Did You See Melody? by Sophie Hannah

Publication date: 24 August 2017, Hodder & Stoughton

Source: review copy via NetGalley

I was attracted to read Did You See Melody? by Sophie Hannah by this description on NetGalley:

She’s the most famous murder victim in the country.

What if she’s not dead?

Did You See Melody? is a different kind of Sophie Hannah novel.

It is a stand alone.

It is pure psychological suspense, with a chilling hook and a killer central mystery.

It combines Sophie’s critically acclaimed writing with a pacy and twisty plot.

So, I was expecting it to be a gripping, tense and intriguing mystery. But I became increasingly disappointed as I read pages and pages of description of the five-star Swallowtail Resort and Spa in the foothills of Camelback Mountain, Arizona at the beginning of the book. I like description but this was far too much even for me. It’s like reading a promotional article for the resort. It picked up pace a bit when the subject of Melody was introduced. She was seven when she disappeared and although her body had not been discovered her parents were tried and found guilty of murdering her.

Cara has left her husband and two children at home in Hertford in England without telling them where she was going, but leaving them a note saying she’d be back on 24 October. She’d booked herself into the Swallowtail and arrives, exhausted from her journey only to find that her room is already occupied by a man and a young teenage girl. However, the receptionist is extremely apologetic and settles her into a casita with her own private infinity pool at no extra charge.

The first hint about what had happened to Melody comes the next morning when one of the guests announces that she’s seen Melody and eventually Cara’s curiosity is aroused and she discovers the tragic story of Melody’s murder. Cara wonders if the girl she’d seen the previous night was Melody. At first Cara’s reason for leaving home as she did is not explained and when it was I was less than impressed and I didn’t really warm to her character.

From that point my own interest in the story picked up as the details of what had happened to Melody are gradually revealed as Cara talks to Tarin, a fellow guest, reads accounts on the internet and excerpts from the TV talk show, Justice With Bonnie, hosted by the truly terrible Bonnie Juno. Bonnie is described as a legal commentator and I really disliked her and her interference in the case.

There is quite a lot of hyperbole and contrasting depictions of both the American and British characters, which made me wonder if this is a spoof, as really, most of the story just beggars belief. It’s far-fetched, contrived and over complicated. But once I’d got past the lengthy opening section I did want to know what happened next and it is in the last few pages of the book that I found something that really did send a little shiver down my spine – and left me wondering just what had really happened to Melody, and what would happen next.

My thanks to NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton, the publishers for a review copy.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2826 KB
  • Print Length: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (24 Aug. 2017)
  • My rating: 3*

Yesterday by Felicia Yap

Blurb:

There are two types of people in the world. Those who can only remember yesterday, and those who can also recall the day before.

You have just one lifeline to the past: your diary. Each night, you write down the things that matter. Each morning, your diary tells you where you were, who you loved and what you did.

Today, the police are at your door. They say that the body of your husband’s mistress has been found in the River Cam. They think your husband killed her two days ago.

Can you trust the police? Can you trust your husband? Can you trust yourself?

My thoughts:

The nature of memory always fascinates me. Just how much can we rely on our memories – what is real and reliable, how well can we really remember what happened, how much do we bury in our subconscious? In Yesterday by Felicia Yap she has created a world where memory for everyone over the age of eighteen is limited for 70% of people to just one day (the Monos) whilst the rest (the Duos) have two days of memory. Each day everyone has to write down their actions, thoughts and feelings in their iDiaries and then memorise the ‘facts’. But are these ‘facts’ reliable?

This is a murder story, told through extracts from iDiaries and the perspectives of four people, that of the victim, Sophie, Claire a Mono, married for twenty years to Mark, a novelist and prospective MP who is a Duo, and DCI Hans Richardson, who is racing against time to find the murderer.

I found it rather confusing at first, getting my head around the fact that everyone has such a short-term memory. Just how reliable are the four narrators, are they even who they say they are and do they write the truth in their iDiaries?  I think it is an interesting book but I did have to suspend my disbelief, especially towards the end of the book, which I found farcical and rather annoying. It was one twist too far for me. And I couldn’t really get over the fact of how much time you would have to spend writing everything down and then learning what you had done and thought each day.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1112 KB
  • Print Length: 401 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0316465259
  • Publisher: Wildfire (10 Aug. 2017)
  • Source: NetGalley
  • My rating: 3*

Catching Up: three crime fiction books

I’m following the example of my blogging friend, Cath at Read Warbler, by writing a ‘catch up’ post as I am behind with writing reviews. That’s what going away for two weeks and then having an awful cold afterwards does for you!

So here are three crime fiction books, all very enjoyable 4 star books, that I read earlier this year:

A Dedicated Man by Peter Robinson, the second novel in Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks series, first published in 1988, and my 17th book for  Bev’s Mount TBR 2017 challenge. I’ve been reading these books totally out of order and have gone back to the first ones to fill in the gaps in my reading.

Banks is now more settled in Yorkshire after the events described in the first book, Gallows View. I was struck as I read the books how unlike the TV version of Banks they are. Banks, himself, is nothing like Stephen Tompkinson (who plays his role). Robinson’s Banks is ‘a small dark man, in appearance rather like the old Celtic strain of Welshman, and his physique certainly didn’t give away his profession.

The ‘dedicated man‘ is local historian, Harry Steadman, who was found half-buried under a dry-stone wall near the village of Helmthorpe, Swainsdale. It seems that nobody would have wanted to kill such a good man, but as Banks investigates his background several suspects emerge. Sally Lunn, a young teenager knows more than is good for her and sets out to beat the police in finding the culprit.

