My Commonplace Book: September 2020

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

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


It was the better part of wartime, how easily one made friends. It had been the same from the first day of her basic training. Women you would never normally have spent five minutes with became as close as family. Adversity bred intimacy. She was already starting to feel she had known them for years.

V2 by Robert Harris (2020)


Illustration from The Black Arrow

He saw, through tears, the poor old man, bemused with liquor and sorrow, go shambling away, with bowed head, across the snow, and the unnoticed dog whimpering at his heels, and for the first time began to understand the desperate game that we play in life; and how a thing once done is not to be changed or remedied, by any penitence.

The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson (1888)


Some Fiction is much stranger than Truth…

Beau Sabreur by PC Wren (1926)


Portrait of Raphael

I’ve often asked myself how some men seem unable to let go of the chains that tied them once, clinging on to the rusty links as if they were a part of them, allowing them to weigh their minds and bodies down for all eternity; whereas others manage to shake them off and fly away high into the heavens. I’ve pondered the problem much but I still cannot fathom it. I’ve often asked myself too how some men can be generous-spirited even to those who would act against them while others bear a grudge that they can never let go. That too will always remain a puzzle to me.

The Woman in the Painting by Kerry Postle (2020)


Favourite book read in September:


New authors read in September:

Kerry Postle

Countries visited in my September reading:

England, Italy, Morocco, Belgium, the Netherlands


Have you read any of these books? Which books did you enjoy reading in September?

My Commonplace Book: August 2020 – and 20 Books of Summer comes to an end

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

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


“Leave it alone? Our very own murder mystery – if it was murder!”

“It was murder, I think. And that’s just why I should leave it alone. Murder isn’t – it really isn’t – a thing to tamper with lightheartedly.”

Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie (1976)


‘Of course I am a hero,’ he said, getting up and laughing very cheerfully. ‘Every man is a hero of his own tale. Surely, Dr Maturin, every man must look on himself as wiser and more intelligent and more virtuous than the rest, so how could he see himself as the villain, or even as a minor character? And you must have noticed that heroes are never beaten. They may be undone for a while, but they always do themselves up again, and marry the virtuous young gentlewoman.’

The Surgeon’s Mate by Patrick O’Brian (1980)


She was conscious of a glow of spurious strength, followed by a rush of confidence, as she climbed out of the traitor’s hell into which she had hurled herself.

“Lost causes are the only causes worth fighting for,” she told herself.

The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White (1936)


Portrait miniature, thought to be Catherine Howard by Hans Holbein c. 1540

She had never stitched so much embroidery. Where once she had done nothing but dance, she could not now bear to have music, for she felt so fragile that it must surely break her. Music evoked joy or sadness; it brought back memories or lifted the soul. She could not take any of that now. She was merely existing, trying not to think too much. When her musicians knocked at her door, she told her women to tell them that it was not the time for dancing.

Katheryn Howard, the Tainted Queen by Alison Weir (2020)


People want love. People demand love. They prescribe love. They proscribe it, too. People make mistakes, and people grow afraid, and they fail and hurt each other. Some people talk about love like drunkards, and their words end up meaning nothing. But some people cannot talk about love; it kills them to do so, and with time, passing straight through the hurt itself, we come to see the nature of their love. We come to see how transformative it was, and what an honour it was to have it in our lives.

The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle by Neil Blackmore (2020)


“Oh dear,” she said impulsively, “I wish you could be happy.”

…But the hard-eyed Cornishwoman was looking at her with an odd surprised kind of approval. “A perilous wish!” she said. “For where one may be made happy by harmless things, another may find happiness only in hurting. But good may come of it.”

Greenwitch by Susan Cooper (1974)


Favourite books read in August:

Sleeping Murder, Greenwitch

New authors read in August:

Neil Blackmore, Ethel Lina White

Countries visited in my August reading:

England, Italy, France, Canada


Have you read any of these books? Which books did you enjoy reading in August?


This year’s 20 Books of Summer challenge has also come to an end now. I only managed to read 14 of the 20 books on my list, but I hadn’t expected to do much better than that so I’m quite happy!

Here are the books I read, with links to reviews where available:

1. Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz
2. A Time to Die by Hilda Lawrence
3. The Silver Collar by Antonia Hodgson
4. The Honey and the Sting by EC Fremantle
5. Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten
6. The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi
7. When We Fall by Carolyn Kirby
8. Katheryn Howard, the Tainted Queen by Alison Weir
9. The Silken Rose by Carol McGrath
10. Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie
11. City of Dragons by Robin Hobb
12. The Surgeon’s Mate by Patrick O’Brian
13. Greenwitch by Susan Cooper
14. These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer

Here are the books I didn’t read (although I have started two of them). I will have to make these autumn or winter reads instead of summer ones.

