Top Ten Tuesday: Upcoming releases

This week’s topic for Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by Jana of That Artsy Reader Girl, is “Most Anticipated Books Releasing In the Second Half of 2022”.

Here are ten books due to be published in the second half of this year that I’m looking forward to reading. Publication dates were correct for the UK as of today, but could change.

1. The Blood Flower by Alex Reeve (7 July) – The fourth book in the Leo Stanhope series, one of my current favourite historical mystery series.

2. The Bewitching by Jill Dawson (7 July) – A novel about the 16th-century case of the witches of Warboys. I have a copy of this one from NetGalley and have just started reading it.

3. The House of Fortune by Jessie Burton (7 July) – Has it really been eight years since The Miniaturist was released? I hope the sequel will be just as good!

4. The Twist of a Knife by Anthony Horowitz (18 August) – The next book in the Horowitz and Hawthorne mystery series. I’ve enjoyed all of the previous three (my review of the third one should be up in the next few weeks).

5. The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell (30 August) – I didn’t love Hamnet as much as most people did, but I thought it was beautifully written and would like to try Maggie O’Farrell’s new book, set in Renaissance Italy.

6. Act of Oblivion by Robert Harris (1 September) – Robert Harris is one of my favourite authors, so a new book by him is always something to look forward to!

7. Ithaca by Claire North (6 September) – This Greek myth retelling about Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, is another book I have from NetGalley and will read nearer the publication date.

8. The Hidden Palace by Dinah Jefferies (15 September) – I’ve read all of Dinah Jefferies’ books and this one will be the second in her new World War II trilogy, which began last year with Daughters of War.

9. Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson (27 September) – Kate Atkinson is another author I always look forward to reading. I don’t know much about her new book but I’m sure it will be great.

10. Blue Water by Leonora Nattrass (20 October) – I enjoyed the debut novel by Leonora Nattrass, Black Drop, so I’m interested in reading this sequel.

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Will you be reading any of these? Which new releases are you looking forward to in the second half of 2022?

The Trial of Lotta Rae by Siobhan MacGowan

Sometimes the books that are the most difficult to read are also the most compelling. This was one of those books; although I was horrified by what I was reading, I was so engrossed in the story I didn’t want to put it down.

Charlotte Rae – known to her family and friends as Lotta – is an ordinary young woman working in the office of a London brewery in the early 1900s. After an argument with her boyfriend at the brewery Halloween party, Lotta wanders outside for some fresh air, where she is approached by an older man, Henry Allen Griffiths. Pretending that he has come to comfort her, Griffiths takes her arm, leads her down a secluded street and then rapes her. With the support of her parents, who report the crime to the police, Lotta decides to testify against her attacker in court. She has faith in the justice system and is sure her lawyer, William Linden, will do his best to defend her.

Once the trial is over and a verdict has been reached, Lotta tries to move on with her life, joining the Suffragette movement and working towards fairness and equality for women. Then she makes the unpleasant discovery that William Linden had betrayed her during the trial and her world falls apart again. Unable to forgive William for what he has done, Lotta begins to search for a way to take her revenge.

Although Lotta Rae, as far as I can tell, is a fictitious character, the description of her trial seemed so real I was convinced it must have been a true story! I have rarely felt so angry and frustrated when reading a novel as I did here; all the odds are stacked against Lotta from the beginning and some of the developments in court are disgusting and shocking to read about, even if not entirely surprising. During and after the trial things go from bad to worse for poor Lotta and her story is truly heartbreaking.

I found the second half of the book slightly weaker than the first, which is understandable after such a powerful opening. It does provide some fascinating insights into the suffragette movement, particularly as we see this partly through the involvement of William Linden’s son, Raff, one of a group of men actively campaigning for women’s suffrage. Lotta’s feelings for Raff are complicated because she loves him for the person he is, but hates the fact that he is the son of her corrupt lawyer, and this adds another interesting angle to the story.

There’s a supernatural element that feels a bit out of place and I wished the story could have ended in a different way, but otherwise I loved this book, despite it being so sad and infuriating! I wasn’t aware until after I’d finished the book that Siobhan MacGowan is the sister of Shane MacGowan from The Pogues, as well as a successful journalist and musician in her own right. This is her first novel and I hope she’ll be writing more.

This is book 32/50 read for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022.

Six Degrees of Separation: From Wintering to The Strangers in the House

It’s the first Saturday of the month which means it’s time for another Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate of Books are my Favourite and Best. The idea is that Kate chooses a book to use as a starting point and then we have to link it to six other books of our choice to form a chain. A book doesn’t have to be connected to all of the others on the list – only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month we’re starting with Wintering by Katherine May – yet another book that I haven’t read! This is what it’s about:

In Wintering, Katherine May recounts her own year-long journey through winter, sparked by a sudden illness in her family that plunged her into a time of uncertainty and seclusion. When life felt at is most frozen, she managed to find strength and inspiration from the incredible wintering experiences of others as well as from the remarkable transformations that nature makes to survive the cold.

