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?

My Commonplace Book: February 2020

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.


There were no houses across the way from Miss Beulah’s, only a wall of pines. It was a dark, romantic view, and somehow sad. It made her think of the poor little match girl who froze to death, and the other little girl whose cruel stepmother dressed her in newspapers and sent her out in the storm to find strawberries. Snow always made Miss Beulah think of things like that, pretty, childish things with death and tears in the background. Miss Beulah had the imagination of her century and she had read too many books when she was young.

Blood Upon the Snow by Hilda Lawrence (1944)


Wivenhoe Park by John Constable, 1816

Now his brother looked up. ‘Is the suggestion disagreeable to you?’

John thought for a moment before he replied. ‘What is not necessary is not always agreeable.’

The Year Without Summer by Guinevere Glasfurd (2020)


This position was first recorded in the 1340s and by 1471 the description of the role of master of the henchmen was

…to learn them to ride cleanly and surely, to draw them also to jousts, to learn them wear their harness (armour), to have all courtesy in words, deeds, and degrees…to teach them sundry languages and other learnings virtuous, to harping, to pipe, sing, dance, and with other honest and temperate behaving and patience…to have his respects unto their demeaning, how mannerly they eat and drink, and to their communication.

Sir Francis Bryan: Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Ambassador by Sarah-Beth Watkins (2020)


‘You did not see the need for change because the world you lived in suited you best. And we are all blinded by dogmatics and have become too afraid to trust our own thoughts. We have all been manipulated by the acceptance of tradition, our minds already tainted by the time we learn to speak. It is not our parents’ fault, nor our grandparents’; who as a babe has the knowledge and strength to take on every human that existed before them?’

Requiem for a Knave by Laura Carlin (2020)


Belle Bilton, Countess of Clancarty

“Do you love to read, Flo, as I do?” he said. “I cannot get your sister to lift a book.” He waved his hand in the direction of the Corinthian’s library, the quietest room in the club.

“Oh, Isabel is not for literary pursuits, Mr Weston. She prefers to live her story.”

Weston laughed. “What a superb notion! And so superbly put.”

Becoming Belle by Nuala O’Connor (2018)


The storm comes in like a finger snap. That’s how they’ll speak in the months and years after, when it stops being only an ache behind their eyes and a crushing at the base of their throats. When it finally fits into stories. Even then, it doesn’t tell how it actually was. There are ways words fall down: they give shape too easily, carelessly. And there was no grace, no ease to what Maren saw.

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (2020)


‘I’m at the Club. I can be with you in about a quarter of an hour, if that suits you.’

‘Very well indeed, sir. Come along.’

Johnny rang off, and Sally asked, ‘What on earth do you suppose he wants?’

‘I can’t imagine. If this were a detective story, he’d be bumped off before he could tell us. It’s a classic situation’.

Answer in the Negative by Henrietta Hamilton (1959)


Giardini Iblei, Ragusa

We climbed to the top of the city, where the formal gardens, the Giardini Iblei, were laid out: green, shady and quiet. We entered through an avenue of huge old palm trees throwing deep shade across the hot, bright path. Starlings sang in the trees; cats stretched in patches of sunlight. The gardens were flanked by churches; one even stood inside its boundary – an arched door painted green and a saint standing up high beside its tower, one hand raised in benediction, baking in the glare.

The House by the Sea by Louise Douglas (2020)


“I see the past as it actually was,” Maeve said. She was looking at the trees.

“But we overlay the present onto the past. We look back through the lens of what we know now, so we’re not seeing it as the people we were, we’re seeing it as the people we are, and that means the past has been radically altered.”

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (2019)


“In case this turns out to be a high-powered mystery, which I don’t suppose for a moment that it will, remember that an elderly unmarried woman who knits and gardens is streets ahead of any detective sergeant. She can tell you what might have happened and what ought to have happened and even what actually did happen! And she can tell you why it happened!”

A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie (1950)


We make decisions based on what’s best for the realm, not to appease our feelings. The same is true for us. You want to speak of love for eighteen years, but it has never been about love, only promise and property, power and position, and after eighteen years the promise has been unfulfilled, the property has not been possessed, our power is less than it should be, and our position is fragile without an heir.

Thus, do not speak to me of love. I am a king.

The Great Matter Monologues by Thomas Crockett (2020)


Imprisonment of Charles of Orleans in the Tower of London

My mother sought and found solace in reading what wise men and poets had written to direct us to a path in the impenetrable forest which life is. It is an image which was familiar to me when I was a child. My mother said once: Life is a long awaiting of God’s peace. And I know that my father considered himself to be one who had irretrievably lost his way in the forest of long awaiting. We too seek a path in the wilderness, ma mie. Perhaps we shall wander inaccessible to each other, each in a different place. But shouldn’t we try to find each other? Trust and sharing of views, these could bring us together.’

