The Distant Echo by Val McDermid

I have only recently started reading Val McDermid’s books and after reading one of her stand-alone books, A Place of Execution, I decided to move on to her Karen Pirie books. The first one is The Distant Echo (first published in 2003) in which Karen doesn’t play a major role – only appearing in Part Two as a Detective Constable.

The Distant Echo

Blurb (Goodreads):

It was a winter morning in 1978, that the body of a young barmaid was discovered in the snow banks of a Scottish cemetery. The only suspects in her brutal murder were the four young men who found her: Alex Gilbey and his three best friends. With no evidence but her blood on their hands, no one was ever charged.

Twenty five years later, the Cold Case file on Rosie Duff has been reopened. For Alex and his friends, the investigation has also opened old wounds, haunting memories-and new fears. For a stranger has emerged from the shadows with his own ideas about justice. And revenge.

When two of Alex’s friends die under suspicious circumstances, Alex knows that he and his innocent family are the next targets. And there’s only way to save them: return to the cold-blooded past and uncover the startling truth about the murder. For there lies the identity of an avenging killer…

My thoughts:

The nightmare began when student, Alex Gilbey found Rosie Duff dying in the snow in the Pictish cemetery in St Andrews. He ran to the nearby housing estate to get help and finding a policeman in his patrol car told him what he had found. By the time they got back to the body, Rosie was dead, despite the efforts of Alex’s friends to keep her alive. He and his three friends were the prime suspects, both the police and Rosie’s thuggish brothers were convinced they were guilty. But DI Barney Maclennan and his team, including DC Burnside, WPC Janice Hogg and PC Jimmy Lawson (the policeman Alex asked for help) were unable to find enough evidence to charge them with the murder.

Nearly half the book concentrates on the crime and the initial investigation, going into detail about each character and the circumstances of the murder, ending dramatically with another death. I felt I knew all the characters but had little idea who had killed Rosie or why. The case lay dormant for 25 years.

In 2003 Jimmy Lawson, now an ACC, is in overall control of the cold cases squad and is keen to enhance his reputation by getting at least one result. He assigns DC Karen Pirie to the Rosemary Duff case and asks her to find the physical evidence, which is missing from the box it’s supposed to be in, before interviewing the original witnesses. A new character comes onto the scene – Graham MacFadyen – with additional evidence that the police were not aware of at the time. The second investigation begins, equally as in depth as the first. The four students, all now with settled careers, are questioned again.

I just couldn’t work out which one of them, if any, was guilty. I couldn’t believe any of them would have murdered Rosie. And then a vague suspicion grew in my mind and I revisited the events immediately after the body was discovered, only to dismiss my idea as fanciful. Val McDermid is so skillful in giving you the clues and then leaving you in suspense (or at least that was my experience). There is a major twist that completely threw me before the dramatic ending when I realised that my initial suspicion was correct after all.

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (4 Mar. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007344651
  • ISBN-13: 978-000734465
  • Source: library book
  • My rating: 5*

I loved this book and hope to read the next three books in the series as soon as possible. They are:

First Chapter, First Paragraph: The Betrayals

Every Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros to share the first paragraph sometimes two, of a book that she’s reading or planning to read soon. Diane is having a summer break at the moment, but I enjoy doing this meme anyway.

This week’s first paragraph is from The Betrayals by Fiona Neill, which was published on 10 August.

Daisy

Three is a good and safe number. I close my eyes and whisper the words three times so no one can hear. They sound like a sweet sigh. If Mum notices she might worry and the days of worry are over. I say this three times too, just to make triple sure, remembering how the words have to be spoken on the outbreath.

Blurb:

None of them would forget that week on the wild Norfolk coast.

Best friends Rosie and Lisa’s families had always been inseparable.

But that summer, Lisa had an affair with Rosie’s husband Nick.

And now, after years of silence, she sends Rosie a letter begging for help. A letter which exposes dark secrets.

Daughter Daisy’s fragile hold on reality begins to unravel.

Teenage son Max blames himself for everything that happened that long hot summer.

And Nick must confront his own version of events.

There are four sides to this story. Who will you believe?

I was captivated from the beginning of this book right to the end. My review will follow shortly.

Long Road from Jarrow: A journey through Britain then and now by Stuart Maconie

I knew of the Jarrow March/Crusade in 1936, but not much about it beyond the fact that men from Jarrow in Tyneside marched from their home town to London to present a petition against the mass unemployment and extreme poverty in the north-east of England. Stuart Maconie has filled in the gaps in his excellent book Long Road from Jarrow: A journey through Britain then and now. In October last year he retraced the route they took, 300 miles, comparing what conditions and attitudes were like in 1936 with those of 2016. The men were accompanied for part of their march by Ellen Wilkinson, who was the MP for Middlesbrough East and it was Ellen who presented their petition to the House of Commons. But despite their protest and all Ellen Wilkinson’s efforts on their behalf it didn’t result in any improvements for employment in Jarrow.

Maconie a writer, broadcaster and journalist, writes fluently and with conviction. The Long Road from Jarrow is a mix of travel writing, social and cultural history and political commentary, with the main emphasis on the current social, cultural and political scene. It’s a thought-provoking book that both entertained and enlightened me. Maconie writes about the past, the history of the places he walked through and the tales and reminiscences of the people he met. He also writes with enthusiasm on such topics as football and music and food. It’s a lively, chatty account that includes the thorny topic of Brexit, the current and past state of the north/south divide and considers what it is to be ‘British’.

I was fascinated and thoroughly enjoyed this walk through England, past and present. My copy is an ARC from the publishers via Netgalley.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1617 KB
  • Print Length: 365 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1785036319
  • Publisher: Ebury Digital (20 July 2017)

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

Jane Austen at Home

Synopsis (Amazon)

On the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, historian Lucy Worsley leads us into the rooms from which our best-loved novelist quietly changed the world.

This new telling of the story of Jane’s life shows us how and why she lived as she did, examining the places and spaces that mattered to her. It wasn’t all country houses and ballrooms, but a life that was often a painful struggle. Jane famously lived a ‘life without incident’, but with new research and insights Lucy Worsley reveals a passionate woman who fought for her freedom. A woman who far from being a lonely spinster in fact had at least five marriage prospects, but who in the end refused to settle for anything less than Mr Darcy.

My view:

I think it was a foregone conclusion that I would really enjoy Lucy Worsley’s Jane Austen at Home. I have loved Jane Austen’s books for many years, going back to when I was about 12 and read Pride and Prejudice for the first time. I’ve previously read Carol Shields’s biography Jane Austen and Claire Tomalin’s Jane Austen: a Life so there was really very little I learned reading Jane Austen at Home that surprised me or that I hadn’t known before.

I suppose what was new to me was the emphasis on what home life was like during the period of Jane’s life and seeing photos of the houses and places that she had lived or stayed in as a visitor. And I think I gained a better understanding of the social history of Georgian England and of Jane’s wider family connections and what her family and friends thought of her both as a person and as an author.

Lucy Worsley is an historian and has presented several television history programmes. I am not a great fan of her style – the play acting and dressing up – but she writes in a lively, chatty style and reading her book I could easily hear her voice. Jane Austen at Home is both very readable and very detailed, which is not an easy thing to achieve. There is an extensive section at the end of the book, listing sources, a bibliography, notes on the text and an index. There are two sections of colour plates.

Needless to say it has spurred me on to re-read Jane Austen’s books, and I shall probably begin with re-reading Emma, a book I’ve only read once.

I received an e-galley from the publishers via NetGalley for review and part way through reading it I bought a hardback copy to get the finished product.

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (18 May 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1473632188
  • ISBN-13: 978-1473632189
  • My rating: 4*

The Secret of Summerhayes by Merryn Allingham

In January I enjoyed reading The Buttonmaker’s  Daughter by Merryn Allingham and hoped there would be a sequel, so I was pleased when Midas Public relations on behalf of the publishers offered me a review copy of The Secret of Summerhayes.

The Secret of Summerhayes

Synopsis (publisher)

A war-torn summer

A house fallen into ruin

A family broken apart by scandal…

Summer 1944: Bombed out by the blitz, Bethany Merston takes up a post as companion to elderly Alice Summer, last remaining inhabitant of the dilapidated and crumbling Summerhayes estate. Now a shadow of its former glory; most of the rooms have been shut up, the garden is overgrown and the whole place feels as unwelcoming as the family themselves.

Struggling with the realities of war, Alice is plagued by anonymous letters and haunting visions of her old household. At first, Beth tries to convince her it’s all in her mind but soon starts to unravel the mysteries surrounding the aristocratic family’s past.

An evocative and captivating tale, The Secret of Summerhayes tells of dark secrets, almost-forgotten scandals and a household teetering on the edge of ruin.

My thoughts

I was hoping this would follow on from The Buttonmaker’s Daughter, which ended in 1914 at the beginning of World War One as I wanted to know what happened to the characters during the war, but The Secret of Summerhayes is set in Sussex in 1944 just before and during the D-Day landings in Normandy. So, forty years have gone by and only Alice Summers remains as one of the main characters. Alice’s daughter, Elizabeth had disappeared at the end of the first book and Alice is still hoping, forty years later, that she will return, especially as she has recently received anonymous letters that she thinks are from Elizabeth.

The two books are only loosely connected and I think that they can both be read independently. It’s hard to assess but maybe I would have enjoyed this second book more if I hadn’t read The Buttonmaker’s Daughter, as I kept hoping to find out more about what had happened to Elizabeth in the intervening years.

Summerhayes has changed, what is left of the gardens is overgrown and the house, except for an apartment for Alice, has been requisitioned by the Canadian army and an entire battalion had taken possession of the estate. Beth has been employed to look after Alice, now an old lady in her eighties, still sharp in her mind, although she is very disturbed by the anonymous letters and other unexplained accidents. The only other members of Alice’s family are Gilbert Fitzroy, her nephew and his young son, Ralph, who live at the neighbouring estate of Amberley, where Alice had lived until her marriage.

This is a slow-paced novel as Beth gradually learns a bit about the history of Summerhayes and in particular some of Elizabeth’s story and about the difficult relations between the Summer and Fitzroy families. I think  knowing what had happened in 1914 meant that some of mystery and tension just wasn’t there for me.  Beth becomes friendly with two of the Canadians, Eddie Rich and especially Jos Kerrigan, although she doesn’t want to get too close to Jos as the planned invasion of France draws nearer. Her relationship with Gilbert also complicates matters.

As in The Buttonmaker’s Daughter, the Italian garden plays a major role, but I think what eventually happened was rather predictable (I wonder though if I would think that if I hadn’t read the first book?) The characterisation is good and I liked the main characters very much. Although my knowledge of the events of D-Day is limited it seemed to me that the author has done her research and incorporated the facts seamlessly into the narrative. A list of sources and an author’s note would have been helpful.

  • Paperback: 350 pages
  • Publisher: HQ; First edition edition (27 July 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0008193851
  • ISBN-13: 978-0008193850
  • Source: review copy
  • My rating: 3.5*

The House by Simon Lelic

Publication date: 17 August 2017, Penguin

Source: review copy via NetGalley

Blurb:

What if your perfect home turned out to be the scene of the perfect crime?

Londoners Jack and Syd moved into the house a year ago. It seemed like their dream home: tons of space, the perfect location, and a friendly owner who wanted a young couple to have it. So when they made a grisly discovery in the attic, Jack and Syd chose to ignore it. That was a mistake. Because someone has just been murdered. Right outside their back door. And now the police are watching them…

Given the title, The House, I anticipated that the main focus would be a house. And it was, at the beginning, which really raised my expectations that this was going to be a suspense-filled creepy book with hints even of the supernatural. Syd found the house advertised on the internet; the owner had suddenly moved to Australia, leaving the house fully furnished and she was immediately smitten by it. Jack wasn’t so sure – he thought it was creepy, full of junk, with an overgrown garden. But they put in a bid and were amazed when they got it a bargain price.

Jack and Syd share the narrative, explaining how they came to buy the house and their feelings as they move in and experience strange, disgusting smells and scary noises in the night. Then Jack found something nasty in the attic, which I thought must be something so evil, because he didn’t want to tell Syd what it was. He began to worry why the owner had wanted him and Syd to have the house. It’s a nightmare scenario.

But then the focus changed and the mystery of the house was absorbed into a very complex story that is difficult to write about without giving away the plot. As I read on and found out more about Jack and Syd it became clear that this book is not really about the house – it’s about their past lives and in particular about Syd’s. I think that if I had known more about that before, I wouldn’t have chosen to read the book. It’s a story about despair, domestic violence, dark secrets and the effects of the past on the present.

Even thought the main issues are not topics that I want to read about, I did find the book compelling and it drew me along. The characters are believable, so much so that I didn’t like some of them; they are not people I’d want to meet. It was not what I expected from the title or synopsis – and there is nothing supernatural about it. Having said that it is well-written in a conversational style that makes each character easily distinguishable, with a well constructed plot.

My thanks to NetGalley and Penguin, the publishers for a review copy.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1289 KB
  • Print Length: 342 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0241983355
  • Publisher: Penguin (17 Aug. 2017)
  • My rating: 3.5*

Six Degrees of Separation: Pride and Prejudice to Digging to America

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month’s chain begins with the universally loved classic, Pride and  Prejudice, by Jane Austen.

Pride and Prejudice

This is a long time favourite of mine, a book I first read when I was about 12 after seeing a BBC adaption. It’s full of wit and humour and timeless characters – foolish people, flirts, bores, snobs, self-centred and dishonest people as well as “good” people like Jane Bennet, who is determined to see good in everyone. Since then I’ve read all of Jane Austen’s books, apart from her Juvenilia books.

17th July was the 200th anniversary of her death and my first book in the chain is a book published to mark that anniversary. It’s a book I’m currently reading: Jane Austen at Home: a Biography by Lucy Worsley.  it focuses on her family and the places she lived during her short life. It really is a fascinating book for Jane Austen fans.

Jane Austen at Home

This leads nicely onto the second book in my chain – another biography of a favourite author, seen through the places she lived. It’s Agatha Christie at Home by Hilary Macaskill, an overview of Agatha Christie’s life followed by descriptions of the houses and countryside she loved – from Ashfield in Torquay her first home, where she was born and brought up, to Greenway, a Georgian mansion above the River Dart, now owned by the National Trust.  A beautiful book, with many photographs.

Agatha Christie at Home

Next a book also by a Hilary, Ink in the Blood: a Hospital Diary by Hilary Mantel, a short memoir which she wrote during the summer after she won the Man Booker Prize for Wolf Hall, when she was very ill. She had a marathon operation, followed by intense pain, nightmares and hallucinations. Illness she found knocks down our defences, revealing things we should never see, needing moment by moment concentration on breathing, on not being sick and being dependent on others for your well-being.

Ink In The Blood: A Hospital Diary

Blood provides the next link – The Blood Detective by Dan Waddell, crime fiction that absolutely grabbed me apart from the ending. It’s the sort of story that if I was watching it on TV I’d have to peep at through my fingers or even cover my eyes completely until the grisly bits were over. There are bits of graphic violence earlier in the book, which I could just about cope with, but the grisly stuff at the end was a step too far for me. It’s not just crime fiction though as DCI Grant Foster enlists the help of genealogist Nigel Barnes to track down the killer helping to solve the murders using family history.

The Blood Detective (Nigel Barnes #1)

Also crime fiction – and also a bit grisly is The Legacy by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, the first in the Children’s House thriller series. I loved it and once I started reading I just didn’t want to put it down, even though there are some particularly dark and nasty murder scenes, which would normally guarantee that I’d stop reading. It’s dark, mysterious and very cleverly plotted, full of tension and nerve-wracking suspense about three children, two brothers and their little sister who were adopted.

And so to the last book in my chain, Digging to America by Anne Tyler, also about adopted children. It  captivated me right from the start, with the description of two contrasting families waiting at Baltimore Airport for the arrival of two Korean babies they have adopted. The story develops as the two girls, Jo-Hin and Susan (originally Sooki) are integrated into their families – one American, the Donaldsons, outgoing and confident and the other the Yazdans, American/Iranian, reserved and restrained.

Digging to AmericaI never know when I begin a chain where it will lead. This one has gone from 18th century England to 20th century America, via Iceland, and passing through biographies, a memoir, and crime fiction. ‘Family’ is a theme in all the books in one way or another and adopted children feature in three of them – in Jane Austen’s own family one of her brothers was ‘adopted’ by a wealthy relation and another went to live with another family because of his epilepsy.

Quite surprising, really. I wonder where other chains will go?

My TBR: an ABC

I thought a fresh look at some of my TBRs might inspire me to read more of them by the end of the year. So here is the first instalment of my A – Z of TBRs (I’m thinking of making this a regular post).

A is for The Appeal by John Grisham: a story of political and legal intrigue.  (On my TBR shelves since February 2008.)

People were hurrying from the courthouse from all directions when the Paytons parked on the street behind it. They stayed in the car for a moment, still holding hands For four months they had tried not to touch each other  anywhere near the courthouse. Someone was always watching. Maybe juror or reporter. It  was important to be as professional as possible. The novelty of a married legal team surprised people, and the Paytons tried to treat each other as attorneys and not as spouses.

B is for The Blood Doctor by Barbara Vine: a chilling tale of ambition, obsession and bad blood. (On my TBR shelves since July 2015.)

The Queen appointed him Physician Extraordinary in 1879. Most of her other doctors were in permanent residence but Henry, though sometimes staying a few days at Windsor, retained his professorship and his London home. Though he began on the lowest rung of the royal medical ladder, he enjoyed a special position. He was the Queen’s consultant on haemophilia.

C is for The Children’s Book is for by A S Byatt:  a saga about the years between the closing of the Victorian age and the dawn of the Edwardian, when a generation grew up unaware of the darkness ahead. (On my TBR shelves since August 2009.)

Everyone old and young, now gathered for a kind of sumptuous picnic. As happens in such gatherings, where those whose lives are shaped fortunately or unfortunately, are surrounded by those whose lives are almost entirely to come, the elders began asking the young what they meant to do with their lives, and to project futures for them.

If you’ve read any of these please let me know what you think?

Jane Austen, died 18 July 1817

Today is the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death and there are many events to commemorate her death. Earlier this year I wrote about  The Spirituality of Jane Austen by Paula Hollingsworth, a combination of a biography and an analysis of Jane Austen’s works from the point of how they reveal her spirituality.

Currently I’m reading Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley,

telling her life story through the places she lived, places like Steventon Parsonage, Godmersham Park, Chawton House and a small rented house in Winchester. Lucy Worsley examines the rooms, spaces and possessions which mattered to her, and the varying ways in which homes are used in her novels as both places of pleasure and as prisons. She shows readers a passionate Jane Austen who fought for her freedom, a Jane Austen very different from the one who famously lived a ‘life without incident’.

Jane Austen died in this house in Winchester

and is buried in Winchester  Cathedral’s north nave aisle.

My Friday Post

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City
Reader
 where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

I’ve recently finished reading Gallows View by Peter Robinson, the first Inspector Banks book and have decided to read the series in the order they were written. The second Inspector Banks book is A Dedicated Man. A Dedicated Man

When the sun rose high enough to clear the slate roofs on the other side of the street, it crept through a chink in Sally Lumb’s curtain and lit on a strand of gold blonde hair that curled over her cheek. She was dreaming.

This opening doesn’t tell me much about the book. If I didn’t know it’s an Inspector Banks book I’d probably not bother reading much further. But reading the blurb encourages me to read on:

Blurb:

Near the village of Helmthorpe, Swainsdale, the body of a well-liked local historian is found half-buried under a dry stone wall. Harry Steadman has been brutally murdered. But who would want to kill such a thoughtful, dedicated man?

Chief Inspector Alan Banks is called in to investigate and soon discovers that disturbing secrets lie behind the apparently bucolic facade. It is clear that young Sally Lumb, locked in her lover’s arms on the night of the murder, knows more than she is letting on. And her knowledge could lead to danger . . .

Also every Friday Freda at Freda’s Voice hosts The Friday 56

Friday 56

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. (If you have to improvise, that’s ok.)
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

From Page 56:

‘He was a fine man, good-tempered, even-natured. He had a sharp mind – and a tongue to match when it came to it – but he was a good man; he never hurt a soul, and I can’t think why anyone would want to kill him.’

‘Somebody obviously felt differently,’ Banks said. ‘I hear he inherited a lot of money.’

I’m pleased that page 56 provides information about the man in the title and provides an answer to the question of why anyone would want to kill such a good man. I haven’t read much more of the book so I’m still in the dark about the motive – was the man really killed for his money?

What do you think? Would you continue reading?

 

The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan

A powerful and thought provoking story

The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan

I read The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan in May. It’s due to be published by No Exit Press on 27 July 2017 (first published December 30th 2014).

Blurb:

One man is dead.

But thousands are his victims.

Can a single murder avenge that of many?

When Christopher Drayton’s body is found at the foot of the Scarborough Bluffs, Detectives Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty are called to investigate his death. But as the secrets of his role in the 1995 Srebrenica Massacre surface, the harrowing significance of the case makes it difficult to remain objective. In a community haunted by the atrocities of war, anyone could be a suspect. And when the victim is a man with far more deaths to his name, could it be that justice has at long last been served?

In this striking debut, Ausma Zehanat Khan has written a compelling and provocative mystery exploring the complexities of identity, loss, and redemption.

The harrowing account of the atrocities of Srebrenica in 1995 and the search for justice forms the basis of this intriguing novel. Extracts from statements and reports from survivors of the massacre head each chapter, giving voice to the ‘unquiet dead‘. These are immensely powerful and drive the novel. Alongside that is the investigation by detectives Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty into the death of Christopher Drayton who fell from the heights of the Scarborough Bluffs. Was it suicide, or an accident? Or was he pushed -and if so, who pushed him and why?

This is Ausma Zehanat Khan‘s debut novel but at times events in the past lives of the characters are referred to without much explanation and I felt I must have missed an earlier novel. For me, the investigation into Drayton’s death is the weaker part of the book. I think Rachel is the most convincing character, with Esa more of a shadowy personality, seemingly easily influenced by the women he meets. The other characters and there are a lot, aren’t particularly well-drawn and some are really just caricatures.

But these criticisms aside I think it is a powerful and thought provoking story that brought home to me the devastating and heart breaking horrors of the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims.

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: No Exit Press (27 July 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843449447
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843449447
  • Source: Review copy via Lovereading
  • My rating: 3*

Gallows View by Peter Robinson

Gallows View: DCI Banks (Inspector Banks 1)

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the first Inspector Banks bookGallows View by Peter Robinson* (see below). I’ve read some of the later Banks books, totally out of order, which doesn’t seem to matter as I think they work well as stand alone books.

Inspector Alan Banks has been in Eastvale in the Yorkshire Dales for six months, having relocated from London. He has now got used to the slower pace of life and is working well with his colleagues. Sandra, his wife, has also settled well in Eastvale, making friends with Harriet and joining the local photography club.

There’s a peeping tom in the area, targeting young, blonde women, following them as they leave the pub and then watching as they undress for bed and there is also spate of break-ins by two balaclava-wearing thugs who rob old ladies and vandalize their homes. It’s clear quite early in the book that the two thugs are teenagers, Trevor Sharp and his friend, Mick Webster, who progress from robbing old ladies to burgling more prosperous homes when their owners are away from home, guided by Mick’s older brother, Lenny.

The main mystery is that of Alice Matlock, an old woman, living on her own, who is is found dead in her ransacked house in Gallows View, a row of old terraced  cottages. Her body was discovered by her friend, Ethel Carstairs, lying on her back, having fractured her skull on the corner of a table while falling backwards – or had she been pushed? Was she also a victim of Trevor and Mick, could it have been the peeping tom, or was someone else responsible? It might have just been an accident – she was old and her bones were brittle.

Dr Jenny Fuller, a psychologist at York University, has been brought in to help by providing a profile for the peeping tom case. Banks, a happily married man, is immediately attracted to her. They work well together, although Sandra, his wife, is rather suspicious at first about their relationship when she discovers that Dr Fuller is a young, attractive redhead.

It’s a good start to the series, which has now reached 24 books. It has quite a relaxed pace, with a complex and well constructed plot. The characters are convincing and realistic, and I like Banks, a hard working dedicated detective who gets on well with his boss, Superintendent Gristhorpe, who likes to build dry stone walls in his spare time.

As well as the crimes Robinson also explores a number of other issues – for example, feminism and gender, and education, comparing comprehensives and grammar schools. One thing that really dates it is the frequent mention of smoking in pubs!

As with other detective novels that have since been adapted for TV there are differences from the books. Peter Robinson explains on his website he has no power in the TV universe, and he thinks of the Banks books and the TV series as parallel universes. The characters are clearly meant to be different versions of the same person; they look different, have different personalities and meet different fates in different worlds.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 826 KB
  • Print Length: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; Reprints edition (21 Aug. 2009)
  • Source: I bought the e-book
  • My Rating: 4*

Gallows View is a book I’ve owned for over 2 years, so it qualifies for Bev’s Mount TBR Challenge.

*Peter Robinson later wrote a novella, Like A Virgin published in a short story collection, The Price of Love, which is about his last case in London just before he moved to Yorkshire.

Mount TBR Mountaineering Checkpoint #2

Now it’s July and the year is half-way over so Bev, our mountaineering guide, is calling for a second quarterly check-in post and asking how we are getting on.

1. Tell us how many miles you’ve made it up your mountain (# of books read).  

I’m on my way up Mont Blonc , having read 15 books. I’m way behind my target to reach Mt Ararat (48 books) this year!

2. Which book (read so far) has been on your TBR mountain the longest?Was it worth the wait? Or is it possible you should have tackled it back when you first put it on the pile? Or tossed it off the edge without reading it all?

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff has been on my TBR mountain the longest. I’m not sure when I bought it, but it was one of the books I listed when I first joined LibraryThing in 2007.  I do wish I’d read it before this year but I enjoyed it so it was worth the wait.

My Life According to Books 

 Use titles from your list to complete as many of the following sentences below as you can.  Feel free to add or change words (such as “a” or “the” or others that clarify) as needed.

1. My Ex is/was Last Seen Wearing  (by Colin Dexter)

2. My best friend is The Buttonmaker’s Daughter by Merryn Allingham
3. Lately, at work [it has been] A Place of Execution (by Val McDermid)
4. If I won the lottery, [I’d go to] The Gathering (by Anne Enright)
5. My fashion sense [is like] Wives and Daughters (by Elizabeth Gaskell)
6. My next ride [will be with] The Eagle of the Ninth (by Rosemary Sutcliff)
7. The one I love is [with] The Dead of Jericho (by Colin Dexter)
8. If I ruled the world, I would [sing] Caedmon’s Song (by Peter Robinson)
9. When I look out my window, I [see an] An Uncertain Place (by Fred Vargas )
10. The best things in life are Past Encounters (by Davina Blake)

My Friday Post: The Taxidermist’s Daughter

Book Beginnings ButtonEvery Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City
Reader
 where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week I’m featuring The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse – set in 1912 in a Sussex village where a grisly murder has taken place, this is part ghost story and part psychological thriller.

The Taxidermist's Daughter

Prologue

April 1912

Midnight

In the graveyard of the church of St Peter and St Mary, men gather in silence on the edge of the drowned marshes. Watching, waiting.

A good start I think, definitely full of foreboding.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

Friday 56

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

From Page 56:

He thought back to the painting on his easel in his studio, to the woman frozen lifeless in time, and realised it was the colour of her skin he’d got wrong. Too pink, no hollows and no shadows. No life in it.

Blurb:

The clock strikes twelve. Beneath the wind and the remorseless tolling of the bell, no one can hear the scream…

1912. A Sussex churchyard. Villagers gather on the night when the ghosts of those who will not survive the coming year are thought to walk. And in the shadows, a woman lies dead.

As the flood waters rise, Connie Gifford is marooned in a decaying house with her increasingly tormented father. He drinks to escape the past, but an accident has robbed her of her most significant childhood memories. Until the disturbance at the church awakens fragments of those vanished years …

What do you think? Would you continue reading?

Last Seen Alive by Claire Douglas

Publication date: 13 July 2017, Penguin

Source: review copy via NetGalley

Blurb:

Libby Hall never really wanted to be noticed. But after she saves the children in her care from a fire, she finds herself headline news. And horrified by the attention. It all reminds her of what happened nine years ago. The last time she saw her best friend alive.

Which is why the house swap is such a godsend. Libby and her husband Jamie exchange their flat in Bath for a beautiful, secluded house in Cornwall. It’s a chance to heal their marriage – to stop its secrets tearing them apart.

But this stylish Cornish home isn’t the getaway they’d hoped for. They make odd, even disturbing, discoveries in the house. It’s so isolated-yet Libby doesn’t feel entirely alone. As if she’s being watched.

Is Libby being paranoid? What is her husband hiding? And. As the secrets and lies come tumbling out, is the past about to catch up with them? 

Last Seen Alive is the first novel by Claire Douglas that I’ve read and I loved it. It’s everything the blurb promised, and the secrets and lies never stop coming, right up to the end of the book. To write too much about the plot would only spoil it – you have to experience it as you read to get the full impact.

I can only say that right from the beginning of the book I was hooked as Jamie and Libby arrive at their house swap in the Roseland Peninsula in Cornwall (I’ve been there – it is beautiful) and I felt the suspense and tension as they explored the house by the sea. It’s a remote detached rectangular house with a round turret at one end and inside it had been recently restored. They are dismayed by the contrast with their poky two bed flat in Bath. Immediately alarm bells are going off in Libby’s head, what were the owners’ real reasons for wanting to swap this house for their little flat?

Strange things happen, Libby’s fears escalate and then Jamie begins to question her about her past. He knew that Karen, her best friend had died in a fire when the two of them were in Thailand and that Libby had been lucky to escape. But she doesn’t want to talk about that and she knows that he is keeping things from her too. Then Jamie comes down with a bad attack of food poisoning and ends up in hospital. Their stay in Cornwall comes to an end as the owner tells them he is leaving their flat. They return and from then on everything gets worse – much worse.

