Frippery! The FF Report edited by A. G. Barr

Investigation into Shenanigans and Skulduggery
in the Secret Service

(Firstly, I’d just like to apologise to everyone for the delay in getting the Mueller Report out. Unfortunately, it was decided the FF Report should take priority so Mr Barr has been very busy with his coloured pencils. I shall be holding a Press Conference three hours before you get to read this.)

Statement by former Secret Agent, FF

 

HAVE A GREAT EASTER, EVERYBODY! 😀

TBR Thursday 195…

Episode 195

On the surface, a little rise of 1 in the TBR to 231 doesn’t sound too bad, really, does it? But the underlying problem – aka the postman – means that sackfuls of books could be arriving over the next week! This happens every time I do a quarterly round-up – I get so smug about how well I’m doing, I go temporarily mad. At least, I’m hoping it’s temporarily…

Here are a few more I shall take with me to my padded cell…

True Crime

Courtesy of Random House Cornerstone via NetGalley. I know nothing about this crime, nor was I aware of Harper Lee’s ambition to write a true crime novel. But the blurb makes it sound a fascinating story…

The Blurb says: The stunning story of an Alabama serial killer and the true-crime book that Harper Lee worked on obsessively in the years after To Kill a Mockingbird.

Reverend Willie Maxwell was a rural preacher accused of murdering five of his family members for insurance money in the 1970s. With the help of a savvy lawyer, he escaped justice for years until a relative shot him dead at the funeral of his last victim. Despite hundreds of witnesses, Maxwell’s murderer was acquitted–thanks to the same attorney who had previously defended the Reverend.

Sitting in the audience during the vigilante’s trial was Harper Lee, who had travelled from New York City to her native Alabama with the idea of writing her own In Cold Blood, the true-crime classic she had helped her friend Truman Capote research seventeen years earlier. Lee spent a year in town reporting, and many more working on her own version of the case.

Now Casey Cep brings this story to life, from the shocking murders to the courtroom drama to the racial politics of the Deep South. At the same time, she offers a deeply moving portrait of one of the country’s most beloved writers and her struggle with fame, success, and the mystery of artistic creativity.

* * * * *

Vintage Crime

Courtesy of the British Library. The BL have issued three of Michael Gilbert’s books in the last couple of months, and this is the second of them. I thoroughly enjoyed Smallbone Deceased, so have high hopes for this one. The setting sounds very different to anything I’ve come across before in vintage crime. And even by the BL’s always fab standards, isn’t this the most gorgeous cover?

The Blurb says: A man is found dead in an escape tunnel beneath an Italian prisoner-of-war camp. Did he die in an accidental collapse – or was this murder? Captain Henry ‘Cuckoo’ Goyles, master tunneller and amateur detective, takes up the case.

This classic locked-room mystery with a closed circle of suspects is woven together with a thrilling story of escape from the camp, as the Second World War nears its endgame and the British prisoners prepare to flee into the Italian countryside.

* * * * *

Fantasy

Courtesy of Hodder & Stoughton via NetGalley. Fantasy? Me?? I can’t for the life of me work out why I requested this one! Probably brainwashed by the drip-drip-drip of glowing reviews I’ve read for Guy Gavriel Kay’s previous books. Well, the Renaissance Italy-style setting appeals, so we’ll see…

The Blurb says: In a chamber overlooking the night-time waterways of a maritime city, a man looks back on his youth and the people who shaped his life. Danio Cerra’s intelligence won him entry to a renowned school, though he was only the son of a tailor. He took service at the court of a ruling count – and soon learned why that man was known as The Beast.

Danio’s fate changed the moment he recognized Adria Ripoli as she entered the count’s chambers one night – intending to kill. Born to power, Adria had chosen a life of danger – and freedom – instead.

Other vivid figures share the story: a healer determined to defy her expected lot; a charming, frivolous son of immense wealth; a religious leader more decadent than devout; and, affecting these lives and many more, two mercenary commanders, whose rivalry puts a world in the balance.

* * * * *

Fiction on Audio

This won the Saltire Society Literary Award for Scottish Book of the Year in 2010 – generally considered the most prestigious of Scottish literary awards. And since then, it’s gained something of a reputation as a modern classic, possibly because it caught the navel-gazing zeitgeist of Scotland in the run-up to the independence referendum. The audiobook is over 33 hours long, so at my glacial speed with audiobooks, I’m expecting to be listening to this for the next few months! 

The Blurb says: Michael Pendreich is curating an exhibition of photographs by his late, celebrated father Angus for the National Gallery of Photography in Edinburgh. The show will cover fifty years of Scottish life but, as he arranges the images and writes his catalogue essay, what story is Michael really trying to tell: his father’s, his own or that of Scotland itself? And what of the stories of the individuals captured by Angus Pendreich’s lens over all those decades? The homeless wanderer collecting pebbles; the Second World War veteran and the Asian shopkeeper, fighting to make better lives for their families; the Conservative MP with a secret passion, and his drop-out sister, vengeful against class privilege; the alcoholic intelligence officer betrayed on all sides, not least by his own inadequacy; the activists fighting for Scottish Home Rule – all have their own tales to tell. Tracing the intertwined lives of an unforgettable cast of characters, James Robertson’s new novel is a searching journey into the heart of a country of high hopes and unfulfilled dreams, private compromises and hidden agendas. Brilliantly blending the personal and the political, And The Land Stay Still sweeps away the dust and grime of the postwar years to reveal a rich mosaic of 20th-century Scottish life.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

TBR Thursday 194… and Quarterly Round-Up

TBR Quarterly Report

At the New Year, I set myself some targets for my various reading challenges and for the reduction of my ever-expanding TBR. I do this each year because secretly I’m a masochist who thrives on feelings of personal failure it’s always good to have something to aim for. Things usually start well at the beginning of the year when my enthusiasm is high and then it all begins to go horribly wrong… round about April… and descends past laughable in the summer, to embarrassing by autumn, ending up in full-scale hair-raising horror by the depths of winter. It’s such fun!

So here we are – the first check-in of the year, and probably the best…

Impressive, huh? It would have been even better if I hadn’t abandoned Cannery Row for not having a plot (and to be fair, I was in the middle of a major reading slump and not enjoying much at that point. I may try it again later.) It should have been the third book for my 5 x 5 Challenge and the fifth on my Classics Club list. The sixth on the CC list is The Fair Maid of Perth which I’m currently reading but didn’t manage to finish in time to include it at the quarter’s end. So overall pretty successful on the challenges!

The TBR is up but, thanks to another bout of rigorous (and heart-rending) culling, the combined TBR/wishlist reduction is on track! Yeah, I’m as surprised at that as you are…

* * * * * * *

The Around the World in 80 Books Challenge

Last check-in was in December, and I’ve been piling up the frequent flyer miles since then! I’ve read six, though I’ve only reviewed five of them so far, plus I had one left over from 2018 that I reviewed in January.

On the Main Journey (of the places mentioned in Around the World in 80 Days) there are a couple of places that Jules Verne invented, which makes finding books for them particularly difficult! One such place is Kholby, a fictional town or village in Uttar Pradesh in northern India. So I got as close as I could by visiting Agra, also in Uttar Pradesh, with the wonderful tour-guide Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in The Sign of the Four. Then I had a frankly disappointing short break in Hong Kong with Rea Tarvydas in How to Pick Up a Maid in Statue Square. If I get time, I’ll revisit Hong Kong before the challenge ends.

My first detour of the quarter was to Norway, where I got the chance to watch the police solve a cold case in Jørn Lier Horst’s The Katharina Code. Then off to South Korea with Un-Su Kim in The Plotters, a strange but compelling story of feuding assassins. Tim Flannery took me on an amazing journey all over Europe geographically and through time, showing me the flora and fauna through the ages and telling me tales of the ascent of man. Then Yangsze Choo whisked me off to colonial Malay in The Night Tiger, a wonderful tale steeped in the folklore of the Chinese Malaysians. Loving this challenge!

To see the full challenge including the Main Journey and all detours, click here.

60 down, 20 to go!

* * * * * * *

The Classics Club

I’ve read four books from my Classics Club list this quarter but have only reviewed three of them so far. However I’ve also reviewed a couple that were hanging over from last year…

37. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – 4 stars for this “non-fiction novel” in which Capote examines the minds and crimes of two real-life murderers. The writing is superb, but I wasn’t keen on the blurring of the lines between fact and fiction which left me resorting to Google to find out the truth of what happened.

38. Childhood’s End by Arthur C Clarke – a disappointed 3 stars for this sci-fi classic which didn’t wow me as much as I’d hoped. I’m still glad to have read it though, since it’s the book that inspired Stanley Kubrick’s collaboration with Clarke on the amazing film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

39. Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs – the full 5 stars for this romping adventure story. Lots of stuff about evolution as it was viewed back then, with racism and sexism of its time, but it’s so full of thrills, excitement, high love and general drama that it swept me along on a tsunami-sized wave of fun.

40. The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers – 4½ stars for this espionage adventure about two young Englishmen who set out to foil German invasion plans back in 1903. The second half gets slowed down by Childers’ desire to give a warning about the growing threat from German naval power, but an excellent read overall.

41. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens – the iniquity of debtors’ prisons, nepotism within the ruling classes, and the dangers of speculation on the stock market. Along the way, Dickens produces his usual dazzling array of characterisation and mix of drama, humour and occasional horror. The full 5 stars!

Still running behind, but not hopelessly. I’m making three changes to my list:

  • To replace the abandoned Cannery Row, I’ve added East of Eden. Glutton for punishment, me!
  • I’ve been given a copy of Oxford World’s Classics new edition of Middlemarch for review, so am adding it and removing The Heart of the Matter to make room.
  • I’ve also got the OWC’s new translation of Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas (yeah, the title has changed too!), so am removing Something Wicked This Way Comes to make space. (Hmm… three short books out, three stonkers in – not sure I’m doing this right…)

41 down, 49 to go!

* * * * * * *

Murder Mystery Mayhem

I’m still going really slowly on this challenge, because of all the other vintage crime I’ve been lucky enough to receive for review. I’ve read three this quarter, but have only reviewed one so far. To see the full challenge, click here.

23.  Malice Aforethought by Francis Iles –  a doctor plans to murder his inconvenient wife in this ironical crime novel. Irony is never my favourite thing, so this didn’t work as well for me as I’d hoped. Just 3 stars.

