TBR Thursday 314…

Episode 314

Well, the New Year resolution to reduce the TBR has got off to a fine start – it’s gone up three to 182! Still, eleven and a half months to go…

Here are a few more I’ll be reading soon. A couple of Scottish writers this week, and all four books are from writers I’ve enjoyed before…


Unlocking the World by John Darwin

Courtesy of Allen Lane. John Darwin won the 2013 FF Factual Book of the Year Award for his excellent Unfinished Empire. The prize is that I will read the author’s next book. It’s taken a while for a new one to come along, and happily it looks just as interesting…

The Blurb says: Steam power transformed our world, initiating the complex, resource-devouring industrial system the consequences of which we live with today. It revolutionized work and production, but also the ease and cost of movement over land and water. The result was to throw open vast areas of the world to the rampaging expansion of Europeans and Americans on a scale previously unimaginable.

Unlocking the World is the captivating history of the great port cities which emerged as the bridgeheads of this new steam-driven economy, reshaping not just the trade and industry of the regions around them but their culture and politics as well. They were the agents of what we now call ‘globalization’, but their impact and influence, and the reactions they provoked, were far from predictable. Nor were they immune to the great upheavals in world politics across the ‘steam century’.

This book is global history at its very best. Packed with fascinating case histories (from New Orleans to Montreal, Bombay to Singapore, Calcutta to Shanghai), individual stories and original ideas, Darwin’s book allows us, for better or worse, to see the modern age taking shape.

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Scottish Historical Crime

The Heretic by Liam McIlvaney

Courtesy of HarperCollins. I’ve only read one of Liam McIlvanney’s books before, and found it a good read, though it suffered from my inability to stop comparing it unfairly with the great Glasgow-set crime novels of his dad, William McIlvanney. I’m happy to have a second chance and hopefully will be able to judge him on his own merits this time – I’ll try, anyway!

The Blurb says: Set in 1976, seven years after the murders recounted in Liam McIlvanney’s breakout novel, The Quaker, this new Glasgow noir novel is a standalone mystery featuring serial character, Detective Duncan McCormack.

McCormack has returned to Glasgow after a stint with the Metropolitan Police in London. The reason for his return is left a lurking mystery throughout. He is investigating a series of murders that seem at first to be the result of random bouts of violence among Glasgow’s poor and destitute. McCormack, however, has insight into Glasgow’s underground that many of his colleagues don’t. He has a secret of his own that he guards carefully but that takes him places and introduces him to people that prove essential to his investigations.

Mcilvanney’s The Quaker was named the Scottish Crime Fiction Book of the Year and a Washington Post Best Book of the Year. The Guardian called it “a solidly crafted and satisfying detective story.” McIlvanney is known for his well crafted plots, his deep characterization, and his stylish prose. The Heretic is no exception.

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Scottish Historical Fiction

Rose Nicolson by Andrew Greig

Courtesy of Quercus via NetGalley. I’ve loved Greig’s writing in the past but have been less enamoured by the subjects he has chosen to write about – his books can be a bit too grief-laden for my tastes. This one, however, sounds right up my street, and my hopes for it are stratospheric! (Any blurb that includes the line “John Knox is dead” is already singing my song… 😉 )

The Blurb says: Embra, winter of 1574. Queen Mary has fled Scotland, to raise an army from the French. Her son and heir, Jamie is held under protection in Stirling Castle. John Knox is dead. The people are unmoored and lurching under the uncertain governance of this riven land. It’s a deadly time for young student Will Fowler, short of stature, low of birth but mightily ambitious, to make his name.

Fowler has found himself where the scorch marks of the martyrs burned at the stake can be seen on every street, where differences in doctrine can prove fatal, where the feuds of great families pull innocents into their bloody realm. There he befriends the austere stick-wielding philosopher Tom Nicolson, son of a fishing family whose sister Rose, untutored, brilliant and exceedingly beautiful exhibits a free-thinking mind that can only bring danger upon her and her admirers. The lowly students are adept at attracting the attentions of the rich and powerful, not least Walter Scott, brave and ruthless heir to Branxholm and Buccleuch, who is set on exploiting the civil wars to further his political and dynastic ambitions. His friendship and patronage will lead Will to the to the very centre of a conspiracy that will determine who will take Scotland’s crown.