Needless to say this is a complicated and complex story, perfectly paced as the secrets are revealed and the lies are exposed. The characterisation is good. As I read I grew to like Libby a lot but began to suspect that maybe she wasn’t as genuine as I first thought and Jamie’s attitude began to irritate me – signs that the characters are well drawn. At one point I began to get a glimmer about the truth as I realised how the Prologue fitted into the story.

I was never really sure who I could believe, just who was telling the truth. It’s one of those books that keeps you guessing right up to the end and this one is excellent, dramatic, tense and so very, very twisty.

My thanks to NetGalley and Penguin, the publishers for a review copy.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2751 KB
  • Print Length: 389 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1405926422
  • Publisher: Penguin (13 July 2017)
  • My rating: 5*

Six in Six: 2017

Jo at The Book Jotter  is running this meme again this year to summarise six months of reading, sorting the books into six categories – you can choose from the ones Jo suggests or come up with your own. The same book can obviously feature in more than one category.

If I keep on reading at the same rate for the second half of this year it looks as though 2017 will be a bumper year for reading – I’ve read 60 books in the first six months. Here are some of them:

Six books I have enjoyed: I’ve listed them in the order I read them (with links to my reviews):

Eyes Like Mine by Sheena Kamal  – a psychological suspense novel about Nora’s search for her daughter, Bonnie, now a teenager, who she gave away as a new-born baby. It has gripping storylines set against the backdrop of Vancouver and of British Columbia with its snow, mountains and plush ski resorts.

Let the Dead Speak by Jane Casey – the seventh Maeve Kerrigan book, a complex police procedural. Kate Emery has disappeared. If she was killed where is her body and who had the motive and opportunity to kill her? If she was not killed why is there so much blood in the house, whose blood is it, and where is Kate?

Everything But The Truth by Gillian McAllister -a thriller about deceit, betrayal and one woman’s compulsive need to uncover the truth. It’s well written, with a great sense of place, set in both Newcastle and Oban, with clearly defined and believable characters, a complex plot with plenty of twists and turns, and a dark secret.

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney – a gripping psychological thriller that kept me glued to the pages. Narrated by Amber Reynolds as she lies in hospital in a coma. She can’t move or speak, but she can hear and gradually she begins to remember who she is and what happened to her.

Fingers in the Sparkle Jar: a Memoir by Chris Packham (a naturalist, television presenter, writer, etc). It is deeply personal and honest about his childhood and early teenage years in the 1970s. But pervading his story is the search for freedom, meaning and acceptance in a world that didn’t understand him.

The Stroke Ward by Tricia Coxon – a gem of a book that explores the nature of love and loss, friendship and family, and life and death. Beautifully written it vividly conveys the trauma and catastrophic effects of a stroke, the confusion and loss of dignity and independence. It is a moving story as each woman remembers the past.

Six authors I have read before

  1. Frances Brody – A Death in the Dales, crime fiction
  2.  Peter Robinson – Caedmon’s Song, crime fiction
  3. Elizabeth Gaskell – Wives and Daughters
  4. Colin Dexter – Last Seen Wearing, crime fiction
  5. Beryl Bainbridge – Harriet Said
  6. Iain Banks – The Quarry

Six books that took me by the hand and led me into the past

The Buttonmaker’s Daughter by Merryn Allingham – a beautiful book set in Sussex in the summer of 1914 just before the start of the First World War, a summer of sweltering heat and of rising tension not only nationally and internationally but also personally for Elizabeth Summer and her family.

The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown –  based on the life of the 1640s witchfinder Matthew Hopkins. As well as a good story it is a fascinating look at life in England during the Civil War, set in 1645, a time of great change and conflict in politics, religion and philosophical ideas, coinciding with a growth in the belief in witchcraft.

See What I have Done by Sarah Schmidt – based on the true story of the brutal murders on 4 August 1892 of Andrew Borden and his second wife Abby in Fall River, Massachusetts.  Andrew’s daughter, Lizzie, was charged with the murders. She was tried and was acquitted in June 1893 and speculation about whether Lizzie was guilty or not continues to the present day.

Past Encounters by Davina Blake – a novel about Peter and his wife Rhoda, alternating between 1955 and the war years of the 1940s. I loved the historical detail, in particular the details of Peter’s experiences as a prisoner of war and also Rhoda’s war-time experiences at home and her involvement with the filming of David Lean’s 1945 film Brief Encounter.

Six Tudor Queens: Anne Boleyn: a King’s Obsession by Alison Weir –  fictional biography at its most straight forward, written in an uncomplicated style. It is a long and detailed story told from Anne Boleyn’s point of view following her life from when she was eleven up to her execution in 1536.

Vindolanda by Adrian Goldsworthy – set in the northern frontier of Britain in 98 AD. The main character, centurion Flavius Ferox is based at a small fort called Syracuse near the garrison of Vindolanda. Vindolanda is south of Hadrian’s Wall and predates its construction. Its defences are weak, as tribes rebel against Roman rule, and local druids preach the fiery destruction of the invaders.

Six Non-US/Non-British Authors

  1. Hannah Kent – Australian – The Good People, set in Ireland in 1825/6 a long gone world of people living in an isolated community, a place where superstition and a belief in fairies held sway.
  2. Sheena Kamal – born in the Caribbean and immigrated to Canada as a child – Eyes Like Mine – see above.
  3. Yrsa Sigurdardottir – Icelandic – The Legacy, Icelandic Noir and the first in a new series – the Children’s House thriller series.
  4. Sarah Schmidt-Australian – See What I have Done – see above.
  5. Fred Vargas -French – An Uncertain Place,  the sixth in her Commissaire Adamsberg series.
  6. Arundhati Roy – Indian – The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, a long, sprawling novel with so much description, so little plot and such a large cast of characters.

Six new authors to me

Heather GudenkaufMissing Pieces – Jack, has been haunted for decades by the untimely death of his mother when he was just a teenager, her body found in the cellar of their family farm, the circumstances a mystery. But when his aunt Julia is in an accident, hospitalised in a coma, he is forced to confront the past.

Anthony Doerr – All the Light We Cannot See, historical fiction about Marie-Laure, a blind French girl and Werner, a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II. There are three story lines – that of Marie-Laure, of Werner, and of a diamond that has magical powers.

Paula Hollingsworth – The Spirituality of Jane Austen, biography and an analysis of Jane Austen’s works from the point of how they reveal her spirituality.  I really enjoyed reading this book and it has made me want to re-read the novels, particularly those I haven’t re-read recently.

Jenny Ashcroft – Beneath a Burning Sky, historical fiction set in  Alexandria at the end of the 19th century when Egypt was under British rule. It is a complex book but it is not so much historical fiction but more of a romantic story. Overall I enjoyed it but thought the book was melodramatic and I was hoping for more historical content.

Stuart MacBride – A Dark So Deadly, crime fiction, a standalone thriller with quite a large cast of characters, but each one is so individually described that I had no trouble distinguishing them. It’s set in Oldcastle, a fictional town in the north east of Scotland. DC Callum MacGregor has been moved to join ‘Mother’s Misfit Mob’, officers no one else wanted.

Alasdair Maclean – Night Falls on Ardnamurchan: the Twilight of a Crofting Family, a memoir. The main section of the book is made up of extracts from Maclean’s father’s journals of his daily life on the croft. It’s an unusual book describing life in a dying community, revealing the relationship between children and parents, particularly in an isolated community.

Six authors I read last year – but not so far this year and the books that I have sitting on my shelves waiting to be read

  1. David Mitchell – The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
  2. James Naughtie – Paris Spring
  3. Reginald Hill – An April Shroud
  4. Anthony Horowitz – Moriarty
  5. Simon Mawer – The Girl who Fell from the Sky
  6. Penelope Lively – Cleopatra’s Sister

How is your reading going this year? Do let me know if you take part in Six in Six too.

Miraculous Mysteries: Locked Room Mysteries and Impossible Crimes edited by Martin Edwards

I’ve said before that I’m not a big fan of short stories, often finding them disappointing. So I’m glad to say that I enjoyed this anthology edited by Martin Edwards: Miraculous Mysteries: Locked Room Mysteries and Impossible Crimes. Some stories, of course, are better than others.

These are the sixteen stories in the collection. Martin Edwards has prefaced each one with a brief biographical note, which I found useful as some of the authors were new to me. I read the collection slowly, which I find is the best way to approach a short story collection.

  • The Lost Special by Arthur Conan Doyle (not a Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson story) about a train that disappears on its route from Liverpool to London. This was first published in The Strand Magazine in 1898.
  • The Thing Invisible by William Hope Hodgson, an author I hadn’t come across before. First published in 1913 this is a murder mystery dressed up as a ‘ghost’ story. Very atmospheric.
  • The Case of the Tragedies in the Greek Room by Sax Rohmer, another new-to-me author, although I had heard of his most well known character, the master criminal Dr Fu Manchu. In this story amateur detective Moris Klaw  and his beautiful daughter investigate a locked room murder in a museum, involving ‘psychic photographs’.
  • The Aluminum Dagger by Richard Austin Freeman, featuring one of Dr. John Thorndyke’s scientific stories, describing in detail how a man was discovered in a locked room, stabbed to death.
  • The Miracle of Moon Crescent by G. K. Chesterton, a Father Brown story set in America, in which the cleric investigates a death by a curse.
  • The Invisible Weapon by Nicholas Olde, an impossible murder mystery, in which there is only one man who could have done it – and he could not have done it.
  • The Diary of Death by Marten Cumberland – an impossible crime, a kind of chess problem. Lilian Hope’s diary provides a list of victims -people she had hated.
  • The Broadcast Murder by Grenville Robbins, in which a murder takes place in a radio station and is broadcast has it happens.
  • The Music-Room by Sapper (not a Bulldog Drummond story), featuring a secret passage and a falling chandelier.
  • Death at 8:30 by Christopher St. John Sprigg, in which a murderer predicts the date and exact time of the death of the victim unless a ransom is paid.
  • Too Clever By Half by G. D. H. and Margaret Cole – Dr Tancred’s advice, if you intend to commit a murder, is don’t make the mistake of trying to be clever!
  • Locked In by E. Charles Vivian – a death by shooting in a locked room.
  • The Haunted Policeman by Dorothy L. Sayers (a Lord Peter Wimsey story) – probably my favourite in the collection. It had me completely mystified. The policeman is new to the beat and can’t believe his eyes.
  • The Sands of Thyme by Michael Innes (a John Appleby story) murder at Thyme Bay, or was it suicide? Footprints in the sand provide a clue.
  • Beware of the Trains by Edmund Crispin (a Gervase Fen story), a clever and baffling story about a lost train driver.
  • The Villa Marie Celeste by Margery Allingham (an Albert Campion and Inspector Luke story) – another favourite, in which a young couple disappear, leaving behind their half-eaten breakfast, taking only a couple of clean linen sheets. There was no clue why they left and no signs of any violence.

My thanks to the publishers for my review copy via NetGalley.

How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

Publication Date: July 6 from Canongate Books Ltd

Source: Review Copy

Blurb:

I am old. That is the first thing to tell you. The thing you are least likely to believe. If you saw me you would probably think I was about forty, but you would be very wrong.’
Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen a lot, and now craves an ordinary life.

Always changing his identity to stay alive, Tom has the perfect cover – working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. Here he can teach the kids about wars and witch hunts as if he’d never witnessed them first-hand. He can try and tame the past that is fast catching up with him. The only thing Tom mustn’t do is fall in love.

How to Stop Time is a wild and bittersweet story about losing and finding yourself, about the certainty of change and about the lifetimes it can take to really learn how to live.

My thoughts:

How To Stop Time caught my imagination right from the start and I read it quite quickly, enjoying the trips through time. Tom’s condition is called ‘anageria’, in which, whilst he is actually ageing very slowly, he doesn’t appear to be getting any older. It’s the opposite of ‘progeria’ that causes a child’s body to age very quickly. It causes him problems, particularly in his youth in the late 16th century (he was born in 1581) when people suspected his mother of witchcraft. In more modern times the danger comes from scientists (the ‘new witch finders’) and their experiments to discover the nature and causes of anageria.

Tom tells his life story in flashbacks, switching back and forth in time between the present day and the past. His life is by no means uneventful, meeting amongst others Shakespeare, Richard Burbage, Captain Cook, and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. As a young man in Elizabethan England he fell in love with Rose and they had a daughter, Marion, who has the same genetic anomaly. He left his family to keep them safe and lost touch with Marion.  It’s a fascinating book that succeeded in bringing the past to life and transporting me back in time.

How To Stop Time is not just a trip through time because overarching Tom’s story is that of the Albatross Society, whose members have the same condition as Tom, headed by the rather frightening figure of Hendrich. The conditions of belonging to the Society are that every eight years members have to carry out assignments and in return Hendrich helps them to change the identity and thus keeps them safe over the centuries. Tom, who by now just wants to live as normal a life as possible, has become reluctant to carry out the assignments but he carries on as Hendrich says he is close to finding Tom’s daughter, Marion.

It examines the nature of time, the fact that life is continuous and ever-changing, but emphasising that in reality you can only live in the present. Without being in any way moralistic, it demonstrates that life should be lived to the full each day.

My thanks to NetGalley and Canongate Books, the publishers for an uncorrected proof copy for review.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1711 KB
  • Print Length: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books; Main edition (6 July 2017)
  • My Rating: 4*

Six Degrees from Picnic at Hanging Rock to A Study in Scarlet

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain. This month the chain begins with an Australian classic that is celebrating its 50th anniversary – Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (thanks to Brona for the suggestion).

I haven’t read Picnic at Hanging Rock, but I think it’s a book I would like and I’m adding it to my wishlist:

Picnic at Hanging Rock

Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three of the girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of Hanging Rock. Further, higher, till at last they disappeared. They never returned. 

Whether Picnic at Hanging Rock is fact or fiction the reader must decide for themselves.

It’s set in Australia and so is my first link: Morgan’s Run by Colleen McCullough, a book I read before I began this blog.

Morgan's RunThis is historical fiction based on the history of Botany Bay, and centred on the life of Richard Morgan who was transported from Britain to New South Wales in the late 17th century. I loved this book, just as I loved Colleen McCullough’s Rome series.

The First Man in Rome (Masters of Rome, #1)

I read all of Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome novels, long before I started my blog, beginning with The First Man in Rome, set in 110 BC. This is the story of Gaius Marius, wealthy but low-born, and Lucius Cornelius Sulla, penniless though aristocratic and debauched. All the Masters of Rome novels are thoroughly researched long and detailed and I couldn’t put them down.

The Hand That First Held Mine

My link to the next book is through the title and the word ‘first‘. It’s The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell, another book I loved. It’s set in two time periods about two families; there’s Lexie Sinclair who we meet at the end of the 1950s and Elina and her boyfriend Ted in the present day. Lexie is young and in love with journalist Innes Kent. Elina is struggling after the traumatic birth of her baby.  it’s a wonderful and moving story that kept me captivated to the end, despite it being written in the present tense (not my favourite).

Present Tense (Best Defense)

It’s the tense that leads me on to the next book, which is Present Tense, a Best Defence Mystery by W H S McIntyre. This is crime fiction and it is written in the past tense. I haven’t read it yet – it’s one of my TBRs – described on the front cover as ‘crime with an edge of dark humour‘. Robbie Munro is a criminal lawyer who takes on Scottish Legal Aid cases, and in this book his client is accused of rape.

The Crimson RoomsAnother book  featuring a lawyer is The Crimson Rooms by Katharine McMahon. It’s set in London in 1924, with Britain still coming to terms with the aftermath of the First World War when Evelyn Gifford, is one of a few pioneer female lawyers. She takes on the case of Leah Marchant, whose children who had been taken into care. She was accused of trying to kidnap her own baby. This is a fascinating book showing the prejudice women had to overcome just to qualify as lawyers, never mind the difficulties of persuading law firms to employ them and clients to accept them.

A Study in ScarletCrimson is a deep red colour which made me think of scarlet, another deep red colour and so my final book in this chain is A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle. This is the first Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson mystery, published in 1887. Watson is on nine months convalescent leave from the army when he meets Holmes and very soon they are involved in investigating the murder of Enoch J Drebber, an American found dead in the front room of an empty house at 3 Lauriston Gardens, off the Brixton Road,  with the word “RACHE” scrawled in blood on the wall beside the body.

My chain began with an Australian classic, went back to the early settlers in Australia, then moved further back in time to the early years of the Roman Empire before jumping forward into the 20th century, passing through historical, contemporary and crime fiction and ending up in London in the 1880s with Sherlock Holmes.

I never know where my chain will end. What about you, where would yours end?

My Week in Books: 28 June 2017

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.

IMG_1384-0

A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now: I’m currently reading South Riding by Winifred Holtby.

South Riding

I watched the BBC adaptation when it was broadcast in 2011 (can’t believe it was that long ago), bought the book and then left in on my TBR shelves. I started reading it a few days ago and it’s really good. It’s set in the fictional South Riding of Yorkshire during the Depression. There’s a huge list of characters, the main one being Sarah Burton, newly appointed as headmistress of the local girls’ school. It’s the 1930s, the world is changing (when isn’t it?) and Sarah’s arrival stirs up people’s emotions and prejudices.

Then: Last Seen Alive by Claire Douglas, to be published on 13 July. I loved this story, never quite sure who I could believe. Libby and her husband Jamie decide to do a house swap – but then things start to go wrong – very wrong. I’ll post my review soon.

Last Seen Alive

Next: The Escape by C L Taylor

I quoted the opening of this book in one of my First Chapter, First Paragraph posts and am keen to read it soon.

Blurb:

“Look after your daughter’s things. And your daughter…”

When a stranger asks Jo Blackmore for a lift she says yes, then swiftly wishes she hadn’t.

The stranger knows Jo’s name, she knows her husband Max and she’s got a glove belonging to Jo’s two year old daughter Elise.

What begins with a subtle threat swiftly turns into a nightmare as the police, social services and even Jo’s own husband turn against her.

No one believes that Elise is in danger. But Jo knows there’s only one way to keep her child safe – RUN.

How’s your week in books been?

Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns

I read Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns for the What’s in a Name Challenge (in the category of a book with item/items of cutlery in the title). It’s a book that I’ve been meaning to read for years.

Description from the back cover:

Pretty, unworldly Sophia is twenty-one years old and hastily married to a young painter called Charles. An artist’s model with an eccentric collection of pets, she is ill-equipped to cope with the bohemian London of the 1930s, where poverty, babies (however much loved) and husband conspire to torment her.

Hoping to add some spice to her life, Sophia takes up with Peregrine, a dismal, ageing critic, and comes to regret her marriage – and her affair. But in this case virtue is more than its own reward, for repentance brings an abrupt end to the cycle of unsold pictures, unpaid bills and unwashed dishes . . .

My thoughts:

I quoted the opening and an extract from page 56 in one of my Friday Posts. Now I’ve finished the book I understand the opening sentence ‘I told Helen my story and she went home and cried’, because it’s such a sad and, in parts even a tragic, story. As the synopsis indicates this is set in 1930s London and Sophia and her husband Charles (both artists) live a life of poverty whilst he struggles to sell his artwork. Actually Charles contributes very little money and it is left to Sophia to earn whatever she can working in a commercial art studio and as an artists’ model.

Their marriage is blighted by Sophia’s money worries and Charles’s cavalier attitude to life. Things get worse when Sophia realises she is pregnant – Charles had told her before they were married he never wanted to have children – and she realises too late that her idea of birth control as being a matter of controlling your thoughts and thinking very hard, and saying ‘I won’t have any babies’ was quite wrong!  After the birth of Sandro, a harrowing experience that makes me so thankful for the NHS, their situation deteriorates even further.

Despite their circumstances, Sophia tells her story in a casual, matter of fact way, with much humour. Sandro is a small, sickly baby and Sophia was afraid he would die. She also thought that if she applied for free milk the council would take him away if on the grounds that his parents had no visible means of support. Charles is no help to her at all, he dislikes Sandro and wants him out of the way:

‘Babies have no feelings and would be just as happy in an orphanage as anywhere else.’ On the other hand, he would be much happier of the baby was out of the way, so to send him to a ‘home’ was much the most reasonable thing  to do. (page 71)

Theirs is a life of hardship and heartbreaking tragedy, but Sophia’s spirit is not broken despite the tragic events that descend upon her. From a lighthearted and comic beginning the mood of the novel darkens as it moves towards an inevitable tragic climax. What seems to make it even more tragic is the conversational tone in which it is all told, concealing such real pain. However, the novel does not end with tragedy – it is not all doom and gloom and as the opening page reveals Sophia survives to tell her story:

… it all happened eight years ago, and I’m not unhappy now. I hardly dare admit it, even touching wood, but I’m so happy that when I wake in the morning I can’t believe it’s true. I seldom think of the time I was called Sophia Fairclough; I try to keep it pushed right at the back of my mind.

Our Spoons Came From Woolworths is a semi-autobiographical novel as indicated by this note at the beginning of the book:

The only things that are true in this story are the wedding and Chapters 10, 11 and 12 and the poverty.

Thankfully the really tragic events do not occur in these chapters. There are moments of comedy and humour throughout and the novel is written in a light, chatty style. It is a portrait of life in the Thirties, a life ruled by poverty and hardship and of a marriage destroyed by circumstances and personalities.

Barbara Comyns (1909 – 1992) began to write and illustrate her stories as a child. Our Spoons Came From Woolworths, first published in 1950 was her second novel.

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Virago (4 July 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844089274
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844089277
  • Source:  library book
  • My Rating: 3★

Beneath a Burning Sky by Jenny Ashcroft

Publication Date: June 29th from Sphere

Source: Review Copy

When twenty-two-year-old Olivia is coerced into marriage by the cruel Alistair Sheldon she leaves England for Egypt, his home and the land of her own childhood. Reluctant as she is to go with Alistair, it’s in her new home that she finds happiness in surprising places: she is reunited with her long-estranged sister, Clara, and falls – impossibly and illicitly – in love with her husband’s boarder, Captain Edward Bertram.

Then Clara is abducted from one of the busiest streets in the city. Olivia is told it’s thieves after ransom money, but she’s convinced there’s more to it. As she sets out to discover what’s happened to the sister she’s only just begun to know, she falls deeper into the shadowy underworld of Alexandria, putting her own life, and her chance at a future with Edward, the only man she’s ever loved, at risk. Because, determined as Olivia is to find Clara, there are others who will stop at nothing to conceal what’s become of her . . .

Beneath a Burning Sky is a novel of secrets, betrayal and, above all else, love. Set against the heat and intrigue of colonial Alexandria, this beautiful and heart-wrenching story will take your breath away.

My Thoughts:

I have mixed feelings about Beneath a Burning Sky by Jenny Ashcroft. I liked the historical setting – Alexandria at the end of the 19th century when Egypt was under British rule. It is a complex book but it is not so much historical fiction but more of a romantic story. Overall I enjoyed it but thought the book was melodramatic and I was hoping for more historical content.

There is a large cast of characters and although the main character, Olivia is convincingly described, many of the other characters are rather flat stereotypes – Alistair the sadistic older husband, Millicent, the wicked grandmother, and Edward, the ‘good’ character, the handsome, romantic lover.

From the start of the novel there is a lot that is not explained and the action moves swiftly from location to location, switching between different sets of characters. Olivia, trapped in an appalling marriage, is reunited with her older sister Clara from whom she was separated at a very young age after the death of their parents. She has no memories of her parents or her early life in Egypt, but throughout the book has tantalising flashbacks. I would have liked to have discovered what had happened to her parents, but this was only hinted at. I also wondered why Millicent, the wicked grandmother, had hated Olivia’s mother so much. And I was not convinced about the plausibility of Olivia’s forced marriage to Alistair.

But this is not the main mystery – that concerns Clara, because shortly after Olivia arrives, Clara disappears. The police investigation is completely useless, mainly because the chief of police is corrupt. What follows is Olivia’s frantic search for Clara with multiple twists as various secrets and passions begin to surface.

An added complication is the story of Nailah, an Egyptian woman, and her family. This shows the contrast between the ruling British class and the local people and the conditions they experienced and I think Jenny Ashcroft’s portrayal is the best part of her book. But I floundered to understand Nailah’s role in the novel and it was only towards the end that that became clear.

It is easy reading, and I was keen to know what had happened to Clara and why she disappeared. But for me it was too long with too many episodes that I sometimes found confusing. However, other people enjoyed it more than I did -there are plenty of 5 and 4 star reviews both on Amazon and Goodreads.

With thanks to NetGalley and Sphere, the publisher for a review copy.

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Sphere (29 Jun. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0751565032
  • ISBN-13: 978-0751565034
  • My Rating: 3★

This is the second book for my 10 Books of Summer Challenge.

My Friday Post: Our Spoons Came From Woolworths

Book Beginnings ButtonEvery Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City
Reader
 where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

My opening this week is from Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns.

I told Helen my story and she went home and cried. In the evening her husband came to see me and brought some strawberries; he mended my bicycle, too, and was kind, but he needn’t have been, because it all happened eight years ago, and I’m not unhappy now.

Friday 56Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

From Page 56:

Charles said he had borrowed some money to send telegrams to his relations saying we had a boy of six ounces. I told him it was six pounds not ounces, but he said a few pounds either way wouldn’t make any difference. But Charles’s telegrams caused a huge sensation, and his family was most disappointed when in due course they discovered we had had quite a normal baby.

Description from the back cover:

Pretty, unworldly Sophia is twenty-one years old and hastily married to a young painter called Charles. An artist’s model with an eccentric collection of pets, she is ill-equipped to cope with the bohemian London of the 1930s, where poverty, babies (however much loved) and husband conspire to torment her.

Hoping to add some spice to her life, Sophia takes up with Peregrine, a dismal, ageing critic, and comes to regret her marriage – and her affair. But in this case virtue is more than its own reward, for repentance brings an abrupt end to the cycle of unsold pictures, unpaid bills and unwashed dishes . . .

I’m only a few chapters into this book which at first seems to be a comic novel, written in a chatty, relaxed style, but going by the blurb it may not end that way.

My Week in Books: 14 June 2017

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.

IMG_1384-0

A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now: I’m currently reading Beneath a Burning Sky by Jenny Ashcroft.

Blurb:

When twenty-two-year-old Olivia is coerced into marriage by the cruel Alistair Sheldon she leaves England for Egypt, his home and the land of her own childhood. Reluctant as she is to go with Alistair, it’s in her new home that she finds happiness in surprising places: she is reunited with her long-estranged sister, Clara, and falls – impossibly and illicitly – in love with her husband’s boarder, Captain Edward Bertram.

Then Clara is abducted from one of the busiest streets in the city. Olivia is told it’s thieves after ransom money, but she’s convinced there’s more to it. As she sets out to discover what’s happened to the sister she’s only just begun to know, she falls deeper into the shadowy underworld of Alexandria, putting her own life, and her chance at a future with Edward, the only man she’s ever loved, at risk. Because, determined as Olivia is to find Clara, there are others who will stop at nothing to conceal what’s become of her . . .

Beneath a Burning Sky is a novel of secrets, betrayal and, above all else, love. Set against the heat and intrigue of colonial Alexandria, this beautiful and heart-wrenching story will take your breath away.

Then: I’ve just finished reading Miraculous Murders: Locked-RoomMurders and Impossible Crimes edited by Martin Edwards which I really enjoyed. My review will follow soon.

Blurb:

Impossible crime stories have been relished by puzzle-lovers ever since the invention of detective fiction. Fiendishly intricate cases were particularly well suited to the cerebral type of detective story that became so popular during the ‘golden age of murder’ between the two world wars. But the tradition goes back to the days of Edgar Allan Poe and Wilkie Collins, and impossible crime stories have been written by such luminaries as Arthur Conan Doyle, G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Allingham. This anthology celebrates their work, alongside long-hidden gems by less familiar writers. Together these stories demonstrate the range and high accomplishment of the classic British impossible crime story over more than half a century.

Next: This is such a difficult decision as there are so many books I want to read and I always hesitate to say which one I’ll read next. But I think I’ll read How to Stop Time by Matt Haig, with the usual proviso that when the time comes I may decide to read a different book.

Blurb:

‘I am old. That is the first thing to tell you. The thing you are least likely to believe. If you saw me you would probably think I was about forty, but you would be very wrong.’
Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen a lot, and now craves an ordinary life.

Always changing his identity to stay alive, Tom has the perfect cover – working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. Here he can teach the kids about wars and witch hunts as if he’d never witnessed them first-hand. He can try and tame the past that is fast catching up with him. The only thing Tom mustn’t do is fall in love.

How to Stop Time is a wild and bittersweet story about losing and finding yourself, about the certainty of change and about the lifetimes it can take to really learn how to live.

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, which is a good thing as I don’t like anything about this cover – it doesn’t say ‘read me’ to me. But the synopsis does.

How about you? Have you read any of these books?  If so, what did you think of them? And what have you been reading this week?

A TMO – a Tree of Multiple Occupancy

I meant to post this a couple of weeks ago – it’s that time of year when the garden seems to take over my life and this year there’s been quite a lot going on in our garden.

This is an old ash tree in the field behind our house and we’ve called it a Tree of Multiple Occupancy. It’s hollowed out at the top with several holes lower down and the occupants are mainly jackdaws and wood pigeons. This is not a happy household as none of them get on and the jackdaws regularly patrol the tree trying to scare off any birds that come near.

In the early mornings I’ve seen a barn owl going into the top hole, chased by the jackdaws. I’ve seen the owl a few times now – one evening it came sweeping out of the top hole followed by a group of jackdaws. It flew into our little wood and after just a short time it flew back into the tree. I wish I’d had my camera handy that day, it’s an absolutely beautiful bird!

I also wish I had a camera inside the tree to see the arrangements – is the tree hollow all the way down? Do they all have nests? And is the barn owl nesting there too?