Banks is a dogged and determined police officer, also a ‘dedicated man‘ and he concentrates on Steadman’s past; after leaving Cambridge where he got a first in history, he’d taught at Leeds University where he’d developed an interest in industrial archaeology. After his father died he’d inherited a considerable fortune and left his job to concentrate on his own interests. He’d married, Emma, a plain-looking woman who Banks first mistook for the cleaning lady.

Other characters include Jack Barker, a crime fiction writer, Penny Cartwright, a folk singer and Michael Ramsden, a close friend who worked in publishing. I thought Barker’s comment about his editor was interesting – that he could spend two days working on a fine description and find his editor wants him to cut it out because it slows the action. I wondered if that was Robinson’s own experience because he does include passages of description that do slow down the action. But I like his style, which is a good balance of description and fast -paced action.

Completely different in style is my next book, also detective fiction. It’s The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien by Georges Simenon, translated by Linda Coverdale. This is the third book in the new series of Maigret novels in new translations, published by Penguin, originally written in 1930. In this short book (144 pages) Maigret observed a shabby man, travelling on a train from Holland to Bremen, carrying a small suitcase. He replaced the man’s suitcase with another exactly like it and followed him when he left the train, only to watch him through a keyhole in hotel bedroom, place a revolver in his mouth and press the trigger.  Maigret is disturbed by the thought that he had both witnessed the tragedy and been the cause of it. Wonderfully mysterious and obscure I was baffled for most of the book, as Maigret uncovers a crime from ten years earlier, revolving around the macabre drawings of hanged men of all types. A recurrent theme was the steeple of a church – the same church, that of Saint-Pholien in Liège.

A note at the beginning of the book reveals that the book was drawn from Simenon’s experiences in Liège, when he was ‘involved with a literary set, comprised of poets and young artists. A member of the group, Joseph Jean Kleine, was  found hanging from the doorway of the church of Saint-Pholien during this period, a tragedy that left its mark on Simenon.

Moving forward to 2016 my final book is Present Tense by W H S McIntyre, a criminal defence lawyer. It’s the 7th book in his Best Defence series, featuring criminal lawyer Robbie Munro. Munro is based in Linlithgow and deals mainly with Scottish Legal Aid cases.

Billy Paris, ex-military, leaves a cardboard box with Robbie and asks him to look after it for him, without telling him what it contained, but assuring him it wasn’t guns, knives or drugs. That’s OK until two men in black suits, one a detective inspector and the other from the Ministry of Defence, ask him for the box and want to know where they can find Billy.

It’s a legal drama, a tense and complicated mystery, combined with details of Robbie’s personal life. He is a single dad with a daughter, Tina, aged four and a half, living in his dad’s house along with his brother, Malky, an ex-footballer. His dad has promised Tina a Pyxie Girl doll for Christmas, but they’re impossible to get. There’s a lot about parenthood, more specifically fatherhood, and family relationships told with dark humour, all making for an intriguing and absorbing mystery.

The Distant Echo by Val McDermid

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

The Distant Echo

Blurb (Goodreads):

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

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

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

My thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Chapter, First Paragraph: The Betrayals

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

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

Daisy

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

Blurb:

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Nick must confront his own version of events.

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

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

The Secret of Summerhayes by Merryn Allingham

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

The Secret of Summerhayes

Synopsis (publisher)

A war-torn summer

A house fallen into ruin

A family broken apart by scandal…

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

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

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

My thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

The House by Simon Lelic

Publication date: 17 August 2017, Penguin

Source: review copy via NetGalley

Blurb:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Friday Post

Book Beginnings Button

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

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

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

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

Blurb:

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

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

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

Friday 56

These are the rules:

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

From Page 56:

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

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

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

What do you think? Would you continue reading?

 

The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan

A powerful and thought provoking story

The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan

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

Blurb:

One man is dead.

But thousands are his victims.

Can a single murder avenge that of many?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gallows View by Peter Robinson

Gallows View: DCI Banks (Inspector Banks 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Friday Post: The Taxidermist’s Daughter

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

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

The Taxidermist's Daughter

Prologue

April 1912

Midnight

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

A good start I think, definitely full of foreboding.

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

Friday 56

These are the rules:

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

From Page 56:

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

Blurb:

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

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

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

What do you think? Would you continue reading?

Last Seen Alive by Claire Douglas

Publication date: 13 July 2017, Penguin

Source: review copy via NetGalley

Blurb:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

Publication Date: July 6 from Canongate Books Ltd

Source: Review Copy

Blurb:

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

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

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

My thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns

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

Description from the back cover:

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

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

My thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beneath a Burning Sky by Jenny Ashcroft

Publication Date: June 29th from Sphere

Source: Review Copy

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

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

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

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Friday Post: Our Spoons Came From Woolworths

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

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

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

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

These are the rules:

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

From Page 56:

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

Description from the back cover:

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

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

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

My Week in Books: 14 June 2017

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

IMG_1384-0

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

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

Blurb:

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

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

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

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

Blurb:

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

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

Blurb:

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

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

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

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

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

Past Encounters by Davina Blake

Past EncountersBlurb (Goodreads)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Uncertain Place by Fred Vargas

An Uncertain Place (Commissaire Adamsberg, #8)

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

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

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

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

My thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading challenges: Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

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

Blurb:

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

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

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

My thoughts:

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

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

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

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

Thanks to the publisher for an ARC via NetGalley.

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

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

My Week in Books: 7 June 2017

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

IMG_1384-0

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

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

Blurb:

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

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

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

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

Blurb:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blurb:

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

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

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

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

First Chapter, First Paragraph: The Escape

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

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

Blurb:

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

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

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

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

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

It begins:

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

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

What do you think? Would you carry on reading?

My Friday Post: An Uncertain Place

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

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

An Uncertain Place (Commissaire Adamsberg, #8)

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

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

Friday 56

These are the rules:

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

From Page 56:

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

Blurb (Goodreads):

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

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

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

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

A Place of Execution by Val McDermid

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

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

A Place of Execution

Blurb:

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

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

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

My thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

Vindolanda by Adrian Goldsworthy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Author 

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

For more information see his website.

