue choice, Anne Tyler’s Back When We Were Grown Up but only because there wasn’t time for everything and when I checked I found I could renew this at the library whereas some of the other books I had out had waiting lists on them.  I shall try and read it during October, although it might get pushed to the bottom of the pile again for the very same reason.

So, what is to come? Well, this month’s Reading Group picks are Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart, which in fact I’ve almost completed because I need it for this afternoon, and Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer winning All the Light We Cannot See.  I think it would be fair to say that I am appreciating the Ryan, rather than enjoying it; it is not a book in which you can find much to enjoy apart, of course, from the sheer brilliance of the writing.  Where crime fiction is concerned, as predicted last month, the new Sarah Ward The Shrouded Path and the latest Robert Galbraith, Lethal White, turned up from the library and will have to be read quickly because of reservation lists. As well as the most recent Kate Rhodes, mentioned above, I also have a review copy of Shell Game, Sara Paretsky’s latest V.I. Warshawski novel, which is published mid-month.  I think very highly of Paretsky’s work which, as the best crime fiction always does, inevitably shines a light on an aspect of current social concern.  This isn’t surprising when you know something of the writer’s own background and if you haven’t read her collection of autobiographical essays Writing in an Age of Silence then I strongly recommend it.  I note from my library reservation list that there are new Ian Rankin and Frances Brody novels due out in a matter of days.  They too will have long waiting lists so I may have to add them to the pile as well.  I’m afraid I never have to seek an excuse to pick up a new crime novel.

But, the month isn’t going to be totally dominated by Reading Group requirements and crime fiction.  Also needing to be returned to the library in the next couple of weeks are Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls and Kate Atkinson’s Transcription, either of which will fit nicely into my contemporary fiction slot and both of which I am determined to read.  Then there is this month’s selection for The Years of My Life project, Barbara Pym’s Some Tame Gazelle. I have several friends, both blogging and other, who will have sharp words to say if I don’t get round to that soon.  Add to that the neglected Back When We Were Grown Up and there is more than enough to keep me busy for another month.

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25 thoughts on “Rounding Up and Looking Forward: September~ October 2018

  1. You certainly do have a lot of reading ahead of you. Donal Ryan is such a gifted writer though I know what you mean when you say there’s not a lot to ‘enjoy’ as such in The Spinning Heart. Do give his latest novel a go – why this wasn’t on the booker shortlist I don’t understand……

    Anthony Doerr didn’t do much for me though I know many many people thought it was wonderful.

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  2. This is an honest post! I also feel a bit sad when a novel in a series is disappointing. I wonder too whether just to give up, or allow each writer a less than good installment. I suppose the danger is that a publisher is demanding another book in a series (and the readers!) and if the main characters have to survive, it does limit the options. I sympathise with the demands of having to read certain books against the clock for book groups and library renewal dates, while having to leave tempting books on one side. If only my reading kept up with my book acquisition rate…

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    • I think the problem with the Serrailler books, at least as far as I am concerned, is that they have never been either fish or flesh as far as genre is concerned. They don’t follow the ‘rules’ of the police procedural but there is too much of that in them for a reader not to expect a focus and a conclusion. Not that I think a writer can’t get away with challenging expectations, I simply don’t think these books do it successfully.

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  3. Gosh, both last and next months are filled with stuff I’d love to read – why is there never enough time? I’m sorry you’re not enjoying the Karen Pirie books. I gave up on McDermid for a while too, having thought she went off the rails with the Tony Hill books, but I’m enjoying this new series. I look forward to reading your review of the latest – it’s always good to get a different perspective…

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    • I think the Pirie books have suffered from the fact that McDermid has sometimes used them to write about a topic she is interested in without being sure that there is really a story there to be told. I don’t think any of them have been as good as the first two.

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  4. Donal Ryan is a beautiful writer I think and structurally, The Spinning Heart works incredibly well. I’ve been hearing a lot about Jo Spain lately – is there anywhere in particular I should start?

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    • We discussed the Ryan this afternoon, Cathy and we were all extremely impressed by both the way in which he kept control of the structure and the precision of his ear for language. Where Jo Spain is concerned I think you need to go back to the beginning of the series, With Our Blessing. It isn’t the best of her books because she gets better as she goes on, but it will orientate you to the characters and situations.

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  5. It sounds as though you have a busy month of reading ahead! I enjoyed the Pat Barker book and am hoping to start the Kate Atkinson one soon. I’m pleased to see Barbara Pym is featuring in your Years of My Life project – I have read a few of her other books, but not Some Tame Gazelle.

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  6. I can never not think of September as the start of the year. I can’t say it’s my favourite month really. Although a long time since I read it, I remember really enjoying Back when we were grown-ups.

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  7. I loved Paretsky’s Writing in the Age of Silence, and may well give it a re-read as a result of your prompt. I had not come across Ryan until recently, when I read glowing reviews of his latest, From a Low and Quiet Sea, which I have on order from the library. Sounds like I should add The Spinning Heart to the list too!

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  8. Alex, I read Home Fire recently and though I was impressed by the graceful prose I simply didn’t believe the tragic ending. IT WAS TOO MUCH! I read it because it was a retelling of Antigone, and she was very good at getting the names right but in the last half it seemed a little forced. She’s so good, but it was not my favorite either, in spite of winning the new incarnation of the Orange Prize.

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  9. Pingback: A few of my recent favourite reads… – LEAPING LIFE

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