FictionFan’s Book Reviews

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Space Odyssey: The Making of a Masterpiece by Michael Benson

Caution: Geniuses at Work

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the masterpiece science fiction film that grew out of a collaboration between two creative geniuses, Arthur C Clarke and Stanley Kubrick. In this book, Michael Benson tells the story of that collaboration, and of the making of the film, its release and its impact at the time and since.

A couple of years ago, I had the amazing experience of reading Clarke’s book and then immediately watching Kubrick’s film, and discovering how wonderfully they enhance each other. Until then, I hadn’t realised they arose out of a joint venture – I had assumed Clarke had written the book first and then Kubrick had decided to turn it into a film. Benson starts by telling the story of how Kubrick wanted to make the first “really good” science fiction movie and, as research, immersed himself in the SF literature of the day, including reading Clarke’s Childhood’s End. This led him to approach Clarke with a view to them working together. At that stage, the plan was to make a kind of future history of man’s experiences in space. Throughout his book, Benson shows how this initial plan grew and altered stage by stage until it became the book and film that were ultimately released, and gives a fascinating picture of two creative giants working together, mostly in harmony, each inspiring the other so that the end results were greater than either could have achieved alone.

Kubrick and Clarke on set

Benson is clearly a huge admirer of the film and of both men, but he’s not so starry-eyed as to be uncritical when it’s deserved. Clarke was struggling financially as the project began, while Kubrick was riding high on the back of the success of his previous film, Dr Strangelove. This meant Kubrick had disproportionate power in the making of the deal between them, and he wasn’t hesitant in making sure the lion’s share of all profits and credit would come his way. He also retained control over every aspect, including when Clarke would be allowed to release the book. Since the making of the film fell years behind schedule, this caused Clarke considerable financial woe. But Benson also shows that the two men managed to survive this kind of friction without it dimming their appreciation of each other’s genius. Benson’s book is a warm-hearted portrayal of both men and it seems to me he tries hard, and succeeds, in giving due credit to both.

The book is an excellently balanced mix of the technical geekery of film-making with the human creativity behind it. Not just Clarke and Kubrick, but all of the major members of the crew come to life, as Benson illustrates their personalities with well-timed and well-told anecdotes about life on the set. The quality of Benson’s writing is first-rate, and I loved that he would break up the more technical side of the story by introducing “voices” for some of the people to whom he introduces us. For example, when a young lad looking for his first break in movie-making goes off to meet Kubrick, Benson tells the story in a kind of Holden Caulfield voice, while the filming of the scene of Kubrick’s little daughter talking to her on-screen daddy is told charmingly, as if from her six-year-old perspective.

Kubrick and his daughter Vivian

Clarke fades a little from the story once his book is more or less written, although the two men continued to consult and communicate throughout the project. But once the filming gets underway, Benson concentrates more on Kubrick and his crew. He shows the innovative techniques they developed as they went along to create not only the special effects but an entire overarching style. Kubrick is shown as demanding, a perfectionist, always pushing a little further than his crew believed they could go until they discovered that they could go further after all. Although he had his faults – a willingness to risk his actors’ and crew’s safety in pursuit of his art, for example – the impression comes through strongly that the people around him admired, respected and even loved him. Benson gives generous praise to each of the other creatives who contributed to the movie, detailing each innovative technique and who was involved in achieving it. As he describes it, it felt to me like an orchestra full of individually brilliant musicians, with Kubrick as the genius conductor melding their talents into a wonderfully harmonious whole.

Kubrick setting up a shot

In the final section, Benson describes the release of the movie, initially panned by all the middle-aged men (and occasionally women) in suits in movie world, from studio chiefs to movie critics. He explains how Kubrick watched audience reaction minute by minute to see what worked and what didn’t, eventually cutting nineteen minutes from the original running time. But he and others also noticed that young people in the audience seemed to “get” it in a way that the movie professionals didn’t at first. Despite the critics, audience figures gave an indication that word of mouth was making the movie a success. Gradually, even the original critics mostly came round, and admitted that on second and third viewing they “got” it too. The film’s success was crowned with a raft of Oscar nominations, though in an extremely competitive year that included Oliver! and The Lion in Winter amongst others, eventually it took only one, rather fittingly for Best Special Visual Effects.

I haven’t even touched on a lot of what is included in this comprehensive book, such as how Kubrick decided on the music for the film, or how the man-apes were conceived and created. The quality of the writing and research together with Benson’s great storytelling ability make this not only informative but a real pleasure to read – as much a masterpiece of its kind as the original film and book are of theirs. Highly recommended.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Simon & Schuster.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 163…

Episode 163…

Oh, for goodness sake! The TBR has reached a new all time high of 225 – up 2 since last week! But it’s not my fault! Can I help it if books keep arriving when I’m not ready for them??

Here’s a few more that should be ready for kick-off soon…

Fantasy

I read this not long after it was first published in 1973, in my teens, and loved it even though I wasn’t at all sure that I fully understood it. I’ve always been a bit reluctant to revisit it in case it doesn’t work so well for my more critical adult self, but in the intervening years it has come to be seen as a real classic. It’s been on my TBR for a re-read since 2014, so it’s time to bite the bullet…

The Blurb says: A disturbing exploration of the inevitability of life.

Under Orion’s stars, bluesilver visions torment Tom, Macey and Thomas as they struggle with age-old forces. Distanced from each other in time, and isolated from those they live among, they are yet inextricably bound together by the sacred power of the moon’s axe and each seek their own refuge at Mow Cop.

Can those they love so intensely keep them clinging to reality? Or is the future evermore destined to reflect the past?

* * * * *

Vintage Crime

Courtesy of the British Library. l loved the other ECR Lorac book currently in the BL’s Crime Classics series, Bats in the Belfry, so I have high hopes for this one…

The Blurb says: The Second World War is drawing to a close. Nicholas Vaughan, released from the army after an accident, takes refuge in Devon renting a thatched cottage in the beautiful countryside at Mallory Fitzjohn. Vaughan sets to work farming the land, rearing geese and renovating the cottage. Hard work and rural peace seem to make this a happy bachelor life. On a nearby farm lives the bored, flirtatious June St Cyres, an exile from London while her husband is a Japanese POW. June’s presence attracts fashionable visitors of dubious character, and threatens to spoil Vaughan’s prized seclusion. When Little Thatch is destroyed in a blaze, all Vaughan’s work goes up in smoke and Inspector Macdonald is drafted in to uncover a motive for murder.

* * * * *

Classic Scottish Fiction

This one isn’t on my Classics Club challenge because I hadn’t heard of it when I prepared my list, but I think I might swap it in. Is this another example of how Scottish culture has become invisible in the shade of the dominant member of the United Kingdom, England? Apparently Ferrier outsold her contemporary Jane Austen at the time their books were published. Since then, Austen has taken over the world, while Ferrier has been all but forgotten. Time to see for myself if that’s to do with the quality of the books…

The Blurb says: Understanding that the purpose of marriage is to further her family, Lady Juliana nevertheless rejects the ageing and unattractive – though appropriately wealthy – suitor of her father’s choice. She elopes, instead, with a handsome, penniless soldier and goes to Scotland to live at Glenfarn Castle, his paternal home. But Lady Juliana finds life in the Scottish highlands dreary and bleak, hastily repenting of following her heart.

After giving birth to twin daughters, Lady Juliana leaves Mary to the care of her sister-in-law, while she returns to England with Adelaide. Sixteen years later, Mary is thoughtful, wise and kind, in comparison to her foolish mother and vain sister.

Following two generations of women, Marriage, first published in 1818, is a shrewdly observant and humorous novel by one of Scotland’s greatest writers.

* * * * *

Thriller

Courtesy of Picador. Just to prove I do still read some new releases! I love Megan Abbott’s dark and twisted stories about the hormone-laden angstiness of being a teenage girl, so I’m looking forward to this one, which seems to start there and then visit the characters again as adults…

The Blurb says: Kit Owens harbored only modest ambitions for herself when the mysterious Diane Fleming appeared in her high school chemistry class. But Diane’s academic brilliance lit a fire in Kit, and the two developed an unlikely friendship. Until Diane shared a secret that changed everything between them.

More than a decade later, Kit thinks she’s put Diane behind her forever and she’s begun to fulfill the scientific dreams Diane awakened in her. But the past comes roaring back when she discovers that Diane is her competition for a position both women covet, taking part in groundbreaking new research led by their idol. Soon enough, the two former friends find themselves locked in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse that threatens to destroy them both.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads.

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

* * * * *

That Summer in Puglia by Valeria Vescina

The quality of sunlight…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

When a PI tracks Tommaso down in London to give him the news that he has been left a large legacy, Tommaso tells him he doesn’t want it and pleads that his whereabouts should not be revealed. To make the PI understand why his anonymity is so important to him, Tommaso agrees to tell him the story of why he left Italy – the story of his last summer in Puglia. That was the summer, long ago when Tommaso was young, that he met and fell in love with Anna. The book tells the story of their love, and we know from the beginning that it ended with some kind of tragedy that led Tommaso to cut all ties with home and take on a new identity in London. But it’s only after we follow Tommaso through the events of the summer that we find out what happened…

On the face of it, this is a straightforward account of a love affair, but the quality of the writing, the great pacing and, most of all, the superb sense of place make it so much more than that. It’s also an intense character study of Tommaso whom we come to know perhaps better than he knows himself. And it’s wonderfully evocative of the culture of Puglia, in the heel of Italy, in the 1980s – still strictly conservative in outlook, still largely in thrall to Catholicism, and with strong family expectations that children will follow the paths determined for them by their parents.