This beautiful, perspective-shifting memoir teaches us to draw from the healing powers of the natural world and to embrace the winters of our own lives.

Although I haven’t read Wintering, it seems that Katherine May is using the idea of ‘winter’ as a metaphor for depression. In Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt (1), depression is represented by a black dog. The ‘black dog’ is how Winston Churchill referred to his own periods of depression and in this very unusual novel, Rebecca Hunt brings the dog to life, giving him the name Mr Chartwell and describing his visits to Churchill’s home.

My next link is simply to another book with an author whose surname is Hunt: The Seas by Samantha Hunt (2), a novel about a young woman who lives in an isolated town by the sea and believes she is a mermaid. This is a beautifully written novel which combines mermaid mythology with the Iraq War, post traumatic stress disorder and the creation of a new dictionary, but it was a bit too strange for me and not a book I particularly enjoyed.

The sea also plays a part in the plot of The Sea Change by Joanna Rossiter (3). This is a novel set in two different countries and two different time periods: India in 1971 where a newly married couple are separated by a tsunami, and England during World War II, where the village of Imber is evacuated for use by the Army (and remains uninhabited to this day).

Some of the events of The Sea Change take place in 1971, so my next link is to a book that was published in 1971: Nemesis by Agatha Christie (4). This is a late Miss Marple novel in which Marple agrees to investigate a crime for an old friend – without having any idea of what the crime is or what she will need to do. During a coach tour of Britain’s historic houses and gardens, the details of her mission begin to unfold.

Strangers in Company by Jane Aiken Hodge (5) is also a mystery that takes place on a bus tour – this time it’s a tour of Greece’s famous archaeological sites. I’ve read quite a lot of Hodge’s novels now and this is the only contemporary one (the others I’ve read have been Gothic or Regency novels). It reminded me of Mary Stewart’s or M.M. Kaye’s romantic suspense novels, although I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as those.

My final link takes us to another book with ‘Strangers’ in the title: The Strangers in the House by Georges Simenon (6). This is one of Simenon’s romans dur, or ‘hard novels’; I have read a few of them over the last year or two and enjoyed them (I’m actually reading another one at the moment which I’ll be reviewing soon). The Strangers in the House is about a lawyer who fell into a depression and became an alcoholic after his wife left him. When his daughter becomes implicated in a murder investigation, he finds that he has a chance to redeem himself and repair his damaged relationships.

The theme of depression and finding a way to heal links back to Wintering, so I’ve managed to bring the chain full circle this month!

In August we’ll be starting with the winner of the 2022 Women’s Prize, The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki.

My Commonplace Book: June 2022

A selection of words and pictures to represent June’s reading:

commonplace book
noun
a book into which notable extracts from other works are copied for personal use.

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‘Yes.’ Eddie reached for his cigarettes. ‘There’s an appointment, and one day we have to keep the appointment. There’s no getting out of it. Until then we might as well live.’

Ada watched the tiny flame burst from Eddie’s match.

Tito said, ‘We should all have mottos, I think. That’s a good one.’

Fortune by Amanda Smyth (2021)

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I once worked out that I’ve probably written more than ten million words in my lifetime. I’m surrounded by silence but at the same time I’m drowning in words and it hardly ever leaves me, that sense of disconnection.

A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz (2021)

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Thomas Mann in 1905

“And my book?”

“It may be about that. Yes, it may. But readers will feel more that they are peering in through a window.”

“That might be the perfect description of what a novel is.”

“In that case, you have written a masterpiece. I should not be surprised that you are already so famous.”

The Magician by Colm Tóibín (2021)

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She told him how Aunt Ellen had said she had to harden her heart. He shook his head. ‘I’m sure your aunt’s a wise woman, but I don’t think that’s the way to go. We’re none of us better for having harder hearts, whatever we’ve lost.’

That Bonesetter Woman by Frances Quinn (2022)

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It was an isolated island of granite, thick with red pine trees, and inhabited only by a few fishermen, descendants of the pirates of the past. The feudal lord decided to make the island a place of exile. From that time on, for many years, all the criminals in his territory who had their death sentence commuted were imprisoned on this island, and it became known by the inauspicious moniker Gokumon, which can be read as Prison Gate as well as Hell’s Gate…

Death on Gokumon Island by Seishi Yokomizo (1971)

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The Tempest by Giorgione

He has listened. That alone is remarkable. In that instant it strikes Zorzo that humans have a willingness to comprehend each other, and to share what they learn. It is the combination of these things that makes societies, and civilizations.

