TBR Thursday 278… and Quarterly Round-Up

TBR Quarterly Report

At the New Year, as I do every year, I set myself some targets for my various reading challenges and for the reduction of my ever-expanding TBR. Now that last year’s slump seems to be a thing of the past, I’m storming through the books this year, which ought to mean I’ll be smashing all my targets. Ought to…

Here goes, then – the first check-in of the year…

TBR Quarterly Mar 2021

On the whole, I’m pretty OK with these figures. The shortfall in new releases will be made up very quickly since I have tons on the TBR now, which also explains why the TBR total has gone up rather than down. Of course, that will make it harder to fit other challenge books in, but hey! Who’s counting? 😉

* * * * * * *

The Classics Club

I read four from my Classics Club list this quarter, but have only reviewed three of them so far…

73. The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens – The only Dickens novel I hadn’t read before, and happily I loved the story of Little Nell and her grandfather, evil Daniel Quilp, and the usual myriad of quirky characters Dickens has created to delight us. 5 stars

74. Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp – A rom-com that neither thrilled me with the rom nor amused me with the com. Cluny’s coming-of-age story meanders unrealistically through the social classes of pre-war Britain. Just 2 stars.

75. Whisky Galore by Compton Mackenzie – unfortunately the humour didn’t work for me in this cosy wartime tale of Hebridean highlanders and a shipwreck full of whisky. An excellent narration lifted it, though. 3 stars.

So a couple of disappointments this quarter, but Dickens more than compensated!

75 down, 15 to go!

* * * * * * *

Murder Mystery Mayhem

Doing slightly better on this challenge this quarter – I’ve read three, though I’ve only reviewed 2 so far…

41. Crime at Diana’s Pool by Victor L Whitechurch – During a garden party, the host turns up dead, face down in a pond with a knife in his back. The local vicar quickly deduces it’s murder! Quite enjoyable, but with nothing to really make it stand out from the crowd. 3 stars.

42. At the Villa Rose by AEW Mason (link to be added) – When an elderly widow is murdered and her beautiful young companion goes missing, her lover (the companion’s, not the widow’s) begs Inspector Hanaud of the Sûreté to take on the investigation. Oddly structured, but I enjoyed it a lot. 4 stars.

42 down, 60 to go!

* * * * * * *

Reading the Spanish Civil War Challenge

Finally getting into this challenge properly and enjoying it greatly so far, and I’ve got some interesting fiction to come now that I’ve got a bit of an understanding of the factual history. I read two this quarter and had one still to review from last year. Only two reviews though – my reviewing is very behind at the moment.

3. The Spanish Labyrinth by Gerald Brenan. Gerald Brenan explains in his introduction that, having been there at the start of the Spanish Civil War, he wanted to understand what led to it, and preoccupied himself with studying this during the war. This book, first published in 1943, is the result, and is now considered a classic history of the period. Deservedly so. 5 stars.

4. Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. Orwell fought with the Trotskyite POUM faction against Franco’s Fascists, and later was involved in the left’s in-fighting during the Barcelona May Days. This is his personal memoir of his time in Spain. An excellent read, with the politics reserved for the appendices. 5 stars.

4 down, indefinite number to go!

* * * * * * *

The People’s Choice

People's Choice Logo

I’m just finishing March’s pick so haven’t reviewed it yet, so just two reviews so far – did You, The People, pick me some good ones…?

JanuaryThe Old Buzzard Had It Coming by Donis Casey – Harley Day beats his wife, terrorises his children, fights with his neighbours and has fallen out with his relations, so when he turns up dead the general feeling in the little town of Boynton and the surrounding farming community is that the old buzzard sure had it coming! I thoroughly enjoyed this cosy-ish murder mystery, set in the early 1900s in Oklahoma. 4½ stars.

FebruaryThe Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver – The Price family arrive in a remote village in the Belgian Congo to take over the Baptist mission there. The four daughters of the family tell us of their time there and how it affected their future lives, and along the way show us the impacts of modern colonialism. A wonderful book, well deserving of all the praise and plaudits it has received. 5 stars.

Well done, People – you did great!

2 down, 10 to go!

* * * * * * *

Wanderlust Bingo

Wanderlust Bingo March 2021

I haven’t stepped out of my usual UK beat much yet this year, and will probably juggle with this a lot as I go along to slot things into the various categories. I’ll be spoiled for choice for books set in Scotland and England so will leave them to the end and see which boxes I’m struggling to fill. Here’s what I’m considering so far…

CongoThe Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver – 5 stars. I’ve slotted this into River at the moment, but it could also fit Africa or Forest.

SpainIn Diamond Square by Mercè Rodoreda (review to follow) – set in Barcelona, I’ve put this in City, but it could also fit Europe.

Hmm… lot’s of work to do on this one, but I have a few interesting locations coming up on the TBR.

2 down, 23 to go!

* * * * * * *

A much better quarter, in terms of both quantity and quality, not to mention enjoyability. Thanks as always for sharing my reading experiences!

PS I appear to have gone on an unintentional break by virtue of not having written any reviews! So I’m going to take that as a sign and have a couple of weeks off to get ahead of myself again. Be good, and…

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

At the Villa Rose by AEW Mason

Villain or victim?

😀 😀 😀 😀

At the Villa RoseMr Julius Ricardo is enjoying himself at the casino in Aux-les-Bains, people-watching. This night the person he’s most interested in is a beautiful young girl, who at first seems to be in the depths of despair. Later in the evening, Ricardo sees her again with a friend of his, Harry Wethermill, and now she appears to be quite happy, and the two give every indication of being very much in love. So Ricardo is duly shocked when Wethermill rushes into his room a couple of mornings later to beg for Ricardo’s help. A wealthy elderly widow, Mme Dauvray, has been found murdered and Celia Harland, the beautiful girl who, it transpires, was Mme Dauvray’s companion, is missing. Everything points to Celia having been in cahoots with the murderer and having made off with Mme Dauvray’s fabulous jewellery collection. But Wethermill cannot believe this of her, and begs Ricardo to use his influence with another friend, Inspector Hanaud of the Paris Sûreté, to take on the case…

This was first published in 1910, before the standard Golden Age mystery formula of crime-investigation-solution had been fully developed, and so the structure is odd and a bit disjointed. Here, we get the crime, followed by Hanaud brilliantly catching those responsible. Then, as a kind of lengthy epilogue, we are taken back into the past and shown what happened in a narrative supposedly developed from the various witness testimonies. After that, Hanaud briefly tells Ricardo how he worked it out, but by that time the reader ought to have spotted all the clues for herself, so it’s a bit of an anti-climax.

Despite this “lop-sided” structure as Martin Edwards describes it, I thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, the long section where we see the crime unfold before our eyes manages to be dark and tense even though we know the outcome. The characterisation of the victim, villains and suspects is very well done, and there’s a real sense of innocence meeting evil.

Murder Mystery Mayhem Logo 2Challenge details:
Book: 8
Subject Heading: A New Era Dawns
Publication Year: 1910

Mme Dauvray is a kindly soul with lots of money, and so is often taken advantage of. She is a believer in spiritualism, and her long-serving maid and confidante operates as a kind of guard-dog, keeping away those who would prey on the widow. But when Mme Dauvray takes a fancy to Celia, who is an accomplished medium, and moves her in as a favoured companion, the maid is not unnaturally jealous. Her description to the police of Celia as a calculating fraud is wildly at variance with Wethermill’s idealised picture of her as a lovely innocent – it’s up to Hanaud and the reader to decide who’s right. However it’s obvious that the crime involved more than one person, so even if Celia was involved, there’s still a mystery as to who were her accomplices.

AEW Mason (2)
AEW Mason

The investigators aren’t quite such good characters in my view. Inspector Hanaud and Ricardo, who quickly becomes his sidekick, are rather caricatured versions of Holmes and Watson (far more than Poirot and Hastings, in my opinion, although it has been suggested they gave Christie the inspiration for her characters). But Hanaud is one of those superior detectives who likes nothing more than to humiliate his sidekick, and since I felt Ricardo didn’t deserve it (even though he is pretty dense sometimes), I found it hard to like Hanaud. However, we do get to see the clues that allow Hanaud to identify the culprits so it ought to be possible to work it out. By chance I happened on the right suspect, but for all the wrong reasons, so I don’t feel I can take much credit for it! The solution, although credible, isn’t straightforward, so that even when we discover halfway through whodunit, there’s still plenty left to reveal.

Undoubtedly it could have been improved by changing the structure, but fortunately I enjoyed the second half – the storytelling of the crime – more than the first half, so felt far more warmly towards it in the end than I initially thought I might. I believe Mason wrote several Hanaud books, and I’d be happy to meet him again.

I downloaded this one from wikisource.

TBR Thursday 277…

Episode 277

Oh, no! Despite all my efforts, somehow the TBR has gone up again by one this week to… oh, no! 200!! It’s not my fault though! It’s all those horrible publishers and book-sellers ganging up on me!

browse-me-books

Here are a few I’ll be browsing soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

Sweet Caress by William Boyd

Sweet CaressAn excellent choice, People, though you surprised me – I was sure that Louise Penny’s Still Life would run away with it this time. It was very close – just one vote between them, with the other two lagging a few votes behind. I plan to read this one in June…

The Blurb says: Born into Edwardian England, Amory Clay’s first memory is of her father standing on his head. She has memories of him returning on leave during the First World War. But his absences, both actual and emotional, are what she chiefly remembers. It is her photographer uncle Greville who supplies the emotional bond she needs, who, when he gives her a camera and some rudimentary lessons in photography, unleashes a passion that will irrevocably shape her future. A spell at boarding school ends abruptly and Amory begins an apprenticeship with Greville in London, photographing socialites for the magazine Beau Monde. But Amory is hungry for more and her search for life, love and artistic expression will take her to the demi monde of Berlin of the late ’20s, to New York of the ’30s, to the blackshirt riots in London, and to France in the Second World War, where she becomes one of the first women war photographers. Her desire for experience will lead Amory to further wars, to lovers, husbands and children as she continues to pursue her dreams and battle her demons.

In this enthralling story of a life fully lived, illustrated with “found” period photographs, William Boyd has created a sweeping panorama of some of the most defining moments of modern history, told through the camera lens of one unforgettable woman, Amory Clay. It is his greatest achievement to date.

* * * * *

Classic Science Fiction

Way Station by Clifford D Simak

One from my Classics Club list. I’ve only read a couple of Simak’s short stories before in various anthologies, but I’ve been impressed, so I’m looking forward to this one…

The Blurb says: Enoch Wallace is an ageless hermit, striding across his untended farm as he has done for over a century, still carrying the gun with which he had served in the Civil War. But what his neighbors must never know is that, inside his unchanging house, he meets with a host of unimaginable friends from the farthest stars.

