TBR Thursday 116… and Quarterly Round-Up

TBR Quarterly Report

At the New Year I added up the full extent of the horror of the TBR, including the bits I usually hide. So time for another count to see how I’m doing…


Well, that’s pretty stupendous! The overall total has actually decreased by 1! So at the rate of 1 down every three months, I’ll be clear by… er… em… 2111! Hope they’re working hard on that immortality thing…

I see the review copies have leapt up again. I just cannot seem to control that addiction, even though there are loads of books languishing on the TBR I’d much rather read than most of the new releases I take for review. So my new system is that, before I click request on NetGalley or Amazon Vine, I ask myself “Would you really rather be reading this than Amitav Ghosh’s The Sea of Poppies (which has been on my Kindle since Feb ’14)?” Or if it’s a crime novel, “Would you really rather be reading this than Raven Black by Ann Cleeves (added Dec ’13)?” It’s actually working so far – my requests in March have dropped dramatically to 3, rather than the seven or eight I normally end up with each month. So I’m feeling pretty smug…

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The Around the World in 80 Books Challenge

Last check-in was in December, and I’ve been on quite a few journeys since then…

780px-Around_the_World_in_Eighty_Days_map

I’ve visited a few of the spots on the main journey – the places Phileas Fogg travelled through in the original book. First off, I had fun watching cricket in Bombay with Aravind Adiga in Selection Day. Then a slightly more harrowing journey across the Atlantic to Queenstown in Ireland aboard the Lusitania, courtesy of Erik Larsen’s Dead Wake. To recuperate, Victoria Blake allowed me to steep myself in a bit of art and culture on a time-travelling trip to 16th century and present-day Venice in Titian’s Boatman. Another sea journey, from Britain to Australia in Rachel Rhys’ A Dangerous Crossing – though at least the ship didn’t sink this time – with part of the journey being via the Indian Ocean. (I actually had another one lined up for this slot, so may swap them later.)

I also made some detours along the way. I helped John Bude solve a murder and break up a counterfeiting ring in Death on the Riviera. And then I got harrowed all over again in revolutionary Kiev with Mikhail Bulgakov and The White Guard. And harrowed yet again by The Accusation – Bandi’s collection of short stories set in North Korea under the totalitarian regime of Kim Il-sung.

So here’s how I’m doing on the main journey. To see all the detours so far, click here.

The Main Journey

  1. London  – Martin Chuzzlewit
  2. Orient Express – Travels with My Aunt
  3. France – The Sisters of Versailles
  4. Alps
  5. Venice – Titian’s Boatman
  6. Brindisi
  7. Mediterranean Sea
  8. Suez
  9. Egypt
  10. Red Sea/Arabian Sea
  11. Bombay – Selection Day
  12. Calcutta – A Rising Man
  13. Kholby
  14. Elephant Travel
  15. Allahabad
  16. Indian Ocean/ South China Sea – A Dangerous Crossing
  17. Hong Kong
  18. Shanghai
  19. Yokohama
  20. Pacific – Moby-Dick: Or, The White Whale
  21. San Francisco
  22. Sioux lands
  23. Omaha
  24. New York – Three-Martini Lunch
  25. Atlantic Ocean
  26. Queenstown (Cobh) Ireland – Dead Wake
  27. London – The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

30 down, 50 to go!

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The Classics Club

classics club logo 2

Only two off my Classics Club list this quarter, making a total of 6 – still behind schedule, but I have several planned for the next couple of months.

5. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens – 5-stars even though I didn’t rate it as one of his best. Because… Dickens!

6. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – and another 5! A true classic of suspense filled with wonderfully atmospheric descriptive writing.

6 down, 84 to go!

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Reading the Russian Revolution

Just a couple so far in my newest challenge, although I’m thrilled to say I will have defeated Trotsky any day now – perhaps even today! To see the full challenge, click here.

1. Animal Farm by George Orwell – an interesting and cautionary re-read in these days of “fake news” and “alternative facts” although I found I had some issues with Orwell’s message. Only 3 stars.

2. The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov – on the other hand I was blown away by this one, set over a few days in Kiev at the height of the Revolution. No issues with this brilliantly written book – a definite 5-star.

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Thanks for joining me on my reading journeys! 😀

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

After the first few times, when things had gone wrong, there was no point denying it, the people who’d stayed in the farmhouse had been treated well. They’d been fed, kept warm and safe. After what they’d been through on the journey, the farmhouse really wasn’t that bad.

Warily the woman stepped forward, allowing Cat to take her arm and lead her into the next room, the one where they kept the medical equipment and the records. He breathed an invisible sigh of relief. He’d got quite good at keeping them calm and cooperative.

Of course, they all panicked when they saw the leather straps.

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The dogs were uneasy. Although he spoke to them with more than customary friendliness, and handled them with unwonted gentleness, they still mistrusted him. They nuzzled into his hands, they thrust themselves against his legs, they gazed up at him with affection; but there was always a detectable droop of appeasement, as if they sensed what was in his mind and were afraid that it might at any moment goad him into maltreating them. He was more and more aware of their apprehension, and saw himself, in furious revenge, rising and snatching a switch from the wall, and thrashing them till their noses and eyes dripped faithful blood: they would suffer his maddest cruelty without retaliation. But as he saw himself thus berserk he sat in the box and continued to pat the cringing dogs and speak consolingly to them.

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The oilmen have arrived from Beijing for a ceremonial signing-over of drilling rights. It’s a holiday for them, their translator told me last night at the Grozny Eternity Hotel, which is both the only five-star hotel and the only hotel in the Republic. I nodded solemnly; he needn’t explain. I came of age in the reign of Brezhnev, when young men would enter Civil Service academies hardy and robust, only to leave two years later anaemic and stooped, cured forever of the inclination to be civil or of service to anyone. Still, Beijing must be grim if they’re vacationing in Chechnya.

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All is changed and yet all remains as before. The revolution has shaken the country, deepened the split, frightened some, embittered others, but not yet wiped out a thing or replaced it. Imperial St Petersburg seems drowned in a sleepy lethargy rather than dead. The revolution has stuck little red flags in the hands of the cast-iron monuments of the monarchy. Great red streamers are hanging down the fronts of the government buildings. But the Winter Palace, the ministries, the headquarters, seem to be living a life entirely apart from those red banners, tolerably faded, moreover, by the autumn rains. The two-headed eagles with the sceptre of empire have been torn down where possible, but oftener draped or hastily painted over. They seem to be lurking there. All the old Russia is lurking, its jaw set in rage.

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So…are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 115…

Episode 115…

Well, suddenly my reading has dropped to almost non-existent this week, due to a whole variety of (too boring to mention) factors. Hopefully normal service will be resumed next week. Given that, I’m delighted that the TBR has stayed stationary – at 196! My Queen of Willpower crown is still shining…

Here are a few that will rise to the top of the pile soon…

Sci-fi

Courtesy of Amazon Vine. Having loved the Oxford World’s Classic edition of The Time Machine recently, I was delighted to be offered this companion volume, especially since this one is on my Classics Club list…

The Blurb says: “The creatures I had seen were not men, had never been men. They were animals, humanised animals…”

A shipwrecked Edward Prendick finds himself stranded on a remote Noble island, the guest of a notorious scientist, Doctor Moreau. Disturbed by the cries of animals in pain, and by his encounters with half-bestial creatures, Edward slowly realises his danger and the extremes of the Doctor’s experiments.

Saturated in pain and disgust, suffused with grotesque and often unbearable images of torture and bodily mutilation, The Island of Doctor Moreau is unquestionably a shocking novel. It is also a serious, and highly knowledgeable, philosophical engagement with Wells’s times, with their climate of scientific openness and advancement, but also their anxieties about the ethical nature of scientific discoveries, and their implications for religion. Darryl Jones’s introduction places the book in both its scientific and literary context; with the Origin of Species and Gulliver’s Travels, and argues that The Island of Doctor Moreau is, like all of Wells’s best fiction, is fundamentally a novel of ideas.

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Crime

Courtesy of NetGalley. I enjoyed Kanae Minato’s Confessions very much, so have been looking forward to this one being released…

The Blurb says:  The tense, chilling story of four women haunted by a childhood trauma.

When they were children, Sae, Maki, Akiko and Yuko were tricked into separating from their friend Emili by a mysterious stranger. Then the unthinkable occurs: Emili is found murdered hours later. Sae, Maki, Akiko and Yuko weren’t able to accurately describe the stranger’s appearance to the police after the Emili’s body was discovered. Asako, Emili’s mother, curses the surviving girls, vowing that they will pay for her daughter’s murder.

Like Confessions, Kanae Minato’s award-winning, internationally bestselling debut novel, Penance is a dark and voice-driven tale of revenge and psychological trauma that will leave readers breathless.

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Fiction

Courtesy of NetGalley again. (You can tell my plan to cut down on review copies is really working, cant’ you?) Another one I’ve been waiting on for a very long time, since 2011 in fact when I loved his Gods Without Men

The Blurb says: Two twenty-something New Yorkers: Seth, awkward and shy, and Carter, the trust fund hipster. They have one thing in common: an obsession with music. Rising fast on the New York producing scene, they stumble across an old blues song long forgotten by history — and everything starts to unravel. Carter is drawn far down a path that allows no return, and Seth has no choice but to follow his friend into the darkness.

Trapped in a game they don’t understand, Hari Kunzru’s characters move unsteadily across the chessboard, caught between black and white, performer and audience, righteous and forsaken. But we have been here before, oh so many times over, and the game always ends the same way…

Electrifying, subversive and wildly original, White Tears is a ghost story and a love story, a story about lost innocence and historical guilt. This unmissable novel penetrates the heart of a nation’s darkness, encountering a suppressed history of greed, envy, revenge and exploitation, and holding a mirror up to the true nature of America today.