15. The Land Beyond the Sea by Sharon Penman
16. The Green Gauntlet by RF Delderfield
17. Confusion by Elizabeth Jane Howard
18. The Wheel of Fortune by Susan Howatch
19. Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
20. The Horseman by Tim Pears


How was your summer reading? Did you take part in 20 Books of Summer – and did you complete your list?

My Commonplace Book: July 2020

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

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


“Yes, I do like to read mysteries. They’re very helpful in my line of work. Of course, real life and fiction are very different, but the way of thinking – the logical thought process – is useful practice for anything life throws at you.”

The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo (1946)


Portrait of Amy Robsart by Charles Robert Leslie

Her eyes met mine and I felt a ripple of shock at the pain and disillusionment I saw there. This woman and I were not so dissimilar though she was Queen of England in her own right and surrounded by all the trappings of majesty. She could not command a man’s good opinion or his loyalty, nor could she, apparently, bear his child.

The Forgotten Sister by Nicola Cornick (2020)


Literary festivals all over the country turn writers into performers and open doors into their private lives that, I often think, would be better left closed. In my view, it’s more satisfying to learn about authors from the work they produce than the other way round.

Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz (2020)


I want to call it coincidence but I have occasionally wondered whether time can fold in on itself and allow some people, if they are sensitive enough, a glimpse of the future. Some are more receptive to the invisible workings of the world, can intuit things in the way a dog can smell fear. It is often called a gift but to me it seems more of a blight.

The Honey and the Sting by EC Fremantle (2020)


Female pilot of the Air Transport Auxiliary.

She smiles awkwardly. ‘Is it really so perplexing for you to see a woman in a cockpit?’

‘No. Why?’

‘You look at me so oddly, and when you first saw me you seemed…’



When We Fall by Carolyn Kirby (2020)


My point is that while I was fretting over such nonsense, I failed to notice the one thing that mattered: we were happy. Other people had noticed, however – and they were most decidedly not happy. Envy snaps its teeth at the heels of good fortune, and there is nothing in the world more destructive than a man who wants what he cannot have.

The Silver Collar by Antonia Hodgson (2020)


Here was where one came to buy goods from the Rain Wilds: perfume gems with their eternal fragrances; wind chimes that played endless, never-repeating melodies; objects made of gleaming jidzin; and hundreds of other magical items…Containers that heated or chilled whatever was put into them. A statue that awoke as a babe every day, aged through the day, and ‘died’ at night as an old man, only to be reborn with the dawn. Summer tapestries that smelled of flowers and brought warmth to the room when hung. Items that existed nowhere else in the world and were impossible to duplicate.

City of Dragons by Robin Hobb (2011)


Favourite book read in July:

Moonflower Murders

New authors read in July

Seishi Yokomizo

Countries visited in my July reading:

Japan, England, Poland, fictional Realm of the Elderlings


Have you read any of these books? Which books did you enjoy reading in July?

My Commonplace Book: June 2020

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.


Catherine I of Russia

Sometimes I’d linger outside the door to listen: how could a single man know as much as he did? Every day he received a dozen or so letters, and when I cleaned the room I spotted scroll upon scroll filled with his tiny, neat handwriting. The sheer number of books on his shelves made me despair; by the time I had finished dusting them, they were ready for me to start all over again.

Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten (2020)


‘Have you had a pleasant time?’ Hugh asked.

‘A most instructive week. The roads here are remarkable. Allow me to point out to your notice, Leon, that an insignificant pawn lies under that chair. It is never wise to disregard the pawn.’

Hugh looked at him. ‘What may that mean?’ he inquired.

‘It is merely advice, my dear. I should have made an excellent father.’

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer (1926)


Main Street sweltered. Creeping pedestrians hugged the narrow line of shade cast by hot brick walls. The usual custom of greeting friends, locally known as “passing the time of day,” was suspended. Two dogs, father and son, snarled at each other when they came face to face, and halfway down the block a man with an ice-cream cart sank to the kerbstone and devoured his livelihood.

A Time to Die by Hilda Lawrence (1945)


Eleanor of Provence and Henry III

Alienor wanted everyone else to share her happiness. Two uncles in England, two healthy babies in her nursery, the possibility that her sister might come to England with her mother, a summer adventure ahead with three ladies whose company she enjoyed, and a generous, if stubborn husband whom she loved. But above all, she loved being a great queen who was, she imagined, loved by all.

