Category Archives: Index of Authors

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

The Thursday Murder ClubThe Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
Rating: ★★★★½
Series: Thursday Murder Club #1
Publication Date: September 3, 2020
Pages: 382
Genre: mystery
Project: halloween bingo

Four septuagenarians with a few tricks up their sleeves
A female cop with her first big case
A brutal murder
Welcome to…
The Thursday Murder Club

In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet weekly in the Jigsaw Room to discuss unsolved crimes; together they call themselves The Thursday Murder Club. Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

When a local developer is found dead with a mysterious photograph left next to the body, the Thursday Murder Club suddenly find themselves in the middle of their first live case. As the bodies begin to pile up, can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer, before it’s too late?

This is a book that I had seen everywhere in the last several months. As soon as I looked at the plot summary, I was really excited to read it. There really aren’t enough books that focus on men and women (especially women) in their retirement years and this one looked like so much fun.

And it was. I read this particular book on a vacation at the Oregon coast and found the mystery to be a little bit meh, but the characters were just wonderful. It was just delightful. So far I’ve convinced my mom and a friend to read it as well, and it’s my new go-to recommendation. It was a perfect vacation read.

I understand that it has already been optioned for film. I can understand why, and anticipate that it could be a really good movie. If Helen Mirren isn’t cast as Elizabeth, there’s no justice in the world because she would be amazing.

The Man Who Died TwiceThe Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman
Rating: ★★★★★
Series: The Thursday Murder Club #2
Publication Date: September 16, 2021
Pages: 336
Genre: mystery

It's the following Thursday.

Elizabeth has received a letter from an old colleague, a man with whom she has a long history. He's made a big mistake, and he needs her help. His story involves stolen diamonds, a violent mobster, and a very real threat to his life.

As bodies start piling up, Elizabeth enlists Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron in the hunt for a ruthless murderer. And if they find the diamonds too? Well, wouldn't that be a bonus?

But this time they are up against an enemy who wouldn't bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians. Can The Thursday Murder Club find the killer (and the diamonds) before the killer finds them?

After finishing The Thursday Murder Club, I put the sequel, which had just been released, on hold at my library. It took about 6 weeks to become available.

I think I liked this one even more than the first. The mystery was better and more tightly plotted, and the characters remain likeable, engaging and fun. Osman is doing a great job doling out the information about the character’s pasts. Elizabeth continues to be a force of nature. This is the best new mystery series I’ve found in several years.

I can’t wait for book 3.

Throwback Thursday 11.11.2021

I’ve been tracking my reading on the internet since approximately 2013 more or less continuously, and if you look on my sidebar, you will find 8 pages that are titled Book List with a designated year.

On occasional Thursdays I will use a random number generator to point me to three books from the lists (leaving out 2021), and then I’ll post about them – what I remember (if anything), whether I would recommend them – probably not, if I don’t remember anything about them – and if they have stuck with me in the years since I read them.

2015, Book 161:

Many WatersMany Waters by Madeleine L'Engle
Rating: ★★½
Series: Time Quintet #4
Publication Date: September 1, 1986
Pages: 369
Genre: classic, fantasy, YA
Project: throwback thursday

Some things have to be believed to be seen.

Sandy and Dennys have always been the normal, run-of-the-mill ones in the extraodinary Murry family. They garden, make an occasional A in school, and play baseball. Nothing especially interesting has happened to the twins until they accidentally interrupt their father's experiment.

Then the two boys are thrown across time and space. They find themselves alone in the desert, where, if they believe in unicorns, they can find unicorns, and whether they believe or not, mammoths and manticores will find them.

The twins are rescued by Japheth, a man from the nearby oasis, but before he can bring them to safety, Dennys gets lost. Each boy is quickly embroiled in the conflicts of this time and place, whose populations includes winged seraphim, a few stray mythic beasts, perilous and beautiful nephilim, and small, long lived humans who consider Sandy and Dennys giants. The boys find they have more to do in the oasis than simply getting themselves home--they have to reunite an estranged father and son, but it won't be easy, especially when the son is named Noah and he's about to start building a boat in the desert.