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Crime

And yes, you’ve guessed – NetGalley again! I still haven’t managed to backtrack on this series since jumping in at number 7, but now here’s number 8 arriving and I couldn’t resist…

The Blurb says: What if all your secrets were put online? Sam Morpeth is growing up way too fast, left to fend for a younger sister with learning difficulties when their mother goes to prison and watching her dreams of university evaporate. But Sam learns what it is to be truly powerless when a stranger begins to blackmail her online, drawing her into a trap she may not escape alive. Who would you turn to? Meanwhile, reporter Jack Parlabane has finally got his career back on track, but his success has left him indebted to a volatile source on the wrong side of the law. Now that debt is being called in, and it could cost him everything. What would you be capable of? Thrown together by a common enemy, Sam and Jack are about to discover they have more in common than they realise – and might be each other’s only hope.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

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

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TBR Thursday 114…

Episode 114…

Hurrah! The TBR has plummeted massively this week- down 2 to 196!! This is a result of my legendary iron self-control – I don’t know why you ever doubted me! And furthermore, I’ve reached the last third of Trotsky! I’ll miss the old codger, you know – he’s quite funny… sometimes even intentionally…

Here are some I should get to soon…

Fiction

First up, the winner of the Classics Club spin is Lorna Doone, so somehow I need to fit it in, in time to review it by the 1st May. *gulp* Of course, it’s one of the longer ones on my list…

The Blurb says: First published in 1869, Lorna Doone  is the story of John Ridd, a farmer who finds love amid the religious and social turmoil of seventeenth-century England. He is just a boy when his father is slain by the Doones, a lawless clan inhabiting wild Exmoor on the border of Somerset and Devon. Seized by curiosity and a sense of adventure, he makes his way to the valley of the Doones, where he is discovered by the beautiful Lorna. In time their childish fantasies blossom into mature love—a bond that will inspire John to rescue his beloved from the ravages of a stormy winter, rekindling a conflict with his archrival, Carver Doone, that climaxes in heartrending violence. Beloved for its portrait of star-crossed lovers and its surpassing descriptions of the English countryside, Lorna Doone is R. D. Blackmore’s enduring masterpiece.

Factual

thomas-more-john-guyCourtesy of NetGalley. I’m not sure what appealed to me most about this – the words “John  Guy”, my favourite Tudor historian, or the words “Very Brief” in the subtitle, most welcome as a little palate cleanser between the tomes of Russian history I’m continuing to accumulate!

The Blurb says: ‘If the English people were to be set a test to justify their history and civilization by the example of one man, then it is Sir Thomas More whom they would perhaps choose.’ So commented The Times in 1978 on the 500th anniversary of More’s birth. Twenty-two years later, Pope John Paul II proclaimed Thomas More the patron saint of politicians and people in public life, on the basis of his ‘constant fidelity to legitimate authority and . . . his intention to serve not power but the supreme ideal of justice’.

In this fresh assessment of More’s life and legacy, John Guy considers the factors that have given rise to such claims concerning More’s significance. Who was the real Thomas More? Was he the saintly, self-possessed hero of conscience of Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons or was he the fanatical, heretic-hunting torturer of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall? Which of these images of More has the greater historical veracity? And why does this man continue to fascinate, inspire and provoke us today?

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Crime

scarweatherCourtesy of NetGalley again. My addiction to these British Library Crime Classics re-issues continues unabated. Doesn’t Dorothy L Sayers sound like a total stuck-up book snob in this quote? And yet, oddly, she also sounds just like me… 😉

The Blurb says:  John Farringdale, with his cousin Eric Foster, visits the famous archaeologist Tolgen Reisby. At Scarweather – Reisby’s lonely house on the windswept northern coast of England – Eric is quickly attracted to Reisby’s much younger wife, and matters soon take a dangerous turn. Fifteen years later, the final scene of the drama is enacted. This unorthodox novel from 1934 is by a gifted crime writer who, wrote Dorothy L. Sayers, ‘handles his characters like a “real” novelist and the English language like a “real” writer – merits which are still, unhappily, rarer than they should be in the ranks of the murder specialists.’

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Sherlock Holmes on Audio

sherlock-holmes-stephen-fryWOW!! Courtesy of Audible via MidasPR. Stephen Fry narrating the complete Sherlock Holmes stories, including the long ones? How could I possibly resist that?? Over 70 hours of listening pleasure to dip in and out of. I shall start with The Valley of Fear, I think, since it’s also on my Classics Club list. Stephen Fry is up against Derek Jacobi though – until now my favourite Holmes narrator. Will Jacobi be knocked off the top spot??

The Blurb says: “…it was reading the Sherlock Holmes stories as a boy that first turned me on to the power of writing and storytelling.” (Stephen Fry)

Ever since he made his first appearance in A Study In Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes has enthralled and delighted millions of fans throughout the world. Now Audible is proud to present Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection, read by Stephen Fry. A lifelong fan of Doyle’s detective fiction, Fry has narrated the complete works of Sherlock Holmes – four novels and five collections of short stories. And, exclusively for Audible, Stephen has written and narrated nine insightful, intimate and deeply personal introductions to each title.

He writes: “Popular fiction offers different kinds of superheroes to save the world by restoring order to the chaos, confusion and criminality of our times. Heroes with remarkable gifts are as in vogue now as they have been since they first appeared, perhaps even more in vogue. But although the very first one was launched in serial published form just like his masked and body-suited successors, it was not in DC or Marvel comic books that he made his appearance; rather it was in the sedate and respectable pages of Mrs Beeton’s Christmas Annual in the mid-Victorian year 1887.”

Stephen Fry is an English actor, screenwriter, author, playwright, journalist, comedian, television presenter, film director and all round national treasure. He is the acclaimed narrator of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter audiobooks and most recently recorded The Tales of Max Carrados for Audible Studios. Stephen has contributed columns and articles to newspapers and magazines, appears frequently on radio and has written four novels and three volumes of autobiography.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Audible.

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

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TBR Thursday 113…

Episode 113…

Well, the TBR briefly touched the magic 200 but fortunately I managed to finish a few books quickly (not Trotsky obviously – the book is longer than the Revolution).  So phew! I’m back down to 198 and totally confident that a downward trend is just around the corner… if only I could get to the corner past the stacks of books in the way…

Here are a few that will hit the top of the heap soon…

The winner of the Begorrathon Poll

sirenGosh, I think that’s the closest poll I’ve ever held! But this one took the lead right from the beginning and held on all the way through. Thanks to everyone who took part! I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing Siren in March, and will get to the other books over the next few months…

The Blurb says: Róisín Burns has spent the past twenty years becoming someone else; her life in New York is built on lies. A figure from her Belfast childhood flashes up on the news: Brian Lonergan has also reinvented himself. He is now a rising politician in a sharp suit. But scandal is brewing in Ireland and Róisín knows the truth.

Armed with the evidence that could ruin Lonergan, she travels back across the Atlantic to the remote Lamb Island to hunt him down. But Lonergan is one step ahead; when Róisín arrives on the island, someone else is waiting for her…

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Fiction

bright-air-blackCourtesy of NetGalley. I once had the great good fortune to see the wonderful Diana Rigg perform as Medea in a brilliant stage production and have been fascinated by her story ever since. So this book has quite a lot to live up to…

The Blurb says:  In Bright Air Black, David Vann transports us to 13th century B.C. to give a nuanced and electric portrait of the life of one of ancient mythology’s most fascinating and notorious women, Medea.

In brilliant poetic prose Bright Air Black brings us aboard the ship Argo for its epic return journey across the Black Sea from Persia’s Colchis – where Medea flees her home and father with Jason, the Argonauts, and the Golden Fleece. Vann’s reimagining of this ancient tale offers a thrilling, realist alternative to the long held notions of Medea as monster or sorceress. We witness with dramatic urgency Medea’s humanity, her Bronze Age roots and position in Greek society, her love affair with Jason, and her tragic demise.

Atmospheric and spellbinding, Bright Air Black is an indispensable, fresh and provocative take on one of our earliest texts and the most intimate and corporal version of Medea’s story ever told.

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Crime

the-legacyCourtesy of Amazon Vine. I’ve read a few of Yrsa Sigurdardóttir’s books now and I’ve always liked and sometimes loved them, so I’m looking forward to this one. And it’ll be nice to actually start a series at the beginning for once!

The Blurb says: The murder was meant as a punishment – but what sin could justify the method? The only person who might have answers is the victim’s seven-year-old daughter, found hiding in the room where her mother died. And she’s not talking.

Newly promoted, out of his depth, detective Huldar turns to Freyja and the Children’s House for their expertise with traumatised young people. Freyja, who distrusts the police in general and Huldar in particular, isn’t best pleased. But she’s determined to keep little Margret safe.

It may prove tricky. The killer is leaving them strange clues: warnings in text messages, sums scribbled on bits of paper, numbers broadcast on the radio. He’s telling a dark and secret story – but how can they crack the code? And if they do, will they be next?

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Fiction on Audio

the-tsar-of-love-and-technoCourtesy of Audible. Regular visitor underrunner recommended this book to me some months ago. Although it’s not about the Revolution as such, it looks at the history of the USSR and Russia over most of the last century so I’m hoping it will fit in with my Reading the Russian Revolution Challenge. From the sample, the narration sounds as if it will be great… and isn’t it a fab cover?

The Blurb says: This stunning, exquisitely written collection introduces a cast of remarkable characters whose lives intersect in ways both life-affirming and heartbreaking. A 1930s Soviet censor painstakingly corrects offending photographs, deep underneath Leningrad, bewitched by the image of a disgraced prima ballerina. A chorus of women recount their stories and those of their grandmothers, former gulag prisoners who settled their Siberian mining town. Two pairs of brothers share a fierce, protective love. Young men across the former USSR face violence at home and in the military. And great sacrifices are made in the name of an oil landscape unremarkable except for the almost incomprehensibly peaceful past it depicts. In stunning prose, with rich character portraits and a sense of history reverberating into the present, The Tsar of Love and Techno is a captivating work from one of our greatest new talents.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

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

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Six Degrees of Separation – From Hornby 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…

fever-pitch

This month’s starting book is Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby. I haven’t read it but the blurb tells me…

Nick Hornby has been a football fan since the moment he was conceived. Call it predestiny. Or call it preschool. Fever Pitch is his tribute to a lifelong obsession. Part autobiography, part comedy, part incisive analysis of insanity, Hornby’s award-winning memoir captures the fever pitch of fandom — its agony and ecstasy, its community, its defining role in thousands of young mens’ coming-of-age stories.

Ugh! Football!! No, thanks! Though at least proper football is played with the feet, unlike American Football. Which reminds me of…

the perfect pass

SC Gwynne’s The Perfect Pass. SC Gwynne was the winner of my FF Book of the Year Award in 2014 and the “prize” is that I will read the author’s next book. Imagine my delight when his next book turned out to be about American Football! This is the story of how a college coach, Hal Mumme, developed the “unstoppable” Air Raid offense, changing the very nature of the game.

Though the passing technology was more than half a century old, there was still something morally thrilling about watching the quarterback toss the ball to the tailback, while the guard or tackle pulled and the fullback crashed down on the defensive end and the whole team seemed to move en masse in that swinging, lovely rightward arc of pure power followed by the popping sounds of all those helmets and pads and the scream of the crowd as the whole thing disintegrated into a mass of bodies on the turf.