23 down, 79 to go!

* * * * * * *

5 x 5 Challenge

Oh, dear! This challenge is turning out to be a real albatross and I’m thinking of abandoning it, but I’ll stick it out a bit longer. This quarter I abandoned one and read two, neither of which I’ve yet reviewed, so nothing to report.

2 down, 23 to go!

* * * * * * *

An unexpectedly good quarter’s reading, considering what a pig life has been! Thank goodness for books!
Thank you for joining me on my reading adventures and…

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

 

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….Lanching handed her the Express. The story had made the front page, but more than half-way down. Birdie wrinkled her nose, then gave Grail a pitying look. ‘You poor darling. Below the fold.’
….The account began:

….Burley Glaswegian Charlie Hockley – His Worship to the 14,482 inhabitants of this quiet little market town – today threw to the floor of his Mayor’s Parlour one of the ceremonial white kid gloves that go with his office. The Chief Citizen of Flaxborough was issuing a challenge to a duel – probably the first public ‘calling out’ in this country for more than a century.
….For Mayor Hockley believes that his township has been grossly libelled by a recent article in a Sunday newspaper (not the Sunday Express) and considers it his duty on behalf of his fellow citizens to challenge the journalist responsible and demand ‘satisfaction’. . .
….The mayor is widely believed to have been promised the loan of a pair of authentic duelling pistols together with lessons in their use.
….The man named by Mayor Hockley in his challenge, London columnist Clive Grail, was last night not available for comment.

* * * * *

….In the Rhodian room of the Colossus restaurant in Holborn one long and three shorter tables were set in the form of a capital “E”, and round them were gathered some fifty men and women ranging in age from an exceedingly venerable party with a white beard, who was sleeping fitfully at one end of the top table, down to three young gentlemen of fifteen plus (of a type normally described in police reports as “youths”) who had collected at a point furthest from the eye of the chairman and were engaged in a game of blow-football with rolled-up menus and a battered grape.
….Miss Mildmay looked up as a bread pellet struck her on the cheek and remarked in a clear voice: “If you hit me again with one of those things, John Cove, I shan’t type any more of your private letters for you in office hours.”

* * * * *

….“We will demand of the King,” said Sir Louis Lundin, “my advice being taken, that the body of our murdered fellow citizen be transported into the High Church of St. John, and suitable masses said for the benefit of his soul and for the discovery of his foul murder. Meantime, we shall obtain an order that Sir John Ramorny give up a list of such of his household as were in Perth in the course of the night between Fastern’s Eve and this Ash Wednesday, and become bound to present them on a certain day and hour, to be early named, in the High Church of St. John, there one by one to pass before the bier of our murdered fellow citizen, and in the form prescribed to call upon God and His saints to bear witness that he is innocent of the acting, art or part, of the murder. And credit me, as has been indeed proved by numerous instances, that, if the murderer shall endeavour to shroud himself by making such an appeal, the antipathy which subsists between the dead body and the hand which dealt the fatal blow that divorced it from the soul will awaken some imperfect life, under the influence of which the veins of the dead man will pour forth at the fatal wounds the blood which has been so long stagnant in the veins.”

* * * * *

….‘Two young adventurers for hire. Willing to do anything, go anywhere. Pay must be good. No unreasonable offer refused.’ How would that strike you if you read it?”
….“It would strike me as either being a hoax, or else written by a lunatic.”
….“It’s not half so insane as a thing I read this morning beginning ‘Petunia’ and signed ‘Best Boy.’” She tore out the leaf and handed it to Tommy. “There you are. Times, I think. Reply to Box so-and-so. I expect it will be about five shillings. Here’s half a crown for my share.”
….Tommy was holding the paper thoughtfully. His face burned a deeper red.
….“Shall we really try it?” he said at last. “Shall we, Tuppence? Just for the fun of the thing?”
….“Tommy, you’re a sport! I knew you would be! Let’s drink to success.” She poured some cold dregs of tea into the two cups.
….“Here’s to our joint venture, and may it prosper!”
….“The Young Adventurers, Ltd.!” responded Tommy.

* * * * *

I sat in the last row of the public benches. Despite its importance, the Court of Appeal was held in a small room, and it was packed. The court reporters were choosy about which cases they covered but this one was a guaranteed front-page splash. A murderer was always news. A murderer of women was even better, especially if the women were beautiful, especially if they had everything to live for, especially if they met a horrible end at the hands of a perverted stranger. But best of all was a gruesome series of murders combined with a miscarriage of justice. That was a story that had everything.

* * * * *

Hmm… crime week, it seems!
So… are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 193…

Episode 193

Well, I’ve had a little influx of books this week, so I must be getting through them too, since the overall increase is just 1 to 231. Surprises me, since I feel as if I’ve done nothing except gaze at the farce put on by our revered and well-paid politicians for weeks now.

Order! Order! Here’s what’s next on the order paper…

Crime

Courtesy of 4th Estate at HarperCollins. This one popped unexpectedly through my letter-box a couple of weeks ago. I always enjoy getting the occasional book sent to me that I haven’t specifically chosen because it kicks me out of my rut. Sometimes they turn out to be great reads – fingers crossed for this one!

The Blurb says: A gripping literary thriller and the first of a new crime series, from the bestselling author of Before We Met.

Detective Inspector Robin Lyons is going home. Dismissed for misconduct from the Met’s Homicide Command after refusing to follow orders, unable to pay her bills (or hold down a relationship), she has no choice but to take her teenage daughter Lennie and move back in with her parents in the city she thought she’d escaped forever at 18. In Birmingham, sharing a bunkbed with Lennie and navigating the stormy relationship with her mother, Robin works as a benefit-fraud investigator – to the delight of those wanting to see her cut down to size.

Only Corinna, her best friend of 20 years, seems happy to have Robin back. But when Corinna’s family is engulfed by violence and her missing husband becomes a murder suspect, Robin can’t bear to stand idly by as the police investigate. Can she trust them to find the truth of what happened? And why does it bother her so much that the officer in charge is her ex-boyfriend – the love of her teenage life? As Robin launches her own unofficial investigation and realises there may be a link to the disappearance of a young woman, she starts to wonder how well we can really know the people we love – and how far any of us will go to protect our own.

* * * * *

Scottish Classic

Courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics. I know very little about this one except that it always shows up on lists of Scottish classics, and that I mercilessy mocked my brother for years for reading obscure Scottish books like this and he’s now getting his own back. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed the Scottish section of my Classics Club list, so my hopes are high… well, fairly high… though I’ve just read the blurb… maybe I should have done that before I put it on my list… 

The Blurb says: Smollett’s savage, boisterously funny lambasting of eighteenth-century British society charts the unfortunate journey of the gout-ridden and irascible squire Matthew Bramble across Britain, who finds himself everywhere surrounded by decadents, pimps, con-men, raucousness and degeneracy – until the arrival of the trusty manservant Humphry Clinker promises to improve his fortunes.

Populated with unforgettable grotesques and written with a relish for earthy humour and wordplay, and a ferocious pessimism, Humphry Clinker is Smollett’s masterpiece.

* * * * *

Crime

Courtesy of HarperCollins. Hurrah! A new one in the wonderful Maeve Kerrigan series! It’s been a long wait for this, so hopes are astronomically high…

The Blurb says: Leo Stone is a killer. A year ago, he was convicted of murdering two women and sentenced to life without parole. But now, a juror from his trial has revealed the jury was prejudiced, and a retrial is called.

Detectives Maeve Kerrigan and Josh Derwent are tasked with re-examining the evidence. Before long, they uncover links between Stone and a possible third victim.

But with Stone behind bars, a fourth woman disappears in similar circumstances. Is there a copycat killer out there, or have they been wrong about Stone from the start? And will Maeve discover the truth before another innocent victim is killed?

* * * * *

Gothic Horror

Courtesy of Head of Zeus via NetGalley. I loved Paver’s Dark Matter, finding it up there with the very best of classic horror, and was pleased to see my opinion reinforced when it was one of the few modern books mentioned by the illustrious horror expert, Darryl Jones, in his history of the genre, Sleeping With The Lights On. So… no pressure for this one, then, Ms Paver… 😉

The Blurb says: In Edwardian Suffolk, a manor house stands alone in a lost corner of the Fens: a glinting wilderness of water whose whispering reeds guard ancient secrets. Maud is a lonely child growing up without a mother, ruled by her repressive father. When he finds a painted medieval devil in a graveyard, unhallowed forces are awakened.

Maud’s battle has begun. She must survive a world haunted by witchcraft, the age-old legends of her beloved fen – and the even more nightmarish demons of her father’s past.

Spanning five centuries, Wakenhyrst is a darkly gothic thriller about murderous obsession and one girl’s longing to fly free.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads.

* * * * *

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

Free Creative Writing Course in Ten Easy Steps!

… aka FF’s Laws for Writing Good Fiction

So many aspiring authors now feel it’s essential to take a degree in Creative Writing and unfortunately many of them then come out mistaking flowery “innovative” prose for good storytelling. Plus they often end up with massive student debts. So out of the goodness of my heart, I’ve decided to provide an alternative… and it’s completely free, more or less!

(The laws have developed as a result of specific books which either annoyed me by breaking them, or pleased me by avoiding them, but as you will see they can be applied universally. So I’ve decided in most cases not to name the book, but for those who really, really need to know, clicking on the law title will take you to the review where I first used it.)

😉 😉 😉 😉 😉

So have your pencil and notebook ready – here goes…

FF’s First Law:

The length of a book should be determined by the requirements of the story.

    • If your book is twice as long as it needs to be, your readers will enjoy it less than half as much as they should. This is a mathematical fact!

FF’s Second Law:

Blurbs should accurately reflect the contents of the book to ensure they attract the right readers.

    • If your blurb claims your book is a thriller, then it should thrill. If it claims to be history, then it should not be polemics. If it claims kinship with Jane Austen, then it shouldn’t read like Jilly Cooper.

FF’s Third Law:

To have one fart joke is unfortunate, but to have several smacks of carelessness, or a need for dietetic advice.

    • If you’re young enough to think jokes about flatulence are endlessly amusing, then you’re too young to write books. Come back in ten years.

FF’s Fourth Law:

It’s not necessary for men to be made to look bad in order for women to look good.

