TBR Thursday 291…

Episode 291

Well, I seem to be reading faster than the books are arriving at the moment – I think I’ve been turbo-charged! So despite a little spending spree, the TBR has gone down 1 to 190. (FF muses: hmm, maybe I should have a bigger spending spree…) Aargh, help me!!

Golden Girls gif

Here are a few more I should be getting to soon – the third one is from my fast and furious 20 Books of Summer list.

Fiction

The Listeners by Jordan Tannahill

The ListenersCourtesy of 4th Estate via NetGalley. This one sounds as if it might be horror-y or SF-y from the blurb, but early reviews suggest it’s more about conspiracy theories! Early reviews also suggest I’m going to hate it in so many different ways, but maybe it will surprise me…

The Blurb says: One night, while lying in bed next to her husband, Claire Devon suddenly hears a low hum. This innocuous sound, which no one else in the house can hear, has no obvious source or medical cause, but it begins to upset the balance of Claire’s life. When she discovers that one of her students can also hear the hum, the two strike up an unlikely and intimate friendship. Finding themselves increasingly isolated from their families and colleagues, they fall in with a disparate group of people who also perceive the sound. What starts out as a kind of neighbourhood self-help group gradually transforms into something much more extreme, with far-reaching, devastating consequences.

The Listeners is an electrifying novel that treads the thresholds of faith, conspiracy and mania. Compelling and exhilarating, it forces us to consider how strongly we hold on to what we perceive, and the way different views can tear a family apart.

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Fiction

Will by Jeroen Olyslaegers

WillCourtesy of Pushkin Press via NetGalley. I must have been in a very strange mood when I requested this one, since I usually steer clear of books about the Nazis. Still, it does sound interesting…

The Blurb says: It is 1941, and Antwerp is in the grip of Nazi occupation. Wilfried Wils, novice policeman and frustrated writer, has no intention of being a hero. He just wants to keep his head down; to pretend the fear and violence around him aren’t happening.

But war has a way of catching up with people. When his idealistic best friend draws him into the growing resistance movement, and an SS commander tries to force him into betraying his fellow policemen, Wilfried’s loyalties become horribly, fatally torn. Should he comply, or fight back? As the beatings, destruction and round-ups intensify across the city, he is forced into an act that will shatter his life and, years later, have consequences he could never have imagined.

A searing portrayal of a man trying to survive amid the treachery, compromises and moral darkness of occupation, Will asks what any of us would do to stay alive.

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Historical Thriller

The Drowned City by KJ Maitland

The Drowned CityCourtesy of Headline via NetGalley. Ah, now this one sounds much more like my kind of thing! And I’ve been hearing lots of positive reports about it…

The Blurb says: 1606. A year to the day that men were executed for conspiring to blow up Parliament, a towering wave devastates the Bristol Channel. Some proclaim God’s vengeance. Others seek to take advantage.

In London, Daniel Pursglove lies in prison waiting to die. But Charles FitzAlan, close adviser to King James I, has a job in mind that will free a man of Daniel’s skill from the horrors of Newgate. If he succeeds.

For Bristol is a hotbed of Catholic spies, and where better for the lone conspirator who evaded arrest, one Spero Pettingar, to gather allies than in the chaos of a drowned city? Daniel journeys there to investigate FitzAlan’s lead, but soon finds himself at the heart of a dark Jesuit conspiracy – and in pursuit of a killer.

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Classic Fiction on Audio

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray read by Georgina Sutton

Vanity FairThis is the book for our next Review-Along on 25th October. I’m starting early because it’s very long and I’m so slow at listening to audiobooks. The narrator gets lots of praise, but I have a Kindle copy to fall back on if necessary! We’ve got lots of people joining us for this Review-Along – the regulars, Christine, Alyson, Rose, Sandra and me, and a few first-timers, louloureads, Madame Bibilophile and Jane from Just Reading a Book. Still plenty of room for more though if you’d like to join in! There’s only one “rule” – we all post our reviews on the same date, or for those who don’t blog (or don’t want to do a full review), you leave your thoughts in the comments section of my review.

The Blurb says: A novel that chronicles the lives of two women who could not be more different: Becky Sharp, an orphan whose only resources are her vast ambitions, her native wit, and her loose morals; and her schoolmate Amelia Sedley, a typically naive Victorian heroine, the pampered daughter of a wealthy family. (An extremely short blurb for such a long book!)

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 290 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. I still seem to be storming through the books this year, which ought to mean I’ll be smashing all my targets. Ought to…

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

TBR Quarterly Jun 2021

Well, I don’t think I’ve ever been on track with so many targets at this point of the year – it can’t last! Poor old Reginald Hill is falling behind – must make more effort. I should be able to catch up with the Classics Club and finish by my extended deadline of the end of the year – only a couple of chunksters left and all the rest should be fairly quick reads. The shortfall in new releases has reduced considerably this quarter and (theoretically) will be smashed by the time I’ve read all the review books on my 20 Books of Summer list. The fact that I’m abandoning lots of new fiction isn’t helping, though! The TBR Reduction is awful – I can’t see me meeting those targets without magical intervention. But hey! Who’s counting? 😉

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The Classics Club

I read three from my Classics Club list this quarter but have only reviewed two so far, and had another still to review from the previous quarter…

76. Way Station by Clifford D Simak – I loved this well written, thought-provoking science fiction novel, with shades of Cold War nuclear fear, lots of imaginative aliens and a kind of mystical, New Age-y touch. 5 stars.

77. The Conjure-Man Dies by Rudolph Fisher – This, the first mystery novel written by a black American and with an exclusively black cast of characters, delighted me with its vivid, joyous picture of life in Harlem. Lots of humour and a great plot. 5 stars.

78. The Silver Darlings by Neil M Gunn – A slow-going but interesting look at the beginnings of the Scottish herring industry, following on from the devastation of the Highland Clearances. I enjoyed this one, not least because several of my blog buddies read it with me. 4 stars.

Not good on the quantity, perhaps, but high on quality!

78 down, 12 to go!

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

Managing to keep on track with this challenge at the moment more or less – I’ve read three this quarter, but only reviewed two of them so far. However I had one left over to review from the previous quarter…

43. The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude – One in Bude’s long-running Inspector Meredith series, I find these a little too painstakingly procedural for my taste, although the plot and setting of this one are good. 3½ stars.

44. The Cask by Freeman Wills Crofts – Talking of too procedural, I abandoned this one halfway through on the grounds of being determined not to die of boredom! Crofts’ first, and the best I can say about it is he improved in later books. 1 generous star.

45. The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey – Great writing and a perfectly delivered plot mean that this one’s reputation as a classic of the genre is fully deserved. More psychological than procedural, and with a wonderful depiction of an early version of “trial by media”. 5 stars

45 down, 57 to go!

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Reading the Spanish Civil War Challenge

I only read two for this challenge this quarter but in my defence one of them was a massive biography of Franco, which I haven’t yet reviewed. However I had one left to review from last quarter…

5. In Diamond Square by Mercè Rodoreda. The story of young wife and mother, Natalia, living in Barcelona while her husband is off fighting in the war. It’s a fascinating picture of someone who has no interest in or understanding of politics – who simply endures as other people destroy her world then put it back together in a different form. Packed full of power and emotion – a deserved classic. 4½ stars.

6. Last Days in Cleaver Square by Patrick McGrath. As Franco lies on his deathbed in Spain, Francis McNulty is convinced the dictator is haunting him, and his memories of his time in Spain as a volunteer medic on the Republican side and the horrors he witnessed there are brought back afresh to his mind. Beautifully written, entertaining, moving, full of emotional truth. 5 stars.

Two short books, two different squares, and two great reads, so hurrah for this challenge!

6 down, indefinite number to go!

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The People’s Choice

People's Choice Logo

Unbelievably I’m still up-to-date with this challenge, so three reviews for this quarter plus one that was left over from the previous quarter. Did You, The People, pick me some good ones…?

MarchThe Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves – The first of the Vera Stanhope series – the underlying plot is good and Vera is an interesting, if unbelievable, character. But oh dear, the book is massively over-padded and repetitive, and I found it a real struggle to wade through. 3 stars.

AprilCold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons – A parody of the rural rustic novel popular at the time, there’s a lot of humour in it with some very funny scenes, and it’s especially fun to try to spot which authors and books Gibbons had in mind. It outstayed its welcome just a little as the joke began to wear rather thin, but overall an entertaining read. 4 stars.

MayThe Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith – The first of the Cormoran Strike novels sees him investigating the death of a supermodel, with the help of his temporary secretary, Robin. I’m feeling repetitive myself now, but this is another with a good plot buried under far too much extraneous padding. Galbraith’s easy writing style carried me through, however. 4 stars.

June – Sweet Caress by William Boyd – In the early days of the twentieth century, young Amory Clay decides to become a professional photographer, and her elderly self looks back at where her career took her. Sadly this one didn’t work for me at all and I eventually abandoned it. 1 star.

Even if there were no five stars, there was only one complete dud, so I think you did pretty well, People! And they’re all off my TBR at last – hurrah!

6 down, 6 to go!

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Wanderlust Bingo

Wanderlust Bingo June 2021

I’ve done a little better this quarter and have also started looking ahead to try to make sure I have something for each box. I might shuffle them all around at the end so this is all quite tentative at this stage. The dark blue ones are from last quarter, and the orange ones are this quarter’s. (If you click on the bingo card you should get a larger version.)

EnglandThe Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey – 5 stars. I’ve slotted this into Small Town at the moment, since the setting plays an important part in the plot.

IcelandThe Chill Factor by Richard Falkirk – 4 stars. Another that could work for Small Town, or Europe, but I’ve slotted it into Island at present.

MalayaA Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute – 5 stars. Could be Australia as well, so Oceania, but I’ve gone with the Malayan section and put it into Walk.

AustraliaThe Survivors by Jane Harper – 4 stars. Another that would work for Oceania, but since the Beach plays a major part in the story that’s where I’ve put it.

ScotlandThe Silver Darlings by Neil M Gunn – 4 stars. Since this is all about herring fishing, I don’t imagine I’ll find a better fit for the Sea box.

Still a long, long way to travel, but there are some interesting reads coming up for this one…

7 down, 18 to go!

