Classics Club Spin #27: The Result

The result of the latest Classics Club Spin has been revealed today.

The idea of the Spin was to list twenty books from my Classics Club list, number them 1 to 20, and the number announced by the Classics Club represents the book I have to read before 22nd August. The number that has been selected is…


And this means the book I need to read is…

I Will Repay by Baroness Orczy

It has been ten years since Juliette de Marny’s father asked her to swear revenge upon Deroulede for the death of her brother in a duel. At last she finds herself in Deroulede’s house with an opportunity to betray him. Juliette realizes, too late, that she is in love with Deroulede. Can the Scarlet Pimpernel help?


Not one that I was particularly hoping for from my list, but still not a bad result. After reading The Scarlet Pimpernel a few years ago and discovering that there was a whole series of Pimpernel books, I decided to continue working through them in chronological order. I have since read Sir Percy Leads the Band and The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, so I Will Repay is next for me.

Have you read this book? Did you take part in the spin and are you happy with your result?

Classics Club Spin #27: My List

It’s time for another Classics Club Spin! I wasn’t sure whether to take part in this one as I didn’t manage to read my book from the previous spin in April; that was Germinal, which I had expected to love and do still want to finish but I had too much else going on in my life at that time and couldn’t give it the concentration it deserved. However, I’m disappointed by how few classics I’ve read so far this year, so I will see what the spin chooses for me this time and have another try.

If you’re not sure what a Classics Spin is, here’s a reminder:

The rules for Spin #27:

* List any twenty books you have left to read from your Classics Club list.
* Number them from 1 to 20.
* On Sunday 18th July the Classics Club will announce a number.
* This is the book you need to read by 22nd August 2021.

And here is my list:

1. Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault
2. The Trumpet-Major by Thomas Hardy
3. Goodbye Mr Chips by James Hilton
4. The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov
5. La Reine Margot by Alexandre Dumas
6. I Will Repay by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
7. Armadale by Wilkie Collins (re-read)
8. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
9. Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner
10. Pied Piper by Nevil Shute
11. The Duke’s Children by Anthony Trollope
12. Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather
13. St Martin’s Summer by Rafael Sabatini
14. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
15. Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym
16. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
17. A Laodicean by Thomas Hardy
18. The Turquoise by Anya Seton
19. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
20. The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni


Are you taking part in the spin this time? Which numbers do you think I should be hoping for?

My Daphne du Maurier journey – #DDMreadingweek

This week Ali is hosting another of her Daphne du Maurier Reading Weeks. Du Maurier is one of my favourite authors and over the years I have managed to read all of her novels and short story collections, finishing last May with Castle Dor (my choice for the last Reading Week). I still have plenty of her non-fiction books left to read and hope to post a review of one of them later this week, but today I thought it would be interesting to look back at my journey through her fiction. Below are my thoughts on her novels and short story collections – and to make things more fun, I have ranked them in order of favourite to least favourite!

The Novels

1. Rebecca – This was the first novel I read by Daphne du Maurier when I was sixteen and many years and several re-reads later it is still my favourite. This story of the second Mrs de Winter, haunted by the memory of her husband’s first wife, is a classic for a reason. From the famous opening line, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again”, to the very last page, it’s a wonderful, atmospheric read.

2. The House on the Strand – I started reading this on New Year’s Day in 2011 and knew immediately that it was going to be one of my books of the year. It’s a time travel novel set partly in 14th century Cornwall, but it wasn’t the historical storyline that interested me so much as the method of time travel itself and the implications it has for the lives of our present day (1960s) characters.

3. My Cousin Rachel – If a newcomer to du Maurier’s work asked me what they should read next after Rebecca, this story of a young man who can’t decide whether or not his cousin Rachel is a murderer would be my recommendation. The plot is obviously very different, but it has a similarly dark and brooding atmosphere.

4. The Scapegoat – I love stories about mistaken identities, twins and doubles and this is a wonderful variation on that theme. It’s a book that I’m particularly looking forward to re-reading at some point, as I seem to have interpreted it quite differently from a lot of other readers and am curious to see if I still have the same theories about it.

5. The King’s General – Although this well-researched historical novel didn’t make it into my top four, it’s another favourite. Set in 17th century Cornwall during the English Civil War, it’s the story of Honor Harris, the victim of a tragic accident that threatens to destroy her future, and Richard Grenvile, the King’s General in the West. Part of the novel takes place at Menabilly, du Maurier’s own home which was also the inspiration for Manderley in Rebecca.

