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

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 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

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.

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!

Books Read in April 2015

After a bumper month in March, reading 11 books, I’m back to normal this April, reading 7 books, bringing my total for the year so far to 33.

Here they are in the order I read them:

  1. Dacre’s War by Rosemary Goring  –  set in 16th century Scotland, there is so much packed in this book, political intrigue, personal conflict and vengeance, and spies, manipulators and double crossers abound. I loved it.
  2. The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld-  historical fiction – a mixture of murder mystery and psychoanalysis with an interpretation of ‘Hamlet‘ thrown in.
  3. Dreamwalker by James Oswald – inspired by Welsh folklore this is a magical tale of the young dragon, Benfro and the young boy, Errol, born on the same day. I was drawn into their fantasy world.
  4. Nora Webster by Colm Toibin – set in Ireland in the late 1960s, a vivid portrait of a woman initially locked within her grief, claustrophobic and intensely personal, and focussing on daily life in all its boredom, frustration and triviality.
  5. Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey – The events in that unfold in Emma Healey’s debut novel are seen through Maud’s eyes. But Maud is an unreliable narrator – she can’t help it though as she has dementia.
  6. The Last Girl by Jane Casey – crime fiction, the third Maeve Kerrigan book in which Maeve investigates the murders of Vita Kennford and her daughter, Laura, age 14. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
  7. Have His Carcase by Dorothy L Sayers –  a brilliant book, crime fiction from the Golden Age the second book featuring Harriet Vane, a crime fiction writer, in which Harriet and Lord Peter Wimsey investigate the death of a man found on a deserted beach with his throat cut.

It’s really difficult this month to choose which one I enjoyed the most because I’ve read some really good books. But on balance I think it has to be  Have His Carcase by Dorothy L Sayersbecause that book kept me entertained on several levels – it’s a mystery and a love story all rolled into one and set in the 1930s it also has historical interest, although it’s not historical fiction per se.

 

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

The events in that unfold in Emma Healey’s debut novel, Elizabeth is Missing are seen through Maud’s eyes. But Maud is an unreliable narrator – she can’t help it though as she has dementia.

Emma Healey’s depiction of dementia is convincing showing the confusion and bewilderment that Maud must have felt. It’s heart-rending, as she knows that Elizabeth, her friend, is missing, but doesn’t know where she is and no one seems to be listening to her when she talks about her – her own daughter and Elizabeth’s son just don’t answer her questions. And she asks them over and over again. As Maud continues her search for Elizabeth, she also recalls the search for her sister, Sukey, who disappeared in 1946.

It is not a book that I can say I ‘enjoyed’, even though it’s well written and with convincing characters. I thought it was over long and maybe would have been better as a novella. Inevitably, because the narrator has dementia there is much repetition – too much for me. I was disappointed with the plot too, because the ending became predictable quite early on in the book. Overall then a depressing book.

First Chapter First Paragraph: The Ghost Riders of Ordebec

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 book this week is a library book that I’m thinking about reading soon. It’s The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas, translated from the French by Sian Reynolds.

It begins:

A trail of tiny crumbs led from the kitchen into the bedroom, as far as the spotless sheets where the old woman lay dead, her mouth open. Commissaire Adamsberg looked down at the crumbs in silence, pacing to and fro, wondering what kind of Tom Thumb – or what ogre in this case – might have dropped them there. He was in a small, dark, ground-floor apartment, with just three rooms, in the eighteenth arrondissement, in northern Paris.

Blurb:

‘People will die,’ says the panic-stricken woman outside police headquarters.

She refuses to speak to anyone besides Commissaire Adamsberg. Her daughter has seen a vision: ghostly horsemen who target the most nefarious characters in Normandy. Since the middle ages there have been stories of murderers, rapists, those with serious crimes on their conscience, meeting a grisly end following a visitation by the riders.

Soon after the young woman’s vision a notoriously vicious and cruel man disappears. Although the case is far outside his jurisdiction, Adamsberg agrees to investigate the strange happenings in a village terrorised by wild rumours and ancient feuds.

What do you think? Would you keep on reading?

Have His Carcase by Dorothy L Sayers

Have His Carcase, first published in 1932, is another brilliant book – completely different from the last book I wrote about (see my previous post) but just as fascinating and absorbing. It’s crime fiction from the **Golden Age (see the note below), that is between the First and Second World Wars, and is the second of Dorothy L Sayer’s books featuring Harriet Vane, a crime fiction writer, and the seventh featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. They first met in Strong Poison, in which Harriet was on trial charged with the murder of her former lover.

In Have His Carcase Harriet is on a walking holiday when she comes across a dead man, his throat cut from ear to ear, lying on the top of a rock, called locally the Flat-Iron, on a deserted beach. Fortunately she has her camera with her and takes several photos, which come in very useful as by the time that she can alert the police the body has been washed out to sea. It appears that he committed suicide. Wimsey arrives soon after and he and Harriet they set out first of all to identify the body and then to prove that it was murder.

It 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. Sayers, helpfully included a schedule of things that Harriet and Wimsey noted about the victim and the suspects, which I found useful as this is a long novel that took me several days to read; with so much information I just couldn’t remember it all as I read the book.

It all hinges on the timing of the discovery of the body and the movement of the tides. As in The Nine Tailors (and in fact in all the books by Dorothy L Sayers that I’ve read) there is a lot of detail, all of which is essential to the plot; detail about the body, how it was found, how the throat was cut , and what the blood was like when Harriet found the body. In the hands of another writer this could have been too graphic for me, but I had no difficulty reading such detail at all!

Also added into the mix are Bolsheviks, rumours of aristocratic connections, spies and a secret code to be deciphered. There are jealous lovers, itinerant hairdressers, a schoolteacher with Communist sympathies, taciturn locals, an antagonistic future son-in-law and  gigolos and dagos. (Written in the early 1930s this is not a politically correct novel.)

An underlying theme is the relationship between Harriet and Wimsey as he is constantly proposing marriage and she rejects him each time. Although at one point, as they walked along the beach together in search of clues, it did look briefly that her resolve was weakening:

She suddenly saw Wimsey in a new light. She knew him to be intelligent, clean, courteous, wealthy, well-read, amusing and enamoured, but he had not so far produced in her that crushing sense of utter inferiority which leads to prostration and hero-worship. But she now realised that there was, after all, something godlike about him. (pages 213-4)

and then she came to her senses and laughed. Earlier she had noted his physique as they inspected the Flat-Iron in the sea:

‘And he strips better than I should have expected,’ she admitted candidly to herself. ‘Better shoulders than I realised, and, thank Heaven, calves to his legs,’ (page 104)

Here are some more of my favourite quotations:

I question this first one!:

To be tried for murder is a fairly good advertisement for a writer of detective fiction. (page 1)

and on seeing what appears to be a man asleep Harriet says:

Now, if I had any luck, he’d be a corpse, and I should report him and get my name in the papers. That would be something like publicity. “Well-known Woman Detective-Writer Finds Mystery Corpse on Lonely Shore.” But these things never happy to authors. (page 7)

Well, she got her wish.

Next, here is Wimsey remarking on his use of quotations, which he does throughout the book:

I always have a quotation for everything – it saves original thinking. (page 58)

and Wimsey to Harriet after she apologised for being ‘a rotten dancer’:

Darling if you danced like an elderly elephant with arthritis, I would dance the sun and moon into the sea with you. I have waited a thousand years to see you dance in that frock. (page 157)

I loved the complexity, the details, and the various solutions Wimsey and Harriet considered. It kept me guessing throughout the book right from the start – just who was the victim, even when he was identified there was more to it, who murdered him, why was he murdered and above all just how and when was he murdered. It’s brilliant!

**Note: I must get a copy of Martin Edwards’ new book The Golden Age of Murderinvestigating how Agatha Christie and colleagues in the Detection Club transformed crime fiction, writing books casting new light on unsolved murders whilst hiding clues to their authors’ darkest secrets.

It’s due to be published on 7 May.

Dacre’s War by Rosemary Goring

Dacre’s War is compelling reading, a  thoroughly absorbing and beautifully written novel set in the Scottish and English Borders and London between 1523 – 1525 some ten years after the events described in Rosemary Goring’s earlier book, After Flodden. I wondered as I began reading whether it could equal After Flodden, a book I loved when I read it two years ago – it did. I think it even surpasses it.

I loved Dacre’s War and keen as I was to read to the end I didn’t want to leave the characters. Once again I was swept away by the story, re-living the scenes through Rosemary Goring’s vivid descriptions and the drama of the characters’ lives, people who came to life in the pages of this book.

Dacre’s War describes how Adam Crozier, the head of his clan, plots to take revenge on Lord Thomas Dacre, the Warden General of the English Marches and the Keeper of Carlisle, who had brought about the death of Adam’s father. Ten years after the Battle of Flodden, Dacre is the most powerful man in the north of England, but the Marches are a constant battlefield, dangerously out of control, and a hotbed of thieves and killers in thrall to the Warden. Without him Henry VIII believes the situation would be much worse.

It is against this background that Crozier forms an alliance with Dacre’s enemies, both English and Scots to inform Henry of Dacre’s crimes and bring about his downfall.

There are some remarkable scenes in this book, and amongst them are the scenes in the Star Chamber where Dacre is brought to answer the charges against him in front of Cardinal Wolsey and his imprisonment in the Fleet Prison. I felt as though I was there, watching, breathing the same air – not a pleasant experience. Similarly with Crozier, I could visualise his home, Crozier’s Keep, sense the tension and fear as his wife, Louise, is left at home, pregnant and in danger of losing the baby.

There is so much packed in this book, political intrigue, personal conflict and vengeance, and spies, manipulators and double crossers abound. It is impossible to write more without revealing the plot and the eventual ending. It’s a brilliant book.

Dacre’s War is due to be published in June 2015. My copy is a pre-publication review copy courtesy of www.lovereading.co.uk.

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Polygon (16 June 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846973112
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846973116

Rosemary Goring was born in Dunbar and studied social and economic history at the University of St Andrews; and, after graduation, worked at W&R Chambers as a reference editor. Rosemary was the literary editor of Scotland on Sunday, followed by a brief spell as editor of Life & Work, the Church of Scotland’s magazine, before returning to newspapers as literary editor of the Herald, and later also of the Sunday Herald. In 2007 she published Scotland: The Autobiography: 2000 Years of Scottish History By Those Who Saw it Happen, which has since been published in America and Russia.

Reading Challenges: Read Scotland, Historical Fiction Challenge.

Stacking the Shelves

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.

This week I borrowed these books from the library:

Ragnarok

Ragnarok by A S Byatt – I first came across this book a few years ago on a book blog (not sure now which one) and thought it looked interesting.

