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What I read in January 2020 (Part 1)

The books featured in this post were ones I borrowed from the library.

Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland is a very interesting novel. The language in the opening pages indicates the frame of mind of the main character. It might put some readers off! She works in a bookshop in Yorkshire called Lost for Words and very slowly reveals why she is happier with books than with people. The story develops with the past affecting the present. There is plenty to keep the pages turning. Questions for reading groups are included. I enjoyed this book, which reminded me of a novel by Margaret Forster in which a female protagonist had a hidden past, although the details were completely different.

Faithful by Alice Hoffman also has a young female main character, affected by past events. This story is set in the USA. I found that I could only read one or two chapters at a time, partly because the American setting and some of the vocabulary were more difficult for me to follow than books written in UK English. There were abbreviations, which I did not understand at all. I have to mentally translate some that I recognise, for example, ER to emergency room and then to casualty or accident and emergency (A&E). It is a good story. At the end I was puzzling about which of the characters the title, Faithful, referred to. One stands out, but there were perhaps others. Although the opening is quite miserable it is a hopeful book. I enjoyed it.

What I read in May 2019 (Part 4)

Due to Bank holidays and being a bit under the weather at times, I read and enjoyed another two books in May.

The first was Lady’s Maid by Margaret Forster. This is a historical novel about the life of a maid to Elizabeth Barrett (later Browning). It covers most of the life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and some time after her death. According to the list of works by Margaret Forster at the beginning of this library book, she also wrote a biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and edited a book of her poetry. (She had done her research!)

Lady’s Maid includes some narrative, which paints a picture of what it was like to live in the days of travel by stagecoach. The historical background is also seamlessly woven into the story. I have enjoyed other books by Margaret Forster, but this one is a masterpiece. Reading over 500 pages was a pleasure.

 

The second book I read was The Wrong Messiah: The real story of Jesus of Nazareth by Nick Page. My reason for reading this book was that the author was one of the speakers on a writers’ weekend I was about to attend. I wanted to be aware of his writing style beforehand. This book is extremely well-researched. It includes maps, diagrams and photographs. The material is arranged geographically with most chapters named after a town or region. In spite of being backed up by 22 pages of notes and 8 pages of bibliography this book is extremely readable. Many traditions, which have come into being in the last 2000 years, are questioned and an alternative (convincing) view put forward. The Biblical accounts have been considered as a whole, resulting in a unified timeline for Jesus’ life. I recommend this book very highly.

As it happened I did not have an opportunity for any conversation with the author, but enjoyed listening to him speak. The exercises he set were both challenging and fun.

 

What I read in March 2019 (Part 1)

I have already reviewed The Shepherd’s Life. When I took it back to the library I borrowed Lonnings and Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine.

The authors of Lonnings: A walk through Cumbria’s ancient trackways, Alan Cleaver and Lesley Park, are two of my acquaintances. This is an unusual book in that it has been hand-made (or should that be hand-crafted?) by Alan Cleaver. I read its 64 pages in a single sitting. It is well-researched, well-written and includes photos and verse, some in dialect. I intend to make a note of the locations of some of the lonnings with a view to exploring them. Some lonnings are similar to holloways. I have a post about holloways among other things.

Hand-made book with ribbon bookmark

Alan Cleaver is very entertaining on Twitter – @thelonningsguy.

By contrast Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman is fiction. It is a gripping story. I could hardly put it down and returned it to the library two days later having read it from cover to cover. There are slight similarities with other books I have read. I was reminded of Margaret Forster’s How to measure a cow and a book by Josephine Tey I read a very long time ago, possibly Miss Pym Disposes, but I am not quite sure.

The other book, which I have finished reading is Evelyn Underhill’s Prayer Book, edited by Robyn Wrigley-Carr. This was a book I failed to win on Twitter. However, when I saw a copy, it was so attractively produced that I bought it. I have been using it in my quiet times over several months. (There are 160 sections including at least one prayer.)

Book with end flaps

Although the editor has modernised some of the language, I found that much of it was still rather dated. The prayers had been collected together more than 75 years ago. There are some beautiful, familiar prayers, but the language would still be difficult for most young people. This is a book to give to an older person or for an ordinand to study. I shall return to it to find the prayers, which I knew in my youth and some which I particularly liked that were new to me.