What Was I Reading in September 2021 ?

September was a month filled with rain , so what better time to curl up with a good book, a cosy cuppa and a comfy cat? My reading was a bit random , but overall I thought it was a good mix of fiction and non-fiction. Do you like me, read both fiction and non fiction? Let me know! Some books I pick because I have heard good things about them, some because a cover appeals to me ,and some are simply impromptu choices.

Does your cat want to be involved when you read?

September reading started with this book.

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

In 1901, the word ‘Bondmaid’ was discovered missing from the Oxford English Dictionary. This is the story of the girl who stole it.

Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the ‘Scriptorium’, a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford  English Dictionary. Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day a slip of paper containing the word ‘bondmaid’ flutters to the floor. Esme rescues the slip and stashes it in an old wooden case that belongs to her friend, Lizzie, a young servant in the big house. Esme begins to collect other words from the Scriptorium that are misplaced, discarded or have been neglected by the dictionary men. They help her make sense of the world.

Over time, Esme realises that some words are considered more important than others, and that words and meanings relating to women’s experiences often go unrecorded. While she dedicates her life to the Oxford English Dictionary, secretly, she begins to collect words for another dictionary: The Dictionary of Lost Words.

Set when the women’s suffrage movement was at its height and the Great War loomed, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a lost narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men. It’s a delightful, lyrical and deeply thought-provoking celebration of words, and the power of language to shape the world and our experience of it.

I thought this was a beautiful cover.

My Review.

The book was a gift and I had it since Christmas but felt no urgency to read it. I started to read and was gradually drawn in, stories of motherless girls have a particular appeal for me, as that was much of my childhood experience. Esme is lucky that Lizzie, the kitchen maid is devoted to her and helps steer her through to womanhood. Her childhood is odd and there is no mention of her going to school regularly. Later, she is sent to boarding school, which isn’t a happy experience. A solitary and peculiar child, her ideas are shaped by the male lexicographers and her adored father. Without their influence would she have ever considered the importance of words? But she does, and as she grows up realises that women’s experience is negated and marginalised. While it isn’t a fast-paced read, I found it interesting enough to keep reading. It is on the more literary end of the spectrum.

Escape to the French Farmhouse by Jo Thomas.

Can she find her recipe for happiness?

Del and her husband Ollie moved to a beautiful village in Provence for a fresh start after years of infertility struggles. But six weeks after they arrive, they’re packing the removal van once more. As Del watches the van leave for England, she suddenly realises exactly what will make her happier…a new life in France – without Ollie.

Now alone, all Del has is a crumbling farmhouse, a mortgage to pay and a few lavender plants. What on earth is she going to do? Discovering an old recipe book at the market run by the rather attractive Fabian, Del starts to bake. But can her new-found passion really help her let go of the past and lead to true happiness?

A heart-warming tale about reclaiming your life, set amongst the lavender fields of Provence. Perfect escapism from the author of Late Summer in the Vineyard and The Honey Farm on the Hill.

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A sunny cover for this book

My Review. An escapist fantasy, that is easy to read and as beguiling as the sunshine on holiday. A mid-life woman starting over in France. Somehow, she has to make it work, as her options are limited and she has no intention of returning to Ollie or England. I had to suspend disbelief a little at the idea that an English woman could win praise for her cooking in France. Peopled with a lively mix of characters and with enough conflict to maintain my interest. I enjoyed this book.

So easy to get lost in a good book.

A Year at the Chateau by Dick and Angel Strawbridge.

Like many couples, Dick and Angel had long dreamed of living in France, but where others might settle for a modest bolthole in the French countryside, the Strawbridge’s fell in love with a 19th-century fairytale château, complete with 45 rooms, seven outbuildings, 12 acres of land and its own moat.

Throwing caution to the wind, Dick and Angel swapped their two-bedroom flat in East London for an abandoned and derelict castle in the heart of the Loire valley and embarked on the adventure of a lifetime with their two young children Arthur and Dorothy.

Sharing their full journey for the first time, A Year at the Château follows Dick and Angel from when they first moved to France in the depths of winter and found bedrooms infested with flies, turrets inhabited by bats, the wind rattling through cracked windows, and just one working toilet, which flushed into the moat, through to the monumental efforts that went into readying the château for their unforgettable wedding and their incredibly special first Christmas.

Along the way we’ll read glorious descriptions of rural life in France, with charming characters, delicious food and wonderful seasonal produce, together with the extraordinary list of renovations and restorations Dick and Angel completed, many of which were never shown on TV.

As warm and entertaining as their much-loved show, A Year at the Château is a truly irresistible story of adventure and heart, epic ambitions and a huge amount of hard graft. 

The inimitable Strawbridge family.

My Review.

I think you could enjoy this book even if you weren’t a fan of the TV show. It takes us back to almost the beginning of Dick and Angel’s story. If you have watched the show, you have probably marvelled at what they do and how they do it. Here we get the dual perspective, the practical from Dick and the creative and quirky from Angel. The practical logistics were daunting. They were made even more so by being in a foreign country, trying to talk to the tradesman, as well as deal with permits and paperwork. To keep the couple afloat financially, Dick had to complete contracted filming work in America. Leaving Angel alone with two kids under two, both trying to start the work towards their dream.