The story is slow to unfold, with many digressions into Tommaso’s memories of his childhood. But these are interesting in themselves for what they tell us about the way of life in this quiet, tradition-bound area and all serve to add depth to our understanding of his character. He is not entirely likeable, but the telling of his story so many years later seems to allow him to reassess the events and his reaction to them, so that he appears to grow in self-awareness as the book progresses. The falling in love aspect is done beautifully, with that intensity which only happens with early first love, and although some of the later events might have seemed extreme had they been placed in a contemporary setting, Vescina’s careful re-creation of this moment in the culture, so recent and yet so rooted in the traditions of the past, make them entirely credible.

Ostuni, Puglia

There were a couple of weaknesses for me, although minor. The framing device of Tommaso telling his story to the PI led to some occasional clunkiness in the use of second person as Tommaso occasionally breaks off from his narrative to talk to his interlocutor, whose questions and remarks are relayed to the reader only second-hand through Tommaso’s responses. However this only happens for a couple of paragraphs at the beginning of an occasional chapter, so it doesn’t break the flow too much. There is a section after the events of the summer and before the final dénouement where we learn of Tommaso’s life between then and now, and, while the quality of the writing still makes this very readable, I felt it was too long and added very little to the story, merely delaying the ending.

However, neither of these significantly impacted my enjoyment of the book. The story and characters kept me fully absorbed as I read this book over one long, lazy day and Vescina’s wonderful descriptive writing transported me to Puglia – a place I have never visited in real life but now feel I can visualise as if from actual memories. I was attracted to the book partly because Puglia is one of the places on my Around the World in 80 Books challenge, and I couldn’t have picked a better one. From the narrow, winding streets in the medieval Old Town of Ostuni to the groves of fig and olive trees, from the quality of the sunlight to the smell of the local tomatoes, from the colours of the buildings to the ingredients of the traditional meals – everything is given a lush richness that engages all the senses. Vescina also has a great sense of the history of the region – her own birthplace – and has the skill to dole out her knowledge sparingly as an integral part of the story.

The trail snaked through the vegetation, skirting tufts of ammofila – ‘sand lover’, or, more prosaically, marram grass – and shrubs. Now and then, the track ushered us into small clearings where we struggled to make out its continuation. L’albero magico – our magic tree, as we later called it – materialised before us. It was a squat oak – not of the kind familiar in Britain, but a distant cousin rooted in arid earth – whose branches arched downwards, forming a dark-green canopy over a bed of fine sand. It called to mind an apparition out of one of those fairy tales in which nature shields hero and heroine from the villains in pursuit, throwing obstacles – from brambles to boulders – in their way, while offering sanctuary and sustenance to the fugitives.

As you’ll have gathered, I loved this book, becoming totally immersed in both story and place, and was reluctant to leave Puglia when it ended. It’s Vescina’s début, but is written with a sure-footedness and level of assurance that many a more experienced writer might envy. I’m looking forward with great anticipation to reading more from this gifted storyteller in the future.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Eyewear Publishing.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….Half an hour elapsed before Merrion heard anything further. Then there was a sound of rapid footsteps, and a shadowy form, of which he could not see the outline, entered the open space in the centre of the grove. Others followed at intervals, until the turf was covered by a strange, silent multitude. They uttered no word, but Merrion could hear their quick breathing, the rustle of their garments as they swayed rhythmically upon their feet, occasionally an hysterical sob, quickly repressed. They stood there waiting, their eyes within the depths of their hoods staring intently towards the altar, hidden under the shadow of the trees.
….Then Merrion became conscious of slow and majestic footsteps advancing through the gloom. They approached the grove, but ceased before they reached the open space. And, as they did so, a queer wailing cry broke from the assembled worshippers. Merrion, staring intently from his hiding-place, could see nothing. But he guessed that the devil, the mysterious president of the ceremonies, had taken up his position in the deep gloom behind the altar.

* * * * * * * * *

….The oleanders on the terrace of Villa Emma came into bloom. So did the ones in the oversized amphorae in the alleys and squares of the Old Town. Their clusters of white, pink and fuchsia flowers burst out of the dark-green foliage. From the contadini’s doorways, cases of juicy nespole released their sweet but slightly acrid fragrance onto the streets. It blended with the grassy scents of fresh fava beans consumed at kitchen tables now that the warm days of May were rolling into one another.
….On those afternoons, Anna and I enjoyed conservations brimming with mutual discoveries. You’d be amazed at how everyday actions bring those memories to mind. For example, Anna observed that olive oil linked us to our ancestors and to our land. ‘Liquid gold trickling down the slope of history’, she called it. Apulians’ modern obsession with olive oil was a remnant of how central it had once been, she said. Hadn’t it accompanied people every day? From baptism to the last rites, via their dining table, their soap, their lamps and much more? That reflection may not strike you as momentous. Yet now and then, while drizzling oil onto my food, I still picture Anna sharing the thought with me as we sat on the steps of an abandoned house, its flaking wall overrun by an early-blooming scarlet bougainvillea, watching two children walk by with slices of pane, olio e sale – bread, oil and salt.

* * * * * * * * *

….Elspeth walked a little further towards the River Swincombe. Brown water seeped up towards the top of her boots. Finally, she struggled up a small incline and perched on a hummock of sphagnum moss. She poked at the peat directly in front of her with her stick, pushing the creeping moss aside. ‘Ahh,’ she said, with satisfaction, ‘I think we have our find. Look, Doctor Pargeter, look!’
….Neil craned over her shoulder. The water was shallow here, and brown with peat. He stared hard at the spot she indicated, seeing nothing except sphagnum moss, water and soft peat. Then, once he’d got his eye in, he yelped. ‘There, I see it!’ Crouching beside a jubilant Elspeth Price, oblivious to the water seeping into his boots, he leaned over as far as he dared and peered into the mossy pit. It looked like a bone. Two bones to be precise. In the shape of what could be a human elbow. He felt faint. ‘Oh my God. Oh my God, Elspeth, I think you’re right. I think we’ve got ourselves a body in the bog!’

* * * * * * * * *

….But this is the life – out of the dim dressing room and towards the brightly lit stage comes the chorus. Joe is at the top of the stairs, checking the line for dirty fingernails, too much greasepaint, visible track marks. Then later he’s at the stage door, crowded with fans and young griffins eager to escort the showgirls to one of the Yu Yuen Road cabaret bars round the corner. It’s hopeless; the girls have better places to go, older, better-heeled patrons to spend time with. The swells offer dinner at Ciro’s with white-uniformed waiters and young boys serving tea, or late-night cocktails at Victor Sassoon’s brand-spanking-new Tower Club at the top of the Cathay Hotel. For the Peaches, the trick is to get dinner, go dancing, snag a little treat or two they can pawn later or some cash, all without giving it up. Late-night motorcar rides round the circular Rubicon Road, a shady back table at the Black Cat cabaret in Frenchtown, tableside at the private roulette wheels illicitly spinning in the suites of the Burlington Hotel courtesy of old-time Brit gangster Bill Hawkins, Sasha Vertinsky’s late-night Russian cabaret with the bad boys at the Gardenia on Great Western Road, champagne and Viennese torch songs courtesy of Lily Flohr at the Elite Bar on Medhurst Road – then always the fumble, the grope, the wandering hands.

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull

All in the family…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Edward Powell is an unhappy young man. He lives with his annoying Aunt Mildred who, as his guardian and trustee of his inheritance, holds the purse-strings, rather too tightly in Edward’s opinion. To make matters worse, he’s forced to live in the family home in a small village in Wales, surrounded by landscape and hills and sheep and all that awful stuff, when he should be mingling with artists and bright young things in one of the fashionable hotspots of the world. Really it’s too much to bear. So he decides there’s only one thing to be done…

It’s not often a book has me laughing out loud before I even get through the first page, but this one did! The book is narrated for the most part by Edward, taken from the journal he keeps as events unfold. It begins with his disgust at living in a place which he insists is impossible to pronounce, Llyll, – it takes him three (hilarious) paragraphs to explain how one is supposed to say it. He then describes his surroundings, not in the idyllic terms we’ve come to expect of descriptions of picturesque countryside…

I see I spoke of “sodden woods”. That was the right adjective. Never, never does it stop raining here, except in the winter when it snows. They say that is why we grow such wonderful trees here which provided the oaks from which Rodney’s and Nelson’s fleets were built. Well, no one makes ships out of wood nowadays, so that that is no longer useful, and it seems to me that one tree is much like another. I’d rather see less rain, less trees and more men and women. “Oh, Solitude, where are the charms?” Exactly so.

The title gives a broad hint, so it’s not a spoiler to say that the book is about Edward’s plan to murder his aunt. Now I’m a bit like Hercule Poirot in that I don’t approve of murder, but in Edward’s defence I have to admit that Aunt Mildred really asks for it – she finds fault with everything Edward does (with some justification), nags him constantly and is not averse to shaming him in public. All of which makes the thing far more entertaining than if she’d been a sweet old soul. This is a battle of two people who are opposites in every way except for their desire to come out on top.

Edward’s voice is what makes the book so special. The writing is fantastic, so that Hull manages to let the reader see both the truth and Edward’s unreliable interpretation of it simultaneously. One couldn’t possibly like Edward, and in real life one would pretty quickly want to hit him over the head with a brick, but his journal is a joy to read. It’s a brilliant portrait of a man obsessed with his own comforts, utterly selfish, and not nearly as clever as he thinks he is. He’s also delightfully effeminate, a total contrast to rugged old Aunt Mildred who’s a hardy daughter of the soil.

Richard Hull

Written in 1934, it’s hard for modern audiences to know whether Hull intended Edward to be read as gay or just effeminate, but he would certainly be seen as stereotypically gay now, with his finicky desire to have all his clothes flamboyantly colour-matched, his eye for interior decoration, his little Pekinese dog, and so on. But if it’s deliberate, it’s done in a way that seemed to me affectionate, even though we’re supposed to laugh at him. Seeing him as gay also adds an element of humour to the fact that Aunt Mildred (who I’m quite sure has never even heard of homosexuality!) is constantly accusing him of trying to seduce the maid. I wondered if I was reading too much “gayness” into the character, so was rather pleased to read in Martin Edwards’ introduction (which of course I read as an afterword) that ‘Anthony Slide, in Lost Gay Novels: A Reference Guide to Fifty Works from the First Half of the Twentieth Century (2013) has argued that the book is “the best, and by far the most entertaining, of the early English mystery novels with a gay angle.”’ From my limited experience, I can’t argue with that!