A few years ago, I started a Madeleine L’Engle project. I planned to read all of her books – I got somewhat sidetracked, but I did manage to read the entire Kairos series (the Murry family novels) and all of her Austin series, as well as a few others. This one was probably the weirdest of all of them, and that is definitely saying something. In Many Waters, the twins – who are typically depicted as the most “normal” of the Murry kids – disrupt time and end up in the Old Testament, during the Flood. Yeah, that flood – the one that involves Noah. I’m not sure if it was my least favorite of L’Engle’s books, but it definitely competes. If you are interested in a L’Engle YA, read either A Wrinkle in Time or A Ring of Endless Light. Do not read this one until you’ve read at least four or five of her other books first.

2019, Book 72:

Touch Not the CatTouch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: April 28, 1976
Pages: 384
Genre: gothic romance, magical realism, romance, suspense
Project: throwback thursday

After the tragic death of her father, Bryony Ashley returns from abroad to find that his estate is to become the responsibility of her cousin Emory. Ashley Court with its load of debt is no longer her worry. But there is something odd about her father's sudden death . . . Bryony has inherited the Ashley 'Sight' and so has one of the Ashleys. Since childhood the two have communicated through thought patterns, though Bryony has no idea of his identity. Now she is determined to find him. But danger as well as romance wait for her in the old moated house, with its tragic memories . . .

This book was so problematic for me, and yet I still really liked it. What I remember about it is that the main heroine was named Bryony and there was some bizarre telepathy thing. In addition, Bryony referred to her cousin, with whom she can communicate telepathically, as “lover.” I loathe word “lover” and cousin-love doesn’t work for me at all. Given that those were the main points of the book, along with the suspense because someone is trying to kill Bryony, of course, I would have expected to hate it. But, Mary Stewart is such an exceptional writer, that I still enjoyed it. So, if you want a book that will carry you gently away, with evocative prose, to crumbling manors where beautiful young women who communicate telepathically with their cousin-lovers are being stalked by a would-be murderer (who may also be the cousin-lover), this book is for you.

2018, Book 124:

In the BalanceIn the Balance by Patricia Wentworth
Rating: ★★★
Series: Miss Silver #4
Publication Date: January 1, 1941
Pages: 342
Genre: mystery
Project: throwback thursday

His first wife died suddenly—and his wealthy new bride may be about to meet a similar fate . . .

Former schoolteacher Miss Maud Silver is on her way back to London when, with a violent shudder of the train, a young woman is thrust into her compartment. She’s beautiful, well dressed, newly married, and wealthy—a lethal combination.

In a state of shock, Lisle Jerningham explains that she fled her home in a hurry after overhearing a sinister conversation. Her new husband’s first wife died in an apparent accident, and the resultant infusion of cash saved his family home. Now, he’s broke again—and attempting to engineer a second convenient mishap. Miss Silver is unsure whether the drama is real or a figment of Lisle’s imagination—but if this frightened young lady is a target for murder, the killer will have to deal with the governess-turned-sleuth first.

I have read a lot of the Miss Silver books. I remember NOTHING about the plot of this book, so my rating is basically based on the fact that my baseline enjoyment of Miss Silver is 3 stars, except for Grey Mask, which I hated.

Good Evening, Mrs. Craven by Mollie Panter-Downes

Good Evening, Mrs. CravenGood Evening, Mrs. Craven by Mollie Panter-Downes
Rating: ★★★★
Publication Date: January 1, 1999
Pages: 203
Genre: short stories
Project: a century of women

For fifty years Mollie Panter-Downes' name was associated with "The New Yorker", for which she wrote a regular 'Letter from London', book reviews and over thirty short stories; of the twenty-one in "Good Evening, Mrs Craven", written between 1939 and 1944, only two had ever been reprinted - these very English stories have, until now, been unavailable to English readers.

Exploring most aspects of English domestic life during the war, they are about separation, sewing parties, fear, evacuees sent to the country, obsession with food, the social revolutions of wartime.

In the Daily Mail Angela Huth called "Good Evening, Mrs Craven" 'my especial find' and Ruth Gorb in the "Ham & High" contrasted the humour of some of the stories with the desolation of others: 'The mistress, unlike the wife, has to worry and mourn in secret for her man; a middle-aged spinster finds herself alone again when the camaraderie of the air-raids is over ...'

This book collects short stories that were first published in New Yorker magazine between October 1939 and December 1944. Prior to ordering the book, I had never heard of Mollie Panter-Downes. It seemed like a great companion to The Splendid and the Vile, which is why I chose to read it now. Persephone published two other anthologies of her work: Minnie’s Room: the Peacetime Stories, which were written after the end of WWII, and London War Notes, which compiles her “Letters from London” published in the New Yorker between 1939 and 1945.