The great tits and bluetits have been busy – the great tits made a nest in an old hollow fence post and produced four young ones. David’s video shows the fledglings leaving the nest early one morning. We also have had bluetits nesting in a great tits’ bird box on the gable end of the house. And now the swallows are here, swooping around the sky – such wonderful aerial displays.

Past Encounters by Davina Blake

Past EncountersBlurb (Goodreads)

From the moment Rhoda Middleton opens one of her husband’s letters and finds it is from another woman, she is convinced he is having an affair. But when Rhoda tracks her down, she discovers the mysterious woman is not his lover after all, but the wife of his best friend, Archie Foster.

There is only one problem – Rhoda has never even heard of Archie Foster.

Devastated by this betrayal of trust, Rhoda tries to find out how and why her husband, Peter, has kept this friendship hidden for so long. Her search leads her back to 1945, but as she gradually uncovers Peter’s wartime secrets she must wrestle with painful memories of her own. For if they are ever to understand each other, Rhoda too must escape the ghosts of the past. Taking us on a journey from the atmospheric filming of Brief Encounter, to the extraordinary Great March of prisoners of war through snow-bound Germany, this is a novel of friendship, hope, and how in the end, it is the small things that enable love to survive.

I finished reading Past Encounters by Davina Blake a week ago, but the story is still fresh in my mind. In essence it is a story of a marriage that has drifted, so that Rhoda and Peter no longer talk to each other about the things that matter in their lives. And they both have secrets from each other – big secrets! Their inability to talk about their wartime experiences has isolated them both emotionally and psychologically.

Rhoda and Peter were engaged to be married as war broke out and the story follows their lives, alternating between the novel’s present day of 1955 and the war years of the 1940s. I loved the historical detail, in particular the details of Peter’s experiences as a prisoner of war. Davina Blake explains in the Acknowledgements that his experiences are fictional but based on real-life ordeals of prisoners of war taken from their memoirs. She has included a bibliography of further reading including these memoirs. The account of the prisoners’ march through Germany towards the end of the war is especially moving. I don’t think I have read any war-time stories quite like this one.

Equally as fascinating are Rhoda’s war-time experiences at home and her involvement with the filming of David Lean’s 1945 film Brief Encounter at the refreshment room in the Carnforth Railway station where she was working. Davina Blake used to be a set and costume designer for theatre and BBC TV and was inspired to write Past Encounters as she lives near Carnforth station where she has often kept out of the cold in the refreshment room whilst waiting for a train.

Past Encounters is a thought provoking book about love, loyalty, betrayal and forgiveness, full of tension with well-drawn characters and a great sense of time and place, whether in Germany or Britain.

Davina Blake also writes historical fiction set in the 17th century under the pen name Deborah Swift.

  • Paperback, 442 pages
  • Published June 30th 2014 by CreateSpace
  • ISBN 1499568258 (ISBN13: 9781499568257)
  • My Rating: 4.5*

An Uncertain Place by Fred Vargas

An Uncertain Place (Commissaire Adamsberg, #8)

I loved An Uncertain Place, a clever and also a confusing book. It’s the sixth in Fred Vargas’ Commissaire Adamsberg series in which he investigates a macabre murder. I say confusing because I got a bit lost in the middle of the book, and looking back I think it’s because Adamsberg is not your normal detective – he works by intuition and I simply hadn’t followed his train of thought. With a bit of concentration I was back on track and caught up with him.

I say clever because it is such a convoluted plot, with what I thought could be red herrings, but which turned out to be vital clues. I think the blurb on the back cover summarises the story better than I could:

Commissaire Adamsberg leaves Paris for a three-day conference in London. With him are Estalère, a young sergeant, and Commandant Danglard, who is terrified at the idea of travelling beneath the Channel. It is a welcome change of scenery, until a macabre and brutal case comes to the attention of their colleague Radstock from New Scotland Yard.

Just outside the gates of the baroque Highgate cemetery a pile of shoes is found. Not so strange in itself, but the shoes contain severed feet. As Scotland Yard’s investigation begins, Adamsberg and his colleagues return home and are confronted with a massacre in a suburban home. Adamsberg and Danglard are drawn in to a trail of vampires and vampire-hunters that leads them all the way to Serbia, a place where the old certainties no longer apply.

My thoughts:

This is one of those books that once I begin reading I don’t want to put down. I had to, of course, and it’s not a book to dash through to the end or you’ll miss so much. Adamsberg is a very likeable detective, although he must be a nightmare to work with, as his colleagues find his methods of working just as bewildering and confusing as I do. But they are used to him and trust his leaps of intuition.

The mystery of who left the shoes outside the gates of Highgate Cemetery is a theme throughout the book:

The smell was ghastly, the scene appalling, and even Adamsberg stiffened, standing back a little behind his English colleague. From the ancient shoes, with their cracked leather and trailing laces, projected decomposed ankles, showing dark flesh and white shinbones which had been cleanly chopped off. The only thing that didn’t match Clyde-Fox’s account was that the feet were not trying to get into the cemetery. They were just there, on the pavement, terrible and provocative, sitting inside their shoes at the historic gateway to Highgate Cemetery. They formed a carefully arranged and unspeakable pile. (page 23)

 The scene that confronts Adamsberg on his return to Paris is even more gruesome. Pierre Vaudel, a former journalist who specialised in legal affairs, had been murdered, or rather it looked as though his body had exploded and had been strewn around the room. The only way to identify the body was by DNA. Suspicion falls on the gardener, who reported the death and who inherited all of Vaudel’s property and also on Vaudel’s son.

After a similar murder occurs in Austria, Adamsberg is eventually led to a village on the Serbian/Romanian border, finding himself immersed in the weird world of vampires. Books featuring vampires (with the exception of Dracula) are not part of my preferred reading, but I found this aspect of the book fascinating. Adamsberg, himself, is sceptical and ignores warnings not to start meddling or even visit the tomb of Petar Blagojevic who had died in 1725. Blagojevic/Plogojowitz was said to be a ‘vampyr‘, and the clearing in the wood, where he was buried is known by the locals as ‘the place of uncertainty.’ Adamsberg’s disregard for his own safety puts him in danger of losing his own life.

This book is full of wonderful and unique characters, the plot, as I said, is clever and completely bamboozled me, the settings are easily imagined from Vargas’ descriptions, and the suspense is maintained throughout. It’s a complicated book – one of the most intriguing aspects is the sudden appearance of a man claiming to be Adamsberg’s son. Maybe this is not a book everyone will enjoy, but I think it’s a most satisfying and surreal mystery, and one that I enjoyed immensely.

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (5 April 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 009955223X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099552239
  • Source: I bought my copy
  • My Rating: 4.5*

Reading challenges: Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

I wanted to read Arundhati Roy’s second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness because I’d loved her first novel, The God of Small Things when it won the Booker Prize in 1997.

Blurb:

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness takes us on an intimate journey across the Indian subcontinent – from the cramped neighbourhoods of Old Delhi and the glittering malls of the burgeoning new metropolis to the snowy mountains and valleys of Kashmir, where war is peace and peace is war, and from time to time ‘normalcy’ is declared. Anjum unrolls a threadbare Persian carpet in a city graveyard that she calls home.

We encounter the incorrigible Saddam Hussain, the unforgettable Tilo and the three men who loved her – including Musa whose fate as tightly entwined with hers as their arms always used to be. Tilo’s landlord, another former suitor, is now an Intelligence officer posted to Kabul. And then there are the two Miss Jebeens: the first born in Srinagar and buried, aged four, in its overcrowded Martyrs’ Graveyard; the second found at midnight, in a crib of litter, on the concrete pavement of New Delhi.

At once an aching love story and a decisive remonstration, a heart-breaker and a mind-bender, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is told in a whisper, in a shout, through tears and sometimes with a laugh. Its heroes are people who have been broken by the world they live in and then rescued, patched together by acts of love-and by hope. For this reason, fragile though they may be, they never surrender. Braiding richly complex lives together, this ravishing and deeply humane novel reinvents what a novel can do and can be. And it demonstrates on every page the miracle of Arundhati Roy’s storytelling gifts.

My thoughts:

My initial reaction to it was one of disappointment. After a good beginning I struggled with it because there is so much description, so little plot and such a large cast of characters. At times I was on the verge of abandoning the book, but then first one episode and then another and another held my imagination and I read on. Now, though, I’m glad I finished it as the ending is clearer and more understandable than the middle, where quite frankly I was for the most part bewildered.

It’s a difficult book to read firstly because of its structure (or lack of structure) and secondly because of its content. It’s not a straight narrative, as it moves backwards and forwards in time and place and between different narrators, both in the third and first person, all of which makes it a disjointed and fragmentary book. There are stories within stories, some of which at first appear to be totally unconnected to anything else, but looking back I can see how they become interwoven into the whole (I think).

I preferred the beginning, the story about Anjum, to the rest of the book but by the end it’s as though Roy decided to bring all the strands together, to come back full circle to Anjum and the community she established in the old graveyard in Delhi. Maybe it’s because she spent 10 years or so to write it. For more details about why it took over 20 years for Arundhati Roy to write her second novel see this article, Fiction Takes Its Time in The Guardian.

I’m sure that I didn’t pick up all the political and cultural references, but the issues surrounding caste, nationalism, gender and religious conflict are clear. It’s a book about love and loss, death and survival, grief, pain and poverty. There are outcasts, the hijras – transgender individuals, rape victims, addicts and abandoned babies; and there is a lot of violence, massacres, beatings, tortures and rapes. It’s a heartbreaking book, which doesn’t spare the details. I was relieved to finish it.

Thanks to the publisher for an ARC via NetGalley.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2822 KB
  • Print Length: 417 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; 01 edition (6 Jun. 2017)
  • My rating: 2.5★

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is the first book for my 10 Books of Summer Challenge.

My Week in Books: 7 June 2017

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.

IMG_1384-0

A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now: I’m currently reading two books, both of which were published yesterday. I’ve nearly finished The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy. I’ve struggled with this book, on the verge of abandoning it several times. For now, all I’m saying is that I loved her first novel, The God of Small Things and I’m deeply disappointed by this, her second. I’ll write more when I’ve finished it.

Blurb:

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness takes us on an intimate journey across the Indian subcontinent – from the cramped neighbourhoods of Old Delhi and the glittering malls of the burgeoning new metropolis to the snowy mountains and valleys of Kashmir, where war is peace and peace is war, and from time to time ‘normalcy’ is declared. Anjum unrolls a threadbare Persian carpet in a city graveyard that she calls home.

We encounter the incorrigible Saddam Hussain, the unforgettable Tilo and the three men who loved her – including Musa whose fate as tightly entwined with hers as their arms always used to be. Tilo’s landlord, another former suitor, is now an Intelligence officer posted to Kabul. And then there are the two Miss Jebeens: the first born in Srinagar and buried, aged four, in its overcrowded Martyrs’ Graveyard; the second found at midnight, in a crib of litter, on the concrete pavement of New Delhi.

At once an aching love story and a decisive remonstration, a heart-breaker and a mind-bender, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is told in a whisper, in a shout, through tears and sometimes with a laugh. Its heroes are people who have been broken by the world they live in and then rescued, patched together by acts of love-and by hope. For this reason, fragile though they may be, they never surrender. Braiding richly complex lives together, this ravishing and deeply humane novel reinvents what a novel can do and can be. And it demonstrates on every page the miracle of Arundhati Roy’s storytelling gifts.

The other book I’m reading is Miraculous Murders: Locked-RoomMurders and Impossible Crimes edited by Martin Edwards and I’m glad to say this is not disappointing.

Blurb:

Impossible crime stories have been relished by puzzle-lovers ever since the invention of detective fiction. Fiendishly intricate cases were particularly well suited to the cerebral type of detective story that became so popular during the ‘golden age of murder’ between the two world wars. But the tradition goes back to the days of Edgar Allan Poe and Wilkie Collins, and impossible crime stories have been written by such luminaries as Arthur Conan Doyle, G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Allingham. This anthology celebrates their work, alongside long-hidden gems by less familiar writers. Together these stories demonstrate the range and high accomplishment of the classic British impossible crime story over more than half a century.

Then: The last book I finished reading was Past Encounters by Davina Blake, which I really enjoyed. My review will follow soon (I hope, as I’m a bit behind with writing reviews).

Past EncountersBlurb
From the moment Rhoda Middleton opens one of her husband’s letters and finds it is from another woman, she is convinced he is having an affair. But when Rhoda tracks her down, she discovers the mysterious woman is not his lover after all, but the wife of his best friend, Archie Foster. There is only one problem – Rhoda has never even heard of Archie Foster.

Devastated by this betrayal of trust, Rhoda tries to find out how and why her husband, Peter, has kept this friendship hidden for so long. Her search leads her back to 1945, but as she gradually uncovers Peter’s wartime secrets she must wrestle with painful memories of her own. For if they are ever to understand each other, Rhoda too must escape the ghosts of the past.

Taking us on a journey from the atmospheric filming of Brief Encounter, to the extraordinary Great March of prisoners of war through snow-bound Germany, this is a novel of friendship, hope, and how in the end, it is the small things that enable love to survive.

Next: I think I’ll read Beneath a Burning Sky by Jenny Ashcroft, with the usual proviso that when the time comes I may decide to read a different book.

Blurb:

When twenty-two-year-old Olivia is coerced into marriage by the cruel Alistair Sheldon she leaves England for Egypt, his home and the land of her own childhood. Reluctant as she is to go with Alistair, it’s in her new home that she finds happiness in surprising places: she is reunited with her long-estranged sister, Clara, and falls – impossibly and illicitly – in love with her husband’s boarder, Captain Edward Bertram.

Then Clara is abducted from one of the busiest streets in the city. Olivia is told it’s thieves after ransom money, but she’s convinced there’s more to it. As she sets out to discover what’s happened to the sister she’s only just begun to know, she falls deeper into the shadowy underworld of Alexandria, putting her own life, and her chance at a future with Edward, the only man she’s ever loved, at risk. Because, determined as Olivia is to find Clara, there are others who will stop at nothing to conceal what’s become of her . . .

Beneath a Burning Sky is a novel of secrets, betrayal and, above all else, love. Set against the heat and intrigue of colonial Alexandria, this beautiful and heart-wrenching story will take your breath away.

Have you read any of these books? What do you think about them?

Six Degrees of Separation: Shopgirl to Molly Fox’s Birthday

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain. This month’s Six Degrees begins with Steve Martin’s Shopgirl.

Shopgirl by [Martin, Steve]

  • I haven’t read Shopgirl so my first link is to another book with the word ‘shop’ in the title –

The Old Curiosity Shop

  • The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens, a book full of weird, grotesque and comic characters, a mix of everyday people and characters of fantasy. It has elements of folklore and myth, as Nell and her grandfather, go on an epic journey, fleeing from the terrifying dwarf, Daniel Quilp and travelling through a variety of scenes, meeting different groups of people on their journey.

The Ghost Riders of Ordebec (Commissaire Adamsberg, #9)

  • Also full of  eccentric and quirky characters is The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas, an intriguing mystery beginning with the death of an old woman, killed with breadcrumbs, then a car is burnt out with someone inside, and a pigeon is found with its legs tied together so it can’t fly. The main plot is based on medieval myths and legends: the ghostly army that gallops along the Chemin de Bonneval, led by the terrifying Lord Hellequin.

The Body in the Ice (Romney Marsh Mystery #2)

  • Fred is the pseudonym of the French historian, archaeologist and writer Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau. A J Mackenzie is the pseudonym of Marilyn Livingstone and Morgen Witzel, an Anglo-Canadian husband-and-wife team of writers and historians. Their book, The Body in the Ice is historical crime fiction set in Romney Marsh in 1796-7. One of the characters is Cordelia is a gothic novelist, who gave a young Jane Austen writing tips, which leads to my next link,

Northanger Abbey

  • which is Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, a parody of the Gothic novels of her day and a  love story about Catherine Morland, a naive and impressionable 17 year-old, whose imagination has been filled with visions of diabolical villains and swooning heroines from those Gothic novels.

The Burning (Maeve Kerrigan, #1)

  • Another author named Jane is Jane Casey, the author of the Maeve Kerrigan series. The Burning by  the first in that series. Maeve is on the murder task force investigating the case of the serial killer the media call The Burning Man. Jane Casey is an Irish author.

Molly Fox's Birthday

  • This links to another Irish author Deirdre Madden, whose book Molly Fox’s Birthday is a novel about identity as well as family and friendship, about how we see other people and how they see us.

My chain has gone from Los Angeles to Normandy, Romney Marsh, London and Dublin, from contemporary books to to murder mysteries and the classics.

Where will other chains lead, I wonder?

First Chapter, First Paragraph: The Escape

Every Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros to share the first paragraph sometimes two, of a book that she’s reading or planning to read soon. Diane is having a summer break at the moment, but I enjoy doing this meme anyway.

This week’s first paragraph is from The Escape by C L Taylor.

Blurb:

“Look after your daughter’s things. And your daughter…”

When a stranger asks Jo Blackmore for a lift she says yes, then swiftly wishes she hadn’t.

The stranger knows Jo’s name, she knows her husband Max and she’s got a glove belonging to Jo’s two year old daughter Elise.

What begins with a subtle threat swiftly turns into a nightmare as the police, social services and even Jo’s own husband turn against her.

No one believes that Elise is in danger. But Jo knows there’s only one way to keep her child safe – RUN.

It begins:

Someone is walking directly behind me, matching me pace for pace. Her perfume catches in the back of my throat: a strong, heady mix of musk and something floral. Jasmine maybe, or lily. She’s so close she’d smack into me if I stopped abruptly. why doesn’t she just overtake? It’s a quiet street, tucked round the back of the university, with space for half a dozen cars to park but the pavement is easily wide enough for two people to walk abreast of each other.

My friend has read this book – she said she couldn’t put it down – so I want to read it even though it’s written in the present tense, which I often find so irritating.

What do you think? Would you carry on reading?

10 Books of Summer

Cathy at Cathy 746 Books has an annual challenge, 20 Books of Summer, to read twenty books over the summer months starting on 1 June 2017 and running until 3 September 2017. The aim is to read from your TBR books already on your shelves.

There are also the options to read 15 or 10 books and as I’m very good at listing the books I want to read and very bad at sticking to the list I’m going for the 10 book option.

I’m including e-books as well as paper books. I like Cathy’s idea of counting the pages and working out how many pages I need to read each day. My total comes to 3585 pages which means I have to read 37 pages a day to complete my challenge. I should be able to do that … shouldn’t I?

Here are my 10 books in A-Z order by author:

  1. The King in the North by Max Adams – the life and times of Oswald of Northumbria in the 7th century
  2. Beneath a Burning Sky by Jenny Ashcroft – a story of love, secrets and betrayal
  3. Miraculous Mysteries edited by Martin Edward – Locked-Room Murders And Impossible Crimes
  4. How to Stop Time by Matt Haig – a story of love and loss and living in the moment
  5. Did You See Melanie? by Sophie Hannah – a suspense novel
  6. Mister Pip by Ernest Jones – a story within a story and a fable
  7. The One that Got Away by Annabel Kantaria – story of loss and betrayal
  8. Present Tense by W H S McIntyre – crime fiction with an edge of dark humour
  9. Long Road from Jarrow by Stuart Maconie – Stuart Maconie walks North to South retracing the emblematic footsteps of the Jarrow marchers to discover what Britain is really like today
  10. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy – at once a love story and a provocation-a novel as inventive as it is emotionally engaging.

Cathy has allocated 2 ‘spares’ and because I know that I could easily not fancy reading one or more of these books when the time comes I’m reserving the option of substituting 2 ‘spares’ as well. They are:

The Shadow PuppetThe Shadow Puppet by Georges Simenon – an Inspector Maigret mystery.

Maigret uncovers a tragic story of desperate lives, unhappy families, addiction and terrible, fatal greed.

and

The Last Kingdom by Bernard CornwellThe Last Kingdom (The Saxon Stories, #1), the first in his Saxon series, set in 9th century Northumbria, about Uhtred an English boy, adopted by a Dane and taught Viking ways.

Desert Notes and River Notes by Barry Lopez

Blurb:
Two of Lopez’s collections of short fiction in one exhilarating and profoundly beautiful volume 
To National Book Award–winning author Barry Lopez, the desert and the river are landscapes alive with poetry, mystery, seduction, and enchantment. In these two works of fiction, the narrator responds viscerally and emotionally to their moods and changes, their secrets and silences, and their unique power.
 
Desert Notes portrays the mystical power of an American desert, and the reflections it sparks in the characters who travel there. River Notes, a companion piece, celebrates the wild life forces of a river, calling readers to think deeply on identity and about the hopefulness of their onward journeys, with a lyrical collection of memories, stories, and dreams. From an evocative tale of finding a hot spring in a desert to a meditation on the thoughts and dreams of herons, Lopez offers enthralling stories that enable us to see and feel the rhythms of the wilderness. These sojourns bring readers a specific sense of the darkness, light, and resolve that we encounter within ourselves when away from home.
 
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Barry Lopez including rare images and never-before-seen documents from the author’s personal collection.

My Thoughts:

At times I wasn’t sure what I was reading about as some of the writing didn’t seem to make much sense to me. This is imaginative writing describing the sensations evoked by the desert and the river but I was disoriented between the observation of nature and obsessive and passionate intensity of imagining being in/part of the places and creatures Lopez describes.

I was never sure who the narrator was, at times an unnamed ‘I’ and then a similarly unnamed ‘he’. At times I was thinking of abandoning the book and then a passage appealed to me and I read on. I preferred the stories in River Notes, of being by the river, observing the salmon for example returning to spawn, and the  more straight-forward approach in Hanner’s Story, in which a river guide talks about the history of a community named Sheffield and the stories about the idyllic and far-fetched stories about these people. But overall I didn’t enjoy this book, and although I liked some of the descriptive writing, I was more baffled than enlightened.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 7049 KB
  • Print Length: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Open Road Media (25 Jun. 2013)
  • Source: I received a free electronic copy of this collection from Netgalley, Barry Holston Lopez, and Open Road Media
  • My Rating: 1½ ★

To-Be-Read Books

It’s time for a check of my TBRs. I started listing books on LibraryThing in April 2007, so books I listed in 2007 as ‘to read’ are mainly books I owned before then. Currently I have 319 books listed as TBRs, which is far too many (and that isn’t counting e-books on my Kindle), so I’m going through them to see if I really do want to read them – I did when I first got them, but maybe not now?

I’m beginning by looking at the books I added in 2007 and here are 10 of the oldest books in my catalogue. Some of them I’ve started and put back on the shelves for a variety of reasons:

 

  • A Dead Language by Peter Rushforth – I really wanted to read this and have started it at least twice. I stopped reading it because of its size – it’s too heavy to read in bed and it’s very long. I loved Rushforth’s Pinkerton’s Sister and it was whilst I was trying to find out more about that book that I came across the world of book blogs – which then led me to writing my own blog.
  • Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man by Claire Tomalin – I stopped reading this partway in as I decided I needed to read more of Hardy’s own books before going further. I’ve read a few more of his books, but have never got back to this biography. I will get back to it.
  • Helen of Troy: A Novel by Margaret George – another long book, not started.
  • Martin Chuzzlewit (Wordsworth Classics) by Charles Dickens – I have started this, but this edition is in a very small font! I’ll probably read it on Kindle.

  • The Liar by Stephen Fry – I haven’t started this one. It’s Fry’s debut novel, described on the front cover as ‘Brilliant’, ‘Hilarious’ and ‘sublime’. Will I find it funny? I’m not sure.
  • 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro – I started it but can’t remember any specific reason I haven’t finished this book.
  • Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks – another one I haven’t started. A novel about the early days of psychiatry.
  • A Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela -I must have read about half of this book before I stopped. It was so long ago that I can’t remember why I didn’t finish it.
  • Band of Brothers by Stephen E Andrews – brotherhood on the battlefields in World War Two. Another book I’ve started a couple of times. I’ve watched the TV adaptation and I have a feeling that it’s better than the book.
  • The Olive Readers by Christine Aziz – not started. Dystopian fiction in which the Readers are smuggling and storing books in a secret library.

If there are any books here that you’ve loved or think are not worth reading do let me know.

My Friday Post: An Uncertain Place

Book Beginnings ButtonEvery Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City
Reader
 where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

My opening this week is from An Uncertain Place by Fred Vargas*, another book that has sat unread on my shelves for a while.

An Uncertain Place (Commissaire Adamsberg, #8)

Commissaire Adamsberg knew how to iron shirts. His mother had shown him how you should flatten the shoulder piece and press down the fabric round the buttons. He unplugged the iron and folded his clothes into his suitcase. Freshly shaved and combed, he was off to London, and there was no getting out of it.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

Friday 56

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

From Page 56:

Since London, and perhaps since Danglard had presented such an encyclopedic account of Highgate Cemetery, the commissaire had been feeling he ought perhaps to try harder to remember names, phrases, sentences. His memory for them had always been poor, though he could recall a sound, a facial expression or a trick of the light years later.

Blurb (Goodreads):

Commissaire Adamsberg leaves Paris for a three-day conference in London. With him are a young sergeant, Estalère, and Commandant Danglard, who is terrified at the idea of travelling beneath the Channel. It is the break they all need, until a macabre and brutal case comes to the attention of their colleague Radstock from New Scotland Yard.

Just outside the baroque and romantic old Highgate cemetery a pile of shoes is found. Not so strange in itself, but the shoes contain severed feet. As Scotland Yard’s investigation begins, Adamsberg and his colleagues return home and are confronted with a massacre in a suburban home. Adamsberg and Danglard are drawn in to a trail of vampires and vampire-hunters that leads them all the way to Serbia, a place where the old certainties no longer apply.

I have just started to read this book this morning and so far it looks very promising, rather quirky and bizarre.

*Fred Vargas is the pseudonym of the French historian, archaeologist and writer Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau.  Her crime fiction policiers have won three International Dagger Awards from the Crime Writers Association, for three successive novels: in 2006, 2008 and 2009.

A Place of Execution by Val McDermid

For years I’ve steered clear of reading any of Val McDermid‘s books and the reason is that I can’t stand to watch the violence and torture scenes in TV series such as Wire in the Blood, based on her Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series. But then I thought that maybe I wasn’t being fair to judge a writer’s work on films based on the books, and I read Cleanskin, one of the Quick Reads series, aimed at ‘adults who’ve stopped reading or find reading tough, and for regular readers who want a short, fast read.’ I enjoyed it and I’ve been meaning to read one of her full length books ever since.

There are many to choose from but I decided to read A Place of Execution, one of her standalone books. The book was made into a 3-part TV drama shown on ITV 1 in 2008, which I didn’t see. It is one of my TBRs.

A Place of Execution

Blurb:

In the Peak District village of Scarsdale, thirteen-year-old girls didn’t just run away. So when Alison Carter vanished in the winter of ’63, everyone knew it was a murder.

Catherine Heathcote remembers the case well. A child herself when Alison vanished, decades on she still recalls the sense of fear as parents kept their children close, terrified of strangers.

Now a journalist, she persuades DI George Bennett to speak of the hunt for Alison, the tantalising leads and harrowing dead ends. But when a fresh lead emerges, Bennett tries to stop the story – plunging Catherine into a world of buried secrets and revelations.

My thoughts:

This is an excellent psychological thriller, full of tension and suspense, set in the Derbyshire village of Scardale, an isolated community of about ten houses, where everyone is related, a place that had a reputation of being a law unto itself. So everyone could tell Detective Inspector George Bennett the time that Alison Carter left home taking her dog for a walk. But despite extensive searches her body is never found, although they do find her dog in the woodland, tied to a tree with elastoplast wound round its muzzle.

A Place of Execution spans the years from 1963 when Alison went missing up to 1998 when Catherine Heathcote, a journalist decided to write a book about the case. It had Bennett’s first major investigation and he’d been determined to find out what had happened to Alison. The majority of the book is about his investigation and the meticulous searches he and his team carried out until the case was resolved. But why in 1998 after going over the details of the case with Catherine did he suddenly write to her begging her to abandon the book?

The sense of place and time is so well done in this book and the characterisation is so good that I felt I knew these people. Even when the case appears to have been resolved there is something more, something hidden that still needs to be revealed. I had an inkling about what it was but I had by no means guessed all of it. But the clues were all there.

There are many layers in A Place of Execution. The villagers are a close-knit community suspicious of outsiders and reluctant to talk to the police. I realised towards the end of the book that the way that Val McDermid has structured the book allows for a great deal of deception and that things are not always what they seem. I loved it and I shall definitely be reading more of her books.

Paperback, 624 pages
Published February 6th 2006 by Harper Collins (first published June 7th 1999)

Vindolanda by Adrian Goldsworthy

AD 98: The bustling army base at Vindolanda lies on the northern frontier of Britannia and the entire Roman world. In twenty years’ time, the Emperor Hadrian will build his famous wall, but for now defences are weak, as tribes rebel against Roman rule, and local druids preach the fiery destruction of the invaders.

Flavius Ferox is a Briton and a Roman centurion, given the task of keeping the peace on this wild frontier. But it will take more than just courage to survive life in Roman Britain…

I was quickly drawn into Vindolanda by Adrian Goldsworthy, a novel set in northern frontier of Britain in 98 AD. It’s full of historical detail. Whilst some characters are based on real people about whom little is known apart from their names, most of the characters are fictional, including the main character, centurion Flavius Ferox.  He is based at a small fort called Syracuse (a fictional fort) near the garrison of Vindolanda (modern Chesterholm). Vindolanda is south of Hadrian’s Wall and predates its construction.

The story begins with the arrival of Vindex, the head of the native scouts and a minor son of a chieftain of the Brigantes tribe, who announces that there is a force of at least sixty barbarians in the area planning an attack on the road to Coria (modern day Corbridge). He needs Ferox’s help in hunting these marauders. This is just the start of a series of skirmishes, ambushes and full scale battles. There is at least one traitor in the Roman army informing the tribes of the army’s movements and Ferox is charged with finding out who it is.

