Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Goals for 2018

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.

The rules are simple:

  • Each Tuesday, Jana assigns a new topic. Create your own Top Ten list that fits that topic – putting your unique spin on it if you want.
  • Everyone is welcome to join but please link back to The Artsy Reader Girl in your own Top Ten Tuesday post.
  • Add your name to the Linky widget on that day’s post so that everyone can check out other bloggers’ lists.
  • Or if you don’t have a blog, just post your answers as a comment.

This week’s topic is Top Ten Bookish Goals for 2018.  This is an easy one for me because I love signing up for reading challenges and I find reading other blogs gives me lots of inspiration for what I’d like to achieve with my own.


The Classics ClubOne – Complete my Classics Club list

I signed up to The Classics Club soon after I started blogging in November 2016 and confidently set a target to read my 50 chosen books by the end of December 2018.  It seemed a long way away back then.  As it stands, I’ve only read seven from my list so this is going to have to be a real focus this year.

TBR Challenge 2018Two – Read more of the books I already own

To help with this, I’ve signed up for the 2018 TBR Pile Challenge (hosted by RoofBeamReader) and the focus seems to be helping because I’ve already read two of my twelve and I’m all part way through a third.  Who knows, I may even get to my two ‘reserve’ books as well…

Buchan of the MonthThree – Promote the books of John Buchan

I’ve been reading and collecting books by John Buchan for many years and I’ve always thought he was underrated as an author.  To try to dispel the idea that his books are dated or that he only wrote The Thirty-Nine Steps, I’ve embarked on my Buchan of the Month reading project.  To read my introduction to the first book on the list, The Power-House, click here.  Why not join me and read along?

NetGalley Challenge 2018Four – Achieve my 100 reviews badge on NetGalley

I need to read and review around 25 more titles to achieve this so to help keep my focus on this target I’ve signed up for the NetGalley & Edelweiss Challenge 2018 (hosted by Bookish Things & More).  I’m going for Silver level which should get me to my goal.  A side goal is to maintain my 80% plus feedback ratio and (a dream more than a goal) to get auto approved by a publisher.

Goodreads ChallengeFive – Read at least 156 books in 2018

I’ve set my Goodreads reading challenge target at 156, the same as last year although I actually managed 160 in 2017.  However, I think three books a week is about my limit.  Any more than this and I think I’d start to feel pressurised and risk losing the enjoyment of reading.

BookPileSix – Reduce my stack of review copies from authors

I always feel slightly guilty about the length of time it takes me to get around to reading books sent to me by lovely authors, although they are unfailingly patient and appreciative when I finally do get around to publishing my review.  This is despite the fact that I am very selective about the review requests I accept.  I made a real effort to read more from my stack of author review copies in December and I’m going to try to do the same in February (see goal nine below).  I’d really like to reduce my turnaround time for reviews to below the three to four months it is currently. (By the way, for any authors reading this, my review stack is not quite as big as in the picture.)

2018 HF Reading Challenge_GraphicSeven – Read 50 historical fiction books in 2018

This is rather a cheat because historical fiction is my favourite genre.  However, I’ve signed up for the Historical Fiction Challenge hosted by Passages to the Past because it’s always great to swap recommendations with other bloggers.  I’m aiming for Prehistoric level which means reading 50+ books.  In a similar vein, I’m also participating in the When Are You Reading Challenge 2018 (hosted by Taking on a World of Words)  It involves reading 12 books, one from each of 12 specified time periods.  I also hope to read the books longlisted for The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. (You can read my wishlist of books to appear on the list here.)

WWWWednesdaysEight – Take part in bookish events

I already participate in a number of memes such as this one.  Other favourites are WWW Wednesdays and Throwback Thursday and I always mean to join in with the monthly Six Degrees of Separation but never seem to get around to it.  Last year, I took part in ARC August and really enjoyed it, although I wasn’t organised enough to get through all the books I’d targeted.   I’ll be looking out for events like that again this year.

