My Commonplace Book: June 2021

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

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


There are moments in life, so monumental and still, that the memory can never be retrieved without a catch to the throat or an interruption to the beat of the heart. Can never be retrieved without the rumbling disquiet of how close that moment came to not having happened at all.

Still Life by Sarah Winman (2021)


He leaned forward. ‘Jonah, are you well?’

The oarsman lifted his grizzled face and there was moisture in his eyes. ‘I may be, but my city ain’t. There is a madness here, the like of which I have never seen in all my years on this river. The pride that people wear like a badge, the certainty they are right and the other man is wrong, on both sides, it is a black sin that eats at us all. And it can only lead to great sorrow.’

The Wrecking Storm by Michael Ward (2021)


First Opium War – Canton, May 1841

‘I don’t believe in single causes, Trader. Black and white, good versus evil. Real life isn’t like that. Historians in the future will find all kinds of things going on here at the same time, some of which may even be random chance. If historians can discern any pattern, it will probably be complex, a system in flux, like the sea.’ He smiled. ‘God made the universe, Trader, but that doesn’t mean He made it simple.’

China by Edward Rutherfurd (2021)


‘And, of course, yes, I’m very ordinary. An ordinary rather scatty old lady. And that of course is very good camouflage.’

Nemesis by Agatha Christie (1971)


Minster Lovell Hall, Oxfordshire

‘I am almost eleven,’ I said, ‘and I know things because I watch and listen. I think on things. It is not a pastime reserved for men.’

‘It’s uncommon,’ Francis said. Then, with a gleam of amusement in his eyes, ‘In anyone, man or woman. We would all be spared a great deal if men thought first and acted second.’

The Last Daughter by Nicola Cornick (2021)


Favourite book read in June:


Authors read for the first time in June:

None this month

Places visited in my June reading:

China, Italy, England


This was another slow month for me in terms of number of books finished, but I did enjoy everything I read, which I think is much more important!

Have you read any of these? What did you read in June and do you have any plans for July?

My Commonplace Book: May 2021

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

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


In the corner sat the old fellow as he always sat, astride a childish stool, sharpening the horseshoe nails a Crocker son had cut from an iron rod; hunched over an ancient anvil this gatfer sat beneath a window festooned with cobwebs, and put a point on the nails with a small hammer. Did the old man ever move from that spot, night or day, or was he welded to it? Perhaps he had been there for ever, tapping at the nails since the first horses were shod a thousand years ago, crouching with his little hammer like a hobgoblin smith at the oldest forge in the known world.

The Horseman by Tim Pears (2017)


Illustration by Walter Crane: “Sing a song of sixpence”

“Is St. Mary Mead a very nice village?”

“Well, I don’t know what you would call a nice village, my dear. It’s quite a pretty village. There are some nice people living in it and some extremely unpleasant people as well. Very curious things go on there just as in any other village. Human nature is much the same everywhere, is it not?”

A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christie (1953)


The lane twisted, turned, then became narrower as we drove towards Clogagh.

At this moment, I felt it was a metaphor for my life:

What if I was to turn left instead of right in my own life at this moment? Is all life simply a series of twisting and turning paths, with a crossroads every so often when fate allows humanity to decide their own destiny…?

The Missing Sister by Lucinda Riley (2021)


Daphne du Maurier

The child destined to be a writer is vulnerable to every wind that blows. Now warm, now chill, next joyous, then despairing, the essence of his nature is to escape the atmosphere about him, no matter how stable, even loving. No ties, no binding chains, save those he forges for himself. Or so he thinks. But escape can be delusion, and what he is running from is not the enclosing world and its inhabitants, but his own inadequate self that fears to meet the demands which life makes upon it.

Myself When Young by Daphne du Maurier (1977)


Favourite book read in May:

The Missing Sister

Authors read for the first time in May:

Tim Pears

Places visited in my May reading:

England, Ireland, New Zealand


This hasn’t been a great month of reading for me, due to a combination of health problems over the last week (nothing too serious, I hope) and being in the middle of several very long books at the same time. I’m sure I’ll be back to my normal reading and blogging routine soon.