I enjoyed reading Vindolanda and the insight it gives into the early period of British history. Adrian Goldsworthy’s Historical Note at the end of the book is excellent, explaining just what is fictional and what is fact in his novel. After Boudicca’s defeat in AD 60 there was little resistance to the Romans in southern Britain, but it was different in northern Britain where there were frequent outbursts of violence, raids and warfare.

There are sections in the Historical Note about the Roman army describing its structure and tactics, on the period before the construction of Hadrian’s Wall, on tribes and druids. The most interesting section for me is the one on Vindolanda and the Writing Tablets found there. These are wooden tablets written in ink on thin sheets of wood. Hundreds of them have survived, most are mundane containing details of daily life, letters, accounts and give an idea about the food they ate and of the social life of the commanders and their families. Among them are details about the commanding officer around AD 98, the Prefect Flavius Cerialis and his wife, Sulpicia Lepidina, both of whom are major characters in the novel.

Vindolanda is a most enjoyable and informative book. I have just one criticism of it, which is purely personal because my eyes always glaze over during battle scenes (both in books and on screen) and in this book there is just too much detail about the battles for me interrupting the storyline, even though the scenes are graphic and fast-paced.

My thanks for the advance review copy I received courtesy of NetGalley and the publishers, Head of Zeus.

  • Hardcover
  • Expected publication: June 1st 2017 by Head of Zeus
  • ISBN13 9781784974688
  • Source: Review copy
  • My rating: 4*

The Author 

Adrian Goldsworthy has a doctorate from Oxford University. His first book, THE ROMAN ARMY AT WAR was recognised by John Keegan as an exceptionally impressive work, original in treatment and impressive in style. He has gone on to write several other books, including THE FALL OF THE WEST, CAESAR, IN THE NAME OF ROME, CANNAE and ROMAN WARFARE, which have sold more than a quarter of a million copies and been translated into more than a dozen languages. A full-time author, he regularly contributes to TV documentaries on Roman themes.

For more information see his website.

The Stroke Ward by Tricia Coxon

‘Life is fragile on the stroke ward’

The Stroke Ward: A portrait of a century of life in the north east of England, told through the lives of six very different women

The Stroke Ward: A portrait of a century of life in the north east of England, told through the lives of six very different women by Tricia Coxon is a beautiful book. First of all I have to say that I know the author. However, she did not ask me to read her book and I bought my copy. I am absolutely delighted to say that I enjoyed it immensely. It is fiction, inspired by Tricia’s three week sojourn in a stoke ward in Northumberland when she began to imagine the lives and history of the women on the ward, their past and what the future would hold for them.

I was quickly drawn into the story exploring the lives of the six stroke patients and the nurses who cared for them.  Tricia Coxon writes beautifully, vividly conveying the trauma and catastrophic effects of a sudden stroke, the confusion and loss of dignity and independence.  It is a moving story as each woman remembers the past, seeing themselves at various stages in their lives:

When night falls and the lights are dimmed, the stroke ward is full of memories. Shadowy, misty and delicate, they fill space like a spider’s web quivering on a frosty bush. (Loc 53)

All the women have different memories and are distinct characters. I felt I knew these women, that I was there in the ward with them, that I was inside their minds, living their memories with them. Meg is the one I was most drawn to. She can remember the past with vivid accuracy. When she was a small girl Meg’s father went on the Jarrow March to 10 Downing Street in London in 1936 to present a petition against the mass unemployment and extreme poverty in the north-east of England. When he returned Meg and the family were thrilled when Ellen Wilkinson came to tea – a special tea party. She was the local MP who had accompanied them on the March and had tried to improve their working and living conditions. But she is now confused about what has happened to her, hardly able to move, and suffering from anxiety and increasing dementia she needs specialist care. I was in tears as I read her story.

I loved the stories of these women’s lives and how Tricia has woven into them events such as the Jarrow March, the Spanish Civil War and a touching incident in Virginia Woolf’s life when she stayed at an Inn in Wooler whilst recovering from a nervous breakdown.  I also loved the warmth, the depth of compassion and dedication she portrays in the nurses’ care for their patients.

The Stroke Ward is a gem of a book that explores the nature of love and loss, friendship and family, and life and death. I loved it.

  • Kindle Edition, 186 pages
  • Published April 3rd 2017 by Tyne Bridge Publishing
  • Source: I bought my copy
  • My Rating: 5*

Amazon UK link

Amazon US link

Six Tudor Queens: Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession is Alison Weir’s second book in her series of novels about Henry VIII’s Queens and is due to be published on 18 May 2017.

Just like her first book on Katherine of Aragon this is fictional biography at its most straight forward, written in an uncomplicated style. It is a long and detailed story told from Anne Boleyn’s point of view following her life from when she was eleven up to her execution in 1536.

Mainly I think because I didn’t know much about it before I really enjoyed the first part of the book detailing Anne’s time at the court of the Archduchess Margaret, Regent of the Netherlands, then at the French court where she served Mary Tudor (Henry VIII’s sister) and then she was transferred to the household of Queen Claude, the wife of François I. Anne became proficient in French, and accomplished in the art of pleasing, and witty, flirtatious conversation.

She also learnt from the Archduchess how a woman could rule, and about the ‘New Learning’, that is the texts of ancient Greece and Rome that had been recently discovered. She learnt from Erasmus about the corruption within the Church and she had access to the Archduchess’ library, where she found books written by Christine de Pizan, who had enlightened views on women’s education. The Archduchess encouraged her to show that women were just as capable as men, so that men would admire women for their courage, character and intellect and not just their beauty.

I’m much more familiar with the rest of her life story. As Alison Weir acknowledges in her author’s note in some ways Anne Boleyn is unknowable, we do not have ‘a wealth of her letters’ to get an insight into her inner thoughts and much of the material we do have comes from a hostile source, the Imperial ambassador, Eustache Chapuys. In writing this novel she has tried to reconcile conflicting views of her and I think she has succeeded, portraying her as a flawed and human character. Anne was ambitious and in her early years she had the example of the Archduchess Margaret who  introduced her to ideas questioning the traditional ideas about women.

Alison Weir has kept closely to the historical record, although taking ‘occasional minor liberties’ and ‘modernising the language in places to make the context clearer. Some quotes have been taken out of context or put in the mouths of others’. And the scenes between Anne and Leonardo da Vinci are imaginary (much to my disappointment).

Perhaps it is because she kept closely to the records that the period when Henry was pursuing Anne is described at great length, whilst attempting to end his marriage to Katherine. I found it increasingly tedious to keep reading about how Anne left the court and went to Hever Castle, her parents’ home, then returned to court and then went back to her parents, etc, etc.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, but it is too long and in places very pedestrian and flat. At times it is a bit like reading chick-lit, for example as Mary Boleyn describes how Henry raped her and later as Henry complains to Anne that he has not ‘bedded with a woman in years’, looking at her with ‘anguish and longing in his eyes.’ He comes across as a weak character, truly obsessed with Anne but his passion soon cooled after their marriage when she failed to produce a male heir. And Anne is portrayed as a complex, intelligent woman but obsessed with her ambition for the power that came with being queen.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2923 KB
  • Print Length: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Headline Review (18 May 2017)
  • My rating: 3.5*

My thanks to the publishers via NetGalley for a review copy.

My Friday Post: A Place of Execution

Book Beginnings ButtonEvery Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City
Reader
 where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

One of the books I’m reading is A Place of Execution by Val McDermid.

A Place of Execution

It begins:

Like Alison Carter I was born in Derbyshire in 1950. Like her, I grew up familiar with the limestone dales of the White Peak, no stranger to the winter blizzards that regularly cut us off from the rest of the country. It was in Buxton, after all, that snow once stopped play in a county cricket match in June.

Blurb:

In the Peak District village of Scarsdale, thirteen-year-old girls didn’t just run away. So when Alison Carter vanished in the winter of ’63, everyone knew it was a murder.

Catherine Heathcote remembers the case well. A child herself when Alison vanished, decades on she still recalls the sense of fear as parents kept their children close, terrified of strangers.

Now a journalist, she persuades DI George Bennett to speak of the hunt for Alison, the tantalising leads and harrowing dead ends. But when a fresh lead emerges, Bennett tries to stop the story – plunging Catherine into a world of buried secrets and revelations.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

Friday 56

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

From Page 56:

Nothing made sense. If someone was ruthless enough to kidnap a young girl, surely they wouldn’t show mercy to a dog? Especially a dog as lively as Shep. He couldn’t imagine a dog with the collie’s spirit meekly submitting to having elastoplast tightly wound round its muzzle. Unless it had been Alison who’d done the deed.

I’ve read nearly half the book so far and I’m really enjoying it so far. It’s a standalone mystery and is compelling reading.

The Body in the Ice by A J MacKenzie

The Body in the Ice (Romney Marsh Mystery #2)

Blurb:

Christmas Day, Kent, 1796

On the frozen fields of Romney Marsh stands New Hall; silent, lifeless, deserted. In its grounds lies an unexpected Christmas offering: a corpse, frozen into the ice of a horse pond. It falls to the Reverend Hardcastle, justice of the peace in St Mary in the Marsh, to investigate.But with the victim’s identity unknown, no murder weapon and no known motive, it seems like an impossible task.

Working along with his trusted friend, Amelia Chaytor, and new arrival Captain Edward Austen, Hardcastle soon discovers there is more to the mystery than there first appeared. With the arrival of an American family torn apart by war and desperate to reclaim their ancestral home, a French spy returning to the scene of his crimes, ancient loyalties and new vengeance combine to make Hardcastle and Mrs Chaytor’s attempts to discover the secret of New Hall all the more dangerous.

Historical crime fiction is one of my favourite genres and The Body in the Ice by A J MacKenzie is a most enjoyable read. It’s the 2nd Hardcastle and Chaytor Mystery set in Romney Marsh and the surrounding countryside in 1796-7. I haven’t read the first one in the series, The Body on the Doorstep, but it didn’t seem to matter as I had no difficulty in reading this as a standalone, even though there are references back to the first book, but I do intend to read it as I enjoyed the second book so much.

Reading historical crime fiction is a different experience from reading modern crime fiction – no modern technology, just old-fashioned crime detection and deduction and a certain amount of intuition.  The late eighteenth century is a newish period for me, but The Body in the Ice appears (as far as I can judge) to be well grounded historically and geographically.

Historically this is the period after the end of the American War of Independence, so Britain and America are at peace, but Britain and revolutionary France are at war with the constant threat of a French invasion. Geographically, the area is not one I know but there is a map showing the locations together with a plan of New Hall, at the beginning of the book an empty and bleak (fictional) house owned by the Rossiter family, and also the Rossiter Family Tree.

The winter of 1796-7 was exceptionally harsh and cold and on Christmas Day in the village of St Mary in the Marsh, on the Kent coast Amelia Chaytor is spending the day with her friends, spinsters Miss Godfrey and Miss Roper when their maidservant bursts in and announces that she has seen someone at New Hall stables, frozen into the ice face down. Previously two men had been seen arriving at the Hall and at first it looks as though one of them has killed the other as they have both disappeared.

The Reverend Hardcastle is informed and as a justice of the peace he sets out to investigate the murder, aided by Joshua Stemp, the parish constable. It’s soon obvious that this is a complicated matter as the body they pulled from the ice was that of a black woman, dressed as a man.

Add into the mix the American family who arrive after the murder to establish their claim to their ancestral home, the village community, smugglers and French spies, and slavery and racism. The characters of Revd Hardcastle and Amelia Chaytor in particular are well drawn and convincing. His sister, Cordelia provides a comic element – she is a gothic novelist, who incidentally gave a young Jane Austen writing tips, accompanied by her cowardly (but lovable) dog Rodolpho.

It’s fast paced, and like all good mysteries it’s full of twists and turns, tension and drama, mixed together with both national and local politics. I enjoyed it immensely and will read more books by A J Mackenzie. The next book in the series will be The Body in the Boat.

My thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for my copy of this book.

The Authors:

A J Mackenzie is the pseudonym of Marilyn Livingstone and Morgen Witzel, an Anglo-Canadian husband-and-wife team of writers and historians. They write non-fiction history and management books under their own names, but ‘become’ A J MacKenzie when writing fiction. For more details about the authors and their books see their website.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1094 KB
  • Print Length: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Zaffre (20 April 2017)
  • Source: Review copy
  • My Rating: 5*

First Chapter, First Paragraph: Past Encounters

Every Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros to share the first paragraph sometimes two, of a book that she’s reading or planning to read soon.

This week’s first paragraph is from Past Encounters by Davina Blake, one of my TBRs. I was reorganising my bookshelves yesterday when I found this book at the back of one of my double stacked shelves. I’d forgotten I’d got it. That’s the drawback of double shelving.

Past EncountersIt begins:

1955 Rhoda

I saw him do it. Put his fist through the window of our back door. The blurred shadow at the window, then the crack as his white knuckles burst through. I was coming downstairs with a batch of laundry and my first thought was that it was a burglar. But then I saw Peter’s white face as the splatter of glass fell away.

I dropped the clothes and rushed through the kitchen, calling, ‘Are you all right?’ Only afterwards did I have time to think, what a ridiculous question. My husband had just put his fist through a door. On purpose. Of course he wasn’t all right.

Blurb (from the back cover)

From the moment Rhoda Middleton opens one of her husband’s letters and finds it is from another woman, she is convinced he is having an affair. But when Rhoda tracks her down, she discovers the mysterious woman is not his lover after all, but the wife of his best friend, Archie Foster. There is only one problem – Rhoda has never even heard of Archie Foster.

Devastated by this betrayal of trust, Rhoda tries to find out how and why her husband, Peter, has kept this friendship hidden for so long. Her search leads her back to 1945, but as she gradually uncovers Peter’s wartime secrets she must wrestle with painful memories of her own. For if they are ever to understand each other, Rhoda too must escape the ghosts of the past.

Taking us on a journey from the atmospheric filming of Brief Encounter, to the extraordinary Great March of prisoners of war through snow-bound Germany, this is a novel of friendship, hope, and how in the end, it is the small things that enable love to survive.

Would you keep on reading – or not?

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

Wives and Daughters

 Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell was my Classics Club Spin book for March and April and I was rather daunted when I realised that the e-book version I had downloaded about six years ago has over 800 pages, but it’s really easy reading. It’s only the second book of hers that I’ve read – the other book is Cranford, but I think Wives and Daughters is so much better. Elizabeth Gaskell is a superb storyteller and I loved this book.

Today there are many editions of Wives and Daughters available. It was first first published in serial form in The Cornhill Magazine from August 1864 to January 1866. Elizabeth Gaskell had died in August 1865 leaving Wives and Daughters unfinished. The final chapter was added by the editor of The Cornhill. In his concluding remarks he stated that little remained to be added to the story ‘and that little has been distinctly reflected into our minds.‘ He continued that he had summarised in his remarks all that what was ‘known of her designs for the story which would have been completed in another chapter.

It is set in the late 1820s to the early 1830s in the village of Hollingford (based on Knutsford), a close-knit community much like Cranford, and centres around Molly Gibson, the only daughter of the neighbourhood doctor. The characters are all fully rounded and believable people, most certainly not perfect people with all their faults exposed through their dialogue and Elizabeth Gaskell’s ironic descriptions. There is gentle humour and the plot carries the novel at a fairly brisk pace despite the length of the book – I was eager to find out how everything was resolved.

The story opens when Molly, an only child, is twelve and eagerly anticipating her visit to Cumnor Towers (based on Tatton Hall) for the yearly festivities hosted by Lady Cumnor and her daughters. But her enjoyment is spoiled when she gets lost in the house. She is found but then is overlooked when the carriages arrive to take all the visitors home and she has to wait for her father to come for her. This little episode provides an introduction to the other side of the village – the aristocracy.

Molly is very close to her father. When she is seventeen the doctor becomes concerned that one of his pupils wanted to declare his feelings for her and so he sends her to stay with the local squire and his wife and two sons at Hamley Hall. Mrs Hamley becomes very fond of her and treats her like a daughter and Molly becomes very friendly with the second son Roger. However, she knows she isn’t considered a suitable match for the Hamleys and thinks of him and Osborne as her brothers.

All is going well until Dr Gibson marries Hyacinth Clare (a former governess to Lord Cumner’s daughters), hoping she will be a mother to Molly. But Hyacinth is a selfish, socially ambitious and manipulative woman and Molly’s life is no longer happy and carefree, even though she does get on well with Hyacinth’s beautiful daughter, Cynthia. The two girls become good friends. Cynthia, though gets involved in a number of romantic entanglements which then gets Molly into trouble.

I don’t want to go into more detail about the various sub-plots and romances other than to say I enjoyed it all immensely. The fact that Elizabeth Gaskell did not finish the book didn’t spoil the book at all for me. She had all but drawn all the threads together so that the editor’s concluding remarks coincided with the way I had hoped everything would be resolved. Needless to say really, but Molly was my favourite character, which says a lot about Elizabeth Gaskell’s skill and understanding in portraying a ‘good’ character. I was completely absorbed in the world that she had created.

As well as being my Classics Club Spin book, Wives and Daughters is also one of my TBRs so it qualifies for Bev’s Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

Six Degrees of Separation: from The Slap to The Cipher Garden

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month’s chain begins with The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. I haven’t read this book about a man in suburban Melbourne who slaps an unruly three-year old boy at a barbecue. The boy is not his son. It is a single act of violence, but the slap reverberates through the lives of everyone who witnesses it.

The Slap

And after reading a number of reviews I have no desire to read it.

The Gravedigger's DaughterBut I have read the first book in my chain The Gravedigger’s Daughter by
Joyce Carol Oates, a book that also has a photograph of a child on the front cover. The title character of this novel is Rebecca Schwart, born in New York Harbor, the daughter of Jacob and Anna who escaped from Nazi Germany in 1936. Her father, originally a maths teacher can only get work as a gravedigger and caretaker of the cemetery.

The Secret ScriptureThe second link in my chain is also about a gravedigger’s daughter,
Roseanne in The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry. Roseanne, an old woman about 100 years old, in a mental hospital in Ireland looks back over her life and begins to wonder just what was real and what was fantasy. It’s a story of Roseanne’s struggle to survive set against the background of religious conflict and political unrest in Ireland and also about the nature of memory and its function in our lives.

A Pale View of HillsThe third link is a book that also considers how reliable our memories can be. It’s A Pale View of Hills by Kasuo Ishiguro about a widow, Etsuko living in Britain, as she reminisces about her past life in Japan shortly after the Second World War, living at the edge of the wasteland of Nagasaki. This is a beautifully written book, describing the countryside around and in Nagasaki after the war, referring to life before the war, and how not only the landscape but also the people and traditions were altered in the aftermath of the atomic bomb.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de ZoetAnother book set in Japan is The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. It’s set in 1799 on Dejima in Nagasaki harbour. This is one of my TBRs. As a junior clerk, de Zoet’s task is to uncover evidence of the previous Chief Resident’s malpractice. He becomes intrigued by a rare woman—a midwife permitted to study on Dejima under the company physician.

AutumnMy fifth book is linked by the titleAutumn by Ali Smith, a novel that looks at modern life, how we got to where we are, and the mood of the country post-Brexit (that word is never mentioned in the book). It begins with a stream of consciousness as Daniel Gluck, a very old man, ponders his life and his approaching death. The main focus of Autumn is the relationship between Daniel and Elisabeth Demand who first met when Elisabeth was a child and she moved into the house next door to Daniel’s.

The Cipher Garden (Lake District Mystery #2)And finally my sixth link is the name of one of the characters – Daniel. In
Martin Edwards’ Lake District Mystery series the central characters are historian Daniel Kind and DCI Hannah Scarlett, head of the Cold Case Review Team. One of my favourites in the series is The Cipher Garden in which Daniel and Hannah’s team investigate the murder of Warren Howe, brutally killed in the peaceful village of Old Sawrey, close to Near Sawrey the home of Beatrix Potter.

From Melbourne to New York, Ireland, Nagasaki, and Great Britain my chain links books about children, gravediggers, the nature of memories, meditations on life and death, and a murder mystery – quite a journey.

Where will other chains lead, I wonder?

My Week in Books: 3 May 2017

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.

IMG_1384-0

A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now: I’m reading Six Tudor Queens: Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir, which will be published by Headline on 18 May 2017. it is a long and detailed book, parts of which I’m finding tedious and repetitive, but I’m nearing the end now and it is picking up speed just a tiny bit!

Blurb:

The young woman who changed the course of history.

Fresh from the palaces of Burgundy and France, Anne draws attention at the English court, embracing the play of courtly love.

But when the King commands, nothing is ever a game.

Anne has a spirit worthy of a crown – and the crown is what she seeks. At any price.

ANNE BOLEYN. The second of Henry’s Queens. Her story.
History tells us why she died. This powerful novel shows her as she lived.

Then: The last two books I read were The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien by Georges Simenon, a Maigret mystery, which I really enjoyed. My review will follow soon.

The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien (Maigret, #4)

 

On a trip to Brussels, Maigret unwittingly causes a man’s suicide, but his own remorse is overshadowed by the discovery of the sordid events that drove the desperate man to shoot himself.

I also finished reading Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell, which I loved. It’s a story of romance, scandal and intrigue within the confines of a watchful, gossiping English village during the early nineteenth century. I’ll soon be writing a review of this too.

Wives and Daughters

Next: I think I’ll read A Place of Execution by Val McDermid, one of my TBR books, with the usual proviso that when the time comes I may decide to read a different book.

A Place of ExecutionBlurb:

On a freezing day in December 1963, thirteen-year-old Alison Carter vanishes from her village. Nothing will ever be the same again for the inhabitants of the isolated hamlet in the English countryside. A young George Bennett, a newly-promoted inspector, he is determined to solve this case—even if it just to bring home a daughter’s dead body to her mother.

As days progress, the likelihood that Alison has been murdered increases when a gruesome discovery is made in a cave. But with no corpse, the barest of clues, and an investigation that turns up more questions than answers, Bennett finds himself up against a stone wall…until he learns the shocking truth—a truth that will have far-reaching consequences.

Decades later, Bennett finally tells his story to journalist Catherine Heathcote. But just when the book is posed for publication, he pulls the plug on it without explanation. He has new information that he will not divulge. Refusing to let the past remain a mystery, Catherine sets out to uncover what really happened to Alison Carter. But the secret is one she might wish she’d left buried on that cold, dark day thirty-five years ago.

I’m wondering what you are reading/have read recently too.

Caedmon’s Song by Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson writes the Inspector Banks books, but he has also written short stories and a couple of standalone books including Caedmon’s Song, described as a psychological thriller.

Summary (from Peter Robinson’s website)

One warm June night, a university student called Kirsten is viciously attacked in a park by a serial killer. He is interrupted, and Kirsten survives, but in a severe physically and psychologically damaged state. As the killer continues, leaving a trail of mutilated corpses, Kirsten confronts her memories and becomes convinced not only that she can, but that she must remember what happened. Through fragments of nightmares, the details slowly reveal themselves. Interwoven with Kirsten’s story is that of Martha Browne, a woman who arrives in the Yorkshire coastal town of Whitby with a sense of mission. Finally, the two strands are woven together and united in a startling, chilling conclusion. 

My thoughts

Overall I liked Caedmon’s Song, but I wouldn’t describe it as a thriller, even though the attack on Kirsten is particularly vicious. It is set mainly in Whitby a seaside town in Yorkshire. The ruins of Whitby Abbey, Bram Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula, stand on the East Cliff overlooking the North Sea, with St Mary’s Church and Caedmon’s Cross nearby. I wondered as I began reading whether Martha’s visit to Whitby had any connection to Dracula, but although these places are described as she finds her way around the town they are just incidental to the plot.

Then I began to wonder about the connection between Kirsten and Martha because Robinson drops in quite a few clues early on in the book, which become explicit in the second half of the book. So, the links between them are quite easy to see, which disappointed me at first and lessened the tension. I wasn’t too convinced either by how Kirsten discovered her attacker’s identity and even considering the horrific details of her injuries I didn’t really feel sympathetic towards her as she comes across as rather cold-blooded. But as the narrative developed I began to enjoy the story and to wonder how it would end.

Kirsten considers whether she is a ‘born victim‘ or not, questioning her actions on the night of the attack, and wondering whether she had been inviting destruction. Her conclusion is that she wasn’t at all clear about it, but felt that it was her destiny, that she had been chosen as her attacker’s nemesis. All she knew was that she had to find him and face him. The ending is dramatic, but what would happen next is left open.

In his afterword Peter Robinson (written in 2003 when a new edition was published) explains that he had the idea for writing Caedmon’s Song in the late 1980s after he had written the first four Inspector Banks novels. He had felt he needed a change and wanted to write a novel in which the police played a subsidiary role. Then in September 1987 when he saw Whitby as he approached it on the coast road the idea for the setting and opening of the book came to him:

There lay Whitby, spread out below. The colours seemed somehow brighter and more vibrant than I remembered: the greens and blues of the North Sea, the red pantile roofs. Then the dramatic setting of the lobster-claw harbour and the two opposing hills, one capped with a church, the other with Captain Cook’s statue and the massive jawbone of a whale. I knew immediately that this was where the story had to take place, and that it began with a woman getting off a bus, feeling a little travel-sick, trying the place on for size. (pages 326-7)

I feel a trip to Whitby coming on – a place I’ve been wanting to visit for some years now.

Amazon UK link

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; Reprints edition (1 Aug. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1447225473
  • ISBN-13: 978-1447225478
  • Source : I bought the book
  • Rating: 3*

Reading challenges: Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Lizzie Borden took an ax
And gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

Or did she?

On the 4 August 1892 Andrew Borden and his second wife, Abby, were brutally murdered in their home at 92 Second Street in Fall River, Massachusetts and Andrew’s daughter, Lizzie, was charged with the murders. She was tried and was acquitted in June 1893 and speculation about the murders and whether Lizzie was guilty or not continues to the present day. See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt is a work of fiction based on true events using various resources.

File:Lizzie borden.jpg
Lizzie Borden c.1890

Lizzie was thirty two at the time of the murders but in this fictionalised account she seems emotionally much younger, more like a teenager than a mature woman.

The narrative is shared by Lizzie, her sister Emma, Bridget their maid and Benjamin, a ‘friend’ of Lizzie’s Uncle John, and moves backwards and forwards in time, before and after 4 August 1892. Lizzie’s account is the strangest and it takes you right inside her mind. She is a disturbed and unstable character to say the least and I had the most unsettling feeling as I read that I was right inside her crazy, demented mind.

The writing is ambiguous in parts, lending enough credence to cast doubt on Lizzie’s guilt – and then in other parts I was convinced that she had committed the murders. It’s the introduction of Benjamin, a fictional character, a vicious and violent man, that provides an explanation of what happened to the murder weapon, that the police were unable to find.

Sarah Schmidt’s prose highlights the senses – the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes are aroused. The tension is palpable, and the fear and feverish atmosphere in the Borden’s house comes to a climax in the gruesome murders. It is indeed eerie and compelling, a mesmerising book.

I received this as an ARC from the publisher, the Atlantic Monthly Press, via NetGalley. And it is published in the US on 1 August 2017 in hardback.

Amazon US

  • Hardcover: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press (August 1, 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802126596
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802126597

See What I Have Done is also published in the UK today, 2 May 2017, as an e-book by Tinder Press

Amazon UK

See What I Have Done

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1571 KB
  • Print Length: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Tinder Press (2 May 2017)

Night Falls on Ardnamurchan by Alasdair Maclean

Notes on Night Falls on Ardnamurchan: the Twilight of a Crofting Family by Alasdair Maclean (1926 – 1994).

Alasdair Maclean was a Scottish poet, born in Glasgow. He left school at fourteen to work in the Clydeside shipyards. In his late thirties he read English at Edinburgh University, later returning to the family croft at Sanna in Ardnamurchan to write. His father had worked as Deputy Harbour Master in the Greater Glasgow docks until he retired in the 1950s and moved back to take over the croft from his father.

What their life was like on the croft is captured in detail in Maclean’s only book of prose Night Falls on Ardnamurchan: the Twilight of a Crofting Family.

The main section of the book is made up of extracts from his father’s journals forming a factual account of his daily life on the croft covering two years, a decade apart: 1960 and 1970, for the same three days at the beginning, middle and end of every month in those years, with explanatory comments where he thought necessary.

I  enjoyed this section together with the Prologue and two introductions – the first about his father and their relationship and the second, a brief history of Ardnamuchan – more that the section on Alasdair’s own journal of 1979 – 1980.

I quoted the opening of the book with an extract from page 56 in this earlier post. Here are a few more extracts to give a flavour of the book:

Due to Father’s complete lack of push, coupled with his unwillingness to flatter or connive, he was passed over for promotion on several occasions. In the early 1950s he retired, somewhat prematurely, and came back to Ardnamurchan to operate the family croft, which my grandparents were getting too old to look after. Poverty accompanied him north and this lasted till a state pension at sixty-five brought some slight ease. He died five months after my mother of a coronary, they said, but of being worn out and heartbroken, say I. (page 23)

Each journal entry begins with a description of the weather and its effects. This is a typical example:

November 15 1969

Moderate to fresh Southerly wind became strong in evening. Drizzle in early forenoon. Dry for an hour in the middle of the day. In the afternoon the sleety rain became torrential and continued into the night. Did a little more to a new house for Tilly. Gave cattle a little hay. Managed across river at Cnoc Brac peats.

Alasdair commented: Tilly was a pet sheep, the first of many orphans we hand-reared. She was a privileged character (I tell her story later) and no ageing butler, slopping sherry around the salver on his tottering passage between pantry and drawing room, could have been more conscious of possessing security of tenure or more determined to exploit it. The ‘house’ that was being built for her was but one indication of her status. Your ordinary sheep shivers it out on the hillside all night, having no roof but the low cloud of winter. (pages 84-85)

The state of the weather had great importance. To the crofter:

…  clinging by a mixture of instinct and experience to the remote fringes of these islands, the weather is a god. It is the difference not merely between a pleasant and an unpleasant life, but between success and failure, until the advent of the welfare state between – possibly – living and dying.  (page 52)

Winter is hard on Sanna:

Gales often blow for days on end, accompanied for much of the time by rain. The ground around house and outbuildings, with the constant to-ing and fro-ing of animals and people becomes a churned-up quagmire, a constant drag and hindrance to everything one tries to do.