More than a hundred years before, an alien named Ulysses had recruited Enoch as the keeper of Earth’s only galactic transfer station. Now, as Enoch studies the progress of Earth and tends the tanks where the aliens appear, the charts he made indicate his world is doomed to destruction. His alien friends can only offer help that seems worse than the dreaded disaster. Then he discovers the horror that lies across the galaxy…

* * * * *

Crime

The Silence by Susan Allott

Courtesy of HarperCollins. Another unsolicited review copy and I feel this could go either way for me. Dual time story from the looks of it – when will that trend end? But it has pretty high ratings on Goodreads, so fingers crossed…

The Blurb says: It is 1997, and in a basement flat in Hackney, Isla Green is awakened by a call in the middle of the night: her father phoning from Sydney. Thirty years ago, in the suffocating heat of summer 1967, the Green’s next-door neighbor Mandy disappeared. At the time, it was thought she fled a broken marriage and gone to start a new life; but now Mandy’s family is trying to reconnect, and there is no trace of her. Isla’s father Joe was allegedly the last person to see her alive, and now he’s under suspicion of murder.

Isla unwillingly plans to go back to Australia for the first time in a decade to support her father. The return to Sydney will plunge Isla deep into the past, to a quiet street by the sea where two couples live side by side. Isla’s parents, Louisa and Joe, have recently emigrated from England – a move that has left Louisa miserably homesick while Joe embraces his new life. Next door, Steve and Mandy are equally troubled. Mandy doesn’t want a baby, even though Steve – a cop trying to hold it together under the pressures of the job – is desperate to become a father.

The more Isla asks about the past, the more she learns: about both young couples and the secrets each marriage bore. Could her father be capable of doing something terrible? How much does her mother know? What will happen to their family if Isla’s worst fears are realized? And is there another secret in this community, one which goes deeper into Australia’s colonial past, which has held them in a conspiracy of silence?

* * * * *

Christie on Audio

Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie read by Hugh Fraser

After a couple of long audiobooks, I feel I need to feed my Christie/Fraser addiction, and the cats feel it’s too long since their namesakes Tommy and Tuppence got a mention on the blog. I’m a bit surprised the blurb says “six short stories” since I think there are thirteen in the print collection, and the length of the audiobook suggests it’s unabridged. I’m hoping it’s a blurb error… 

The Blurb says: Six short stories from the Queen of Crime, telling, amongst other things, of Pink Pearls and Sinister Strangers.

Bonus Feature: Includes an exclusive Q&A session between Hugh Fraser and David Brawn, Publishing Operations Director at HarperCollins.

Tommy and Tuppence Beresford were restless for adventure, so when they were asked to take over Blunt’s International Detective Agency, they leapt at the chance. After their triumphant recovery of a pink pearl, intriguing cases kept on coming their way: a stabbing on Sunningdale golf course; cryptic messages in the personal columns of newspapers; and even a box of poisoned chocolates.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 276 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 276

(A reminder of the People’s Choice plan. Once a month, I shall list the four oldest books on the TBR, then the next four, and so on, and each time you will select the one you think I should read, either because you’ve read and enjoyed it, or because you think the blurb looks good. And I will read the one you pick within three months! If I begin to fall behind, I’ll have a gap till I catch up again. In the event of a tie, I’ll have the casting vote.)

* * * * *

OK, time for the next batch of four! This is the very last batch from 2015 – a year when I was clearly buying far more books than it was possible to read. As usual, I’m planning three months ahead so the winner will be a June read. A particularly varied bunch this time, and they all still sound potentially great to me so you really can’t go wrong! Although I’ve been a Rebus fan for years I’ve always dipped in and out, so that there are still a few I haven’t read – A Good Hanging is one of them. I’ve read about a million glowing reviews of Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series, of which Still Life is the first. William Boyd is an excellent storyteller when he’s on form, but sometimes he isn’t, so Sweet Caress could go either way. And A Tangled Web made it onto my TBR when Rose reviewed it way back when the world was young!

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Crime

A Good Hanging by Ian Rankin

Added 9th December 2015. 2,835 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.86 average rating. 320 pages.

The Blurb says: Twelve remarkable, gritty stories starring Detective Inspector John Rebus in his home city of Edinburgh, as only Ian Rankin can portray it: not just the tearooms and cobbled streets of the tourist brochures, but a modern urban metropolis with a full range of criminals and their victims–blackmailers, peeping Toms, and more than one kind of murderer. It’s a city like any other, a city that gives birth to crimes of passion, accidents, and long-hidden jealousy, and a city in which criminal minds find it all too easy to fade into the shadows. As dedicated readers of the series well know, nobody is better equipped to delve into Edinburgh’s back alleys and smoky pubs than Rebus, and no one better able to illuminate his world than Ian Rankin.

* * * * *

Crime

Still Life by Louise Penny

Added 22nd December 2015. 164,211 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.88 average. 321 pages.

The Blurb says: As the early morning mist clears on Thanksgiving Sunday, the homes of Three Pines come to life – all except one…

To locals, the village is a safe haven. So they are bewildered when a well-loved member of the community is found lying dead in the maple woods. Surely it was an accident – a hunter’s arrow gone astray. Who could want Jane Neal dead?

In a long and distinguished career with the Sûreté du Quebec, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has learned to look for snakes in Eden. Gamache knows something dark is lurking behind the white picket fences, and if he watches closely enough, Three Pines will begin to give up its secrets…

* * * * *

Fiction

Sweet Caress by William Boyd

Added 23rd December 2015. 8,172 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.93 average. 464 pages. 

The Blurb says: Born into Edwardian England, Amory Clay’s first memory is of her father standing on his head. She has memories of him returning on leave during the First World War. But his absences, both actual and emotional, are what she chiefly remembers. It is her photographer uncle Greville who supplies the emotional bond she needs, who, when he gives her a camera and some rudimentary lessons in photography, unleashes a passion that will irrevocably shape her future. A spell at boarding school ends abruptly and Amory begins an apprenticeship with Greville in London, photographing socialites for the magazine Beau Monde. But Amory is hungry for more and her search for life, love and artistic expression will take her to the demi monde of Berlin of the late ’20s, to New York of the ’30s, to the blackshirt riots in London, and to France in the Second World War, where she becomes one of the first women war photographers. Her desire for experience will lead Amory to further wars, to lovers, husbands and children as she continues to pursue her dreams and battle her demons.

In this enthralling story of a life fully lived, illustrated with “found” period photographs, William Boyd has created a sweeping panorama of some of the most defining moments of modern history, told through the camera lens of one unforgettable woman, Amory Clay. It is his greatest achievement to date.

* * * * *

Fiction

A Tangled Web by LM Montgomery

Added 30th December 2015. 4,464 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.88 average. 257 pages.

The Blurb says: Over the years sixty members of the Dark family and sixty Penhallows have married one another—but not without their share of fighting and feuding. Now Aunt Becky, the eccentric old matriarch of the clan, has bequeathed her prized possession: a legendary heirloom jug. But the name of the jug’s new owner will not be revealed for one year. In the next twelve months beautiful Gay Penhallow’s handsome fiancé Noel Gibson leaves her for sly and seductive Nan Penhallow; reckless Peter Penhallow and lovely Donna Dark, who have hated each other since childhood, are inexplicably brought together by the jug; Hugh and Joscelyn Dark, separated on their wedding night ten years ago for reasons never revealed, find a second chance—all watched over by the mysterious Moon Man, who has the gift of second sight. Then comes the night when Aunt Becky’s wishes will be revealed…and the family is in for the biggest surprise of all.

* * * * *

VOTE NOW!

(Click on title and then remember to also click on Vote, or your vote won’t count!)

* * * * *

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

P.S. Note for The Silver Darlings review-alongers – due to Rose’s copy not having arrived yet, the review date will be postponed. I’ll post the new date once it turns up. Keep your notes!

TBR Thursday 275…

Episode 275

Oh, no, no, no, no! Last time my TBR was at 197 and I swore a private oath (well, I swore, anyway) that it wouldn’t get any higher. But… well, see, it’s not really my fault! Somebody foolishly scheduled a huge factual, a huge fiction and a huge crime novel all to reach the top of my reading list at the same time. So I’ve been reading and reading and reading but not actually finishing any books. Yet new ones keep arriving. Up two to 199… but no way am I going back over 200! This is where I make my stand!

Here are a few more I’ll get to… sometime…

Vintage Crime

Murder’s a Swine by Nap Lombard

Courtesy of the British Library. Another author I’d never heard of much less read, but I’ve seen a couple of very positive reviews of this one since the BL republished it last month…

The Blurb says: “I should imagine this was murder, too, because it would be very difficult to build yourself into a heap of sandbags and then die…”

In the blackout conditions of a wintry London night, amateur sleuth Agnes Kinghof and a young air-raid warden have stumbled upon a corpse stowed in the walls of their street’s bomb shelter. As the police begin their investigation, the night is interrupted once again when Agnes’s upstairs neighbour Mrs Sibley is terrorised by the sight of a grisly pig s head at her fourth-floor window.

With the discovery of more sinister threats mysteriously signed ‘Pig-sticker’, Agnes and her husband Andrew – unable to resist a good mystery – begin their investigation to deduce the identity of a villain living amongst the tenants of their block of flats.

A witty and lighthearted mystery full of intriguing period detail, this rare gem of Golden Age crime returns to print for the first time since its publication in 1943.

* * * * *

Fiction

A Lonely Man by Chris Power

Courtesy of Faber & Faber via NetGalley. In my bid to read more new fiction this year, this is another I picked purely on the basis of the blurb. Early reviews are a bit disappointing, but we’ll see…

The Blurb says: Robert is a struggling writer living in Berlin with his wife and two young daughters. In a bookshop one night, he meets Patrick, an enigmatic stranger with a sensational story to tell: a ghostwriter for a Russian oligarch recently found hanged, who is now being followed. But is he really in danger? Patrick’s life strikes Robert as a fabrication, but a magnetic one that begins to obsess him. He decides to use Patrick, and his story.

An elegant and atmospheric twist on the cat-and-mouse narrative, A Lonely Man is a novel of shadows, of the search for identity and the elastic nature of truth. As his association with Patrick hurtles towards tragedy, Robert must decide: are actual events the only things that give a story life, and are some stories too dangerous to tell?

* * * * *

Dalziel and Pascoe

Bones and Silence by Reginald Hill

Continuing my slow re-read of my favourite contemporary crime series of all time. This is the 11th book and Hill is at his peak by this stage. I’ve been listening to the audiobook versions of the last few, but for some reason Colin Buchanan seemed to stop after book 10 and Brian Glover took over for the next couple, unfortunately getting quite poor reviews for his narration. So I’ve decided to go back to paper for this one…

The Blurb says: When Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel witnesses a bizarre murder across the street from his own back garden, he is quite sure he knows who the culprit is. After all, he’s seen him with his own eyes. But what exactly does he see? And is he mistaken? Peter Pascoe certainly thinks so.