The Stroke Ward by Tricia Coxon

‘Life is fragile on the stroke ward’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon UK link

Amazon US link

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Friday Post: A Place of Execution

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

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

A Place of Execution

It begins:

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

Blurb:

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

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

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

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

Friday 56

These are the rules:

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

From Page 56:

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

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

The Body in the Ice by A J MacKenzie

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

Blurb:

Christmas Day, Kent, 1796

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Authors:

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

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

First Chapter, First Paragraph: Past Encounters

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

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

Past EncountersIt begins:

1955 Rhoda

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

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

Blurb (from the back cover)

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

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

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

Would you keep on reading – or not?

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

Wives and Daughters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caedmon’s Song by Peter Robinson

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

Summary (from Peter Robinson’s website)

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

My thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon UK link

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

Reading challenges: Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

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

Or did she?

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

File:Lizzie borden.jpg
Lizzie Borden c.1890

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon US

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

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

Amazon UK

See What I Have Done

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

Dunstan by Conn Iggulden

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

Summary (from the publishers)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon UK 

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

Maigret!

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

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

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

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

The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Dark So Deadly by Stuart MacBride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Friday Post: Caedmon’s Song

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

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

Caedmon's Song

It begins:

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

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

Friday 56

These are the rules:

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

Page 56:

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

Blurb:

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

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

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

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

The Kill Fee by Fiona Veitch Smith

The Kill Fee (Poppy Denby Investigates #2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lauras by Sara Taylor

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Legacy by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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)

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)

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*

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)

Library Loot

The mobile library came yesterday and I borrowed three books:

You Are Dead by Peter James – this is the 11th in his Roy Grace series. I’ve only read two (the first and the third) of the earlier books. I know I should probably read them in order but sometimes you have to take what’s available at the time and fill in the gaps later. I’m hoping it reads well as a stand-alone.

It’s set in Brighton and it’s about current cases of missing women and the discovery of the remains of women who went missing in the past. Are these events connected and if so how?

Duchess of Death: the Unauthorised Biography of Agatha Christie by Richard Hack, drawing on over 5000 unpublished letter, documents and notes. I’m not at all sure I shall actually read this book, but I thought I’d borrow it just to have more time to look at it. I’ve read Agatha Christie’s Autobiography, which is an excellent book that took her 15 years to write, and a few other biographies about her, some better than others.

I don’t like the title, Duchess of Death, which I suppose Hack chose for its alliteration. The jacket cover blurb says it is ‘as full of romance, travel, wealth and scandal as any whodunit she crafted.’ I have a feeling this will not be one of the better biographies.

And finally I borrowed Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid, one of the Austen Project series (in which six bestselling contemporary authors write their own take on Jane Austen’s novels). I’ve been wondering whether to read any of these books for some time now and also meaning to read Val McDermid’s books, so when I saw this sitting on the mobile library’s shelves I thought why not at least have a proper look at it.

I first read Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey many years ago (it could have been in the second year at Grammar School) and as far as I remember, despite loving Pride and Prejudice, I wasn’t too taken with it. I’ve been thinking of reading it again for some while now. I didn’t watch the TV adaptation a few years back, so I’m coming to both books with fresh eyes.

This is my copy with its awful cover:

The Cheltenham Square Murder by John Bude

A Golden Age Murder Mystery

Blurb:

In the seeming tranquillity of Regency Square in Cheltenham live the diverse inhabitants of its ten houses. One summer’s evening, the square’s rivalries and allegiances are disrupted by a sudden and unusual death – an arrow to the head, shot through an open window at no. 6.

Unfortunately for the murderer, an invitation to visit had just been sent by the crime writer Aldous Barnet, staying with his sister at no. 8, to his friend Superintendent Meredith. Three days after his arrival, Meredith finds himself investigating the shocking murder two doors down. Six of the square’s inhabitants are keen members of the Wellington Archery Club, but if Meredith thought that the case was going to be easy to solve, he was wrong…

The Cheltenham Square Murder is a classic example of how John Bude builds a drama within a very specific location. Here the Regency splendour of Cheltenham provides the perfect setting for a story in which appearances are certainly deceiving.

My thoughts:

The Cheltenham Square Murder by John Bude was first published in 1937. Previously I’ve read John Bude’s second book- The Lake District Murder, a police procedural, showing in intricate detail how detectives investigated a crime, particularly in rural areas in the mid 1930s, in which I found his calculations of the times and distribution of petrol deliveries a bit difficult to follow.

But by the time he wrote The Cheltenham Square Murder Bude’s style had become more refined and I found it much easier to follow, whilst still writing in detail about the suspects and how the crime could have been and was committed. It is quite complicated, a real puzzle to solve, first of all just how the murder was carried out and secondly who out of the several suspects was the murderer.

There is a plan of the fictional Regency Square showing the layout of the ten houses and their occupants. Bude describes the residents giving a good idea of their personalities and relationships. As in all communities, they don’t all get on, ‘outwardly harmonious yet privately at loggerheads’. Those who belong to the Wellington Archery Club are keen, even fanatically keen archers, so immediately they are suspects.

It is fortunate for the local police that Superintendent Meredith from the Sussex County Constabulary is staying in the Square and helps Inspector Long unravel the mystery, but not before another there is a second victim, again murdered with an arrow in the head.

It’s a slow-paced mystery, both Meredith and Long spend much time working out how the murder was committed and Bude drops in several red herrings to confuse matters as first one then another of the residents comes under suspicion. I enjoyed trying to work it out, but although I had an idea about the guilty person I couldn’t see how the murders had been achieved until the method was revealed.