Nine – Take blog tour breaks

I love participating in blog tours as it’s introduced me to some great authors, books and publishers and some amazingly professional tour organisers.   However, it is easy to sign up for more than you intend and find yourself overwhelmed by deadlines.  I know because I’ve done it.  As a newbie blogger, I was so keen to get involved, I got carried away (although, I’m proud to say I’ve never missed a tour deadline).  I took a blog tour break in December and it really allowed me to catch up with other reading in what is a busy time of the year as it is.  I shall be away for part of February so I’ve decided to take another break from blog tours then as well.

10BookBlogsILoveTen – Support other book bloggers

The book blogging community is terrific and one of the things I particularly enjoy is interaction with other bloggers.  So I want to continue making time to visit other blogs, read and comment on reviews and share their posts on Twitter and other social media.

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Blog Tour: Beautiful Star & Other Stories by Andrew Swanston

Beautiful Star 2I’m thrilled to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for Beautiful Star & Other Stories by Andrew Swanston.   Andrew is the author of the exciting Thomas Hill series (The King’s Spy, The King’s Exile and The King’s Return) set in the English Civil War.  Incendium, the first in a new series set in the 1570s featuring lawyer and spy Christopher Ratcliff, was published in February 2017 (as A. D. Swanston).

As well as my review of Beautiful Star & Other Stories, I’m delighted to bring you a fascinating interview with Andrew.  Among other things, he talks about the most productive time for writing, the importance of detail to create historical authenticity and the benefits of ‘feet on the ground’ research.


Beautiful StarAbout the Book

History is brought alive by the people it affects, rather than those who created it.

In Beautiful Star we meet Eilmer, a monk in 1010 with Icarus-like dreams; Charles II, hiding in 1651, and befriended by a small boy; and Jane Wenham, the Witch of Walkern, seen through the eyes of her grand-daughter.  This moving and affecting journey through time brings a new perspective to the defence of Corfe Castle, the battle of Waterloo, the siege of Toulon and, in the title story, the devastating dangers of a fisherman’s life in 1875.

In Beautiful Star & Other Stories Andrew Swanston brings history to life, giving voices to the previously silent – the bystanders and observers, the poor and the peripheral – and bringing us a rich and refreshing perspective on the past.

Format: Paperback (256 pp.)         Publisher: The Dome Press
Published: 11th January 2018        Genre: Historical Fiction, Short Stories

Purchase Links*
Amazon.co.uk ǀ  Amazon.com
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find Beautiful Star & Other Stories on Goodreads


Interview with Andrew Swanston

The stories in Beautiful Star involve both real and imaginary characters.  Which do you find the more difficult to write?

Interesting question. Imaginary characters are easier in that, within the historical framework of the story, they can do and say and think and look like whatever one wants them to. Real characters are easier in that they bring their personalities and their stories with them.  Mixing the two is the most difficult task and what I like best.

What do you like about the short story format?  What are its challenges?

In Beautiful Star, Julia Paterson tells her friend Willy Miller that flowers are neither wild nor tame, they are just flowers. So it is, for me, with stories – some longer, others shorter, but all just stories with plots and characters, beginnings, middles and endings. As a boy I loved the Sherlock Holmes stories. Strong characters, fast-moving plots, atmospheric but not very descriptive.  Excellent examples of the art.

I’m sure that asking which of the stories in Beautiful Star you like best would be like asking you to choose a favourite child.  Instead, I’ll ask which was the ‘naughtiest child’- the story you found most challenging to write, and why?

I think ‘A Witch and a Bitch’ was the most difficult because in making Jane Wenham’s imaginary grand-daughter the narrator I had to try to imagine the feelings of a teenage girl seeing her grandmother absurdly condemned to death in cruel circumstances three hundred years ago.

If you could be transported back in time to a period of history when and where would it be?

The seventeenth century – a time of conflict and change – has always appealed to me, which is why I wrote the Thomas Hill stories.  During the War of the Three Kingdoms, I would have been a royalist and would have hoped to survive until the Restoration when the king and his court set a splendid example of debauchery and excess. Lovely.

You’ve written books set in the English Civil War (the Thomas Hill series), the Battle of Waterloo and, in your latest book Incendium, the reign of Elizabeth I.   What attracts you to a particular historical period?

