Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish resolutions

Starting this week, Top Ten Tuesday is now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. Her first topic is “Bookish resolutions and goals”. I sometimes put a post like this together at the beginning of January but didn’t get round to it this year, so I’m posting it today instead.

I don’t set goals in terms of numbers (apart from the Goodreads Challenge which I use more as a way of keeping track of what I’ve read rather than an actual ‘challenge’) so I prefer to call this a list of resolutions. Some of these are the same as my resolutions from previous years (most of which I didn’t manage to keep) and others are new.

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1. Make more time for re-reads. I say this every year and never seem to do it. I re-read three books last year, because I needed to so I could finish my Classics Club list, but there are many more old favourites I would like to revisit as well. I will definitely try to re-read some of them this year!

2. Make some progress with my new Classics Club list. I posted my second list in November after completing my first one. The new list has 50 classics on it and a target date of 14th November 2022. So far I have only read one book from the list – Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather – but there are a lot of others I’m excited about reading.

3. Continue to work on my Walter Scott Prize project for which I’m working my way through all of the shortlisted titles since the prize was first awarded in 2010. This year’s shortlist will be announced in March, but I still have some from each of the previous years’ lists to read too.

4. Read more books set in different countries. Reading can be a great way to learn about the culture and history of countries other than our own. When I posted my analysis of the historical fiction I read in 2017, I found that the majority of the books I read last year were set in Britain, with the USA, France and Italy also well-represented. This year I want to include more books set in countries I know less about.

5. Join in with other bloggers’ projects or events which sound appealing e.g. Jane’s Birthday Book of Underappreciated Lady Authors (for which I’m currently reading Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp) and Karen and Simon’s club years (1977 Club is coming in April).

6. Request fewer books from NetGalley and get caught up with my backlog. I have had the opportunity to read some great books through NetGalley but it’s easy to find yourself requesting more than you know you’ll realistically have time to read. This year I want to limit the number I request until I’ve read all the books already on my NetGalley shelf.

7. Continue to work through some of the series that I’m in the middle of reading. I’m very good at starting them but not so good at continuing with them!

8. Read the books that I really want to read. There are a lot of books that I’ve been wanting to read for years and am sure I’m going to love, but that I’ve been avoiding reading because I’m ‘saving them for later’ or ‘want to have something to look forward to’. I’m aware of how silly this is, so 2018 is going to be the year I finally read those long-anticipated books!

9. Abandon books that I’m not enjoying. Sometimes I can tell almost immediately that a book is not for me, but sometimes I’m not sure and decide to keep going in the hope that it will get better – and then even when it doesn’t improve I still struggle on to the end.

10. Try to make every book I read a potential favourite book of the year. I know this won’t actually happen, but it’s what we would all like, isn’t it? Resolutions 1-9 should help with this!

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What resolutions, goals or plans do you have for your 2018 reading?

Six degrees of separation: The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency to The Time Machine

This is the first time I have participated in Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Every month we are given the title of a book as a starting point and the idea is to link it to six other books 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.

I’ve seen other bloggers taking part in this every month and it always looks fun, so I thought I would try it myself. I picked a good month for my first attempt, as the opening book in the chain is one that I read and enjoyed just last year: The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith.

This is the first in a series of novels about Mma Precious Ramotswe, a woman who runs a detective agency in Botswana. Another book I remember enjoying which is also set in an African country is Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.

Cutting for Stone tells the story of a surgeon’s twin sons who grow up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and are raised by two doctors from the local hospital. This brings to mind another book about a doctor: A Country Doctor’s Notebook by Mikhail Bulgakov.

This is a fascinating and surprisingly funny book about a young, newly qualified doctor working at a small hospital in a remote Russian village. It’s the second book I’ve read by Mikhail Bulgakov; I also loved The Master and Margarita.

I remember feeling intimidated at the thought of tackling The Master and Margarita…until I picked it up and started to read. What a wonderful, original, unusual novel it is!

My next link is to another book with the word Master in the title. Master of Shadows by Neil Oliver.

Set during the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Master of Shadows is the first novel by historian and TV presenter Neil Oliver. Another historian who has recently started to write fiction is Ian Mortimer, so the next book on my list is one that I read a few months ago – The Outcasts of Time.