Martin Edward’s introduction gives a brief biography of John Bude, whose real name was Ernest Carpenter Elmore (1901 – 1957). For a time he was a games master at St Christopher School in Letchworth where archery was one of the pupils’ activities.

My thanks to the publishers, Poisoned Pen Press in association with the British Library, and NetGalley for my copy of this book which has an introduction by Martin Edwards.

  • Amazon link to the paperback edition to be published on 7 March 2017
  • Amazon link to the Kindle edition
  • My rating – 4 stars

The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths

Blurb:

Something evil is waiting in the dark tunnels under Norwich – forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway had better watch her step

Boiled human bones have been found in Norwich’s web of underground tunnels. When Dr Ruth Galloway discovers they were recently buried, DCI Nelson has a murder enquiry on his hands. The boiling might have been just a medieval curiosity – now it suggests a much more sinister purpose.

Meanwhile, DS Judy Johnson is investigating the disappearance of a local rough sleeper. The only trace of her is the rumour that she’s gone ‘underground’. This might be a figure of speech, but with the discovery of the bones and the rumours both Ruth and the police have heard that the network of old chalk-mining tunnels under Norwich is home to a vast community of rough sleepers, the clues point in only one direction. Local academic Martin Kellerman knows all about the tunnels and their history – but can his assertions of cannibalism and ritual killing possibly be true?

As the weather gets hotter, tensions rise. A local woman goes missing and the police are under attack. Ruth and Nelson must unravel the dark secrets of The Underground and discover just what gruesome secrets lurk at its heart – before it claims another victim.

My thoughts:

The Chalk Pit is the 9th in Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway books. It’s written in the present tense which I find somewhat jarring (strange because in other books such as Eyes Like Mine, which I reviewed in this post, I hardly noticed the tense). But I did enjoy this book because of the characters, in particular Ruth, her daughter, Kate (now nearly 6 years old), DCI Harry Nelson and his wife Michelle, DS Clough, DS Judy Johnson and Cathbad, the part-time druid, who now looks after their two young children. I also like the archaeological investigations, although in The Chalk Pit that is not the main focus.

It centres on the plight of homeless people and the maze of tunnels under Norfolk. The bones are found during the excavations when an underground restaurant in one of the tunnels is proposed. One of the homeless women, Barbara, disappears and there are rumours that she has ‘gone underground‘. It becomes a murder mystery when two more of the homeless, ‘Aftershave Eddie’ and then ‘Bilbo’ are found dead, both stabbed. Then two local women go missing – Sam who has four children and Cassandra, Clough’s partner (they have one child). And it soon becomes clear that all these events are linked.

There is a Who’s Who of the main characters at the end of the book giving their backstories which helps if you haven’t read the earlier books. But I think it really helps to read the Ruth Galloway books in order as the recurring characters’ lives progress with each one, making it difficult to write much more about The Chalk Pit without giving away spoilers. I’ll just add that one of my favourite characters, Cathbad, doesn’t have a large role, which disappointed me. And I really would prefer if Elly Griffiths had written this in the past tense as she has in her Stephens and Mephisto series, which I prefer.

My thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for an ARC of this book which will be published on 23 February 2017.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2490 KB
  • Print Length: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Quercus (23 Feb. 2017)
  • My rating: 3.5 stars (rounded up to 4 stars on Goodreads)

Harriet Said by Beryl Bainbridge

Disquiet and dread permeate this novel

Harriet Said...

Blurb (from Amazon):

A girl returns from boarding school to her sleepy Merseyside hometown and waits to be reunited with her childhood friend, Harriet, chief architect of all their past mischief. She roams listlessly along the shoreline and the woods still pitted with wartime trenches, and encounters ‘the Tsar’ – almost old, unhappily married, both dangerously fascinating and repulsive.

Pretty, malevolent Harriet finally arrives – and over the course of the long holidays draws her friend into a scheme to beguile then humiliate the Tsar, with disastrous, shocking consequences. A gripping portrayal of adolescent transgression, Beryl Bainbridge’s classic first novel remains as subversive today as when it was written.

My thoughts:

Harriet Said is a dark story that turns child abuse on its head. It is an unsettling and chilling book, beginning as Harriet and her friend, an unnamed 13 year-old girl, run home screaming to tell their parents what had happened. Harriet says:

When I say run, you start to run. When I say scream, you scream. Don’t stop running. just you keep going. (page 2)

It is one of those books that, although it is well written and makes compulsive reading, can’t be said to be enjoyable and the characters are not at all likeable.

It is set just after the Second World War in the Formby sand dunes on the outskirts of Liverpool.  During their school holidays the two girls make their way to the beach each evening, where they become friends with a group of lonely, dispirited middle-aged men.  They are not naive or innocent, but neither are they fully aware of the consequences of their actions as they set out to manipulate the men, the ‘Tsar’ in particular. They want to gather ‘experience’, which they record in Harriet’s diary:

A year ago to be called a Dirty Little Angel would have kept us going for months. Now it was not enough; more elaborate things had to be said; each new experience had to leave a more complicated tracery of sensations; to satisfy us every memory must be more desperate than the last.

… We took to going long walks over the shore, looking for people who by their chosen solitariness must have something to hide. We learnt early that it was the gently resigned ones who had the most to tell; the frantic and voluble were no use. (pages 39 and 40)

It is Harriet who decides their actions and dictates what to write in the diary.

They peek through the windows of the Tsar’s house and watch as he ‘lay pinned like a moth on the sofa‘ underneath his wife as she ‘poisoned him slowly, rearing and stabbing him convulsively. This sickens the 13 year-old, who wants to be loved by the Tsar, but Harriet decides that he is weak and submissive, saying that he likes being a victim and must be punished in a way he doesn’t like. From that point onwards events move rapidly to a shocking conclusion.

