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)

Hannah 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.

18143977

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.

If Ever I Fall by S D Robertson

It’s always a bit of a gamble reading a book by an author you’ve never heard of before, but I thought If Ever I Fall by S D Robertson looked as though it would be a book I would like. It’s a story about a family in crisis, struggling to come to terms with a terrible tragedy. It is his second book, due to be published on 9 February 2017.

And reading the Prologue it seemed as though I was right. It begins mysteriously as a man surfaces from his dreams only to discover that he doesn’t know who he is. It appears that Miles has rescued him and tells him he had suffered a head trauma. He calls him Jack. But as I read on I became confused and struggled a bit to follow the narrative.

It’s difficult to write about this book without giving away spoilers. The structure of the novel confused me at first because the story moves between three characters’ perspectives – Maria, Dan, her husband and Jack- and between different time periods.

Maria’s side of things is told in letters to Sam moving forwards in time, whereas Dan’s story begins in the present and moves backwards in time, and Jack’s is timeless. At first I had to keep checking the chapter titles to find out what time period I was reading until I got the hang of it. It shouldn’t really have been that difficult as the style of each is different but it did take me a while to get into the story.

Maria’s letters are quite stilted – maybe that’s what they were meant to be as she is struggling to sort out and write her thoughts so that Sam will understand. Her letters are full of grief. But they are long-winded explanations of what she was thinking and feeling and they slowed down the narrative too much for me. She obsessed about her OCD, but maybe I’m being over critical and insensitive here because being obsessive is the essence of the condition after all, but it became quite dull to read. I was more interested in Dan’s story and especially in Jack’s.

It is Jack’s story that captivated me the most and each time the narrative went to Maria or Dan I wanted to get back to Jack to find out what was happening to him – because some very strange things were going on around him. He can’t work out if he can trust Miles who tells him that he is helping him to renovate a house by the sea. But Jack keeps finding that he is in other places, as a fog descends upon him, or he finds himself trapped in a tunnel unable to move, and he sees people who Miles tells him aren’t there. Whereas, Maria’s and Dan’s stories show them dealing with the same events in different ways, culminating in one tremendous tragedy  and growing increasingly apart. All three narratives are full of emotional and psychological tension.

About half way into the book I began to work out the storyline and how the three narratives linked together and was able to settle into enjoying the book, which did work out as I had anticipated.

It’s about what happens to family relationships hit by the most terrible tragedy, how grief affects us in different ways, and the psychological and emotional impact of amnesia and obsessive compulsive disorder. I think if the novel had followed the story in a straight forward chronological order it would not have had as much impact on me. It certainly gave me much to think about as I was reading it and afterwards.

My thanks to Avon Books UK and NetGalley for a review copy.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1149 KB
  • Print Length: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Avon (9 Feb. 2017)

4 *

My Week in Books: 25 January

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

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

Now: I’m reading two books, one I’ve just started – Eyes Like Mine by Sheena Kamal, which will be published on 9 February 2017.

Blurb:

It’s late. The phone rings.
The man on the other end says his daughter is missing.
Your daughter.
The baby you gave away over fifteen years ago.
What do you do?

Nora Watts isn’t sure that she wants to get involved. Troubled, messed up, and with more than enough problems of her own, Nora doesn’t want to revisit the past. But then she sees the photograph. A girl, a teenager, with her eyes. How can she turn her back on her?

But going in search of her daughter brings Nora into contact with a past that she would rather forget, a past that she has worked hard to put behind her, but which is always there, waiting for her . . .

In Eyes Like Mine, Sheena Kamal has created a kick-ass protagonist who will give Lisbeth Salander a run for her money. Intuitive, not always likeable, and deeply flawed, Nora Watts is a new heroine for our time.

The other book is The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff, which I’ve nearly finished.

The Eagle of the NinthBlurb:

The Ninth Legion marched into the mists of northern Britain – and they were never seen again. Four thousand men disappeared and their eagle standard was lost. Marcus has to find out what happened to his father, who led the Ninth Legion. So he sets out into the unknown, on a quest so hazardous that no one expects him to return …

Then: The last book I’ve read is If Ever I Fall by S D Robertson – my post will follow.

 

Blurb:

Dan’s life has fallen apart at the seams. He’s lost his house, his job is on the line, and now he’s going to lose his family too. All he’s ever wanted is to keep them together, but is everything beyond repair?

Maria is drowning in grief. She spends her days writing letters that will never be answered. Nights are spent trying to hold terrible memories at bay, to escape the pain that threatens to engulf her.

Jack wakes up confused and alone. He doesn’t know who he is, how he got there, or why he finds himself on a deserted clifftop, but will piecing together the past leave him a broken man?

In the face of real tragedy, can these three people find a way to reconcile their past with a new future? And is love enough to carry them through?

Next: I anticipated in last week’s post that I’d be reading The Elephant Keeper’s Children by Peter Hoeg next and I did start it. But I didn’t get very far before I decided it’s not the book for me, so I’m not sure about what predicting what I’ll read next.

It could be The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths, which will be published on 23 February 2017. It’s the 9th Dr Ruth Galloway Mystery. Reading the blurb I think it’s safe to say this is the book I’ll be reading next …

Blurb:

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.

First Chapter, First Paragraph

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 Cleopatra’s Sister by Penelope Lively.

Howard Beamish became a palaeontologist because of a rise in the interest rate when he was six years old. His father, a cautious man with a large mortgage, announced that the projected family holiday to the Costa Brava was no longer feasible. A chalet was rented on the north Somerset coast instead and thus, on a dank August afternoon, Howard picked up an ammonite on Blue Anchor Beach.

He presented it to his parents. ‘What’s this?’

It’s a stone,’ said his father, who was listening to the test match.

‘No, it isn’t,’ retorted Howard, an observant child.

‘It’s a fossil, dear,’ said his mother. ‘That’s a very old sort of stone.’

‘Why?’ persisted Howard after a few moments. The single word embraced a vast range of query, for which he did not have the language.

His mother, too, paused to consider and was also defeated, though for different reason. She evaded the issue by offering Howard a tomato sandwich, which he accepted with enthusiasm while continuing to pore over the ammonite. During the rest of the afternoon, he collected five more fossil fragments, including one embedded in a slab of rock weighing several pounds.

Penelope Lively is one of my favourite authors, so I’m expecting to enjoy this book. I’ve quoted more than the first paragraph as I loved the conversation between Howard and his parents and the description of the scene on the beach as Howard ate his tomato sandwich and collected fossils. It shows the influence of chance on our lives – and I’m also fascinated by fossils.

Blurb:

Detached and unwordly paleontologist Howard Beamish is on a journey that is to change his life. Travelling to Nairobi, his plane is forced to land in Marsopolis, the capital of Callimbia, where Cleopatra’s sister entertained Antony. Also on the flight is Lucy Faulkner, a journalist with a sketchy knowledge of Callimbia’s political turbulence. As chance throws them together, Howard and Lucy become embroiled in a revolution that is both political and personal.

‘Every sentence is a pleasure to read’ Sunday Express

‘A fluent, funny, ultimately moving romance in which lovers share centre stage with Lively’s persuasive meditations on history and fate. . .a book of great charm with a real intellectual resonance at its core’ The New York Times Book Review

What do think – would you read on?

Missing Pieces by Heather Gudenkauf

Missing Pieces is the first book by Heather Gudenkauf that I’ve read. I enjoyed it very much and will look out for her other books.

Blurb:

Everyone has secrets…
Sarah Quinlan’s husband, 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. The case rocked the town where Jack was raised, and for years Jack avoided returning home.

But when his beloved aunt Julia is in an accident, hospitalised in a coma, Jack and Sarah are forced to confront the past that they have long evaded.
Sarah and Jack are welcomed by the family Jack left behind all those years ago―barely a trace of the wounds that had once devastated them all. But as facts about Julia’s accident begin to surface, Sarah realises that nothing about the Quinlans is what it seems. Caught in a flurry of unanswered questions, Sarah dives deep into the rabbit hole of Jack’s past, but the farther she climbs, the harder it is for her to get out. And soon she is faced with a hard reality she may not be prepared for.

My thoughts:

The book begins with the murder of Lydia Quinlan in 1985 by someone she knew, when her son Jack  was fifteen. Jack and his little sister Amy went to live with his aunt Julia and her husband Hal after the deaths of their parents. As soon as he was old enough Jack left his home town of Penny Gate in Iowa.

Moving to the present day Jack and Sarah have been married for 20 years, but Sarah has never met any of his family or been to his home town. But when his aunt Julia is in a coma after a fall she goes with him to Penny Gate. Whilst the family gather round Julia’s hospital bed she begins to realise that there is a lot she didn’t know about Jack and his family, including the fact that he had lied to her about how his parents had died.

The book revolves around the mystery of who killed Lydia and was Julia’s fall an accident  – and if not who was responsible and why. The story is told from Sarah’s perspective as she delves into the history of Lydia’s death. I did have a few reservations about how easily Sarah managed to persuade Margaret Dooley who works in the sheriff’s department to let her see the files and records of the investigation into Lydia’s murder but Margaret is also keen to get to the truth, particularly as she had been Jack and Amy’s babysitter as they grew up and her mother and Lydia were best friends.

I was gripped by this book, as more and more secrets are revealed and Sarah begins to gather the missing pieces of the puzzle. Her relationship with Jack deteriorates as she realises that he has told her so many lies, or omitted to tell her the truth. She cannot understand why he won’t talk to her and begins to suspect the worst. And then it becomes clear after Julia died that her death was not the result of an accident.

I liked the setting of a small town and was fascinated by the characters and their relationships, which are intense and complicated by the reasons they kept secrets from each other. It’s a fast-paced novel that held my interest to the end. At various points as I read I became convinced that first this person and then that person must have killed Lydia, but I was way off mark. And I had no idea who could have killed Julia.

My thanks to the publishers and Midas Public Relations for my copy of this book.

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: HQ (12 Jan. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184845497X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848454972

The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane


I read The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane at the end of December. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would from reading the blurb:

The Wild Places is both an intellectual and a physical journey, and Macfarlane travels in time as well as space. Guided by monks, questers, scientists, philosophers, poets and artists, both living and dead, he explores our changing ideas of the wild. From the cliffs of Cape Wrath, to the holloways of Dorset, the storm-beaches of Norfolk, the saltmarshes and estuaries of Essex, and the moors of Rannoch and the Pennines, his journeys become the conductors of people and cultures, past and present, who have had intense relationships with these places.Certain birds, animals, trees and objects – snow-hares, falcons, beeches, crows, suns, white stones – recur, and as it progresses this densely patterned book begins to bind tighter and tighter. At once a wonder voyage, an adventure story, an exercise in visionary cartography, and a work of natural history, it is written in a style and a form as unusual as the places with which it is concerned. It also tells the story of a friendship, and of a loss. It mixes history, memory and landscape in a strange and beautiful evocation of wildness and its vital importance.

I have mixed feelings about it. It does do all those things described above and maybe that was the problem for me -it tries to do too much. It is beautifully written, sometimes overwritten and it is also repetitive. There is a map showing the places he visited that helped me  to a certain extent – vague enough if you don’t want to pinpoint the precise locations. It is a book to read in small sections, to dip into rather than to read straight through as I did. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had taken more time to read it – but during the times I did put it down I was in no hurry to get back to it.

I was intrigued by the places where he slept out and flabbergasted by the risks he took.

For example, he went on a night walk alone in the Cumbrian mountains. By the time he reached the mountains it was late afternoon and when he reached the ridge at over 2,000 feet the snow had thickened to a blizzard and it was hard to stand up in the wind. He decided to sleep on the surface of a frozen tarn that lay between two small crags giving some shelter from the wind. First he tested it by jumping gently on its centre; it didn’t creak, so he slept there in his sleeping and bivouac bags whilst it hailed and snowed. He began

to feel cold, deep down, as though ice were forming inside me, floes of it cruising my core, pressure ridges riding up through my arms and legs, white sheaths forming around my bones. (page 198)

When he woke he did a little dance on the tarn to warm himself and then saw that where he had been lying on the tarn,

the ice had melted, so that there was a shallow indent, shaped like a sarcophagus, shadowed out by the moonlight. (page 199)

However, I did enjoy the experience of reading The Wild Places, and  I’ve decided to read Macfarlane’s The Old Ways:  a Journey on Foot, particularly as a friend told me she had enjoyed it more than The Wild Places. Macfarlane describes how he set off from his Cambridge home to follow ancient tracks, holloways, drove roads and sea paths that criss-cross the British landscape.

Robert Macfarlane  is a Reader in Literature and the Geohumanities in the Faculty of English at Cambridge University. He is well-known as a writer about landscape, nature, memory, language and travel.

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books (7 July 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847080189
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847080189
  • Source: I bought my copy

The 12.30 from Croydon by Freeman Wills Crofts

This is the second book by Freeman Wills Crofts that I’ve read. The first was Mystery in the Channel, which is a complicated murder mystery with plenty of red herrings and I had no idea about the identity of the killer. The 12.30 from Croydon couldn’t be more different – it begins with a murder but the identity of the murderer is known before he even thought of committing the crime.

The result is there is little mystery, as Charles Swinburne sets about murdering his uncle, Andrew Crowther, in order to inherit his fortune. It’s set in the early 1930s when the country is suffering the effects of the ‘slump’ and Charles’ business is on the edge of bankruptcy, and he is unable to raise the money to keep it going.

The major part of the book is taken up with describing how Charles became convinced that the only way out of his dilemma and the only way he could convince Una, a mercenary rich young woman, to marry him, was to kill Andrew. Consequently Andrew died on the 12.30 plane from Croydon. From that point onwards we see how Charles devised a plan and created an alibi that he thought would be perfect – and how it went wrong and how he was drawn into committing yet another murder.

Inspector French appears later on in the book to explain Charles’ thoughts and actions, and how he broke his alibi, just as Poirot sums up his thoughts and methods of deduction in Agatha Christie’s books.

The 12.30 from Croydon focuses on the psychology of the murderer and from that point of view I think it works well.  Charles’ personality is thoroughly explored, showing his ingenuity, efficiency, and the ways he overcame his scruples about murder were in the main convincing. But the in-depth detail of the planning means that it is hardly riveting reading. So whilst the plotting is clever my interest in the outcome flagged as the only thing to work out is would Charles get caught out, and would Inspector French break his alibi. But I did want to know how it would end.

What I found more interesting is the description of the thrill of the early passenger flights. In the opening chapter Rose Morley, Andrew’s young granddaughter flies to France with him and her father, Peter, because her mother had been knocked down and seriously injured by a taxi in Paris. Rose thinks the plane looks like a huge dragonfly. From her seat her view through the window was of the lower wing with its criss-cross struts connecting it to the upper wing. She was delighted by the whole process the increasing speed and the roar of the motors as the plane miraculously left the ground. Peter remarks that it was a wonderful improvement on the early machines when you had to stuff cotton wool in your ears. Rose loved the whole experience.

I also like the setting Crofts created for the novel – the enormous pressure that drove Charles to take such drastic action due to the financial disasters of the period in the 1930s is well presented. I liked the book but as I enjoy trying to work out the why and the how for me it needed more mystery, and more red herrings.

 My thanks to Netgalley and Poisoned Pen Press for a review copy of The 12.30 From Croydon. It was first published in 1934; this edition with an introduction by Martin Edwards was published in 2016 by Poisoned Pen Press in association with the British Library.

Amazon UK link

Amazon US link

This is my first book for the What’s in a Name 2017 in the category of ‘a number in numbers’.

My Week in Books: 18 January

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

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

Now – I’m reading two books, one I’ve nearly finished, The 12.30 from Croydon by Freeman Wills Crofts

Blurb: We begin with a body. Andrew Crowther, a wealthy retired manufacturer, is found dead in his seat on the 12.30 flight from Croydon to Paris. Rather less orthodox is the ensuing flashback in which we live with the killer at every stage, from the first thoughts of murder to the strains and stresses of living with its execution. Seen from the criminal’s perspective, a mild-mannered Inspector by the name of French is simply another character who needs to be dealt with. This is an unconventional yet gripping story of intrigue, betrayal, obsession, justification and self-delusion. And will the killer get away with it?

and The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

The Eagle of the NinthBlurb: The Ninth Legion marched into the mists of northern Britain – and they were never seen again. Four thousand men disappeared and their eagle standard was lost. Marcus has to find out what happened to his father, who led the Ninth Legion. So he sets out into the unknown, on a quest so hazardous that no one expects him to return …

Then – the last book I finished was The Quarry by Iain Banks, which I enjoyed reading – it’s funny in parts, angry, sad and miserable in others and about relationships and secrets.

The QuarryI wrote more about it in this post.

NextThe Elephant Keeper’s Children by Peter Hoeg, Sarah Moss wrote in the Guardian that the hilarity of Peter Finø’s narrative makes this a delightful novel even for readers who have limited tolerance of surrealism. I’m one of those readers so I hope I have enough tolerance for this book.

The Elephant Keepers' ChildrenBlurb: Peter and Tilte are trying to track down two notorious criminals: their parents. They are the pastor and the organist, respectively, of the only church on the tiny island of Finø. Known for fabricating cheap miracles to strengthen their congregation’s faith, they have been in trouble before. But this time their children suspect they are up to mischief on a far greater scale.

When Peter and Tilte learn that scientific and religious leaders from around the world are assembling in Copenhagen for a conference, they know their parents are up to something. Peter and Tilte’s quest to find them exposes conspiracies, terrorist plots, an angry bishop, a deranged headmaster, two love-struck police officers, a deluded aristocrat and much more along the way.

If you’ve read any of these books, especially The Elephant Keeper’s Children, I’d love to know what you think. And do let me know what you are reading this week.

The Quarry by Iain Banks

The Quarry

Blurb:

Kit doesn’t know who his mother is. What he does know, however, is that his father, Guy, is dying of cancer. Feeling his death is imminent, Guy gathers around him his oldest friends – or at least the friends with the most to lose by his death. Paul – the rising star in the Labour party who dreads the day a tape they all made at university might come to light; Alison and Robbie, corporate bunnies whose relationship is daily more fractious; Pris and Haze, once an item, now estranged, and finally Hol – friend, mentor, former lover and the only one who seemed to care.

But what will happen to Kit when Guy is gone? And why isn’t Kit’s mother in the picture? As the friends reunite for Guy’s last days, old jealousies, affairs and lies come to light as Kit watches on.

My thoughts:

I enjoyed The Quarry, the last book Iain Banks wrote. He explained in this interview that it’s a fairly simple book with not many characters, with only really one location and “it doesn’t muck around with flashbacks or narrative order.” It is quite strange really because he had already written 90% of it before he was diagnosed with cancer. I’m sometimes a bit wary of novels on cancer, but The Quarry isn’t in the slightest a sentimental book, nor is it solely about cancer, or death, although Guy does rant about it. I particularly enjoyed his rants – as well as those about cancer he also rants about God, faith, miracles, politics, celebrities, the ‘hounding of the poor and disabled and the cosseting of the rich and privileged‘, the unfair society we live in and so on.

Kit and Guy live in a house that is gradually falling to pieces, situated on the edge of a quarry in the Pennines. Kit is the narrator so we see the events of the weekend when Guy’s friends came to visit through his eyes, as they reminisce about their time as film students and search through the house for a video tape they had made that could ruin all of their lives if it became public. And, of course, he wants to know who is mother is, is it Hol, Ali or Pris, or someone else?

Kit is my favourite character. He is ‘very clever, if challenged in other ways‘, meaning he is ‘on a spectrum that stretches from ‘highly gifted’ at one end to ‘nutter’ at the other.‘ He spends much of his time playing an online game called HeroSpace. I liked the descriptions of his rituals and his need for order – stirring tea and shopping in a certain order etc. Kit’s internal monologue on responding to conversations is also fascinating, illustrating his struggles to interact with people socially.