6. Frenchman’s Creek – It took me a while to get into this story of Dona St Columb and her love for a mysterious French pirate, but once I did I was swept away by it. I loved the dreamlike atmosphere and the beautifully described setting. Du Maurier’s sense of place is always wonderful but I found some of the images in this book particularly vivid.

7. Jamaica Inn – I first read this as a teenager after finishing Rebecca, which proved to be a mistake as although it’s a great novel in its own right, I think it suffered from being read immediately after a book I had loved so much. I decided to read it again a few years ago and this time I really enjoyed this Gothic tale of smugglers and shipwrecks set on the Cornish coast.

8. The Parasites – After a slow start, I loved this book about three siblings looking back on their childhood and wondering whether they really were ‘parasites’, as a family member once described them. Since reading this book several years ago, I have read some biographies of du Maurier and can see how some elements of the novel were inspired by her own childhood. Despite the title, this book contains some of the funniest scenes in all of du Maurier’s work.

9. The Loving Spirit – This was du Maurier’s first novel and having heard that it wasn’t as good as her later books I wasn’t expecting too much from it. However, I was very pleasantly surprised. The book is divided into four parts each telling the story of a different generation of the Coombe family, a shipbuilding family from Cornwall, and is an impressive achievement from a twenty-four-year-old author.

10. Hungry Hill – I love a good historical family saga and although this is a very bleak and depressing one, I still found it an interesting read – and nothing like The Loving Spirit, her other family saga. This one is set in 19th century Ireland and follows a copper-mining family over five generations. The characters are unpleasant and unlikeable and they suffer every kind of misfortune and tragedy you can imagine, but there was still something very compelling about this novel and I think it deserves a place in the middle of my list.

11. The Flight of the Falcon – Most of the details of this one have faded from my memory now, but although it wasn’t a favourite, I know I did enjoy it. I do remember some wonderful descriptions of the fictional Italian university town of Ruffano and a plot involving the re-enactment of the ‘flight’ of the city’s 15th century ruler, Duke Claudio.

12. Julius – This is probably the darkest and most disturbing of du Maurier’s novels – the story of an ambitious, ruthless man who manipulates everyone around him in order to get what he wants. Despite the unlikeable character (one of the most horrible people I’ve come across in fiction), and some anti-Semitism, I found this a gripping novel with some beautifully atmospheric descriptive writing.

13. I’ll Never Be Young Again – This ‘coming of age’ story is one of several du Maurier novels to have a male narrator and I think she writes from a man’s perspective very well. Richard is an immature young man at the start of the novel but his life begins to change through his relationships with Jake, a friend with whom he travels around Norway, and Hesta, a woman he meets in Paris. I came to this book having only read Rebecca and Jamaica Inn and found it completely different, but surprisingly good.

14. Rule Britannia – This is an unusual du Maurier novel in which our protagonist, Emma, wakes up one day to find that the UK has broken away from Europe to form an alliance with the US, creating a new country known as USUK. Published in 1972, this novel may once have seemed like pure fantasy but has a new relevance in post-Brexit Britain! It’s fascinating, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as most of her other books.

15. Mary Anne – A book of two very different halves for me. I loved the first half, which describes (in fictional form) the early life of Mary Anne Clarke, du Maurier’s great-great-grandmother, who is born into a poor London family in the 1770s but goes on to become the mistress of Prince Frederick, Duke of York. The second half of the novel is devoted to several political scandals and court cases in which Mary Anne became involved and I found these quite tedious to read about, which is why this book isn’t higher on my list.

16. The Glass-Blowers – This historical novel based loosely on du Maurier’s own ancestors and set during the French Revolution should have been just my sort of book, so I was disappointed not to have enjoyed it more. I felt that it didn’t have quite the sense of time and place that some of her other books have, which was surprising considering the setting. However, even though it ranks as a lowly 16/17 on my list, I would still recommend reading it. It’s not a bad book at all – just not a personal favourite.

17. Castle Dor – It’s maybe not surprising that this is my least favourite du Maurier novel, as part of it was written by another author, Arthur Quiller-Couch, known as Q. Set in the 19th century and based on the legend of Tristan and Iseult, it should have been a great story, but I never felt fully engaged with either the plot or the characters and I would only really recommend this one if, like me, you’re planning to read all of du Maurier’s work.

The Short Stories

1. The Birds and Other Stories – I’m not usually a fan of short stories, but I love du Maurier’s. Her short story collections are harder for me to rank because each one contains some stories I loved and others I didn’t, but I think this one is the best. Many people are familiar with the title story, in which a family find their home under attack from a huge flock of birds, through the Alfred Hitchcock film, but the others are good too and I particularly enjoyed The Old Man!