… Even to enter or leave one’s house, if it lacks a back door – and most of the old cottages did – may be a hazardous operation in a gale and a door once opened may not be easy to shut again. I have seen old people in Sanna go from house to steading on hands and knees, being unable to proceed any other way. (page 52)

This is an unusual book describing not only life in a dying community but also revealing the relationship between children and parents, particularly in an isolated community. I was fascinated.

I was also interested to know what Ardnamurchan is like today. The Ardnamuchan website states it is on the most westerly peninsular of the British mainland, jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean and with views from every shore of islands, castles, lochs and wilderness, an amazing part of the West Coast of Scotland.

File:Sanna Bay - geograph.org.uk - 354282.jpg
Sanna Bay (The copyright on this image is owned by Stuart Wilding and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.)

Amazon UK –  only available from third-party sellers

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (22 Feb. 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140108122
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140108125
  • Source: I bought the book
  • Rating: 3.5 stars

Dunstan by Conn Iggulden

History has always fascinated me, but I don’t know very much about the medieval period, so I was keen to read Dunstan: One Man Will Change the Fate of England by Conn Iggulden, to be published on 4 May 2017. It is historical fiction following the life of Dunstan who was born some time between 910 and 920. He was the Abbot of Glastonbury, then Archbishop of Canterbury and later canonised as a saint. I thoroughly enjoyed it and learned a lot about the period.

Summary (from the publishers)

The year is 937. England is a nation divided, ruled by minor kings and Viking lords. Each vies for land and power. The Wessex king Æthelstan, grandson of Alfred the Great, readies himself to throw a spear into the north.

As would-be kings line up to claim the throne, one man stands in their way.

Dunstan, a fatherless child raised by monks on the moors of Glastonbury Tor, has learned that real power comes not from God, but from discovering one’s true place on Earth. Fearless in pursuit of his own interests, his ambition will take him from the courts of princes to the fields of battle, from exile to exaltation.

For if you cannot be born a king, or made a king, you can still anoint a king.

Under Dunstan’s hand, England may come together as one country – or fall apart in anarchy . . .

From Conn Iggulden, one of our finest historical writers, Dunstan is an intimate portrait of a priest and murderer, liar and visionary, traitor and kingmaker – the man who changed the fate of England.

Conn Iggulden has brought the period to life with this book, fleshing out the historical records. It’s written in the first person, past tense, so we see events through Dunstan’s eyes. He and his younger brother Wulfric were brought up by the monks at Glastonbury Abbey. It’s a harsh, cruel life, but Dunstan has a vision that he will build a cathedral and his ambition and determination help him to make his vision a reality.

The book is set during the reigns of several kings, Æthelstan, the grandson of Alfred the Great, then of Æthelstan’s brother Edmund, who was king for just five years before he was killed. He was followed by another brother, Eadred, then by Edmund’s sons, Edwy and Edgar, who divided England between them. They were followed by Edmund’s grandson, Edward and finally by Ethelred the Unready, his much younger brother. I hope I have got the sequence correct.

This was a period of great unrest and conflict, as England eventually became unified under one High King, and was attacked repeatedly by the Vikings. Dunstan was manipulative, dedicated, ruthless and proud. It was these characteristics that enabled him to succeed. He was present at the Battle of Brunanburh in 937, in which Æthelstan defeated an alliance of Viking and Celtic warriors for control of the country and became the first king of England.

Dunstan also reformed the monasteries, imposing the rule of St Benedict, was instrumental in the building of Glastonbury Abbey, was an adviser to Eadred, exiled by Edwy, and reinstated by Edgar before being appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.

My summary of this book really does not do it justice. I was fascinated by it and the detail is impressive. It incorporates many tales about Dunstan, including the one where he is said to have pulled the devil’s nose with a pair of tongs. Conn Iggulden’s version of this tale is truly horrific. His Historical Note explains his use of the sources he has used and explanations of his use of names, notes on spelling, titles, on the Battle of Brunanburh, on Gothic Arches, and on the many miracles that Dunstan is said to have performed. Where there are gaps in the historical records Iggulden has filled them in to present his story of a man who achieved so much despite his flaws and self-doubt.

My thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for an advance proof copy of Dunstan.

Amazon UK 

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2224 KB
  • Print Length: 464 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 071818145X
  • Publisher: Penguin (4 May 2017)

My Week in Books: 26 April 2017

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.

IMG_1384-0

A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now: I’m reading Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell, which I’ve nearly finished. It is my Classics Club Spin book.

Blurb:

It’s a story of romance, scandal and intrigue within the confines of a watchful, gossiping English village during the early nineteenth century. When seventeen-year-old Molly Gibson’s widowed father remarries, her life is turned upside down by the arrival of her vain, manipulative stepfather. She also acquires an intriguing new stepsister, Cynthia, glamorous, sophisticated and irresistible to every man she meets. 

I’m also reading Caedmon’s Song by Peter Robinson, one of his stand-alone books.

Blurb:

On a balmy June night, Kirsten, a young university student, strolls home through a silent moonlit park. Suddenly her tranquil mood is shattered as she is viciously attacked.

When she awakes in hospital, she has no recollection of that brutal night. But then, slowly and painfully, details reveal themselves – dreams of two figures, one white and one black, hovering over her; wisps of a strange and haunting song; the unfamiliar texture of a rough and deadly hand . . .

In another part of England, Martha Browne arrives in Whitby, posing as an author doing research for a book. But her research is of a particularly macabre variety. Who is she hunting with such deadly determination? And why?

Then: The last book I read is Night Falls on Ardamurchan by Alasdair Maclean. My review will follow soon.

Blurb:

Since its first publication in 1984, ‘Night Falls in Ardnamurchan’ has become a classic account of the life and death of a Highland community.

The author weaves his own humorous and perceptive account of crofting with extracts from his father’s journal – a terse, factual and down to earth vision of the day-to-day tasks of crofting life.

It is an unusual and memorable story that also illuminates the shifting, often tortuous relationships between children and their parents. Alasdair Maclean reveals his own struggle to come to terms with his background and the isolated community he left so often and to which he returned again and again.

In this isolated community is seen a microcosm of something central to Scottish identity – the need to escape against the tug of home.

Next: I think I’ll read Six Tudor Queens: Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir, which will be published by Headline on 18 May 2017.

Blurb:

The young woman who changed the course of history.

Fresh from the palaces of Burgundy and France, Anne draws attention at the English court, embracing the play of courtly love.

But when the King commands, nothing is ever a game.

Anne has a spirit worthy of a crown – and the crown is what she seeks. At any price.

ANNE BOLEYN. The second of Henry’s Queens. Her story.
History tells us why she died. This powerful novel shows her as she lived.

But I’m tempted to slip in a Maigret book first: The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien by Georges Simenon.

The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien (Maigret, #4)

Blurb:

A first ink drawing showed a hanged man swinging from a gallows on which perched an enormous crow. And there were at least twenty other etchings and pen or pencil sketches that had the same leitmotif of hanging.
On the edge of a forest: a man hanging from every branch.
A church steeple: beneath the weathercock, a human body dangling from each arm of the cross. . . Below another sketch were written four lines from François Villon’s Ballade of the Hanged Men.

On a trip to Brussels, Maigret unwittingly causes a man’s suicide, but his own remorse is overshadowed by the discovery of the sordid events that drove the desperate man to shoot himself.

Penguin is publishing the entire series of Maigret novels in new translations. This novel has been published in previous translations as Maigret and the Hundred Gibbets and The Crime of Inspector Maigret.

First Chapter, First Paragraph: Bilgewater

Every Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros to share the first paragraph sometimes two, of a book that she’s reading or planning to read soon.

This week’s first paragraph is from Bilgewater by Jane Gardam, one of my TBR books that I’m planning to read soon.

BilgewaterChapter 1

My mother died when I was born which makes me sound princess-like and rather quaint. From the beginning people have said that I am old-fashioned. In Yorkshire to be old-fashioned means to be fashioned-old, not necessarily to be out of date, but I think that I am probably both. For it is rather out of date, even though I will be eighteen this February, to have had a mother who died when one was born and it is fashioned -old to have the misfortune to be and look like me.

Blurb:

Marigold Green calls herself ‘hideous, quaint and barmy’. Other people call her Bilgewater, a corruption of Bill’s daughter. Growing up in a boys’ school where her father is housemaster, she is convinced of her own plainness and peculiarity. Groomed by the wise and loving Paula, upstaged by bad, beautiful Grace and ripe for seduction by entirely the wrong sort of boy, she suffers extravagantly and comically in her pilgrimage through the turbulent, twilight world of alarming adolescence.

I’m looking forward to reading this as I’ve enjoyed other books by Jane Gardam, such as her Old Filth books.

Would you keep reading, or not?

Maigret!

I was delighted and so lucky to win these five books in Sarah’s Giveaway at Crimepieces blog! Thank you Sarah!

They are from the new Penguin translations of Georges Simenon’s Maigret novels:

Years ago I enjoyed the TV series Maigret with Rupert Davies in the title role and have recently watched the latest series with Rowan Atkinson as Maigret. I think he is excellent in the role and so is Lucy Cohu as Madame Maigret.

Last Sunday  I enjoyed watching Maigret’s Night at the Crossroads and was pleased to see the book was today’s Kindle Deal of Day.
The Night at the Crossroads (Maigret #7)I shall be reading them very soon!

My Friday Post: Night Falls on Ardnamurchan

Book Beginnings ButtonEvery Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City
Reader
 where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

One of the books I’m currently reading is Night Falls on Ardnamurchan: The Twilight of a Crofting Family by Alasdair Maclean.

Night Falls on Ardnamurchan: The Twilight of a Crofting Family

It begins:

Introduction 1: Father and Son

We hardly conceive of our parents as human. There are innumerable actions, there are whole areas of life and thought, that we do not care to see connected with them, that we scarcely allow ourselves, far less others, to connect with them.

From the back cover:

The Scottish poet Alasdair Maclean records the rise and fall of the remote crofting hamlet in the little-known area of Ardnamurchan where his family had its roots.

Perceptive, humorous and sharp he binds his own account of the crofter’s lifestyle and extracts from his father’s journal, a terser, more factual and down-to-earth vision of the day-to-day. It is an unusual and memorable story, one that not only describes life in a dying crofting community but also illuminates the shifting, often tortuous, relationship between children and their parents.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

Friday 56

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

The events on page 56 are concerned with winkle gathering, which provided an additional income to many of the crofters. The winkles were gathered and then stored where they could be refreshed by sea water until they were shipped to a merchant.

The reaction of a bag of thirsty winkles to a good splash of Mother Atlantic is delightful. For a few minutes all is creaks and squeaks and bubblings, as though a buzz of winkly conversation had broken out.

I found it was slow going at first, but now I’ve read half the book I’m really enjoying Maclean’s commentary on his father’s journal.

The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve

I really wanted to like The Stars are Fire, Anita Shreve’s latest book. However, I don’t think it’s one of her best books and I’m not keen on the cover, which I think does not represent the story.

It begins well, describing the continuous wet spring when it seemed the rain would never stop and Grace Holland prays for a dry day. She’s in a difficult marriage, with her two young children, both under the age of two and pregnant with her third child. They live in a shingled bungalow two blocks in from the ocean in Hunts Beach (a fictional town) on the coast of Maine. The rain is followed by the long hot summer of 1947, then a drought sets in, followed by devastating fires. The Stars are Fire paints a convincing picture of life just after the Second World War. Grace’s daily life is difficult constrained by the social conventions and attitudes of the late 1940s.

The fires are getting closer to Hunts Beach when Gene, Grace’s husband joins the volunteers trying to bring the fires under control and she is left alone with the children. Grace’s strength and ingenuity is tested as she and her children survive the fire only to find that everything around her has gone – all the houses, her best friend and neighbour; those who have survived are leaving and her husband is missing. She has nothing.

Grace, however, is resilient and resourceful. Helped by her mother and strangers she begins to build a new life, finds work and experiences a freedom she had never known before. But then it all changes. I don’t want to write any more as I don’t want to give away any spoilers.

The Stars are Fire is easy reading and I finish it in one day. It is written from Grace’s perspective and in the present tense, which I often find irritating. But it is a page-turner and I did want to know what happened next. I didn’t enjoy the second half of the book as much as the first. And I think the ending rather trite. It’s a book about loss and grief, about how people’s lives can be changed in an instance and how they react and face up to emotional and physical challenges.

My thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for a proof copy of this book.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1042 KB
  • Print Length: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group (18 April 2017)
  • My rating: 3*

A Dark So Deadly by Stuart MacBride

Stuart MacBride has written many books, including the Logan McRae and Ash Henderson novels, but A Dark So Deadly is the first one of his that I’ve read. It’s a standalone thriller, due to be published on 20 April 2017 by HarperCollins.

I wasn’t at all sure that I would like it thinking it might be too ‘noir’ for me, but whilst it is dark with some violent and disturbing scenes I was soon hooked into the mystery, the setting, the characters, some of them pretty weird, sordid and really nasty characters and the humour. It’s grisly rather than gory. It’s also long, over 600 pages, but the strength of the writing and the pace carried me effortlessly along. It’s a gripping page-turner that kept me glued to the book – I didn’t want to put it down.

It has quite a large cast of characters, but each one is so individually described that I had no trouble distinguishing them. It’s set in Oldcastle, a fictional town in the north east of Scotland (there is a detailed, coloured map) where it seems to rain all the time. DC Callum MacGregor had taken the blame for cocking up a crime scene to protect his pregnant, crime-scene tech girlfriend and so had been moved to join ‘Mother’s Misfit Mob’.

The ‘Mob’ is made up of the officers no one else wanted. ‘Mother’ is DI Flora Malcolmson and the team consists of DS Andy McAdams, who speaks in rhyming verse and is dying from bowel cancer, DS Dorothy (Dot) Hodgkin in her wheelchair called ‘Keith’, grumpy DC John Watt and the newest team member, DC Franklin, big, black and beautiful who had punched a superintendent. I became very fond of this team of ‘misfits’. They made me laugh and exasperated me at the same time as they interacted, sometimes with friction rather than as a well-run team. They may be ‘misfits’ but they’re dedicated and caring police officers, Callum most of all. Their back history comes out naturally as the novel proceeds, without interrupting the narrative.

The plot is, needless to say really, complicated with plenty of unexpected and definitely strange episodes, as the team investigate mummified bodies found in the local rubbish tip. It’s told mostly from Callum’s point of view and as well as investigating what turns out to be a serial killer Callum, who was brought up in care from the age of 5, is trying to discover what had happened to his parents and twin brother.

A Dark So Deadly is a fantastic book. It’s complex, compelling and it kept me guessing right to the end. I shall definitely read more of Stuart MacBride’s books, beginning with Cold Granite, the first in his Logan McRae series.

My thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for my copy of this book.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 5003 KB
  • Print Length: 608 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (20 April 2017)

My Friday Post: Caedmon’s Song

Book Beginnings ButtonEvery Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City
Reader
 where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

I’ve been rather neglecting my TBRs so far this year, so I’ve been going through them deciding which one to read next and came across Caedmon’s Song by Peter Robinson, one of his standalone books.

Caedmon's Song

It begins:

Martha Browne arrived in Whitby one clear afternoon in early September, convinced of her destiny.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

Friday 56

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

Kirsten looked away towards the window. Outside, beyond the flowers, and the get-well cards on her table, she could see the tops of trees swaying slowly in the wind and a distant block of flats, white in the July sun, ‘I don’t know if I want to remember,’ she whispered. ‘I feel so empty.’

Blurb:

On a balmy June night, Kirsten, a young university student, strolls home through a silent moonlit park. Suddenly her tranquil mood is shattered as she is viciously attacked.

When she awakes in hospital, she has no recollection of that brutal night. But then, slowly and painfully, details reveal themselves – dreams of two figures, one white and one black, hovering over her; wisps of a strange and haunting song; the unfamiliar texture of a rough and deadly hand . . .

In another part of England, Martha Browne arrives in Whitby, posing as an author doing research for a book. But her research is of a particularly macabre variety. Who is she hunting with such deadly determination? And why?

I’ve enjoyed reading some of Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks books. Caedmon’s Song, described as a ‘psychological thriller‘ looks a bit different and I’m wondering about Martha’s research – is it connected to Dracula? after all Whitby Abbey was Bram Stoker’s inspiration for his novel, Dracula.

My Blog Birthday

BooksPlease is 10 today!

Image result for number 10

I started BooksPlease as a way of keeping a record of what I’ve read and now it has become a part of my life. I love writing about books and reading what others have read. It amazes me to realise that I’m part of a blogging community of like-minded people who all love to read and talk about books.

Thanks to everyone who visits and especially to those who make comments – it wouldn’t be the same without you.

Here are just some of the books I’ve loved over the last 10 years, listed in the order I read them:

 in 2007

I read Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve, an adventure story, set in Britain in AD 500. I have always been fascinated by the legend of King Arthur and this book tells his story, casting a new and original slant on the “facts”. Very little historical evidence has survived to give concrete information about life in Britain from the fifth to the sixth centuries. The picture Reeve paints is of a turbulent and harsh world, with Arthur as a war-leader in a land where opposing war-bands fight for supremacy. Arthur is not the romantic hero of legend but a dangerous, quick-tempered man, “solid, big-boned with a thick neck and a fleshy face. … A bear of a man.”

in 2008:

Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee,  a delicious book, full of wonderful word pictures of life in a remote Cotswold village at the beginning of the twentieth century. Laurie Lee was also a poet and this book reads like a prose poem throughout. The village is Slad in Gloucestershire, the home of Laurie Lee, a beautiful place, but no longer as it was in his childhood.

in 2009:

Fire in the BloodFire in the Blood by Irène Némirovsky. Although only a short book (153 pages) it is an intense story of life and death, love and burning passion.  it’s set in a small village based on Issy-l’Eveque between the two world wars. The narrator is Silvio looking back on his life and gradually secrets that have long been hidden rise to the surface, disrupting the lives of the small community. The people are insular, concerned only with their own lives, distrusting their neighbours. All Silvio wants now is a quiet life, but he cannot avoid being drawn into helping Colette, his cousin Helene’ s daughter, when her husband Jean is found drowned in the mill stream.

in 2010:

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, one of the best books I read that year, if not the
best one. It is satisfying in depth and breadth, with a host of characters and detail.

It is, of course the story of Thomas Cromwell, the son of a blacksmith, and his political rise, set against the background of Henry VIII’s England and his struggle with the Pope over his desire to marry Anne Boleyn. It’s a brutal time. What I found most enjoyable was the way this book transported me back to that time, with Mantel’s descriptions of the pageantry, the people, the places and the beliefs and attitudes of the protagonists.

In 2011:

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. This is Agatha Christie’s
6th book, published in 1926. Set in the village of King’s Abbot, the story begins with the death of Mrs Ferrars, a wealthy widow and the local doctor, Dr Sheppard suspects it is suicide. The following evening Roger Ackroyd, a wealthy widower who it was rumoured would marry Mrs Ferrars, is found murdered in his study. Poirot has retired to King’s Abbot, to grow vegetable marrows, not very successfully. He’s missing Captain Hastings who is living in the Argentine, so when he is asked to investigate the murder he enlists Dr Sheppard, who lives next door with his sister Caroline, to help him and it is Dr Sheppard who narrates the story.

In 2012:

The Girl on the Stairs by Louise Welsh, a dark, psychological thriller, full of atmosphere and claustrophobic tension. Jane moves to an apartment in Berlin to join her partner, Petra. Everything is new to her, she only speaks a little German, she doesn’t know the area and has no friends there. And she’s pregnant. She meets some of the other residents of the apartment building, their neighbour Dr Mann and his daughter Anna – the girl on the stairs. She hears them arguing and fears Dr Mann is abusing Anna. Jane’s suspicions about her neighbours grow, and her sense of isolation mounts when Petra has to go to Vienna for a week.

In 2013:

The Glass Room by Ann Cleeves, the fifth book in her Vera Stanhope series. It has everything I like in a crime fiction novel – setting, characters and a cleverly constructed plot. I didn’t guess who the murderer was but realised afterwards that all the clues had been there, skilfully woven into the narrative, hidden among the dead-ends and red herrings, so that I’d read on without realising their significance.

Set in the Northumberland countryside in an isolated country house, a number of aspiring authors are gathered at the Writers’ House, to work on their novels. One of the visiting tutors, Professor Tony Ferdinand, is found dead in the conservatory, stabbed with a kitchen knife.

In 2014:

Sisters of SinaiSisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Found the Hidden Gospels  by Janet Soskice . This is biography so well written that it almost reads like a novel. In fact, if this was a novel I would think it was a most unlikely story of twin sisters in the latter half of the nineteenth century, travelling to St Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai where they discover one of the earliest copies of the Gospels written in ancient Syriac. It’s an excellent biography of two Scottish sisters – twins, Agnes and Margaret Smith born in 1843 in Irvine, a town south-west of Glasgow. Their father died when the twins were 23, leaving his fortune to them they decided to have a trip down the Nile. And that was just the beginning; their lives were transformed.

In 2015:

Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin. Rebus is on his second retirement – well
almost. It seems they can’t do without him and when someone takes a potshot at retired gangster, Big Ger Cafferty DI Siobhan Clarke suggests they ask him to act in a ‘consultative capacity’ albeit not as a cop and with no warrant card or real powers and with no pay. Cafferty refuses to let the police in to talk to him – he’ll only speak to Rebus.

There are various strands to this complicated murder mystery with so many twists and turns that my mind was in a whirl as I tried to sort out all the characters. Rankin successfully combines all the elements of the crime mystery with the personal lives of the main characters and at the same time highlighting various current political and social issues.

In 2016:

Bones and Silence by Reginald Hill, the 11th book in his Dalziel and Pascoe series. When Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel witnesses a bizarre murder across the street from his own back garden, he is quite sure who the culprit is. But does he? I liked all the complications of plot and sub-plots in this book and the interplay of the characters. It’s full of interesting characters and humour, but it is the plot that takes precedence. It is so tricky, with numerous red herrings and plot twists. My image of Dalziel comes from Warren Clark’s portrayal of him in the TV series because I watched the programmes before I read any of Hill’s books. To me Warren Clarke is Dalziel, just as David Suchet is Poirot. Dalziel is a larger than life character, speaks his mind and is never politically correct.

Fingers in the Sparkle Jar: a Memoir by Chris Packham

Description

Chris Packham’s Fingers in the Sparkle Jar: a Memoir is indeed unlike any other memoir I’ve ever read. I loved it. It is deeply personal and honest about his childhood and early teenage years. It doesn’t follow any chronological time-line but moves to an event in 1975 when he was fourteen that touched him to his core. Some chapters are in the first person, giving an intense insight into his mind and some in the third person telling of events as though through on onlooker’s eyes. Some parts are told in the third person whilst he was talking to a therapist later in his life – these are raw and intensely moving. There are parts that are so sad and parts where his anger and indeed rage and the cruelty of others come through so very clearly.

They describe his isolation, his separation from other people and his acceptance and recognition that he was different, the ‘loops’ or obsessive thoughts that run repeatedly through your mind, and the stress he experienced because of all that.

I think it is beautifully written, richly descriptive – although if you don’t like adjectives you probably won’t agree with me. I do, and I can’t imagine the book without them, they paint such vivid and colourful images, especially in passages such as those where he describes his ‘sparkle jar‘ – simply wonderful. There is no way I can summarise that, other than to say it is dazzling and scintillating – you need to read the book.

There are many, many passages that will remain with me, such as those about his obsessions with a variety of things from dinosaurs, tadpoles, otters, and snakes, (his description of the enclosure for his snakes they built in the garden is most alarming – they escaped) for example, culminating in his love for the Kestrel he stole from its nest and then took home to rear and train.

Fingers in the Sparkle Jar is a very special book. In his acknowledgements Chris Packham explains the encouragement, patience, tolerance and help he had from his parents, and how he turned their house into a menagerie and the garden into a safari park.

Extract from Chris Packham’s  website

Extraordinarily creative and prolific, Chris Packham has led a remarkable life. He’s gained recognition as a naturalist, television presenter, writer, photographer, conservationist, campaigner and filmmaker.

As a broadcaster he is a presenter of BBC’s BAAFTA Award winning Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch series. He presents notable natural history series such as Nature’s Weirdest Events, World’s Weirdest Events, World’s Sneakiest Animals, Cats V Dogs, The Burrowers, Inside the Animal Mind, Operation Iceberg and Secrets of our Living Planet. He was featured in The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon (NBC – US) where he introduced Jimmy to a Porcupine and baby spotted Hyena, and sent a Black Vulture flying to him as he stood in the audience.

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Ebury Press (6 April 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1785033506
  • ISBN-13: 978-1785033506

Many thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for my copy of this book!

The Kill Fee by Fiona Veitch Smith

The Kill Fee (Poppy Denby Investigates #2)

The Kill Fee is the second book in the Poppy Denby Investigates series. I haven’t read the first book, The Jazz Files, but I had no difficulty reading this second book as it reads well as a standalone, with enough detail of previous events for me to follow the story.

It is set in London in 1920 with flashbacks to Russia in 1917. Poppy is the Arts and Entertainments Editor at the Daily Globe and whilst she is covering an exhibition of Russian Art at the Crystal Palace a guard is shot and injured and one of the Fabergé Eggs on display is stolen. It’s not just an extremely valuable Egg, one that had been owned by a member of the Tsar’s family, but one that is said to contain a secret that could threaten royal families throughout Europe.

This is reminiscent of the Golden Age crime fiction as Poppy sets about finding who stole the Egg and there are plenty of suspects. The theft is followed by a couple of murders and a poisoning, and a secret passageway as Poppy chases around London in hot pursuit of the killer.

Its an enjoyable read that kept me entertained with a mix of fictional and historical characters and a look at 1920s’ society. I particularly liked the Russian connection and the information about White and Red Russians and the Russian Revolution of 1917 – by 1920 this was coming to a head in the Crimea. The book begins with an episode in Moscow in 1917 as an unnamed man in a bearskin coat enters the house of an aristocratic family to find a scene of carnage. Most of the family have been murdered, but he rescues a small girl, her little dog and her English nanny. How this fits into the rest of the book only gradually becomes clear.

There is a map of 1920s London that helps to follow the action and a list of the fictional and historical characters that I found useful. Fiona Veitch Smith explains in her historical Note at the end of the book how she got the idea for The Kill Fee and how she blended fact with fiction. Apart from a few ‘tweaks’ she has stuck to the historical timeline, as far as she is aware, moving the Russian Embassy to Kensington Gardens seven years earlier than it really did and bringing forward the selling of paper poppies by one year – these were launched by the British Red Cross in 1921. The plotline of the theft of the Fabergé Egg and the exhibition at the Crystal Palace is a figment of her imagination. She apologises for ‘any unintentional errors you may find.’

Well, I did find another anachronism. At one point (page 209 in my paperback copy) Poppy and Daniel are arguing as he drives across London approaching the Victoria Embankment when he had to slow down ‘to allow a family to cross the road at a pelican crossing.‘ I think this must be a typing error as although pedestrian crossings existed more than 2000 years ago, pelican crossings weren’t introduced in the United Kingdom until 1969.

None of this affected my enjoyment of the book as the world of London in the 1920s came to life and the complex plot and fast pace kept my brain ticking over, keeping track of the different sub-plots and characters. The kill fee in the title refers to the money offered to Rollo, the Daily Globe owner and editor-in-chief, to stop him from publishing the story concerning the theft of the Fabergé Egg.

My thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for my copy of this book.

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Lion Fiction (16 Sept. 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1782642188
  • ISBN-13: 978-1782642183

This is my 10th book for the Mount TBR Challenge.

First Chapter, First Paragraph: Burial Rites

Every Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros to share the first paragraph sometimes two, of a book that she’s reading or planning to read soon.

This week’s first paragraph is from Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.

Burial RitesIt begins with a Prologue:

They said I must die. They said that I stole the breath from men, and now they must steal mine. I imagine, then, that we are all candle flames, greasy-bright, fluttering in the darkness and the howl of the wind, and in the stillness of the room I hear footsteps, awful coming footsteps, coming to blow me out and send my life up away from me in a grey wreath of smoke. I will vanish into the air and the night. They will blow us all out, one by one, until it is only their own light by which they see themselves. Where will I be then?

Blurb:

Northern Iceland, 1829. A woman condemned to death for murdering her lover. A family forced to take her in. A priest tasked with absolving her.

But all is not as it seems, and time is running out: winter is coming, and with it the execution date. Only she can know the truth. This is Agnes’s story.

A while ago I noticed that people were reading this book when it was shortlisted for many awards, but although it’s historical fiction, one of my favourite genres, and based on a true story it didn’t really appeal to me at the time. Then I read Hannah Kent’s second novel, The Good People, which I thought was such a beautifully written and moving book, and I decided to try her debut novel.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?  And if you have read it what did you think about it?

Mount TBR: Checkpoint 1

It’s time for the first quarterly check-in for Bev’s Mount TBR Challenge (TBRs for this challenge must be books you’ve owned prior to January 1, 2017). Here are my answers to her questions:

  • How many miles (books) up the mountain are you?

I’m still climbing Pike’s Peak, so I’m behind if I want to reach my target of 48 books, ie reach the top of Mount Ararat, as I’ve only read 9 books (see this page for details). I’ve been sidetracked by reading new-to-me books so far this year! 

  • Post a picture of your favourite cover so far

All the Light We Cannot See

  • Title Scrabble: See if you can spell a word using the first letter of the first word in the titles of some/all of the books you have read so far. Feel free to consider “A,” “An,” or “The” as the first word or not as it helps you with your word hunt.