Amazingly, this book was a surprise hit with me, proving that a great writer can make any subject fascinating! Plus it was the cause of me finding one of my favourite pics to ever appear on the blog…

Testing football helmets...
Testing football helmets…

Gwynne’s award-winning previous book was Rebel Yell, a biography of Stonewall Jackson, one of the great US Civil War generals. This reminded me of…

king solomons mines

King Solomon’s Mines by Henry Rider Haggard, which culminates in the great civil war amongst the Kukuanas. A book I consider to be the best adventure story I’ve ever read, this tells the tale of Allan Quatermain and his companions setting out on a journey across Africa to find the fabled diamond mines of King Solomon…

“It is far. But there is no journey upon this earth that a man may not make if he sets his heart to it. There is nothing, Umbopa, that he cannot do, there are no mountains he may not climb, there are no deserts he cannot cross; save a mountain and a desert of which you are spared the knowledge, if love leads him and he holds his life in his hand counting it as nothing, ready to keep it or to lose it as Providence may order.”

adventurers

Another book that involves climbing mountains is…

thin air

Michelle Paver’s Thin Air. This chilly ghost story takes place in 1935 during an expedition to climb Kangchenjunga in the Himalayas, the third highest mountain in the world and as yet unconquered. Although it starts and ends rather slowly, the bit in the middle where the horror actually happens is excellent. This is not gore-fest horror – it’s all done with things half-glimpsed and subject to interpretation. A good one for a dark evening.

kangchenjunga south-eest face

I couldn’t visit the Himalayas without thinking of…

black narcissus

Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden. This is the story of a group of nuns who make their way to a palace high in the Himalayas to set up a convent and school there. But they are not prepared for the isolation they will feel in this place of majestic grandeur, constantly windswept, and with a population who have their own spiritual beliefs and no desire to change. Soon the nuns will find themselves challenged, not only physically, but emotionally, even spiritually, struggling to maintain their faith amidst the emptiness that surrounds them.

This GIF from the movie gives me vertigo each time I look at it…

black narcissus bell

Nuns and convents made me think of…

eleven days

Stav Sherez’s Eleven Days. When a fire engulfs a convent in London, the ten nuns who make up the Order are all killed. But there is another body too, and it’s up to Detectives Jack Carrigan and Geneva Miller to find out who she was and why she was there. This is a complex, somewhat sprawling thriller that looks not just at the underbelly of crime in London but also at politics within the Roman Catholic church, and across the world to the impact of big business on the peasants of Peru.

Stav Sherez
Stav Sherez

An “Eleven” is the traditional name for a cricket team, which made me think of…

selection-day-2

Selection Day by Aravind Adiga. Back to sport to end on, but a decent sport this time! (Though not as good as tennis obviously.)

Gratuitous Rafa GIF
Gratuitous Rafa GIF

This is a story of sibling rivalry, tied in with a wider picture of corruption in society shown through the corruption in cricket. I love Adiga’s depiction of Mumbai. He shows the poverty, corruption and class divisions quite clearly but he also shows the other side – the vibrancy, the struggle for social mobility, the advances of recent years. His characters, even when they’re being put through the emotional wringer, manage to have some fun along the way, and the whole atmosphere he portrays lacks the irredeemable hopelessness of so much Indian literature.

“People thought I had a future as a writer, Manju. I wanted to write a great novel about Mumbai,” the principal said, playing with her glasses. “But then…then I began, and I could not write it. The only thing I could write about, in fact, was that I couldn’t write about the city.

“The sun, which I can’t describe like Homer, rises over Mumbai, which I can’t describe like Salman Rushdie, creating new moral dilemmas for all of us, which I won’t be able to describe like Amitav Ghosh.”

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So Hornby to Adiga, via football, civil war, mountain passes, the Himalayas, nuns and elevens!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

TBR Thursday 112 – The Begorrathon Poll!

Reading Ireland Month – March 2017

ireland-month-17The lovely Cathy over at 746 Books  is again co-hosting Reading Ireland Month 2017 with the, I’m sure, equally lovely Niall at Raging Fluff . This is one of my favourite blogging events in the calendar, even if it does throw my already shaky schedule into major disarray each year.

I told Cathy I didn’t have many Irish books on my TBR this year because I’d read them all last year. But when I actually began to look, lo and behold! Somehow zillions seem to have crept back on over the last few months. This may be down to the fact that I tend to love Irish writing – partly because it’s often such high quality, of course, but also partly because Irish culture and the culture of my own West of Scotland are so linked and intermingled that I feel at home when reading about Ireland – the characters are familiar to me and the society is wholly recognisable.

So I have one novel by an Irish author already scheduled for March, and a couple of short story collections that I’ll at least dip into…

The Begorrathon Poll!

But that still leaves several books by Irish authors on my TBR and sadly there’s no way I can fit them all into March, though I will read them all eventually. So I thought I’d ask for your help in picking just one of these for a Begorrathon read. Some of them are review copies and haven’t been published yet. I’ve shortlisted down to five…

days-without-endDays Without End by Sebastian Barry

The Blurb says: Thomas McNulty, aged barely seventeen and having fled the Great Famine in Ireland, signs up for the U.S. Army in the 1850s. With his brother in arms, John Cole, Thomas goes on to fight in the Indian Wars—against the Sioux and the Yurok—and, ultimately, the Civil War. Orphans of terrible hardships themselves, the men find these days to be vivid and alive, despite the horrors they see and are complicit in. Moving from the plains of Wyoming to Tennessee, Sebastian Barry’s latest work is a masterpiece of atmosphere and language. An intensely poignant story of two men and the makeshift family they create with a young Sioux girl, Winona, Days Without End is a fresh and haunting portrait of the most fateful years in American history and is a novel never to be forgotten.

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the-hearts-invisible-furiesThe Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

The Blurb says: Cyril Avery is not a real Avery or at least that’s what his adoptive parents tell him. And he never will be. But if he isn’t a real Avery, then who is he? In this, Boyne’s most transcendent work to date, we are shown the story of Ireland from the 1940s to today through the eyes of one ordinary man. The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a novel to make you laugh and cry while reminding us all of the redemptive power of the human spirit.

* * * * *

house-of-namesHouse of Names by Colm Toibin

The Blurb says: “I have been acquainted with the smell of death.” So begins Clytemnestra’s tale of her own life in ancient Mycenae, the legendary Greek city from which her husband King Agamemnon left when he set sail with his army for Troy. Clytemnestra rules Mycenae now, along with her new lover Aegisthus, and together they plot the bloody murder of Agamemnon on the day of his return after nine years at war.

In House of Names, Colm Tóibín brings a modern sensibility and language to an ancient classic, and gives this extraordinary character new life, so that we not only believe Clytemnestra’s thirst for revenge, but applaud it. He brilliantly inhabits the mind of one of Greek myth’s most powerful villains to reveal the love, lust, and pain she feels. Told in fours parts, this is a fiercely dramatic portrait of a murderess, who will herself be murdered by her own son, Orestes. It is Orestes’ story, too: his capture by the forces of his mother’s lover Aegisthus, his escape and his exile. And it is the story of the vengeful Electra, who watches over her mother and Aegisthus with cold anger and slow calculation, until, on the return of her brother, she has the fates of both of them in her hands.  

* * * * *

the-city-of-shadowsThe City of Shadows by Michael Russell

The Blurb says: Dublin 1934: Detective Stefan Gillespie arrests a German doctor and encounters Hannah Rosen desperate to find her friend Susan, a Jewish woman who had become involved with a priest, and has now disappeared. When the bodies of a man and woman are found buried in the Dublin mountains, it becomes clear that this case is about more than a missing person. Stefan and Hannah traces the evidence all the way across Europe to Danzig. In a strange city where the Nazi Party is gaining power, Stefan and Hannah are inching closer to the truth and soon find themselves in grave danger…

* * * * *

sirenSiren by Annemarie Neary

The Blurb says: Róisín Burns has spent the past twenty years becoming someone else; her life in New York is built on lies. A figure from her Belfast childhood flashes up on the news: Brian Lonergan has also reinvented himself. He is now a rising politician in a sharp suit. But scandal is brewing in Ireland and Róisín knows the truth.

Armed with the evidence that could ruin Lonergan, she travels back across the Atlantic to the remote Lamb Island to hunt him down. But Lonergan is one step ahead; when Róisín arrives on the island, someone else is waiting for her…

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Please vote for the novel you would most like to read a review of as part of Reading Ireland Month, or vote for more than one if you like. The book with most votes overall will win a coveted place in my March reading schedule, and if a miracle happens I might fit in number 2 as well.

Be sure and pick good ones, now!
The winner will be announced on my next TBR Thursday post.

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And then why not pop on over to Cathy’s or Niall’s (links at top of post) to find out more about Reading Ireland Month 2017… it’s a lovely relaxed event and there’s always tons of variety in the various posts.

Ah, go on, now!
You must have at least one Irish book tucked away on your TBR…

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Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone…

The School Subjects Tag…

One of our newer bloggers, notsomoderngirl, has come up with this great idea for a tag, and I’m delighted that’s she’s tagged me! My own schooldays are…ahem… a few years ago now, but fortunately I don’t think my answers are going to be graded, so even the Chemistry section doesn’t intimidate me!

1. Maths – What’s a book that left your head spinning in circles?

It’s got to be Children of Dune! I loved Dune and Dune Messiah, but this third one is seriously weird. My suspicion is that it wasn’t only the characters in the book that were indulging in mind-altering substances. This extract from my review will give you an idea of my befuddlement…

…has Paul really died in the desert? Who is the mysterious Preacher who keeps popping up and calling Alia names? If he is Paul, why is he trying to undermine his family’s rule? Why do Leto and Ghani want to get to Jacurutu? How come Leto is having prescient dreams if he’s not taking spice? What is the Golden Path that Leto keeps banging on about as the way to save something? Save what? Or who? Seriously – if you know the answers, do tell – personally I’m baffled!

God Emperor of Dune by BlazenMonk
God Emperor of Dune by BlazenMonk

2. English – Which book do you think has beautiful written expression?

Oh, so many! Hmm… I think I’ll pick this beautifully crafted metaphor from John Knowles’ book about boys preparing to go off as soldiers in WW2, A Separate Peace

Winter’s occupation seems to have conquered, overrun and destroyed everything, so that now there is no longer any resistance movement left in nature; all the juices are dead, every sprig of vitality snapped, and now winter itself, an old, corrupt, tired conqueror, loosens its grip on the desolation, recedes a little, grows careless in its watch; sick of victory and enfeebled by the absence of challenge, it begins to withdraw from the ruined countryside.