    • If you can’t find anything nice to say about men, then say nothing at all. If you object to misogyny, then you should avoid misandry.

FF’s Fifth Law:

Emotion arises from good characterisation.

    • Describing the sudden deaths of thousands of fictional characters the reader has never been introduced to doesn’t have the same emotional impact as would fear for one character the reader had grown to care about.

FF’s Sixth Law:

Unnamed narrators should never be used by authors who would like people to review their books.

    • Otherwise (some) reviewers might decide to name all your women Brutus and all your men Ethel, and frankly Rebecca wouldn’t be the same if the second Mrs de Winter was called Brutus. (I may be being a little selfish with this one.)

FF’s Seventh Law:

Cover artists should read the book before designing the cover.

    • If the murder method was strangling, a cover with bullet holes and blood all over it seems somewhat inappropriate.

FF’s Eighth Law:

Swearing never attracts readers who wouldn’t otherwise read the book, but frequently puts off readers who otherwise would.

    • Especially restrain yourself from swearing in the first line, or in the hashtag you use for advertising. What seems to you like authentic down-with-da-kids street-talk may seem to many readers like functional illiteracy.

FF’s Ninth Law:

A strong story well told doesn’t need “creative writing”, just good writing. 

    • Dickens never attended a Creative Writing class. Nor Jane Austen. Nor Agatha Christie. Nor PG Wodehouse.

FF’s Tenth Law:

Having the narrator constantly refer to ‘what happened that day’ without informing the reader of what actually did happen that day is far more likely to create book-hurling levels of irritation than a feeling of suspense.

    • Lawsuits from people who have broken their Kindles and/or their walls can prove to be expensive.

😉 😉 😉 😉 😉

NEXT STEPS

Once you have mastered and can apply these laws, congratulations! Send a cheque for £50,000 made out to FF’s School of Scamming Creative Writing and you will receive by return a hand-made Diploma which you can show to agents, publishers and booksellers, or simply use as an attractive decoration for your writing nook!

You will also receive a 10% discount for the Advanced Course, currently being prepared. Here’s a taster of the goodies to come…

FF’s Eleventh Law:

WRITING BLURBS IN CAPITALS DOESN’T MAKE THEM MORE EXCITING!!! 

😉 😉 😉 😉 😉

Have A Great Tuesday! 😀

Malice Aforethought by Francis Iles

A game of two halves…

🙂 🙂 🙂

Dr Edmund Bickleigh is married to Julia, a woman some years older than him and far above him in the social status stakes. Her domineering manner feeds into his inferiority complex, but he compensates by having a string of affairs with the surprisingly willing young ladies of his Devonshire village. Gossip is a problem, of course, but Julia is willing to look the other way since she’s not the least bit in love with Edmund herself. So all remains well, until Edmund meets the one woman that he knows is his real, true love – the woman he should have married, would marry now if only he were free. Divorce is a problem – reputation is everything for a professional man. So there’s really only one course left to pursue…

It was not until several weeks after he had decided to murder his wife that Dr Bickleigh took any active steps in the matter. Murder is a serious business. The slightest slip may be disastrous. Dr Bickleigh had no intention of risking disaster.

Francis Iles is one of the several names used by Anthony Berkeley Cox, who under the name Anthony Berkeley wrote The Poisoned Chocolates Case, which I recently thoroughly enjoyed. This book, Malice Aforethought, was, according to the blurb, the first novel in which the name of the potential murderer is revealed from the beginning. (I’m not sure if that’s a fact – Martin Edwards doesn’t mention it in his discussion of the book in The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Novels, and I’d have expected that he would if it were true. Anyway…)

The first half of the book tells of the lead up to the murder attempt and is full of rather sly mockery of Dr Bickleigh and all the other characters. Edwards lists it under the heading The Ironists, and this seems like a good description for the style. It’s written in the third person but told almost exclusively from the viewpoint of the doctor, so that the reader can’t be sure how distorted the picture of the other characters is by his perception of them. As often happens in books that set out to be ironical or satirical, there are really no characters in this that are likeable, and I must say I found the women in particular come off really badly – either silly, mindless girls desperate to be admired and loved, or gossiping middle-aged spinsters, or domineering/dominated wives. For a long time, I couldn’t decide if this was Dr Bickleigh’s view of women or the author’s, but when I remembered that I have in fact read other books by this author under different pen-names which didn’t strike me in the same way, I acquitted Iles and decided it was a rather clever indication of Dr Bickleigh’s compensation for his feelings of inferiority.

Challenge details:
Book: 80
Subject Heading: The Ironists
Publication Year: 1931

I enjoyed the first half a lot as we follow Dr Bickleigh through his various romantic entanglements until he reaches the ecstasy of total infatuation with the new girl in town. Julia behaves more like a stern mother than a wife, disapproving of Edmund’s behaviour rather than exhibiting any signs of jealousy. The odd thing is that everyone appears to like Edmund, and that seems to be more than his distorted perception. He appears to have an outward charm that conceals his narcissistic, selfish interior self effectively from the world. We are shown how he uses fantasies to bolster his self-confidence but that those fantasies seem to have gone so far as to over-inflate his ego. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say I liked Julia, I vastly preferred her to this obnoxious little creep, who failed to charm me in any way at all! So I found an unexpected sympathy for the proposed victim, which I’m not at all sure we are supposed to feel.

Francis Iles

There’s some doubt up to the halfway mark as to whether the murder attempt will come off or fail, and that added the necessary element of suspense to hold my interest, so I won’t spoil it by telling. But after we know whether Julia survives or not, the second half is spent with Edmund trying to cover up his plot, and I found it dragged interminably. Of course, largely this was because I disliked him so much I hoped he would be found out, but also the story spiralled further and further beyond my credulity line as it went on. The reasonable psychology of the first half disappears in the second, and from being mildly amusing, Edmund descends to being simply annoying. I spent the final third wishing it would hurry up and get to the end and when it did, it didn’t surprise me as much as it was intended to, I think.

So a game of two halves for me – I thoroughly enjoyed the first and was thoroughly bored by the second. But then, irony has never been one of my favourite things, so I have no doubt it will work better for plenty of readers.

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

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 192…

Episode 192

I’m not totally sure I’ve got the hang of this whole TBR reduction thing. I read and read and read, and still it goes up – by one, this week, to 230 (unless my postman has been by the time you’re reading this, in which case, up 2 to 231…)

Here’s the next batch that will rise to the top soon…

Factual

Courtesy of Hamish Hamilton via NetGalley. I haven’t read any of Robert Macfarlane’s previous books but I’ve heard good things about his writing. I thought it might be nice to retreat into deep-time for a bit, given that the shallow-present is rubbish and the parched-future looks worse! Oops! My chocolate levels must have dipped again… sorry! 😉

The Blurb says: The unmissable new book from the bestselling, prize-winning author of Landmarks, The Old Ways and The Lost Words. Discover the hidden worlds beneath our feet…

In Underland, Robert Macfarlane takes a dazzling journey into the concealed geographies of the ground beneath our feet – the hidden regions beneath the visible surfaces of the world. From the vast below-ground mycelial networks by which trees communicate, to the ice-blue depths of glacial moulins, and from North Yorkshire to the Lofoten Islands, he traces an uncharted, deep-time voyage. Underland a thrilling new chapter in Macfarlane’s long-term exploration of the relations of landscape and the human heart.

* * * * *

Fiction

Courtesy of Jonathan Cape via NetGalley. I’m thinking of doing a new history challenge (details later) and this sounds as if it would fit right in. Also, depending on how much it’s about Palestine, it might work for my Around the World  challenge too. Plus it sounds good!

The Blurb says: As the First World War shatters families, destroys friendships and kills lovers, a young Palestinian dreamer sets out to find himself.

Midhat Kamal picks his way across a fractured world, from the shifting politics of the Middle East to the dinner tables of Montpellier and a newly tumultuous Paris. He discovers that everything is fragile: love turns to loss, friends become enemies and everyone is looking for a place to belong.

Isabella Hammad delicately unpicks the tangled politics and personal tragedies of a turbulent era – the Palestinian struggle for independence, the strife of the early twentieth century and the looming shadow of the Second World War. An intensely human story amidst a global conflict, The Parisian is historical fiction with a remarkable contemporary voice.

* * * * *

Crime

I learned about this one via the blogosphere’s living encyclopaedia of crime, Margot Kinberg, and, aside from the fact that it sounds good, Shanghai is another of the missing spots on my Around the World challenge…

The Blurb says: Shanghai in 1990. An ancient city in a country that despite the massacre of Tiananmen Square is still in the tight grip of communist control. Chief Inspector Chen, a poet with a sound instinct for self-preservation, knows the city like few others. When the body of a prominent Communist Party member is found, Chen is told to keep the party authorities informed about every lead. Also, he must keep the young woman’s murder out of the papers at all costs. When his investigation leads him to the decadent offspring of high-ranking officials, he finds himself instantly removed from the case and reassigned to another area. Chen has a choice: bend to the party’s wishes and sacrifice his morals, or continue his investigation and risk dismissal from his job and from the party. Or worse . . .

* * * * *

Crime

Courtesy of Hodder & Stoughton via NetGalley. I have read two previous books from Erin Kelly – loved one, was ambivalent about the other one. So this will be the decider as to whether she remains on my must-read list. (Secretly, I shall admit the blurb doesn’t appeal in the slightest – sounds like yet another identikit domestic drama pot-boiler to me. So she has her work cut out…) 

The Blurb says: Marianne grew up in the shadow of the old asylum, a place that still haunts her dreams. She was seventeen when she fled the town, her family, her boyfriend Jesse and the body they buried.

Now, forced to return, she can feel the past closing around her. And Jesse, who never forgave her for leaving, is finally threatening to expose the truth.

Marianne will do anything to protect the life she’s built; the husband and daughter who must never know.
Even if it means turning to her worst enemy…

But Marianne may not know the whole story – and she isn’t the only one with secrets they’d kill to keep.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads.