I am most interested in how major events such as the massacre of the Huguenots, the execution of Charles I or the return of Napoleon from Elba would have affected the daily lives of the people of the time. What would they have been thinking?  Catholic retaliation in London, a republican tyranny, a French invasion? Poverty, starvation, disease?

What do you think is the key to creating an authentic picture of a particular historical period?

Detail, detail and more detail. Food, clothes, money, transport, anything and everything that enables the reader to ‘see’ a picture without its having to be described.

How do you approach the research for your books? Do you enjoy the process of research?

I love the research, especially meeting and talking to experts, who, without exception, I have found to be generous and supportive.  I also love libraries, most of all The British Library. Best of all, though, is what I call ‘tramping the streets’ – visits to Malmesbury, Romsey, Waterloo, Stationers’ Hall, St Monans and elsewhere, often accompanied by my willing assistant (wife).

Do you have a special place to write or any writing rituals?

I write in my little study, usually with the door closed. That tells everyone that I am working and should only be disturbed if war has been declared. I have no particular rituals but am most productive in the pre-drinks hours of three to six.

What other writers of historical fiction do you admire?

At the head of a long and distinguished list of ‘auto-buys’ are C J Sansom, Robert Harris and Rory Clements.  There are many others. [I agree.  Those are some of my favourites too!]

What are you working on next?

The sequel to Incendium, set in 1574.  I would very much like also to write another collection of shorter stories.

Thank you, Andrew, for those fascinating answers to my questions.  Now, read on for my review of Beautiful Star & Other Stories….

My Review

In Beautiful Star, the author has taken what might have been considered footnotes in history and fashioned them into compelling, character-driven stories.   I felt the stories really came alive when the author unleashed his writer’s imagination to conjure up the sights, sounds and smells of the period and to populate the historical fact with believable characters.

I simply devoured the stories in Beautiful Star and found something to enjoy, wonder at or be intrigued by in each of them.

In the title story, ‘Beautiful Star’, set in a Fife fishing village in 1875, the reader gets a wonderful insight into the lives of the fishermen and their families.  There is fascinating detail about the craft of ship building (including the local boats known as Fifies), the seasonal nature of life in the village driven by the movement of shoals of fish and the colourful itinerant workers who flock to St Monans during ‘the Drave’, when the herring shoals congregate in the Forth of Fife.   My favourite amongst these were the ‘fisher lassies’, who arrive to gut, sort and pack the herring.  Spending most of their time up to their elbows in fish guts and salt, the leisure time of these tough, hardworking women is spent knitting, often while going for an evening stroll.

The fisherman prove to be superstitious folk with intriguing customs like starting every voyage with dry feet (prepare to be amazed by how this is achieved).    But then, if you were setting sail in small boats for long periods of time then you’d probably be superstitious as well.  In fact, the dangers of the sea and the potential impact on individual families and the whole village of disaster become all too clearly revealed.  The story may be set in 1875, before satellite tracking and modern safety rules, but it still made me think of fisherman today and the perils they face on the open sea.

In ‘The Flying Monk’ we learn that experimentation with manned flight goes back further than you might think and did not start with the Wright Brothers.  The protagonist of this story, a monk called Eilmer, also witnesses two sightings of Halley’s Comet.  Such astronomical events were often viewed as harbingers of disaster. Observing the comet in 1066, the author has Eilmer remark, ‘It is a sign from God.  Mark it well and be prepared.  England’s enemies will come soon.’  He wasn’t wrong, was he?

A few highlights from other stories.  In ‘HMS Association’, set in 1708, instinctive, local knowledge of the sea is dismissed resulting in tragedy, emphasising the limitations of navigation in inclement weather at the time.  In ‘A Witch and a Bitch’, set in 1730, there is a reminder of how accusations of witchcraft were often directed at women viewed as ‘different’.  As the accused woman remarks, “If they want to hang me, they will.  An old woman on her own, they’ll find reasons enough if they choose.”   In ‘The Castle’, set in the latter part of the English Civil War, the chatelaine of Corfe Castle steadfastly tries to carry out a vow made to her dead husband to defend the castle from Parliament’s forces.  In the end, her future is determined by a man who thinks he knows better what’s good for her.  No change there then.    I particularly liked ‘A Tree’ set in 1651, probably the most impressionistic of the stories.  In it, events of the Restoration are seen through the eyes of a 7-year-old boy who has a chance encounter with a mysterious stranger whilst perched in a tree.