Blurb:

Recently evacuated to the British countryside and with World War Two raging around her, one young girl is struggling to make sense of her life. She is given a book of ancient Norse legends and her inner and outer worlds are transformed…

The Ragnarok myth, otherwise known as the Twilight of the Gods, plays out the endgame of Norse mythology. It is the myth in which the gods Odin, Freya and Thor die, the sun and moon are swallowed by the wolf Fenrir, and the serpent Jörmungandr eats her own tale as she crushes the world and the seas boil with poison. This epic struggle provided the fitting climax to Wagner’s Ring Cycle; Byatt has taken this remarkable finale and used it as the underpinning of a highly personal and politically charged retelling.

Dry Bones that Dream by Peter Robinson, the 7th Inspector Banks book. I’m reading these books totally out of order, just as I find them.

Blurb:

It was 2.47am when Chief Inspector Alan Banks arrived at the barn and saw the body of Keith Rothwell for the first time. Only hours earlier two masked men had walked the mild-mannered accountant out of his farmhouse and clinically blasted him with a shotgun.

Clearly this is a professional hit – but Keith was hardly the sort of person to make deadly enemies. Or was he? For the police investigation soon raises more questions than answers. And who, exactly, is Robert Calvert?

The more Banks scratches the surface, the more he wonders what lies beneath the veneer of the apparently happy Rothwell family. And when his old sparring partner Detective Superintendent Richard Burgess arrives from Scotland Yard, the case takes yet another unexpected twist . . .

Poirot and Me by David Suchet – an absolute must read for me. David Suchet was Poirot!

From the book cover:

Through his television performance in TV’s Agatha Christie’s Poirot, David Suchet has become inextricably linked with the ‘little Belgian’, a man whom he has grown to love dearly through an intimate relationship lasting more than twenty years. …

In Poirot and Me, he shares his many memories of creating this iconic television series and reflects on what the detective has meant to him over the years.

Also new this week is an advance proof copy of The Lost Garden by Katharine Swartz, due to be published in May:

Blurb:

Marin Ellis is in search of a new start after her father and his second wife die in a car accident, and at thirty-seven she is made guardian of her fifteen-year-old half-sister Rebecca. They leave Hampshire for the picturesque village of Goswell on the Cumbrian coast, and settle into Bower House on the edge of the church property. When a door to a walled garden captures Rebecca’s interest, Marin becomes determined to open it and discover what is hidden beneath the bramble inside. She enlists the help of local gardener Joss Fowler, and together the three of them begin to uncover the garden’s secrets.

I’d better get reading!

Anthony Trollope: Bicentenary

Today it is the bicentenary of Anthony Trollope’s birth on April 24th 1815. The Trollope Society is a great source of information about Trollope and his books and there are many events scheduled to celebrate his life and work.

I’ve read the first two books in his Chronicles of  Barchester series, which I enjoyed, so it’s time I got on with reading the next one, which is Doctor Thorne.

Writing about Doctor Thorne in his Autobiography, Trollope wrote that he believed it was the most popular book he had written, taking the sales as proof of comparative popularity. He, himself, thought it wasn’t good, although he said that it has a good plot, which to his own feeling ‘is the most insignificant part of a tale‘. He was surprised by the success of Doctor Thorne! I’m wondering what I will think …

The Last Girl by Jane Casey

I liked the first two Maeve Kerrigan books by Jane Casey, The Burning and The Reckoning and the third, The Last Girl is just as good. I liked it mainly because Maeve is such an interesting character, and the book is fast paced and well written, with a multi-layered plot.

Maeve, a detective constable, is the youngest member of the Met Murder Squad investigating the murders of Vita Kennford and her daughter, Laura, age 14.  Lydia , Laura’s twin sister had found their bodies. Philip her father had walked in on the killer, received a blow to the head and was unconscious.  There are no clues at the scene of the crime and as Lydia was outside swimming at the time she neither saw nor heard anything. Philip is a defence QC known for getting his clients off even if they are guilty and at first Maeve and her boss D I Josh Derwent concentrate their investigations on people who hold a grudge against him. Any one of them seems to have good cause to have taken revenge on his family.

Unlike the earlier books, The Last Girl is narrated throughout by Maeve, so we see the events unfolding entirely through her perspective. Much of the novel centres on the Kennfords and their relationships. They are not a happy family.  Philip is an unreliable husband, regularly  unfaithful, not the sort who liked to be tied down to one woman. He is estranged from Savannah, his daughter from his first marriage. She refuses to speak to him and  Lydia seems withdrawn, reluctant to speak to anyone. Maeve is sure they are all keeping secrets.

And there is a sub-plot that harks back to the second book, The Reckoning,  as the team is also investigating a number of gangland murders. Although this book does stand well on its own I think it helps if you read them in order particularly to follow the development of  Maeve’s relationship with her boyfriend, Rob, also a policeman, now working in a different section – things between them are not going very smoothly and Maeve is having doubts. Meanwhile her working relationships with Derwent and Superintendent Godley are beginning to change as Derwent, a male chauvinist shows his softer side and she challenges Godley’s methods.

Maeve has her suspicions about the culprit, but after a while I began to think she could be  on the wrong lines as I had my doubts about the truthfulness of one particular character. And then it was fairly easy to work out who the culprit was.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am looking forward to the next one in the series, The Stranger You Know.

This Week in Books: 22 April 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‘ve just started to read Have His Carcase by Dorothy L Sayers, the  second book featuring Harriet Vane. Harriet is on a walking holiday on her own and finds a dead body on the top of a rock on a deserted beach, ‘the corpse with the cut throat‘ as Lord Peter Wimsey describes it. As this was first published in 1932, Harriet was not only without a mobile phone, but also without access to a landline without walking miles to a village where she could phone the police from the village shop. It’s promising to be an excellent read.

I’m also still reading Nothing To Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes ( non fiction, a memoir, a meditation on death and the fear of dying) – in fact I’ve not read any more of this book than I had last week – blame not only reading other books but also the good weather and the garden, where I’ve spent too much time, not relaxing, but weeding, mowing and general tidying up.

Then:

I’ve finished both Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey and The Last Girl by Jane Casey – my reviews will  follow soon.

Next:

Next up I’ll probably be reading The Lost Garden by Katharine Swartz, an advance proof copy of the book from Lovereading due to be published in May – how can I resist a book that begins with a walled garden? I’ve always wanted a garden like that ever since I read The Secret Garden.

But then I could get drawn to a different book when the time comes!

 

Stacking the Shelves: April 18

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.

These are the latest arrivals from the mobile library:

Vargas

Gently North West by Alan Hunter – I’ve read a couple of the Inspector Gently books and I really like the TV dramatisation of these books. (Coincidently the BBC are showing a trailer of the new series of Inspector Gently coming soon.) This book is a bit different as it’s set in Scotland where Gently is on holiday. Inevitably, his holiday is put on hold as he stalks a murderer in the mountains!

Harbour Street by Ann Cleeves – I’ve seen the TV version but not  read the book. This is the 6th Vera book. It’s set in the quiet Northumberland town of Mardle (filmed at Alnmouth) where DI Vera Stanhope is investigating the deaths of two women – but the residents of Harbour Street are reluctant to speak.

Bright Hair About The Bone by Barbara Cleverly – this is by a new-to-me author and I picked the book off the shelf as the title struck me as rather strange. It’s historical crime fiction set in France in 1926, where an ancient church is being excavated in Burgundy. Archaeologist Laetitia Talbot investigates the death of her godfather, Daniel Thorndon. I hope it’s as interesting as it appears.

The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas. I’ve read a few of her Commissaire Adamsberg books. This one looks really interesting, set in a village far outside Adamsberg’s jurisdiction (like the Gently book!) he agrees to investigate the strange happenings in the village which is terrorised by wild rumours and ancient feuds.

Have you read any of these – and what books have you found this week?

This Week in Books: 15 April 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:

The Last Girl

  • The Last Girl by Jane Casey, the third Maeve Kerrigan book. The only witness to the murder of her mother and twin sister and the attack on her father is a teenager. Maeve’s first thought is that this is a domestic dispute gone bad.
  •  Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, a complete contrast to The Last Girl. There is only one thing Maud is sure about – her friend Elizabeth is missing and nobody seems to be taking her seriously. It’s going really well so far.
  • Nothing To Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes – non fiction, a memoir, a meditation on death and the fear of dying.

Then:

I’ve recently read (links are to my posts on the books):

Nora Webster

My thoughts: Set in the late 1960s in Wexford, Ireland this is a portrait of recently widowed Nora Webster. Unmoored by her sudden loss and the needs of her children Nora finds a strength within herself and through the discovery of music and the gift of friendship finds a way to live again. It’s a vivid portrait of a woman initially locked within her grief, claustrophobic and intensely personal, and focussing on daily life in all its boredom, frustration and triviality. A moving book.

Next:

As usual I’m undecided about what to read next. It will probably be Out of Africa by Karen Blixen, my spin result for the Classics Club Spin. But I also have my eye on Have His Carcase by Dorothy L Sayers, another Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane book and Gray Mountain by John Grisham another of his legal thrillers although I see it has some bad reviews on Amazon. Both are books I’ve borrowed from the library.  I have a feeling I’ll pick Have His Carcase when the time comes.

Dreamwalker: The Ballad of Sir Benfro Book 1

 

DreamwalkerI read  Dreamwalker: The Ballad of Sir Benfro by James Oswald on my Kindle.  It has since been published by Penguin as Dreamwalker by J D Oswald.

So far there are three books in the series and there will eventually be five books published by Penguin. See James Oswald’s website for more information.

Synopsis from Amazon UK:

In a small village, miles from the great cities of the Twin Kingdoms, a young boy called Errol tries to find his way in the world. He’s an outsider – he looks different from other children and has never known his father. No one, not even himself, has any knowledge of his true lineage.

Deep in the forest, Benfro, the young male dragon begins his training in the subtle arts. Like his mother, Morgwm the Green, he is destined to be a great Mage. No one could imagine that the future of all life in the Twin Kingdoms rests in the hands of these two unlikely heroes.

But it is a destiny that will change the lives of boy and dragon forever …

My view:

I enjoyed this book, inspired by Welsh folklore. It’s very readable, each time I picked it up I just wanted to carry on reading this magical tale of the young dragon, Benfro and the young boy, Errol, born on the same day. I was drawn into their fantasy world.

But I wasn’t prepared for the ending – when you get to the end of the book it is not the end – it’s only the end of the first instalment! The tension builds throughout the book as both Benfro and Errol approach their fourteenth birthdays, Benfro in the dragon community, learning their magical powers and Errol,growing up thinking his mother was the village healer and then taken from his home by Melyn, the Inquisitor to train to be one of the warrior priest. Then there is the wicked Princess Beaulah, who is keeping her father the king alive until she reaches her 21st birthday.

And as the tension built I was eager to find out how it would end, only to be faced with the words ‘To be continued in The Ballad of Sir Benfro -Volume Two‘. I was so frustrated, as it just came to a full stop after a catastrophic event, that I couldn’t really believe had happened – a real cliff-hanger! I wish I’d realised before so that I’d been prepared – it was a complete let-down. So, if you are going to read it be warned!

