20 Books of Summer – 2023

20 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy at 746 Books, is a very simple idea: make a list of twenty books (there are also ten and fifteen book options) and read them during the months of June, July and August. However, it’s not as simple as it sounds and despite taking part for the last six years, I’ve never been able to complete it! I usually do read twenty books during that period, but not necessarily the books on my list – although last year I came very close and managed to read nineteen of them.

This year’s 20 Books of Summer starts on Thursday 1st June and finishes on Friday 1st September. I have listed below the books I would like to read:

NetGalley books
1. The Graces by Siobhan MacGowan
2. The Witching Tide by Margaret Meyer
3. Disobedient by Elizabeth Fremantle
4. Fair Rosaline by Natasha Solomons
5. Learned by Heart by Emma Donoghue
6. A Lady’s Guide to Scandal by Sophie Irwin

Read Christie 2023
7. Death Comes as the End by Agatha Christie

Classics Club
8. Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
9. Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault
10. The New Magdalen by Wilkie Collins

Reading the Meow at Literary Potpourri
11. The Cat Saw Murder by Dolores Hitchens

‘Summer’ books
12. The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay
13. A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson

14. The House with the Golden Door by Elodie Harper
15. The Ionian Mission by Patrick O’Brian
16. The Embroidered Sunset by Joan Aiken
17. Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik
18. Wonder Cruise by Ursula Bloom
19. The Reckoning by Sharon Penman
20. Atlas: The Story of Pa Salt by Lucinda Riley and Harry Whittaker


Have you read any of these? Which do you think I should read first? And are you taking part in 20 Books of Summer this year?

#1940Club – Some previous reads

1940 Club, hosted by Simon of Stuck in a Book and Karen of Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings, starts on Monday and we will all be reading and writing about books published in that year. It seems to have been a particularly great year for publishing – I have previously read and reviewed ten 1940 books on my blog and thought I would list them here before the week begins. If you’re looking for some last-minute ideas I can recommend most of these!

Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie – This is one of two Christie novels published in 1940. One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, which I haven’t read yet, is the other.

Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker – An entertaining and imaginative read (and one of club co-host Simon’s favourites).

The Winter is Past by Noel Streatfeild – One of Streatfeild’s novels for adults, set during the winter of 1939-40.

The Strangers in the House by Georges Simenon – This is one of Simenon’s standalone romans durs or ‘hard novels’.

Black Plumes by Margery Allingham – A standalone crime novel set in and around a London art gallery.

The Man in the Moonlight by Helen McCloy – The second book in McCloy’s Dr Basil Willing mystery series.

There Came Both Mist and Snow by Michael Innes – The first of two books published in 1940, both from Innes’ Inspector Appleby crime series.

Verdict of Twelve by Raymond Postgate – This was one of the first British Library Crime Classics I read and still one of my favourites.

The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer – There are also two Heyer novels published in 1940, this one (which is great fun) and The Spanish Bride.

The Secret Vanguard by Michael Innes – Another Inspector Appleby novel, but more of a spy thriller than a mystery this time.


Have you read any books published in 1940? Will you be joining in with 1940 Club?

Nonfiction November Week 4: Stranger than Fiction

I haven’t managed to take part in all of the weekly posts for this year’s Nonfiction November, but I particularly wanted to join in with this one – an intriguing new topic for 2021.

Week 4: (November 22-26) – Stranger Than Fiction with Christopher at Plucked from the Stacks: This week we’re focusing on all the great nonfiction books that *almost* don’t seem real. A sports biography involving overcoming massive obstacles, a profile on a bizarre scam, a look into the natural wonders in our world—basically, if it makes your jaw drop, you can highlight it for this week’s topic.


One book came to mind as soon as I saw this week’s topic…

The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse by Piu Marie Eatwell

Here’s what it’s about:

In The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and The Missing Corpse, Piu Marie Eatwell gives a thoroughly researched account of one of the most bizarre legal cases of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. In 1897, Anna Maria Druce approached the courts to request the exhumation of her father-in-law’s grave. She sensationally claimed that her father-in-law, T.C. Druce, was actually the 5th Duke of Portland and had been leading a double life until deciding to kill off his alter ego. Druce had faked his own death, she said, and if his coffin was opened it would be found to be empty. This would leave Anna Maria’s son as the true heir to the Portland fortune. This was only the beginning of a fascinating legal battle that would continue for years, attracting a huge amount of media attention and capturing the imaginations of the public.