I’ve read a few of Beryl Bainbridge’s books and each one has kept me engrossed. Harriet Said is the first one she wrote, based on a real event, and although she submitted it for publication in 1958 it wasn’t published until 1972 because of its subject matter – ‘What repulsive little creatures you have made the central characters, repulsive almost beyond belief!‘ wrote one editor. I found it a disturbing story as the manipulation escalated and everything began to spiral out of the girls’ control as childhood fled from them.

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Virago (6 Dec. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184408860X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844088607
  • Source: a library book
  • My rating: 3.5 stars (rounded up to 4 stars on Goodreads)

The Good People by Hannah Kent

A heart-wrenching and beautiful novel.

I loved The Good People by Hannah Kent. It’s an intensely moving and beautifully written tale of Irish rural life in the early 19th century.

The Good People

Blurb:

County Kerry, Ireland, 1825.

NÓRA, bereft after the sudden death of her beloved husband, finds herself alone and caring for her young grandson Micheál. Micheál cannot speak and cannot walk and Nóra is desperate to know what is wrong with him. What happened to the healthy, happy grandson she met when her daughter was still alive?

MARY arrives in the valley to help Nóra just as the whispers are spreading: the stories of unexplained misfortunes, of illnesses, and the rumours that Micheál is a changeling child who is bringing bad luck to the valley.

NANCE’s knowledge keeps her apart. To the new priest, she is a threat, but to the valley people she is a wanderer, a healer. Nance knows how to use the plants and berries of the woodland; she understands the magic in the old ways. And she might be able to help Micheál.

As these three women are drawn together in the hope of restoring Micheál, their world of folklore and belief, of ritual and stories, tightens around them. It will lead them down a dangerous path, and force them to question everything they have ever known.

Based on true events and set in a lost world bound by its own laws, The Good People is Hannah Kent’s startling new novel about absolute belief and devoted love. Terrifying, thrilling and moving in equal measure, this long-awaited follow-up to Burial Rites shows an author at the height of her powers.

My thoughts:

I grew up reading fairy stories but The Good People gives a frighteningly realistic view of what belief in fairies meant to people dealing with sickness, disease, evil and all the things that go wrong in our lives. It’s set in 1825/6, a long gone world of people living in an isolated community, a place where superstition and a belief in fairies held sway. People talk of others being ‘fairy-swept’ or ‘away with the fairies’, and kept with the music and lights, dancing under the fairy hill.

Nóra is overcome with grief when her husband, Martin, died, feeling as though she was drowning and abandoned, completely unable to cope with Micheál, her four-year old grandson. There is talk that he is ‘fairy-struck’, unable to walk or talk and screaming uncontrollably when he is in pain or upset. She needed someone else to help her and so she hired Mary to look after Micheál. But Micheál did not improve and soon she comes to believe that he is a changeling. After both the doctor and the priest are unable to cure Micheál, Nóra appeals to Nance, the valley’s ‘handy woman’ for help.

This is a beautifully written book. It is not a fairy story, but one in which their existence is terrifyingly real to the people of the valley. The villagers believe that the fairies live in Piper’s Grave, ‘the lurking fairy fort’, at the end of the valley, a place where few people went, a neglected and wild place. People see lights there, glowing near a crooked whitethorn tree that stood in a circle of stone. Nance lives in a cabin in front of the wood a short distance from Piper’s Grave and not far from the river. She was the woman they wanted to help them bring their babies into the world, and who was the ‘gatekeeper’ at the end of their lives, the ‘keener’ when they died. She is the person Nance went to believing she could help bring back the little boy she loved.

I loved everything about The Good People, Hannah Kent is an excellent stortyteller. The characters all spring to life, Nóra, Nance and Mary in particular. It’s not a world I know and yet I felt I did, with its mix of characters, old Peg O’Shea, Nóra’s nearest neighbour who helps when she can and the younger men and women who gossip and are quick to blame Micheál for bringing bad luck to the valley and to condemn Nance, who whilst they go to her for cures, also frightens them.

It is a heart breaking story and as it drew to its inevitable end I was really moved by the effect of fear, ignorance and superstition that brought about such a tragedy. The Author’s Note at the end of the book  explains that she drew on a real event from 1826 in writing The Good People. She has researched and listed many works of both fiction and non-fiction and also consulted many historians, curators and academics whilst writing the book.

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

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 3007 KB
  • Print Length: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Main Market Ed. edition (9 Feb. 2017)

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See

Synopsis:

A beautiful, stunningly ambitious novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II

Marie-Laure has been blind since the age of six. Her father builds a perfect miniature of their Paris neighbourhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. But when the Nazis invade, father and daughter flee with a dangerous secret.

Werner is a German orphan, destined to labour in the same mine that claimed his father’s life, until he discovers a knack for engineering. His talent wins him a place at a brutal military academy, but his way out of obscurity is built on suffering.

At the same time, far away in a walled city by the sea, an old man discovers new worlds without ever setting foot outside his home. But all around him, impending danger closes in.

Doerr’s combination of soaring imagination and meticulous observation is electric. As Europe is engulfed by war and lives collide unpredictably, ‘All The Light We Cannot See’ is a captivating and devastating elegy for innocence.