* * * * *

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

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

The elephant’s pleasure was plain to see. The water and the scrubbing motion of the broom must have awoken in him some pleasant memory, a river in india, the rough trunk of a tree, and the proof was that for as long as the washing lasted, a good half hour, he did not move from the spot, standing firm on his powerful legs, as if he were hypnotised. Knowing as one does the preeminent virtues of bodily cleanliness, it was no surprise to find that in the place where one elephant had been there now stood another. The dirt that had covered him before, and through which one could barely see his skin, had vanished beneath the combined actions of water and broom, and solomon revealed himself now in all his splendour. A somewhat relative splendour, it must be said. The skin of an asian elephant like solomon is thick, a greyish coffee colour and sprinkled with freckles and hairs, a permanent disappointment to the elephant, despite the advice he was always giving himself about accepting his fate and being contented with what he had and giving thanks to vishnu. He surrendered himself to being washed as if he were expecting a miracle, a baptism, but the result was there for all to see, hairs and freckles.

* * * * *

Despite the brutality of the crimes, many whites did not mask their enthusiasm for the lurid story. OSAGE INDIAN KILLING CONSPIRACY THRILLS, declared the Reno Evening Gazette. Under the headline OLD WILD WEST STILL LIVES IN LAND OF OSAGE MURDERS, a wire service sent out a nationwide bulletin that the story, “however depressing, is nevertheless blown through with a breath of the romantic, devil-may-care frontier west that we thought was gone. And it is an amazing story, too. So amazing that at first you wonder if it can possibly have happened in modern, twentieth-century America.” A newsreel about the murders, titled “The Tragedy of the Osage Hills,” was shown at cinemas. “The true history of the most baffling series of murders in the annals of crime,” a handbill for the show said. “A Story of Love, Hatred and Man’s Greed for Gold. Based on the real facts as divulged by the startling confession of [Individual 1].”

* * * * *

….The pottingar delivered his opinion in a most insinuating manner; but he seemed to shrink into something less than his natural tenuity when he saw the blood rise in the old cheek of Simon Glover, and inflame to the temples the complexion of the redoubted smith.
….The last, stepping forward, and turning a stern look on the alarmed pottingar, broke out as follows: “Thou walking skeleton! thou asthmatic gallipot! thou poisoner by profession! if I thought that the puff of vile breath thou hast left could blight for the tenth part of a minute the fair fame of Catharine Glover, I would pound thee, quacksalver! in thine own mortar, and beat up thy wretched carrion with flower of brimstone, the only real medicine in thy booth, to make a salve to rub mangy hounds with!”

* * * * *

But one distinguishing characteristic of this great author’s mind and feelings deserves, even in the shortest allusion to his memory, to be mentioned as giving colour to all his works – we mean his love of country – his devoted attachment to the land of his birth, and the scenes of his youth – his warm sympathy in every thing that interested his nation, and the unceasing application of his industry and imagination to illustrate its history or to celebrate its exploits. From the Lay of the Last Minstrel, or the border ballads, to the last lines which he wrote, he showed a complete and entire devotion to his country. His works, both of poetry and prose, are impregnated with this feeling, and are marked by the celebration of successive portions of its wild scenery, or of separate pieces of its romantic annals. Hence his friends could often trace his residence, or the course of his reading, for periods anterior to the publication of his most popular works, in the pages of his glowing narrative or graphic description. Hence the Lady of the Lake sent crowds of visitors to the mountains of Scotland, who would never have thought of such a pilgrimage unless led by the desire to compare the scenery with the poem.

from the obituary of Sir Walter Scott

* * * * *

….Like so many mornings after a torrential rainstorm, the day broke awash with brilliant sunshine and fresh air. Though the sun had warmed the tin room to the point where I’d grown hot in my sleeping bag, the wretched position in which I’d finally fallen asleep had morphed into borderline uncomfortable.
….I gazed at the cot above me expecting to see the impression of Pia still sleeping there, but it was flat. To my left, Rachel’s bed was empty too, her bedroll neatly tied. I was relieved to see Sandra still bundled in her red sleeping bag, head tucked down. Like Pia, she was a natural-born sleeper.
….Led by aromas of French toast and coffee, I climbed up the hill across grass flattened by the night’s downpour. In the distance, our destination: smoke-blue mountains obscured and then revealed by morning fog. I felt equally pulled and repelled. What did the mountains care about our plan to climb them, rafting the waters that divided them? They had eternity before us, and eternity after us. We were nothing to them.

* * * * *

So… are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 191…

A sixth batch of murder, mystery and mayhem…

I’m still crawling through this challenge because of all the other vintage crime books that have come my way recently, but I’m still enjoying it!

I haven’t finished reading and reviewing all of the books from the fifth batch of MMM books, but since the British Library have sent me a review copy of another one which they’ve just reissued, I’ll have to make some changes to the priority list. So here goes for the sixth batch…

The Middle Temple Murder by J.S. Fletcher

I downloaded this one from wikisource , another great resource for finding some of these vintage crime novels. I wonder if it’s only in Britain that the word “temple” makes us think of the legal profession rather than religion?

The Blurb says: On his way home after a long night’s work, newspaper editor Frank Spargo stumbles across a crime scene on Middle Temple Lane in the heart of London’s legal district. An elderly man lies dead in an entryway, his nose bloodied. He wears an expensive suit and a fashionable gray cap, but the police find nothing of value in his pockets, and no identifying documents of any kind.

Unable to sleep, Spargo pays a visit to the mortuary in the early hours of the morning and learns that a crumpled piece of paper has been recovered from a hole in the dead man’s waistcoat. Strangely, the name and address it bears are familiar to Spargo. Succumbing to his reporter’s instincts, he vows to get the story and help Scotland Yard uncover the identities of both victim and killer.

Challenge details

Book No: 14

Subject Heading: The Birth of the Golden Age

Publication Year: 1919

Martin Edwards says: “When President Woodrow Wilson read the story while recovering from illness and heaped praise upon it, Fletcher’s American publishers made the most of the encomium. Sales of his fiction surged, and he was for a time regarded in the US as the finest crime writer to have emerged since Arthur Conan Doyle.

* * * * *

The Red Redmaynes by Eden Phillpotts

This one I found on Project Gutenberg. I can’t find a decent blurb for it anywhere, so I’ve quoted a bit of Martin Edwards’ description of it…

The Blurb says: Mark Brendon, a highly regarded young Detective Inspector from Scotland Yard, deserts London for a trout-fishing holiday on Dartmoor. Heading from Princetown towards the deep pools of Foggintor Quarry, he has a brief encounter with a beautiful young woman; later, while fishing, he passes the time of day with a red-haired man. When murder interrupts Mark’s holiday. both strangers play a central part in the investigation.

The young woman is Jenny Pendean, and it seems that her husband has been killed by her uncle – who proves to be the red-haired man, Captain Robert Redmayne. Jenny tells Brendon the story of the troubled Redmayne family, the ‘peculiar will’ left by her wealthy grandfather, and the tensions caused by her marriage to Michael Pendean, who had avoided fighting during the war. Robert Redmayne has gone missing, and Pendean’s body cannot be found.

Challenge details

Book No: 44

Subject Heading: Resorting to Murder

Publication Year: 1922

Edwards says: “…Jorge Luis Borges ranked Phillpotts with Poe, Chesterton and [William Wilkie] Collins, and included The Red Redmaynes in his never-completed list of one hundred great works of literature.”

* * * * *

Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert

Courtesy of The British Library, who have just reissued this and another two of Michael Gilbert’s books. So I hope I like him! Certainly sounds like fun…

The Blurb says: Horniman, Birley and Craine is a highly respected legal firm with clients drawn from the highest in the land. When a deed box in the office is opened to reveal a corpse, the threat of scandal promises to wreak havoc on the firm’s reputation – especially as the murder looks like an inside job. The partners and staff of the firm keep a watchful and suspicious eye on their colleagues, as Inspector Hazlerigg sets out to solve the mystery of who Mr Smallbone was – and why he had to die.

Written with style, pace and wit, this is a masterpiece by one of the finest writers of traditional British crime novels since the Second World War.

Challenge details

Book No: 67

Subject Heading: The Justice Game

Publication Year: 1950

Edwards says: “…writing Gilbert’s obituary, [HRF] Keating acknowledged his friend’s modesty, and praised him for ‘invariably illuminating sharply aspects of British life and, on occasion, digging deep into the human psyche so as to point to an unwavering moral.’

* * * * *

The Blotting Book by E.F. Benson

This one is available as a free public domain download via Amazon, though I often find the quality of them pretty poor, so may search out a different version if necessary. The blurb seems a bit spoilery, but I’m hoping it turns out it isn’t…

The Blurb says: Morris Assheton is in love and means to be married. But his happiness is spoilt when he discovers that someone has been whispering poisonous rumours about him to the girl’s father. The culprit is Mills, dastardly partner to the Assheton family’s trusted lawyer. Morris vows revenge.

When Mills’ body is discovered, brutally beaten, the ugly quarrel comes to light and suspicion naturally falls on Morris. His innocence is debated in a tense courtroom, as an eager public and press look on.

Murder mystery… Courtroom drama. This is a classic whodunnit from the author of Mapp and Lucia. Crime fiction at its best.

Challenge details

Book No: 6

Subject Heading: A New Era Dawns

Publication Year: 1908

Edwards says: “The plot is much less elaborate than those of the Golden Age of murder between the world wars, but the agreeable writing and delineation of character supply ample compensation.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

NB Please note that my giving links to free sources does not imply that I have confirmed the copyright status of any of the books, especially since this varies from country to country. If you download from any of these sites, you do so at your own risk and discretion.

* * * * *

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

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….“It’s a bit of a climb from this side,” said Parker.
….“It is. He stood here in the ditch, and put one foot into this place where the paling’s broken away and one hand on the top, and hauled himself up. No. 10 must have been a man of exceptional height, strength and agility. I couldn’t get my foot up, let alone reaching the top with my hand, I’m five foot nine. Could you?”
….Parker was six foot, and could just touch the top of the wall with his hand.
….“I might do it – on one of my best days,” he said, “for an adequate object, or after adequate stimulant.”
….“Just so,” said Lord Peter. “Hence we deduce No. 10’s exceptional height and strength.”
….“Yes,” said Parker. “It’s a bit unfortunate that we had to deduce his exceptional shortness and weakness just now, isn’t it?”
….“Oh!” said Peter. “Well – well, as you so rightly say, that is a bit unfortunate.”