My word: Tablet:

T –The Dead of Jericho by Colin Dexter (Morse)
A –All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
B –The Buttonmaker’s Daughter by Merryn Allingham
L –Last Seen Wearing by Colin Dexter
EThe Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff
TThe Gathering by Anne Enright

 

What I read in March

March has been a fantastic reading month, with eight of the books I read being excellent 5 and 4 star books. And I’ve written posts about 10 out of the 12!

  1. A Death in the Dales by Frances Brody 4*
  2. At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier 4*
  3. Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney 5*
  4. See What I have Done by Sarah Schmidt 4* – review to come soon
  5. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen 4*
  6. The Spirituality of Jane Austen by Paula Hollingsworth 4*
  7. Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid 3*
  8. The Gathering by Anne Enright 1*
  9. The Idea of You by Amanda Prowse 2*
  10. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd 5* – review to come soon
  11. The Legacy by Yrsa Sigurdardottir 5*
  12. The Lauras by Sara Taylor 2.5*

They’re a mix of fiction, historical fiction and crime fiction, with one non-fiction book on Jane Austen’s works. Only one of them, The Gathering, is from my TBR shelves of books I’ve owned prior to January 1 this year, the rest are either new books or new-to-me books and one library book, Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey. The links are to my posts on the books.

The two books I have yet to review are both excellent books – See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt is historical fiction based on the unsolved American true crime case of the Lizzie Borden murders, due to be published in May. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd is historical fiction based on the lives of the abolitionist Grimké sisters set in the American Deep South in the nineteenth century, a story of slavery.

My favourite? So hard to choose, but because it kept me glued to the pages and puzzled, stunned and amazed me it has to be Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney.

Six Degrees of Separation: from Room to Wives and Daughters

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.Room by Emma Donoghue

This month’s chain begins with Room by Emma Donoghue – about a five
year old boy and his mother, abducted seven years earlier and living in captivity, confined to an 11 by 11 foot room. I haven’t read this book which was on the Man Booker 2010 shortlist.

The Long Song by Andrea LevyBut I have read the first link in my chain, also on the list that year – The Long Song by Andrea Levy, a book about slavery in Jamaica just as slavery was coming to an end and both the slaves and their former owners were adjusting to their freedom. The narrator is July, at the beginning, a spirited young woman, born in a sugar-cane field, telling her story at her son’s suggestion.

Slavery is the link to the next book – The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier, historical fiction about the life of Honor Bright after she emigrated from Dorset to America in 1850 where she joined a Quaker community in Ohio. It intertwines her story with that of the ‘Underground Railroad’, helping the runaway slaves from the southern states to escape to Canada.

At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy…Also by Tracy Chevalier is At the Edge of the Orchard the story of a pioneering family on the American frontier, the Goodenough family, James and his wife Sadie and their five surviving children. It begins in 1838 in Black Swamp, Ohio where James and Sadie are arguing over apples and moves west with their son Robert to California.

Apples also feature in my next link – Hallowe’en Party which begins with the party given by Mrs Drake for teenagers. One of the guests, Joyce Reynolds, a boastful thirteen-year old, who likes to draw attention to herself, announces that once she’d witnessed a murder. It seems nobody believed her and yet later on she is found dead, drowned in the tub used for the bobbing for apples game.

Another witness to a murder is Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel in Bones and Silence by Reginald Hill. He witnesses a bizarre murder across the street from his own back garden positive that he saw Philip Swain shoot his wife, but Swain insists it was an accident. He says he was trying to stop her from killing herself and the gun went off. Just what did happen?

Wives and Daughters (Wordsworth Classics) by…My final link is through the structure of the title – 3 words linked by ‘and‘. It’s Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell, a book I’m currently reading. Set in rural England in the early nineteenth century before the 1832 Reform Act this is the story of two families, centred on Molly Gibson, brought up by her father, a widowed country doctor. When he remarries, a new step-sister enters Molly’s quiet life – lovable, but worldly and troubling, Cynthia.

So, my chain has gone from a book about a woman and her child (a son) passing through books about slavery, a pioneer family and their apple orchard to murder mysteries featuring apples and witnesses to murders and finally to a another book about parents and children (daughters).

I never know where my chain will end. What about you, where would yours end?

The Lauras by Sara Taylor

The Lauras by Sara Taylor is due to be published in paperback in the UK on 6 April 2017. Kindle and hardcover copies have already been published. My copy is a digital version for review from the publishers, via NetGalley.

It’s a road-trip story as Ma leaves her husband in Virginia and takes to the road with her thirteen-year old child, Alex. I really liked those parts of the novel in which Sara Taylor describes their journey and the places they travel through or stay at for a while, sometimes sleeping in the car, sometimes in a motel, and sometimes for a longer stay whilst she earns enough money to continue their journey. But I didn’t like the structure of the book as much, because it is basically just a collection of stories that Ma tells Alex – stories about her childhood and teenage years; about her childhood in Sicily, the time she spent in foster homes, and the friends she made, several of them called Laura- as they travel to visit people from her past. This structure makes the book disjointed, especially as neither Alex nor the reader knows where it is going or when/if it will come to an end. It unsettled me in that respect.

It’s narrated in the first person by Alex, looking back some 30 years to that journey. Alex was a shy and lonely teenager, unable to fit in with others and unsure about sexuality and gender. It makes for very uncomfortable reading in places as Alex is confronted by the misunderstandings and abuse of others. Ma is also a troubled person, having suffered various traumas, hardships and emotional insecurities. Both of them have itchy feet, not happy to stay for long in one place and unable to relate easily to others.

It’s a book about identity, about outsiders, and about parenting and relationships. I liked the various meditations on memory, its unreliable nature and slipperiness and on reality. Alex observes that we don’t actually have perfect memories of what happened, but just have fragments that we piece together to understand and make sense of events, to explain our life to ourselves. After they’ve gone all we have left of people are their stories, not necessarily the stories they told us, but as we remember those stories. Alex realises in later life that we can gloss over some memories  or can pretend to ourselves we have forgotten certain times and places, until some unexpected smell or sound drops us back into ‘that awkward, adolescent body’.

I can’t say that it’s a book I enjoyed or would want to re-read. It’s not a book I was eager to get back to once I put it down, but it certainly gave me much to think about.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2773 KB
  • Print Length: 302 pages
  • Publisher: Cornerstone Digital (4 Aug. 2016)
  • Rating: 2.5 stars

The Legacy by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

The Legacy is my first venture into Icelandic Noir and the first in a new series by Yrsa Sigurdardottir – the Children’s House thriller series, translated from Icelandic by Victoria Cribb.

I think the first thing I should say about this book is that I loved it and once I started reading I just didn’t want to put it down. What is so remarkable about that is that there are some particularly dark and nasty murder scenes, which would normally guarantee that I’d stop reading. I am so glad I did read on. The Legacy is an excellent book. It’s dark, mysterious and very cleverly plotted, full of tension and nerve-wracking suspense. Although I thought I’d worked out who the murderer is I was completely wrong, but looking back I could see all the clues are there, cunningly concealed – I just didn’t notice them.

It begins with a prologue set in 1987 when three young children, two boys and their little sister are waiting to be adopted. It’s hard to find anyone willing to adopt all three and they are separated. The psychiatrists’ opinion is that it is in their best interests to be parted and that their horrendous background be kept secret, hoping that time and being split up would obliterate their memories. I did try to keep the events in the prologue in mind as I read and had some idea of how it related to the rest of the book, but it was only when I came to the dramatic conclusion that everything became clear.

Move forward to 2015 to Elisa whose husband is away leaving her on her own with three young children for a week. Her seven-year old daughter, Margrét wakes her, frightened because there is a man in the house. What follows is the first horrifying murder (read it quickly and try not to linger over the details because the pictures they paint don’t bear thinking about). Margrét, who was hiding when her mother is killed, is the only witness and she’s too traumatised to say very much.

She is taken to the Children’s House where Freyja, the child psychologist in charge and the detective Huldar, in charge of the police investigation, try to get to the truth. It’s immensely difficult, complicated by more murders. Freyja and Huldar are both sympathetic characters, both deeply committed to their jobs, but because of past history between them unable to trust each other.

The narrative is in the third person and switches between Freyja’s and Huldar’s viewpoints, interspersed by that of another character, Karl a student and radio ham enthusiast who has been receiving strange messages from a mysterious numbers station broadcasting, unusually, in Icelandic. These consist of long strings of numbers read out by synthesised voices. Karl dreams of successfully cracking the codes. I was both intrigued and completely mystified by this part of the novel. I was completely engrossed in the plot and the characters and I shall certainly be reading more of Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s books in the future.

My thanks to the publishers, Hodder and Stoughton, for an e-book copy for review, via NetGalley.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2046 KB
  • Print Length: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (23 Mar. 2017)
  • My rating: 5* (despite the horrific murders)

Happy Mother’s Day!

Today really feels like spring has well and truly arrived and it’s Mother’s Day ! My son surprised me with not just one book, but two:

First, a book that was wrapped in brown paper in the bookshop from a pile of ‘mystery’ books – just a brief description, but not giving the author or the title. It’s Present Tense: a Best Defence Mystery by WHS McIntyre. On the cover it’s described as;

Crime with an edge of dark humour. The Best Defence series could only come out of Scotland.’

Blurb:

Criminal lawyer, Robbie Munro, is back home, living with his dad and his new-found daughter. Life as a criminal lawyer isn’t going well, and neither is his love life. While he’s preparing to defend the accused in a rape case, it all becomes suddenly more complicated when one of his more dubious clients leaves a mysterious box for him to look after. What’s in the box is going to change Robbie’s life – forever.

Secondly, a beautiful book, The Crofter and the Laird by John McPhee, described in the Guardian:

McPhee is a grand master of narrative non-fiction.

Blurb:

In 1969, John McPhee moved his family from New Jersey across the Atlantic to live in the land of his forefathers, the island of Colonsay – seventeen square miles of dew and damp twenty-five miles off the coast of Scotland. They rented a crofthouse, his children enrolled at the local school, and they soon were accepted into this tightly circumscribed community of 138 people.

Intertwining history and legend, McPhee gives us a comprehensive portrait of this remote and misty land. He battles the fierce gales on the outer shoals of the Ardskenish Peninsula, listens to the crofters complain of the laird over drams in the island’s sole pub, and meets perhaps the last of the Great Highland bagpipers.

A blend of anthropology and travelogue, The Crofter and the Laird presents us with a perfect mirror of daily-life in the Highlands. McPhee writes with insight, sensitivity, and fondness for these hardy people – resulting in an account that’s as honest, humorous, and frank as the locals themselves.

Two very different books, both by authors new-to-me, and I’m looking forward to reading both of them. Thanks, Paul!

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

A gripping psychological thriller

Sometimes I Lie is Alice Feeney’s debut thriller. I usually take descriptions of books like this with a bit of scepticism: ‘Unnerving, twisted and utterly compelling, you won’t be able to put this new thriller down.’ But it really is like this – and I did find it utterly compelling.

I like complicated plots with believable characters and with twists and turns to keep me glued to the book. This book has all this and more. I was puzzled, stunned and amazed at the cleverness of the plot structure and how I’d had the wool pulled over my eyes, although I did have a suspicion of what it was all about, I just hadn’t worked out the whole truth.

I’m not going to say much about this book because I think it’s best to read it without knowing very much about it. It’s narrated by Amber Reynolds as she lies in hospital in a coma. She can’t move or speak, but she can hear and gradually she begins to remember who she is and what happened to her. But as the opening sentences reveal sometimes she lies. Actually it’s hard to figure out who is lying, who can be trusted and what really happened. There are flashbacks to what happened immediately before Amber ended up in hospital and there are diary entries from the early 1990s starting when Amber was nearly ten.

I thoroughly enjoyed Sometimes I Lie. It’s a complex, confusing, disturbing and brilliant book. I read it in just two sittings and when I got to the end I immediately had to turn back to the beginning and start reading it again.

Many thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for a review copy .

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1872 KB
  • Print Length: 279 pages
  • Publisher: HQ (23 Mar. 2017)

Alice Feeney is a writer and journalist. She spent 16 years at the BBC, where she worked as a Reporter, News Editor, Arts and Entertainment Producer and One O’clock News Producer.

The Idea of You by Amanda Prowse

Blurb:

With her fortieth birthday approaching, Lucy Carpenter dares to hope that she finally has it all: a wonderful new husband, Jonah, a successful career and the chance of a precious baby of her own. Life couldn’t be more perfect.

But the reality of becoming parents proves much harder than Lucy and Jonah imagined. Jonah’s love and support is unquestioning, but as Lucy struggles with work and her own failing dreams, the strain on their marriage increases. Suddenly it feels like Lucy is close to losing everything…

Heart-wrenching and poignant, this latest work by bestselling author Amanda Prowse asks the question: what does it mean to be a mother in today’s hectic world? And what if it’s asking too much to want it all?

My thoughts:

I like variety in my reading and so when the publishers of Amanda Prowse’ The Idea of You offered me a review copy I thought from the description that it would make a change from the genres I usually read.

Amanda Prowse is a popular author, described by the Daily Mail as the ‘queen of domestic drama‘. And I can see from the numerous 5 and 4 star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads that many readers love her books.

The Idea of You is mainly about relationships motherhood, and it is emotionally charged with the devastating effect of miscarriages, but apart from that I was not convinced that the characters were real. The dialogue seemed to me to be forced and not true to life and so I felt as as though I was on the outside looking in and at times the characters of Lucy and her teenage stepdaughter, Camille, seemed to merge into each other.

The narrative is interspersed with letters Lucy writes and for a while it’s not that clear who she is writing them to. But reading the Prologue along with other clues that Amanda Prowse drops in along the way about Lucy’s past, gave me a good indication of who it was, so it was no surprise when the recipient is finally revealed. I also thought the story of Camille was too predictable given Lucy’s situation. And the ending left me with rather a sickly aftertaste. In fact I found much of the book is too cloying for my liking.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2642 KB
  • Print Length: 334 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1503942333
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (21 Mar. 2017)
  • Source: review copy from the publishers via NetGalley

First Chapter, First Paragraph: State of Wonder

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros to share the first paragraph sometimes two, of a book that she’s reading or planning to read soon.

This week I’m looking at State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, one of my TBR books on my Kindle and thinking of reading it next.

State of Wonder

It begins:

The news of Anders Eckman’s death came by way of Aerogram, a piece of bright blue airmail paper that served both as the stationery and, when folded over and sealed along the edges, the envelope. Who even knew they still made such things? The single sheet had traveled from Brazil to Minnesota to mark the passing of a man, a breath of tissue so insubstantial that only the stamp seemed to anchor it to this world. Mr Fox had the letter in his hand when he came to the lab to tell Marina the news. When she saw him there at the door she smiled at him and in the light of that smile he faltered.

“What?” she said finally.

He opened his mouth and then closed it. When he tried again all he could say was, “It’s snowing.”

Blurb:

Among the tangled waterways and giant anacondas of the Brazilian Rio Negro, an enigmatic scientist is developing a drug that could alter the lives of women for ever. Dr Annick Swenson’s work is shrouded in mystery; she refuses to report on her progress, especially to her investors, whose patience is fast running out. Anders Eckman, a mild-mannered lab researcher, is sent to investigate.
A curt letter reporting his untimely death is all that returns.

Now Marina Singh, Anders’ colleague and once a student of the mighty Dr Swenson, is their last hope. Compelled by the pleas of Anders’s wife, who refuses to accept that her husband is not coming home, Marina leaves the snowy plains of Minnesota and retraces her friend’s steps into the heart of the South American darkness, determined to track down Dr. Swenson and uncover the secrets being jealously guarded among the remotest tribes of the rainforest.

What Marina does not yet know is that, in this ancient corner of the jungle, where the muddy waters and susurrating grasses hide countless unknown perils and temptations, she will face challenges beyond her wildest imagination.

Marina is no longer the student, but only time will tell if she has learnt enough.

I can see why I bought this book – but why haven’t I read it yet? It looks so good. What do you think – would you keep reading?

The Spirituality of Jane Austen by Paula Hollingsworth

A celebratory book to mark the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen in 2017

Blurb:

2017 marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen, whose six completed novels have never been out of print. Best known for her novels, ‘Sense and Sensibility’, ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘Mansfield Park’, and ‘Emma’, first published anonymously, Jane commented, critiqued and illuminated the life of the English upper classes.

But did Jane’s writings highlight anything about her own spirituality? In this celebratory book, Paula Hollingsworth explores Jane Austen’s gentle but strong faith and the effect it had both on her life and her writing. Drawing on Jane’s life story, her letters, her friendships, her books and the characters portrayed, Paula shows the depth of Jane Austen’s spirituality.

Jane Austen has long been one of my favourite authors, so when I saw The Spirituality of Jane Austen by Paula Hollingsworth on NetGalley I was keen to read it. It’s a combination of a biography, which complements other biographies that I’ve read, and an analysis of Jane Austen’s works from the point of how they reveal her spirituality.

‘Spirituality‘, in Jane Austen’s day was used in the sense of the word ‘religious‘, but used in a narrower sense than we would today. It would have meant ‘Christian‘ and in particular almost exclusively ‘Protestant Christianity‘. In the Austen family that would mean the beliefs and practices of 18th century Anglicanism – ‘a faith that was tolerant and pragmatic, focusing on self-improvement and right behaviour, with a belief in change that comes not so much from miracles but through self-reflection and inner growth.’

With this definition in mind Paula Hollingsworth then considers Jane Austen’s letters, her early writings and novels, focusing on how they reveal Jane’s spirituality implicitly rather than explicitly, seeing parallels between her life and her writings. I enjoyed this way of looking at her novels in particular.

I think the last chapter in which Paula Hollingsworth considers modern adaptations and dramatisations of Jane Austen’s books is very interesting. Whilst they have brought her work to a wider audience it has meant that character development has been lost, or the values of the times in which the novels are set have been changed to make the story more acceptable to a modern audience.

And given that Jane Austen disliked Bath when she lived there, Paula Hollingsworth believes she would be disappointed by the focus on some of the activities and merchandise rather than on her books. She also considers the recent Austen Project books in which modern authors set the novels in the present day and the problems they have in making them credible to modern readers.

She describes the many ways people today can enjoy Jane Austen’s work, such as watching screen adaptations, dancing at a Regency Ball, reading books about Jane Austen and her world, dressing in Regency costume and parading through Bath and other events, but considers that the best way is to read the novels themselves and to read them slowly. I agree. I really enjoyed reading this book and it has made me want to re-read the novels, particularly those I haven’t re-read recently.

There are comprehensive notes on the chapters, an appendix of Jane Austen’s prayers and a select bibliography.

My copy is an ARC I received from the publishers, Lion Books via NetGalley. The paperback (240 pages) will be published on 24 March 2017.

The Gathering by Anne Enright

The Gathering by Anne Enright is her fourth book. It won the Man Booker Prize in 2007.

The Gathering

Blurb:

The nine surviving children of the Hegarty clan gather in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother Liam. It wasn’t the drink that killed him – although that certainly helped – it was what happened to him as a boy in his grandmother’s house, in the winter of 1968.

The Gathering is a novel about love and disappointment, about thwarted lust and limitless desire, and how our fate is written in the body, not in the stars.

I’m sorry to say that I think The Gathering is one of the most dreary books I’ve read. It’s a dark and disturbing novel about a dysfunctional family. I didn’t enjoy it, which is a shame as it’s a book that’s been on my shelves since 2008 and one I chose to read this month as part of Reading Ireland Month, an event to ‘to celebrate the wealth and breadth and general awesomeness of Irish cultural life.’ 

It begins:

I would like to write down what happened in my grandmother’s house the summer I was eight or nine, but I am not sure if it really did happen. I need to bear witness to an uncertain event. I feel it roaring inside me – this thing that may not have taken place. I don’t even know what name to put on it. I think you might call it a crime of the flesh, but the flesh is long fallen away and I am not sure what hurt may linger in the bones.

The narrator is Veronica Hegarty and it is through her eyes that the Hegarty family story is told as they gather at her brother’s wake in Dublin. Liam, an alcoholic, had committed suicide by putting rocks into his pockets and walking into the sea at Brighton. The characterisation is fantastic and I had no difficulty seeing the people in my mind’s eye; the descriptions of their appearance and personalities are strong and detailed.

But how reliable is Veronica’s memory? She mixes up memories of herself and her sister for example and there is quite a lot that you have to read between the lines. There aren’t many certain facts, for example how much truth is there in Veronica’s account of the early years of her grandparents’ married life and of their friend Lambert Nugent? She relates episodes that I’m sure they wouldn’t have told their granddaughter. At one point Veronica does say:

It is time to put an end to the shifting stories and the waking dreams. It is time to call an end to romance and just say what happened in Ada’s house, the year that I was eight and Liam was barely nine.

It takes a long time before Veronica finally gets to say what happened and even then there is ambiguity. Veronica cannot stick to a chronology and describes events haphazardly just as they come to her mind. A stream of thoughts just pour out of her – which is all very well because that is how the mind works.  But I found it made the text disjointed as it moved swiftly backwards and forwards.

As the blurb says it is about ‘thwarted lust and limitless desire‘ and the focus is on the body, on death, on sex and sexual abuse, on alcoholism, on insanity and on secrets and betrayal, but not much about love. At times I found it depressing or boring.

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (20 Mar. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099501635
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099501633

When I finished The Gathering I wondered about the other books that were listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2007 – were the other books equally as depressing? This is what the judges thought about The Gathering:

Judges applauded The Gathering for its controlled prose, sentence by sentence. They were impressed by its figurative language. They wondered at how unflinching Enright was in the face of what was pretty grim, unappealing material. Would the subject matter deter readers? asked one judge. Was that a literary question? asked another.

So, it was the language they liked and I can see what they found to applaud there.  But I also thought that I had found the unappealing material a deterrent.

They concluded:

Enright’s novel had the support in depth and range other titles were not able to muster. It is, perhaps, a book people admire rather than immediately warm to, and this admiration won the day for her. Admiration for the unflinching ferocity of her vision and her skill with figurative language, admiration for the way in which she conveys feeling in carefully modulated prose which, sentence for sentence, matches anything being written in English today. Together we were happy to award her the prize on that basis. It was a collegiate decision. That is how it should be for the Man Booker.

Again I can see where they are coming from, but I prefer books that I can warm to as well as admire and I’m sorry but I just couldn’t warm to The Gathering, although I can admire its skill.

The other books on the shortlist were:

  • Darkmans by Nicola Barker – a book about love and jealousy and also about invasion, obsession, displacement and possession, about comedy, art, prescription drugs and chiropody.
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Hamid – it traces the life and love of Changez, an idealistic young Muslim man who leaves Pakistan to pursue his education in the US.
  • Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones – a tale of survival by story set in Bougainville in 1991, a small village on a lush tropical island in the South Pacific where the horror of civil war lurked. Mr Watts introduces the children to Mr Dickens’ Great Expectations.
  • Animal’s People by Indra Sinah – ever since he can remember, Animal has gone on all fours, the catastrophic result of what happened on That Night when, thanks to an American chemical company, the Apocalypse visited his slum.
  • On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan – It is June 1962. In a hotel on the Dorset coast, overlooking Chesil Beach, Edward and Florence, who got married that morning, are sitting down to dinner in their room. Neither is entirely able to suppress their anxieties about the wedding night to come.

They sound mainly a depressing bunch of books. I read On Chesil Beach,  in 2007 and didn’t blog about it in detail. As I remember it, it is a sad book too, but I loved it. I have Mister Pip waiting to be read.

Northanger Abbey

July marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death and I’m planning to write more about her other books in later posts. I regularly re-read Pride and Prejudice, but it’s been years since I last read Emma – so that is on my list for later this year. I first read Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey when I was at school and reading it again now was like reading it for the first time.

I really wasn’t going to read any of the Austen Project books (a series of books by contemporary authors give their take on Jane Austen’s novels). I’m not at all keen on adaptations, sequels, or prequels, but I’ve been meaning to read Val McDermid’s books for ages and when I saw her version of Northanger Abbey on the mobile library’s shelves I borrowed it. Although now I’ve read it I think it’s probably not the best of her books to start with. I can’t imagine that it’s representative of her books!

Northanger Abbey (The Austen Project, #2)

As it’s been so many years since I’d first read the original by Jane Austen I thought I should refresh my memory and re-read it before tackling Val McDermid’s version.

Northanger Abbey

Jane Austen originally wrote the book in 1789-99, then revised it in 1803 and in 1817. Originally called Memorandum, Susan, then Catherine it was first published posthumously along with Persuasion, also previously unpublished, in December 1817, with the title Northanger Abbey, although 1818 is the date on the title page.

Northanger Abbey is a love story about Catherine Morland, a naive and impressionable 17 year-old, whose imagination has been filled with visions of diabolical villains and swooning heroines from the Gothic novels of her day. Childless neighbours, the Allens, take her with them for a six week stay in Bath. Here her eyes are opened to the social complexities of real life. Bath at that time was a thriving spa resort, popular with fashionable society. The place where rich and fashionable people went to take the waters and enjoy the social life, dancing, going to the theatre and concerts, shopping and also to find a husband or wife.

Here, too, Catherine meets the Thorpe family, the insufferable John Thorpe, who she immediately dislikes and his sister, Isabella who she instantly finds to be a kindred spirit – or so she thinks. She also meets and falls in love with clergyman Henry Tilney, whose father, General Tilney owns Northanger Abbey. She is thrilled when Henry and his sister, Eleanor invite her to stay with them at the Abbey, a place she fantasises about, imagining it as one of the romantic buildings full of dark corridors, with remote rooms where females are imprisoned that feature in the Gothic novels she loves.

Even though the Abbey doesn’t live up to her expectations, because although it is part of an ancient building it has been modernised and made comfortable. But that is not enough to prevent Catherine’s imagination running riot, viewing the details of Henry’s mother’s death with great suspicion. The General is a most unlikeable and unpleasant character and she suspects that he could have played a part in his wife’s death – he never talks about her, and shuns her favourite walk in the garden. She imagines all sorts of Gothic horrors.

Northanger Abbey parodies both the Gothic novel and intense female friendships, such as that between Catherine and Isabella as they enthuse obsessively over the horror and romance of the Gothic novel. It’s a book of melodramas and misunderstandings, exposing ambition, greed and the love of power and pleasure mixed with self-interest. Catherine only gradually learns to tell reality from fantasy.

At first I read the two books side by side, a chapter from each. That worked well for a while and it made it easy to see that Val McDermid had followed Jane Austen’s book closely, changing locations and things, such as Edinburgh instead of Bath, the Scottish Borders instead of the Gloucestershire countryside, cars instead of carriages and so on. It’s the style of writing and language that is so very different. I liked the way Val McDermid substituted the Edinburgh Book Festival for Bath – that worked well and also used modern names for the characters – Cat for Catherine, Bella for Isabella and Ellie for Eleanor. And setting  Northanger Abbey in the Scottish Borders is a stroke of genius.

But by the time  I got to the second half of the book where Catherine goes to stay at Northanger Abbey I realised it was Jane Austen’s original that was  appealing more to me, so I finished that first.

I’m not going to go into detail about Val McDermid’s version as she has stuck in the main to the original, that is, until she got to the end. I got tired of the use of modern expressions, tweets, texts and Facebook, and also the silliness of Cat and Bella, and all the vampire nonsense that replaces Catherine’s love of ‘horrid mysteries’. Yes, I could see that it was just as much a spoof on the modern obsession with vampires as Jane Austen’s parody is of the Gothic literature of her day, but I didn’t like it has much as Jane Austen’s version. However, despite that criticism, overall I did enjoy it – it’s light and easy to read.

I was interested in Jane Austen’s list of Gothic novels, which in contrast to the books in Val McDemid’s version, are real books. These are the books that girls and young women were reading in the 1790s and early 1800s (all available today as e-books on Amazon):

  • The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Ward Radcliffe
  • Castle of Wolfenbach by Eliza Parsons
  • Clermont by Regina Maria Roche
  • The Mysterious Warning by Eliza Parsons
  • Necromancer of the Black Forest by Karl Friedrich Kahlert
  • The Orphan of the Rhine by Eleanor Sleath
  • Horrid Mysteries by Carl Grosse

Northanger Abbey fulfils the category of ‘a book with a building in the title’ in Charlie’s What’s in a Name Challenge.

First Chapter, First Paragraph: The Snow Child

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros to share the first paragraph sometimes two, of a book that she’s reading or planning to read soon.

This week my opening is from Eowyn Ivey’s first book, The Snow Child.

The Snow Child

It begins:

Wolverine River, Alaska, 1920

Mabel had known there would be silence. That was the point after all. No infants cooing or wailing. No neighbor children playfully hollering down the lane. No pad of small feet on wooden stairs worn smooth by generations, or clackety-clack of toys along the kitchen floor. All those sounds of her failure and regret would be left behind, and in their place would be silence.

I’ll be reading this book soon because I’ve read and loved her second book, To the Bright Edge of the World and I’ve heard that The Snow Child is also a wonderful book. These opening sentences are full of pathos and denial of Mabel’s desires and draw me in.

Blurb:

A bewitching tale of heartbreak and hope set in 1920s Alaska, Eowyn Ivey’s THE SNOW CHILD was a top ten bestseller in hardback and paperback, and went on to be a Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Alaska, the 1920s. Jack and Mabel have staked everything on a fresh start in a remote homestead, but the wilderness is a stark place, and Mabel is haunted by the baby she lost many years before. When a little girl appears mysteriously on their land, each is filled with wonder, but also foreboding: is she what she seems, and can they find room in their hearts for her?

Written with the clarity and vividness of the Russian fairy tale from which it takes its inspiration, The Snow Child is an instant classic.

Would you read on? If you have read this book what did you think?

A Death in the Dales by Frances Brody

A Death in the Dales is the 7th book in Frances Brody’s Kate Shackleton series of historical crime fiction books set in 1920s Yorkshire. Kate is an amateur detective. I’ve read the first two, Dying in the Wool and A Medal For Murder, and so I’ve jumped ahead in the series with this book. It’s not always possible to read a series in order and in this case I don’t think it matters – A Death in the Dales reads well as a standalone.

