The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

Note: I’ve found this hard to write about without giving away some spoilers.

I’d listed The Old Curiosity Shop in my Classics Club Spin,  but was really hoping to get one of Thomas Hardy’s books. Without this push from the Classics Club this book would have stayed on my TBR list for a long time because all I knew about it was that it’s the book in which Little Nell suffers a melodramatic death and I feared it would be too sentimental for my liking. And much to my surprise I have finished it in time for the deadline for reading our Spin book this Friday, even though it’s such a long book.

Well, it was and it wasn’t. It’s not just a sentimental, melodramatic story. It’s also full of weird, grotesque and comic characters, a mix of everyday people and characters of fantasy. It has elements of folklore and myth, as Nell and her grandfather, go on an epic journey, fleeing from the terrifying dwarf, Daniel Quilp and travelling through a variety of scenes, meeting different groups of people on their journey. There are numerous allusions to the Bible, Shakespeare and popular songs of the day. There are long passages where Nell doesn’t feature and is hardly mentioned, so it’s by no means a totally sentimental tale.

Several of the characters stand out for me, Quilp is an obvious choice. He takes delight in inflicting pain and suffering on others. He’s scarcely human, grossly wicked, hideous in appearance, full of lust, ferocious, cunning, and malicious. A fiend who

… ate hard eggs, shell and all, devoured gigantic prawns with heads and tails  on, chewed tobacco and water-cresses at the same time and with extraordinary greediness, drank boiling tea without winking, bit his fork and spoon until they bent again, and in short performed so many horrifying and uncommon acts that the women were nearly frightened out of their wits, and began to doubt if he were really a human creature. (page 47)

Other characters who stood out are Dick Swiveller and the Marchioness. Dick at first appears as a profligate friend of Nell’s brother, Fred but takes on a larger role later in the book. Working in a law office for Mr Brass and his sister, Sally Brass, he befriends the small, half-starved girl who is a servant locked in the basement, calling her the Marchioness. He rescues her and also Kit, Nell’s friend, when he is wrongly accused of robbery.

There are many more I could mention, including the people Nell and her grandfather meet on their travels – wonderful scenes  of the travelling Punch and Judy show; Mrs Jarley’s wax-work figures, over a hundred of them that she takes around the countryside in a caravan; the gypsies who take advantage of Nell’s grandfather’s addiction to gambling; the poor schoolteacher who take in Nell and her grandfather; and the Bachelor who they meet at the end of their journey.

I also liked the description of the landscape as Nell leaves London, the change from town to countryside, then later through the industrial Midlands with its factories, furnaces and roaring steam-engines where people worked in terrible conditions. Nell and her grandfather spend a night in one of the furnaces, sleeping on a heap of ashes.

In a large and lofty building, supported by pillars of iron, with great black apertures in the upper walls, open to the external air; echoing to the roof with the beating of hammers and roar of furnaces, mingled with the hissing of red-hot metal plunged in water, and a hundred strange unearthly noises never heard elsewhere; in this gloomy place, moving like demons among the flame and smoke, dimly and fitfully seen, flushed and tormented by the burning fires, and wielding great weapons, a faulty blow from any one of which must have crushed some workman’s skull, a number of men laboured like giants. (pages 334-5)

Nell, herself, is a sweet, self-effacing and innocent character, who is left to look after her grandfather as he fails to overcome his gambling addiction. She goes into a decline and her slow death is, I suppose inevitable, although thankfully it is not described by Dickens. Child death is one of the themes of The Old Curiosity Shop as Nell’s death is not the only one.

The Old Curiosity Shop was written in 1840 – 1841 and serialised weekly in Master Humphrey’s Clock beginning on 4 April 1840 and ending on 6 February 1841. During this period the circulation of the periodical rose to a staggering figure of 100,000. It was Dickens’ fourth novel, influenced by the early death of his sister-in-law, Mary Hogarth, in 1837, which had profoundly shocked him. His work on The Old Curiosity Shop, particularly as he came to writing the end, revived the anguish he had experienced on her death.

The Old Curiosity Shop
The Old Curiosity Shop

I read the Penguin Classics e-book which has the original illustrations by George Cattermole, Hablot K Browne (‘Phiz’), Daniel
Maclise and Samuel Williams.

TOCShop furnace
The furnace

Despite the sentimentality I did enjoy reading The Old Curiosity Shop and it has made me keen to read more of Dickens’ books.

As well as being my Classics Club Spin, this book also qualifies for the Mount To Be Read Challenge and the Victorian Bingo Challenge.

Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton

You can tell from the title what to expect from this book – lies, black lies, but they’re not little lies, they are whopping great big lies. The story is narrated by three of the main characters, Catrin, Callum and Rachel, all unreliable narrators either self deceptive, delusional or manipulative. They are all damaged characters.

Three years before the story begins Catrin’s two sons died in an accident caused by her then best friend Rachel. She has never got over it; they have haunted her ever since and she has not spoken to Rachel since then, determined to take revenge as the third anniversary of their death approaches. A year after their deaths Fred Harper went missing and was never found, then another boy, Jimmy Brown disappeared. As the story begins yet another boy, Archie West is missing. The nightmare continues with the disappearance of Peter, Rachel’s third and youngest son.

Little Black Lies is set in the Falkland Islands in 1994, twelve years after the war and Sharon Bolton’s descriptions of the islands paint a vivid picture of the isolation, the close knit community and war scarred landscape.

But there are a few things about this book that mean whilst I enjoyed the descriptive writing, the sense of place and the opening section very much I didn’t really like it. I began reading it with high expectations as it has received much praise and I’ve enjoyed everything else by Sharon Bolton that I’ve read. And although I was dismayed when I found it was written in the present tense (which is not my favourite style) I thought it was very promising and read on eagerly.

But when I finished it I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads, rounded up from 2.5 (Goodreads doesn’t have half marks!). I wasn’t keen on the focus on missing/dead children which so many books seem to have had recently. And it was a combination of the present tense and the way the plot descended into more of a farce with several twists and turns, particularly as the book draws to an end, one after the other that I just didn’t think was credible. The final  twist at the end came out of the blue for me, although thinking back it shouldn’t have been such a surprise. But I felt a bit cheated. In fact I’m rather annoyed with myself as I’d totally forgotten FictionFan had reviewed this book and I’d thought then that it was one that didn’t appeal to me – at least I was right!

Sunday Selection

Yesterday I finished reading The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens. It seems as though I’ve been reading it for ages, but actually it took me 6 days, reading long chunks at a time. I liked parts of it more than others, but overall I think it’s too long and there’s too much sentimentality for my liking. I’m planning to write more about this book in a later post.

What to read next? There are so many I want to read right now, including these:

Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton. I recently finished A Dark and Twisted Tide, which I loved and I’m keen to read more of her books. This one is a standalone novel, described as a ‘dark and haunting thriller’. So many people have said they really like this book that at the moment it’s top of my list.

But there are other books too:

Enigma by Robert Harris, because I’ve recently been reading quite a lot about Bletchley Park and Alan Turing. Enigma is a novel, described as ‘ pure fiction but the historical background, Alan Turing’s famous wartime computing project that cracked the German U-boat communications code, is real and accurately portrayed.‘ I’ve enjoyed the other books by Harris that I’ve read, so think this should be good.

The Secret Lives of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd – she has written several novels, but I haven’t read any of them, so I don’t know what to expect. This one was her first. It’s set in South Carolina in 1964 telling the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. This book has had lots of praise too and looks a bit different from the books I’ve been reading recently.

But I’ve also recently borrowed these library books. I only went to collect two books I’d reserved but of course I had to look at the shelves and found some more books.

Mankell Oct 2015

The books I reserved are The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo and My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, both books recommended by other book bloggers.

I picked the other books whilst browsing the shelves. My eyes were drawn to A Treacherous Paradise by Henning Mankell who died this week, Fatal Inheritance by Catherine Shaw, both authors whose books I’ve read before, and two new-to-me authors, Martin Walker, the first in his Bruno, Chief of Police series, and The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die by Colin Cotterill.

Do let me know if you’ve read any of these books and if so did you like them?

A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton: Mini Review

I finished reading A Dark and Twisted Tide, the 4th in the Lacey Flint series, at the end of September, but never got round to writing about it, so now this is just a mini review.

Synopsis from the back cover:

Police Constable Lacey Flint thins she’s safe. Living on the river, swimming in the river, she’s never been happier. It can’t last. Because Lacey has secrets. And when the first body floats, it’s only a matter of time before her fragile life falls apart. And the river is the last place she should be ..,

This is such a terrifying novel, particularly if like me, you have a fear of drowning. No longer a detective, Lacey is now a police constable with the Metropolitan Police’s Marine Unit on the River Thames, living on a houseboat (actually a vintage sailing yacht) in Deptford Creek and wanting a quieter and safer life whilst trying to recover from the terrifying events of her last cases. Unlike me, Lacey loves swimming and is perfectly at home in water, so much so that she wild-swims in the Thames as often as tide and conditions allow, loving it so much that she feels she has become part of the river. But even she experiences the terror of being drawn down into the water ‘within a frantic gasp of drowning‘.

A Dark and Twisted Tide is a multi-layered book, told from different characters’ perspectives, complex and chilling as it weaves its way through murders, people trafficking, a mysterious character called ‘the swimmer’, more details about Lacey’s background and the ongoing saga of her relationship with Mark Joesbury. It’s a grim tale with a great sense of foreboding and mystery – a book I read far too quickly, making me think at some point I’ll read it again more slowly as I’m sure there’s a lot I missed. An excellent read for RIP X!

The Devil’s Promise by David Stuart Davies

The full title of this book is The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Promise.

From the back cover:

The discovery of a corpse on a deserted beach is just the first in a series of mysterious and terrifying events that threaten Sherlock Holmes. While investigating the death, Holmes and Watson attract unwanted attention from the strange inhabitants of the nearby village, and are viciously attacked. Watson wakes to discover that months have passed and his friend is not the man he remembers. What has transpired during those lost days? And is it connected to the notorious “Devil’s Companion” whose descendants live nearby?

A book for RIP X, and one I had high hopes of when I read the Foreword by Mark Gatiss – an English actor, comedian, screenwriter and novelist, writing for Doctor Who and the co-creator of Sherlock. He wrote:

I think that Sherlock Holmes is imperishable, a brilliant British icon – indeed a worldwide icon. He represents the best of us. He is as clever as we would all like to be. He is surprising, capricious, slightly dangerous, strangely elegant, dashing, Byronic and the best and wisest man any of us will ever know.

I believe he lasts because we all want to be Sherlock Holmes and we all want to believe there are people like Sherlock Holmes out there, instead of the universe being completely chaotic, which is actually the truth.

This fabulous character is the creation of Arthur Conan Doyle who, in my opinion, was a writer of genius. No wonder many of us wish to tread in his footsteps. Sherlock now lives in other people’s stories too, as he does in The Devil’s Promise, penned by the great Davies, whose Sherlock Holmes writings have brought me hours of pleasure.

Holmes and Watson are staying in an isolated cottage in Devon when they they find themselves caught up in a nightmare scenario of a puzzling surreal nature they cannot understand. After Holmes discovers the body on the beach weird images appear on the door of the cottage, they are attacked by villagers, and meet a brother and his strange sister who warns them to leave or they will be killed.

But I was a little disappointed; it began well but later became repetitive – the dead body disappears and reappears and Watson keeps getting into fights, being hit on the head and losing consciousness. It has elements of suspense, as Holmes is coerced to take part in a ceremony to raise the Devil. But I began to think it was all very predictable – maybe it’s the cynic in me but I found myself reading just to see how it ended and whether it was as predictable as I thought it was. And it was, apart from the very last three sentences.

Mount TBR Checkpoint 3

Mount TBR 2015This year is just flying by and it’s time for the third quarterly checkpoint for Bev’s Mount TBR 2015 Challenge. I’m answering three of Bev’s questions:

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

I have read 29 books, way behind the number of books I need to read to reach my target for this year. The full list is on my TBR Challenge page. In terms of how many mountains I’ve scaled this means that I am on the slopes of Mt Vancouver and I have 19 books left to read to reach my target of Mt Ararat (48 books) by the end of the year. Will I make it – maybe not?

2. Pair up two of your reads using whatever connection you want to make. Written by the same author? Same genre? Same color cover? Both have a main character named Clarissa? Tell us the books and what makes them a pair.
Secrets
The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins and The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. What makes them a pair is obvious in the titles – they’re both about secrets. But it is more than that, although they are by very different authors, written in very different times, they are both excellent mysteries, the secrets are tantalisingly and slowly revealed, both have complicated plots, with many twists and turns, both have convincingly ‘real’ characters and both explore social and moral issues. And I thoroughly enjoyed both of them.
Choose 1-4 titles from your stacks and using a word from the title, do an image search. Post the first all-eyes-friendly picture associated with that word.
Spilling the Beans by Clarissa Dickson Wright
Turn of the Tide by Margaret Skea
Turn of the tide

Five of the Best: September 2011-2015

This was originally Cleo’s idea (Cleopatra Loves Books). It’s to look back over your reviews of the past five years and pick out your favourite books for each month from 2011 – 2015. I like it so much it inspired me to do the same.

I really enjoy looking back over the books I’ve loved reading. These are some of my favourite books for each September from 2011 to 2015 (click on the titles/covers to see my original reviews). These are all crime fiction, mostly dark scary books, because each September and October I take part in the R.I.P. Challenge, that is hosted this year by The Estella Society.

2011

Blood Harvest by Sharon Bolton.  I can’t quite believe that it’s four years ago that I read this book as I can still remember the tension, terror and suspense within its pages.  It’s a dark, scary book, set in the fictional town of Heptonclough in Lancashire.There are two churches, the ancient ruined Abbey Church and standing next to it the ‘new’ church of St Barnabas. The Fletchers have just moved into a new house built on the land right next to the boundary wall of the churchyard. But this is not a safe place for children, three little girls have died over the past ten years, and when the Fletcher children start to hear voices in the graveyard more disturbing events unfold.

2012

The Sixth Lamentation by William Brodrick, the first Father Anselm book. This is historical fiction and it’s also a mystery. It looks back  to the Second World War in occupied France, telling a dramatic tale of love and betrayal, full of suspense, and interwoven stories, with accurate details of life in Paris during the Occupation and the subsequent war trials. William Brodrick has also drawn on his own personal experience. He was formerly in religious life but left before his final vows.

2013

Relics of the Dead by Ariana Franklin, the third book in her Mistress of the Art of Death series. The date is 1176, the setting is Glastonbury where the monks, after a fire had destroyed their monastery, discovered two skeletons buried in their graveyard. The question is  – are these the remains of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere? Henry II needs evidence that they are not and sends Adelia Aguilar, the anatomist, to examine the bones for evidence. I’ve always liked the stories about King Arthur, about his life and death, about Excalibur (which does feature in this book), about Guinevere’s affair with Lancelot,  and the Holy Grail (which do not).

2014

The Brimstone WeddingBrimstone wedding by Barbara Vine. This is one of the best of Barbara Vine’s books that I’ve read – nearly as good as A Dark-Adapted Eye and writing under her real name, Ruth Rendell, A Judgement in Stone. it’s not horrific in the overblown graphic sense, but in a sinister, psychological way that really is ‘chilling’ and inexpressibly sad. The atmosphere is mysterious, a house isolated in the fens, seems to hold the key to the past. Stella, who is dying of lung cancer,  never mentions her husband or her past life, but gradually she confides in Jenny, a carer at the retirement home where Stella lives, telling her things she has never said to her son and daughter – things about her life she doesn’t want them to know.

2015

This September I’m spoilt for choice as I read several excellent books – The Ghosts of Altona by Craig Russell is just one of them. This is his 7th book featuring Jan Fabel, the head of Hamburg’s Murder Commission, a very cleverly plotted book, multi-layered and complex and I loved it.

A murder mystery combining a cold case and present day murders combined with great storytelling, rich descriptions, interwoven with details of near-death experiences, the Gothic, mental and personality disorders makes this most definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year.

I must also mention three of Sharon Bolton’s Lacey Flint books that I read this September – all excellent books.

The 1924 Club

1924 Club

Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen of Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings have come up with a new  blog-community-project, which looks really interesting.  The idea is to get everyone reading from a particular year – reading whatever you’d like to, so long as it was published in 1924. For more details click on over to Simon’s blog

To take part post your reviews of a book or books published in 1924 between 19-31 October and during that time Simon will also have gathering-up posts available where you can link to your reviews, as well as any other 1924 book reviews you’ve ever written.

So, I’ve been looking at my shelves and have a small selection – some short stories by Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which I haven’t read yet. These were first published in magazines in 1924 and later in various collections. I also have Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford which was published in four parts, the first one, ‘Some Do Not …’ in 1924. I’ve been wanting to read this ever since I watched the BBC Two  production in August 2012.

September’s Books

I have read some fantastic books this September, twelve in all – I gave 5 stars to five of them on Goodreads (books marked with *). Four of the books are TBRs ,that is books I’ve owned since before 1 January 2015, two are non-fiction, that is memoir/biography and three are library books. The links are to my posts on the books.

Watching War Films with My Dad: a Memoir by Al Murray (NF, TBR) – no review. I liked this book which begins with Al talking about how his Dad pointed out all the things that are inaccurate/just plain wrong in the war films they watched together, which is very funny. Growing up in the 70s he became fascinated with the history of war – in particular World War Two. He writes about Action Man, Airfix and model making, paintballing as well as philosophising about history and war. Al Murray is a history graduate as well as a comedian and both strands are evident in his book, but he does ramble on at times.

The Robber Bride by Margaret AtwoodThe Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood (TBR) – it’s about power and the struggle between good and evil, about women’s friendship, and about the relationship between men and women. Overall I thought it was very good, and in parts excellent.

Three Lacey Flint books by Sharon Bolton Dead Scared* (TBR) – Lacey Flint 2 , Like This, For Ever*  Lacey Flint 3 and A Dark and Twisted Tide, the 4th Lacey Flint  book. All fabulous books, totally absorbing murder mysteries and terrifying in parts. I’ve yet to write about A Dark and Twisted Tide, which is possibly the best one of the three!

Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma by David Boyle (NF) – no review of this short biography (112 pages) – a good introduction to his life and work. At some time I think I’d like to read Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges, a much more detailed (and longer!) book used as the basis for the film The Imitation Game.  I’ve recently watched a TV programme about Gordon Welchman, which has made me keen to read  Gordon Welchman: Bletchley Park’s Architect of Ultra Intelligence by Joel Greenburg.

The Buried Giant* by Kazuo Ishiguro (LB) – an extraordinary and mesmerising book with elements of fantasy, myth and legend, of allegory and adventure and the perils of a quest.

Adam Bede by George Eliot (TBR) – a long and slow-moving novel set in rural England in 1799 about love, seduction, remorse, crime and religion.

Last Seen in Massilia by Steven Saylor – historical crime fiction set in in Massilia, modern day Marseilles, in 49 BC during Caesar’s siege of the city, featuring an investigator called Gordianus the Finder.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck* (LB) – I really liked this short book about commitment, loneliness, hope and loss, the story of two drifters, George and his simple-minded friend Lennie looking for work and dreaming of having some land of their own.Their hopes are doomed as Lennie – struggling against extreme cruelty, misunderstanding and feelings of jealousy – becomes a victim of his own strength.


The Ghosts of Altona
* by Craig Russell (LB) – an outstanding book, one of the best I’ve read this year, a modern Gothic tale as well as being a crime thriller, set in Hamburg as Jan Fabel, the head of Hamburg’s Murder Commission, investigates a cold case and a series of modern day murders.

The Moth Catcher by Ann Cleeves – the 7th and latest Vera Stanhope book, in which Vera investigates two murders at Valley Farm, a quiet community in Northumberland. With a complex plot, convincing characters and a seemingly effortless style of writing I loved this book. I may eventually get round to writing a proper post about it.

With so many outstanding and different books it’s impossible to choose a favourite! I’m hoping October’s books will be just as enjoyable.

This Week in Books: 30 September

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next. A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now: Currently I’m reading two books: A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton. I expect I’ll finish this today.

Blurb:

Police sergeant Lacey Flint thinks she’s safe.

She thinks her new job with the river police, and her new life on a house boat, will keep her away from danger. But she’s wrong.

When Lacey discovers a body in the water, and sinister offerings appear in her home, she fears someone is trying to expose her darkest secret.

And the river is the last place she should be.

And I’m still reading Mrs Jordan’s Profession: the Story of a Great Actress and a King by Claire Tomalin. I’ve just got up to 1790 when Prince William, George III’s third son, has set his sights on Dora Jordan. Claire Tomalin writes in an easy style, painting a rich picture of life in which princes, theatre players, politicians and the aristocracy crossed the social boundaries for a while. It will be a while before I’ll finish this book.

Blurb: Acclaimed as the greatest comic actress of her day, Dora Jordan lived a quite different role off-stage as lover to Prince William, third son of George III. Unmarried, the pair lived in a villa on the Thames and had ten children together until William, under pressure from royal advisers, abandoned her. The story of how Dora moved between the worlds of the eighteenth-century theatre and happy domesticity, of her fights for her family and her career makes a classic story of royal perfidy and female courage.

Then: I recently finished:

The Ghosts of Altona by Craig Russell – see yesterday’s post for my review – an excellent book.

Next: what can I say? It all depends upon what I fancy when the time comes. Right now, I’d like a change from crime fiction -something short and light hearted would be good. Any suggestions would be welcome.

The Ghosts of Altona by Craig Russell

Last week I quoted the opening paragraphs and the description of The Ghosts of Altona by Craig Russell, a novel, which won this year’s Bloody Scotland Crime Novel of the YearIt’s an outstanding book, one of the best I’ve read this year. I suppose it can be called a modern Gothic tale as well as being a crime thriller. Russell is a new author to me, but by no means is he a new author, The Ghosts of Altona being his 7th book featuring Jan Fabel, the head of Hamburg’s Murder Commission. However, it didn’t spoil my enjoyment that I’d jumped into the series right at the end. And in a way it didn’t matter at all as in the first chapter Jan has a near-death experience when he is shot by a suspected child killer, which has a profound effect on his life and the way he views death.

Two years later his first case as a detective is resurrected when the body of Monika Krone is found under a car park, fifteen years after she disappeared. The prime suspect at that time was Jochen Hubner, a serial rapist, christened ‘Frankenstein’ by the press because of his monstrous appearance, but there was no conclusive evidence to connect him to her disappearance. Monika, beautiful, intelligent and cruel had been the centre of a group of students obsessed with the Gothic. Then ‘Frankenstein’ escapes from prison and 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.

There are many allusions to the Gothic tradition and symbolism, the killings being reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe’s macabre tales, as well as philosophising on the nature of near-death experiences, Schrödinger’s cat, Cotard’s Delusion (in which sufferers believe themselves to be dead), and the intertwining of the hallucinogenic, the psychedelic, the spiritual and the macabre. All absolutely fascinating and incorporated seamlessly into the crime investigation so that I was turning the pages as fast as possible to get to the solution. It’s all very cleverly plotted, multi-layered and complex and I loved it.

As well as the story and the characters I loved the setting – Hamburg, a city I knew very little about before reading The Ghosts of Altona, the second largest city in Germany, a member of the medieval Hanseatic League. It’s a city of water with two lakes and the river Elbe running through it and it has more canals than Amsterdam and Venice combined. Altona, one of the city boroughs had been under Danish administration for over two centuries.

The Author

Born in Fife, Craig Russell served for several years as a police officer in Scotland, before becoming an advertising copywriter and later creative director. His Fabel novels were inspired by his long-standing interest in the language, culture and people of Germany. He has been translated into 23 languages, and his Lennox and Jan Fabel series have both been highly acclaimed. For more information see his website.

His Jan Fabel books (from Fantastic Fiction):


His  Lennox books

 

My Reading Challenges (although I didn’t read this book, or any book, specifically for any of the Reading Challenges I’m taking part in):

Stacking the Shelves: 26 September

STSmall

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

Here are my recent additions to my bookshelves. First crime fiction:

Blood Atonement etc P1010673

  • Murder in the Afternoon by Frances Brody – the 3rd Kate Shackleton Mystery. I’ve read the first two. Crime fiction set in the 1920s.
  • Blood Atonement by Dan Waddell – the 2nd Nigel Barnes novel. I’ve read the first one, Blood Detective. Barnes is a genealogist helping DCI Grant Foster to solve modern day crimes.
  • The Tree of Hands by Ruth Rendell – a psychological thriller. The death of a child sets in motion a chain of deception, kidnap and murder.

And also these:

Moon Tiger Gate of Angels P1010674

  • The Gate of Angels by Penelope Fitzgerald – described on the back cover as a metaphysical novel and a love story, amusing, disturbing and provoking reflection. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1990.
  • Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively – 1987 Booker Prize winner – a novel about a historian in her seventies looking back over her life.

What books have you added to your shelves this week?

This Week in Books: 23 September 2015

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next. A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now: Currently I’m reading two books:

The Ghosts of Altona by Craig Russell – see yesterday’s post for the opening paragraphs and blurb.

And Mrs Jordan’s Profession: the Story of a Great Actress and a King by Claire Tomalin.

Blurb:

Acclaimed as the greatest comic actress of her day, Dora Jordan lived a quite different role off-stage as lover to Prince William, third son of George III. Unmarried, the pair lived in a villa on the Thames and had ten children together until William, under pressure from royal advisers, abandoned her. The story of how Dora moved between the worlds of the eighteenth-century theatre and happy domesticity, of her fights for her family and her career makes a classic story of royal perfidy and female courage.

Then: I recently finished Last Seen in Massilia by Steven Saylor

Blurb:

As civil war between Caesar and Pompey engulfs the Roman world, Gordianus the Finder receives an anonymous message informing him of the death of his son Meto who has been acting as a double agent for Caesar. The search for Meto’s fate brings Gordianus to the besieged seaport of Massilia, which is stubbornly holding out against Caesar’s troops. As famine and slaughter threaten the blockaded city, Gordianus is drawn into the intrigues of exiled Romans and duplicitous Massilians. His only friend in the city, Hieronymous, has been made the doomed scapegoat elected by city officials to bear the sins of the populace and save them all from annihilation. Meanwhile, Gordianus is constantly frustrated in his efforts to find out what happened to his son – and when he witnesses the fall of a young woman from a precipice outside the city called the Sacrifice Rock, then the plot begins to thicken…

See this post for my thoughts on the book.

Next: This is always difficult for me to predict – last week for example I listed some books I thought I might be reading next but after starting each of them I put them all down for a while and began reading The Ghosts of Altona – which wasn’t on the list.