3. Physics – Who is your favourite scientifically minded character from a book/film?

Ah, that would have to be Dr Jekyll, I think, from both the book and the film. He proves conclusively that one should always experiment on other people before drinking the potion oneself…

The Spencer Tracy version from 1941
The Spencer Tracy version from 1941

4. Biology – Who is your favourite book/film/series character?

That would have to be Andy Dalziel, and frankly they don’t come much more biological than him! I love his attitude to life and his larger-than-life persona. But even though he does things his own way , he’s by no means a stereotypical maverick. And I love the way he and his junior colleague Peter Pascoe develop an unlikely friendship over the years, despite being almost polar opposites to each other in every way.

5. Chemistry – Who is your favourite literary couple?

Oh, come on! This can’t even be multiple choice!

darcy-and-lizzie-2

6. French – What is your favourite foreign book/film/programme?

Oh dear, if there’s one thing reviewing has taught me, it’s that I’m incredibly insular when it comes to books, and with films 99.999% of everything I watch is either British or American. But I do have a real weakness for Indian novels, even though again they feel like a bit of a cheat since a) they’re written in English (the ones I read, that is) and b) I most enjoy them because of India’s connection to us via the British Empire and later the Commonwealth. I’ve enjoyed some Nordic crime in translation, though I’m not quite as hooked as a lot of the crime reading community. A difficult one… I’m going to say…

the-white-guard…The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov translated from the Russian by Michael Glenny. I read this very recently and haven’t reviewed it yet, but it’s fair to say I was blown away by it.

7. Art – Have you ever judged a book by its cover, even if you weren’t meant to?!

I truly don’t think I’ve ever picked a book purely on the basis of its cover. But I’ve rejected millions! All those cheesy romances with bare-chested men dressed in everything from kilts to cossack outfits – ugh! And the fifty-seven million identikit “psychological thrillers” with a girl (oh yes, never a woman!) in a red jacket walking or running away, and a giant sticker saying “the next Gone Girl/Girl on a Train etc” – double ugh! If they can’t be original on the cover, what hope is there for the content?! But here are a few covers I love…

8. History – What was the last historical book you read?

Hmm… that would be The White Guard again, so I won’t duplicate. And the one before that I didn’t like, so no to it too. Which takes me back to…

the-death-of-kings

The Death of Kings by Rennie Airth. I really enjoy this crime series set just after WW2. Slower and more thoughtful than a lot of current crime fiction, and with a definite nod to the Golden Age. (Oh, and I adore this cover, too!)

9. Drama – What’s a book that you think has a lot of over-dramatic hype?

Nearly every new psychological thriller!

“A brilliant new original thriller that’s just like that last great thriller you read and has 48,932 twists including one that involves the supernatural because the writer couldn’t get out of the hole she’d dug without ghostly intervention!”

girl-in-a-red-coat

It always come with quotes from authors who share a publisher with the author of this book, and are desperate to hang on to their book deals…

“This author’s use of language is brilliantly innovative! She completely ignores the rules of grammar (and spelling, and the correct definition of words) and uses the “f” word in ways that will astound you!”

“Brilliantly original, the angst-ridden, alcoholic, drug-addicted protagonist of this story must battle sexism, racism, and homophobia while trying to recover from the grief of losing her entire family and six friends in a freak tornado in Auchtermuchty!”

“I loved this book so much – who’d have guessed that the dog actually contained the spirit of the murdered child back from the beyond to lead the police to the murderer? What a brilliant twist!”

10. Geography – Which literary destination would you really like to visit? (They can be real or fictional!)

I’d love to go for a night out in The Green Dragon pub in Hobbiton – hobbits seem to know how to have fun!

Ideally that would be the one in Middle Earth, but if for some reason I couldn’t get there, I’d settle for the one on the movie set in New Zealand…

the-green-dragon-2

Join me? Bloggers Night Out – BYOB*

*(Bring Your Own Book).

* * * * * *

Thanks again, notsomoderngirl – I had fun doing this! And as usual, I tag anyone who’d like to answer these questions… 😀

TBR Thursday 111…

Episode 111…

Oh, dear, oh dear, oh dear! The TBR has gone up again – how??? I’ve been so strict with myself!!! But I’m still managing to avoid going over the 200 watershed – this week’s total is 198…

Time to get some reading done – quickly! Here are some that are coming up soon…

Factual

a-peoples-tragedyFor the Reading the Russian Revolution Challenge. It’ll be ages before I get to this (I need to get through Trotsky first) but I thought I’d give it a mention now, since The Bodley Head have issued this special centenary edition and kindly let me have a copy. Another 900+ pages – whose idea was this challenge?? But it’s lavishly illustrated so that’s always a bonus… and it’s a nicely designed, good quality paperback with what I think are called French flaps on both the front and back covers.

The Blurb says: Opening with a panorama of Russian society, from the cloistered world of the Tsar to the brutal life of the peasants, A People’s Tragedy follows workers, soldiers, intellectuals and villagers as their world is consumed by revolution and then degenerates into violence and dictatorship. Drawing on vast original research, Figes conveys above all the shocking experience of the revolution for those who lived it, while providing the clearest and most cogent account of how and why it unfolded.

Illustrated with over 100 photographs and now including a new introduction that reflects on the revolution’s centennial legacy, A People’s Tragedy is a masterful and definitive record of one of the most important events in modern history.

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Fiction

the cone gatherers 2This one appeared on a TBR post a couple of years ago but I didn’t get around to reading it at that time, and it’s been gazing at me accusingly ever since. So to make it feel better, I stuck it on my Classics Club list under the Scottish section…

The Blurb says:  Calum and Neil are the cone-gatherers – two brothers at work in the forest of a large Scottish estate. But the harmony of their life together is shadowed by the obsessive hatred of Duror, the gamekeeper.

Set during the Second World War, Robin Jenkins’ greatest novel is an immensely powerful examination of good and evil, and mankind’s propensity for both. Removed from the destruction and bloodshed of the war, the brothers’ oblivious happiness becomes increasingly fragile as darker forces close in around them.

Suspenseful, dark and unforgettable, The Cone-Gatherers is a towering work of fiction, a masterpiece of modern Scottish literature.

* * * * *

Crime

the-bishops-girlA couple of years ago, I reviewed Rebecca Burns’ excellent short story collection, The Settling Earth. So when she contacted me to offer a copy of her new novel, I was delighted. I realise the blurb makes it sound a bit like a romance, but I’m reliably informed (by the author!) that it’s actually a historical fiction/mystery…

The Blurb says: The body had no name. It was not supposed to be there…

Jess is a researcher on a quest to give the one-hundred-year-old skeleton, discovered in the exhumed grave of a prominent bishop, an identity. But she’s not sure of her own – her career is stalling, her marriage is failing. She doesn’t want to spend hours in the archives, rifling through dusty papers in an endless search for a name. And when a young man named Hayden makes clear his interest in her, Jess has to decide what is most important to her.

* * * * *

Crime

let-the-dead-speakCourtesy of NetGalley. Woohoo! Maeve Kerrigan is back – and it looks like she’s been promoted! It’s been a loooooooong wait for this one!

The Blurb says: The chilling new crime novel from award-winning author, Jane Casey. When an 18-year-old girl returns home to find her house covered in blood and her mother missing, Detective Maeve Kerrigan and the murder squad must navigate a web of lies to discover the truth… When eighteen-year-old Chloe Emery returns to her West London home she finds Kate, her mother, missing and the house covered in blood. There may not be a body, but everything else points to murder. Maeve Kerrigan is young, ambitious and determined to prove she’s up to her new role as detective sergeant. In the absence of a body, she and maverick detective Josh Derwent turn their attention to the neighbours. The ultra-religious Norrises are acting suspiciously; their teenage daughter definitely has something to hide. Then there’s William Turner, once accused of stabbing a schoolmate and the neighbourhood’s favourite criminal. Is he merely a scapegoat or is there more behind the charismatic façade? As the accusations fly, Maeve must piece together a patchwork of conflicting testimonies, none of which quite add up. Who is lying, who is not? The answer could lead them to the truth about Kate Emery, and save the life of someone else.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

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

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My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose…

…a Valentine post…

Not every great love is romantic in nature, so today I thought I’d send my Valentines to people, real or fictional, whose varied kinds of love have entertained and moved me over the years.

heart-and-roses* * * * *

Matthew and Anne
Anne of Green Gables

When shy Matthew Cuthbert goes to pick up a boy from the orphanage only to discover they’ve sent a skinny, red-haired little girl instead, he decides to leave it up to his sister Marilla to break the news to the child that she’ll have to go back. But during the drive home, little Anne chats brightly about her past and her imaginative impressions of this new place she’s found herself in, and by the time they reach Green Gables, Matthew has discovered he kinda likes having her around…

Matthew, much to his own surprise, was enjoying himself. Like most quiet folks he liked talkative people when they were willing to do the talking themselves and did not expect him to keep up his end of it.

Matthew soon becomes one of the pivotal people in Anne’s life, offering her support and admiration such as she has never known in her lonely life, and under his kind treatment she blossoms. Although Matthew doesn’t speak often, he has one of the most sob-worthy lines in the book…

“Well now, I’d rather have you than a dozen boys, Anne,’ said Matthew patting her hand. ‘Just mind you that – rather than a dozen boys. Well now, I guess it wasn’t a boy that took the Avery scholarship, was it? It was a girl – my girl – my girl that I’m proud of.”

anne-and-matthew

* * * * *

Holmes and Watson
The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot

Watson wears his deep love for his friend on his sleeve, but it’s not often Holmes shows his feelings. So it’s all the more affecting when he does…

…I broke through that cloud of despair and had a glimpse of Holmes’s face, white, rigid, and drawn with horror – the very look which I had seen upon the features of the dead. It was that vision which gave me an instant of sanity and of strength. I dashed from my chair, threw my arms round Holmes, and together we lurched through the door, and an instant afterwards had thrown ourselves down upon the grass plot and were lying side by side, conscious only of the glorious sunshine which was bursting its way through the hellish cloud of terror which had girt us in.

“Upon my word, Watson!” said Holmes at last with an unsteady voice, “I owe you both my thanks and an apology. It was an unjustifiable experiment even for one’s self, and doubly so for a friend. I am really very sorry.”

“You know,” I answered with some emotion, for I have never seen so much of Holmes’s heart before, “that it is my greatest joy and privilege to help you.”

holmes-and-watson

* * * * *

Alexander the Great and Bucephalus

When the great horse Bucephalus was offered for sale to Philip of Macedonia, the price seemed too high for a beast that no one had been able to tame. But Philip’s young son Alexander greatly admired the massive, black horse with a white star on his forehead. He made a wager with the owner that if he could ride the horse, the price would be waived. Alexander guessed that the horse was spooked by his own shadow, so turned Bucephalus’s face to the sun, and the horse allowed him to mount. From that moment they were inseparable companions until Bucephalus died many years later at the Battle of the Hydaspes. As a tribute to his great and loyal friend, Alexander founded a town and named it Bucephala.