I have just finished reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I’m not going to write a review but want to jot down some thoughts:

  • It began well and I liked it straight away – see this Friday post.
  • There are three story lines – that of Marie-Laure, of Werner, and of a diamond that has magical powers.
  • But my overall picture of the book is of a blur, of confusion as it moved not only between characters but also backwards and forwards in time and I couldn’t work out the time sequence. I kept going back to the contents list to try to work it out was I in 1944 when the book began or in 1942, or 43. Had I met this character before in the future, or in the past and where was I -in France, Germany, Vienna or Russia? How did the characters relate to each other? I was hopelessly puzzled for quite a large portion of this book. For a while the fog in my mind cleared and I thought I’d got it, only to find a few chapters later I was lost again.
  • So I gave up trying to work out dates; places and people became clearer to me and I did (I think) follow the story, but it wasn’t easy as Marie-Laure’s and Werner’s time-lines were so fragmented.
  • The writing in parts is beautiful, great descriptions giving me some insight into what it was liked for ordinary people from both sides during the 2nd World War and what it must be like to be blind.
  • I liked all the detail of the model of Saint-Malo that Marie-Laure’s father made to help her find her way around, models of the buildings and roads.
  • The title refers (I think) to the how the brain, which is enclosed within the scull – ie in darkness – is yet full of light, brimming with colour and movement. And also to the light transmitted by radio wavelengths; light caught from the sun within plants and within gem stones such a diamonds; light beyond our ability to see it within the electromagnetic spectrum.
  • I was glad to get to the end. I think it is over-long, and very slow. But overall, mainly because of its descriptive prose; the way it conveys what being involved in war is like; and the character of Marie-Laure, I liked it and gave it 3 stars on Goodreads.

A book for Bev’s Mount TBR Reading Challenge, a book I’ve owned since 2016.

My Friday Post: Harriet Said by Beryl Bainbridge

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

My opener this week is from Harriet Said by Beryl Bainbridge. I’ve enjoyed all of Beryl Bainbridge’s books that I’ve read so far, so I’m keen to read this one – the first book she wrote and submitted for publication in 1958. However, it was rejected because of its content and was not published until 1972. It is set just after the war in a Liverpool suburb near the Formby sand dunes where Beryl Bainbridge grew up.

It begins:

When I came home for the holidays, Harriet was away with her family in Wales. She had written to explain it was not her fault and that when she came back we would have a lovely time.

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

Friday 56

These are the rules:

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

Page 56:

We rode the roundabouts, shrieking among the painted horses, riding endlessly round and round, waiting for the Tsar to come.

Blurb (from Goodreads):

Two schoolgirls are spending their holiday in an English coastal town: Harriet is the older at 14 and the leader of the two. The 13-year-old unnamed narrator develops a crush on an unhappily married middle-aged man, Peter Biggs, whom they nickname “the Tsar.” Led by pretty, malevolent Harriet they study his relationship with his wife, planning to humiliate him. Their plan quickly goes wrong, however, with horrifying results.

Eyes Like Mine by Sheena Kamal

Eyes Like Mine is an excellent psychological suspense novel. I loved it.

Blurb:

It’s late. The phone rings.

The man on the other end says his daughter is missing. Your daughter.

The child Nora Watts gave up for adoption 15-years ago has vanished and the police are labelling her a chronic runaway. No one is looking for the girl, she’s not blonde or white enough.

Once a starving artist herself, transient, homeless, left for dead in dark forest, Nora knows better than anyone what happens to girls that are lost to the streets. To the girls that the police don’t bother look for.

As she begins to investigate, she discovers a dangerous conspiracy and embarks on a harrowing journey of deception and violence that takes her from the rainy streets of Vancouver to the snow-capped mountains of the interior and finally to the island where she will face her greatest demon…

Intuitive, not always likeable, and deeply flawed, Nora Watts is a new heroine for our time.

My thoughts:

Eyes Like Mine is Sheena Kamal’s debut novel. She was inspired to write it by the plight of missing and murdered indigenous woman in Canada – an issue that kept cropping up during her research for the Canadian TV documentary looking into missing and murdered women along a 724 kilometre stretch of highway in northern British Columbia.

Everything about this book fascinated me from the characters and in particular the main character, Nora Watts, the gripping storylines that kept me racing through the book, to the atmospheric, gloomy setting in Vancouver and in beautiful British Columbia with its snow, mountains and plush ski resorts.

The plot is intricate, complicated and fast moving, highlighting various issues such as mixed race inheritance and differences in treatment based on skin colour, homelessness, and environmental issues. These never overpower the story, but form part of the book as a whole.

It’s narrated by Nora, in the first person present tense, interspersed by short chapters written in the third person, also present tense. I’m often irritated and distracted by the use of the present tense but I was hardly aware of it – I think it works well in this book, giving an insight into Nora’s mind and feelings.

Nora is a conflicted character, a recovering alcoholic, who works as a receptionist and research assistant for Seb Crow and his partner, Leo Krushnik, who runs a private investigation firm. Nora’s speciality is that she can tell when people are lying. Nora lives in their office basement with her dog, Whisper. There are plenty of interesting and well-drawn characters and I liked Nora, despite her somewhat suspect actions, and Whisper, who also has her own issues.

The main focus of the book is Nora, her traumatic background and her search for her daughter, Bonnie, now a teenager, who she gave away as a new-born baby. Nora is shocked by her reaction when she sees a photo of Bonnie – there is no doubt that she is her daughter, with her dark hair and golden skin. But it is her eyes that clinch it for Nora; Bonnie has the same eyes, dark and fathomless. And Nora feels as though she is in a nightmare.

Nora, working for Leo is also searching also for the witness to a murder, who has since disappeared, and for the killer of an investigative journalist, Mike Starling, the man from her past who had been investigating corruption in the mining industry. Her search takes Nora into many dangerous and heart-stopping situations. I was almost breathless as I read Eyes Like Mine.

My thanks to the publishers, Zaffre, for an advanced review copy of Eyes Like Mine, to be published tomorrow, 9 February.

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Zaffre (9 Feb. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1785762567
  • ISBN-13: 978-1785762567

Six Degrees of Separation from Fates and Furies to The Graveyard Book

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

Fates and Furies

This month’s chain begins with Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies.  I haven’t read it but apparently it is a novel about a marriage.