I read it quickly – it’s well written, easy to read and fast paced. The main characters, Kit, Guy and Hol are convincing characters, whereas the rest remained a bit blurred in my mind, despite the detailed descriptions of what they were wearing. The physical setting, whilst not actually precisely located, is good. I could easily visualise the house and its immediate setting next to the quarry, which plays a big part in the novel both as a physical entity and metaphorically – living on the edge of a precipice into which inevitably we will all fall.

I was gripped by the two strands – will they find the tape and what is on it and will Kit find out the identity of his mother? And Guy’s character is particularly intriguing. It’s an entertaining book, funny in parts, angry, sad and miserable in others and about relationships and secrets.

The Quarry is only the second book by Iain Banks that I’ve read. I’ve also read The Crow Road, which I thoroughly enjoyed, although I never got round to writing down my thoughts about it. I’m tempted to re-read it for comparison. I’ve started to read The Wasp Factory a few times and never got very far as other books pulled me away from it. So I’ll try that again and the only other book of his that I own, A Song of Stone.

Stacking the Shelves

STSmallStacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves. This means you can include ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ books (ie physical and ebooks) you’ve bought, books you’ve borrowed from friends or the library, review books, and gifts.

Despite having quite a lot of unread books on my shelves and on my Kindle I’m delighted to add more books to be TBR lists. Well, it would be dreadful if I had no books left to read. So, I took a pile of books to Barter Books in Alnwick last Tuesday and replaced them with these:

BksJan 2017

I’ve been collecting Reginald Hill’s books so I was pleased to find these three that I haven’t read:

Good Morning, Midnight – a locked room suicide, or is it murder, for Detective Superintendent Andrew Dalziel and DCI Peter Pascoe to investigate. This is the 19th Dalziel and Pascoe book.

Killing the Lawyers – a Joe Sixsmith novel. I haven’t read any of the P.I. Joe Sixsmith series about a redundant lathe operator turned private eye from Luton.

Asking for the Moon – a collection of four Dalziel and Pascoe stories, unusual adventures including the long-anticipated story of the case that brought Dalziel and Pascoe together for the first time.

As I liked Rory Clements’ book, Corpus, so much recently I decided to look for more by him and found The Heretics, an Elizabethan spy thriller set in 1595 as once again Spanish galleys threaten to invade England.

Years ago I loved and read many of John Grisham’s thrillers so when I found The Racketeer I thought I’d see if I still enjoy his books. This one is about the murder of a judge found dead in a remote lakeside cabin.

Moving away from the crime fiction shelves I looked for books by Penelope Lively, another author whose books I’ve enjoyed in the past and found Cleopatra’s Sister. It’s described on the cover as ‘a bold and compassionate novel of ideas which is also a love story.’

And finally I looked for and found The Old Ways: a Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane because a friend told me how much she had enjoyed it. Macfarlane describes how he set off from his Cambridge home to follow ancient tracks, holloways, drove roads and sea paths that criss-cross the British landscape.

The Buttonmaker’s Daughter by Merryn Allingham

The Buttonmaker's Daughter by [Allingham, Merryn]

Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres, so I was pleased when I was offered a review copy of The Buttonmaker’s  Daughter by Merryn Allingham. It will be published on 12 January. I hadn’t come across any of the author’s books before, but this is the 5th book she has written under the name of Merryn Allingham. She has also written a Regency series under the name Isobel Goddard.

Blurb:

As events in Europe and news of the impending threat of war trickle through, this is a novel that looks at the personal dramas that took place in a society already navigating huge social and political change. Born to an industry-owning father and an aristocratic mother, Elizabeth must juggle her own dreams of independence, her parents’ wishes for her ‘good marriage’, and the responsibility of reuniting her feuding family. Housemaid Ivy is desperate to marry before her love is pulled away to war, William is struggling with his own feelings towards his schoolboy friend, and Elizabeth is drawn to the promise a new life with a charming young architect. Everyone’s life hangs on the brink of change, and if war is declared, will there even be a future for the Summerhayes estate?

My thoughts:

The Buttonmaker’s Daughter is set in Sussex in the summer of 1914 just before the start of the First World War, a summer of weltering heat and of rising tension not only nationally and internationally but also personally for Elizabeth Summer and her family. The novel covers just a few months, but those few months contain so much tension and heartbreak 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.

Alice, Elizabeth’s mother was brought up on the Amberley estate which her brother, Henry inherited. But she had made a ‘marriage of convenience’ with industrialist Joshua Summer which had brought the much needed money to save Amberley and at the same time had triggered Henry’s enmity. So when Elizabeth falls in love with Aiden Kellaway, an architect’s assistant working on the landscaping of the Summerhayes gardens both her parents and uncle appear united in finding her a ‘suitable’ husband, one with the proper connections.

The Buttonmaker’s Daughter is a beautiful book. I was completely immersed in the story as the relationship between the two families deteriorates and Elizabeth becomes increasingly aware of the danger both to herself and her younger brother William. The setting is idyllic, the characters are clearly drawn and the sense of life in the immediate pre-war period made me feel I was there in the midst of it all, experiencing the social conventions and class distinctions.

I hope Merryn Allingham will write a sequel as I would like to know more about what happened to them all during the war.

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: HQ; First edition edition (12 Jan. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0008193835
  • ISBN-13: 978-0008193836
  • Source: review copy

The Bone Field by Simon Kernick

The Bone Field (The Bone Field Series, #1)

I read The Bone Field by Simon Kernick in December and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s due to be published on 12 January.

It’s the first of his books that I’ve read, but it won’t be the last. Kitty Sinn disappeared in 1990 whilst she was on holiday in Thailand with her boyfriend, Henry Forbes. There was no record that she ever left Thailand, but 26 years later her bones were discovered during building work on land that had formerly belonged to Medmenham College in Buckinghamshire. And then the bones of a schoolgirl who had gone missing in 1989 are found buried in the same field.

There’s plenty of fast paced action moving the plot swiftly along, told through different characters’ viewpoints, mainly from DI Ray Mason, who is nearly killed when he goes to question Henry and then finds himself under investigation as a suspect. From then on he acts very much on his own, with the help of PI Tina Boyd, an ex-police detective. Both find themselves in danger as they are confronted by a gang of ruthless killers, ritualistic murderers and people traffickers.

The Bone Field is the first in a new series of books, featuring Ray Mason and Tina Boyd, both of whom are the most developed and convincing of the characters and, I understand, are both characters from Kernick’s earlier books. I read the book quickly, drawn by all the twists and turns to the dramatic ending. However instead of tying up all the loose ends, the last sentence raises a new mystery, a partial cliff-hanger that, I assume, will lead on to the next book in the series.

My thanks to Lovereading who sent me a copy of this book for review.

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Century (12 Jan. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1780894538
  • ISBN-13: 978-1780894539

Six Degrees of Separation

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.

girl-with-dragon-tattoo-chain

This month’s chain begins with: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, a book that has been on my TBR list since 2009. I’ve been put off reading it by all the hype and by the mixed reviews it has received. Maybe this year I should give it a go and see for myself what it is like.

Another book that has been on my TBR list since 2009 and I still haven’t read it is The Water Horse by Julia Gregson, based on the true story of a young Welsh woman who ran away to nurse in the Crimea alongside Florence Nightingale. This made me think of the next book in the chain …

The Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon, this time a book I have read, also about the Crimea but in which a young Englishwoman, travels to the Crimea determined to work as a nurse.

Another book with ‘Rose’ in the title is The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, a fantastic historical crime mystery novel set in a Franciscan monastery in 14th century Italy. William of Baskerville and his assistant Adso are sent to the monastery to investigate a series of murders. I’ve read this book twice – probably time for another re-read!

I love historical fiction and one of my favourites is A Whispered Name by William Brodrick, his 3rd Father Anselm book, set during the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917, as an Irish soldier faced a court martial for desertion. On the panel was a young captain, Herbert Moore, charged with a responsibility that would change him for ever. It kept me glued to the pages as I read about the First World War and the effects it had on those who took part, those left at home and on future generations. 

Monks are my link to the next book in my chain with Dissolution by C J Sansom, a wonderful historical crime fiction novel set in 1537 about Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. It’s the first in the Matthew Shardlake series in which he investigates the murder of Commissioner Robin Singleton.

Which leads me to my last link, Raven Black by Ann Cleeves, also the first in a series – Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series, in which Inspector Jimmy Perez investigates the murder of a teenager, found dead in the snow, strangled with her own scarf, a few days after New Year.

My chain has taken me from Sweden to Shetland via the Crimea, Italy, Belgium and England, from the 20th century to the 19th century, and back to the medieval period and the 16th century. The covers I’ve picked are also linked, all having a shade of red.

My Friday Post: The Eagle of the Ninth

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.

The Eagle of the Ninth

This year I’m hoping to read more from my own shelves than last year so I’ve been looking at some of the books that I’ve had for years. The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff is one of my TBRs – I bought it in a library book sale, not sure when that was, over 10 years ago, I should think. Today I got it down off the shelf and began reading:

From the Fosseway westward to Isca Dumnoniorum the road was simply a British trackway, broadened and roughly metalled, strengthened by corduroys of logs in the softest places, but otherwise unchanged from its old estate, as it wound among the hills, thrusting further and further into the wilderness.

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:

A great gust of wind swooped against the house like a wild thing striving to batter its way in; the lamplight jumped and fluttered, sending shadows racing across the chequered board – and the ghost of last year were once more a year away. Marcus looked up, and said, as much for the sake of shutting out his own thoughts as for anything else, ‘I wonder what possessed you to settle here in Britain, Uncle Acquila, when you could have gone home?’

Blurb from the back cover:

The Ninth Legion marched into the mists of northern Britain. And they were never seen again. Four thousand men disappeared and the eagle standard was lost.

Marcus has to find out what happened to his father, who led the Ninth Legion. So he sets out into the unknown, on a quest so hazardous that no one expects him to return …

This is the first of Sutcliff’s series of novels about Roman Britain. The film, The Eagle (2011) is adapted from her book. I read some of her books when I was a child and loved them. I’m hoping this one will be as good.

My Favourite Books of 2016

2016 was an excellent reading year for me. I read 100 books and rated 25 of them as 5 star reads – books that I loved, that kept me gripped and keen to know what happened next, books that appealed to because of their content and the way they were written, books to remember. I loved all of them and could not possibly choose any one over the others as my favourite book of the year.

Here is a selection of my 5 star books of 2016, in the order that I read them.

fav-bks-1

In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward – excellent storytelling, moving smoothly between the past and the present as the secrets from the past gradually emerge, great characterisation and a superb location in the Derbyshire Peak District that Sarah Ward obviously knows very well. It is also a complex and puzzling mystery that kept me glued to the book.

A Month in the Country J L Carr – As an old man Tom Birkin is looking back to the summer of 1920 when he was asked to uncover a huge medieval wall-painting in the village church of Oxgodby in Yorkshire. I loved the story, the detail of the wall-painting – the original methods of painting, the colours, the people in the painting. But above all it is the writing that I loved the most – words that took me back in time to that glorious summer in Oxgodby.

A House Divided by Margaret Skea –  Set in 1597, this is the most gripping story of warring factions in Scotland, the French Wars of Religion, superstition and horrific witchcraft trials. There is so much I loved in this book – the story itself, expertly narrated, full of tension and surprise, and then the characters, some based on real historical figures and others fictitious, and it’s well written and well paced as the historical facts all blend seamlessly into the narrative, with beautiful descriptive passages.

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People of the Book by Geraldine James – This is  a real gem, inspired by the true story of the Hebrew codex known as the Sarajevo Haggadah! It’s a novel about preserving the past, its culture and history for future generations. It has depth and breadth and is beautifully written. I was irresistibly engrossed in this book and full of wonder at its stories, reaching back in time from Sarajevo to Vienna, Venice, Tarragona to Seville in 1480 and also Hanna’s story from 1996 to 2002.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley – ‘steampunk’, a book that made a great impact on me right from from the start.  It’s a mixture of historical fact and fantasy set in Victorian times, both in London and Japan. There is so much in this book, so many passages I noted, so many intertwining stories and lines. I loved it both for its historical settings and for its ingenuity, producing a fantastical tale that occupied my mind during and after my reading.

Asta’s Book by Barbara Vine –  a book that demanded all my attention and I just didn’t want to put it down. There’s a murder, a missing child, a question of identity and overarching it all are the stories of two families – the Westerbys and the Ropers and all the people connected to them. So many characters, so many red herrings, so many incidents that at first did not appear to be of any or of much importance that turned out to have great relevance. I was so impressed at how it all hung together, with no extraneous material – all those minor incidents and characters are completely necessary.

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Sandlands by Rosy Thornton – a beautiful collection of short stories that held me spellbound from start to finish.  The stories are set in the Suffolk landscape, describing convincing characters, and containing well- researched detail into myths and folklore, wildlife, and environmental changes that slips seamlessly into the fiction. They are just the right length for me, perfect little cameos. The individual stories are varied, some looking back to the past, some are sad leaving me with tears in my eyes, and some have a supernatural element. I loved all of them.

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman – a fascinating novel about Richard III’s life from his childhood to his death at Bosworth Field in 1485. I think this is one of the best historical novels that I’ve read. It is full of detail, but Penman’s research sits very lightly in this book, none of it feels like a history lesson, and it all brings Richard’s world to life. She portrays a very likeable Richard, from his childhood onwards he comes across as a kind, generous and brave man, a skilled leader on the battlefield, a loving husband to his wife, Anne, and devoted and loyal to his brother, Edward IV, who was by no means a saint. I loved it.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz – an outstanding book by a master story-teller, with a wonderfully intricate plot. It’s a prime example of a puzzle-type of crime fiction combining elements of the vintage-style golden age crime novel with word-play and cryptic clues and allusions to Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s also a novel within a novel, with mystery piled upon mystery. I loved it.

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To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey – A lovely book, narrated through the journals not only of Allen Forrester, but also the diaries of his wife, Sophie.  It begins with correspondence between Allen’s great nephew Walt (Walter) Forrester and Joshua Stone, the Exhibits Curator of the Alpine Historical Museum in Alaska about donating the writings and other material and artifacts to the museum. From then on these three strands of the book are interwoven and I was completely absorbed by each one. It’s a story of great beauty, complete and whole, backed up by fact and elevated by Eowyn Ivey’s writing. I loved it.

The Marriage Lie by Kimberley Belle – This is one of those books that gripped me and kept me guessing all the way through. Once I began reading I just didn’t want to put the book down and I raced through it, anxious to know what happened next. And plenty did happen in 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 in this psychological thriller.

Books I read in December 2016

Somehow, but I don’t know how, I read 10 books in December and wrote about 6 of them.

  1. The Bone Field by Simon Kernick – publication date 12 January 2017. My review will follow shortly.
  2. The Marriage Lie by Kimberley Belle – one of those books that gripped me and kept me guessing all the way through.
  3. The Phantom Tree by Nicola Cornick – alternating between the Tudor period and the present day following the life of Alison Banestre as she moves between the centuries trying to find out what happened to Mary Seymour.
  4. A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards –  a beautiful and intense book, full of emotion and passion, a really dramatic story, layered and full of depth.
  5. Worth Killing For by Ed James – Set in East London, this is the second DI Fenchurch novel, a bang up to date police procedural full of action, street talk and social and political commentary.
  6. Frost at Christmas by R D Wingfield – the first of R D Wingfield’s DI Jack Frost series.
  7. Corpus by Rory Clements- set in 1936, a most satisfying and compelling thriller.
  8. Village Christmas by Laurie Lee – a portrait of England through the changing years and seasons, a picture of a vanished world.
  9. Fatal Option by Chris Beakey – another new book to be published in February ‘A tragic accident. A family in crisis. And a killer watching every move.’ This is not really my sort of book – too much description of violence.
  10. The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane – my review will follow shortly.

My book of the month is The Marriage Lie by Kimberley Belle, a new-to-me author, so I didn’t know what to expect. I loved it. Once I began reading I just didn’t want to put the book down and I raced through it, anxious to know what happened next. And plenty did happen in 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 in this psychological thriller.

Corpus by Rory Clements

Rory Clements is best known for his John Shakespeare series, but Corpus is the first of his books I’ve read, so I was unsure that I would like it when I received an ARC from NetGalley. It is due to be published on 26 January 2017. (I read Corpus in December 2016.)

Blurb

1936.

Europe is in turmoil.

The Nazis have marched into the Rhineland.

In Russia, Stalin has unleashed his Great Terror.

Spain has erupted in civil war.

In Berlin, a young Englishwoman evades the Gestapo to deliver vital papers to a Jewish scientist. Within weeks, she is found dead in her Cambridge bedroom, a silver syringe clutched in her fingers.

In a London club, three senior members of the British establishment light the touch paper on a conspiracy that will threaten the very heart of government. Even the ancient colleges of Cambridge are not immune to political division. Dons and students must choose a side: right or left, where do you stand?

When a renowned member of the county set and his wife are found horribly murdered, a maverick history professor finds himself dragged into a world of espionage which, until now, he has only read about in books. But the deeper Thomas Wilde delves, the more he wonders whether the murders are linked to the death of the girl with the silver syringe – and, just as worryingly, to the scandal surrounding King Edward VIII and his mistress Wallis Simpson…

Set against the drumbeat of war and moving from Berlin to Cambridge, from Whitehall to the Kent countryside, and from the Fens to the Aragon Front in Spain, this big canvas international thriller marks the beginning of a major new series from bestselling author Rory Clements.

My thoughts:

The setting in 1936 is well done, a time when Europe was once more on the brink of war. Civil war has broken out in Spain, in Britain some people are openly supporting the Nazis in Germany and politicians are torn between wanting Edward VIII to abdicate the throne or give up his relationship with Wallis Simpson. Against this background Corpus focusses on Tom Wilde’s investigations first into Nancy’s death, aided by her friend Lydia, who is convinced that Nancy was murdered, and then into yet more murders.

I was totally convinced by the characters, in particular Tom Wilde, a professor of history who is writing a biography of Sir Robert Cecil, the Elizabethan and Jacobean statesman, the successor to Sir Francis Walsingham as the Queen’s spymaster (a nod to his earlier series, I thought). And I was immersed in the mysteries, with spies, communists and Nazis, Spanish Gold, Soviet conspirators, politicians and academics all intricately woven into the plot. It’s pacy, full of action, violence and double-cross – a most satisfying and compelling thriller.

I loved Corpus and I shall certainly look out for Rory Clements’ other books.

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Zaffre (26 Jan. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1785762613
  • ISBN-13: 978-1785762611
  • Source: review copy via NetGalley

Happy New Year!

2017 Happy New Year background with fireworks.

Happy New Year everyone! I wish you all a very happy, healthy and peaceful 2017 – and one filled with many good books!

So it’s goodbye 2016 – I’ve enjoyed this year of blogging and reading – some excellent books were read.

In total I read 100 books, some very long and some very short. Goodreads tells me I read 33,73o pages, and that along with 1,917,688 other people the most popular book I read was A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (I also watched the TV series). I shall write more about the books I read last year in a later post. But for now here are my Reading Resolutions:

I’m aiming:

  • To reduce the TBRs on my shelves, both physical and virtual. I never achieve this, but it’s good to try.
  • To read what I want when I want.
  • And above all to be relaxed about reading – I’m not setting any targets for numbers of books or the number of pages read, (I usually read the same number of books each year in any case) although I won’t be able to resist checking my progress!