And here are my thoughts, taken from my review originally posted in 2015:

With tales of secret wives and illegitimate children, fraud and forgery, stolen evidence and unreliable witnesses, lies and deception and double identities, this could have been the storyline of a Wilkie Collins or Mary Elizabeth Braddon novel (and Eatwell does draw some parallels with the lives and works of these authors and others). As a fan of Victorian sensation novels, it’s not surprising that I enjoyed this book so much.

I particularly loved reading about the eccentric lifestyle of the 5th Duke of Portland. Becoming increasingly reclusive in his later years, he rarely went out in daylight and constructed a labyrinth of underground tunnels beneath his estate. He often wore six coats at the same time, had a large collection of wigs and only ate in the mornings and evenings. His alleged alter ego, T.C. Druce, who ran a London department store, was said to have some similar habits, which added some support to the theory that the two men were one and the same.

I was impressed with the huge amount of research the author must have carried out while she was writing this book, drawing on newspaper articles, letters, photographs, census records and other documents to build up a full and balanced picture of the case. Every time a new character is introduced we are given details of their family history, personal background, appearance and personality, all of which helps to bring them to life rather than being just names on the page. Further notes are provided at the back of the book, along with a list of primary and secondary sources.

In the final three chapters, set in 2013, Piu Marie Eatwell describes some of the new evidence she was able to discover during her investigations and her enthusiasm for the subject really shines through here. It must have been a fascinating book to research and it was certainly a fascinating book to read!


Have you read this book – or any other non-fiction books that are ‘stranger than fiction’?

Nonfiction November Week 1: My Year in Nonfiction

November is always a busy time in the book blogging world and one of the many reading events taking place this month is Nonfiction November. Non-fiction doesn’t form a large part of my reading, but I find that taking part in this event helps me to focus on the non-fiction I’ve read and would like to read, so it’s still worthwhile for me. Each week throughout November, one of the challenge hosts will post a different topic for participants to discuss. I probably won’t have time to join in with all of them, but this week’s topic is an easy one:

Week 1: (November 1-5) – Your Year in Nonfiction with Rennie at What’s Nonfiction: Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

So far this year I have read the following six non-fiction books, a mixture of history, science, biography and self-help:

The Light Ages by Seb Falk – a look at the progress of science, philosophy and invention in the medieval period

The Fall of the House of Byron by Emily Brand – a biography of the ancestors of the poet Lord Byron.

The Killer of the Princes in the Tower by MJ Trow – a new solution to one of history’s greatest unsolved mysteries.

The Haunting of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale – the story of a woman who claims to be experiencing paranormal events in her London home.

Live Alone and Like It by Marjorie Hillis – a 1930s guide for single women who live alone.

Myself When Young by Daphne du Maurier – the memoir of one of my favourite authors.

Of these, I think the book I enjoyed most was probably Live Alone and Like It. For a book published in 1936, a lot of the advice is still surprisingly relevant today!

This month, although I do have several other non-fiction books on my TBR, I’m going to concentrate on finishing a very long book I started a few weeks ago – Powers and Thrones by Dan Jones.

Are you taking part in Nonfiction November this year?

Ready for RIP XVI

I can’t believe this is the sixteenth year of RIP (Readers Imbibing Peril). I have been taking part since RIP V all the way back in 2010 and have never missed a year! Things have changed a lot since then and it seems that RIP is now something that takes place mainly on Instagram and Twitter. However, it’s always been a very relaxed event and whether or not you use social media there’s no reason why you can’t put a pile of books together and join in. As long as they are mysteries, ghost stories, thrillers, Gothic novels, or anything else suitably dark and atmospheric they will count!

RIP begins next Wednesday and runs throughout September and October. You can find out more on Twitter or on Instagram. For those who want to get more involved, there are bingo cards, photo challenges and a group read of Shirley Jackson’s The Sundial.

Part of the fun of RIP is looking through our TBR piles to see what we could read. Here are a few of the books I’m thinking about reading this year – a mixture of NetGalley review copies, books I didn’t get to last year, and books by some favourite authors.

Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu
The Grey King by Susan Cooper
Black Drop by Leonora Nattrass
A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz
The Mummy Case by Elizabeth Peters
The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart
A Gathering of Ghosts by Karen Maitland
One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters
The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley
Mrs England by Stacey Halls
Tombland by CJ Sansom

I will also be continuing with the 2021 Read Christie challenge and have Crooked House lined up for September and Death on the Nile for October – and I have a classic horror anthology I downloaded for Kindle a while ago which includes stories by MR James, Washington Irving, E Nesbit and others.

Of course, I could end up reading none of the above books and find myself drawn to a completely different selection!

Will you be joining in with RIP this year? What are you planning to read?

Nonfiction November Week 3: Be (and ask) the Expert – Victorian true crime

For Week 3 of Nonfiction November, the topic is as follows:

Week 3: (Nov 11 to 15) – Be the Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert (hosted by Doing Dewey)

Three ways to join in this week! You can share 3 or more books on a single topic that you’ve read and can recommend (be the expert); you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you’ve been dying to read (ask the expert); or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).


I don’t read enough non-fiction to be able to call myself an expert on any topic, but here are three books I’ve read on Victorian true crimes. I enjoyed them all, particularly the third one.

Murder by the Book by Claire Harman

This book looks at some possible links between the murder of Lord William Russell in London in 1840 and the influence of the popular crime novels of the time known as ‘Newgate Novels’. In particular, Harman discusses the book Russell’s murderer was thought to have been reading just before committing the crime: Jack Sheppard by William Harrison Ainsworth. I was disappointed by the true crime aspects of this book, but loved learning more about the Newgate Novels!

The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale

This book is on a very similar subject. It deals with a murder committed by a thirteen-year-old boy in London’s East End in 1895 and how blame was placed on the availability of cheap adventure novels, or ‘penny dreadfuls’ as they were known. I’ve also read and enjoyed Kate Summerscale’s more famous The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, an account of the Road Hill House Murder of 1860.

The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse by Piu Marie Eatwell

This fascinating book explores the life of the eccentric, reclusive 5th Duke of Portland and the sensational claim of Anna Maria Druce that the Duke was actually the alter ego of her father-in-law, T.C. Druce. The story is as bizarre as the title would suggest and involves secret wives and illegitimate children, fraud and forgery, stolen evidence and unreliable witnesses, lies and deception and double identities. I loved it!


Now I’m going to ‘Ask the Expert’…

Have you read any of these books – or any other books about Victorian true crimes? Which ones would you recommend?

Nonfiction November: Week 2 – Book Pairings

For Week 2 of Nonfiction November, the topic is as follows:

Week 2: (Nov 4 to 8) – Fiction / Nonfiction Book Pairing (hosted by Sarah’s Bookshelves)

This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

I have chosen three of the non-fiction books I’ve read so far this year and paired each of them with a novel that I think is a good match.


Following in the Footsteps of Henry Tudor by Phil Carradice/The Tudor Crown by Joanna Hickson

Earlier in the week, I reviewed this new biography of Henry VII which focuses on his years in exile and his march to the battlefield at Bosworth in 1485 where he would defeat Richard III and become king of England. A good fictional accompaniment would be Joanna Hickson’s The Tudor Crown, which covers the same period. Although my own sympathies tend to be with Richard III and the House of York, Hickson almost managed to make me like Henry Tudor!


Decoding the Bayeux Tapestry by Arthur C. Wright/Gildenford by Valerie Anand

We know that the Bayeux Tapestry tells the story of the Norman Conquest and Battle of Hastings, but Arthur C. Wright’s book looks at the often-ignored images in the margins of the Tapestry and discusses what they add to our knowledge of the period. A fiction title which goes well with this book is Gildenford by Valerie Anand as it’s set in the years just prior to the Conquest. I have the second book in the series, The Norman Pretender, ready to read soon.


Rosie: Scenes from a Vanished Life by Rose Tremain/The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

Another of my recent non-fiction reads was the author Rose Tremain’s childhood memoir, Rosie. In the book, Tremain talks about her memories of visiting Switzerland at the age of seven and later being sent to ‘finishing school’ there. Her 2016 novel, The Gustav Sonata, is set in Switzerland, which I think makes these two books a good pair.


Can you think of any good fiction/non-fiction book pairings?