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Whew! Apologies for the length of this post, but I guess that indicates a successful quarter. Thanks as always for sharing my reading experiences!

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

Six in Six 2021

A half-year retrospective…


This fun meme is run by Jo of The Book Jotter. The idea is to look back over the first six months of the reading year, select six categories from the selection Jo provides or create your own categories, and then find six books you’ve read between January and June to fit each category. It’s my fourth time of joining in, and I really struggled to find six categories – I’ve discovered I’m reading far too much vintage crime! I’m also a million years behind with reviewing, so not all of these have appeared on the blog yet. However with only a small amount of cheating, here they are – all books I’d recommend…

Six British Library Crime Classics

Still loving this series and hoping they go on doing it for ever, despite the damage to my TBR…

The Port of London Murders by Josephine Bell

The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude

The Corpse in the Waxworks by John Dickson Carr

Murder’s a Swine by Nap Lombard

Two-Way Murder by ECR Lorac

Due to a Death by Mary Kelly

Six Audiobooks with Great Narrators

Honourable mention must go to two fabulous narrations that I never got around to reviewing – Patricia Routledge’s wonderful version of Wuthering Heights (loved the narration far more than the book), and Alan Rickman’s fab rendition of The Return of the Native (loved both equally). But here are six that I either have reviewed or will be shortly:

Revelation by CJ Sansom narrated by Steven Crossley

Cécile is Dead by Georges Simenon narrated by Gareth Armstrong

The Return of Sherlock Holmes narrated by Derek Jacobi

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute narrated by Robin Bailey

Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie narrated by Hugh Fraser

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris narrated by Anna Bentinck

Six New(ish) Releases

I’m still struggling to find contemporary books I love in either fiction or crime, but here are six released in the last year or so, all of which I gave either 4 or 5 stars…

The Less Dead by Denise Mina

The Silence by Susan Allott

Nightshift by Kiare Ladner

Last Days in Cleaver Square by Patrick McGrath

The Survivors by Jane Harper

The Pact by Sharon Bolton

Six Classics

I haven’t read as many classics so far this year, but I’ve managed to find six that I’d recommend – again, I haven’t yet reviewed all of them:

The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

The Silver Darlings by Neil M Gunn

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

My Antonia by Willa Cather

In Diamond Square by Mercè Rodoreda

Six New-to-me Authors

I’ve read loads of new-to-me authors as usual and many of them have already been included in the categories above, so here are the best of the rest:

The Old Buzzard Had It Coming by Donis Casey

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Taken by Lisa Stone

Way Station by Clifford D Simak

The Conjure-Man Dies by Rudolph Fisher

The Chill Factor by Richard Falkirk

Six Recent Additions to the Wishlist

Ok, this is cheating a bit since I haven’t read these. But as the bard said, some rules are more honoured in the breach than the observance… 😉

No Other Life by Brian Moore

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

The Female Man by Joanna Russ

The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux

City by Clifford D Simak

Every Seventh Wave by Tom Vowler

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So that’s my six sixes, and they tell me I need to read less vintage crime and more other stuff! Jo gives us till the end of July to do our sixes, so if you haven’t already joined in you still have time – it’s a wonderful way to waste spend some time!

Here’s to the next six months! 😀

TBR Thursday 289…

Episode 289

My reading has slowed to a crawl again this week and as a result the TBR has gone up a little – by 2 to 196. But it absolutely is NOT MY FAULT! For once, I managed to capture the culprit on camera…

andy murray gif

Spooky story part 1: Before I get to the books I want to tell you about something that really happened to me yesterday, and nearly made me get the Fretful Porpentine out of his hibernation early! I was leaving a comment on one of those blogs that gives you a form where you add your name and website details. Because I’ve commented on it many times before, my browser knows what I’m going to fill in so prompts me. But this time it gave me two choices – FictionFan or Aelfrida Tillyard. That seemed most odd to me since obviously I’ve never used the name Aelfrida Tillyard, and especially since to the best of my knowledge I’d never come across it in real life or in books. So I googled her…

Aelfrida Catharine Wetenhall Tillyard (5 October 1883 – 12 December 1959) was a British author, medium, lecturer on Comparative Religion and associated religious topics, spiritual advisor and self-styled mystic.”

Are you as spooked by that as I was?

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Anyway, here are a few more books that I should be serving up soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

Knock, Murderer, Knock by Harriet Rutland

Knock Murderer KnockIt was exciting this month! Life of Pi went into a huge early lead which I thought would be unassailable. But gradually, vote by vote, Knock, Murderer, Knock crept up on it over the next couple of days. They were neck and neck for a bit, and in the end the victory was won with just a one vote difference. Proves that more of You, the People, like the idea of homicidal maniacs in spas than animals in boats! Good choice, People – I shall be planning to read and review it in September.

The Blurb says: “I think,” said Palk slowly, “there’s a homicidal maniac loose in the Hydro, but who it is, God knows.”

Presteignton Hydro is a drably genteel spa resort, populated by the aged and crippled who relish every drop of scandal they observe or imagine concerning the younger guests. No one however expects to see gossip turn to murder as their juniors die one by one – no one, that is, except the killer. The crusty cast of characters make solving the case all the harder for Inspector Palk – until the enigmatic sleuth Mr. Winkley arrives to lend a hand.

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Fiction

The Promise by Damon Galgut

The PromiseCourtesy of Random House Vintage via NetGalley. Another in my bid to read more new fiction releases, but this time picked for the author rather than just the blurb since I’ve enjoyed the one book of his I’ve previously read, The Good Doctor. I must say the blurb sounds great, though… 

The Blurb says: The Promise charts the crash and burn of a white South African family, living on a farm outside Pretoria. The Swarts are gathering for Ma’s funeral. The younger generation, Anton and Amor, detest everything the family stand for — not least the failed promise to the Black woman who has worked for them her whole life. After years of service, Salome was promised her own house, her own land… yet somehow, as each decade passes, that promise remains unfulfilled.

The narrator’s eye shifts and blinks: moving fluidly between characters, flying into their dreams; deliciously lethal in its observation. And as the country moves from old deep divisions to its new so-called fairer society, the lost promise of more than just one family hovers behind the novel’s title.

In this story of a diminished family, sharp and tender emotional truths hit home. Confident, deft and quietly powerful, The Promise is literary fiction at its finest.

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Thriller

False Witness by Karin Slaughter

False WitnessCourtesy of HarperCollins. I’ve always felt that Karin Slaughter’s thrillers sound too gruesome for my taste, but Eva at Novel Deelights has finally broken my powers of resistance with her gushings of love for her books. So I requested this one on NetGalley and then received a paper copy too from the lovely people at HC. I hope this doesn’t mean I need to read it twice, but who knows? Maybe I’ll want to…

The Blurb says: You thought no one saw you. You were wrong.

Leigh and her sister Callie are not bad people – but one night, more than two decades ago, they did something terrible. And the result was a childhood tarnished by secrets, broken by betrayal, devastated by violence. Years later, Leigh has pushed that night from her mind and become a successful lawyer – but when she is forced to take on a new client against her will, her world begins to spiral out of control. Because the client knows the truth about what happened twenty-three years ago. He knows what Leigh and Callie did. And unless they stop him, he’s going to tear their lives apart …

Just because you didn’t see the witness … doesn’t mean he wasn’t there.

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Thriller

The Twisted Wire by Richard Falkirk

The Twisted WireCourtesy of Collins Crime Club. I loved The Chill Factor, also from this author, so was delighted when this one popped through my letterbox…

The Blurb says: A crossed telephone wire causes a call from the President of the United States to his Ambassador in London to be overheard by geologist Tom Bartlett. Tom, preoccupied with thoughts of the conference he is to attend in Israel, puts the incident from his mind, unaware that he might not have been the only person listening in…

He has not been in Tel Aviv a day, however, before the first attempt is made on his life. As Arab, Israeli, Russian and American agents begin to converge on him, it’s clear that someone wants Tom’s briefcase – and will stop at nothing to obtain it.

The Twisted Wire, first published in 1971, is set at the height of the Middle East conflict, combining politics, espionage and murder into a compelling fast-moving adventure.

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Tolkien on Audio

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien read by Andy Serkis

The HobbitIt’s decades since I last read The Hobbit, unlike The Lord of the Rings which I re-read every few years. I think I was at that odd age of being both too old and too young for this one when I first read it – too old to enjoy it as a children’s book, too young to appreciate it with an adult eye. So although I liked it, I didn’t love it with the passion I felt for LOTR when I read it just two or three years later. Timing is everything! I’ve been intending to give it another chance for years, and when I saw that Gollum himself had recorded it, how could I possibly resist?

The Blurb says: Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely travelling further than the pantry of his hobbit-hole in Bag End. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard Gandalf and a company of 13 dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on a journey ‘there and back again’. They have a plot to raid the treasure hoard of Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon….

The prelude to The Lord of The RingsThe Hobbit has sold many millions of copies since its publication in 1937, establishing itself as one of the most influential books of the 20th century.

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Spooky story part 2: So anyway, I read on down the wikipedia entry for Aelfrida Tillyard, only to discover she had written one of the books in Yesterday’s Tomorrows. So I had indeed been searching on her name, along with 99 others, to find out if her book was available. Phew! The porpy can continue his snooze undisturbed…

Hibernating Porpentine

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

Trial by media…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

The Franchise AffairRobert Blair’s life as a country solicitor is peaceful and contented, though just recently he’s been wondering if it isn’t just a little too contented. When he is contacted by Marion Sharp with a request for his help with a matter involving the police, his first reaction is to refer her to another lawyer specialising in criminal matters. But Miss Sharpe is adamant – she wants someone of her own class, and that means Robert. And the case sound intriguing, so Robert heads off to Miss Sharpe’s house, The Franchise, to meet her, her mother and Inspector Grant of Scotland Yard…

The Sharpes, mother and daughter, are eminently respectable ladies, though fairly new to the neighbourhood having inherited The Franchise just a few years earlier. So the story that schoolgirl Betty Kane tells sounds fantastical – she claims that the two women abducted her, locked her in their attic and tried to force her to work as their servant, doling out regular vicious beatings when she didn’t comply. The whole thing would have been written off as nonsensical, but for the fact that Betty is able to describe things in the house and grounds that she couldn’t possibly have known, since she had never been in the house for legitimate reasons. However, Grant can find no corroborating evidence and so the matter would have rested, except that the local crusading newspaper decided to take the matter up. Now the Sharpes are being vilified and harassed, and the matter is no longer only one of whether or not they will be prosecuted – it becomes imperative to prove that Betty is lying so as to clear their names completely. And for Robert it has become personal as he finds himself increasingly drawn to Marion.