Mount TBR 2016 Final Checkpoint

 

Mount TBR 2016

It’s time for the final checkpoint in Bev’s Mount TBR Reading challenge 2016:

My aim was to scale Mt Ararat (ie to read 48 books) but I only made it to the base of the mountain, reading 38 books, as I got side-tracked by reading new books that I bought/borrowed during the year – which is the reason I always have a lot of TBRs.

The Words to the Wise According to Mount TBR: Using the titles of the books you read this year, see how many of the familiar proverbs and sayings below you can complete with a book read on your journey up the Mountain.

A stitch in time saves … Wycliffe and the Tangled Web
Don’t count your chickens… [at] The Mill on the Floss
A penny saved is… The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle
All good things must come… [to the] People of the Book
When in Rome… Accidents Happen
All that glitters is not… The Sunne in Splendour
A picture is worth a…  A Game of Thrones
When the going gets tough, the tough get…  The Mysterious Mr Quin
Two wrongs don’t make… Partners in Crime
The pen is mightier than… The Secret Hangman
The squeaky wheel gets… Talking to the Dead
Hope for the best, but prepare for… Bones and Silence
Birds of a feather flock… [to] The Bean Trees

2016 Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt

This year I’ve been taking part in Bev’s Vintage Mystery Cover Scavenger Hunt  in both the Golden and the Silver Age categories and I’ve completed both categories, reading 10 books in the Golden Age and 6 in the Silver Age.

The aim: to find as many objects on the Scavenger Hunt list as possible on the covers of the mystery books you read. The minimum number of items to complete the challenge is six items from the covers of books read from a single Vintage Mystery Era.

It’s been a very interesting challenge – Bev has some challenging challenges!

The Golden Age Vintage Mysteries must have been first published before 1960.

Most of the books I read in this era are Agatha Christie’s books – 5 in total.

scavenger-hunt1

 

  1. Destination Unknown by Agatha Christie: Cigarette/Pipe
  2. Death Comes as the End by Agatha Christie: a Green Object
  3. Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie: a Bottle for Drinking
  4. The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie: Bloodstains
  5. Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey: More Than Two People
  6. Before the Fact by Francis Iles: Two People
  7. A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey: a Body of Water
  8. The Mysterious Mr Quin by Agatha Christie: A Performer
  9. Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie: Shadowy Person
  10. Mystery in the Channel by Freeman Wills Croft: Boat

vintage-golden-age-covers

Silver Age Vintage Mysteries may be first published any time from 1960 to 1989 (inclusive).

Books Read/Silver Age Category:

vintage-covers-silver-age

  1. Wycliffe and the Tangled Web by W J Burley: Body of Water
  2. Wycliffe and the Quiet Virgin by W J Burley: Spooky House/Mansion
  3. The Girl in the Cellar by Patricia Wentworth: ‘Damsel in Distress’
  4. The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John le Carré: Broken Object
  5. The Wench is Dead by Colin Dexter: a Building (other than house)
  6. Frost at Christmas by R D Wingfield: Photograph

vintage-silver-age-covers

Frost at Christmas by R D Wingfield

Frost At Christmas (Inspector Frost, #1)

There’s nothing Christmassy about Frost at Christmas apart from the title and the fact that it is set just before Christmas.

Blurb (Amazon):

Ten days to Christmas and Tracey Uphill, aged eight, hasn’t come home from Sunday school. Her mother, a pretty young prostitute, is desperate. Enter Detective Inspector Jack Frost, sloppy, scruffy and insubordinate. To help him investigate the case of the missing child, Frost has been assigned a new sidekick, the Chief Constable’s nephew. Fresh to provincial Denton in an oversmart suit, Detective Constable Clive Barnard is an easy target for Frost’s withering satire.

Assisted and annoyed by Barnard, Frost, complete with a store of tasteless anecdotes to fit every occasion, proceeds with the investigation in typically unorthodox style. After he’s consulted a local witch, Dead Man’s Hollow yields up a skeleton. Frost finds himself drawn into an unsolved crime from the past and risks not only his career, but also his life…

My thoughts:

Frost at Christmas has been on my shelves for over 2 years. It’s the first of R D Wingfield’s DI Jack Frost series. Years ago I’d watched the TV series with David Jason as DI Frost, which I thought were interesting but I wasn’t that keen on Frost as a detective.  So I was surprised to find that the book and the character are so much better.

Frost at Christmas was first published in Great Britain in 1989, but Wingfield had written it years earlier, in 1972 and it was first published in Canada in 1984. In his obituary in The Guardian Wingfield is quoted:  “I have nothing against David Jason as Frost at all, he just isn’t my Frost.” He liked Jason as a comedy actor in such vehicles as Only Fools and Horses, but felt that along with the choice of actor had gone a softening of the dark humour essential as a safety valve for policemen investigating horrendous cases. 

After reading Frost at Christmas I agree: David Jason’s Frost is not my Frost either. He’s a much tougher character, not at all PC. but he is much more than the crude, sexist and insensitive rude person he first appears.  Of course he is unorthodox, which doesn’t go down well with his boss, Superintendent Mullett who is the exact opposite of Frost, being always immaculately dressed and supremely oblivious to Frost’s excellent detective skills (as in the TV version). He doesn’t obey orders, goes off at a tangent and doesn’t like experts who rely on precision, whereas he uses his hunches and intuition. Frost is popular with his colleagues, although they are less than happy when he is late handing in their expenses claims.

There are several storylines – the missing schoolgirl, a bank robbery and the discovery of a three decades old murder plus other more minor crimes. It’s a reminder of the time when people smoked and held meetings in blue-fug filled rooms, and when there no mobile phones and people used public telephone boxes.

I liked Frost’s sense of humour and the way his relationship with the new DC, Clive Barnard, the Chief Constable’s nephew develops. Clive after seeing Frost as incompetent and disgusted by his ‘cheap gibes’ eventually sees the other side of his boss as he learns what lies behind Frost’s tough facade and a bit about his history, his wife dying of cancer.

I think Frost at Christmas is so much better than I expected. I really enjoyed it and am going to read the other five Frost books R D Wingfield wrote.

Jack Frost
1. Frost at Christmas (1984)
2. A Touch of Frost (1987)
3. Night Frost (1992)
4. Hard Frost (1995)
5. Winter Frost (1999)
6. A Killing Frost (2008)

‘Rodney David Wingfield (19282007) was a prolific writer of radio crime plays and comedy scripts, some for the late Kenneth Williams, star of the Carry On films. His crime novels featuring DI Jack Frost have been successfully adapted for television as A Touch of Frost starring David Jason.Wingfield was a modest man, shunning the London publicity scene in favour of a quite life in Basildon, Essex, with his wife of 52 years(died 2004) and only son.’ (Fantastic Fiction)

Reading Challenges: Mount TBR Challenge, Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt – in the Silver Age category of ‘photograph’.

A Rustle of Silk by Alys Clare

 

Alys Clare is a new-to-me author and I don’t know why I’ve never come across her books before now. She writes historical mysteries. Her latest book, A Rustle of Silk, published today, is the first in a new series featuring Dr Gabriel Taverner, set in the early years of 17th century England.

It begins in April 1603 at the beginning of James I’s reign. Former ship’s surgeon Gabriel Taverner has settled in Devon near his family and he is trying to set up a new practice as a physician. But it is not easy to gain the locals’ trust and someone is leaving gruesome little gifts on his doorstep. However, the local coroner, Theophilus Davey asks him to examine a partially decomposed body found beside the river. At first it looks as though it was suicide, but on realising that it’s his brother-in-law, Jeromy, Gabriel and Theophilus are convinced that he was murdered.

Jeromy was employed by a silk merchant and moved in the world of the rich and influential, often away from home and his wife Celia. Outwardly they have a happy marriage, but as Gabriel finds out more disturbing secrets begin to emerge. The silk trade is a dangerous business and Gabriel finds his own life is threatened.

There are several things that I loved about this book. It’s a convincing view of the 17th century and I was fascinated most of all by the detail of medical practices, and how Gabriel interacted with the local women (‘witches’) who treated the poor and was willing to take note of their knowledge, particularly concerning women – as a ship’s surgeon he had no experience of treating women. It also shows what life was like at that time for the ordinary people, the position of women in society, and the consequences of committing suicide.

I also liked the mystery, with plenty of red herrings and intrigue. It kept me interested, anxious to know the outcome. I guessed who the murderer was about half-way through the book, which was satisfying, but it was the historical aspect that captivated me.

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

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1795 KB
  • Print Length: 244 pages
  • Publisher: Severn House Digital (20 Dec. 2016)

Reading Bingo 2016

reading-bingo-small

I enjoyed doing this last year, so here is this year’s version. I like it because I just read what I want to read during the year and then see whether they will match the squares. And I’ve really enjoyed looking back at the books I’ve read. Last year I didn’t complete the card – but this year I have!

A Book With More Than 500 pages

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman is the longest book I’ve read this year – 866 pages. It’s a novel rich in detail about Richard III’s life from his childhood to his death at Bosworth Field in 1485. I think this is one of the best historical novels that I’ve read. Penman portrays a very likeable Richard, from his childhood onwards he comes across as a kind, generous and brave man, a skilled leader on the battlefield, a loving husband to his wife, Anne, and devoted and loyal to his brother, Edward IV, who was by no means a saint.

A Forgotten Classic 

The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling, which first published in 1888.  Set in India and narrated by a journalist, it’s the story of two ruffianly-looking adventurers, wanderers and vagabonds, Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan, who announce that they are off to Kafiristan in the mountains of Afghanistan to make themselves Kings. But some two years later, on a hot summer’s night, what was left of Carnehan crept into the journalist’s office with a sorry tale to tell.

A Book That Became a Movie

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carre, a dark, tense book and complicated. Back from Berlin where he had seen his last agent killed whilst trying to cross the Berlin Wall, Alex Leamas is apparently no longer useful to the British Secret Services. Now Control wants to bring him in – but only after one final assignment. The atmosphere throughout is of secrecy, manipulation, of human frailty and its duplicitous nature and at times I wasn’t sure just what was going on, what lay behind the scenes – just what was Leamas up to, amidst the various deceptions and subterfuges?

A Book Published This Year

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey. This is a lovely book, narrated through the journals of Allen Forrester, and the diaries of his wife, Sophie, about his journey in 1885 from Perkins Island up the Wolverine River in Alaska. It’s a novel inspired by a historical military expedition but all the characters and many places in the story are fictionalised including the Wolverine River. I loved this story of great beauty and full of love, backed up by fact and elevated by Eowyn Ivey’s writing.

A Book with a Number in the Title

Six Tudor Queens: Katherine of Aragon by Alison Weir –  fictional biography, told from Katherine’s point of view it follows her life from the time she arrived in England at the age of sixteen to marry Prince Arthur, the elder of Henry VII’s two sons, to her death in 1536. Overall I enjoyed this long and comprehensive study, based on extensive research and written with great attention to historical accuracy, but in places this made it tedious and too drawn out.

A Book Written by Someone Under Thirty

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer – an unusual story about a boy whose father is killed in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre. Oskar is is trying to discover the facts about his father’s death and also to solve the mystery of a key he discovers in his father’s closet by attempting to search for which of the 162 million locks in New York it might open.

A Book With Non-Human Characters

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley, described as ‘steampunk’ this is a mixture of historical fact and fantasy set in Victorian times, both in London and Japan, following the lives of the main characters, Thaniel Stapleton, Keita Mori and Grace Carrow. Mori is a watchmaker extraordinaire and an inventor of amazing clockwork creations.Katsu the clockwork octopus is pure magic.

A Funny Book 

The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge – it begins as a comedy, but then continues with an uneasy undercurrent before descending into a dark tragedy that is surreal and farcical and also desperately sad.  There is a bizarre twist at the end, which I thought was brilliant. It’s savagely funny, full of pathos, touching moments, frustrations, shame, stress and unhappiness,

A Book By A Female Author

I ‘m spoilt for choice in this category, with lots of female authors to choose from. In the end I’ve picked A House Divided by Margaret Skea. Set in 1597 this is historical crime fiction at its best, a gripping story of warring factions in Scotland, the French Wars of Religion, superstition and horrific witchcraft trials. It’s expertly narrated, full of tension and surprise, and based on historical facts that blend seamlessly into the narrative, with beautiful descriptive passages; one of the best I’ve read this year.

A Book With A Mystery

I could have chosen any one of the many crime fiction novels I’ve read this year, but instead I’ve gone for Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey, which is not conventional crime fiction. There’s a ‘nasty accident’ that Miss Pym investigated. It’s a psychological study focussing on the characters, their motivation and analysis of facial characteristics. It looks at the consequences of what people do and say

A Book With A One Word Title

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Joyland by Stephen King is a ghost story, a love story, a story of loss and heartbreak. It’s also a murder mystery and utterly compelling to read. Devin Jones is looking back forty years at the time he was a student, suffering from a broken heart, and he spent a summer working at Joyland, in North Carolina, an amusement park with ‘a little of the old-time carny flavor‘. There’s just a touch of horror and the supernatural.

A Book of Short Stories

Sandlands

I am not a great fan of short story collections. I often find that they leave me feeling that something is missing, but Sandlands by Rosemary Thornton is s superb collection. These are strong, atmospheric stories, stories that bring to life the world of the past, tying them to the present, stories of family life, of the natural world, of folklore and of mystery. They are just the right length for me, perfect little cameos each one complete and satisfying.

Free Square

For this square I’ve chosen a book that the author didn’t think she meant to write and one that turned out not to be the book I had expected. It’s The Pattern in the Carpet: a Personal History of Jigsaws by Margaret Drabble.

I thought it was going to be about Margaret Drabble’s memories of doing jigsaws, and she thought she was going to write a short history of jigsaws, but she found it ‘spiralled off in other directions’ and she wasn’t sure just what it became. She says it is not a memoir, but part of it is about her childhood and life at Bryn, her grandparents’ house in Long Bennington and about her beloved Aunt Phyl (Phyllis Boor). There are sections about the history of jigsaws and other puzzles. And then parts that lack a clear structure in a sort of ‘stream of consciousness’ style, particularly in her reminiscences and nostalgia about life (reproduced in some jigsaws) in a rural community that no longer exists.

A Book Set On A Different Continent

The Songlines by [Chatwin, Bruce]

The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin – set in Australia exploring the ‘Songlines’, the labyrinth of invisible pathways which cross and re-cross Australia, ‘known to Europeans as ‘Dreaming-tracks’ or ‘Songlines’; to the Aboriginals as the Footprints of the Ancestors’ or the ‘Way of the Law’.

A Book of Non Fiction 

Alive, Alive Oh! by Diana Athill –  covering a wide range of Diana Athill’s memories, many images of beautiful places, and the friends and lovers she has known. The chapters follow on chronologically but are unconnected except for the fact that they demonstrate her love of life. A lovely book.

The First Book By a Favourite Author

The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf was her first book, published in 1915. She had started writing it years earlier when she had been suffering with ill health for some time – depression,  nervous breakdowns and anorexia. She revised it several times before finalising it in 1912 and 1913. I found it an intriguing book, beginning in a leisurely fashion, as a party of English people are aboard the Euphrosyne, bound for South America. Yet there is tension in the air and this tension and sense of underlying trouble and anxiety continues throughout the book.  I was taken aback at the desperate sadness of it.

A Book You Heard About On Line

Most of the books I read these days are books I’ve heard about on line. I’ve chosen In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward for this square because I first read about it on Sarah Ward’s blog,  Crimepieces. This book combines excellent storytelling, moving smoothly between the past and the present as the secrets from the past gradually emerge, great characterisation and a superb location in the Derbyshire Peak District. There is a modern day murder that leads to the solution of a cold case 30 years earlier.

A Best Selling Book

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson was the Costa Novel Award Winner 2015. Set partly during the Second World War, this is the story of Teddy Todd. But it’s also about the time leading up to the war  and its aftermath. I loved this book – I’ll write more about it in a later post.

A Book Based On A True Story

The Spy by Paulo Coelho – a fascinating novel about  Mata Hari, whose real name was Margaretha Zella, and who was executed as a spy during the First World War. It’s based on facts, but Coelho created some dialogue, merged certain scenes, changed the order of a few events and left out anything he thought wasn’t relative to the narrative.

A Book At The Bottom of Your To Be Read Pile

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, a book I’ve had for nearly eight years. I should have read it years ago because  I loved it; it’s a real gem! It has joined the ranks of my favourite books. I could have put it in the square for a book based on a true story because it was inspired by the story of the Hebrew codex known as the Sarajevo Haggadah. Some of the facts are true to the Haggadah’s known history but most of the plot and all of the characters are imaginary.

A Book Your Friend Loves

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson – recommended by a friend in my local book group. Set in Gilead, Iowa in 1956 John Ames is 76, dying of heart disease, and writing a letter to his young son aged 7 telling him the things he would have told him if he had lived to see him grow up.

A Book that Scares YouThe Plague Charmer

I tend to steer clear of scary books, but I was both fascinated and horrified by the events in The Plague Charmer by Karen Maitland, as she brought  the medieval world to life in all its brutality and hardship.It’s a tale of folklore, black magic, superstition, violence, torture, murder, and an apocalyptic cult.

A book That Is More Then Ten Years Old

Death Comes as the End

Death Comes as the End by Agatha Christie, first published in 1945. a detective story set in Ancient Egypt on the West bank of the Nile at Thebes in about 2000 BC. The mystery in this book is actually not too puzzling. For me, its interest lay in the setting and period details and Agatha Christie had based her characters and plot on some letters from a Ka priest in the 11th Dynasty.

The Second Book In A Series

The Black Friar by Shona MacLean is the second book in the Damian Seeker series, historical crime fiction set in 1655 during the Interregnum under Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector. Damian Seeker, Captain of Cromwell’s Guard, works for Thurloe, Cromwell’s Chief Secretary and spy master.  It’s a complex mystery, a body is found bricked up in a wall, children have gone missing and there are various factions and religious sects plotting rebellion against Cromwell and to reinstate Charles Stuart as king. I haven’t read the first in the series but I think this works well as a standalone book.

A Book With A Blue Cover

The Madness of July by James McNaughtie – a political thriller set in London in the mid 1970s one sweltering July as Will Flemyng the foreign office minister and former spy finds himself drawn back into the world of espionage, a world of deception, manipulation and diplomacy. It’s the Cold War period and Will discovers politics can be just as dangerous as espionage. I loved this book, Naughtie uses beautiful imagery and the characters are vividly drawn. It’s a book that made me think, that kept me on my toes as I read it; a book that both puzzled and entertained me.

Well, this post has taken me days to compile, but I loved doing it. My thanks to Cleo for this idea!

Worth Killing For by Ed James

Set in East London, Worth Killing For by Ed James is the second DI Fenchurch novel. It’s a bang up to date police procedural full of action, street talk and social and political commentary. I haven’t read the first book in the series, but that doesn’t matter as this book reads well as a standalone. It starts off at full tilt as Fenchurch witnesses a murder as a woman is attacked by a young hoodie on a bike, who snatches her mobile and handbag. He sets off in pursuit and after losing sight of him a couple of times he catches him, finding he has several smartphones in his possession, but not the victim’s. The young man claims he hadn’t attacked the woman, who is identified as a journalist, Saskia Bennett. Is it a case of mistaken identity, or as Fenchurch maintains the young man is lying? Is Saskia the victim of a phone-theft gang, run by the mysterious Kamal, or was she killed because of the stories she was investigating?

This reminded me so much of ‘Oliver Twist’, young boys recruited by Fagan to ‘pick-a pocket-or two’ and I was fascinated by the intricacies of the plot. I got a bit lost in the descriptions of the bike chases – there is more than one – but they certainly provide plenty of tension. And the scene in the underground is terrific. It is fast-packed action and you have to concentrate to keep up. Fenchurch is an interesting character and there is enough back story about his missing daughter, Chloe, to explain why he ignores procedure in his obsession to get to the truth.