At the moment I’m thinking that the next book I read could be The Heresy of Dr Dee by Phil Rickman, which I’ve been meaning to read ever since I read his first Dr Dee book, The Bones of Avalon.

I thought of this book because ITV are broadcasting a new series adapted from Rickman’s Merrily Watkins books, beginning tonight with Midwinter of the Spirit, about a priest (Merrily) who is also an exorcist. I have the first four books on Kindle waiting to be read and was tempted to try to read the first one before watching the programme, but as I expect the adaptation could easily be different from the books I decided not to as I don’t want to get irritated and keep saying ‘it’s not like that in the book’ whilst watching the programme.

Have you read any of these books and what have you been reading?

First Chapter, First Paragraph: The Ghosts of Altona

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

I started reading The Ghosts of Altona by Craig Russell yesterday.

It begins:

The sky that day, he would later remember, had been the colour of pewter. When he thought back on it, that was what he would remember, the lack of colour in the sky, the lack of colour in everything. And he hadn’t noticed at the time.

Winter had been half-hearted that day.

‘So why, exactly, are we talking to this guy more than any other neighbours?’ asked Anna Wolff as she and Fabel got out of the unmarked police BMW. ‘Schalthoff has no record … never been so much as a suspect for anything and has no dodgy connections that we can find. I just don’t get why you get a vibe from him. What is it – some kind of hunch?

This book won the 2015 Bloody Scotland Crime Novel of the Year. It’s the first book by Craig Russell’s that I’ve noticed. How could I have missed the others? This is his seventh Jan Fabel book!

Blurb:

Jan Fabel is a changed man. Head of the Polizei Hamburg’s Murder Commission, Fabel has dealt with the dead for nearly two decades, but when a routine enquiry becomes a life-threatening – and life-altering – experience, he finds himself on much closer terms with death than ever before.

Fabel’s first case at the Murder Commission comes back to haunt him: Monika Krone’s body is found at last, fifteen years after she went missing. Monika – ethereally beautiful, intelligent, cruel – was the centre of a group of students obsessed with the gothic. Fabel re-opens the case. What happened that night, when Monika left a party and disappeared into thin air?

Meanwhile, Hamburg’s most dangerous serial rapist has escaped from high-security prison. Fabel is convinced he had outside help, but from whom? His suspicions that the escape is connected to the discovery of Monika’s body seem to lead to nothing when there are no sightings of the fugitive, but little can he imagine the real purpose for which this monster has been unleashed.

When men involved with Monika start turning up dead, the crime scenes full of gothic symbolism, Fabel realizes he is looking for a killer with both a hunger for vengeance and a terrifying taste for the macabre. A true gothic demon is stalking the streets of Hamburg…

I’m enjoying what I’ve read so far. What do you think – have you read any of Craig Russell’s books? Would you read on?

Challenge Completed – What’s In a Name?

What's in a name 2015

I’ve now completed the What’s In A Name? Challenge, hosted by Charlie at The Worm Hole. It involved reading books from six categories. These are the books I read with links to my posts:

As with the other challenges I’m doing I try to meet the criteria by reading books I’ve been wanting to read for a while – and I succeeded with this challenge. And I read some really excellent books, especially The Burning and Turn of the Tide.

Thanks Charlie for keeping this challenge going!

Last Seen in Massilia by Steven Saylor

 Last Seen in Massilia is the eighth book in Steven Saylor’s series of books Roma Sub Rosa, historical crime fiction set in ancient Rome, featuring an investigator called Gordianus the Finder. I’ve begun the series with this book, rather than with the first book, because it was in a pack of books I bought earlier this year from Barter Books. This one is not set in Rome, but in Massilia – modern day Marseilles. It’s 49BC during Caesar’s siege of the city. I liked it for it’s physical and historical setting but I think the crime element is secondary.

It begins as Gordianus is on his way to Massilia to look for his adopted son, Meto, who has been reported dead.  Massilia is surrounded, access extremely difficult, if not impossible and Gordianus and his son-in-law Davus join the Roman troops attempting to enter the city through a tunnel taking them underneath the city walls. An attempt that ends almost in disaster as the tunnel is flooded and they are almost drowned. Fortunately they are rescued by Heironymous, the elected scapegoat doomed to take on the sins of the people by throwing himself off the Sacrifice Rock.

Whilst he is unable to find out what has happened to Meto, he and Davus witness the fall of a young woman from the Sacrifice Rock. The question is was it suicide, did she just slip or was she pushed. All this is going on, although Gordianus doesn’t actually do much detective work, whilst the siege of the city comes to a fiery and dramatic end.

What I really liked was all the detail about Massilia – how it was governed – the hierarchy of theTimouchoi its ruling officials, its relationship to Rome, its traditions and customs. So it’s no surprise to me that Saylor has used the available sources for his book – Aristotle, Cicero, Strabo and Plutarch. For the details of the siege he used Caesar’s The Civil War, amongst other primary sources.

However, I am glad I read it and will look out for more books in the series:

Roma Sub Rosa
1. Roman Blood (1991)
2. Arms of Nemesis (1992)
3. Catilina’s Riddle (1993)
4. The Venus Throw (1995)
5. A Murder On the Appian Way (1996)
6. The House of the Vestals: The Investigations of Gordianus the Finder (1997)
7. Rubicon (1999)
8. Last Seen in Massilia (2000)
9. A Mist of Prophecies (2002)
10. The Judgement of Caesar (2004)
11. A Gladiator Dies Only Once: The Further Investigations of Gordianus the Finder (2005)
12. The Triumph of Caesar (2008)

I also have Roma by Steven Saylor – a book that has sat unread on my shelves for a few years now, unread so far mainly because it is so long. Maybe this year …

Reading challenges – Historical Fiction and What’s in a Name, category a book with a city in its title.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

I had little idea what to expect before I began reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel The Buried Giant, except,  that is, that I had enjoyed the other three books by him that I’ve read. They are The Remains of the Day, a brilliant book, a beautiful portrait of both personality and  social class, set in an England that no longer exists,  a story of hopeless and repressed love; Never Let Me Go, a love story that both shocked and horrified me; and Nocturnes a book of five short stories in which Ishiguro explores ideas of love, music and the passing of time, with a touch of nostalgia and a sense of loss for what has gone or what could have been.

I knew that there have been mixed reviews of The Buried Giant and was keen to see for myself what it is like. I loved it. It is different from his other books, but still has some of the same themes I loved in them –   the themes of love and the sense of a time long gone. It is also about the passing of time, old age, the fallibility of memory and much more besides, in particular ethnic conflict and the devastating effect of vengeance and hatred. It is set in Britain after the death of the legendary King Arthur, after the Romans have left, and the wars between Saxons and Britons have ceased. But it is a cursed land swathed in a mist of forgetfulness.

Attempting to remember their lives together, an elderly couple, Beatrice and Axl, leave their village setting out on a journey to visit their son, who they barely remember. They encounter many hazards, strange and other-worldly. They meet a boatman in a ruined Roman villa, who ferries people to an island. He is under a duty to question those who wish to cross and will only allow a couple to travel together if they can demonstrate their abiding love for each other. But Axl and Beatrice are haunted by a dread that because of their memory loss they would fail such a test, and be separated for ever. How can they prove their love for each other when they can’t remember the past they’ve shared?

There are ogres, deadly pixies,  evil monks who keep a dreadful beast underground, Saxons – Wistan, a warrior and a young boy, and Sir Gawain entrusted by King Arthur to slay Querig, a she-dragon roaming the land, who by her breath has spread the mist of forgetfulness.

It is also shocking, as it reveals the hatred that works within people to make them want to destroy others.  Wistan urges the young boy, Edwin to hate all Britons because it was Britons under Arthur who  had slaughtered the invading Saxons:

We’ve a duty to hate every man, woman and child of their blood. So promise me this. Should I fall before I pass to you my skills, promise me you’ll tend well this hatred within your heart. And should it ever flicker or threaten to die, shield it with care till the flame holds again. (page 264)

It is this hatred that still drives people to commit atrocities, bringing out the worst in human nature. Whilst the past is forgotten, Wistan realises that the old wounds can’t heal whilst ‘maggots linger so richly‘, nor can ‘peace hold for ever built on slaughter and a magician’s trickery‘.

It has elements of fantasy, myth and legend, of allegory and adventure and the perils of a quest. It is mysterious, beguiling and slippery, hard to pin down in parts and startlingly clear in others. From a somewhat slow start it gripped my imagination and made me think, trying to pin down just what was happening as the prose is clear and yet ambiguous, in the same way that the mist obscuring the past at times lifted and dispersed a little before returning. Beatrice and Axl are the dominant characters, and I found their confusion as they realise they have forgotten their past and their distress as they contemplate spending eternity apart deeply moving. It is extraordinary and mesmerising! I think it is a book I’ll have to re-read!

This may not be the usual book of ghostly, gothic or classic horror of the categories for the R.I.P. X challenge, but it is certainly a fantastic book full of peril, mystery and suspense.

This Week in Books:16 September 2015

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now: Currently I’m reading two books – Adam Bede by George Eliot

I’ve now read about 60% of this book (now reading chapter XXX) and it is just beginning to get to the nitty-gritty.

Blurb

Carpenter Adam Bede is in love with the beautiful Hetty Sorrel, but unknown to him, he has a rival, in the local squire’s son Arthur Donnithorne. Hetty is soon attracted by Arthur’s seductive charm and they begin to meet in secret. The relationship is to have tragic consequences that reach far beyond the couple themselves, touching not just Adam Bede, but many others, not least, pious Methodist Preacher Dinah Morris. A tale of seduction, betrayal, love and deception, the plot of Adam Bede has the quality of an English folk song. Within the setting of Hayslope, a small, rural community, Eliot brilliantly creates a sense of earthy reality, making the landscape itself as vital a presence in the novel as that of her characters themselves.

and Last Seen in Massilia by Steven Saylor

Blurb:

As civil war between Caesar and Pompey engulfs the Roman world, Gordianus the Finder receives an anonymous message informing him of the death of his son Meto who has been acting as a double agent for Caesar. The search for Meto’s fate brings Gordianus to the besieged seaport of Massilia, which is stubbornly holding out against Caesar’s troops. As famine and slaughter threaten the blockaded city, Gordianus is drawn into the intrigues of exiled Romans and duplicitous Massilians. His only friend in the city, Hieronymous, has been made the doomed scapegoat elected by city officials to bear the sins of the populace and save them all from annihilation. Meanwhile, Gordianus is constantly frustrated in his efforts to find out what happened to his son – and when he witnesses the fall of a young woman from a precipice outside the city called the Sacrifice Rock, then the plot begins to thicken…

I’ve read the first four chapters so far, setting the scene in Massilia (modern day Marseilles).

Then – yesterday I finished The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Blurb:

The Romans have long since departed, and Britain is steadily declining into ruin. But at least the wars that once ravaged the country have ceased.

The Buried Giant begins as a couple, Axl and Beatrice, set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen for years. They expect to face many hazards – some strange and other-worldly – but they cannot yet foresee how their journey will reveal to them dark and forgotten corners of their love for one another.

Sometimes savage, often intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in a decade is about lost memories, love, revenge and war.

This is a fascinating book and I’m currently sorting out my thoughts for my post later this week.

Next – impossible to predict right now with some many books begging to be read. It could be one of these:

or it could be something completely different (there are plenty more waiting to be read)! What would you choose and what have you been reading?

Stacking the Shelves: 12 September 2015

STSmall

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

Even though I have plenty of TBR books I couldn’t resist adding a few books this week:

First on Kindle is The Moth Catcher by Ann Cleeves. This was first published this week and is the seventh and latest book in the Vera Stanhope series.  Set in a lonely valley in Northumberland, Patrick, a young ecologist is found dead in a ditch and a second body is found in the attic of the house that Patrick was looking after whilst the owners were away. I have started to read this already!

 

I’ve also downloaded In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward. This is her debut book, published in June this year. Sarah Ward writes a blog reviewing crime fiction – Crimepieces, which I regularly read. She has also reviewed for Eurocrime and Crimesquad and is a judge for the Petrona Award for Scandinavian translated crime novels. In Bitter Chill is set in Derbyshire, where in 1978 two girls, Rachel and Sophie had gone missing. Rachel returned and when Sophie’s mother commits suicide thirty years later, she is determined to find out what had happened and the case is reopened.

Lastly, I received  a copy of The Monocled Mutineer by John Fairly and William Allison for review courtesy of the Souvenir Press Ltd. With a new introduction by John Fairly this is the 2nd revised edition of the original book first published in 1979. I remember watching the 1986 BBC dramatisation of this with Paul McGann playing the role of Percy Toplis, the leader of an army mutiny in 1917 in Étaples in northern France – a story that has remained one of the best-kept secrets of the First World War. Although Toplis was named as the ringleader of the Mutiny, there are still a host of unanswered questions about him and his role, if any.

What books have you added to your shelves this week?

Two Lacey Flint books by Sharon Bolton

I’ve recently read Dead Scared, Sharon Bolton’s  second Lacey Flint book and Like This, For Ever, the third book in the series:

Bolton bks

Synopses from Sharon Bolton’s website:

Dead Scared

Someone is watching you…

When a Cambridge university student dramatically attempts to take her own life, DI Mark Joesbury realizes that the university has developed an unhealthy record of young people committing suicide in extraordinary ways.

Despite huge personal misgivings, Joesbury sends young policewoman DC Lacey Flint to Cambridge with a brief to work undercover, posing as a vulnerable, depression-prone student.

Psychiatrist Evi Oliver is the only person in Cambridge who knows who Lacey really is – or so they both hope. But as the two women dig deeper into the darker side of university life, they discover a terrifying trend…

And when Lacey starts experiencing the same disturbing nightmares reported by the dead girls, she knows that she is next.

Like This, For Ever (published as Lost in the US)

Twelve-year-old Barney Roberts is obsessed with a series of murders. He knows the victims are all boys, just like him. He knows the bodies were found on river banks nearby. And he’s sure the killer will strike again soon. But there’s something else, a secret he’d rather not know, a secret he is too scared to share . . .  And who would believe a twelve-year-old boy anyway?

Like This, For Ever is a twisty, addictive, up-all-night thriller from a writer who loves nothing more than to play with your mind.

Two perfect books for the RIP Challenge. they are both totally absorbing murder mysteries – maybe Like This, for Ever is even better than Dead Scared. I did have an inkling quite early on who was pulling Lacey’s strings in Dead Scared, but I just didn’t know how it was being done – nightmares, hallucinations, bizarre suicides and vulnerable students. It is terrifying in parts.

With Like This, For Ever I had no idea until very near the end who the killer was. It’s so full of red herrings and twists (more than in Dead Secret) that I swung from believing it could be this person to that, or thinking it can’t possibly be that person, or I do hope it’s not that one. It was one of the people I thought maybe it’s that one, but I quickly dismissed that idea.

Both books are full of believable and individual characters, plus there is the ongoing story of Lacey, her boss Mark Joesbury and psychiatrist Evi Oliver. I’d love to read the next book in the series soon – A Dark and Twisted Tide.

I first read Sharon Bolton’s books when she was writing under the name SJ Bolton, and I wondered why the name change.  The answer is here in this post on her blog . It’s long, so I’ll summarise – ‘SJ Bolton’ was the name her publishers suggested in 2006 in the manner of PD James and JK Rowling and she went along with it, the thinking being that men don’t buy books by a woman author. But she doesn’t have a middle name and chose ‘J’, confusing for people who knew her personally , and then more SJs appeared on the book shelves and she felt lost in the crowd. There was also the issue around the name ‘Sharon’, a name that can conjure up images of Pauline Quirke slouching around Chigwell in a shell suit. So  she now writes as Sharon Bolton and I for one am glad she does – it’s less anonymous as well as being a much more memorable name.

As well as being perfect for the RIP challenge, Dead Scared is a book I’ve owned for a while and so qualifies for the Mount To Be Read Challenge.

This Week in Books: 9 September 2015

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now I’m reading Like This For Ever by Sharon Bolton (the third Lacey Flint book) and it’s good!

Blurb

Twelve-year-old Barney Roberts is obsessed with a series of murders.

He knows the victims are all boys, just like him.

He knows the bodies were found on river banks.

And he’s sure the killer will strike again soon.

But there’s something else, a secret he’d rather not know, a secret he is too scared to share . . .

And who would believe a twelve-year-old boy anyway?

*LIKE THIS, FOR EVER is published as LOST in the US*

In contrast I’m also reading Adam Bede by George Eliot

After a bit of a false start I am now well into this book.

Blurb

Carpenter Adam Bede is in love with the beautiful Hetty Sorrel, but unknown to him, he has a rival, in the local squire’s son Arthur Donnithorne. Hetty is soon attracted by Arthur’s seductive charm and they begin to meet in secret. The relationship is to have tragic consequences that reach far beyond the couple themselves, touching not just Adam Bede, but many others, not least, pious Methodist Preacher Dinah Morris. A tale of seduction, betrayal, love and deception, the plot of Adam Bede has the quality of an English folk song. Within the setting of Hayslope, a small, rural community, Eliot brilliantly creates a sense of earthy reality, making the landscape itself as vital a presence in the novel as that of her characters themselves.

Then – I read Dead Scared by Sharon Bolton (the second in the Lacey Flint series) and it was excellent!

My post will be up soon. Here’s the blurb:

A series of suicides. Each one a female university student. Each one more horrifying than the last.

The police know it cannot be coincidence. But they can’t prove it.

They need someone to go undercover. A young policewoman, as vulnerable as the others. As unprepared for the nightmare that will greet her.

Watch your back, Lacey Flint . . .

Next: For once I know exactly which book I’ll be reading next – it’s The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Blurb:

The Romans have long since departed, and Britain is steadily declining into ruin. But at least the wars that once ravaged the country have ceased.

The Buried Giant begins as a couple, Axl and Beatrice, set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen for years. They expect to face many hazards – some strange and other-worldly – but they cannot yet foresee how their journey will reveal to them dark and forgotten corners of their love for one another.

Sometimes savage, often intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in a decade is about lost memories, love, revenge and war.

I’m looking forward to reading it. I hope it lives up to its reputation. This is what the Neil Gaiman said in the New York Times about it:

The Buried Giant does what important books do: It remains in the mind long after it has been read, refusing to leave, forcing one to turn it over and over … Ishiguro is not afraid to tackle huge, personal themes, nor to use myths, history and the fantastic as the tools to do it.

The Robber Bride

It took me several days to read Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride. It’s a intricately woven book, long and detailed. At times I thought it was too detailed and I just wanted to get on with the story. But overall I thought it was very good, and in parts excellent.

It begins with Zenia – and Zenia is dead. She died five years earlier and Tony, Roz and Charis went to her funeral. These three women all had cause to be thankful she was dead; Zenia, beautiful, smart and greedy, had deceived all three, wrecking their relationships, taking their money and self-esteem.  Although they met regularly they hadn’t talked about her since they’d buried her and their lives are turned upside down again when, lunching at the Toxique, Zenia walks back into their lives.

The rest of the book tells what had happened in each of their lives, told from each woman’s point of view and moving backwards and forwards in time – a bit confusing sometimes, you have to concentrate.  Tony, is a small woman, an academic specialising in military history, with a habit of pronouncing words backwards; Charis is described as ‘what Ophelia would have looked like if she’d lived‘, who thinks she has healing powers; and  Roz is a successful business woman, whose husband is a serial womaniser. Zenia, who never tells her story, is a consummate liar and presents a different version of herself to each of the three women and she remains a mystery and a dark malevolence throughout the book.

The Robber Bride is inspired by “The Robber Bridegroom,” a  tale from the Brothers Grimm in which an evil groom lures three maidens into his lair and devours them, one by one. But it’s much more than that – it’s about power and the struggle between good and evil. It’s also about women’s friendship, and about the relationship between men and women.

This is one of the books I’ve listed for the TBR Pile Challenge, so it also meets the criteria for the Mount TBR Challenge too – a book I’ve had on my shelves for several years now.

Reading for Pleasure – and Not to Plan!

I decided at the beginning of the year that I was going to take my time reading, not rushing from one book to the next and also reading whatever takes my fancy. So it’s no surprise to me that having thought I was going to read books for the R.I.P. event this autumn as well as two very long novels my plans have been disrupted and  I may not get round to them.

And this is because two books I reserved at the library months ago have come in. I picked them up yesterday and also a book by Ian McEwan. Earlier in the week one of the questions on Pointless was about Ian McEwan’s novels and although I’ve read quite a lot of his books, I realised there are some I haven’t read. So I had a look at what the library had by him on the shelves and found one.

These are the books that have upset my plans for reading this autumn:

The buried giant

  • The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro – his latest novel, set in Britain sometime after the Romans had left – a time when ogres were an everyday hazard. (Could this book be an R.I.P. book? Or is it more a book for Once Upon a Time? No matter I’m reading it anyway.)
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – a modern classic about George Milton and Lennie Small are two workers in pursuit of the American dream.
  • The Innocent by Ian McEwan – set in post-war Berlin in the 1950s at the beginning of the Cold War.

So, as  Robert Burns’ poem To a Mouse, 1786 tells of how he, whilst ploughing a field, accidentally destroyed a mouse’s nest, my plans have gone awry.

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane [you aren’t alone]
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry]
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promised joy.

Aptly this is the poem  from which Steinbeck took the title of his book!

10 Books of Summer

10 books of summerThe 20/10 Books of Summer Challenge hosted by Cathy  at 746 Books ended today. I did the 10 book version and didn’t do too badly, reading 6 books.

I read:

  1. The Remorseful Day by Colin Dexter – the last Morse book. I loved it. The plot is detailed, complex and as usual with Morse a puzzle type murder mystery with plenty of challenging clues.
  2. Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie – a most satisfying mystery, in which Hercule Poirot discovers that almost everyone he talks to is lying. It has a clever and most complicated plot and it kept me guessing right to the end.
  3. Zen there was Murder by H R F Keating – murder on a Zen Buddhism course. This book has a surreal feel about it and for most of the time I was completely bamboozled – not a great success.
  4. The Day of the Lie by William Brodrick – a Father Anselm book.  A meaty layered book that made me think. Nothing is straight forward as it delved into the past, uncovering secrets and revealing crimes.  I did enjoy it, but it was hard work in parts.
  5. A Medal for Murder by Frances Brody – the second Kate Shackleton mystery, set in the 1920s.  It was easy to read but I just couldn’t see who could be the murderer. I had several suspects, all of whom turned out to be innocent of the crime. I liked the historical setting and the characters rang true.
  6. The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam – the second book in the Old Filth trilogy. I also read the third book, Last Friends.  Both books follow the lives of Old Filth, his wife and friends  over 50 years, told from the different characters’ points of view,  forming a memorable trilogy, of love and life, humour and heartbreak in colonial Hong Kong and the contrasting setting of the English countryside.

So actually I read 7!

And these are the ones I didn’t get round to reading:

  1. Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie – an early collection of short stories.
  2. Silas Marner by George Eliot – a short classic.
  3. Great Escape Stories by Eric Williams – it comprises twelve true-life escape and evasion stories from the Second World War and one from the Korean War.
  4. How the Girl Guides Won the War by Janie Hampton.

If you did this challenge – or the 20 books challenge – how did you get on?

Five of the Best: August 2011 – August 2015

This was originally Cleo’s idea (Cleopatra Loves Books). It’s to look back over your reviews of the past five years and pick out your favourite books for each month from 2011 – 2015. I like it so much it inspired me to do the same .

I really enjoy looking back over the books I’ve loved reading. These are some of my favourite books for each August from 2011 to 2015 (click on the titles/covers to see my original reviews).

2011

The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths – this is the second in the Ruth Galloway investigation series. Ruth is a forensic archaeologist. In this book she is called in to investigate when builders, demolishing a large old house in Norwich, uncover the skeleton of a child – minus the skull – beneath a doorway. Is it some ritual sacrifice of just plain straightforward murder? Ruth is pregnant, but she’s not sure she wants the father to know.

I like the mix of archaeology, mystery and crime fiction in Elly Griffiths’s books. This one has a double dose, with mythology and Catholicism running through the narrative as well as the police procedures.  Ruth is an interesting character, not your usual detective, she’s overweight, self-reliant but also feisty and tough. She has to be with everything that’s thrown at her and as her investigations lead her into great danger.

2012

The Girl on the Stairs by Louise Welsh is a dark, psychological thriller, full of atmosphere and claustrophobic tension. I really enjoyed it.  It’s a book that once I started reading it I just had to finish it. It’s full of suspense and increasing tension as Jane moves to an apartment in Berlin to join her partner, Petra. Everything is new to her, she only speaks a little German, she doesn’t know the area and has no friends there. And she’s pregnant.

For most of the time Jane is alone in the flat and her sense of isolation grows. She hears their neighbour Dr Mann and his daughter Anna – the girl on the stairs arguing – and fears Dr Mann is abusing Anna. She ventures out at 3.00am one dark morning drawn by a flickering light in the derelict house at the back, worried that Anna was hiding in there. And as more secrets are revealed I began to wonder just how paranoid Jane was and how much was down to her imagination. Are Jane’s fears justified or is she delusional?

2013

The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge – an absolutely fascinating novel about Captain Scott’s last Antarctic Expedition. It gets inside each man’s mind, it seemed to me, vividly describing the events as they progressed to the South Pole and the terrible conditions they had to endure. Beryl Bainbridge’s imagination and research combined make this a dramatic heroic story and an emotional roller-coaster set in the beautiful but deadly dangerous frozen landscape of the Antarctic.

At times I had to remind myself that I was reading a novel, but then again there were passages where I had to remind myself that these events really did take place as they seemed so fantastical. Beryl Bainbridge has written a most remarkable book, full of facts seamlessly woven into the narrative, and full of emotion and feeling. It was not only my favourite book of the month but also one of the best books I read in 2013.

2014

All Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard, the  fifth book in her Cazalet Chronicles. I’d read the first four books years ago and loved them, so I was keen to read this last one. It’s the story of the Cazalet family, a very large family by the time of this novel – 1956 – 1958, a lovely warm, old fashioned family saga, with both happy and sad events as the Cazalets move forward, and not successfully for all of them, in post-war England. It was a great treat!

2015

This August it was extremely difficult to choose which book I’ve enjoyed the most – see this post. It didn’t help that I gave three books five stars on Goodreads and two more would have been 4.5 if half stars were allowed on Goodreads. The three are all different genres so that made it practically impossible to choose one. In the end and for this post I’m highlighting:

A Change of Climate by Hilary Mantel –  one of Hilary Mantel’s early books, first published in 1994 and  described on the back cover as ‘a literary family saga’ and ‘a first rate thriller’. It’s a book with an ‘enormous destructive secret‘ at its heart.  A book about family, trust, disillusionment and tragedy, about bereavement and loss of faith. A great book on all counts, characters and locations beautifully described and a well constructed and convincing plot, powerful and challenging on several levels.

