20 Books of Summer

20 Books of Summer is a challenge set up by Cathy of 746 Books. The idea is to choose 20 books from your shelves (no buying new ones) and read and review them between 1 June and 1 September 2020 – although Cathy is generously flexible with the rules, so you can do fewer books and/or change your choices half way through if you like.

I’m trying this challenge for the first time this year – hoping I will clear some of my tottering TBR piles as I always seem to read more effectively when I have a focus.

The books I am going to attempt to read are:

Jim Crumley – The Nature of Summer
This is the fourth of Jim’s wonderful ‘seasons’ books. He is one of the best nature writers in Scotland, I have loved everything of his I have ever read, so I know I am in for a great time with this one.

Olga Wotjas – Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Vampire Menace
Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar, Olga’s first book about Shona McMonagle, proud alumna of Marcia Blaine’s School for Girls, Morningside librarian, and newly initiated time traveller, was enormous fun. I’ve just started this one and so far it’s even better, as Shona finds herself in a strange French village, one where there are cows but no milk, and where the sun never shines….

Rebecca Tope – A Cotswold Killing
I’m still pursuing my #placenames project too, and this is one that I had already had lined up. I always enjoy a good cosy murder mystery, and as A Cotswold Killing is the first in a series, I’ll have plenty more to look forward to.

HE Bates – A Breath of French Air
I first read The Darling Buds of May many, many years ago, so it will be fun to revisit the Larkins – and especially as this title also fits #projectplaces requirements. The cover of my 1960 edition calls A Breath of French Air ‘slightly Rabelaisian picaresque slap-stick’, which is just what I think I need in these depressing times.

Compton Mackenzie – The Monarch of the Glen
I haven’t read any Compton Mackenzie books for a very long while – I loved Whisky Galore and Extraordinary Women – so I chose this novel as another one for #projectplaces. I’ve been ‘comfort watching’ the TV version of Monarch of the Glen, although I imagine that it bears only passing resemblance to the book; it will be interesting to find out where it all started.

Vanessa Greene – The Seafront Tea Rooms
I picked this one up in a charity shop, attracted at least in part by its pretty cover. The notes describe it as ‘Full of romance, tea and cake…an uplifting novel about the strength found in true friendship.’  Sometimes I really enjoy losing myself in this sort of thing, and this summer is, without a doubt, one of those times.

James Runcie – Sidney Chambers and The Shadow of Death
I’ve heard James talk more than once about his books – he’s a brilliant speaker, interesting, entertaining, and (unlike some) very modest. He tells some great stories about his childhood – not many of us have had a father who’s the Archbishop of Canterbury! And of course I’ve watched and very much enjoyed the Grantchester TV series, though I’m not sure how much input James was allowed to have into those. James says he writes the books to explore the issues of the time through his characters’ lives. This is the first of the series, so again plenty more to look forward to if, as I am sure I will, I like this one.

John D Burns – The Last Hillwalker
This was part of a surprise selection from my son, who is never happier than when engaged in some rufty-tufty outdoors activity in the Cairngorms, where he lives (as does this author.) We agreed to send each other some books to widen our reading choices, so this will be a new experience for me. Its subtitle is ‘A sideways look at forty years in Britain’s mountains’. I’m no climber but I do love the hills, and as Burns is also a storyteller who has taken his one-man plays to the Edinburgh Festival and all around the country, this looks very promising.

William Trevor – The News from Ireland
I’ve had this one on my shelves for years, so it’s about time I read it. I love Ireland, which I first visited in the early 1980s, and have many Irish authors among my favourites, but I’ve never read anything by William Trevor, who I know is much acclaimed. This is a collection of short stories, so should be great for dipping into if I am for some reason lacking the time or concentration for a novel.