I had no idea who was responsible, and at times the street talk and police jargon left me puzzled, but after I’d read more of the book it became clearer. I liked the way Ed James bamboozles the reader with all the twists and turns in the plot and the way he has brought politics, both local and national into the story. It really is right up-to-date.

In an Afterword Ed James explained how he came to write this book – his iphone was nicked, by a kid on a bike, in London. He poured out all his anger, hatred and fear into his writing.

I read this book courtesy of NetGalley. I’ll certainly read the first book now and any later DI Fenchurch books – will he find out what happened to Chloe?

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2661 KB
  • Print Length: 414 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1503938220
  • Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (11 Oct. 2016)
  • Source: Review copy via NetGalley

About the Author

Ed James writes crime fiction novels, predominantly the Scott Cullen series of police procedurals set in Edinburgh and the surrounding Lothians. He lives in the East Lothian countryside, 25 miles east of Edinburgh, with his girlfriend, six rescue moggies, two retired greyhounds, a flock of ex-battery chickens and rescue ducks across two breeds and two genders (though the boys don’t lay eggs). While working in IT for a living, Ed wrote mainly on public transport but now writes full time. (From his website)

 

What’s in a Name 2016 – Completed

I have now completed the What’s In A Name 2016 challenge, hosted by Charlie at The Worm Hole. The challenge was to read books with titles from six categories. At the beginning of this challenge I listed the books I had initially chosen to read –  but I didn’t read any of them. Instead I realised, usually as I finished reading the books, that they just slotted into the categories.

These are the books I read, with links to my reviews:

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Click to enlarge

 

  • A countrySunshine on Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith – this is an easy read, meandering from one character to the next. It has a light, humorous tone that I enjoyed, along with thoughts about friendship, religion, spirituality and happiness.
  • An item of clothingA Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards – a beautiful and intense book, dramatic and full of emotion and passion, about relationships and what happens when jealousy and betrayal tear people apart.
  • An item of furnitureA Game of Thrones by George R R Martin – I was completely immersed in the world of the Seven Kingdoms, inhabited by numerous characters, all portrayed in meticulous detail and expertly constructed so that all the fantastic creations are credible, and complete with back stories.
  • A profession Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope –  about mid 19th century prosperous country life and the importance of birth, of wealth and above all about money, class and power. Trollope uses gentle satire, emphasising the absurdities of the class divisions in society and poking fun at the professions.
  • A month of the yearThe Madness of July by James Naughtie -a political thriller set in London in the mid 1970s, a book that makes you think, that keeps you on your toes as you read, that both puzzles and entertains you.
  • A title with the word ‘tree’ in itThe Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver – I loved this book. There are several themes including family relationships, particularly mother/child, sexual and physical abuse of small children, the integration of cultures, and the issue of refugees and illegal immigrants. I thought it was thought-provoking, as well as being fascinating reading.

I began the challenge in March when I read Doctor Thorne and finished it just a couple of days ago, reading A Cupboard Full of Coats. I enjoyed them all, each one different in style and genre, ranging from a 19th century classic to 21st century fantasy fiction.

A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards

A Cupboard Full of Coats

A Cupboard Full of Coats is a beautiful and intense book, full of emotion and passion. It begins when Jinx opens the door to Lemon, who she hadn’t seen for fourteen years – fourteen years since the night her mother had been murdered. Over the next three days they talk about what had happened, bringing to the surface secrets, desires and jealousies that had led to the tragedy.

The narrative switches between the past and the present. Jinx’s relationship with her mother, had changed when she was sixteen and Berris, Lemon’s best friend, had moved in to live with them. It’s not clear at first just how or why her mother died although in the second paragraph Jinx reveals to the reader that she had killed her. But it is clear that both Jinx and Lemon (his full name is Philemon) have secrets that have been haunting them ever since. Lemon wants to talk about it and at first Jinx cannot open up to reveal anything, or indeed even to think about it let alone talk about it.

But I was no closer to telling him anything. He had told me heaps. More than I asked for. Much more. Yet, so far, I had shared nothing. He was right, you couldn’t just pick up a piece out of a story and present it on its own. Alone it was worthless. But I had not spoken to anyone ever about that night, had never trusted anyone enough to tell them the truth about what happened with my mother. I hadn’t wanted to. And now that I did want to, it seemed an impossible task. (pages 95 – 96)

But his talk and the delicious Caribbean food he cooks bring back her memories almost like flashbacks and her defences crumble. The cupboard full of coats helps her too – the expensive, beautiful coats, each one protected by transparent dustcovers, especially one coat, ‘made from nubuck suede, a long, ankle-length close-fitting garment, grey-blue like cloudy sky, with diagonal slit pockets lined in cobalt-coloured silk.’

It is a really dramatic story, layered and full of depth, as Jinx and Lemon relive that time of love, hatred, and violence. Beautifully written, it skillfully conveys the difficulties of relationships, communication and what happens when jealousy and betrayal tear people apart.

  • Paperback: 268 pages
  • Publisher: Oneworld Publications (21 Sept. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1851688382
  • ISBN-13: 978-1851688388
  • Source: a library book

I borrowed this book from the library because the title, opening paragraphs and blurb interested me (see this post for the blurb etc) and I was pleased when I realised it was perfect for the final category I had to fill for the What’s in a Name challenge – the category of a book with an item of clothing in the title.

The Phantom Tree by Nicola Cornick

Last year I loved Nicola Cornick’s time-slip novel, House of Shadows. Her latest book is The Phantom Tree, due to be published on 29 December, another time-slip novel and I loved this one too.

Blurb:

“My name is Mary Seymour and I am the daughter of one queen and the niece of another.”

Browsing antiques shops in Wiltshire, Alison Bannister stumbles across a delicate old portrait – supposedly of Anne Boleyn. Except Alison knows better… The woman is Mary Seymour, the daughter of Katherine Parr who was taken to Wolf Hall in 1557 as an unwanted orphan and presumed dead after going missing as a child.

The painting is more than just a beautiful object from Alison’s past – it holds the key to her future, unlocking the mystery surrounding Mary’s disappearance, and the enigma of Alison’s son.

But Alison’s quest soon takes a dark and foreboding turn, as a meeting place called the Phantom Tree harbours secrets in its shadows…

My thoughts

The plot of The Phantom Tree alternates between the Tudor period and the present day following the life of Alison Banestre (known as Bannister in the present day) as she moves between the centuries trying to find out what happened to Mary Seymour. It is a mystery, based on the true story of Mary Seymour, the daughter of Katherine Parr (Henry VIII’s sixth wife) and Thomas Seymour, who she married after Henry’s death.

It’s a fascinating book, as little is known about Mary’s life. What is recorded is that she was born in 1548, her mother died after the birth and her father was executed a year later for treason against Edward VI. She disappeared from the records around about 1550, although there has been speculation that she lived until adulthood. In The Phantom Tree Nicola Cornick has provided another speculation on Mary’s life. As she states at the beginning of her book it is ‘entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination.’

Having read Hilary Mantel’s, Wolf Hall, I was very interested in the setting of Wolf Hall where Mary and Alison, her cousin, went to live in 1557, the fourth year of the reign of Mary I. Mary Seymour was then ten years old and had a reputation for witchcraft. Wolf Hall, a rambling, run down manor house was owned by the Seymour family where Mary and other Seymour children went sent to live.

The time travel element of the book works well. I liked the way the traces of history in the present day are handled and are seen as layers of reality. Alison moves between the centuries, both forwards and backwards in time but then she found the gateway to the past had closed and she was trapped in the present day. She has to find another gateway where the past and the present meet, or some other means of connecting to the past.

I preferred the sixteenth century setting, with its belief in witchcraft slotting so well into the storyline. Mary has visions which are viewed with fear and superstition. Alison, in the future doesn’t know what happens to Mary, or to her son, Arthur, who was taken from her after his birth. She had helped Mary escape from Wolf Hall and in return Mary had promised to help her find Arthur. I think the characterisation is done well – Alison comes across as a rather unlikeable person, in contrast to Mary who is younger and has a gentler nature, although at first they didn’t get on together. I also liked the way the clues in the portrait helped Alison to discover what happened to Mary and Arthur.

My thanks to the publishers via NetGalley for a review copy of The Phantom Tree.  It is a book that seamlessly incorporates mystery and elements of the supernatural into the historical detail as the past and present meet. A most enjoyable book.

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: HQ (29 Dec. 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848455046
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848455047

Mystery in the Channel by Freeman Wills Crofts

I’m still catching up with writing about books I read in November. First published in 1931 Mystery in the Channel by Freeman Wills Crofts is a classic crime fiction novel written during the Golden Age of detective fiction between the two world wars. The cross-channel steamer, Chichester comes across  an abandoned small pleasure yacht, the Nymph, lying motionless in the English Channel. Two men are on board, both of whom have been shot. Inspector French of Scotland Yard is in charge of the investigations into their murder.

There is no sign of a murder weapon, or the murderer. The two dead men are identified as the chairman and vice-chairman of a large financial company that is apparently on the the verge of a crash. It was thought that the two men were trying to flee the country with £1.5 million pounds in cash that was missing from the company’s strong room.

What follows is a complicated investigation into the details of nautical calculations and timetables, and of the numbers and whereabouts of the missing notes, all of  which I admit were a bit beyond me. I had absolutely no idea about the identity of the murderer but I enjoyed trying to work out the clues and avoid all the red herrings as Inspector French travelled between London (called Town), Newhaven and Dieppe  in the course of his investigations. Apart from Inspector French the characterisation is sketchy – it is the puzzle of the murder and the missing money that is the focus of the book.

I thought the comments on the effect of the company’s crash on ordinary people is still as relevant today as it was in the 1930s and the Assistant Police Commissioner’s views on crime and punishment showing a surprising sympathy with the criminal are interesting. He deplored the punishment of the out-of-work or poorly paid thief who had stolen to provide for his family’s’ needs. And he had ‘the most profound enmity and contempt’ for the wealthy thief who stole through the manipulation of stocks and shares or by other financial methods, whether those means were within or without the limits of the law.

This edition of Murder in the Channel is one of a series of classic crime novels published in September 2016 by British Library Publishing and has an introduction by Martin Edwards. My copy is courtesy of NetGalley.

It qualifies for Bev’s Golden Age Vintage Cover Scavenger Hunt in the category of a book with a ‘Boat’ on the cover.

Classic Club Spin: Silas Marner by George Eliot

 

The back cover of my Penguin Popular Classics edition of Silas Marner tells me it was George Eliot’s own favourite novel. The story revolves around Silas Marner, a weaver living in Raveloe, a village on the brink of industrialisation. He was wrongly accused of theft and left his home town to live a lonely and embittered life in Raveloe where he became a miser, hoarding his gold and counting it each night. Until one night his life is changed by the theft of his money and a little girl who came to live with him, having been abandoned in the snow.

It took me a while to settle into George Eliot’s style of writing, with her long, long sentences – some so long I had forgotten how they had started, before I got to the end. But once my mind had adjusted to the rhythm of her writing I enjoyed this short book (221 pages in my copy). It’s set in the early years of the 19th century (she was writing the book in 1861) and begins with a description of linen weavers and the superstition that surrounded them. They were:

… pallid undersized men, who by the side of brawny country-folk, looked like the remnants of a disinherited race. The shepherd’s dog barked fiercely when one of these alien-looking men appeared on the upland, dark against the early winter sunset; for what dog likes a figure bent under a heavy bag? – and these pale men rarely stirred abroad without that mysterious burden.

In that far-off time superstition clung easily round every person or thing that was at all unwonted … no one knew where wandering men had their homes, or their origin … to peasants of old times, the world outside their own direct experience was a region of vagueness and mystery … (page 9)

There are two strands to the storyline – one about Silas and the other about Godfrey Cass, two very different men, one poor, a social outcast and the other rich, the son of the local squire. They move in very different social circles, the Cass family life is one of lazy indulgence, but their lives intersect through the arrival of the little girl.

I really enjoyed this short book, bringing to life a world that had disappeared by the time George Eliot was writing it. It has the touch of a fairytale about it, or of a folk myth, and it tells of the consequences of our actions. The characters come to life through Eliot’s descriptions and I could easily picture their appearance and hear their speech. For example

She actually said “mate” for “meat”, “appen” for “perhaps”, and “oss” for “horse”, which, to young ladies living in good Lytherly society, who habitually said ‘orse, even in domestic privacy, and only said ‘appen’ on the right occasions, was necessarily shocking. (page 113)

I wondered whether this would be a sentimental tale, but although it is touching it isn’t sentimental. In the end it’s about a world of uncertainties, of ways of looking at life, of the nature of belief and religion and of the possibilities of change. And it does have a happy ending.

As well as being my Classics Club Spin book it’s also one of my TBRs, qualifying for the Mount TBR Reading challenge.

First Chapter, First Paragraph

First chapter

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 I’m featuring The Red House by Mark Haddon.

The Red House

It begins:

Cooling towers and sewage farms. Finstock, Charlbury, Ascott-under-Wychwood. Seventy miles per hour, the train unzips the fields. Two gun-grey lines beside the river’s meander. Flashes of sun on the hammered metal. Something of the steam about it, even now. Hogwarts and Adlestrop. The night mail crossing the border. Cheyenne sweeping down from the ridge. Delta blues from the boxcar. Somewhere those secret points that might just switch and send you curving into a world of uniformed porters and great aunts and summers at the lake.

I was struck by the imagery of the train unzipping the fields and the mix of different train journeys, with the hint of nostalgia and the promise of something unknown about to happen. And I like the cover – the small black illustrations against the white background and the black lines meeting at the red house.

Blurb (Amazon):

Family, that slippery word, a star to every wandering bark, and everyone sailing under a different sky.

After his mother’s death, Richard, a newly remarried hospital consultant, decides to build bridges with his estranged sister, inviting Angela and her family for a week in a rented house on the Welsh border. Four adults and four children, a single family and all of them strangers. Seven days of shared meals, log fires, card games and wet walks.

But in the quiet and stillness of the valley, ghosts begin to rise up. The parents Richard thought he had. The parents Angela thought she had. Past and present lovers. Friends, enemies, victims, saviours. And watching over all of them from high on the dark hill, Karen, Angela’s stillborn daughter.

The Red House is about the extraordinariness of the ordinary, weaving the words and thoughts of the eight characters together with those fainter, stranger voices – of books and letters and music, of the dead who once inhabited these rooms, of the ageing house itself and the landscape in which it sits.

Once again Mark Haddon, bestselling author of The Curious Incident ofthe Dog in the Night-time and A Spot of Bother, has written a novel that is funny, poignant and deeply insightful about human lives.

What do you think – would you read on or not?

The Marriage Lie by Kimberly Belle

When I read the publishers’ blurb I thought I’d like The Marriage Lie by Kimberly Belle:

Iris and Will have been married for seven years, have bought their dream house and have begun trying for a family.  But on the morning Will flies out for a business trip to Florida, Iris’s perfect life comes crashing down around her: another plane headed for Seattle has crashed into a field, killing everyone on board and, according to the airline, Will was one of the passengers.

Grief stricken and confused, Iris is convinced it all must be a huge misunderstanding. Why did Will lie about where he was going? And what else has he lied about? As she sets off on a desperate quest to uncover what her husband was keeping from her, she begins to unravel a hidden identity behind the man she thought she knew better than herself, and the truth shocks her to the core.

It exceeded my expectations and I loved it. The Marriage Lie is one of those books that gripped me and kept me guessing all the way through. Once I began reading I just didn’t want to put the book down and I raced through it, anxious to know what happened next. And plenty did happen in 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 in this psychological thriller.

Iris thought she had the perfect marriage, with the perfect husband. But the more she tries to discover why he was on a plane to Seattle when he’d told her her was going to Orlando, the more lies she uncovers. Grief-stricken and terrified she doesn’t know who she can trust and she is devastated as the truth is finally uncovered.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so all I can say is that through all the twists and turns of this novel, the characters are convincing and although I’d partly anticipated the outcome I was taken by surprise at the final twist as the book reaches its dramatic climax!

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy of The Marriage Lie. It’s due to be published on 29 December 2016.

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: HQ (29 Dec. 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848456646
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848456648

Books Read in November 2016

November was a bumper reading month for me, reading 13 books.  I think I read more books than I usually do because I didn’t pause between some of them to write about each one – I still have 4 reviews to write. Two are library books, one is from my TBR shelves and the rest are all newly published books – eight of those are review books! The books shown in bold are all five star books.

These are the books I’ve reviewed:

nov-2016-bks

Click the image to enlarge it and click the links below to go to my reviews:

  1. Highlanders’ Revenge by Paul Tors (RB) – this combines historical fiction and military history, set in the Second World War.
  2. Landscapes: John Berger on Art, edited by Tom Overton (RB) – a collection of essays by art critic, novelist, poet, and artist John Berger written over the past 60 plus years. There is very little in this book about landscapes as I know them!
  3. Where Dead Men Meet by Mark Mills (RB) – historical fiction set in 1937 in pre-Second World War Europe, with a fast-moving plot.
  4. The Malice of Waves by Mark Douglas-Hume (LB) – crime fiction, an engrossing mystery, but also a study of the sea, of birds’ eggs, of obsessions and of the way people cope, or don’t cope with grief.
  5. Sweet William by Beryl Bainbridge (RB) – ‘romantic comedy meets social satire in this delirious novel about sexual freedom versus British tradition in swinging 1960s London’.
  6. The Spy by Paulo Coelho (RB) – a fictionalised biography of Mata Hari, accused of being a double agent during the First World War.
  7. To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey (RB) – a novel inspired by a historical military expedition in Alaska, narrated through the journals of Allen Forrester, and the diaries of his wife, Sophie.
  8. His Name was David Freeman by Ruth Kipnis (RB) –  a novel based on the author’s research into her family history, mirroring the stories of so many impoverished and poorly educated farmers who emigrated to America from the Ukraine in the late 1880s.
  9. A Life Like Other People’s by Alan Bennett (LB) – non fiction, Alan Bennett’s memoir in which he recalls his childhood and writes about his family.

These are the books I have yet to review:

nov-2016-bks1

I hope to get round to writing the outstanding posts quite soon!

  1. Mystery in the Channel by Freeman Wills Croft (RB) – a British Library Crime Classic in which two men are found dead on an abandoned yacht.
  2. Rather Be the Devil by Ian Rankin – crime fiction, the latest Rebus, with Siobhan Clarke, Darryl Christie, Malcolm Fox and Big Ger Cafferty
  3. A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson – a beautiful novel about Teddy Todd, a pilot during the Second World War
  4. Silas Marner by George Eliot (TBR) – a short novel set in the early decades of the nineteenth century in rural England about a weaver wrongly accused of theft.

It is so difficult to pick my Book of the Month, reading 5  Five Star books in one month, but the one that stands out most in my mind, the one that took me by surprise at how much I enjoyed it is –

27917957

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

This is a book full of love, the love of Allen and Sophie and the love of the country, the landscape and its people.  A story of great beauty and I loved it.

Six Degrees of Separation

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.

revolutionary-road-chain

This month’s chain begins with:

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, set in America in 1955, focussing on the hopes and aspirations of Frank and April Wheeler, self-assured Connecticut suburbanites.

I haven’t read Revolutionary Road, so knowing very little about it I’m using the title as the link to: The Ghost Road by Pat Barker. I haven’t read this one either but I’ve had a copy on my shelves for a few years. It’s set in 1918 during the last months of the First World War.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks is also set during the First World War and is yet another book I haven’t read yet. In 2012 I watched the two-part television adaptation, starring Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Wraysford, the main character. I loved the story, so I’m looking forward to reading the book.