The book’s description states that ‘history is brought alive by the people it affects’.  I think the final story in the collection, ‘The Button Seller and the Drummer Boy’, set at the Battle of Waterloo, illustrates this really well.   It’s easy to forget that war, as well as bringing death and destruction, is also a source of business opportunity for some.  Such is the case for our button seller, whose travels through France and Belgium in search of orders for his company’s buttons for military uniforms, brings him to the site of the battle as it rages.  He is confronted by the realities of war; that smart uniforms bearing the correct regimental buttons mean nothing in the face of bullets, sabres and cannon fire and will ultimately end up being valued only by those plundering bodies.

I really loved Beautiful Star & Other Stories and would recommend the collection for any lover of history (I think it might even convert some people who think history is dull) and those for whom the lives of the people who fought in a battle are more interesting than the battle itself.  I really hope Andrew is true to his answer to my final interview question and writes another collection soon.

My grateful thanks to The Dome Press for my review copy, in return for my honest and unbiased review.

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In three words: Fascinating, intimate, thought-provoking

Try something similar…The Path of the King by John Buchan


Andrew SwanstonAbout the Author

Andrew read a little law and a lot of sport at Cambridge University, and held various positions in the book trade, including being a director of Waterstone & Co and Chairman of Methven’s plc, before turning to writing.  Inspired by a lifelong interest in early modern history, his Thomas Hill novels are set during the English Civil War and the early period of the Restoration.  Andrew’s novel Incendium was published in February 2017 and is the first of two thrillers featuring Dr. Christopher Radcliff, an intelligencer for the Earl of Leicester, and is set in 1572 at the time of the massacre of the Huguenots in France.

Connect with Andrew

Website  ǀ  Facebook  ǀ  Twitter ǀ  Goodreads

Beautiful Star Blog Tour Poster

 

 

My Week in Books – 14th January ’18

MyWeekinBooks

New arrivals  

The Secrets Between UsThe Secrets Between Us by Laura Madeleine (ebook)

High in the mountains in the South of France, eighteen-year-old Ceci Corvin is trying hard to carry on as normal. But in 1943, there is no such thing as normal; especially not for a young woman in love with the wrong person. Scandal, it would seem, can be more dangerous than war.

Fifty years later, Annie is looking for her long-lost grandmother. Armed with nothing more than a sheaf of papers, she travels from England to Paris in pursuit of the truth. But as she traces her grandmother’s story, Annie uncovers something she wasn’t expecting, something that changes everything she knew about her family – and everything she thought she knew about herself…

The Secret Life of Mrs LondonThe Secret Life of Mrs London by Rebecca Rosenberg (review)

San Francisco, 1915. As America teeters on the brink of world war, Charmian and her husband, famed novelist Jack London, wrestle with genius and desire, politics and marital competitiveness. Charmian longs to be viewed as an equal partner who put her own career on hold to support her husband, but Jack doesn’t see it that way…until Charmian is pulled from the audience during a magic show by escape artist Harry Houdini, a man enmeshed in his own complicated marriage. Suddenly, charmed by the attention Houdini pays her and entranced by his sexual magnetism, Charmian’s eyes open to a world of possibilities that could be her escape.

As Charmian grapples with her urge to explore the forbidden, Jack’s increasingly reckless behavior threatens her dedication. Now torn between two of history’s most mysterious and charismatic figures, she must find the courage to forge her own path, even as she fears the loss of everything she holds dear.

Memento MoriMemento Mori by Muriel Spark (paperback, giveaway prize)

In late 1950s London, something uncanny besets a group of elderly friends: an insinuating voice on the telephone informs each, “Remember you must die.” Their geriatric feathers are soon thoroughly ruffled by these seemingly supernatural phone calls, and in the resulting flurry many old secrets are dusted off. Beneath the once decorous surface of their lives, unsavories like blackmail and adultery are now to be glimpsed. As spooky as it is witty, poignant and wickedly hilarious, Memento Mori may ostensibly concern death, but it is a book which leaves one relishing life all the more.