Have you read any of these? What did you read in May and do you have any plans for June?

My Commonplace Book: April 2021

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

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


This business of making your own life may sound dreary – especially if you have a dated mind and still think of yourself as belonging to the Weaker Sex. But it really isn’t. You can have a grand time doing it. You can – within the limitations imposed on most of us, whether we live singly or in herds – live pretty much as you please.

Live Alone and Like It by Marjorie Hillis (1936)


Fodor accepted that Alma might be both truthful and dishonest, gifted and fraudulent. He rarely dealt with snow-white, morally upright individuals, but rather with people who were damaged and divided. It was well known that when mediums found their powers fading, they would compensate, invent, create illusions to please their admirers or protect themselves. Psychics were natural transgressors, crossing all kinds of boundaries, from waking to trance, from the earthly to the spirit world. Their weaknesses – moral, physical, emotional – were the fissures through which the phantoms came.

The Haunting of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale (2020)


Eleanor Cross

‘I have helped heal soldiers wounded in battle. I’ve heard of many atrocities following sieges and all because one group or another thinks their right to this country is greater than another’s claim. In truth, Olwen, some leaders simply profit from war whilst others suffer. This cannot be God’s will.’ Glancing up she noted tears in his eyes and bowed her head.

She pondered his words as they walked on. He was right. So many wasted lives because they all sought God’s Kingdom on earth.

The Damask Rose by Carol McGrath (2021)


‘All of history is fiction,’ Jasper said, dipping a cloth in oil and polishing the barrel of his rifle. ‘I’ve said this to you before. Everyone is a liar whether they know it or not. Bias, you know? You might describe life here as untenable and dismal, and I’d say there’s a thrill in fighting, and who’s to say which one of us is right? Or – I might say Dash is a jolly good fellow, and the wife of a soldier he shot might call him a monster. There are no simple answers.’

Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal (2021)


He dropped his gaze to the pond’s rippling surface. Her voice had deepened a shade, he thought. Her lips were fuller too. He had not set eyes on her since the glimpse outside the chapel. Now her reflection shimmered, dissolving then magically restoring itself. But nothing would dissolve the nature of its owner, he reminded himself. No amount of sugar would sweeten Lady Lucy’s sourness.

John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk (2012)


“King Edward V and the Duke of York in the Tower of London” by Paul Delaroche

If British royal children disappeared today, the media frenzy would be intolerable. There were no newspapers in the fifteenth century. The most we have is a scattering of private correspondence, for example the Paston and Cely letters. We have official documents that shed virtually no light on murky events like murder. We have chronicles, ‘histories’ both official and unofficial, often compiled by churchmen, miles from the action and written years afterwards.

There was no police force, no structure to investigate the boys’ disappearance. There was no forensic science, so that even had the boys’ bodies been found, the cause of death could not definitely have been ascertained, still less who was guilty of the murder.

The Killer of the Princes in the Tower by MJ Trow (2021)


I have never been much of one for letters, but I will admit a fondness for the scents that often attend them. I have twice visited a house boasting a library, the first time as a welcome guest, the second as a victorious invader with a carbine in my hand and a sabre at my hip. Both times I was struck by the peculiarly unique smell, and Moseley’s bookshop was the same way.

The Protector by SJ Deas (2015)


There were consequences, almost always, for what you did or failed to do in life. He believed that. Fate could play a role, and chance, but your choices and decisions mattered. Mattered to someone else, too.

River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay (2013)


“And his beard’s quite real,” I put in.

Ma soeur,” said Poirot, “a murderer of the first class never wears a false beard!”

“How do you know the murderer is of the first class?” I asked rebelliously.

“Because if he were not, the whole truth would be plain to me at this instant – and it is not.”

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie (1936)


“Bacchus and Ariadne” by Titian

Asterion. A distant light in an infinity of darkness. A raging fire if you came too close. A guide that would lead my family on the path to immortality. A divine vengeance upon us all. I did not know then what he would become. But my mother held him and nursed him and named him and he knew us both. He was not yet the Minotaur. He was just a baby. He was my brother.