But that’s only one aspect of Edward’s character and not the most important one. It’s his self-obsession and grouchy, distorted view of the world that makes him so enjoyable. I don’t want to say any more about the plot because the suspense element comes from not knowing whether Edward’s plans will succeed. I found it compulsively readable and while it isn’t laugh-out-loud all the way, it’s consistently funny, in a wicked, subversive way, full of lightly black humour. Loved it! One of the gems of the BL’s Crime Classics collection for me.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, British Library.

Amazon UK Link
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Lonelyheart 4122 (Flaxborough Chronicles 4) by Colin Watson

Time for Teatime…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When Arthur Spain notices that his widowed sister-in-law, Lil, hasn’t been around recently, he pops round to visit her, but his worry increases when he finds a row of full milk bottles outside her door, some curdled, suggesting she hasn’t been home for a couple of weeks. So he reports her missing and soon Inspector Purbright is worrying too, because Lil’s disappearance reminds him of another one from a few months back. Could the two missing women be connected in some way? A bit of investigation shows that both had recently signed on as clients of Handclasp House, a local dating agency…

This is the 4th entry in Watson’s Flaxborough Chronicles and the series is well into its stride by now. As always, it’s full of rather wicked humour about the weaknesses of human nature and those who exploit them. Inspector Purbright is his usual unflappable self, a detective as free from angst as even I could wish for, and with a nice line in mild sarcasm, but never cruelly employed. His sidekick, Sergeant Sid Love, hides a mind like a sink behind a cherubic countenance. And Chief Constable Harcourt Chubb remains the perfect figurehead for the force, a pillar of respectability, stolid and unimaginative…

… the chief constable had the sort of mind which, because it was so static, aided reflection. By dropping facts, like pebbles, into it and watching the ripples of pretended sapience spread over its calm surface, Purbright was enabled somehow to form ideas that might not otherwise have occurred to him.

A new client has just signed up with the dating agency. Miss Lucilla Edith Cavell Teatime is exactly the type of woman an unscrupulous man might prey on – single and new to the area, therefore without friends or family to look out for her, middle-aged and lonely, and so naive and utterly respectable herself that she’s unable to imagine unworthy motives in others. Or at least that’s how she seems on the outside, and Purbright is worried she might be the next victim. But the reader sees much of the story from Miss Teatime’s perspective, so we soon learn she’s not quite as innocent as she likes to appear.

She had just sat sown after looping back the curtain when the girl from the reception office arrived with a glass of whisky and a newspaper. Miss Teatime noted approvingly that the whisky was a double.
“Did you feel faint after the journey, madam?” The girl held the glass like a medicine measure.
“Not a bit of it! Cheers!”
The girl withdrew, looking slightly bewildered.

As Miss Teatime begins to correspond with a gentleman also looking for love, Purbright and Sid have to balance their investigation of the previous disappearances with their desire to prevent her from becoming the next victim. But Miss Teatime has plans of her own…

I love these books and am delighted that Farrago are re-releasing all twelve of them for Kindle. It’s the first time for years they’ve been available at reasonable prices, and that’s a necessity since once you’ve read the first one (Coffin Scarcely Used), you will almost certainly want to binge-read the rest. Although they’re all very good, the ones in the middle are undoubtedly the best, once Watson had established all the regulars. Often humorous crime books are let down by the plotting, but each of these has a strong story and a proper investigation, so they’re satisfying on both levels. They are wickedly perceptive about middle-class English society of the ‘50s, with Watson letting the reader see through the veneer of dull respectability to the skulduggery and jiggery-pokery going on beneath. Mildly subversive, but affectionately so, they form a kind of bridge between the Golden Age and more modern crime novels, with the same class divides as in the earlier era but with the irreverence about them that came fully to the fore in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

But mostly what they are is hugely entertaining, and that’s why you should read them. And if you’ve already read them, give yourself a treat and read them all again. Highly recommended!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Farrago.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 162…

Episode 162…

Oh dear! There’s been a big jump in the TBR since I last reported – up 3 to 222. It’s not my fault! First, tennis. Second, loads of my favourite authors seem to be releasing their new books all at the same time. What’s a girl to do?? I try not to let it stress me though…

Better get reading, I think! Here’s the next batch…

Classic Fiction

One of my Classics Club books. I’m particularly intrigued by this since the blurb makes it sound like a women’s-lit melodrama, but it’s written by James M Cain, whom I think of as a noir crime writer. In fact, he’s one of only three authors who appear more than once on in my list, and his other entry is certainly classic noir – The Postman Always Rings Twice.

The Blurb says: Mildred Pierce had gorgeous legs, a way with a skillet, and a bone-deep core of toughness. She used those attributes to survive a divorce and poverty and to claw her way out of the lower middle class. But Mildred also had two weaknesses: a yen for shiftless men, and an unreasoning devotion to a monstrous daughter.

Out of these elements, Cain creates a novel of acute social observation and devastating emotional violence, with a heroine whose ambitions and sufferings are never less than recognizable.

* * * * *

Biography

This one has been on my TBR since December 2012! Because it’s huge and will probably take me a couple of months to read, I keep putting it off for review copies, but the time has finally come! (Unless any nice review copies arrive before I begin…) It won the Pulitzer for Biography and has excellent reviews, though, so I’m looking forward to it.

The Blurb says: Against the monumental canvas of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe and Russia, unfolds the magnificent story of Peter the Great, crowned at the age of 10. A barbarous, volatile feudal tsar with a taste for torture; a progressive and enlightened reformer of government and science; a statesman of vision and colossal significance: Peter the Great embodied the greatest strengths and weaknesses of Russia while being at the very forefront of her development.

Robert K. Massie delves deep into the life of this captivating historical figure, chronicling the pivotal events that shaped a boy into a legend – including his ‘incognito’ travels in Europe, his unquenchable curiosity about Western ways, his obsession with the sea and establishment of the stupendous Russian navy, his creation of an unbeatable army, and his relationships with those he loved most: Catherine, his loving mistress, wife, and successor; and Menshikov, the charming, unscrupulous prince who rose to power through Peter’s friendship. Impetuous and stubborn, generous and cruel, a man of enormous energy and complexity, Peter the Great is brought fully to life.

* * * * *

Historical Crime

Courtesy of Harvill Secker. The third in the Sam Wyndham series of historical crime novels set in India in the last days of the Raj. I’ve loved the previous books, so this is a must-read for me, though I’m a bit concerned that Sam seems to be becoming more of an opium addict in each book…

The Blurb says: India, 1921. Haunted by his memories of the Great War, Captain Sam Wyndham is battling a serious addiction to opium that he must keep secret from his superiors in the Calcutta police force.

When Sam is summoned to investigate a grisly murder, he is stunned at the sight of the body: he’s seen this before. Last night, in a drug addled haze, he stumbled across a corpse with the same ritualistic injuries. It seems like there’s a deranged killer on the loose. Unfortunately for Sam, the corpse was in an opium den and revealing his presence there could cost him his career.

With the aid of his quick-witted Indian Sergeant, Surrender-not Banerjee, Sam must try to solve the two murders, all the while keeping his personal demons secret, before somebody else turns up dead.

* * * * *

More Historical Crime

Courtesy of Random House Transworld via NetGalley. I enjoyed Rachel Rhys’ last book, A Dangerous Crossing, very much, so I’m looking forward to this one…

The Blurb says: 1948: Eve Forrester is trapped in a loveless marriage, in a gloomy house, in a grey London suburb. Then, out of the blue, she receives a solicitor’s letter. A wealthy stranger has left her a mystery inheritance. And to find out more, she must to travel to the glittering French Riviera.

There Eve discovers that her legacy is an enchanting pale pink villa overlooking the Mediterranean sea. Suddenly her life could not be more glamorous. But while she rubs shoulders with film-stars and famous writers, under the heat of the golden sun, rivals to her unexplained fortune begin to emerge. Rivals who want her out of the way.

Alone in this beguiling paradise, Eve must unlock the story behind her surprise bequest – before events turn deadly…

Reminiscent of a Golden Age mystery, Fatal Inheritance is an intoxicating story of dysfunctional families and long-hidden secrets, set against the razzle-dazzle and decadence of the French Riviera.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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The Old Religion by Martyn Waites

Strange marketing…

🙂 🙂 🙂

Tom Kilgannon has come to the run-down Cornish town of St Petroc to hide. That’s not his real name – he has taken on a new identity and it’s quickly clear that he’s in some kind of witness protection scheme or similar. Lila is a young girl living in a surfer commune on the edge of town – a surfer commune that is run more like a cult, with the rather nasty Noah at its head. As the book begins, Lila has been instrumental in abducting a young man on Noah’s instructions, and now she’s afraid of the consequences. When Tom and Lila meet, their lives quickly become mixed up with each other, and each puts the other in even greater danger. In the meantime, the mysterious Morrigan seems to hold an almost occult power over the townspeople, all in the name of the Old Religion…

This book is billed as being for fans of Peter May. I wonder why? I don’t remember Peter May ever writing anything with an occult storyline, nor using so much foul language including repeated use of the “c”-word, nor being unable to determine when to use “who” and “whom” correctly, nor filling his books with repeated episodes of violence, including rape, every few pages. Odd! Had I been trying to attract people who might enjoy this, I’d have been more inclined to mention Mo Hayder, or one of the other authors who specialise in violence and nastiness. There’s a market out there for this kind of book undoubtedly, but I’m not sure Peter May fans would be a big part of that market. This one sure isn’t, anyway.

