Reading Diary

Apologies for absence. It was a rough summer because of family health issues and I didn’t feel like writing or reading much. However autumn is my favourite time of year for curling up with (mostly moody) historical fiction and this reignited my love of getting lost in a good book.

The Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakroborty

I felt like escaping into some epic fantasy during the summer. After reading the wonderful The Golem and The Jinni I wanted to know more about djinn mythology and this very popular trilogy seemed just the ticket. Nahri is a street con-artist in 18th Century Cairo with a mysterious healing ability. One day she accidently summons a djinn and is transported to the mystical city of Daevabad. Here she finds out her true identity and is quickly caught up in local politics. She meets Ali, the prince who is trying to make life better for the downtrodden Shafit, who are part-human, part-djinn.

It was good to read a non-white, non-male fantasy author but sadly I didn’t think the djinn mythology was explained terribly well and it was waaaaay too long, with the final book unnecessarily nudging 800 pages. I only got through all three books because I wanted something un-taxing and I’d already paid for the set. It was fine but no more than that. 3/5

The Mercies by Kiran Millwoord Hargrave

“But now she knows she was foolish to believe that evil existed only out there. It was here, among them, walking on two legs, passing judgement with a human tongue.”

This bleak historical fiction is set on an isolated island on the edge of the Arctic Circle and is grounded in real life events. On Christmas Eve, 1617, practically the entire male population of Vardo was killed in a freak storm while fishing. In this fictionalised account, we focus on Maren, whose brother and father as well as her betrothed are all lost at sea. Beset by grief, the women of the village try to carry on with life on this barren island where not even a single tree grows. Reports that the women have started to become threateningly independent and are fishing for themselves causes a noted Scottish witch hunter, Absalom Cornet, to be sent to the island to investigate. He takes a young wife, Ursa, from Norway who has no idea what kind of man he truly is. Ursa is ill-equipped to run a home, let alone one in such a harsh environment, so she employs Maren to help her. As Absalom’s investigations into the local women’s adherence to the Church esclates, the pair become dangerously close.

It’s hard to convey just how much I hated Absalom which shows just how well crafted this book was. After feeling lacklustre about reading, I sped through this in a week. It is both captivating and heart-wrenching. If you’ve read Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, this has a very similar feel. 4.5/5

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

“Words define us, they explain us, and, on occasion, they serve to control or isolate us.”

While I normally change genres with each book, I dove straight into another historical fiction, albeit one with a more gentle tone. Like The Mercies, this story is too based on fact.

Esme spends most of her childhood underneath the sorting table where her father works at The Scriptorium, which is essentially a garden shed in Oxford. This was a real place where the first Oxford English Dictionary was pieced together in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

Esme is as intrigued by words as her widowed lexicographer father and one day finds a slip with the word ‘bondmaid’ written on under the table and decides to keep it for herself. As she gets older she realises that there are many words used by women, particularly lower class women, that will never make it into the Dictionary.

This is a perfect book for anyone who loves words for their own sake, like Esme. It’s beautifully written and nicely evokes the Oxford of the time with its all too apparent class divisions. Esme and her Da are enormously likeable characters as is her godmother Ditte who is treading her own academic path through life. A wonderful feminist take on the origins of the OED. 4.75/5

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

“I was still all in a state of innocence, but that innocence once lost, is lost forever.”

This gothic tale from 1983 has been a stage play in the West End for many years (my Dad fell asleep in it).

The novella was rather spoilt for me by a review on Goodreads, not because the writer divulged any twists but because they said it was a horror novel that caused them to sleep with the light on. I read it constantly expecting to be terrified – wimp that I am – but this never happened. The Woman in Black is NOT a horror but a classic ghost story.

Young solicitor Arthur Kipps is sent to sort through the estate of a deceased recluse, Alice Drablow. During the funeral he sees a woman in black with ‘a wasted face’ and again at the Drablow house where he has several disturbing experiences. Whenever he mentions this woman or the Drablow house to the local villagers, they clam up.

This was an extremely readable and atmospheric creepy story and I think I would have enjoyed it more if I’d approached it as such. I did guess the mystery before the reveal as well as the ending, but it was good read for Halloween weekend. 3.75/5

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

“And, though there should be a world of difference between the smile of a man and the bared fangs of a wolf, with Joss Merlyn they were one and the same.

I felt a little nervous about this one because it sounded so dark. Set in the early 19th century, a young woman, Mary Yellan, goes to live with her Aunt Patience at Jamaica Inn after her mother dies. Her Aunt’s husband turns out to be a vile, abusive bully and no one but his cronies visit the Inn. Mary is isolated with her Aunt who is living in such fear of her husband’s moods, she is no company at all. Mary soon suspects her Uncle is involved with smuggling and probably dealings far more nefarious than that.