The Silken Rose by Carol McGrath (2020)


There’s a certain comfort in rules. You know if you’re good or if you’re bad. And even if you’re bad, you know where you fit. You belong. But I don’t want other folk’s rules to say if I belong anymore. I want to say for myself.

The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi (2020)


Favourite books read in June:

The Silken Rose and These Old Shades

New authors read in June:

Ellen Alpsten, Carol McGrath, Megan Campisi

Countries visited in my June reading:

Russia, France, England, USA


Have you read any of these books? Which books did you enjoy reading in June?

My Commonplace Book: May 2020

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.


It’s extraordinary how we go through life with eyes half shut, with dull ears, with dormant thoughts. Perhaps it’s just as well; and it may be that it is this very dullness that makes life to the incalculable majority so supportable and so welcome. Nevertheless, there can be but few of us who had never known one of these rare moments of awakening when we see, hear, understand ever so much – everything – in a flash – before we fall back again into our agreeable somnolence.

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad (1900)


Grytviken, South Georgia

South Georgia is more beautiful than he could have imagined. Ribbon-thin streams pour over mountains that shine gold in the early sun. The water of Cumberland Bay is aquamarine, still as glass. Even the derelict whaling station is picturesque at a distance, a scattering of rust-red buildings along the curve of the coast…The mountains are astonishing, circling along the bay, towering above the tiny buildings, sweeping almost down to the sea edge. A single dirt track links the two settlements of Grytviken and King Edward Point, but elsewhere roads don’t exist. Human life can barely survive here.

The Split by Sharon Bolton (2020)


The ghost climbed out of a hackney carriage.
His head twitched from side to side as he checked to see if anyone was following him. Rachel Savernake was sure he’d failed to spot her. She stood deep in the shadows, on the opposite side of Westminster Bridge Road. A veil masked her face. Like the phantom, she was dressed in black from head to toe. During the half hour she’d waited for him to arrive, not one passer-by had given her a second glance. Women in mourning were a familiar sight outside the private station of the London Necropolis Company. This was the terminus for the funeral train.

Mortmain Hall by Martin Edwards (2020)


Princess Henrietta (Minette), painted by Peter Lely

It was at this moment that Minette grew up; for it was at this moment that she was recognised to be grown up and of importance. It is the unimportant who are kept back longest as children, discouraged from taking their place in the world, since there is no place for them to take. She had been one of these, but now that was changed.

Royal Flush by Margaret Irwin (1932)


To Amyot, as to every true lad in love, the world held no foreboding at all. He was a lad out of nowhere, innocent of allegiance to the gods of our country. He only knew the sky was clearer, every leaf brighter, every bird’s note somehow acuter, more intelligible.

Castle Dor by Daphne du Maurier (1961)


Favourite book read in May:

The Split

New authors read in May:

Martin Edwards

Countries visited in my May reading:

England, South Georgia, France, Patusan (fictional country)


Have you read any of these books? Which books did you enjoy reading in May?

My Commonplace Book: April 2020

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.


If he complains to me again, I will ask him this: is Oenone less of a hero than Menelaus? He loses his wife so he stirs up an army to bring her back to him, costing countless lives and creating countless widows, orphans and slaves. Oenone loses her husband and she raises their son. Which of those is the more heroic act?

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes (2019)


‘Those darling byegone times, Mr Carker,’ said Cleopatra, ‘with their delicious fortresses, and their dear old dungeons, and their delightful places of torture, and their romantic vengeances, and their picturesque assaults and sieges, and everything that makes life truly charming! How dreadfully we have degenerated!’

‘Yes, we have fallen off deplorably,” said Mr Carker.

Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens (1848)


Ravens at the Tower of London

Nevertheless I felt a strange affinity with these charismatic birds. I was beginning to believe we were fellow misfits in a world where all other minds were fixed on an opposing course.

The Lady of the Ravens by Joanna Hickson (2020)


There is no wound of which human soul is capable which time cannot heal, given courage at the outset. If that were not so, life could not be lived. Time buries all that time has brought. Some things it may not bury as deeply as others. But at least it puts them out of constant sight, and so brings surcease of painful recollection.

The Minion by Rafael Sabatini (1930)


Maud Franklin – Arrangement in White and Black, James McNeill Whistler, 1876

Pulling away, he gave his spirits a restorative shake, like a dog fresh from a river. The blue yachting jacket was straightened, the boater angled just so atop the black curls, the eyeglass slotted in. Then he tried out a couple of his favourites from the lines he’d prepared.