Our Kind of CrueltyOur Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall (ARC, courtesy of Century) – draft cover shown

Mike knows that most of us travel through the world as one half of a whole, desperately searching for that missing person to make us complete.  But he and Verity are different. They have found each other and nothing and no one will tear them apart.  It doesn’t matter that Verity is marrying another man.  You see, Verity and Mike play a game together, a secret game they call ‘the crave’, the aim being to demonstrate what they both know: that Verity needs Mike, and only Mike.  Verity’s upcoming marriage is the biggest game she and Mike have ever played. And it’s for the highest stakes.  Except this time in order for Mike and Verity to be together someone has to die…

Fred's FuneralFred’s Funeral by Sandy Day (ebook, review copy courtesy of the author)

Fred Sadler has just died of old age. It’s 1986, seventy years after he marched off to WWI, and the ghost of Fred Sadler hovers near the ceiling of the nursing home. To Fred’s dismay, the arrangement of his funeral falls to his prudish sister-in-law, Viola. As she dominates the remembrance of Fred, he agonizes over his inability to set the record straight.

Was old Uncle Fred really suffering from shell shock? Why was he locked up most of his life in the Whitby Hospital for the Insane? Could his family not have done more for him?

Fred’s memories of his life as a child, his family’s hotel, the War, and the mental hospital, clash with Viola’s version of events as the family gathers on a rainy October night to pay their respects.

Getting HomeGetting Home by Wolfe Butler (ebook, review copy courtesy of the author)

Dealing with a past he cannot remember, a future he is not sure he wants and questioning everything from his sanity to his sexuality, Tom Jacobs feels ever more certain that the only solution is to end it all. A high level career, a perfect marriage, a power family – from the outside Tom seems to have everything he could want. Yet, try as he will, he cannot seem to escape a constant need to run. Plagued with nightmares and an ever increasing need to control his life with alcohol, Tom is spinning out of control. What begins as a mission to end it all becomes a twenty year journey to the life he was meant to live. With unexpected turns, heartbreaking revelations and unlikely allies Tom is finally on the road that leads to Getting Home.

On What Cathy Read Next last week

Blog posts

Monday – I published my review of Under an Amber Sky by Rose Alexander, a story of loss, love and starting over set in Montenegro.

Tuesday – I shared my Top Ten Books I Meant To Read in 2017, focussing on books I’ve received from authors that are still languishing in my review stack.

WednesdayWWW Wednesday is the opportunity to share what I’ve just finished reading, what I’m reading now and what I’ll be reading next.   I also published my review of Shadows on the Grass by Misha M. Herwin about three generations of women from a Polish family.

Thursday – I took part in the blog tour for The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, Vol.1 by Collins Hemingway, an affectionate, witty reimagining of the romantic life of the famous author.

Friday – I published a list of books  – some I’ve read, some I’ve only heard about – that I’d like to see on the longlist for The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction when it’s announced in February.

Saturday – I published my review of Carol by Patricia Highsmith.  Not two but three birds with one stone because as well as being a book on my Classics Club list, it’s also part of my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge and my From Page to Screen reading project.

Challenge updates

  • Goodreads 2018 Reading Challenge – 7 out of 156 books read, 4 more than last week
  • Classics Club Challenge – 8 out of 50 books read, 1 more than last week
  • NetGalley/Edelweiss Reading Challenge 2018 (Silver) – 1 ARCs read and reviewed out of 25, 1 more than last week
  • From Page to Screen– 9 book/film comparisons out of 15 completed, same as last week
  • 2018 TBR Pile Challenge – 2 out of 12 books read, 1 more than last week
  • Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2018 – 4 books out of 50 read, 3 more than last week
  • When Are You Reading? Challenge 2018 – 2 out of 12 books read, 1 more than week
  • What’s In A Name Reading Challenge – 0 out of 6 books read
  • Buchan of the Month – 0 out of 12 books read

