52 Book Challenge

This year I'm taking part in the 52 Book Challenge. It sounded like a fun challenge, that would encourage me to widen my reading further. 

More information on the challenge can be found on its Facebook group, and here - https://www.the52book.club/.

I will add books here usually with brief comments as I complete the challenges.

1. A book set in a school. 

Trust Jennings by Anthony Buckeridge.

Loved this series as a child. Describing a 10 year old boy as looking like a yak, still makes me giggle helplessly. They always made me laugh, and evidently continue to do so.

2. Features a member of the legal profession. Two solicitors have walk on parts in Dorothy L. Sayers' Whose Body, the first of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries.

3. A dual timeline - When the curtain falls by Carrie Hope Fletcher. 

Part ghost story, part murder mystery, mainly romance. A fun read, best listened to with show tunes in the background.

4. An author that is deceased. Cover her face by P.D. James.

It's been a while since I read P.D. James' very first novel. It doesn't disappoint. Very stylish police procedural. An excellent read.


5. Published by Penguin. My ancient copy of The deceivers by John Masters. Brilliant book, beautifully written. The smell and look of India seeps off the page.

6. A book with a character with the same name as a male relative. 

The pursuit of love by Nancy Mitford.

In my case this was my childhood name for my much loved cousin, Davey. This is a re-read of an old favourite. It still remains a favourite, gloriously comical - one of the few books that makes me laugh out loud, but a real heart to it too. Wonderful read.

7. An author with only 1 published book:


8. A book that lies within the Dewey 900s category. 

Daniel Defoe's A tour through England and Wales. (Dewey 914.1)

It's been fascinating to compare Defoe's thoughts on 17th/18th century Britain with the modern country. Much amused to discover that some of the places he complains about re road and traffic problems still feature regularly on my local radio traffic reports. The A14 in Cambridgeshire was a pain even before it became the A14!

9. Set in a Mediterranean country. Faultline by Robert Goddard, part set in Italy. Brilliant old fashioned thriller with a slightly disappointing ending. Despite that will be reading more Goddard.

10. Related to the word fire.

The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier.

A fire forms an important part of the plot. As always with Du Maurier an excellent novel. Absolutely loved this novel, so wish that there had been a sequel, but delighted to realise that there is a sort of prequel, The Glass blowers.

11. Book with discussion questions inside. Drowning with others by Linda Keir (Kindle edition). Would also work for Title beginning with D, Different POV, set in a school, and different timelines. 

Generally good mystery, till it took a turn at the end with a disappointing improbable conclusion. Shame as it had all started so well. On the upside, I learned a lot about the US school system.

12. Title starting with the letter D: Death at The Beggar's Opera by Deryn Lake. This book was a real friend. The second novel in a crime series about C18th apothecary, John Rawlings. Beautifully written, with some great period detail. Its description of London is superb. I loved this and look forward to reading more in the series.


13. Includes an exotic animal : The weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner. An enormous supernatural wolf.

14. Written by an author over 65 when published:

The mirror and the light / Hilary Mantel. The last instalment of the Thomas Cromwell (Wolf Hall) trilogy and the best. A brilliant, moving book, with astonishing insight and atmosphere.

15. A book mentioned in another book. John Aubrey's Brief Lives mentioned in my previous read Deliver us from evil.

Often funny, sometimes shocking (drinking bits of dead bodies. Yeuch!), always entertaining. This was a fascinating read.

16. A book set before the 17th century. 

I went all the way back to Domitian's Rome with Lindsey Davis' "A Capitol Death". I enjoy her Flavia Albia mysteries, but I miss the gentle humour of the earlier Falco stories.

17.

A character on the run. Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith. 

Multiple characters on the run feature in this, the final volume of the Child 44 trilogy. I enjoyed it but do wish that there had been a more positive ending.

18. An author with a 9 letter surname, Slow trains to Venice by Tom Chesshyre

19. A book with a deckled edge. Sweet Thames run softly by Robert Gibbings.

20. SPOILER ALERT

Made into a TV series. 

The first of Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley mystery series - A great deliverance.

For most of this book, I was going to put this into the 5 star category. Elizabeth George writes really well. Heavily influenced by the great British crime writers of the Golden age of crime, and classic British film (A great deliverance certainly owes something to Night of the Demon) Elizabeth George writes beautifully. She's American but rarely puts a foot wrong when portraying her British cast and backdrop. 