Eddie Redmayne was also in the film The Theory of Everything. This is a beautiful film based on Jane Wilde Hawking’s memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen and another book I own that I haven’t read yet!

This leads me on to another biography and to another TBR that has sat partly read on my shelves for several years. It’s Thomas Hardy:The Time Torn Man by Claire Tomalin. Hardy is one of my favourite authors.

And this is one of my favourite books of his –  The Mayor of Casterbridge, which I first read at school. It’s set in Hardy’s Wessex, a fictional area covering the small area of Dorset in which Hardy grew up. Casterbridge is the name he used for Dorchester, his home town. Michael Henchard, a man of violent passions who sells his wife and child, subsequently becomes  the rich and respected Mayor, but ends his life in ruin and degradation. (the cover I’ve shown above is of the paperback I first read).

The chain ends with On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, a book also set in Dorset – in a hotel at Chesil Beach on the Dorset coast in 1962, where a newly married couple struggle to suppress their fears of their wedding night to come.

My chain goes from books I haven’t read to books I’ve loved and from 1950s America via the First World War and the life and work  of Stephen Hawking to that of Thomas Hardy and finally to Dorset in 1962.

A Life Like Other People’s by Alan Bennett

A Life Like Other People's

Alan Bennett’s A Life Like Other People’s is a poignant family memoir offering a portrait of his parents’ marriage and recalling his Leeds childhood, Christmases with Grandma Peel, and the lives, loves and deaths of his unforgettable aunties Kathleen and Myra. Bennett’s powerful account of his mother’s descent into depression and later dementia comes hand in hand with the uncovering of a long-held tragic secret. A heartrending and at times irresistibly funny work of autobiography by one of the best-loved English writers alive today. (Amazon)

I really like Alan Bennett’s work and was pleased to find this little book in the mobile library recently. It’s a beautifully written book taken from his collection Untold Stories and illustrated with black and white photographs. There is drama in this memoir, but written with clarity and keen observation in quiet tones about lives that are anything but ordinary. It is a completely absorbing book as Bennett recalls his childhood. He writes about his family including his two aunties, Kathleen and Myra, two very different characters from their sister, his mother. They saw themselves as ‘dashing, adventuresome creatures, good sports and always on for what they see as a lark.‘ They wore scent and camiknickers, and had the occasional drink and smoked.

He writes of mother’s fears – ‘of being spied on, listened to, shamed and detected‘ of her dread of being ‘the centrepiece‘ especially at her wedding. His parents didn’t like ‘splother‘, his father’s word for ‘the preening and fuss invariably attendant on the presence of the aunties.‘ Then there are the sad facts about his mother’s depression and subsequent dementia as she descended into delusion, her stays in hospital and the effect that had on the family.

There are revelations of family secrets and many touching and sad (but never sentimental) episodes, for example the futile search for Aunty Kathleen, suffering from a condition similar to Alzheimer’s, after she just walked out of her hospital ward. She was found several days later in drenched undergrowth in a wood near the M6.

It is a sad book but also a heart-warming story – the love of his parents and family shines throughout the book.

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (3 Sept. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571248128
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571248124
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2.3 x 17.5 cm
  • Source: Library

Where Dead Men Meet by Mark Mills

I’ve been reading books so quickly this month that I am now far behind with writing about them, so this is just a short post about an excellent new book by Mark Mills, published on 17 November.

I’ve been meaning to read more of Mark Mills’ books ever since I read The Savage Garden in 2008, a book I enjoyed very much, so I was keen to read his latest book, Where Dead Men Meet. It is historical fiction set in 1937 in pre-Second World War Europe, with a fast-moving plot as Luke Hamilton, an intelligence officer at the British Embassy in Paris, tries to discover why someone wants him dead, why Sister Agnes, the nun who had been his mentor and guide at the orphanage for the first seven years of his life had been bludgeoned to death, and who his real parents were.

Although the war in Europe is imminent it is by no means the main focus of this book, but forms an excellent backdrop as the action moves from Paris across the continent. At first he assumes that the assassin has mistaken him for someone else, but the tension builds as Luke realises that he is not the victim of a mistaken identity, but that someone is determined to kill him. He finds himself on the run, helped by a number of people, including the first man who tried to kill him. It seems the answers lie in his past. It is a complicated story that had me unsure of who Luke could trust and whether he would ever escape, or find out about his real family.

I thoroughly enjoyed this brilliant book with its interesting characters and a convincing plot full of mystery and intrigue. I shall now look out for more books by Mark Mills.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 972 KB
  • Print Length: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Review (17 Nov. 2016)

The Spy by Paulo Coelho

 

The Spy

Synopsis:

When Mata Hari arrived in Paris she was penniless.

Soon she was feted as the most elegant woman in the city.

A dancer who shocked and delighted audiences; a confidant and courtesan who bewitched the era’s richest and most powerful men.

But as paranoia consumed a country at war, Mata Hari’s lifestyle brought her under suspicion. Until, in 1917 she was arrested in her hotel room on the Champs Elysees and accused of espionage.

Told through Mata’s final letter, THE SPY tells the unforgettable story of a woman who dared to break the conventions of her time, and paid the price.

My thoughts:

Before I read this book I didn’t know much about Mata Hari, beyond the facts that she was an exotic dancer and that she was executed as a spy during the First World War, so I was interested to know more.

The Spy is a gripping tale and one I read quickly, fascinated by the story of Mata Hari, whose real name was Margaretha Zella, a name she detested. The book begins with a prologue describing the execution of Mata Hari in Paris on 15 October 1917. It is quite remarkable; she was calm, taking care with dressing herself and with her appearance and choosing to face the firing squad neither bound nor blindfolded.

It continues with her life story told through letters and news clippings and illustrated with photographs. She was accused of being a double agent, but claimed she was innocent and the evidence against her was indeed flimsy. The whole procedure was based on deductions, extrapolations and assumptions. Whatever the truth about her innocence, she comes across as a strong-minded, independent and arrogant woman, who believed she could use her beauty and charm to allure any man to get what she wanted.

I always like to know when I’m reading fictionalised biographies how much is based on fact and what has been fictionalised, so I appreciated the author’s explanatory note at the end of the book. Coelho writes that he had based his novel on facts, but he had created some dialogue, merged certain scenes, changed the order of a few events and left out anything he thought wasn’t relative to the narrative. His opening pages, for example are from a report for the International News Service by Henry G Wales in Paris and dated October 15, 1917 and he has borrowed some verbatim language from the report. He has used various sources such as the British Intelligence Service file on Mata Hari.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 3598 KB
  • Print Length: 220 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1524732060
  • Publisher: Cornerstone Digital; 01 edition (22 Nov. 2016)

Many thanks to NetGalley for a review copy of this book.

What’s in a Name 2017

whats-in-a-name17

Next year Charlie at The Worm Hole is hosting the tenth – yes, tenth! – annual What’s In A Name challenge, originally started by Annie, then handed to Beth Fish Reads and now continued by Charlie. For full details go to the sign-up post. I’ve been doing this challenge since Alice started it in 2007, just missing the one in 2009! So, even though I’m cutting back on challenges for 2017, I really want to take part in this one.

The basics

The challenge runs from January to December. During this time you choose a book to read from each of the following categories. (Charlie’s examples of books you could choose are in brackets – translations and other languages most definitely count!):

  • A number in numbers (84, Charing Cross Road; 12 Years A Slave; 31 Dream Street)
  • A building (The Old Curiosity Shop; I Capture The Castle; House Of Shadows; The Invisible Library; Jamaica Inn)
  • A title which has an ‘X’ somewhere in it (The Girl Next Door; The Running Vixen)
  • A compass direction (North and South; Guardians Of The West; The Shadow In The North; NW)
  • An item/items of cutlery (The Subtle Knife; Our Spoons Came From Woolworths)
  • A title in which at least two words share the same first letter – alliteration! (The Great Gatsby; The Luminous Life Of Lilly Aphrodite; Gone Girl; The Cuckoo’s Calling)

Charlie is asking for one review per category. Where possible I like to read from my TBRs for my challenges and I’ve found the following books on my shelves (some are e-books) for each category and will choose one from each for this challenge.

A number in numbers

  • 1066: What Fates Impose by G K Holloway
  • 1599: a Year in the life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro
  • 1946: The Making of the Modern World by Victor Sebestyen
  • 3500: An Autistic Boy’s Ten-Year Romance with Snow White by Ron Miles

A building – lots to choose from

  • Citadel by Kate Mosse
  • The Chapel in the Woods by Susan Louineau
  • Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith
  • Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
  • Heather Farm by Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen
  • The House by the Churchyard by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
  • The House in the Attic by Helen Cardwell
  • House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
  • The House on Fever Street by Celina Grace
  • Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga
  • The Murder at Sissingham Hall by Clara Benson
  • The Power House by John Buchan

A title which has an ‘X’ somewhere in it

  • Exhume by Danielle Girard
  • The Girl Next Door by Ruth Rendell
  • The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters edited by Charlotte Mosley
  • Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale
  • A Place of Execution by Val McDermid
  • The Sex Life of My Aunt by Mavis Cheek
  • The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse

A compass direction

  • The King in the North by Max Adams
  • North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell
  • South Riding by Winifred Holtby

An item/items of cutlery – I thought I must have some crime fiction in my TBRs with ‘knife/knives’ in the title – but I haven’t! I read Charlie’s suggestion of The Subtle Knife several years ago. The only book I have to read in this category is:

  • The Tiny Fork Diet by Alan Sugar

A title in which at least two words share the same first letter – alliteration!

  • Break No Bones by Kathy Reichs
  • The Child’s Child by Barbara Vine
  • A Death in the Dales by Frances Brody
  • Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs
  • Dialogues of the Dead by Reginald Hill
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  • Hangman’s Holiday by Dorothy Sayers
  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
  • The Repentant Rake by Edward Marston
  • The Sacred Stone: The Medieval Murderers
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carre
  • Whitethorn Woods by Maeve Binchy

Another Day Gone by Eliza Graham

 

Another Day Gone

In 2007 I read Eliza Graham’s debut novel, Playing with the Moon and loved it. I fully intended to read more of her books, but although I have her fifth book, The One I Was, I somehow missed the other three! So when I saw her latest book, Another Day Gone was available I was delighted to receive an advance copy through NetGalley.

I wasn’t disappointed – in fact I think it’s amongst the best books I’ve read this year.

It’s historical fiction, one of my favourite genres, beginning in 1939 just before the outbreak of the Second World War when a bomb went off in Coventry, killing some people and injuring many others. One of those injured was a girl who had seen a man prop a bicycle outside a store just before the bomb exploded. Her description led to his conviction and execution.

The action then moves forward to 1992 with Sara and her older sister Polly living in their family home in Oxfordshire on the banks of the Thames, with their grandfather and housekeeper (formerly their childhood nanny). The sisters’ parents had been killed in a car crash when they were very young. Polly is eighteen and is just about to leave home for university. All is not well and Polly hints that she knows a secret that she is not telling Sara – and then goes away with Michael, Bridie’s nephew, without saying where they are going or for how long.

Years later, in 2005 Sara returns to her family home, taking refuge from the London 7/7 bombings. Polly has now been missing for 13 years, their grandfather has died and Bridie is in a care home. The family secrets are still buried – until Polly returns!

Another Day Gone is a book about families, relationships and realising and living with the consequences of your actions. I loved the structure of this book with its different strands and time periods and all the twists and turns that kept me guessing about the nature of the secret that had remained hidden for so many years. I particularly liked the way it is only revealed drip by drip that meant I had changed my mind about what it was several times until fairly near the end of the book. The characters are so well drawn and sympathetically portrayed that I felt I knew them as people. It’s the type of book that I can get so involved with and whilst wanting to discover its secrets I just don’t want it to end.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2182 KB
  • Print Length: 322 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1503940039
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (22 Nov. 2016)
  • Source: review copy via NetGalley

First Chapter, First Paragraph: A Cupboard Full of Coats

First chapter

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.

My opener this week is from A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards which was longlisted for The Man Booker Prize in 2011.

A Cupboard Full of Coats

It begins:

It was early spring when Lemon arrived, while the crocuses in the front garden were flowering and before the daffodil buds had opened, the Friday evening of a long, slow February, and I had expected when I opened the front door to find an energy salesperson standing there, or a charity worker selling badges, or any one of a thousand random insignificant people whose existence meant nothing to me or my world.

He just knocked, that was all, knocked the front door and waited, like he’s just come back with the paper from the shop, and the fourteen years since he’d last stood there, the fourteen years since the night I’d killed my mother, hadn’t really happened at all.

Blurb from Amazon:

Crushed by an impossible shame, Jinx’s life has been little more than a shell; estranged from her husband, she is even relieved when he takes her young son with him. When Lemon, an old friend of her mother’s, turns up on her doorstep, Jinx is forced to confront her past, and with the pain of remembrance comes the possibility of redemption. But Lemon has his own secrets to share, and together they unravel an unforgettable family drama, stoked with violence and passion. Rich with voices from East London and the West Indies, Edwards’s narrative is delivered with a unique and uncompromising bite that announces a new talent in British fiction.

I’ve borrowed this book from the library, attracted first of all by the title, wondering why it was called A Cupboard Full of Coats, and then by these opening paragraphs. I want to know more about Jinx, why she killed her mother and how the cupboard full of coats comes into the story.

What do you think and would you read on?

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

Blurb:

Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester receives the commission of a lifetime when he is charged to navigate Alaska’s hitherto impassable Wolverine River, with only a small group of men. The Wolverine is the key to opening up Alaska and its rich natural resources to the outside world, but previous attempts have ended in tragedy.

Forrester leaves behind his young wife, Sophie, newly pregnant with the child he had never expected to have. Adventurous in spirit, Sophie does not relish the prospect of a year in a military barracks while her husband carves a path through the wilderness. What she does not anticipate is that their year apart will demand every ounce of courage and fortitude of her that it does of her husband.

My thoughts:

I didn’t really know what to expect when I began reading To the Bright Edge of the World as I hadn’t read anything by Eowyn Ivey before (I see she has also written The Snow Child a Sunday Times bestseller and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize). I knew it was fiction but even so at first I wondered if it could be history, because it seemed so real with extracts from the reports, letters and journals of Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester, about his journey in 1885 from Perkins Island up the Wolverine River in Alaska. But the Author’s note reveals that the book was inspired by a historical military expedition and that all of the characters and many places in the story are fictionalised including the Wolverine River.

This is a lovely book, narrated through the journals not only of Allen Forrester, but also the diaries of his wife, Sophie. It begins with correspondence between Allen’s great nephew Walt (Walter) Forrester and Joshua Stone, the Exhibits Curator of the Alpine Historical Museum in Alaska about donating the writings and other material and artifacts to the museum. From then on these three strands of the book are interwoven and I was completely absorbed by each one – Allen’s expedition, Sophie’s life, pregnant and left on her own at Vancouver Barracks in Washington Territory and the letters between Walt and Joshua discussing the Forrester family history, the artifacts, and how life in Alaska changed after the expedition had opened up the area.

The facts of their lives make fascinating reading, demonstrating the difficulties and dangers of such a hazardous enterprise through unmapped and hostile territory as Allen travelled along the Wolverine River. Sophie’s story is equally fraught with difficulties left to cope with boredom and loneliness, the dangers of pregnancy and the antagonism of other women when she upset their social conventions. She takes up photography and I loved all the details of the early techniques of taking and developing photographs in the 1880s. As I read of her attempts to capture photos of birds, and especially a humming bird, I thought of the contrast between then and now – how we take digital photos with instant results and of wildlife programmes where the intimate life of birds is captured on film.

I also loved the mystic elements, the supernatural events that both Allen and Sophie experience, such as the raven and the mysterious old Indian man, the connection to folklore and the beautiful descriptions of the landscape. There are almost spiritual events that Ivey records without explanation that left me puzzling over what actually had happened and what they all meant.

And it is a book full of love, the love of Allen and Sophie and the love of the country, the landscape and its people. Although I said there are three strands to the book, as I read I moved between each one effortlessly, enjoying each one equally and from thinking it read like history, I soon realised it was a fictional story of great beauty, complete and whole, backed up by fact and elevated by Eowyn Ivey’s writing. I loved it.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 6490 KB
  • Print Length: 433 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0316242853
  • Publisher: Tinder Press (2 Aug. 2016)

I received a copy of this book via NetGalley for review.

His Name was David Freeman by Ruth Kipnis

When I saw His Name was David Freeman by Ruth Kipnis in NetGalley’s Read Now section I thought it looked interesting and different from most of the other books I read. And it has an unusual cover.

Blurb:

With the sudden death of his father, seventeen-year-old David is forced to leave the security of the estate his father managed in Prussia in search of an uncle living near Kiev in the Ukraine. Carrying with him the dream of owning a grand farm of his own someday. Fate plays into his hands as he’s given the opportunity to immigrate to America taking with him his new bride. In telling his story to his granddaughter he relives the joys, the sorrows and the hardships of raising a family in a world strange to him.

Bewildered as the first generation rejects the old world customs and assimilates into the cultural, the story traces David’s family through the second and third generations from the 1880’s of the Russian Czars to 1960’s in America.

Biography

Raised in Northern California, Ruth developed a love for horses at an early age. She and her husband raised their family in Woodside, California where they participated in the local horse activities from horse shows to fox hunting.

Through a twist of fate they turned a hobby into a thriving business when they added a Thoroughbred Training Center to their already growing Thoroughbred broodmare operation.

After retiring Ruth and her husband spent two years aboard their boat, the Paradigm, sailing the waters of Mexico. Settling in Puerto Vallarta they returned to the States seven years later for medical reasons. They purchased a farm in South Carolina filling it with ex-race horses.

Writing came late in her varied career. Ruth believes all of us have some secret desire, be it to ride a bike, play a guitar, paint a picture, or in her case write a novel. Age should not dissuade anyone from the joy of following one’s bliss.

Seeing her stories in print, knowing people are enjoying what she has written she says is reward enough. All proceeds from the book are donated to charity.

My thoughts:

Overall it is an enjoyable book – it’s a love story and a family drama.

In the author’s note Ruth Kipnis clarifies that this is a novel based on the author’s research into her family history. Her story mirrors the stories of so many impoverished and poorly educated farmers who had left the Ukraine in the late 1880s during the brutal reign of Czar Alexander III. ‘Whilst some failed, most by sheer will and hard work created a better, richer life than they had ever known.’

I loved the first part in which David tells his granddaughter Maya the story of his life. He was born in Prussia (later Poland) where his father worked on the estate of Count Frederic Von Zoransky. After his father’s death he went to live with his uncle in Grodov, a Shtetl (a small village) near Kiev in the Ukraine before emigrating to America in the late 1880s.

The details of his early life, the horrors of the voyage to America and the difficulties the immigrants encountered are vividly described, bringing the story to life. The family’s struggles against anti-semitism, prejudice and hardship are fascinating. When he and Miriam, his wife, arrived at Ellis Island he gave his name as ‘David Freeman’ because he couldn’t chance using his real name in case he was identified as an Army deserter. He’d made it to America as a free man.

I loved the descriptions of all the places in the book – I could see the hustle and bustle of Kiev, with its wide streets crowded with people and filled with fine horse drawn carriages. Similarly the farm in Connecticut that eventually David was able to buy with a loan from the Jewish Agricultural Society is described in fine detail.

Whilst I did like the second part of the book in which Maya brings the story of her family up to date through the Second World War and upto the 1960s, I didn’t find that it had the same level of drama and appeal as the first part. There are also a number of grammatical and typing errors throughout the book.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 666 KB
  • Print Length: 263 pages
  • First published 15 September 2016
  • Publisher: First Edition Design Publishing
  • Source: my thanks to NetGalley for my copy

Sweet William by Beryl Bainbridge

 Sweet William by Beryl Bainbridge was first published in 1975. My thanks to the publishers, Open Road Media for a copy of this ebook edition, featuring an illustrated biography of Beryl Bainbridge including rare images from the author’s estate. It’s due to be released in the US on 29 November 2016.