The Colour Storm by Damian Dibben (2022)

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Do children inherit a parent’s characteristics? Will Janeska also have a propensity for blithe deceit and blind egotism? She has her father’s charm and garrulousness, his easy sociability – God knows, she didn’t get those traits from me. But maybe each soul comes into the world complete in itself and experience carries out the subtle carving of the final design.

The White Hare by Jane Johnson (2022)

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There was an old Scots saying that came into Mary’s head as she hurried through the neglected gardens of her home:

It’s no what ye ha’e,
It’s what ye dae wi’ what ye ha’e
That matters.

Summerhills by D.E. Stevenson (1956)

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Joan of Arc – illustration from 1504 manuscript

No one can walk this path for you. You cannot simply follow in another’s footsteps, as though life were a complicated dance, every turn and twist memorized and prepared for ahead of time. There are many things in the world you can inherit: money, land, power, a crown. But an adventure is not one of them; you must make your own journey.

Joan by Katherine J. Chen (2022)

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Copper said: ‘In the absence of any concrete evidence, I plump for Leonard Stock as the murderer. First, because he’s the most unlikely person, and as anyone who has ever read a murder story knows, it’s always the most unlikely person who turns out to have done the deed – and fifty thousand authors can’t be wrong.’

Death in the Andamans by M.M. Kaye (1960)

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She felt intensely; where she loved, there she loved absolutely. This had already caused her some conflict and drama. She fully accepted that, one day, it might bring on her undoing. Yet she would not change it, could not see why one would even live in this world without ecstasy or misery or genuine feeling.

Godmersham Park by Gill Hornby (2022)

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Favourite book read in June:

That Bonesetter Woman

Places visited in my June reading:

Germany, Trinidad, Alderney, England, Japan, Italy, Andaman Islands, Scotland, France

Authors read for the first time in June:

Amanda Smyth, Frances Quinn, Katherine J. Chen

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Reading notes: I’m off to a great start with my 20 Books of Summer – six books from my list read and reviewed already! I still have some long ones to read (including The Mirror and the Light, which I’m about 200 pages into so far), but I’m optimistic about my chances of actually completing the challenge this year! In July I’ll be continuing to work through my list and I also have a few upcoming review copies from NetGalley to read, as well as my Classics Club Spin book, The Chrysalids.

One final thing I want to mention here is Jo’s Six in Six meme, which is returning for another year. To take part, all you need to do is look back at your reading over the first six months of the year and list six books in six categories – the full instructions are on Jo’s blog now!

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How was your June reading? Do you have any plans for July?

Godmersham Park by Gill Hornby

I enjoyed Gill Hornby’s previous novel, Miss Austen, about the life of Jane Austen’s sister Cassandra. Her new one, Godmersham Park, is also inspired by the Austens, telling the story of Anne Sharp, who became one of Jane’s closest friends after taking up the position of governess to her niece, Fanny.

We first meet Anne in 1804 on the day of her arrival at Godmersham Park, the estate in Kent that is home to Edward Austen Knight, his wife Elizabeth and their many children. (If you’re in the UK and have a current £10 note to hand, Godmersham Park is the house depicted on the back beside the portrait of Jane Austen). At thirty-one years old, Anne has no experience of teaching or caring for children, but following the death of her mother she has found herself in need of employment and somewhere to live. This change of circumstances comes as a shock to Anne and it takes her a while to settle into her new job and way of life.

When Anne’s eleven-year-old charge, Fanny, shows her the letters she has been receiving from her Aunt Jane (yes, that Jane), Anne finds them charming and immediately decides that Jane is her ‘favourite Austen’. Anne will have to wait a long time for her chance to meet this mysterious letter-writer, but first she makes the acquaintance of another Austen – Jane and Edward’s brother Henry, who comes to stay at Godmersham Park and quickly befriends the new governess.

This is a lovely novel and, like Miss Austen, although it doesn’t self-consciously try to recreate the style of Jane Austen’s work, the language still transports you back to the early years of the 19th century. There are no glaring anachronisms that I noticed and it even feels like the sort of story Austen herself could have written. The pace is slow and apart from a subplot involving a mystery surrounding the whereabouts of Anne’s father, nothing very dramatic happens, yet I was drawn in by the characters and the setting and found it quite absorbing. It was particularly interesting to read about Anne’s experience of working as a governess and how she struggled to find her place within the household, not being fully accepted either as one of the family or one of the servants.

The novel is inspired by the diaries kept by Fanny Austen Knight, letters exchanged between Anne Sharp and Jane and Cassandra Austen, and a first edition of Emma that Jane signed for Anne. All of these things add to our knowledge of Anne’s life and personality and provide evidence of her close friendship with Jane Austen. However, almost nothing is known of Anne’s background before she arrived at Godmersham Park and Gill Hornby explains in her author’s note that she had to use her imagination to create a backstory for Anne. The overall result is a convincing blend of fact and fiction, which I really enjoyed.