The stories were relatively short, and are deceptively light in tone, containing rich details and deep humanity. The setting for the stories included both London and English villages. The war and the Blitz are omnipresent, and the perspective was that of the (mostly) women who were left at the home front while their men went off to fight. The Red Cross Sewing Party at Mrs. Ramsay’s shows up in a couple of stories, including one of my favorites, titled “Literary Scandal at the Sewing Party.”

One of the most poignant stories, Goodbye My Love, details a young couple’s last few days before the husband, Adrian, is required to report for service. They visit his mother and go to church. They go out dancing with friends and drink and then spend their last day together, the clock chiming the quarter hour and reminding Ruth that time is almost up. She bravely puts him in a taxi in the morning without breaking down, and then copes for the next two days, when he calls and tells her that there’s been a mistake, and he doesn’t need to report for ten more days – he’s catching a taxi and he’ll be home in two hours. And that’s the point at which she breaks down:

Ruth heard the click as he hung up, and she hung up slowly, too. For a moment she sat quite still. The clock on the table beside her sounded deafening again, beginning to mark off the ten days at the end of which terror was the red light at the end of the tunnel. Then her face became drawn and putting her hands over it, she burst into tears.

If this time period interests you at all, I highly recommend these stories..

Company in the Evening by Ursula Orange

Company in the EveningCompany in the Evening by Ursula Orange
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: March 20, 1944
Pages: 240
Genre: fiction
Project: a century of women, furrowed middlebrow

Of all the unhappiness my divorce has brought upon me, loneliness has never been in the least a part. Lack of company in the evening is to me an absolute luxury.

Thus does Vicky, a young divorcée in London with a small daughter to support, reassure herself.

But as the plucky courage of the early days of World War II gives way to the fatigue and deprivations of its middle, company in the evening is just what she gets. To the chagrin of her housekeeper, Vicky agrees to take in a pregnant, widowed sister-in-law (“Talking to her is like walking through a bog—squash, squash, squash—never, just never do you really crunch on to anything solid”). As she is adapting to this change and the tensions it creates, and dealing with an impossible client at work at a literary agency, she happens to meet ex-husband Raymond one night…

Told in a first-person confessional style ahead of its time, and featuring Ursula Orange’s trademark humour, Company in the Evening is a charming evocation of wartime life, snobbishness in many forms, and the difficulties of being a woman on her own.

I actually wanted to like this book more than I ended up liking it, although I expect that it will stick with me for a while. This is the first book that I’ve read by Ursula Orange – she has two others published by the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint: Begin Again and Tom Tiddler’s Ground. I am sure that I will read both of them eventually.

Company in the Evening was published in 1944, and is set in around 1941, during the early days of WWII and during the blitz. I’ve been reading a lot of this books recently – this time period is like catnip for me right now. Vicky, the narrator character, is a 24 year old divorcee living in London. Her marriage fell apart approximately 5 years prior to the start of the book, after her former husband, Raymond, had an affair. Vicky learned that she was pregnant after she had filed for divorce, and kept the secret of her pregnancy until the divorce was final, understanding that it would potentially derail the proceedings. Raymond had indicated during their marriage that he didn’t want children, and once she learned she was pregnant, she decided that it wouldn’t be fair play to inflict parenting on him. He knows about his daughter, Antonia, but so far he has had no interactions with her. Vicky supports herself and Antonia quite ably on her own, with a job in the publishing industry.

Vicky is a hard character to like – she is pragmatic and independent, but she is also a bit of a snob, and has a judgmental side. Some of this, I think, is her defense mechanism – Raymond’s affair was emotionally devastating to her, but she is part of a breezy, monogamy-is-for-squares social class that takes in pride in their bohemian approach to relationships, love, marriage and friendships. In response to this, she has sort of decided to just forgo romance.

The title of the book refers to Vicky’s decision to take in her brother’s pregnant widow, Rene. If Vicky is self-sufficient and independent, Rene is the opposite – utterly helpless. Someone is going to need to care for her, now that her brother has died in combat, and that someone is, apparently, going to be Vicky. This creates drama all around. Vicky manifestly doesn’t really want Rene there, although she is kind to her, and Rene knows this. Her ill-tempered servant, Blakey, who helps Vicky care for Antonia on her own, is thoroughly annoyed by Rene.