Blurb:

Romantic comedy meets social satire in this delirious novel about sexual freedom versus British tradition in swinging 1960s London.

When dull professor Gerald leaves London for the United States, his fiancée, Ann, is a bit afraid and sad to see him go—never has he looked so handsome and masculine as when he’s about to board the plane. But a few days later at a religious service, Ann is beckoned to sit next to a stranger with yellow curls and a nose like a prizefighter’s. Her heart inexplicably begins to race; she feels like she has the flu. This stranger, William McClusky, tells Ann in his Scottish accent that he is a playwright who will be interviewed on TV the very next day. Furthermore, he promises to have a television dropped by her house so she can watch him! From this first bizarre seduction, Ann is infatuated, and in the days following, William begins to take over her life.

In the throes of the affair, Ann gives up her BBC job, helps a friend get an abortion, encourages adultery, and writes a break-up letter to her fiancé. Her engagement to Gerald had been rushed, after all, and was designed to serve her mother’s desires more than her own. With William, on the other hand, everything feels different. But is this new man really who he says he is? Is he a genius or a fraud, a compassionate soul or a cheater? Perhaps William is simply a means by which Ann can play out her dangerous fantasies and finally take part in the swinging sixties. Only one thing is certain: Now that she’s with him, there’s no turning back.

An ironic investigation into the art of self-deception and the repercussions of sexual freedom, this blend of black comedy and social satire showcases the wit of award-winning author Beryl Bainbridge, and affirms her status as a mainstay in twentieth-century British literature.

My thoughts:

I really enjoyed this story of Ann, a young woman whose mother doesn’t approve of her permissive life-style. Ann left her claustrophobic home in Brighton to live in a rented flat in London. Soon after her fiance, Gerald, left for America, she meets William and falls in love with him. But William is fickle and married and Ann can’t resist him, he wraps her round his little finger and does just want he wants. Ann tries to get rid of him but although she knows he is a liar and a cheat, just like the other women in his life she is besotted with him.

It’s a simple story, simply told and immensely readable. I wanted Ann to come to her senses and see William for what he was and whilst I soon realised how it would end, I kept hoping that I was wrong. An emotional story that kept me glued to my Kindle, it’s clever, witty and most enjoyable.

  • File Size: 4973 KB
  • Print Length: 136 pages
  • Publisher: Open Road Media (November 29, 2016)
  • Publication Date: November 29, 2016
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B01LXDSTWF

Amazon USA link

First Chapter, First Paragraph

First chapter

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.

My opener this week is from A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson:A God in Ruins (Todd Family, #2)

30 March 1944

The Last Flight

Naseby

He walked as far as the hedge that signalled the end of the airfield.

The beating of the bounds. The men referred to it as ‘his daily constitutional’ and fretted when he didn’t take it. They were superstitious. Everyone was superstitious.

Blurb:

“He had been reconciled to death during the war and then suddenly the war was over and there was a next day and a next day. Part of him never adjusted to having a future.”

Kate Atkinson’s dazzling Life After Life explored the possibility of infinite chances and the power of choices, following Ursula Todd as she lived through the turbulent events of the last century over and over again.

A GOD IN RUINS tells the dramatic story of the 20th Century through Ursula’s beloved younger brother Teddy–would-be poet, heroic pilot, husband, father, and grandfather-as he navigates the perils and progress of a rapidly changing world. After all that Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge is living in a future he never expected to have.

An ingenious and moving exploration of one ordinary man’s path through extraordinary times, A GOD IN RUINS proves once again that Kate Atkinson is one of the finest novelists of our age.

I haven’t read Life After Life, so I’m hoping that won’t matter and that this book will read well as a standalone. If you’ve read it what do you think?

Highlanders’ Revenge by Paul Tors

Today is Remembrance Sunday, the closest Sunday to 11 November (Armistice Day), marking the anniversary of the end of the First World War in 1918. Remembrance Sunday is held to commemorate those who served the country in two world wars and in more recent conflicts. There will be the traditional two-minute silence at the Cenotaph on Whitehall at 11am today.

I think I should know more about the two world wars. There are many books and I’ve read some, mostly novels about the Second World War, but I haven’t read any military histories that go into the detail of the battles and the conditions the forces experienced. So when Victoria Richman emailed and asked me whether I would like to read Highlanders’ Revenge, a book that combines historical fiction and military history I accepted her offer. She is the co-author with her uncle, Paul Richman, writing under the pen name of ‘Paul Tors’.  Paul is a retired business man with a passion for military history and Victoria, also known as Tors, is a Creative Writing graduate who worked on a number of magazines before becoming a freelance writer.

Highlanders' Revenge

Blurb:

Highlanders’ Revenge combines a riotous story of battle and life during World War Two with an insight into the world of a little known, but fierce fighting unit; the 5th Camerons. This fast-paced historical novel will appeal to fans of military fiction who also appreciate historical accuracy.

Highlanders’ Revenge tells the story of Mash, the nickname Highland soldiers give to an Englishman in their ranks. Scarred both from the retreat before the Blitzkrieg advance across France and from the murder of his first love, Mash has to integrate himself into a new section that is wary of the sullen and secretive ‘Mash Man’.

Together they journey to Egypt where they encounter a way of life that tests them to their limits as they prepare for one of the greatest battles of the Second World War; El Alamein. Scorched by day, frozen by night and plagued by insects, they have to learn how to live and fight in the desert as they prepare for one of the greatest battles of the Second World War. They are then cast into the thick of the fighting at El Alamein and the Allies’ tumultuous battle to break through the Axis defenses.

My thoughts:

Highlanders’ Revenge is a meticulously researched and very detailed historical novel, about ‘Mash’, an Englishman in a Highland regiment, first as he fought with the 4th Camerons at St Valery in June 1940 during the Battle of France and then in the 5th Camerons at the second Battle of El Alamein between 23 October and 4 November 1942.

This novel vividly portrays the horror of war. I think it combines historical fiction and military history well and there is an extensive glossary at the end of the book that explains a lot of the terms that I hadn’t come across before. I learnt a great deal about World War Two, particularly about the second Battle of El Alamein. It brought home to me the devastating conditions that the troops encountered, not just the reality of war but the physical presence of the heat, the multitude of insects, the dust and the sand, and the almost constant dysentery.

There is an excellent Author’s Note explaining where the novel diverges from the historical record. The central characters are fictional, but the book is based on real events. There are also maps, a bibliography and as I mentioned an extensive glossary.

Highlanders’ Revenge is the first step in a journey that will take Mash through North Africa and the invasion of Sicily, onto the D-Day landings, the battles around Caen before the liberation of the Low Countries, the Battle of the Bulge and the crossing of the Rhine before ending the war in Bremen.

My thanks to the authors for a digital copy, via NetGalley.

  • Format: Kindle Edition – also available in paperback
  • File Size: 2747 KB
  • Print Length: 369 pages
  • Publisher: Troubador (14 July 2016)

Amazon UK link

Amazon US link

The Malice of Waves by Mark Douglas-Home

The Malice of Waves (The Sea Detective) by [Douglas-Home, Mark]Blurb (from the back cover):

Investigator Cal McGill uses his knowledge of tides, winds and currents to solve mysteries no-one else can.

Five years ago, fourteen-year-old Max Wheeler disappeared from a remote Scottish island. None of the six police and private investigations since have shed any light on what happened.

Unable to let go, Max’s family call in Call McGill. Known as The Sea Detective  – hoping he’ll force the sea to give up its secrets. Yet Cal finds he is an outsider to a broken family, and an unwelcome stranger to a village that has endured years of suspicion.

Cal knows that a violent storm is approaching. But what he doesn’t know is that when it cuts off the island a killer will see their chance …

My thoughts:

The Malice of Waves is the third book in Mark Douglas-Home’s The Sea Detective Mystery series and I think it is my favourite. It has an interesting opening scene as Cal sinks a dead pig into the sea off Priest’s Island (a fictional island) to try to work out where the tides, underwater currents and eddies might have taken Max’s body. It’s really a cold case enquiry and there is no new evidence to help him discover the truth. Each year on the anniversary of Max’s disappearance, his family hold a memorial service on the island. His father is convinced that the villagers are complicit in his son’s murder.

The Malice of Waves is just as much a story of the villagers as it is of the Wheeler family and the setting of Priest’s Island, beautifully described by Douglas-Hume, is also a major part of the book. The location came to life as I read the book, making it easy to visualise the scenes. It’s well written and easy to read, leading me effortlessly into the mystery. The police are also present on the island as DS Helen Jamieson is staying undercover in the village, helping Cal with his investigations. I like the insight into Helen’s unspoken feelings for Cal. Both her and Cal are strong, independent characters and the other characters are well depicted too.

Interwoven into the main story is ‘Pinkie’ Pyke’s story. He is a collector of birds’ eggs, but his interest is into rare erythristic bird eggs, those with pink or reddish colouring and there is a raven’s’ nest on the island.

The Malice of Waves is a fascinating book, not only an engrossing mystery, but also a study of the sea, of birds’ eggs (I had never heard of erythristic eggs before), of obsessions and of the way people cope, or don’t cope with grief. I loved it.

Reading challenges: Read Scotland – Mark Douglas-Home is a Scottish author.

Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017

It’s that time of year again when next year’s reading challenges begin to appear in the book blogs. Next year I’m not going to take part in many challenges – but this is one I shall definitely be doing:

 

It’s Bev’s Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017, which will run from 1 January to 31st December 2017. (Click on the link for full details.)

These are the Challenge Levels:

Pike’s Peak: Read 12 books from your TBR pile/s
Mont Blanc: Read 24 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Vancouver: Read 36 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Ararat: Read 48 books from your TBR piles/s
Mt. Kilimanjaro: Read 60 books from your TBR pile/s
El Toro: Read 75 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Everest: Read 100 books from your TBR pile/s
Mount Olympus (Mars): Read 150+ books from your TBR pile/s

Books must be owned by you prior to January 1, 2017. No library books.

So far this year I’ve reached Mt Vancouver and I very much doubt I’ll reach my target of 48 books to get to Mt Ararat. Next year my target will also be to reach Mt Ararat. Maybe I’ll get there, if I don’t get tempted by new-to-me books as I have been lately.

Six Degrees of Separation: From Never Let Me Go to A Fear of Dark Water

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:

Never Let Me Go

When I read Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro in 2006 I thought it was very chilling and disturbing in its implications. I didn’t know what it was all about before I read it, so when I realised it quite took my breath away. I noted this quotation ‘… you’ve been told and not been told.’ And as I don’t want to give away the plot all I’m saying is that this book is about love, friendship and memory.
The Remains of the Day

My first book is another book by  Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day, a book that I liked much more than Never Let Me Go. I read it years ago and have also seen the film of the book, with Anthony Hopkins as Stevens, the aging butler at Darlington Hall, looking back on his life. It’s a sad and moving book about life between the two World Wars. Stevens reminisces about his relationship with Darlington Hall’s housekeeper, Miss Kenton and his unspoken feelings for her.

Another book with the word ‘day’ in the title is The Day of the Lie by William Broderick. This is the fourth of his Father Anselm books – a series I love, although this is not my favourite book of the series. It is set in post-Second World War Poland, covering  the early 1950s, the early 1980s and the present day. Father Anselm’s old friend John has asked him to investigate who had betrayed  Roza Mojeska. She had been part of an underground resistance movement, had been arrested and tortured by the secret police. Like his other books this is a complicated and layered book, delving into the past, uncovering secrets and revealing crimes.

Schindler's ListSchindler’s List by Thomas Keneally is also set in Poland – Nazi-occupied Poland during the Second World War. I haven’t read this book yet, although I have watched the film directed by Steven Spielberg more than once. It’s an unforgettable story, all the more extraordinary for being true. Oskar Schindler, a German business man risked his life to protect and save the lives of more than a thousand Jews. The book based on numerous eyewitness accounts. It won the Booker Prize in 1982.

The Secret RiverThe Secret River by Kate Grenville was  shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2006. It completely captivated me when I read it in 2012. It’s historical fiction  following the life of William Thornhill from his childhood in the slums of London to Australia. He was a Thames waterman transported for stealing timber in 1806. It’s about his struggle for survival after he was pardoned and became a waterman on the Hawkesbury River and then a settler with his own land and servants. It’s beautifully written and raises several issues – about crime and punishment, about landownership, defence of property, power, class and colonisation.

Standing WaterAnother book set in Australia, but this time in the present day is Standing Water by Terri Armstrong. It’s a fascinating story set in and near the fictional town of Marrup in the Western Australia Wheatbelt, an area suffering from drought – there’s been no rain for a couple of years. I was completely engrossed in this book, which is about friendships, sibling rivalry, parent/child relationships, and love and betrayal. The characters are convincing and the setting is superb. I could feel the heat, see the landscape, the farms, the plants, birds and the Dog Rock, a huge rock overlooking a panorama of flat land below its sixty foot height, with tiny caves at its base.

A Fear Of Dark Water (Jan Fabel, #6)Which leads me to A Fear of Dark Water by Craig Russell, the last link in the chain. The water in this book is the result of a massive storm that hit Hamburg, flooding the city, just as a major environmental summit is about to start. This is crime fiction – a serial rapist and murderer is still at large in the city and when the flood waters recede a headless torso is found washed up. I thoroughly enjoyed this fast paced and complex, multi-layered crime novel that kept me guessing right to the end.

From Never Let Me Go to A Fear of Dark Water took me from a disturbing view of the future to a disturbing view of the present via the UK, Poland, Australia and Germany. Where does your chain take you?

 

Landscapes: John Berger on Art

Landscapes : John Berger on Art, edited by Tom Overton is a collection of essays by art critic, novelist, poet, and artist John Berger written over the past 60 plus years. However both the title and the cover art – a painting of a landscape – led me to think it would discuss landscapes. But I should have taken more note of this sentence in the blurb-‘Landscapes offers a tour of the history of art, but not as you know it.‘ It is definitely not art as I know it but it is a “landscape” of Berger’s thoughts on his life, on people and ideas that have influenced him, artists and authors that he liked and disliked, with very little in it about landscapes. There are essays on his life, people, ideology, philosophy and on art history and theory about the nature and meaning of art.

Having said that there are sections that I liked and enjoyed, such as the chapters on The Ideal Critic and the Fighting Critic and on Cubism. Knowing next to nothing about cubism and not liking the cubist paintings I have seen, I think I now understand what the artists were attempting, moving away from art that imitated nature to their representation of reality on a two dimensional plane to portray a more complex image of reality.

I am obviously not the target audience for this book!

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1131 KB
  • Print Length: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Verso (1 Nov. 2016)

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.

My Friday Post: Rather Be the Devil

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.

Ian Rankin’s latest book was published yesterday and it arrived in the post as I’d pre-ordered it back in March. It’s Rather Be the Devil, the 21st Rebus book.  I immediately started reading it.

Rather Be the Devil (Inspector Rebus, #21)

It begins:

Rebus placed his knife and Fork on the empty plate, then leaned back in his chair, studying the other diners in the restaurant.

‘Someone was murdered here, you know,’ he announced.

Blurb

Some cases never leave you.

For John Rebus, forty years may have passed, but the death of beautiful, promiscuous Maria Turquand still preys on his mind. Murdered in her hotel room on the night a famous rock star and his entourage were staying there, Maria’s killer has never been found.

Meanwhile, the dark heart of Edinburgh remains up for grabs. A young pretender, Darryl Christie, may have staked his claim, but a vicious attack leaves him weakened and vulnerable, and an inquiry into a major money laundering scheme threatens his position. Has old-time crime boss Big Ger Cafferty really given up the ghost, or is he biding his time until Edinburgh is once more ripe for the picking?

In a tale of twisted power, deep-rooted corruption and bitter rivalries, Rather Be the Devil showcases Rankin and Rebus at their unstoppable best.

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:

‘So what’s this all about?’ Chatham enquired.

‘It’s just a feeling I got, right back at the start of the original investigation. The feeling we were missing something, not seeing something.’

I see that even in retirement Rebus just can’t stop being a detective!

October 2016: Reading Review

October was a very good reading month for me. I read 9 books and have reviewed 8 of them (the links are to my posts):

  1. Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz – a really satisfying read, with believable characters, set in beautifully described locations, tantalisingly mysterious and so, so readable. I loved it.
  2. Joyland by Stephen King – a ghost story, a love story, a story of loss and heartbreak. It’s also a murder mystery and utterly compelling to read.
  3. Accidents Happen by Louise Millar – At first I was enjoying this book – it’s very readable, but I didn’t think it was plausible and I couldn’t suspend my disbelief.
  4. The Black Caravel by Harry Nicholson set in 1536 this is a fascinating story about ordinary people set against the background of national affairs and how it affects their lives. I really enjoyed it.
  5. The Blood Card by Elly Griffiths – a most entertaining book, with a convincing cast of characters. The mystery is expertly handled, with plenty of suspense and lots of twists and turns as the separate plot strands are intricately woven together. I loved it.
  6. The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin – a fascinating account of Chatwin’s visit to Australia to find out about the Songlines and the myths of the legendary totemic beings who sang the world into existence as they wandered over the continent in the Dreamtime.
  7. Autumn by Ali Smith – a  poignant and cutting novel about modern life, how we got to where we are, and the mood of the country post-Brexit. It’s a remarkable book.
  8. The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble – this novel explores the ending of life, the nature of ageing, and life and death. But it is by no means depressing or morbid. I liked it very much. It’s densely layered, thought provoking and moving.
  9. Another Day Gone by Eliza Graham  – another excellent book – review to follow.

For most of the month I was also reading The Fishing Fleet: Husband Hunting in the Raj by Anne de Courcy. I had hoped to have finished it before the end of October but I’m reading it very slowly. I’ve read 44% and have decided to put it on hold for a while. It’s non-fiction and I shall be able to pick it up where I left off without having to go back to the beginning!

My book of the month. and also my Crime Fiction Pick of the Month, is the brilliant Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. It’s a a puzzle-type of crime fiction combining elements of the vintage-style golden age crime novel with word-play and cryptic clues and allusions to Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s also a novel within a novel, with mystery piled upon mystery. I loved it.

Arrowood by Laura McHugh

ArrowoodArrowood promised a lot – a mystery set in a creepy old house, called Arrowood, in Keokuk, Iowa, one of the grand houses that line the Mississippi River. Arden Arrowood’s little twin sisters had disappeared from the house when Arden was eight and they were four. Arden had last seen them in the back of a gold coloured car driven away from the house. But their bodies had never been found and no evidence had been found to convict the owner of the car, Harold Singer. Seventeen years after her grandfather’s death Arden inherits the family home and returns, determined to discover what had actually happened to her sisters.

It had all the elements that should have made this story very spooky and full of psychological suspense – ghostly sounds, creaky floorboards, voices coming from the walls and bath water seeping from under the bath. But yet, I didn’t find it scary. As the family secrets are slowly revealed, drip fed through flashbacks, and the unreliability of memory surfaced I felt the tension ooze out of the book.

It’s a shame because at first the tension is great, the atmosphere convincing and the characters clearly formed. I like the historical aspects – the connection with the Underground Railway (used in the 19th century by slaves escaping from the southern states) – and the descriptive writing about the setting in Iowa, together with the sense of nostalgia for the time and place Arden had left behind. As a character study it worked very well but as a psychological and suspense filled novel it fell short for me. An enjoyable read nevertheless.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2294 KB
  • Print Length: 278 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1780891938
  • Publisher: Cornerstone Digital (11 Aug. 2016)
  • Source: review copy

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for giving me access to an advance copy.