2. Don’t Look Now and Other Stories – Originally published as Not After Midnight and Other Stories. This collection only contains five stories, but that means they’re long enough for plenty of character and plot development. I loved Don’t Look Now (which was also adapted for film) and Not After Midnight, but my favourite story was A Border-Line Case.

3. The Breaking Point: Short Stories – This is a dark and unsettling collection of stories written during a time in her life when du Maurier said she had been close to a nervous breakdown. Some of the stories are very enjoyable, such as The Alibi, The Blue Lenses and The Lordly Ones, but I found this collection more uneven than the two above, which is why it’s only third on my list.

4. The Doll: Short Stories – These thirteen ‘lost’ stories were written very early in Daphne’s career but not published until more recently. Although some of the stories feel quite short and incomplete there are some very strong ones in this collection too and I noticed some themes, ideas and settings that would appear again later in du Maurier’s future work.

5. The Rendezvous and Other Stories – I read this in 2009 and it was the first Daphne du Maurier book I’d read since Rebecca and Jamaica Inn as a teenager. Like the stories in The Doll, these are early examples of du Maurier’s work and some are too short to be very satisfying, but again there are plenty of signs of the great writer she would become.

I know there are other editions available that contain different combinations of these stories, but I think these are the five main collections. I am now continuing to work through du Maurier’s non-fiction – so far I have read Golden Lads and The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë.


If you have read some or all of these books, let me know what you think of my list! Would you have put them in a different order? And if you’re new or nearly new to Daphne du Maurier, which of these are you looking forward to reading?

Classics Club Spin #26: The Result

The result of the latest Classics Club Spin has been revealed today.

The idea of the Spin was to list twenty books from my Classics Club list, number them 1 to 20, and the number announced by the Classics Club represents the book I have to read before 31st May. The number that has been selected is…


And this means the book I need to read is…

Germinal by Émile Zola

The thirteenth novel in Émile Zola’s great Rougon-Macquart sequence, Germinal expresses outrage at the exploitation of the many by the few, but also shows humanity’s capacity for compassion and hope.

Etienne Lantier, an unemployed railway worker, is a clever but uneducated young man with a dangerous temper. Forced to take a back-breaking job at Le Voreux mine when he cannot get other work, he discovers that his fellow miners are ill, hungry, in debt, and unable to feed and clothe their families. When conditions in the mining community deteriorate even further, Lantier finds himself leading a strike that could mean starvation or salvation for all.


I’m happy with this result as I’ve been wanting to read Germinal for such a long time. I enjoyed the other two books I’ve read by Zola (The Ladies’ Paradise and Thérèse Raquin) and I know this one is usually considered to be his best, so I’m really looking forward to it.

If you took part in the spin too, I hope you got a good result!

Classics Club Spin #26: My List

It’s time for another Classics Club Spin! I’m looking forward to this one as I haven’t read anything from my Classics Club list since I finished my book from the previous spin, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, in January.

If you’re not sure what a Classics Spin is, here’s a reminder:

The rules for Spin #26:

* List any twenty books you have left to read from your Classics Club list.
* Number them from 1 to 20.
* On Sunday 18th April the Classics Club will announce a number.
* This is the book you need to read by 31st May 2021.

And here is my list:

1. Goodbye Mr Chips by James Hilton
2. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
3. A Laodicean by Thomas Hardy
4. I Will Repay by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
5. Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
6. Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather
7. La Reine Margot by Alexandre Dumas
8. The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov
9. Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym
10. Armadale by Wilkie Collins (re-read)
11. Germinal by Emile Zola
12. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
13. The Duke’s Children by Anthony Trollope
14. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
15. Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault
16. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
17. Pied Piper by Nevil Shute
18. Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
19. The Turquoise by Anya Seton
20. The Trumpet-Major by Thomas Hardy

Have you read any of these? Which number should I be hoping for on Sunday?

#1936Club – Some previous reads

Starting on Monday, Karen and Simon are hosting another of their clubs where we all read and write about books published in a certain year; this time the year is 1936, which appears to have been a particularly wonderful year for publishing! I have just finished reading my first book for the club and normally at the end of my review I would include a list of other books from that year previously reviewed on my blog. Usually I have read maybe three or four books from the year in question, but for 1936 the list is so long I decided it really needs a post all to itself! I thought I would post this a few days in advance in case anyone is still looking for inspiration.