* * * * *

In truth I sometimes lost track of where Buddy’s thoughts ended and mine began. For years I couldn’t tell if I liked a movie or a book or a New Yorker short story without consulting him first. Then later I disagreed for the sake of disagreeing, failing to see how much I was still in his sway. In later years on the show I learned to write lines for his monologues in his voice and to come up with the sort of questions he’d be likely to ask in his interviews. He told me once that I’d become the other half of him, which he meant as a compliment but made me feel weird, like his soul had subsumed mine. One reason I left New York for the Peace Corps was a desire to silence his voice within my thoughts

* * * * *

“Let them go,” he said – “let them go, Catharine, those gallants, with their capering horses, their jingling spurs, their plumed bonnets, and their trim mustachios: they are not of our class, nor will we aim at pairing with them. Tomorrow is St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird chooses her mate; but you will not see the linnet pair with the sparrow hawk, nor the Robin Redbreast with the kite. My father was an honest burgher of Perth, and could use his needle as well as I can. Did there come war to the gates of our fair burgh, down went needles, thread, and shamoy leather, and out came the good head piece and target from the dark nook, and the long lance from above the chimney. Show me a day that either he or I was absent when the provost made his musters! Thus we have led our lives, my girl, working to win our bread, and fighting to defend it. I will have no son in law that thinks himself better than me; and for these lords and knights, I trust thou wilt always remember thou art too low to be their lawful love, and too high to be their unlawful loon. And now lay by thy work, lass, for it is holytide eve, and it becomes us to go to the evening service, and pray that Heaven may send thee a good Valentine tomorrow.”

* * * * *

….The Osage had been assured by the U.S. government that their Kansas territory would remain their home forever, but before long they were under siege from settlers. Among them was the family of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who later wrote Little House on the Prairie based on her experiences. “Why don’t you like Indians, Ma?” Laura asks her mother in one scene.
….“I just don’t like them; and don’t lick your fingers, Laura.”
….“This is Indian country, isn’t it?” Laura said. “What did we come to their country for, if you don’t like them?”
….One evening, Laura’s father explains to her that the government will soon make the Osage move away: “That’s why we’re here, Laura. White people are going to settle all this country, and we get the best land because we get here first and take our pick.”

* * * * *

….Bannerman remembered a cartoon he had seen once in an old Punch magazine. Two crocodiles basking in a jungle swamp, heads facing each other above the muddy waters. One of them saying, ‘You know, I keep thinking today is Thursday.’ Bannerman smiled. It had amused him then, as it amused him now. What bloody difference did it make . . . today, tomorrow, yesterday, Thursday? It was ironic that later he would look back on this day as the day it all began. The day after which nothing would ever be quite the same again.
….But at the moment, so far as Bannerman knew, it was just a day like any other. He gazed reflectively from the window a while longer, out across Princes Street, the gardens beyond, and the Castle brooding darkly atop the rain-blackened cliffs. Even when it rained Edinburgh was a beautiful city. Against all odds it had retained its essential character in the face of centuries of change. There was something almost medieval about it; in the crooked hidden alleyways, the cobbled closes, the tall leaning tenements. And, of course, the formidable shape of the Castle itself, stark and powerful against the skyline.

* * * * *

So…are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 190…

Episode 190

The postman arrived and my reading slump kicked in again, so it’s pretty surprising that the TBR has only gone up by 1 to 229. I don’t understand it – I’m wondering if Abbott & Costello have been secretly messing with my spreadsheet…

Here’s the next thirteen…

Factual

Courtesy of Collins Reference via NetGalley. Do you ever click that NetGalley button and then immediately regret it? For ten seconds, I thought this one sounded interesting, but as soon as I’d downloaded it I realised the idea of reading a bunch of obituaries appealed about as much as eating six plates of lumpy custard. So, on the bright side, it can only exceed my expectations…

The Blurb says: The Scots have contributed richly to the world, most notably in literature and science, but also in the arts, law, politics, religion, scholarship and sport. In this volume, The Times brings together a unique and fascinating collection of obituaries. The list includes people who have made the greatest impact in their fields, others who have led particularly interesting or influential lives, and a selection of notable Scottish figures in the history of The Times.

This book features the major Scottish figures of influence from the last 200 years and includes a diverse range of people, including: Sir Walter Scott, Sir David Livingstone, Thomas Carlyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, Keir Hardie, Alexander Graham Bell, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Phoebe Traquair, James Ramsay MacDonald, John Logie Baird, Mary Somerville, Jim Clark, John Smith, Donald Dewar, Eugenie Fraser, Robin Cook, Jock Stein, R. D. Laing, Margo MacDonald, William McIlvanney, Tam Dalyell and Ronnie Corbett.

* * * * *

Crime

Courtesy of Farrago via NetGalley. I’ve been hugely enjoying revisiting Colin Watson’s Flaxborough Chronicles as they’ve been reissued for Kindle. The blurb of this one doesn’t ring a bell, so either I missed it when I was reading them back in my youth, or it will all come flooding back when I start reading…

The Blurb says: A peculiar pornographic movie has been wowing viewers in the Gulf. One of the more scurrilous English Sunday papers gets a tip-off that this exotic blue production stars respected residents of the coastal town of Flaxborough, and a team led by the well-known investigative journalist Clive Grail arrives in a Rolls Royce.

Word of the looming scandal soon gets out and the town’s quixotic mayor, Alderman Charlie Hockley, spurred on by the loan of some antique duelling pistols, issues a challenge to Grail! DI Purbright’s stern warning falls on deaf ears, but before the duel can take place a far more sinister fatality occurs…

Witty and a little wicked, Colin Watson’s tales offer a mordantly entertaining cast of characters and laugh-out-loud wordplay.

* * * * *

Fiction

Courtesy of Penguin Viking via NetGalley. I know nothing about this one, other than that the blurb is as appealing as the cover…

The Blurb says: 1826, and all of London is in a frenzy. Crowds gather at the gates of the Old Bailey to watch as Frannie Langton, maid to Mr and Mrs Benham, goes on trial for their murder. The testimonies against her are damning – slave, whore, seductress. And they may be the truth. But they are not the whole truth.

For the first time Frannie must tell her story. It begins with a girl learning to read on a plantation in Jamaica, and it ends in a grand house in London, where a beautiful woman waits to be freed.

But through her fevered confessions, one burning question haunts Frannie Langton: could she have murdered the only person she ever loved?

* * * * *

Christie on Audio

My cats Tommy and Tuppence get very annoyed whenever I read a Poirot or Miss Marple book. In their opinion, Ms Christie’s other detective duo are by far the best. So we shall all be listening to Hugh Fraser narrating this – the first of the Tommy and Tuppence books… 

The Blurb says: Tommy and Tuppence, two young people short of money and restless for excitement, embark on a daring business scheme – Young Adventurers Ltd.

Their advertisement says they are ‘willing to do anything, go anywhere’. But their first assignment, for the sinister Mr Whittington, plunges them into more danger than they ever imagined…

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads.

* * * * *

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

TBR Thursday 189…

Episode 189

Happily a couple of excellent reads seem to have broken my slump and got me back into the reading groove. Tragically the same seems to apply to my book acquisition groove! The TBR is up just 2 to 228, but I have a horrible feeling the postman might be about to knock at the door at any moment…

Here are a few more that should reach the launch pad soon…

True Crime

This one appealed to me when it came out a couple of years ago and I’m only now managing to fit it in. Since then I’ve seen a few reviews of it – all positive, so my hopes are high…

The Blurb says: In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions and sent their children to study in Europe.

Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. Her relatives were shot and poisoned. And this was just the beginning, as more and more members of the tribe began to die under mysterious circumstances, and many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered.

As the death toll climbed, the FBI took up the case. It was one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations and the bureau badly bungled it. In desperation, its young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to unravel the mystery. Together with the Osage he and his undercover team began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.

* * * * *

Fiction

One of the more difficult to fill categories on the Main Journey of my Around the World challenge is “elephant travel”. The elephant in this book is admittedly travelling on the wrong continent, but I still think I deserve points for initiative! It sounds deliciously quirky and better be good, because I really doubt I’ll be able to find another one…

The Blurb says: A delightful, witty tale of friendship and adventure from prize-winning novelist José Saramago.

In 1551, King João III of Portugal gave Archduke Maximilian an unusual wedding present: an elephant named Solomon. In José Saramago’s remarkable and imaginative retelling, Solomon and his keeper, Subhro, begin in dismal conditions, forgotten in a corner of the palace grounds. When it occurs to the king and queen that an elephant would be an appropriate wedding gift, everyone rushes to get them ready: Subhro is given two new suits of clothes and Solomon a long overdue scrub. Accompanied by the Archduke, his new wife, and the royal guard, these unlikely heroes traverse a continent riven by the Reformation and civil wars, witnessed along the way by scholars, historians, and wide-eyed ordinary people as they make their way through the storied cities of northern Italy; they brave the Alps and the terrifying Isarco and Brenner Passes; across the Mediterranean Sea and up the Inn River; and at last, toward their grand entry into the imperial city.

* * * * *

Scottish Classics

One from the Scottish section on my Classics Club list – The Fair Maid of Perth. This will be a re-read but from so long ago that I remember almost nothing about it except a general feeling of having loved it. All the blurbs on Goodreads and Amazon are dreadful for some reason, with many of them kindly telling how the story ends, so beware! (I reckon that should be a hanging offence.) This is the best I could find, but it fails to mention the central romance…

The Blurb says: The Fair Maid of Perth centres on the merchant classes of Perth in the fourteenth century, and their commitment to the pacific values of trade, in a bloody and brutal era in which no right to life is recognised, and in which the Scottish nobles fight for control of the weak Scottish monarchy, and clans are prepared to extinguish each other to gain supremacy in the central Highlands. It is a remarkable novel, in part because late in his career Scott has a new subject, and in part because he employs a spare narrative style that is without parallel in the rest of his oeuvre. Far too many critics, from his son-in-law J.G. Lockhart to the present day, have written off late Scott, and seen his last works as evidence of failing powers. The readers of this edition (which is not my edition) of The Fair Maid of Perth will see that these critics are mistaken, for in it we witness a luminous creative intelligence working at high pressure to produce a tightly organised and deeply moving novel.

* * * * *

Thriller

I’m ashamed to admit I won this in a giveaway in February 2017 and this is me just getting around to reading it – this being one of the reasons I don’t often enter giveaways! It sounded good then and it still sounds good now…

The Blurb says: A heart-stopping, page-turning thriller that sees a trip of a lifetime – white-water rafting in the remote US wilderness – turn into a battle for survival for four best friends.

