On My Bookshelf – February

It’s been a fabulous month in books – I read seven and all were so good I found it difficult to choose a favourite. I also spent the month listening to Barack Obama’s biography, but still have a lot of listening left to do!

Katherine Kovacic’s Alex Clayton art mystery series

I inhaled all three of these in February.

It’s the most perfect of combinations – art, art history, a good mystery, a strong protagonist, and Hogarth the wolfhound.

Of the three novels The Portrait of Molly Dean was my favourite – and a strong contender for my read of the month. The mystery in the novel is a real life case and as an introduction to the character of Alex Clayton, a Melbourne-based freelance art dealer, it’s definitely a good one.

Massive thanks to Debbish who recommended this series to me.

And Now You’re Back, by Jill Mansell

Tell me you’re not singing the song… “and now you’re back from outer space, I just walked in to find you here with that same look upon your face…” No? I must be getting old.

Jill Mansell is an auto-buy for me and rather than getting lazy as some authors can do, she just keeps getting better and better.

This one left a real smile on my face and was the most enjoyable read of the month.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I first read Wuthering Heights when I was in school and young and impressionable. I’ve read it another few times since, but not for (I’d say) twenty years.

While I can’t honestly say that it’s a book that I enjoy, it is one of the handful of books that has left an impression that has stayed with me over the years. 

This time around I read it with my book club – we’re reading the classics – and I’m not sure whether it was because of that or because of age and experience, or even because we’d chunked it down into four parts for discussion, but this time around while its impact was no less powerful (perhaps more so) my perception was different. The textures were enhanced, I saw a symmetry I had previously skipped over, and I was in awe at the absolute artistry of the prose, symbolism and atmosphere. It’s atmospheric, like the moors that it’s set on, and you can’t help feeling something from it.

Wuthering Heights is touted as being a great love story, and while there is a love story in it, it’s not the one you think it is #spoileralert – even though 16-year-old me was swept away by the “passion” and quotes like these – especially when taken in isolation:

“Nelly, I am Heathcliff – he’s always, always in my mind – not as a pleasure, any more then I am always a pleasure to myself – but, as my own being.”

Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

Moody Hollywood movies and fabulous Kate Bush songs aside, Bronte shows us different types of love, and the “love” between Heathcliff and Catherine is a love that is toxic, obsessive co-dependent and deserving of the inverted commas I’ve given it. #sorryforthespoiler

Anyways, it’s definitely a book that evokes strong opinions – one way or another. You either love it or hate it, and I suspect that extreme would have pleased Bronte very much. It’s also still at the top of my “books which influenced me the most” list.

Reading the book as we have over a couple of months has given me an excuse to bake some Yorkshire recipes. First up was Parkin (the recipe is here), next was Yorkshire Teacakes, and finally, I made Pikelets (the recipe will be posted to BKD over the weekend).

Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell

This was my book of the month.

In 1596, William Shakespeare’s 11-year-old son Hamnet died in Stratford-upon-Avon. Four or so years later, Shakespeare wrote the play considered by many to be his greatest work, giving its tragic hero a variation of his dead son’s name.

So yes, this book is about the death of Hamnet, but it’s so so so much more than that. At its centre is Agnes, Shakespeare’s wife. (Before you write to me to remind me that Anne Hathaway married Shakespeare, in her father’s will Anne Hathaway is referred to as Agnes.)

Shakespeare is barely present in the story. He is referred to as “her husband”, “the father”, “the Latin tutor” and has very little speech or presence of his own. This means the story is able to dwell on the domestic life and the grief that runs through the novel. I also felt as though there was also a theme of belonging as Agnes is seen to be otherworldly, different, almost myth like.

I was so invested in the characters I dreamt about them and couldn’t wait to read more.

Death in Daylesford, by Kerry Greenwood

We’ve had to wait a long time for this one – the 21st Phryne Fisher Mystery. It’s been 7 years since Murder and Mendelssohn was released.

I read a number of reviews that thought the editing was lazy, that there were some contradictions in character (the cat had changed sex for example) and the writing was overly flowery, but you know what? I love Phryne and I expect a certain amount of over the topness, if you know what I mean.

Live every other book in the series, this is a good romp.

There’s plenty of food in the novel (I always think of Phryne Fisher whenever white peaches are in season) so inspired by this novel I made a quiche similar to that which Mrs Butler would serve as part of one of her cold collations. The recipe is here.

Tell me, what did you read in February?