First of all, a real gem reissued by Dean Street Press which I read and loved in February:

Good by Stealth by Henrietta Clandon

Next, some more classic crime:

The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie
The Ghost It Was by Richard Hull
A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey
The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay

Some fun with the Scarlet Pimpernel:

Sir Percy Leads the Band by Baroness Orczy

Three great books by authors I love:

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier
The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer
South Riding by Winifred Holtby

The book which inspired The Lady Vanishes:

The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White

Two books by Marjorie Bowen published under different pseudonyms:

Night’s Dark Secrets by Joseph Shearing
The Poisoners by George Preedy

And Margery Allingham, also writing under a pseudonym:

The Devil and Her Son by Maxwell March

An interesting insight into 1930s life:

Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell

Also read before I started blogging:

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild


Have you read any of these? What are your favourite 1936 books?

The Walter Scott Prize 2021 Shortlist

Following the announcement of the 2021 longlist for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction in February, the shortlist has been revealed today. As you may know, I am slowly working my way through all of the shortlisted titles for this prize since it began in 2010 (you can see my progress here), so I will be trying to read all of the books below eventually. There are five books on this year’s list and here they are:

Image courtesy of The Walter Scott Prize


The Tolstoy Estate by Steven Conte

“In the first year of the doomed German invasion of Russia in WWII, a German military doctor, Paul Bauer, is assigned to establish a field hospital at Yasnaya Polyana – the former grand estate of Count Leo Tolstoy, the author of the classic War and Peace. There he encounters a hostile aristocratic Russian woman, Katerina Trubetzkaya, a writer who has been left in charge of the estate. But even as a tentative friendship develops between them, Bauer’s hostile and arrogant commanding officer, Julius Metz, becomes erratic and unhinged as the war turns against the Germans. Over the course of six weeks, in the terrible winter of 1941, everything starts to unravel…

From the critically acclaimed and award-winning author, Steven Conte, The Tolstoy Estate is ambitious, accomplished and astonishingly good: an engrossing, intense and compelling exploration of the horror and brutality of conflict, and the moral, emotional, physical and intellectual limits that people reach in war time. It is also a poignant, bittersweet love story – and, most movingly, a novel that explores the notion that literature can still be a potent force for good in our world.”


A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville

“It is 1788. Twenty-one-year-old Elizabeth is hungry for life but, as the ward of a Devon clergyman, knows she has few prospects. When proud, scarred soldier John Macarthur promises her the earth one midsummer’s night, she believes him.

But Elizabeth soon realises she has made a terrible mistake. Her new husband is reckless, tormented, driven by some dark rage at the world. He tells her he is to take up a position as Lieutenant in a New South Wales penal colony and she has no choice but to go. Sailing for six months to the far side of the globe with a child growing inside her, she arrives to find Sydney Town a brutal, dusty, hungry place of makeshift shelters, failing crops, scheming and rumours.

All her life she has learned to be obliging, to fold herself up small. Now, in the vast landscapes of an unknown continent, Elizabeth has to discover a strength she never imagined, and passions she could never express.

Inspired by the real life of a remarkable woman, this is an extraordinarily rich, beautifully wrought novel of resilience, courage and the mystery of human desire.”


The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

“England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen, Jane Seymour.

Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?

With The Mirror and the Light, Hilary Mantel brings to a triumphant close the trilogy she began with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. She traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell, the boy from nowhere who climbs to the heights of power, offering a defining portrait of predator and prey, of a ferocious contest between present and past, between royal will and a common man’s vision: of a modern nation making itself through conflict, passion and courage.”


Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

“On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?

Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.

Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.”


The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

“Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the ‘Scriptorium’, a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day a slip of paper containing the word ‘bondmaid’ flutters to the floor. Esme rescues the slip and stashes it in an old wooden case that belongs to her friend, Lizzie, a young servant in the big house. Esme begins to collect other words from the Scriptorium that are misplaced, discarded or have been neglected by the dictionary men. They help her make sense of the world.

Over time, Esme realises that some words are considered more important than others, and that words and meanings relating to women’s experiences often go unrecorded. While she dedicates her life to the Oxford English Dictionary, secretly, she begins to collect words for another dictionary: The Dictionary of Lost Words.

Set when the women’s suffrage movement was at its height and the Great War loomed, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a lost narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men. It’s a delightful, lyrical and deeply thought-provoking celebration of words, and the power of language to shape the world and our experience of it.”


The only one of these I’ve read so far is Hamnet and although I wasn’t a fan, I’m aware that most people have loved it so I won’t be at all surprised if it wins. I’m sure The Mirror and the Light will be another strong contender; I haven’t finished it yet, but will eventually! Of the remaining three books, The Dictionary of Lost Words doesn’t appeal to me much but I’m looking forward to reading the other two (although The Tolstoy Estate hasn’t been published here in the UK yet).

What do you think of this shortlist? Which book do you think will win?