Win Allen doesn’t want an adventure. After a miserable divorce and the death of her beloved brother, she just wants to spend some time with her three best friends away from her soul-crushing job. But athletic, energetic Pia has other plans. Plans for an adrenaline-raising, breath-taking, white-water rafting trip in the Maine wilderness. Five thousand square miles of remote countryside. Just mountains, rivers and fresh air. No phone coverage. No people. No help.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads.

* * * * *

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

TBR Thursday 188…

Episode 188

I’m in a bit of a reading slump at the moment, but fortunately I appear to be in a book-acquiring slump too, so the TBR has increased by just one to 226.

Maybe these will help pull me out of the doldrums…

Quotes

A gift from my brother. A little bit of Dickens sounds like a wonderful way to brighten every day of the year, doesn’t it? 

The Blurb says: A charming memento of the Victorian era’s literary colossus, The Daily Charles Dickens is a literary almanac for the ages. Tenderly and irreverently anthologized by Dickens scholar James R. Kincaid, this collection mines the British author’s beloved novels and Christmas stories as well as his lesser-known sketches and letters for “an around-the-calendar set of jolts, soothings, blandishments, and soarings.”

A bedside companion to dip into year round, this book introduces each month with a longer seasonal quote, while concise bits of wisdom and whimsy mark each day. Hopping gleefully from Esther Summerson’s abandonment by her mother in Bleak House to a meditation on the difficult posture of letter-writing in The Pickwick Papers, this anthology displays the wide range of Dickens’s stylistic virtuosity—his humour and his deep tragic sense, his ear for repetition, and his genius at all sorts of voices.

* * * * *

Fiction

Courtesy of Scribner. I thoroughly enjoyed Tom Barbash’s writing in his short story collection, Stay Up With Me, although, as with a lot of modern short stories, I found some of them rather too fragmentary for my taste. I’ve been waiting patiently for a long time for his next production and am delighted that he’s chosen the novel form this time. Sounds good…

The Blurb says: An evocative and wildly absorbing novel about the Winters, a family living in New York City’s famed Dakota apartment building in the year leading up to John Lennon’s assassination.

It’s the fall of 1979 in New York City when twenty-three-year-old Anton Winter, back from the Peace Corps and on the mend from a nasty bout of malaria, returns to his childhood home in the Dakota. Anton’s father, the famous late-night host Buddy Winter, is there to greet him, himself recovering from a breakdown. Before long, Anton is swept up in an effort to reignite Buddy’s stalled career, a mission that takes him from the gritty streets of New York, to the slopes of the Lake Placid Olympics, to the Hollywood Hills, to the blue waters of the Bermuda Triangle, and brings him into close quarters with the likes of Johnny Carson, Ted and Joan Kennedy, and a seagoing John Lennon.

But the more Anton finds himself enmeshed in his father’s professional and spiritual reinvention, the more he questions his own path, and fissures in the Winter family begin to threaten their close bond. By turns hilarious and poignant, The Dakota Winters is a family saga, a page-turning social novel, and a tale of a critical moment in the history of New York City and the country at large.

* * * * *

Classic Thriller

Courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics. One for my Classics Club list. I don’t know anything about this other than the blurb and the fact that it’s considered a classic of espionage fiction. It sounds good, though, and I’ll know a lot more once I read the OWC introduction… and the book, of course!

The Blurb says: One of the first great spy novels, The Riddle of the Sands is set during the long suspicious years leading up to the First World War. Bored with his life in London, a young man accepts an invitation to join a friend on a sailing holiday in the North Sea. A vivid exploration of the mysteries of seamanship, the story builds in excitement as these two young adventurers discover a German plot to invade England.

* * * * *

Thriller

Courtesy of Quercus via NetGalley. I didn’t realise when I requested this one that it’s not actually a new novel from May – it’s a re-publication from way back in his first incarnation as a novelist, long before he rose to the bestseller lists. I’ve always wanted to see how he started out, but the early books have been out of print since before I became a fan – he had a pause in novel writing when he spent several years writing and producing dramas for Scottish television. So I’m intrigued, but have lowered my expectations a little to allow for the fact that he was still learning his craft…

The Blurb says: There are two men on their way to Brussels from the UK: Neil Bannerman, an iconoclastic journalist for Scotland’s Daily Standard whose irate editor wants him out of the way, and Kale–a professional assassin.

Expecting to find only a difficult, dreary political investigation in Belgium, Bannerman has barely settled in when tragedy strikes. His host, a fellow journalist, along with a British Cabinet minister, are discovered dead in the minister’s elegant Brussels townhouse. It appears that they have shot each other. But the dead journalist’s young autistic daughter, Tania, was hidden in a closet during the killings, and when she draws a chilling picture of a third party–a man with no face–Bannerman suddenly finds himself a reluctant participant in a desperate murder investigation.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads.

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

A Bookish Memorial…

Sailing into the West…

My current absence is because we have had a family bereavement. My sister Sheila, who commented here under the pseudonym BigSister, died last week after an illness which felt long while it was happening, but was actually only a few months. I don’t normally blog about personal matters, as you know, but some of you who have been around for a long time have interacted with BigSister over the years, and she was a keen, if silent, supporter of those of you who have published novels, buying, reading, and talking to me about them. She also enjoyed visiting many of your blogs, though never commenting, I think, and again this has been part of our regular lengthy bookish phone conversations over the past few years.

This doesn’t feel like the right place for any kind of memorial to her full and active life, so I thought instead I’d pay tribute to the influence she had on my early reading (and the influence she still tried to have on my later reading too, with rather less success)!

From Hitchcock’s adaptation of John Buchan’s The 39 Steps

BigSister was eight years older than me, which seemed like a huge difference when we were young. She always seemed grown-up to me, she being the eldest of four and I the baby of the family. From the time I was about five or six until I was old enough to go alone, she would take me with her to the library each week – she was a voracious reader all her life, often reading more than a book a day. And with a phenomenal memory for the written word! Whereas I can barely remember a book I read last week, she had almost total recall of plots and characters of books she read forty years ago. Back in those days, you were only allowed to take two books out of the library at a time, so BigSister had managed to gain possession of library cards for all the less enthusiastic readers in the family so she could get a big enough stash to feed her addiction. And like many addicts, she was a pusher too, giving me free access from an early age to her already groaning bookshelves…

BigSister read just about any genre and had a totally open approach to supervising my reading – if it appealed to me, then her attitude was always, well, try it and see how you get on. On reflection, I think this might be why I missed a lot of the children’s books of my day – I feel I was reading relatively adult books quite young. There was no such thing as YA back then, but lots of writers were writing books that worked easily for both child and adult. She’d stop me from choosing anything too unsuitable or way beyond my ability to understand, though. If she didn’t know a book I liked the look of, she’d read the first few pages and the last few and that would be enough for her to decide whether it was okay for me.

Illustration from Kipling’s The Jungle Book

It was easier back in those halcyon days, because even crime fiction veered well away from the gruesome and harrowing and no published writer would have dreamt of peppering their work with graphic sex and swear words (except DH Lawrence, naturally, but fortunately I didn’t encounter him till my teens). So I met Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Ed McBain, Mickey Spillane, Carter Dickson, John D MacDonald, and a myriad of other crime writers now sadly forgotten (by me), and was guided towards the adventure stories of Rider Haggard, Gavin Lyall, Conan Doyle, John Buchan, Alistair MacLean, et al. I didn’t like them all – I never got on with Kipling, whom she loved, for instance – but it all helped me form my own tastes in time. The classics weren’t omitted – Jane Eyre, Little Women, Oliver Twist, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Treasure Island, etc., were mixed in with general fiction like the Mapp and Lucia books, and total pulp, like Dick Tracy. Did anyone ever read the Modesty Blaise books? They shocked me to my socks when I was a little’un and I suspect they might shock me just as much now, but for different reasons.

She never had as much success with science fiction. While I liked the more speculative end of it – Wells, Wyndham, Asimov, Pohl – I was never able to follow her into the realms of fantasy, where she spent many, many happy hours. She never gave up though – like any pusher, she kept offering me little doses of the soft stuff in the hopes I’d get addicted to the hard stuff in time. In the last few years she has tried every Hallowe’en to get to me read A Night in the Lonesome October – I could never bring myself to admit to her that I’d tried, hated it, and thrown it on the abandoned pile!

In more recent years, she became a dedicated fan of Terry Pratchett’s books, and I was always a little sad that I couldn’t share her love for them. In the last few months, as concentration became harder for her, it was Pratchett she turned to, reading them all again even though she could probably have quoted them from memory. On my last visit to her, her main concern was for me to get her Kindle to work with the hospital wifi so she could access more of the Pratchetts in her library.

I can’t finish without mentioning her lifelong love for Lord of the Rings, a pleasure I happily shared. Which was just as well, really. We shared a room for a couple of years when I was a teenybopper and she was a student. The walls on my side had posters of Marc Bolan and Alice Cooper – BigSister had posters of Gandalf and Aragorn and a map of Middle-earth. Yes, indeed, she was an addict! She even liked Tom Bombadil! She regularly stated that her ambition was to be knocked on the head and get amnesia so she could have the pleasure of reading LOTR again as if for the first time.

The last but one comment that she left on the blog before she became too ill was on my New Year confession of the state of my TBR. She said “I’m so glad I don’t have a TBR! I do however have a lot of books I want to read.” And that seems to me to sum up neatly the voracious, eclectic, mood-reading philosophy of her bookish life.

“Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

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Apologies to all of you whose recent comments and links have been left unanswered. I shall be back in action around the blogosphere soon.

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

 

….Then she closed her mouth, looked again at the cat-eyed boy, and lacing her fingers, spoke her next words very slowly to him.
….“Listen. Go around to the back of the hospital to the guard’s office. It will say ‘Emergency Admissions’ on the door. A-D-M-I-S-I-O-N-S. But the guard will be there. Tell him to get over here on the double. Move now. Move!” She unlaced her fingers and made scooping motions with her hands, the palms pushing against the wintry air.
….A man in a brown suit came toward her, puffing little white clouds of breath. “Fire truck’s on its way. Get back inside. You’ll freeze to death.”
….The nurse nodded.
….“You left out a s, ma’am,” the boy said. The North was new to him and he had just begun to learn he could speak up to white people. But she’d already gone, rubbing her arms against the cold.
….“Granny, she left out a s.”
….“And a ‘please.’”

