On the Bookshelf – August

It’s been a month with a varied reading list – and a couple of books that I wouldn’t normally reach for but which I thoroughly enjoyed. Thanks as always to Adventure Spaniel for modelling the books…

The Dictionary of Lost Words, by Pip Williams

Any book that contains the word Scriptorium is, in my book (no pun intended), a good one. It’s a word that brings to mind the store in York that I love – Imaginarium – which is a word that could have been invented just for me.

The premise reads:

In 1901 the word “bondmaid” was discovered missing from the Oxford English Dictionary – this is the story of the girl who stole it.

Sarah, my 22yo daughter read this when we were in Cairns and when she said she loved the story, how could I not take her recommendation? Sarah, you see, isn’t much of a reader – reading isn’t, she says, the most efficient use of her time.

(As an aside, she did say that she wanted to know what happened to the protagonist’s hand as she didn’t feel that was explained sufficiently. When I pointed out that it was, in fact, dealt with on page 3, in the prologue, her response was, ‘Well, I didn’t think that was a proper part of the book…’ sigh…)

The main theme of this book isn’t just words and their meanings, but how the legitimacy of words has historically been one decided by the values and experience of men. It’s a timely discussion.

This is historical fiction at its best and had me in tears more than once. My only problem with the book was the ending – it works, but at the same time it feels a tad, I don’t know, rushed. Sarah said the same…which leads me to the most special part of this book – it’s the first time I’ve been able to have a discussion about a book with my daughter. That’s priceless.

Losing the Plot, by Elizabeth Coleman

I think I bought this at an airport somewhere and it’s sat on my to be read pile ever since.

A really cool concept and an enjoyable read, although it does take a not so subtle swipe at the category romance genre which, on behalf of my friends who write in this genre, I tried not to take seriously. Besides, I’m sure it was intended to be tongue in cheek.

Where The Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens

I’ll say right at the outset that this is not something I’d usually read. I’m not into literary style books and I’m not normally into books that are short-listed for this or that award or top bestseller lists. I’m not sure whether that’s reverse snobbery or simply that they tend to be more serious in nature and darker in feel and I like a little more light in the books I choose to escape into.

To be honest I really thought this was going to be one of those books that I’d need to set aside for a few weeks – not because it wasn’t good, because it was, but because it had gotten into my head to the extent that I was dreaming it, and they were unsettling dreams. 

This is a book that stays with you long after you’ve finished it – like Sulari Gentil’s Crossing the Lines and Joanna Glen’s The Other Half of Augusta Hope.

There’s absolutely a bleakness here and a tangle and dread that comes from the setting and Kya’s life as one by one she’s abandoned. Yet, for all that, there’s strength, resilience and, dare I say it, little glimmers of hope.

The perfect book club book.

All The Lonely People, by Mike Gayle

Mike Gayle is very quickly becoming an auto-buy author for me and while this one was a little different to others of his that I’ve read, I loved it. Each of the characters were absolutely alive to me.

The Flat Share, by Beth O’Leary

It’s taken me a long time to catch up on this one, but I’m glad that I did – it was my read of the month.

Not only is it an unusual love story with characters that shone on the page, but there’s a very current “gas-lighting” theme that O’Leary has wound through the story that made me love Leon more than I already did.

Rain Music, by Di Morrissey

I picked this one up at the Op shop months ago and it’s taken me this long to read it.

Morrissey sets each of her books in different regions of Australia – to the extent that the location becomes the story and the main character, while the main characters themselves are left a tad two-dimensional. She sells millions of copies so it’s obviously a technique that works for her. 

This one was set in Far North Queensland with the history of the region wound through the storyline via letters – a technique Morrissey has used in a number of books. While I was interested in the history that was brought up – especially since we haven’t long come back from visiting up there – I didn’t feel as though this was one of her best.

A Shot In The Dark, by Lynne Truss

There’s a series of novels written by Shane Maloney, set in 1990’s melbourne and starring Murray Whelan – a slightly shambolic middle range political aide to the local Labor party member.