I really liked Mary as our heroine. She is strong and speaks her mind, even when confronted with her Uncle telling her he will break every bone in her body if she questions him. Oh man, Joss Merlyn is a truly awful and brilliantly written character.

Du Maurier creates a fantastic brooding air with an ideal setting on the treacherous moors during the autumn/winter. She really ramps up the suspense when Mary is put at risk and events unravel. However, I did not like the romance in the slightest and I wished it hadn’t ended the way it did. Enthralling but not as stunning as Rebecca. 4.25/5

How have you been? Which Daphne du Maurier novel should I read next?

19 Comments

Filed under Book Review

19 responses to “Reading Diary

  1. Next DdM – The House on the Strand! A very atypical story from her, and really intriguing.

    How could your dad sleep through The Woman in Black play! Now that was quite terrifying, and I agree that the book is almost not related, being more of a traditional ghost story; the play made me jump in my seat and gasp several times, which is not something I have ever done before or since.

    I shall buy The Dictionary of Lost Words for my husband (he used to be a librarian!), and The Mercies for me, so thank you for your reviews.

    I so hope that your family will be OK, and send you and them best wishes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jillie

      I was really fascinated by the time travel aspect of House on the Strand so thanks for the recommendation.

      My Dad was woken up by one of the jump scares in the play and his jelly beans were thrown up in the air, haha.

      Thanks for your kind wishes. Hope all is well with you.

      Like

  2. Hamamelis

    Hi Tara, things have been very difficult here too.
    As always it was lovely to read your reading diary. I can’t take any bleak, so I will have a look at the Lost words and the Djinn one.
    I have read a few enjoyable books: Spirited byJulie Cohen, about the interest in spiritism (is that an English word?) in Victorian England. It takes a while to get into but it unfolds interestingly and has some surprises. I also read Sistersong by Lucy Holland, a nice read too. No Circe, but then that is hard to beat.
    Earlier this summer I read The island of sea women, historical fiction about the women divers in Korea during WWII. it would have been too bleak for me now, but it is very good. I also read the All Girl Fillig station’s last reunion by Fannie Flag (Fried green tomatoes) and it is a mostly upbeat read, incredible story about the American women fighter pilots during WWII.
    I hope the health issues in your family will be resolved, best wishes for you!

    Like

    • Thanks Hamamelis, Treatment is going well so far.

      Sorry to hear things are not so good with you. Best to avoid dark books at times like these.

      I’ve been interested in Sistersong so will add that to the list. The book about Spiritualism sounds worth a look too.

      Like

  3. I’m sorry things have been difficult with family health; I hope matters and health are improving. Thank you so much for the recommendation of The Dictionary of Lost Words! A longtime family friend, now deceased, was the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary; such a fascinating history! If you haven’t read The Professor and the Madman, by Simon winchester, it is the history of the OED’s origins, and the decades long correspondence and collaboration between the first editor and an American who sent him over 10,000 word submissions. Great book! Now I’ll seek out this novel.

    Like

  4. P.S. I haven’t read Daphne du Maurier in years, so no recommendation there; but if you like creepy novels that include ghosts, try Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger.

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  5. My Cousin Rachel would be my tip on the du Maurier front, even though I can’t remember a thing about it. 😉 I have long been meaning to read The Woman in Black, so thanks for the reminder, and The Dictionary of Lost Words sounds like my kind of book!

    I know recent months have been hard for you lately, but I am confident the treatment will do the trick.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love reading your book lists. I now read through you. 😀 SO strange that I read so little after having read so much my whole life.
    Can’t help with DdM novels as I haven’t read any, I don’t know why they never seem interesting enough for me. I did re-read the Discovery of Witches trilogy though. Really enjoy that.

    Like

    • We share a love of that trilogy Ines.

      I know it’s easy to get out of the habit of reading,like anything.

      I strongly recommend trying Rebecca. I was put off it for so long and it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.

      Like

  7. Lady Jane Grey

    Wow, seems to be a strong reading period of time, dear T. – strong notes of over 4… What would have become of us without books?!
    I‘m sorry you‘re having a difficult time and hope our T. is a Prophet here with being confident the treatment will do the trick. Thinking of you and family.
    Big hug !

    Like

  8. Hey Tara,
    I really admire your ability to read currently. Sadly I still can’t get to the end of a page without tuning out.
    Hug,
    Portia xx

    Like

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