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!

My Commonplace Book: November 2020

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

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


It wasn’t until several days late that Maloin wondered why he hadn’t called for help. The fact was, he just hadn’t thought of it. When you imagine something dramatic, you think you’ll do this or that. But when you’re there, it’s different.

The Man from London by Georges Simenon (1934)


“If you’d only begin at the beginning!” pleaded Sobel.

“But that’s so hard, isn’t it? Because nothing ever really has a beginning. There’s always something before that and something before that and so on. That’s why modern authors always begin in the middle, though I do think it’s awfully confusing, and I never get the characters straightened out afterward.”

Dance of Death by Helen McCloy (1938)


Bram Stoker, c. 1906

Flo: These abstractions of the artist hold little interest for me, I’m afraid. I choose to live in the real world.

He: Ah, the real world, that vile dungeon of cruelty and hunger. You are welcome to it.

Flo: It must be a very heavy burden to think that of the world.

He: I never trust a thinker – to feel is the only calling. But without what we do as artists your real world would be less bearable, no?

Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor (2019)


‘Yes, of course. One always regrets everything one hasn’t done. But it’s not that. I can’t bear totting up what one gets or doesn’t get out of life as though it were a commercial proposition.’

‘Surely one must try and get the most out of life and not miss any chances,’ Barney replied, in the voice of one who states the first article of a religion.

Still She Wished for Company by Margaret Irwin (1924)


The others were heading back to the mob, which now seemed to me like a swarm of flies on rotten fruit. Was this what men do when they go into battle, I wondered? Must they become insects in order to survive? I felt no comradeship with them, no common cause. I was a different kind of man entirely.

The Butcher of Berner Street by Alex Reeve (2020)


Portrait of George Eliot c. 1849

It is an old story, that men sell themselves to the tempter, and sign a bond with their blood, because it is only to take effect at a distant day; then rush on to snatch the cup their souls thirst after with an impulse not the less savage because there is a dark shadow beside them for evermore. There is no short cut, no patent tram-road, to wisdom: after all the centuries of invention, the soul’s path lies through the thorny wilderness which must be still trodden in solitude, with bleeding feet, with sobs for help, as it was trodden by them of old time.

The Lifted Veil by George Eliot (1859)


Happily, we are not dependent on argument to prove that Fiction is a department of literature in which women can, after their kind, fully equal men. A cluster of great names, both living and dead, rush to our memories in evidence that women can produce novels not only fine, but among the very finest — novels, too, that have a precious speciality, lying quite apart from masculine aptitudes and experience. No educational restrictions can shut women out from the materials of fiction, and there is no species of art which is so free from rigid requirements. Like crystalline masses, it may take any form, and yet be beautiful; we have only to pour in the right elements — genuine observation, humour, and passion.

Silly Novels by Lady Novelists by George Eliot (1856)


Favourite books read in November:

Still She Wished for Company, The Butcher of Berner Street and Dance of Death

Countries visited in my November reading:

France, USA, England, Ireland

Authors read for the first time in November:

Georges Simenon, Helen McCloy


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

My Commonplace Book: October 2020

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

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


“It must have been her peak period,” Stephen smiles. “People sometimes go through their whole lives without ever reaching the moment when they are exactly the person they want to be.”

As he talks away, building upward and outward like a sleepy child with bricks, I think about the hidden talent or uniqueness of character that lies sealed within most of us; how it is like the work of a sculptor who sees within a block of marble a trapped masterpiece and must chip and grind until it is released.

Every Eye by Isobel English (1956)


Replica East Indiaman of the Dutch East India Company

The downtrodden yearned for stories to explain their misfortunes, though what they really wanted was somebody to blame for their misery. It was impossible to set fire to the blight that had ruined your crops, but a blight was easily summoned by a witch, at which point any poor woman or man would do.

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton (2020)


‘Ridiculous. They ought not to allow so much to be printed! Why, if you read a hundred pages a day, which is more than anyone ought to read – that would be thirty-five thousand a year – say a hundred thousand in three years, a million in thirty years. If you started to read on the day you were born you would have read this library – just once, mind you – when you were between a hundred and twenty and a hundred and fifty years old. Fiddlesticks.’

The Ghost It Was by Richard Hull (1936)


‘Yes, sir, although I shouldn’t really, you know. It’s bad for servants talking about their masters outside.’

This seemed to voice the well-known below-stairs ethics of bygone days. You mustn’t, if you were in service, talk to your ‘betters’ about your employers, although, to your equals in similar jobs, you could say as much as you liked.

Dead March for Penelope Blow by George Bellairs (1951)


St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall

There had to be a flaw, since there is no such thing as perfection, in life or art or anything else. Perfection tempts fate. I remember reading that ancient Japanese potters always worked a tiny flaw into each pot they created, for fear of angering the gods…

The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson (2008)


Favourite books read in October:

Every Eye and Dead March for Penelope Blow

New authors read in October:

Isobel English

Countries visited in my October reading:

Indonesia, England, Morocco


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

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?