It’s well written, apart from the too frequent grammatical errors, but I was reading an ARC so perhaps they’ll be sorted before the final version is printed. The characterisation is very good, especially of Lila. She left home young, and has no-one to look out for her. Having drifted into a bad situation she’s now trying to find a way out, and Waites does a good job of portraying her as a mix of vulnerability and strength. Tom is also done reasonably well, though with more of the stereotypical elements of the routine thriller hero – a troubled past, in danger in the present, well able to handle himself physically, but with a complete inability to fend off the women who find him irresistible. Uh-huh, well, not all women, obviously.

But everyone is unlikeable, even Lila, whom (or perhaps in the spirit of the book, I should say who) I really wanted to like. She’s quite willing to be just as horrible to everyone around her as they are to her – credible, undoubtedly, given her background, but it meant my sympathy for her situation wore off after a bit. Apart from Tom, all the men are drug-pushers or losers, violent and cruel, or occasionally weak and pathetic, and potential or actual rapists. There are very few women in it, at least up to the point where I abandoned it – around the 60% mark, and other than Lila they don’t play a significant role. I flicked ahead to the end and got the impression that may change later in the book.

Martyn Waites

At that 60% mark the three stories were still trailing along without us being any closer to finding out how they were connected – Tom’s past, the young man’s abduction, the mysterious Morrigan – with Lila providing some kind of vague link. I admit I was bored waiting, but it was really the constant episodes of violence that annoyed me – not in a squeamish way, they’re not overly graphic, but just because it all became repetitive and made the tone unrelentingly miserable. I prefer even crime novels to have some light and shade in them.

Despite abandoning it, I’m giving the book three stars. It’s not to my taste but I think it’s pretty well done for all that, and I’m sure people who like this sort of thing will enjoy it. In fact, it’s considerably better than the one Mo Hayder book through which I had the misfortune to wade. But as for Peter May fans, well, I’d suggest we all sit back and wait for the next Peter May book instead. Why do publishers do that?

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Zaffre, via Amazon Vine UK.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Classics Club Meet and Greet…

The Classics Club Meme – June 2018

The Classics Club meme for June encourages us all to get to know each other better. Here’s the task…

We want you to mingle. Go to our member list and select a fellow classics clubber you’d like to feature on your blog. This can be someone who is active within the Classics Club, someone quiet who inspires with his/her posts, someone new to the club or scarce whom you’d like the club to meet. S/he can be a friend of yours, or someone you’ve never met. Tell readers why you value this club member. Highlight at least one post from his/her blog.

I must say firstly, I think this is a great idea and secondly, it made me feel quite guilty for not making more effort to seek out new CC members and introduce myself. In my defence, I’m not sure what the best way to find new members is – not everyone uses the introduction page. If any other members have found a good way of spotting new members, please let me know.

For the purposes of this month’s meme, I decided to highlight a couple of my existing blog buddies who’ve joined up recently, and then I also followed the suggestion and visited the member list, where I looked for people who have joined recently and whom I haven’t “met” before. Not only was this fun to do, but I’m hoping I’ve made at least one new blog buddy!

So here they are. Please meet, greet and visit…

Cleopatra Loves Books

I’m pretty certain nearly all of you will already know the lovely Cleo and her great, enthusiastic reviews, but I wanted to include her because I was so pleased she decided to join the Classics Club, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying her classics reviews to date. I’m also delighted that her list includes some classic crime along with the more traditional classics, and that she’s included some of the books I’ve reviewed (or nagged her about 😉 ), including The Gowk Storm (a book everyone should read) and an actual science fiction classic, Chocky by John Wyndham – I’ve been trying to get her to read a sci-fi book for about five years now, so I can’t wait for her review of that one!

Here’s a link to her Classics Club list – click here.

And here’s one of her CC reviews I particularly enjoyed…

The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin

…mainly because this book is also on my TBR so I was delighted that it got the Cleo five-star seal of approval.

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Big Reading Life

Laila is also an existing blog buddy of mine whom I’m sure lots of you already know and follow. She joined the club in February and I’ve been enjoying her reviews and also enjoying her throwing herself into the club by participating in the spins, etc. Laila’s list has lots of my favourite authors and books on it (Dickens, Conan Doyle, HG Wells, etc), so I can’t wait to hear what she thinks of them. And I’m still on my little ego-trip, because Laila has also included The Gowk Storm on my recommendation. Hurrah! (Did I mention it’s a book everyone should read?)

Here’s a link to her Classics Club list – click here.

And here’s one of her CC reviews I particularly enjoyed…

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith

…even though she admitted to not enjoying the film of the book, which I adore. Still, it just means I’ll have to pester her until she re-watches it often enough to learn to love it… 😉

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Books by the Cup

I’m excited to introduce Books by the Cup to you, since I’ve only just met her myself! She joined the Classics Club in March this year, just one month after she began blogging! Her list has lots of Austen and lots of Dickens so I know we’re going to get along. And it’s got Moby Dick on it! My regulars will all know exactly how I feel about that particular “classic”! Rumour has it that she’ll be reviewing it soon – can’t wait to compare notes. She doesn’t have The Gowk Storm on her list, but she probably just doesn’t know yet that it’s a book everyone should read… 😉

Welcome to the club, Books by the Cup!

Here’s a link to her Classics Club list – click here.

And here’s one of her CC reviews that I particularly enjoyed…

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

…mainly because it’s a great review of the Austen novel which I think is the best (although I enjoy P&P most). Books by the Cup says “Is this my favorite Austen? No. Did I like it? Yes. Did I laugh and hold my breath in anticipation of what was to come? Yes. However, as was the case with Pride and Prejudice, I might appreciate it better the second time around…” and anybody who wants to re-read Austen is clearly a kindred spirit!

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If you don’t already know any of these excellent bloggers, I’m delighted to recommend them to you.

HAVE A CLASSIC DAY! 😀

Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

A world without Darcy…

😐 😐

Three young men are part of an expedition in some obscure unexplored corner of the planet when they hear rumours of a country where all the inhabitants are women. They don’t believe this, of course. Firstly, they’ve heard all about the birds and the bees and they know such a society couldn’t exist for more than one generation. But more importantly, they know that women are too silly and incompetent to run a whole country on their own. If the country exists at all, they decide, the men must live elsewhere and visit for… ahem… a bit of the old nuptials every now and again. However, the prospect is tantalising – all those women must be pretty desperate for a bit of male company, what? So they decide to investigate…

The book starts off quite well, rather in the broad wink-wink tone of my introduction, full of male stereotypes of females, and incidentally managing to stereotype the three males pretty heavily at the same time. Then, unfortunately, they arrive in the country they dub Herland. And from there on in it’s an utterly tedious description of how this all-female society operates. Gilman even remarks at one point, in the voice of the male narrator, that nothing much actually happened to them during their stay, so presumably she was well aware of the narrative deficiencies of the book as a novel. Pity she felt a glancing reference to them was sufficient.

And odd! Because what I learned from this book is that women are perfect in every single way, excel at everything they do, and the only thing that causes misery, disease or turmoil in the world is men! Horrible men. Gosh, don’t you just hate them all? With their cruelty and their grubbiness and their greed, and all that nasty, nasty sex business. Women build nicer houses in beautifully clean, well-ordered cities, and they never fight or quarrel or get unhappy. They are naturally far, far better than men, because their capacity for motherhood makes them want to make the world a better place for their children. Unlike nasty men, who only see children as an unfortunate by-product of sex.

The unfortunate thing about some strands of feminism, this included, is the tendency to go well beyond the desire for equality and harmony, towards replacing a world where women are subject to men with one where men are disparaged and despised by women. I’m more of a happy-medium kind of girl myself. At risk of being drummed out of the sisterhood once and for all, I’ll admit my guilty, shameful secret. I like men. Not all of them, obviously – Trump, Hitler and Harvey Weinstein wouldn’t be my idea of a fun night down the pub – but then, Thatcher, Kellyanne Conway and Myra Hindley wouldn’t be my first choices for dinner guests either. But on the whole, I think most men are just bumbling along, behaving the way society has taught them, and most women are doing much the same. And most of us, of both genders, are trying to do better.

The idea of a world with no men in it (or no women) is my idea of hell. Most of our art and ninety percent of our literature is in some way about the interaction of the sexes, even going back past Shakespeare and on to the Bible. Flirting is fun, as is the whole falling in love thing. I’ve even heard the occasional woman admit to enjoying sex! Motherhood is brilliant and for some women it is indeed the most important thing in their lives (just as fatherhood is the most important thing for some men) but it’s not the only or even necessarily the ultimate ambition for womankind. In fact, I thought part of feminism was to get us away from the idea that women are incapable of thinking about anything except having babies and bringing them up, important roles though those are.

So some feminists may see this as a great feminist tract. I saw it as adding fuel to the worst of feminism – the kind that aims to replace patriarchy with matriarchy, where women rule and men become the subjects. Of the three men in the book, one is utterly convinced of male superiority and that women are primarily sex toys; one wants to worship at the feet of femininity; and the third is shown as rational, considering both sides of every argument. (Not that women ever argue, of course, because we’re all lovely when we’re not being jealous over silly men.) He, the rational one, becomes convinced along the way of the innate superiority of women and realises that what all men really want to do is surrender to a mother figure. And that that’s what all women aspire to be. Yeah.

(I have never wanted to be Darcy’s mother…)

But apart from the inanity of the ideas expressed in the book, which I try to forgive because I’m sure Gilman must have had some bad experiences to have become quite so misandristic, it commits the even worse sin of being almost entirely dull. It’s like reading a Rough Guide to Herland, without the humour and the photographs. I kept expecting her to tell me how much I should tip restaurant staff. Interesting, if you want to have nightmares about a world with no quarrelling, no disputes, no politics, no ambition beyond motherhood and child-rearing; and worse – no Anne and Gilbert, no Jane and Mr Rochester, no Cathy and Heathcliff, no flirting, no sex, no dancing, and no Darcy! Me, I’ll stay in this world and just keep striving for equality, thanks very much. I’d rather be driven up the wall by pesky men than bored to death by these unrealistically idealised Herland women.