Dreamwalker is followed by The Rose Cord and The Golden Cage. J. D. Oswald is also the author of the Detective Inspector McLean series of crime novels under the name James Oswald. In his spare time James runs a 350-acre livestock farm in North East Fife, where he raises pedigree Highland Cattle and New Zealand Romney Sheep.

Read more about Dreamwalker on the Penguin website.

Reading ChallengesDreamwalker is the perfect choice for Once Upon a Time IX. As it’s been on my Kindle since 2012 it’s also perfect for the Mount To Be Read Challenge and as James Oswald lives in Scotland it fits into the Read Scotland Challenge too.

Blog Anniversary 12 April!

 

8 todayToday is the 8th anniversary of BooksPlease. Eight years ago I’d just left work and had more time to read and write about books, so I began this blog partly to help me remember what I’ve read and also to extend the pleasure of reading and to record what I thought about the books. And so ‘BooksPlease‘ was born.

I thought of calling my blog ‘Books Matter‘, or ‘Book Matters‘ but decided that it should be ‘BooksPlease‘ because they do and also because if somebody asked me what I wanted for my birthday or Christmas when I was a child I always said ‘ooh, books please!

Right from the start it’s been more than just a book blog and I’ve also written about art, pets, places I’ve visited, personal anecdotes or thoughts, cookery, walking, travels and holidays, and about crafts, such as knitting and cross-stitch – and well, anything else that interests or pleases me.

On the book front a recurring theme over the years has been ‘what to read next‘. Choosing what to read next is almost as pleasurable as actually reading  the books.

This is the first photo I posted showing a pile of some of the books I had waiting to be read in April 2007. It seems so long ago now!

Choosing books

I don’t always manage to read all the books I list as possibles but in this case, although it took me a while, over the years I have read these books (with one exception, The Sound of Paper by Julia Cameron, although I did start it –  my bookmark is still at page 61).

I really enjoy blogging  – the contact with other book bloggers, exchanging views on books and finding yet more books to read makes it even better. I love reading your comments and hope you’ll continue visiting and commenting on my blog – I really do appreciate it.

The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld

I was looking forward to reading The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld. It had sat on my shelves for nearly 8 years and I decided it was time to read it this year, including it in my TBR Pile Challenge list of books. It’s historical fiction – a mixture of murder mystery and psychoanalysis with an interpretation of ‘Hamlet‘ thrown in.

It began well as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung arrived in New York in 1909 to give a series of lectures and to receive an honorary degree from Clark University. That much is fact, but this book is a work of fiction as Rubenfeld makes clear in his Author’s Note and most of the characters are fictional.

There are some things that I did think were well done, for example the descriptions of New York as the city grew, its architecture and streets, the building of the Manhattan Bridge; and as I mentioned earlier the interpretation of ‘Hamlet‘. But as I read on I began to lose interest and at times I felt it was slowed down too much by psychological exposition and debate. Rubenfeld is no doubt well grounded in Freud – as a Princeton undergraduate he wrote his senior thesis on Freud – and also in Shakespeare, which he studied at the Juilliard School of Drama. I found his ideas on interpreting ‘Hamlet‘ most interesting. But I was less enamoured with the dialogue between Freud and Jung, which as Rubenfeld explained is drawn from their own letters, essays and statements, which whilst being factually accurate, doesn’t come across as real conversation.

I thought the murder mystery was unconvincing and too convoluted. Briefly, the morning after Freud’s arrival a young woman is found brutally murdered and later a second, Nora Acton, is attacked in a similar fashion but she survives, although unable to speak. Freud is asked to help by psychoanalysing Nora and asks his young American colleague, Dr Stratham Younger to carry out the analysis. To cut a long story short Younger is helped in his investigations by Detective Jimmy Littlemore and together they discover what really happened.

Maybe I was expecting too much from this book, which is described in the blurb as’Spectacular … fiendishly clever‘, and a ‘thrilling heart-in-the-mouth read … Once you start reading, it’s impossible to put down.’  It jumps about a bit too much for my liking, between narrators and sub-plots, some of the characters came over a bit flat and I didn’t find it either ‘fiendishly clever‘ or ‘impossible to put down‘.

This Week in Books: 8 April 2015

My week in booksThis 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 The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld. I have mixed feelings about it, alternating between thinking it’s good, not so good, and just about OK, so I carry on reading. It’s historical fiction based on Freud’s visit to New York in 1909, accompanied by Jung, when a young woman is brutally murdered and a second is attacked and left unable to speak. A mixture of murder mystery and psychoanalysis with an interpretation of ‘Hamlet‘ thrown in. I’ve nearly finished this book.

I’m also reading Dreamwalker: The Ballad of Sir Benfro Book One by James Oswald on my Kindle. This is fantasy fiction, not the sort of book I read very often, so it makes a refreshing change. This is inspired by the language and folklore of Wales, following the adventures of a young dragon, Sir Benfro, in a land where his kind have been hunted near to extinction by men. I’ve read about 25% of the book so far.

Then:

I’ve recently finished reading Dacre’s War by Rosemary Goring, a new book which will be published in June. My copy is a pre-publication review copy courtesy of www.lovereading.co.uk. I loved this book, historical fiction set in the Scottish and English Borders and London between 1523 – 1525, full of political intrigue and personal vengeance. My review will follow soon.

Next:

There are several books lining up that I’m keen to read next. I’m not sure which one to choose. It’s been a while since I read an Agatha Christie, so it could be The Moving Finger, a Miss Marple mystery. Or it could be Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, or Nora Webster by Colm Tobin, or The Last Girl, the third Maeve Kerrigan book by Jane Casey. Or something completely different!

The Classics Club Spin Result …

… it’s NUMBER 2

Out of Africa by Karen Blixen

This is the book for me to read by 15 May.

Well, it’s not one of the Dickens’ books I listed but it’s still a book I’ve been looking forward to reading, ever since I saw the film starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. It’s Karen Blixen’s memoir of life in Kenya on a coffee plantation in the early years of the 20th century.

Classics Club Spin

The Classics ClubIt’s time for another Classics Spin.

  • List any twenty books you have left to read from your Classics Club list.
  • Number them from 1 to 20.
  • Next Monday the Classics Club will announce a number.
  • This is the book you need to read by 15th May.

I decided to list all the books by Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell and Gabriel Garcia Marquez that are on my list and then added Moby Dick because it will fit in well with a book I’m planning to read soon, In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick, which was inspired by Moby Dick.  I added the other books randomly.

  1. Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor by R D Blackmore
  2. Out of Africa by Karen Blixen
  3. No Name by Wilkie Collins
  4. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
  5. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  6. Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens
  7. The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens
  8. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  9. Adam Bede by George Eliot
  10. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
  11. Romola by George Eliot
  12. Silas Marner by George Eliot
  13. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  14. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
  15. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  16. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
  17. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome
  18. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  19. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  20. Moby Dick by Herman Melville

I quite fancy reading Dickens soon, so hope one of his is the spin book.

Five of the Best – March 2011 to 2015

Looking back over my reviews of the past five years I’m picking out a favourite book for each month from 2011 – 2015.

Here are my favourite books for each March from 2011 to 2015 (click on the titles to see my original reviews):

2011

Drawing Conclusions by Donna Leon – the 20th book in her Commissario Guido Brunetti series. Anna Maria Giusti discovers her elderly neighbour Constanza Altavilla lying dead on the floor of her apartment. Apparently she has died from a heart attack but Brunetti thinks otherwise. It’s more than crime -fiction as Brunetti ponders on life, the problems of ageing, and the nature of truth and honesty.

2012

Daphne by Justine Picardie. This book merges fact and fiction so well that it’s hard to differentiate between the two. It tells the story of Daphne du Maurier and her correspondence about Branwell Bronte with Alex Symington, an ex-Bronte curator and librarian. I preferred this strand of the book to the second, which is a modern day story of a young woman, the second wife of an older man, paralleling the story of Rebecca  – beware if you haven’t read Rebecca, as this book gives away the plot. A satisfying mystery about Daphne and the missing Bronte documents.

2013

The Glass Room by Ann Cleeves, the fifth book in Ann Cleeves’s Vera Stanhope series. I loved this book – a great setting, with well drawn 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. It’s a murder mystery set in the Northumberland countryside in an isolated country house, where a number of aspiring authors are gathered at the Writers’ House to work on their novels and where one of the visiting tutors is murdered.

2014

The Office of the Dead by Andrew Taylor, the third book in the Roth Trilogy.  I absolutely loved it. This is a chilling novel of crime and retribution. It works perfectly well on its own, but is even better if you’ve read the first two books.  The characters and setting are totally convincing. It’s well written and the creation of tension and suspense are just right. I thought it was brilliant!

2015

Turn of the Tide by Margaret Skea, her debut novel. It’s historical fiction and it captivated me completely transporting me  back in time to 16th century Scotland. If you have ever wondered,  as I have, what it must have been like to live in a Tower House in the Scottish Borders then this book spells it out so clearly. And it puts you firmly in the middle of the centuries old feud between the Cunninghames and the Montgomeries, with all the drama of their battles, ambushes and schemes to further their standing with the young King James VI. It’s a tale of love, loyalty, tragedy and betrayal.

Reading Challenges Update 1 Jan – 31 March 2015

With three months of the year already gone it’s time to see where I am in the challenges I’ve joined. My main challenge or rather aim is to read as many of the books I’ve owned since before 1 January this year, that is my TBRs, and the other challenges are all geared to that one aim.

Mount TBR Check Point #1

Mount TBR 2015

It’s time for the first quarterly check-in post. Bev at My Reader’s Block asks for two things:

1. Tell us how many miles you’ve made it up your mountain (# of books read).  If you’re really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you’ve read correlates to actual miles up Pike’s Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc. And feel free to tell us about any particularly exciting adventures you’ve had along the way.

My answer: I’ve read 13 books which means I’ve passed Pike’s Peak and am at the Tramway du Mont Blanc.

From Wikipedia: autor : Frédéric Bonifas
2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:
 A. Post a picture of your favorite cover so far.
 B. Who has been your favorite character so far? And tell us why, if you like.
 C. Have any of the books you read surprised you–if so, in what way (not as good as anticipated? unexpected ending? Best thing you’ve read ever? Etc.)
 D. 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?
I am answering 2D:
An Autobiography by Anthony Trollope has been on my TBR Mountain the longest.  Although it was new when I bought it the pages are now yellowed and the paperback a bit worn and damaged from moving house. I bought it about 25 years ago when I was doing an Open University course and my tutor was an avid fan of Trollope. At the time I hadn’t read any of his books, so  I thought it would be better if I knew a bit about his work before reading about his life. It was well worth the wait.
Autobiography Trollope 001

Books Read in March 2015

March has been a bumper reading month, as I finished reading 11 books, bringing my total for the year so far to 26 books.