Murder Mystery Mayhem Logo 2Challenge details:
Book: 87

Subject Heading: Fiction from Fact
Publication Year: 1948

This is considered a classic of crime fiction, and it fully deserves its reputation. Although it’s billed as an Inspector Grant novel, in fact he plays only a tiny part – the real “detective” is Robert, floundering a little out of his depth since he’s never had anything to do with the criminal side of the law before, but righteously determined to do everything in his power for his clients. He’s extremely likeable, and the ambiguity over Marion and Mrs Sharpe means that for most of the novel the reader doesn’t know whether to hope his romantic feelings for Marion will blossom, or whether he’s setting himself up for a broken heart. Marion and her mother are great characters – both opinionated individualists with a healthy cynicism about their society’s prejudices, but finding that when that society cuts one off, life, especially in a small town where everyone knows everyone else, rapidly becomes intolerable. Although the reader also finds it difficult to believe that they could be guilty, it’s equally hard to see why and how young Betty could have invented such a detailed and consistent story. It was long, long into the novel before I felt I could decide on the Sharpes’ innocence or guilt.

The writing is great and the plot is perfectly delivered. First published in 1948, the social attitudes are very much of their time, and it becomes pretty clear that Ms Tey was probably a good old-fashioned Tory snob whose ideas on class and politics ought to have roused my rage. But actually I found them amusing, and a great, if unintentional, depiction of that particular class of ultra-conservativism which still exists today, particularly in the letters page of The Telegraph and other newspapers read mainly by the retired colonels and maiden aunts of the Shires.

It’s also a wonderful picture of the kind of trial by media with which we are all too familiar, although it happens more slowly when people must write actual literate and grammatical letters to the newspapers and wait for them to be printed rather than firing off foul-mouthed libellous tweets, as we do now that we’re so much more advanced. Tey shows how quickly mob feelings can be aroused, and how easily some people will proceed to take what they would call justice into their own hands. She also shows, though, that there are decent people in the world who will rally round and help, even when it’s unpopular to do so.

Josephine-Tey-1934
Josephine Tey

I don’t want to risk any spoilers, so I’ll simply say that the gradual revelations are very well paced so that my attention never flagged, and I found the eventual resolution completely satisfying. But more than this, I found it a highly entertaining read with all the elements that make good vintage crime so enjoyable – an intriguing mystery, an atmosphere of building tension, a likeable protagonist who is neither alcoholic nor angst-ridden, a touch of romance, a sprinkling of humour. Great stuff! I now officially forgive Josephine Tey for boring me to death with The Daughter of Time and look forward to getting to know Inspector Grant and her better.

I downloaded this one from fadedpage.com – here’s the link.

TBR Thursday 288…

Episode 288

I’ve slowed down a little this week since the books I’m reading are longer ones, but two out, two in, means the TBR remains finely balanced on 194…

balance beam

Review-Alongers! We previously discussed reading Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray next. If you’re still up for it, I’m proposing a review date of Monday, October 25th. This long notice is partly to give everyone who’s interested time to acquire and read this very long book, but selfishly it’s also because I intend to listen to the 32-hour audiobook, which will take me months! Let me know below if you’re still interested and if that date works for you. New review-alongers always welcome! There’s only one “rule” – we all post our reviews on the same date, or for those who don’t blog (or don’t want to do a full review), you leave your thoughts in the comments section of my review.

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Here are a few I should be getting to soon – the two middle ones are from my fast and furious 20 Books of Summer list. Too early for this month’s People’s Choice winner – it will be announced next week, so you still have time to vote! 

Historical Fiction

To Cook a Bear by Mikael Niemi

To Cook a BearCourtesy of Quercus via NetGalley. Another in my attempt to read more new fiction releases, a mission that is causing me to have severe abandonment issues. Happily this one sounds as if it might actually have a plot…

The Blurb says: It is 1852, and in Sweden’s far north, deep in the Arctic Circle, charismatic preacher and Revivalist Lars Levi Læstadius impassions a poverty-stricken congregation with visions of salvation. But local leaders have reason to resist a shift to temperance over alcohol.

Jussi, the young Sami boy Læstadius has rescued from destitution and abuse, becomes the preacher’s faithful disciple on long botanical treks to explore the flora and fauna. Læstadius also teaches him to read and write – and to love and fear God.

When a milkmaid goes missing deep in the forest, the locals suspect a predatory bear is at large. A second girl is attacked, and the sheriff is quick to offer a reward for the bear’s capture. Using early forensics and daguerreotype, Læstadius and Jussi find clues that point to a far worse killer on the loose, even as they are unaware of the evil closing in around them.

To Cook a Bear explores how communities turn inwards, how superstition can turn to violence, and how the power of language can be transformative in a richly fascinating mystery.

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Vintage Crime

The Chianti Flask by Marie Belloc Lowndes

The Chianti FlaskCourtesy of the British Library. I loved The Lodger but haven’t got around to reading anything else from Marie Belloc Lowndes, so I was delighted to see her name pop up in the BL’s Classic Crime series. Since I abandoned one of my original 20 Books of Summer (Bullet Train), I’ve slotted this one into the vacancy…

The Blurb says: An enigmatic young woman named Laura Dousland stands on trial for murder, accused of poisoning her elderly husband Fordish. It seems clear that the poison was delivered in a flask of Chianti with supper, but according to the couple’s servant in the witness-box, the flask disappeared the night Fordish died and all attempts to trace it have come to nothing. The jury delivers its verdict, but this is just the end of the beginning of Marie Belloc Lowndes’ gripping story.

First published in 1934, this exquisitely crafted novel blends the tenets of a traditional mystery with an exploration of the psychological impact of death, accusation, guilt and justice in the aftermath of murder.

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Thriller

Scorpion by Christian Cantrell

ScorpionCourtesy of Penguin Michael Joseph via NetGalley. Although the blurb suggests this is a straight thriller, reviews suggest it’s as much science fiction. Sounds intriguing, though early reviews are distinctly mixed…

The Blurb says: Around the world, twenty-two people have been murdered. The victims fit no profile, the circumstances vary wildly, but one thing links them all: in every case the victim is branded with a number. With police around the globe floundering and unable to identify any pattern, let alone find a killer, CIA Analyst Quinn Mitchell is called in to investigate.

Before long, Quinn is on the trail of an ice-hearted assassin with seemingly limitless resources – but she’s prepared for that.

What she isn’t prepared for is the person pulling the strings…

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Christie on Audio

Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie read by Hugh Fraser

Cat Among the PigeonsTime for another Christie re-read! Although this never makes my list of top favourite Christies, it’s well up in the second tier. It’s many years since I last read it, so I’m not sure if I’ll remember whodunit, or why…

The Blurb says: Late one night, two teachers investigate a mysterious flashing light in the sports pavilion, while the rest of the school sleeps. There, among the lacrosse sticks, they stumble upon the body of the unpopular games mistress, shot through the heart from point blank range.

The school is thrown into chaos when the “cat” strikes again. Unfortunately, schoolgirl Julia Upjohn knows too much. In particular, she knows that without Hercule Poirot’s help, she will be the next victim!

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday (on a Wednesday) 287 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 287

(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.)

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OK, People, time for the next batch of four, and a nicely varied bunch this time, I think, still all from 2016. As usual I’m planning three months ahead so the winner will be a September read. Knock, Murderer, Knock was, I think, another Kindle impulse purchase during my early vintage crime frenzy – I’ve never read anything by the author before, but it sounds fun. The Vegetarian was one of those books everyone seemed to be raving about, so I acquired it and then, as usual, didn’t get around to reading it – the reviews make me feel I could love it or hate it. I’m ashamed to say Above the Waterfall is one of my ancient NetGalley ones that slipped through the net – I’ve loved one Ron Rash novel before and not loved one, so again it could go either way. And I acquired Life of Pi after loving Martel’s later book, The High Mountains of Portugal – I feel I may be the only person left alive who hasn’t read it. I still would like to read all of these pretty much equally, so you really can’t go wrong…

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Vintage Crime

Knock, Murderer, Knock by Harriet Rutland

Knock Murderer KnockAdded 15th July 2016. 202 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.70 average rating. 259 pages.

The Blurb says: “I think,” said Palk slowly, “there’s a homicidal maniac loose in the Hydro, but who it is, God knows.”

Presteignton Hydro is a drably genteel spa resort, populated by the aged and crippled who relish every drop of scandal they observe or imagine concerning the younger guests. No one however expects to see gossip turn to murder as their juniors die one by one – no one, that is, except the killer. The crusty cast of characters make solving the case all the harder for Inspector Palk – until the enigmatic sleuth Mr. Winkley arrives to lend a hand.

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Fiction

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The VegetarianAdded 20th July 2016. 104,335 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.59 average. 188 pages.

The Blurb says: Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiralling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavour will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.

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Fiction

Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash

Above the WaterfallAdded 15th August 2016. 5,115 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.52 average. 252 pages. 

The Blurb says: Les, a long-time sheriff nearing retirement, contends with the ravages of poverty and crystal meth in his small Appalachian town. Nestled in a beautiful hollow of the Appalachians, his is a tight-knit community rife with secrets and suspicious of outsiders.

Becky, a park ranger, arrives in this remote patch of North Carolina hoping to ease the anguish of a harrowing past. Searching for tranquillity amid the verdant stillness, she finds solace in poetry and the splendour of the land.

A vicious crime will plunge both sheriff and ranger into deep and murky waters, forging an unexpected bond between them. Caught in a vortex of duplicity, lies, and betrayal, they must navigate the dangerous currents of a tragedy that turns neighbour against neighbour—and threatens to sweep them all over the edge.

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Fiction

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Life of PiAdded 12th October 2016. 1,406,996 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.92 average. 461 pages.

The Blurb says: After the sinking of a cargo ship, a solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a sixteen-year-old boy named Pi, a hyena, a wounded zebra, an orangutan—and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger. The scene is set for one of the most extraordinary and beloved works of fiction in recent years.