14486772So my first book in the chain is also a book about a married couple. It is Before the Fact by Francis Iles. First published in 1932 this is a Golden Age crime fiction novel that is a psychological character study of its two main characters, Lina and Johnnie.  ‘Some women give birth to murderers, some go to bed with them, and some marry them. Lina Aysgarth had lived with her husband for nearly eight years before she realized that she was married to a murderer.’

The Marriage LieThe Marriage Lie by Kimberly Belle is another psychological thriller and is also about a marriage. Iris thought her marriage to Will was perfect until a plane en route to Seattle crashed. Everyone on board was killed and, according to the airline, Will was one of the passengers – but he had told her he was going to Florida. Why did he lie? This is one of those books that gripped me and kept me guessing all the way through. It has one of the most convoluted and complex plots I’ve read in a while. The pace is terrific and the tension just builds and builds.

WreckageWreckage by Emily Bleeker is also about a plane crash. Lillian Linden and Dave Hall spent two years on a deserted island in the South Pacific after their plane crashed into the sea. Like The Marriage Lie, this book revolves around lies. After their rescue Lillian and Dave are desperate to keep what really happened on the island a secret from their families. This is also a book about marriage.


The Sea DetectiveWreckage
leads to the next book in the chain in which the sea and an island play a major role. It’s The Sea Detective by Mark Douglas-Hume (a Scottish author) set on the fictional island of Eilean Iasgaich. Cal McGill uses his knowledge of tides, winds and currents to solve mysteries, which helps in the investigation of the appearance of severed feet in trainers that had been washed on shore on islands miles apart.

The Ghosts of Altona (Jan Fabel, #7)The Ghosts of Altona is also by a Scottish author – Craig Russell. It’s the 7th book featuring Jan Fabel, the head of Hamburg’s Murder Commission and is set in Altona, one of the city boroughs. It’s a modern Gothic tale as well as being a crime thriller. Fabel’s first case as a detective is resurrected when the body of Monika Krone is found under a car park, fifteen years after she disappeared. And then there are more murders which Fabel thinks are linked to the discovery of Monika’s remains, all of men who were in the same Gothic set at university.

The Graveyard BookGhosts are the last link in the chain with The Graveyard Book  by Neil Gaiman. This is the story of the baby who escapes a murderer intent on killing his entire family, and who stumbles into the local disused graveyard where he is rescued by ghosts. He is named by the ghosts, Nobody Owens, or Bod for short, and he grows up looked after by his adoptive parents Master and Mistress Owens who had been dead for a few hundred years and numerous other occupants of the graveyard. It’s scary and creepy, but never gory.

The links are that they are all mysteries of different types, with three of them about marriage. They are all about life and death and the fight between good and evil. And I had no idea when I began the chain that it would end in a ghostly graveyard.

Next month (March 4, 2017), the chain will begin with Nick Hornby’s memoir (or love letter to soccer), Fever Pitch – I think I have this book, but haven’t read it.

My Friday Post: All the Light We Cannot See

Book Beginnings Button

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

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This morning I began reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (one of the TBRs on my Kindle) and already I think I’m going to like it very much.

It begins:

Zero

7 August 1944

Leaflets

At dusk they pour from the sky. They blow across the ramparts, turn cartwheels over rooftops, flutter into the ravines between houses. Entire streets swirl with them, flashing white against the cobbles. Urgent message to the inhabitants of this town, they say. Depart immediately to open country.

A dramatic opening, immediately alerting me to the danger that is to come.

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

Friday 56

These are the rules:

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

Page 56:

All day Marie-Laure lies on her stomach and reads. Logic, reason, pure science: these Aronnax insists, are the proper ways to pursue a mystery. Not fables and fairy tales.

Synopsis:

A beautiful, stunningly ambitious novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II

Marie-Laure has been blind since the age of six. Her father builds a perfect miniature of their Paris neighbourhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. But when the Nazis invade, father and daughter flee with a dangerous secret.

Werner is a German orphan, destined to labour in the same mine that claimed his father’s life, until he discovers a knack for engineering. His talent wins him a place at a brutal military academy, but his way out of obscurity is built on suffering.

At the same time, far away in a walled city by the sea, an old man discovers new worlds without ever setting foot outside his home. But all around him, impending danger closes in.

Doerr’s combination of soaring imagination and meticulous observation is electric. As Europe is engulfed by war and lives collide unpredictably, ‘All The Light We Cannot See’ is a captivating and devastating elegy for innocence.

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

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Rosemary Sutcliff was one of my favourite authors when I was a child and I particularly loved Brother Dusty Feet, about a boy who joined a group of strolling players set in Elizabethan England. I bought The Eagle of the Ninth in a library book sale several years ago because I remembered my love of Brother Dusty Feet and had meant to read it well before now. I got round to it this month and thoroughly enjoyed it, so it’s one of my TBRs for Bev’s Mount TBR Reading challenge.

The first half of the book tells of how Marcus Flavius Aquila, a young Roman officer arrived in Britain as a centurion and was injured in a battle and then, unfit for duty, was discharged. Some years earlier, sometime in 117 AD, the Ninth Hispana Legion, led by his father had marched north from its base at Eburacum (York) into the mists of Northern Britain to deal with a rising among the Caledonian tribes and was never heard of again – their Eagle Standard was also lost.

Marcus then sets out to discover the truth about his father’s disappearance, what had happened to the Legion and if possible, to recover the Eagle, and thus to redeem his father’s honour. For an Eagle standard taken in war meant so much:

To the Outland tribes it must seem that they have captured the god of the Legion: and so they carry it home in triumph, with many torches and perhaps the sacrifice of a black ram, and house it in the temple of their own god to make the young men strong in war and help the grain to ripen.