A Shot In The Dark is set in 1950’s Brighton and the protagonist is Constable Twitten, a young and naive policeman who has been transferred six times in two months from other constabularies because he’s too clever. Yet, I’m reminded of Maloney’s Murray.

In any case this is a rollicking and twisty tale and I just adored it and can’t wait to read the next in the series.

My Last Supper, by Jay Rayner, read by Jay Rayner

I read just one audiobook in August – partly because I listen when I walk at lunchtime and after work and my steps were down a tad in August (it’s okay, I sill averaged almost 12,000 steps a day) and partly because I listened to a few more podcasts.

Anyways, the book I read or, rather, listened to, was Jay Rayner’s My Last Supper. The book has come about because the question he is most asked is some version of, “what would be your last supper?” He writes:

The idea of last suppers…has long fascinated me. It seems such a simple question. You are about to die. What do you choose to eat? But it isn’t simple at all. For a start, we eat to keep ourselves alive. That’s the whole point of consuming food. It’s literally a bodily function. But if you knew your death was imminent, the basic reason for the meal would have gone…The bottom line is this: last suppers are a brilliant idea, but they are wasted on the very people who are eligible for them… And so I came up with a plan: I would stage my own last supper now, when I was fit and well and able to enjoy it. Because this really is the right time. While my own death may not be imminent, I have been forced in recent years to think about my mortality.

Jay Rayner, My last supper

Jay Rayner is one of my favourite food writers – he writes beautifully, pulls no punches in regards to his opinions (not all of which I agree with), and is not at all afraid to put his money where his mouth is ie walk his own talk.

Despite the title, this isn’t at all morbid (I, in fact, found it quite life-affirming), nor is Rayner in search of the perfect meal. Instead, he’s telling the story of his life (so far) through a meal that he’s putting together (complete with playlist) to share with his nearest and dearest. Memoir through food, if you like.

I wouldn’t have the focus required to come up with a last supper as such, but a playlist? That’s another story…and one that has me thinking.

This book is one for the foodies, but I enjoyed it – and Rayner’s almost sardonic narration – as much as I expected that I would.

This post also appears on my author blog.

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Author: Jo

I write, I bake, I chase sunrises.

18 thoughts

  1. I really enjoyed The Flat Share. Glad you did, too. Judging from the book’s cover, I will like The Dictionary of Lost Words, too. Even though, I am a librarian, I often times judge books by their cover art. Pinning this post for consideration when my book club selects its October title.

  2. Jo, Thanks for the book list. I read The Flatshare and Where the Crawdads Sing and loved both even though they’re totally different. The wetlands that Delia Owens described in her book came alive for me when I went paddling on Toronto islands. Beth O’Leary recently wrote The Switch which I have in my queue to borrow from the library. I just installed Kindle. I’m going to amazon site for your books. #lovin’life linky

  3. Hi, Jo –
    Sarah’s line about reading not being an efficient use of time still cracks me up. A book about words and who decides if they stay or go is totally my cup of tea. I’ll keep a lookout for that one.
    I’m also with you on Where the Crawdads Sing. I don’t usually like overly-hyped books. But this one I thoroughly enjoyed. You are absolutely correct — it is an awesome Book Club read. It generates TONS of discussion. If you check on Goodreads reviewers either love or hate it. There doesn’t seem to be much in between!

    PS – Adventure Spaniel definitely makes a fantastic book model. I hope that he gets paid for his efforts! 😀

  4. Right, Jay Rayner’s book is next on my Audible list. I’ve just discovered audio books and have enjoyed them so much so far that I’ve even written about them this week!

    Your review was timely!

    SSG xxx

  5. A really nice assortment here Jo – and great overviews of each. The only one I’ve read is the Crawdads – still floats through my head every now and then – I think it’s the what if’s – you know….what if her mum had taken them with her, what if she hadn’t lost that lovely relationship and then refound it later…..etc. It was just such a well written book.

  6. Lots of great lists! I wasn’t so sure about Where the Crawdads Sing either but was so glad I read it because it really is one of those stories that stands out and sticks with you.

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