To make matters worse, he’s being pestered by an anonymous letter-writer who is planning suicide and has chosen to confide in Dalziel. The local Mystery Plays should provide a welcome distraction as Dalziel’s been cast as God. Unfortunately, the other lead is a local builder who also happens to be the chief suspect in some recent disappearances that might actually be murders…

* * * * *

Fiction on Audio

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

I loved Harris’ The Observations when I read it a year or two ago, and when I reviewed it several people strongly recommended this one. Anna Bentinck is the narrator – I haven’t listened to her before but she gets a lot of praise… 

The Blurb says: As she sits in her Bloomsbury home, with her two birds for company, elderly Harriet Baxter sets out to relate the story of her acquaintance, nearly four decades previously, with Ned Gillespie, a talented artist who never achieved the fame she maintains he deserved.

Back in 1888, the young, art-loving, Harriet arrives in Glasgow at the time of the International Exhibition. After a chance encounter she befriends the Gillespie family and soon becomes a fixture in all of their lives. But when tragedy strikes – leading to a notorious criminal trial – the promise and certainties of this world all too rapidly disorientate into mystery and deception.

Featuring a memorable cast of characters, infused with atmosphere and period detail, and shot through with wicked humour, Gillespie and I is a tour de force from one of the emerging names of British fiction.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Six Degrees of Separation – From Baird to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before. This month’s starting book is…

Phosphorescence by Julia Baird. I haven’t read it but the blurb tells me…

A beautiful, intimate and inspiring investigation into how we can find and nurture within ourselves that essential quality of internal happiness – the ‘light within’ that Julia Baird calls ‘phosphorescence’ – which will sustain us even through the darkest times.

Not one for me! Life is quite tough enough without me suddenly starting to glow in the dark, thank you very much! I’ll stick to chocolate when I need some internal happiness…

The star of my first choice might have benefited from reading Phosphorescence though…

The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side by Agatha Christie

Poor movie star Marina Gregg! Despite fame, adulation and a string of handsome husbands she has found lasting happiness elusive, as her doctor explains…

….“The trouble with her is that either she thinks that at last she’s got to that spot or place or that moment in her life where everything’s like a fairy tale come true, that nothing can go wrong, that she’ll never be unhappy again; or else she’s down in the dumps, a woman whose life is ruined, who’s never known love and happiness and who never will again.”
….He added dryly, “If she could only stop halfway between the two it’d be wonderful for her, and the world would lose a fine actress.”

She could always seek advice from the hero of my second pick…

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Scrooge is a bit of a misery too, as his dear friend, Jacob Marley, deceased, has noted. So Jacob rattles his ghostly chains and gives Scrooge a warning…

“It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world—oh, woe is me!—and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!”

Whatever you do, don’t go to the author of my third choice for advice on achieving happiness!

Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorn

I found the message in this chilling tale of a man giving his soul to the devil pretty unfathomable. It appears that if one goes over to the dark-side one might be damned for eternity but otherwise everything will be quite jolly. But if one rejects the Devil and all his works, one is destined to be a miserable old so-and-so for the rest of one’s life and die in gloom and despondency! As the Devil himself puts it…

“Lo, there ye stand, my children,” said the figure, in a deep and solemn tone, almost sad with its despairing awfulness, as if his once angelic nature could yet mourn for our miserable race. “Depending upon one another’s hearts, ye had still hoped that virtue were not all a dream. Now are ye undeceived. Evil is the nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness. Welcome again, my children, to the communion of your race.”

Well, that’s a cheery thought, eh?

My fourth author drove me into the depths of depression with his unremittingly pessimistic and lightless view of life. But I felt much happier as soon as I abandoned the book halfway through…

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Having put his poor undeserving characters through every kind of hell you can think of plus several you can’t, Mistry proceeds to assure them that even their memories will conspire to add to their misery…

But nobody ever forgot anything, not really, though sometimes they pretended, when it suited them. Memories were permanent. Sorrowful ones remained sad even with the passing of time, yet happy ones could never be recreated – not with the same joy. Remembering bred its own peculiar sorrow. It seemed so unfair: that time should render both sadness and happiness into a source of pain.

But even Mistry’s misery pales in comparison to my fifth choice…

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Dear me! I can only assume Steinbeck’s happiness therapist told him to write down all his miserable thoughts and then burn them. Unfortunately he forgot to do the last bit. Here he is giving advice to shy young men on finding the route to happiness…

There is great safety for a shy man with a whore. Having been paid for, and in advance, she has become a commodity, and a shy man can be gay with her and even brutal to her. Also, there is none of the horror of the possible turndown which shrivels the guts of timid men.

OK, I can’t finish it like that! Here’s a more optimistic quote that aligns far more closely to my own philosophy of finding happiness…

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Fanny is such a sensible heroine. Life has taught her not to expect too much but she never gives up on hope, and we all know that Ms Austen will give her the happy ending she deserves.

There will be little rubs and disappointments everywhere, and we are all apt to expect too much; but then, if one scheme of happiness fails, human nature turns to another; if the first calculation is wrong, we make a second better: we find comfort somewhere.

Ah, that’s more like it! Another chocolate and my internal happiness will be sorted for the day!

* * * * *

So from Baird to Austen via elusive happiness, miserly misery, the temptations of the Devil, unrelenting pessimism, misogynistic piggery, and finding comfort!

Hope you enjoyed the journey! 😀

TBR Thursday 274…

A tenth batch of murder, mystery and mayhem…

This is a challenge to read all 102 (102? Yes, 102) books listed in Martin Edwards’ guide to vintage crime, The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books. (100? Yes, 100.) Because of all the other great vintage crime being republished at the moment, I’m going very slowly with this challenge, and they’ve proved to be a bit of a mixed bag so far. Here’s the first batch for 2021 and the tenth overall…

At the Villa Rose by AEW Mason

I’ve never come across AEW Mason before, but the blurb sounds quite appealing. An inspiration for Poirot, eh? We’ll see…

The Blurb says: Aix-les-Bains is a gorgeous place to spend a vacation, and Harry Wethermill is happy to be on its lake, enjoying his time away from it all. Just when it seems life could not get any better, he meets Celia Harland, the stunning companion to the wealthy Madame Dauvray, and falls for the girl immediately. Harry’s courtship soon takes a dark turn, however, when Madame Dauvray turns up gruesomely murdered, a fortune’s worth of jewels missing from her room, and Celia nowhere to be found.

Fortunately for Harry, he has connections to the brilliant Inspector Hanaud, a detective from the Paris Sûreté. Soon the stout sleuth is on the case, vowing to follow the truth no matter where it leads. Is Celia as innocent as Harry believes? Or does her beautiful face mask the black heart of a killer? Nothing will escape the grasp of Inspector Hanaud, one of the mystery genre’s most distinctive heroes and an inspiration for Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.

Challenge details

Book No: 8

Subject Heading: A New Era Dawns

Publication Year: 1910

Martin Edwards says: “Hanaud is a memorable creation, and his friendship with Ricardo one of the most attractive early variations on the theme of detective and admiring stooge.”

* * * * *

The Cask by Freeman Wills Crofts

I’ve read a few of Crofts’ Inspector French books recently but this will be my introduction to Inspector Burnley. Their methods sound very similar…

The Blurb says: A strange container is found on the London docks, and its contents point to murder. The cask from Paris is bigger than the rest, its sides reinforced to hold the extraordinary weight within. As the longshoremen are bringing it onto the London docks, the cask slips, cracks, and spills some of its treasure: a wealth of gold sovereigns. As the workmen cram the spilled gold into their pockets, an official digs through the opened box, which is supposed to contain a statue. Beneath the gold he finds a woman’s hand—as cold as marble, but made of flesh.

He reports the body to his superiors, but when he returns, the cask has vanished. The case is given to Inspector Burnley, a methodical detective of Scotland Yard, who will confront a baffling array of clues and red herrings, alibis and outright lies as he attempts to identify the woman in the cask—and catch the man who killed her.

Challenge details

Book No: 16

Subject Heading: The Birth of the Golden Age

Publication Year: 1920

Edwards says: “The meticulous account of the detective work, coupled with the ingenuity of the construction (and deconstruction) of the alibi were to become Freeman Wills Crofts’ hallmarks, and they set his debut novel apart from the competition. Over the next twenty years, the book sold more than 100,000 copies.

* * * * *

The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

Hmm… I’ve tried and failed with another of Tey’s books so, despite the intriguing blurb and its reputation as a classic, I’m a bit dubious about this one. But that means if it surprises me it can only be in a good way…

The Blurb says: Marion Sharpe and her mother seem an unlikely duo to be found on the wrong side of the law. Quiet and ordinary, they have led a peaceful and unremarkable life at their country home, The Franchise. Unremarkable that is, until the police turn up with a demure young woman on their doorstep. Not only does Betty Kane accuse them of kidnap and abuse, she can back up her claim with a detailed description of the attic room in which she was kept, right down to the crack in its round window.

But there’s something about Betty Kane’s story that doesn’t quite add up. Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard is stumped. And it takes Robert Blair, local solicitor turned amateur detective, to solve the mystery that lies at the heart of The Franchise Affair

Challenge details

Book No: 87

Subject Heading: Fiction from Fact

Publication Year: 1948

Edwards says: “The plot’s origins lay in the strange case of Elizabeth Canning, a maidservant of eighteen who disappeared for almost a month in 1853, and claimed that she had been held against her will in a hay loft. 

* * * * *

Darkness at Pemberley by TH White

As a child, I read and loved White’s series about King Arthur, The Once and Future King, but I had no idea he’d written a mystery novel – just the one apparently… and it sounds pretty dreadful. I really do wonder sometimes what criteria Martin Edwards used to make his selections. He describes this one as ‘preposterous’…

The Blurb says: An unpleasant don called Beedon is found shot in his locked room in St Bernard’s College, Cambridge. The corpse of an undergraduate is also discovered, and the case appears to involve murder followed by suicide. The crime is suitably ingenious, but Inspector Buller solves the case rapidly, and confronts the culprit. He is rewarded with a prompt confession – in private. The bad news is that although the villain has killed three times in quick succession, Buller is quite unable to prove his guilt.