R.I.P. X

For the last 10 years R.eaders I.mbibing in P.eril  has been hosted by Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings but this year (the 10th anniversary) it is being hosted by Andi and Heather of The Estella Society. It runs from September 1st to October 31st.

Banner by Abigail Larson

The idea is that you read books that fit into one or more of the following categories:

Mystery
Suspense
Thriller
Dark Fantasy
Gothic
Horror
Supernatural

There are different levels of participation to choose from, but I am signing up for this one:

ripnineperilthird

 

Peril the Third: Read just one book, that you feel fit s(the very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be King or Conan Doyle, Penny or Poe, Chandler or Collins, Lovecraft or Leroux…or anyone in between.

Peril the Third:

I have several chunkster books in my waiting to-be-read pile for September and October so for the time being I’m just aiming to read one book! Here are some of the books I have to choose from:

  • The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
  • A Song of Stone by Iain Banks
  • Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen – I read this so many years ago that it will be like reading it for the first time. It was one of the set books at school and I don’t think I appreciated it then.
  • Dead Scared by Sharon Bolton
  • Like This, For Ever by Sharon Bolton
  • Talking to the Dead by Harry Bingham
  • The Rottweiler by Ruth Rendell

But now I’ve made this list I think maybe I should be aiming at Peril the First, which is to read four books!

ripnineperilfirst

August Books 2015

I read 9 books in August.  Here they are, in the order I read them with links are to my posts, where I’ve written them:

  • Product DetailsThin Air by Ann Cleeves – I didn’t get round to writing about this book, although I loved it. It’s the latest in the Shetland series in which Detectives Jimmy Perez and Willow Reeves are on Unst investigating the murder of Eleanor, a guest at her friend’s wedding. Before she went missing Eleanor claimed to have seen the ghost of a local child who drowned in the 1920s. Her interest in the legend of the ghost had seemed unhealthy – obsessive, even – to her friends: an indication of a troubled mind. So was her death suicide or was she murdered? Written with a wonderful sense of place, the plot twists had me in suspense and I almost couldn’t wait to find out.
  • A Change of Climate by Hilary Mantel  –  one of Hilary Mantel’s early books, first published in 1994 and  described on the back cover as ‘a literary family saga’ and ‘a first rate thriller’. A great book on all counts, characters and locations beautifully described and a well constructed and convincing plot, powerful and challenging on several levels.
  • One Life: My Mother’s Story by Kate Grenville –  a beautiful biography of her mother Nance Russell. A book that casts light not only on Nance’s life but also on life in Australia for most of the 20th century.  It brings to life both the good times and the bad times, as she writes about her mother’s heartache, worries, joys and sorrows, of the hard times during the economic depression, all of it as a whole making a rich and fulfilled life.
  • Come, Tell Me How You Live:an archaeological memoir by Agatha Christie Mallowan, in which she wrote about her life accompanying her husband Max on his excavations in Syria and Iraq in the 1930s. The emphasis in the book is on the everyday life on a dig, about people and her insights into their beliefs  written with love and humour. I loved it.
  • Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie, a Poirot mystery set in the Middle East in which he investigates the death of Mrs Boynton, a malignant and malicious tyrant who enjoyed exercising power over her family. This is a quick, easy read, with a lot of dialogue in a relatively short book (less than 200 pages). I enjoyed it, although it’s not one of my favourite Agatha Christie books.
  • Alan M Turing by Sara Turing, a biography by his mother, with an added chapter by his brother. I’d recently watched The Imitation Game and wanted to know a bit more about Turing. This is not the right book for that – his mother’s account is hopelessly biased and his brother’s left a sour taste in my mouth. I think I should maybe read the biography by Alan Hodges Alan Turing: The Enigma, the book on which the film is based.
  • A Medal for Murder by Frances Brody – the second Kate Shackleton mystery.  It is 1922 and Kate is investigating a pawn shop robbery, when she discovers the body of Lawrence Milner, outside a Harrogate theatre. She is also asked to find Lucy, Captain Wolfendale’s granddaughter who has gone missing and he has received a ransom note. This is a detailed, complex plot which kept me guessing almost to the end about the identity of the murderer.
  • Fresh from the countryFresh from the Country by Miss Read, set in the 1950s, this is a stand-alone novel telling the story of Anna Lacey, a newly qualified teacher, as she spends her first year teaching in Elm Hill, a new suburb in London. It highlights the differences between life in the country and the suburbs and overall the comparisons became too repetitive. But I did like this book, which transported me back to the 1950s, when children were taught in large classes and the pace of life was slower than today.
  • Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon by Jane Austen – none of these were published in her lifetime. Told in a series of letters (reminiscent of Laclos’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses), Lady Susan is the  story of an unscrupulous widow who plans to force her daughter into a marriage against her wishes. The Watsons is a fragment in which the main character, Emma Watson returns to her father’s house after fourteen years of absence, having been brought up by a wealthy aunt. She joins her three unmarried sisters, living with their invalid father  and looking for husbands whilst struggling for money. Sanditon is also an unfinished fragment, in which the the old world is contrasted with the new upcoming world as two landowners plan to develop Sanditon into a fashionable bathing place.  A real treat to read.

For most of the month I read new-to-me or library books, finishing with a flourish of three of my own to-be-read books (and I’m currently reading another TBR), and for once there are only two crime fiction books.

Once again it is so difficult picking which one I enjoyed the most – nearly all of them are such good reads and it’s impossible to decide between such very different and such very enjoyable books.

Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon by Jane Austen

Adam@Roof Beam Reader’s Austen in August event reminded me to read Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon.

Jane Austen has long been one of my favourite authors, ever since I read my mother’s copy of Pride and Prejudice  and since then I have re-read it several times and her other full length novels too. But I’ve never read Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon before. In fact it was only reading Carol Shields’ biography of Jane Austen quite some years ago now that I discovered that she had written these books, none of which were published in her lifetime. Lady Susan is a finished novella, whereas The Watsons and Sanditon are two unfinished fragments. Lady Susan and The Watsons were first published in 1871 by her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh in his Memoir of Jane Austen, including an account of  Sanditon . The full text of Sanditon wasn’t published until 1925.

Lady Susan

According to Margaret Drabble’s introduction to my Penguin Classics edition there is some evidence that Lady Susan was probably written between 1793-4, when Jane Austen was about 20 years old. Drabble thinks this is the least satisfactory of the three stories, but I can’t agree with her view. I was completely taken with it.

Told in a series of letters, Lady Susan is the  story of an unscrupulous widow who plans to force her daughter into a marriage against her wishes. Lady Susan is an attractive and entertaining and totally wicked character, who nevertheless almost manages to fool people for some of the time at least. She is also trying to captivate her sister-in-law’s brother, whilst still holding on to the affections of a previous lover.

As I was reading Lady Susan it reminded of Laclos’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses, not just because both are epistolary but also the content – manipulative and evil characters without any moral scruples, who delight in their power to seduce others. I wondered if it was possible that Jane Austen had known of this book. It was published in 1782, so it is possible that she knew of it, even if she had not actually read it.

To my mind Lady Susan is unique in Jane Austen’s works and I was delighted to read it. It’s written with style, confidence and humour convincingly illustrating 18th century morals and manners.

The Watsons

Jane Austen began writing this in 1804, her father died in 1805 and she never finished it. Its main character is Emma Watson who after fourteen years of absence returns to her father’s house after being brought up by a wealthy aunt. She had grown up in an affluent household and until her aunt had remarried she’d had expectations of an inheritance. She joins her three unmarried sisters, living with their invalid father  and looking for husbands whilst struggling for money. Mr Watson is a clergyman, so on his death they will lose their home. Maybe it was the parallel with Jane and Cassandra Austen’s own situation that caused Jane to abandon the novel when her own father died.

In some ways it is a little like Pride and Prejudice with its account of a ball and Emma Watson has a spirited nature similar to Elizabeth Bennet’s.  Women without money were often obliged to marry for money, but Emma doesn’t want to. Her sister Elizabeth points out that it is ‘very bad to grow old and be poor and laughed at‘, whereas Emma thinks she would ‘rather be a teacher at a school (and I can think of nothing worse) than marry a man I did not like.’

I liked The Watsons but with just this fragment to go off it is a bit basic and does seem rather similar to Pride and Prejudice. I wished she had finished it.

Sanditon

I thoroughly enjoyed Sanditon, even in its unfinished state. It’s the last fiction that Jane Austen wrote, beginning it in January 1817, the year she died. She was ill and the subject of health is one of its themes, but not in a serious or gloomy way. It has a lively, bright and humorous tone, with three of the characters being hypochondriacs, wonderfully satirised by Jane Austen.

The other theme is change in the form of the development of a seaside resort at Sanditon. It conveys the spirit of change of the times as  Sanditon is developed by two of the landowners, Mr Parker and Lady Denham from ‘a quiet village of no pretensions‘ into ‘a fashionable bathing place‘. The two of them, realising its potential of becoming profitable ‘had engaged in it, and planned and built, and praised and puffed, and raised it to a something of young renown – and Mr Parker could think of nothing else.

It extols the benefits of sea air and sea bathing, Lady Denham decries the need for a doctor saying it would only encourage the servants and the poor to imagine they were ill – and pronouncing that  if her husband had never seen a doctor he would still have been alive, ‘Ten fees, one after the other, did the man take who sent him out of the world. – I beseech you Mr Parker, no doctors here.

Sanditon contrasts the old world with the new upcoming world. Mr Parker has moved from his old comfortable family house set in a sheltered dip two miles from the sea to a new elegant house, which he has named Trafalgar House, not far from a cliff  from which there is a descent to the sea and the bathing machines. Granted it has all the ‘grandeur of storms’, which rocked their bed whilst the wind rages around the house.

There is so much more in these stories than I can write about here (this post is far too long anyway).  I shall enjoy re-reading them in the future. They are so different from each other, probably reflecting the different periods of her life when they were written. And I can’t decide between Lady Susan and Sanditon which one I like best.

This Week in Books: 26 August 2015

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next. A similar meme, WWW Wednesdays is hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.

Now – Yesterday I began reading The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood. I was amazed when I realised that this book has been on my TBR shelves for almost 6 years! It’s certainly time I read it.

Blurb:

Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride is inspired by “The Robber Bridegroom,” a wonderfully grisly tale from the Brothers Grimm in which an evil groom lures three maidens into his lair and devours them, one by one. But in her version, Atwood brilliantly recasts the monster as Zenia, a villainess of demonic proportions, and sets her loose in the lives of three friends, Tony,Charis, and Roz. All three “have lost men, spirit, money, and time to their old college acquaintance, Zenia. At various times, and in various emotional disguises, Zenia has insinuated her way into their lives and practically demolished them.

Then: The last book I finished is Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon by Jane Austen.  I loved it.

Blurb:

These three short works show Austen experimenting with a variety of different literary styles, from melodrama to satire, and exploring a range of social classes and settings. The early epistolary novel Lady Susan depicts an unscrupulous coquette, toying with the affections of several men. In contrast, The Watsons is a delightful fragment, whose spirited heroine Emma Watson finds her marriage opportunities restricted by poverty and pride. Written in the last months of Austen’s life, the uncompleted novelSanditon is set in a newly established seaside resort, with a glorious cast of hypochondriacs and speculators,and shows the author contemplating a changing society with a mixture of scepticism and amusement.

My review will follow shortly.

Next – I’m never really sure which book I’ll be reading next. It should probably be Adam Bede by George Eliot, but at the moment I’m feeling reluctant, so it is more likely to be The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, which I’ve borrowed from the library.

Blurb:

‘There came the splash of water and the rub of heels as Mrs Barber stepped into the tub. After that there was a silence, broken only by the occasional echoey plink of drips from the tap…

‘Frances had been picturing her lodgers in purely mercenary terms – as something like two great waddling shillings. But this, she thought, was what it really meant to have paying guests: this odd, unintimate proximity, this rather peeled-back moment, where the only thing between herself and a naked Mrs Barber was a few feet of kitchen and a thin scullery door. An image sprang into her head: that round flesh, crimsoning in the heat.’

What are you reading this week?

Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie’s Appointment with Death, set in the Middle East was first published in 1938 after her final pre-war visit to the area. It seemed right to read this book straight after I’d finished reading Come, Tell Me How You Live in which Agatha Christie wrote about her life on archaeological expeditions in Syria with her husband Max Mallowan.

The novel begins in Jerusalem where the Boyton family are sightseeing. There are two stepsons, one is married, a daughter and a step daughter. Mrs Boynton is a malignant and malicious tyrant who enjoyed exercising her power over her family, who all hated and yet obeyed her. Dr Gerard, a French psychologist, also a tourist remarks that

… she rejoices in the infliction of pain – mental pain, mind you, not physical. That is very much rarer and very much more difficult to deal with. She likes to have control of other human beings and she likes to make them suffer.

The Boyntons and Dr Gerard travel on through the Judean desert to Petra. Also in the group are Jonathan Cope, a family friend, Sarah King, a newly qualified doctor, Lady Westholme, a member of Parliament and Miss Annabel Pierce, a former nursery governess. The beginning of the book is taken up with relating their journey to Petra and the complicated relationships between the characters. It comes to a climax when Mrs Boynton is found dead.

The remainder of the book covers the investigation into her death. Colonel Carbury is in charge and although it appears that Mrs Boynton, who suffered from heart trouble had died overcome by the heat and strain of travelling, he is not satisfied and he has an idea that the family killed her. He enlists the help of Hercule Poirot, who was also in Jerusalem at the same time as the Boyntons and had overheard part of a conversation, ‘You do see, don’t you, that she’s got to be killed.’ He was sure he would recognise that voice again – and he did.

Poirot is his usual confident (arrogant) self, convinced he can solve the mystery and he does through questions, analysis and psychological reasoning. I didn’t work it out myself though.

This is a quick, easy read, with a lot of dialogue in a relatively short book (less than 200 pages). I enjoyed it, although it’s not one of my favourite Agatha Christie books.

I’m including it in Bev’s Color Coded Challenge as the main colour of the cover of my copy is brown. It’s one of the remaining few novels I have left to read for Kerrie’s Agatha Christie Reading Challenge.

THE CLASSICS SPIN RESULT …

… it’s NUMBER 5

which on my list is The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens.

I have until October 23, 2015 to read it  – but it could easily take me much longer than that as in the mean time I have George Eliot’s Adam Bede to read for my local book group for our next meeting at the end of September. I can see that my reading is going to be a lot slower than normal.

I have started reading Adam Bede, but each time I’ve picked it up I’ve nodded off to sleep (and it wasn’t even bedtime!) I just hope The Old Curiosity Shop won’t have the same effect on me. I have a feeling that I might find it a bit too sentimental for my liking – this is the book in which Little Nell suffers a melodramatic death. And that’s as much as I know about it.

If you’re in the Spin too which book did you get?

The Classics Spin: My List

The Classics ClubThe Classics Club has been so quiet for a while now that I was beginning to think it had folded – but no!

It’s time for another Classics Spin for any who are interested. By next Monday, August 24, list your choice of any twenty books you’ve left to read from your Classics Club list — in a separate post. Next Monday morning, The Classics Club will announce a number and that is the book for you to read by October 23.

This is my list:

  1. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
  2. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
  3. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  4. Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens
  5. The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens
  6. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  7. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
  8. Romola by George Eliot
  9. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  10. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
  11. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  12. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
  13. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  14. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  15. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  16. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  17. Doctor Thorne  (Barsetshire Chronicles, #3) by Anthony Trollope
  18. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  19. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  20. The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf

I don’t mind which one of these comes up in the Spin, but I’m half hoping it will be one of the Hardy books and I’m not sure about reading The Voyage Out as I’ve started this in the past and put it back on the shelf unfinished.

Fresh from the Country by Miss Read

Fresh from the countryI loved Miss Read’s Fairacre and Thrush Green novels when I read them years ago.  ‘Miss Read’ is a pseudonym for Dora Jessie Saint (1913 – 2012) who wrote over 30 gentle books of English country and village life  for adults and children.

Set in the 1950s, Fresh from the Country is a stand-alone novel telling the story of Anna Lacey, a newly qualified teacher, as she spends her first year teaching in Elm Hill, a new suburb in London. It is a little disappointing, because although Miss Read successfully conveys Anna’s  dislike of the new suburb in comparison to her love of life in the countryside where she grew up, I found it a bit over done and dispiriting and the comparison is repeated several times in different ways throughout the book.

But there are some lovely descriptions of the everyday lives of the teachers and children at Elm Hill school in this book alongside some interesting comparisons between town and country. One example is the ‘flabby wrapped slices of bread‘ her landlady provides compared to the ‘fat cottage loaves with a generous dimple in their crusty tops‘. Another example, a ‘wild lovely bouquet’ of ‘sprays of bright yellow hornbeam and rose hips‘ compared to ‘faded artificial daffodils‘. Anna decides that the difference between her home and her lodgings in town is that ‘one was genuine, wholesome and homely – the real thing‘. The other was ‘false and artificial.

Despite my slight disappointment I did like this book, which transported me back to the 1950s, when children were taught in large classes and the pace of life was slower than today. It was a bit disconcerting to read that Anna enjoyed smoking, but then the dangers of cigarettes were not emphasised in those days and many people did smoke.

There are interesting comments on enjoying the simple pleasures of life, on the nature of happiness, the virtues of truthfulness and neighbourliness, being useful in the community and how ambition is a

… two-edged weapon which ‘could provide a motive, an interest, a spur. It could be the means of living in a perpetual state of hope. … But, on the other hand it could lead to self-aggrandisement and self-deception.’ (page 107)

By the end of the year Anna feels more settled at the school. She is looking forward to moving out of Mrs Flynn’s house to more comfortable lodgings with the hospitable and friendly Mrs Armstrong. But she thought that  in the ‘misty future there might be a country school‘ and a ‘little house of her own set in quiet fields’. I don’t think that Miss Read wrote any more books about Anna, but I like to think that a little village school did materialise for her.

Reading Challenges:  this is the 25th book I read towards the Mount TBR Reading Challenge and the 4th book for the TBR Pile Reading Challenge.

A Medal for Murder by Frances Brody

Last year I read and enjoyed Dying in the Wool, the first of Frances Brody’s series of historical crime fiction books set in 1920s Yorkshire and featuring Kate Shackleton. The second book, A Medal for Murder is even better and I was thoroughly immersed in the mystery.

A pawn shop robbery brings Kate and her assistant Jim Sykes, an ex-policeman,  their second case. It leads on to her discovery of a dead body, that of Lawrence Milner, outside a Harrogate theatre where Kate had been watching a production of a dramatisation of Arnold Bennett’s novel, Anna of the Five Towns. Then Captain Wolfendale, a Boer War veteran asks Kate to find his granddaughter, Lucy, who had starred in the play, as she has disappeared and he had received a ransom note. The murder  brings Kate into contact again with Inspector Marcus Charles of Scotland Yard (she had first met him in Dying in the Wool).

The book is told from the different characters’ perspective, but mainly from Kate’s, with flashbacks to the Boer War at the turn of the century. This is a detailed, complex plot which kept me guessing almost to the end about the identity of the murderer.  What is Captain Wolfendale hiding in his attic that he doesn’t want Kate to see? Just what is his relationship with Lawrence Milner who had also fought in the Boer War? How/is the pawn shop robbery connected to the murder? Will Lucy be rescued? And why doesn’t Dan Root, a watch maker, who also rents a room in the Captain’s house want to Kate to see inside his workroom?

There is so much going on in this book, and yet it was easy to read and each sub-plot fitted in so well with the main mystery that I didn’t get confused – I just couldn’t see who could have killed Milner. I had several suspects, all of whom turned out to be innocent of the crime. I liked the historical setting and the characters rang true. I’m left wondering whether Kate’s relationship with Inspector Charles will develop further, and whether she will ever hear what happened to her husband, reported missing in the 1914-18 War.

These are the books in the Kate Shackleton Mystery series:

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) to be published 1 October 2015

For more information about the author and her books see Frances Brody’s blog and website.

Reading Challenges: Mount TBR Reading Challenge, 10 Books of Summer, Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

Come, Tell Me How You Live by Agatha Christie Mallowan

Agatha Christie had visited the Middle East in 1929 travelling on the Orient Express to Istanbul and then on to Damascus and Baghdad. She visited the excavations at Ur and returned there the following spring where she met archaeologist Max Mallowan – by the end of the summer they had decided to marry, which they did on 11 September 1930. 

Come Tell Me How You Live: an archaeological memoir is her answer to her friends’ questions about what life was like when she accompanied Max on his excavations in Syria and Iraq in the 1930s.

She began writing it before the Second World War and then laid it aside. After four years of the war she picked it up again, using her notes and diaries to complete this memoir, writing about her life with  Max Mallowan and his team excavating the ancient sites at Chagar Bazar, Tell Brak and other sites in the Habur and Jaghjagha region in what was then north western Syria. This map shows the area they were working in:

Syria 1930s

She wrote in the Epilogue  (written in 1944) that in remembering and recording that time it had been

… not a task, but a labour of love. Not an escape to something that was, but the bringing into the hard work and sorrow of today of something imperishable that one not only had but still has!

For I love that fertile country and its simple people, who know how to laugh and how to enjoy life, who are idle and gay, and who have dignity, good manners, and a great sense of humour, and to whom death is not terrible.

Inshallah, I shall go there again, and the things that I love shall not have perished from this earth.

With regard to her statement about death earlier in the book Agatha Christie had explained the difference between the Western and Oriental attitudes to life and death:

Accustomed as we are to our Western ideas of the importance of life, it is difficult to adjust our thoughts to a different scale of values. And yet to the Oriental mind it is simple enough. Death is bound to come – it is as inevitable as birth; whether it comes early or late is entirely at the will of Allah. And that belief, that acquiescence, does away with what has become the curse of our modern day world – anxiety. (page 96)

The emphasis in the book is on the everyday life on a dig and Agatha took an active part, helping to catalogue, label and clean the items they found as well as taking photographs and developing them. She also found time to spend on writing her books. So, although she gives a detailed account of how they worked, how they employed workmen for the excavations and servants who looked after Max and his team of archaeologists, there is not much about what they found.

Although she described the local people in her Epilogue as people, who know how to laugh and how to enjoy life, who are idle and gay, and who have dignity, good manners, and a great sense of humour, she also recorded their disputes:

Quarrelling is, in any case, almost continuous. All our workmen have hot tempers, and all carry with them the means of expressing themselves – large knives, bludgeons, and a kind of mace or knobkerry. Heads are cut open, and furious figures are entangled with each other in fierce struggles … page 86

And she also recorded this chilling statement:

We come to the question of religions generally – a very vexed question in this particular part of the world, for Syria is full of fiercely fanatical sects of all kinds, all willing to cut each other’s throats for the good cause! (page 166)

How sad and horrified she would be if she could see Syria today, but in the light of the extract above I don’t think she would have been too surprised! And sadly the places she loved are no longer the same. Here is her description of the shrine Sheikh ‘Ada near Mosul

There  can be, I think, no spot in the world so beautiful  or so peaceful. You wind far up into the hills through oak trees and pomegranites (sic), following a mountain stream. The air is fresh and clear and pure. …

And then suddenly, you come to the white spires of the Shrine. All is calm and gentle and peaceful there. Gentle-faced custodians bring you refreshments and you sit in perfect peace, sipping tea. (page 109)

Compare that with the description in The Guardian last August of the area as ‘hell on earth‘.

This book is written with love and humour – for example Agatha’s description of buying clothes for her visit to Syria because her last year’s summer clothes  are Shrunk, Faded and Peculiar – and too tight everywhere.  In the Foreword she stated that it is a book full of everyday doings and happenings with ‘no beautiful descriptions of scenery, no treating of economic problems, no racial reflections, no history.‘ I think she was under estimating her writing, because this little book has all that and more. I loved it.

Meme: Book Title Acrostic

Yet again I’ve fallen behind with writing about the books I’ve read. So far this month I’ve read 6 books and have written about just two of them. But although I need to catch up, tonight I fancy doing this meme I spotted on Jessica’s blog, The Bookworm Chronicles. It’s to make an acrostic of my name using the book titles  of books* I’ve read so far this year.

Margaret

M – (The) Murder Room by P D James
AAn Autobiography by Anthony Trollope
R –(The) Raven’s Head by Kate Maitland
G – Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers
AA Question of Identity by Susan Hill
R(The) Remorseful Day by Colin Dexter
EElizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
TTurn of the Tide by Margaret Skea

*The links are to my posts on the books*

Just a fun meme that entertained me. Please let me know if you give it a go too.

One Life: My Mother’s Story by Kate Grenville

One Life: My Mother’s Story

Australian author, Kate Grenville has written a beautiful biography of her mother Nance Russell. A book that casts light not only on Nance’s life but also on life in Australia for most of the 20th century. Nance was born in 1912 and died in 2002, so she lived through two World Wars, an economic depression and a period of great social change. Nance wasn’t famous, the daughter of a rural working-class couple who became pub-keepers, but she was a remarkable woman.

Kate’s mother had wanted to write her own story and had left fragments of stories about her ancestors, stories her mother had told her, about her childhood, but most about her adult life up to her mid-forties. (Kate Grenville has used some of the stories of her ancestors in her own novels – such as The Secret River, a wonderful historical novel).

So this biography reads like a novel, but is based on Nance Russell’s memories, making it much more than a factual account of a person’s life. It’s is a vivid portrait of a real woman, a woman of great strength and determination, who had had a difficult childhood, who persevered, went to University, became a pharmacist, opened her own pharmacy, brought up her children, and helped build the family home. She faced sex discrimination and had to sell her pharmacy in order to look after her children at home.

Nance had wanted to be a teacher, but when she said this to her mother she ‘exploded. Over her dead body Nance was going to be a teacher!‘  But her parents thought that pharmacy was ‘good for a girl‘. It was 40  years later, after her own children were grown up, that Nance took an arts degree, then a teaching diploma and a diploma in teaching English as a foreign language. ‘She taught French in schools, taught English to newly arrived migrant children, and ran her own business teaching English to the wives of Japanese business men.