While Vicky can be a little bit difficult to like, I admired her, and I think that it’s fascinating that this book was written about a young woman in the thick of WWII. Vicky is carving out independence for herself during a time when that is no easy task for a young woman raising a child as a single mother. There were elements that I liked, but overall, it didn’t quite hit the mark for me, which is why I gave it 3 1/2 stars.

Nothing Can Rescue Me by Elizabeth Daly

Nothing Can Rescue MeNothing Can Rescue Me by Elizabeth Daly
Rating: ★★★★
Series: Henry Gamadge #5
Publication Date: December 15, 1943
Pages: 201
Genre: mystery
Project: a century of women

In mid-1943, and up to his elbows in war work, Henry Gamadge is longing for a quiet weekend. But when a half-forgotten classmate requests assistance, Gamadge is unable to refuse the tug of an old school tie. The problem, says Sylvanus, concerns his Aunt Florence—a giddy socialite terrified of Nazi bombs. Florence has moved her extensive household of hangers-on to the family mansion in upstate New York. But menace seems to have followed them, in the form of threatening messages inserted into the manuscript of Florence’s painfully bad novel in progress. Several members of the household are convinced the messages are emanating from Another World, but the politely pragmatic Gamadge suspects a culprit closer to home.

I stumbled across these Henry Gamadge mystery reissues by Elizabeth Daly on Goodreads, and when I started researching them, I realized that my local library has most, if not all, of the series available for digital checkout. I just picked one sort of randomly – about half of them were available and the other half had holds, so I just went with one that I could download immediately.

I really enjoyed this book – it reminded me a bit of a Patricia Wentworth Miss Silver mystery. The set up of the mystery is basically that Henry Gamadge, who is apparently known as a bit of an amateur sleuth, runs into an old friend while he is out at his club. When they begin catching up, the friend, Sylvanus, convinces him that there is a mystery afoot that he needs some help with. Henry agrees to accompany him to Underhill, a country house in upstate New York, to see what he can find out.

Once Henry arrives, he is immediately concerned about the safety of Aunt Florence, whose death will benefit quite a large number of the young people living in her house. It feels very Poirot-like, all of the mutterings about what appear at first blush to be pranks being much more serious than that (see, e.g., Hickory Dickory Dock). There is a lot of activity around Aunt Florence’s Will, and which of her young hangers-on will be receiving legacies, and which will not.

The solution itself is convoluted, but still clever. There’s a lot of fairly skilled misdirection, although I had some pretty good inklings about whodunit, she did a good job concealing the motive.

It’s always fantastic to find a new vintage mystery series to enjoy, and when the series is also available from my local library for free, that is extra-fantastic. I will definitely be reading more from Elizabeth Daly.

Mrs. Lorimer’s Quiet Summer by Molly Clavering

Mrs. Lorimer's Quiet SummerMrs. Lorimer's Quiet Summer by Molly Clavering
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: January 1, 1953
Pages: 192
Genre: fiction

The two were friends and had been for many years before Miss Douglas, a little battered by war experiences, had settled down in Threipford, to Mrs. Lorimer's quiet content. ... Both wrote; each admired the other's work. Lucy possessed what Gray knew she herself would never have, a quality which for want of a better name she called "saleability."

In what is surely Molly Clavering's most autobiographical novel, two middle-aged women writers, close friends and neighbours, offer one another advice and support while navigating life in a lively Border village. Lucy Lorimer, the more successful author, with her four children, in-laws, and grandchildren gathered for a summer reunion, must try to avert disaster in one daughter's marriage, help a daughter-in-law restless with mundane married life after flying planes in the war, and deal with the awkward reappearance of an old flame. Unmarried Grace ('Gray') Douglas, meanwhile, has struggles of her own, but is drawn delightfully into her friend's difficulties.

In real life, Molly Clavering was herself for many years a neighbour and close friend of bestselling author D.E. Stevenson. First published in 1953, Mrs. Lorimer's Quiet Summer is not only an irresistible family story, but undoubtedly provides some indication of the inspiring friendship between these two brilliantly talented women. This new edition includes an introduction by Elizabeth Crawford.

I can’t emphasize enough how much I appreciate the Dean Street Press and their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint. There isn’t a single one of their reprints that doesn’t look absolutely terrific to me. Some of them appeal more strongly than others, but I could put them in a randomizer, and I’d read whatever popped up (in fact, this is an idea that I may implement).

