Diversion

A Matter of Class, by Mary Balogh – started 24th February just before dinnertime, finished 24th February while my husband was watching the snooker.

Because I need to have something to do while the snooker is on.

This was a lovely light feel-good read, which I picked up because it was mentioned on the Fated Mates Podcast. I love Fated Mates and I often listen to it while I’m gardening, although I quite often don’t read the books they talk about!

A Matter of Class was mentioned as having an interesting structure, and yes, it definitely does. I didn’t work out what was happening for quite some time, and by the time I did, I was fully ensnared.

Delightful, even although it meant I temporarily abandoned The Starless Sea. That requires too much concentration to read while the snooker is on…

A magical islet in Oxford

The Thief on the Winged Horse, by Kate Mascarenhas – started 20th February, finished 21st February after staying up late again.

The sun has shone for the last few days, so I had to wait until after dark to read, my daylight hours were spent sowing seeds in the greenhouse whilst watching the long-tailed tits mobbing the bird feeders. They don’t seem to notice me through the glass.

The Thief on the Winged Horse was tremendously readable, a real just-one-more-chapter book. It was set on an eyot ( pronounced ‘eight’ and that is the real word for them, I looked it up) in the river in Oxford, and centres around a family business making magical dolls.

I thought the concept behind the dolls was clever – they are ensorcelled with an emotion, for instance, Heady Optimism, and sell for huge amounts of money to collectors. I liked the characters – ambitious and prickly Persephone, Larkin with ulterior motives and Hedwig who needs to be in control – they felt like real people, and I cared about what happened to them.

I have another unread book by this author somewhere (I over-buy books, no idea which heap it’s in) which I think I will find and read too. This one’s a keeper.

A heroine with poison in mind

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley – started 15th February, finished 20th February. I bought this because I’d read about it and thought I would like to try the series.

Flavia de Luce is the somewhat unreliable and precocious narrator of this story (and presumably of the rest of the series) and I loved her from the start. Who wouldn’t adore an eleven year old Chemistry-fixated, potentially sister-poisoning heroine? Especially when the poisoning is done with lipstick.

When Flavia finds a dying man in the cucumber patch she is determined to solve the mystery herself. A lot of the fun in this book (and it really is fun) comes from Flavia’s incredibly over-complicated thought processes – her deductions always make perfect sense inside her own head, whilst actually being quite outrageous.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie made me giggle, and I will probably pick up the next one when I’m in need of a light and funny read, but I suspect that they would be a little too much if read one after another.

Everyone needs a hero

Where’s My Hero, by Lisa Kleypas, Julia Quinn and Kinley MacGregor – started on Valentine’s Day and finished just the other side of midnight on the 15th of February. A very, very second-hand copy from Oxfam. I had to find a cover image on the internet, because it’s really too tatty and faded to photograph.

I picked this up some time ago because it has Ned Blydon’s story in it, and sometimes you just need to know what happpened to a character. The bonus was that it also has Lydia Craven’s story in it, which I didn’t know when I bought it. It’s very satisfying to have happy endings all round, although a certain amount of illogical romance-reader suspended belief was needed. There was rather a lot of swapping of intended brides and grooms.

I do need to be in the right mood for that, but I was up for something sweet and easy to read yesterday. This ticked the boxes with the added advantage that all three stories were short, so it was a quick read, as well as being appropriate for the day!

Unfortunately the preowned nature of the book means that the glue in the spine has dried up, so the pages were falling out as I read it. Not really a keeper unless I put some elastic bands around it!

Mughals and Empires

The Anarchy, by William Dalrymple – started 28th December last year, finished 10th January, although I read other books at the same time. I asked for this book for Christmas.

I read a lot of novels last year where one of the characters made a lot of money in India, or where the East India Company was mentioned as the employer of a cousin or nephew, or even where imported silks and spices were part of the story. Mention of war came up a few times too, and I realised that I knew very little about this area of history.

This book was recommended to me as an accessible but scholarly history of the East India Company, and although it was definitely not an easy read, neither does it require specialist knowledge.

