Six Degrees of Separation: From Notes on a Scandal to The Surgeon’s Mate

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 Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller. Here’s what it’s about:

Schoolteacher Barbara Covett has led a solitary life until Sheba Hart, the new art teacher at St. George’s, befriends her. But even as their relationship develops, so too does another: Sheba has begun an illicit affair with an underage male student. When the scandal turns into a media circus, Barbara decides to write an account in her friend’s defense—and ends up revealing not only Sheba’s secrets, but also her own.

I haven’t read Notes on a Scandal and it doesn’t really appeal, so I’ve been looking at some reviews to try to find inspiration for that all-important first link. The only thing that struck me is that Sheba’s full name is Bathsheba Hart – and I immediately thought of another fictional character with that name, Bathsheba Everdene in Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy (1). It’s not one of my favourite Hardy novels but I did enjoy it. It’s less tragic than some of his others and has a wonderful hero in Gabriel Oak.

My next link is to another novel with the word ‘far’ in the title. The Booker Prize-nominated Far to Go by Alison Pick (2) is the story of a Jewish family, the Bauers, living in the former Czechoslovakia in the 1930s. With the German annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938, the Bauers send their six-year-old son to Britain on the Kindertransport. I found this an interesting and moving novel, particularly as I had never read about the Kindertransport in fiction before.

Another book with a Czech setting is Melmoth by Sarah Perry (3). This dark and atmospheric Gothic novel set in modern-day Prague explores the story of Melmoth the Witness (an imaginary legend which Perry has loosely based on the Charles Maturin classic Melmoth the Wanderer). Through a sequence of stories-within-stories, we see how the Melmoth legend has touched the lives of people throughout history. I enjoyed it, but preferred Perry’s previous novel, The Essex Serpent.

The protagonist in Melmoth is called Helen, which is also my name, as well as the name of the heroine of Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (4). The main part of the story unfolds through the diary of Helen Huntingdon, the ‘tenant’ of the title, who describes how she tries to escape from her marriage to an abusive alcoholic husband. Critics at the time considered the novel shocking and ‘coarse’, but I loved it and I’m sorry that Anne Brontë never seems to get as much attention as her sisters, Charlotte and Emily!

There are a lot of books that are written completely or partially in the form of a diary, but the one I’m going to link to here is Marking Time by Elizabeth Jane Howard (5). Set in the early years of World War II, this is the second book in Howard’s series, the Cazalet Chronicles. The story is told from the perspectives of several members of the Cazalet family, including the teenage Clary, who records her thoughts and observations in her diary. I enjoyed this and really need to continue with the third book soon; I just hope I can remember enough of the first two books to be able to pick up the threads of the story again.

Another series I’m in the middle of is Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey and Maturin series. I never thought I would like these books as they’re set mainly at sea and I usually struggle with anything nautical, but I’ve found that it doesn’t matter too much if I don’t understand all the naval terms and sea battles; the quality of the writing and the central relationship between the main characters, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, make up for that! The Surgeon’s Mate (6) was the last one I read and is the seventh book. With a total of twenty-one books in the series, I still have a long way to go!

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And that’s my chain for this month. My links have included: the name Bathsheba, the word ‘far’, Prague, fictional Helens, diaries and series-in-progress.

In November we’ll be starting with The Naked Chef by Jamie Oliver.

Top Ten Tuesday: History and Geography!

This week’s topic for Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by Jana of That Artsy Reader Girl, is “Books with Geographical Terms in the Title” (for example: mountain, island, latitude/longitude, ash, bay, beach, border, canyon, cape, city, cliff, coast, country, desert, epicenter, hamlet, highway, jungle, ocean, park, sea, shore, tide, valley, etc).

I haven’t taken part in Top Ten Tuesday for a few months, so thought I would join in with this one. The topic was suggested by Lisa, who blogs at Hopewell’s Public Library of Life.

The ten books I’ve listed below are all historical novels with geographical terms in the title and they are all books that I’ve reviewed on my blog. They are also all written by female authors, although I didn’t do that intentionally!

1. Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier – This is a family saga following five generations of the Brodrick family of Clonmere Castle in Ireland. A curse placed on the family by a feuding neighbour seems to come true as each generation experiences tragedy, unhappiness and bad luck. Du Maurier is one of my favourite authors and although I did like this one, it was certainly bleak and miserable!

2. The Child from the Sea by Elizabeth Goudge – The first Goudge novel I read, this is a beautifully written book telling the story of Lucy Walter, a Welsh girl from Pembrokeshire who later becomes a mistress of King Charles II.

3. The Country of Others by Leïla Slimani – This book was originally written in French and is available in an English translation by Sam Taylor. It’s the story of a young woman from France who marries a Moroccan soldier in the 1940s and goes to live with him in Morocco, but finds that settling into life in a new country is much more difficult than she’d expected.

4. The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley – A multiple timeline novel which moves between wartime London, 1970s Ireland and modern day New York. Unusually, I found all of the storylines equally interesting to read about; normally I find myself drawn to one or the other.

5. The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe – This 1791 classic is set in 17th century France. It’s not Radcliffe’s best, but it’s still an entertaining read with all the elements you would expect in a Gothic novel, including dark forests, ruined buildings and gloomy weather.

6. Islands of Mercy by Rose Tremain – This novel set in the 19th century follows two very different characters: a young nurse from Bath and an eccentric Englishman living on the island of Borneo. It should have been fascinating but I found it disjointed and it’s the only Rose Tremain novel I’ve read so far that I haven’t enjoyed.

7. The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman – I loved this book about a young couple living in a lighthouse on an island off the coast of Australia in 1926. When a boat with a baby girl in it is washed up on the shore, they have different opinions over whether to keep the child to raise as their own. A moving and thought-provoking read.

8. In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S Haasse – I read this in an English translation by Lewis C Kaplan as it was originally published in Dutch in 1949. It’s set in France during the Hundred Years’ War and written from the perspective of Charles of Orléans. A beautifully written novel and one that I loved.

9. City of God by Cecelia Holland – Cecelia Holland is a very prolific author whose books cover a wide range of time periods and topics. This one is set in Rome at the time of the Borgias and follows the story of a secretary in the Florentine embassy who becomes drawn into Borgia conspiracies.

10. River of Destiny by Barbara Erskine – I’ve tried a few Erskine novels now and am not really a fan, but they do all have interesting settings. This book has three storylines, one set in Anglo-Saxon England, one in the Victorian period and the other in the present day, all linked by sightings of a ghostly Viking ship.

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Have you read any of these? Which other books with geographical terms in the title can you think of?

Six Degrees of Separation: From Elizabeth and Her German Garden to Stormy Petrel

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 the book that finished last month’s chain! This will be different for everyone, but in my case it’s Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim.

From my review:

Published in 1898, the book has an autobiographical feel and is written in the form of a diary in which the narrator, Elizabeth, takes us through a year in her life, describing her love for the garden of her home in northern Germany and the changes she sees as the seasons go by.

There were so many different options I could have chosen for my first link – diaries, Germany, the name Elizabeth – but while I was trying to decide I came across this quote from Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie (1):

Gardening was her passion. Her favourite literature was bulb catalogues and her conversation dealt with primulas, bulbs, flowering shrubs and alpine novelties.

The character being described here is Dolly Bantry. It sounds as though she would get along well with Elizabeth! Dolly Bantry appears in several of Christie’s other Miss Marple novels, including The Body in the Library and The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side, but only has a small part to play in Sleeping Murder, which is one of my favourite Marples. I love the eerie atmosphere Christie creates in this book.

Next, I’m linking to another book with a sleepy title: Before I Go to Sleep by SJ Watson (2), a psychological thriller in which a woman wakes every morning to find she has lost her memory and doesn’t recognise the man who says he is her husband. This wasn’t really my usual sort of read but I found it completely gripping, as well as very unsettling – poor Christine was in such a frightening and vulnerable position.

