February reading round up

The shortest month which, until the last week or so, did start to feel like a hopeful month with the days getting noticeably longer and we filled the house with £1 bunches of daffodils.

How was your reading this month? My resolution to not buy any books this month to try and beat my backlog lasted for precisely five days. Because February is also the month that those books you’ve been waiting for to come out in paperback, come out in paperback. I have small hands, no shelf space and a dislike of ebooks so paperbacks are my drug of choice.

Blue Postcards – Douglas Brueton

This is a slim, dare I say quirky, book, published by Fairlight Moderns and brought to my attention by a Twitter pal and author I admire. It’s also just been longlisted for the Walter Scott Historical Prize. It’s the story of a Jewish tailor in Paris who sews a blue thread into the seam of all his suits for luck, and it’s the story of Yves Klein, creator of blue paintings and, finally it’s the story of an older man who collects the blue postcards Klein made to advertise his work and who falls for a postcard seller on the banks of the Seine. It is told in a series of numbered paragraphs and every paragraph, except three, contain the word blue. I rather liked it.

The Confession – Jessie Burton

I liked The Miniaturist more than I’ve liked anything else that Burton has written since, which makes me feel a bit mean as this and her other book, The Muse, are perfectly accomplished novels that many people would be proud to have written. This is the story of Rose, motherless child, who is stuck – in a dead end job, a dead end relationship and unsure of herself, she goes in quest of Constance Holden, famous novelist and possibly the last person to have seen her mother. Posing as a secretary, Rose goes looking for her mother and yes, you guessed it, finds herself. This was an adequate read, just fine, but not great. Let’s hope the sequel to the Miniaturist, which comes out later this year, is as good as the original.

The Mothers – Brit Bennett

I bought this while I was waiting for the paperback of the Vanishing Half to come out and then read The Vanishing Half before I got round to this. Bennett is a good writer and this, her debut, is more evidence of this, without the disappointments of The Vanishing Half, which I thought was a bit of a let down. It focuses on Nadia, a black girl whose mother kills herself, and how she then makes her way in the world. Nadia is befriended by Aubrey, a shy church going girl who doesn’t know that Nadia was once heavily involved with Luke, the pastor’s son. Nadia, Luke and Aubrey make an odd triangle but this is a serious look at relationships and trauma, and is very well done.

Write It All Down – Cathy Rentzenbrink

I really like Cathy Rentzenbrink’s non-fiction and this is a writing guide aimed at anyone interested in writing memoir. I’m not overly interested in memoir but aspects of me fall into my writing enough for this to be interesting to me, and the book is an excellent writing guide for anyone, memoirist or not. It feels very much like Cathy is there as a guide, a friendly teacher, and her advice is as much about writing as a lifestyle and companion occupation, as much as it is offering practical exercises.

At the Table – Claire Powell

This was a review book which is published later this month and I will review it here later.

These Precious Days – Ann Patchett

I picked this up in Waterstones before Christmas, treating myself to a free copy in hardback due to accumulation of loyalty points. I have been making my way slowly through it ever since. I confess Patchett is one of those authors who I keep meaning to get round to and never have but I’d heard good things about this, a book of essays, and have absolutely loved it. It is a book that rewards slow and patient reading, building in time to reflect. Patchett is an author and owner of a bookshop, wife of a doctor and amateur pilot and writes about life, her life, and although it’s in slightly more charmed circumstances than many of us, many of the subjects are the same: parental worries, parental illness and loss, tornados, possessions and lockdown. This is an erudite and delightful book, touching on serious but universal subjects and it has made me rush out to grab hold of a lot more Patchett so I can see what her fiction is like.

Coasting – Elise Dowden

I like a travel book, especially one that doesn’t get too boring and bogged down with roads and descriptions of civil war battlefields. This one went a bit too far the other way, if I’m honest, and is less a travel book than a kind of self-help journey memoir but was still enjoyable as a bedtime read. Elise is in a toxic relationship with a manipulative bloke (we can all see this and frankly she knows it but also won’t admit it to herself) and decides to sort herself out by packing in her job, and running the length of the British coastline to raise money for charity but also to sort her head out. It’s the usual eccentric fare, sometimes repetitive, sometimes really quite irritating (why didn’t she learn to read a map???) but enjoyable enough.

Suite Francaise – Irene Nemirovsky

Several years behind everyone else, I finally got around to this – my copy has been on the shelf since it came out in hardback, so at least 15 years. Anyway, it’s the unfinished first draft of a book about the German occupation of France and how it affected the lives of everyday French people – written during the war by a Jewish woman whose family had fled violence once, only for her to be arrested and sent to Auschwitz where she was killed. As a first draft, it’s very well written, a bit slow in places but that would have been sorted out in the edit, but otherwise I really liked seeing a different point of view to that which we usually see about wartime, the daily deprivations and the every day nature that war became, just an exhausting slog that grinds you down. I liked the second part better, where the action is fixed, but I liked the interplay between the other characters and where they popped up throughout. Nemirovsky’s children, who were hidden and cared for by a stranger with no family obligations, kept the manuscript in a suitcase for years until publishing. The story of the book is as fascinating as the book.

The Truth Will Out – Rosemary Hennigan

This is published later this month. It’s not the kind of thing I usually read but I thought it was very well done, adept at the obsessive nature of fascination and as a reader all you could really do was sit and witness the characters make any number of silly mistakes. I disliked everyone in the book but nevertheless kept reading in a compulsive way.

And a Dog Called Fig – Helen Humphreys

This is published next week and I will review it here so keep an eye out.

Moments of Pleasure

The aforementioned daffodils. Crocuses in the park. Not needing gloves when I go running. Seeing my reading group in person for the first time in two years in our old haunt. Watching The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the theatre (despite not being a big Narnia fan). A box of broken biscuits. Disco dancing.

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