My bare account of Nance’s life doesn’t do justice to this book, in which Kate Grenville brings to life both the good times and the bad times, writing about her mother’s heartache, worries, joys and sorrows, of the hard times during the economic depression, all of it as a whole making a rich and fulfilled life. Very near to the end of the book Kate Grenville writes:

One of her last trips [to Europe] was to Florence, where she stood in front of the frescoes that Dante had seen. A line came into her mind from somewhere in all her reading: Suffering pierces the shield of habit. It was a thought that made sense of the unhappiness she’d known, and also the happiness. She knew that ultimately it didn’t matter what happened to you. In the light of eternity, in the light of all those dead writers in whose work she’d recognised the great truths, only one thing mattered. What other people did was up to them. Your job was to live – as richly and honestly as you could – your one life. (page 246)

Reading Challenges: Non Fiction Reading Challenge 2015 and What’s in a Name? 2015 in the category of a book with a familial relation in the title.

A Change of Climate by Hilary Mantel

A Change of Climate is one of Hilary Mantel’s early books, first published in 1994 and  described on the back cover as ‘a literary family saga’ and ‘a first rate thriller’.

I quoted from the beginning of this book in this post. I noted that at the end of the book there is an About the Author section, which I’d just glanced over. In answer to one of the interviewer’s questions about the theme of the book, Hilary Mantel replied that there is a central secret, an enormous destructive secret. I didn’t want to spoil the book for myself so I didn’t read any more of her answers. And I don’t want to spoil it for anyone else so I’m not saying what that secret is in this post.

The ‘enormous destructive secret‘ Hilary Mantel referred to is revealed just over halfway into the book. But the book abounds in secrets and it’s also about family, trust, disillusionment and tragedy, about bereavement and loss of faith, as one character observes, ‘faith is something people chase after, simply to give life meaning‘.

Hilary Mantel writes a compelling story, subtly mixing the past and the present, moving seamlessly between the Eldred family’s current life (in the 1980s) in Norfolk, with their earlier life in Africa in the 1950s. I like her writing very much, never drawing attention to its style and drawing me in effortlessly into both time frames and places.

It’s a family saga (most definitely not an Aga Saga) about Ralph and Anna Eldred, their four children and Ralph’s sister Emma. Ralph and Anna devote their lives to charity, filling their house with ‘Visitors’, described as either ‘Good Souls’ or ‘ Sad Cases’. Just after they were married Ralph and Anna went to South Africa as missionaries and under the system of apartheid there they ran up against the authorities, then moved to Beuchuanaland (Botswana) where a terrible and horrific event occurred and they returned to England.  However, their memories of these traumatic events refused to remain buried, eventually bringing their lives and those of their children into terrible turmoil.

There are many issues raised in this book – chief among them the struggle between good and evil. Ralph thinks:

If we are not to be mere animals, or babies, we must always choose, and choose to do good. In choosing evil we collude with the principal of decay, we become mere vehicles of chaos, we become subject to the laws of a universe which tends back towards dissolution, the universe the devil owns. In choosing to do good we show we have free will, that we are God-designed creatures who stand against all such laws.

So I will be good, Ralph thought. That is all I have to do. (page 235)

But he discovered that it’s not that simple, as the rest of the book goes on to relate. Ralph and Anna can’t escape their past, Anna in particular cannot come to terms with what happened. The book explores questions about forgiveness and tragedy, as well as how to cope with grief.

Hilary Mantel states in the About the Author section that she found it the most difficult of her books to write – the secret just resisted being told:

I found that I was going round and round the point, yet I couldn’t put it on the page. I remember really struggling with it; it was like a wild animal that had to be civilised somehow, and in the end I just wrestled it on to the page by saying to myself, ‘Look, you’ve done this before and you can do it again’. Writing this book stands out as one of the most difficult times of my writing life.

A great book on all counts, characters and locations beautifully described and a well constructed and convincing plot, powerful and challenging on several levels.

FIVE OF THE BEST: JULY 2011- 2015

This was originally Cleo’s idea (Cleopatra Loves Books). It’s to look back over your reviews of the past five years and pick out your favourite for each month from 2011 – 2015. I like it so much it inspired me to do the same .

I really enjoy looking back over the books I’ve loved reading. These are my favourite books for each July from 2011 to 2015 (click on the covers to see my original reviews).

2011

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. This is one of Agatha Christie’s most well known books, not least because of the films with Albert Finney and David Suchet as Poirot.

Poirot is on the Orient Express, on a three-days journey across Europe. But after midnight the train comes to a halt, stuck in a snowdrift. In the morning the millionaire Simon Ratchett is found dead in his compartment his body stabbed a dozen times and his door locked from the inside.

I liked this book enormously. I liked the characterisation and all the, now so non-pc, comments about nationalities, highlighting class and racial prejudice. I liked the problem-solving and ingenuity of the plot.

2012

The Crimson Rooms by Katherine MacMahon – set in London in 1924, with Britain still coming to terms with the aftermath of the First World War. Evelyn Gifford, one of the few pioneer female lawyers, is involved in defending several cases.

It’s beautifully written and I was fascinated by this account of early women lawyers. It clearly shows the prejudice these women had to overcome just to qualify as lawyers, never mind the difficulties of persuading law firms to employ them and clients to accept them. It’s also a novel about the way people’s lives were affected by the War, how men were unable to resume their old lives, some damaged by shell-shock and the horrors they had taken part in, or witnessed during the war.

2013

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – this is set in the Deep South of  America in the 1930s, and narrated by Scout (Jean Louise Finch) as she looks back as an adult to the Depression, the years when, with her older brother, Jem, and their friend, Dill, she witnessed the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white girl. Scout’s father, Atticus, a lawyer defends Tom. It’s also the story of Boo Radley, their neighbour, a man who is never seen, who is said to only come out at night.

I ‘d wondered if this book that all the world seems to love would live up to the hype for me. It did! It’s a wonderful book! Now two years later I’m wondering whether or not to read Go Set a Watchman … what if it spoils my enjoyment of To Kill a Mockingbird?

2014

Charles Dickens: a Life by Claire Tomalin was my five star book in July last year. I fully intended to write a post about it, but somehow never did. I thoroughly enjoyed this immensely detailed biography, complimented with maps of Gads Hill and Rochester and Dickens’ London, and a Cast List, copious notes,  a bibliography and an index – all essential reference material.

This biography brings Dickens, his books, his work for the poor, downtrodden and ill-treated, and his world to life. It’s a ‘warts and all’ biography; nothing is left out. And best of all it made me want to read more of Dickens’ own books.

2015

Another non-fiction book takes the top spot in July this year – The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards. This is the story of the writers who formed the Detection Club between the two World Wars. Edwards sets the authors and their works in context – that period when Britain was recovering from the horrors of the First World War, living through an age of austerity as unemployment grew, the cost of living soared leading to the General Strike whilst the rich partied and saw the beginnings of the end of the British Empire.

It is quite simply a tour de force, comprehensive, and crammed full of fascinating information about the period and the authors. Martin Edwards’ love of Golden Age fiction shines throughout the book, (skilfully writing about books without giving away any spoilers).

New-To-Me Books August 2015

Aug 15 bksAnother visit to Barter Books in Alnwick resulted in another pile of books to add to my TBR shelves.

From top to bottom they are:

  • The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter – to fill in my gaps in reading his Inspector Morse books. This is the 6th in the series – Inspector Morse isn’t sure what to make of the truncated body found dumped in the Oxford Canal. He suspects it may be all that’s left of an elderly Oxford don last seen boarding a London train days before.
  • Hangman’s Holiday and Other Stories by Dorothy L Sayers – the ninth in her Lord Peter Wimsey series, this includes  four Wimsey stories, six stories featuring Montague Egg (travelling salesman for Plummet & Rose, Wine & Spirits), and two more separate stories.
  • Death Comes as the End by Agatha Christie – this is one of the last few books of hers I have yet to read. It’s historical crime fiction set in Egypt 4,000 years ago, written drawing on her experience of several  expeditions to the Middle East with her husband, Max Malloran, an eminent archaeologist.
  • The Blood Doctor by Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell) – one of her psychological thrillers, described on the back cover as ‘a chilling tale of ambition, obsession and bad blood.‘ I still have a lot of Barbara Vine/Ruth Rendell books to read.
  • Call the Dying by Andrew Taylor – I’m jumping into a series with this book as this is the 7th in the Lydmouth mysteries and I haven’t read any of the others. They are all are set in and around a fictional town on the Anglo-Welsh borders in the years after World War II.
  • The Secret Place by Tana French – the 5th in the Dublin Murder Mystery series. I read the first,  In the Woods a few years ago and liked its psychological elements and the twists and turns.  In this book Detective Stephen Moran investigates the murder of handsome, popular Chris Harper when sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey brings him a photo of Chris with the caption, I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM.
  • Zoo Time by Howard Jacobson – a complete change from crime fiction – a book I bought in Tescos for £1. It’s described on the book cover as  ‘a novel about love – love of women, love of literature, love of laughter. It shows our funniest writer at his brilliant best.‘ I felt like reading something different.

If you’ve read any of these books I’d love to know what you think about them.

My Tuesday Post: After the Fire

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

The book I’ve chosen this week is After the Fire by Jane Casey.  I read this in June and have not got round to writing about it yet.

It begins:

There were 224 residents of Murchison House on the Maudling Estate in north London, and on a cold grey late November day  not one of them was expecting to die. Some were hoping to die. some were waiting to die. but no one actually expected to die that day.

This is the sixth book in the Maeve Kerrigan series. It stands well on it’s own, although there are references to past events and storylines that appear in the earlier books.

The Maudling Estate and some of the minor characters featured in the 5th book, The Kill.

Blurb:
After a fire rips through a North London tower block, two bodies are found locked in an 11th floor flat. But it’s the third victim that ensures the presence of detective Maeve Kerrigan and the murder squad. It appears that controversial MP Geoff Armstrong, trapped by the fire, chose to jump to his death rather than wait for rescue. But what was such a right wing politician doing in the deprived, culturally diverse Maudling Estate?
As Maeve and her senior colleague, Derwent, pick through the wreckage, they uncover the secret world of the 11th floor, where everyone seems to have something to hide…

Would you read on? I did and thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

Here’s a teaser from 32% on my Kindle (rather more than 2 sentences!):

I felt the familiar rush, the moment a shape began to emerge from the darkness that surrounded the case. A pattern. A connection. A witness and a suspect.

A killer with a face and a name.

Maybe.

The Remorseful Day by Colin Dexter

Chief Inspector Morse is one of my favourite fictional detectives (maybe even the favourite). I first ‘met’ him years ago in the ITV series Inspector Morse and so, just as Joan Hickson is forever in my mind as Miss Marple and David Suchet is Poirot, John Thaw is Morse. The series was first broadcast in 1987, but I don’t intend to write about the books versus the TV adaptations – I’ve enjoyed both. This post is just about the last book in the series – The Remorseful Day.

I’ve delayed reading this for so long (I watched the TV version when it was first broadcast, which was 15 years ago!) because it’s the last of the Morse books and sadly the end of Morse too. So if you’ve not read any of the Morse books I suggest that you don’t start with this one.

Needless to say that I loved it. The plot is detailed, complex and as usual with Morse a puzzle type murder mystery with plenty of challenging clues. Sergeant Lewis is left to investigate the murder of nurse Yvonne Harrison that had remained unsolved for a year – Morse initially refused to work on the case, despite Chief Superintendent Strange’s wishes. Sergeant Lewis is concerned as this looks just the sort of puzzle Morse excels in solving … and Morse’s behaviour has been worrying Lewis recently.  Lewis can’t believe that Morse could have a personal reason to keep out of the investigation. And when Morse phones to say he is feeling unwell Lewis is most concerned – Morse seldom mentioned his health, what is wrong with him?

The plot is complex, but the real focus of the book is on Morse and how he copes with his illness and his drinking habits and it becomes obvious just how alone he is in the world and how devastating his situation is to Lewis. The novel also reveals more about Strange’s character and also about his understanding of Morse. I found it both a most satisfying book and a very sad one.

There are only 13 Morse books. The links are to my posts on the books – I read some before I began to write this blog and I’m hoping to re-read those in due course.

  1. Last Bus to Woodstock (1975)
  2. Last Seen Wearing (1976)
  3. The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn (1977)
  4. Service of All the Dead (1979)
  5. The Dead of Jericho (1981)
  6. The Riddle of the Third Mile (1983)
  7. The Secret of Annexe 3 (1986)
  8. The Wench is Dead (1989)
  9. The Jewel That Was Ours (1991)
  10. The Way Through the Woods (1992)
  11. The Daughters of Cain (1994)
  12. Death is Now My Neighbour (1996)
  13. The Remorseful Day (1999)

As The Remorseful Day has sat unread on my shelves for so long it obviously qualifies for the Mount TBR Challenge 2015. I also included it as one of My 10 Books of Summer, which brings my total to 5.

Austen in August

Roof Beam Reader is hosting, for the 4th year, the annual Austen in August event. This is a one-month event focused on all things Jane Austen, including her primary texts, any re-imaginings of her works, biographies, critical texts, etc.

The Goal: To read as many of Jane Austen’s works (finished or unfinished) as you want or are able to, during the month of August.  Biographies, audiobooks, spin-offs, and re-reads also count.

I haven’t taken part before but as I have just one book by Jane Austen left to read I thought it would give me a gentle push in the direction of Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon.

These are three short works in one volume – Lady Susan is a finished novel and the other two are unfinished fragments.

I may also make a start on reading Jane Austen’s Letters, edited by Deidre Le Faye, but I don’t think I’ll finish the book in August!

Books Read in July 2015

July has been great for reading and I’ve not done badly writing reviews either. I’d not been reading many of my TBR books up to July but I changed all that this month by reading 6 of them. And I added to my non-fiction reading with 2 more books. In total I read 11 books, one of which is a re-read and I loved even more than the first time I read it – The Shipping News.

They are – in the order I read them and with links to my posts:

  1. The Day of the Lie by William Brodrick (TBR)
  2. The Man with The Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam (TBR)
  3. Last Friends by Jane Gardam (TBR)
  4. The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards (NF)
  5. The Outcast by Sadie Jones (TBR)
  6. Stephen Hawking: His Life and Work by Kitty Ferguson (NF, LB)
  7. Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L Sayers (LB)
  8. The Shipping News by Annie Proulx (a re-read)
  9. Zen There Was Murder by H R F Keating (TBR)
  10. The Remorseful Day by Colin Dexter (TBR)
  11. The Outcast by Elly Griffiths (LB)

I’m planning to write reviews for The Shipping News and The Remorseful Day.

As for The Outcast by Elly Griffiths. I did enjoy it but it’s written in the present tense, (as are all of her Ruth Galloway books) which kept intruding making me more conscious of the writing style rather than being totally absorbed in the story. I liked the mix of past and present, although in this book I felt the balance is tilted more in favour of the present and the archaeological element is played down. I liked the introduction to Ruth’s brother Simon and a new character, Frank is also a plus.

It’s so hard to decide which is my Book of the Month and choosing between fiction and non fiction makes it even harder, but it has to be Martin Edwards’ The Golden Age of Murder, which as I said in my post is a tour de force, comprehensive and crammed full of fascinating information about the period and the authors.

Martin Edwards’ love of Golden Age fiction shines throughout the book, (skilfully writing about books without giving away any spoilers) and his book has spurred me on to read more books from this period.

But I also want to highlight The Day of the Lie by William Brodrick, because although it is hard reading in parts, it’s a meaty, layered book, delving into the past, uncovering secrets and revealing crimes. and it’s so well researched, bringing the past to life.

The Man in the Wooden Hat and Last Friends by Jane Gardam

These are companion novels to Old Filth, which I read years ago. The Man in the Wooden Hat is written from the perspective of Old Filth’s wife, Betty.

Blurb:

Filth (Failed In London, Try Hong Kong) is a successful lawyer when he marries Elisabeth in Hong Kong soon after the War. Reserved, immaculate and courteous, Filth finds it hard to demonstrate his emotions. But Elisabeth is different – a free spirit. She was brought up in the Japanese Internment Camps, which killed both her parents but left her with a lust for survival and an affinity with the Far East. No wonder she is attracted to Filth’s hated rival at the Bar – the brash, forceful Veneering. Veneering has a Chinese wife and an adored son – and no difficulty whatsoever in demonstrating his emotions . . .

How Elisabeth turns into Betty and whether she remains loyal to stolid Filth or is swept up by caddish Veneering, makes for a page-turning plot in a perfect novel which is full of surprises and revelations, as well as the humour and eccentricities for which Jane Gardam’s writing is famous.

I suppose you could read this book without reading Old Filth first, but it certainly helps to know what happens in the first book from the husband’s point of view. Both books follow the lives of husband and wife over 50 years, but as The Man in the Wooden Hat is told from Betty’s point of view I got a totally different view of events, particularly of the couple’s relationship with Old Filth’s arch rival in Hong Kong, fellow lawyer Terry Veneering.

Last Friends revisits the same events telling Terry Veneering’s story from Dulcie Williams’ perspective. Dulcie is the widow of “Pastry Willy” Williams, a judge who was also in the foreign service with Old Filth and Veneering. She provides the back stories of these characters, and throws yet more light on the events told in the first two books.

Blurb:

Old Filth and The Man in the Wooden Hat told with bristling tenderness and black humour the stories of that Titan of the Hong Kong law courts, Old Filth QC, and his clever, misunderstood wife Betty. Last Friends, the final volume of this trilogy, picks up with Terence Veneering, Filth’s great rival in work and – though it was never spoken of – in love.

Veneering’s were not the usual beginnings of an establishment silk: the son of a Russian acrobat marooned in northeast England and a devoted local girl, he escapes the war to emerge in the Far East as a man of panache, success and fame. But, always, at the stuffy English Bar he is treated with suspicion: where did this blond, louche, brilliant Slav come from?

Veneering, Filth and their friends tell a tale of love, friendship, grace, the bittersweet experiences of a now-forgotten Empire and the disappointments and consolations of age.

The three books together form a memorable trilogy, of love and life, humour and heartbreak in colonial Hong Kong and the contrasting setting of the English countryside. Maybe Old Filth is the outstanding book, but maybe that is because I read it first and loved it so much, that the others don’t quite live up to it.

I’ve had both these books for a couple of years, so both qualify for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2015, and The Man in the Wooden Hat for the 10 Books of Summer Challenge and the Colour Coded Challenge (the dominant colour of the  cover is white) too.

Partners in Crime – The Secret Adversary: Tommy and Tuppence

Well, I suppose I should have expected this – I was looking forward to the new BBC1 series of the Tommy and Tuppence stories, Partners in Crime advertised as ‘loosely based‘ on Agatha Christie’s novels, but the first episode was last night ,The Secret Adversary was disappointing to say the least as not much of Agatha Christie’s story was left.  I knew it had been moved to the 1950s instead of the 1920s and was wondering what else had been changed.

Well, practically everything else, so much so that most of it bore no resemblance to the original. It was not only the wrong era but also the characters were different – TV Tommy, as David Walliams played him for most of the episode, is a bumbling fool who had not taken part in the War due to being wounded by a delivery van (I think that’s what the TV Tommy said), with a vacant look on his face , and obsessed with bees. Tommy and Tuppence as described by Agatha Christie are ‘an essentially modern-looking couple’, childhood friends who after the First World War were both stony broke and who decided to set up a joint venture under the name of the Young Adventurers Ltd, initially intending to hire themselves out to commit crimes.The ‘real’ Tommy had been wounded in the War, not once but twice, Tommy and Tuppence never met Jane Finn and Julius Hersheimmer was a young white man who says he is Jane’s cousin – not her uncle. I could go on!

OK, so it was easy watching, Jessica Raine made a good, meddling and determined Tuppence and it was amusing at times. But to enjoy this I’ll have to forget it has any connection with Agatha Christie whatsoever and I don’t know that I can do that, for the next five episodes. It’s so annoying to keep saying ‘it’s not like that in the book’.

The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards

Although I read a lot of crime fiction my knowledge of the authors and their books written during the ‘Golden Age’ so far has been limited to Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Margery Allingham, and Michael Innes so when I saw that Martin Edwards had written The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story I thought it would be the ideal book to find out more. And I was absolutely right and the works of a whole host of authors has been opened up to me.

This is the story of the writers who formed the Detection Club between the two World Wars. Edwards sets the authors and their works in context – that period when Britain was recovering from the horrors of the First World War, living through an age of austerity as unemployment grew, the cost of living soared leading to the General Strike whilst the rich partied and saw the beginnings of the end of the British Empire. But the writers and the works although well grounded in their own time and culture have a lasting appeal and influence on current story telling and film and television.

The Club grew out of the dinners Anthony Berkeley and his wife Peggy hosted at their home in the late 1920s, attended by people including Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Douglas and Margaret Cole, Ronald Knox, Henry Wade, H C Bailey and John Rhode. Eventually the Club was formed, with Rules and a Constitution and a Committee. The members benefited in various ways, meeting fellow detective novelists, discussing ideas, supporting each other and even working together on collaborative writing projects – such as The Floating Admiral, in which a dozen writers each wrote one chapter. The main aim of the Club was to encourage and maintain a high standard of work in writing detective novels.

I was fascinated by the number of real crimes that influenced the writers, both current at the time and crimes from the past. Their interest as they discussed these cases, such as Dr Crippen’s poisoning of his wife, in turn inspired them not only to write but also to play the detective themselves. Indeed, Edwards shows that the image of the Golden Age as ‘cosy’ murder mysteries is false:

Their novels are often sneered at as ‘cosy’, and the claim that their characters were made from cardboard has become a lazy critical cliché. The very idea that detective fiction between the wars represented a ‘Golden Age’ seems like a misty-eyed nostalgia of an aged romantic hankering after a past that never existed.

The best detective novels of the Thirties

were exhilarating, innovative and unforgettable. They explored miscarriages of justice, forensic pathology and serial killings long before these topics became fashionable (and before the term’serial killer’ was invented). …

The climax of one of Berkeley’s novels was so shocking that when Alfred Hitchcock came to film it, even the legendary master of suspense, the man who would direct Psycho, lost his nerve. He substituted a final scene that was a feeble cop-out in comparison to Berkeley’s dark and horrific vision. (page 9)

There is no way I can do justice to this book in a short post; it is simply a tour de force, comprehensive, crammed full of fascinating information about the period and the authors.

Martin Edwards’ love of Golden Age fiction shines throughout the book, (skilfully writing about books without giving away any spoilers) and has spurred me on to read more books from this period.

Agatha Christie: Tommy and Tuppence

Tomorrow night sees the start of a new six part series on BBC1 – Partners in Crime. According to the Radio Times the episodes are loosely based on The Secret Adversary, the first of the Tommy and Tuppence stories and N or M?, the third story.

But, as I have come to expect with TV/film adaptations, this is not the original story as the action has been transposed from 1922 and 1940 (the original settings of these two books) to the 1950s. Still I have great hopes for the series, with David Walliams as Tommy and Jessica Raine as Tuppence, although I’m wondering what else has been changed.

This is what I wrote about The Secret Adversary in January 2011:

The Secret Adversary was first published in 1922. It was Agatha Christie’s second book and the first featuring Tommy and Tuppence. In this book they have just met up after World War One, both in their twenties: ‘an essentially modern-looking couple’. They are both stony broke and decide to set up a joint venture under the name of the Young Adventurers Ltd, initially intending to hire themselves out to commit crimes.

A Mr Whittington overhears their conversation and offers Tuppence their first assignment, but when she tells him her name is ‘Jane Finn’ he acts very strangely and thinks she is blackmailing him. From then on Tommy and Tuppence set out to find Jane Finn, a name Tommy had overheard from a conversation in the street.

Reading it reminded somewhat of Enid Blyton’s adventure books, mixed up with P G Wodehouse’s books. It’s a spy/detective story that is fast and furious with Tommy and Tuppence landing themselves in all sorts of dangerous situations. It’s also full of red herrings and they’re never very sure who they can trust. Tommy and Tuppence advertise for information relating to Jane Finn and have two responses. One is from Mr Carter, from British Intelligence who tells them that Jane Finn, a survivor from the torpedoed Lusitania, was handed a certain document – a secret agreement, with a ‘new and deadly significance’. The second response is from Mr Julius P Hersheimmer, a young American, who says he is Jane’s cousin and wants to find her.

Just who is the mysterious Mr Brown, the secretive mastermind behind a plot to unite all of England’s enemies, overthrow the government and cause anarchy?  There is no clue to his real identity, he remains elusive and always in the background. But it becomes clear that he is one of two people and as I read I swung from believing it to be one character to the other.

One point of interest is the brief mention of Inspector Japp, of Scotland Yard. His role in this is merely incidental.

I enjoyed this book and I liked Tommy and Tuppence, who by the end realise they are in love. Agatha Christie only wrote five books featuring this couple. Unlike Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, Tommy and Tuppence age as the books were written (links to my posts):

Format: Kindle Edition
File Size: 378 KB
Print Length: 229 pages
Source: Project Gutenberg E-Book

Book Beginnings: The Outcast Dead

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’s book is The Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths, which I’m planning to read soon. It begins:

‘And we ask your abundant blessing, Lord, on these, the outcast dead.

There is a murmured response from the group gathered on the bank below the castle walls. But Ruth Galloway, standing at the back, says nothing. She is wearing the expression of polite neutrality she assumes whenever God is mentioned. This mask has stood her in good stead over the years and she sees no reason to drop it now. But she approves of the Prayers for the Outcast Dead. This brief ecumenical service is held every year for the unknown dead of Norwich: the bodies thrown into unmarked graves, the paupers, the plague victims, forgotten, unmourned, except this motley collection of archaeologists, historians and sundry hangers-on.

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.

Page 56:

Ruth drinks her cold cappuccino and wonders how Cathbad always manages to make her feel so guilty. It’s not her fault that his friend’s been arrested.

Blurb:

Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway has excavated a body from the grounds of Norwich Castle, once a prison. The body may be that of Victorian murderess Jemima Green. Called Mother Hook for her claw-like hand, Jemima was hanged for the murder of five children.

DCI Harry Nelson has no time for long-ago killers. Investigating the case of three infants found dead, one after the other, in their King’s Lynn home, he’s convinced that their mother is responsible.

Then a child goes missing. Could the abduction be linked to the long-dead Mother Hook? Ruth is pulled into the case, and back towards Nelson.

I always enjoy the Ruth Galloway books, despite the fact that they are written in the present tense, so I’m hoping this one is just as good as the earlier books. This is the sixth in the series. (I’m behind with this series – the seventh book was published earlier this year.) They are a mix of modern day murder mysteries and archaeology, with an added element of the supernatural.