I’ve written about eight of them – the links in bold are to my posts:

Turn of the Tide by Margaret Skea – historical fiction set  in 16th century Scotland in the Scottish Borders. It’s a tale of love, loyalty, tragedy and betrayal; of the feud between the Cunninghames and the Montgomeries. I loved it.

Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers – crime fiction. Harriet Vane is on trial for the murder of her former lover, Philip Boyes. Lord Peter Wimsey, attending the trial, is convinced she is innocent and sets out to prove it … and falls in love with her. Superbly written with humour as well as ingenuity.

The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths -historical crime fiction set in the theatrical world of the post-war 1950s and linking back to the war years . DI Edgar Stephens investigates the murder of a girl whose body was found cut into three, reminding him of the illusion known as the Zig Zag Girl.

Three Act Tragedy 001Three Act Tragedy by Agatha Christie – one of her earlier books, featuring Hercule Poirot and Mr Satterthwaite, full of baffling clues, conjuring tricks, clues concealed in conversations, with larger than life personalities, and above all with puzzles to be solved. I really enjoyed it.

The Autistic Brain: Exploring the Strength of a Different Kind of MInd by Temple Grandin – non fiction –  about the changes in the diagnosis of autism and other developmental disorders. ‘Autism, depression and other disorders are on a continuum ranging from normal to abnormal. Too much of a trait causes severe disability, but a little bit can provide an advantage.’  I found parts of this were very readable and easily understandable, other parts (more scientific/technical) were less so.

Catching the Eagle by Karen Charlton – historical crime fiction set in Northumberland in the early 19th century, based on a true story. Kirkley Hall manor house is burgled,suspicion falls on Jamie Charlton and he and his family face a desperate battle to save him from the gallows.  It’s packed with tension and realism that kept me captivated from start to finish.

Seeking Our Eagle by Karen Charlton -non fiction an account of how she came to write Catching the Eagle whilst researching her husband’s family history.

 

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers  – crime fiction. Harriet Vane goes back to her old Oxford college where she encounters obscene graffiti and poison pen letters. Struggling to find the culprit she enlists the help of Lord Peter Wimsey. This is an absorbing mystery, portraying life in the 1930s, and exploring the role of women in society, particularly with regard to education and marriage.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum – an entertaining story, pure escapism, which I would have loved as a child, following Dorothy’s adventures in the Land of Oz .

The Reckoning by Jane Casey – crime fiction, the second in the Maeve Kerrigan series. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, although the opening scenes are rather grim as two men are found dead, both tortured to death. The victims were both paedophiles and no one seems to be too concerned about them. Maeve is not finding it easy to get on with her new boss DI Josh Derwent, and her relationship with her lover Rob, is also causing her problems. Most of the book is narrated by Maeve, with just a few by Rob. It’s quite a complicated plot but is basically a police procedural written in a straight forward style that makes it easily readable, if a little over long in parts.

Burying the Typewriter: Childhood Under the Eye of the Secret Police. Carmen Bugan

Burying the Typewriter: Childhood Under the Eye of the Secret Police by Carmen Bugan – nonfiction,  a childhood memoir of political oppression and persecution during Romania’s Ceausescu years.

Blurb from Amazon:

One quiet day when her mother was away from home, Carmen Bugan’s father put on his best suit and drove into Bucharest to stage a one-man protest against Ceausescu. He had been typing pamphlets on an illegal typewriter and burying it in the garden each morning under his daughter’s bedroom window. This is the story of what happened to Carmen and her family, isolated and under surveillance in their beloved village home. It is an intimate piece of our recent history, the testimony of an extraordinary childhood left abruptly behind. Above all, it is a luminous, compassionate, and unflinchingly honest book about the price of courage, the pain of exile, and the power of memory.

Even though this is a beautifully written and descriptive book I struggled a bit at first with the style of writing in the historic present tense, but then I often have problems reading the present tense. However, this does make it a remarkable book, and the first part of it really does seem to be seen through a child’s eyes, unaware of her parents’ activities. As Carmen grew older she became more aware of what was going on. A testimony to courage in the face of oppression.

I can’t choose just one book this month as my favourite – it’s a tie between The Turn of the Tide and Gaudy Night!

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been on my shelves for a few years and as I’m taking part in the Once Upon a Time event hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings I decided it was time I read it. It’s a complete change of genre for me as I rarely read children’s books.

It was first published in 1900, made into a Broadway Musical in 1902 and a film in 1939. I’ve seen the film and also a stage version in a local amateur dramatic society production some years ago.

I enjoyed this entertaining story, pure escapism, which I would have loved as a child, following Dorothy’s adventures in the Land of Oz after the cyclone whisked her house high in the air out of Kansas and set it down on top of the Wicked Witch of the East, thus killing her. Dorothy and her little dog, Toto, are very anxious to get back home to Kansas and they set out on the yellow brick road leading to the Emerald City to ask the Wizard of Oz to help them. On the way she meets the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, who go with her as they want the Wizard to give them brains, a heart and courage respectively.

Their journey is interrupted in various places and by a variety of creatures, some very dangerous indeed; as in most fairy tales, there is a fair amount of violence in the book, as Dorothy and her friends combat the Wicked Witch of the East. I was fascinated by the Winged Monkeys, who can grant three wishes, the Fighting Trees, the Dainty China Country and its pretty little, fragile people and by the Quadlings with their flat hammer heads.

There are several interpretations* of the story that I’ve come across, but the simple message of the story is, of course, that you have to use your brains yourself, after all the Scarecrow can think, he just doesn’t realise that he can and he came up with lots of ingenious ideas along the way; courage comes from facing danger even when you are afraid – it comes from within and the Lion does that without realising he already has courage. As for the Tin Man, again he truly did have a heart – his desire for one shows his kindness and goodness.

And by the way Dorothy’s shoes are silver and not red as in the film.

*On Goodreads there are several reviews that draw parallels with the economics of America in the late 19th century and the political climate of the time.

And I found this interesting article in The New York Times Scarecrow, Lion, Tin Man and Freud, Too by Janet Maslin discussing this book: The Real Wizard of Oz, The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum by Rebecca Loncraine. Baum apparently drew on his own experiences in writing his book – images of the Civil War amputees led to the Tin Man, bizarre sights such as displayed by PT Barnum, the Chicago World Fair and so on. It sounds a fascinating book! I am constantly finding reading one book leads on to wanting to read yet more books – and I hadn’t realised before that there are more Oz books that Baum wrote!

Short Book Meme

I saw this last Sunday on Cath’s blog Read Warbler and thought I’d do it too.

1. What was your favourite book during childhood?

It’s absolutely impossible to choose just one book – how can I choose between the Heidi books, Louisa May Alcott’s books, the Katy books, The Secret Garden , Enid Blyton’s books, or Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and many more?

But because  I loved and read the Flower Fairy books so many times, today I’m naming those as my favourite childhood books. I don’t have any of my original Flower Fairy books, but they’re still in print. There are many more now than when I was little and you can get the Flower Fairies Complete Collection of all eight original books – “Spring”, “Summer”, “Autumn”, “Winter”, “Wayside”, “Garden”, “Alphabet”, and “Trees” .

2.What is your favourite book now?

Another impossible question with so many to choose from, so I’m choosing one of my favourite books. It’s The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, a novel investigating what Richard III was really like and whether he did kill his nephews, the Princes in the Tower. It came to mind because this week it was the re-burial in state in Leicester Cathedral of Richard III, whose bones were recently found under a car park.

I loved it!

3. What is your favourite movie adaptation of a book?

I often avoid watching a film of a book if I’ve read the book first – I usually prefer the book! But I did watch Atonement and even though it doesn’t stick to the book throughout I thought it was excellent.

Atonement UK poster.jpg

Actually Atonement is another of my favourite books.

4. Do you prefer checking out books from the library or buying them?

I love both and wouldn’t want to be without a lending library nearby. It’s great where I live now – I have two not very far away and a mobile library van that visits once a fortnight.

5. Have you ever been let down by a book that was highly recommended to you?

I’m always wary about books that receive lots of hype, as I often think they’re over rated and I agree with Cath’s choice of The Time Traveler’s Wife. Another book that disappointed me is The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. It took me some time to get into it and I couldn’t really like the characters, even Margaret, the narrator, irritated me, even though she loves books. And I thought the ending was contrived.

Dorothy L Sayers: Strong Poison & Gaudy Night

I’m no longer attempting  to write about every book I read but I do want to record a few of my thoughts on two of Dorothy L Sayers’ books that I’ve read recently because they are both such good books. However, I doubt very much that I can do justice to either of these books.

Dorothy Leigh Sayers (1893-1957) was born at Christchurch Cathedral School, Oxford, where her father was the headmaster. She learned Latin and French at the age of seven, went to Somerville College, Oxford and in 1915 she graduated with a first class honours degree in modern languages. She is best known as the creator of Lord Peter Wimsey, but as well as writing crime fiction she also wrote poems, plays, essays, books on religion and was a translator – most notably of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

The two of her books I’ve read recently are Strong Poison (first published in 1930) and Gaudy Night (first published in 1935), both featuring Harriet Vane, a crime fiction novelist, and her relationship with Lord Peter Wimsey, the aristocratic amateur detective.

The two first meet in Strong Poison, when Harriet is on trial for the murder of her former lover, Philip Boyes. Wimsey, attending the trial, is convinced she is innocent and sets out to prove it … and falls in love with her.

From the back cover:

The Crown’s case is watertight. The police are adamant that the right person is on trial. The judge’s summing up is also clear. Harriet Vane is guilty of killing her lover and Harriet Vane must hang. But the jury disagrees.

Well, actually one member of the jury won’t agree that she is guilty – that is Miss Climpson, an elderly spinster, who just happens to run what Wimsey calls ‘My Cattery’, ostensibly a typing bureau, but actually an amateur detective/enquiry agency. Wimsey decides that Harriet is innocent, Boyes, who died poisoned by arsenic, either committed suicide or was murdered by someone else. It is Miss Climpson and her employees, mainly spinsters with small fixed incomes, or no incomes, widows without families, or women deserted by their husband, who do the investigations. This involves Miss Climpson posing as a medium and Miss Murchison learning how to pick a lock.

To sum up – this is a delightful book, full of strong characters, a mystery to solve, superbly written with humour as well as ingenuity.

And then there is Gaudy Night, which is even better than Strong Poison. I loved the setting in this book – Shrewsbury College, a fictional all female college, at Oxford University (based on Somerville College, Sayers’ own college). The action of the book takes place in 1935, five years after Harriet’s trial in Strong Poison. During those five years Harriet and Wimsey have had an ongoing ‘relationship’ in which he annually asks her to marry him and she refuses. They had also worked together on a murder at Wilvercombe, as told in Have His Carcase, a book I have yet to read.