Disheartened, Buller resigns from the police force, and travels to Derbyshire to meet two old friends. At Pemberley, he tells the lovely Elizabeth Darcy (descended from ‘the famous Elizabeth’) and her brother Charles the story of his disastrous last case. Charles has personal experience of bitter injustice, and attempts to take the law into his own hands. Buller and the Darcys find themselves menaced by a deranged yet infinitely cunning murderer…

Challenge details

Book No: 88

Subject Heading: Singletons

Publication Year: 1932

Edwards says: “…the story takes several wildly improbable turns as the characters become increasingly embroiled in what Elizabeth describes as ‘this Four-Just-Men business’. Preposterous as the story becomes, it fulfils Gollancz’s promise of originality.”

* * * * *

All blurbs (except one) and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.
The blurb for Darkness at Pemberley and the quotes from Martin Edwards are from his book,
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

The customary expedient of provincial girls and men in such circumstances is churchgoing. In an ordinary village or country town one can safely calculate that, either on Christmas day or the Sunday contiguous, any native home for the holidays, who has not through age or ennui lost the appetite for seeing and being seen, will turn up in some pew or other, shining with hope, self-consciousness, and new clothes. Thus the congregation on Christmas morning is mostly a Tussaud collection of celebrities who have been born in the neighbourhood. Hither the mistress, left neglected at home all the year, can steal and observe the development of the returned lover who has forgotten her, and think as she watches him over her prayer book that he may throb with a renewed fidelity when novelties have lost their charm. And hither a comparatively recent settler like Eustacia may betake herself to scrutinize the person of a native son who left home before her advent upon the scene, and consider if the friendship of his parents be worth cultivating during his next absence in order to secure a knowledge of him on his next return.

~The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy

* * * * *

Leila was scared. What had started off yesterday as a sort of game wasn’t fun any more. She was thinking she really shouldn’t have gone along with it. But he’d been so nice at the start – kind and caring. He’d said he was worried about her and told her she was pretty. Her mother called her plain. He’d said a young girl like her shouldn’t be out all by herself after dark. It wasn’t safe and it was very wrong of her mother not to look after her properly, which Leila sort of knew. He’d said he would take care of her and together they’d teach her mother a lesson. He’d given her chocolates – really posh ones with soft centres – and told her he’d bought her a beautiful doll and it was waiting for her in his flat. It wasn’t like she was going with a stranger – she would never have done that. She knew him, so did her mother, which made it OK.

~Taken by Lisa Stone

* * * * *

….Tormad blew up his big buoy until his eyes disappeared. He had got it from the man in Golspie, and though its skin crackled with age it seemed tight enough. He could hardly blow up the second one for laughing, because it was the bag of an old set of pipes to which they had danced many a time as boys. It had a legendary history, for the old piper, its owner, had been a wild enough lad in his day. When he was driven from home, he cursed the landlord-woman (who had inherited all that land), her sassenach husband, her factors, in tongues of fire. Then he had broken his pipes, tearing them apart. It had been an impressive, a terrifying scene, and shortly after it he had died.
….Well, here was the bag, and perhaps it marked not an end but a beginning! They had had a little superstitious fear about using it. But they couldn’t afford to buy another buoy, and, anyway, they argued, if it brought them luck it would be a revenge over the powers that be. The dead piper wouldn’t be disappointed at that!

~The Silver Darlings by Neil M. Gunn

* * * * *

….Don Miguel’s mind swirled like water in a rotated cup. He put his hands to his head and struggled to think clearly. He had been trained to some extent in casuistry, and he could see the dim outlines of a logical sequence here. Postulate: the terrible women gladiators who wrought the harm originated in a non-actual world – a world brought about through the experimental interference of Society members with their own past history. Therefore the consequences of their acts were also non-actual, or potential. Therefore the rectification of these consequences must be not non-actual, if this was a safe case to exclude the middle…
….It came to him with blinding, horrifying suddenness that in fact, in the fact where he must now have found himself, all the nightmare so vivid in his memory had already not happened.

~The Society of Time by John Brunner

* * * * *

….Hopkins stood and, as Ismay recalled it, first made “a tilt or two at the British Constitution in general, and the irrepressible Prime Minister in particular.” Then he turned to face Churchill.
….“I suppose you wish to know what I am going to say to President Roosevelt on my return,” he said.
….This was an understatement. Churchill was desperate to know how well his courtship of Hopkins was progressing, and what indeed he would tell the President.
….“Well,” Hopkins said, “I’m going to quote you one verse from that Book of Books in the truth of which Mr. Johnson’s mother and my own Scottish mother were brought up – ”
….Hopkins dropped his voice to a near whisper and recited a passage from the Bible’s Book of Ruth: “Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”
….Then, softly, he added: “Even to the end.”
….This was his own addition, and with it a wave of gratitude and relief seemed to engulf the room.
….Churchill wept.

~The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

* * * * *

So… are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 273…

Episode 273

I can barely bring myself to report on the TBR this week. After achieving a Zen-like state of perfect balance over the last few weeks, a fit of NetGalley madness overcame me and *takes deep breath* it’s gone up by 7 to 197! Why couldn’t they have rejected all my requests? Why?? WHY???

Here are a few more that will make a tiny dent in the heap soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Well, that was the closest race ever! A Meditation on Murder leapt into such a big early lead it looked as if it was going to be untouchable, but gradually, very gradually, The Cuckoo’s Calling began to gain on it, until at last they were neck-and-neck. For a day or so I thought I would have to use my casting vote for the first time ever, but at the last moment a sudden vote gave the victory to Galbraith! The People Have Spoken! This will be a May read…

The Blurb says: After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.

Factual

Franco: A Personal and Political Biography by Stanley G Payne and Jesús Palacios

Next up for my Spanish Civil War challenge. I was very impressed by Payne’s history of the war, so was delighted to see that he had also written a full biography of Franco, and promptly bought it. Since then I’ve looked up the co-author, Jesús Palacios, on wikipedia, and it would appear he has been involved in fascist and neo-Nazi organisations, so my enthusiasm is severely dented! However, the blurb claims the book is ‘objective and balanced’ – we shall see!

The Blurb says: General Francisco Franco ruled Spain for nearly forty years, as one of the most powerful and controversial leaders in that nation’s long history. He has been the subject of many biographies, several of them more than a thousand pages in length, but all the preceding works have tended toward one extreme of interpretation or the other. This is the first comprehensive scholarly biography of Franco in English that is objective and balanced in its coverage, treating all three major aspects of his life—personal, military, and political. The co-authors, both renowned historians of Spain, present a deeply researched account that has made extensive use of the Franco Archive (long inaccessible to historians). They have also conducted in-depth interviews with his only daughter to explain better his family background, personal life, and marital environment, as well as his military and political career.

Franco: A Personal and Political Biography depicts his early life, explains his career and rise to prominence as an army officer who became Europe’s youngest interwar brigadier general in 1926, and then discusses his role in the affairs of the troubled Second Spanish Republic (1931–36). Stanley G. Payne and Jesús Palacios examine in detail how Franco became dictator and how his leadership led to victory in the Spanish Civil War that consolidated his regime. They also explore Franco’s role in the great repression that accompanied the Civil War—resulting in tens of thousands of executions—and examine at length his controversial role in World War II. This masterful biography highlights Franco’s metamorphoses and adaptations to retain power as politics, culture, and economics shifted in the four decades of his dictatorship.

* * * * *

Historical Fiction

The Manningtree Witches by AK Blakemore

Courtesy of Granta Books via NetGalley. I know nothing about the author and haven’t seen any reviews of the book – I was simply attracted by the blurb. It feels like it’s been a while since I took a blind punt on a book – fingers crossed! 

The Blurb says: England, 1643. Parliament is battling the King; the war between the Roundheads and the Cavaliers rages. Puritanical fervour has gripped the nation, and the hot terror of damnation burns black in every shadow.

In Manningtree, depleted of men since the wars began, the women are left to their own devices. At the margins of this diminished community are those who are barely tolerated by the affluent villagers – the old, the poor, the unmarried, the sharp-tongued. Rebecca West, daughter of the formidable Beldam West, fatherless and husbandless, chafes against the drudgery of her days, livened only by her infatuation with the clerk John Edes. But then newcomer Matthew Hopkins, a mysterious, pious figure dressed from head to toe in black, takes over The Thorn Inn and begins to ask questions about the women of the margins. When a child falls ill with a fever and starts to rave about covens and pacts, the questions take on a bladed edge.

The Manningtree Witches plunges its readers into the fever and menace of the English witch trials, where suspicion, mistrust and betrayal ran amok as the power of men went unchecked and the integrity of women went undefended. It is a visceral, thrilling book that announces a bold new talent.

* * * * *

Crime

The Last Trial by Scott Turow

Courtesy of Pan Macmillan via NetGalley. Scott Turow has long been a favourite author of mine and in this one he’s back in his usual stamping ground of Kindle County. Despite it being described as an “explosive thriller”, his books are usually long, slow and thoughtful, as much literary fiction as legal thriller, and I suspect this one will be too…

The Blurb says: In this explosive legal thriller from New York Times bestselling author Scott Turow, two formidable men collide: a celebrated criminal defense lawyer at the end of his career and his lifelong friend, a renowned doctor accused of murder.

At 85 years old, Alejandro “Sandy” Stern, a brilliant defense lawyer with his health failing but spirit intact, is on the brink of retirement. But when his old friend Dr. Kiril Pafko, a former Nobel Prize winner in Medicine, is faced with charges of insider trading, fraud, and murder, his entire life’s work is put in jeopardy, and Stern decides to take on one last trial.

In a case that will provide the defining coda to both men’s accomplished lives, Stern probes beneath the surface of his friend’s dazzling veneer as a distinguished cancer researcher. As the trial progresses, Stern will question everything he thought he knew about his friend. Despite Pafko’s many failings, is he innocent of the terrible charges laid against him? How far will Stern go to save his friend, and–no matter the trial’s outcome–will he ever know the truth? Stern’s duty to defend his client and his belief in the power of the judicial system both face a final, terrible test in the courtroom, where the evidence and reality are sometimes worlds apart.

Full of the deep insights into the spaces where the fragility of human nature and the justice system collide, Scott Turow’s The Last Trial is a masterful legal thriller that unfolds in page-turning suspense–and questions how we measure a life.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 272 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 272

(A reminder of the People’s Choice plan. Once a month, I shall list the four oldest books on the TBR, then the next four, and so on, and each time you will select the one you think I should read, either because you’ve read and enjoyed it, or because you think the blurb looks good. And I will read the one you pick within three months! If I begin to fall behind, I’ll have a gap till I catch up again. In the event of a tie, I’ll have the casting vote.)

* * * * *

OK, time for the next batch of four! Still working through books acquired in 2015, but finally getting close to the end of them! As usual, I’m planning three months ahead so the winner will be a May read. A crime week this time, but still quite varied, I think. The Cuckoo’s Calling keeps lingering simply because it’s so long. (OK, I cannot tell a lie – it’s also because I think Cormoran Strike is a really silly name.) I read and enjoyed a later book in the Thóra Gudmundsdóttir series, so bought the first in the series, Last Rituals, intending to catch up – that clearly went well! I’m ashamed to say that Soft Summer Blood is a NetGalley book – don’t know what happened to make it linger since I’d enjoyed a couple of Helton’s other books. And A Meditation on Murder was acquired on the recommendation of a blogger who has since disappeared without trace from the blogosphere.