This is a very quiet book. Molly Clavering was, as I understand it, neighbors and friends with D.E. Stevenson, another author that I enjoy. This is one of those mid-century books written by English women in which nothing really happens, but which is still deeply satisfying, with scenes of village life and the Scottish landscape.

The title is, of course, very tongue-in-cheek, because Mrs. Lorimer’s summer is anything but quiet. She and her husband are empty-nesters with four children, some of whom have spouses and children of their own. During the summer, all four of the children come home, not merely for a visit, but because there is some crisis in their lives that they have to solve. Mrs. Lorimer doesn’t do the solving for them, but home is a catalyst to put things in order that have come a bit undone.

There’s no murders, no mayhem, no real mysteries to solve. Nonetheless, there are conflicts and tensions that arise, and small family travails that need to be resolved. As in life.

Johnny Under Ground by Patricia Moyes

Johnny Under GroundJohnny Under Ground by Patricia Moyes
Rating: ★★★★
Series: Inspector Henry Tibbet #6
Publication Date: January 31, 1965
Pages: 253
Genre: mystery
Project: a century of women

Emmy Tibbett was uneasy about attending her twentieth Royal Air Force reunion. Emmy had been a native nineteen year-old auxiliary officer at Dymfield Air Base during the war when she had fallen in love with the handsome hero pilot Beau Guest. She had been devasted when he committed suicide by deliberately crashing his plane into the North Sea. At the reunion Emmy was shocked to discover she had been the very last to see Guest alive. Even more disturbing was her discovery that everyone connected with the fatal flight had something to hide.

Chief Inspector Henry Tibbett of Scotland Yard knew his wife had stumbled onto something sinister. But he couldn't keep her from investigating the past - not even when anonymous letters and a suspicious suicide made it clear someone meant to keep a nasty secret buried and wouldn't hesitate to kill.

My crazy pup chewed up my first paperback when I was at about 30%, so I had to get my hands on a new copy to finally find out whodunit.

I quite liked this entry in the series – much better than the prior book that I read, Falling Star. This one reaches back into Emmy Tibbitt’s past as a 19 year old member of the RAF auxiliary, long before she met and married Chief Inspector Henry Tibbets.

The book opens with a reunion of her old colleagues, in which she is convinced to participate in a book project where she and another of the old group are convinced to begin writing a book about Beau Geste, a famous pilot who is believed to have committed suicide by crashing into the sea in a bet with one of the other pilots. This stirs up some secrets that at least one of the old crowd would prefer to remain buried.

The mystery develops in two timelines, with flashbacks from Emmy. Emmy is one of my favorite series characters, so getting more of her backstory, as well as more interactions between her & Henry and her and all of those old colleagues was great. In addition, someone is trying to set Emmy up to take the fall, so Henry has to use his famous investigative skills to make sure they don’t succeed. The mystery itself was clever and the solution took me by surprise.

Nothing to Report by Carola Oman

Nothing to ReportNothing to Report by Carola Oman
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: April 5, 1940
Pages: 197
Genre: fiction
Project: a century of women, furrowed middlebrow

“I have told Rose that there will be a chauffeur for dinner,” she ended, frowning slightly at the cannibalistic sound of her sentence.

Unmarried and nicknamed “Button” by her friends, Mary Morrison is a (very mildly) distressed gentlewoman. She no longer lives in her family home, but remains at the very centre of village life, surrounded by friends including carefree, irresponsible Catha, Lady Rollo, just back from India and setting up lavish housekeeping nearby with her husband and children—socialist Tony, perfect Crispin, and Elizabeth who’s preparing to be presented at Court. Then there’s Marcelle, Mary’s widowed sister-in-law, and her challenging daughter Rosemary, who may soon be planting themselves with her to escape London bombs, Miss Rosanna Masquerier, a historical novelist who might just be a wry self-portrait of the author, and an array of other Sirs and Ladies who rely on Mary’s sympathy and practicality. And perhaps there’s just a hint of romance as well .

This is one of the Furrowed Middlebrow reprints. Furrowed Middlebrow is an imprint of Dean Street Press, which is one of my favorite small publishers. In addition to a lot of vintage mysteries, they publish the Furrowed Middlebrow line, which tends to focus on interwar & WWII British women authors – the same ground that Virago and Persephone tread, although their selections tend to be a bit more in the popular fiction line (i.e., D.E. Stevenson, Molly Clavering, etc) than either of those publishers. This is a particular splinter interest of mine, along with Golden Age Mysteries, so I tend to buy a lot of them.