Universally acclaimed upon publication, Life of Pi is a modern classic.

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

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TBR Thursday 286…

Episode 286

Goodness, I appear to have turned into a reading machine over the last few weeks! Could this be an unexpected side-effect of the vaccine? If so, much more useful than becoming magnetic, for sure! (I imagine magnetic humans would be very bad for Kindles…) Maybe Bill Gates really has microchipped my brain – thanks, Bill! Anyway, the result of all this reading means that the TBR has dropped by… wait for it… wait for it… SIX to 194! And that despite NetGalley approving me for a couple! Of course, this means I have a million reviews to write – every silver lining has a cloud…

rain gif

The other result is that I can’t say my usual “Here are some I should get to soon” since I’ve already read one of these and started two of the others. I either need to do more TBR posts or read less! The two middle ones are from my fast and furious 20 Books of Summer

American Classic

My Ántonia by Willa Cather

My AntoniaOne from my Classics Club list, this was originally recommended to me as a possible Great American Novel contender (sorry, can’t remember who recommended it). So my expectations are high…

The Blurb says: My Ántonia (1918) depicts the pioneering period of European settlement on the tall-grass prairie of the American midwest, with its beautiful yet terrifying landscape, rich ethnic mix of immigrants and native-born Americans, and communities who share life’s joys and sorrows. Jim Burden recounts his memories of Ántonia Shimerda, whose family settle in Nebraska from Bohemia. Together they share childhoods spent in a new world. Jim leaves the prairie for college and a career in the east, while Ántonia devotes herself to her large family and productive farm. Her story is that of the land itself, a moving portrait of endurance and strength.

Described on publication as ‘one of the best [novels] that any American has ever done’, My Ántonia paradoxically took Cather out of the rank of provincial novelists as the same time that it celebrated the provinces, and mythologized a period of American history that had to be lost before its value could be understood.

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Vintage Crime

Due to a Death by Mary Kelly

Due to a DeathCourtesy of the British Library. I’ve loved the two previous books from this author that the BL has published, The Spoilt Kill and The Christmas Egg, so I have very high hopes for this one…

The Blurb says: A car speeds down a road between miles of marshes and estuary flats, its passenger a young woman named Agnes – hands bloodied, numbed with fear, her world turned upside down. Meanwhile, the news of a girl found dead on the marsh is spreading round the local area. A masterpiece of suspense, Mary Kellys 1964 novel follows Agnes as she casts her mind back through the past few days to find the links between her husband, his friends, a mysterious stranger new to the village and a case of bloody murder.

Complex and thoroughly affecting, Due to a Death was nominated for the Gold Dagger Award and showcases the author’s versatility and remarkable skill for characterization and dialogue.

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Crime

The Goodbye Man by Jeffery Deaver

The Goodbye ManCourtesy of HarperCollins via NetGalley. This is the middle book in Deaver’s new trilogy about modern-day bounty hunter Colter Shaw, and both this and the third book are on my 20 Books of Summer list. I enjoyed the first one, The Never Game, which had a standalone story as well as the running story in the background, so I’m hoping the other two will be just as good…

The Blurb says: In pursuit of two young men accused of terrible hate crimes, Colter Shaw stumbles upon a clue to another mystery. In an effort to save the life of a young woman–and possibly others–he travels to the wilderness of Washington State to investigate a mysterious organization. Is it a community that consoles the bereaved? Or a dangerous cult under the sway of a captivating leader? As he peels back the layers of truth, Shaw finds that some people will stop at nothing to keep their secrets hidden.

All the while, Shaw must unravel an equally deadly enigma: locating and deciphering a message hidden by his father years ago, just before his death–a message that will have life-and-death consequences.

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Vintage Crime on Audio

A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes read by Samuel L Jackson

A Rage in HarlemWhen I read the first mystery novel written by a Black American recently, The Conjure-Man Dies, the intro informed me that there were no others for over two decades, until Chester Himes came along. So I looked him up and discovered that Penguin Audio have just released the first one in his Harlem series, read by Samuel L Jackson – doesn’t that sound utterly irresistible? So obviously, I failed to resist…  

The Blurb says: A dark and witty work of hardboiled detective fiction set in the mean streets of New York, Chester Himes’s A Rage in Harlem includes an introduction by Luc Sante in Penguin Modern Classics.

Jackson’s woman has found him a foolproof way to make money – a technique for turning 10 dollar bills into hundreds. But when the scheme somehow fails, Jackson is left broke, wanted by the police and desperately racing to get back both his money and his loving Imabelle. The first of Chester Himes’s novels to feature the hardboiled Harlem detectives ‘Coffin’ Ed Johnson and ‘Grave Digger’ Jones, A Rage in Harlem has swagger, brutal humour, lurid violence, a hearse loaded with gold and a conman dressed as a Sister of Mercy. 

Chester Himes (1909-1984) was born in Jefferson City, Missouri and grew up in Cleveland. Aged 19, he was arrested for armed robbery and sentenced to 20 to 25 years in jail. In jail he began to write short stories, some of which were published in Esquire. Upon release he took a variety of jobs from working in a California shipyard to journalism to script-writing while continuing to write fiction. He later moved to Paris where he was commissioned by La Série Noire to write the first of his Harlem detective novels, A Rage in Harlem, which won the 1957 Grand Prix du Roman Policier, and was adapted into a 1991 film starring Forest Whitaker and Danny Glover.

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

The Cask by Freeman Wills Crofts

Enough to drive a girl to drink…

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The CaskAs a cargo ship is unloading at the docks in London, an accident causes a cask to fall and split. Two employees of the shipping company spot that some gold coins have fallen from it so not unnaturally they decide to have a little poke around inside to see if there are more. There are, but more shockingly there is also a dead hand which appears to be attached to an equally dead woman! So begins this ridiculously over-complicated, utterly tedious investigation into the death of someone I didn’t care about at the hands of one of the tiny group of suspects about whom I cared even less. If only the cask had been full of red wine, I could have got paralytically drunk and been happy…

Dear me, that’s the nearest I’ve come to death by boredom in a while! I’ve read a few of Crofts’ extremely procedural procedurals now, with varying degrees of enthusiasm or lack thereof, but this one is in a class of its own. Pages and pages and pages of shipping routes of casks, three detectives going over and over and over the same pieces of evidence again and again and again, zero characterisation of victims, suspects or detectives – truly it is a mystery to me how anyone manages to make it all the way through to the end of this with their sanity intact. I gave up at 53% when it became clear to me that I would soon be screaming out loud rather than just inside my head. I was “interested” enough to flick to the last chapter to find out which of the suspects had done the deed, and when I got there I realised I’d been right along – I really didn’t care!

Murder Mystery Mayhem Logo 2Challenge details:
Book:
16
Subject Heading: The Birth of the Golden Age
Publication Year: 1920

And since I’m moaning, let me have a brief rant about the dialogue. People do not speak as if they are a business letter. No one – NO ONE – ever – in the history of the universe – has ever said in conversation, and I quote:

“That cask, as you see, was invoiced out via Havre and Southampton on the 30th ultimo, and yet it turned up in London on Monday, the 5th instant,…”

Good grief! And then there’s the convoluted journey of the corpse-containing cask, which turns up in Paris, London, Southampton, Le Havre and Rouen, some of them several times. Why? WHY?? Why would a murderer go to these ridiculous lengths to get rid of a body? What’s wrong with burying it in the woods or, since it crosses the Channel at least three times as far as I could gather, dumping it in the sea? And I don’t wish to lower the tone, but would a corpse travelling about in a cask for days in the height of summer remain… ahem… fresh??

(I realise the answers to the above may be given in the 47% of the book I didn’t read, but despite my mouth-frothing ranting, I DON’T CARE!!)

icrofts001p1
Freeman Wills Croft

This was apparently Crofts’ first book, so a very strong argument against reading books in order. He undoubtedly did improve, even if his later books occasionally also bore me into fits of the screaming abdabs. At least he got over the desire to make his characters talk as if they were dictating letters to their secretaries. Apparently writer and critic Julian Symons classed him as one of “the humdrum school” of mystery novelists – on the basis of this one I feel Symons was being too kind. But Martin Edwards is even kinder when he uses the euphemism “meticulous” to describe the endless mind-numbing tediosity of repeated details. Amazingly the book has sold over 100,000 copies. I downloaded my copy free and yet still feel I’ve been overcharged…

If you’ve been having too interesting a time recently and feel the desire to be bored rigid for a change, you too can read this – it’s available here. But get your own cask of medicinal wine first – I’ll need all of mine…

TBR Thursday 285…

Episode 285

Well it was all going brilliantly! Until yesterday, when it seemed as if postmen were queuing at the door with parcels from everywhere. End result – the TBR has gone back up 3 to 200. 

Horse treadmill

Here are a few I should be galloping through soon – the two middle ones are from my fast and furious 20 Books of Summer list…

Fiction

Summerwater edited by Sarah Moss

SummerwaterCourtesy of Picador via NetGalley. This had a lot of buzz when it came out and I’ve had this copy for ages, plus it’s very short, but here I am as usual – all behind like the cow’s tail!  It’s had mixed reviews, but the overall impression seems to be positive…

The Blurb says: On the longest day of the summer, twelve people sit cooped up with their families in a faded Scottish cabin park. The endless rain leaves them with little to do but watch the other residents.

A woman goes running up the Ben as if fleeing; a retired couple reminisce about neighbours long since moved on; a teenage boy braves the dark waters of the loch in his red kayak. Each person is wrapped in their own cares but increasingly alert to the makeshift community around them. One particular family, a mother and daughter without the right clothes or the right manners, starts to draw the attention of the others. Tensions rise and all watch on, unaware of the tragedy that lies ahead as night finally falls.

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Thriller

Mother Loves Me by Abby Davies

Mother Loves MeCourtesy of HarperCollins. This is an unsolicited one from HC. They’ve sent me some brilliant ones I’d never have come across otherwise, and also some dire ones (or, to be fairer, not to my taste) that have been abandoned very quickly. The blurb of this suggests it’s more likely to fall into the second category, but I’ve been wrong before… 

The Blurb says: The creepiest debut thriller you will read this year!

