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2023 Reading and Writing Challenge Reviews 1/12

Writing Challenge

Progress towards writing goals:

  • Folly published √

  • Short story collection published √

  • Given approval for Lido projects √

  • First school workshop in the diary √

Reading Challenge

  • 3 books from library list √

  • 2 books from Kindle √

  • 4 books from my shelf √

  • 4 books from my 'to buy' list √

  • 1 audiobook √

This has been an entertaining month in the Loten household when it comes to reading. All of a sudden, both boys have decided that the reading challenge is a positive thing and seem determined to out-read me. Arthur completed his 'reach a million words by Feb 10th' with weeks to spare and is now aiming for a second million by the end of the year and having set his own reading challenge in competition with a friend, Henry has been motoring through his own reading list. He rarely reads anything except historical non-fiction but I was delighted when he plonked himself on the sofa and asked me to give him a list of fiction books I thought he should read. Of course, I found this a real chore and hated every minute of it!

It's been a very productive month writing-wise as well. I managed to get both Folly and my short story collection, The Silent Pool and other stories published in plenty of time for the Literary Festival and now have ideas for two more short story collections I want to start putting together. I've also hit 30,000 words on the second book in my Avonstow series and have sorted out my character issues on Blythewode and begun editing that. Obviously, there's still an awfully long way to go on both of them and a huge amount of work to do, but it's been a productive start to the year and I feel like I'm making good progress. Next month is going to be slower as it's a busy month work-wise, but there's still a few days where I can squeeze in some writing thankfully.

The Literary Festival is all ready to go and with just a few days left before the launch of Folly I'm starting to feel the first twinges of excitement. I've run through possible interview questions with the lady who is doing my interview and I've ordered the books in, so now it's just a case of waiting and hoping that at least a few people turn up to see us!! We've been twisting arms all over town, so fingers crossed there'll be a few in the audience.



Murder In The Garden Of God – Eleanor Herman (The story of a young girl with an ambitious family who marries into the family of a future Pope. The consequences of that ambition for everyone concerned are far-reaching and the story is a fascinating one. This is the first of Eleanor Herman’s books that I’ve read which has focused on a single person and while the style is similar to her other books, there’s obviously a lot more detail included because the subject is much narrower. Unusually, I hadn’t heard of any of the people featured in the book – I only picked it up because of the author, but I’ll be doing more research about the family now.)

The Yellow House – Martin Gayford (an interesting re-telling of the nine weeks that Van Gogh and Gaugin lived together in Arles. I think the thing that surprised me was quite how quickly Van Gogh’s mental deterioration happened.)

Mistress of the Vatican – Eleanor Herman (another book that shows just how difficult it was for women to exert power in previous centuries. Even when they did manage to break free of their expected roles, they may have been courted for the rewards they could bestow, but beneath the surface pleasantries they were regarded as evil for having thwarted male expectations. None of these women were perfect, but they were certainly no worse than their male counterparts and I always find myself being more sympathetic to their negative traits because they had so much more to fight against.)

Britannia’s Daughters – Ursula Stuart Mason (story of the founding and continuation of the WRNS. I read this for research purposes but found it far more interesting than I was expecting to. Useful as well!)


Silver Blooks Flower Shop – K.T. Dady (full review of this to come on 1st Feb, but thoroughly enjoyed it.)


Rule Britannia – Daphne du Maurier (reading this post-Brexit and post-COVID was quite a scary experience. There was so much of it that I could see happening, but the most interesting part for me was how little the sense of British resistance has changed. The book was written in the 1970s, but apart from a few minor details, it could have been set in the modern day. The kinds of ‘pay-back’ tactics employed are exactly the ones I could see Cornish people enacting today.)


Murder and Mendelssohn – Kerry Greenwood (I only have a few Phryne books left to read, so I’ve been saving the last couple so I could spread the joy out. This particular one didn’t make it to the TV series so I went into it blind. It didn’t matter. The incestuous nature of relationships in close-knit groups seems to be the same no matter what the time period or nature of the group.)