Near the beginning of The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett (3) a character is suffering from amnesia, but is he genuine or is he pretending? As with so many things in Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, we can’t be sure. In fact, we aren’t even told the character’s name in this scene and have to work out for ourselves who he is. Set in 16th century Scotland, this is one of my favourite books (and series); it can be challenging for a first-time reader, but so rewarding when you reach a certain point where everything – sort of – begins to make sense!

Chess is often described as ‘the game of kings’ and all six of the Lymond Chronicles have titles that refer to chess pieces or moves. Another book with a chess-related title is Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle (4) – not to be confused with the recent Netflix series, which is something completely different! This Queen’s Gambit is the story of Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife. Katherine may not have had such a dramatic life as some of the other queens, but I find her the most likeable and I enjoyed this book.

Elizabeth Fremantle’s last few books have been published under the name E.C. Fremantle. An author who went from using her initials to using her full name is SJ Bolton, now publishing as Sharon Bolton. I love her books, particularly her Lacey Flint series and her early standalones, which have stronger Gothic elements than her later ones. The first of these I read was Sacrifice (5), a dark and mysterious murder mystery set in Shetland. I really enjoyed the way Bolton incorporated Norse myths and legends into the plot.

From Shetland to another Scottish island for my final link. Stormy Petrel by Mary Stewart (6) is set in the Hebrides on the island of Moila, which I believe is fictional but so vividly described I’m sure she must have based it on a real place. Published in 1991, this was one of Stewart’s final novels and like her other later books (Rose Cottage and Thornyhold) it has a gentler feel than her earlier, more suspenseful ones.

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And that’s my chain for this month! My links have included gardens, sleeping, amnesia, chess-related titles, authors using their initials and Scottish islands. In October we’ll be starting with Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller.

Six Degrees of Separation: From The Book of Form and Emptiness to Elizabeth and Her German Garden

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 the winner of the 2022 Women’s Prize for Fiction, The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki. I haven’t read it, but here’s what it’s about:

One year after the death of his beloved musician father, thirteen-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house – a sneaker, a broken Christmas ornament, a piece of wilted lettuce. Although Benny doesn’t understand what these things are saying, he can sense their emotional tone; some are pleasant, a gentle hum or coo, but others are snide, angry and full of pain. When his mother develops a hoarding problem, the voices grow more clamorous.

At first Benny tries to ignore them, but soon the voices follow him outside the house, onto the street and at school, driving him at last to seek refuge in the silence of a large public library, where objects are well-behaved and know to speak in whispers. There, he falls in love with a mesmerising street artist with a smug pet ferret, who uses the library as her performance space. He meets a homeless philosopher-poet, who encourages him to ask important questions and find his own voice amongst the many. And he meets his very own Book – a talking thing – who narrates Benny’s life and teaches him to listen to the things that truly matter.

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I struggled to find a way to get started with this month’s chain, so I’m afraid I’ve had to take the easy way out again and use shared words in titles for my first link. Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson (1) is another novel with the word ‘Book’ in the title. It was the first I read by Stevenson and although it’s not a favourite, I did find it entertaining: Barbara Buncle decides to write a book, drawing on her friends and neighbours for inspiration – but not all of them are happy when they discover what she has done!

I sent a copy of Miss Buncle’s Book to another blogger as part of a Persephone Secret Santa back in 2010. Alas, Poor Lady by Rachel Ferguson (2) was the book published by Persephone that I received from my Secret Santa in return. I was very grateful to the blogger who chose it for me because I loved it! It tells the story of the Scrimgeour family, beginning in the Victorian period and ending in the 1930s. The Scrimgeours, once very wealthy, have fallen on hard times and the novel describes the attempts of several of the daughters to find work in a world where their gender and class means their options are limited.

Next, I’m linking to another book by an author with the name Rachel: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (3). This is a lovely novel about a man who sets out to walk five hundred miles from Devon to Berwick-upon-Tweed to visit an old friend who has been diagnosed with cancer. He hopes that his walk will somehow help her to stay alive. I never read the sequel, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy and now there’s a third book on its way – Maureen Fry and the Angel of the North. I think I’ve got some catching up to do!