Rose Nicolson is a vivid, passionate and unforgettable novel of this most dramatic period of Scotland’s history, told by a character whose rise mirrors the conflicts he narrates, the battles between faith and reason, love and friendship, self-interest and loyalty. It confirms Andrew Greig as one of the great contemporary writers of fiction.

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The Wolf Hall Trilogy on Audio

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

We waited so long for the final part of this trilogy that I felt I really needed to re-read the first two books before tackling the third. So since I’d heard that Ben Miles does a wonderful job of the narration, I decided to listen to them all. They’re incredibly long and as regulars will know I’m incredibly slow at listening to audiobooks, so this will be a kind of mini-challenge to listen to the whole trilogy this year. I’ve started this one and totally agree about Miles’ narration so far…

The Blurb says: Listen to the exciting new rendition of Wolf Hall, read by Ben Miles, who was personally cast by the author and played Thomas Cromwell in the Royal Shakespeare Company adaptation of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. The winner of the Man Booker Prize and captivating first book in the Thomas Cromwell trilogy.

England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey’s clerk and later his successor.

Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events.

Ruthless in pursuit of his own interests, he is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.

From one of our finest living writers, Wolf Hall is that very rare thing: a truly great English novel, one that explores the intersection of individual psychology and wider politics. With a vast array of character and richly overflowing with incident, it peels back history to show us Tudor England as a half-made society, moulding itself with great passion and suffering and courage.

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

58 thoughts on “TBR Thursday 314…

  1. The McIlvanney tempts me, FictionFan. I do like his writing, and the plot sounds really interesting. I also noticed you’ve got Wolf Hall on audio. It’s interesting; I read the book in paper format, and I’m wondering if my experience of the story would be improved or the opposite if I listened instead. In some ways, it’s the sort of epic novel that I can see lending itself to the audio format (as a great storyteller can keep you spellbound), so long as you have a good narrator. But on the other hand, It can be nice to linger over parts of a novel like that, the way one can more easily do with a paper novel. I’ll be interested in what you think of the audio version.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the McIlvanney works better for me this time! I’ve found that I’m much better at listening to books I’ve read before than trying to read a book for the first time that way, because of what you say – I do like to be able to ponder and flick back when reading for the first time. I’ve come to look on audiobooks as almost a different art form, like watching the film of the book. I find I’m paying more attention to the performance of the narrator than to the intricacies of the story. I have a Kindle copy of The Mirror and the Light too, so when I get to that one I’ll probably read and listen rather than just relying on the audiobook.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A very good idea to listen to the Wolf Hall trilogy, I haven’t read the third part yet and might take up your suggestion to listen instead, I feel feint at the thought of reading the first two volumes again, no matter how much I enjoyed them!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Haha, me too, which is why I decided to go the audio route this time! I’m finding more and more that I use audiobooks for re-reads that I can’t find time to fit into my normal reading schedule. But it will take me several months to listen to all three volumes!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The only one that tempts me is Wolf Hall, which I’ve had tagged at the library for AGES. As slowly as I’m reading so far this year, my TBR will definitely increase rather than go down. The best of luck to you!

    Liked by 2 people

    • My reading has dropped like a stone since the New Year for no good reason, so I’m behind already! Wolf Hall was excellent, but it’s so long since I read it I don’t remember any of the detail now. So far the audiobook is very good.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Unlocking the World looks as though it should be very informative, I have always found the industrial revolution interesting. Good luck with the Wolf Hall novels, they will certainly take you a while. I’ve still to get to the Mirror and the Light, but have the Ben Miles recording ready to go. I’m glad you are enjoying his narration.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love that period of history too, and I must say he’s an excellent writer as well as being a renowned historian – two things that don’t always go together! Ha, yes, I think the three volumes of the Wolf Hall trilogy will take me the best part of the year to listen to, though I’ll intersperse them with some lighter stuff along the way. The Mirror and the Light especially is massive!


