August was a wonderful month for reading – from mornings on the beach and afternoons by the pool to a deckchair in my garden at dusk. I had adventures on a naval sloop and met some magical people in seventeenth century Massachusetts and a feminist version of the Wild West!
Probably Ruby by Lisa Bird Wilson
One of the books I bought in California – in the illustrious City Lights Books, no less. An interesting read about cultural identity and adoption set in Canada. Ruby is Métis Creole and was adopted as a baby by white parents. This book is her story – told in fragments and vignettes which hop backwards and forwards through time. As such, there isn’t a distinct plot – more a collection of little stories woven together. Much like our own memories! It was beautifully done.
Uncle Paul by Celia Fremlin
This book is a top-notch summer holiday read! It was first published in the 1950s and is marvellously claustrophobic thriller set in an English seaside town. It seems quite gentle at first, but the tension ratchets up gradually until you’re fit to burst! Perfect for fans of Mary Stewart, Agatha Christie and plucky heroines of the mid-twentieth century.
They Do It With Mirrors by Agatha Christie
Another outing for Miss Marple. This time, she’s staying with her old chum, Carrie Louise, who lives in a Gothic pile that doubles up as a home for ‘reforming’ young offenders with mental health issues. Jane Marple is worried about her friend’s ailing health, but very soon real danger is afoot when a murder occurs! You know the drill: which of the (variously) jealous, greedy, or unhinged characters have committed the dastardly deed? Predictable yes, but ever so enjoyable. I’m reading the Miss Marple books in order and it’s a joy seeing this wonderful and shrewd character develop a little more each time.
Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brien
I fancied a change, so plunged into this exciting sea-fairing classic. We meet Captain Jack Aubrey and his ship’s physician, Stephen Maturin on the first of their many adventures. Jack’s first command is the Sophie, a modest sloop with a colourful crew and a pluck that belies her size. It’s funny, astute and – despite the technical details about rigging and navigation – extremely readable and accessible. I loved meeting all the characters and learnt quite a bit too. At some point, I will probably read another.
Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman
Magic Lessons is a truly mesmerising book, full of joy and heartbreak. It’s the prequel to the much-loved Practical Magic. I’ve seen the film, but never read it. I was about to order it when I realised this book comes first – and I’m so glad I did! It’s the story of Maria Owens – the witch who created the terrible curse which has haunted Owens women for centuries. Maria’s story starts in seventeenth century Essex and is followed by a journey across the sea – eventually leading to Salem, Massachusetts. It’s a wonderful journey of self-discovery, betrayal, danger – but most of all, love. One of those wonderful books you don’t want to end. I’ve already ordered the next two.
Whispers in the Sand by Barbara Erskine
An Egyptian themed time-slip novel split between the 1860s and present day. Louisa, our nineteenth century heroine, sets off on an adventure along the Nile with her watercolours and encounters various rogues, ghostly apparitions, and giant snakes. Anna, her great-great something, follows in her footsteps and encounters exactly the same thing. I normally love Barbara Erskine’s books, but this was a total bore-fest. I battled through valiantly only to be rewarded by the lamest ending imaginable. Death (by boredom) on the Nile indeed.
Outlawed by Anna North
An absolute cracker set in an alternative feminist Wild West. It’s 1984 and America is recovering from a deathly pandemic. In this new world, women are valued only for their fertility and ability to top up the birth rate. Those who can’t conceive are accused of witchcraft – ostracised, imprisoned and even killed. Ada is happily married and enjoys her life as an apprentice midwife, but when she is denounced as a barren woman everything falls apart. She escapes and joins the Hole in the Wall Gang, a notorious group of horse-riding, gun-toting female outlaws and outcasts. Here, Ada finds a new family of sorts – albeit one riddled with danger and bullet holes. Can the gang realise their dream to build a new community before the law catches up with them? This brilliant novel wears its heavy themes lightly – it’s a delight and I need a sequel!