I read this one during the fall Dewey’s read-a-thon. I had already blacked out my Halloween bingo card, and I decided to focus my reading on British women’s fiction for a while.

This one is set mostly in 1939, in the months immediately prior to war being declared. It’s a very character driven novel where nothing very important happens – the main character, Mary Morrison, lives in an English village, where she is a busy spinster. The amount of free labor that British middle- to upper-middle-class women provided to their communities was quite significant during that time period. Her BFF, Catha Rollins, moves to town with her husband and three adult – or at least trending in the direction of adult hood, and Mary is swept up in their travails as well as dealing her own obligations.

This is right up my alley, so not surprisingly, I enjoyed it a lot. Mary is just the kind of character I like – interesting and independent, a sort of a 1930’s version of one of Barbara Pym’s excellent women. I look forward to picking up the sequel, Somewhere in England, which deals more directly with the impact of World War II on Mary and her community.

Interestingly, Carola Oman mostly wrote historical fiction. According to the introduction, she was also besties with Georgette Heyer.

A Middlebrow Month

Square HauntingSquare Haunting by Francesca Wade
Rating: ★★★★½
Publication Date: January 14, 2020
Pages: 432
Genre: non-fiction

An engrossing group portrait of five women writers, including Virginia Woolf, who moved to London's Mecklenburgh Square in search of new freedom in their life and work.

"I like this London life . . . the street-sauntering and square-haunting."--Virginia Woolf, diary, 1925

In the early twentieth century, Mecklenburgh Square--a hidden architectural gem in London's Bloomsbury--was a radical address, home to students, struggling artists, and revolutionaries. And in the pivotal era between the two world wars, the lives of five remarkable women intertwined around this one address: the modernist poet H. D., detective novelist Dorothy L. Sayers, classicist Jane Harrison, economic historian Eileen Power, and author and publisher Virginia Woolf. In an era when women's freedoms were fast expanding, they each sought a space where they could live, love, and--above all--work independently.

With sparkling insight and a novelistic style, Francesca Wade sheds new light on a group of artists and thinkers whose pioneering work would enrich the possibilities of women's lives for generations to come.

Officially, Halloween bingo is over, and has been a rousing success, as always. I blacked out my bingo card, and then some. You can find my In Memoriam page here.

With that introduction, I’m moving into a different part of my reading year. I can’t say that I won’t be reading mysteries, because by far the most consistent genre I read is mystery, and especially vintage mystery. In addition, with the holidays rapidly approaching, I will be pulling out winter/Christmas themed mysteries and stories. But, as well, I am trying something new this year – November is Middlebrow Month for me, and I will be directing my attention, and my content, to books that were written by British women between 1910 and 1960.

Which brings me to Square Haunting – a book that I actually finished in August. This review has been sitting in my “scheduled” reviews since before September 1, waiting to drop. This is a fairly rare occurrence for me – I typically only write up reviews one or two days before they post. This is also a non-fiction book, which is also fairly rare for me.

The title of the book is presumably taken from a Virgina Woolf essay called Street Haunting, a London Adventure, which a friend and fellow blogger, BrokenTune, linked to in a thread on Goodreads. I haven’t read very much Woolf – Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse as a young(er) reader, but none of her essays or other books. I found Street Haunting to be a delightful essay about the glories of “Town” living:

As the foxhunter hunts in order to preserve the breed of foxes, and the golfer plays in order that open spaces may be preserved from the builders, so when the desire comes upon us to go street rambling the pencil does for a pretext, and getting up we say: “Really I must buy a pencil,” as if under cover of this excuse we could indulge safely in the greatest pleasure of town life in winter–rambling the streets of London.

BrokenTune had also been reading Square Haunting, which looked intriguing, so I added it to my library hold list and started reading as soon as it came up. It took me a week or so to finish it – I often struggle with nonfiction – and I loved it. So much that I have since bought a copy of the book for my own shelves.

The premise of the book is unique – miniature biographies of five British women, all of whom ended up living in the same Bloomsbury square (Mecklenburg square) between 1919 and 1940. The women are: Hilda Doolitle (who went by H.D.), Dorothy Sayers, Jane Harrison, Eileen Power and, of course, Virginia Woolf. Of the five, I had only previously read (or even heard of, to be frank)  Dorothy Sayers and Virginia Woolf. H.D. was a poet, Jane Harrison was a classical scholar and Eileen Power was a medievalist. All five women were members of the “Bloomsbury group” in some capacity or another; all but Woolf were serious scholars who attended either Oxford or Cambridge, but who were unable to receive degrees at the time of their “graduation.”