In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S Haasse (1949)


‘I understand better than you know, sister,’ said Diana, turning her grip into a hug as Molly’s tears began again. ‘We are women. We lose all that we love. We give everything, we give life, and all around us it is being taken away. I know. It was ever thus. It will ever be thus.’

Killing Beauties by Pete Langman (2020)


Favourite books read in February:

A Murder is Announced, In a Dark Wood Wandering and The Dutch House.

New authors read in February:

Sarah-Beth Watkins, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Henrietta Hamilton, Nuala O’Connor, Thomas Crockett, Pete Langman, Hella S Haasse and Ann Patchett.

Countries visited in my February reading:

USA, England, Indonesia, Switzerland, Norway, Italy and France.


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

My Commonplace Book: January 2020

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.


“It is a good phrase that,” said Poirot. “The impossible cannot have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.”

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (1934)


Any separation, however brief, made them anxious. It was to tempt fate; they might never get together again. Entropy is the natural law of the universe, everything tends towards disorder, to break down, to disperse. People get lost: look how many vanished during the Retreat; feelings fade, and forgetfulness slips into lives like mist. It takes heroic willpower just to keep everything in place. Those are a refugee’s forebodings, said Roser. No, they’re the forebodings of someone in love, Victor corrected her.

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende (2020)


Engraving of the Foundling Hospital, London, 1753.

These feminine vessels we inhabited: why did nobody expect them to contain unfeminine feelings? Why could we, too, not be furious and scornful and entirely altered by grief? Why must we accept the cards we had been dealt?

The Foundling by Stacey Halls (2020)


‘Why don’t you come, Reggie? Come for a visit. You might even think about getting a job here.’ New Zealand seemed to Reggie to be awfully far away. ‘Well, not when you’re actually here,’ Dr Hunter wrote. ‘Then it’s not far away at all. Then it’s just where you are. You’re here.’

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson (2019)


‘And, of course, it’s simply chance that takes one in the first place into one manner of life rather than another. And one looks back, and imagines one might have chosen better – whereas, really and truly, choice didn’t enter into the matter. What do you think?’

Appleby thought only that the hour was too advanced to enter upon a discussion of the mildly perplexing problem of necessity and free will.

The Long Farewell by Michael Innes (1958)


The south-eastern side of Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar

As the sky turned gold and dense black shadows began to dissolve the light within the pavilions, she gasped in awe at the dazzling brilliance of the Shwedagon illuminated by the dying sun. With light refracting through coloured glass the whole thing glittered and sparkled: a multi-jewelled marvel like no other Belle had ever seen.

The Missing Sister by Dinah Jefferies (2019)


She glanced around but there was no escape and it was, she supposed, a valid question. Eventually she said just one word: ‘Security’.

Malcolm sighed.

‘Security? You disappoint me. Is that all you seek?’

‘If, like me, you had known its lack, Sire, you might value it more highly.’

Blood Queen by Joanna Courtney (2018)


‘We can only recognize saints when the plainest evidence shows them to be saintly. If you think her a saint, she is a saint to you. What more do you ask? That is what we call the reality of the soul; you are foolish to demand the agreement of the world as well.’

Fifth Business by Robertson Davies (1970)


The tower at Dreamland, Coney Island, 1907.

On my right side, a brace of clarinets and trombones pounded music; in front of me, a square tower with a triangle top soared incredibly high, as high as one of the skyscrapers of Manhattan. More immediately I faced a mountain of water, with people riding down in little wooden cars that reached the bottom with an enormous splash. No matter which way I twisted and turned, I couldn’t see the natural water, the beach, or Surf Avenue. I was deep into Dreamland, away from the ocean and the town.

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau (2020)


Yet what a strange allegory it was, the river of time. If he was standing here in the now, then to the left, downriver, the past was disappearing away into the night. Time past could never be changed: what was done was done. If only the past did not stay fixed like dead flies in amber. If only he could live his life again.

The Almanack by Martine Bailey (2019)


He’d always had a quickening of the heart when he crossed into Arizona and beheld the cactus country. This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaro standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes (1963)


Then the writer paused, the scene recollected in his mind’s eye. ‘These three brothers,’ he continued, a hint of regret in his appraising tone, ‘possessed such surpassing talent that their triple bond could only have been broken with the utmost difficulty’ – ‘if,’ that was, ‘they had been able to avoid conflict.’ It was a big ‘if’.

The Brothers York by Thomas Penn (2019)


Favourite books read in January:

The Expendable Man, The Foundling and Dreamland

New authors read in January:

Stacey Halls, Robertson Davies, Dorothy B. Hughes, Martine Bailey

Countries visited in my January reading:

England, Scotland, Canada, USA, Yugoslavia (as it was then), Spain, Chile, Burma (Myanmar)


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