* * * * * * * * *

….Like two charging bulls they came together, and like two wolves sought each other’s throat. Against the long canines of the ape was pitted the thin blade of the man’s knife.
….Jane Porter – her lithe, young form flattened against the trunk of a great tree, her hands tight pressed against her rising and falling bosom, and her eyes wide with mingled horror, fascination, fear, and admiration – watched the primordial ape battle with the primeval man for possession of a woman – for her.
….As the great muscles of the man’s back and shoulders knotted beneath the tension of his efforts, and the huge biceps and forearm held at bay those mighty tusks, the veil of centuries of civilization and culture was swept from the blurred vision of the Baltimore girl.
….When the long knife drank deep a dozen times of Terkoz’ heart’s blood, and the great carcass rolled lifeless upon the ground, it was a primeval woman who sprang forward with outstretched arms toward the primeval man who had fought for her and won her.
….And Tarzan?
….He did what no red-blooded man needs lessons in doing. He took his woman in his arms and smothered her upturned, panting lips with kisses.
….For a moment Jane Porter lay there with half-closed eyes. For a moment – the first in her young life – she knew the meaning of love.

* * * * * * * * *

….When I first travelled to Europe [from Australia] as a student in 1983 I was thrilled, certain that I was going to the centre of the world. But as we neared Heathrow, the pilot of the British Airways jet made an announcement I have never forgotten: ‘We are now approaching a rather small, foggy island in the North Sea.’ In all my life I had never thought of Britain like that. When we landed I was astonished at the gentle quality of the air. Even the scent on the breeze seemed soothing, lacking that distinctive eucalyptus tang I was barely conscious of until it wasn’t there. And the sun. Where was the sun? In strength and penetration, it more resembled an austral moon than the great fiery orb that scorched my homeland.

* * * * * * * * *

….The flames leap merrily as I write. They must consume all when I am done. They may take me too, in the end, but they will keep me warm first. Perhaps I will be found like poor Brother Severus, whose body vanished into ash and left only his feet and one hand still in the chair! What devil took him so, that charred him even before he went to hell?
….Am I afraid of the other place? What fool is not? Yet I have raised great churches to set against my sins. It is my fervent hope that there is no eternal torment waiting for me now. How they would smile then, the dead, to see old Dunstan cast down! Made young again, perhaps, to be torn and broken for their pleasure. I could bear it better if I were young, I know. How those saints would laugh and shake their fat heads. I wonder, sometimes, if I can feel them clustered around me, all those who have gone before. Like bees pressing on a pane of glass, I feel their souls watching. Or perhaps it is just the wind and the scratching of woodworm in cantilevered joists.
….Settle, Dunstan. Tell the story.

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So…are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 187…

Episode 187

I’m getting a bit worried that my postman may have been abducted by aliens – there has been a distinct dearth of parcel deliveries so far this year. The result is a massive drop in the TBR – down 2 to 225! It’s worrying…

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

Factual

This is one I’ve wanted to read for a long time. I remember the Patty Hearst story from when it happened, when I was in my early teens. I was fascinated by it without ever fully understanding what it was all about – in fact, it may well have been that vagueness that made it so intriguing…

The Blurb says: Domestic terrorism. Financial uncertainty. Troops abroad, fighting an unsuccessful and bloody war against guerrilla insurgents. A violent generation gap emerging between a discontented youth and their disapproving, angry elders.

This was the early seventies in America, and it was against this backdrop that the kidnapping of nineteen-year-old Patty Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Front – a rag-tag, cult-like group of political extremists and criminals – stole headlines across the world. Using new research and drawing on the formidable abilities that made The Run of His Life a global bestseller, Jeffrey Toobin uncovers the story of the kidnapping and its aftermath in vivid prose and forensic detail.

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Fiction

Courtesy of Serpent’s Tail via NetGalley. It feels like too long since I randomly picked a book based purely on the blurb, with no prior knowledge of either it or the author. I suspect I shall either love this or hate it – I’m hoping it’s the former!

The Blurb says: As dusk approaches, a former surgeon goes about closing up his dilapidated clinic in rural India. His day, like all his days, has been long and hard. His medical supplies arrive late if at all, the electrics in the clinic threaten to burn out at any minute, and his overseer, a corrupt government official, blackmails and extorts him. It is thankless work, but the surgeon has long given up any hope of reward in this life.

That night, as the surgeon completes his paperwork, he is visited by a family – a teacher, his heavily pregnant wife and their young son. Victims of a senseless attack, they reveal to the surgeon wounds that they could not possibly have survived.

And so the surgeon finds himself faced with a preposterous task: to mend the wounds of the dead family before sunrise so that they may return to life. But this is not the only challenge laid before the surgeon, and as the night unfolds he realises his future is tied more closely to that of the dead family than he could have imagined.

At once dustily realist and magically unreal, Night Theatre is a powerful fable about the miracles we ask of doctors, and the fine line they negotiate between life and death.

* * * * *

Fiction on Audio

I’ve often been tempted by Conn Iggulden’s books and the subject matter of this one sounded particularly appealing. So since I had some Audible credits to use up, I gave into temptation. I’ve sneakily started listening to this already and am loving it so far – Geoffrey Beevers is doing a wonderful narration…

The Blurb says: “I have broken my vows. I have murdered innocents. I have trod down the soil over their dead face with my bare heels, and only the moon as witness. I have loved a woman and she ruined me. I have loved a king and yet I ruined him.”

The year is 937. England is a nation divided, ruled by minor kings and Viking lords. Each vies for land and power. The Wessex king Æthelstan, grandson of Alfred the Great, is readying himself to throw a spear into the north. Behind him stands Dunstan, the man who will control the destiny of the next seven kings of England and the fate of an entire nation. Welcome to the original game for the English throne.

* * * * *

Korean Crime

Courtesy of HarperCollins. I don’t get many unsolicited books from publishers except for vintage crime, but this popped through my letterbox a few weeks ago, and it looks like fun. The blurb makes it sound quite dark, but the quotes on the cover and early reviews suggest there’s lots of black humour in it. I’m intrigued…

The Blurb says: Reseng was raised by cantankerous Old Raccoon in the Library of Dogs. To anyone asking, it’s just an ordinary library. To anyone in the know, it’s a hub for Seoul’s organised crime, and a place where contract killings are plotted and planned. So it’s no surprise that Reseng has grown up to become one of the best hitmen in Seoul. He takes orders from the plotters, carries out his grim duties, and comforts himself afterwards with copious quantities of beer and his two cats, Desk and Lampshade.

But after he takes pity on a target and lets her die how she chooses, he finds his every move is being watched. Is he finally about to fall victim to his own game? And why does that new female librarian at the library act so strangely? Is he looking for his enemies in all the wrong places? Could he be at the centre of a plot bigger than anything he’s ever known?

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads.

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

TBR Thursday 186…

Episode 186

My 2019 reading has got off to a start so slow I feel I might have to learn to read backwards. Fortunately my book acquisition rate seems to have slowed too, so the end result is an increase of just 1 to 227.

Here are a few that I will get to… sometime!

Fiction

Courtesy of Quercus via NetGalley. Gorgeous cover, isn’t it? The setting of colonial Malaysia will fit beautifully in my Around the World challenge. Plus I think the blurb is wonderfully enticing…

The Blurb says: In 1930s colonial Malaya, a dissolute British doctor receives a surprise gift of an eleven-year-old Chinese houseboy. Sent as a bequest from an old friend, young Ren has a mission: to find his dead master’s severed finger and reunite it with his body. Ren has forty-nine days, or else his master’s soul will roam the earth forever.
Ji Lin, an apprentice dressmaker, moonlights as a dancehall girl to pay her mother’s debts. One night, Ji Lin’s dance partner leaves her with a gruesome souvenir that leads her on a crooked, dark trail.

As time runs out for Ren’s mission, a series of unexplained deaths occur amid rumours of tigers who turn into men. In their journey to keep a promise and discover the truth, Ren and Ji Lin’s paths will cross in ways they will never forget.

Captivating and lushly written, The Night Tiger explores the rich world of servants and masters, ancient superstition and modern ambition, sibling rivalry and unexpected love. Woven through with Chinese folklore and a tantalizing mystery, this novel is a page-turner of the highest order.

* * * * *

Sir Arthur & Mr Holmes

Anyone who visits my blog will be well aware of my never-ending love affair with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This re-read will also tie in with the Around the World challenge in a sneaky kind of way which I will explain when I review it… 

The Blurb says: When a beautiful young woman is sent a letter inviting her to a sinister assignation, she immediately seeks the advice of the consulting detective Sherlock Holmes.

For this is not the first mysterious item Mary Marston has received in the post. Every year for the last six years an anonymous benefactor has sent her a large lustrous pearl. Now it appears the sender of the pearls would like to meet her to right a wrong.

But when Sherlock Holmes and his faithful sidekick Watson, aiding Miss Marston, attend the assignation, they embark on a dark and mysterious adventure involving a one-legged ruffian, some hidden treasure, deadly poison darts and a thrilling race along the River Thames.

* * * * *

Short Stories

I’m ashamed to say I won this book in a giveaway from the lovely Anne at ivereadthis.com back at the beginning of 2017, and I’m only now getting around to reading it. And it’s another that will take me to foreign climes for my Around the World challenge, this time to look at the life of the ex-pat in Hong Kong…

The Blurb says: These stories follow a kind of life cycle of expatriates in Hong Kong, a place often called the most thrilling city on the planet. They share the feeling of being between two worlds, the experience of being neither here nor there and trying to find a way to fill that space. From the hedonistic first days in How To Pick Up A Maid in Statue Square, as Fast Eddy instructs on how best to approach Filipina maids on their rest day; through the muted middle in Rephrasing Kate, as Kate encounters a charismatic bad boy and is forced to admit her infidelities; to the inevitable end in The Dirty Duck, as Philip realizes his inability to commit and resolves to return home to Australia; Hong Kong alters them all with its frenetic mixture of capitalism and exoticism. Characters exist between the worlds they once knew and this place which now holds them in its spell and shapes them to its ends. Their stories explore how they cope with this space where loneliness and alienation intersect, a place where insomniac young bankers forfeit their ambition while chasing deviant sexual encounters, or consume themselves with climbing the corporate ladder. It is a world where passive domestics live and work for the money they can send home, while their keepers assemble poolside to engage in conversations aroused by the expats’ desire to connect to others who share their fates. Always, of course, there is The Globe, a favourite watering hole where, when night falls, they meet to tell their stories.