Zen There Was Murder by H. R. F. Keating

I don’t think I’ve read anything like Zen There Was Murder, a mixture of Zen Buddhism and murder. It was the second book H R F Keating wrote, first published in 1960 and then published in 1963 by Penguin Books in their green Penguin Crime series. (This cover is much more appropriate than the Bloomsbury Reader e-book cover showing guns)

It was the Zen Buddhist setting that made it difficult for me to get to grips with the murder. In fact it is practically halfway into the book before the murder actually takes place. The first half is taken up with introducing the characters, gathered together for a course on Zen Buddhism.  There is a schoolteacher, Alasdair Stuart, a clergyman, the Rev. Cyprian Applecheek, Miss Olive Rohan, Miss Flaveen Mills, Honor Brentt, a jounalist and her husband, Gerry Manvers, and Jim Henderson, an Irishman from Ulster.

None of them know anything about Zen and much time is spent with them trying to understand what it is. Mr Utamaro, the lecturer comes out with various sentences, such as ‘Books about Zen are legs on a snake‘, saying you cannot understand Zen by reading a book about it and applying the principles of logic to what you read, and tweaking Alasdair’s nose saying, ‘this is Zen‘, as well as using koans, such as ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping?‘ But they fail to understand, saying it is nonsense. Mr Utamaro agrees.

Mr Utamaro shows them a sword, locked in a glass showcase. The sword, a wakizashi, is one of pair used by samurai for hari-kiri, and on the evening of the first day Mr Utamaro discovers that the sword has been taken from the case, leaving it intact and without setting off the alarm. And then Flaveen is found dead, the sword driven into her body up to the hilt.

The clue to discovering the identity of the murderer is in solving who is telling lies  and why.  For most of the time I was completely bamboozled and kept wondering just how the two German girls employed to make the beds and do the cooking fitted into the mystery. Their conversations regularly interrupt the narrative as they comment on the characters and the events taking place.

All in all this book has a surreal feel about it. It’s not just a puzzle type of murder mystery but as Keating explained in an interview with Dale Salwek in Mystery Voices: Interviews with British Crime Writers it is also making a point about something you believed:

And the thing I believed in, one of the things that bugged me most, was the subject of telling lies, which is fine for a detective story. And that was how I came to write my second, Zen There Was Murder, which is really more about telling lies than about Zen.

When writing the second book, I thought I could say something about telling lies. At that time, too, Zen Buddhism was a fad over here, and so for the background of the book, I took Zen, which does reflect very much on lies. I found I could say things about lies by giving each of the characters a different viewpoint on telling lies – ranging from one of those people who absolutely objects to lying in any way to the sort of pathological liar. And I made the whole book turn on that. (pages 64-65)

H R F Keating (1926 – 2011) was chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) (1970–71), chairman of the Society of Authors (1983–84) and president of the Detection Club (1985–2000). He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.  His most famous novels are the Inspector Ghote books (I have just one on my TBR shelves – Inspector Ghote’s Good Crusade, the second in the series).  For more information about Keating see this article by Martin Edwards.

I’ve had this book for about three years, so it qualifies for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2015 and it is also one of the books I listed for the 10 Books of Summer Challenge, and the TBR Pile Challenge.

This Week in Books: 22 July 2015

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now

Fiction: Zen There Was Murder by H R F Keating

Blurb – In a country mansion converted to adult educational courses, Mr Utamaro is lecturing on Zen Buddhism to a small and not entirely appreciative audience. But Zen questions and their seemingly quirkish answers predominate, until they are superseded by two of greater urgency: ‘Who stole the wakizashi?’ and ‘Who killed Flaveen Mills?’

Non Fiction: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

Blurb –  Chris Hadfield takes readers deep into his years of training and space exploration to show how to make the impossible possible. Through eye-opening, entertaining stories filled with the adrenaline of launch, the mesmerizing wonder of spacewalks and the measured, calm responses mandated by crises, he explains how conventional wisdom can get in the way of achievement – and happiness. His own extraordinary education in space has taught him some counterintuitive lessons: don’t visualize success, do care what others think, and always sweat the small stuff.

You might never be able to build a robot, pilot a spacecraft, make a music video or perform basic surgery in zero gravity like Colonel Hadfield. But his vivid and refreshing insights in this book will teach you how to think like an astronaut, and will change, completely, the way you view life on Earth – especially your own.

Then

The last book I finished is The Shipping News by Annie Proulx. I first read this book in 2008 and have re-read it for my local book group.

I thoroughly enjoyed it this time round – more than I did in 2008.  It’s the story of  Quoyle who left New York and headed to Newfoundland, the home of his forefathers.

My review will follow in a few days.

Next

I’m not sure. It could be The Remorseful Day by Colin Dexter – the last Morse book. I’ve watched the TV version but never read the book. It’s one of the book I’ve listed to read for the 10 Books of Summer challenge.

Blurb – The murder of Yvonne Harrison had left Thames Valley CID baffled. A year after the dreadful crime they are still no nearer to making an arrest. But one man has yet to tackle the case – and it is just the sort of puzzle at which Chief Inspector Morse excels.

So why is he adamant that he will not lead the re-investigation, despite the entreaties of Chief Superintendent Strange and dark hints of some new evidence? And why, if he refuses to take on the case officially, does he seem to be carrying out his own private enquiries?

For Sergeant Lewis this is yet another example of the unsettling behaviour his chief has been displaying of late . . .

But it could be something completely different …

The Outcast by Sadie Jones: Book and TV

The Outcast

As I wrote earlier The Outcast by Sadie Jones is a book that has sat unread on my shelves for seven years until I noticed that it was being broadcast as a TV drama. I read half the book before the first episode and finished it before the second episode was broadcast.

First of all the blurb from Goodreads:

1957, and Lewis Aldridge is travelling back to his home in the South of England. He is straight out of jail and nineteen years old. His return will trigger the implosion not just of his family, but of a whole community. A decade earlier, his father’s homecoming casts a different shape. The war is over and Gilbert has recently been demobbed. He reverts easily to suburban life – cocktails at six thirty, church on Sundays – but his wife and young son resist the stuffy routine. Lewis and his mother escape to the woods for picnics, just as they did in wartime days. Nobody is surprised that Gilbert’s wife counters convention, but they are all shocked when, after one of their jaunts, Lewis comes back without her. Not far away, Kit Carmichael keeps watch. She has always understood more than most, not least from what she has been dealt by her own father’s hand. Lewis’s grief and burgeoning rage are all too plain, and Kit makes a private vow to help. But in her attempts to set them both free, she fails to predict the painful and horrifying secrets that must first be forced into the open. As menacing as it is beautiful, The Outcast is a devastating portrait of small-town hypocrisy from an astonishing new voice.

The TV adaptation, also written by Sadie Jones is faithful to the book, so for once I could enjoy them both – although maybe enjoy isn’t quite the right word. The TV drama is, of course a condensed version and whilst the cast was good the characters didn’t, of course, match up to my mental image of them whilst reading the book. I thought the boy (Finn Elliot) playing the young Lewis was excellent, whereas the adult Lewis (George MacKay) just didn’t seem to be right physically in episode one. However, he was much more convincing in the second episode. Overall, the themes of the book and the drama are relentlessly depressing, in post-war Britain, the men all maintaining a stiff upper lip, emotions securely repressed. Lewis witnessing his mother’s drowning is unable to express his grief and things just go from bad to worse as he resorts to self-harm.

Meanwhile, the Carmichael family, not fully portrayed in episode one, have a secret, again closely guarded in a world where child abuse is just not acknowledged. In episode two the secret comes out in a dramatic scene, which I thought was really well done. Nathaniel Parker as Dicky Carmichael made a terrifying bully and Jessica Barden as the teenager, Kit was impressive.

The book is written in the passive 3rd person narrative, which I wasn’t keen on. I didn’t like most of the characters, I didn’t like what happened to them and I’m not sure the ending is believable – it left me wondering what really happened next. But the descriptive passages are good, the characters of Lewis and Kit are well-defined, emotions are racked up high and it is truly tragic.

I’m glad I read the book before watching the drama – and I’m glad I watched it, the scenery is beautiful and the repressed and yet emotional atmosphere came over better than in the book.  I did have to watch behind my fingers at some scenes, which I was able to read without visualising them completely, but when it’s there in front of you on the screen it’s not so easy to cast a blind eye. Although you get an insight into Lewis’ mind and feelings when you read a description of him cutting his arm, it’s not as real as seeing it happen.

So, a powerful story, which compelled me to read on and also to watch. This was Sadie Jones’ debut novel. She has since written Small Wars (2009), The Uninvited Guests (2012) and Fallout (2014). I have Small Wars amongst my TBRs – I must dig that one out soon.

Reading challenges: Mount TBR 2015 and the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2015.

Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L Sayers

Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L Sayers  was first published in 1931, the seventh Lord Peter Wimsey murder mystery. Wimsey is on holiday in Kirkcudbright and Gatehouse of Fleet in Galloway, Scotland, in a fishing and painting community where he is known and where he is

… received on friendly and even affectionate terms. He could make a respectable cast, and he did not pretend to paint, and therefore, although English and an ‘incomer’, gave no cause of offence. The Southron is tolerated in Scotland on the understanding that he does not throw his weight about, and from this peculiarly English vice Lord Peter was laudably free. True, his accent was affected and his behaviour undignified to a degree, but he had been weighed in the balance over many seasons and pronounced harmless, and when he indulged in any startling eccentricity, the matter was dismissed with a shrug and a tolerant, ‘Christ, it’s only his lordship.’ (page 2)

When Campbell, a local landscape painter and fisherman is found dead in a burn near Newton Stewart, it seems he must have slipped whilst painting near to the edge of a ravine, a steep and treacherous granite slope. At first it looks as though it was an accident, but  Wimsey is convinced it was murder and an autopsy reveals that Campbell was dead before he fell into the burn. Campbell was not a popular man, described as ‘ a devil when he is drunk and a lout when he is sober.’ There are 6 possible suspects – all of whom had quarrelled with or been assaulted by Campbell, all of them artists.

What follows is an intricately plotted story as Wimsey and the police investigate the mystery. It is complicated by immense detail about train times, routes, bicycles, moving the body, alibis, and varying styles of painting – I gave up trying to understand it all and just read along enjoying the puzzle.

The five red herrings are, of course, the five innocent suspects, and Wimsey introduces another possibility that it might not be any of the six suspects, when having heard the case against each of them, he announces that all the theories are wrong, before he gives his verdict. And then he sets in motion a re-enactment of the crime from beginning to end to show how it was carried out, down to the most minute detail.

Sayers doesn’t play fair with the reader in not revealing a clue Wimsey noticed at the scene of the crime whilst he was searching through the contents of Campbell’s pockets and satchel and announced something was missing. In an added note Sayers explained that Wimsey

… told the Sergeant what he was look for and why, but as the intelligent reader will readily supply these details for himself, they are omitted from this page. (page 21)

I didn’t ‘readily supplied the details’  for myself but eventually I guessed what it was. But overall, that is just a minor complaint and I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery, the characters are striking and the setting is well grounded.

Five red herrings map 001

There is a map at the beginning of the book that helped me follow the action and in the Foreword Sayers explained that

All the places are real places and all the trains are real trains, and all the landscapes are correct, except that I have run up a few new houses here and there.

and goes to clarify that

… none of the people are in the least like real people, and that no Galloway artist would ever think of getting intoxicated or running away from his wife or bashing a fellow citizen over the head. All that is just for fun and to make it more exciting.

The Gateway of Fleet website has an interesting page on ‘Dorothy L Sayers in Galloway‘, which states that she and her husband Mac Fleming first visited  Galloway in 1928 when they stayed at the Anwoth Hotel (mentioned in Five Red Herrings) in Gatehouse of Fleet and from 1929 they rented a studio in The High Street, Kirkcudbright next door to the well-known artist Charles Oppenheimer. They got to know Galloway well, especially the artistic community in Kirkcudbright and Gatehouse, on which her detective novel Five Red Herrings is based.

I realised after I’d read Five Read Herrings that it fits into a couple of reading challenges – the Colour Coded Challenge (a book with ‘red’ in the title) and the Read Scotland Challenge (a book set in Scotland).

Book Beginnings: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

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 morning I have started to read An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield.

It begins with an Introduction: Mission Impossible

The windows of a spaceship casually frame miracles. Every 92 seconds, another sunrise: a layer cake that starts with orange, then a thick wedge of blue, then the richest, darkest icing decorated with stars.

Moving on to the first chapter:The Trip Takes a Lifetime

One morning a strange thought  occurs to me shortly after waking: the socks I am about to put on are the ones I’ll wear to leave Earth. That prospect feels real yet surreal, the way a particularly vivid dream does. The feeling intensifies at breakfast, when reporters jostle each other to get a good photo, as though I’m a condemned man and this is my last meal.

I first heard of this book when Chris Hadfield appeared on Sunday Brunch and then Jackie of Farm Lane Books Blog wrote about his book, which reminded me I wanted to read it.

What an amazing  experience to be looking down on Earth, seeing its entirety and beauty from a totally different perspective!

Stephen Hawking: His Life and Work by Kitty Ferguson

Blurb:

Stephen Hawking is one of the most remarkable figures of our time, a Cambridge genius who has earned international celebrity as a brilliant theoretical physicist and become an inspiration and revelation to those who have witnessed his courageous triumph over disability. This is Hawking’s life story by Kitty Ferguson, who has had special help from Hawking himself and his close associates and who has a gift for translating the language of theoretical physics for non-scientists.

Twenty years ago, Kitty Ferguson’s Stephen Hawking: Quest for a Theory of Everything became a Sunday Times bestseller and took the world by storm. She now returns to the subject to transform that short book into a hugely expanded, carefully researched, up-to-the-minute biography.

Recently I watched The Theory of Everything, with Eddie Redmayne playing the part of Stephen Hawking. I think it’s a brilliant film and it made me want to know more about Stephen Hawking. Stephen Hawking: His Life and Work by Kitty Ferguson, subtitled The Story and Science of One of the Most Extraordinary, Celebrated and Courageous Figures of Our Time, has certainly expanded my knowledge, even if some of the science is beyond me.

At first I read the scientific explanations carefully and felt I understood them until about half way into the book, when I struggled and ended up skim reading passages. I could cope on an elementary level with quantum mechanics, the uncertainty principle is not new to me, nor the theory of black holes, and singularity. I learnt about the ‘event horizon’, which is the ‘radius-of-no-return where velocity becomes greater than the speed of light’, and about Hawking Radiation, the radiation produced by a black hole. But when I got up to ‘brane’ theory and p-branes, I was lost – it’s too mathematical for my pea-brain! But I still think I learned a lot. It helps that there is not only an index, but also a glossary that explains many of the scientific terms (not p-branes, unfortunately).

The book moves between biography and Hawking’s work, painting a picture of a warm, likeable, humorous, and courageous man with an exuberance for life. There’s a lot about his health, his career, his trips abroad and his relationships with colleagues. But not much about his marriages or divorces; I expect that was Hawking’s preference. I hadn’t known that he liked Marilyn Monroe, having a life-size picture of her on the door of his office, or that he has co-written children’s books with his daughter Lucy. They look very good!

Details from Fantastic Fiction:
1. George’s Secret Key to the Universe (2007)
2. George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt (2009)
3. George and the Big Bang (2011)
4. George and the Unbreakable Code (2014)
5. George and the Blue Planets (2016)

 

I was fascinated, as I was when watching the film, with how he lives with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) a form of motor neurone disease and the remarkable fact that he has lived so long with this condition and yet can say, ‘ Although I cannot move, and I have to speak through a computer, in my mind I am free.‘ (page 434)

Kitty Ferguson writes:

Hawking’s life and his science continue to be full of paradoxes. Things are often not what they seem. Pieces that fit together refuse to do so. Beginnings may be endings; cruel circumstances can lead to happiness, although fame and success may not; two brilliant and highly successful scientific theories taken together yield nonsense; empty space isn’t empty; black holes aren’t black; the effort to unite everything in a simple explanation reveals, instead a fragmented picture; and a man whose appearance inspires shock and pity takes us joyfully to where the boundaries of time and space ought to be – and are not. (page 17)

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam (5 July 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0857500740
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857500748
  • Source: library book

I have an e-book of Jane Hawking’s book, Travelling to Infinity; My Life with Stephen, which I’ll be reading sometime soon.

First Chapter ∼ First Paragraph: Go Set a Watchman

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter ∼ First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

My choice this week is Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee which is published today. It begins:

Since Atlanta, she had looked out the dining-car window with a delight almost physical. Over her breakfast coffee, she watched the last of Georgia’s hills recede and the red earth appear, and with it tin-roofed houses set in the middle of swept yards, and in the yards the inevitable verbena grew, surrounded by whitewashed tires. She grinned when she saw her first TV antenna atop an unpainted Negro house; as they multiplied her joy rose.

Jean Louise Finch always made this journey by air, but she decided to go by train from New York to Maycomb Junction on her fifth annual trip home. For one thing, she had the life scared out of her the last time she was on a plane: the pilot had elected to fly through a tornado. For another, flying home meant her father rising at three in the morning, driving a hundred miles to meet her in Mobile, and doing a full day’s work afterwards: he was seventy-two now and this was no longer fair.

I loved To Kill a Mockingbird when I read it a couple of years ago but I’m still not sure I want to read Go Set a Watchman, so I downloaded a sample on my Kindle to have a look at the beginning.

What do you think? Are you going to read it?

The Outcast by Sadie Jones

I noticed trailers for a new drama on BBC for The Outcast and wondered if it’s based on the book of the same name by Sadie Jones – a book that has sat on my shelves for a few years (well nearly 7 years) and I still haven’t read it. That’s what happens when you move house, box the books and then double shelve them, putting this one at the back! It was shortlisted for the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction in 2008.

And it is the same book (although my copy being much older has a different cover) – the TV version begins tomorrow on BBC One at 9 pm. It’s been adapted by Sadie Jones, so I hope this means it’s faithful to the book. I’ve started to read it – won’t finish it by tomorrow night but will definitely finish it before the second episode is broadcast the following Sunday.

It’s set in the 1950s, when Lewis Aldridge aged nineteen, is released from jail, and returns to the village where he grew up: the village where, a decade earlier, tragedy tore his family apart, leaving him to a troubled adolescence with a father he barely knew.

Stacking the Shelves: 11 July 2015

STSmall

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

Another visit to Barter Books on Tuesday resulted in bringing these books home – a fair exchange for some computer books I thought. (If you can visit Alnwick it’s well worth looking in at Barter Books.)

Books July15From top to bottom they are:

  • Poirot’s Early Cases by Agatha Christie. I’ve been hoping this book would turn up at Barter Books – a collection of short stories, all first published in magazines between 1923 and 1935.
  • Death is Now My Neighbour by Colin Dexter – the 12th Inspector Morse mystery. I haven’t read many of the Morse books, although I’ve watched all the TV adaptations. A young woman is murdered – the trail leads Morse to Lonsdale college where there is a contest for the coveted position of Master.
  • He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr. As I’ve been reading The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards I looked for books by the authors he mentions in his book. He Who Whispers was the only book I found (I don’t think it’s mentioned in Edwards’ book). It’s a Doctor Gideon Fell murder mystery, first published in 1946. My copy is a green and white Penguin paperback.
  • Old Filth by Jane Gardam (Failed in London Try London). I first read this several years ago – a library book – but as I’ve been reading the next two in the trilogy I wanted to refresh my memory about this first one.
  • Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty, described as a psychological thriller. The quotes on the back cover convinced me to try this book – ‘Brilliant and bruising. Obsession, betrayal and blood letting …‘ Ian Rankin and this from Val McDermid, ‘ Realised I’d been holding my breath for the last forty pages. Gripping.’

Do let me know if you’ve read any of these and what you found to add to your shelves this week.

The Day of the Lie by William Brodrick

William Brodrick’s books are meaty, books that make me think. Nothing is straight forward, they’re layered books, delving into the past, uncovering secrets and revealing crimes. They are well researched, bringing the past to life.

In The Day of the Lie (the 4th Father Anselm book) the past in question is post Second World War Poland, covering  the early 1950s, the early 1980s and the present day.

Blurb from the back cover of my paperback copy:

In present day Cambridge, Father Anselm receives a visit from an old friend with a dangerous story to tell – the story of a woman in Eastern Europe in the icy grip of the Cold War. She was brave, brilliant … and betrayed by someone close to her – someone still unknown. What became of this woman and the dark secret she kept?

No one can be trusted. Nothing is as it seems. Before more blood is spilt, Anselm must peel back years of history, decades of secrets and a half-century of lies in order to expose a secret so shocking that some would rather die than see it revealed.

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, in particular by Otto Brack, in order to uncover the identity of the Shoemaker, the author of a dissident newspaper, Freedom and Independence.

Never explicitly graphic, Brodrick conveys the horror of the torture chamber and as Anselm’s Prior warns him he had to enter ‘the world of Otto Brack, this frightening man who learned how to bring about evil by exploiting someone who is good, laying – in part – the evil at their door.‘ (page 75-6) It’s a world where ‘twisted people lead twisted lives and the roads they build around them are never straight and true.’

My knowledge of the period is limited, so I found the historical setting quite difficult to follow, as the narrative switches between the time periods, but once I had sorted out the relationships between the characters (or I thought I had) it became clearer. But there is also the problem of working out who is ‘good’ and who is ‘bad’, just who is telling the truth, whose recollection of the past is ‘correct’? I thought I knew, but then there was a shift and I wasn’t sure right up to the end of the book.

Looking back on the book now (I finished reading it over a week ago) I can say I did enjoy it, but it was hard work in parts.

William Brodrick became a barrister, having been an Augustinian monk for six years (the other way round from his fictional character, Father Anselm). After 10 years at the Bar, his interest in writing led him to writing the Father Anselm books.

The Father Anselm books (with links to my posts) are:

  1. The Sixth Lamentation (2003)
  2. The Gardens of the Dead (2006)
  3. A Whispered Name (2008) – the best one in my opinion
  4. The Day of the Lie (2012)
  5. The Discourtesy of Death (2013)

And the latest book has just been published:

The Silent Ones by William Brodrick published 2 July 2015.

The Day of the Lie fits into the Mount TBR Challenge and is also a book I identified as one for the 10 Books of Summer Challenge.

Six in Six: 2015

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

Here is my version for 2015, with links to my posts on the books where appropriate. I’ve not listed the books in order of preference and some of the books could just as well fit into more than one category:

  • Six books I loved
  1. The Stranger You Know by Jane Casey
  2. A Question of Identity by Susan Hill
  3. Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers
  4. Have His Carcase by Dorothy L Sayers
  5. Harbour Street by Ann Cleeves
  6. The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
  • Six new authors to me:
  1. The Book of Lost and Found by Lucy Foley
  2. Wreckage by Emily Bleeker
  3. Turn of the Tide by Margaret Skea
  4. The Lost Garden by Katharine Swartz
  5. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
  6. A Game For All the Family by Sophie Hannah
  • Six authors I have read before
  1. Towards Zero by Agatha Christie
  2. Dreamwalker by James Oswald
  3. Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
  4. The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffith
  5. Dacre’s War by Rosemary Goring
  6. Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers
  • Six crime fiction books 
  1. The Betrayal of Trust by Susan Hill
  2. The Murder Room by P D James
  3. Gray Mountain by John Grisham
  4. Dry Bones That Dream by Peter Robinson
  5. The Last Girl by Jane Casey
  6. Gently North West by Alan Hunter

Six From the Non-Fiction Shelf

  1. Wilkie Collins by Peter Ackroyd. (Biography)
  2. Spilling the Beans by Clarissa Dickson Wright (Autobiography)
  3. Burying the Typewriter: Childhood Under the Eye of the Secret Police by Carmen Bugan (Autobiography)
  4. Nothing To Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes (Memoir, philosophy, reflection on the fear of death, belief)
  5. H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (Memoir, Falconry, Goshawk, T H White)
  6. Poirot and Me by David Suchet (autobiography, Agatha Christie’s Poirot)
  • Six authors I read last year – but not so far this year and their books that I have sitting on my shelves waiting to be read
  1. John Steinbeck – Sweet Thursday
  2. Iain Banks – The Wasp Factory
  3. Frances Brody – A Medal for Murder
  4. Isabel Allende – City of Beasts, The House of Spirits, The Sum of our Days
  5. David Mitchell – The Thousand Autumns of Joseph de Zoet
  6. John Buchan – The Power House

This Week in Books: 8 July 2015

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now: I’m still making slow progress with Stephen Hawking: His Life and Work. Goodreads tells me I’ve read 62%. It’s slow reading in the ‘work’ sections and much quicker in the ‘life’ sections.

Blurb:

Stephen Hawking is one of the most remarkable figures of our time, a Cambridge genius who has earned international celebrity as a brilliant theoretical physicist and become an inspiration and revelation to those who have witnessed his courageous triumph over disability. This is Hawking’s life story by Kitty Ferguson, who has had special help from Hawking himself and his close associates and who has a gift for translating the language of theoretical physics for non-scientists.

Twenty years ago, Kitty Ferguson’s Stephen Hawking: Quest for a Theory of Everything became a Sunday Times bestseller and took the world by storm. She now returns to the subject to transform that short book into a hugely expanded, carefully researched, up-to-the-minute biography.

Then: I’ve finished reading The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards – the story of detective fiction written by the authors in the Detection Club between the two World Wars. This is a fascinating and detailed account of the lives and work of the members of the Detection Club elected between 1930 and 1949.

My review will follow in due course (I’m a *bit* behind with writing reviews at the moment). For now I’ll say that I haven’t read many books by the authors, apart from Agatha Christie’s and a few of the others mentioned, so much of the information is new to me and consequently there’s so much to take in. It will be a good reference book for me in the future, I’m sure.

The other books I’ve finished recently and have yet to write about are:

The Day of the Lie by William Brodrick. I enjoyed this book but it is immensely complicated and I think I need to re-read it before I can attempt to write down what I made of it.

The Man in the Wooden Hat and Last Friends both by Jane Gardam. These are sequel books to Old Filth, which I first read years ago. Again I need to think more about these books before writing about them – and I may re-read Old Filth before I do.

Now: I haven’t decided which book to read next. There are so many I want to read – Old Filth for one, one of the  books I wrote about in my Stacking the Shelves post, or one of my own TBR books. I shall have to browse around my shelves to see what takes my fancy.

First Chapter ∼ First Paragraph

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter ∼ First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

I read Old Filth by Jane Gardam in 2008 and loved it, without realising at that time that there were more books about Old Filth QC (Failed in London, Try Hong Kong). So I was delighted to find there are two more.

I’ve recently read the second book, The Man in the Wooden Hat, and I’m currently reading the third, Last Friends – nearly finished it actually.

