Laying in my winter stores

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I’m writing this on my first working day after the clocks went back at the weekend and my goodness me, it’s DARK. I can already see the challenge as a freelance working out of my home office. When you feel it’s pyjama time at 4.25pm, that’s not great for business…

Still, twilight afternoons and dark evenings are the perfect excuse for even more reading. Just recently a couple of trips to the library and one or two impromptu detours into second-hand bookstores and charity shops made me realise that I was behaving just like a squirrel preparing for the winter ahead.

My acorns (sorry books) are piling up on the living room floor and making me feel secure, cosy and prepared for the winter ahead. Weather do your worst (as I’m sure it will do eventually, despite the ongoing unseasonable mildness) – I’ll always have a book to reach for when I’m brave enough to stick a hand out from under my nest of sofa blankets.

From top to bottom:

Molly Keane, Good Behaviour – One of Keane’s later titles (although it’ll be my first). Keane gets compared to both Jean Rhys and Elizabeth Bowen on the back cover alone and I’ve heard such good things. I’m not sure when this is set but the stylised cover and enticing crumbling country-house setting suggest it might be in the earlier part of the twentieth century, which would make me happy. BCC line that hooked me: Behind the gates of Temple Alice the aristocratic Anglo-Irish St Charles family sinks into a state of decaying grace.

Penelope Lively, Making it Up and A House UnlockedMoon Tiger is one of my favourite books and Lively’s obsession with memory, story telling, perspective and how we all reimagine our past speak to my own personal obsessions. These two beautiful hardbacks were a fantastic find in the Oxfam bookshop in Henley and trying to decide between them impossible. Making it Up explores Lively’s own life, the choices she made and the destinies she bypassed by taking certain roads over others. In A House Unlocked, Lively revisits her grandparent’s Somerset country house, Golsoncott, and explores the key events and social transformations that left their mark on the house as they transformed the twentieth century. BCC lines that hooked me: [MIP] Storytelling is an ingrained habit; I wouldn’t know what else to do. [AHU] The house as I knew it exists now only in my mind.

Deirdre Le Faye (ed.), Jane Austen’s LettersLove Austen, love reading people’s letters. This is surely a winner? BCC line that hooked me: …intimate and gossipy, observant and informative, they bring alive her family and friends, her surroundings and contemporary events with a freshness unparalled in modern biographies.

Helen Dunmore, The Greatcoat – As an avid book blog reader of long standing, it hasn’t escaped my notice that many people claim Dunmore is a writer who deserves to be much better known and recognised than she currently is. This ‘perfect ghost story’ (Independent on Sunday) about an RAF pilot who begins to haunt the lonely, young wife of a doctor marooned in her winter-bound house on the Yorkshire moors of 1952 seemed made for this time of year. BCC lines that hooked me: And then one night she discovers an old RAF greatcoat in the back of a cupboard. She puts it on her bed for warmth – and is startled by a knock at her window. Outside is a young man. A pilot. And he wants to come in…

John Bude, The Cornish Coast Murder – One of three cosy crime novels reissued by the British Library with nostalgically beautiful covers based on old train travel posters; I can’t quite resist the way that they look. I found (and read) Murder Underground a couple of months back and am afraid I found it to be okay (quite possibly the most anodyne word a book blogger could use). However, Cornwall captures my heart in a way that the London Underground just never will, so I have high hopes for this as an indulgent, comforting read (accepting that there will be a murder, of course). BCC line that hooked me: I’m ashamed to say I didn’t read it. I looked at the cover, showing a stylised image of a Cornish coastline, and made my decision then and there.

Winifred Holtby, South Riding – A classic, and perfect fodder for a Persephone lover with strong leanings towards women writers of the early-mid twentieth century. Another one about which I have heard nothing but good. BCC line that hooked me: South Riding is a rich, panoramic novel, bringing vividly to life a rural community on the brink of change.

Monica Dickens, Dear Doctor Lily – May I refer you to my earlier comment about women writers of the early-mid twentieth century? This book also appears to be about the kind of female friendship that can endure the hardships and tempests of a lifetime, which usually means a great read. Lily and Ida meet on a flight to America and ‘embark on a relationship that is to see them through two very different marriages and is to bring them comfort and distress, joy and tragedy, in equal measure as the years unfold.

Rumer Godden, Kingfishers Catch Fire – It’s comforting to think that I am nothing if not consistent… This 1953 edition published by the Reprint Society is presumably missing its dust jacket so I know nothing about this book and deliberately haven’t attempted to find out. It was a line from the author’s note that made my decision: This book is written out of experience, not of any special experience, but compounded of three years’ living, thinking and perhaps dreaming in Kashmir.

Beryl Bainbridge, Every Man for Himself – Earlier this year, I visited the Titanic museum in Belfast and have always been fascinated by the heart-tugging detail of the countless human stories that emerge from such devastating wreckage. Following the final four days of Titanic’s maiden voyage, and a small group of interconnected passengers, I couldn’t pass up this story. It was the BCC reviews that hooked me, including phrases like highly individual work of art…and…a moving, microcosmic portrait of an era’s bitter end.

Graeme Simsion, The Rosie Effect – If you are a geneticist called Don in search of the perfect woman, it seems you like order, routine, predictability and scheduling. Rosie – ‘the world’s most incompatible woman’ – is the exact opposite. Much reviewed, I’m expecting (and hoping for) a story with humour, heart and unexpected twists. BCC line that hooked me: Until a year ago, forty-one-year-old geneticist Don Tillman had never had a second date. Until he met Rosie…

Fiona McFarlane, The Night GuestIn an isolated house on the New South Wales coast, Ruth…lives alone. Until one day a stranger bowls up announcing that she’s Frida, sent to be Ruth’s carer. With Frida’s arrival, Ruth becomes convinced that a tiger prowls the corridors of her house at night; an otherworldy detail with hints of magic realism that captured my imagination when reading reviews. I have high hopes for this one and pounced on a library copy to store up for some Halloween reading.

Helen Dunmore, The Lie – Well, look who it is. It turns out some things stick in my mind in quite a determined way. I came home from the library with this title having completely forgotten about the paperback copy of The Greatcoat in my TBR pile. But as Remembrance Day approaches in the centenary year of the First World War, this story about a young Cornish soldier struggling with his memories of the trenches and all that happened to him there felt particularly apt.

Which one should I read first?


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