Book 27 of 90

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Snap by Belinda Bauer

Curate’s egg…

🙂 🙂 🙂

When eleven-year-old Jack and his two younger sisters are left in their broken-down car while their mother goes off to phone for help, Jack is left in charge. This is a responsibility that will weigh heavily on him over the next few years when first his mother never returns and then later his father too disappears. Meantime Catherine While, heavily pregnant with her first child, is terrified when a burglar leaves a knife beside her pillow with a note that says simply: I could have killed you. For reasons of her own, Catherine decides to tell neither her husband Adam nor the police about this episode – a decision she will learn to regret.

Following the outcome of his last case, The Shut Eye, DCI Marvel has been shunted out of the Met, and isn’t best pleased when he ends up in the countryside – not his natural habitat. He’s even more annoyed when the first case that’s handed to him is to investigate a series of burglaries by a perpetrator codenamed Goldilocks. Marvel sees himself as a murder detective and feels his talents are being wasted. But he gets his wish anyway, as he is soon involved in investigating the unsolved murder of Jack’s mother…

I suspect my reading of lots of compact, tightly plotted classic crime recently has made me even less tolerant than before of the over-padding of much contemporary crime fiction. This book unfortunately takes about half its length to reveal what it’s going to be about, and as soon as it does the whodunit along with the how become pretty obvious, so that the second half is mostly spent waiting to see how Bauer is going to handle the ending. The motive is still left to be uncovered which means that it maintains some suspense, though, and there are some little side mysteries along the way that add interest; and Bauer’s writing is always laced with a nice mixture of dark and light so that in the pacier parts it’s an entertaining read. But I found that I was skipping entire pages at about the thirdway point – never a good sign! – because I was tired of the endless, rather repetitive setting up and wanted to get to the bit where the two threads finally came together as it was obvious they would, and we found out what the book was actually going to be about.

Belinda Bauer

Unfortunately I also found I had lots of credibility issues with too many aspects of the book, from the idea of Jack managing to hold his family together in the way he does, to Catherine’s reasons for not saying anything about the threats she’s receiving, to Marvel’s policing methods. I tried my best, though, to switch off my disbelief and go with the flow. And, happily, from about halfway through when the two stories finally begin to converge, it becomes a more interesting read, and I found that finally I was turning pages quickly for the right reasons. The pace improves and there’s quite a lot of Bauer’s usual humour in the interactions between the various police officers on the case. Bauer is always great at making her child characters feel believable, and she does here too with Jack, even though I found his actions less than credible. While the main storyline itself heads on a straight line to exactly where one expects, there’s an intriguing subplot in the second half that kept my interest. But, unfortunately, the thrillerish ending fell off the credibility tightrope again.

So, although there are some enjoyable aspects of the book once it picks up speed, the slowness of the first half combined with the requirement to suspend disbelief more than I could manage left me feeling that it’s not really close to her best.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Grove Atlantic.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 161…

Episode 161…

Despite tennis season having got well and truly underway, the TBR has taken a cool little tumble this week – down 1 to 219…

Here are a few to fill in the gaps between matches…

True Crime

Courtesy of riverrun via Amazon Vine UK. I thoroughly enjoyed French’s previous true crime book, Midnight in Peking, so am looking forward to this one very much. And it will take me to Shanghai for my Around the World tour…

The Blurb says: 1930s Shanghai could give Chicago a run for its money. In the years before the Japanese invaded, the city was a haven for outlaws from all over the world: a place where pasts could be forgotten, fascism and communism outrun, names invented, fortunes made – and lost.
‘Lucky’ Jack Riley was the most notorious of those outlaws. An ex-Navy boxing champion, he escaped from prison in the States, spotted a craze for gambling and rose to become the Slot King of Shanghai. Ruler of the clubs in that day was ‘Dapper’ Joe Farren – a Jewish boy who fled Vienna’s ghetto with a dream of dance halls. His chorus lines rivalled Ziegfeld’s and his name was in lights above the city’s biggest casino.

In 1940 they bestrode the Shanghai Badlands like kings, while all around the Solitary Island was poverty, starvation and genocide. They thought they ruled Shanghai; but the city had other ideas. This is the story of their rise to power, their downfall, and the trail of destruction they left in their wake. Shanghai was their playground for a flickering few years, a city where for a fleeting moment even the wildest dreams seemed possible.

In the vein of true crime books whose real brilliance is the recreation of a time and place, this is an impeccably researched narrative non-fiction told with superb energy and brio, as if James Ellroy had stumbled into a Shanghai cathouse.

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Fiction

Courtesy of Eyewear Publishing. I first saw a glowing review of this one from the lovely Ann Marie at Lit.Wit.Wine.Dine. Brindisi in Puglia is one of the spots on the “compulsory” section of my Around the World tour and you have no idea how hard it is to find any books set there and still in print! So since Ann Marie thinks this one gives a great sense of the place, I jumped aboard… and doesn’t it sound like a perfect summer read?

The Blurb says: Tommaso has escaped discovery for thirty years but a young private investigator, Will, has tracked him down. Tommaso asks him to pretend never to have found him. To persuade Will, Tommaso recounts the story of his life and his great love. In the process, he comes to recognise his true role in the events which unfolded, and the legacy of unresolved grief. Now he’s being presented with a second chance – but is he ready to pay the price it exacts? That Summer In Puglia is a tale of love, loss, the perils of self-deception and the power of compassion. Puglia offers an ideal setting: its layers of history are integral to the story, itself an excavation of a man’s past; Tommaso’s increasingly vivid memories of its sensuous colours, aromas and tastes, and of how it felt to love and be loved, eventually transform the discomforting tone with which he at first tries to keep Will and painful truths at a distance. This remarkable debut combines a gripping plot and perceptive insights into human nature with delicate lyricism.

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Crime

Courtesy of Bloodhound Books via NetGalley. I can’t remember if I saw a review for this or just selected it for the title and blurb, but it’s another one that sounds like it will fit into my desire for lighter reads over the summer. Dartmoor and murder? A classic combination…

The Blurb says: Life is good for DI Dan Hellier until the discovery of two headless, handless bodies buried in a bog on Dartmoor. But how can he identify the victims when nobody has reported them missing?

The tension mounts when the death of a young man plunges Hellier into the murky world of the Garrett family. Could the peaceful, family-run Animal Rescue Centre really be a cover for murder and other criminal activity?

Hellier is about to learn just how far people will go to get what they want. And this investigation will challenge Hellier’s decisions as he races to catch another murderer before it’s too late.

*** Death On Dartmoor was previously published as Death and The Good Son by B.A. Steadman***

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Classic Science Fiction

And staying with lighter reads, a re-read for my Classics Club list. I love John Wyndham, so am looking forward to this one…

The Blurb says: Bill Masen, bandages over his wounded eyes, misses the most spectacular meteorite shower England has ever seen. Removing his bandages the next morning, he finds masses of sightless people wandering the city. He soon meets Josella, another lucky person who has retained her sight, and together they leave the city, aware that the safe, familiar world they knew a mere twenty-four hours before is gone forever.

But to survive in this post-apocalyptic world, one must survive the Triffids, strange plants that years before began appearing all over the world. The Triffids can grow to over seven feet tall, pull their roots from the ground to walk, and kill a man with one quick lash of their poisonous stingers. With society in shambles, they are now poised to prey on humankind. Wyndham chillingly anticipates bio-warfare and mass destruction, fifty years before their realization, in this prescient account of Cold War paranoia.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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Pearls on a Branch edited by Najla Jraissaty Khoury

It happened, or maybe it didn’t…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

This collection of Lebanese and Syrian folk tales begins with an introduction from the author explaining how she came to record them. During the Lebanese civil war, Khoury travelled with a theatre group that put on shows for those dispossessed or marginalised by the conflict. As she travelled, she began to ask local women to tell her the stories they were told as children so that she could adapt them for the theatre company. She speaks very interestingly of how she went about the task of collecting the stories, sometimes from individuals, more often from groups of women, and sometimes having to find a time when their children were otherwise occupied to allow the women to relate the more bawdy tales! As with most oral traditions, she found the stories varied from telling to telling, with regional differences and also different emphases on humour and darkness. Then she discusses how she decided which stories to include, firstly in the collection of a hundred stories originally published in Arabic, and then for the thirty stories in this English translation.

This is followed by a second introduction, equally interesting, from the translator, herself a folklorist. Inea Bushnaq explains the storytelling conventions of the region, pointing out the similarities and differences to our own. She talks about the patriarchal society that has only recently begun to change. These stories are ones told by women to their daughters or amongst themselves, so they’re often about girls outsmarting men, but they also show clearly the restrictions under which women lived. Bushnaq also explains the “farsheh” – a kind of nonsense rhyme or humorous story, often involving word play, that the storyteller would use to introduce herself and get the attention of her audience before beginning the telling of the main story. Where we would begin a story “once upon a time”, the Arab convention is to begin with the less definite “there was, or maybe there was not” or “it happened, or maybe it didn’t”…

Najla Jraissaty Khoury

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of folk tales, so I expected to find this interesting rather than enjoyable. But I’m delighted to say I was wrong! I loved these – they’re fun, or moving, or occasionally horrifying, they’re very well written, the translation is excellent, and there’s a wide range so that they don’t begin to feel repetitive. Also, they shed a huge amount of light on a society and way of life that is so different from my own, and which is slowly passing; so that there’s an importance and even urgency to the act of gathering and recording these oral traditions before they are lost. Some are fables, like the story of the fox who turns vegetarian and goes on the Hajj, while many are stories of love and marriage, two things not always connected in a world where girls have no say over who they marry.