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint (2021)


He smiled, and his charm briefly enveloped me like a warm cloud of nothingness. I watched his tall figure receding down the passage, with the dog pattering after him.

Only a fool would rely on the goodwill of Charles Stuart. But the dog did, and so did I. A little kindness makes fools of us all.

The Royal Secret by Andrew Taylor (2021)


‘Elizabeth Woodville is out of favour,’ said Mark, ‘and has long been banished to a nunnery. They say she was intriguing with the Pretender before Stoke.’

‘And is it possible?’

He shrugged. ‘Anything is possible in this day and age,’ he said. ‘John will tell you. Tis hard to find an honest man in the Government of the country.’

The Rich Earth by Pamela Oldfield (1980)



“What mystery novels need are – some might call me old-fashioned – a great detective, a mansion, a shady cast of residents, bloody murders, impossible crimes and never-before-seen tricks played by the murderer. Call it my castle in the sky, but I’m happy as long as I can enjoy such a world. But always in an intellectual manner.”

The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji (1987)


Trish had been brought up to believe that nothing was impossible. Any kind of achievement, she had been taught, was the result of determination, willpower, commitment – the adults in her life used different words but all said the same thing. Any kind of failure, in whatever sphere it might show itself, had its roots in the mind. It was hard for her to accept that there were some physical obstacles which could never be surmounted.

The Hardie Inheritance by Anne Melville (1990)


Favourite books read in April:

The Royal Secret and The Hardie Inheritance

Authors read for the first time in April:

MJ Trow, Marjorie Hillis, Lawrence Norfolk, Jennifer Saint, Yukito Ayatsuji and Pamela Oldfield

Places visited in my April reading:

England, China, USA, Iraq, Ancient Greece, Japan


Have you read any of these? What have you been reading in April?

My Commonplace Book: March 2021

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

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


Are there not little chapters in everybody’s life, Beth had read in Vanity Fair only that morning, that seem to be nothing, and yet affect all the rest of history?

Too soon to tell…but perhaps this was, in fact, going to be one of them.

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn (2021)


Frances Cromwell, daughter of Oliver Cromwell

‘We don’t rebel against our parents,’ I begin slowly, as if I am carving each word from stone. ‘We take up our beliefs like a battle standard and advance them further even than they could have imagined. We take their victories for liberty and apply them to our own lives. The freedom to find fulfilment. The freedom to shape our futures. The freedom to choose whom we love.’

The Puritan Princess by Miranda Malins (2020)


‘To be sure, my Arcadia is amply supplied with kings and shepherds, lovers and villains, shipwrecks and mistaken identity, but it doesn’t depend on monsters and sorcerers for adventure. My tales take place in the natural world, one in which readers may find mirrors of themselves. Why turn a plot on sorcery when love and envy are sufficient to drive men mad?’

Imperfect Alchemist by Naomi Miller (2020)


She knew exactly what her father would have said on the matter too, quoting Heraclitus: “No man steps in the same river twice.” To which Rose would have replied, obligingly, “For it’s not the same river, and he’s not the same man.”

The Lost Diary of Venice by Margaux DeRoux (2020)


Newstead Abbey in 1880

The contrast between the bustle of Westminster and the serenity of Newstead – with its waterfalls, wildlife and seasonal cloaks of snowdrops, bilberries and yellow gorse – provided a useful introduction to both the natural world and urban living.

The Fall of the House of Byron by Emily Brand (2020)


“Most successes are unhappy. That’s why they are successes – they have to reassure themselves about themselves by achieving something that the world will notice.”

“What extraordinary ideas you have, Anthony.”

“You’ll find they are quite true if you only examine them. The happy people are failures because they are on such good terms with themselves that they don’t give a damn. Like me. They are also usually agreeable to get on with – again like me.”

Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie (1945)


A loyal heart is not enough to keep a man from the gallows, until that heart is ruled by a sagacious mind. A bird has eyes either side of the head, so that it may look two ways at once, but man’s eyes are on the front of his face. He cannot look behind him and in front at the same time, and if he tries, sooner or later, he’ll trip and fall.