However, some of the characterisation was clunky (it was her first novel!) and the ending was particularly unpleasant. Having read other George's and enjoyed them would like to read more. But a break is definitely needed after A great deliverance.

21. Book by Kristin Hannah:


22. A family saga. 

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles' Pack up your troubles, the last in her First World War series about the Hunter family.

I loved this series and was so sorry to get to the end of it. My only hope is that the characters seem to be nicely lined up for a similar series charting the Home Front of the Second World War. Here's hoping.

23. An ending that surprises you. 

The hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo.

A synopsis might read: Everyone dies, gets married, or trains goats. More seriously this was one of the saddest novels I've ever read. The ending was devastating, and not what I had expected from a novel that is certainly treated in popular culture quite light-heartedly. The ending is grim, but it's hard not to love this book.

24. A book that you think they should read in schools:

25. A book with multiple character points of view. Gallows Court by Martin Edwards. Good crime story with Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Allingham influences.

26. An author of colour:


27. First chapter ends on an odd page number. The life and opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne.

One of the few books that I have tried to read, hated, and then on trying again loved. It's by turns hilarious, and touching. I so wished that Uncle Toby was my relative. Such a gentle, sweet character.

Other plus of reading this was that it meant that I spent a lot of the last week listening to the music of Charles Avison, mentioned in the novel, which is superb.


28. Features a historical event you know little about. The possessed : Adventures with Russian books and the people who read them by Elif Batuman.

A hilarious memoir about Russian books and the people that love them. Skimming through history, travel, and some unfortunate love affairs, this book was an absolute hoot. I loved it. Among the historical events mentioned was the weird tale of Empress Anna Ivanovna's ice palace, which I had never heard of. Russian novels can be strange, but Russian history seems to be a whole lot stranger!

29. Featuring the environment.

Attention all shipping: a journey around the shipping forecast by Charlie Connelly.

A fascinating and entertaining read as the  author travels through all of the areas mentioned in the British shipping forecast.

Inevitably the environment features heavily from storms at sea, to volcanic activity in Iceland, and the tough environment in which many islanders live often right at the edge of the European landmass.

It's the sort of book where you learn a lot, but you laugh a lot too.

And it got me listening to Aly Bain, who is one mean fiddler.


30. Watch out for dragons!


31. A book with a similar title to another book.

The thin man by Dashiell Hammett. Similar to The third man by Graham Greene.

Gloriously hard-boiled classic American crime fiction. It also happens to be very funny.

32. Features a character who is selfish.

Some incredibly selfish characters in Balzac's Lost Illusions, not least the hero Lucien Chardon, who sails through life leaving chaos for his nearest and dearest in his wake.

I didn't expect to love this novel as much as I did, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and did hesitate over whether to put it down for the 5 star challenge. Part of the reason I think I enjoyed it so much is that the story involves printing and publishing, and it brought back so many memories of my father's printing business. Funny how books do that to you...

Incidentally my second hand edition contains a wonderful dedication to "Mick" (hope things improved) from his Dad - "Perhaps it is better to lose one's illusions than to acquire others'..."

33. A book that features adoption. The legacy by Yrsa Sigurdardottir.

I really enjoy Yrsa's books, but this was a tough read, her most gruesome novel yet. It's a very clever plot though, and one of the few where I was genuinely surprised when the murderer was revealed.

34. A book you'd rate 5 stars.

Leo the African by Amin Maalouf.

I was going to read this for one of the other challenges (would work well for the Mediterranean challenge, as the book ends ON the Med, as well as being set in Spain, Italy, Morocco, and Egypt, all bordering the Med), but Leo the African won  my heart. It's a wonderful read based on a true story. The writing is beautiful, and I loved the characters.

Reading Amin Maalouf is like making a new friend, who you know will be with you for the rest of your life.

35. Set in a country beginning with the letter S. Although much of the Boys of Everest by Clint Willis takes place in the Himalayas (as you can probably guess from the title), there are also sections set in Switzerland. Discovered much to my surprise that the strange entrance onto the Eiger via a train tunnel which features at the climax to the film "The Eiger Sanction" really does exist and has been used in rescue attempts.

36. A nameless narrator:


37. An educational read. 

A brief history of everyone who ever lived by Adam Rutherford. 

A fascinating and readable book about genetics, and the collective story of humankind; with some fascinating insights into what makes you "you".