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Crime

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Added 12th September 2015. 498,822 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.87 average rating. 561 pages.

The Blurb says: After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.

* * * * *

Crime

Last Rituals by Yrsa Sirgurdardottir

Added 3rd November 2015. 8,980 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.59 average. 314 pages.

The Blurb says: At a university in Reykjavík, the body of a young German student is discovered, his eyes cut out and strange symbols carved into his chest. Police waste no time in making an arrest, but the victim’s family isn’t convinced that the right man is in custody. They ask Thóra Guðmundsdóttir, an attorney and single mother of two, to investigate. It isn’t long before Thóra and her associate, Matthew Reich, uncover the deceased student’s obsession with Iceland’s grisly history of torture, execution, and witch hunts. But there are very contemporary horrors hidden in the long, cold shadow of dark traditions. And for two suddenly endangered investigators, nothing is quite what it seems … and no one can be trusted.

* * * * *

Crime

Soft Summer Blood by Peter Helton

Added 3rd December 2015. 55 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.67 average. 224 pages. 

The Blurb says: It all seemed so simple: a murder; an obvious suspect; a shaky alibi: DI McLusky never had it so good. Until a second killing challenges all his earlier assumptions. With every new piece of evidence McLusky brings to light, the case becomes more complicated. Does it have its roots in a disappearance eighteen years earlier, or is it firmly based in the present?

Meanwhile, DI Kat Fairfield and DS Jack Sorbie are tasked with finding the daughter of a prominent Italian politician, who has disappeared while on a student exchange programme at Bristol University. Neither is overjoyed to be lumbered with a routine missing person’s case while McLusky heads a high-profile murder investigation. Until they find a dead body of their own…

* * * * *

Crime

A Meditation on Murder by Robert Thorogood

Added 5th December 2015. 1,499 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.99 average. 358 pages.

The Blurb says: Aslan Kennedy has an idyllic life: Leader of a Spiritual Retreat for wealthy holidaymakers on one of the Caribbean’s most unspoilt islands, Saint Marie. Until he’s murdered, that is. The case seems open and shut: when Aslan was killed he was inside a locked room with only five other people, one of whom has already confessed to the murder.

Detective Inspector Richard Poole is hot, bothered, and fed up with talking to witnesses who’d rather discuss his ‘aura’ than their whereabouts at the time of the murder. But he also knows that the facts of the case don’t quite stack up. In fact, he’s convinced that the person who’s just confessed to the murder is the one person who couldn’t have done it. Determined to track down the real killer, DI Poole is soon on the trail, and no stone will be left unturned.

* * * * *

VOTE NOW!

(Click on title and then remember to also click on Vote, or your vote won’t count!)

* * * * *

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

TBR Thursday 271…

Episode 271

Total balance on the TBR this week – two out, two in, so remaining steady on 190…

Here are a few more that should fall off the pile soon…

Vintage Science Fiction

The Society of Time by John Brunner

Courtesy of the British Library. I’ve read a few of the BL’s Science Fiction Classics series now and have found them consistently interesting, and always so far from authors completely unknown to me. This collection sounds intriguing…

The Blurb says: Drifting through a party celebrating 400 years since the Spanish Armada’s successful invasion of Britain, Don Miguel Navarro – Licentiate of the Society of Time – is shaken by the host’s possession of a flawless mask from an ancient Aztec festival. ‘Imported’ from the past, the discovery signals a breach in the Society’s policing of time-travel and imminent danger to reality itself. Today, a relic out of time; tomorrow, the rewriting of the course of history? In three ground-breaking novellas, John Brunner weaves an ingenious tale of diverging timelines and a battle for dominance over the fourth dimension.

The Society of Time stories were abridged when first collected. Here, the trilogy is reprinted in full along with two mesmerising standalone novellas: The Analysts and Father of Lies.

* * * * *

Thriller

Taken by Lisa Stone

Courtesy of HarperCollins. Another unsolicited review copy from HC, and another that I fear from the blurb may not be for me. But it has high ratings on Goodreads, and I live in hope! We’ll see… 

The Blurb says: Have you seen Leila?

8-year-old Leila Smith has seen and heard things that no child should ever have to. On the Hawthorn Estate, where she lives, she often stays out after dark to avoid going home. But what Leila doesn’t know is that someone has been watching her in the playground. One day, she disappears without a trace…

The police start a nationwide search but it’s as if Leila has vanished into thin air. Who kidnapped her? What do they want? Will she return home safely or is she lost forever?

A thriller with a difference!

* * * * *

Vintage Crime

The Corpse in the Waxworks by John Dickson Carr

Courtesy of the British Library again! Apparently there were only five books in Carr’s Bencolin series and this is the fourth the BL has published so far, so I’m hoping they’ll complete the set eventually. Back in Paris for this one, and it sounds as deliciously creepy as all the rest…

The Blurb says: Last night Mademoiselle Duchêne was seen heading into the Gallery of Horrors at the Musée Augustin waxworks, alive. Today she was found in the Seine, murdered. The museum’s proprietor, long perturbed by the unnatural vitality of his figures, claims that he saw one of them following the victim into the dark – a lead that Henri Bencolin, head of the Paris police and expert of ‘impossible’ crimes, cannot possibly resist.

Surrounded by the eerie noises of the night, Bencolin prepares to enter the ill-fated waxworks, his associate Jeff Marle and the victim’s fiancé in tow. Waiting within, beneath the glass-eyed gaze of a leering waxen satyr, is a gruesome discovery and the first clues of a twisted and ingenious mystery.

First published in 1932 at the height of crime fiction’s Golden Age, this macabre and atmospheric dive into the murky underground of Parisian society presents an intelligent puzzle delivered at a stunning pace. This new edition also includes The Murder in Number Four, a rare Inspector Bencolin short story.

* * * * *

Classic on Audio

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy

Let’s be honest – the idea of Alan Rickman reading to me in that wonderful voice of his is so delightful that the actual book is almost irrelevant. But happily the book sounds good too…

The Blurb says: Set on Egdon Heath, a fictional barren moor in Wessex, Eustacia Vye longs for the excitement of city life but is cut off from the world in her grandfather’s lonely cottage. Clym Yeobright who has returned to the area to become a schoolmaster seems to offer everything she dreams of: passion, excitement and the opportunity to escape. However, Clym’s ambitions are quite different from hers, and marriage only increases Eustacia’s destructive restlessness, drawing others into a tangled web of deceit and unhappiness. 

Considered a truly modern story due to its sexual politics and hindered desires it still holds relevance to audiences today. There is a tension between the symbolic setting of the heath and the modernity of the characters that makes the listener question our freedom to shape our lives as we wish. Are we always able to live our dreams?

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Crime at Diana’s Pool by Victor L Whitechurch

Stabbed in the back…

🙂 🙂 🙂

Felix Nayland is hosting a garden party for the worthies of Coppleswick, and has laid on entertainment in the form of an Albanian band. Later that day, Nayland turns up dead, face down in the pond known as Diana’s Pool, with a knife in his back. The odd thing is that he is wearing the uniform jacket of one of the band, who is now mysteriously missing and therefore quickly becomes the prime suspect. But the local vicar, Reverend Westerham, has spotted some odd clues around the crime scene and he has his doubts. Anyway, even if the musician is guilty, why is the victim wearing his jacket? Nayland is a newcomer to the area, having spent his life as a diplomat travelling the globe and getting mixed up in all sorts of murky events – could it be that some incident from his past has somehow caught up with him?

This is another of the novels in Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, in the subsection Murder at the Manor. Edwards tell us that Whitechurch adopted an approach which for the time was unorthodox – he wrote the beginning, including the murder, without knowing himself how the book would develop or who the murderer would be. I’m not sure how much difference this made to the eventual outcome – it reads like a pretty standard murder mystery of the time.

Challenge details:
Book: 37
Subject Heading: Murder at the Manor
Publication Year: 1927

Westerham is a likeable amateur ’tec and, as was the way in crime novels back then, the police quite happily include him in their investigations once they discover that he is a particularly observant witness. The policeman in charge of the investigation, Detective Sergeant Ringwood, gets a big build-up from his colleagues – “…he’s a demon for solving things” Constable Froome informs Westerman. Hmm, personally I thought he was more in the tradition of Japp or Lestrade, and that it was lucky for all involved that justice didn’t rest on the intelligence of the boys in blue!

Victor L Whitechurch

The plot gets a bit messy, which I suppose might be due to Whitechurch’s lack of planning ahead, and takes us into the murky world of South American politics. To be honest I found this pretty uninteresting, and since Nayland wasn’t given any time or space to develop as a character, it was hard to care much about his murder. There’s a side plot concerning the girl that Westerman is falling in love with, and because I liked him, I found I cared far more about the resolution of that strand. I don’t think it’s really fair play, although in fact I guessed the murderer quite early on, though not the motive. Just as an aside, I should mention that if you’re going to commit murder or participate in any other kind of dodgy dealings, it is not a good idea in general to have your initials embroidered or engraved on your belongings, but, if you must, then you should make every effort not to drop them at the scene of the crime. There were two instances of monogrammed items in this story, plus an identifiably foreign type of cigarette paper, all conveniently dropped as clues around the place, and it all felt a bit too contrived.

Overall, I enjoyed this well enough but didn’t think it had anything to really make it stand out from the crowd. It hasn’t inspired me to actively seek out more of Whitechurch’s work, but I’d still be happy enough to read another if it came my way.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 270…

Episode 270

Still on the right track! The TBR has fallen by a massive 1 to 190! I really think I’m getting the hang of this now..

Here are a few more that should float my way soon…

Fiction

Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan

Courtesy of Random House Cornerstone via NetGalley. I haven’t read any of Fagan’s books to date, but this one sounds as if it could be wonderful… or awful! Only one way to find out…

The Blurb says: The devil’s daughter rows to Edinburgh in a coffin, to work as maid for the Minister of Culture, a man who lives a dual life. But the real reason she’s there is to bear him and his barren wife a child, the consequences of which curse the tenement building that is their home for a hundred years. As we travel through the nine floors of the building and the next eight decades, the resident’s lives entwine over the ages and in unpredictable ways. Along the way we encounter the city’s most infamous Madam, a seance, a civil rights lawyer, a bone mermaid, a famous Beat poet, a notorious Edinburgh gang, a spy, the literati, artists, thinkers, strippers, the spirit world – until a cosmic agent finally exposes the true horror of the building’s longest kept secret. No. 10 Luckenbooth Close hurtles the reader through personal and global history – eerily reflecting modern life today.