 

It begins:

The Titans were gone. They had clashed their last. Sir Edward Feathers, affectionately known as Filth (Failed in London, Try Hong Kong), and Sir Terence Veneering, the two greatest exponents of English and International Law in the engineering and construction industry and the current experts upon the Ethics of Pollution, were dead. Their well-worn armour had fallen from them with hardly a clatter and the quiet Dorset village to which they had retired within a very few years of each other (accidentally, for they had hated one another for over fifty years) mourned their passing and wondered who would be distinguished enough to buy their houses.

My reviews of  Last Friends and The Man in the Wooden Hat will follow shortly.

Reading Challenges

Half the year has gone now and I think it’s a good time to see where I’m up to with the reading challenges I’m doing. At the end of last year I decided I would reduce the number of challenges I take part in, but, somehow I got drawn into doing lots again – too many really to keep track of them all! Hence, this post.

My aim is to read whatever takes my fancy and if the books fit into any of the challenges that’s good. If they don’t that’s also good.

Reading Challenges progress up to 30 June :

First an open-ended challenge:

The Agatha Christie Reading Challenge – 3 books. So far I have read 65.

Short-term challenges:

Once Upon a Time IX Challenge – This challenge ended on 21 June. I met my target of reading 1 book for the first stage – The Journey – and made a start on the second stage by reading 1 more book.

10 Books  of Summer – this runs from the 1st June 2015 to the 4th September 2015. So far I’ve read 3 and reviewed 1 of them.

Year-long challenges:

Mount TBR Reading Challenge – I’ve read17 of my own unread books. My target is 48.

TBR Pile Challenge – this is a list of 14 books I identified in advance as books to be read. It’s a sort of sub-challenge to the Mount TBR Challenge as these books all qualify for that challenge too.  I’m a bit doubtful that I’ll complete this challenge because I often find that planning in advance what I’m going to read doesn’t work for me – I seem to find reasons for reading other books instead of the ones on my list! So far I’ve 3 books out of the required 12 ( an additional 2 books are on the list as alternatives).

Read Scotland Challenge – 5 books. Challenge completed as I have reached my target of 4.

What’s in a Name 2015 – I’ve completed 4 of the 6 sections.

Historical Fiction Challenge – 9 books. My target is 25 books.

Colour Coded Challenge – 2 books. The target is to read 9 books in the different colour categories.

Non-Fiction Reading Challenge 2015 –  I’m aiming at reading at least 12 books this year and so far I’ve read 7 – with two books currently on the go, which I should finish soon.

Victorian Bingo Reading Challenge 2015 – I’m not doing at all well with this challenge – 2 books read to fit into the bingo card. I can’t see myself completing this challenge.

Stacking the Shelves: 4 July 2015

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

I’ve added just a few books this last week. First an e-book – Crooked Little Lies by Barbara Taylor Sissel – a Kindle First Pick. The paperback is due to be published on 1st August 2015. A new-to-me author, but I see she has written five other books.

Blurb:

On a cool October morning, Lauren Wilder is shaken when she comes close to striking Bo Laughlin with her car as he’s walking along the road’s edge. A young man well known in their small town of Hardys Walk, Texas, Bo seems fine, even if Lauren’s intuition says otherwise. Since the accident two years ago that left her brain in a fragile state, she can’t trust her own instincts—and neither can her family. Then Bo vanishes, and as the search for him ensues, the police question whether she’s responsible. Lauren is terrified, not of what she remembers but of what she doesn’t.

Unable to trust herself and unwilling to trust anyone else, Lauren begins her own investigation into the mystery of Bo’s disappearance. But the truth can prove to be as shocking as any lie, and as Lauren exposes each one, from her family, from her friends, she isn’t the only one who will face heart-stopping repercussions.

Second a paperback – Thin Air by Ann Cleeves, the sixth in her Shetland series. I’ve read the other 5 books, so I just have to read this one too.

Blurb:

A group of old university friends leave the bright lights of London and travel to Unst, Shetland’s most northerly island, to celebrate the marriage of one of their friends to a Shetlander. But late on the night of the wedding party, one of them, Eleanor, disappears – apparently into thin air. It’s mid-summer, a time of light nights and unexpected mists. The following day, Eleanor’s friend Polly receives an email. It appears to be a suicide note, saying she’ll never be found alive. And then Eleanor’s body is discovered, lying in a small loch close to the cliff edge.

Detectives Jimmy Perez and Willow Reeves are dispatched to Unst to investigate. Before she went missing, Eleanor claimed to have seen the ghost of a local child who drowned in the 1920s. Her interest in the ghost had seemed unhealthy – obsessive, even – to her friends: an indication of a troubled mind. But Jimmy and Willow are convinced that there is more to Eleanor’s death than they first thought.

Is there a secret that lies behind the myth? One so shocking that someone would kill – many years later – to protect?

Ann Cleeves’ striking Shetland novel explores the tensions between tradition and modernity that lie deep at the heart of a community, and how events from the past can have devastating effects on the present.

And finally  these library books, all from the mobile library van that visits here once a fortnight:

Lib bks 4 July 15

I love the library visits and always find a good variety of books to choose from. From top to bottom they are:

  • Country Dance written and illustrated by Henry Brewis – a Northumberland author. This was first published in 1992 and is described on the back cover as a ‘contemporary fable, the story of a family farm being dismembered and ‘developed’, of newcomers face-to-face with the old peasantry.’
  • The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory – about Mary Queen of Scots, after she fled from Scotland and was imprisoned by Elizabeth I. When I first saw this I thought I’d read it – but then realised I hadn’t, I’d read The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory( a bit confusing having two similar titles).
  • A Possible Life: a Novel in Five Parts by Sebastian Faulks. This looks like five separate stories about five people at different times and in different places. At the moment I don’t know how they are linked.
  • This Is How It Ends by Kathleen MacMahon, set in 2008 in Dublin, where Bruno, an American, has come to search for his roots. He meets and falls in love with Addie, an out-of-work architect, recovering from heartbreak while looking after her infirm father.

Do let me know if you’ve read any of these and what you found to add to your shelves this week.

Mount TBR Checkpoint 2

Mount TBR 2015

The year is almost half-way over and it’s time for a second quarterly check-in post for Bev’s Mount TBR challenge. I’m answering three of Bev’s questions:

1. Tell us how many miles you’ve made it up your mountain (# of books read). 
I am way behind with my target of reaching Mt Ararat (that is 48 books) as I’ve read 17, which is nearly halfway up Mont Blanc (24 books). I’ll have to concentrate on reading more from my own shelves if I’m going to reach my target.
2 C. Which book (read so far) has been on your TBR mountain the longest? Was it worth the wait? Or is it possible you should have tackled it back when you first put it on the pile? Or tossed it off the edge without reading it all?

An Autobiography by Anthony Trollope has been on my mountain the longest – I’ve had this book for over 20 years. The reason it had sat unread on my shelves is that when I bought it I hadn’t read any of Trollope’s books and I thought it would be better if I knew a bit about his work before reading about his life. It was definitely worth the wait – a fascinating account of his life and also about how he went about his writing; he criticises his own books and writes about his fellow writers.

And:

My Day in Books

Use titles from your list to complete as many of the following sentences below as you can.  If you haven’t read enough books to give you good choices, then feel free to use any books yet to be read from your piles. I’ve given my answers as examples. Feel free to add words (such as “a” or “the” or others that clarify) as needed.

I began the day with [a] Three Act Tragedy
before breakfasting on Gem Squash TokoloshieOn my way to work I saw The Secret Keeper
and walked by The Dead Secret 
to avoid The Betrayal of Trust
but I made sure to stop at Barchester Towers

In the office, my boss asked me how to use The Book of Lost and Found
and sent me to research [the]Turn of the Tide

At lunch with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
I noticed  The Dreamwalker
playing a game of Spilling the Beans

When I got home that night,
I imagined myself [in] Green Darkness
and wondered if [I’m]The Last Girl
Finally, I went to bed and dreamed about The Burning

Five of the Best: June 2011- 2015

This was originally Cleo’s idea – see Cleopatra Loves BooksIt’s to look back over your reviews of the past five years and pick out your favourite for each month from 2011 – 2015.

I really enjoy looking back over the books I’ve loved reading. These are my favourite books for each June from 2011 to 2015 (click on the covers to see my original reviews).

2011

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake. Sometimes it’s dangerous to re-read a book you loved the first time round. There’s always the possibility that you’re going to be disappointed that it wouldn’t live up to to your expectations, especially if the first time you read it was whilst you were in your teens.

With Titus Groan I needn’t have worried. I thought it was fantastic the first time and absolutely fantastic when I re-read it in 2011.

The world Peake created in Gormenghast is real on its own terms. It has history, culture and its own rituals and traditions. The novel is poetical,  rich in imagination, description and characters. It all came alive as I read on and the same magic I felt the first time was still there.

 2012

The Secret River by Kate Grenville – a dramatic and vivid story. This is historical fiction, straight-forward story-telling following William Thornhill from his childhood in the slums of London to Australia. He was a Thames waterman transported for stealing timber; his wife, Sal and child went with him and together they make a new life for themselves. It’s about struggle for survival as William is eventually pardoned and becomes a waterman on the Hawkesbury River and then a settler with his own land and servants. It raises several issues – about crime and punishment, about landownership, defence of property, power, class and colonisation. 

2013

Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter by Ruth Rendell. This was first published in 1992 and I’d owned for over 20 years before I read it – I wished I’d got round to it earlier, but  it was well worth the wait. It’s an Inspector Wexford murder mystery, full of red herrings; an excellent book, both for the mystery element and for the characterisation, even the lesser characters stand out as real people. I had my suspicions quite early on in the book about the murder, but it was only intuition – I couldn’t put my finger on the reason for my thoughts.

2014

Sisters of Sinai by Janet Soskice, a biography of twin sisters, who in the latter half of the nineteenth century, travelled to St Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai where they discovered one of the earliest copies of the Gospels written in ancient Syriac. Their father died when the twins were 23 leaving his fortune to them and they decided to have a trip down the Nile. And that was just the beginning; their lives were transformed.

They learnt Greek, Arabic, Hebrew and Syriac, returning to Egypt and Sinai many times, befriending the monks of St Catherine, despite their religious differences, and getting embroiled in disputes with Cambridge academics. An enthralling book about two courageous and enterprising women.

2015

 

I read so many good books this month it should have been hard choosing a favourite, because I loved all the Jane Casey books and the Agatha Christie book I read, but The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton surpassed them all.  I loved everything about this book– the descriptive passages, the mystery, the secrets and the characters involved. It begins on a summer’s day in 1961 in Suffolk when sixteen-year old Laurel is shocked when she sees her mother, Dorothy, stabbing a stranger who had come to their farm.  It’s a story moving between time periods from 2011, back to the 1960s and also to the 1940s as Laurel discovers the secrets about Dorothy’s life.

It really is a book I didn’t want to put down and also a book I wanted to enjoy as long as possible. By the end, though, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough!

Books Read in June 2015

I shan’t finish any  of the three books I’m  currently today, so my total for June is 6 books – not quite as many as other months this year. But it’s summer and I’ve been busy with family things too. Two of my current books are non-fiction, which slows my rate of reading down considerably and I hope to finish both of them in July.

Here’s the list of the books I’ve finished, in the order I read them and with links to my posts on them:

I’ve had a bit of a binge-read of Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan books this month, reading three, all of them really good books, but it was the fourth in the series that really caught my imagination, The Stranger You Know.

My book of the month for June is the one that I loved from beginning to end – it’s The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. Even though I wanted it to last forever, by the end I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. It’s one of the best books of the year so far.

 

 

 

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

This is a book that really captured my imagination. I loved everything about it – the descriptive passages, the mystery, the secrets and the people involved. It was all real to me. It’s one of the best books, if not the best book, I’ve read this year.

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton has been sitting unread for two years on my bookshelves, but if I’d read it earlier I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of reading it now – it was well worth the wait!

It begins on a summer’s day in 1961 in Suffolk when sixteen-year old Laurel is shocked when she sees her mother stabbing a stranger who had come to their farm. Fast forward 50 years Laurel and her three sisters and brother are coming to terms with the fact that their mother, Dorothy is moving closer to the end of her life. Laurel realises that there is so much she doesn’t know about Dorothy’s life and when they find a photograph of Dorothy and a friend, Vivien, in a book of the play Peter Pan, it arouses old and ugly memories for Laurel – images of her mother’s frightened face as she confronted the stranger. Who was Vivien and who was the stranger? Why was Dorothy so scared? Laurel is determined to find out.

It’s a story moving between time periods from 2011, back to the 1960s and also to the 1940s when Dorothy first met and fell in love with Jimmy, a war photographer, and also became friends with the wealthy and beautiful Vivien, married to a successful novelist.  Laurel, with the help of her brother, Gerry, tracks down records throwing light on Dorothy’s and Vivian’s past, back to war-time England and pre-war Australia.

It’s not a straight forward story. By that I don’t mean it’s difficult to read, because each time period is clearly headed and the characters are clearly defined. But there are so many twists and turns – I thought several times I’d got things clear and knew where the story was heading only a bit later on to realise that not all the clues had been revealed and I had to revise my thoughts. It’s so cleverly written and so well plotted that it was only near the end that I had an inkling of Dorothy’s relationship with Vivien and what had really happened to them all. It really is a book I didn’t want to put down and also a book I wanted to enjoy as long as possible. By the end, though, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough!

Kate Morton’s next book, The Lake House is due to be published in October 2015. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Note: as well as being my 17th book for the Mount TBR Challenge 2015 this is my 3rd book for the TBR Pile Challenge 2015. And the 9th book for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2015.

The Kill by Jane Casey: Book Notes

Yet again I’m reading faster than I’m reviewing, so this post is not a full review but a few thoughts on The Kill by Jane Casey. Unless I write about a book straight after I finish reading it gets pushed to the back of my mind and sadly that is what has happened in this case, which is a shame as it’s a brilliant book, the fifth in her DC Maeve Kerrigan series and I fully agree with the quotation from the Sunday Times that ‘Jane Casey’s police procedurals go from strength to strength.’

The book begins in Richmond Park in London at 00.43 where a couple are badger-watching but to their horror are witnesses, albeit at a distance, to a murder.

The victim is a police officer. But this is just the first murder and yet more police officers are killed. Maeve and her boss, DI Josh Derwent are part of the Met’s team assigned to investigate. They have no idea about the motive for the murders as the attacks seem to be random, from the first victim alone in his car (why was he there at that time anyway?), to the officers of the Territorial Support Unit killed as they patrolled the Maudling Estate – is it a reaction to the police killing a young and innocent black teenager? The MP, Geoff Armstrong thinks so.

This is a fast-paced novel, with an intriguing and complex plot and featuring characters that have appeared in the earlier books, developing their relationships. Some issues look as though they have been resolved, such as Superintendent Godley’s guilty secret, and others such as Maeve’s relationship with her boyfriend Rob, also a police officer come to a head, whereas Derwent and Maeve continue to have a confrontational working relationship and the interaction between them and DCI Una Burt gets even worse. I suppose it’s possible to read this as a standalone, but because of the back stories I think it is better to read them in order.

I found it absolutely compelling reading.

First Chapter ∼ First Paragraph Intros

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter ∼ First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

I’m currently reading The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards, described on the back cover as

‘the extraordinary story of British detective fiction between the two World Wars, and the fascinating people who wrote it. A gripping real-life detective story, this book investigates how Agatha Christie and her colleagues in the mysterious Detection Club transformed crime fiction. Their work cast new light on unsolved murders, whilst hiding clues to their authors’ darkest secrets, and their complex and sometimes bizarre private lives.

First Chapter:

Chapter I, The Ritual in the Dark

On a summer evening in 1937, a group of men and women gathered in the darkness to perform a macabre ceremony. They had invited a special guest to witness their ceremony. She was visiting London from New Zealand and a thrill of excitement ran through her as the appointed time drew near. She loved drama, and at home she worked in the theatre. Now she felt as tense as when the curtain was about to rise. To be a guest at this dinner was a special honour. What would happen next she could not imagine.

Many congratulations to Martin Edwards who is to be the next President of  the Detection Club when Simon Brett, the current President retires in November. I really cannot think of a better choice than Martin, a well-deserved honour indeed!

Stacking the Shelves: 20 June 2015

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

This week I’ve added two books to my Kindle:

After the fire The one I was

  • After the Fire by Jane Casey, which was published on 18 June. It’s the sixth Maeve Kerrigan book. I’ve read the previous five and just have to read this one too.
  • The One I Was by Eliza Graham – I read her first book, Playing with the Moon  back in 2007 and have been meaning to read more of her books, so when this one came up on the Kindle Daily Deal earlier this week I snapped it up. She’s written three more books since then, which I’ve missed.

and a pile of library books:

Liby Bks June 2015

They are from top to bottom:

  • Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L Sayers – a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery.
  • The Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths – the sixth Ruth Galloway book. I’m behind with this series – the seventh book was published earlier this year.
  • The North (And Almost Everything In It) by Paul Morley – this is about the north of England. I can’t remember where I read about this book, but it looked interesting and as I’m a northerner I thought I’d have a look at it and reserved it.
  • The Balmoral Incident (Rose McQuinn series 8) by Alanna Knight. I’ve read the first book in the series, so this is another series I’ll be reading out of order.
  • The Monogram Murders (The new Hercule Poirot mystery) by Sophie Hannah – I’m not at all sure that I’ll read this book. My experience of reading prequels and sequels by a different author than the original has not been good. I’ve read reviews both praising and criticising this book, so when I saw it in the library I was tempted to borrow it.
  • An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield. I saw Chris Hadfield on Sunday Brunch on Channel 4 a little while ago and thought he was brilliant and after I read Jackie’s review on her Farm Lane Books Blog I reserved the book.

Books like these are the reasons I don’t get round to reading my own unread books – those to-be-reads that I’ve had for years!

If you’ve read any of these do let me know what you think of them and also what you found to add to your shelves this week.

A Game For All the Family by Sophie Hannah

I’ve recently finished reading A Game For All the Family by Sophie Hannah, a standalone book, described as ‘ a literary puzzle to unlock the dark side of the mind.’

Publishers’ blurb:

Justine thought she knew who she was, until an anonymous caller seemed to know better…

After escaping London and a career that nearly destroyed her, Justine plans to spend her days doing as little as possible in her beautiful home in Devon.

But soon after the move, her daughter Ellen starts to withdraw when her new best friend, George, is unfairly expelled from school. Justine begs the head teacher to reconsider, only to be told that nobody’s been expelled – there is, and was, no George.

Then the anonymous calls start: a stranger, making threats that suggest she and Justine share a traumatic past and a guilty secret – yet Justine doesn’t recognise her voice. When the caller starts to talk about three graves – two big and one small, to fit a child – Justine fears for her family’s safety.

If the police can’t help, she’ll have to eliminate the danger herself, but first she must work out who she’s supposed to be…

Practically from the start I had my doubts about Justine. Was she an unreliable narrator? Could I believe her story, told in the third person but revealing what was going through her mind? Or was her daughter Ellen right when she told her mother that she was a ‘nutter‘? That sense of distrust pervaded my reading. Obviously something had happened to make Justine give up her job in TV drama production and want to ‘do Nothing’, something traumatic and life-changing – had it affected her mental stability or had it happened because she was mentally unstable? I couldn’t decide.

What I can say is that it’s a book about the truth – just who is telling the truth, just who is who they purport to be, and most of all about identity. Who is real, who is making it all up (well Sophie Hannah, obviously).

It is described as a ‘chilling ‘ novel, but I didn’t find it spine tingling, or scary, because it came over to me as artificial, and contrived. It’s also long-winded and mostly completely unbelievable, which made it lose any sense of tension or suspense. But it is a cleverly complicated plot, with stories within stories, – it’s just not chilling.

As well as the anonymous threatening phone calls, and the head teacher’s denial that George had not been expelled and indeed her insistence that he had never even been at the school, Justine is also puzzled by the story that Ellen is writing for her creative writing homework – a story set in their house about a strange family who had lived there in the past and a murder that had taken place there. Where did Ellen get this story, is it based on fact? Ellen simply won’t tell her. Are the phone calls connected to this story and to George?

Maybe it’s too complicated, because at times I just wished the endless questions that went through Justine’s mind would come to an end. They did of course and by the time I did get to the end I still couldn’t decide whether Ellen was right – is Justine a nutter and as I suspect an unreliable narrator, or not?

I didn’t love this book, but it certainly filled my mind and made me think both whilst I was reading it and for days afterwards – and I like that about a book. If Justine is a reliable narrator and was telling the truth all along then she is still a nutter, because if what she described actually happened at the end of the story it was terrible and she was mentally ill and in that case, definitely a chilling ending. I just can’t decide! It is an extraordinary and weird book.

My thanks to Lovereading for sending me an uncorrected proof copy of this book that has had me puzzling for days. A Game For All the Family is due to be published on 13 August 2015 by Hodder & Stoughton.

This Week in Books: June 17 2015

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now: I’m still making slow progress with the two non fiction books I started a few weeks ago. I like to take time with these as there is so much information to take in.

They are The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards – the story of detective fiction written by the authors in the Detection Club between the two World Wars.

And Stephen Hawking: His Life and Work – it’s the science that’s slowly me down considerably in this, but it is really fascinating. I’m looking forward to watching Stephen Hawking’s interview with Dara O Briain, which  was broadcast last night on BBC1. It was on a bit late, so we’ve recorded it.

I’ve recently started The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton, which I am loving so far.

Blurb:

The Secret Keeper, is a spellbinding story of mysteries and secrets, murder and enduring love, moving between the 1930s, the 1960s and the present.
1961: On a sweltering summer’s day, while her family picnics by the stream on their Suffolk farm, sixteen-year-old Laurel hides out in her childhood tree house dreaming of a boy called Billy, a move to London, and the bright future she can’t wait to seize. But before the idyllic afternoon is over, Laurel will have witnessed a shocking crime that changes everything.
2011: Now a much-loved actress, Laurel finds herself overwhelmed by shades of the past. Haunted by memories, and the mystery of what she saw that day, she returns to her family home and begins to piece together a secret history. A tale of three strangers from vastly different worlds – Dorothy, Vivien and Jimmy – who are brought together by chance in wartime London and whose lives become fiercely and fatefully entwined.

 

Then: A Game for all the Family

I have recently finished A Game For All The Family by Sophie Hannah which I’m not sure about at all. It’s weird and has been occupying my mind for the last few days. My review will follow shortly when I’ve sorted out what I make of it.

Blurb

Justine thought she knew who she was, until an anonymous caller seemed to know better… After escaping London and a career that nearly destroyed her, Justine plans to spend her days doing as little as possible in her beautiful home in Devon.

But soon after the move, her daughter Ellen starts to withdraw when her new best friend, George, is unfairly expelled from school. Justine begs the head teacher to reconsider, only to be told that nobody’s been expelled – there is, and was, no George.

Then the anonymous calls start: a stranger, making threats that suggest she and Justine share a traumatic past and a guilty secret – yet Justine doesn’t recognise her voice. When the caller starts to talk about three graves – two big and one small, to fit a child – Justine fears for her family’s safety. If the police can’t help, she’ll have to eliminate the danger herself, but first she must work out who she’s supposed to be…

Next:

I’m never sure what I’ll read next. I’d like to read so many, but I’m thinking of reading a few of Agatha Christie’s Parker Pyne stories that I wrote about in my last post. It will fit in nicely with reading The Golden Age of Murder!

First Chapter ∼ First Paragraph Tuesday: Parker Pyne

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter ∼ First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

I’ve been looking at some of Agatha Christie’s short stories and wondering which to read first. One of the collections I own is The Complete Parker Pyne: Private Eye. It looks a good place to start.

In the Author’s Foreword Agatha Christie tells how she came to write these stories:

One day, having lunch at a Corner House, I was enraptured by a conversation on statistics going on at a table behind me. I turned my head and caught a vague glimpse of a bald head, glasses and a beaming smile – I caught sight that is, of Mr Parker Pyne. I had never thought about statistics before (and indeed seldom think about them now!) but the enthusiasm with which they were being discussed awakened my interest. I was just considering a new series of short stories and then and there I decided on the general treatment and scope, and in due course enjoyed writing them.

I like the details she gives – the Corner Houses, smarter and grander than tea shops and noted for their art deco style first appeared in 1909 and  remained until 1977. And I love the fact that she was eavesdropping on the conversation going on behind her and the insight this gives into how she got ideas for her stories.

The stories were all written in the 1930s and first appeared in various UK and US magazines. The first story in this collection is The Case of the Middle-Aged Wife and it begins:

Four grunts, an indignant voice asking why nobody could leave a hat alone, a slammed door, and Mr Packington had departed to catch the eight forty-five to the city. Mrs Packington sat on at the breakfast table. Her face was flushed, her lips were pursed, and the only reason she was not crying was that at the last minute anger had taken the place of grief, ‘I won’t stand it,’ said Mrs Packington. ‘I won’t stand it!’ She remained for some moments brooding , and then murmured: ‘The minx. Nasty sly little cat! How can George be such a fool!’

Agatha Christie: Short Stories

Agatha ChristieSo far in reading Agatha Christie’s books I’ve concentrated on reading her full length novels and have only read some of her short stories. As I’ve nearly read all of her novels, although none of those she wrote as Mary Westmacott, I’ll be reading more of her short stories from now on.

So far I’ve read the following short story collections:

  • The Thirteen Problems – Miss Marple stories. It was first published in the UK in 1933, collecting together 13 short stories previously published in various magazines. The first story The Tuesday Night Club introduces the character of Miss Marple.
  • The Hound of Death – 12 stories of unexplained phenomena, in most cases tales of the supernatural rather than detective stories. Of the twelve stories I think The Witness for the Prosecution is the best. Agatha Christie later wrote a play based on this story which has subsequently been adapted for film and television.
  • The Labours of Hercules – 12 short stories featuring Hercule Poirot, first published in 1947. Poirot is thinking of retiring, but before he does he wants to solve 12 more cases and not just any cases. These have to correspond to the Twelve Labours of Hercules, specially selected problems that personally appeal to him.
  • Murder in the Mews – four stories about crimes solved by Hercule Poirot, first published in 1937.
  • The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding and a Selection of Entrées – 6 short stories

I also have the following collections to read:

  • Poirot Investigates – 11 Poirot stories
  • The Golden Ball and Other Stories – 14 stories
  • The Mysterious Mr Quin – 12 stories
  • The Complete Parker Pyne: Private Eye – 14 stories
  • Miss Marple and Mystery – 55 stories

By my reckoning Agatha Christie wrote 157 short stories, published in a number of collections. Wikipedia records that she wrote 153 short stories, published in 14 collections in the UK and in the US. Some stories were published under different names in the US Collections. And some stories appear in more than one collection, which is rather confusing.