How do you read? Tablet, Phone , or physical book?

The Shelley Beach Writers’ Group by Jane Love. What do you do when your husband dumps you for his PA, your company goes broke and your nearly published novel is cancelled?

Gina, a barely 50-something corporate high-flier, is counting her losses when a chance meeting throws a sea change her way. A job as a house/dog-sitter – albeit in a minus one-star leaky cottage in windswept Shelly Beach – seems the perfect opportunity to relax and regroup. But Gina hasn’t counted on the locals, and soon finds herself reluctantly convening the writers’ group, babysitting, baking, seal-watching, bicycling . . . and perhaps even falling in love.

With a cast of unforgettable characters, The Shelly Beach Writers’ Group is an irresistible story of reinvention. 

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My Review.

I wanted to like this book, but it didn’t quite grab me, and I could easily have put it down. It had all the ingredients, but somehow the recipe was off for me. Perhaps it was the number of assets that Gina had, from an Amani coat to a spare diamond ring, and some serious designer clothes. The book seemed more like a monologue and that can get tedious. Some of the email repartee was fun.

My cat is seldom so well behaved.
The Real History Behind Foyle’s War by Rod Green

A comprehensive guide to the popular TV show, giving evidence the vast amount of historical research conducted prior to the writing of every episode

This fascinating book provides an intriguing insight into law and order on the home front between 1939 and 1945, comparing the Foyle’s War storylines and characters with real crimes and real people from the war years. It offers a wealth of background information on the living and working conditions for ordinary people during this time period, as well as on the role of the police in wartime and the multitude of crimes on which the plotlines of Foyle’s War are based. Complete with an introduction from the writer and creator of Foyle’s War himself, this is the ultimate companion guide for fans of the show, as well as anyone with an interest in military history.

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A well loved TV series based on fact.

My Review. An engrossing read providing the facts behind the fiction. Foyle’s War was exemplary for its authenticity. The book gives insight into what was a difficult job for authorities such as the police. Crime skyrocketed by 57%, the murder rate increased and their manpower declined. Looting and opportunistic thefts were increasing all the time. Representative of all the unsung heroes who kept on with their jobs during increasingly difficult times.

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The Oyster Catcher By Jo Thomas.

Dooleybridge, County Galway. Population: 482 (or thereabouts). The last place Fiona Clutterbuck expects to end up, alone, on her wedding night.
But after the words ‘I do’ have barely left her mouth, that’s exactly where she is – with only her sequined shoes and a crashed camper van for company.
One thing is certain: Fi can’t go back. So when the opportunity arises to work for Sean Thornton, the local oyster farmer, she jumps at the chance. Now Fi must navigate suspicious locals, jealous rivals and a wild, unpredictable boss if she’s to find a new life, and love, on the Irish coast. And nothing – not even a chronic fear of water – is going to hold her back.

Join Fi on her romantic, unpredictable adventure as she learns the rules of the ocean – and picks up a few pearls of Irish wisdom along the way.

My Review.

Having recently read a book by Jo Thomas, I eagerly selected this one. Subsequently, I realised this was her first published book. I can’t say I ever contemplated an oystercatcher as a hero and Sean is a man of few words. The only time he speaks is to talk about oyster catching. He’s also prone to moody silences, so not my idea of a hero. On several occasions, an abrupt transition in point of view confused me.

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Loved this dreamy cover. I picked this book after hearing the author speak.

Journey’s End By Jennifer Scoullar.

From the author of Currawong Creek and Turtle Reef comes a beautiful story of family, friendship and the healing power of love.

When Sydney botanist Kim Sullivan and her husband inherit Journey’s End, a rundown farm high on the Great Eastern Escarpment, they dream of one day restoring it to its natural state. Ten years later, however, Kim is tragically widowed. Selling up is the only practical option, so she and her children head to the mountains to organise the sale. The last thing Kim expects is for Journey’s End to cast its wild spell on them all.

The family decide to stay, and Kim forges on with plans to rewild the property, propagating plants and acquiring a menagerie of native animals. But wayward wildlife, hostile farmers and her own lingering grief make the task seem hopeless. That is, until she meets the mysterious Taj, a man who has a way with animals. Kim begins to feel that she might find love again. But Taj has his own tragic past – one that could drive a wedge between them that can not be overcome .

Published June 13th 2016 by Penguin Books Australia.

Can a city girl love country life?

My Review. It was easy to sympathise with Kim and her desire to get away from her previous life. The sadness of her husband’s death, and her son being bullied at school were two compelling reasons to escape. She plans to visit their property Journey’s End and get it up for sale

At first, the place resurrects painful memories of her husband, but the longer she spends there the more she feels at home. Her children settle easily and Kim finds solace in the beauty around her. Roped in by her neighbour to help care for injured wildlife, she gradually feels more at home.