* * * * *

Thriller

Domino Island by Desmond Bagley

Courtesy of HarperCollins. I have vague memories of reading a couple of Bagley’s books back in my early teens and enjoying them, but have never revisited him in my adult years. So I was delighted to receive a copy of this one – time to recapture a piece of my lost youth! 

The Blurb says: Bill Kemp, an ex-serviceman working in London as an insurance investigator, is sent to the Caribbean to determine the legitimacy of an expensive life insurance claim following the inexplicable death of businessman David Salton. His rapidly inflated premiums immediately before his death stand to make his young widow a very rich lady! Once there, Kemp discovers that Salton’s political ambitions had made him a lot of enemies, and local tensions around a forthcoming election are already spilling over into protest and violence on the streets. Salton also had friends in unexpected places, including the impossibly beautiful Leotta Tomsson, to whom there is much more than meets the eye. Kemp realises that Salton’s death and the local unrest are a deliberate smokescreen for an altogether more ambitious plot by an enemy in their midst, and as the island comes under siege, even Kemp’s army training seems feeble in the face of such a determined foe.

Unseen for more than 40 years and believed lost, Domino Island was accepted for publication in 1972 but then replaced by a different novel to coincide with the release of The Mackintosh Man, the Paul Newman film based on Bagley’s earlier novel The Freedom Trap. It is a classic Bagley tour de force with an all-action finale.

* * * * *

Fiction

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

When Roth is at his best there is no one better at political fiction, and this is reputed to be one of his best. I’m not sure the blurb writer has grasped that it’s an alternative history, unless I missed the Lindbergh Presidency. But it sounds frighteningly relevant…

The Blurb says: When the renowned aviation hero and rabid isolationist Charles A. Lindbergh defeated Franklin Roosevelt by a landslide in the1940 presidential election, fear invaded every Jewish household in America. Not only had Lindbergh publicly blamed the Jews for pushing America towards a pointless war with Nazi Germany, but, upon taking office as the 33rd president of the United States, he negotiated a cordial ‘understanding’ with Adolf Hitler.

What then followed in America is the historical setting for this startling new novel by Pulitzer-prize winner Philip Roth, who recounts what it was like for his Newark family during the menacing years of the Lindbergh presidency, when American citizens who happened to be Jews had every reason to expect the worst.

* * * * *

Vintage Crime

Inspector French and the Crime at Guildford by Freeman Wills Crofts

Courtesy of HarperCollins again. This is the third of a little batch of three Inspector French books they sent me. So far I’ve liked one and loved one, so my expectations for this one are high…

The Blurb says: A weekend board meeting brings a jewellery firm’s accountant to the managing director’s impressive Guildford home. On the Sunday morning, he is found dead and is soon the subject of a murder inquiry by the local police. Meanwhile, Chief Inspector French is investigating the sensational burglary of half a million pounds’ worth of jewels from the safe of an office in London’s Kingsway. French must determine the connection between the theft and the murder as he embarks on a perilous chase to track down the criminals.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Friday Frippery! A Fruit Basket…

…of Quotes…

APPLE

In his devouring mind’s eye he pictured to himself every roasting-pig running about with a pudding in his belly and an apple in his mouth; the pigeons were snugly put to bed in a comfortable pie and tucked in with a coverlet of crust; the geese were swimming in their own gravy; and the ducks pairing cosily in dishes, like snug married couples, with a decent competency of onion sauce.

~The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

STRAWBERRIES

….He conducted her about the lawns, and flower-beds, and conservatories; and thence to the fruit-garden and greenhouses, where he asked her if she liked strawberries.
….“Yes,” said Tess, “when they come.”
….“They are already here.” D’Urberville began gathering specimens of the fruit for her, handing them back to her as he stooped; and, presently, selecting a specially fine product of the “British Queen” variety, he stood up and held it by the stem to her mouth.
….“No – no!” she said quickly, putting her fingers between his hand and her lips. “I would rather take it in my own hand.”
….“Nonsense!” he insisted; and in a slight distress she parted her lips and took it in.

~Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

ORANGE

I didn’t yet know that this was the actress not listed in the program, that this was that Sessaly, the “violet-eyed trollop” of Opium and Vanities. Her eyes were not violet, after all – they were amber. They were the color of candied ginger or a slice of cinnamon cake. Faded paper, polished leather, a brandied apricot. Orange-peel tea. I considered them, imagining the letters I would write to her. Pipe tobacco, perhaps. A honey lozenge, an autumn leaf. I would look through books of poetry, not to thieve but to avoid. Dear Sessaly, I thought later that night, not actually with pen to paper but lying on my back, writing the words in the air with my finger, let me say nothing to you that’s already been said.

~The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert (spot the bonus apricot!)

BANANAS

PEACH

Slowly, dawn was breaking. Streaks of colour – peach bellinis, orange martinis, strawberry margaritas, frozen negronis – streamed above the horizon, east to west. Within a matter of seconds, calls to prayer from the surrounding mosques reverberated around her, none of them synchronized. Far in the distance, the Bosphorus, waking from its turquoise sleep, yawned with force.

~10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak

PINEAPPLE

….We are very fond of pine-apple, all three of us.  We looked at the picture on the tin; we thought of the juice.  We smiled at one another, and Harris got a spoon ready.
….Then we looked for the knife to open the tin with.  We turned out everything in the hamper.  We turned out the bags.  We pulled up the boards at the bottom of the boat.  We took everything out on to the bank and shook it.  There was no tin-opener to be found.
….Then Harris tried to open the tin with a pocket-knife, and broke the knife and cut himself badly; and George tried a pair of scissors, and the scissors flew up, and nearly put his eye out. While they were dressing their wounds, I tried to make a hole in the thing with the spiky end of the hitcher, and the hitcher slipped and jerked me out between the boat and the bank into two feet of muddy water, and the tin rolled over, uninjured, and broke a teacup.
….Then we all got mad.  We took that tin out on the bank, and Harris went up into a field and got a big sharp stone, and I went back into the boat and brought out the mast, and George held the tin and Harris held the sharp end of his stone against the top of it, and I took the mast and poised it high up in the air, and gathered up all my strength and brought it down.
….It was George’s straw hat that saved his life that day.  He keeps that hat now (what is left of it), and, of a winter’s evening, when the pipes are lit and the boys are telling stretchers about the dangers they have passed through, George brings it down and shows it round, and the stirring tale is told anew, with fresh exaggerations every time.
….Harris got off with merely a flesh wound.

~Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

CHERRY

…red like a pomegranate seed, red like a blood spot on an egg, red like a ladybug, red like a ruby or more specifically a red beryl, red like coral, red like an unripe cherry, red like a Hindu lady’s bindi, red like the eye of a nocturnal predator, red like a fire on a distant shore, the subject of his every dream and his every scientific pursuit.
….“Mars,” he says.

~Equilateral by Ken Kalfus

WATERMELON

….The tip of her e-cigarette/sonic screwdriver glowed as she sooked. A huge cloud of watermelon vape drifted its way around Logan’s head, glowing in the sunlight. ‘Come on then, what you doing?’
….‘Investigating.’ Logan held up a hand, blocking the glare from his screen. ‘Or at least I’m trying to.’
….‘I know that, you idiot; investigating, what?’
….‘People’s Army for Scottish Liberation. Apparently they had ties to the Scottish People’s Liberation Army, the Scottish Freedom Fighters’ Resistance Front, End of Empire, and Arbroath Thirteen Twenty. AKA nutters so extreme that even Settler Watch didn’t want anything to do with them.’
….Another cloud of fruity smelling fog. ‘It’s Womble-funting dick-muppets like that who give good old-fashioned Scottish Nationalists a bad name.’

~All That’s Dead by Stuart MacBride

GRAPES

A large red drop of sun lingered on the horizon and then dripped over and was gone, and the sky was brilliant over the spot where it had gone, and a torn cloud, like a bloody rag, hung over the spot of its going. And dusk crept over the sky from the eastern horizon, and darkness crept over the land from the east.

~The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (Is that cheating? Im……peach me!)

LEMON

….He bought a can of Pearl with the last two dollars he had, then dropped a quarter in the Wurlitzer. He punched a number and settled down at a table and tipped his chair back against the wall and put his boots up. He set his hat over his eyes and drifted in the peaceful dark of not being on the road.
….The man in the box began to sing.
….The music rose and fell.
….Out of the darkness came her scent of lemon and vanilla, the curve of a white calf beneath the hem of a pale blue cotton dress, her shape an hourglass, like time itself slipping away. She, before the picture window that looked out on the mimosa dropping its pink petals on the grass. Her slow smile spreading beneath a pair of eyes as blue as cobalt glass. Water sheeting in the window and casting its shadow like a spell of memory on the wall behind. Her little red suitcase turntable scratching out a song beneath the window and he, a boy, with his bare feet on hers as she held his hands and the record turned and they danced.
….Their private, sad melody unspooling in his heart forever.

~In the Valley of the Sun by Andy Davidson

* * * * *

I actually find it astonishing that never once have bananas turned up in a quote in eight years of blogging. Clearly they are not considered a literary fruit, which seems most unfair. A lack of authorial imagination, obviously…

her sun-bleached hair, yellow as a ripe banana.”

“…his long nose, curved like a banana.”

…his fat hands, each finger as plump as a banana.”

“…her old skin, parchment-dry and speckled brown like an overripe banana.”

“…he pressed her close to him, his strong manly hand firm on the small of her back, and suddenly, for no reason she could understand, she found herself longing for a banana.”

See? Easy! 😉

Have you a banana quote?
Or any other fruity book links?

TBR Thursday 269…

Episode 269

Off to a racing start in this new year – the TBR has plummeted by three to 191! Could it be that the 2020 slump is over? I’m sure it’s all going to go smoothly from now on…

Here are a few more that should slide off soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

It was an exciting race this week, People! Cold Comfort Farm took an early lead that looked unassailable, but then Blacklands started to creep up behind. It was touch and go for a while, but then CCF got some late support that helped take it over the finish line in style! I plan to read and review it in April…

The Blurb says: Winner of the 1933 Femina Vie Heureuse Prize, COLD COMFORT FARM is a wickedly funny portrait of British rural life in the 1930s. Flora Poste, a recently orphaned socialite, moves in with her country relatives, the gloomy Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm, and becomes enmeshed in a web of violent emotions, despair, and scheming, until Flora manages to set things right.

Factual

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

Generally I love Erik Larson and I’m always interested in Churchill, so this should be perfect for me. But the blurb makes it sound more like a family saga than a history. Hopefully bad blurb syndrome – we’ll see!