Gaudy Night begins as Harriet decides to go back to Shrewsbury College to attend the Shrewsbury Gaudy (a college reunion involving a celebratory dinner), not sure she can face meeting her fellow students and the dons. It doesn’t go well – there are poison pen letters, nasty graffiti and vandalism causing mayhem and upset. Harriet is asked to investigate, under pretence of helping one of the dons to rewrite her manuscript that had been destroyed in one of the nightly attacks and researching the life and works of Sheridan Lefanu. Struggling to discover the culprit and afraid it will end in murder she asks Wimsey for help.

This is a complex novel, with many characters, some of whom I found difficult to visualise, whereas others were vividly depicted, their thoughts, actions and feelings clearly evident. I had no idea who the writer of the poison pen letters etc could be and I was completely absorbed in the mystery.

But what gives both books so much depth is the portrayal of life between the two world wars, the exploration of the role of women in society, particularly with regard to education and marriage and the importance of truth and honesty; not forgetting, the ongoing relationship between Harriet and Lord Peter Wimsey. Of the two books I preferred Gaudy Night, but both are excellent and a pleasure to read.

Stacking the Shelves

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.

This is my first entry in Stacking the Shelves. These are last week’s new arrivals:

In the heart of the sea

First ‘real’ books. It was Mother’s Day last Sunday and my son bought me this book, In the Heart of the Sea: the Epic True Story that Inspired Moby Dick by Nathaniel Philbrick – wonderful!

From the back cover:

The sinking of the Nantucket whaleship Essex by an enraged spermwhale far out in the Pacific in November 1820 set in train one of the most dramatic sea stories of all time. Accounts of the unprecedented whale attack inspired Herman Melville’s mighty novel Moby Dick, but In the Heart of the Sea goes beyond these events to describe what happened when the twenty mixed-race crewmen took to three small boats and what, three months later, the whaleship Dauphin, cruising off the coast of South America, discovered when it spotted a tiny boat sailing erratically across an open ocean.

The other books in the photo above are library books:

  • Collins Artist’s Little Book of Inspiration by Hazel Soan – a lovely little book looking at the basics elements of a painting using watercolours, oils and acrylics, with demonstrations and projects to try. I like just looking at the paintings!
  • The Reckoning by Jane Casey, the second in her Maeve Kerrigan series. I reserved this because I’d enjoyed the first one, The Burning and wanted to read more. This one begins with the murders of two paedophiles.
  • Conan Doyle: the Man who Created Sherlock Holmes by Andrew Lycett. This book was on a display stand and even though it’s a huge, heavy book I fancied reading it. It was probably on display following the  recent TV drama Arthur and George, which I enjoyed. I read Julian Barnes’ book of the same name some years ago, which pre-dates this biography.

When Lovereading offered a review copy of Dacre’s War by Rosemary Goring I didn’t hesitate because I’d loved Rosemary Goring’s earlier novel, After Flodden.

Dacres War

Dacre’s War is set 10 years after the battle of Flodden in the Scottish and English borders, a story of ‘personal and political vengeance’ as Adam Crozier sets out to take revenge on Lord Thomas Dacre, who had ordered the death of his father. It’s due to be published on 14 May 2015.

Lastly, the latest ebook I’ve downloaded is today’s Kindle Daily Deal, Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga. A. N. Wilson ‘was absolutely mesmerized by this novel’ and thinks ‘that Aravind Adiga is already, with this, his second book, the most exciting novelist writing in English today.’ 

Last Man in Tower

Once Upon a Time IX

It’s Spring! Carl’s Once Upon A Time IX reading challenge starts today, for the ninth year running, ending on June 21. This encompasses four broad categories: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythology, including the seemingly countless sub-genres and blending of genres that fall within this spectrum.

(Art by Kimberly Kincaid. Used with Permission)

As always this challenge has a few fun and very flexible rules:

Rule #1: Have fun.

Rule #2: HAVE FUN.

Rule #3: Don’t keep the fun to yourself, share it with us, please!

Rule #4: Do not be put off by the word “challenge”.

While this event retains the word “challenge” from its earliest days, the entire goal is to read good books, watch engaging television shows and films, play immersive games and most importantly, visit old friends and make new ones.

There are several ways to participate, starting with

once9journey

This is really as simple as the name implies. It means you are participating, but not committing yourself to any specific number of books. By signing up for The Journey you are agreeing to read at least one book within one of the four categories during March 21st to June 21st period. Just one book. If you choose to read more, fantastic!

So, in my year of relaxed reading I’m sure I can manage to read one book! And if I read more I’ll carry on to Quest the First:

 

Read at least 5 books that fit somewhere within the Once Upon a Time categories. They might all be fantasy, or folklore, or fairy tales, or mythology…or your five books might be a combination from the four genres.

I have several books to choose from:

  • Helen of Sparta by Amalia Carosella–A new take on an ancient myth, the story of one woman determined to decide her own fate.
  • Shadowland by C M Gray –  historical fantasy set in Dark Ages Britain.
  • Dreamwalker (The Ballad of Sir Benfro) by James Oswald – fantasy fiction – Welsh mythology and folklore.
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain – fantasy fiction in which a Yankee engineer is accidentally transported back in time to the court of King Arthur.
  • Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife by Sam Savage – the tale of a literary rat who develops the ability to read.
  • The Children of Hurin by J R R Tolkien – tales of Middle-earth  from times before The Lord of the Rings, set in the country that lay beyond the Grey Havens in the West.
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum – I’ve seen the film, but never read the book.

These books are all books I own and so they would all count for my Mount TBR Challenge, which is good, and some fit into the Historical Fiction as that includes historical fantasy.

First Chapter – First Paragraph

It will be a while before I can write a book review post as I’m in the middle of reading Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers and it’s quite long – and complicated. So in the meantime here is a First Chapter – First Paragraph post.

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 A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny, a book I’ve borrowed from the library.

 

It begins:

Oh, no no no, thought Clare Morrow as she walked towards the closed doors.

She could see shadows, shapes, like wraiths moving back and forth, back and forth across the frosted glass. Appearing and disappearing. Distorted, but still moving.

Still the dead one lay moaning.

The words had been going through her head all day, appearing and disappearing. A poem, half remembered. Words floating to the surface, then going under. The body of the poem beyond her grasp.

The title of this one caught my eye on the library van’s shelves and reading the opening paragraphs I decided to borrow it – mainly because the poem Clare can’t quite remember is one of my favourites. It’s Not Waving, but Drowning by Stevie Smith and I wondered what relevance it has to this book. There will be a body, I expect.

What do you think? Would you carry on reading?

A Trick of the Light is the 7th in Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series and I’m hoping it will stand well on its own as I haven’t read the first six books even though I’ve seen them recommended on other book blogs.

If you’ve read Louise Penny’s books do you think they do stand well on their own – or should they really be read in sequence? Am I missing something by beginning with book 7?

Catching the Eagle by Karen Charlton

I wanted to read a novel by a local author so I checked the library website for North East writers, where I found Catching the Eagle by Karen Charlton.

Summary from the book cover:

Easter Monday, 1809: Kirkley Hall manor house is mysteriously burgled. When suspicion falls on Jamie Charlton, he and his family face a desperate battle to save him from the gallows.

When 1,157 rent money is stolen from Kirkley Hall, it is the biggest robbery Northumberland has ever known. The owner sends for Stephen Lavender, a principal officer with the Bow Street magistrate’s court in London, to investigate the crime. Suspicion soon falls on impoverished farm labourer, Jamie Charlton, and the unpopular steward, Michael Aynsley.

Jamie Charlton is a loving family man but he is hot-tempered and careless. As the case grows against him, it seems that only his young brother, William, can save him from an impending miscarriage of justice.

But William is struggling with demons of his own–he is falling in love with Jamie’s wife.’Catching the Eagle’, the first novel in the Regency Reivers series, is a fictionalized account of a trial that devastated a family and divided a community.

This is not just by a local author, and set in Northumberland, it is also based on a true story –  that of Karen Charlton’s husband’s ancestors.

I liked the opening of Catching the Eagle beginning with a Prologue, setting the scene as an eagle soared over the Northumberland landscape:

… its huge shadow caressed the ruined walls of crumbling castles and the creaking rotting stumps of ancient gibbets.The eagle plucked unsuspecting prey from the bleak, snow-covered fells and drank from remote rocky waterfalls dripping with golden daggers.

It landed in a tree above a labourer’s cottage where Jamie Charlton lived with his wife Priscilla and their children. I like Karen Charlton’s leisurely descriptive style of writing and found the whole book to be fascinating.  She has written an even-handed account of the robbery and the subsequent trials, so much so that I began to wonder whether Jamie Charlton was innocent or guilty, although you know from the outset that he was transported as a convicted felon to New South Wales. Did he or did he not steal the money? And what will happen to the eagle?

This is the type of historical fiction that I like. The characters come across as real people, with real problems in a real time and place (Northumberland 1809 – 1811). It highlights the social and cultural setting. Jamie was without influence or money behind him up against a judicial system run by people with power who needed to find a culprit. His family suffered along with him as he languished in goal in squalor, where he was caged as he awaited trial – not once, but twice.

I wondered whether Stephen Lavender, the detective employed by  Nathaniel Ogle, the owner of Kirkley Hall was also a real historical figure. Karen Charlton has also written Seeking Our Eagle, another fascinating book, an account of how she came to write Catching the Eagle whilst researching her husband’s family history.  And yes, Stephen Lavender did exist and he was a detective. He later became the Deputy Chief Constable of Manchester after the formation of the police force by Sir Robert Peel.

Indeed reading Catching the Eagle reminded me of The Suspicions of Samuel Whicher by Kate Summerscale, featuring Detective Inspector Jonathan Whicher of Scotland Yard, the book that won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction in 2008.

Karen Charlton has done her research very well and has written a novel full of intrigue, tension and realism that kept me captivated from start to finish. See her website, Karen Charlton, to read more about Karen and her books.

She has also written The Heiress of Linn Hagh, a spin-off novel from Catching the Eagle, which features Detective Stephen Lavender and his sidekick, Constable Woods. And there are more Detective Lavender Series books on the way!

Catching the Eagle:

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Famelton Publishing; 1 edition (19 July 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0992803640
  • ISBN-13: 978-0992803643
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Source: Library book

Seeking the Eagle:

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1969 KB
  • Print Length: 166 pages
  • Publisher: Famelton Publishing; 1st edition (7 Aug. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B008UZYOR2
  • Source: I bought it

As always I didn’t read either book just for any Reading Challenges, but Catching the Eagle does fit very well into a couple – the 2015  Historical Fiction Reading Challenge and the What’s in a Name Challenge, in the book with an animal in the title category and Seeking Our Eagle into the Nonfiction Reading Challenge.

Three Act Tragedy by Agatha Christie

Three Act Tragedy 001I’ve been working my way through Agatha Christie’s books over the past few years and I have just a few left to read. Three Act Tragedy is one of them. It was first published in 1935 (as Murder in Three Acts in America).