It’s 1926 and Kate Shackleton’s friend, Dr Lucian Simonson, has offered her the use of his late Aunt Freda’s cottage in Langcliffe for a short holiday with her niece Harriet, who is recovering from diphtheria. Ten years earlier Freda had witnessed the murder of the landlord of the alehouse across the street from her house. A man was found guilty of the murder and hanged – but Freda was convinced that they had convicted the wrong man.

Freda’s friend Mr Wigglesworth, the local apothecary, asks Kate to investigate the murder and gives her Freda’s papers regarding the trial. Although she had intended to have a holiday from her investigations she can’t resist looking at the papers and is convinced that Freda had wanted to her to solve the mystery and find out who had killed the pub landlord.

As well as investigating the murder, Kate also helps Harriet and her new friend, Beth to find out what has happened to Beth’s young brother who has gone missing from the farm where he was working, and then a suspicious death on the same farm.

I enjoyed reading about life in the 1920s; Frances Brody paints a very believable picture of life in a rural setting in the Dales during the post World War One years. Kate is a very likeable character and has to overcome the suspicion of strangers from the local community once she starts digging into the past. And there is the added complication of Kate and Lucian’s personal situation. All in all it’s a complicated mystery with several strands, numerous suspects and plenty of red herrings.

Frances Brody is an excellent storyteller and her books are well-plotted and complex murder mysteries in the historical setting of the 1920s and in the style of the golden age crime fiction.

The series so far is:

1. Dying in the Wool (2009)
2. A Medal For Murder (2010)
3. Murder in the Afternoon (2011)
4. A Woman Unknown (2012)
5. Murder on a Summer’s Day (2013)
6. Death of an Avid Reader (2014)
7. A Death in the Dales (2015)
8. Death at the Seaside (2016)
9. Death in the Stars (to be published in October 2017)

Reading Challenges: Mount TBR 2017 and What’s in a Name? in the category: ‘A title in which at least two words share the same first letter – alliteration!’

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Piatkus (1 Oct. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349406561
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349406565
  • Author’s website: Frances Brody
  • Source: I bought it

The Classics Club Spin Result

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin was announced yesterday. It’s number …

12

which for me is Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by May 1, 2017.

Wives and DaughtersI’m pleased with the result as it will give me the push to get round to reading more of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

Gaskell’s last novel, widely considered her masterpiece, follows the fortunes of two families in nineteenth century rural England.  At its core are family relationships – father, daughter and step-mother, father and sons, father and step-daughter – all tested and strained by the romantic entanglements that ensue.

Despite its underlying seriousness, the prevailing tone is one of comedy.  Gaskell vividly portrays the world of the late 1820s and the forces of change within it, and her vision is always humane and progressive.

The story is full of acute observation and sympathetic character-study:  the feudal squire clinging to old values, his naturalist son welcoming the new world of science, the local doctor and his scheming second wife, the two girls brought together by their parent’s marriage…

Everything but the Truth by Gillian Mcallister

A brilliant book full of secrets and lies

Just how much can you trust the person you love?

Everything but the Truth is Gillian McAllister’s stunning breakthrough thriller about deceit, betrayal and one woman’s compulsive need to uncover the truth

It all started with the email.

Rachel didn’t even mean to look. She loves Jack and she’s pregnant with their child. She trusts him.

But now she’s seen it, she can’t undo that moment. Or the chain of events it has set in motion.

Why has Jack been lying about his past? Just what exactly is he hiding? And doesn’t Rachel have a right to know the truth at any cost?

My thoughts

I was hooked right from the start of Everything but the Truth by Gillian McAllister. It has everything – it’s very readable and well written, with a great sense of place, set in both Newcastle and Oban, with clearly defined and believable characters, a complex plot with plenty of twists and turns, and a dark secret. It is up to date about social media and information about the internet and how to find hidden information (which as I’m not that computer savvy I had to Google to see if it was genuine – it is). The atmosphere in this book is tense and increasingly dark and claustrophobic. Everything but the Truth is an outstanding book in my opinion.

I didn’t want to stop reading it and when I wasn’t reading it I was thinking about it. As well as being about lies and secrets it’s also about relationships. How we get to know people and learn to trust them. Rachel and Jack are in a very new relationship and there is still an awful lot they don’t know about each other. And when Rachel realises Jack has a secret she doesn’t know how to get him to open up to her about it. Just what is his secret and is it really so terrible that he can’t talk about it? And why can’t he drive? But what does Jack really know about Rachel? Is she hiding something too, or is she paranoid?

Gillian McAllister’s debut book is simply excellent, written with assurance and with great insight into human nature. It is without doubt one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Thank you to Gillian McAllister, the publishers and NetGalley for my copy of this book for review.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1230 KB
  • Print Length: 420 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1405928263
  • Publisher: Penguin (9 Mar. 2017)

Let the Dead Speak by Jane Casey

A murder scene, but where’s the body?

The first book in Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan series was The Burning, published in 2010, but I didn’t get round to reading it until February 2015. I was hooked immediately and read the next five books in quick succession by the end of August 2015. These are all police procedurals, fast-paced novels, with intriguing and complex plots and developing the relationships between the main characters. So, I think that although the books read well as stand-alones, it helps enormously to read them in order.

Let the Dead Speak  is the seventh Maeve Kerrigan book (published today, 9 March 2017 ) and it is no less intriguing and complex than the earlier books. I loved it.

Blurb:

When eighteen-year-old Chloe Emery returns to her West London home she finds Kate, her mother, missing and the house covered in blood. There may not be a body, but everything else points to murder. Maeve Kerrigan is young, ambitious and determined to prove she’s up to her new role as detective sergeant.

In the absence of a body, she and maverick detective Josh Derwent turn their attention to the neighbours. The ultra-religious Norrises are acting suspiciously; their teenage daughter definitely has something to hide.

Then there’s William Turner, once accused of stabbing a schoolmate and the neighbourhood’s favourite criminal. Is he merely a scapegoat or is there more behind the charismatic façade?

As the accusations fly, Maeve must piece together a patchwork of conflicting testimonies, none of which quite add up. Who is lying, who is not? The answer could lead them to the truth about Kate Emery, and save the life of someone else.

Let the Dead Speak continues to develop the detectives’ personal lives as well as detailing the investigations into Kate Emery’s disappearance. Maeve has been promoted and is now a detective sergeant (a long over-due promotion I think) and the murder investigation team has a new member, DC Georgia Shaw, a graduate on a fast-track scheme. Maeve finds her rather irritating. DI Josh Derwent is still her boss and neither he nor Maeve stick to the rules, but act independently as they see fit. The chemistry between the two of them is still there and is still full of undercurrents. DCI Una Burt is acting up as their Superintendent and the working relationship between her and Maeve is now improving.

There are several strands to the investigation – first of all if Kate was killed where is her body and who had the motive and opportunity to kill her? If she was not killed why is there so much blood in the house, whose blood is it, and where is Kate?

I enjoyed the fast-paced action, the interaction between the characters, both the police and the other characters. Chloe, who is very shy and lacking in confidence as well as in social skills is of little help in discovering what has happened to her mother. I liked the portrayal of the Norris family, Bethany and her parents and uncle, who are all members of an evangelical church, the Church of the Modern Apostles. Bethany refuses to answer Maeve’s questions and is openly hostile. Then there is the local ‘bad boy’ William Turner – what is his involvement? Similarly are Chloe’s father and stepmother and her step-brothers responsible in any way?

I kept changing my mind about what had happened and who was the guilty party, but it had me foxed. And then when I had it worked it out the last chapter surprised me yet again with the twist at the end. Maeve Kerrigan really is an excellent detective.

Thanks to the publishers via NetGalley for my copy.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1803 KB
  • Print Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (9 Mar. 2017)

The earlier books in the series are

0.5. Left For Dead (2013)
1. The Burning (2010)
2. The Reckoning (2011)
3. The Last Girl (2012)
4. The Stranger you Know (2013)
5. The Kill (2014)
6. After the Fire (2015)

My Week in Books: 8 March 2017

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.

IMG_1384-0

A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now: I’m reading Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid and to compare and

Northanger Abbey (The Austen Project, #2) contrast I’m also reading Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen.

Northanger Abbey

I first read the Austen version many years ago and reading it now it’s only vaguely familiar. The McDermid version is amazingly similar in a modern context – Cat Morland goes to the Edinburgh Festival instead of to Austen’s Bath, John Thorpe is really awful, much worse than Austen’s Thorpe. McDermid’s Cat uses Facebook, instead of writing in a journal as Austen’s young ladies do and so on. I haven’t got them to Northanger Abbey itself in either version. It’s funny comparing the two books written almost 200 years apart.

And by way of yet more contrast I’m also reading See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt. This has a really creepy feel, looking into the mind of Lizzie Borden – it’s compelling reading.

Blurb:

Lizzie Borden took an ax
And gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

Or did she?

In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.

As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling.

Then: The last book I read is Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney, an absolutely amazing and gripping psychological thriller due out on 23 March 2017. My review will follow soon. I loved it.

Next: I never decide what to read next until the time comes to choose a new book. It could be one of my TBRs – I’ve been neglecting them a bit this year. So, it could be The Gathering by Anne Enright, which is also one of the books I provisionally earmarked to read for the Begorrathon.

The Gathering

Blurb:

The nine surviving children of the Hegarty clan gather in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother Liam. It wasn’t the drink that killed him – although that certainly helped – it was what happened to him as a boy in his grandmother’s house, in the winter of 1968.

The Gathering is a novel about love and disappointment, about thwarted lust and limitless desire, and how our fate is written in the body, not in the stars.

What are you reading this week…and in the future?

At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

I’ve been reading some good books this year and At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier is no exception, which is no surprise to me as I’ve enjoyed all of her books that I’ve read so far.

At the Edge of the OrchardThis is historical fiction, a mix of fact and fiction. Most of the places are real (and there is a helpful map at the beginning of the book) and some of the characters are historical figures. There is a lot of information about trees – apple trees, redwoods and sequoias, all of which fascinated me (especially the sequoias) and formed integral parts of the book.

It’s the story of the Goodenough family, James and his wife Sadie and their five surviving children. It begins in 1838 in Black Swamp, Ohio where James and Sadie are arguing over apples and practically everything else. James is obsessed with apples and prefers the sweet variety, the eaters , whilst Sadie loves the ‘spitters’, the bitter apples to make cider and even better, applejack. Theirs is a marriage of opposites. They had settled in the only land available – the swamp and had struggled first of all to clear the land and plant the apple seedlings and seed they had brought with them from Connecticut.

Their story alternates between James’ perspective and Sadie’s – their voices clearly distinctive and recognisable. Sadie is bitter and vindictive, picking fights wherever she can and their family life is terrible. James, although he loves his children is unable to show his feelings and Sadie moves between extremes, is unpredictable, at times loving but more often vicious and cruel to them or simply indifferent. She constantly taunts James, and their relationship going from bad to worse. Of all the children Robert is the one who shows an interest in the apple trees.

In the second part of the book the focus is on Robert, the youngest son who leaves Black Swamp after an incident that is only revealed later in the book. He went west, working where he could including a stint as a gold miner in California, until he reached the ocean ending up in San Francisco where he worked for William Lobb (a real historical figure), collecting seeds and seedlings to send to England. His story is told through the unanswered letters he sent to the family over seventeen years.

The characters are wonderful, from the dysfunctional Goodenough family, to Molly, the strong, independent and resourceful woman Robert meets during the time he worked as a gold miner. I also liked Martha, Robert’s younger sister, who shows determination and spirit despite the heart-breaking situations she has to live through.

I loved the settings, and would love to visit places described such as Calaveras Grove and South Grove to see the giant redwoods and sequoias for myself, but I doubt very much that I will ever be able to see them. In the Acknowledgements Tracy Chevalier refers to a place nearer to home that I could visit. It is in Wales – the Charles Ackers Redwood Grove which was planted in 1857 by John Naylor of Leighton Hall.

The one criticism I have is the ending. I came to the last page and thought ‘is that it?’ – I wanted to know more. I hope there will be a sequel.

My thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for my copy of this book for review.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1824 KB
  • Print Length: 305 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins UK,  HarperFiction The Borough Press (10 Mar. 2016)

Classics Club Spin

It’s time for another Classics Club Spin.

The Spin rules:

  •  List any twenty books you have left to read from your Classics Club list.
  • Number them from 1 to 20.
  • On Friday (March 10) the Classics Club will announce a number.
  • This is the book to read by 1 May 2017.

This is my list:

  1. Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor by R D Blackmore
  2. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
  3. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
  4. The Forsyte Saga (1) by John Galsworthy
  5. Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens
  6. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  7. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
  8. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  9. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  10. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
  11. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  12. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
  13. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  14. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  15. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  16. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  17. Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
  18. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  19. Framley Parsonage (Barsetshire Chronicles, #4) by Anthony Trollope
  20. Orlando by Virginia Woolf

First Chapter, First Paragraph: The Invention of Wings

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros to share the first paragraph sometimes two, of a book that she’s reading or planning to read soon.

This week I’m featuring The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, a book I’ll be reading this month for my book group.

The Invention of Wings

It begins:

There was a time in Africa the people could fly. Mauma told me this one night when I was ten years old. She said, Handful, your granny-mauma saw it for herself. She say they flew over trees and clouds. She say they flew like blackbirds. when we came here, we left the magic behind.

From the back cover:

Handful’s always been in trouble. A slave in the Grimké household like her beloved mother Charlotte, Handful knows the rules, in all their brutality, but no one can stop her pushing them to the limit. When, ten years old, she’s presented to the owner’s most difficult daughter, Sarah, as a birthday present, the sparks begin to fly …

I think I’m going to enjoy this book very much. It’s set in Charleston in the early nineteenth century and is based on the lives of sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimké, the first female abolition agents and among the earliest American feminist thinkers.

What do you think? Would you carry on reading?

Justice By Another Name by E C Hanes

Blurb:

Set against the backdrop of North Carolina’s powerful hog-producing industry, Justice by Another Name tells the story of Paul Reavis’s suspicious workplace death followed a year later by a senseless death of his young son Paulie. Lana Reavis, who believes her husband was murdered and her son the victim of deliberate negligence, enlists the aid of her long-ago boyfriend, Will Moser, who is currently chief deputy of Hogg County and the heir apparent to the local sheriff.

As Will’s investigation unfolds, suspicious activities and cover-ups begin to emerge. All evidence points to Oris Martin, the powerful owner of Martin Farms, a huge hog-production enterprise and Hogg County’s largest employer, as the mastermind. Despite political pressure and physical threats to look the other way, Will continues his search for what really happened. Meanwhile, Lana, convinced that Oris will be beyond the reach of justice, devises a plan to avenge her family and destroy everything precious to Oris Martin.

My thoughts

I had no idea when I downloaded the ARC of this book from NetGalley just how much I was going to enjoy Justice by Another Name. I had never heard of E C Hanes and had no expectations that a murder in the hog-producing industry would be so enthralling.

But as soon as I began reading I had a feeling that this was going to be a good book. It has a dramatic opening as two boys, Paulie Reavis and Hank Grier are playing in Mitchell Creek in Hogg County, North Carolina. There’d been a violent storm and water was pouring down the creek sweeping huge tree trunks and other debris with it. At the top they saw a gigantic whirlpool and were taken by surprise when the lagoon of hog waste from Oris Martin’s farm above the creek burst through its retaining wall. Five million gallons of putrid black hog faeces and urine flooded down the gulley, taking the boys with it. Hank, survives, although badly injured, but Paulie dies. Imagine the horror of drowning in pig waste!

From that point on I was fascinated by the investigations into Paulie’s death and into the death of Paul, his father, a year earlier. Paul had worked on Martin’s pig farm and Lana, his wife is convinced his death was not an accident. I was just as fascinated by the details of the pig farming, the conditions the pigs are kept in, the diseases they carry and how the pig waste is dealt with, the whole process of constructing and operating the lagoons.

The mystery is not just how they met their deaths, but why. Was Paulie’s death an accident, a result of the storm damage or has someone been negligent? Was his father’s death really an accident? And just what caused the hog cholera epidemic that had hit the Martin Farms?

I was engrossed in the mystery, amazed that I found the details of the pig farming industry so interesting. The setting in North Carolina and the characters came to life as I read on. The feelings of fear, hate and grief escalated and as the book moved to its conclusion I realised that, as Lana says, ‘what’s revenge but justice by another name.

My thanks to the author, the publishers and NetGalley for my copy of this book.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 965 KB
  • Print Length: 235 pages
  • Publisher: RaneCoat Press (1 Mar. 2017)
  • My rating: 5*

Six Degrees of Separation: from Fever Pitch to Life After Life

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

Fever Pitch

This month’s chain begins with Nick Hornby’s memoir (or love letter to soccer), Fever Pitch, which I haven’t read. I know it’s about football and wondered whether my first link would be to one of the other books my husband has about football and footballers, or to another book of memoirs.

A Death in the Dales (Kate Shackleton #7)But in the end I went for a link to the word fever. So my first link is to A Death in the Dales by Frances Brody, book 7 in her Kate Shackleton series, in which one of the characters, 14 year old Harriet has been in a fever hospital recovering from diphtheria. It’s a murder mystery set in Derbyshire.

A Place of ExecutionDerbyshire is the setting for my second link in the chain – A Place of Execution by Val McDermid. It’s a freezing day in December 1963, when 13-year-old Alison Carter vanishes from the isolated Derbyshire village of Scardale. This is another book I haven’t read -yet. Unlike Fever Pitch it’s on my TBR list.

Winter in MadridThe third link is also a book set in winter – Winter in Madrid by C J Sansom, an action packed thrilling war/spy story set just after the Spanish Civil War. It’s also a moving love story and historical drama all rolled into this tense and gripping novel.

Gone with the WindAn obvious civil war link takes me to Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell about the American Civil War and its aftermath. I loved this book so much more than I ever thought I would.  It is, of course, a book that was made into a film, which leads me to my fifth link …

Cloud AtlasCloud Atlas by David Mitchell (I have two links here – film and author’s surname). I tried to read the book first and failed, several times. It was watching the film that brought it to life. I then read and enjoyed the book. Cloud Atlas covers a time period from the 19th century to a post apocalyptic future using six loosely linked narratives. There are differences between the book and the film – they are are two different creations that complement each other.

Life After Life

My last book in the chain is also one I have started to read several times – it’s Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, but so far I haven’t finished it. I’ve read several of Kate Atkinson’s books and enjoyed them, but somehow the first few chapters of Life After Life about Ursula Todd just didn’t appeal. But at the end of last year I read A God in Ruins about Ursula’s brother Teddy, and loved it. So I will get round to reading Life After Life sooner or later.

I never know where my chain will go when I start it. This one begins and ends with books I haven’t read and it moves in place and time from England to Spain, America and back to England, linked by words, settings, genre, film adaptations and books I’ve found it hard to get into for one reason or another.

If you’ve also made a chain, or have read any of the books I’ve mentioned, especially the ones I haven’t read, please let me know in the comments.

Next month (April 1, 2017), the chain will begin with Emma Donoghue’s bestseller, Room – another book I haven’t read.

Books I Read in February

These are the books I read in February, listed in the order I read them:

  1. Eyes Like Mine by Sheena Kamal 5*
  2. The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths 3.5*
  3. The Good People by Hannah Kent 5*
  4. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr 3*
  5. Harriet Said by Beryl Bainbridge 3.5*
  6. The Cheltenham Square Murder by John Bude 4*
  7. Let the Dead Speak by Jane Casey 5* – my post is on its way
  8. Everything But The Truth by Gillian McAllister 5* –  my post is on its way
  9. Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan 3* (a re-read) my opinion hasn’t changed from the first time I read it, well written but a bit flat and contrived
  10. The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown 5*

A fantastic reading month – ten books and I gave 5 stars to five of them! They are all fiction – contemporary and historical with three crime fiction and just one book from my TBRs.

And with five 5 star books it is almost impossible to choose a favourite, as they are all excellent, but the book that moved and interested me most is Eyes Like Mine by Sheena Kamal, an excellent psychological suspense novel

with gripping storylines that kept me racing through the book as Nora Watts searches for her missing daughter, a child she gave up for adoption as a baby. Set in Canada, the plot is intricate, complicated and fast moving, highlighting various issues such as mixed race inheritance and differences in treatment based on skin colour, homelessness, and environmental issues. These never overpower the story, but form part of the book as a whole. I loved it.

The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

‘The number of women my brother Matthew killed, so far as I can reckon it, is one hundred and six…’

1645. When Alice Hopkins’ husband dies in a tragic accident, she returns to the small Essex town of Manningtree, where her brother Matthew still lives.

But home is no longer a place of safety. Matthew has changed, and there are rumours spreading through the town: whispers of witchcraft, and of a great book, in which he is gathering women’s names.

To what lengths will Matthew’s obsession drive him?
And what choice will Alice make, when she finds herself at the very heart of his plan?

Based on the true story of the man known as the Witchfinder General, this exquisitely rendered novel transports you to a time and place almost unimaginable, where survival might mean betraying those closest to you, and danger lurks outside every door.

My thoughts:

When I read the description of The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown I was immediately drawn to the story based on the life of the 1640s witchfinder Matthew Hopkins. As well as a good story it is a fascinating look at life in England during the Civil War, set in 1645, a time of great change and conflict in politics, religion and philosophical ideas, coinciding with a growth in the belief in witchcraft.

I enjoyed it immensely. It’s historical fiction that combines fact and fiction, told through the eyes of Matthew’s sister, Alice, a fictional character. Beth Underwood has researched and used the historical sources so well. What is so chilling about this book is that the events it describes really did happen.

There is a glossary at the end of the book describing, among other terms, the methods used to investigate women accused of being witches, such as ‘searching‘ where their bodies were inspected for ‘teats’, ‘swimming‘, an ordeal by water in which women were bound and lowered into a pond or river; they were innocent if they sank, and ‘watching‘ in which a suspected woman would be tied to a stool in the middle of a room, kept awake and observed for hours. Women were treated in this way if they were accused of causing harm to their neighbours for such things as the death of a neighbour’s horse or for the unexplained deaths of children. For the superstitious every sudden death, or accident, every miscarriage or illness, was considered to be caused by witchcraft.

There is a pervading sense of fear and terror as Alice discovers what Matthew is doing, intensified when he forces her to help with his investigations, travelling throughout Essex. She tries to stop him, but fearful of him accusing her mother-in-law, Bridget, she has to go along with him. She also discovers family secrets about their parents and Matthew’s birth. The witch hunts escalated as grief-stricken and angry women accused other women and their names were added to Matthew’s list. After his investigations the women were then sent to prisons to await their trials.

It is clear that the women accused were vulnerable, often widows living isolated lives, some suffering with what we would consider to be a mental illness, with no male family members to keep them safe from persecution. Matthew’s own mother showed signs of mental illness, subject to many strange habits and obsessive compulsive behaviour. But Matthew is unable to accept the facts and grows ever more fanatical.

It all hangs together as a piece of fiction, with clearly described and defined characters, making their feelings and actions perfectly believable – even Matthew comes across as a well-rounded character – and set against the background of a country in the midst of civil war. It makes harrowing reading and I found it deeply moving.

I grew very fond of Alice and her maid Grace but was appalled by the final twist at the end of the book.

Beth Underdown lectures in Creative Writing at the University of Manchester. The Witchfinder’s Sister is her first novel.

My thanks to the publishers and NeGalley for my copy of this book. It is to be published on 2 March 2017.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 6546 KB
  • Print Length: 361 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0241978033
  • Publisher: Penguin (2 Mar. 2017)

Reading Ireland Month – The Begorrathon

I know – I said I was cutting down on challenges this year, but this is an event not a challenge and it’s only during March. It’s bring hosted by Cathy at 746 Books and Raging Fluff ‘to celebrate the wealth and breadth and general awesomeness of Irish cultural life. Reading Ireland Month (or The Begorrathon as it is affectionately known) will feature book and film reviews, poems, music, interviews, giveaways and much, much more.

ireland-month-17

I have some books by Irish authors and I may have more than these – I don’t choose books based on the authors’ nationality  – but these are the books from my stock of to-be-read books that I think qualify:

  • Anybody Out There by Marian Keyes
  • The Other Side of the Story by Marian Keyes
  • The Gathering by Anne Enright
  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  • The Secret Place by Tana French
  • Sovereignty of Good by Iris Murdoch
  • Ulysses by James Joyce
  • The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith
  • Watchman by Ian Rankin*
  • Whitethorn Woods by Maeve Binchy
  • The House by the Churchyard by Sheridan Le Fanu

But I’m going to be realistic and won’t be reading all of them, or even some of them (particularly Ulysses – I’ve been resisting that one for years). I’m just aiming to read one of them.

I could cheat and add Let the Dead Speak by Jane Casey to my list, but I read it this month (February) so it doesn’t really count – or does it?  I’m in the middle of writing a post about it, so maybe I could sneak it in at the beginning of March. It’s her latest Maeve Kerrigan book and it’s very good.

Other than that I’m leaning towards reading The Secret Place by Tana French.

Watch this space.

*edited 26 February – Watchman is set partly in Ireland but as some people have correctly pointed out Ian Rankin is not Irish. I shall be reading this book but not including it the Reading Ireland Month.

Library Loot

The mobile library came yesterday and I borrowed three books:

You Are Dead by Peter James – this is the 11th in his Roy Grace series. I’ve only read two (the first and the third) of the earlier books. I know I should probably read them in order but sometimes you have to take what’s available at the time and fill in the gaps later. I’m hoping it reads well as a stand-alone.

It’s set in Brighton and it’s about current cases of missing women and the discovery of the remains of women who went missing in the past. Are these events connected and if so how?

Duchess of Death: the Unauthorised Biography of Agatha Christie by Richard Hack, drawing on over 5000 unpublished letter, documents and notes. I’m not at all sure I shall actually read this book, but I thought I’d borrow it just to have more time to look at it. I’ve read Agatha Christie’s Autobiography, which is an excellent book that took her 15 years to write, and a few other biographies about her, some better than others.

I don’t like the title, Duchess of Death, which I suppose Hack chose for its alliteration. The jacket cover blurb says it is ‘as full of romance, travel, wealth and scandal as any whodunit she crafted.’ I have a feeling this will not be one of the better biographies.

And finally I borrowed Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid, one of the Austen Project series (in which six bestselling contemporary authors write their own take on Jane Austen’s novels). I’ve been wondering whether to read any of these books for some time now and also meaning to read Val McDermid’s books, so when I saw this sitting on the mobile library’s shelves I thought why not at least have a proper look at it.

I first read Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey many years ago (it could have been in the second year at Grammar School) and as far as I remember, despite loving Pride and Prejudice, I wasn’t too taken with it. I’ve been thinking of reading it again for some while now. I didn’t watch the TV adaptation a few years back, so I’m coming to both books with fresh eyes.

This is my copy with its awful cover:

The Cheltenham Square Murder by John Bude

A Golden Age Murder Mystery

Blurb:

In the seeming tranquillity of Regency Square in Cheltenham live the diverse inhabitants of its ten houses. One summer’s evening, the square’s rivalries and allegiances are disrupted by a sudden and unusual death – an arrow to the head, shot through an open window at no. 6.

Unfortunately for the murderer, an invitation to visit had just been sent by the crime writer Aldous Barnet, staying with his sister at no. 8, to his friend Superintendent Meredith. Three days after his arrival, Meredith finds himself investigating the shocking murder two doors down. Six of the square’s inhabitants are keen members of the Wellington Archery Club, but if Meredith thought that the case was going to be easy to solve, he was wrong…

The Cheltenham Square Murder is a classic example of how John Bude builds a drama within a very specific location. Here the Regency splendour of Cheltenham provides the perfect setting for a story in which appearances are certainly deceiving.

My thoughts:

The Cheltenham Square Murder by John Bude was first published in 1937. Previously I’ve read John Bude’s second book- The Lake District Murder, a police procedural, showing in intricate detail how detectives investigated a crime, particularly in rural areas in the mid 1930s, in which I found his calculations of the times and distribution of petrol deliveries a bit difficult to follow.

But by the time he wrote The Cheltenham Square Murder Bude’s style had become more refined and I found it much easier to follow, whilst still writing in detail about the suspects and how the crime could have been and was committed. It is quite complicated, a real puzzle to solve, first of all just how the murder was carried out and secondly who out of the several suspects was the murderer.

There is a plan of the fictional Regency Square showing the layout of the ten houses and their occupants. Bude describes the residents giving a good idea of their personalities and relationships. As in all communities, they don’t all get on, ‘outwardly harmonious yet privately at loggerheads’. Those who belong to the Wellington Archery Club are keen, even fanatically keen archers, so immediately they are suspects.

It is fortunate for the local police that Superintendent Meredith from the Sussex County Constabulary is staying in the Square and helps Inspector Long unravel the mystery, but not before another there is a second victim, again murdered with an arrow in the head.

It’s a slow-paced mystery, both Meredith and Long spend much time working out how the murder was committed and Bude drops in several red herrings to confuse matters as first one then another of the residents comes under suspicion. I enjoyed trying to work it out, but although I had an idea about the guilty person I couldn’t see how the murders had been achieved until the method was revealed.

Martin Edward’s introduction gives a brief biography of John Bude, whose real name was Ernest Carpenter Elmore (1901 – 1957). For a time he was a games master at St Christopher School in Letchworth where archery was one of the pupils’ activities.

My thanks to the publishers, Poisoned Pen Press in association with the British Library, and NetGalley for my copy of this book which has an introduction by Martin Edwards.

  • Amazon link to the paperback edition to be published on 7 March 2017
  • Amazon link to the Kindle edition
  • My rating – 4 stars

The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths

Blurb:

Something evil is waiting in the dark tunnels under Norwich – forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway had better watch her step

Boiled human bones have been found in Norwich’s web of underground tunnels. When Dr Ruth Galloway discovers they were recently buried, DCI Nelson has a murder enquiry on his hands. The boiling might have been just a medieval curiosity – now it suggests a much more sinister purpose.