Ultimately, the women who graduated from an Oxford womens college were awarded degrees – the University passed a retroactive statute in October, 1920. It took until 1948 for Cambridge University to do the right thing and grant degrees to women, a full quarter century later.

But, I digress into an area that will simply enrage me, so back to Square Haunting. I so thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in any of the five women profiled, the Bloomsbury Group, or feminist history. Their lives were fascinating. They were privileged, sure – a group of intellectually brilliant women from backgrounds that were sufficient to grant them entrance in one of the Oxbridge Universities in the late 19th or early 20th century when places for women were scant indeed. 

Nonetheless, each of them, in her own way, chose a life that was completely different from what she had been brought up to expect. And each woman supported herself in a world where women didn’t really do that. They were expected to use their intelligence and their resourcefulness to help the men who chose them in their careers, not have a career of their own.

As Dorothy Sayers writes, in Strong Poison, her first Harriet Vane/Peter Wimsey mystery:

Genius must be served, not argued with,” sniffs an associate of Boyes’s, insisting that Harriet poisoned her lover out of jealousy at his superior intellect. A friend of Harriet’s puts it differently, summing up the attitude a successful woman writer had to contend with: “She ought to have been ministering to his work, not making money for them both with her own independent trash.” 

Nonetheless, as Wade says “Harriet knows her own worth, and refuses to spare Boyes’s ego by diminishing her own achievements.

With respect to the fourth woman profiled, Eileen Power, she “was very conscious that, as Jane Harrison put it in 1914, “the virtues supposed to be womanly are in the main the virtues generated by subordinate social position.” Like Dorothy L. Sayers, who wrote in her caustic 1938 essay “Are Women Human?” that it was “repugnant…to be reckoned always as a member of a class and not as an individual person,” Power railed against the social system which “is so anxious for people to be correct that it effectually prevents them from being true.

Virginia Woolf lived in Mecklenburgh Square quite a bit later than the preceding four, and her residence occurred at least partially during the Blitz. Her connection is the most tenuous – she lived there a very short time, and spent much of the time she lived at her home in the country. When she left Mecklenburgh Square, she left London for good. Many of the homes in the square were leveled in the Blitz.

The most engaging thing about the book was the overview of the intellectual life of the five women and their social group – it was a veritable who’s who of interwar British literary and scholarly society, and just tracking the other women authors who were mentioned as a delight – Rose Macauley, Elizabeth Bowen, Agatha Christie (of course – although she wasn’t a part of this very Bohemian group of individuals), Winifred Holtby and Vera Brittain are just some of the names mentioned. 

After finishing, I picked up Nicola Beauman’s A Very Great Profession, which covers many of these same novelists. And  it inspired, at least in part, the next few months of my reading plans. I don’t think that there could be a higher recommendation than that?

Triple Play: More YA

A Deadly EducationA Deadly Education by Naomi Novick
Rating: ★★★½
Series: The Scholomance #1
Publication Date: September 29, 2020
Pages: 336
Genre: supernatural, YA
Project: halloween bingo

A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets.

There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere.

El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.

I read this book for my Dark Academia square, which is one of my favorite literary tropes. This one was an interesting take on the legend of the “scholomance,” which is a fabled school of black magic in Romania, especially the region of Transylvania, built and run by the devil. The MC, El (Galadriel – yes, her mom is the sort of witch who names her daughter Galadriel) is a witch who is basically prophesied as the witch who is likely to destroy the world with her magic. The Scholomance itself is a place of desperate risk, where child-eating monsters roam the corridors and the students regularly die. Graduation essentially involves running the gauntlet of hungry monsters after 4 years worth of prep, and by design not everyone makes it through.

And man, she does have some strong magic. Everything she does, whether she intends to do it for good, more or less turns to evil. She asks for a spell to clean her dishes, she gets a spell that incinerates the kitchen. Dishes are clean, though, right?

In addition, being around her is a stressful, unhappy experience for her peers – just being in the same room with her is unpleasant. This has the effect of making El into a misanthrope – she hates pretty much everyone as a defensive mechanism, i.e., you can’t hate me, I hate you first.