On What Cathy Read Next this week

Currently reading

 Planned posts

  • Blog Tour/Review & Q&A: Beautiful Star & Other Stories by Andrew Swanston
  • Review: Oliver Loving by Stefan Merrill Block
  • Review: The Good Doctor of Warsaw by Elisabeth Gifford
  • Review: Nucleus (Tom Wilde #2) by Rory Clements
  • Review: The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
  • Blog Tour/Extract: The Start of Something Wonderful by Jane Lambert
  • From Page to Screen: Carol

Book Review: Carol by Patricia Highsmith

Carol BloomsburyAbout the Book

Therese is just an ordinary sales assistant working in a New York department store when a beautiful, alluring woman in her thirties walks up to her counter.  Standing there, Therese is wholly unprepared for the first shock of love.  Therese is an awkward nineteen-year-old with a job she hates and a boyfriend she doesn’t love; Carol is a sophisticated, bored suburban housewife in the throes of a divorce and a custody battle for her only daughter.  As Therese becomes irresistibly drawn into Carol’s world, she soon realises how much they both stand to lose…

Format: Paperback (312 pp.)           Publisher: Bloomsbury
Published: 2015 [1952]                     Genre: Literary Fiction, Romance

Purchase Links*
Amazon.co.uk  ǀ  Amazon.com
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find Carol on Goodreads


My Review

Carol was first published under the pseudonym Clare Morgan in 1952 with the title The Price of Salt. In the book’s afterword, Patricia Highsmith, writing in 1989, explains the story’s real life inspiration: a woman wearing a fur coat she glimpsed whilst working in the toy section of a New York department store shortly before Christmas in 1948.  She writes: ‘Perhaps I noticed her because she was alone, or because a mink coat was a rarity, and because she was blondish and seemed to give off light.’   Highsmith recounts how she was left feeling ‘odd and swimmy in the head, near to fainting, yet at the same time uplifted, as if I had seen a vision.’

From the germ of this idea was born The Price of Salt, published under a pseudonym because by that time Strangers on a Train had been published to great success and Highsmith was now considered a ‘suspense’ writer.  Her publishers wanted more of the same and The Price of Salt was anything but.  As it happens, The Price of Salt did turn out to be a commercial success, selling nearly one million copies when it was published in paperback in 1953.  And so the story of Carol

Raised in a children’s home following a difficult upbringing, Therese has ambitions to be a stage designer.  Finding it hard to obtain openings in that profession, she reluctantly takes a job in a department store for the Christmas period.  It makes her feel trapped and she fears a future like some of the worn out, drab women she sees around her:   ‘…She knew it was the hopelessness that terrified her…the hopelessness of herself, of ever being the person she wanted to be and doing the things that person would do.’  Therese’s disillusion with her job is equalled by her dissatisfaction with her relationship with her boyfriend, Richard.    She finds she cannot return Richard’s love or relish the future together for which he hopes so fervently.  ‘She was cold, and felt rather miserable in general.  It was the half dangling, half cemented relationship with Richard, she knew.  They saw more and more of each other without growing closer.’

Therese’s first glimpse of Carol in the department store is life-changing; it awakens an overwhelming but quite unexpected attraction to this cool, stylish, beautiful woman.  When Therese initiates contact, it becomes apparent that the attraction is mutual and the two embark on a relationship that will become all-consuming and have consequences for them both.  For Therese, the relationship with Carol brings a sense of freedom and adventure.  As time goes on, it also seems to bring about a new maturity in Therese.  For Carol, a woman going through a divorce and custody battle, the relationship means agonising choices.  For them both, it means the opprobrium of society.  ‘In the eyes of the world it’s an abomination.’

It is difficult now for most of us to imagine the prejudice two women in such a relationship faced.   However, as Highsmith reminds us in the afterword, those were the days  when ‘gay bars were a dark door somewhere in Manhattan, where people wanting to go to a certain bar got off the subway a station before or after the convenient one, lest they be suspected of being homosexual.’