‘As music is the poetry of sound,’ he said, ‘so painting is the poetry of sight.’

The meaning here seemed a touch obscure. The poetry of sight? Maud wrinkled her nose; she gave him an ambiguous nod.

‘Art should be independent of all claptrap.’

Mrs Whistler by Matthew Plampin (2018)


‘Experience is the word’ he said quietly. ‘I hadn’t expected anything like this. There doesn’t seem to be much relationship between music and the ordinary world, does there?’

‘That’s a question which requires several days to answer,’ Delia laughed, ‘and I’ve only got about two minutes to get to the box office and back.’

Murder to Music by Margaret Newman (1959)


They say that only fools struggle against fate. But I don’t think it’s foolish at all. After all, you don’t know how things will come out afterward until they have, so why settle for them ahead of time?

A Vision of Light by Judith Merkle Riley (1988)


With regard to religion, finally, it may be briefly said that she believed in God in much the same way as she believed in Australia. For she had no doubts whatever as to the existence of either; and she went to church on Sunday in much the same spirit as she would look at a kangaroo in the zoological gardens; for kangaroos came from Australia.

Queen Lucia by EF Benson (1920)


A 19th-century engraving imagining Shakespeare’s family life.

Every life has its kernel, its hub, its epicentre, from which everything flows out, to which everything returns.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (2020)


‘Not in the slightest,’ Hakesby said. ‘It is perfectly natural to wish to – to remember those places where we have been happy. Old buildings contain the history of those who used to live in them.’

The Last Protector by Andrew Taylor (2020)


What hardships does one undertake when one loves? thought Bianca. Love demands equal parts of joy and sorrow. Love is a balance between the two, but sometimes one weighs more than the other.

The Lost Boys of London by Mary Lawrence (2020)


Favourite book read in April:

A Vision of Light, Murder to Music and The Last Protector

New authors read in April:

Matthew Plampin, Natalie Haynes, EF Benson, Margaret Newman, Maggie O’Farrell

Countries visited in my April reading:

England, Scotland, Italy, Ancient Greece


Have you read any of these books? Which books did you enjoy reading in April?

My Commonplace Book: March 2020

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.


Once a story you’ve regarded as true has turned false, you begin suspecting all stories.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (2019)


‘Sounds like a witch to me,’ Richard said bitterly. ‘How else would she know those things?’

‘She is a midwife, like her mother before her. Are you like the king now, thinking all wise women and poor women and midwives are carrying out the Devil’s work? Why, he must be the largest employer in Lancashire.”

The Familiars by Stacey Halls (2019)


Highwaywoman Katherine Ferrers, known as ‘The Wicked Lady’

Except for me, not one of the women had spoken; all had let their menfolk talk for them. So much for Winstanley’s ideas of women being equal to men. I wondered though if it was the fact of my class that made me confident to speak. Had I been a serving woman by birth, would I have been so outspoken? Clearly this idea of living in community was harder than I had imagined.

Lady of the Highway by Deborah Swift (2016)


It had proved impossible to civilise us, the documents said. It made me cry to read such things. There was nothing more civilised than my mother’s breast, and myself nestled there.

A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry (2020)


‘It’s good that the museum has someone as single-minded as you to guard over it, Miss Cartwright. Frankly, it’s admirable how dedicated you are to your animals, although one might caution against becoming obsessive, at the cost of other, more important, things in life. A husband, perhaps, children, that kind of thing,’ he said pleasantly, blowing a stream of smoke towards me as I smiled thinly and left, shutting the door behind me.

The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey (2020)


‘The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife’ by Daniel Maclise, 1854.

She studied the creamy vellum pages with their red capitals. ‘Does the Earl read often?’

‘Indeed, he does,’ Hervey replied. ‘He says it is through the stories that we come to recognise and know ourselves.’

The Irish Princess by Elizabeth Chadwick (2019)


Poirot nodded. “Yes, I saw what happened – but the eyes, Inspector Grange, are very unreliable witnesses.”

“What do you mean, M. Poirot?”

“The eyes see, sometimes, what they are meant to see.”

The Hollow by Agatha Christie (1946)


Favourite book read in March:

The Irish Princess

New authors read in March:

Jane Healey

Countries visited in my March reading:

England, USA, Wales, Ireland, Canada


Have you read any of these books? Which books did you enjoy reading in March?