The Outcasts of Time is the story of two brothers who travel forward in time from 1348 to 1942, stopping in each century to see how things have changed. I have read a lot of books which feature time travel, but the obvious choice to finish my chain is H.G. Wells’ classic The Time Machine.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my first Six Degrees of Separation! It has taken me from a detective agency in Botswana to a futuristic world, visiting Ethiopia, Russia and the Byzantine Empire along the way. I wonder where the chain will lead me next month, when we’ll be starting with Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.

Have you read any of the books in my chain? What did you think of them?

Top Ten Tuesday: New-to-me authors read in 2017

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) is:

Top ten new-to-me authors I read in 2017

I don’t take part in Top Ten Tuesday every week, but I thought this one would give me an opportunity to take another look back at 2017’s reading as well as looking forward to the future. The ten authors I’ve listed below were all new to me last year and I am now interested in reading more books by all ten of them, in 2018 if possible.

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1. Rebecca Mascull

Rebecca Mascull was the first author to come to mind when I saw the topic for this week. Until 2017 I had never read any of her books, but The Wild Air and Song of the Sea Maid both impressed me enough to win a place on my books of the year list. I still have her first novel, The Visitors, to look forward to.

2. Robert Graves

I read I, Claudius in 2017 and enjoyed it more than I’d expected to (Ancient Rome is not one of my favourite periods to read about). The sequel, Claudius the God, is on my Classics Club list and I will try to get round to it this year.

3. Helen Steadman

I was pleased to discover Helen Steadman in 2017 because she writes about the North East of England, which is where I am from. Her debut novel, Widdershins, is about the Newcastle witch trials of 1650 and apparently a sequel is on its way.

4. Allan Massie

Death in Bordeaux is the first in a quartet of crime novels set in 1940s France. I liked it enough to want to read the others, which is fortunate as I need to read the fourth one for my Reading the Walter Scott Prize project.

5. Elizabeth Jane Howard

Having heard so much about Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles, 2017 was the year I got round to starting the series myself. I enjoyed The Light Years and am looking forward to continuing with the second book, Marking Time.

6. Nicholas Blake

Nicholas Blake (Cecil Day-Lewis) is one of several classic crime authors I read for the first time in 2017 (Michael Innes is another). So far The Corpse in the Snowman is the only book of his that I’ve read, but I have another of his Nigel Strangeways mysteries lined up to read soon.

7. Nicola Cornick

I enjoyed reading two Nicola Cornick books in 2017 – The Phantom Tree and House of Shadows. Both are historical fiction involving dual time periods; her earlier novels don’t really appeal to me but I’m hoping she will write more books like these two!

8. RF Delderfield

Delderfield’s Long Summer Day was another of my favourite books of 2017. I’m planning to read the other books in his A Horseman Riding By trilogy this year, before going on to explore everything else he has written.

9. Antonia Senior

Antonia Senior’s The Winter Isles is a fascinating story set in 12th century Scotland. Although I didn’t quite manage to love it, it has made me curious about her other novels.

10. Gerald Durrell

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but I did enjoy Gerald Durrell’s Three Singles to Adventure and Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons in 2017. Maybe 2018 will be the year I finally read his Corfu trilogy!

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Have you read anything by any of these authors? Which new-to-you authors did you discover in 2017?

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten books on my Winter TBR

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) is Top Ten Books On My Winter TBR. I have a lot more than ten books on my TBR, but I’m listing below some that I’m hoping to get to in the next few months.

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1. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

At the top of my TBR is the book that was chosen for me in the recent Classics Club Spin. I’m looking forward to reading more Willa Cather.

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2. Voice of the Falconer by David Blixt

I read and loved David Blixt’s The Master of Verona a few years ago. This is the second book in the series and I really didn’t mean to wait this long to read it!

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3. The Pearl Sister by Lucinda Riley

The fourth book in Lucinda Riley’s Seven Sisters series will take us to Thailand and Australia. I’ve enjoyed the first three books so am looking forward to this one.

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4. The Oaken Heart by Margery Allingham

Not one of Allingham’s mystery novels but a non-fiction book giving an account of life in her Essex village during the Second World War.

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5. The Snow Globe by Judith Kinghorn

I’ve read all three of Judith Kinghorn’s other novels and this is the only one I still have left to read. The title sounds appropriate for winter anyway!