  5. I had the same response as you to a Liam McIlvanney book I read some time ago, so I’ll be interested in how you find this one. Rose Nicolson and its setting does interest me. I haven’t started reading Mantel’s trilogy yet, but Wolf Hall is on my list. I’ll probably do an audio and book read once I get there.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve just started the McIlvanney but I fear all the same issues are happening again. I do wish he’d set his novels in a different time and place so that it was a bit easier to avoid comparison. I have high hopes for Rose Nicolson – Greig is a good writer. I loved Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies – in fact, Wolf Hall inspired my first ever review, on Amazon, back in the day, so really the blog is Mantel’s fault… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • I have high hopes for Rose Nicolson – he’s such a good writer and for once he’s chosen a subject that is my kind of thing! I’m enjoying Ben Miles’ narration, which is just as well since I’ll be spending several months in his company listening to all three of these massive tomes!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. One of my resolutions is to read more. I got “The Women of Weird Tales” (Valancourt Books) mainly to read “Great Pan Is Here” by Greye La Spina. Very good. Am starting through some of the other stories. Very nice (and spooky!)

    Liked by 2 people

    • That looks like an interesting series, but unfortunately doesn’t seem to be published over here, meaning the books are only available at ridiculously high import prices. Hopefully they might put them out as Kindle copies at least at some point in time.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m enjoying Unlocking the World so far. He’s that relatively rare beast – a real historian who also writes very well. The whole Victorian Age of Empires era is fascinating, and Darwin is very good at covering a vast subject in a digestible way!


  7. So it seems that very few of your devoted readers were tempted this week. But I, on the other hand, would love to read all of these! That is not a good thing by the way. Just in case you were wondering 😳😄

    Liked by 3 people

  8. My mother stayed alive for the release of the final instalment in the Wolf Hall trilogy. I’m ashamed to say I’ve only read the first & last chapters of The Mirror and the Light (to Mum, in palliative care). Maybe the audiobook is the way to go for me, too, FF.

    All these options sound great, especially the John Darwin.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s always hard when a book takes on a personal association like that, but it can also be a comfort to have these memories after enough time has passed. I still think of my mother every time Sansom brings out a new Shardlake novel – we both loved those and used to read them as soon as they came out. I hope you’ll be able to read and enjoy The Mirror and the Light when you’re ready.

      The Darwin is excellent so far – he’s that relatively rare combination of great historian and good writer!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Goodness, The Wolf Hall trilogy on audio sounds like a marathon project. Good luck! Btw. I am impressed that your TBR has stayed below 200 – I honestly thought it was just a short-lived abnormality, when it crossed that threshold.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ha, at the rate I listen to audiobooks it certainly will be! I know I joke about my TBR but I actually hate when it goes over 200, Before I started blogging I never had a TBR, and I enjoyed books more if I read them as soon as I got them before there was time for my tastes to move on and my enthusiasm to wear off!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Do you allow yourself to remove books from the TBR without giving them a try? I could imagine, it happens that you don’t feel like reading a book anymore if it’s a number of year since you added it to the TBR.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I do now, but that’s quite recent – I used to feel that if I’d bought them, even on a Kindle sale for 99p, I was morally obliged to read them. But a year or two ago I started to cull the ones I’d really lost interest in, and now I feel most of the books are ones I’m still enthusiastic about.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Do you keep a separate wish list? I have a 2-tier system, so I add potential reads to the wish list when I hear about them. Then later I look further into them and may delete again. If / when I decide to read something from the wish list, I buy it, move it to the TBR and normally read it shortly after. Works well (most of the time… 😉).

            Liked by 1 person

            • That’s pretty much my system except that I’m not so good about reading them promptly after buying them. But I do start by putting them on my Amazon wishlist and leaving them for a month or two to see if my enthusiasm lasts. I try not to buy too many books to just lie around unread, but the vagaries of receiving books for review often means my purchased reads drift down the priority list…

              Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh my -the Wolf Hall trilogy listening project looks to be a long one! How many hours in total is that trilogy? I’ve never read the books (the length scares me) but I’m wondering if I’m missing out. I did read Ducks Newburyport so I can surely get through at least one of these….

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s about 83 hours worth, and since I tend to average about two hours a week, it’ll literally take me most of the year. I loved the first two books back when they came out, but the last one really is a monster – I only hope it’s worth it!

      Liked by 1 person

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