As the title indicates the book is divided into three acts, or rather parts, First Act – Suspicion, Second Act – Certainty and Third Act – Discovery. It begins as though it were a theatre programme:

Directed by

SIR CHARLES CARTWRIGHT

Assistant Directors
MR SATTERTHWAITE
MISS HERMIONE LYTTON GORE

Clothes by
AMBROSINE LTD

Illumination by
HERCULE POIROT

Summary from the back cover:

Sir Charles Cartwright, the distinguished actor, was giving a party. Around him his guests stood talking and drinking. The Reverend Stephen Babbington sipped his cocktail and pulled a wry face. the chatter continued all around. Suddenly Mr Babbington clutched at his throat and swayed …

The beginning of the drama …

Sir Charles suspects that Mr Babbington was murdered but Hercule Poirot, one of the guests, disagrees and there is nothing to show that his death was by any other than natural causes and besides who could possible have cause to kill him! However, later when Sir Bartholomew Strange, a distinguished Harley Street doctor who was also a guest at Sir Charles’ party, drops dead after sipping a glass of port at another party with some of the original guests, it becomes clear that this is murder by poisoning.

This is one of those cases where Poirot plays a secondary role, preferring to think rather than act and it is Mr Satterthwaite and Sir Charles who investigate the deaths. Mr Satterthwaite is an interesting character – ‘ a  dried-up little pipkin of a man’, ‘ a patron of art and drama, a determined but pleasant snob’ and ‘a man of considerable intelligence and a very shrewd observer of people and things.’ An ideal partner in investigation for Poirot.

(This is Mr Satterthwaite’s first appearance outside a Harley Quin story – I have yet to read the Harley Quin stories.)

As for the other characters, some fade into the background, whilst others like Sir Charles and Hermione Lytton Gore, known affectionately as Egg are in the spotlight. This is one of Agatha Christie’s earlier books and is full of baffling clues, conjuring tricks, clues concealed in conversations, with larger than life personalities, and above all with puzzles to be solved. I really enjoyed it.

In this book Hercule Poirot reveals a little of his history, coming from a large and poor family he had worked hard in the Belgian police force, made a name for himself and an international reputation. He was injured in the First World War and came to England as a refugee, eventually becoming a private inquiry agent. He displays his usual vanity and egotism when talking to Mr Satterthwaite, who had realised that he might have accidentally have drunk the poisoned cocktail, by saying:

‘There is an even more terrible possibility that you have not considered. … It might have been ME.

First Chapter First Paragraph: The Zig Zag Girl

Every 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: The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths, a book I have just finished reading.

It begins:

 ‘Looks as if someone’s sliced her into three,’ said Solomon Carter, the police surgeon chattily. ‘We’re just missing the middle bit.’

I must not be sick, thought Edgar Stephens. That’s what he wants. Stay calm and professional at all times. You’re the policeman, after all.

What do you think? Would you read on?

I did. I’m a squeamish reader and don’t like anything too graphically gory and you might think this opening would put me off. But it didn’t – for one thing, it doesn’t go into detail about how the body got cut into three. Well, yes later down the page there’s mention of ‘clotted blood and smell of decaying flesh‘, but that’s it, it’s all secondhand, no scenes where the murderer is described doing the terrible act, no dwelling on what he/she was doing to the other person.

Blurb from the inside flap:

Brighton, 1950 – a post-war world of rationing, austerity, pea-souper fogs and seedy seaside resorts. When the body of a girl is found, cut into three, DI Edgar Stephens recalls a magic trick that he saw as a boy. The illusion is called the Zig Zag Girl and its inventor, Max Mephisto, is an old friend of his. They served together in the war as part of a shadowy unit called the Magic Men, formed to use stage trickery to confuse the enemy.

Edgar tracks down Max and asks for his help. Max is still on the circuit, touring seaside towns in the company of ventriloquists, sword-swallowers and dancing girls. Max is reluctant to get involved but the changes his mind when the dead girl turns out to be his former stage assistant. Another death follows, again gruesomely staged to resemble a magic trick, the Sword Cabinet.

Edgar and Max become convinced that the answer to the murders lies back in their army days and the antics of the Magic Men.

When Edgar receives a letter warning of another ‘trick’, he knows that they are all in danger. The Wolf Trap is the deadliest illusion of all, but who will be the next victim?

I’ve read some of Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway, forensic archaeologist, crime novels, which I have enjoyed despite wishing they weren’t written in the present tense. So it was with relief that I came to The Zig Zag Girl and found it’s written in the past tense.

I enjoyed it in several ways – for its characters, particularly Edgar Stephens and its setting, recalling the atmosphere of the 1950s and how times were changing. The theatrical elements are fascinating – life on the variety circuit was not all glitz and glamour; and the activities of the  Magic Men unit during the war had of course an immense effect on all their lives. I worked out quite early on who the murderer was – but not why, which only dawned on me at the end of the book.

I don’t know if this is going to be the start of a new series – I’d read more if it is.

Spilling the Beans by Clarissa Dickson Wright

I’ve left it a bit too long to write about Spilling the Beans, Clarissa Dickson Wright’s autobiography because I’ve now forgotten much of the detail.  It’s a book I really enjoyed, but I finished it nearly two weeks ago! I’ve  been feeling a bit under the weather recently with a rotten cold and although I have been reading I haven’t been able to summon up enough mental energy to write much!

I quoted from the opening of the book in this post, with these details about Clarissa:

Clarissa Dickson Wright was an English celebrity chef – one of the Two Fat Ladies, a television personality, writer, businesswoman, and former barrister. She died last year on 15 March in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Clarissa was a huge character in more than her size! Her autobiography is fascinating, coming from a privileged and wealthy background she had a difficult childhood- her father, a well respected surgeon was also an alcoholic who beat his wife and Clarissa.

After her mother died she took comfort from alcohol and at the mid point of the book she was as she described it ‘sunk in gin’ and homeless. I am looking forward to reading about her road to recovery.

In the rest of the book she described her period of homelessness, sleeping on benches in the Victoria Coach Station for two nights, but spending the rest of the time staying with friends, until she took jobs in domestic service, where she learned to cook. I liked her attitude to being a servant:

I have never understood the aversion to domestic service … I am not sufficiently bourgeoise to worry about my place in the class system and if you don’t understand this, well, that’s your problem. I had no sense of downshifting; maybe I should have had but pragmatism is the saving of many an alcoholic. (page 154)

She then went on to tell about her ‘dark night of the soul’ and her time at addiction centres, the treatment and her eventual recovery. All this took years and she was very honest and open.

She also wrote about her bookselling experience – all totally news to me – her time at ‘Cooks for Books’ changed her life and later after she had moved to Scotland in the late 1980s  she ran the Cook’s Bookshop in Edinburgh near the Grassmarket. She was declared bankrupt three times, was rector of Aberdeen University for six years. And then, of course, there were her TV shows – Two Fat Ladies, with Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa and The Countryman with Johnny Scott. She was a staunch supporter of the Countryside Alliance, against the ban on foxhunting .

Despite all her difficulties and her alcoholism this is an upbeat autobiography, ending on a positive note: “Believe me on one thing: I have a splendidly enjoyable life”. And believe me this is  a ‘splendidly enjoyable’ autobiography.

My copy is a hardback book, which I bought, but it is also available in paperback and ebook.

Note: I didn’t read this book to meet any challenges, but it does:

There is a spot just by the Scots Border at Berwick-upon-Tweed, where the train passes a stretch of the sea coast. Looking out of the window I felt, Oh it’s so lovely to be home, and if it’s home, I thought, I’d better stay and I have been here ever since. (page 225)

For another review see Cath’s blog Read Warbler.

Five of the Best (February 2011- 2015)

I saw this on FictionFan’s blog and thought it was a great idea. It was originally Cleo’s idea – see Cleopatra Loves BooksI hope they don’t mind if I also do the same! The idea is to look back over your reviews of the past five years and pick out your favourite for each month from 2011 – 2015.

So here goes: my favourite books for each February from 2011 to 2015 (click on the covers to see my original reviews, though one or two are mini reviews) are:

2011

 In February 2011 one of my favourite reads was Reginald Hill’s Exit Lines, a Dalziel and Pascoe crime novel. In this one there are three elderly victims who all died violently and a drunken Dalziel is a suspect in one as it seems he was driving the car that hit an elderly cyclist. The plot is intricate, each separate case being linked in one way or another. I thought it was an excellent crime fiction novel which kept me guessing until the end.

2012

Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski is not just one of my favourite reads from February 2012, it is one of my all time favourite books. It is a beautiful book, the story of Hilary Wainwright, who is searching for his son, lost five years earlier in the Second World War. Hilary had left France just after his wife, Lisa, had given birth to John. Lisa, unable to leave France, worked for the Resistance, but was killed by the Gestapo and her son disappeared. It’s written in such clear, straightforward language and yet at the same time it is emotional, heart-wrenching and nerve-wracking, full of tension, but never sentimental.

2013

Redemption of AS 001It’s historical crime fiction, for February 2013 with The Redemption of Alexander Seaton by Shona MacLean, now known as S G MacLean. It’s set in 17th century Scotland, mainly in the town of Banff, where on a stormy night Patrick Davidson, the local apothecary’s assistant collapses in the street. The next morning he is found dead in the school house of Alexander Seaton, a failed minister, now a schoolteacher. I found the book totally absorbing, convinced I was back in Scotland in the 17th century, eager to find out who the murderer was and the motivation for killing Patrick Davidson.

2014

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a fabulous book, beautifully written.  From the back cover: Fifteen-year-old Kambili lives in fear of her father, a charismatic yet violent Catholic patriarch who, although generous and well-respected in the community, is repressive and fanatically religious at home. Escape and the discovery of a new way of life come when Nigeria is shaken by a military coup, forcing Kambili and her brother to live in their aunt’s home, a noisy place full of laughter. The visit will lift the silence from her world and, in time, unlock a terrible, bruising secret at the heart of her family life.

I loved it even though at times I struggled to read the physical abuse scenes, they were so vivid.

2015

Wreckage by Emily Bleeker; it’s well written, full of suspense, tension and drama as well as love, loss and longing. It’s the story of Lillian Linden and Dave Hall, who were being interviewed following their rescue from a deserted island in the South Pacific where they had spent two years after their plane crashed into the sea. The thing is their interviews are full of lies – they are desperate to keep what really happened a secret from their families.

Turn of the Tide by Margaret Skea

I have read some wonderful debut novels this year –  Turn of the Tide by Margaret Skea is one of them. I loved it. It’s historical fiction and it captivated me completely transporting me  back in time to 16th century Scotland. If you have ever wondered,  as I have, what it must have been like to live in a Tower House in the Scottish Borders then this book spells it out so clearly. And it puts you firmly in the middle of the centuries old feud between the Cunninghames and the Montgomeries, with all the drama of their battles, ambushes and schemes to further their standing with the young King James VI. It’s a tale of love, loyalty, tragedy and betrayal.