Saroo Brierley – Lion
This is another of my son’s choices.  It’s the kind of thing I would never pick up of my own volition, the real-life story of what happened to Saroo when he became accidentally separated from his family and ended up spending 25 years first on the streets of Calcutta, but eventually as part of the Australian upper middle class in Tasmania. The escapist, ostrich-like tendencies in me hope it doesn’t have too many graphic descriptions of Saroo’s worst experiences, but at least I know it has a happy ending (he was eventually reunited with his family) – and also lots of photos, which will definitely add to its interest for me.

Freeman Wills Crofts – The Hog’s Back Mystery
This is one of the British Library Crime Classics from the ‘Golden Age of British crime fiction.’ Some I’ve read have been better than others, but they all have such beautiful covers that I can never resist them. The Hog’s Back Mystery apparently involves Inspector French in the investigation of the disappearance of Dr James Earle from his secluded house on the North Downs of Surrey – though of course many other disappearances swiftly follow. ‘A fiendishly complicated puzzle’ according to the publishers. I’m hopeless at puzzles and never guess the identity of the culprit, but that doesn’t matter, I still take great pleasure in reading an old-fashioned mystery.

Marjorie Lloyd – Fell Farm Holiday
I have a large collection of children’s books – some of them were my own children’s favourites, others I’ve picked up in charity shops, often when I’ve recognised them from my own childhood. I don’t think I’ve ever read Fell Farm Holiday, though the title is vaguely familiar. It was published by Puffin Books in 1951, and they describe it as ‘one of those jolly holiday stories which almost make you feel you’ve been there.’ It’s set in the Lake District, where the children are handily on holiday without their parents (imagine that now?) and spend their days ‘bird watching, ‘hard’ climbing, camping and having “a first-rate mixture of fun and adventure”.’ Oh yes! Can’t wait.

Ian Rankin – Hide and Seek
This was another of my son’s choices for me, and, unusually, one that I would actually have chosen myself. I read my first few Inspector Rebus novels before I moved to Edinburgh, and although I enjoyed them a great deal, the locations were unknown to me. My husband has since re-read several and says they are so much better when you recognise places like Fettes Police Station, the New Town, and the housing estates of Wester Hailes and Craigmillar. I’m not sure that I have read Hide and Seek before, but even if I have I’m looking forward to revisiting it with fresh eyes. And as I said above, I never work out who did it, or why, and even when I’ve found out I never remember the denouement for more than 5 minutes, so either way I’m sure this one will be a winner.

Sara Sheridan – London Calling
I sometimes converse with Sara (who also lives in Edinburgh) on twitter but I’ve not read any of her extremely popular Mirabelle Bevan mysteries before. They take place in the 1950s – one of my very favourite periods - and this one is set in Brighton, a town to which I had many wonderful day trips when I was growing up in the London suburbs (though I believe it’s changed a lot since then, and is now more no-fat decaff soya latte than rock salmon and chips…)  Mirabelle sounds like a feisty strong woman, which will make a change from all those alcoholic misfit detectives (much as I love Rebus, Morse, etc).  London Calling is the second in the series – but it’s the only one I have to hand, so I’ll start here and go backwards if necessary. And there are at least six more Bevan books to look forward to – aren’t series great?

Rebecca Shaw – Whispers in the Village
I’ve already read several of Shaw’s Turnham Malpas books, which centre on the lives of the Reverend Peter Harris, his GP wife Caroline and their children Alex and Beth – although there is a large cast of other characters too, from Sir Ralph and Lady Templeton to Willie Biggs (retired verger) and his wife Sylvia, the Harris’s housekeeper. While I always feel slightly irritated by the far too perfect Harrises, I enjoy the other residents, and I keep coming back to this much-loved series almost despite myself. In this novel Peter takes his family off to Africa for a year to work in a mission, so I’m hoping that with them out of the way the villagers, and the new female locum vicar, will take centre stage.