Thanks to Century for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

This is book 6/20 from my 20 Books of Summer list.

This is book 31/50 read for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022.

Summerhills by D.E. Stevenson

Summerhills, first published in 1956, is the second book in D.E. Stevenson’s Ayrton family trilogy which began with Amberwell. I knew it had been a few years since I read the first book but was shocked to find that it was actually more than six years! I was worried that I’d left it so long I would struggle to get back into the story, but that turned out to not be a problem; although I could barely remember what happened in Amberwell, Stevenson provides enough of a recap in the opening chapters that I could easily pick up all the threads again.

The book begins with Roger Ayrton, now an officer in the Army, returning to his family home in Scotland for a visit. The house, Amberwell, is where Roger and his brothers and sisters grew up before the outbreak of World War II and it still holds a special place in his heart. Some of the family have moved on, but Amberwell is still home to Roger’s stepmother and his younger sister Nell, who has been taking care of his son, Stephen, since his wife’s death. Stephen is now eight years old and Roger thinks it’s time he was sent away to school, but Nell objects, wanting him to stay close to home. As there are no suitable schools near Amberwell, Roger comes up with what he thinks is the perfect plan – he’ll open a school of his own!

At first it seems that the creation of the school – which becomes known as Summerhills – is going to be the main focus of the book, but the plot soon branches off into several different directions. Roger finds himself unexpectedly falling in love, as does Nell, while his youngest sister, Anne, whose first marriage ended unhappily is trying to move on from her traumatic past and has become housekeeper to an elderly neighbour. A new cook arrives at Amberwell, adding a touch of humour to the story, and there’s also a new governess, Georgina Glassford, who enjoys running and is always looking for someone to time her mile. Although most of the main characters in the book are very likeable, I did find their treatment of Georgina very unkind, particularly as their dislike of her seems to be based on the fact that she wears trousers and gets up early to exercise.

I enjoyed the glimpse of life in post-war Scotland – even though the lifestyles of the Ayrton family seem largely unchanged thanks to Roger receiving a large inheritance on his wife’s death, all around them other once-wealthy families are having to sell their country houses as they can no longer afford to maintain them or pay for servants. This is how Roger manages to acquire a large house to convert into a school (of course there’s no question of an Ayrton boy being sent to an ordinary day school – it must be a boarding school – and there’s no mention of the girls being allowed to go either). At least he does promise to charge reduced fees so that less fortunate boys can attend and gives the job of headmaster to his friend Arnold Maddon (one of my favourite characters), who has lost a foot during the war and has been struggling to find work.

I would have liked Anne’s storyline to have had a proper conclusion – it was left very open-ended – and I was sorry that we saw very little of the other Ayrton sister, Connie, and nothing at all of their brother Tom, who has become a doctor. There’s also a strange subplot in the middle of the book where Roger goes to Rome in search of Aunt Beatrice; I couldn’t really see the point of this as it didn’t have much relevance to the rest of the novel. Still, Stevenson’s writing style is so readable that even pointless episodes like this are quite enjoyable. There is a third novel, Still Glides the Stream, which is described as the final book in the Ayrton trilogy, but seems to be about a completely different family. Have any of you read that one?

This is book 5/20 from my 20 Books of Summer list.

A Reader’s Delight – Jigsaw Puzzle

I don’t do jigsaw puzzles very often these days, but I do enjoy them and thought I would share with you one that I completed recently. It’s called A Reader’s Delight and the picture shows vintage children’s books from the Bodleian Library collection.

While I was working on the jigsaw, I found some of the titles of the books quite amusing and others quite sexist (but very much of their time; none of these are modern books).

For the boys we have Every Boy His Own Mechanic by Bernard E. Jones, The Boy’s Handy Book by D.C Beard and The Monster Book for Boys, while the books for girls include An Incorrigible Girl by M.H. Cornwall Legh (published by the Religious Tract Society in 1899 apparently), A Very Naughty Girl by L.T. Meade and A Wilful Girl by Helen Griffith. On the other hand, we do have The Adventure Book for Girls and Eight Girls and their Adventures…and I was particularly intrigued by Things Worth Doing and How to Do Them by L. and A.B. Beard. I’ve discovered that it’s available on Project Gutenberg – a collection of crafts and other activities aimed at girls.

There are lots of school stories here as well – Bunty of Dormitory B, The Jolliest Term on Record, The Abbey Girls Go Back to School. The ones for boys seem to concentrate on sport – Playing the Game: A Public School Story by Kent Carr, Not Cricket: A School Story by Harold Avery, For School and Country by Ralph Simmonds.

Have you read or heard of any of these books? I wonder what children would think of them today!