It’s no wonder that the book was  the Historical Fiction Winner in the 2011 Harper Collins / Alan Titchmarsh People’s Novelist Competition and won the Beryl Bainbridge Award for Best First Time Author 2014.

There is a map setting the scene in Ayreshire on the west of Scotland between the Firth of Clyde and the Solway Firth, showing the major sites in the book. I found both the map and the list of main characters most useful whilst following the story. And to complete my understanding there is a Glossary of Scottish words at the back of the book, although the meaning of most of them was clear from the context.

It begins in 1586  with an ambush in which several of the Montgomerie Clan, on their way to James VI’s court at Stirling are killed, followed by the Clan’s reprisal on the Cunninghames. James, anxious to settle the feud between his nobles, asks them to swear to bring their feud to an end, which brings an uneasy peace between them – for a while.

Most of the characters are real historical figures, includingJames VI, the Cunninghames – William, the Master of Glencairn and the Montgomeries – Hugh, the Master of Braidstane and their families. The feud is also a matter of fact. It began in 1488 when James IV gave control of the Balliewick of Cunninghame to a Montgomerie! It didn’t come to an end until the beginning of the 17th century.

The main characters,  Munro and his wife Kate and a few of the others are fictional. Munro is a minor laird who whilst owing allegiance to the Cunninghames, has increasing sympathy and liking for the Montgomeries. His dilemma only increases throughout the book.

Margaret Skea has done her research well, not just the feud and battles but also the domestic settings are detailed down to descriptions of the clothing, the food and so on – even how the town house rooms were finished with limewash, which involved carrying bucket-load after bucket-load up four flights of stairs to rejuvenate the attic chamber where the children slept. But it slots seamlessly into the story, adding colour and life to the scenes.

It’s all fascinating  – the hunt arranged for the king, the account of his journey across the North Sea to bring home his bride, Anne of Denmark, the scenes as the royal party lands at Leith and the coronation in Edinburgh, as well as the jockeying for positions, and the battles all culminating in a tense and dramatic finale.

Not only is this riveting history it is also so well written, beautifully descriptive:

Across the valley the castle reared against the skyline, the town tumbling down the slope below, wisps of smoke beginning to unfurl, first one, then another, then too many to count, as Stirling awoke.

The countryside was spread out before him like a map; the distant hills to the south west smudged against the watery sky; the river a dark ribbon snaking through the marshland below, cradling Cambuskenneth in a giant u-shaped loop. (pages 98-99)

and this – such a startling image:

Daylight slipped into their bedchamber like wraith; grey and insubstantial, filtered through the grime and soot that coated the outside of the windowpanes. (page 247)

And I’m delighted that Margaret Skea is writing a sequel as I really want to know what happened next to Munro and his family. The working title is A House Divided, continuing the story in the late 1590s.

  • Paperback: 416 pages – also available on Kindle
  • Publisher: Capercaillie Books Limited; first edition (22 Nov. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1909305065
  • ISBN-13: 978-1909305069
  • Source: I bought my copy
  • Author’s website: Margaret Skea, Writing yesterday, today

February’s Books

February has been an unusual reading month for me. At one point I thought I was going to  finish just three books during the whole month, but somehow I ended up with seven books on the finished pile. This brings my total for the year so far to fifteen.

Books I finished reading that I had started in January:

The Burning by Jane Casey – the first the DC Maeve Kerrigan series, with a complex  plot providing several suspects which kept me turning the pages right to the end.

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope – as I read this book the characters became so real to me. I shall read more of his Barchester Chronicles. It took me most of February to read this book, alternating it with reading other books.

Books I started and finished in February:

Wreckage by Emily Bleeker. This is one of the books I slotted in while reading Barchester Towers. Actually once I started it I had no choice – I didn’t want to put it down and read it in just a few sessions. I downloaded it from Amazon UK as an Early Release book to be published on 1 March and was delighted that I enjoyed it so much. It’s well written, full of suspense, tension and drama as well as love, loss and longing.

The Murder Room by P D James. This is another book that isn’t a quick read – 432 pages, full of detail.  initially I was impatient with this slow start but soon settled into P D James’ approach and appreciated the depth of the intricate plot.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin I haven’t written a post on this book. It’s a much shorter book and easy reading, well written spotlighting life in the 1950s in Ireland and America as seen through Eilis’s eyes, a young woman who emigrated to America. A memorable account of both sea sickness and home sickness. The character of Eilis is so well done that she really irritated me with her passiveness and compliance with other people. I enjoyed this book and plan to read Nora Webster, which I think is Toibin’s latest book. It’s set in the same Irish location and I’m hoping it will reveal what happened to Eilis.

Spilling the Beans by Clarissa Dickson Wright. Despite her difficult childhood and alcoholism this is an upbeat autobiography, ending on a positive note: “Believe me on one thing: I have a splendidly enjoyable life”. I shall write more about this most enjoyable book.

My favourite book in February is:

23199736

Wreckage by Emily Bleeker because I found it really compelling and a fascinating study of survival plus those secrets just had me guessing all the way through. I’m definitely on the look out for the next book by Emily Bleeker.

Next a couple of books that did not live up to my expectations:

Books I Started but Did Not Finish:

I don’t remember writing about books I started but didn’t finish before as although I often dip into books and decide not to read them, it’s very rare for me to give up on books once I’ve decided to read them.  But it has happened twice in February! And because I’ve read a fair chunk of both them I thought I’d post my thoughts about them. They were both library books.

The first one is The Silkworm by J K Rowling, writing as Robert Galbraith, her second book featuring Cormoran Strike. I read the first, The Cuckoo’s Calling, which I liked. However, I wasn’t really enjoying this right from the start. I could cope with the swearing – it wasn’t that.  I thought it was overly detailed, but I read on until I got to the graphic murder scene with the mutilated corpse – and that was just too much for me. I didn’t want that image in my head! I skipped to the end just to find out who did it, but wasn’t tempted to go back and fill in any more details.

For more enthusiastic views see these posts from Litlove and from Thinking in Fragments, both bloggers with whom I usually agree. I appreciate that Galbraith/Rowling is having a go at the publishing world, just as in The Cuckoo’s Calling the celebrity and paparazzi world came in for a drubbing, but I found it just too grotesque and violent for my liking.

And the second book is The Silent Lady by Catherine Cookson, which was one of the Kindle Daily Deal books a while ago. I thought it sounded interesting and borrowed it from my local library. I should have known better because I never liked the TV adaptations of her books and have never been tempted to read her novels. But as I liked her book, Let Me  Make Myself Plain,  which I read years ago, I thought maybe I would like The Silent Lady. I didn’tIt began well as a vagrant asked to see a solicitor (named Alexander Armstrong). She had disappeared over 25 years ago and the novel gradually reveals what had happened to her. Sadly, it got more and more repetitive and maudlin and I lost interest and skipped to the end but found it was just the same mawkish sentimentality.

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

First published in 1857 Barchester Towers, is the second book in Anthony Trollope’s Chronicles of  Barchester series, following on from The Warden.

As I began reading this book I was thinking it’s really slow, very much set in its period detailing the religious and ecclesiastical controversies of its time, but then the story of who was going to succeed the old dean, who was going to be the warden, Mr Harding or Mr Quiverful (with his 14 children) and above all who was going to marry Eleanor, Mr Harding’s widowed daughter took hold of me. Not to mention the odious Mr Slope, chaplain to the new Bishop, the ambitious, but hen-pecked Dr. Proudie and his overbearing wife who would dearly like to be the Bishop herself; the Archdeacon Dr Grantly and his wife, Susan Mr Harding’s elder daughter; the Stanhope family including the entrancing cripple, Madeline, ‘a basilisk from whom an ardent lover of beauty could make no escape‘; and the Thornes of Ullathorne.

Barchester Towers provides a view of the class structure of society, in Victorian Britain. Miss Thorne and her brother, the local squire  hold a party, a gala day, inviting all the main characters and the local labourers, their wives and children. The guests are divided according to their place in society – the upper classes and the non-quality were to eat in separate marquees. The question arose as to who should go where amongst the lower class of yokels, with the Lookalofts and the Greenacres. The Lookalofts won’t sit among the bumpkins, nor will Mrs Lookaloft think Mrs Greenacres should sit next to her and talk about cream and ducklings. But neither is she a fit companion to the Thornes and Grantlys – what a dilemma for Miss Thorne! It’s scenes like these that make Barchester Towers such an entertaining novel.

This is a novel strong on character, less strong on plot, with strong female characters, power-hungry men, humour and pathos as the various battles for supremacy are played out. And throughout the book the narrator frequently expresses his opinion on the characters and on the novel itself. Here he describes Obadiah Slope:

I never could endure to shake hands with Mr Slope. A cold, clammy perspiration always exudes from him, the small drops are ever to be seen standing on his brow and his friendly grasp is unpleasant. (page 31)

The characters, however, are not portrayed as wholly good or wholly bad. Here Trollope indicates Mr Slope’s better (if you can call it that) side:

And here the author must beg it to be remembered that Mr Slope was not in all things a bad man. His motives, like those of most men were mixed, and though his conduct was generally different from that which we would wish to praise, it was actuated perhaps as often as that of the majority of the world by a desire to do his duty. (page 146)

He also comments on how he has made his characters withhold the truth from each other, causing such misunderstandings between them:

Everything would have been explained … had she but heard the whole truth … But then where would have been my novel? (page 337)

In his Autobiography Anthony Trollope wrote that he had taken great delight in writing Barchester Towers, the characters of the Bishop and Mrs Proudie were very real to him, as were the troubles of Dr Grantly, the archdeacon and the loves of Mr Slope. As they are to me too.

I thought this statement of his was very interesting:

It [Barchester Towers] achieved no great reputation, but it was one of those novels which novel readers were called upon to read. Perhaps I may be assuming more to myself than I have a right to do in saying now that Barchester Towers has become one of those novels which do not die quite at once, which live and are read for perhaps a quarter of a century; but if that be so, its life has been so far prolonged by the vitality of some of its younger brothers. Barchester Towers would hardly be so well known as it is had there been no Framley Parsonage and no Last Chronicle of Barset. (page 104)

and here we are over 150 years later still reading Barchester Towers.

The next book in the series is Doctor Thorne, which Trollope thought had a good plot and was, he believed, the most popular book he had written. I’m looking forward to reading it.

New-To-Me Books

I took a bagful of books back to Barter Books yesterday and came home with these books:

Christie encyclopedia 01 P1010423From top to bottom

  • Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie – this is one of the few of her books that I have yet to read. I’ve been looking out for this one, first published in 1940. It’s a Poirot mystery in which there are two victims murdered by poison.