(I was so in love with this story as a child that, when I finally persuaded my parents to let me have a puppy, I wanted to call him Bucephalus. My brother wanted to call him Hercules. My dad put his foot down, and the puppy became Sandy. He was a miniature poodle. Perhaps Dad was right… 😉 )

'Alexander taming Bucephalus' statue by 19thC Scottish sculptor, John Steell, at Edinburgh City Chambers, Edinburgh, Scotland
‘Alexander taming Bucephalus’ statue by 19thC Scottish sculptor, John Steell, at Edinburgh City Chambers, Edinburgh, Scotland

* * * * *

Scarlett O’Hara and Tara
Gone with the Wind

Husbands may come and go in Scarlett’s life, but her father taught her early to love their land – Tara…

Do you mean to tell me, Katie Scarlett O’Hara, that Tara, that land doesn’t mean anything to you? Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.

She learns her lesson well…

I can’t let Tara go. I won’t let it go while there’s a breath left in my body.

Even Rhett comes second…

Tara! Home. I’ll go home. And I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all… tomorrow is another day…

Personally, I prefer Rhett...
Personally, I’m not convinced she got her priorities right…

* * * * *

Lizzie and Jane
Pride and Prejudice

Long before Lizzie meets Darcy, she has another love in her life – her beloved sister Jane, whom she admires even while laughing at her just a little…

“But that is one great difference between us. Compliments always take you by surprise, and me never. What could be more natural than his asking you again? He could not help seeing that you were about five times as pretty as every other woman in the room. No thanks to his gallantry for that. Well, he certainly is very agreeable, and I give you leave to like him. You have liked many a stupider person.”

“Dear Lizzy!”

“Oh! you are a great deal too apt, you know, to like people in general. You never see a fault in anybody. All the world are good and agreeable in your eyes. I never heard you speak ill of a human being in your life.”

“I would not wish to be hasty in censuring anyone; but I always speak what I think.”

“I know you do; and it is that which makes the wonder. With your good sense, to be so honestly blind to the follies and nonsense of others! Affectation of candour is common enough — one meets with it everywhere. But to be candid without ostentation or design — to take the good of everybody’s character and make it still better, and say nothing of the bad — belongs to you alone.”

Oh, for goodness sake! It's Jane and Lizzie, okay? It's NOT a gratuitous Darcy pic!
Oh, for goodness sake! It’s Jane and Lizzie, okay? It’s NOT a gratuitous Darcy pic!

* * * * * *

happy-valentines-day-2014

TBR Thursday 110…

Episode 110…

Well, the TBR dipped a little during the week, but tragically a late run of arrivals shoved it right back up – to 197 again! Still, it may not have gone down, but at least it hasn’t gone up – so that’s success, right? Right?? And I’m still avoiding the big 200 for the moment – which is actually kinda sad, because a few of us were getting quite enthusiastic last time about forming a 200 Club and looking down our noses at people with tiny TBRs of only 180 or so… maybe next week! 😉

Meantime, here are some that are toppling off the top of the pile…

Factual

history-of-the-russian-revolution-2For the Reading the Russian Revolution Challenge. Penguin Modern Classics have issued a new edition of Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution for the centenary year, with the original three parts all collected into one volume, and have kindly provided me with a copy. It’s 992 pages long, (big pages, small print), so I may be some time…

The Blurb says: “During the first two months of 1917 Russia was still a Romanov monarchy. Eight months later the Bolsheviks stood at the helm. They were little known to anybody when the year began, and their leaders were still under indictment for state treason when they came to power. You will not find another such sharp turn in history especially if you remember that it involves a nation of 150 million people. It is clear that the events of 1917, whatever you think of them, deserve study.” Leon Trotsky, from History of the Russian Revolution

Regarded by many as among the most powerful works of history ever written, this book offers an unparalleled account of one of the most pivotal and hotly debated events in world history. This book reveals, from the perspective of one of its central actors, the Russian Revolution’s profoundly democratic, emancipatory character.

* * * * *

Short Stories

house-of-skinThis collection has been on my TBR list since April 2011! I actually read a couple of the stories back then and was very impressed, but then got distracted and put it aside. Well past time I got back to it, and it will fit nicely for the Around the World challenge…

The Blurb says:  These are provocative, often shocking, tales of obsession, love, racism, addiction, betrayal, even murder, but told in such sensuous, richly-textured prose each story is rendered magical and timeless. The stories are set in islands across the Pacific where the author has lived and traveled extensively – Hawaii, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Fiji, Vanuatu – parts of the world only barely explored in contemporary literature. Davenport offers her readers not just mesmerizing writing, but also brings them bulletins from an ancient, yet seemingly brave, new world.

* * * * *

Sci-Fi

the-time-machineCourtesy of Amazon Vine. A new edition from Oxford World Classics, with an introduction and notes by Roger Luckhurst, who last appeared on the blog as the excellent and informative editor of The Classic Horror Stories of HP Lovecraft. Couldn’t resist this re-read…

The Blurb says: At a Victorian dinner party, in Richmond, London, the Time Traveller returns to tell his extraordinary tale of mankind’s future in the year 802,701 AD. It is a dystopian vision of Darwinian evolution, with humans split into an above-ground species of Eloi, and their troglodyte brothers.

The first book H. G. Wells published, The Time Machine is a scientific romance that helped invent the genre of science fiction and the time travel story. Even before its serialisation had finished in the spring of 1895, Wells had been declared ‘a man of genius’, and the book heralded a fifty year career of a major cultural and political controversialist. It is a sardonic rejection of Victorian ideals of progress and improvement and a detailed satirical commentary on the Decadent culture of the 1890s.

This edition features a contextual introduction, detailed explanatory notes, and two essays Wells wrote just prior to the publication of his first book.

* * * * *

Crime

the-dryI’ve seen so many glowing reviews of this, and was finally pushed over the edge by this one from Renee at It’s Book Talk… So I had to snaffle a copy from Amazon Vine…

The Blurb says: Amid the worst drought to ravage Australia in a century, it hasn’t rained in small country town Kiewarra for two years. Tensions in the community become unbearable when three members of the Hadler family are brutally murdered. Everyone thinks Luke Hadler, who committed suicide after slaughtering his wife and six-year-old son, is guilty.

Policeman Aaron Falk returns to the town of his youth for the funeral of his childhood best friend, and is unwillingly drawn into the investigation. As questions mount and suspicion spreads through the town, Falk is forced to confront the community that rejected him twenty years earlier. Because Falk and Luke Hadler shared a secret, one which Luke’s death threatens to unearth. And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, secrets from his past and why he left home bubble to the surface as he questions the truth of his friend’s crime.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Audible UK.

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

* * * * *

Six Degrees of Separation – From Groff 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…

fates-and-furies

This month’s starting book is Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I haven’t read this one, but the blurb tells me…

Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.

Doesn’t appeal, in truth, but the word “fate” in the title made me think of…

f daniel kehlmann

F: A Novel by Daniel Kehlmann. A book I loved for its wit and intelligence, while frankly having no idea what it’s about! F is for family, or failure, or faith, or fraud, or fear, or fate. Or possibly it isn’t. Knowingly pretentious, wickedly funny, marginally surreal at points and superbly written – a joy to read!

…and Arthur described his idea to write a book that would be a message to a single human being, in which therefore all the artistry would serve as mere camouflage, so that nobody aside from this one person could decode it, and this very fact paradoxically would make the book a high literary achievement. Asked what the message would be, he said that would depend on the recipient. When asked who the recipient would be, he said that would depend on the message.

The book that Arthur writes is called My Name is No One, which reminded me of…

Ooh!

Patrick Flanery’s I Am No One. This book looks at our new surveillance culture through the growing paranoia of the narrator, who believes he is being watched both online and in real life. As always with Flanery, the writing is excellent and, in the first person telling of this one, he sustains the narrator’s almost stream of consciousness voice beautifully, without ever losing the reader. The uncertainty of the plot is brilliantly done and creates an atmosphere of growing tension as the story slowly unfolds.

Patrick Flanery
Patrick Flanery

Although the book is set mainly in New York, it refers to the narrator having lived for several years in Oxford, England, which made me think of…

saints of the shadow bible

Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin, since as every reader of this series knows, Rebus’s favourite drinking den is The Oxford Bar. One of the things that I love most about this series is that Rankin always has his finger on the political pulse of Scotland, and this book is set to the background of the run-up to the recent Scottish Independence Referendum.

Ian Rankin in Rebus favourite pub, the Oxford Bar. Photograph by Murdo Macleod
Ian Rankin in Rebus favourite pub, the Oxford Bar.
Photograph by Murdo Macleod

But the plot also relates to the re-opening of a case from long ago – a case that Rebus worked on when he was just starting his career, which made me think of…

asking for the moon

Reginald Hill’s short story The Last National Service Man, in his collection titled Asking for the Moon. Written after the Dalziel and Pascoe series had been established for many years, Hill takes us back to their first meeting when young Pascoe was still wet behind the ears. Although the story could easily be read and enjoyed by a new reader, it’s full of little in-jokes and references for longtime fans, to whom Hill dedicated the collection with his usual wit…

Dedication 3

Throughout the series, Hill often included references to the works of Jane Austen in place and character names, and even occasionally in plot details, which made me think of…

northanger abbey

Northanger Abbey, the most deliciously light of all Austen’s books, filled with humour as Austen pokes gentle fun at her own class and gender. Catherine Morland is our naïve 17-year-old heroine, leaving her country parsonage home for the first time to visit the bright lights of Bath in the company of her generous neighbours, the Allens. Starry-eyed and romantic, she will soon be caught up in a horror story to match the Gothic sensation novels she loves – a product of her wild imagination… or is it??

Northanger illustration 1

She was heartily ashamed of her ignorance. A misplaced shame. Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well-informed mind is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can…

…I will only add, in justice to men, that though to the larger and more trifling part of the sex, imbecility in females is a great enhancement of their personal charms, there is a portion of them too reasonable and too well informed themselves to desire anything more in woman than ignorance.

