My Commonplace Book: September 2021

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.


What a host of little incidents, all deep-buried in the past – problems that had once been urgent, arguments that had once been keen, anecdotes that were funny only because one remembered the fun. Did any emotion really matter when the last trace of it had vanished from human memory; and if that were so, what a crowd of emotions clung to him as to their last home before annihilation?

Goodbye, Mr Chips by James Hilton (1934)


Illustration from Carmilla, serialised in “The Dark Blue” 1872

But, I suspect, in all lives there are certain emotional scenes, those in which our passions have been most wildly and terribly roused, that are of all others the most vaguely and dimly remembered.

Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu (1872)


Hélène liked order. It made her feel safe and in control, even at a time when they were neither safe nor in control. When the world you relied on became unreliable, you did what you had to do. And this was her way of maintaining internal sanity.

Daughters of War by Dinah Jefferies (2021)


Portrait of Katharine Parr

‘Time is of all losses the most irrecuperable,’ he said to her one day, ‘for it can never be redeemed for any price nor prayer.’

Katherine Parr, the Sixth Wife by Alison Weir (2021)


In that moment, as whenever I was truly happy, I vanished from my own consciousness. It could happen in a forest, in a field, on a river, by the seashore; it could happen while I was reading a captivating book.

An Evening with Claire by Gaito Gazdanov (1930)


“Only the creatures of the earth take from one another, boy. All creatures, but men more than any. Life they take, and liberty and all that another man may have – sometimes through greed, sometimes through stupidity, but never by any volition but their own. Beware your own race, Bran Davies – they are the only ones who will ever harm you, in the end.”

The Grey King by Susan Cooper (1975)


Ruins of the Southern Pyramid at Mazghuna

Marriage, in my view, should be a balanced stalemate between equal adversaries.

The Mummy Case by Elizabeth Peters (1985)


“People are capable of surprising one frightfully. One gets an idea of them into one’s head, and sometimes it’s absolutely wrong. Not always – but sometimes.”

Crooked House by Agatha Christie (1949)


“Whatever happens, it is not the end while you still have breath in your body. No matter what, you pick yourself up and you learn from your mistakes – you do not let them drag you down.”

A Marriage of Lions by Elizabeth Chadwick (2021)


Favourite books read in September:

Crooked House, A Marriage of Lions and The Grey King

Authors read for the first time in September:

Gaito Gazdanov

Places visited in my September reading:

England, Austria, France, Russia, Egypt, Wales


Have you read any of these books? What are you planning to read in October?

My Commonplace Book: August 2021 – and the end of 20 Books of Summer

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.


“Not by acquaintance only is it that we come to knowledge. There are ways of learning other than by the road of experience. One may learn of dangers by watching others perish. It is the fool who will be satisfied alone with the knowledge that comes to him from what he undergoes himself.”

St Martin’s Summer by Rafael Sabatini (1909)


The world’s wheel spins. The soft clay of the self spins with it, awaiting shaping hands.

Rose Nicolson by Andrew Greig (2021)


Meknes, Morocco

So Mathilde stayed in her room and wrote. But it rarely gave her much pleasure because, each time she starting describing a landscape or recounting a lived experience, she felt cramped by her own vocabulary. She kept bumping against the same dull heavy words and perceived in a vague way that language was a limitless playground whose vast panoramas frightened and overwhelmed her.

The Country of Others by Leïla Slimani (2021)


There is as evidently a society among books, as there is in a parliament of fowls, or a pack of hounds. Certain volumes do not love to be put too close to one another – Others rejoice in propinquity. One may look well or ill, in the shadow of a particular neighbour. A slight modest book must avoid overbearing company. Poets must be kept well apart, or they will quarrel, as everybody knows. These are matters of plain fact. – As axiomatic, to keepers of books, as the mysteries of shepherding are to any keeper of sheep.

The Infernal Riddle of Thomas Peach by Jas Treadwell (2021)


Half the work of a detective is not to find out what is but what isn’t!

The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude (1936)


Portrait of Dr Elizabeth Blackwell

He wanted her to aspire, to dream, to always be more than she was yesterday. And right now, he wanted her to understand that just because you cannot reach the sun does not mean you cannot fly at all.

A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Parry (2021)


“We don’t really know what went on in that rather strange household – and that extraordinary house.”

“It is extraordinary,” said Sally slowly. “It’s rather like a GK Chesterton house. Private and secluded in the middle of a town, and all hidden and enclosed by leaves – and somehow giving the impression that it might open out into enormous and quite fantastic places, like a house and garden in a dream.”