One little girl.
Mirabelle’s mother loves her. She’s her ‘little doll’. Mother dresses her, paints her face, and plaits her hair. But as Mirabelle grows, the dresses no longer fit quite as well, the face paint no longer looks quite so pretty. And Mother isn’t happy.

Two little girls.
On Mirabelle’s 13th birthday, Mother arrives home with a present – a new sister, 5-year-old Clarabelle, who Mother has rescued from the outside world.

But Mother only needs one.
As it dawns on Mirabelle that there is a new ‘little doll’ in her house, she also realizes that her life isn’t what she thought it was. And that dolls often end up on the scrap heap…

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Thriller

The Pact by Sharon Bolton

The PactCourtesy of Orion via NetGalley. Sharon Bolton used to be a totally safe bet for me, but her last few books have seemed more variable and have sometimes strayed too far over the credibility line, so this could go either way…  

The Blurb says: A golden summer, and six talented friends are looking forward to the brightest of futures – until a daredevil game goes horribly wrong, and a woman and two children are killed.

18-year-old Megan takes the blame, leaving the others free to get on with their lives. In return, they each agree to a ‘favour’, payable on her release from prison.

Twenty years later Megan is free.
Let the games begin . . .

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Maigret on Audio

Cécile is Dead by Georges Simenon read by Gareth Armstrong

Cecile is DeadI’ve been dipping my toe into the Maigret series over the last couple of years, but fellow blogger José Ignacio over at the excellent A Crime is Afoot plunged in head-first and has now read all 79 novels and 28 short stories. He has given a list of his favourites, and finished by saying “However, if you just want to read one before making up your mind, I would suggest: Cécile is Dead.” With an endorsement like that, it had to be the next on my list! 

The Blurb says: A new translation of this moving novel about the destructive power of greed.

Poor Cécile! And yet she was still young. Maigret had seen her papers: barely 28 years old. But it would be difficult to look more like an old maid, to move less gracefully, in spite of the care she took to be friendly and pleasant. Those black dresses that she must make for herself from bad paper patterns, that ridiculous green hat!

In the dreary suburbs of Paris, the merciless greed of a seemingly respectable woman is unearthed by her long-suffering niece, and Maigret discovers the far-reaching consequences of their actions.

This novel has been published in a previous translation as Maigret and the Spinster.

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Six Degrees of Separation – From Wyld 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…

The Bass Rock

The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld. I haven’t read it but the blurb tells me…

Surging out of the sea, the Bass Rock has for centuries watched over the lives that pass under its shadow on the Scottish mainland. And across the centuries the fates of three women are linked: to this place, to each other. Each woman’s choices are circumscribed, in ways big and small, by the men in their lives. But in sisterhood there is the hope of survival and new life. Intricately crafted and compulsively readable, The Bass Rock burns bright with anger and love.

Not for me – I’m tired of misandry dressed up to look like feminism. Throw me out of the sisterhood by all means – I like men, so there!

The Bass Rock is the home of a famous rock lighthouse, which takes me to my first choice…

Seashaken Houses

Seashaken Houses by Tom Nancollas

In this excellent and well written non-fiction, Nancollas shares his enthusiasm for some of the rock lighthouses around the shores of Britain and Ireland. A fascinating subject, brought wonderfully to life.

Bell Rock Lighthouse during a storm by John Horsburgh Illus. in: Robert Stevenson, An Account of the Bell Rock Lighthouse.

One of the lighthouses Nancollas discusses is the Bell Rock, above, which was built by the grandfather of the author of my second pick…

Thrawn Janet by William Strang 1899

Thrawn Janet by Robert Louis Stevenson

This classic horror story, based solidly in the witchcraft superstitions that lasted well into the eighteenth century in Scotland, is mostly written in a broad Scots dialect, which I admit might make it hard work for non-Scots (or young Scots). But it’s worth the effort – it’s amazingly well written and really demands to be read aloud to get the full effect of the speech patterns and rhythms.

Syne she turned round, an’ shawed her face; Mr Soulis had the same cauld grue as twice that day afore, an’ it was borne in upon him what folk said, that Janet was deid lang syne, an’ this was a bogle in her clay-cauld flesh. He drew back a pickle and he scanned her narrowly. She was tramp-trampin’ in the cla’es, croonin’ to hersel’; and eh! Gude guide us, but it was a fearsome face.

My third selection also contains a good amount of Scots, although being more modern it’s not quite so difficult to understand…

Docherty 2

Docherty by William McIlvanney

On a December night in 1903, Tam Docherty lifts his new-born son and declares that this one will never go down the pits – this child Conn, his youngest, will work with his brains, rise out of the poverty of his heritage. The book covers the next twenty years or so, telling the story of Conn and his family, and most of all of Tam himself, a man who may be “only five foot fower. But when yer hert goes fae yer heid tae yer taes, that’s a lot o’ hert.”

“Son, it’s easy tae be guid oan a fu’ belly. It’s when a man’s goat two bites an’ wan o’ them he’ll share, ye ken whit he’s made o’. Listen. In ony country in the world, who are the only folk that ken whit it’s like tae leeve in that country? The folk at the boattom. The rest can a’ kid themselves oan. They can afford to hiv fancy ideas. We canny, son. We loass the wan idea o’ who we are, we’re deid. We’re wan anither. Tae survive, we’ll respect wan anither. When the time comes, we’ll a’ move forward thegither, or nut at all.”

Getting away from the dialect now (did I hear you cheer?), my fourth book is also the story of a son of a miner…

Sons and Lovers

Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence

This story of Lawrence’s alter-ego, Paul Morell, tells of his childhood and young manhood, and (being Lawrence) there’s a lot of concentration on his relationships with women. But the woman who figures largest in his young life is undoubtedly his mother…

On every side the immense dark silence seemed pressing him, so tiny a spark, into extinction, and yet, almost nothing, he could not be extinct. Night, in which everything was lost, went reaching out, beyond stars and sun. Stars and sun, a few bright grains, went spinning round for terror, and holding each other in embrace, there in a darkness that outpassed them all, and left them tiny and daunted. So much, and himself, infinitesimal, at the core a nothingness, and yet not nothing.
“Mother!” he whimpered—“mother!”

Another rather too intimate mother/son relationship is at the heart of my fifth choice…

agostino

Agostino by Alberto Moravia

Agostino and his widowed mother are staying at a Mediterranean beach resort for the summer. As we meet them, thirteen-year-old Agostino is still a child, devoted to his mother, rather infatuated by her and proud to bask in the admiration she attracts as they spend their days on the beach or swimming from the rowboat they take out each day. But when his mother becomes involved with a young man, Agostino’s feelings turn to a jealousy which he barely understands. All very Oedipal!

From the 1962 film of the novella

Moravia’s book was initially banned by the Italian Fascist government. The author of my sixth and last selection fared even worse – he fell foul of the regime by writing a number of anti-Fascist articles; and, after having been arrested and then released, died as a result of being beaten up by a Fascist thug in 1944.

the murdered banker

The Murdered Banker by Augusto de Angelis

Written in 1935, this novella length story is the first appearance of Inspector De Vincenzi in a series that was apparently hugely popular in Italy and gained De Angelis a reputation as father of the Italian mystery novel. An entertaining mystery novel that veers often towards high melodrama…

“Tell me, commendatore, what’s in there? What’s happened?”
“There’s a dead body. What’s happened is that a man’s been killed.”
A tremor convulsed the little man. He clutched at Maccari’s arm, his terror rendering him pitiful.
“Oh my God! This house is cursed! Do they know that this house is cursed?”

opera gif

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So from Wyld to De Angelis via lighthouses, the builder of the Bell Rock lighthouse, Scottish dialect, sons of miners, Oedipus and Italian Fascists!

Hope you enjoyed the journey! 😀

TBR Thursday 284…

Episode 284

I seem to have read about a zillion books in the last couple of weeks, so that even although half a zillion more have arrived, the overall result is that the TBR has plummeted by an amazing 5 to 197! And now that I’m starting my fast and furious 20 Books of Summer who knows how far it will drop??

freefall gif homer

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

NB Before I begin, an update on the Review-Along for The Silver Darlings: Rose has now received her copy and we’ve tentatively agreed a new review date of Monday 14th June, if that suits our fellow readers Christine and Alyson. Let me know if it doesn’t – otherwise brush off your notes!

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

The Black Cabinet by Patricia Wentworth

The Black CabinetThere was never much doubt about the winner this month, People – The Black Cabinet shot into the lead in the first couple of hours and never looked back. The other three were all so far behind I can only describe them as also-rans. A good choice – it sounds like it should be fun, and it’s short! Hurrah! My faith in You, The People, is restored… 😉

The Blurb says: The lowly assistant to a London dressmaker, Chloe Dane yearns for a new life. She has bittersweet memories of being a carefree child playing hide-and-seek at Danesborough, her family’s magnificent country estate. Decades later, the ancestral mansion has been restored to its former glory—and Chloe is shocked to discover that she is the sole heir.

Danesborough is not the sun-filled, evergreen place she remembers. The trees are bare and the house is shrouded in mist. But the enormous gold-and-black lacquered Chinese cabinet in the drawing room is exactly the same. Chloe’s childhood imagination created an entire story out of the intricate carvings on the cabinet: a flowing river filled with boats and fishermen and one frightening man she called Mr. Dark.

But now, as Chloe begins to uncover Mitchell Dane’s true motives for bequeathing her the centuries-old manse, she has a very real reason to be afraid: The truth about what’s hidden in the black cabinet will soon threaten her life.

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Fiction

Highway Blue by Ailsa McFarlane

Highway BlueCourtesy of Harvill Secker via NetGalley. Another in my bid to read more new releases, picked purely on the basis of the blurb. The early reviews are distinctly mixed… 

The Blurb says: Anne Marie is adrift San Padua, living a precarious life of shift-work and shared apartments. Her husband Cal left her on their first anniversary and two years later, she can’t move on.

When he shows up suddenly on her doorstep, clearly in some kind of trouble, she reluctantly agrees to a drink. But later that night a gun goes off in an alley near the shore and the young couple flee together, crammed into a beat up car with their broken past. Their ill-at-ease odyssey takes them across a shimmering American landscape and through the darker seams of the country, towards a city that may or may not represent salvation.

Highway Blue is a story of being lost and found; of love, in all its forms; and of how the pursuit of love is, in its turn, a kind of redemption.