However, this book has a sequel, and as the story progresses it seems that, maybe, everything is not as dire as it seems. I’m intrigued enough that I want to read the sequel, but not intrigued enough to buy it. It’s on hold at my library.

The Wide StarlightThe Wide Starlight by Nicole Lesperance
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: February 16, 2021
Pages: 320
Genre: fantasy, supernatural
Project: halloween bingo

Never whistle at the Northern Lights, the legend goes, or they'll sweep down from the sky and carry you away.

Sixteen-year-old Eline Davis knows it's true. She was there ten years ago, on a frozen fjord in Svalbard, Norway, the night her mother whistled at the lights and then vanished.

Now, Eli lives an ordinary life with her dad on Cape Cod. But when the Northern Lights are visible over the Cape for just one night, she can't resist the possibility of seeing her mother again. So she whistles--and it works. Her mother appears, with snowy hair, frosty fingertips and a hazy story of where she's been all these years. And she doesn't return alone.

Along with Eli's mother's reappearance come strange, impossible things. Narwhals swimming in Cape Cod Bay, meteorites landing in Eli's yard, and three shadowy princesses with ominous messages. It's all too much, too fast, and Eli pushes her mother away. She disappears again--but this time, she leaves behind a note that will send Eli on a journey across continents, to the northern tip of the world:

I read this book for A Grimm Tale, although I initially hoped that it would work for Lost in Space. It really didn’t. This book has a gorgeous cover, which is basically why I selected it, along with the intriguing summary.

I have mixed feelings about the execution, though. It used several Norse fairy tales as a springboard for the story, including one of my favorites, East of Sun, West of the Moon. I’ve read several retellings of that fairy tale previously, all of which I ultimately like better than this one. These include: East by Edith Pattou, Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George and Ice by Sarah Beth Durst.

This is a debut novel by Nicole Lesperance, and she definitely has potential. I’ll watch her career with interest, although this book itself didn’t 100% work for me.

Aurora RisingAurora Rising by Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff
Rating: ★★★
Series: Aurora Rising #
Publication Date: May 7, 2019
Pages: 473
Genre: sci fi, YA
Project: halloween bingo

The year is 2380, and the graduating cadets of Aurora Academy are being assigned their first missions. Star pupil Tyler Jones is ready to recruit the squad of his dreams, but his own boneheaded heroism sees him stuck with the dregs nobody else in the Academy would touch…

A cocky diplomat with a black belt in sarcasm
A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates
A smart-ass techwiz with the galaxy’s biggest chip on his shoulder
An alien warrior with anger management issues
A tomboy pilot who’s totally not into him, in case you were wondering

And Ty’s squad isn’t even his biggest problem—that’d be Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley, the girl he’s just rescued from interdimensional space. Trapped in cryo-sleep for two centuries, Auri is a girl out of time and out of her depth. But she could be the catalyst that starts a war millions of years in the making, and Tyler’s squad of losers, discipline-cases and misfits might just be the last hope for the entire galaxy.

This is the second YA science fiction collaboration between Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff that I have read, as back in 2018 I read their entire Illuminae trilogy in hardback. That was a really, really interesting format – not a graphic novel, but lots of illustrations to augment the texts. This one is a more straightforward narrative, that starts at the Aurora Academy, which is basically a military training program that sorts the students into various sub-specialties. Tyler Jones, the star pupil of the Academy leaves the Academy the night before the process by which squads are selected on an unsanctioned rescue mission. Being first in his class, he should have the pick of the program for his squad, but because he’s late returning, he ends up with several students that no one else wanted.

And there it is. We have our rag-tag band of heroes. The only that the book needs is a rogue secret mission where no one really knows what is going on, and especially not our heroes. Which is what comes next, and it’s a lot of fun. There’s excitement, diplomacy, a Guardians of the Galaxy style heist, and the loss of an important squad member.

I’m not a huge sci fi fan, so 3 stars from me for a sci fi book is actually a really solid rating. In the absence of the “Lost in Space” square, I would not have read this book. But, one of the things that I really enjoy about playing Halloween Bingo is that it forces me out of my Golden Age mystery/vintage women fiction rut. I pick up more of the “hot” or “current” releases in the months of September and October than probably the remaining ten months combined (that’s probably an overstatement, but not by a lot).

This basically wraps up my Halloween bingo months – there were other books that didn’t make it into a review, but I’m ready to move on, so we’ll leave it at that!