The Blurb says: On Winston Churchill’s first day as prime minister, Adolf Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Poland and Czechoslovakia had already fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. For the next twelve months, Hitler would wage a relentless bombing campaign, killing 45,000 Britons. It was up to Churchill to hold his country together and persuade President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain was a worthy ally–and willing to fight to the end.

In The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson shows how Churchill taught the British people “the art of being fearless.” It is a story of political brinkmanship, but it’s also an intimate domestic drama, set against the backdrop of Churchill’s prime-ministerial country home, Chequers; his wartime retreat, Ditchley, where he and his entourage go when the moon is brightest and the bombing threat is highest; and of course 10 Downing Street in London. Drawing on diaries, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports–some released only recently–Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family: his wife, Clementine; their youngest daughter, Mary, who chafes against her parents’ wartime protectiveness; their son, Randolph, and his beautiful, unhappy wife, Pamela; Pamela’s illicit lover, a dashing American emissary; and the advisers in Churchill’s “Secret Circle,” to whom he turns in the hardest moments.

* * * * *

Fiction

In Diamond Square by Mercè Rodoreda

One for my Spanish Civil War challenge. Now that I’ve got some slight grip on the actual history, I’m looking forward to exploring some fiction. If anyone has any recommendations for lit-fic, action thrillers or even crime set in the period, I’m open to suggestions – books written by Spaniards preferred (but not essential), but must be available in translation since sadly I don’t read Spanish.

The Blurb says: Barcelona, early 1930s: Natalia, a pretty shop-girl from the working-class quarter of Gracia, is hesitant when a stranger asks her to dance at the fiesta in Diamond Square. But Joe is charming and forceful, and she takes his hand.

They marry and soon have two children; for Natalia it is an awakening, both good and bad. When Joe decides to breed pigeons, the birds delight his son and daughter – and infuriate his wife. Then the Spanish Civil War erupts, and lays waste to the city and to their simple existence. Natalia remains in Barcelona, struggling to feed her family, while Joe goes to fight the fascists, and one by one his beloved birds fly away.

A highly acclaimed classic that has been translated into more than twenty languages, In Diamond Square is the moving, vivid and powerful story of a woman caught up in a convulsive period of history.

* * * * *

Contemporary Fiction

The Fallout by Rebecca Thornton

Courtesy of HarperCollins. HarperCollins occasionally send me a little batch of books – some of them have been great, but sometimes they don’t much appeal. This is one of the “doesn’t much appeal” ones, but I’ll give it a try. Maybe it’ll surprise me! (It’s quite possibly the blurb that’s putting me off – someone needs to tell blurb-writers that it’s OK to write in sentences and paragraphs…)

The Blurb says: Everyone has an opinion. Everyone has a secret.
I only took my eyes off him for a second.
One little mistake is all it takes . . .

When Sarah forgets to check on her best friend’s little boy, distraction turns to disaster. And she’s faced with a dilemma.

Tell the truth, lose a friend.
Tell a lie, keep her close.

In a split second, Sarah seals her fate. But accidents have aftershocks, and lies have consequences. And when it’s someone else’s child, the rumours are quick to multiply.

Everyone’s talking about what happened. And sooner or later, the truth will have to come spilling out…

* * * * *

Christie on Audio

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie read by Kenneth Branagh

Just for a change, I thought I’d try Branagh’s narration rather than my usual favourite for Poirot books, Hugh Fraser. This is one of my top favourite Christies, so he’d better do it well, or else!! 😉

The Blurb says: The tranquillity of a cruise along the Nile is shattered by the discovery that Linnet Ridgeway has been shot through the head. She was young, stylish and beautiful, a girl who had everything – until she lost her life. Hercule Poirot recalls an earlier outburst by a fellow passenger: ‘I’d like to put my dear little pistol against her head and just press the trigger.’ Yet in this exotic setting, nothing is ever quite what it seems…

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 268 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 268

(A reminder of the People’s Choice plan. Once a month, I shall list the four oldest books on the TBR, then the next four, and so on, and each time you will select the one you think I should read, either because you’ve read and enjoyed it, or because you think the blurb looks good. And I will read the one you pick within three months! If I begin to fall behind, I’ll have a gap till I catch up again. In the event of a tie, I’ll have the casting vote.)

* * * * *

OK, time for the next batch of four! Still working through books acquired in 2015 – this was definitely a year when I had no control over my book-buying addiction at all! As usual, I’m planning three months ahead so the winner will be an April read. An odd bunch, this time, I think. Blacklands is the first in a trilogy – I also have book 2 which I acquired at the same time. Belinda Bauer is one of those authors I often love and sometimes don’t, so it could go either way. The Ocean at the End of the Lane was acquired while I was having a brief but passionate love affair with Neil Gaiman. Cold Comfort Farm was a recommendation from L. Marie, though in what context I’ve long forgotten! I love Megan Abbott’s books where she explores the dark hormonal side of teenage girl angst, but Die A Little sounds very different – noir written by a woman is still quite unusual. I haven’t kept a note of it, but I suspect Margot is the culprit for adding that one!

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Crime

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer

Added 8th July 2015. 7,426 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.69 average rating. 240 pages.

The Blurb says: Twelve-year-old Steven Lamb digs holes on Exmoor, hoping to find a body. Every day after school, while his classmates swap football stickers, Steven goes digging to lay to rest the ghost of the uncle he never knew, who disappeared aged eleven and is assumed to have fallen victim to the notorious serial killer Arnold Avery.

Only Steven’s Nan is not convinced her son is dead. She still waits for him to come home, standing bitter guard at the front window while her family fragments around her. Steven is determined to heal the widening cracks between them before it’s too late. And if that means presenting his grandmother with the bones of her murdered son, he’ll do it.

So the boy takes the next logical step, carefully crafting a letter to Arnold Avery in prison. And there begins a dangerous cat-and-mouse game between a desperate child and a bored serial killer . . . 

* * * * *

Fantasy

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Added 8th July 2015. 494,184 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.00 average. 181 pages.

The Blurb says: Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

* * * * *

Fiction

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Added 16th July 2015. 42,593 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.90 average. 338 pages. 

The Blurb says: Winner of the 1933 Femina Vie Heureuse Prize, COLD COMFORT FARM is a wickedly funny portrait of British rural life in the 1930s. Flora Poste, a recently orphaned socialite, moves in with her country relatives, the gloomy Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm, and becomes enmeshed in a web of violent emotions, despair, and scheming, until Flora manages to set things right.

* * * * *

Crime

Die a Little by Megan Abbott

Added 3rd September 2015. 2,407 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.67 average. 256 pages.

The Blurb says: Shadow-dodging through the glamorous world of 1950s Hollywood and its seedy flip side, Megan Abbott’s debut, Die a Little, is a gem of the darkest hue. This ingenious twist on a classic noir tale tells the story of Lora King, a schoolteacher, and her brother Bill, a junior investigator with the district attorney’s office. Lora’s comfortable, suburban life is jarringly disrupted when Bill falls in love with a mysterious young woman named Alice Steele, a Hollywood wardrobe assistant with a murky past.

Made sisters by marriage but not by choice, the bond between Lora and Alice is marred by envy and mistrust. Spurred on by inconsistencies in Alice’s personal history and possibly jealous of Alice’s hold on her brother, Lora finds herself lured into the dark alleys and mean streets of seamy Los Angeles. Assuming the role of amateur detective, she uncovers a shadowy world of drugs, prostitution, and ultimately, murder.

Lora’s fascination with Alice’s “sins” increases in direct proportion to the escalation of her own relationship with Mike Standish, a charmingly amoral press agent who appears to know more about his old friend Alice than he reveals. The deeper Lora digs to uncover Alice’s secrets, the more her own life begins to resemble Alice’s sinister past — and present.

* * * * *

VOTE NOW!

(Click on title and then remember to also click on Vote, or your vote won’t count!)

* * * * *

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

TBR Thursday 267…

Episode 267

Hmm, the new year splurging has begun. Only a little so far on the TBR – up 1 to 194 – but the wishlist has grown dramatically, and it’s mainly your fault. All these posts about books to look forward to in 2021, and best-of lists for 2020, not to mention recommendations for my challenges – frankly it’s all very stressful! I need a spa day…

Here’s another batch of ones I knead to get to soon…

Factual

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

Next up for my Spanish Civil War challenge, I suspect this is probably the best known book about the subject in the English language. I also suspect it might be too one-sided and polemical for my taste, but we’ll see…

The Blurb says: Homage to Catalonia is George Orwell’s personal account of his experiences and observations fighting for the Republican army during the Spanish Civil War. The war was one of the shaping events on his political outlook and a significant part of what led him to write, in 1946, “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for Democratic Socialism, as I understand it.”

* * * * *

Review-along: Scottish Classic

The Silver Darlings by Neil M Gunn

A few of us have been discussing what book we could read as a review-along – i.e., those of us who blog will post our reviews on the same day, and those who don’t blog will post their opinions in the comments section. It came down to a shortlist of two: this, and Vanity Fair. So I’m suggesting we do both, though a few months apart. This one first, a highly rated Scottish classic from an author I haven’t tried before. Sounds great, though! I’m suggesting a review date of Wednesday 24th March to allow time for possible difficulties in getting hold of it. (If that date doesn’t work for anyone, let me know.) Rose and Christine are in – I’m hoping Alyson will be too if she hasn’t already read it (or fancies re-reading it). And anyone else who would like to join in will be very welcome – the more the merrier!

The Blurb says: The Silver Darlings is a tale of lives hard won from a cruel sea and crueller landlords. It tells of strong young men and stronger women whose loves, fears and sorrows are set deep in a landscape of raw beauty and bleak reward. The dawning of the Herring Fisheries brought with it the hope of escape from the brutality of the Highland Clearances, and Neil Gunn’s story paints a vivid picture of a community fighting against nature and history and refusing to be crushed.

* * * * *

English Classic

Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp

Another one from my Classics Club list. Margery Sharp is an author I’ve heard so many people around the blogosphere praise, and this will be my introduction to her work. I’m not sure it’s my kind of thing, but I have my fingers crossed!

The Blurb says: Cluny Brown has committed an unforgivable sin: She refuses to know her place. Last week, she took herself to tea at the Ritz. Then she spent almost an entire day in bed eating oranges. To teach her discipline, her uncle, a plumber who has raised the orphaned Cluny since she was a baby, sends her into service to be a parlor maid at one of England’s stately manor houses.

At Friars Carmel in Devonshire, Cluny meets her employers: Sir Henry, the quintessential country squire, and Lady Carmel, who oversees the management of her home with unruffled calm. Their son, Andrew, newly returned from abroad with a Polish émigré writer friend, is certain that the world is once again on the brink of war. Then there’s Andrew’s beautiful fiancée and the priggish pharmacist. While everyone around her struggles to keep pace with a rapidly changing world, Cluny continues to be Cluny, transforming the lives of those around her with her infectious zest for life.