First Chapter, First Paragraph

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.

My opener this week is from Sweet William by Beryl Bainbridge, a book Greta from Open Road Integrated Media offered me on NetGalley as I’ve recently reviewed The Bottle Factory Opening. 

Sweet William was first published in 1975 – this e-book edition is due to be published 29 November 2016.

It begins:

In the main entrance of the air terminal a young man stood beside a cigarette machine, searching in the breast pocket of his blue suit for his passport. A girl, slouching in a grey coat, as if she was too tall, passively watched him.

‘It’s safe,’ he said, patting his pocket with relief.

Blurb

Romantic comedy meets social satire in this delirious novel about sexual freedom versus British tradition in swinging 1960s London.

When dull professor Gerald leaves London for the United States, his fiancée, Ann, is a bit afraid and sad to see him go—never has he looked so handsome and masculine as when he’s about to board the plane. But a few days later at a religious service, Ann is beckoned to sit next to a stranger with yellow curls and a nose like a prizefighter’s. Her heart inexplicably begins to race; she feels like she has the flu. This stranger, William McClusky, tells Ann in his Scottish accent that he is a playwright who will be interviewed on TV the very next day. Furthermore, he promises to have a television dropped by her house so she can watch him! From this first bizarre seduction, Ann is infatuated, and in the days following, William begins to take over her life.

In the throes of the affair, Ann gives up her BBC job, helps a friend get an abortion, encourages adultery, and writes a break-up letter to her fiancé. Her engagement to Gerald had been rushed, after all, and was designed to serve her mother’s desires more than her own. With William, on the other hand, everything feels different. But is this new man really who he says he is? Is he a genius or a fraud, a compassionate soul or a cheater? Perhaps William is simply a means by which Ann can play out her dangerous fantasies and finally take part in the swinging sixties. Only one thing is certain: Now that she’s with him, there’s no turning back.

An ironic investigation into the art of self-deception and the repercussions of sexual freedom, this blend of black comedy and social satire showcases the wit of award-winning author Beryl Bainbridge, and affirms her status as a mainstay in twentieth-century British literature.

I’ve read a few of Beryl Bainbridge’s books (see below) and loved each one, so I’m really hoping to love this one too.

Dame Beryl Margaret Bainbridge, DBE was an English novelist. She won the Whitbread Awards prize for best novel in 1977 and 1996 and was nominated five times for the Booker Prize. She was described in 2007 as ‘a national treasure’. In 2008, The Times newspaper named Beryl Bainbridge among their list of The 50 greatest British writers since 1945.

The 100 Book Tag

I saw this tag on FictionFan’s book blog and fancied doing it too.

What is the 100th book on your TBR list? (In the unlikely event that you don’t have 100 books on your TBR, what book’s been on there longest?)

A Small Part of History by Peggy ElliottI am not very organised in keeping check of how many TBRs I have. I have books listed on both Goodreads and on LibraryThing and neither are complete. But as I began my LibraryThing catalogue first (in 2007, by which time some of my books were TBRs of quite long-standing) I’m using that for my answer – the 100th book I added to my LT catalogue is A Small Part of History by Peggy Elliott, a novel about the Oregon trail in America in the mid 19th century.

Open your current book to page 100 (or randomly, if you don’t have page numbers on your e-reader) and quote a few sentences that you like.

The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the…I’m currently reading The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj by Anne de Courcy:

‘From now on for the following year life became a glamorous fairy-tale,’ wrote Betsy Anderson, who had been brought out to India, aged seventeen, in the Fishing Fleet of 1923 by her mother after years at an English boarding school, followed by presentation at court and a London Season. They stayed with friends in bombay, in a house that reminded Betsy of Rome, with its black and white marble floors, high ceilings and windows with long venetian blinds.

This book is about the eligible young women, known as the ‘Fishing Fleet’ who travelled to India in search of a husband. For some they experienced both glamour and excitement before being whisked off to remote outposts where life was a far cry from the social whirl of their first arrival. It’s interesting but a bit disjointed and repetitive.

When you are 100, what author(s) do you know you will still be re-reading regularly? (This should be an easy one for those of you who are already over 100…)

Well, if I get there I hope I’ll still be reading. But maybe I won’t be able to tell the difference between reading and re-reading as there are books I read years ago that seem like new books to me now.

Link to your 100th post (if you’re a new blogger then link to your tenth post, or any one you like). Do you still agree with what you said back then?

My 100th post was on the TV dramatisation of Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell in which I wrote about the forthcoming dramatisation, based on three of Elizabeth Gaskell’s works, Cranford, My Lady Ludlow and Mr Harrison’s Confessions. Before the broadcast I re-read Cranford, which I’d first read at school, and then when I watched the series I wished I hadn’t bothered as it was so different from Cranford. It bothered me so much I wrote another post after watching two of the episodes about what I didn’t like about it. I’m still sceptical about TV/film adaptations of books and prefer to keep my own images of the characters and locations rather than someone else’s versions.

Name a book you love that has less than 100 pages. Why do you love it?

A Month in the Country (Penguin Modern…A Month in the Country by J L Carr – As an old man Tom Birkin is looking back to the summer of 1920 when he was asked to uncover a huge medieval wall-painting in the village church of Oxgodby in Yorkshire. It is a beautifully written little book of just 85 pages, set in the aftermath of World War I and it is the writing that I loved the most, the way Carr took me back in time to that glorious summer in Oxgodby.

If someone gave you £100, what would be the five books you would rush to buy? 

You would think this would be an easy question but it isn’t because there are so many books I want to read  At the moment here are five from my wishlist (blurbs from Amazon):

Girl in a Green Gown: The History and Mystery of the Arnolfini Portrait by Carola Hicks – ‘Is the painting the celebration of marriage or pregnancy, a memorial to a wife who died in childbirth, a fashion statement or a status symbol? Using her acclaimed forensic skills as an art historian, Carola Hicks set out to decode the mystery.’

Painting as a Pastime by Winston S Churchill – ‘The perfect antidote to his ‘Black Dog’, a depression that blighted his working life, Churchill took to painting with gusto. Picking up a paintbrush for the first time at the age of forty, Winston Churchill found in painting a passion that was to remain his constant companion. This glorious essay exudes his compulsion for a hobby that allowed him peace during his dark days, and richly rewarded a nation with a treasure trove of work.’

The Last Englishman by J L Carr – because I enjoyed A Month in the Country so much I want to know more about the author. ‘Byron Roger’s acclaimed biography reveals an elusive, quixotic and civic-minded individual with an unswerving sympathy for the underdog, who led his schoolchildren through the streets to hymn the beauty of the cherry trees and paved his garden path with the printing plates for his hand-drawn maps, and whose fiction is quite remarkably autobiographical.’

Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton – I love her books and have heard (from FictionFan herself!) that this one is brilliant – ‘Sharon Bolton at her twisty, twisted best.‘ ‘Hamish Wolfe is charming, magnetic and very persuasive. Famed for his good looks, he receives adoring letters every day from his countless admirers. He’s also a convicted murderer, facing life in prison.  Maggie Rosie is a successful lawyer and true-crime author. Reclusive and enigmatic, she only takes on cases she can win.

Hamish is convinced that Maggie can change his fate. Maggie is determined not to get involved. She thinks she’s immune to the charms of such a man. But maybe not this time . . .’

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck – ‘Set against the background of dust bowl Oklahoma and Californian migrant life, it tells of the Joad family, who, like thousands of others, are forced to travel West in search of the promised land. Their story is one of false hopes, thwarted desires and broken dreams, yet out of their suffering Steinbeck created a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision; an eloquent tribute to the endurance and dignity of the human spirit.’

What book do you expect to be reading 100 days from now?

I don’t know. Every time I plan what I’ll read next it never happens and I read whatever appeals at the time.

Looking at The Guardian’s list of “The 100 greatest novels of all time”, how many have you read? Of the ones you haven’t, which ones would you most like to read? And which will you never read? 

I’ve read 41 of these. Several are on my TBR list – The Count of Monte Cristo, The Scarlet Letter, The Marquez books and Tinker Tailor, Soldier, Spy. And I’m now adding The Big Sleep to my TBRs. I’ve had a go at reading Ulysses, but gave up- I’ll never read it.

Free Question – Create a 100 themed question of your own choice and answer it.

My question is: Which 21st-century novel do you think will still be read in 100 years’ time?

Wolf Hall by Hilary MantelOf course I have no idea of the answer. But I ‘d like to think it could be Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. It’s the story of Thomas Cromwell, the son of a blacksmith, and his political rise, set against the background of Henry VIII’s England

When I read it six years ago I thought it was one of the best books I’ve read that year, if not the best one. And it still stands out as one of my all time favourite books. It is satisfying in depth and breadth, with a host of characters and detail. I loved the way 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. It was as though I  was there in the thick of it all. Since then Mantel has written Bring Up the Bodies, also a great book and is writing a third book to complete the story of Thomas Cromwell’s life.

The Blood Card by Elly Griffiths

The Blood Card (DI Stephens & Max Mephisto, #3)The Blood Card by Elly Griffiths is the third in the DI Stephens and Max Mephisto series. Known as the ‘Magic Men’ they had been part of a top-secret espionage unit during the War.

This book captures the atmosphere of 1953 – a time of great change and optimism. Britain is looking forward with eager anticipation to the new Queen’s coronation. The newspapers and newsreels are full of it and more than half the homes in the country have bought a television in order to watch the coronation live- it was the first British coronation to be broadcast on television, a momentous occasion. But there are fears that an anarchist group is plotting to disrupt the coronation.

Max, a magician, and his daughter Ruby, also a magician, are preparing for a TV Coronation Variety show, whilst Edgar is leading the investigation into death of Madame Zabini, a gypsy fortune teller, on Brighton pier.  However, when their former war-time commander is murdered both Edgar and Max are instructed to investigate his death. A playing card, the ace of hearts had been found on his body, next to the knife still in his chest. Magicians call it the ‘blood card‘.

Whilst Max investigates the show business connection, Edgar flies to the States to interview a witness who has links to an anarchist group, leaving Sergeant Emma Holmes to look into Madame Zabini’s death. At first it looked as though she had committed suicide when her body had been found washed up near the Palace Pier but Emma suspects it was not an accident or suicide. As the investigations progress it appears there may be a connection between the two deaths and also links to the plot to disrupt the coronation.,

I loved the way this book is so firmly set in 1953, and conveys the public’s excitement about the new Queen and the coronation, especially as it was being broadcast live on television. I enjoyed the insight into the history of television as Max is sceptical about performing magic on TV thinking the ‘smug grey box’ will be the death of the days of music hall, that magic tricks needed to be performed on stage not in close up with a camera over his shoulder. But he is persuaded to take part in a new show after the coronation – Those were the Days ( that is The Good Old Days). And I also liked the character progression as Edgar and Max continue their friendship. Edgar is engaged to Ruby, although Max is not too happy about it. And Edgar appears to be unaware of Emma’s feelings for him. How this will end is yet to be resolved.

The Blood Card is a most entertaining book, with a convincing cast of characters. The mystery is expertly handled, with plenty of suspense and lots of twists and turns as the separate plot strands are intricately woven together. I loved it.

Thanks Quercus Books and Netgalley for an advance review copy of this book ahead of publication on 3rd November.

Amazon UK link

The Bookish Time Travel Tag

tardis

The Bookish Time Travel Tag has been doing the rounds and I’ve been tagged by Sandra at A Corner of Cornwall to take part. It’s not been that easy coming up with my answers to some of the questions and it’s taken some time to write this post. But I have enjoyed it and would like to thank both Sandra and The Library Lizard, whose original idea this was.

What is your favourite historical setting for a book?

Not an easy question to start off with as I love reading historical fiction set in several periods and different countries. It’s hard to choose just one, but I love the Tudor period and historical crime fiction and so I’m highlighting C J Sansom’s Shardlake books set in the reign of Henry VIII for this question. Matthew Shardlake is a hunchbacked lawyer, but the books are more than crime novels – Sansom’s research is excellent, his characters are well drawn and the atmosphere and sense of place are convincing. I love his books.

shardlake-books

 

What writer/s would you like to travel back in time to meet?

I’m not sure I want to do this, being a bit shy and I think I would feel very awkward. Maybe Jane Austen – she lived in such a different period from today and I would love to know more about her inspiration for writing and who was the inspiration for ‘Mr Darcy’.

What book/s would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?

I would give myself The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by J R R Tolkien. I first read The Lord of the Rings when I was in my early twenties and loved it, so much so that over the years I’ve re-read it several times. But somehow I ignored The Hobbit, maybe thinking that because it’s a children’s book it was too late for me to appreciate it. I only read The Hobbit three years ago after seeing the film, and then I realised how wrong I was not to have read it before – The Hobbit is a book that all ages can enjoy. But I do wish I’d read it first as a child.

What book/s would you travel forward in time and give to your older self?

A Christmas Carol (Illustrated Edition)…

By this The Library Lizard means ‘what book do you want to remind your older self of because it was really important to you?‘ One Christmas when I was a child my Great Aunty Sally gave me a beautiful little hardback copy of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, one of my favourite books of all time – and I no longer have that copy. I read it many times and loved it for its story and because she was my favourite aunty. I’ve looked everywhere for it. I now have this edition with the same illustrations. Appropriately for this tag one of its themes is time as Scrooge experiences scenes from the past, the present and the future.

Dune by Frank HerbertWhat is your favourite futuristic setting from a book?

Most of the books I read now are set either in the present or in the past. But I did enjoy Frank Herbert’s Dune books with sandworms and the ‘spice’ drug when I read them years ago. The books are set in a far future, where warring noble houses (House Atreides and House Harkonnen) are kept in line by a ruthless galactic emperor. I can’t remember the details now, but remember that I was hooked on reading them.

What is your favourite book that is set in a different time period (can be historical or futuristic)?

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon PenmanThe Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman is set before and during the Wars of the Roses and in particular it focuses on Richard III from his childhood to his death at Bosworth Field in 1485. I think this is one of the best historical novels that I’ve read. It is full of detail, well researched and very readable.

Spoiler Time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book just to see what happens?

These days I resist skipping ahead as in the past I’ve immediately regretted knowing the end if I did. But if I know I’m not going to read to the end I sometimes look and if it looks interesting I have gone back and finished the book.

If you had a Time Turner, where would you go and what would you do?

I wouldn’t want to travel to the future and I would only like to travel to the past as an observer, following the prime objective in Star Trek, so that my actions wouldn’t interfere with history.  For example, I would like to go to Ancient Rome and see what it was like in its heyday, be there at a performance one of Shakespeare’s plays at the Globe, go to the Great Exhibition held at the Crystal Palace in May 1851, visit Australia (not in a convict ship) with the early settlers, see China with Gladys Aylward and watch Vesuvius erupt – from a safe vantage point.

Favourite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in multiple time periods?

People of the Book by Geraldine BrooksPeople of the Book by Geraldine Brooks is a book covering so many different periods of history in different parts of the world. It’s about the hidden history of a book known as the priceless Sarajevo Haggadah – a medieval Jewish prayer – told in reverse chronological order beginning in 1996 and working back to 1480.  It’s a story too of love and war, of family relationships, of Anti-Semitism and of historical religious conflicts as the haggadah survived disaster after disaster; a novel about preserving the past, its culture and history for future generations. It has depth and breadth and is beautifully written.

What book/series do you wish you could go back and read again for the first time?

Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet series – apart from the last book I read them in the 1990s before I began to write my blog. The first four of these follow the lives of the Cazalet family from 1937 to 1947 and the last book All Change written twenty years after the fourth book, Casting Off picks up their story beginning in 1956.

cazalet-books

 

The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble

Margaret Drabble’s latest book, The Dark Flood Rises explores the ending of life, the nature of aging, and life and death. But it is by no means depressing or morbid. It’s told from a number of viewpoints, centring around Fran (Francesca) Stubbs, set against a backdrop of rising floods in Britain and in the Canaries, both of the influx of immigrants arriving by boat to the Canaries from Africa and of the effect of the tremor off the small Canary Island of El Hierro on the tides.The ‘dark flood ‘ is also used to refer to the approach of death.

Fran, now in her seventies, is an expert on housing for the elderly. She keeps herself very busy, acting as a carer of sorts and cooking meals for her ex-husband Claude, and travelling around the country attending conferences on care for the elderly. She visits old friends and her daughter in the West Country. She keeps in touch with her son, Christopher, as he deals with the sudden death of Sara, his girlfriend, and is visiting friends in Lanzarote.

But this book is not plot-focused – it ponders the questions of what is a ‘good’ or even an ‘heroic’ death, the morality of suicide and in contrast the desire for the human race to go on living at all costs. It focuses on personal relationships, on love, on the vagaries of memory, on the ordinary, everyday aspects of life and on the ‘heroism’ needed for old age.

I liked it very much. It’s densely layered, thought provoking and moving. It’s a book to re-read.

And, incidentally I was intrigued to find that the pop artist, Pauline Boty who is mentioned in the last book I read, Autumn by Ali Smith, is also mentioned in The Dark Flood Rises when Sara’s death reminds Christopher of Boty who had died at the early age of twenty-eight.

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher, Canongate Books, for letting me have an advance copy. The Dark Flood Rises is due to be published on 3 November 2016.

Amazon UK link

Autumn by Ali Smith

autumn-smith

Autumn is the first of Ali Smith’s books I’ve read and at first I wasn’t sure what to make of it. The blurb attracted me – it describes it as ‘a breathtakingly inventive new novel, a meditation on a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, on what harvest means.‘ I didn’t find it ‘breathtaking’ but I did enjoy it.

I liked the beginning which 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 moved into the house next door to Daniel’s. We see their friendship at various stages in their lives throughout the book.

As I expected from the blurb Autumn is not a straightforward story, so whilst I wanted to know more about the Daniel and Elisabeth story I was quite happy to diverge from their story through the different sections about a variety of different themes from death, aging, love and of course autumn.

I liked the wordplay and references to many other books from Dickens to Shakespeare, the details about Christine Keeler and the Profumo Affair, the life, work and death of the pop artist Pauline Boty, and the accurate and amusing accounts of the frustrations of everyday life such as those describing Elisabeth’s attempts to renew her passport.

It’s both poignant and cutting in its look at modern life, how we got to where we are, and the mood of the country post-Brexit (that word is never mentioned) – the confusion and the misery and rejoicing, the insanity, and the division. It’s a remarkable book.

Autumn is the first installment in Ali Smith’s novel quartet Seasonal: four standalone books, separate yet interconnected and cyclical (as the seasons are), exploring what time is, how we experience it, and the recurring markers in the shapes our lives take and in our ways with narrative.

Ali Smith was born in Inverness in 1962. She is the author of Free Love and Other Stories, Like, Other Stories and Other Stories, Hotel World, The Whole Story and Other Stories, The Accidental, Girl Meets Boy, The First Person and Other Stories, There but for the, Artful, How to be both, and Public library and other stories. Hotel World was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Orange Prize and The Accidental was shortlisted for the Man Booker and the Orange Prize. How to be both won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, the Goldsmiths Prize and the Costa Novel Award and was shortlisted for the Man Booker and the Folio Prize. Ali Smith lives in Cambridge.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 5464 KB
  • Print Length: 243 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0241207010
  • Publisher: Penguin (20 Oct. 2016)

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.

The Plague Charmer by Karen Maitland

The Plague Charmer

Karen Maitland is a great storyteller.