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6. Munich by Robert Harris

I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Robert Harris so far (particularly his An Officer and a Spy and Cicero trilogy). I haven’t had a chance yet to read his latest book, Munich, but it’s quickly moving up the TBR!

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7. Post of Honour by RF Delderfield

This is the second part of RF Delderfield’s Horseman Riding By trilogy. I was intending to read it straight after finishing the wonderful Long Summer Day, but got distracted by other books.

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8. Fool’s Errand by Robin Hobb

Having loved Robin Hobb’s Farseer and Liveship Traders trilogies, I think it’s time I started the Tawny Man trilogy. I’ll probably read the first book, Fool’s Errand, in the new year, if not before.

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9. Marking Time by Elizabeth Jane Howard

I read the first of Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles earlier this year and want to move on to the next one. I can’t wait to catch up with the characters from The Light Years again.

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10. Sugar Money by Jane Harris

I’ve been waiting for a new book from Jane Harris for a long time! I loved Gillespie and I and The Observations, so have high hopes for this one.

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Have you read any of these books – or would you like to? What is on your Winter TBR?

Top Ten Tuesday: Unique book titles

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) asks for our ‘top ten unique book titles’. I have interpreted this as meaning titles that I find unusual, intriguing or interesting in some way – and this is the list I’ve come up with:

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1. The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley

Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce novels were the first that came to mind when I saw this week’s topic. This one comes from Walter Raleigh’s To His Son (“The wood is that which makes the gallow tree; The weed is that which strings the hangman’s bag”), but others such as Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d and As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust are taken from Shakespeare and I am Half-Sick of Shadows is a line from Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott.

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

This non-fiction book is exactly what the title suggests: the story of a dead duke, his secret wife – and possibly a missing corpse as well. I won’t go into any more detail here as I’ve already said it all in my review, but I found it as fascinating to read as you would expect from the title!

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3. Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie

Many of Agatha Christie’s books have interesting titles, but I found this one particularly intriguing. “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” are the dying words spoken by a murder victim at the beginning of the novel, but – unless you are better at solving mysteries than I am – you won’t understand their meaning until you reach the end!

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4. Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson

This isn’t one of my favourite Atkinson novels but I did enjoy it. The title is intriguing – what is human croquet and how do you play it? – and I didn’t really understand its significance until the end of the book when the roles of some of the characters became clearer.

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5. Watch the Wall, My Darling by Jane Aiken Hodge

This gothic suspense novel set in 19th century Cornwall features smuggling as a major element of the plot, so it is appropriate that the title comes from Rudyard Kipling’s A Smuggler’s Song:
“If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse’s feet,
Don’t go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street,
Them that ask no questions isn’t told a lie.
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by.”

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6. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

This was Mary Ann Shaffer’s only novel, published posthumously in 2008. The unusual title refers to a fictional society formed during the German occupation of Guernsey during World War II.

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7. Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell

This 1930s novel by George Orwell is the story of a man who leaves a well-paid job to concentrate on his poetry and escape what he thinks of as ‘worship of the Money God’. The aspidistra of the title refers to the popular house plant he sees as symbolic of the middle-class lifestyle he has rejected.

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8. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

Swamplandia! is the name of a fictional theme park in the Everglades. With its alligator-themed attractions, it does sound unusual – and so is the novel itself!

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9. Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugresic

This is an imaginative retelling of the Baba Yaga story, relating aspects of the Slavic myth to the lives of modern women. It’s another strange title, but the reference to eggs will have more significance once you’ve read the book.

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10. Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart

Mary Stewart is another author who sometimes drew on songs, poems and plays for her titles (This Rough Magic and Nine Coaches Waiting are other examples). Madam, Will You Talk? is taken from a folk song possibly called The Keys of Heaven which contains the line “Madam, will you walk and talk with me?”

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Have you read any of these books? Which other books with interesting titles can you think of?

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten books I loved in my first year of blogging

Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and Bookish) is not something I participate in every week, but sometimes a particular topic appeals to me and I decide to put a list together. This week’s ‘throwback freebie’ theme gives me a chance to look back at some of the great books I read during my first year of blogging (from October 2009 to October 2010) – it seems so long ago now! This list could have been much longer, but I have narrowed my choices down to the following ten:

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1. The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier (read May 2010)

I also read and loved My Cousin Rachel in 2010, but I’ve chosen to feature this one here as it’s a less well-known du Maurier novel which really deserves more attention!