As part of the hideous Austen Project, the surprisingly enjoyable modern take on Northanger Abbey was written by Val McDermid, which led me to think of…

out of bounds

Out of Bounds, the fourth book in McDermid’s DCI Karen Pirie series. Karen is dealing with two cold cases, one regarding a horrific rape and murder, and the other of what looked at the time like a terror attack by the IRA. But as Karen investigates, she begins to think the motive may have been more personal. Set in her native Scotland, this series shows McDermid back at her best, and McDermid’s best is pretty much unbeatable!

Val McDermid
Val McDermid

 * * * * *

So Groff to McDermid, via fate, book titles, Oxford, early careers, Austen references, and modern re-tellings!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

Four…

It’s my birthday!

Goodness! Who knew when I started the blog that I’d actually stick it out for four years! I certainly didn’t! I almost feel like I should apologise to those of you who’ve been around since the earliest days – you have read roughly 600 reviews, over 100 TBR posts, several nonsense posts, a couple of heartfelt political posts, and the occasional pastiche! You deserve a huge thank you…thank-youAnd thanks too to all the newer people who’ve joined me along the way – you should know I appreciate every view, every like, every comment. If it weren’t for all of you, I’d never have kept going this long. (So, in a sense, it’s your own fault… 😉 )

So, while I meander on about a few statistics, put your feet up and have a bit of cake…

4th-3

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In 2016 I read 118 books – a total of 37770 pages, or an average of 103 pages per day. Down a good bit on 2015 (110) and even more on 2014 (117). I abandoned six books at too early a stage to justify a review. I went through a big reading slump last year, what with the world falling apart with Brexit, Trump and all. But even so, there’s no doubt blogging eats into my reading time more and more.  Which isn’t a problem yet, but might become so if I end up with no books to review!

The breakdown of ratings for the year was…

5 stars (I love it)                       55

4 stars (I like it)                        36

3 stars (It’s OK)                        16

2 stars (I don’t like it)                7

1 star    (I hate it)                       4

year-4-pie-chart

A similar pattern to 2015 overall, which I’m pleased about because there were points when I felt I might be rating more harshly than usual because of my slump. Any year where over three-quarters of books fall into either the “I like it” or “I love it” category has to be a good year!

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The split of genres…

genre-split-2016

Crime continues to fall as my distaste for the current trend of misery-fests continues, though I’ve been reading far more vintage crime this year to make up for it. Genre fiction has collapsed! However I should read more SF this year, since I’ve included several in my Classics Club list. Pleased to see a bit of a rise again in fiction – I was surprised when it dropped off last year.

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The divide continues between what you, my valued regulars, like, and what the rest of the great anonymous world out there pops in to view.

Here are the top 5 posts based on views: –

Thrawn Janet – a Tuesday Terror! post from March 2014. This story written in archaic Scots has been in the leading spot for the last two years. I’m convinced it must be on the curriculum of some massive online literature course. Rarely a day goes by when it doesn’t get a few visits. Very odd!

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains – from July 2014. Still in second place, as it has been since posting. I remain convinced it’s the pics that bring people in on that one.

DSCN0535

The Tell-Tale Heart – posted in October 2015, and like Thrawn Janet attracts visitors more or less daily. The Tuesday Terror! posts in general attract far more random visits from searches than any other kind of post on the blog.

Butchering Books – The Wind in the Willows – posted in October 2015, this one had stopped getting lots of views until a couple of months ago a visitor posted a link on her Facebook page, resulting in a big surge of visits over the next few weeks.

1985-wind-in-the-willows-police-chase-toad-print_700_600_U3R3

The Apple TreeTuesday Terror! again, from March 2014. This one has never really surged but picks up a steady stream of a few visits a week – no idea why. It’s a great story though!

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But you, my dear regular visitors, are rather surprising in your tastes too! Here are the 5 reviews you most ‘liked’ last year…

4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

Exposure by Helen Dunmore

Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene

2001: A Space Odyssey (Film of the Book review)

Dubliners by James Joyce

Well! Only one 21st century book! I find that fascinating, considering that the vast majority of my reviews are of new releases or fairly recent books.

year-4-classic-pie-chart

I was so intrigued I checked the next five… Slaughterhouse-Five, 2001: A Space Odyssey (the book), Moby-Dick, Jekyll and Hyde, Black Narcissus! In fact, I only reviewed 17 classics and 8 of them appear in the top ten most “liked” reviews. Isn’t that odd??

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Happily you also joined in on some of the fun posts, which are the ones I usually most enjoy doing. Here are some of the ones you “liked” and/or commented on most…

Let’s Have a Heated Debate! On Women’s Only Literary PrizesWoo, boy! You like a debate, don’t you?! I must find some other subject to rile you all up again soon… 😉

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again… – Oh, how you like to laugh at my total failure to achieve ANY of my New Year’s Resolutions! But I’ll achieve them all this year, you’ll see…

The Story of a Year in Books – a story created from all the book titles I read in 2016. I’m so glad you “liked” this one, because I had so much fun doing it! My personal favourite post of the year…

The Entertainer Blogger Award – frankly, I think you only visit for these tags and awards because you know there’ll be a picture of my Darcy…

darcy-smouldering

Friday Frippery: A conversation regarding whales… – that pesky whale seems to have dominated the year, so I had to get him out of my system somehow! I’ll miss him, you know…

So that was Year Four. Thank you all so much for being part of it!

Hope you’ll stick around for Year Five!

Visiting Cathy…

The Books That Built the Blogger…

I’m honoured to be guest posting over at Cathy’s place today, in her great new feature where she finds out about the Books That Built the Blogger. I do hope you’ll pop over.

I know many of you already follow Cathy, but if you haven’t met her yet, she writes great reviews and is the host of a couple of annual challenges that loads of us look forward to every year – the Reading Ireland Challenge in March and the 20 Books of Summer Challenge. She also cheers me up greatly in another way – her blog is called 746 Books because that’s how many books were on her TBR when she started blogging. Makes me chuckle every time…

Normal service will be resumed tomorrow. Meantime, for your delight and delectation…

Two great sportsmen. Aww, Rafa, next year for sure...
Two great sportsmen.
Aww, Rafa, next year for sure…

TBR Thursday 109…

Episode 109…

It’s inexplicable!! Despite the phenomenal and unprecedented amount of willpower I’ve gone through this week, somehow my TBR seems to have gone up 3… to 197!! 197!! It’s beyond human understanding! The worst thing is it was only 194 when I started writing this post… before the emails started arriving from NetGalley! Still at least the postman hasn’t brought any today… yet!

So I better start speed-reading or I’m going to drift over the 200 mark, which just can’t be allowed to happen! Here are a few that are getting near the top of the heap…

Fiction

the-accusationCourtesy of NetGalley. Heading off to North Korea on my Around the World tour, though this isn’t a holiday I’m expecting to enjoy exactly…

The Blurb says: The Accusation is a deeply moving and eye-opening work of fiction that paints a powerful portrait of life under the North Korean regime. Set during the period of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il’s leadership, the seven stories that make up The Accusation give voice to people living under this most bizarre and horrifying of dictatorships. The characters of these compelling stories come from a wide variety of backgrounds, from a young mother living among the elite in Pyongyang whose son misbehaves during a political rally, to a former Communist war hero who is deeply disillusioned with the intrusion of the Party into everything he holds dear, to a husband and father who is denied a travel permit and sneaks onto a train in order to visit his critically ill mother. Written with deep emotion and writing talent, The Accusation is a vivid depiction of life in a closed-off one-party state, and also a hopeful testament to the humanity and rich internal life that persists even in such inhumane conditions.

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Crime

the-cheltenham-square-murderCourtesy of NetGalley. Having enjoyed John Bude’s Death on the Riviera recently, I jumped at the chance to read this one. Hurrah for the British Library Crime Classics!

The Blurb says:  In the seeming tranquility of Regency Square in Cheltenham live the diverse inhabitants of its ten houses. One summer’s evening, the square’s rivalries and allegiances are disrupted by a sudden and unusual death – an arrow to the head, shot through an open window at no. 6. Unfortunately for the murderer, an invitation to visit had just been sent by the crime writer Aldous Barnet, staying with his sister at no. 8, to his friend Superintendent Meredith. Three days after his arrival, Meredith finds himself investigating the shocking murder two doors down. Six of the square’s inhabitants are keen members of the Wellington Archery Club, but if Meredith and Long thought that the case was going to be easy to solve, they were wrong…

The Cheltenham Square Murder is a classic example of how John Bude builds a drama within a very specific location. Here the Regency splendour of Cheltenham provides the perfect setting for a story in which appearances are certainly deceiving.

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Fiction

the-white-guardNext up for the Reading the Russian Revolution challenge. Another one that I suspect may be a tough read…

The Blurb says: White Guard, Mikhail Bulgakov’s semi-autobiographical first novel, is the story of the Turbin family in Kiev in 1918. Alexei, Elena, and Nikolka Turbin have just lost their mother—their father had died years before—and find themselves plunged into the chaotic civil war that erupted in the Ukraine in the wake of the Russian Revolution. In the context of this family’s personal loss and the social turmoil surrounding them, Bulgakov creates a brilliant picture of the existential crises brought about by the revolution and the loss of social, moral, and political certainties. He confronts the reader with the bewildering cruelty that ripped Russian life apart at the beginning of the last century as well as with the extraordinary ways in which the Turbins preserved their humanity.

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Crime

rather-be-the-devilThe audiobook is narrated by James Macpherson, whom some of you may remember as DCI Michael Jardine from the old TV series, Taggart. I’ve listened to him read Rebus before, and he has the perfect accent for it plus the acting skills to bring the characters to life…

The Blurb says: Some cases never leave you.

For John Rebus, 40 years may have passed, but the death of beautiful, promiscuous Maria Turquand still preys on his mind. She was murdered in her hotel room on the night a famous rock star and his entourage were staying there, and Maria’s killer has never been found.

Meanwhile, the dark heart of Edinburgh remains up for grabs. A young pretender, Darryl Christie, may have staked his claim, but a vicious attack leaves him weakened and vulnerable, and an inquiry into a major money laundering scheme threatens his position. Has old-time crime boss Big Ger Cafferty really given up the ghost, or is he biding his time until Edinburgh is once more ripe for the picking?

In a tale of twisted power, deep-rooted corruption and bitter rivalries, Rather Be the Devil showcases Rankin and Rebus at their unstoppable best.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Audible UK.