Ben, the local real estate agent is attentive and then there is the enigmatic Taj, a man of few words. As her emotions begin to settle, she contemplates at least a year in this peaceful retreat. Somehow, the children persuade her to adopt a puppy, and life feels even more perfect. But perfection comes at a price and soon Kim is reluctantly at odds with neighbours and friends. Its a book of quiet charm, which beguiled me with its characters and setting.

The Tuscan Contessa by Dinah Jefferies.

A sweeping new novel from the number one Sunday Times bestselling author of The Tea Planter’s Wife.

In 1940s Tuscany, Contessa Sofia de’ Corsi’s peaceful home in a medieval villa among the olive groves has been upturned by the arrival of German soldiers. She is desperate to help her friends in the village fight back in any way she can, all while keeping her efforts secret from her husband Lorenzo, who fears for their safety. When Maxine, a no-nonsense Italian-American, arrives in Tuscany to help the resistance, the two women forge an uneasy alliance. Before long they find themselves entangled in a dangerous game with the Nazis, each trying to save the ones they love. 

‘Dinah Jefferies has a remarkable gift for conjuring up another time and place with lush descriptions, full of power and intensity’ Kate Furnivall.

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My Review.

It was interesting and enlightening to read a story set in wartime Italy. So much has been written about wartime France, so this was intriguing. The author set out a timeline of wartime events at the front of the book, which helped to contextualise the story. It was easy to visualise the time and setting while becoming involved in the lives of Sofia, the Contessa and Maxine. When reading a book like this, one asks the inevitable question, would I become involved, would I be so brave?

Digging Up Dirt by Pamela Hart

Renovations are hell. And that’s before you find the body beneath the floorboards. An intriguing mystery from a stylish new voice in crime fiction, for readers of Kerry Greenwood and Holly Throsby.

When your builder finds bones under the floor of your heritage home, what do you do? For TV researcher Poppy McGowan, the first step is to find out if the bones are human (which means calling in the cops and delaying her renovations) or animal (which doesn’t).

Unfortunately, ‘help’ comes in the form of Dr Julieanne Weaver, archaeologist, political hopeful, and Poppy’s old enemy. She declares the bones evidence of a rare breed of fat-tailed sheep,  and slaps a heritage order on the site. The resultant archaeological dig introduces Poppy to Tol Lang, the best-looking archaeologist she’s ever met – and also Julieanne’s boyfriend.

When Julieanne is found murdered in Poppy’s house, both she and the increasingly attractive Tol are considered suspects – and so Poppy uses her media contacts and news savvy to investigate other suspects. Did Julieanne have enemies in the right-wing Australian Family party, for which she was seeking preselection, or in the affiliated Radiant Joy Church? Or at the Museum of New South Wales, among her rivals and ex-boyfriends? And who was her secret lover?

Can Poppy save herself, and Tol … and finally get her house back? 

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My Review. I found this a fast-paced and entertaining read. It was interesting to see behind the scenes at the ABC and the museum. Poppy is an engaging character and her interactions with several of the suspects made amusing reading. Julieanne, the victim, is portrayed as cold and unlikable, and it was difficult to feel any sympathy for her. Potential sparks are flying between  Poppy and Tol although both are in relationships. I suspect you may not enjoy this book if you are a right-wing conservative voter, but for the rest of us, it was fun!

The Blooming of Alison Brennan by Kath Engebretson.

A family full of secrets, and one girl who must survive. Sixteen year old Alison Brennan’s mother is an agoraphobic hoarder, and her father, Harry, seems to have no past. When an old homeless man is found dead in a Melbourne park, Alison’s life changes. Somehow the man’s death is connected to her family and the Polish Home Army. Fighting for her future, can Alison unravel the mystery of her family and the dead man, and find a way to place her trust in others again? 

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My Review.

Intensely readable and engaging, I enjoyed this book and learnt a lot through it too. Fiction enables us to live other lives and to begin to understand other perspectives. Although there are things that are confronting in the book. All the topics were handled sensitively and with understanding and compassion. The author’s meticulous research gave her characterisation an added depth.

Author: soniabellhouse

Sonia Bellhouse is the author of Fire & Ice, a Scandi-timeslip romance about ice dancing, Norway and Vikings. She is also a contributor to Passages, a short story anthology and a contributor to Writing the Dream, an anthology for published writers both published by Serenity Press. In 2012she won two major awards in the inaugural Rockingham Short Fiction contest. Sonia's articles and stories are published in various magazines both in Australia and the UK. These include Good reading, Today's Bride, That's Life! and That's Life! Fast Fiction in Australia and Yours, The People's Friend and Best of British in the Uk. Sonia worked as a book reviewer for two years. An avid reader and writer of multiple genres she facilitated a local book club for eleven years. She reluctantly decided to give it up, to concentrate on her writing. Sonia is a long time member of a writers group, regularly engaging authors to present workshops to the group. Sonia enjoys catching up with friends, ignoring the ironing in favour of playing with her cat and learning new things. She's taken several online courses with Future Learn and The University of Iowa for both writing and non-writing topics.

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