38. I don't use Bookbub so went for a book that was chosen by someone else for me; and not a book I would normally choose to read.

The first time I saw you by Emma Cooper. 

It's a romance of the boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl again variety. Not the sort of book I would have chosen, but I loved it. Inside what should be a simple tale, there are some astonishing truths about the terrible things that can happen in life - Cooper writes very movingly about the impact of domestic violence, and the difficulties of finding healing and being healed. It really is a wonderful read. Highly recommended.

39. An alternate history. 

Deliver us from evil by Tom Holland. 

If zombies and vampires being responsible for the Great Fire of London isn't an alternative history, I don't know what is!

I love Tom Holland's non-fiction, so was intrigued by this. It is an extraordinarily silly novel. Will be sticking to his non-fiction in future.

40. Found via #bookstagram. The summer we ran away by Jenny Oliver.

Bit of a cheat here as I don't use Instagram much at all. However this book does appear with a #bookstagram hashtag (checked after I'd read it).
Light fun read, a comfy sofa for the brain, and a bit of a relief after the last serious read - Hunchback of Notre Dame.

41. Endorsement on the cover by an author. The land where lemons grow by Helena Attlee, endorsed by Tom Stoppard, Yotam Ottolenghi, & Deborah Moggach. 

Wonderful evocative read, full of quirky facts, and a strong sense of place.

42. An epistolary. Dangerous liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos.

I think I loved finding out more about the author (devoted husband / father, narrowly avoided being executed during the Terror of the French Revolution, keen supporter of women's education) than I did the book itself. 

It's a clever story about some very selfish people. And was reputedly a major factor in the less than pleasant feelings that many of the French people held towards the aristocracy on the eve of the revolution. Unlike the play and film based on the book where the characters were more clearly defined (Madame Merteuil pure evil, Valmont a libertine feeling love for the first time), the book is not as clear - rather like life itself I guess. Madame de Merteuil would have been a very different person, had she been born a man, and able to make her own path in life. Valmont's attitude I found difficult to understand. Was he in love with Presidente de Tourvel or not? I'm still not sure.

Certainly worth a read. Also interesting as this Penguin edition is the first published edition of Dangerous Liaisons translated by a woman.

43. A character with a pet cat.

Kate Atkinson's latest Jackson Brodie mystery "Big Sky".
In fact there's a plethora of pets in this novel, with no less than 5 dogs (divided equally between heroes and villains), 2 cats belonging to minor characters, and a pony (not to mention the hideous Clucky, a ventriloquist's bird puppet).
I always enjoy Jackson Brodie, but I think this is one of his very best adventures. Two delightful new characters - Crystal Holroyd, and her stepson Harry, are introduced. Characters have a bit of a habit of reappearing in other Kate Atkinson novels, so I certainly hope that Crystal at least will be back.

44. Features a garden. A mind to murder by P.D. James. 

Bit of a tenuous connection here but an important scene does take place in a garden.

Have set myself a mini challenge to re-read P.D. James' novels this year. Was surprised to discover that this was one I had never read. Was delighted to discover it.

45. A coming of age novel: The greengage summer by Rumer Godden. Thoroughly enjoyed this entrancing book, part coming of age story, part crime novel, all of it a love letter to France.

46. A winner of the National Book Award. As a British reader I've amended this to the winner of a British book award. Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel. The most beautiful book set in countryside just across the border from where I grew up. Winner of the Wainwright Prize 2015.

47. Features a character with a disability. Numerous instances in The dollmaker by Nina Allan. For some of the characters their disability has a positive effect on their life, others become monsters or are treated monstrously. It was a good read, but was rather left at the end wondering what the heck was that all about.

48. A cover with a woman who is facing away. Not just one woman but seven on the cover of Anne de Courcy's Chanel's Riviera. This is a wonderful read. Highly recommended.



49. A flavour in the title:


50. A shoe on the cover. Several sets of tiny shoes on this cover- Cathy Bramley's A patchwork family. This was another of the lockdown librarian choices. Enjoyed it though a little bit on the sweet side for me.


51. Published in 2021: Lev's violin by Helena Attlee. You really wouldn't think that a book about the history of violin making could be so fascinating, but Helena Attlee's beautifully written book is both compelling and oddly moving. Loved it.

52. Re-do a previous challenge. An educational read. Russia by Martin Sixsmith.

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