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Science Fiction

Yesterday’s Tomorrows: The Story of Science Fiction in 100 Books by Mike Ashley

Yesterday's TomorrowsCourtesy of the British Library. I’m terrified of this one! It’s similar to Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, which led to a new challenge and pushed my poor TBR rocketing into space. And now they’ve done the same for science fiction! Will I be able to resist yet another challenge?? I can only hope all the books sounds awful! It doesn’t say it in the blurb, but I believe the book’s focus is specifically on British science fiction (though that mention of Asimov has me wondering…)

The Blurb says: From the enrapturing tales of H. G. Wells to the punishing dystopian visions of 1984 and beyond, the evolution of science fiction from the 1890s to the 1960s is a fascinating journey to undertake. Setting out this span of years as what we can now recognize as the ‘classic’ period of the genre, Mike Ashley takes us on a tour of the stars, utopian and post-apocalyptic futures, worlds of AI run amok and techno-thriller masterpieces asking piercing questions of the present. This book does not claim to be definitive; what it does offer is an accessible view of the impressive spectrum of imaginative writing which the genre’s classic period has to offer. Towering science fiction greats such as Asimov and Aldiss run alongside the, perhaps unexpected, likes of C. S. Lewis and J. B. Priestley and celebrate a side of science fiction beyond the stereotypes of space opera and bug-eyed monsters; the side of science fiction which proves why it must continue to be written and read, so long as any of us remain in uncertain times.

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Fiction

Shadows Over the Spanish Sun by Caroline Montague

Shadows Over the Spanish SunCourtesy of Orion via NetGalley. Another new release that caught my eye due to its Spanish Civil War connection. I have a feeling it might be going to be more romance than historical fiction, but we’ll see…

The Blurb says: Spain, 1936. Leonardo’s only connection to his past is the half medallion he wears around his neck – a painful reminder of his origins, and of the man he must fight to become. As the shadow of war falls over his beloved country, Leonardo is drawn into a desperate, forbidden love affair. But risking everything for love is a dangerous gamble, where one mistake could destroy everything…

2019. When Mia Ferris discovers that her beloved grandfather has fallen from his horse and is in need of care, she immediately flies to Spain – leaving behind her new fiancé, and her own complicated feelings. But when she discovers a photograph of an unknown woman and a bundle of old letters in her grandfather’s room, Mia must untangle a terrible history that changes everything she thought she knew.

A sweeping novel of passionate love, betrayal and redemption, set against the turmoil and tragedy of the Spanish Civil War.

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Thriller

The Killing Kind by Jane Casey

The Killing KindCourtesy of HarperCollins via NetGalley. I love Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan series, but I’m excited to see her do a standalone thriller for a change. Early reviews are glowing…

The Blurb says: He tells you you’re special…
As a barrister, Ingrid Lewis is used to dealing with tricky clients, but no one has ever come close to John Webster. After Ingrid defended Webster against a stalking charge, he then turned on her – following her, ruining her relationship, even destroying her home.

He tells you he wants to protect you…
Now, Ingrid believes she has finally escaped his clutches. But when one of her colleagues is run down on a busy London road, Ingrid is sure she was the intended victim. And then Webster shows up at her door…

But can you believe him?
Webster claims Ingrid is in danger – and that only he can protect her. Stalker or saviour? Murderer or protector? The clock is ticking for Ingrid to decide. Because the killer is ready to strike again.

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 283 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 283

(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.)

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OK, time for the next batch of four, and I have baffled the desire of You, The People, to pick me a 600 page book every month by the ingenious device of not including any… bwahahaa!! Still in 2016, and all crime this time, most of it older or vintage. The first two are Brother Cadfael books – a series I loved long ago but haven’t revisited in years. No idea why I got The Black Cabinet – probably a Kindle Deal or something – but it sounds potentially entertaining. And, of course, although Martin Edwards’ book isn’t vintage crime, he is the man behind the British Library Crime Classics series, so still all connected! A trickier choice this time, I feel, because of the rough similarity in the books.

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Historical Crime

The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters

The Virgin in the IceAdded 11th April 2016. 8,018 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.14 average rating. 294 pages.

The Blurb says: The winter of 1139 will disrupt Brother Cadfael’s tranquil life in Shrewsbury with the most disturbing of events. Raging civil war has sent refugees fleeing north from Worcester. Among them are two orphans from a noble family, a boy of thirteen and an eighteen-year-old girl of great beauty, and their companion, a young Benedictine nun. The trio never reaches Shrewsbury, having disappeared somewhere in the wild countryside.

Cadfael is afraid for these three lost lambs, but another call for help sends him to the church of Saint Mary. A wounded monk, found naked and bleeding by the roadside, will surely die without Cadfael’s healing arts. Why this holy man has been attacked and what his fevered ravings reveal soon give Brother Cadfael a clue to the fate of the missing travelers. Now Cadfael sets out on a dangerous quest to find them. The road will lead him to a chill and terrible murder and a tale of passion gone awry. And at journey’s end awaits a vision of what is best, and worst, in humankind.

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Historical Crime

Brother Cadfael’s Penance by Ellis Peters

Brother Cadfael's PenanceAdded 8th May 2016. 4,576 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.27 average. 292 pages.

The Blurb says: November, 1145. While Cadfael has bent Abbey rules, he has never broken his monastic vows–until now. Word has come to Shrewsbury of a treacherous act that has left 30 of Maud’s knights imprisoned. All have been ransomed except Cadfael’s secret son, Olivier. Conceived in Cadfael’s soldiering youth and unaware of his father’s identity, Olivier will die if he is not freed.

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Vintage Crime

The Black Cabinet by Patricia Wentworth

The Black CabinetAdded 7th June 2016. 266 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.72 average. 251 pages. 

The Blurb says: The lowly assistant to a London dressmaker, Chloe Dane yearns for a new life. She has bittersweet memories of being a carefree child playing hide-and-seek at Danesborough, her family’s magnificent country estate. Decades later, the ancestral mansion has been restored to its former glory—and Chloe is shocked to discover that she is the sole heir.

Danesborough is not the sun-filled, evergreen place she remembers. The trees are bare and the house is shrouded in mist. But the enormous gold-and-black lacquered Chinese cabinet in the drawing room is exactly the same. Chloe’s childhood imagination created an entire story out of the intricate carvings on the cabinet: a flowing river filled with boats and fishermen and one frightening man she called Mr. Dark.

But now, as Chloe begins to uncover Mitchell Dane’s true motives for bequeathing her the centuries-old manse, she has a very real reason to be afraid: The truth about what’s hidden in the black cabinet will soon threaten her life.

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Contemporary Crime

The Coffin Trail by Martin Edwards

The Coffin TrailAdded 9th June 2016. 1,781 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.66 average. 301 pages.

The Blurb says: Oxford historian Daniel Kind and his partner Miranda both want to escape to a new life. On impulse they buy a cottage in Brackdale, an idyllic valley in the Lake District. But though they hope to live the dream , the past soon catches up with him…

Tarn Cottage was once home to Barrie Gilpin, suspected of a savage murder. A young woman’s body was found on the Sacrifice Stone, an ancient pagan site up on the fell., but Barrie died before he could be arrested. Daniel has personal reasons for becoming fascinated by the case and for believing in Barrie’s innocence. When the police launch a cold case review, Brackdale’s skeletons begin to rattle and the lives of Daniel and DCI Hannah Scarlett become strangely entwined. Daniel and Hannah find themselves risking their lives as they search for a ruthless murderer who is prepared to kill again to hide a shocking secret.

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

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VOTE NOW!

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The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude

Missing, presumed dead…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

The Sussex Downs MurderBrothers John and William Rothers share the family home and lime manufacturing business at Chalklands Farm in Sussex. William’s wife also lives there, which is unfortunate, or convenient, depending on your viewpoint, since she seems to be at least as close to John as she is to her husband. Then John decides to go on a short driving holiday, but he doesn’t get far – his car is found abandoned a few miles from home and there are signs of violence. No sign of John though, alive or dead. Inspector Meredith has recently been transferred to the area and is put in charge of the case. First he’ll have to determine if John has been kidnapped or murdered before he can hope to discover whodunit…

I’ve loved a couple of John Bude’s books and been pretty unimpressed by a couple more, so wasn’t sure what to expect with this one. And it fell in the middle for me – reasonably enjoyable but not nearly as entertaining as he can be. I’m coming to the conclusion it’s the Inspector Meredith books that don’t work too well for me. Not that I don’t like the Inspector – as a character he’s fine and in this one there’s some entertaining stuff between him and his teenage son which gives him a more rounded feel than in some of the other books. It’s more the investigative technique that puts me off, very painstaking and slow, with lots of examining and re-examining clues as each fresh piece of information comes to light. I’m aware I’ve said similar things about a few of the Golden Age police procedurals, especially the Inspector French novels of Freeman Wills Crofts, so I was interested to learn from Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books that Meredith is indeed modelled on French. However Edwards says that Meredith “possesses a sharper sense of humour” and an “innate humanity”, with both of which I agree. This kind of detailed procedural is clearly a specific style of mystery story popular at the time, and Bude certainly does it better than most.

Murder Mystery Mayhem Logo 2Challenge details:
Book: 35
Subject Heading: Serpents in Eden
Publication Year: 1936

He’s also very good at settings and here he brings the area of the Sussex Downs to life, with the sparsely populated rural district playing a major role in the solving of the mystery. First published in 1936, there was still little enough traffic on the roads for people to notice and recognise passing vehicles, and even remember them some days later. Local gossip plays its part too, with there being few enough people around for everyone to have a fair idea of what everyone else might be up to, or at least to think they do.

The solution seems a bit obvious from fairly early on, unfortunately, but the meat of the story is really in how Meredith goes about his investigation. As he struggles to find proof of a murder having been done much less to prove who may have done it, we see his frustration and the pressure he is put under by his superiors. But Meredith is a patient man, willing to admit when a theory isn’t working out and to go back to the beginning to formulate a new one.