So, I’ve compiled a list arranged in a-z order of titles from the list of books on the Official Agatha Christie Site. My list is on my Agatha Christie Short Story Progress Page.

Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie

Sad Cypress, first published in 1940, is a most satisfying mystery, in which Hercule Poirot discovers that almost everyone he talks to is lying. Only the doctor, Peter Lord, believes that Elinor Carlisle did not kill Mary Gerrard, her rival in love, despite the fact that it seems that only Elinor had the motive, the opportunity and the means to poison Mary with morphine hydrochloride. Peter, who is in love with Elinor, appeals to Poirot to prove that she is innocent.

Sad Cypress has a clever and most complicated plot, as is usual in an Agatha Christie book, and it kept me guessing right to the end. Her portrayal of Elinor is excellent – on the surface a calm, almost detached character underneath she is in turmoil, full of repressed passion and unrequited love as it becomes obvious to her that Roddy, her fiancé does not in fact love her and this leads her into actions that seem to point to her guilt.

Then there are the social and cultural themes that always interest me in Agatha Christie’s books. There is the clear distinction between the classes, knowing one’s place in society shown in the relationships between Elinor and Mary, and the almost comic depiction of the two nurses, Nurse O’Brien and Nurse Hopkins, with their gossip over cups of tea. Other themes are the nature of love, and the basis for a happy marriage, the damage caused by family secrets, the ethics of euthanasia, and the difference between thinking about murder and actually committing murder.

This book, if not the best of Agatha Christie’s books, is easily one of my favourites.  I quoted the opening paragraph of Sad Cypress in My Friday Post earlier this month.

The cover photo shown above is my own copy. Details of the latest edition are:

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (21 May 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0008129576
  • ISBN-13: 978-0008129576

This is the first of my books for the 10 Books of Summer 2015 Challenge.

This Week in Books: 10 June 2015

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now:

I’m currently reading three books.

Golden Age June

 

The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards – the story of detective fiction written by the authors in the Detection Club between the two World Wars.  I’ve been reading this slowly for a few weeks. I am nearly half way now and it is fascinating.

Stephen Hawking: His Life and Work by Kitty Ferguson. I’ve borrowed this from my local library. I’m reading this slowly too, just a bit each day. The biographical sections are more interesting to me than the scientific explanations of his work – black holes and their event horizons are still a mystery to me, but at least I think I now know what an event horizon is (the outer boundary of a black hole – why isn’t it just called that?)!

The Kill by Jane Casey. I’ve nearly finished this, the fifth Maeve Kerrigan book – I hope to finish it either today or tomorrow. Another page turner and very dramatic!

Then:

Sad Cypress 01I’ve recently finished Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie, in which Hercule Poirot investigates the death of Mary Gerrard.

My review is on its way …

 

 

Next:

I’m never quite sure what I’ll read next – it could be one of many, although as Lovereading has sent me a copy of A Game for All the Family by Sophie Hannah to review by the end of June it could be that one next.

Blurb

Justine thought she knew who she was, until an anonymous caller seemed to know better… After escaping London and a career that nearly destroyed her, Justine plans to spend her days doing as little as possible in her beautiful home in Devon.

But soon after the move, her daughter Ellen starts to withdraw when her new best friend, George, is unfairly expelled from school. Justine begs the head teacher to reconsider, only to be told that nobody’s been expelled – there is, and was, no George.

Then the anonymous calls start: a stranger, making threats that suggest she and Justine share a traumatic past and a guilty secret – yet Justine doesn’t recognise her voice. When the caller starts to talk about three graves – two big and one small, to fit a child – Justine fears for her family’s safety. If the police can’t help, she’ll have to eliminate the danger herself, but first she must work out who she’s supposed to be…

But it could just as easily be one of the other books piling up to be read. I’ve been neglecting my TBR books recently – those are the books I’ve owned since before 1 January this year – so it could be something such as King Solomon’s Carpet by Barbara Vine. It has such an intriguing title, which doesn’t seem to match the description of this book at all – the book cover indicates it’s about a group of people who all travel on the London Underground. As it’s a Barbara Vine book I expect it will be rather thrilling and chilling.

What about you? What are you reading, now, then and next?

First Chapter First Paragraph: Appointment with Death

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

My choice this week is Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie, one of the few novels of hers that I haven’t read. It’s one of the earlier Poirot books, first published in 1938. It begins:

‘You do see, don’t you, that she’s got to be killed?’

The question floated out into the still night air, seemed to hang there a moment and then drift away down into  the darkness towards the Dead Sea.

Hercule Poirot paused a minute with his hand on the window catch. Frowning, he shut it decisively, thereby excluding any injurious night air! Hercule Poirot had been brought up to believe that all outside air was best left outside, and that night air was especially dangerous to the health.

Of course, this has me wondering who ‘she’ is, why she has to be killed and who is talking.

I don’t remember reading before about Poirot’s upbringing – intriguing to think of him as a child!

 

The Stranger You Know by Jane Casey

For once I’m reading a series in the order it was published -Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan books – which is just as well as each one reveals facts from the earlier books. it also means that I can follow the characters as they develop and their changing relationships instead of trying to work out what had happened before.

The Stranger You Know is the fourth Maeve Kerrigan book and it’s just as fast-paced and compelling reading as the earlier books – so tightly plotted that I just had to keep on reading to get to the end of the book.

Three women have been murdered in their own homes – strangled and mutilated. There were no signs of a break-in – the women had obviously known and trusted their killer. One of the officers investigating the case voices the unthinkable – there are no leads, no DNA, no CCTV, no parking tickets, ‘it’s like he’s one of us‘. Suspicion lands on Maeve’s boss, DI Josh Derwent, who it turns out had been accused of murder as a teenager. His girlfriend, Angela Poole had been murdered in much the same way as the current victims and he had been the prime suspect.

The focus is squarely on Derwent in this book and he is kept off the investigating team, leaving Maeve to work closely with Chief Superintendent Charles Godley and DCI Una Burt – who hates Derwent. But Maeve cannot believe he could be a killer and disobeys orders not to let him see the evidence. And as Maeve’s boyfriend, Rob is away in America, training with the FBI, the focus is also on the relationship between Josh and Maeve – her loyalty to him as she interviews the people involved in Angela’s murder – Josh’s friends and the police inspector in charge of the case.

It is such a complicated plot and I kept changing my mind about the killer – was it Josh (surely not), was it Angela’s brother or one of the other teenage friends, or were the current murders the result of a copy cat  killer?

I like Maeve, although I do wonder why she is still a DC as she is so good at her job, ferreting out information from the slenderest of clues.  I like Derwent, despite his difficult personality – the spiky relationship between the two of them provides such much needed comic relief in the book. There is a secret in his background that we, the readers, now know along with Maeve – and I’m wondering how long it will be until she tells him, although if he looks on Facebook as she did he’d soon find out. I hope he does – I’d love to see his reaction.

It all comes to a dramatic and thrilling climax as Maeve, once again, comes face to face with the killer – and I’d had a sneaking feeling quite early one who it was, but had dismissed the possibility.

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Ebury Press (Fiction) (7 Nov. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0091948363
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091948368
  • Source: library book

I’m currently reading the next book, The Kill and the sixth book, After the Fire is due to be published on the 18 June.

Stacking the Shelves: 6 June 2015

STSmall

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

I’ve added just a few books this last week. First two e-books- A Man of Some Repute by Elizabeth Edmundson – a Kindle First pick. The paperback is due to be published on 1st July 2015.

Blurb from Amazon

Truth is rarely pure and never simple…

Selchester Castle in 1953 sits quiet and near-empty, its corridors echoing with glories of the past.

Or so it seems to intelligence officer Hugo Hawksworth, wounded on a secret mission and now reluctantly assuming an altogether less perilous role at Selchester.

The Castle’s faded grandeur hides a web of secrets and scandals—the Earl has been missing for seven years, lost without a trace since the night he left his guests and walked out into a blizzard.

When a skeleton is uncovered beneath the flagstones of the Old Chapel, the police produce a suspect and declare the case closed.

Hugo is not convinced. With the help of the spirited Freya Wryton, the Earl’s niece, he is drawn back into active service, and the ancient town of Selchester is dragged into the intrigues and conspiracies of the Cold War era.

With a touch of Downton Abbey, a whisper of Agatha Christie and a nod to Le Carré, A Man of Some Repute is the first book in this delightfully classic and witty murder mystery series.

And also Red Clover by Florence Osmund.

Blurb from Goodreads

Imagine feeling like an outsider. Now imagine feeling like an outsider in your own family.

The troubled son of a callous father and socialite mother determines his own meaning of success after learning shocking family secrets that cause him to rethink who he is and where heʼs going. In Lee Winekoop’s reinvention of himself he discovers that lifeʾs bitter circumstances can actually give rise to meaningful consequences.

I was delighted to receive a copy of A Game for All the Family by Sophie Hannah  from Lovereading. It’s due to be published on 13th August:

 

Blurb from Lovereading:

Justine thought she knew who she was, until an anonymous caller seemed to know better… After escaping London and a career that nearly destroyed her, Justine plans to spend her days doing as little as possible in her beautiful home in Devon. But soon after the move, her daughter Ellen starts to withdraw when her new best friend, George, is unfairly expelled from school. Justine begs the head teacher to reconsider, only to be told that nobody’s been expelled – there is, and was, no George. Then the anonymous calls start: a stranger, making threats that suggest she and Justine share a traumatic past and a guilty secret – yet Justine doesn’t recognise her voice. When the caller starts to talk about three graves – two big and one small, to fit a child – Justine fears for her family’s safety. If the police can’t help, she’ll have to eliminate the danger herself, but first she must work out who she’s supposed to be…

Finally this book from the mobile library which visited this week:

Blink of an Eye by Cath Staincliffe – This one looks good and according to Ann Cleeves (on the back cover) it’s a ‘book about courage and compromise, about how sometimes it’s kinder and braver to lie. Stunning.’

Blurb from the back cover:

Imagine a sunny Sunday afternoon. A family barbecue. A celebration. Then tragedy strikes. You wake in hospital, traumatized. Your mother tells you about the accident, a nine-year-old dead, your partner bloody and bruised, the lives of three families torn apart.

You face prosecution for causing death by dangerous driving. It could mean 14 years in jail. What have you done?

Do let me know if you’ve read any of these and what you found to add to your shelves this week.

My Friday Post

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.

Today I began reading Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie. It’s a Poirot mystery first published in 1940.

Sad cypress

It begins:

Prologue

Elinor Katharine Carlisle. You have been charged upon this indictment with the murder of Mary Gerrard upon the 27th of July last. Are you guilty or not guilty?

Elinor Carlisle stood very straight, her head raised. It was a graceful head, the modelling of the bones sharp and well defined. The eyes were a deep vivid blue, the hair black. The brows had been plucked to a faint thin line.

There was a silence – quite a noticeable silence.

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.

Page 56:

Mrs Wellman may have thought she wanted to die; but side by side with that feeling there ran the hope that she would recover absolutely. And because of that hope, I think she felt that to make a will would be unlucky.

I’ve read up to page 75 and so far Poirot hasn’t appeared, except in the Prologue during Elinor’s trial: Hercule Poirot, his head a little on one side, his eyes thoughtful, was watching her.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

I really wanted to love H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, which  won the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, as well as the 2014 Costa Book of the Year but I found it difficult to read and draining, despite some richly descriptive narrative.  It’s really three  books in one – one about herself, her childhood and her intense grief at the sudden death of her father, one about training a goshawk and another about T H White and his book, The Goshawk in which he describes his own struggle to train a hawk.

When her father died she bought Mabel, a ten week old goshawk and became obsessed with training her. It is the training that made this book so difficult for me to read. I am not comfortable with keeping wild creatures in captivity and in my naivete I hadn’t realised just what training a hawk entailed. Even though Helen Macdonald tells her friend’s husband that it had not been a battle training Mabel because ‘she’s a freakishly calm hawk‘, it came across to me that it had been a battle of wills, as she kept Mabel indoors in a darkened room, in a hood, on a perch or restrained on a leash for much of the time. It was a physical battle too that evoked rage, violence and frustration.

I found it difficult too because it is so personal as she exposed just how bereft she was, how she suffered the loss of her father and became depressed almost to the state of madness:

It was about this time that a kind of madness drifted in. Looking back, I think I was never truly mad. More mad north-north-west. I could tell a hawk from a handsaw always but sometimes it was striking to me how similar they were. I knew I wasn’t mad mad because I’d seen people in the grip of psychosis before, and that was madness as obvious as the taste of blood in the mouth. The kind of madness I had was different. It was quiet, and very, very dangerous. It was a madness designed to keep me sane. My mind struggled to build across the gap, make a new and inhabitable world. (location 219)

This a book unlike any other that I’ve read, about wildness, grief and mourning, and obsession, which made it heavy reading for me.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1875 KB
  • Print Length: 322 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0802123414
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital (31 July 2014)
  • Source: I bought it

10 Books of Summer 2015

10 books of summerCathy over at 746Books is hosting her 20 Books of Summer challenge for the second year. I’ve seen this on a few blogs and have been tempted to join in.  The challenge runs from the 1st June 2015 to the 4th September 2015. But I’ve decided to limit the challenge to reading 10 books this summer from my own books. Part of the pleasure in taking on this challenge is compiling the list of books I’d like to read and looking through my unread books. These are double shelved which means that I don’t see the ones at the back very often, so I’ve chosen mainly from those books and tried to get a mix of genres, although most of them just happen to be crime fiction!

These are the books I’d like to read (in no particular order):

  1. The Remorseful Day by Colin Dexter – the last Morse book. I’ve watched the TV version but never read the book.
  2. Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie – an early collection of short stories.
  3. Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie – also featuring Poirot. This is one of the novels I have left to read for the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge.
  4. Zen there was Murder by H R F Keating – murder on a Zen Buddhism course.
  5. The Day of the Lie by William Brodrick – a Father Anselm book. How could I have forgotten I had this book? I’ve loved the other Father Anselm books I’ve read!
  6. A Medal for Murder by Frances Brody – the second Kate Shackleton mystery, set in the 1920s.
  7. The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam – the second book in the Old Filth trilogy. I’ve read the first one and can’t imagine why I haven’t read this one before now – well, I can – other books got in the way!
  8. Silas Marner by George Eliot – I thought I’d include a short classic.
  9. Great Escape Stories by Eric Williams – another book I’ve had so long I can’t remember where or when I got it. It comprises twelve true-life escape and evasion stories from the Second World War and one from the Korean War.
  10. How the Girl Guides Won the War by Janie Hampton. I was full of enthusiasm to read this when I bought it, but then put it on the shelf, where it got hidden behind other books until today!

I’ll collect these books together and post a photo later.

Five of the Best: May 2011 – May 2015

This was originally Cleo’s idea – see Cleopatra Loves Books.It’s to look back over your reviews of the past five years and pick out your favourite for each month from 2011 – 2015.

I really enjoy looking back over the books I’ve loved reading. These are my favourite books for each May from 2011 to 2015 (click on the covers to see my original reviews).

2011

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. Poirot is on the Orient Express, on a three-days journey across Europe. But after midnight the train comes to a halt, stuck in a snowdrift. In the morning the millionaire Simon Ratchett is found dead in his compartment his body stabbed a dozen times and his door locked from the inside. I liked this book enormously. I liked the characterisation and all the, now so non-pc, comments about nationalities, highlighting class and racial prejudice. I liked the problem-solving and ingenuity of the plot.

2012

Fatherland by Robert Harris. Another murder mystery, this time set in Germany in 1964, but not the historical Germany of that date, because Hitler is approaching his 75th birthday, and Germany had won the Second World War – it’s historical fiction that never was – an alternative history. The homicide investigator is Xavier March of the Kriminalpolizei (the Kripo) and the victim is Josef Buhler, one of the former leading members of the Nazi Party.  It’s a real page-turner and full of suspense.

2013

The Frozen Shroud by Martin Edwards, the sixth book in his Lake District Mystery series, featuring historian Daniel Kind and DCI Hannah Scarlett, head of the Cold Case Review Team. When a third murder occurs  the characters are all so alive, the settings so vividly described and the plots so intricate and compelling. I love all the historical and literary references he uses, weaving them seamlessly into the books, and then there is the ongoing friendship between Daniel and Hannah.

2014

The Dance of Love by Angela Young absolutely entranced me. It’s historical fiction set at the turn of the twentieth century between 1899 and 1919, a brilliant book, both a heart-rending love story and a dramatic story too, as the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and the devastating and tragic effects of the First World War impact on the characters’ lives. I cannot praise it too highly,  a beautifully written, brilliant book that moved me deeply.

2015

This year’s choice is by one of my favourite authors – Ann Cleeves and it’s the sixth book in the Vera series, namely Harbour Street. It has everything I like in a crime fiction novel – atmospheric setting, convincing characters and a cleverly constructed and complex plot. It kept me guessing right to the end. It revolves around the stabbing of Margaret Krukowski on the Newcastle Metro but Vera’s investigations extend into the past and uncover an earlier murder.

Books Read in May 2015

I’m pleased that I’ve read 8 books in May as my reading and blogging was interrupted by gardening. The grass is now growing at a rate of knots and the weeds, especially the ground elder, are rampant, threatening to take over the borders. So I’ve spent a lot of time this month mowing, weeding and strimming.

But I’ve also read these books and written about all of them, except H is for Hawk – post to follow some time soon (I hope). Three of the books are non fiction, one is a book from Lovereading for review and six are library books – no TBR books (books acquired before 1 January 2015) this month! I must get back to reading from those books I’ve had for years very soon!

These are the books I read:

Bks May 2015

Gray Mountain by John Grisham (Library book) – this book is just as much a campaign against injustice and the misuse of power, about the good little guys against the big bad guys as his earlier books are. In this case it’s the big coal companies that come under the microscope, companies that are  ruining the environment by strip-mining in the Appalachian mountains. I liked the view of the small town community, the mountain scenery, the legal cases large and small and the tension created by the danger of opposing the big coal companies.

The Lost Garden by Katharine Swartz (Review book) – an emotionally intense novel of love, loss and grief, set in both the past and the present day, in a small village on the Cumbrian coast, a gentle story, well told and an enjoyable read. In 1919 Eleanor, the daughter of the vicar of Goswell, is struggling to adjust to the loss of her brother, Walter who died just before the Armistice was declared and in the present day half-sisters Marin and Rebecca are coming to terms with the death of their father and his wife.

Gently North West by Alan Hunter (Library book) – set in the fictitious village of Strathtudlem in Scotland in 1967 where Gently is on holiday with his friend, Barbara Merryn and his sister, Bridget and her husband. Gently gets involved in the investigations into the murder of Donnie Dunglass,  found, stabbed in the back, face down on the heather. I thought it was an enjoyable book although I thought the murder mystery was rather far-fetched.

Nothing To Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes (Library book, Non Fiction) – a collection of thoughts centred around Barnes’s fear of death and so inevitably he considers the question of religion and especially God. Interwoven with his thoughts about his agnosticism and death are anecdotes about his family and himself, thoughts on literature (particularly French literature) and it’s relationship to life. I found it all fascinating.

Dry Bones That Dream by Peter Robinson (Library book) – Banks investigates the murder of Keith Rothwell, an accountant, a  mild-mannered, dull sort of person it seems. But is that all there is to Rothwell? Banks unearths the secrets the characters have kept hidden from their family and friends. There’s also money-laundering and international and political shenanigans involved. Maybe not the best Banks book I’ve read.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (KindleNon Fiction) – no post yet. In some ways a difficult book to read – about training a goshawk and the author’s struggle with grief, mourning the death of her father.

Harbour Street by Ann Cleeves (Library book) This is the fifth Vera book and I loved it. It’s so good I read it twice because I watched the TV version after I finished reading the book – and it confused me as it’s different from the book! So I went back and re-read it. It is so much better than the TV adaptation, which I think suffered from being condensed into just one hour and a half length programme.

Poirot and Me by David Suchet (Library book, Non Fiction) – this consists largely of Suchet’s summaries of the stories and how he went about analysing Poirot’s character and how he played the part. This is a fascinating account of both the Poirot series and of David Suchet’s career.

I have no difficulty this month with naming my favourite book of the month. All the time I was reading it I was thoroughly absorbed and intrigued by Harbour Street by Ann Cleeves.

Harbour Street by Ann Cleeves

I first ‘met’ Vera Stanhope in the TV dramatisations of Ann Cleeves’ novels, which I enjoyed. But once I began reading Ann Cleeves’ books I discovered that they are even better than the TV versions! The latest one I’ve read is Harbour Street, the sixth book in the Vera series – it’s fantastic. If you’ve watched On Harbour Street, the TV adaptation broadcast last year, you’ll find that it didn’t strictly follow the book much at all – and you won’t know who the murderer is – it’s a different person in the book!

Harbour Street

This is what I wrote last year about The Glass Room, the fifth Vera book and my thoughts about Harbour Street are just the same:

It’s going to be a contender for my best book of the year, because I loved it. It has everything I like in a crime fiction novel – setting, characters and a cleverly constructed plot. I didn’t guess who the murderer was but realised afterwards that all the clues had been there, skilfully woven into the narrative, hidden among the dead-ends and red herrings, so that I’d read on without realising their significance.

It’s ten days before Christmas, the Newcastle Metro is packed with shoppers, babies screaming, office workers merry after pre-Christmas parties, teenagers kissing. But when the  train has to stop because of the snow they all pile off the train – except for one old lady, Margaret Krukowski, who was fatally stabbed. No one saw the murder take place even though, or maybe because the train was packed with people, including Detective Joe Ashworth travelling home with his daughter, Jessie, from carol singing in Newcastle Cathedral.

Margaret had lived in a guest house on Harbour Street in Mardle, a coastal town in South Northumberland and it is here that Vera concentrates their investigation with the occupants of the guest house, the Coble, the pub opposite and the Haven, a hostel for homeless women, where Margaret had been a volunteer. It soon becomes obvious that Margaret was a woman with many secrets in her past – stemming from 1970 when her Polish husband Pawel Krukowski had left her.  Then a second murder occurs and an earlier crime comes to light – but who is the killer?

Ann Cleeves is a superb storyteller. Her descriptions get right inside my brain; she has the skill to make the scenes materialise,  in front of my eyes, and not because I’ve seen the TV adaptation which was filmed at a different time of year and in a different place from the location of Mardle in the book. Her characters are fully formed with emotions and feelings, backgrounds and complicated relationships, just as in real life, with all the sights, sounds, sensations and smells. Her dialogue is authentic, never awkward and you are never left wondering who is talking. Her books are deceptively easy to read,  moving swiftly along as the tension rises. They are layered, cleverly plotted and above all convincing. As in her other books I had several suspects in mind but hadn’t realised just how much wool had been pulled over my eyes until Margaret’s killer was revealed.

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; Reprints edition (31 July 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1447202090
  • ISBN-13: 978-1447202097
  • Source: my local library

Poirot and Me by David Suchet and Geoffrey Wansell

Prologue

It is a damp, chill Friday morning in November and I am feeling old, very old; so old, indeed, that I am on the brink of death. I have lost two stone in weight, my face is the colour of aged parchment, and my hands are gnarled  like human claws.

I must have watched nearly all, if not all, of David Suchet’s performances as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. For me he was the perfect Poirot, so it was a given that I would read his autobiography, Poirot and Me, written with the help of his friend Geoffrey Wansell. And it really lives up to its title, as the main subject is David Suchet’s role as Poirot. His first performance as Poirot was in 1988. Over the intervening twenty five years he played the part in every one of the seventy Poirot stories that Agatha Christie wrote, with the exception of a tiny short story called The Lemesurier Inheritance (a story in Poirot’s Early Cases and in The Under Dog).

When I started watching the TV dramas it had been years since I’d read any of Agatha Christie’s books and I wasn’t aware that the early shows were based on her short stories – actually I didn’t even know then that she had written any short stories at all. I’ve read nearly all of her full length novels, but only a few of her short stories so far.

I think Poirot and Me may not appeal to people who are not readers of Agatha Christie’s books as it consists largely of Suchet’s summaries of the stories and how he went about analysing Poirot’s character and how he played the part. He began by compiling a list of Poirot’s characteristics, then considering his voice and his appearance. He made 92 ‘character points’ and his original list is reproduced in the book, along with photos of locations, the cast and crew.

He was most concerned that his portrayal of Poirot should be faithful to the character that Agatha Christie had created. He immersed himself so completely in the character that at times he didn’t know where Poirot ended and he began! Even so, some of the dramatisations are not strictly faithful to the original stories, for various reasons; additional characters are included and some of the plots are expanded versions, especially where the original short stories were slight. Or, for example, as in the case of the collection of short stories that make up The Twelve Labours of Hercules, the stories are so diverse that the screenwriter created an almost entirely new story, though using some of the characters.

At the end of each of the Poirot series, David Suchet didn’t know if any more were in the pipeline and he continued to play other parts in film,  on TV and on the stage. I found this just as interesting as the sections on his role as Poirot and it emphasises his qualities as an actor –  he is a ‘character’ actor, a Shakespearean actor and with the exception of Poirot his roles have been pretty dark and menacing parts. I particularly remember him in Blott on the Landscape, in which he played the malevolent gardener and in The Way We Live Now as the sinister financier Melmotte.

He thinks the charm of the Poirot stories is that

… they reveal a world where manners and morals are quite different from today. There are no overt or unnecessary sex scenes, no alcoholic, haunted detectives in Poirot’s world. He lives in a simpler, some would say more human, era; a lost England, seen through the admiring eyes of this foreigner, this little Belgian detective. For me, that makes the stories all the more appealing, for although the days he lives in seem far away, they are all the more enchanting because of it. (page 64 in the hardback edition)

I think so too – and I think the same charm and appeal can be found in the Miss Marple stories.

David Suchet wrote that when Hercule Poirot died on that late November afternoon in 2012 (as he filmed Curtain) a part of him died, but for me and doubtless for many others, Poirot lives on not just in Agatha Christie’s stories but also in David Suchet’s wonderful performances as his ‘cher ami‘, Hercule Poirot.

  • Hardcover: 320 pages (also available in paperback and on Kindle)
  • Publisher: Headline; 1st edition (7 Nov. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0755364198
  • ISBN-13: 978-0755364190
  • Source: my local library

This Week in Books: 27 May 2015

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now:

I’ve read the opening chapters of The Stranger You Know by Jane Casey and am continuing to read The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards.