There are loads that got five stars from me, so here’s just a brief flavour to tempt you…

The Farsheh – in traditional fashion, the book kicks off with a farsheh, on this occasion part rhyme part prose. A deliciously wicked story about a young man who falls in love with a beautiful girl and decides he must have her for his own. But the girl isn’t quite as docile as he perhaps hoped. A great little starter, very well told with good language and rhythm and lots of humour.

A House Without Worries – a rather horrifying story (to western eyes) about a woman whose husband beats her every night for no good reason. (Not that I’m suggesting there’s ever a good reason!) But as with so many of these stories, the man gets his comeuppance in the end and the woman escapes to a better life. While these stories are quite uplifting with the happy-ever-after endings, they really show the grimmer side of a life where women have no rights. I loved the idea, though, of the kind of subversiveness of women sharing these stories as a form of mutual support.

Lady Tanaqueesh and the Eggs of the Tawawees – tawawees being peacock eggs, the eating of which makes you pregnant apparently! (There are lots of stories where women get pregnant through strange means – I’m sure there was an underlying meaning to this that I couldn’t quite grasp…) In this one, Lady Tanaqueesh has two jealous sisters who trick her into eating the eggs and the resulting pregnancy leads her father to expel her. There’s lots of rather nasty stuff in this one, including the brutal revenge Lady T considers for her sisters. But it’s very well done, with lots of rhyming and repetition – a real feat of translation, I think.

The Fly – a little kind of repetitive question and answer thing that reminded me of the style of “Who Killed Cock Robin”. The fly lands on a series of creatures, praising each, but each replies to the effect that yes, but I can be hurt by another creature or thing, so the fly then goes off to that creature or thing, praises it, etc., until eventually… well, that would be a spoiler, but I love the end of this – quite dark.

O Palace Beautiful! O Fancy Friend! – First off, what a great title! I’ve included this one because it has many elements of Snow White in it, which made me realise how much crossover there is in traditional tales – it made me feel closer to the culture than some of the other tales. Plus, it has Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves in it! Jealous mother, beautiful girl, poisoned apple – what’s not to love?

Oh, I want to tell you about the woman who farts in front of the cow, and the chiffchaff who wants to be Queen of the Birds, and the donkey who ate the wheat, and… but I’ve run out of room! So loads of variety, lots of interest and hugely enjoyable. Great stuff – highly recommended, and not just to folk tale fans!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Archipelago.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Friday Frippery! The Interactive Tag…

…aka The You Do the Work Tag…

I was looking for a tag to do, but couldn’t find one which tickled my fancy. This is because I’m bored with my own answers – my favourite book, favourite character, favourite cake etc. Plus I’m feeling incredibly lazy…

So then I had an inspired thought! YOU DO THE WORK!! Brilliant, isn’t it? I don’t know why I didn’t think of it years ago!

THE RULES:

Set five (easy) tasks for your readers.

Sit back, put your feet up and enjoy their responses.

Possibly drink a margarita.

Definitely eat some chocolate.

Tag some other people, if you have the energy, or have a nap instead…

 

 

HERE ARE YOUR TASKS – answers in the comments below please:

1. Recommend ONE book you think I’d enjoy and tell me why. (Disclaimer: I DO NOT promise to read it!) If you’ve reviewed it, please feel free to add a link to your review.

2. Cover wars: vote for the cover you like best out of these. Tell me in the comments which one you voted for.

 

3. Option A: What book does this make you think of and why?

Option B: For creative types with too much time on your hands, use it as a prompt for a piece of flash fiction, a poem, a limerick, a haiku, etc. – no more than 100 words, please.

Here’s mine:

There once was a girl called Amanda
Who dozed off on her sunny verandah
Along came a witch
Her nose she did twitch
And Amanda awoke as a panda.

4. What three words would appear in the blurb for your ideal book that hasn’t yet been written? And who do you want to write it?

5. Tell me a factlet about yourself you’ve never before revealed in the blogosphere.

NOW GET TO IT!!

* * * * * * * * *

I tag everyone who leaves a comment.

Thanks in advance for entertaining me! 😀

TBR Thursday 160…

Episode 160…

Oops! The dramatic falls of the last few weeks suddenly went into reverse this week – the TBR is up 1 to 220! It’s just a blip, though – I’m sure it will all be fine again next week…

(Tip: apparently, this isn’t a good way to uproot the stump of a tree…)

After what seems like an awful lot of heavyweight books recently, I’m looking forward to some lighter reads (aka murders) over the summer months. Here are a few to start me off in the right direction…

True Crime on Audio

I have a feeling someone recommended this to me or I was inspired by a review long ago, but I don’t seem to have kept a note of who or where. It really appeals, anyway, and listening to the sample, the narrator, William Dufris, sounds great…

The Blurb says: In Long Island, a farmer found a duck pond turned red with blood. On the Lower East Side, two boys playing at a pier discovered a floating human torso wrapped tightly in oilcloth. Blueberry pickers near Harlem stumbled upon neatly severed limbs in an overgrown ditch. Clues to a horrifying crime were turning up all over New York, but the police were baffled: There were no witnesses, no motives, no suspects.

The grisly finds that began on the afternoon of June 26, 1897, plunged detectives headlong into the era’s most perplexing murder. Seized upon by battling media moguls Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, the case became a publicity circus. Re-creations of the murder were staged in Times Square, armed reporters lurked in the streets of Hell’s Kitchen in pursuit of suspects, and an unlikely trio – an anxious cop, a cub reporter, and an eccentric professor – all raced to solve the crime. What emerged was a sensational love triangle and an even more sensational trial: an unprecedented capital case hingeing on circumstantial evidence around a victim that the police couldn’t identify with certainty – and that the defense claimed wasn’t even dead.

The Murder of the Century is a rollicking tale – a rich evocation of America during the Gilded Age and a colorful re-creation of the tabloid wars that have dominated media to this day.

* * * * *

Crime

Courtesy of Urbane Publications. I thoroughly enjoyed The Rock, the first book in Robert Daws’ Sullivan and Broderick series set on Gibraltar, so I’m looking forward to reading this second one…

The Blurb says: In London, the British Government has declassified a large number of top secret files regarding British Military Intelligence operations during World War Two. One file, concerning espionage operations on Gibraltar, has been smuggled out of the U.K. to Spain. It contains information that will draw Sullivan and Broderick into the dark and treacherous world of wartime Gibraltar. A place where saboteurs and espionage plots abounded. Where double and triple agents from Britain, Germany and Spain were at war in a treacherous and deadly game of undercover operations.

As the summer heat reaches its zenith in Gibraltar Town, a film crew has arrived on the Rock to shoot a movie about one of the most enigmatic and legendary spies of the war years – ‘The Queen of Diamonds’. Starring Hollywood A-lister Julia Novacs and produced by local born film maker, Gabriel Isolde, it is the talk of the Rock.

It is only a matter of time before past and present collide and a dangerous battle begins to conceal the truth about the Rock’s poisonous wartime history. Detectives Sullivan and Broderick become caught in a tangled web of intrigue and murder that will once again test their skills and working relationship to the very limit.

* * * * *

Crime

Courtesy of Amazon Vine. It’s set in Cornwall, it claims it’s perfect for fans of Peter May, the blurb sounds like fun and I love the cover. And that’s as much as I know about it…

The Blurb says: He was running from his past. She was running from her future. Sometimes helping a stranger is the last thing you should do . . .

The Cornish village of St Petroc is the sort of place where people come to hide. Tom Killgannon is one such person. An ex-undercover cop, Tom is in the Witness Protection Programme hiding from some very violent people and St Petroc’s offers him a chance to live a safe and quiet life. Until he meets Lila.

Lila is a seventeen-year-old runaway. When she breaks into Tom’s house she takes more than just his money. His wallet holds everything about his new identity. He also knows that Lila is in danger from the travellers’ commune she’s been living at. Something sinister has been going on there and Lila knows more than she realises. But to find her he risks not only giving away his location to the gangs he’s in hiding from, but also becoming a target for whoever is hunting Lila.

* * * * *

Crime

Courtesy of Random House, Vintage, via NetGalley. My resistance to contemporary psychological thrillers has been worn down by the relentless drip-drip of glowing reviews for Ruth Ware from you enablers over the last year or two, so it better be good or on your heads be it!

The Blurb says: When Harriet Westaway receives an unexpected letter telling her she’s inherited a substantial bequest from her Cornish grandmother, it seems like the answer to her prayers. She owes money to a loan shark and the threats are getting increasingly aggressive: she needs to get her hands on some cash fast.

There’s just one problem – Hal’s real grandparents died more than twenty years ago. The letter has been sent to the wrong person. But Hal knows that the cold-reading techniques she’s honed as a seaside fortune teller could help her con her way to getting the money. If anyone has the skills to turn up at a stranger’s funeral and claim a bequest they’re not entitled to, it’s her.

Hal makes a choice that will change her life for ever. But once she embarks on her deception, there is no going back. She must keep going or risk losing everything, even her life…

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Audible UK or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

… that shape being an amorphous mass… 

😦

A man, who shares the name and life of the author, tells the story of umpteen real assassinations in Colombia and America. I abandoned it at page 270 – just after the halfway mark – so maybe a fascinating plot emerges after that. One thing’s for sure, it didn’t emerge before it!

It starts off quite well, telling the story of how the narrator got sucked into a little group of conspiracy theorists who believed that there was more to the 1948 assassination of Jorge Eliécer Gaitan, a leading left-wing Colombian political figure, than the authorities had allowed to be revealed. At this point I thought I was going to love it, and I raced through the first 150 or so pages, during which the book compares Gaitan’s assassination and associated conspiracy theories to those surrounding the assassination of JFK, and discusses how both events adversely affected the nations in which they happened; in the case of Colombia, leading to years of violence. Then suddenly the book moves back in time to tell, in detail, of the assassination (and associated conspiracy theories) of Rafael Uribe Uribe, another leading left-wing political figure, in 1914, with a bit of comparison to the assassination carried out by Gavrilo Princip that provided the trigger for WW1. Okay, I could go along with that, though it was beginning to feel very much like a history of Colombia told backwards.