Overall, then, enjoyable enough to while away a few hours but not a top rank mystery novel, which has been pretty much my reaction to all of the Inspector Meredith novels I’ve read so far. I think in future I’ll try to stick to Bude’s standalones where, in my limited experience of him, he seems to show much more inventiveness and humour, and achieves a better pace.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 282…

Episode 282

During my recent disappearance, I didn’t pick up a book for an entire week, but they still kept arriving through the letter box! Result – the TBR is up a horrendous 4 to 202… aarghhhh!!! So I’m now reading up a storm in an attempt to catch up…

Homer reading gif

Here are a few I should be getting to soon…

Vintage Sci-Fi

Spaceworlds edited by Mike Ashley

SpaceworldsCourtesy of the British Library. Another themed anthology in the BL’s Science Fiction Classics series, which I’m enjoying as much as their vintage crime series. And the covers are just as good too… 

The Blurb says: Astronauts constructing a new space station must avert destruction from a missile sent by an unknown enemy; a generation starship is rocked by revelations of who their secret passengers in the hold truly are; a life or death struggle tests an operating surgeon – in orbit, with an alien patient never seen before.

Since space flight was achieved, and long before, science fiction writers have been imagining a myriad of stories set in the depths of the great darkness beyond our atmosphere. From generation ships – which are in space so long that there will be generations aboard who know no planetary life – to orbiting satellites in the unforgiving reaches of the vacuum, there is a great range of these insular environments in which thrilling, innovative and deeply emotional stories may unfold. With the Library’s matchless collection of periodicals and magazines at his fingertips, Mike Ashley presents a stellar selection of tales from the infinite void above us.

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Fiction

Last Days in Cleaver Square by Patrick McGrath

Last Days in Cleaver SquareCourtesy of Random House Cornerstone via NetGalley. It’s odd how once you get interested in a subject you start noticing books you might otherwise have passed by. I’m hoping this one will be a good addition to my Reading the Spanish Civil War challenge… 

The Blurb says: It is 1975 and an old man, Francis McNulty, a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, is beset with sightings in his garden of his old nemesis, General Franco. The general is in fact in Spain, on his deathbed, but Francis is deeply troubled, as is his daughter Gillian, who lives with him in Cleaver Square.

Francis’ account of his haunting is by turns witty, cantankerous and nostalgic. At times he drifts back to his days in Madrid, when he rescued a young girl from a burning building and brought her back to London with him. There are other, darker events from that time, involving an American surgeon called Doc Roscoe, and a brief, terrible act of betrayal.

When Gillian announces her forthcoming marriage to a senior civil servant, Francis realizes he has to adapt to new circumstances and confront his past once and for all. Highly atmospheric, and powerfully dramatic, rich in pathos and humour, Last Days in Cleaver Square confirms a major storyteller at the height of his powers.

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Vintage Crime

Two-Way Murder by ECR Lorac

Two-Way MurderCourtesy of the British Library again! ECR Lorac has become one of my favourites in this series, so I’m always delighted to see her name pop up…

The Blurb says: It is a dark and misty night – isn’t it always? – and bachelors Nicholas and Ian are driving to the ball at Fordings, a beautiful concert hall in the countryside. There waits the charming Dilys Maine, and a party buzzing with rumours of one Rosemary Reeve who disappeared on the eve of this event the previous year, not found to this day. With thoughts of mysterious case ringing in their ears, Dilys and Nicholas strike a stranger on the drive back home, launching a new investigation and unwittingly reviving the search for what really became of Rosemary Reeve.

All the hallmarks of the Golden Age mystery are here in this previously unpublished novel by E.C.R. Lorac, boasting the author’s characteristically detailed sense of setting and gripping police work.

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Thriller

Bullet Train by Kōtarō Isaka

Bullet TrainCourtesy of Random House Vintage via NetGalley. I chose this one purely on the basis of the blurb. Must admit early reviews are pretty mixed but I’ve got my fingers crossed…  

The Blurb says: Five killers find themselves on a bullet train from Tokyo competing for a suitcase full of money. Who will make it to the last station? An original and propulsive thriller from a Japanese bestseller.

Satoshi looks like an innocent schoolboy but he is really a viciously cunning psychopath. Kimura’s young son is in a coma thanks to him, and Kimura has tracked him onto the bullet train headed from Tokyo to Morioka to exact his revenge. But Kimura soon discovers that they are not the only dangerous passengers onboard. Nanao, the self-proclaimed ‘unluckiest assassin in the world’, and the deadly partnership of Tangerine and Lemon are also travelling to Morioka. A suitcase full of money leads others to show their hands. Why are they all on the same train, and who will get off alive at the last station?

A bestseller in Japan, Bullet Train is an original and propulsive thriller which fizzes with an incredible energy as its complex net of double-crosses and twists unwinds to the last station.

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Fiction

A Town like Alice by Nevil Shute read by Robin Bailey

A Town Like AliceAn extra one this week, since I’ve actually already started this one. Recommended by Rose after I’d enjoyed Shute’s On the Beach, and so far I’m loving every minute of it. Robin Bailey’s rather old-fashioned upper-class voice is perfect for the time and class the book is set in…

The Blurb says: Nevil Shute’s most beloved novel, a tale of love and war, follows its enterprising heroine from the Malayan jungle during World War II to the rugged Australian outback.

Jean Paget, a young Englishwoman living in Malaya, is captured by the invading Japanese and forced on a brutal seven-month death march with dozens of other women and children. A few years after the war, Jean is back in England, the nightmare behind her. However, an unexpected inheritance inspires her to return to Malaya to give something back to the villagers who saved her life. Jean’s travels leads her to a desolate Australian outpost called Willstown, where she finds a challenge that will draw on all the resourcefulness and spirit that carried her through her war-time ordeals.

NB I didn’t use the Audible blurb for this one since it contains a huge spoiler – you have been warned!

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

20 Books of Summer

…aka Failure Guaranteed…

Since I’m already so far behind in all my challenges for 2021, it makes absolutely no sense to take part in Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer challenge, so obviously I’m going to do it – sense is so over-rated, don’t you think? I usually have some kind of theme for this, and this year it’s to read twenty books I’ve received for review, either at my own request or unsolicited from some of the lovely publishers out there. I currently have 40 review copies outstanding, which is the highest it’s ever been, but loads of them are crime – contemporary, vintage, historical and thrillers – and a sprinkling of science fiction. Quick reads, in other words – so I’m going for a high octane, murderous summer!

So here’s what my initial list looks like, though there’s a good chance other review books will arrive over the summer and I may swap them in if the fancy takes me!

            1. Spaceworlds edited by Mike Ashley
            2. Two-Way Murder by ECR Lorac
            3. Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka
            4. The Killing Kind by Jane Casey
            5. The Pact by Sharon Bolton
            6. Mother Loves Me by Abby Davies
            7. Scorpion by Christian Cantrell
            8. False Witness by Karin Slaughter
            9. The Drowned City by KJ Maitland
            10. Due to a Death by Mary Kelly
            11. Worst Idea Ever by Jane Fallon
            12. The Disappearing Act by Catherine Steadman
            13. Yesterday’s Tomorrows by Mike Ashley
            14. Letters from the Dead by Steve Robinson
            15. The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins
            16. The Goodbye Man by Jeffery Deaver
            17. The Final Twist by Jeffery Deaver
            18. Risk of Harm by Lucie Whitehouse
            19. The Twisted Wire by Richard Falkirk
            20. Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben

Well, I think they look pretty appealing! It’s a fairly even split between authors I’ve enjoyed before and authors who will be new to me, so I may even find some new favourites. I’m currently tired of massive novels and factual books, so an immersion in lighter reading sounds like a perfect way to spend the summer even if I’m almost guaranteed to fail!

Do any of them appeal to you? Are you joining in the challenge?

(PS Apologies for disappearing again – life keeps getting in the way of blogging at the moment. I’ve given myself a serious talking-to and should catch up with comments, etc., over the weekend and be back in the swing next week!)

Here’s to a great summer of reading! 😀

TBR Thursday 281…

Episode 281

Since I feel as if I’ve hardly finished anything this week being stuck yet again in the middle of several massive books, it’s a surprise to me that the TBR appears to have gone down 1 to 198! I’m sure my spreadsheet has a life of its own.

Confused spreadsheet gif

Here are a few more that should be coming up soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half of a Yellow SunWell, Dear People, for the fifth time in six months you have chosen the approximately 600-pages option, and this time sadly also the one I least wanted to read! The vote was neck-and-neck all the way through, and how I hoped that Barbara Vine’s A Dark-Adapted Eye would win (304 pages and sounds great). But it was not to be – a very late vote broke the deadlock, and Adichie won. Oh well! A lesson to me to delete books I’ve gone off! Maybe I’ll love it. (Or maybe I’ll just pretend A Dark-Adapted Eye won and read it instead… 😉 )

The Blurb says: Ugwu, a boy from a poor village, works as a houseboy for a university professor. Olanna, a young woman, has abandoned her life of privilege in Lagos to live with her charismatic new lover, the professor. And Richard, a shy English writer, is in thrall to Olanna’s enigmatic twin sister. As the horrific Biafran War engulfs them, they are thrown together and pulled apart in ways they had never imagined.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s masterpiece, winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction, is a novel about Africa in a wider sense: about the end of colonialism, ethnic allegiances, class and race – and about the ways in which love can complicate all of these things.

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Classic Crime Fiction

The Conjure-Man Dies by Rudolph Fisher

The Conjure-Man DiesCourtesy of the Collins Crime Club – Harlem imprint. This wasn’t on my original Classics Club list but it seems perfect to fill one of the remaining slots, so I’ve bumped Anatomy of a Murder to make room for it… 

The Blurb says: A unique crime classic: the very first detective novel written by an African-American, set in 1930s New York with only Black characters.

When the body of N’Gana Frimbo, the African conjure-man, is discovered in his consultation room, Perry Dart, one of Harlem’s ten Black police detectives, is called in to investigate. Together with Dr Archer, a physician from across the street, Dart is determined to solve the baffling mystery, helped and hindered by Bubber Brown and Jinx Jenkins, local boys keen to clear themselves of suspicion of murder and undertake their own investigations.

A distinguished doctor and accomplished musician and dramatist, Rudolph Fisher was one of the principal writers of the Harlem Renaissance, but died in 1934 aged only 37. With a gripping plot and vividly drawn characters, Fisher’s witty novel is a remarkable time capsule of one of the most exciting eras in the history of Black fiction.