A different sort of pilgrimage takes place in Requiem for a Knave by Laura Carlin (4). Set in the 14th century, our narrator, Alwin of Whittaker, travels to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in search of clues to his father’s identity. Along the way he is joined by a small group of other pilgrims who help him to uncover the truth about his past. This was an interesting novel but was spoiled for me by some very heavy-handed messaging regarding feminism and the abuse of women by men which would have been far more effective if it had been more subtle.

Walsingham is the name of a place in North Norfolk, but it can also be a surname. Probably the most famous historical figure to have that surname is Francis Walsingham, secretary and ‘spymaster’ to Elizabeth I. He has appeared in several novels I’ve read, including Elizabeth I by Margaret George (5), a fictional account of the final years of Elizabeth’s reign – the period between the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and her death in 1603. Although I had some problems with the length and pace of the book, I found it an interesting, if slightly dry, portrayal of the older Elizabeth. I’ve only read this book and The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George, but I do have a few of her others on the TBR.

My final link is to a book about a very different Elizabeth. In Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim (6), our narrator describes a year in her life and the changes she sees in the garden of her home in northern Germany as the seasons go by. First published in 1898 and written in the form of a diary, this is a charming and often funny read. I still need to read the sequel, The Solitary Summer.

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And that’s my chain for August! My links have included the word ‘book’, Persephones, authors called Rachel, pilgrimages, Walsingham and the name Elizabeth.

In September, we’ll be starting with the book that finished this month’s chain.

Celebrating 10 years of The Classics Club!

It’s The Classic Club Blog’s 10th birthday – or it was earlier this week – and to celebrate they have put together a questionnaire for members to answer. I love being part of the club (you can find out more about it and see my current list of classic reads here), so I was happy to attempt to answer the questions. There are ten, but I’ve chosen to focus on seven of them.

1. When did you join the Classics Club?

My post announcing that I was joining the Classics Club appeared in March 2012. This confused me because obviously that would have meant the 10th birthday was in March of this year…then I remembered that the club was originally hosted on the personal blog of the founding member, Jillian. Obviously we are celebrating the birthday of the Classics Club Blog this month, rather than the beginning of the club itself!

It’s interesting looking back at the list of planned reads I posted when I joined the club. There were 50 books on the list (which I later expanded to 100), and quite a few (10 in fact) that I never actually read but replaced with other titles. I’ve now moved onto a second list of 50 books but still haven’t included any of those unread books on it. Maybe one day!

2. What is the best classic book you’ve read for the club so far? Why?

There are many great books I’ve read for the Classics Club – too many to name them all here – but my favourite is one that was actually a re-read for me: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. I can’t describe how much I love this book in just a few words, so will direct you to my review if you want to know more. Despite the length (over 1000 pages), it’s such an exciting story that every time I read it I wish it would never end – and Edmond Dantès is one of my favourite characters in all of literature!

3. What is the first classic you ever read?

This is a difficult question for me to answer because I honestly can’t remember! As a child, I read a lot of children’s classics: The Secret Garden, The Hobbit, Black Beauty, the Narnia books, The Wind in the Willows, Watership Down, and many others. I also had a lovely illustrated edition of A Christmas Carol. I think Wuthering Heights was probably my first ‘adult’ classic, followed by things like To Kill a Mockingbird and Pride and Prejudice.

4. What is the most challenging one you’ve ever read, or tried to read?

That’s another difficult one to answer because books can be challenging in different ways. I’m going to highlight one that I did manage to finish, but struggled with at times – Samuel Richardson’s 1500+ page novel, Clarissa. It wasn’t necessarily the length of the book that bothered me (The Count of Monte Cristo is almost as long) and I didn’t really have a problem with the 18th century writing style either. The thing that made it challenging for me was the pace and the repetitiveness – the way hundreds of pages could go by without the plot moving forward at all. It took me a whole year to read it, first as part of a group read then on my own after I abandoned the group schedule, but when I reached the end I felt a real sense of accomplishment.