I enjoyed learning about the real history behind some of the fiction that I read, and it has made me think twice about some of the plots that I had previously just accepted. I think I have a better grasp of the Indian politics of the time, there really are a lot of Mughals to keep track of, and I was not really surprised by any of the British behaviour. Like a lot of British history, it’s all quite horrific really.

I think I will keep The Anarchy. I probably won’t ever read the whole thing again, but I might use it to fact check whilst I’m reading other things.

A story told in letters

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows – started 7th February, finished 9th February. Borrowed from my local library as an eBook.

This book was really popular when it came out, and loads of people told me that I would like it, and that I should read it… and I just never quite got around to it. Which is ridiculous. I haven’t watched the film either, but then, I’m probably the only person on the planet who has never watched either The Sound of Music, or Titanic.

Of course, I should have read it years ago, all those people were right. I thought it was such a quirky story, with fascinating characters, and the epistolary style perfectly fitted the book. And it had a happy ending, there’s nothing better.

I might actually buy my own copy of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which is pretty high praise from a reader who always has one less than the optimum number of books.

I almost undoubtably won’t get around to watching the film.

Dragons and fairies and librarians, oh my!

The Dark Archive, by Genevieve Cogman – started 15th January finished 17th January. My lovely, lovely brother bought me this for my birthday.

My birthday is in early January, and for the last seven years I have been given the latest in the Invisible Library series, I absolutely love them, I would be so disappointed if he gave me anything else. Sad as it is, I actually have them all in order on a special bookshelf.

The Dark Archive is the seventh book in the series, and starts on Guernsey (I may be in a rut, I’m currently reading another book set there), but of course it is not ‘our’ Guernsey as the Invisible Library is the connection point for many, many alternative worlds. Which means that most of the action takes place in the basement of the Sagrada Familia in a different Barcelona, when it’s not taking place in a London with airships.

These books are a little bit mysterious, a little bit magic, a whole load of steampunk, and have the best Librarian character in fiction. I want to be Irene when I grow up, she can wrangle Dragons and Fae, hold her own in a fight, steal books to order, and if all else fails she can change the nature of the world with words. Just so good.

Drunken fairies, whatever next?

The Good Fairies of New York, by Martin Millar – started 3rd February, finished 5th February. I bought this in a charity shop which had very cleverly positioned the donations queue next to the book shelves.

I have quite mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand some bits made me laugh out loud, and I was definitely invested enough to want to know what happened to the main characters. On the other, there seemed to be about three unnecessary storylines, some of which were quite tedious.

I did rather like the angry, drunken and combative fairies – I’m afraid I actually know a few people like that.

One story, much shorter, slightly less stereotyping and I would have been much happier. I won’t read anything else by this author, and the book is going back to the charity shop!

Dracula and Jack the Ripper

Shadowplay, by Joseph O’Connor – started 22nd January finished 27th January. Bought in paperback from a real, live bookshop. When you could still do that.

I bought this because I read a thoughtful and positive review, and because Star of the Sea is on my keeper shelf. I was influenced by the cover; I’m a sucker for a gorgeous cover, and I was really disappointed that the paperback was nowhere near as gorgeous as the hardback! Ah well, I can’t afford many books in hardback and still support my reading habit.

Shadowplay is based on the true story of Henry Irving, Bram Stoker (who was not yet a household name) and Ellen Terry. Although I knew all the names I knew nothing about them – this was a book that made me look things up and gave me things to think about. I rather like that most of the time, although I was a bit annoyed at some of the archaic words – there was no need to make me google an eye colour.

There was a delightful gothic feel to this – Jack the Ripper was haunting the London Streets at the time, and there were lots of dark corners in the story as well as the theatre (which, of course, is haunted). I loved all the Dracula references, it was a constant source of amusement trying to spot them. I did wonder whether the book would lose something for those who had not read Dracula or whether it didn’t really matter.

The ending was lovely. I will think about this book for a long time, and pop it on my keeper shelf next to Star of the Sea.