Eight Detectives – Alex Pavesi (really clever book, meta-fiction done well. Eight permutations of the classic detective story formula, each discussed in the following chapter by the characters that hold the whole thing together. Interesting structure and theories discussed. Definitely worth a read if you’re a fan of the detective novel genre.)


The Vintage Shop of Second Chances – Libby Page (Full review available here. Loved it!)


The Boy In The Photo – Nicole Trope (a sign of a good thriller is the speed I read it – I got through this in one evening. The fact I worked out what was going on quite early on did nothing to decrease the tension – if anything, it made it worse because I was constantly waiting for the shoe to fall.)

The Silent Wife – Kerry Fisher (thriller that captures the claustrophobia that comes with living in an emotionally abusive marriage. Whilst there is some physical violence, it is the threat of it that is far scarier. Even just reading it, I could feel my throat closing up in panic at times.)


The Long Song – Andrea Levy (comic and heartbreaking in turn. It really brings to life the realities of day-to-day life during slavery. I think one of the reasons it works so well is because it doesn’t just treat the slaves as victims, they are people with other cares beyond slavery and a hierarchy all of their own. Reading the author notes at the end, Levy makes it clear that this was something she felt passionately was important. It has enough hope at the end to leave the reader satisfied but this does nothing to take away the horrors of some of the events.)

The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett (the book examines how easy it is to lose yourself in various situations and circumstances. It examines familial relationships and the sacrifices people are prepared to make in order to live a better life. The plot centres around the separation of twin sisters Stella and Desiree but the title reflects the lives of so many of the other characters as well.)


The Other Half of Augusta Hope – Joanna Glen (a really interesting structure to this book, the purpose of which only becomes clear towards the end. We’re never sure whether events are real or imagined because of the nature of Augusta’s character, but it isn’t important. Whatever the case is, they are real to her and so they matter to us.)


The Eagle of the Ninth – Rosemary Sutcliffe (children’s book that’s been on my shelf for about twenty years. It’s never particularly appealed before but recently I’d read an article that sung its praises so I finally decided to give it a go. I’m so glad I did. It was a proper old-fashioned adventure story, but it felt so fresh, perhaps because of being set in Roman times. Thoroughly enjoyed it.)


The Story of King Arthur and His Knights - Howard Pyle (beautifully illustrated collection of stories about the legendary king and some of his followers. Strangely, no mention of Lancelot and the stories do not go as far as his arrival at Camelot, or the subsequent collapse of the court.)


The Chekhov Collection of Short Stories – Anton Chekhov (Audiobook read by Richard Armitage. I love listening to this narrator – he’s one of my favourite actors and he could make even the dullest books interesting. I’ve never read any Chekhov before, so I came to this collection with an open mind. He is very Russian in style – fairly obvious perhaps – but what I mean is that all the Russian literature I’ve read is very similar in its themes. The main characters are usually very introspective, with a large helping of narcissism thrown in. There is also a lot of angst and soul-searching in the plots. I think that’s why I like them so much – they always make me feel better about my own life! By the end, there has usually been an agonising death or two as well. The Betrothed and The Black Monk are perfect examples of this! However, I think Ward No. 6 was my favourite of the collection. Set in a mental asylum, the doctor ends up an inmate of his own institution and experiences first-hand what his lackadaisical attitude has inflicted on others.)

The Complete Edgar Allen Poe Part 1 – Edgar Allen Poe (Some brilliant stories – The Murders on the Rue Morgue and The Masque Of The Red Death among them. However, there is a huge over-reliance on the supernatural in many of the stories. I get that it’s Poe’s style, but often it stretches things too far. Some of the stories are just downright dull. When they’re good, they’re very good, but there’s a lot of ‘meh’ in between!)

Book of the Month?

The books I read this month were all so different in character that it was difficult to compare them to choose which was my favourite. However, in the end I decided to go with Rosemary Sutcliffe's The Eagle Of The Ninth simply because it was the one that had taken me longest to get around to reading and contrary to what I'd expected, I found it a gripping read and finished it far quicker than I had expected to! It might be older than most of the children's books I read, but it was brilliant. Also - how beautiful is this cover?

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