* * * * *

Crime

The Less Dead by Denise Mina

Courtesy of Random House Vintage via NetGalley. I’ve only read a couple of Denise Mina’s books and have thoroughly enjoyed them, so I have high hopes for this one…

The Blurb says: When Margo goes in search of her birth mother for the first time, she meets her aunt, Nikki, instead. Margo learns that her mother, Susan, was a sex worker murdered soon after Margo’s adoption. To this day, Susan’s killer has never been found.

Nikki asks Margo for help. She has received threatening and haunting letters from the murderer, for decades. She is determined to find him, but she can’t do it alone…

A brilliant, thought-provoking and heart-wrenching new thriller about identity and the value of a life, from the award-winning author of The Long Drop and Conviction.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 266…

Episode 266

A major step towards achieving my 2021 TBR reduction plan this week – no increase! Admittedly, no decrease either, but one step at a time. Sitting pretty on 193…

Here’s a few I should be pulling out soon…

Factual

The Invention of China by Bill Hayton

Courtesy of Yale University Press via Amazon Vine. It’s so rare that Amazon Vine offers me a book these days, much less an interesting-sounding one. I have a feeling the author, who is a journalist rather than a historian, is going to have to work quite hard to convince me of his argument though, unless the blurb over-simplifies it…

The Blurb says: China’s current leadership lays claim to a 5,000-year-old civilization, but “China” as a unified country and people, Bill Hayton argues, was created far more recently by a small group of intellectuals.

In this compelling account, Hayton shows how China’s present-day geopolitical problems—the fates of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, and the South China Sea—were born in the struggle to create a modern nation-state. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, reformers and revolutionaries adopted foreign ideas to “invent’ a new vision of China. By asserting a particular, politicized version of the past the government bolstered its claim to a vast territory stretching from the Pacific to Central Asia. Ranging across history, nationhood, language, and territory, Hayton shows how the Republic’s reworking of its past not only helped it to justify its right to rule a century ago—but continues to motivate and direct policy today.

* * * * *

Vintage Crime

The Port of London Murders by Josephine Bell

Courtesy of the British Library. Isn’t it a gorgeous cover again? However, it’s getting pretty mixed reviews so far. I haven’t read anything by Bell before, so this will be my introduction to her…

The Blurb says: Wapping. Tugs and barges on the river. A west-end shop that deals apparently in nothing but lingerie. Women who sell their souls for something in a little screw of paper. A doctor in the slums who has mysterious visitors …

In a mean street of dockland a woman is dead, with every sign of suicide …

A derelict barge casts part of a cargo ashore, boxes which have double ends: some of these box-ends are empty, others conceal pink chiffon nightdresses …

The river police are concerned with the smuggling, Detective-Sergeant Chandler with an apparent suicide which he believes to be murder. River and shore police confer. Sergeant Chandler visits his suspects once more. He is never seen again …

* * * * *

Crime

Cemetery Road by Greg Iles

Courtesy of HarperCollins. I was really tempted by Iles’ last hugely successful book, Mississippi Blood, but as usual never found time to read it, so I was pleased to be sent a copy of this one. I actually thought he was a newish author but it looks like he has an extensive back catalogue and a large and loyal fan base. Will I join them? It’s nearly 600 pages long, so it’ll have to be good to keep my attention…

The Blurb says: Marshall McEwan is one of the most successful journalists in Washington, DC. But his father is terminally ill, and he must return to his childhood home – a place he vowed he would never go back to.

Bienville, Mississippi, is no longer the city Marshall remembers. His family’s 150-year-old newspaper is failing, and Jet Talal, the love of his youth, has married into the family of Max Matheson, one of a dozen powerful patriarchs who rule the town through the exclusive Bienville Poker Club. The city’s only hope of economic salvation is a new, billion-dollar Chinese paper mill. But on the verge of the deal’s consummation, two deaths rock Bienville to its core.

Joining forces with his former lover, Marshall begins digging for the truth. But he and Jet soon discover that the soil of Mississippi is a minefield where explosive secrets can be far more destructive than injustice.

* * * * *

Scottish Classic on Audio

Whisky Galore by Sir Compton Mackenzie read by David Rintoul

One from my Classics Club list. I vaguely know the story of this, I think from watching the ancient film version when I was a kid, but I’ve never read it. David Rintoul is a Scottish actor, so I’m expecting him to breeze through the islanders’ accents… 

The Blurb says: It’s 1943, and the war has brought rationing to the Hebridean Islands of Great and Little Todday. When food is in short supply, it is bad enough, but when the whisky runs out, it looks like the end of the world.

Morale is at rock bottom. George Campbell needs a wee dram to give him the courage to stand up to his mother and marry Catriona. The priest, the doctor and, of course, the landlord at the inn are all having a very thin time of it. There’s no conversation, no jollity, no fun – until a shipwreck off the coast brings a piece of extraordinary good fortune….

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

A new challenge for 2021…

Wanderlust Bingo

I loved the Around the World in Eighty Books challenge. It made me look for books I wouldn’t normally have gone for, many of which were great reads, and forced me out of my insular British comfort zone. I’ve been trying to think of a replacement challenge ever since I finished it. So here it is…

A bingo card with 25 boxes containing regions of the world, methods of travel and geographical features.

My plan is that for the first half of the year I’ll just wait and see what boxes I can fill from my general reading, and then towards the end I’ll frantically try to find books to fill in any missing squares! Any type of book will count – crime, fiction, science fiction, non-fiction. A country can only appear once, and one of the boxes will be filled by a book from my home country of Scotland.

If you fancy joining in, feel free! Otherwise, I’m hoping you’ll give me the pleasure of your company as I travel. 😀

Wish Me Bon Voyage!

Six Degrees of Separation – From O’Farrell to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before. This month’s starting book is…

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. I haven’t read it but the blurb tells me…

Hamnet is a luminous portrait of a marriage, at its heart the loss of a beloved child. Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet.

All the glowing reviews of this have tempted me to read it, but I believe it’s present tense (ugh!) and for some unaccountable and pretentious reason O’Farrell has chosen to refer to Anne Hathaway as Agnes, which would irritate me profoundly every time she was mentioned. In my first choice of books, she’s Anne…

The Secret Life of William Shakespeare by Jude Morgan. Shakespeare may get the title billing, and I loved his story as imagined by Morgan, but for me the standout feature of the book was the character of Anne – her love for Will, her fear of losing him, her strength to let him follow his driven path despite the cost to herself. She has to provide the strength that can make their relationship survive his absence, that gives him the freedom to be something she never fully understands. Will says:

‘You made Will Shakespeare, Anne. And without you there wouldn’t be a life, but the unformed shape of one, never to be.’ 

And such is Jude Morgan’s skill that this reader believed this completely.

Morgan introduces us to Shakespeare’s theatre friends and rivals, including Kit Marlowe, who stars in my next choice…

Crimson Rose by MJ Trow. It’s the opening night of Marlowe’s new play Tamburlaine Part 2 at the Rose Theatre and everyone is expecting it to be spectacular, especially the bit where they shoot the Governor. But as the guns go off, screams are heard from the audience and a woman falls dead, shot through the neck. This is a clever and funny mystery where Shakespeare is shown as a kind of hick just up from the country, while Marlowe is a 16th century James Bond. Great fun, especially the interactions among the theatre company.

More theatrical fun in my third book…

Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. I adore the wonderful section when Nicholas falls in with the travelling company of actors under the headship of actor-manager and all-round ham, Vincent Crummles. Who could ever forget the Infant Phenomenon…?

.‘May I ask how old she is?’ inquired Nicholas.
….‘You may, sir,’ replied Mr Crummles, looking steadily in his questioner’s face, as some men do when they have doubts about being implicitly believed in what they are going to say. ‘She is ten years of age, sir.’
….‘Not more!’
….‘Not a day.’
….‘Dear me!’ said Nicholas, ‘it’s extraordinary.’
….It was; for the infant phenomenon, though of short stature, had a comparatively aged countenance, and had moreover been precisely the same age–not perhaps to the full extent of the memory of the oldest inhabitant, but certainly for five good years. But she had been kept up late every night, and put upon an unlimited allowance of gin-and-water from infancy, to prevent her growing tall, and perhaps this system of training had produced in the infant phenomenon these additional phenomena.

Moving away from fiction but staying with Dickens and the stage takes me to…

Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World by Simon Callow. A superbly readable and affectionate account of the great man’s life, viewing it from the perspective of how Dickens’ love for the world of the theatre influenced his life and work. Interspersed generously with Dickens’ own words, taken from his correspondence with friends, we get a real feel for his massive personality, his sense of fun, his unstoppable energy and, yes, his occasional pomposity too.

Simon Callow as Dickens

Simon Callow has often performed as Dickens, and he also appeared in the film Shakespeare In Love, set during the period when Shakespeare was writing Romeo and Juliet. My next choice is set in that same period, though that’s where the resemblance ends!

Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell. A new playhouse is opening in London and the owners are determined to make it a huge success. Actors are easy to get hold of but new plays are the magic that bring in the playgoers. Over at the Theatre, Richard Shakespeare is struggling to survive on the measly wages he receives. He’s getting too old to play women’s roles and his older brother Will won’t promise him roles playing men. He seems like the perfect target for the new playhouse – offer him regular well-paid work and perhaps he’d be willing to steal the two new scripts Will is working on – A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet. This is a light-hearted historical mystery, which may not be one for purists but gives a great depiction of how theatre operated in Shakespeare’s day.

Shakespeare wrote some pretty good plays, but I feel his main claim to fame is as the creator of the fretful porpentine, our very own star of Tuesday Terror! The porpy, who rather neatly comes from Hamlet, also turns up in my last book…

Joy in the Morning by PG Wodehouse. With sundered hearts all over the place, drunken uncles dressed in Sindbad costumes and pestilential Boy Scouts to deal with, it’s surprising that Bertie and Jeeves have time for a little literary discussion…

….Do you recall telling me once about someone who told somebody he could tell him something which would make him think a bit? Knitted socks and porcupines entered into it, I remember.”
….“I think you may be referring to the ghost of the father of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, sir. Addressing his son, he said ‘I could a tale unfold whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, thy knotted and combined locks to part and each particular hair to stand on end like quills upon the fretful porpentine.’”
….“That’s right. Locks, of course, not socks. Odd that he should have said porpentine when he meant porcupine. Slip of the tongue, no doubt, as often happens with ghosts.”

* * * * *

So from O’Farrell to Wodehouse via Shakespeare, Kit Marlowe, theatricals, Dickens, Simon Callow, and the fretful porpentine.

Hope you enjoyed the journey! 😀