Meanwhile, DS Judy Johnson is investigating the disappearance of a local rough sleeper. The only trace of her is the rumour that she’s gone ‘underground’. This might be a figure of speech, but with the discovery of the bones and the rumours both Ruth and the police have heard that the network of old chalk-mining tunnels under Norwich is home to a vast community of rough sleepers, the clues point in only one direction. Local academic Martin Kellerman knows all about the tunnels and their history – but can his assertions of cannibalism and ritual killing possibly be true?

As the weather gets hotter, tensions rise. A local woman goes missing and the police are under attack. Ruth and Nelson must unravel the dark secrets of The Underground and discover just what gruesome secrets lurk at its heart – before it claims another victim.

My thoughts:

The Chalk Pit is the 9th in Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway books. It’s written in the present tense which I find somewhat jarring (strange because in other books such as Eyes Like Mine, which I reviewed in this post, I hardly noticed the tense). But I did enjoy this book because of the characters, in particular Ruth, her daughter, Kate (now nearly 6 years old), DCI Harry Nelson and his wife Michelle, DS Clough, DS Judy Johnson and Cathbad, the part-time druid, who now looks after their two young children. I also like the archaeological investigations, although in The Chalk Pit that is not the main focus.

It centres on the plight of homeless people and the maze of tunnels under Norfolk. The bones are found during the excavations when an underground restaurant in one of the tunnels is proposed. One of the homeless women, Barbara, disappears and there are rumours that she has ‘gone underground‘. It becomes a murder mystery when two more of the homeless, ‘Aftershave Eddie’ and then ‘Bilbo’ are found dead, both stabbed. Then two local women go missing – Sam who has four children and Cassandra, Clough’s partner (they have one child). And it soon becomes clear that all these events are linked.

There is a Who’s Who of the main characters at the end of the book giving their backstories which helps if you haven’t read the earlier books. But I think it really helps to read the Ruth Galloway books in order as the recurring characters’ lives progress with each one, making it difficult to write much more about The Chalk Pit without giving away spoilers. I’ll just add that one of my favourite characters, Cathbad, doesn’t have a large role, which disappointed me. And I really would prefer if Elly Griffiths had written this in the past tense as she has in her Stephens and Mephisto series, which I prefer.

My thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for an ARC of this book which will be published on 23 February 2017.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2490 KB
  • Print Length: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Quercus (23 Feb. 2017)
  • My rating: 3.5 stars (rounded up to 4 stars on Goodreads)

Harriet Said by Beryl Bainbridge

Disquiet and dread permeate this novel

Harriet Said...

Blurb (from Amazon):

A girl returns from boarding school to her sleepy Merseyside hometown and waits to be reunited with her childhood friend, Harriet, chief architect of all their past mischief. She roams listlessly along the shoreline and the woods still pitted with wartime trenches, and encounters ‘the Tsar’ – almost old, unhappily married, both dangerously fascinating and repulsive.

Pretty, malevolent Harriet finally arrives – and over the course of the long holidays draws her friend into a scheme to beguile then humiliate the Tsar, with disastrous, shocking consequences. A gripping portrayal of adolescent transgression, Beryl Bainbridge’s classic first novel remains as subversive today as when it was written.

My thoughts:

Harriet Said is a dark story that turns child abuse on its head. It is an unsettling and chilling book, beginning as Harriet and her friend, an unnamed 13 year-old girl, run home screaming to tell their parents what had happened. Harriet says:

When I say run, you start to run. When I say scream, you scream. Don’t stop running. just you keep going. (page 2)

It is one of those books that, although it is well written and makes compulsive reading, can’t be said to be enjoyable and the characters are not at all likeable.

It is set just after the Second World War in the Formby sand dunes on the outskirts of Liverpool.  During their school holidays the two girls make their way to the beach each evening, where they become friends with a group of lonely, dispirited middle-aged men.  They are not naive or innocent, but neither are they fully aware of the consequences of their actions as they set out to manipulate the men, the ‘Tsar’ in particular. They want to gather ‘experience’, which they record in Harriet’s diary:

A year ago to be called a Dirty Little Angel would have kept us going for months. Now it was not enough; more elaborate things had to be said; each new experience had to leave a more complicated tracery of sensations; to satisfy us every memory must be more desperate than the last.

… We took to going long walks over the shore, looking for people who by their chosen solitariness must have something to hide. We learnt early that it was the gently resigned ones who had the most to tell; the frantic and voluble were no use. (pages 39 and 40)

It is Harriet who decides their actions and dictates what to write in the diary.

They peek through the windows of the Tsar’s house and watch as he ‘lay pinned like a moth on the sofa‘ underneath his wife as she ‘poisoned him slowly, rearing and stabbing him convulsively. This sickens the 13 year-old, who wants to be loved by the Tsar, but Harriet decides that he is weak and submissive, saying that he likes being a victim and must be punished in a way he doesn’t like. From that point onwards events move rapidly to a shocking conclusion.

I’ve read a few of Beryl Bainbridge’s books and each one has kept me engrossed. Harriet Said is the first one she wrote, based on a real event, and although she submitted it for publication in 1958 it wasn’t published until 1972 because of its subject matter – ‘What repulsive little creatures you have made the central characters, repulsive almost beyond belief!‘ wrote one editor. I found it a disturbing story as the manipulation escalated and everything began to spiral out of the girls’ control as childhood fled from them.

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Virago (6 Dec. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184408860X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844088607
  • Source: a library book
  • My rating: 3.5 stars (rounded up to 4 stars on Goodreads)

The Good People by Hannah Kent

A heart-wrenching and beautiful novel.

I loved The Good People by Hannah Kent. It’s an intensely moving and beautifully written tale of Irish rural life in the early 19th century.

The Good People

Blurb:

County Kerry, Ireland, 1825.

NÓRA, bereft after the sudden death of her beloved husband, finds herself alone and caring for her young grandson Micheál. Micheál cannot speak and cannot walk and Nóra is desperate to know what is wrong with him. What happened to the healthy, happy grandson she met when her daughter was still alive?

MARY arrives in the valley to help Nóra just as the whispers are spreading: the stories of unexplained misfortunes, of illnesses, and the rumours that Micheál is a changeling child who is bringing bad luck to the valley.

NANCE’s knowledge keeps her apart. To the new priest, she is a threat, but to the valley people she is a wanderer, a healer. Nance knows how to use the plants and berries of the woodland; she understands the magic in the old ways. And she might be able to help Micheál.

As these three women are drawn together in the hope of restoring Micheál, their world of folklore and belief, of ritual and stories, tightens around them. It will lead them down a dangerous path, and force them to question everything they have ever known.

Based on true events and set in a lost world bound by its own laws, The Good People is Hannah Kent’s startling new novel about absolute belief and devoted love. Terrifying, thrilling and moving in equal measure, this long-awaited follow-up to Burial Rites shows an author at the height of her powers.

My thoughts:

I grew up reading fairy stories but The Good People gives a frighteningly realistic view of what belief in fairies meant to people dealing with sickness, disease, evil and all the things that go wrong in our lives. It’s set in 1825/6, a long gone world of people living in an isolated community, a place where superstition and a belief in fairies held sway. People talk of others being ‘fairy-swept’ or ‘away with the fairies’, and kept with the music and lights, dancing under the fairy hill.

Nóra is overcome with grief when her husband, Martin, died, feeling as though she was drowning and abandoned, completely unable to cope with Micheál, her four-year old grandson. There is talk that he is ‘fairy-struck’, unable to walk or talk and screaming uncontrollably when he is in pain or upset. She needed someone else to help her and so she hired Mary to look after Micheál. But Micheál did not improve and soon she comes to believe that he is a changeling. After both the doctor and the priest are unable to cure Micheál, Nóra appeals to Nance, the valley’s ‘handy woman’ for help.

This is a beautifully written book. It is not a fairy story, but one in which their existence is terrifyingly real to the people of the valley. The villagers believe that the fairies live in Piper’s Grave, ‘the lurking fairy fort’, at the end of the valley, a place where few people went, a neglected and wild place. People see lights there, glowing near a crooked whitethorn tree that stood in a circle of stone. Nance lives in a cabin in front of the wood a short distance from Piper’s Grave and not far from the river. She was the woman they wanted to help them bring their babies into the world, and who was the ‘gatekeeper’ at the end of their lives, the ‘keener’ when they died. She is the person Nance went to believing she could help bring back the little boy she loved.

I loved everything about The Good People, Hannah Kent is an excellent stortyteller. The characters all spring to life, Nóra, Nance and Mary in particular. It’s not a world I know and yet I felt I did, with its mix of characters, old Peg O’Shea, Nóra’s nearest neighbour who helps when she can and the younger men and women who gossip and are quick to blame Micheál for bringing bad luck to the valley and to condemn Nance, who whilst they go to her for cures, also frightens them.

It is a heart breaking story and as it drew to its inevitable end I was really moved by the effect of fear, ignorance and superstition that brought about such a tragedy. The Author’s Note at the end of the book  explains that she drew on a real event from 1826 in writing The Good People. She has researched and listed many works of both fiction and non-fiction and also consulted many historians, curators and academics whilst writing the book.

Many thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for a review copy.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 3007 KB
  • Print Length: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Main Market Ed. edition (9 Feb. 2017)

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See

Synopsis:

A beautiful, stunningly ambitious novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II

Marie-Laure has been blind since the age of six. Her father builds a perfect miniature of their Paris neighbourhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. But when the Nazis invade, father and daughter flee with a dangerous secret.

Werner is a German orphan, destined to labour in the same mine that claimed his father’s life, until he discovers a knack for engineering. His talent wins him a place at a brutal military academy, but his way out of obscurity is built on suffering.

At the same time, far away in a walled city by the sea, an old man discovers new worlds without ever setting foot outside his home. But all around him, impending danger closes in.

Doerr’s combination of soaring imagination and meticulous observation is electric. As Europe is engulfed by war and lives collide unpredictably, ‘All The Light We Cannot See’ is a captivating and devastating elegy for innocence.

I have just finished reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I’m not going to write a review but want to jot down some thoughts:

  • It began well and I liked it straight away – see this Friday post.
  • There are three story lines – that of Marie-Laure, of Werner, and of a diamond that has magical powers.
  • But my overall picture of the book is of a blur, of confusion as it moved not only between characters but also backwards and forwards in time and I couldn’t work out the time sequence. I kept going back to the contents list to try to work it out was I in 1944 when the book began or in 1942, or 43. Had I met this character before in the future, or in the past and where was I -in France, Germany, Vienna or Russia? How did the characters relate to each other? I was hopelessly puzzled for quite a large portion of this book. For a while the fog in my mind cleared and I thought I’d got it, only to find a few chapters later I was lost again.
  • So I gave up trying to work out dates; places and people became clearer to me and I did (I think) follow the story, but it wasn’t easy as Marie-Laure’s and Werner’s time-lines were so fragmented.
  • The writing in parts is beautiful, great descriptions giving me some insight into what it was liked for ordinary people from both sides during the 2nd World War and what it must be like to be blind.
  • I liked all the detail of the model of Saint-Malo that Marie-Laure’s father made to help her find her way around, models of the buildings and roads.
  • The title refers (I think) to the how the brain, which is enclosed within the scull – ie in darkness – is yet full of light, brimming with colour and movement. And also to the light transmitted by radio wavelengths; light caught from the sun within plants and within gem stones such a diamonds; light beyond our ability to see it within the electromagnetic spectrum.
  • I was glad to get to the end. I think it is over-long, and very slow. But overall, mainly because of its descriptive prose; the way it conveys what being involved in war is like; and the character of Marie-Laure, I liked it and gave it 3 stars on Goodreads.

A book for Bev’s Mount TBR Reading Challenge, a book I’ve owned since 2016.

My Friday Post: Harriet Said by Beryl Bainbridge

Book Beginnings ButtonEvery Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires. Harriet Said...

My opener this week is from Harriet Said by Beryl Bainbridge. I’ve enjoyed all of Beryl Bainbridge’s books that I’ve read so far, so I’m keen to read this one – the first book she wrote and submitted for publication in 1958. However, it was rejected because of its content and was not published until 1972. It is set just after the war in a Liverpool suburb near the Formby sand dunes where Beryl Bainbridge grew up.

It begins:

When I came home for the holidays, Harriet was away with her family in Wales. She had written to explain it was not her fault and that when she came back we would have a lovely time.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

Friday 56

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

We rode the roundabouts, shrieking among the painted horses, riding endlessly round and round, waiting for the Tsar to come.

Blurb (from Goodreads):

Two schoolgirls are spending their holiday in an English coastal town: Harriet is the older at 14 and the leader of the two. The 13-year-old unnamed narrator develops a crush on an unhappily married middle-aged man, Peter Biggs, whom they nickname “the Tsar.” Led by pretty, malevolent Harriet they study his relationship with his wife, planning to humiliate him. Their plan quickly goes wrong, however, with horrifying results.

Eyes Like Mine by Sheena Kamal

Eyes Like Mine is an excellent psychological suspense novel. I loved it.

Blurb:

It’s late. The phone rings.

The man on the other end says his daughter is missing. Your daughter.

The child Nora Watts gave up for adoption 15-years ago has vanished and the police are labelling her a chronic runaway. No one is looking for the girl, she’s not blonde or white enough.

Once a starving artist herself, transient, homeless, left for dead in dark forest, Nora knows better than anyone what happens to girls that are lost to the streets. To the girls that the police don’t bother look for.

As she begins to investigate, she discovers a dangerous conspiracy and embarks on a harrowing journey of deception and violence that takes her from the rainy streets of Vancouver to the snow-capped mountains of the interior and finally to the island where she will face her greatest demon…

Intuitive, not always likeable, and deeply flawed, Nora Watts is a new heroine for our time.

My thoughts:

Eyes Like Mine is Sheena Kamal’s debut novel. She was inspired to write it by the plight of missing and murdered indigenous woman in Canada – an issue that kept cropping up during her research for the Canadian TV documentary looking into missing and murdered women along a 724 kilometre stretch of highway in northern British Columbia.

Everything about this book fascinated me from the characters and in particular the main character, Nora Watts, the gripping storylines that kept me racing through the book, to the atmospheric, gloomy setting in Vancouver and in beautiful British Columbia with its snow, mountains and plush ski resorts.

The plot is intricate, complicated and fast moving, highlighting various issues such as mixed race inheritance and differences in treatment based on skin colour, homelessness, and environmental issues. These never overpower the story, but form part of the book as a whole.

It’s narrated by Nora, in the first person present tense, interspersed by short chapters written in the third person, also present tense. I’m often irritated and distracted by the use of the present tense but I was hardly aware of it – I think it works well in this book, giving an insight into Nora’s mind and feelings.

Nora is a conflicted character, a recovering alcoholic, who works as a receptionist and research assistant for Seb Crow and his partner, Leo Krushnik, who runs a private investigation firm. Nora’s speciality is that she can tell when people are lying. Nora lives in their office basement with her dog, Whisper. There are plenty of interesting and well-drawn characters and I liked Nora, despite her somewhat suspect actions, and Whisper, who also has her own issues.

The main focus of the book is Nora, her traumatic background and her search for her daughter, Bonnie, now a teenager, who she gave away as a new-born baby. Nora is shocked by her reaction when she sees a photo of Bonnie – there is no doubt that she is her daughter, with her dark hair and golden skin. But it is her eyes that clinch it for Nora; Bonnie has the same eyes, dark and fathomless. And Nora feels as though she is in a nightmare.

Nora, working for Leo is also searching also for the witness to a murder, who has since disappeared, and for the killer of an investigative journalist, Mike Starling, the man from her past who had been investigating corruption in the mining industry. Her search takes Nora into many dangerous and heart-stopping situations. I was almost breathless as I read Eyes Like Mine.

My thanks to the publishers, Zaffre, for an advanced review copy of Eyes Like Mine, to be published tomorrow, 9 February.

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Zaffre (9 Feb. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1785762567
  • ISBN-13: 978-1785762567

Books Read in January

I read 10 books in January:

Jan17 bks

Justice by Another Name by E C Hanes 5* My post will follow closer to the publication date of 7 March 2017. This is a murder mystery set in a pig farming community in North Carolina. Deputy sheriff Will Moser takes on the most powerful man in the county to discover the truth behind two suspicious deaths.  I really enjoyed this book.

The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley 2.5* I enjoyed a few of Wheatley’s books as a teenager and wondered what I would think of them now, so when I saw this as a ‘read now’ book on NetGalley I downloaded it. It’s described as a ‘powerful occult thriller’ as ‘the aristocratic Duc de Richleau faces new, sinister challenges in this macabre tale of the dark arts.’ But I was quite disappointed because it came across to me as very hammy. Although it is fast paced and easy to read, in parts it’s very long-winded.

The Buttonmaker’s Daughter by Merryn Allingham 4* – set in Sussex in the summer of 1914 just before the start of the First World War as the feud in the Summers family comes to a climax over the question of who Elizabeth should marry, and war on the continent becomes inevitable.

The Dead of Jericho by Colin Dexter 4.5* Inspector Morse investigates the death of Ann Scott, found hanged in her house at Canal Reach in the Jericho area of Oxford. I enjoyed both the Morse books (see Last Seen Wearing below) I read in January for the puzzles they pose and the way Morse approaches finding the culprit.

The Quarry by Iain Banks 3.5* in which Kit’s father Guy is dying of cancer and his friends reunite for Guy’s last days. Old jealousies, affairs and lies come to light.  I particularly enjoyed Guy’s rants – as well as those about cancer he also rants about God, faith, miracles, politics, celebrities, and the unfair society we live in and so on.

The 12.30 from Croydon by Freeman Wills Crofts 3* – this it begins with a murder but the identity of the murderer is known before he even thought of committing the crime. It focuses on the psychology of the murderer and from that point of view I think it works well.

Missing Pieces by Heather Gudenkauf 4* – a murder mystery set in the town of Penny Gate in Iowa. I was gripped by this book, as more and more secrets are revealed and the missing pieces of the puzzle are brought together.

If Ever I Fall by S D Robertson 4* –  a story about a family in crisis, struggling to come to terms with a terrible tragedy.  It begins mysteriously as a man surfaces from his dreams only to discover that he doesn’t know who he is.  I enjoyed this book and it certainly gave me much to think about both as I was reading it and afterwards.

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff 5* – historical fiction about Marcus Aquila, a young Roman soldier who travels into northern Britain in search of the Ninth Legion and its Eagle standard that had disappeared without trace. Most enjoyable.

Last Seen Wearing by Colin Dexter 4* – another Inspector Morse book in which in which he investigates a cold case, that of the disappearance of schoolgirl Valerie Taylor.

As usual it’s not easy to pick a favourite book, but I as gave 5 stars to two books, it’s a tie between these two very different books:

Justice by Any Other Name by E C Hanes

and The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

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Six Degrees of Separation from Fates and Furies to The Graveyard Book

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

Fates and Furies

This month’s chain begins with Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies.  I haven’t read it but apparently it is a novel about a marriage.

14486772So my first book in the chain is also a book about a married couple. It is Before the Fact by Francis Iles. First published in 1932 this is a Golden Age crime fiction novel that is a psychological character study of its two main characters, Lina and Johnnie.  ‘Some women give birth to murderers, some go to bed with them, and some marry them. Lina Aysgarth had lived with her husband for nearly eight years before she realized that she was married to a murderer.’

The Marriage LieThe Marriage Lie by Kimberly Belle is another psychological thriller and is also about a marriage. Iris thought her marriage to Will was perfect until a plane en route to Seattle crashed. Everyone on board was killed and, according to the airline, Will was one of the passengers – but he had told her he was going to Florida. Why did he lie? This is one of those books that gripped me and kept me guessing all the way through. It has one of the most convoluted and complex plots I’ve read in a while. The pace is terrific and the tension just builds and builds.

WreckageWreckage by Emily Bleeker is also about a plane crash. Lillian Linden and Dave Hall spent two years on a deserted island in the South Pacific after their plane crashed into the sea. Like The Marriage Lie, this book revolves around lies. After their rescue Lillian and Dave are desperate to keep what really happened on the island a secret from their families. This is also a book about marriage.


The Sea DetectiveWreckage
leads to the next book in the chain in which the sea and an island play a major role. It’s The Sea Detective by Mark Douglas-Hume (a Scottish author) set on the fictional island of Eilean Iasgaich. Cal McGill uses his knowledge of tides, winds and currents to solve mysteries, which helps in the investigation of the appearance of severed feet in trainers that had been washed on shore on islands miles apart.

The Ghosts of Altona (Jan Fabel, #7)The Ghosts of Altona is also by a Scottish author – Craig Russell. It’s the 7th book featuring Jan Fabel, the head of Hamburg’s Murder Commission and is set in Altona, one of the city boroughs. It’s a modern Gothic tale as well as being a crime thriller. Fabel’s first case as a detective is resurrected when the body of Monika Krone is found under a car park, fifteen years after she disappeared. And then there are more murders which Fabel thinks are linked to the discovery of Monika’s remains, all of men who were in the same Gothic set at university.

The Graveyard BookGhosts are the last link in the chain with The Graveyard Book  by Neil Gaiman. This is the story of the baby who escapes a murderer intent on killing his entire family, and who stumbles into the local disused graveyard where he is rescued by ghosts. He is named by the ghosts, Nobody Owens, or Bod for short, and he grows up looked after by his adoptive parents Master and Mistress Owens who had been dead for a few hundred years and numerous other occupants of the graveyard. It’s scary and creepy, but never gory.

The links are that they are all mysteries of different types, with three of them about marriage. They are all about life and death and the fight between good and evil. And I had no idea when I began the chain that it would end in a ghostly graveyard.

Next month (March 4, 2017), the chain will begin with Nick Hornby’s memoir (or love letter to soccer), Fever Pitch – I think I have this book, but haven’t read it.

My Friday Post: All the Light We Cannot See

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

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This morning I began reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (one of the TBRs on my Kindle) and already I think I’m going to like it very much.

It begins:

Zero

7 August 1944

Leaflets

At dusk they pour from the sky. They blow across the ramparts, turn cartwheels over rooftops, flutter into the ravines between houses. Entire streets swirl with them, flashing white against the cobbles. Urgent message to the inhabitants of this town, they say. Depart immediately to open country.

A dramatic opening, immediately alerting me to the danger that is to come.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

Friday 56

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

All day Marie-Laure lies on her stomach and reads. Logic, reason, pure science: these Aronnax insists, are the proper ways to pursue a mystery. Not fables and fairy tales.

Synopsis:

A beautiful, stunningly ambitious novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II

Marie-Laure has been blind since the age of six. Her father builds a perfect miniature of their Paris neighbourhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. But when the Nazis invade, father and daughter flee with a dangerous secret.

Werner is a German orphan, destined to labour in the same mine that claimed his father’s life, until he discovers a knack for engineering. His talent wins him a place at a brutal military academy, but his way out of obscurity is built on suffering.

At the same time, far away in a walled city by the sea, an old man discovers new worlds without ever setting foot outside his home. But all around him, impending danger closes in.

Doerr’s combination of soaring imagination and meticulous observation is electric. As Europe is engulfed by war and lives collide unpredictably, ‘All The Light We Cannot See’ is a captivating and devastating elegy for innocence.

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

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Rosemary Sutcliff was one of my favourite authors when I was a child and I particularly loved Brother Dusty Feet, about a boy who joined a group of strolling players set in Elizabethan England. I bought The Eagle of the Ninth in a library book sale several years ago because I remembered my love of Brother Dusty Feet and had meant to read it well before now. I got round to it this month and thoroughly enjoyed it, so it’s one of my TBRs for Bev’s Mount TBR Reading challenge.

The first half of the book tells of how Marcus Flavius Aquila, a young Roman officer arrived in Britain as a centurion and was injured in a battle and then, unfit for duty, was discharged. Some years earlier, sometime in 117 AD, the Ninth Hispana Legion, led by his father had marched north from its base at Eburacum (York) into the mists of Northern Britain to deal with a rising among the Caledonian tribes and was never heard of again – their Eagle Standard was also lost.

Marcus then sets out to discover the truth about his father’s disappearance, what had happened to the Legion and if possible, to recover the Eagle, and thus to redeem his father’s honour. For an Eagle standard taken in war meant so much:

To the Outland tribes it must seem that they have captured the god of the Legion: and so they carry it home in triumph, with many torches and perhaps the sacrifice of a black ram, and house it in the temple of their own god to make the young men strong in war and help the grain to ripen.

If trouble were to break out again in the north, a Roman Eagle in the hands of the Painted People might well become a weapon against us, owing to the power it would undoubtedly have to fire the minds and hearts of the Tribes. (pages 121 – 122)

He disguises himself as a Greek occulist, and with his freed ex-slave, Esca, travels beyond Hadrian’s Wall. The rest of the book is about their search through the wild borderlands north of the Wall in what was then the province of Valentia and over the Northern Wall (the Antonine Wall), into Caledonia, along the shores of Loch Lomond to the base of Ben Cruachan overlooking Loch Awe.

Rosemary Sutcliff was a wonderful storyteller, bringing Roman Britain to life  in beautifully descriptive prose, so vivid that it’s easy to picture the scenery and the characters. It’s a powerful adventure story, full of detail particularly about Marcus and Esca – their friendship and courage in the face of danger and hardship. There is plenty of suspense as they fight their way through mountains and bogs, pursued by the hostile tribes. It’s also a novel about honour, duty and love.

She based The Eagle of the Ninth on two facts. First, the disappearance of the Ninth Legion. And second, the discovery of a cast bronze figure of an eagle found in the Basilica of the Roman town of Calleva, near Silchester. The eagle’s original wings are missing and its origin is unknown. Although it was not a legionary eagle, it inspired Rosemary Sutcliff to write her book.

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Silchester Eagle Cast in Reading Museum

There is a map at the front of the book showing the route Marcus and Esca took and some of the places described, including Trinomontium (Melrose), Luguvalium (Carlisle), Segedunum (Wallsend) and Borcovicus on Hadrian’s  Wall (Housesteads Roman Fort) and the Northern Wall.

I loved all the detail of the mix of peoples living in Britain, their religious beliefs and ceremonies and their social and cultural background. It’s described as a children’s/YA book but I think it’s suitable for adults too – the writing style is certainly not simplistic and the vocabulary is extensive.

It is quite simply a gem of a book.

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; Revised edition edition (7 Oct. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192753924
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192753922
  • Source: my own copy

About Rosemary Sutcliff (1920 – 1975), born in Surrey

At the age of two she contracted Still’s disease and spent most of her life in a wheelchair. At 14 she left school having made little progress in anything except reading and went to an art school, specialising in miniature painting, becoming a member of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters just after the Second World War. She wrote very many books, both fiction and non-fiction, and won several awards.

Two Inspector Morse Mysteries

I’ve got rather behind with writing about the books I’ve been reading so this post is on two of Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse books, both are books from my TBR list. Colin Dexter wrote 13 novels in the series and I’ve been reading them out of order – just as I come across them.

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The second book in the series is Last Seen Wearing, first published in 1976, in which Morse investigates a cold case. Two years previously schoolgirl Valerie Taylor had disappeared during her lunch hour from the Roger Bacon Comprehensive school. Her body had never been found and the case had been shelved but recently her parents had received a letter telling them she was ‘alright’ and they were not to worry.

Morse isn’t please when he was instructed to investigate Valerie’s disappearance but then is interested when he guesses that she is dead.  In fact he is convinced that she is dead. But throughout the novel he keeps changing his mind, coming up with theory after theory about what happened to her. Lewis meanwhile, who is assisting Morse, is sure that Valerie is still alive.

There are plenty of suspects, the headmaster of the school, the second master, the French teacher, one of her boyfriends, her mother and her stepfather all come under Morse’s scrutiny. It is a complicated investigation made even more so when the second master is found stabbed with a nine-inch kitchen knife.

I haven’t read the first book in the series, Last Bus to Woodstock, in which Morse and Lewis first work together, but this second book shows their working relationship is a good one and they have several lively discussions. Lewis whilst admiring Morse sees him clearly, noting that he always had to find a complex solution.

I was puzzled throughout and like Morse I kept changing my mind about it all and at one point I had the solution – as had Morse – but had then changed my mind. Of course, by the end of the novel Morse had it all worked out correctly.

The Dead of Jericho: An Inspector Morse Mystery 5

The Dead of Jericho is the 5th Inspector Morse book, first published in 1981. Colin Dexter wrote 13 novels in the series and I’ve been reading them out of order – just as I come across them. Years ago I watched the TV series of Morse. The Dead of Jericho was broadcast in January 1987, the first of Dexter’s books to be televised. I must have watched it but as it was so long ago I had completely forgotten the details.

Jericho is an area of Oxford, described in the book as a largely residential district consisting mainly of two-storey terraced mid nineteenth century houses and bounded by the Oxford Canal.

Morse met Anne Scott at a party and was immediately attracted to her. She gave him her address but thinking she was married he didn’t contact her until six months later when, being near where she lived, he impulsively called at her house at Canal Reach in Jericho. There was no reply, but the front door wasn’t locked and he stepped inside and after calling out Anne’s name and getting no reply, he closed the door behind him as he stepped out onto the pavement and left. Later that evening an anonymous phone call directed the police to Anne’s house where she was found dead. Apparently she had hanged herself.

Morse is assigned to the case and has to decide whether her death was suicide or murder. And when the police realise that Morse had been in the house that day he comes under suspicion for a while. There are various suspects and Morse as usual constructs theories which fit all of them, leaving Lewis to put him on the right track.

In both books Morse shows various aspects of his personality. He is clever, loves the opera,  and solving puzzles, particularly crosswords – he can do The Times crossword in under ten minutes. He is not a happy man; he is sensitive, melancholy, a loner and a pedant. His meanness comes out in the pub where he gets Lewis, on a much lower salary, to buy all their drinks. And in both books he is attracted  sexually to women.

Both books qualify for Bev’s Mount TBR Reading Challenge, being e-books I’ve had for over two years.