The Drowned City by KJ Maitland (2021)


It was his belief that only people whose emotions are communal rather than individual can honestly experience passion without jealousy. Though love may die quickly among civilised people, self-love and rivalry are harder to kill. Indeed they only flourish the more under suppression.

The Deadly Truth by Helen McCloy (1941)


Italian Chapel, Orkney

There can be no single point when a person breaks, surely. Rather, a person’s patience is like the cloth bandage that holds a wound together: over time, it is rubbed thinner and thinner, until the material is all but worn away. The final threads are simply a mesh over the rawness.

The Metal Heart by Caroline Lea (2021)


When the worst happens, dread, at least, is over.

The Pact by Sharon Bolton (2021)


Favourite book read in March:

The Rose Code

Authors read for the first time in March:

Kate Quinn, Miranda Malins, Naomi Miller, Margaux DeRoux, Emily Brand

Places visited in my March reading:

England, USA, Italy, Scotland

My Commonplace Book: February 2021

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

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


“Ah, but life is like that! It does not permit you to arrange and order it as you will. It will not permit you to escape emotion, to live by the intellect and by reason! You cannot say, ‘I will feel so much and no more.’ Life, Mr Welman, whatever else it is, is not reasonable.”

Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie (1940)


Clearly the answer was that birds have a life of their own which, although over large areas irrational and perplexing, isn’t quite so irrational and perplexing as the life that human beings have been contriving for themselves of late. Work hard on birds, and you may here and there make some sense of them. This scarcely holds true of homo sapiens.

Hare Sitting Up by Michael Innes (1959)


Reading room at the American Library in Paris

‘But seriously, why books? Because no other thing possesses that mystical faculty to make people see with other people’s eyes. The Library is a bridge of books between cultures.’

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles (2021)


Were not Time and Fate sisters? My feeling is that they both work against us, sometimes gently, sometimes harshly, with the briefest interruptions when the tide flows backwards for a happy moment, mainly due to our own endeavours.

A Net for Small Fishes by Lucy Jago (2021)


An entertainment in Vauxhall Gardens c. 1779

‘The magistrate says it cannot be one of her clients because the crime was too savage to be committed by a gentleman. Is that also your view?’

‘I think monsters who wear the masks of men are as likely to be found in the clubs of St James’s as they are in the slum rookeries of St Giles. Whether this is the former or the latter, I cannot yet say.”

Daughters of Night by Laura Shepherd-Robinson (2021)


My father once said: “If you understand yourself, it is as much as you can be expected to do.” How true that is! Every day I live I realise what a fund of wisdom he had. It poured from him as water pours from a spring, clear and hard, and just right.”

Good by Stealth by Henrietta Clandon (1936)


Favourite book read in February:

Good by Stealth

New authors read in February:

Janet Skeslien Charles, Lucy Jago, Henrietta Clandon

Countries visited in February’s reading:

France, USA, England

My Commonplace Book: January 2021

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

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


Before he could rise to his feet, Baldwin spoke first. ‘Is there not a danger, my lord count, that Saladin will use this truce to strike at his Muslim enemies – the amirs of Aleppo and Mosul and the Assassins?’

Raymond looked surprised. ‘That is indeed a risk, my liege. But that is always true when truces are made. It is a sad truth that in times of peace, men continue to prepare for war.’

The Land Beyond the Sea by Sharon Penman (2020)


Henry will never abdicate. Nor will Marguerite. Nor will Richard be prepared to compromise. All Richard can hope for is to take up the position of Lord Protector again if Henry should slide into mental turmoil. But how is it possible to uncover such a rats’ nest of claim and counter-claim, then re-cover it, allowing it to linger and fester, the rats to grow in strength? A rats’ nest must be destroyed by a fierce ratter, for the good of all but the rats.

The Queen’s Rival by Anne O’Brien (2020)


Astrolabe of Jean Fusoris, made in Paris, 1400

As long as science is a human activity, it will have human flaws. In this respect, perhaps the many mistakes of the Middle Ages can teach us some helpful humility, and motivate us to identify opportunities for improvement in our own day.