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

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TBR Thursday 108…

Episode 108…

Phew! No further increase to the TBR this week, but no decrease either – stable on 194! I’m sure it’ll start to fall dramatically soon…

So here are a few more that should reach the top of the heap soonish…

Factual

the-travelers-guide-to-spaceCourtesy of NetGalley. Recent political events at home and abroad have given me an urgent desire to emigrate to another planet, so I’m hoping this book will give me some handy pointers…

The Blurb says: Traveling into space and visiting or even emigrating to nearby worlds will soon become part of the human experience. Scientists, engineers, and investors are working hard to make space tourism a reality. As experienced astronauts will tell you, extraterrestrial travel is incomparably thrilling. To make the most of the experience requires profound physical and mental adjustments by travelers as they adapt to microgravity and alterations in virtually every aspect of life, from eating to intimacy. Everyone who goes into space and returns sees Earth and life on it from a profoundly different perspective. If you have ever wondered about space travel, now you have the opportunity to find out.

Astronomer and former NASA/ASEE scientist Neil F. Comins has written the go-to book for anyone interested in space exploration, including potential travelers. He describes the joys and the dangers travelers will face—weightlessness, unparalleled views of Earth and the cosmos, the opportunity to walk on or jump off another world, as well as radiation, projectiles, unbreathable atmospheres, and potential equipment failures. He also provides insights into specific types of travel and destinations, including suborbital flights (nonstop flights to space and back), Earth-orbiting space stations, the Moon, asteroids, comets, and Mars—the first-choice candidate for colonization. Although many challenges to space travel are technical, Comins outlines these matters in clear language for all readers. He synthesizes key issues and cutting-edge research in astronomy, physics, biology, psychology, and sociology to create a complete manual for those eager to take the ultimate voyage, as well as those just interested in the adventure.

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Crime

the-death-of-kingsCourtesy of Mantle. The latest entry in Rennie Airth’s series of thoughtful crime novels set in England just after the Second World War featuring Inspector John Madden (adore that cover!)…

The Blurb says:  On a hot summer day in 1938, a beautiful actress is murdered on the grand Kent estate of Sir Jack Jessup, close friend of the Prince of Wales. An instant headline in the papers, the confession of a local troublemaker swiftly brings the case to a close, but in 1949, the reappearance of a jade necklace raises questions about the murder. Was the man convicted and executed the decade before truly guilty, or had he wrongly been sent to the gallows?

Inspector Madden is summoned out of retirement at the request of former Chief Inspector Angus Sinclair to re-open the case at Scotland Yard. Set in the aftermath of World War II, The Death of Kings is an atmospheric and captivating police procedural, and is a story of honour and justice that takes Madden through the idyllic English countryside, post-war streets of London, and into the criminal underworld of the Chinese Triads.

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Fiction

rebeccaFrom my Classics Club list, a much anticipated re-read and an opportunity to do a comparison with the wonderful Hitchcock film… (is this the worst blurb you ever read?? I would never pick this book up on the basis of it – sounds like Barbara Cartland on an off day!)

The Blurb says: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…

Working as a lady’s companion, the heroine of Rebecca learns her place. Her future looks bleak until, on a trip to the South of France, she meets Max de Winter, a handsome widower whose sudden proposal of marriage takes her by surprise. She accepts, but whisked from glamorous Monte Carlo to the ominous and brooding Manderley, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man. And the memory of his dead wife Rebecca is forever kept alive by the forbidding housekeeper, Mrs Danvers…

Not since Jane Eyre has a heroine faced such difficulty with the Other Woman. An international bestseller that has never gone out of print, Rebecca is the haunting story of a young girl consumed by love and the struggle to find her identity.

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Delightfulness

stiff-upper-lip-jeevesJonathan Cecil is brilliant at narrating the Jeeves and Wooster books so this will be delicious fun… (Total count of unlistened-to audiobooks as at today = 78. See how sneakily I snuck that in…?)

The Blurb says: When the news breaks that Madeline Bassett is engaged to Gussie Fink-Nottle, Bertie’s relief is intense. But when Madeline attempts to turn Gussie vegetarian, Bertie’s instinct for self-preservation sends him with the steadfast Jeeves on another uproariously funny mission to Sir Watkyn Bassett’s residence, Totleigh Towers.

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

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

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TBR Thursday 107…

Episode 107…

I fear the TBR has reached its highest ever level – up a horrendous 9 to 194! This is mainly because I added several books for my Reading the Russian Revolution Challenge though, plus I picked up a few books that were on my wishlist in Amazon’s various Kindle sales.

Tragically, I also noticed recently that the number of audiobooks I’ve acquired over the years and then not listened to has grown to alarming numbers, and they’re not included in the TBR at all… I haven’t done a final count of them yet, but, inspired by the fact that I just acquired a spiffy new set of bluetooth headphones, I will be making an effort to get back into the habit of listening more regularly. A lot of the audiobooks I’ve picked up are re-reads, acquired as much for the narrator as the book itself – for example, the Joan Hickson readings of the Miss Marple stories, and lots of Jonathan Cecil reading PG Wodehouse. Then I’ve also picked up the audio version of some books that I’ll be reading so that I can swap between versions – I’m currently listening to Our Mutual Friend as well as reading it, and I downloaded Simon Callow’s reading of Animal Farm to go along with the book.

So without further ado, here are a few that are rising to the top of the pile…

Crime

a-dangerous-crossingCourtesy of Amazon Vine. When I heard that our very own Cleo won a charity auction to have her name included as a cameo role in this book, I simply had to snap up a copy. And then to start reading it instead of all the books that I had already scheduled…

The Blurb says: 1939: Europe is on the brink of war. Lily Shepherd, a servant girl, boards an ocean liner for Australia. She is on her way to a new life, leaving behind the shadows in her past. For a humble girl, the passage proves magical – a band, cocktails, fancy dress balls. A time when she is beholden to no one. The exotic locations along the way – Naples, Cairo, Ceylon – allow her to see places she’d only ever dreamed of, and to make friends with people higher up the social scale who would ordinarily never give her the time of day. She even allows herself to hope that a man who she couldn’t possibly have a future with outside the cocoon of the ship might return her feelings.

But Lily soon realises that her new-found friends are also escaping secrets in their past. As the ship’s glamour fades, the stage is set for something awful to happen. By the time the ship docks, two of Lily’s fellow passengers are dead, war has been declared and Lily’s life will be irrevocably changed.

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Fiction

titians-boatmanCourtesy of Black & White Publishing. I thoroughly enjoyed Victoria Blake’s true crime book, Mrs Maybrick, so am keen to try her fiction. Her new book will be published later this month…

The Blurb says:  It is 1576 and Venice is in chaos, ravaged by disease and overrun by crime.In the midst of the anarchy we find those brave souls who have chosen not to flee the city. Titian, most celebrated of Venetian painters, his health failing badly; Sabastiano, a gondolier who is the eyes and ears of the corrupted and crumbling city and Tullia, the most famous courtesan of the age who must fight to retain her status as well as her worldly possessions. And in the present day the echoes of what happened centuries earlier still ripple as the lives of ordinary people as far distant as London and New York are touched by the legacy of old Venice…

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Crime

the-abc-murdersAmidst my Audible backlog are several of Agatha Christie’s Poirot novels narrated by the lovely Hugh Fraser, better known to Christie fans, perhaps, as Captain Hastings. I’ve already started this one and he’s doing a great job…

The Blurb says: There’s a serial killer on the loose, bent on working his way through the alphabet. And as a macabre calling card he leaves beside each victim’s corpse the ABC Railway Guide open at the name of the town where the murder has taken place. Having begun with Andover, Bexhill and then Churston, there seems little chance of the murderer being caught – until he makes the crucial and vain mistake of challenging Hercule Poirot to frustrate his plans.

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Thriller

live-by-nightCourtesy of Audible. Every month I am offered some Audible releases to review and have been refusing them for ages, but of course now I know I have a huge backlog I can’t resist adding to it. I’ve only read one Dennis Lehane before but loved it, so this one appeals. It’s being re-launched by Audible to tie in with the movie release this month…

The Blurb says: Joe Coughlin is 19 when he meets Emma Gould. A small-time thief in 1920s Boston, he is told to cuff her while his accomplices raid the casino she works for. But Joe falls in love with Emma – and his life changes forever.

That meeting is the beginning of Joe’s journey to becoming one of the nation’s most feared and respected gangsters. It is a journey beset by violence, double-crossing, drama, and pain. And it is a journey into the soul of prohibition-era America….

A powerful, deeply moving novel, Live by Night is a tour-de-force by Dennis Lehane, writer on The Wire and author of modern classics such as Shutter Island, Gone, Baby, Gone and The Given Day.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Audible UK.

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

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Six Degrees of Separation – From Larrson 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…

the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo

This month’s starting book is Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In truth, I wasn’t a fan of this trilogy, finding it all rather long-drawn out and tedious, and I never could get up any affection for the weird Lisbeth Salander. I abandoned book 2 and never got around to the third one.

The dragon in the title made me think of…

Click for review

Sharon Bolton’s novella Here Be Dragons. It’s part of her brilliant Lacey Flint series, but this time told from the perspective of the lovely Mark Joesbury, one of my (many) fictional heroes. It’s such a great little thriller, I had to create an entirely new rating system for it – it was the first to score 5 on the Yippee Ki Yay scale, thus making it a Bruce Willis!

Yippee Ki Yay rating:    😮😮😮😮😮

It's a Bruce Willis!
It’s a Bruce Willis!

The action all takes place on the Thames, which made me think of…

fearie tales

Neil Gaiman’s short story Down to a Sunless Sea, which I came across in an excellent anthology of horror stories based on fairy tales, Fearie Tales. Gaiman’s story is a take on The Singing Bone, though in many ways much darker. A woman wanders the Rotherhithe docks ‘as she has done for years, for decades.’ She tells the story of her young son who ran away to sea and signed on with a stormcrow ship – one cursed by ill luck…

The Thames is a filthy beast: it winds through London like a snake, or a sea serpent. All the rivers flow into it, the Fleet and the Tyburn and the Neckinger, carrying all the filth and scum and waste, the bodies of cats and dogs and the bones of sheep and pigs down into the brown water of the Thames, which carries them east into the estuary and from there into the North Sea and oblivion.

I find it impossible to think of Neil Gaiman without thinking of another story of his…

the truth is a cave

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains. This dark tale is superbly illustrated by Eddie Campbell and the pictures and words complement each other perfectly to create something truly stunning. It is the tale of a journey, a quest into the Black Mountains to find a cave – to find the truth. Our narrator is a small man, a dwarf, but he’s strong and he’s driven. As we meet him, he is about to hire a guide, Calum MacInnes, to take him to a cave on the Misty Isle which is reputed to be filled with gold…

I am old now, or at least, I am no longer young, and everything I see reminds me of something else I’ve seen, such that I see nothing for the first time. A bonny girl, her hair fiery-red, reminds me only of another hundred such lasses, and their mothers, and what they were as they grew, and what they looked like when they died. It is the curse of age, that all things are reflections of other things.