5. Favourite movie adaptation of a classic? Least favourite?

This is an easier question to answer! My favourite would have to be the 1940 adaptation of Rebecca with Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier. I love the du Maurier novel it’s based on and it’s one of the few examples I can think of where the film is as good as the book. I would find it hard to single out a least favourite, but I tend not to like adaptations that diverge too much from the original novel (assuming that I’ve read the book first, that is). It annoys me when whole chunks of plot are left out or the ending has been completely changed or a character I loved in the book doesn’t appear at all in the film.

6. Has there been a classic title you expected to dislike and ended up loving? Respecting? Appreciating?

Yes, lots! I have often been – and continue to be – surprised by classics! For example, I’ve never considered myself to be much of a science fiction fan, but gave John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos a try back in 2013 and loved it. I’ve since enjoyed two of his other books and am currently reading another, The Chrysalids. I didn’t expect to like John Steinbeck or W Somerset Maugham either, but ended up loving East of Eden and The Painted Veil, respectively.

7. Classic/s you are DEFINITELY GOING TO MAKE HAPPEN next year?

My answer to that is everything on my current Classics Club list that I don’t manage to read this year! I had set myself a target of finishing the list by this November, but with twenty out of the fifty books still to read I don’t think that’s at all likely.

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Are you a member of The Classics Club? If so, have you completed this questionnaire? I would love to read your answers.

Six in Six: The 2022 Edition

We’re more than halfway through the year and Six in Six, hosted by Jo of The Book Jotter, is back again! I love taking part in this meme as I think it’s the perfect way to look back at our reading over the first six months of the year.

The idea of Six in Six is that we choose six categories (Jo has provided a list of suggestions or you can come up with new topics of your own if you prefer) and then fit six of the books or authors we’ve read this year into each category. It’s more difficult than it sounds, especially as I try not to use the same book in more than one category, but it’s always fun to do – and always a bit different as my reading tastes and patterns seem to change slightly each year.

Here is my 2022 Six in Six, with links to my reviews where available:

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Six authors I’ve read for the first time this year:

1. Janice Hallett (The Twyford Code)
2. Sophie Irwin (A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting)
3. Mathew West (The House of Footsteps)
4. Catriona McPherson (In Place of Fear)
5. Lianne Dillsworth (Theatre of Marvels)
6. Rosie Andrews (The Leviathan)

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The six oldest books I’ve read this year:

1. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe (1722)
2. The Lady of the Camellias by Alexandre Dumas, fils (1848)
3. Diary of a Pilgrimage by Jerome K. Jerome (1891)
4. The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie (1923)
5. The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie (1924)
6. Scarweather by Anthony Rolls (1934)

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Six books set in countries other than my own:

1. Fortune by Amanda Smyth (Trinidad)
2. Death in the Andamans by M.M. Kaye (Andaman Islands)
3. The Sunken Road by Ciarán McMenamin (Ireland)
4. Death on Gokumon Island by Seishi Yokomizo (Japan)
5. The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley by Sean Lusk (Turkey)
6. A Bad Business by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Russia)

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Six books about real people:

1. The Queen’s Lady by Joanna Hickson (Joan Vaux)
2. The Colour Storm by Damian Dibben (Giorgio Barbarelli or ‘Giorgione’)
3. The Stone Rose by Carol McGrath (Isabella of France)
4. The Rebel Daughter by Miranda Malins (Bridget Cromwell)
5. Booth by Karen Joy Fowler (The Booth family)
6. The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn (Lyudmila Pavlichenko)

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Six books with living things in the title:

1. The White Hare by Jane Johnson
2. The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff
3. Go Tell the Bees That I am Gone by Diana Gabaldon
4. Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper
5. The Reindeer Hunters by Lars Mytting
6. The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

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Six books read but not yet reviewed:

1. That Bonesetter Woman by Frances Quinn
2. Stone Blind by Natalie Haynes
3. All the Broken Places by John Boyne
4. The Night Ship by Jess Kidd
5. Death and the Conjuror by Tom Mead
6. The Magician by Colm Tóibín

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Have you read any of these books or authors this year? Will you be taking part in Six in Six?

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?