Catherine Alliott – A Cornish Summer
I chose this as one of my #projectplaces books when I was getting myself organised at the beginning of the year (and what a long time ago that seems now.) I started it quite recently, then realised I’d been reading it in a long queue for the supermarket whilst simultaneously holding the bar of the shopping trolley. Call me obsessive, but I then started to fret about what I’d touched or hadn’t touched, and decided I’d have to quarantine the book if only for my own peace of mind. So I started something else, and haven’t yet had time to get back to this one. A friend recommended it, it’s about Flora, an artist who, thanks to her ex mother-in-law’s manipulative ways, ends up spending the summer at her ex’s family’s fabulous Cornish estate – whose houseguests include not only her ex-husband but also his too-good-to-be-true new wife. Jill Mansell says it’s ‘packed with delicious characters and myriad family complications.’ So now that my copy has served its time in the naughty corner, I will open it again and hopefully enjoy some self-indulgent escapism.

John Moore – Portrait of Elmbury
I must have seen this recommended somewhere, and it does look exactly my kind of thing – its subtitle is ‘The Classic Novel of Life in and English Market Town’, the first part of Moore’s The Brensham Trilogy, first published in 1945 and based on his family’s home town of Tewkesbury. The cover says it’s a ‘wonderful and exuberant chronicle of an English market town between the wars…with a cast of characters that could have stepped our of Hogarth or Shakespeare.’ Moore was also a conservationist who wrote about wildlife and the threat posed to it by the indiscriminate use of insecticides and sprays. He sounds like a very good man, and I anticipate this read with enthusiasm.

Adam Kay – This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor
As you may well have guessed by now, this is another of my son’s choices. I’ve read extracts from it in the past, and I know parts of it are extremely funny, but I know also that other parts are gruesome, shocking and heart-breaking. So do I want to read it in the current situation? Maybe not, but I will, as that was part of the deal, and it has gazillions of 5 star reviews to its credit. I’ll probably love it, we shall see…

Margery Sharp – Britannia Mews
Margery Sharp has been recommended time and again by book bloggers whose opinions I trust and whose tastes I generally share. I found this Little, Brown copy, which was published in 1946, online, (and when it arrived I was fascinated to see it once belonged to a Dr Chester L Boone of Beverley Hills!) The story opens in 1875, when ‘Adelaide Culver, aged ten and a half, issued from the back door of Number 8 Albion Place, and slipped across the alley, and entered the Mews.’ Intriguing. One reviewer has called it ‘a book to give hope’, which certainly sounds appealing just now.

Angela Thirkell – The Old Bank House
Angela Thirkell is like an old friend. I love her books about the upper classes of Barsetshire, their tea parties and picnics, tennis, afternoon calls and romantic entanglements – but the novels are much more than this. Thirkell’s acute observations and sharp wit make them hugely enjoyable, and although the knowledge that nothing too dreadful will happen, and that everyone will end up with the right partner in the end, might put some readers off, to me it makes them even more attractive. The Old Bank House was first published in 1949, when everyone needed cheering up, and I am sure it will serve the same purpose today. ‘”We must have that defective ball-cock in the storage tank seen to Septimus” said Mrs Grantly.’ Wonderful stuff.


  1. What a lovely pile of books in a lovely garden! Thanks so much for joining in x

    1. Thanks Cathy - it's so good for me to have these themes and challenges, otherwise I can wander about for days on end, unable to decide what to read next. I'm looking forward to this, just wish I was slightly better at all the linking and sharing!

  2. What a wonderful tottering pile of books, I would happily delve into any of them. The Hog's Back Mystery is one of my favourite vintage crime stories from Freeman Wills Crofts, although that could be because we spent a long weekend in the area where it was set in May of 2019 and I read it just after we got back. Angela Thirkell never fails in my experience though I haven't read this one. I have several of those Rebecca Tope Cotswolds mysteries passed on to me by a cousin. One of these days I must try one. Good luck with this challenge!

    1. Thanks Cath, and I'm glad you enjoyed The Hog's Back Mystery, as my experiences with the British Library Crime Classics have been a bit mixed. Apparently this particular Angela Thirkell was out of print for 40 years, till it was reissued in 1997. And I agree, I've never read a book of hers I haven't loved. I'll let you know about Rebecca Tope!


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