As I hope to finish reading Agatha Christie’s books this year I’ve decided to attempt reading as many of Ruth Rendell’s books and those she has written as Barbara Vine:

  • End in Tears by Ruth Rendell – an Inspector Wexford murder mystery in which the victim’s father discovers her body near the family house.
  • The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy by Barbara Vine – in this case a daughter discovers that her perfect father was not all he appeared to be.

Then I browsed the shelves and found the next two books:

  • The Winter Garden by Jane Thynne is set in Berlin in 1937, where Clara Vine, an actress is an undercover agent for British Intelligence.  I thought the author’s name was familiar but couldn’t remember reading any of her books – until I got home and found that I already have Black Roses, the first Clara Vine book (set in 1933),  unread on the black hole that is my Kindle. I’d better read Black Roses first.

and finally:

First Chapter: The Secret Keeper

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: The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton, a book from my TBR Pile Challenge 2015.

It begins:

Rural England, a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, a summer’s day at the start of the nineteen sixties. The house is unassuming: half-timbered with white paint peeling gently on the western side and clematis scrambling up the plaster. The chimney pots are steaming and you know, just by looking, that there’s something on the stove top beneath. It’s something the way the vegetable patch has been laid out, just so, at the back of the house; the proud gleam of the leadlight windows; the careful patching of the roofing tiles.

A rustic fence hems the house and a wooden gate sparates the tame garden from the meadows on either side, the copse beyond. Through the knotted trees a stream trickles lightly over stones, flitting between sunlight and shadow as it has done for centuries; but it can’t be heard from here. It’s too far away. The house is quite alone, sitting at the end of a long dusty driveway, invisible from the country lane whose name it shares.

I’m immediately attracted to this book from these two opening paragraphs, setting the scene. I can easily paint a picture of it in my mind – I can see it! You know that in such an idyllic setting something is about to happen to upset everything; at least that is what I am anticipating  and I know from the title that there is at least one secret someone is keeping .

I also know from the description on the back cover that this is a book that switches from the 1930s, to the 1960s and the present day, which often works well for me, and that there are not only mysteries and secrets but also murder and enduring love.

Will I like it? LibraryThing thinks I probably will like The Secret Keeper (prediction confidence: very high) – we’ll see.

Heidi’s Cat- Log

H & computerHi, I’m Heidi and Margaret has asked me to fill in for her on her blog as she is busy reading books, rather than writing about them and has lots of other things to do as well. So here I am – looking at the computer screen wondering where to start …

Maybe I should start at the beginning – well when I first came to live with Margaret and David. They rescued me and at first I was very scared and kept trying to hide in boxes, behind furniture and even on the top of wardrobes and tall cupboards.

Now I’m very much at home and love living here. There are lots of nice things and best of all lots of mice in the garden. Mice are Nice, but M & D don’t think so – they say Do Not Bring Mice Into the House – that’s not a Good Thing to do. I don’t really agree. It’s great fun to bring them in and let them run around whilst I stalk them and play with them. Sometimes they won’t play and go very still – and then I can eat them – they’re very tasty.

M & D had a lot of trouble with Mice in the House before I came. They got under the floors and nibble at the lagging on the water pipes and even gnawed the pipes and made holes. The water came out, which no doubt the Mice liked – but then the boiler stopped working and M & D had no hot water and no nice warm radiators.

The other thing that I like is watching the birds. They are like Mice but have Wings and Fly so that I can’t catch them (I have actually caught a few, but not for a very long time). Anyway D has very kindly put some birdseed on the windowsill outside and I can see them eating. It’s fascinating – see this video D did:

That’s enough for today. Maybe Margaret will let me write more Cat-Logs sometime and I can tell you some more.

She says this cat-post is just right for Saturday Snapshots run by Melinda  – you can see more on her blog  West Metro Mommy Reads. 

Book Beginnings: Spilling the Beans

As I have several books on the go right now (listed on the side bar), it will be some time before I can write a full post about any of them. So I thought I give a taster of one of them to be going on with.

It’s Spilling the Beans by Clarissa Dickson Wright, her autobiography. It begins:

I was conceived in a bath in Norfolk in September 1946. How can I know? Well my mother told me. As she put it they were all exhausted after the war and there weren’t that many opportune occasions. I was born in the London Clinic on 24 June 1947 and my first journey in the world was in a London taxi. My mother had become bored waiting for my father to collect us, so she wrapped me in a blanket, went outside, hailed a taxi and took me home, leaving the luggage for my father to pick up later. The only really good advice my mother ever gave me was, ‘If in doubt take a taxi,’ and I have followed it ever since.

Clarissa Dickson Wright was an English celebrity chef – one of the Two Fat Ladies, a television personality, writer, businesswoman, and former barrister. She died last year on 15 March in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Clarissa was a huge character in more than her size! Her autobiography is fascinating, coming from a privileged and wealthy background she had a difficult childhood- her father, a well respected surgeon was also an alcoholic who beat his wife and Clarissa.

I’ve been reading this book slowly over the last few weeks and have read nearly half of it. After her mother died she took comfort from alcohol and at the mid point of the book she was as she described it ‘sunk in gin’ and homeless. I am looking forward to reading about her road to recovery.

Book Beginnings Button

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

The Murder Room by P D James

The Murder Room by P D James is one of the last of the Adam Dalgleish books, first published in 2003 . Although I’ve not read many of the books I’ve watched most (if not all) of the TV adaptations, but I don’t remember watching this one.

The Murder Room itself is in the Dupayne Museum, displaying the most notorious murder cases of the 1920s and 30s, with contemporary newspaper reports of the crimes and trials, photographs and actual exhibits from the scenes of the murders. These were actual crimes and not fictional cases made up by P D James.

The novel  begins, as Commander Adam Dalgleish visits the Dupayne in the company of his friend Conrad Ackroyd who is writing a series of articles on murder as a symbol of its age. A week later the first body is discovered at the Museum and Adam and his colleagues in Scotland Yard’s Special Investigation Squad are called in to investigate the killing, which appears to be a copycat murder of one of the 1930s’ crimes.

The Murder Room is not a quick read. It begins slowly with a detailed description of the main characters and it is only after 150 or so pages that the first murder occurs, so by that time I had a good idea of who might be killed but not of the culprit as many of the characters could all have had the motive and opportunity. There are two more killings before Dalgleish reveals the culprit.

More used to fast paced murder mysteries initially I was impatient with this slow start but soon settled into P D James’ approach and appreciated the depth of the intricate plot. The setting is fascinating and the characters are convincing, so much so that I was hoping the second victim wouldn’t be one of my favourite characters.

The lease on the Museum is up for renewal and not everyone wants it to continue – as one of the characters says:

It’s the past … it’s about dead people and dead years … we’re too obsessed with our past, with hoarding and collecting for the sake of it.

There is the Dupayne family – Marcus and Caroline both actively involved in running the Museum, and their brother Nigel, who is a psychiatrist, and his daughter Sarah; the Museum staff – Muriel Godby in charge of the Museum’s day to day running, Tally Clutton the housekeeper, James Calder-Hale, the curator who used to work for MI5; Marie Strickland, a volunteer calligraphist; and Ryan Archer, the handyman and gardener.

I liked the interaction between Dalgleish and D I Kate Miskin, and between Dalgleish and Emma Lavenham who is finding their relationship increasingly frustrating. I enjoyed the book and found it absorbing and testing of both my powers of deduction and vocabulary.

The 2015 TBR Pile Challenge: February Checkpoint

official tbr challengeIt’s time for the February Checkpoint for the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge, hosted by Adam of Roof Beam Reader.

My Progress: 1 of 12 Completed: The Burning by Jane Casey (on my shelves since 2013)

I also began reading one of the other declared TBR books in my pile – The Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower, but have put it back on the bookshelf at least for the time being. I was keen to read this one as it’s been on my shelves for 7 years! But when I began reading I realised why I hadn’t read it before now – it’s written in the third person present tense, which I find awkward, and it’s so confusing working out who the characters are. I hate to say this but I may abandon this book. But there are two alternatives I could substitute for this challenge.

These are the books in my piles:

TBR pile 2015

Adam’s Question of the Month: Since it will be Valentine’s Day weekend when this post goes live, I have to ask: Do you have any “romantic” books on your 2015 TBR challenge list? If so, which ones?! (This could be capital r Romantic, or regular lovey-steamy romantic).

I don’t often choose ‘romantic’ books and I don’t think any of these could fall into that category – maybe The Secret Keeper? It’s described on the back cover as ‘a spellbinding story of mysteries and secrets, murder and enduring love.’ But I doubt ‘romantic love’ comes into it.

I think that could be my next book to read from these piles.

A Walk in the Woods

One day last week we went for a walk. I  was a bright, but cold day and just an ordinary woodland footpath in winter

Footpath P1010397

bare trees and snowdrops in flower:

Snowdrops P1010395

There was no breeze as we went down to the river:

River & hut P1010399

There’s a little hut on the riverside, now unused and peering through the window we could see it was half full of dead leaves.

We carried on through the woodland walking away from the river into a disused little quarry:

Quarry P1010407

and then we came across some strange objects hanging from the bare trees.

Shells and stones:

Shell P1010410

bones (little fish?):

bones P1010408

and then on one side of a tree a toy scarecrow:

Scarecrow P1010412

and on the other a totem:

Totem P1010414

Now I’m wondering – what is it all about? What’s the story?

The Burning by Jane Casey

The Burning by Jane Casey is one of the books I selected for the TBR Pile Challenge 2015. It’s a book that I read about on other book blogs and thought I would like.  I was right – I really enjoyed it.

It’s the first the DC Maeve Kerrigan series. Maeve is on the murder task force investigating the case of the serial killer the media call The Burning Man. Four young women have been brutally murdered, beaten to death and their bodies burnt in secluded areas of London’s parks. When a fifth body is discovered that of Rebecca Haworth, it appears to be the work of The Burning Man – but is it, there are slight differences? The more that Maeve and her colleague Rob Langton check out the facts it appears it could be a copy-cat killing.

The pace of the book is quite slow at first as the characters are introduced and the story unfolds mainly through Maeve’s eyes  with some  chapters narrated by Rebecca’s friend Louise, and briefly by Rob. Because the pace is slow to begin with the main characters are fully rounded – Maeve in particular is a likeable character, intelligent and empathetic, working to impress her male colleagues and determined to catch the murderer. She’s new to the job, which both her boyfriend and her family criticises. Rebecca’s character is revealed through Louise’s eyes,  fleshed out as other friends give their versions of her past to Maeve and Rob. As the pace picks up, a complex  plot develops providing several suspects which kept me turning the pages right to the end.

I have the third Maeve Kerrigan book, The Last Girl, but I think I’ll postpone reading it until I’ve read the second book, The Reckoning. There are now six books in the series and Maeve has her own website!

As well as the TBR Pile Challenge The Burning completes one of the categories in the What’s In a Name challenge, that of a book title containg a word ending in ‘ing’, the My Kind of Mystery challenge and also the Mount TBR Reading Challenge (a book I’ve owned prior to 1 January 2015).