Then suddenly the book moves back in time again to tell, in detail, of the attempted assassination of some other guy whose name escapes me but was doubtless another leading left-wing political figure, at some date which I couldn’t care less about. By now I had reached about page 250 – a week that took me. The following three days saw me advance by twenty pages, so I had to conclude that the book had well and truly lost my interest, and I abandoned it.

My theory of fiction writing is – find a story, tell it, then stop. All the other meanings one wants to explore should be incorporated into that basic format. If there is no story, or as in this case, if the author loses track of the story for hundreds of pages while he recounts in immense detail lots of history backwards, then it’s not a novel. If one wants to write a history of assassinations and their impact, do that. If one wants to write an essay on why conspiracy theories arise and how they affect the political life of a country, do that. If one wants to write a novel, stick to the story. Great writers can include all three, but only the first two are optional.

Juan Gabriel Vásquez

Some reviewers have compared the writing to Javier Marías. Some see this as a good thing, others not so much. I fall into the latter camp. I’ve only read one book by Marías and I agree the rambling circuitous over-wordy style is similar. However, Marías’ writing, while it rather drove me up the wall, at least contains some beautiful prose and some truly thought-provoking ideas and images. The writing in this one is plain to the point of being monotone, with fifty words for every ten that are required; and for the most part is a straight recounting of (I assume true) facts, including photos and extracts from documents. I tried to assume that perhaps it was my ignorance of Colombian history that was causing me to lose all interest, but frankly if a British writer started by telling a story about Thatcher, then backtracked to Churchill, then Disraeli, I’d have found it equally tedious, interesting though I find each of those people individually. Given that there were another 240 pages to go, I was concerned we might end up back at Cain and Abel and the associated conspiracy theories that no doubt grew up around that…

The book probably deserves more, but since it failed to maintain my interest enough to keep me turning pages, one star it is.

NB This book was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Talking Classics…

The Classics Club Meme – May 2018

The Classics Club has reintroduced its monthly meme feature, and the question for this month is:

What is your favourite classic book? Why?

In truth, I’ve answered this question so often in various tags and memes, I can’t think of much new to say about my favourite book, which is Bleak House by Charles Dickens. So here’s a link to my previous post explaining why I love it.

Instead, I thought I’d adapt the question to looking at which of the books that I’ve read from my Classics Club list is my favourite so far. There are plenty of contenders even though I’m not a third of the way through yet. My list is split into five sections:

The American Section is not going well in truth, with some seriously disappointing reads so far. However, I enjoyed my re-read of To Kill a Mockingbird. But I’m giving the prize for this section to:

Passing by Nella Larsen, a book that is as much about marriage and status as it is about race. It tells the story of two women who meet up by accident after many years apart, and renew their childhood friendship. But their lives are wildly different now and soon each becomes a danger to the other’s security. It takes place in Harlem in the 1920s, and is an excellent book that gives real insight into this small section of black society at a moment in time.

The English Section is faring much better, with several five star reads so far. That’s partly because this section is packed with lots of re-reads so I knew in advance I already loved them. The prize goes to:

Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley. No introduction needed for this one, but I had forgotten just how good it is and how much it had to say about so many concerns of its time. Also, Derek Jacobi’s narration is wonderful – the power of his delivery of the monster’s story in particular moved me to tears and anger, and even literally raised the hairs on the back of my neck at points.

The Scottish Section has been a delight for me. I’m always ashamed at my lack of knowledge of the classics of my own country, so have been thrilled to enjoy nearly every one I’ve read so far. But the prize must go to:

The Gowk Storm by Nancy Brysson Morrison. This is fundamentally a book about young women seeking the men they will eventually marry but it’s also much more than that. It portrays the society of a particular place at a moment in time and does so brilliantly, showing the subtle social stratifications that limit the lives and suitable marriage prospects of these moderately privileged girls still further. Wonderfully written, with some beautiful descriptions of the wild landscape and weather of the Scottish Highlands.

The Crime Section has been great fun to date, with some hugely enjoyable reads and re-reads. I deliberately went for lighter choices on the whole, to provide some relief from the heavier books in the fiction sections. The prize goes to:

Cop Hater by Ed McBain – a re-read from long, long ago, this is the first book in the long-running 87th Precinct series. Set in the 1950s in a fictionalised New York, it’s part hardboiled, part modern police procedural with a touch of noir thrown in for good measure. Writing, setting, atmosphere and characterisation are all superb and, while some of the attitudes are obviously a bit dated, the storytelling isn’t at all.

The Science Fiction Section has been a mixed bag, with a couple of great ones and a couple that feel too dated now. It has set me off reading all of HG Wells sci-fi classics though, so for that reason the winner has to be:

The Island of Dr. Moreau by HG Wells – by far the grimmest of Wells’ classics, this has some horrific imagery and some scenes of real animal cruelty. But through the story he tells, Wells looks at some of the important themes of his time: the dangers of science without ethical controls, social structures and the new political theories, evolution past and future. Superbly written, I found the depth of the ideas it contained vastly outweighed the horror of the imagery.

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So those are the top contenders for favourite from my Classics Club list and, gosh, I’m finding it hard to pick just one to be the overall winner. But it must be done.

The winner is…

THE GOWK STORM

And I’m going to keep going on about it till everyone reads it, so you might as well just give in and get it over with… 😉

So… what do you think of my choices?

Daughters of the Winter Queen by Nancy Goldstone

Or maybe the sons…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

The Winter Queen of the title is Elizabeth, daughter of James VI of Scotland, later James I of England, and herself briefly Queen of Bohemia, through her marriage to Frederick, also known as the Palatinate. Elizabeth and Frederick produced an alarming number of children, the majority of whom lived into adulthood, and as their sons and daughters grew up and contracted marriages or made alliances, they spread their influence throughout the ruling families of 17th century Europe, thus being involved in all the major events (aka wars) of that turbulent period. The book is ostensibly about the four daughters who survived their childhood years – Elizabeth, Louise Hollandine, Henrietta Maria, and Sophia.

Did you notice that sneaky word “ostensibly”? In fact, the book is much more about the kings and sons than it is about queens and daughters. (Feminists may wish to look away for the next couple of sentences.) This is completely understandable since, at that period as in so much of history, women generally played a very small role in events, limited as often as not to being pawns in the diplomatic marriage market. There’s no doubt Elizabeth’s sons led much more interesting lives than her daughters, especially since only two of the girls married, and one of those died almost immediately afterwards. (You can come back now.) So I’m not complaining about the fact that Goldstone spent far more time with the men than the women – I’m merely pointing out that the title is a little misleading and the book may therefore set up false expectations in the prospective reader.

Goldstone writes breezily, with a great deal of affection towards her subjects, and with a lot of humour. The history can sometimes feel a little superficial – she is trying to cover a lengthy and complicated period in a relatively compact book – but it’s fun, and the characterisation is great. I use the word ‘characterisation’ intentionally, because she tells her story almost as if she were writing a novel – a comedy of manners, perhaps, with the odd episode of tragedy thrown in to leaven it. I feel that all sounds a little dismissive, and I don’t mean it to be. There’s lots of history in here, clearly excellently researched, and the non-academic style makes it approachable and easily digestible. The book is a pleasure to read, which is not something that can always be said about history books!

The first few chapters give a biography of Elizabeth (the Winter Queen) and then in the latter two-thirds or so of the book, Goldstone moves on to the daughters, rotating through them, giving them each a chapter in turn. So in total each daughter merits around four chapters. You can tell from this that we largely get a broad overview of their lives rather than the detailed minutiae that tends to appear in a single subject biography. Given the fact that in reality none of the women lived particularly exciting or historically significant lives, I felt this was plenty.

Triumph of the Winter Queen by Gerrit van Honthorst
The Queen surrounded by her many, many children in various allegorical poses.

But in fact, most of the chapters start with one of the daughters and then promptly swing away to her brother, husband, suitor or male friend. We follow a couple of the sons to England where they were involved in the events leading up to and following the execution of Charles I. Through Elizabeth, we spend some time in the company of her friend and teacher Descartes. Henrietta Maria married but then died too young to have much of a story to leave, poor thing. Through Louise, a skilled painter in her own right, we learn something about the artistic movements of the time. And through Sophia, the one who married and lived, we are taken into the politics of succession – the various manoeuvrings of those in power to gain territory through war, alliance and inheritance, again told mostly through the men’s stories.

Along the way, Goldstone brings the characters, male and female, to life by including their own words from correspondence and journals and by telling anecdotes about them. This gives a great and, I assume, accurate feel for their different personalities, and Goldstone delves back into their childhoods to show how their early experiences helped to mould them into the women (or men) they became. On the whole, the daughters seemed to be a pragmatic bunch. The various religious shenanigans in Europe meant that there was a limited pool of suitable matches for impoverished Protestant princesses, so those who didn’t marry took religious orders – one converting to Catholicism to do so. Sophia was the one who interested me most, not only because her life as a daughter, wife and mother of powerful men meant that she was more involved in events, but because she loved to write and had a witty, acerbic style that gave a real feeling for her and for the people she somewhat wickedly observed.