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2. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë (read February 2010)

Despite having read both Charlotte Brontë and Emily Brontë as a teenager, I didn’t get round to trying one of Anne’s books until 2010. I loved The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and went on to read Anne’s other novel, Agnes Grey, later in the year.

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3. Wild Swans by Jung Chang (read April 2010)

The first of two non-fiction books on my list, I found this memoir of Communist China shocking, fascinating and completely riveting.

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4. The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox (read May 2010)

I loved this complex and atmospheric mystery set in Victorian England – and I thought the sequel, The Glass of Time, was even better.

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5. The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas (read June 2010)

Dumas is a favourite author of mine and although this book is much less famous than The Count of Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers, I still loved it. A book about a contest to grow the world’s first black tulip may not sound very exciting, but this one certainly was!

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6. Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd (read June 2010)

2010 was the year, thanks to blogging, that I discovered Persephone Books. This one, about a woman who returns home after four years trapped on a desert island only to find that war has broken out in her absence, is still one of my favourites.

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7. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (read November 2009)

This was one of the first books I reviewed on my blog. I loved it and, despite the length, I would like to read it again one day!

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8. A Pair of Blue Eyes by Thomas Hardy (read July 2010)

I also read and loved Tess of the d’Urbervilles in the same year, but, as with the du Mauriers, I want to highlight this one because it is the less well-known of the two.

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9. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (read November 2009)

This moving account of Brittain’s time as a VAD nurse during the First World War is the second non-fiction book on my list. It’s both heartbreaking and inspirational!

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10. Middlemarch by George Eliot (read August 2010)

Having previously had two failed attempts to get into Middlemarch, I joined in with a readalong in the summer of 2010 – and was glad I’d given it another chance because I loved it.

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Well, I’ve enjoyed my little trip down memory lane! Have you read any of these books? If you’ve been blogging for a while, as I have, which books do you remember loving in the first year you started your blog?

Six in Six – the 2017 edition!

It’s July, which means it’s time for the return of the Six in Six meme, hosted by Jo of The Book Jotter! I think this is the perfect way to reflect on our reading over the first six months of the year. The idea of Six in Six is to choose six categories (Jo has provided a list to choose from or you can come up with new topics of your own if you prefer) and under each heading list six of the books or authors you’ve read so far this year.

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I’ve used four of these categories before, but the first and last ones are new to me this year. I had fun putting this post together, but it’s not as easy as it looks; some titles could have been placed in more than one category and, as I’ve read more than thirty-six books this year, I wasn’t able to include everything.

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Six books with a colour in the title:

The Red Sphinx by Alexandre Dumas
Midnight Blue by Simone van der Vlugt
The Red House Mystery by AA Milne
Golden Hill by Francis Spufford
The Silver Swan by Elena Delbanco
Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons by Gerald Durrell

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Six books set in different countries:

The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies (Sri Lanka)
Archangel by Robert Harris (Russia)
The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova (Bulgaria)
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain (Switzerland)
A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton (Japan)
The Valentine House by Emma Henderson (France)

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Six books with a touch of mystery

They Came To Baghdad by Agatha Christie
The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola
Duplicate Death by Georgette Heyer
Prague Nights by Benjamin Black
Miraculous Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards
The Coroner’s Daughter by Andrew Hughes

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Six classic novels

East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Lost Horizon by James Hilton
I, Claudius by Robert Graves
Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier
The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Six books about a real historical figure

Mata Hari by Michelle Moran (Mata Hari)
The Winter Isles by Antonia Senior (Somerled)
The Empress of Hearts by E Barrington (Marie Antoinette)
The Vatican Princess by CW Gortner (Lucrezia Borgia)
The Shadow Queen by Anne O’Brien (Joan of Kent)
First of the Tudors by Joanna Hickson (Jasper Tudor)

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Six books with covers I loved!

The Wild Air by Rebecca Mascull

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

The Muse by Jessie Burton

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Are you taking part in Six in Six? How is your reading going this year?