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Fiction

Nightshift by Kiare Ladner

NightshiftCourtesy of Picador via NetGalley. Continuing my bid to read more contemporary fiction, I picked this on the basis of the blurb. Must admit so far I have abandoned more of my contemporary fiction choices than I’ve finished, so I’m hoping this one fares better…

The Blurb says: Nightshift is a story of obsession set in London’s liminal world of nightshift workers.

When twenty-three-year-old Meggie meets distant and enigmatic Sabine, she recognises in her the person she would like to be. Giving up her daytime existence, her reliable boyfriend, and the trappings of a normal life in favour of working the same nightshifts as Sabine could be the perfect escape for Meggie. She finds a liberating sense of freedom in indulging her growing obsession with Sabine and plunges herself into another existence, gradually immersing herself in the transient and uncertain world of the nightshift worker.

Dark, sexy, frightening, Nightshift explores ambivalent friendship, sexual attraction and lives that defy easy categorisation. London’s stark urban reality is rendered other-worldly and strange as Meggie’s sleep deprivation, drinking and obsession for Sabine gain a momentum all of their own. Can Meggie really lose herself in her trying to become someone else?

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Vintage Crime

The Man from London by Georges Simenon

The Man from LondonCourtesy of Penguin Classics via NetGalley. This will be my first experience of one of Simenon’s non-Maigret novels. Though Maigret is what he’s best remembered for, a lot of bloggers over the years have praised some of his other books at least as highly, sometimes more so. The blurb certainly makes it sound appealing…

The Blurb says: On a foggy winter’s evening in Dieppe, after the arrival of the daily ferry from England, a railway signalman habitually scrutinizes the port from his tiny, isolated cabin. When a scuffle on the quayside catches his eye, he is drawn to the scene of a brutal murder and his once quiet life changes forever. A mere observer at first, he soon finds himself fishing a briefcase from the water and in doing so he enters a feverish and secret chase. As the murderer and witness stalk and spy on each other, they gain an increasingly profound yet tacit understanding of each other, until the witness becomes an accomplice.

Written in 1933, soon after the successful launch of the Inspector Maigret novels, this haunting, atmospheric novel soon became a classic and the inspiration for several film and TV adaptations.

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 280 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 280

(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.)

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OK, time for the next batch of four! At last we’re moving into 2016, and I have far fewer books from that year than from 2015 – I must have been attempting to get hold of my ballooning TBR by this stage. However, there are plenty to take us through the next few People’s Choices. As usual, I’m planning three months ahead so the winner will be a July read. Most, but not all, of these still appeal to me, but I’ll keep my opinions to myself so as not to sway yours! I missed a few of Sharon Bolton’s early books and always intended to go back and read them, hence Blood Harvest. Half of a Yellow Sun is one of those books everyone seemed to be reading except me, and was added to my TBR as a result of all the glowing reviews. I’ve meant to try Barbara Vine’s books for centuries, and A Dark-Adapted Eye comes recommended as one of her best by the blogosphere’s resident crime expert, Margot Kinberg. And Grey Mask marks the first appearance of a vintage crime novel on The People’s Choice – this must have been the point where I finally snapped with contemporary crime and time travelled back to the Golden Age.

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Crime

Blood Harvest by Sharon J Bolton

Blood HarvestAdded 2nd March 2016. 5,948 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.96 average rating. 576 pages.

The Blurb says: Psychologist Evi is worried about one of her patients – a woman who is convinced her little girl is still alive. Two years after the fire that burnt their house down.

Meanwhile, the new vicar in town is feeling strangely unwelcome. Disturbing events seem designed to scare him away.

And a young boy keeps seeing a strange, solitary girl playing in the churchyard. Who is she and what is she trying to tell him?

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Fiction

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half of a Yellow SunAdded 23rd March 2016. 115,829 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.31 average. 562 pages.

The Blurb says: Ugwu, a boy from a poor village, works as a houseboy for a university professor. Olanna, a young woman, has abandoned her life of privilege in Lagos to live with her charismatic new lover, the professor. And Richard, a shy English writer, is in thrall to Olanna’s enigmatic twin sister. As the horrific Biafran War engulfs them, they are thrown together and pulled apart in ways they had never imagined.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s masterpiece, winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction, is a novel about Africa in a wider sense: about the end of colonialism, ethnic allegiances, class and race – and about the ways in which love can complicate all of these things.

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Crime

A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine

A Dark-Adapted EyeAdded 23rd March 2016. 7,692 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.97 average. 304 pages. 

The Blurb says: Winner of the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award

Like most families they had their secrets . . .

And they hid them under a genteelly respectable veneer. No onlooker would guess that prim Vera Hillyard and her beautiful, adored younger sister, Eden, were locked in a dark and bitter combat over one of those secrets. England in the fifties was not kind to women who erred, so they had to use every means necessary to keep the truth hidden behind closed doors – even murder.

A Dark-Adapted Eye is modern classic. If you enjoy the crime novels of P.D. James, Ian Rankin and Scott Turow, you will love this book. Barbara Vine is the pen-name of Ruth Rendell.

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Vintage Crime

Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth

Grey MaskAdded 1st April 2016. 4,620 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.71 average. 320 pages.

The Blurb says: Furious at being jilted at the altar by his once-fiancé Margaret Langton, Charles Moray left England behind him. Now, four years later, he returns to his family home, only to find it unlocked and with a light burning in one of its abandoned rooms.

Eavesdropping, Charles soon discovers that a criminal gang has been using his house to plan a vicious crime. The target is the beautiful Margot Standing, who is due to inherit a considerable fortune. And what’s more he recognises the voices of one of the conspirators – his lost love Margaret Langton.

How did Margaret come to be involved? And who is the terrifying masked man who has her in his thrall? Charles contacts Miss Silver to unravel the mysteries of the case and, if she can, save Margot Standing’s life.

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

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VOTE NOW!

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

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TBR Thursday 279…

Episode 279

The TBR has been see-sawing during my little break – up, down, up, down, up – finally coming to rest down 1 to 199. However, it looks like the bookshops might be re-opening next week and I may be forced to go on a pilgrimage…

book buying gif

Here are a few I should be getting to soon…

Historical Fiction

The Slaughterman’s Daughter by Yaniv Iczkovits

The Slaughterman's DaughterCourtesy of Quercus via NetGalley. I normally avoid books with titles that make women seem like adjuncts of men – The Gigolo’s Wife, The Undertaker’s Widow, The Comedian’s Mother-In-Law, etc., etc. – but the blurb of this one broke through the barrier of my antipathy…

The Blurb says: An epic historical adventure novel—Fiddler on the Roof meets Tarantino—set in the Pale of Settlement during the final years of the Russian Empire.

The townsfolk of Motal, a small town in the Pale of Settlement where nothing extraordinary ever happens, are shocked when Fanny Keismann—devoted wife, mother of five and celebrated cheese farmer—leaves her home at two hours past midnight and vanishes into the night. True, the husbands of Motal have been vanishing for years, but a wife and mother? Whoever heard of such a thing. What on earth possessed her?

Could it have anything to do with Fanny’s missing brother-in-law, who left her sister almost a year ago and ran away to Minsk, abandoning his family to destitution and despair? Or could Fanny have been lured away by Zizek Breshov, the mysterious ferryman on the Yaselda river, who, in a strange twist of events, seems to have disappeared on the same night? Surely there can be no link between Fanny and the peculiar roadside murder on the way to Telekhany, which has left Colonel Piotr Novak, head of the Russian secret police, scratching his head. Surely that could have nothing to do with Fanny Keismann, whatever her past, whatever her reputation as a wilde chayeh, a wild beast . . .

Surely not.

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Thriller

The Chill Factor by Richard Falkirk

The Chill FactorAnother unsolicited one courtesy of the good people at Collins Crime Club, this appears to be a re-release to mark the 50th anniversary of the original publication. I’ve never heard of the book or the author, but the blurb makes it sound just my kind of thing… fingers crossed! 

The Blurb says: Iceland. In the winter it gets light at 10am and dark at 2pm. The daily announcement of the Chill Factor allows you to calculate how quickly you could die from exposure…

Iceland is erupting – and not just its volcano.

It is 1971, the height of the Cold War, and anti-American feeling among Icelanders is running high. When a teenager is found dead after a drunken night out, her clothes torn and face bruised, anger is directed towards the military personnel at the NATO air base at Keflavik who outnumber the local population.

British agent Bill Conran, invited by the Americans to uncover a Russian spy ring, comes to realise that this is no routine assignment. Unsure who can be trusted, and targeted by an unknown assassin, he discovers that Iceland, for all its cold beauty, has never been hotter.

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Crime

The Survivors by Jane Harper

The SurvivorsCourtesy of Little, Brown Book Group UK via NetGalley. I’ve enjoyed all of Jane Harper’s books so far, though to varying degrees. Her settings are always one of her main strengths so I’m all packed for a trip to the beach…

The Blurb says: Kieran Elliott’s life changed forever on a single day when a reckless mistake led to devastating consequences. The guilt that haunts him still resurfaces during a visit with his young family to the small coastal town he once called home.

Kieran’s parents are struggling in a community which is bound, for better or worse, to the sea that is both a lifeline and a threat. Between them all is his absent brother Finn.

When a body is discovered on the beach, long-held secrets threaten to emerge in the murder investigation that follows. A sunken wreck, a missing girl, and questions that have never washed away…

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Shardlake on Audio

Revelation by CJ Sansom read by Steven Crossley

RevelationContinuing my re-read of the Shardlake books via audio, this is the fourth in the series, again narrated by Steven Crossley. These books get longer as the series progresses, and this one clocks in at over 21 hours, so at the glacial speed I get through audiobooks I may be listening to it for several weeks!  

The Blurb says: Spring, 1543. King Henry VIII is wooing Lady Catherine Parr, whom he wants for his sixth wife. But this time the object of his affections is resisting. Archbishop Cranmer and the embattled Protestant faction at court are watching keenly, for Lady Catherine is known to have reformist sympathies. Meanwhile, a teenage boy, a religious maniac, has been placed in the Bedlam hospital for the insane. When an old friend of Matthew Shardlake is murdered, his investigations lead to connections to both, and to the prophecies of the book of Revelation. Shardlake follows a trail of horrific murders that are igniting frenzied talk of witchcraft and demonic possession. For what else would the Tudor mind make of a serial killer…?

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

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? 😉

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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! 😀