The Plague Charmer is a fascinating medieval tale full of atmosphere and superstition. It’s a long but an unputdownable book, bringing the medieval world to life in all its brutality and hardship. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I received an uncorrected proof copy of this, her latest novel, from Lovereading. The book is set in Porlock Weir in 1361 where a village is isolated by the plague when the Black Death spreads once more across England.  Following an eclipse of the sun, as a storm rages along the coast, a ship is blown ashore bringing a dark stranger, Janiveer, to the village. She warns the villagers that the plague, raging in other parts of the country will soon spread to their village and offers to save them – but for a terrible price.

It’s a complex story, told from different characters’ perspectives, following the lives of Will, a ‘fake’ dwarf, Sara, a packhorse man’s wife and her family, Matilda, a religious zealot, and Christina at nearby Porlock Manor amongst others. It’s a tale of folklore, black magic, superstition, violence, torture, murder, and an apocalyptic cult – and also of love. As the plague spreads and more horrendous deaths pile up bringing  fear and hysteria, families are broken up, and hostilities surface as the village is isolated, left to fend alone.

I thought Will a fascinating character. He was not born a dwarf, but was subjected to horrific treatment as a baby, strapped into an iron bridle, compressed and deformed as he grew to form a squat little dwarf. He is remarkably free of bitterness and capable of more humanity than most of the other characters. Sara, too shows strength of character as she perseveres in her search for her two missing sons.

I like the Historical Notes, providing more detailed information about the period, the people and the location, as well as the legends, and the answers to the medieval riddles that head Will’s chapters. I particularly like the information about the plague and the various religious cults of the period. The Glossary is also invaluable, helping to flesh out the detail.

The Plague Charmer is a superb combination of historical fact and fiction. I really enjoyed reading this detailed and chillingly dark atmospheric book. It’s a memorable story with a colourful cast of characters, full of suspense and drama.

My thanks to Headline for also providing a proof copy via NetGalley.

  • Hardcover: 576 pages (also as an e-book)
  • Publisher: Headline Review (20 Oct. 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1472235827
  • ISBN-13: 978-1472235824

Amazon UK link

On the Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin

One of my favourite books – On the Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin was first published in 1982 when it won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Whitbread First Novel of the Year Award. The Black Hill is one of the Black Mountains on the border of England and Wales, although fictionalised in this book. It was made into a film in 1988. And today it is released in an e-book edition by Open Road Integrated Media.

It’s a gentle, richly descriptive book of both the landscape and the characters, about lonely lives on a farm, largely untouched by the 20th century. It follows the lives of identical twins, Lewis and Benjamin Jones, a period of over 80 years. They are inseparable, Benjamin in particular suffering whenever they are apart. Their lives are hard, lonely, brutal at times, but full of love for their mother and the land they farm.

I love this book and most of all I love they way Chatwin brought the characters to life, not just Lewis and Benjamin, but all the other personalities, some eccentric, some comic and some tragic. His attention to detail is remarkable – at no time does it seem excessive, or intrusive but all the little minutiae of daily life are essential to the book. It highlights questions of love, religion, death and above all relationships. It is most definitely not a book to race through to find out what happens, although I did want to know, but one to savour – and one to re-read.

  • File Size: 6409 KB
  • Print Length: 236 pages
  • Publisher: Open Road Media (October 18, 2016)
  • Publication Date: October 18, 2016
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B01K6GBLWI
  • Source: review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

Amazon US link

 

The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin

The Songlines by [Chatwin, Bruce]

As I loved On the Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin I was keen to read The Songlines when the publishers, Open Road Integrated Media, asked if I’d like to read and review this e-book edition. It includes an illustrated biography of Bruce Chatwin including rare images and never-before-seen documents from the author’s estate. The Songlines was originally published in 1987.

It’s set in Australia exploring the ‘Songlines’, the labyrinth of invisible pathways which cross and re-cross Australia, ‘known to Europeans as ‘Dreaming-tracks’ or ‘Songlines’; to the Aboriginals as the Footprints of the Ancestors’ or the ‘Way of the Law’.

On the one hand this is a fascinating account of Chatwin’s visit to Australia to find out about the Songlines and the myths of the legendary totemic beings who sang the world into existence as they wandered over the continent in the Dreamtime. It’s an account of Chatwin’s exploration of the Songlines, in the company of a Russian, Arkady Volchek who was mapping these sacred sites for a railway company so that they could work round the Songlines rather than obliterating them with the railroad.

On the other hand it is much more than that – and this is where I found the book a bit difficult – in the middle of his account of his travels Chatwin throws in a whole hodge-podge of ideas, quotations from numerous writers and philosophers, travel notes, speculations on the origins of life and anecdotes all thrown into the mix before he gets back to writing about his travels and the people he met. I marked lots of passages in the section ‘From the Notebooks‘, particularly on the subject of walking – for example:

Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it … but by sitting still, and the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill … Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.

Søren Kierkegaarde, letter to Jette (1847)

and on nomads and the nomadic life:

Psychiatrists, politicians, tyrants are forever assuring us that the wandering life is an aberrant form of behaviour; a neurosis; a form of unfulfilled sexual longing; a sickness which, in the interests of civilisation must be suppressed. …

Yet in the East, they still preserve the once universal concept: that wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe.

The Songlines contains beautiful descriptions of the Australian landscape such as this:

A pair of rainbows hung across the valley between the two mountains. The cliffs of the escarpment, which had been a dry red were now a purplish-black and striped like a zebra, with vertical chutes of white water. The cloud seemed even denser than the earth, and beneath its lower rim, the last of the sun broke through, flooding the spinifex with shafts of pale light.

I really don’t know whether this book fits into any particular genre. Chatwin was an author, a novelist and a travel writer – a skilled storyteller. It seems to me that this book combines all these forms of writing. I enjoyed both the account of Chatwin’s experiences in Australia and the long and loosely connected middle section of the book, but would have preferred these to stand on their own rather than be combined in one book.

My thanks to Open Road Integrated Media for a review copy via NetGalley.

  • File Size: 6061 KB
  • Print Length: 281 pages
  • Publisher: Open Road Media (October 18, 2016)
  • Publication Date: October 18, 2016
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B01K6GBLVY

Amazon US link

The Black Caravel by Harry Nicholson

The Black Caravel by Harry Nicholson is his second novel about Tom Fleck: a Novel of Cleveland and Flodden, which I reviewed in 2011.

Blurb:

This story follows the struggles of a farm labourer in North-East England. The series began with the novel, ‘Tom Fleck’, in which we followed Tom’s adventures, loves, and troubles in the year 1513, the year of the Battle of Flodden. The present book re-enters his life twenty-three years later in 1536, in the dark year of the dissolution of the monasteries and the subsequent rebellion known as ‘The Pilgrimage of Grace’. Tom is on a journey with his wife and blind daughter and must travel through the chaos.

My view:

Once again I was transported back to the 16th century with Tom Fleck and his family, this time it is 1536. He now has grown-up sons, Francis and Isaac, both at sea, part of the crew of the Plenty under Captain Ben Hood, a daughter of seventeen, Kate, who is blind and twins aged 15. Tom is now a farmer, living for the past twenty years at Crimond Hall on the Durham coast. As Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries begins Tom and Rachel, his wife, together with their daughter Kate set out for London to visit a lawyer as Rachel has been bequeathed five hundred gold sovereigns in her father’s friend’s will.

As the blurb indicates their journey is not without danger, bringing them into contact with the rebels led by Robert Aske (a real historical character who led the Pilgrimage of Grace protest). Tom’s sons, Francis and Isaac are also in trouble as the Plenty runs aground on the Goodwin Sands in the Dover Straits, encounters a ‘plague ship’, a grounded Portuguese caravel with just one man and a dog left on on board, and engages battle with Barbary pirates from North Africa.

The Black Caravel is a fascinating story about ordinary people set against the background of national affairs and how it affects their lives, for example one character refers to ‘poor Anne Boleyn what’s got no head‘ and he thinks that Richard of York was the true King, not Henry VIII. I was immersed in the time and place – the landscape, the bird sounds, the plants and animals, the towns and the seascape are all beautifully described; for example this passage describing the scene as the fog over the Goodwins lifted:

The fog shifted. Then swirled. Driven before a freshening breeze the murk swept away to the northeast. The shore boat approached the grounded Plenty in bright noon sun. In the shallows around her, the sea was a burnished duck-egg green. Farther out, the surface glowed steel-bright and sparkled with a million ripples. The drying sandbanks threw back white light, fierce to the eyes.

An urgent shout came from the Plenty. The rowers bent harder. A hoard of dark shapes undulated across the sandbank. The seals bugled in alarm while they jostled to plunge into the sea. A flock of pied birds lifted in panic before the approach of men who ran full tilt armed with crossbows and spears. The oystercatchers flew overhead, bleating. Urgent hands reached over the side to heave the heavy captain onto the deck of the cog.(page 59)

There is so much packed in this short novel, reflecting the way of life and the attitudes of the times such as the religious fervour as England broke away from Rome, the ways of treating illness (Kate is blind as a result of a blow to her head) and the anti-semitism that prevailed. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

My thanks to Harry Nicholson for sending me a copy to read and review.

  • Paperback: 188 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (30 Aug. 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1535378085
  • ISBN-13: 978-1535378086
  • Source: Review copy from the author

Favourite Books: October 2007 – 2010

Each month I’ve been looking back at some of my favourite books I read during the years 2007 – 2010. These are some of my favourite books I read in October in each of those years. October seems to have been another great month for books as I rated so many 5/5, but I’m highlighting just one for each month in this post. Revisiting these books makes me want to re-read all of them.

Click on the titles to see my original reviews.

2007

Crossing to SafetyCrossing To Safety by Wallace Stegner – was Wallace Stegner’s last novel published when he was 78 years old. It’s a beautiful, and thought provoking novel and I loved it. It’s a story about love, marriage, friendship, relationships, ambition, illness and death; in other words it’s about life and death. In essence, the novel recounts the lives of two couples who first met during the Depression in 1930s America and the joys and difficulties they encounter throughout their lives.

The painful honesty of this book in portraying life’s happiness, joy, pathos and sorrow is what touched me the most and makes it a book to remember and treasure.

2008

Behavior Of MothsThe Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams, a brilliant book! It’s the story of two sisters, Ginny and Vivi. Vivi, the younger sister left the family mansion 47 years earlier and returns unexpectedly one weekend. Ginny, a reclusive moth expert has rarely left the house in all that time. What happens when they meet again is shocking to both of them. It’s a story full of mystery and suspense as it is revealed that the two have very different memories of their childhood and the events of the past.

Two events in particular affected their lives. The first is when Vivi aged 8 fell from the bell tower and nearly died. She was impaled on an iron stake and as a result lost her ability to have children; the second when Maud, their mother died having tripped down the cellar steps changing their lives for ever.

And I loved all the detail about moths. They are not an aside but are integral to the story.

2009

The ComplaintsI thought The Complaints by Ian Rankin was one of the best books I read in 2009.

It’s the first book featuring Inspector Malcolm Fox of the PSU, or Professional Standards Unit, part of the Complaints and Conducts office.  The PSU is sometimes called  ‘the Dark Side’. He is asked to investigate DS Jamie Breck, a likeable young cop who is allegedly involved in a paedophile site run by an Aussie cop in Melbourne. Then Jude’s partner, Vince is murdered and Breck is the investigating officer. As Fox gets to know him it becomes increasingly difficult for him to know just who he can trust. Just who is the good guy?

I grew to really like Fox, yet another divorced cop with a drink problem. He is a good guy, he plays by the rules and looks after his family. He’s bit of a philosopher, an outsider mistrusted and hated by other cops.

2010

Quite Ugly One Morning (Jack Parlabane, #1)Quite Ugly One Morning by Christopher Brookmyre begins with a graphic description of a particularly nasty murder scene, which is normally guaranteed to make me stop reading. But it would have been a great shame if I’d let it put me off this book, because I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was  first published in 1998 when it won the First Blood Award for best crime novel of that year.

The dead man is Dr Ponsonby, a well- respected doctor working for the Midlothian NHS Trust in Edinburgh. Investigative journalist, Jack Parlabane gets involved as he lives in the flat above Ponsonby and the terrible smell coming up from below leads him into the murder scene. It soon becomes apparent to the reader who did the murder and it is the motive behind it that needs to be ferreted out.  It’s fast, full of action, and surprisingly funny.

Accidents Happen by Louise Millar

Accidents Happen is one of my TBR e-books that I’ve had for a couple of years. It’s described as a ‘gripping psychological thriller where one woman’s streak of bad luck may be something far more sinister’, so I thought it would be just the right sort of book to read for this year’s R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XI.

It begins well with a strange, scary episode about a child waking up to the sight of something slithering, full of threat, not sure what it was but terrified as it was angry with a gaping mouth revealing a tiny white spot, where the poison came from.

Episodes like this are interspersed between the chapters of the story, each one more terrifying than the rest. These are actually much more scary than the main story, which is about Kate, a widow and her young son Jack.

Blurb:

Kate Parker has had so much bad luck in her life, she’s convinced she’s cursed. But when she tries to do her best to keep herself and her son safe, people tell her she’s being anxious and obsessive.

Just when her life starts to spin completely out of control, an Oxford professor she meets offers to help. But his methods are not conventional. If she wants to live her life again, he will expect her to take risks.

When a mysterious neighbour starts to take more than a passing interest in her, Kate tries to stay rational and ignore it.

Maybe this, however, is the one time Kate should be worried.

My thoughts:

Kate’s husband had died 5 years before the book starts and Kate is obsessed with statistics, so much so that they are now ruling her life – statistics about all the things that go wrong, or could go wrong. And this is preventing her from living a normal life – the lengths she goes to are extreme and they are affecting her Jack, her son. As readers we know that some of Kate’s fears are real, but she doesn’t focus on those, although they do bother her. I began to feel something was wrong. And when she met Jago, an Oxford professor my feelings intensified – there was definitely something suspicious going on. Why was he getting her to take such risks and putting herself into such strange situations?

At first I was enjoying this book – it’s very readable, although the concentration on Kate’s fears got a bit repetitive – but increasingly as I read on I just couldn’t believe what was happening. For me the tension that had been building up just disappeared. I didn’t think it was plausible and I couldn’t suspend my disbelief.

I think I’m in the minority about this book as it has more favourable reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads.

Reading Challenges: Mount TBR Reading Challenge and R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XI.

First Chapter, First Paragraph

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.

My opener this week is a book I’ve borrowed from the library, The Quarry by Iain Banks:17909006

Most people are insecure, and with good reason. Not me.

This is probably because I’ve had to think about who I am and who I am not, which is something your average person generally doesn’t have to do. Your average person has a pair of parents, or at least a mother, or at least knows roughly where they fit into all that family business in a way that I, for better or worse, don’t. Usually I think it’s for the better, though sometimes not.

These first two paragraphs certainly make me want to read on – where does this person fit into the picture?

Blurb:

Kit doesn’t know who his mother is. What he does know, however, is that his father, Guy, is dying of cancer. Feeling his death is imminent, Guy gathers around him his oldest friends – or at least the friends with the most to lose by his death. Paul – the rising star in the Labour party who dreads the day a tape they all made at university might come to light; Alison and Robbie, corporate bunnies whose relationship is daily more fractious; Pris and Haze, once an item, now estranged, and finally Hol – friend, mentor, former lover and the only one who seemed to care.

But what will happen to Kit when Guy is gone? And why isn’t Kit’s mother in the picture? As the friends reunite for Guy’s last days, old jealousies, affairs and lies come to light as Kit watches on.

Would you read on?

Joyland by Stephen King

I’m so glad I read Joyland by Stephen King – it’s so good.

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I nearly didn’t buy it, put off by the cover (you should never judge a book by its cover!) and by the publishers, Hard Case Crime – it was the word ‘hard‘ that really made me pause, especially when I looked at their site and saw they publish ‘the best in hardboiled crime fiction‘. Not being quite sure just what ‘hard boiled crime fiction‘ is, I looked it up. This is Encyclopædia Britannica‘s definition:

Hard-boiled fiction, a tough, unsentimental style of American crime writing that brought a new tone of earthy realism or naturalism to the field of detective fiction. Hard-boiled fiction used graphic sex and violence, vivid but often sordid urban backgrounds, and fast-paced, slangy dialogue.

Not my sort of book, at all! But it’s by Stephen King and I like his books, so I did buy it. It’s not ‘hard boiled fiction‘ as defined above. The only way it fits that definition is that there is a lot of slang in it – ‘carny’ slang, which King explains in his Author’s Note is what he calls in this book ‘the Talk‘. It is ‘carnival lingo, an argot both rich and humorous’. So not ‘hard boiled’ at all!

Joyland is a ghost story, a love story, a story of loss and heartbreak. It’s also a murder mystery and utterly compelling to read.

It’s narrated by Devin Jones, looking back forty years at the time he was a student, suffering from a broken heart, as his girlfriend had just rejected him and he spent a summer working at Joyland, in North Carolina, an amusement park with ‘a little of the old-time carny flavor‘.

Along with various rides, ‘Happy Hounds’, and a palm-reader, there is the Horror House, a ‘spook’ house which is said to be haunted by the ghost of Linda Gray, whose boyfriend cut her throat in the Horror House. The boyfriend had not been found and it appears he may be a serial killer as there had been four other similar murders in Georgia and the Carolinas.

It’s also a story of friendship, of Tom and Erin, of children with the ‘sight’, a young boy in a wheelchair and his mother, and Dev’s search for the killer.

I loved the setting of the funfair, Dev’s nostalgia for his youth, his sensitivity, and the images the story evokes – it’s not just the story but the way King tells his tale, with just a touch of horror and the supernatural.

Who knows – maybe I should read some more of Hard Case Crime’s publications!

Reading ChallengesReaders.Imbibing.Peril XI.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

I previously enjoyed The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz, so when I saw Magpie Murders  on NetGalley I was keen to read it and delighted when I received an uncorrected proof. I think it is an outstanding book by a master story-teller, with a wonderfully intricate plot. It’s a prime example of a puzzle-type of crime fiction combining elements of the vintage-style golden age crime novel with word-play and cryptic clues and allusions to Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s also a novel within a novel, with mystery piled upon mystery. I loved it.

The outer story and the contemporary mystery is that of Alan Conway, the author of the Atticus Pünd Mysteries. His editor, Susan Ryeland is reading a manuscript of his latest novel Magpie Murders, expecting to enjoy it as much as his earlier books, even though she really couldn’t stand Conway himself. What she wasn’t prepared for is that this book would change her life.

The inner story, that told in Conway’s novel is a whodunnit, a murder mystery full of twists and turns with plenty of red herrings. I was enjoying it as much as Susan as she read of the death of Mary Blakiston in the little village of Saxby-on-Avon in 1955. Mary was an unpleasant character. She had been found dead at the bottom of the stairs at Pye Hall where she was the cleaner for the owner, Sir Magnus Pye. It appeared that she had tripped and fallen down the stairs.Then Magnus is also found dead, but this was obviously murder as he had been beheaded.

So back to the outer story. When Susan came to the end of the manuscript she found it wasn’t finished – there was no denouement. And she couldn’t contact Conway to get the final chapters of the book and then she discovered that he was dead. So, she sets out to find the missing chapters and in so doing discovers even more mysteries – was Conway’s death an accident, suicide or murder? Like Mary Blakiston in his novel, he was not a popular man, and there are a number of other parallels between his novel and his real life.

Magpie Murders is a really satisfying read, with believable characters, set in beautifully described locations, tantalisingly mysterious and so, so readable. I also particularly liked the use of the rhyme of ‘One for Sorrow’ in the chapter headings of Conway’s novel in the same way that Agatha Christie used ryhmes in some of her books. It’s quite long, but the pages sped by as I was drawn into both stories and keen to find the answers to all the questions all the mysteries it had posed.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publishers Orion Books for an ARC.