If trouble were to break out again in the north, a Roman Eagle in the hands of the Painted People might well become a weapon against us, owing to the power it would undoubtedly have to fire the minds and hearts of the Tribes. (pages 121 – 122)

He disguises himself as a Greek occulist, and with his freed ex-slave, Esca, travels beyond Hadrian’s Wall. The rest of the book is about their search through the wild borderlands north of the Wall in what was then the province of Valentia and over the Northern Wall (the Antonine Wall), into Caledonia, along the shores of Loch Lomond to the base of Ben Cruachan overlooking Loch Awe.

Rosemary Sutcliff was a wonderful storyteller, bringing Roman Britain to life  in beautifully descriptive prose, so vivid that it’s easy to picture the scenery and the characters. It’s a powerful adventure story, full of detail particularly about Marcus and Esca – their friendship and courage in the face of danger and hardship. There is plenty of suspense as they fight their way through mountains and bogs, pursued by the hostile tribes. It’s also a novel about honour, duty and love.

She based The Eagle of the Ninth on two facts. First, the disappearance of the Ninth Legion. And second, the discovery of a cast bronze figure of an eagle found in the Basilica of the Roman town of Calleva, near Silchester. The eagle’s original wings are missing and its origin is unknown. Although it was not a legionary eagle, it inspired Rosemary Sutcliff to write her book.

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Silchester Eagle Cast in Reading Museum

There is a map at the front of the book showing the route Marcus and Esca took and some of the places described, including Trinomontium (Melrose), Luguvalium (Carlisle), Segedunum (Wallsend) and Borcovicus on Hadrian’s  Wall (Housesteads Roman Fort) and the Northern Wall.

I loved all the detail of the mix of peoples living in Britain, their religious beliefs and ceremonies and their social and cultural background. It’s described as a children’s/YA book but I think it’s suitable for adults too – the writing style is certainly not simplistic and the vocabulary is extensive.

It is quite simply a gem of a book.

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; Revised edition edition (7 Oct. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192753924
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192753922
  • Source: my own copy

About Rosemary Sutcliff (1920 – 1975), born in Surrey

At the age of two she contracted Still’s disease and spent most of her life in a wheelchair. At 14 she left school having made little progress in anything except reading and went to an art school, specialising in miniature painting, becoming a member of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters just after the Second World War. She wrote very many books, both fiction and non-fiction, and won several awards.

Two Inspector Morse Mysteries

I’ve got rather behind with writing about the books I’ve been reading so this post is on two of Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse books, both are books from my TBR list. Colin Dexter wrote 13 novels in the series and I’ve been reading them out of order – just as I come across them.

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The second book in the series is Last Seen Wearing, first published in 1976, in which Morse investigates a cold case. Two years previously schoolgirl Valerie Taylor had disappeared during her lunch hour from the Roger Bacon Comprehensive school. Her body had never been found and the case had been shelved but recently her parents had received a letter telling them she was ‘alright’ and they were not to worry.

Morse isn’t please when he was instructed to investigate Valerie’s disappearance but then is interested when he guesses that she is dead.  In fact he is convinced that she is dead. But throughout the novel he keeps changing his mind, coming up with theory after theory about what happened to her. Lewis meanwhile, who is assisting Morse, is sure that Valerie is still alive.

There are plenty of suspects, the headmaster of the school, the second master, the French teacher, one of her boyfriends, her mother and her stepfather all come under Morse’s scrutiny. It is a complicated investigation made even more so when the second master is found stabbed with a nine-inch kitchen knife.

I haven’t read the first book in the series, Last Bus to Woodstock, in which Morse and Lewis first work together, but this second book shows their working relationship is a good one and they have several lively discussions. Lewis whilst admiring Morse sees him clearly, noting that he always had to find a complex solution.

I was puzzled throughout and like Morse I kept changing my mind about it all and at one point I had the solution – as had Morse – but had then changed my mind. Of course, by the end of the novel Morse had it all worked out correctly.

The Dead of Jericho: An Inspector Morse Mystery 5

The Dead of Jericho is the 5th Inspector Morse book, first published in 1981. Colin Dexter wrote 13 novels in the series and I’ve been reading them out of order – just as I come across them. Years ago I watched the TV series of Morse. The Dead of Jericho was broadcast in January 1987, the first of Dexter’s books to be televised. I must have watched it but as it was so long ago I had completely forgotten the details.

Jericho is an area of Oxford, described in the book as a largely residential district consisting mainly of two-storey terraced mid nineteenth century houses and bounded by the Oxford Canal.

Morse met Anne Scott at a party and was immediately attracted to her. She gave him her address but thinking she was married he didn’t contact her until six months later when, being near where she lived, he impulsively called at her house at Canal Reach in Jericho. There was no reply, but the front door wasn’t locked and he stepped inside and after calling out Anne’s name and getting no reply, he closed the door behind him as he stepped out onto the pavement and left. Later that evening an anonymous phone call directed the police to Anne’s house where she was found dead. Apparently she had hanged herself.

Morse is assigned to the case and has to decide whether her death was suicide or murder. And when the police realise that Morse had been in the house that day he comes under suspicion for a while. There are various suspects and Morse as usual constructs theories which fit all of them, leaving Lewis to put him on the right track.

In both books Morse shows various aspects of his personality. He is clever, loves the opera,  and solving puzzles, particularly crosswords – he can do The Times crossword in under ten minutes. He is not a happy man; he is sensitive, melancholy, a loner and a pedant. His meanness comes out in the pub where he gets Lewis, on a much lower salary, to buy all their drinks. And in both books he is attracted  sexually to women.

Both books qualify for Bev’s Mount TBR Reading Challenge, being e-books I’ve had for over two years.

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 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’.

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.

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 sweltering 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.

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

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)

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)

 

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

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.

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.

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?