The Man Who Wasn’t There by Henrietta Hamilton (2021)


“It is romantic, yes,” agreed Hercule Poirot. “It is peaceful. The sun shines. The sea is blue. But you forget, Miss Brewster, there is evil everywhere under the sun.”

Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie (1941)


Briseis and Phoenix, red-figure kylix, c. 490 BCE

In a court of law, if a man and woman disagree it’s almost invariably his version of events that’s accepted. And that’s in a courtroom – how much more so in this camp where all the women were Trojan slaves and the only real law was force.

The Women of Troy by Pat Barker (2021)


‘I realised that some time ago but it’s nice to think you’ve come round to it on your own. Land and what grows on it, that’s the only really important thing, that and people making do with what they’ve got and where they are.’

The Green Gauntlet by RF Delderfield (1968)


Favourite books read in August:

St Martin’s Summer, The Green Gauntlet and Rose Nicolson

Authors read for the first time in August:

Leïla Slimani, Jas Treadwell, John Bude

Countries visited in my August reading:

France, Scotland, Morocco, England, Greece


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


This year’s 20 Books of Summer challenge also comes to an end today. I managed to read and review 12 of the books on my list, have finished another that I haven’t reviewed yet – and am in the middle of one more. However, I did read plenty of other books this summer that weren’t on my list so I’m quite happy with my result!

Here’s what I read:

1. Still Life by Sarah Winman
2. Death in Zanzibar by MM Kaye
3. A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Parry
4. The Green Gauntlet by RF Delderfield
5. Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb
6. The Last Daughter by Nicola Cornick
7. The Echo Chamber by John Boyne
8. The Infernal Riddle of Thomas Peach by Jas Treadwell
9. High Rising by Angela Thirkell
10. Red Adam’s Lady by Grace Ingram
11. St Martin’s Summer by Rafael Sabatini
12. The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude
13. The Women of Troy by Pat Barker – review to follow

Reading now:

14. Goodbye, Mr Chips by James Hilton

Still to read:

15. Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym
16. The Lily and the Lion by Maurice Druon
17. The Ionian Mission by Patrick O’Brian
18. These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer
19. The Reckoning by Sharon Penman
20. Confusion by Elizabeth Jane Howard


Did you take part in 20 Books of Summer? Did you finish your list?

My Commonplace Book: July 2021

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.


In the romances, victory was always resoundingly conclusive and the hero had no more to do than seat himself in the place of honour beside his bride at a miraculously-conjured banquet. In real life matters were less tidily disposed.

Red Adam’s Lady by Grace Ingram (1973)


‘Dull novels? But, George, why? Anyone can do that.’

‘Laura, they cannot. It needs a power, an absorption, which few possess. If you write enough dull novels, excessively dull ones, Laura, you obtain an immense reputation…’

High Rising by Angela Thirkell (1933)


Zanzibar east coast beach

“That’s where you are wrong,” said Tyson, leaning his elbows on the warm stone. “I’ve seen a lot of the world. A hell of a lot of it! But there’s something special about this island. Something that I haven’t met anywhere else. Do you know what is the most familiar sound in Zanzibar? – laughter! Walk through the streets of the little city almost any time of day or night, and you’ll hear it.

Death in Zanzibar by M.M. Kaye (1959)


Time is an unkind teacher, delivering lessons that we learn far too late for them to be useful. Years after I could have benefited from them, the insights come to me.

Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb (2014)


Finally, feeling depressed and misunderstood, he set up a Twitter account, and the rest, for him, was history. At last, he had discovered a place where people would listen to the magical thoughts that ran through his mind. Almost 1,800 people, in fact. Two or three of whom occasionally liked something he posted.

The Echo Chamber by John Boyne (2021)


I often wonder why the whole world is so prone to generalise. Generalisations are seldom if ever true and are usually utterly inaccurate.

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie (1930)


Cecily Neville, Duchess of York

Peace, no less than war, calls for strength of arm. You still have to win it.

Cecily by Annie Garthwaite (2021)


Is it love to worship a saint in heaven, whom you dare not touch, who hovers above you like a cloud, which floats away from you even as you gaze? To love is to feel one being in the world at one with us, our equal in sin as well as in virtue.

I Will Repay by Baroness Orczy (1906)


Favourite books read in July:

The Echo Chamber, Death in Zanzibar, Fool’s Assassin

Places visited in my July reading:

England, Zanzibar (Tanzania), the fictional Six Duchies, France

Authors read for the first time in July:

Grace Ingram, Angela Thirkell, Annie Garthwaite

Have you read any of these books? How was your July reading?

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