The Light Ages by Seb Falk (2020)


He knew that a man may live in close proximity to things he does not yet see correctly. What he must try to do is to be vigilant and attentive to all that surrounds him, in order to find the path he should follow.

Islands of Mercy by Rose Tremain (2020)


“No, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t tell a soul.”

“People who use that phrase are always the last to live up to it.”

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie (1942)


One day, if you join polite society, you will certainly experience injustice, against which you must be forearmed. The best defence would no doubt be to match insult with insult, calumny with calumny, to fight injustice with injustice, but this way of dealing with iniquity is not within the scope of people like us. So when you are afflicted by it, withdraw and turn in upon yourself. Feed off the substance of your own soul and you will know happiness.

The Manuscript Found in Saragossa by Jan Potocki (1810)


Semper Augustus tulip – anonymous 17th century watercolour

My mother always told me to value the beauty of nature. I remember us spending endless summer days on our hands and knees, studying plants in her garden, she explaining each flower in loving detail. I learned to appreciate the simple perfection of each bloom.

Rags of Time by Michael Ward (2019)


“If they condemn you as a sorcerer and burn you for it, then you are, for all practical purposes, a sorcerer, whether you began as one or not. Fear doesn’t need to make sense in order to have consequences.”

The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson (2019)


His heart flew upward like the hawk. He felt around him the seamlessness, the one-ness of the world, alive everywhere; only people with their different words for things, their different gods, broke it all to pieces.

The Soul Thief by Cecelia Holland (2002)


Frances Griffiths with the alleged Cottingley fairies, 1917

Mrs Hogan noticed the book I was carrying. ‘Black Beauty. One of my favourites. I’m glad to see you’re a keen reader. You can never have too many books or too much laughter in a house. Isn’t that right?’

The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor (2017)


I looked at my cousin and once again couldn’t believe that we shared the same genes.

‘If one person is missing, Marie, the world is lost.’

Ashes by Christopher de Vinck (2020)


Favourite books read in January:

The Land Beyond the Sea, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa and Rags of Time

Places visited in January:

The Holy Land, England, Borneo, Spain, Ireland, Denmark, Belgium

New authors read in January:

Seb Falk, Jan Potocki, Michael Ward, G. Willow Wilson, Christopher de Vinck


Have you read any of these books? What did you enjoy reading in January?

My Commonplace Book: December 2020

For the final time this year…

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

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


‘We live on a river and it has a life of its own,’ Hermann said. ‘Like all waterways, it’ll eventually bring new people to us and also take people away. We don’t exist in a locked box and nor should we try to.’

The Running Wolf by Helen Steadman (2020)


Humans could never accept the world as it was and live in it. They were always breaking it and living amongst the shattered pieces.

Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb (2013)


Norwegian stave church

Rumours are the seeds of legends, light enough to spread on the wind, and quick to grow. By the time a truth has put down its root, rumours will have blossomed and become their own truths, because even the wildest fantasy has been told by someone, and this – the fact of something being told by someone – gives it a veracity, even if what is told is more than a little unlikely.

The Bell in the Lake by Lars Mytting (2018)


She knew there were good, kind Germans like Wolf, who’d never wanted the war, who emphatically never wanted Hitler. Many Italians hadn’t wanted Mussolini either and so many families on both sides only wanted to get on with living their lives. But war was making monsters of them all.

The Tuscan Contessa by Dinah Jefferies (2020)


“A lie doesn’t reproduce external facts faithfully – it is a product of the liar’s own mind, and therefore a clue to the quality and content of his mind. The liar, like any other storyteller, must draw upon his remembered experiences to build his fantasy, and his choice of detail is guided by his tastes and emotions. So if you want to learn something about a man’s emotions and memories listen to his lies.”

The Man in the Moonlight by Helen McCloy (1940)


Favourite books read in December:

The Bell in the Lake and The Running Wolf

Countries visited in my December reading:

Norway, England, Italy, USA, Germany

Authors read for the first time in December:

Lars Mytting


Have you read any of these? What did you read in December?

Happy New Year!