I say that, but my time on the Misty Isle, that is also called, by the wise, the Winged Isle, reminds me of nothing but itself.

DSCN0545

The Misty Isle is based on the Isle of Skye, which is part of the Inner Hebrides, an island group off the coast of Scotland. Which made me think of a book set in the Outer Hebrides…

The Blackhouse

Peter May’s The Blackhouse. This is the first of his trilogy set on Lewis, and was the book that shot him onto the bestseller lists when it was selected as a Richard and Judy pick.  DS Fin MacLeod is sent back to Lewis to investigate a murder that resembles one that took place earlier in his Edinburgh patch. It gradually emerges that the shadow of the past may be involved in the current investigation.

Peter May on Lewis
Peter May on Lewis

Before he wrote the Lewis books, Peter May wrote a series based in China, which made me think of…

imperial woman

Imperial Woman by Pearl S Buck. This is a fictionalised biography of Tzu Hsi, who ruled as regent and Empress of China from 1861-1908, effectively the end of the empire, which collapsed just 3 years after her death. Tzu Hsi is portrayed here as a beautiful, ambitious tyrant, scheming to become and then remain Empress. The language is rather too stylised for my taste but Tzu Hsi’s story is a fascinating one and certainly worth the telling.

In the fourth moon month the wisteria blooms. It was the duty of the Court Chief Gardener to report to the Empress the exact day upon which the vines would blossom and he had so reported. The Empress did then decree that upon this day she would not appear in the Audience Hall, nor would she hear any affairs of state.

Portrait of Tzu Hsi by Hubert Voss (1906)
Portrait of Tzu Hsi by Hubert Voss (1906)

And thinking of female rulers reminded me of…

the rival queens

The Rival Queens, Nancy Goldstone’s romping history of Catherine de’ Medici, Queen of France, and her daughter Marguerite de Valois, Queen of Navarre. It was a great time for Queens. Over in England, Elizabeth was working up to the beheading of her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots. But the shenanigans of Catherine and Marguerite frankly make the British Royals look tame. A little biased in Marguerite’s favour, I felt, but hugely enjoyable, complete with a fair amount of ribald humour. At points it reads like a great thriller, complete with cliffhanger endings to chapters, and then at others it becomes like an episode of Dallas, with Catherine in the role of JR and Marguerite as sweet little Pamela.

the-rival-queens-portraits
Catherine and Marguerite

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So Larrson to Goldstone via dragons, the Thames, Neil Gaiman, the Hebrides, China, empresses and queens!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

TBR Thursday 106…

Episode 106…

The first TBR post of the New Year and unsurprisingly the TBR has leapt up over the festive season… by 9 to 185! But this is normal, so I’m not worried. No, really, I’m not! Do I look worried? Don’t answer that…

Best thing to do is to get on with some reading… here are a few that will reach the top of the pile soon…

Sci-Fi

the-massacre-of-mankindCourtesy of NetGalley. Since I love The War of the Worlds, love books about Mars, and have heard good things about Stephen Baxter’s writing, this sounded irresistible, especially since it’s been authorised by HG Wells’ estate…

The Blurb says: It has been 14 years since the Martians invaded England. The world has moved on, always watching the skies but content that we know how to defeat the Martian menace. Machinery looted from the abandoned capsules and war-machines has led to technological leaps forward. The Martians are vulnerable to earth germs. The Army is prepared. So when the signs of launches on Mars are seen, there seems little reason to worry. Unless you listen to one man, Walter Jenkins, the narrator of Wells’ book. He is sure that the Martians have learned, adapted, understood their defeat.

He is right.

Thrust into the chaos of a new invasion, a journalist – sister-in-law to Walter Jenkins – must survive, escape and report on the war. The Massacre of Mankind has begun.

* * * * *

Fiction

animal-farmFirst up for the Reading the Russian Revolution Challenge. I haven’t re-read this since it broke my heart as a teenager (Boxer! Sniff!) but I’m hoping I’m tougher now, and might be able to remember it’s an allegory…

The Blurb says:  One night on an English farm, Major the boar recounts his vision of a utopia where his fellow creatures own the land along with the means of production and are no longer the slaves of humans. Before long his dream comes true, and for a short while all animals really are equal. But the clever pigs educate themselves and soon learn how to extend their own power, inevitably at the expense of the rest of the community.

This well-loved tale is, of course, a satire on the Soviet Communist system that still remains a powerful warning despite the changes in world politics since Animal Farm was first published.

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Crime

the-12-30-from-croydonCourtesy of NetGalley. Inspector French was one of Martin Edwards’ tips in his guest post Ten Top Golden Age Detectives, so I jumped at the chance to get my hands on this one…

The Blurb says: We begin with a body. Andrew Crowther, a wealthy retired manufacturer, is found dead in his seat on the 12.30 flight from Croydon to Paris. Rather less orthodox is the ensuing flashback in which we live with the killer at every stage, from the first thoughts of murder to the strains and stresses of living with its execution. Seen from the criminal’s perspective, a mild-mannered Inspector by the name of French is simply another character who needs to be dealt with. This is an unconventional yet gripping story of intrigue, betrayal, obsession, justification and self-delusion. And will the killer get away with it?

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Fiction

the-good-peopleCourtesy of NetGalley. Having loved Hannah Kent’s début, Burial Rites, this is one of my most anticipated books of 2017. It’s been out for a while elsewhere but is only being published over here in February, so I’ve spent much of the last few months trying to avoid reading reviews of it…

The Blurb says: Nóra Leahy has lost her daughter and her husband in the same year, and is now burdened with the care of her four-year-old grandson, Micheál. The boy cannot walk, or speak, and Nora, mistrustful of the tongues of gossips, has kept the child hidden from those who might see in his deformity evidence of otherworldly interference. Unable to care for the child alone, Nóra hires a fourteen-year-old servant girl, Mary, who soon hears the whispers in the valley about the blasted creature causing grief to fall upon the widow’s house.

Alone, hedged in by rumour, Mary and her mistress seek out the only person in the valley who might be able to help Micheál. For although her neighbours are wary of her, it is said that old Nance Roche has the knowledge. That she consorts with Them, the Good People. And that only she can return those whom they have taken…

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NB All blurbs taken or adapted from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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

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If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again…

…aka New Year’s Resolutions…

So! Last year at this time I set myself some reading resolutions for 2016. Time to see just how badly I did! And then to set myself up for another bout of humiliation next year. Still, you know what they say…’tis better to travel hopefully than to arrive. (I’m pretty sure all these cliché writers had massive TBRs too.)

The 2016 Results

OK, there will be no unseemly laughter, catcalling or crowing, is that clear? Anyone who emits so much as a giggle will be sent to stand in the corner, and a guffaw will earn the perpetrator two hours in the public stocks – I have been collecting rotten tomatoes specially…

No, Darcy, not even you!
No, Darcy, not even you!

1) Cut back on taking freebies for review.

Take no more than 18 books during the year, and reduce the total outstanding at year end from 25 to 12.

The Result: Oh, dear! Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! Well, I suppose it’s best to get the worst one over with first. Ahem! OK, I took 63 books for review over the year, and I have 30 outstanding at year end, of which 17 are overdue. What can I say? I’m weak! This dramatic failure goes a long way to explain the rest of my results…

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2) A minimum of 12 re-reads.

The Result: Er… 8. 66%. Two-thirds. OK, OK – failed!

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3) Reduce the TBR!

a) Reduce the overall total to 130.

The Result: The final total is… 181!

b) Read at least 35 books that have been on the TBR since 2014 or earlier.

The Result: A miserable… 14!

c) Read at least 45 books that went onto the TBR in 2015.

The Result: So near, and yet… so far! 44!

FAILED! FAILED! FAILED!

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4) New-to-me authors.

a) No more than 20 books by new-to-me authors to be added to the TBR during 2016.

The Result: I really don’t want to tell you this!! Really!! OK, here goes… 53!!

b) Read at least 20 catch-up books from authors I’ve previously enjoyed.

The Result: Lucky for some! But not me… 13!

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5) Classics

Read at least 10 GAN Quest novels and at least 5 other classics, including Dickens.

The Result: 7 GAN Quest books read in the year (or abandoned, which is much the same thing), 6 other classics read, including Dickens. Ooh, almost a partial success, but overall… a failure!

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6) Read at least 12 sci-fi/fantasy novels, mixed between classic and new.

The Result: A totally pathetic… 4!!

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I am now popping outside for a moment to throw those rotten tomatoes at myself… back soon!

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Resolutions for 2017

Right! (Does anyone know how to get tomato stains out?) This year I’m completely confident I’ll achieve all my resolutions… maybe even over-achieve! You do believe me… don’t you? I’m going to try to be a little more realistic this time…

I know you've seen this one before, but I just love it so much!
I know you’ve seen this one before, but I just love it so much!

1) Cut back on taking freebies for review.

Take no more than 36 books during the year, averaging 3 a month, and reduce the total outstanding at year end from 30 to 20, none of which are overdue. This means I’ll be reading roughly 4 a month. If I can stick to that, all the other resolutions should be easy…

2) A minimum of 12 re-reads.

I’m sticking with that – it seems as if it should be easily achievable. Though I thought that last year too…

3) Reduce the TBR!

a) Reduce the overall total from 181 to 150.

Should be possible, though it will depend on how many books move from the wishlist to the TBR…

b) Read at least 35 books that have been on the TBR since 2015 or earlier.

I currently have a ridiculous 103 books that have been on the TBR for more than a year (because of my addiction to review copies). But realistically it’ll be a slow job to reduce this figure, so I’m only aiming to cut them by a third. With luck I might overachieve on this since a lot of them are classics and GAN books.

c) Read at least 50 books that went onto the TBR in 2016.

I have 78 books outstanding from 2016, including nearly all of my review copy backlog. If I can resist adding so many new books this year, then I should be able to read the majority of these.

This one's just 'cos I needed cheering up!
This one’s just ‘cos I needed cheering up!

4) Classics

Read 20 classics. I’m not completely abandoning the GAN Quest – some of the books on my Classics Club list are Great American Novel contenders, and there are still a few of the last batch on my TBR – but I’m not setting a separate target for this year. 

5) Other Stuff

I’m not setting targets for science fiction, the Around the World Challenge, or catch-up books from authors I’ve previously enjoyed, but I’ll still be aiming to read several from each category. I’ll also be setting myself another little challenge – details next week – but otherwise my main concentration this year will be reading stuff I already have, and trying not to add too many new books.

Wish me luck!

fireworks

HAPPY NEW YEAR!
LANG MAY YOUR LUM REEK!