* * * * *

Vintage Crime

Courtesy of the Collins Crime Club. I suspect the victim was stampeded to death by book-bloggers who’d come to the end of their 2018 book-buying bans…

The Blurb says: Book 50 in the Detective Club Crime Classics series is Carolyn Wells’ Murder in the Bookshop, a classic locked room murder mystery which will have a special resonance for lovers and collectors of Golden Age detective fiction. Includes a bonus murder story: The Shakespeare Title-Page Mystery.

When Philip Balfour is found murdered in a New York bookstore, the number one suspect is his librarian, a man who has coveted Balfour’s widow. But when the police discover that a book worth $100,000 is missing, detective Fleming Stone realises that some people covet rare volumes even more highly than other men’s wives, and embarks on one of his most dangerous investigations.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads.

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

TBR Thursday 185…

Episode 185

The TBR has been up and down over the last couple of weeks – loads of books in, loads read, leaving the final count up just 1 at 226. It’s felt a bit like a game of snakes and ladders…

 

I wish I could do that! Anyway, here are a few more that should slither my way soon…

Natural Science

Courtesy of Atlantic Monthly Press via NetGalley. I read a previous book of Tim Flannery’s on climate change and was impressed by his obvious expertise and arguments more than his style, which seemed a bit didactic and overbearing. But I suspect that was because he was so outraged at the lack of world action, so I’m hoping he’ll be approaching this less contentious subject a bit more calmly. It’s already in the running for the prize for longest blurb of the year, and it’s only January…

The Blurb says: In Europe: A Natural History, world-renowned scientist, explorer, and conservationist Tim Flannery applies the eloquent interdisciplinary approach he used in his ecological histories of Australia and North America to the story of Europe. He begins 100 million years ago, when the continents of Asia, North America, and Africa interacted to create an island archipelago that would later become the Europe we know today. It was on these ancient tropical lands that the first distinctly European organisms evolved. Flannery teaches us about Europe’s midwife toad, which has endured since the continent’s beginning, while elephants, crocodiles, and giant sharks have come and gone. He explores the monumental changes wrought by the devastating comet strike and shows how rapid atmospheric shifts transformed the European archipelago into a single landmass during the Eocene.

As the story moves through millions of years of evolutionary history, Flannery eventually turns to our own species, describing the immense impact humans had on the continent’s flora and fauna–within 30,000 years of our arrival in Europe, the woolly rhino, the cave bear, and the giant elk, among others, would disappear completely. The story continues right up to the present, as Flannery describes Europe’s leading role in wildlife restoration, and then looks ahead to ponder the continent’s future: with advancements in gene editing technology, European scientists are working to recreate some of the continent’s lost creatures, such as the great ox of Europe’s primeval forests and even the woolly mammoth.

Written with Flannery’s characteristic combination of elegant prose and scientific expertise, Europe: A Natural History narrates the dramatic natural history and dynamic evolution of one of the most influential places on Earth.

* * * * *

Vintage Crime

Courtesy of the British Library. I’ve nearly caught up with my backlog of vintage crime review books now – just another couple to go (unless the postman has other ideas). I read another of Julian Symons’ books, The Colour of Murder, just before Christmas – review to follow – and enjoyed it, so am looking forward to this one. And it’s in the running for shortest blurb!

The Blurb says: When a stranger arrives at Belting, he is met with a very mixed reception by the occupants of the old house. Claiming his so-called “rightful inheritance,” the stranger makes plans to take up residence at once. Such a thing was bound to cause problems in the family—but why were so many of them turning up dead?

* * * * *

True Crime

Courtesy of Random House Vintage via NetGalley. I have had this since July 2017 but it kept sliding down the TBR as I got distracted by new shiny things. I was originally tempted towards it when fellow blogger Marina Sofia revealed that she had lived in the same neighbourhood as the killer, though fortunately at a later date. It’s in the running for least informative blurb of the year…

The Blurb says: On the Saturday morning of January 9, 1993, while Jean Claude Romand was killing his wife and children, I was with mine in a parent-teacher meeting…”

With these chilling first words, acclaimed master of psychological suspense Emmanuel Carrère begins his exploration of the double life of a respectable doctor, 18 years of lies, five murders and the extremes to which ordinary people can go.

* * * * *

Classics

This one fits into two of my challenges, the Classics Club and the Five Times Five. I’m always slightly ambivalent about Steinbeck – his prose can be sublime but I find he veers towards bathos in his attempt to manipulate his readers’ emotions. I’m hoping this one might avoid that pitfall. It’s in the running for most intriguing blurb…

The Blurb says: A Depression era portrait of people living in an area near a sardine fishery in Monterey, CA known as Cannery Row.

From the opening of the novel: “Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses. Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, ‘whores, pimps, gamblers and sons of bitches,’ by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, ‘Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,’ and he would have meant the same thing.”

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

New Year’s Resolutions aka…

…The Annual Failure Report…

It has become an annual tradition at this time each year that I look back at the bookish resolutions I made last year, confess just how badly I failed, and then, nothing daunted, set some more targets for me to fail at next year. So, let’s begin!

The 2018 Results

1) Cut back on taking freebies for review.

The Target: Accept no more than 48 for review, and read at least 48, so my backlog at the end of the year should be no more (and hopefully less) than it was at the end of 2017 – i.e., 32.

The Result: Oh! 48! Oh dear, I must have misread that! I seem to have accepted 98! Well, it’s only one number different, right? On the upside, I read (or abandoned) 100, meaning that the outstanding total at the end of the year is now 30.

2) Reducing the TBR

The Targets:

a) Read at least 72 books that were on the TBR at the end of 2017.

b) Buy no more than 36 books during the year.

c) The TBR target for the end of the year to be 170. And the target for the overall figure, TBR plus wishlist, standing at a ridiculous 415 at the end of 2017, to be 360.

The Results:

a) I fear I only managed to read 49 books that were on my TBR at the end of 2017.

b) Even I thought this this one was hilarious! However, I was as strict as possible and managed to keep the number down to a mere 58. So less than double the target – impressive!

c) The TBR total (that is, books I own) stands at a horrific 225! BUT… the overall figure, including wishlist, is down to 364! The mathematicians among you will realise this is because I acquired lots of books that were on my wishlist. I’ve been brutal at controlling additions to my wishlist this year, and it’s paid off!

3) The Challenges

a) Reading the Russian Revolution – I had 5 books to go at the start of the year. I planned to finish this challenge around April/May.

The Result: I did indeed finish this challenge in the early summer and loved doing it. One day I might do a similar challenge. Maybe the Spanish Civil War. Or Europe between the wars…

b) Great American Novel Quest – I planned to restart this once the Russian challenge finished, with a low target of just 4 books in 2018.

The Result: I’ve not been enjoying the American books I put on my Classics Club list on the whole, so have allowed the GAN Quest to lapse. I might revive it from time to time if I read a book that I think meets the criteria – loads of my original list of contenders are still sitting on my TBR.

c) Classics Club – To stay on track with this, I planned to read 24 books in 2018 (and start tackling at least some of the longer ones).

The Result: I nearly made it, but not quite. I read 20 over the year, but I did tackle a few of the longer ones. Overall, that means I’ve caught up a little, but am still a few books behind schedule. However, I’m thoroughly enjoying getting back to some classics reading after years of concentrating on new releases.

d) Around the World in 80 Books – I was about halfway through this one at the end of 2017 and averaging 20 books a year, so that was the target for 2018 too.

The Result: Again, nearly but not quite – I read 16 this year. I’m loving this challenge, though, and have lots of great books lined up for it next year.

e) Murder, Mystery, Mayhem – Targeted 20 books for 2018, on the grounds that this would make this a five year challenge.

The Result: Not even close! I read just 12 of these, mainly because I started receiving lots of other vintage crime novels for review. But I’m enjoying this challenge too, so I don’t mind if it takes longer than I initially planned.

4) Other stuff

I didn’t set targets for anything else, but hoped to fit in some more re-reads and do a bit more catching up with authors and series I’ve enjoyed.

The Result: I re-read 15 books over the year, and 25 that count as “catch-ups”, so I’m quite happy with those figures.

Overall then, while I failed on almost every single count, I somehow feel as if I did pretty well! I’m sure the psychologists would have fun with that…

* * * * *

Resolutions for 2019

I’ve done something I’ve never tried before and I’m not at all sure how I’ll feel about it or if I’ll stick to it. Basically, I’ve planned my whole year’s reading in advance, leaving just 30 spaces for new releases, re-reads and random temptations. The idea is this will stop me adding gazillions of books I’ll never find time to read, and ensure I’m reading loads of the books I already own. It should also mean I’ll make progress on my challenges. So my resolutions this year are strictly a numbers game and there’s lots of crossover among the categories…

1) Reading Resolutions

I plan to read:

a) 88 books that I already own as at today. Since I read roughly 125 books a year, that gives me around 40 spaces to fill with books I either buy or receive for review this year.

b) 25 books for the Around the World challenge. This should complete it this year. I’ve selected all the remaining books now and have already acquired most of them.

c) 25 books from my Classics Club list. Ambitious, but doable, and would bring me up to schedule and even a tiny bit ahead. I already have all of these.

d) 10 books from my sadly neglected 5 x 5 challenge. Again, I already own most of these and anticipate loving them, so why do I keep putting them off for other books?

e) 12 books for the Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge, again all ones I already have. I’m going for a lowish figure this year since I’m hoping I’ll still be getting lots of other vintage crime for review.

f) 24 books first published in 2019 (minimum). The downside of my challenges is that I’m reading far less new crime and literary fiction and am beginning to seriously miss it, so I’m going to ensure I read at least two a month.

2) Reduce the TBR

I’m going for an overall reduction of 40 books this year. So…

Target for TBR: 185

Target for combined TBR/wishlist (which is a truer picture): 324.

If I stick to my reading resolutions, it should be easy…

Wish me luck!

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HAPPY NEW YEAR
TO ONE AND ALL!

LANG MAY YOUR LUM REEK!