The story is told from the point of view of Therese so Carol always remains something of an enigma, slightly distant and often unreadable.  So, like Therese, the reader, is left to try to interpret the extent of Carol’s feelings for Therese from her actions and her often opaque comments and unexplained moods.  Therese wonders, ‘Was life, were human relationships always like this… Never solid ground underfoot’. At times, it feels as if Carol is afraid of the intensity of Therese’s feelings for her, of what loving her might mean for Therese.  Unspoken thoughts, not being able to say the right words are something of a theme of the book.  ‘She [Therese] did not want to talk.  Yet she felt there were thousands of words choking her throat.’

In her foreword to my edition, the Val McDermid writes: ‘Some books change lives.  This is one of them.’  She describes how Carol, the story of a lesbian relationship, didn’t so much fill a niche as ‘a gaping void’.  It may well have been groundbreaking at the time but, in the end, Carol is simply the tender, emotional, passionate story of two people exploring the attraction they feel for each other.   I found it a wonderful book and the ending simply beautiful.

Carol is part of my TBR Pile Challenge and one of the books on my Classics Club list.  It also forms part of my From Page to Screen reading project.  I will be posting my thoughts on the comparison between the book and the film (starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara) in due course.

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In three words: Passionate, stylish, intimate


Patricia HighsmithAbout the Author

Patricia Highsmith was born in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1921.  Her parents moved to New York when she was six, and she attended Julia Richmond high School and Barnard College.  In her senior year she edited the college magazine, having decided at the age of sixteen to become a writer.  Her first novel, Strangers on a Train, was made into a film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951.   The Talented Mr Ripley, published in 1955, was awarded the Edgar Allen Poe Scroll by the Mystery Writers of America and introduced the fascinating anti-hero Tom Ripley, who was to appear in many of her later crime novels.

Patricia Highsmith died in Locarno, Switzerland, on 4 February 1995. Her last novel, Small g: A Summer Idyll, was published posthumously a month later.

Website ǀ  Goodreads

The Classics Club TBR Challenge 2018From Page to Screen

The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction: A Wishlist

WalterScottPrize

The deadline for publishers to submit books published in 2017 for The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2018 is fast approaching (31st January).  As a historical fiction fan, I’ll be eagerly awaiting the announcement of the longlist and the ‘Academy Recommends’ list in February.  Last year, I only managed to read the shortlisted novels but this year I intend to read, if possible, all the longlisted novels (where I haven’t read them already).

Which leads me to the purpose of this post.  Here are some of the historical fiction novels I read in 2017 that I’d love to see make the longlist (subject to them meeting the eligibility criteria).  In addition, some books I haven’t got around to reading yet but which, judging from reviews, potentially deserve a place on the longlist.

(My early tips: Irish authors seem to do particularly well – perhaps Banville, Boyne and Toibin might fight it out? – and surely it would be lovely for Helen Dunmore to be recognised, albeit posthumously.)


Books I read in 2017 (click on title for my review)

Shelter by Sarah Franklin (Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre)

Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves by Rachel Malik (Publisher: Fig Tree)

Vindolanda by Adrian Goldsworthy (Publisher: Head of Zeus)

Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore (Publisher: Hutchinson)

The Watch House by Bernie McGill (Publisher: Tinder Press)

Anne Boleyn: The King’s Obsession by Alison Weir (Publisher: Headline)

In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant (Publisher: Virago)

Widdershins by Helen Steadman (Publisher: Impress Books)

The Wardrobe Mistress by Patrick McGrath (Publisher: Hutchinson)

House of Names by Colm Toibin (Publisher: Scribner)

TheWardrobeMistressHouseofNames

Books on the grapevine (click on title for Goodreads entry)

The Last Tudor by Phillipa Gregory (Publisher: Touchstone)

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne (Publisher: Hogarth)

How To Stop Time by Matt Haig (Publisher: Canongate)  [My outlier – does it even count as historical fiction?]

Mrs Osmond by John Banville (Publisher: Hamish Hamilton)

The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown (Publisher: Viking)

Munich by Robert Harris (Publisher: Hutchinson)


  • Is your favourite on my list? 
  • What other historical fiction novels published in the UK, Ireland or the Commonwealth in 2017 are worthy of nomination?
  • Come back in February to see how my picks match the judges’ choices…