Now bks 27 May

Then:

I’ve recently finished reading Harbour Street and Poirot and Me by David Suchet. I’ll be writing posts about these books soon.

Then books 27 MayNext:

At the moment I think I’d like to read The Bees by Laline Paull next – a change from crime fiction.

Blurb (Amazon)

Enter a whole new world, in this thrilling debut novel set entirely within a beehive.

Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen.

But Flora is not like other bees. Despite her ugliness she has talents that are not typical of her kin. While mutant bees are usually instantly destroyed, Flora is removed from sanitation duty and is allowed to feed the newborns, before becoming a forager, collecting pollen on the wing. She also finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers secrets both sublime and ominous.

But enemies are everywhere, from the fearsome fertility police to the high priestesses who jealously guard the Hive Mind. And when Flora breaks the most sacred law of all her instinct to serve is overshadowed by an even deeper desire, a fierce love that will lead to the unthinkable . . .

Laline Paull’s chilling yet ultimately triumphant novel creates a luminous world both alien and uncannily familiar. Thrilling and imaginative, ‘The Bees’ is the story of a heroine who, in the face of an increasingly desperate struggle for survival, changes her destiny and her world.

Stacking the Shelves: 23 May 2015

STSmall

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

A bumper week for adding to the TBRs! I took back a pile of books to Barter Books in Alnwick and came home with these:

Bks May 2015

When I go to Barter Books I take a list of books to look for. This time I found three  – shown in the basket from left to right:

  • Like This For Ever by S J Bolton, the 3rd in the Lacey Flint series. I’ve read the first one, Now You See Me and have the second one which I haven’t read yet, so it will be a while before I get round to reading this one.
  • In a Dry Season by Peter Robinson, the 10th in the Inspector Banks series. I’m reading this series as I find the books not in the series order and I wrote about the 7th book, Dry Bones That Dream on Monday. Kay commented that she had enjoyed In a Dry Season very much so when I saw it on the shelf at Barter Books I put it in my basket.
  • Letters From Skye by Jessica Brockmole. I saw this book on Irene’s blog – she’s reading it and I thought it looked interesting so when I found it on the shelf as well I thought it was too much of a coincidence not to get it. It’s a novel told in a series of letters written spanning the years from the First World War to the Second between a poet living on Skye and a fan of hers living in Illinois.

Next I just browsed the shelves for anything that caught my eye and found these:

Hamlet, Revenge! by Michael Innes (shown in my photo in the basket cover face down! on top of a stack of books). This is from the Golden Age of crime fiction, first published in 1937, the second of his Inspector Appleby series. I’ve read the first book in the series, Death at the President’s Lodging, which I enjoyed immensely.

Underneath Hamlet, Revenge! is a sealed pack of 6 crime fiction books, containing:

  • Last Seen in Massilia by Stephen Saylor
  • A Sight for Sore Eyes by Ruth Rendell
  • The Soul Catcher by Alex Kava
  • Frost at Christmas by R D Wingfield
  • Good News Bad News by David Wolstencroft
  • Break No Bones by Kathy Reichs

These are books that you can’t take back to Barter Books and cost just £1.20. I bought the pack because it contains books by Ruth Rendell, R D Wingfield and Steven Saylor – I don’t know the other authors.

On the way home from Barter Books we stopped at Cragside for a snack lunch, but it was packed with people and there was a long queue for the cafe, so I just went in the NT shop and couldn’t resist buying Scone With The Wind: Cakes and Bakes with a Literary Twist by Miss Victoria Sponge. It contains 72 novel recipes – like Life of Pecan Pie, Don Biscotti, Much Ado About Muffins and Wuthering Bites and many more.

And finally when we went shopping yesterday there was a secondhand book sale in the Buttermarket and I bought The Riddle and the Knight: In Search of Sir John Mandeville by Giles Milton – an investigation into Mandeville’s claim in 1322 that it was possible to circumnavigate the globe. I’ve read and enjoyed Milton’s Nathaniel’s Nutmeg, so I’m hoping I’ll like this book too.

It’s no wonder I never get to the end of my TBRs – but there are so many tempting books out there, it would be a shame to miss out too many!

This Week in Books: 20 May 2015

My week in books

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now:

I’m currently  reading three books.

Golden Age etc

The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards – the story of detective fiction written by the authors in the Detection Club between the two World Wars.  I’m reading this slowly, enjoying all the details about authors whose books I’ve read such as Agatha Christie and authors I’ve only heard of. I can see I’m going to have a long list of books to read by the end of this book.

Harbour Streetthe sixth Vera Stanhope murder mystery by Ann Cleeves. In Newcastle, Detective Joe Ashworth and his daughter Jessie travel home on the busy Metro. The train is stopped unexpectedly, and Jessie sees that one woman doesn’t leave with the other passengers: Margaret Krukowski has been fatally stabbed. This was adapted for television and I watched it when it was first broadcast last year but can’t remember the identity of the murderer!

Poirot and Me by David Suchet – his account of how he came to play Hercule Poirot in TV’s Agatha Christie’s Poirot in 1988 until the final episode in 2013. I think I must have watched all the episodes, some more than once and it’s interesting to get David Suchet’s perspective.

Then:

A few days ago I finished reading Dry Bones That Dream by Peter Robinson, a DCI Banks Mystery. I wrote about it earlier this week in this post.

Next:

As usual I’m not sure what I’ll read next. I’m very tempted to read one of the books I added to the TBR piles yesterday when I went to Barter Books in Alnwick. Yesterday was also the fortnightly visit of the library van and I collected three books I’d reserved- I’ll do a separate post about all these books.

The one that is calling to me right now is The Stranger You Know by Jane Casey. This is the fourth Maeve Kerrigan book and I’ve read the first three.

Maeve is investigating the murders of three women who have been strangled in their homes by the same killer. It appears that they knew their killer and had let him in.

Dry Bones That Dream by Peter Robinson: Book Notes

I read Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks books set in the Yorkshire Dales, every now and then, so I’m reading them totally out of order. It doesn’t seem to matter. Dry Bones That Dream is the 7th book in the series and the cover of my copy shows  Stephen Tompkinson as Banks. I don’t remember seeing this one on ITV, but I probably did as I see from the list of episodes in Wikipedia that it was broadcast in 2012.

Dry Bones That Dream was first published in the UK in 1995 and in the US later in as Final Account.

Summary from Peter Robinson’s website:

One May evening, two masked gunmen tie up Alison Rothwell and her mother, take Keith Rothwell, a local accountant, to the garage of his isolated Yorkshire Dales farmhouse, and blow his head off with a shotgun. Why? This is the question Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks has to ask as he sifts through Rothwell’s life. Rothwell was generally known in the area as a mild-mannered, dull sort of person, but even a cursory investigation raises more questions than answers. When Banks’s old sparring partner, DS Richard “Dirty Dick” Burgess, turns up from the Yard, the case takes yet another unexpected twist, and Banks finds himself racing against time as the killers seem to be dogging his footsteps. Only after he pits his job against his sense of justice does he discover the truth. And the truth leads him to one of the most difficult decisions of his career.

My Thoughts:

I read this quite quickly, even though it’s just over 350 pages, in between mammoth gardening sessions (more about that later maybe). It really centres around identity and unearthing the secrets the characters have kept hidden from their family and friends. There’s also money-laundering and international and political shenanigans involved.

Much of the book revolves around Banks and his relationships, with family, colleagues and the people he interviews in connection with Keith Rothwell. Banks seems to be at a pivotal moment in his personal life. As usual with the DCI Banks books  we are told what music Banks listens to which got a bit monotonous for me and the descriptions of what each character looked like and the clothes they were wearing didn’t add anything to the plot. I did have an inkling about the truth about Rothwell’s murder but thought I was being too fanciful and that it was an unlikely scenario – it wasn’t. But I did enjoy reading it anyway even with these drawbacks.

Reading TBRs & The TBR Pile Challenge: May Checkpoint

In the context of this challenge and also the Mount TBR Challenge TBRs are books that have a publication date before 1/1/2014 (ie any book published in the year 2013 or earlier qualifies, as long as it has been on your TBR pile). It does not include all the books you’ve acquired since 1/1/204 even though they are, of course To Be Read books too!

official tbr challengeIt’s time for the MAY Check-in for the  2015 TBR Pile Challenge, hosted by Adam at Roof Beam Reader! We’re now almost half-way into the challenge, which is to identify and to read 12 books during 2015!

Question of the Month: If you could go back and edit your list to make ONE change, what do you think you would have done differently? A book or author that you wish you had included? A book that you wish you hadn’t bothered with?

First of all  this is my answer to Adam’s question – I wish I hadn’t included The Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower, which I have put back one of the books on my shelves, at least for the time being, as I found it so confusing and I don’t like the fact that  it’s written in the third person present tense, which I find awkward. I bought this book 7 years ago and like to think that I am more careful now in choosing books and would avoid books written in that tense.

My Progress: 2 of 12 Completed – I am way behind! I’ve read The Burning by Jane Casey and The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld. The books for this challenge are shown in the sidebar to the right.

So, why am I behind when the books on the list are ones I’ve identified as ones I have owned for a while and want to read? One of the reasons is that I’m a great believer that there is a right time to read a book and often these books are not the right books this time. But there are other reasons too:

  • I start reading one of the books from the TBR Pile and find it difficult to read because it’s in a small font, or it’s very heavy/bulky to hold, so I read something else.
  • Or it’s very long and I fancy reading something shorter.
  • I keep reading about interesting books on other book blogs and want to read those now, so I either borrow them from the library, which means I have to read those first in case I can’t renew them, or I buy them and start reading them straight away.
  • Then there are books I read for my local book group which I have to fit in each month.

I’ll have to overcome these reasons if I’m ever going to read those books!

Book Beginnings: Firmin

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 meaning to read this book for ages and I’ve listed it as one of the books to read for Once Upon A Time IX this year, so now is the time to read it. It is Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife by Sam Savage – the tale of a rat living in the basement of a bookstore who develops the ability to read.

It begins:

I had always imagined that my life story, if and when I wrote it, would have a great first line: ‘Lolita. light of my life, fire of my loins’; or, if I could not do lyric, then something sweeping like Tolstoy’s ‘All happy families are alike, but every happy family is unhappy in it’s own way.’ People remember those words, even when they have forgotten everything else about the books. When it comes to openers, though, the best in my view has to be Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier: ‘This is the saddest story I have ever read.’ I’ve read that one dozens of times and it still knocks my socks off. Ford Madox Ford was a Big One.

Not just one book beginning, but four!

From the back cover:

Firmin is a debonair soul, trapped in a rat’s body. He lives in the basement of a ramshackle old bookstore run by Norman Shine, where as the runt of his litter, he chews the books around him in order to survive. Thanks to his unusual diet Firmin develops the ability to read … and a very unratlike sense of the world and his place in it.

This week I’m joining in with 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.

Page 56:

My intellect grew sharper than my teeth. Soon I could do a four-hundred-page novel in an hour, knock off Spinoza in a day.

Nothing To Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes

I read Nothing To be Frightened Of over several weeks, reading short sections at a time. This book is described on the back cover by Penelope Lively as:

A maverick form of family memoir that is mainly an extended reflection on the fear of death and on that great consolation, religious belief … it is entertaining, intriguing, absorbing … an inventive and invigorating slant on what is nowadays called “life writing”.

It is a collection of thoughts centred around Barnes’s fear of death and so inevitably he considers the question of religion and especially God – in fact he begins his book with this statement: I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.

Later, he writes, Missing God is rather like Being English, a feeling aroused mainly by attack. When my country is abused, a dormant, if not to say narcoleptic, patriotism stirs. And when it comes to God, I find myself more provoked by atheistic absolutism than by, say, the often bland, tentative hopefulness of the Church of England. (page 77)

His agnosticism doesn’t help him with his fear of dying, but then, again, he thinks that faith does not necessarily remove the fear of death anyway – there are those who fear death among those who have faith as well as among the irreligious.

But this is more than a book about dying because interwoven with his thoughts about his agnosticism and death are anecdotes about his family and himself, thoughts on literature (particularly French literature) and it’s relationship to life. I found it all fascinating,  but it’s his autobiographical passages that I found the most interesting, sharing details about his family’s beliefs and the deaths of his parents and grandparents, of the rivalry between him and his brother, his mother’s solipsism and manipulative behaviour, his father’s seemingly passive approach to life and the difficulties of really knowing a person.

He states that it is easier with fiction than with life – fictional characters are easier to see, whereas in real life ‘the better you know someone , the less well often you see them. … They may be so close as to be out of focus … Often when we talk about someone very familiar, we are referring back to the time when we first properly saw them, when they were held in the most useful -and flattering light – light at the correct focal distance.’ (page 157)

He and his brother have different memories of their parents and grandparents and of their own early relationship, which shows how unreliable memory can be. I suppose I agree more with his brother, the philosopher Jonathan Barnes, who thinks that memories are often false and not to be trusted without external support, rather than Julian, who says he is more trusting, or self deluding, so shall continue as all my memories are true.

This is by no means a gloomy, pessimistic book.  It’s written in an informal tone, almost as though he is talking to the reader, and not being divided into chapters adds to that sense of being involved in a conversation. But is far from being a simple read – there is an awful lot packed into this book, an intensely personal book that reflects the complexity of our views of life and death. It gave me much to think about and even made me chuckle in parts.

And finally thinking about being remembered/forgotten after his death, Barnes considers who will be his last reader because with that reader he will finally be forgotten – and then he reflects that your last reader is, by definition, someone who didn’t recommend your books to anyone else. You bastard! Not good enough, eh? (page 226)

I think it extremely unlikely that I’ll be his last reader!

Reading Challenge: Non Fiction Reading Challenge 2015. This is only the 5th non fiction book I’ve read so far this year!

Gently North West by Alan Hunter

I first came across Inspector George Gently through the TV drama with Martin Shaw as Gently. There are 46 books in Alan Hinter’s Gently series and I’ve  read the first two , Gently Does It and Gently by the Shore and now the 14th book, Gently North West (first published in 1967). The full list of the Gently books is on Fantastic Fiction.  In the TV version Gently is based in Northumberland, whereas the books are mainly set in Norfolk.

Summary (Amazon)

There’s blood in the heather and a murderer on the loose when Gently pays a quiet visit to the Highlands of Scotland. Had Brenda Merryn not been such a strong-willed woman and had she not been so much in love with George Gently, driving all the way to Scotland for a holiday with Gently’s sister and brother-in-law might have been a bit of a challenge. Spying on a heavily armed private army of nationalists, being held at gunpoint on the hillside, being held prisoner in a filthy outhouse and becoming involved in a murder would be unthinkable. For Gently, it’s all in a day’s work and his holiday is put on hold while he stalks a murderer in the mountains, with Brenda by his side.

My view:

Gently North West is set in the fictitious village of Strathtudlem in Scotland in 1967 where Gently is on holiday with his friend, Barbara Merryn and his sister, Bridget and her husband. There is quite a lot of detailed descriptions not only of the Scottish Highlands but also of the route of Gently’s journey from London to Scotland. On their journey a man with a red beard nearly crashes into Gently’s car.

Then on their first evening in the Highlands, Gently and Brenda go for a walk and see the same man, standing high on a crag above the glen, peering at them through his binoculars.  The next morning, the body of Donnie Dunglass is found, stabbed in the back, face down on the heather near where Gently had seen the man with the red beard. He feels it is his duty to inform the local constabulary about the man he saw and so becomes involved in the search for the killer.

In this book there are several references that set the book firmly in the late 1960s with reference to the Scottish Nationalists ‘ activities during that time and even to Mary Quant. But what particularly interested me about Gently North West is not the actual murder mystery which I think is rather far-fetched, but the fact that Gently is no longer an Inspector working in Norfolk but is living in London, a Chief Superintendent with Scotland Yard. Obviously since the events in the second book Gently had been promoted several times!

Now I’m wondering if I want to read all the books to find out more about Alan Hunter’s Gently.

Alan Hunter was born in Hoveton, Norfolk in 1922. He left school at the age of fourteen to work on his father’s farm, spending his spare time sailing on the Norfolk Broads and writing nature notes for the Eastern Evening News. He also wrote poetry, some of which was published while he was in the RAF during the Second World War. By 1950, he was running his own book shop in Norwich and in 1955, the first of what would become a series of forty-six George Gently novels was published.  He died in 2005, aged eighty-two.

He dedicated Gently North West to his mother, Isabella Hunter, nee Andrews, who was from Culsalmond in Aberdeenshire. In his own words she ‘contrived to possess her son with an indelible prejudice for the land of heroes and poets. Rest her well where she lies and greetings to my unknown Scottish cousins.

Reading Challenge: this is the fifth book I’ve read that qualifies for the Read Scotland Challenge 2015.

Stacking the Shelves

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

This last week has been an excellent week for Stacking the Shelves, as I’ve added seven new/new-to-me books – two of them on Kindle.

These are the physical books – the first three all arrived on the same day – Thursday:

Stacking the Shelves 9 May 15I’ve been looking forward to reading The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards and I ordered it to arrive on its publication day – which was Thursday. I have, of course, already started to read it and it’s promising to be excellent.

From the back cover:

The Golden Age of Murder tells for the first time the extraordinary story of British detective fiction between the two World Wars, and the fascinating people who wrote it. A gripping real-life detective story, this book investigates how Agatha Christie and her colleagues in the mysterious Detection Club transformed crime fiction. Their work cast new light on unsolved murders whilst hiding clues to their authors’ darkest secrets, and their complex and sometimes bizarre lives.

Civil War by Peter Ackroyd was also published in paperback on Thursday. This is volume III of Ackroyd’s series, The History of England. I’d read Jessica’s review of the book on The Bookworm Chronicles and thought I’d like to read it.

It’s the history of the 17th century, the monarchy and the Civil War which led to the execution of Charles I and the despotic reign of Oliver Cromwell. It also covers the cultural and social life of the period including Shakespeare’s later plays, the poetry of John Donne and Milton, as well as details of the lives of ordinary people against the backdrop of constant disruption and uncertainty.

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C Morais is my book group’s choice for June.

This is the story of Hassan Haji, a boy from Mumbai, and his family who open a restaurant in a French village. A culinary war ensues against the cordon bleu Michelin starred restaurant opposite. Full of eccentric characters, delicious meals and hilarious cultural mishaps, according to the back cover.

I bought A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey from the secondhand book table at the village hall when I went to vote on Thursday.

It’s an Inspector Grant mystery.  A beautiful young film actress is found lying dead on the beach one morning. Is it suicide or murder?

The last of the physical books is a complimentary copy of William and Kate’s Britain: an Insider’s Guide to the haunts of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge by Claudia Joseph – it contains one of my photos of the Hirsel Country Park at Coldstream.

There are many more photos in this beautiful book – photos of royal palaces, castles,  churches, hotels, pubs, towns and villages as well as country parks and much more. It’s packed with fascinating facts.

I also got an e-book of Agatha Christie’s first full length novel featuring Miss Marple – The Murder at the Vicarage. I’ve read (and re-read) many of her books, but missed this one.

Colonel Protheroe is found shot dead in the vicar’s study. There are many suspects for Miss Marple to question about the murder as he was not a popular man and everyone including the vicar seems to have a reason to want the Colonel dead.

And finally, fellow blogger Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen sent me an e-copy of her third standalone novel, Crystal Nights, a Scandinavian psychological mystery of the violence and evil that rips through a cosy and peaceful Danish village in the 1960s. It begins with a quotation from Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, one of my favourite fairytales!

And what about you?  What books did you find this week?

The Lost Garden by Katharine Swartz

The Lost Garden is  an emotionally intense novel of love, loss and grief, set in both the past and the present day, in a small village on the Cumbrian coast.

In 1919 Eleanor, the daughter of the vicar of Goswell, is struggling to adjust to the loss of her brother, Walter who died just before the Armistice was declared and in the present day half-sisters Marin and Rebecca are coming to terms with the death of their father and his wife.

The link between the two stories centres around the walled garden at the back of the Bower House, a small house next to the church. It was said to have been the herb garden for the monastery before the Reformation.

In 1919 the garden is covered in brambles and Eleanor decides she wants to make it into a garden of remembrance, a place to just be, to remember or to forget as much as you need. And she begins to restore it with the help of the church gardener, Jack. As they do so the garden begins to blossom as winter moves into spring and summer, but the mood of both the family and the country remains sombre as they come to terms with the aftermath of the First World War.

In the present day, Marin has bought the Bower House, not knowing its history. Rebecca discovers the walled garden once more overgrown with brambles and weeds and it captures her imagination. And when Marin she sees a photo of a young woman in the garden, thought to have been taken around 1920 she is determined to find out more – just who was the young woman and what is underneath the brambles. With the help of the local gardener, Joss, she begins to restore the garden and in doing so they discover secrets about both the past and the present.

The Lost Garden is a gentle story, well told and an enjoyable read, switching between the past and the present. The differences in attitudes and social conventions of the times provide a distinct contrast and highlights the parallels between the two stories. I liked the story-lines for both Marin and Eleanor, both have difficult relationships with their sisters and both are coming to terms with their grief, but on the whole I was more interested in Eleanor’s story, set against the backdrop of the post First World War.

My thanks to Lovereading for providing an advance proof of this novel, due to be published 15 May 2015. The Lost Garden is the second book in Katharine Swartz’s Tales from Goswell series – the first is The Vicar’s Wife.

Gray Mountain by John Grisham

Years ago, well before I began this blog, I read many of John Grisham’s books and loved them. Then, somehow, he went off my radar, but when I saw Gray Mountain on display in the library I remembered how much I used to enjoy his books and borrowed it.

Gray Mountain

I don’t think he has changed much – this book is just as much a campaign against injustice and the misuse of power, about the good little guys against the big bad guys as his earlier books are. In this case it’s the big coal companies that come under the microscope, companies that are  ruining the environment by strip-mining in the Appalachian mountains. I was amazed to read the details – clear-felling the forests, scalping the earth and then blasting away the mountain tops to get at the coal. All the trees, topsoil and rocks are then dumped into the valleys, wiping out the vegetation, wildlife and streams. Gray Mountain is one of the mountains destroyed in this way.

But this is running ahead in the book. It begins in 2008 when Samantha Kofer has lost her job as a highly paid third-year associate with New York’s largest law firm following the bankruptcy of the Lehman Brothers bank. One of the options open to her is to work for free for twelve months as an intern at the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic in Brady, Virginia, run by Mattie Wyatt.  After that there is the possibility that she could get her old job back.

Up until then Samantha had only worked in corporate law and had never been in a courtroom, but she soon became immersed in a variety of  cases, including meths dealers and people suffering from black lung disease.

Gray Mountain is owned by Mattie’s nephew, Donovan Gray, also a lawyer, who is taking on cases against the Big Coal companies.  One of the cases involves the Tate family, two little boys who were killed when a boulder from the rock clearance crashed into the trailer where they were sleeping.  Although Samantha is horrified by the situation and wants to help Donovan and his brother Jeff in their search for justice, she feels reluctant to get involved as Donovan’s  methods are sometimes not strictly legal – and she doesn’t feel she belongs in Brady. And there is still the opportunity for her to work in New York, when a former colleague offers her a job.

But she gets emotionally involved with the people and their problems and begins to like litigation:

This was the rush, the high, the narcotic that pushed trial lawyers to the brink. This was the thrill that Donovan sought when he refused to settle for cash on the table. This was the overdose of testosterone that inspired men like her father to dash around the world chasing cases. (page 197)

She has to decide whether to stay with the Clinic or take the job in New York, and she loves the city life. It’s not an easy decision, and it is not revealed until right at the very end of the book.

Although Gray Mountain doesn’t quite match up to my memories of Grisham’s earlier books, I still enjoyed it. At first I thought he was introducing too much detail about the coal companies’ mining practices, but I soon realised how essential it is to understanding the issues. At times it’s like reading a series of short stories, but the main theme is well maintained. I liked the view of the small town community, the mountain scenery, the legal cases large and small and the tension created by the danger of opposing the big coal companies.

Reading Challenge: Color Coded Reading Challenge, with the word ‘Gray’ in the title and the cover being mainly grey in colour it qualifies for the category a book with “Black” or any shade of black in the title/on the cover.

Five of the Best- April 2011 – 2015

This was originally Cleo’s idea – see Cleopatra Loves Books. It’s to look back over your reviews of the past five years and pick out your favourite for each month from 2011 – 2015.

I really enjoy looking back over the books I’ve loved reading. These are my favourite books for each April from 2011 to 2015 (click on the covers to see my original reviews).

2011

 

I thoroughly enjoyed The Long Song by Andrea Levy. It’s brutal, savage, and unrelenting in depicting the lives of the slaves in Jamaica just as slavery was coming to an end and both the slaves and their former owners were adjusting to their freedom. The narrator is July, at the beginning a spirited young woman, born in a sugar-cane field, telling her story at her son’s suggestion. I read it quickly eager to find out what happened, but at the same time I didn’t want it to end. It’s shocking, breath-taking and completely absorbing.

2012

1238734The Village by Marghanita Laski chronicles life in an English village immediately after the end of the Second World War, exploring the issues of class and social mobility, family relationships, parental control and the position of women. It’s written in a simple direct style of writing that contains depth and complexity and  by the end I was convinced I was living in the village, amongst these people at the end of the war. It’s absorbing reading.

2013

After Flodden by Rosemary Goring. This is the dramatic story of what happened after the Battle of Flodden on 9 September 1513. Well written, well researched it’s a compelling and powerful book, bringing the characters and Edinburgh and Borders of 1513 vividly to life. Once I started reading the book I didn’t want to stop. I read it quickly, devouring the pages, completely involved in this dramatic story.

2014

 The Potter’s Hand by A N Wilson, a remarkable novel about the Wedgwood family, their lives, loves, work, illnesses, depressions, addictions and deaths. The novel begins in 1768 and roughly follows the fortunes of the Wedgwood family until 1805, 10 years after the death of Josiah Wedgwood, an English potter and the founder of the Wedgwood company. I found it fascinating throughout, whether it was set in America during the fight for independence, or in England in Wedgwood’s factories, or his grand new house Etruria Hall, or travelling through England on the new canals.

2015

Detective fiction is my choice for April this year with Have His Carcase by Dorothy L Sayers taking top spot – although Dacre’s War by Rosemary Goring is also an excellent book. A Harriet Vane/ Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, from the Golden Age of crime fiction this is an example of the puzzle type of crime fiction – incredibly complicated and seemingly impossible to solve. It involves numerous characters who are not who they first appear, complete with alibis, disguises and false trails. Just brilliant!