Nancy Goldstone

Overall, I enjoyed this book. That particular period of history is complicated by all the religious squabbling and ever-shifting allegiances so my eyes glazed over from time to time, but Goldstone does an excellent job of simplifying it and helping the reader through the maze. I thoroughly enjoy her writing style and would mention that her footnotes are not to be glossed over – often the best humour in the book is hidden in them. The book wasn’t quite what I was expecting, and the daughters weren’t as interesting as I’d hoped, on the whole, but there was plenty to keep me engaged in the stories of the sons, fathers and husbands. Next time though, I’d hope Goldstone could find women who were more interesting in their own right (as she did with Catherine de’ Medici and Marguerite de Valois in her previous book The Rival Queens) or not set up false expectations in her title. Not every book has to have a feminist angle, especially when there isn’t one, and The Children of the Winter Queen would have worked just as well, I feel. Recommended.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Little, Brown Book Group.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

The Royal Wedding Tag

…aka When Harry Met Meghan…

Okay, it’s official! I’ve been sucked into wedding fever against my will and my better judgement! The most exciting part will be seeing if Beatrice and Eugenie can possibly top the hats they wore when they auditioned for the pantomime of Cinderella to William and Kate’s wedding…

So in honour of The Big Day, I am proud to present…

The Royal Wedding Tag

The Happy Couple
(a book with a wedding in it)

When Bertie’s old chum Woody Beeching asks for Jeeves’ advice on how to patch things up with his fiancée, Bertie and Jeeves set off to Kingston St Giles to render assistance. A motley crew are collected under the roof of Melbury Hall – not just Woody, his girlfriend and her parents, but also Georgiana, a lovely young popsy Bertie had met before on the Côte d’Azur and, of course, fallen in love with…

The Bridesmaids
(a book where female friendship plays a role)

Trivia Night at Pirriwee Public Primary School in New South Wales doesn’t turn out quite as planned. We learn in Chapter 1 that the evening ends with a murder, but we don’t know the victim, the murderer or the motive. The group of mothers the book focuses on may have problems in their lives, but ultimately they’re survivors, with a strength that comes from their friendships and mutual support.

The Best Man
(a book where male friendship plays a part)

The funniest book ever written, this tells the tale of J, George and Harris – three young men who decide to spend their vacation rowing up the Thames. One of the things that always surprises me about the book is that the interactions between the three men is so little different to what it would be today, giving the stories a timeless quality. A lovely depiction of male friendship.

Flower Girls and Page Boys
(a book with a mixed-gender group of kids in it)

This is the story of Darling, a young girl living in a shanty town in Zimbabwe. When we first meet her, she is ten and spends most of her time with her little group of friends. Through them, we get a child’s-eye view of the devastation that has been wrought on the country during the Mugabe period. Despite all the bad things happening around them, the children seem on the surface to be like children anywhere – breaking rules and taking risks, full of bravado when in their group, dreaming of a better future.

Meet the In-Laws
(a book where an in-law plays a significant role)

Christmas at Southdown Farm is always an uncomfortable time for Clover Moon, since her disapproving mother-in-law Violet comes visiting. But this year’s even worse than usual. Firstly, Clover has realised she’s deeply unhappy with her life and is in a permanent state of rage. And secondly, someone appears to be trying to hurt her, perhaps even kill her. Clover is sure that Violet has finally lost her senses and become dangerous. As the worst snow for decades continues to fall, the farm is cut off without phone or electricity…

The Wedding Dress
(a book where clothes play a significant role)

The title story in this collection is a prequel to Perrault’s Donkeyskin, in which a king wishes to marry his daughter and orders three dresses for her, one the colour of the moon, one the colour of the sun and lastly one the colour of the sky. Bender’s story takes us to the store where the dresses are made. The old Color Master is fading and has picked our narrator to succeed her.

…I did what the Color Master had asked, and went for blue, then black, and I was incredibly slow, but for one moment I felt something as I hovered over the bins of blue. Just a tug of guidance from the white of the dress that led my hand to the middle blue. It felt, for a second, like harmonizing in a choir, the moment when the voice sinks into the chord structure and the sound grows, becomes more layered and full than before. So that was the right choice.

The Wedding Reception
(a book with a party or other social gathering in it)

When a mysterious notice appears in the Chipping Cleghorn Gazette, the villagers don’t take it very seriously. But they really should have…

‘A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6.30 p.m. Friends please accept this, the only intimation.’

The Wedding Feast
(a book that makes you hungry)

A beautifully illustrated literary anthology published by the British Library, the focus is on food, with extracts from many familiar and not-so-familiar authors. There is a mix of both poetry and prose, grouped together under headings such as: The Art of Hospitality, Love Bites, Childish Things, etc.

Afterwards the tables were covered with meats, antelopes with their horns, peacocks with their feathers, whole sheep cooked in sweet wine, haunches of she-camels and buffaloes, hedgehogs with garum, fried grasshoppers, and preserved dormice. Large pieces of fat floated in the midst of saffron in bowls of Tamrapanni wood. Everything was running over with wine, truffles, and asafoetida. Pyramids of fruit were crumbling upon honeycombs, and they had not forgotten a few of those plump little dogs with pink silky hair and fattened on olive lees…

Gustave Flaubert, Salammbô

The Honeymoon
(a book that takes place in a romantic location)

Where more romantic than Paris, City of Lovers? Though perhaps this isn’t the most romantic book. It’s 1929 and Paris is filled with avant-garde artists leading the bohemian life. So when Harris Stuyvesant, ex-FBI agent turned private investigator, is hired to find a missing young American woman he fully expects to find her so immersed in this exciting world that she’s simply forgotten the folks back home. As Harris plunges into the strange and twisted world of surrealist art, Grand Guinol theatre, decadence and drugs, he begins to realise that the glittering artistic society hides a dark secret…

Favourite Literary Couple

If you’d like to plan your own wedding, I’d love to read your choices.

Have a lovely Royal Wedding Weekend! 😀

TBR Thursday 159…

Episode 159…

Another amazing fall of a whole 1 in the TBR this week – down to 219! I really think I’m beginning to get into the swing of this!

Here are a few more that will swing my way soon…

Classics Club

I stuck this in the sci-fi section of my Classics Club list, though I’m not convinced it really fits there. It’s hailed as a feminist classic and since I’m not generally a fan of books that get classified as feminist literature, I have my doubts as to how I’ll get on with it. But there’s only one way to find out…

The Blurb says: A prominent turn-of-the-century social critic and lecturer, Charlotte Perkins Gilman is perhaps best known for her short story The Yellow Wallpaper, a chilling study of a woman’s descent into insanity, and Women and Economics, a classic of feminist theory that analyses the destructive effects of women’s economic reliance on men.

In Herland, a vision of a feminist utopia, Gilman employs humour to engaging effect in a story about three male explorers who stumble upon an all-female society isolated somewhere in South America. Noting the advanced state of the civilization they’ve encountered, the visitors set out to find some males, assuming that since the country is so civilized, “there must be men.” A delightful fantasy, the story enables Gilman to articulate her then-unconventional views of male-female roles and capabilities, motherhood, individuality, privacy, the sense of community, sexuality, and many other topics.

Decades ahead of her time in evolving a humanistic, feminist perspective, Gilman has been rediscovered and warmly embraced by contemporary feminists. An articulate voice for both women and men oppressed by the social order of the day, she adeptly made her points with a wittiness often missing from polemical writings.

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Vintage Crime

Courtesy of the British Library. I loved Verdict of Twelve by the same author, so have high hopes for this one…

The Blurb says: One bleak Friday evening in January, 1942, Councillor Henry Grayling boards an overcrowded train with £120 in cash wages to be paid out the next day to the workers of Barrow and Furness Chemistry and Drugs Company. When Councillor Grayling finally finds the only available seat in a third-class carriage, he realises to his annoyance that he will be sharing it with some of his disliked acquaintances: George Ransom, with whom he had a quarrel; Charles Evetts, who is one of his not-so-trusted employees; a German refugee whom Grayling has denounced; and Hugh Rolandson, whom Grayling suspects of having an affair with his wife.

The train journey passes uneventfully in an awkward silence but later that evening Grayling dies of what looks like mustard gas poisoning and the suitcase of cash is nowhere to be found. Inspector Holly has a tough time trying to get to the bottom of the mystery, for the unpopular Councillor had many enemies who would be happy to see him go, and most of them could do with the cash he was carrying. But Inspector Holly is persistent and digs deep into the past of all the suspects for a solution, starting with Grayling’s travelling companions. Somebody at the Door, first published in 1943, is an intricate mystery which, in the process of revealing whodunit, “paints an interesting picture of the everyday life during the war.”

* * * * *

Fiction

Courtesy of NetGalley. I requested this one purely based on the blurb and the fact that it would fit neatly into my Around the World challenge, but since then I’ve seen several not-so-glowing reviews and my enthusiasm has waned quite a bit. However, these things are always subjective to a degree at least, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. It’s also one of my favourite covers of the year so far…

The Blurb says: The last person Alice Shipley expected to see since arriving in Tangier with her new husband was Lucy Mason. After the accident at Bennington, the two friends—once inseparable roommates—haven’t spoken in over a year. But there Lucy was, trying to make things right and return to their old rhythms. Perhaps Alice should be happy. She has not adjusted to life in Morocco, too afraid to venture out into the bustling medinas and oppressive heat. Lucy—always fearless and independent—helps Alice emerge from her flat and explore the country.

But soon a familiar feeling starts to overtake Alice—she feels controlled and stifled by Lucy at every turn. Then Alice’s husband, John, goes missing, and Alice starts to question everything around her: her relationship with her enigmatic friend, her decision to ever come to Tangier, and her very own state of mind.

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Christie on Audio

Still thoroughly enjoying listening to some of the Agatha Christie books narrated by the wonderful Captain Hastings himself, Hugh Fraser. I haven’t read this book in years so have only a sketchy memory of the plot…

The Blurb says: As instructed, stenographer Sheila Webb let herself into the house at 19 Wilbraham Crescent. It was then that she made a grisly discovery: the body of a dead man sprawled across the living-room floor.

What intrigued Poirot about the case was the time factor. Although in a state of shock, Sheila clearly remembered having heard a cuckoo clock strike 3.00. Yet, the four other clocks in the living room all showed the time as 4.13. Even more strange: only one of these clocks belonged to the owner of the house.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Audible.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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