TBR Thursday 225…

Episode 225

Oh, dear! Oh, dear, oh, dear, oh, dear!! The postman arrived, NetGalley trapped me AND I visited the local charity shops since I last reported. The result is a massive increase in the TBR – up SIX to 212. I’m so ashamed…

Here are a few that have nearly reached the top of the heap…

History

The Battle for Spain by Antony Beevor

First up for my brand new Spanish Civil War challenge. It seems to make sense to get an understanding of the history before embarking on the fictional accounts…

The Blurb says: To mark the 70th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War’s outbreak, Antony Beevor has written a completely updated and revised account of one of the most bitter and hard-fought wars of the twentieth century. With new material gleaned from the Russian archives and numerous other sources, this brisk and accessible book (Spain’s #1 bestseller for twelve weeks), provides a balanced and penetrating perspective, explaining the tensions that led to this terrible overture to World War II and affording new insights into the war – its causes, course, and consequences.

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Fiction

I Married a Communist by Philip Roth

A re-read of the second book in what is known as Roth’s American Trilogy. I tried to listen to this as an audiobook last year but didn’t get along with the narrator’s accent, so am reverting to the paper copy. I remember enjoying this but not being as blown away by it as I was by American Pastoral first time round, but it has undoubtedly lingered in my mind – always the sign of a great (or terrible!) book… 

The Blurb says: I Married a Communist charts the rise and fall of Ira Ringold, an American roughneck who begins life as a ditchdigger in 1930s New Jersey, becoming a big-time radio hotshot in the 1940s. In his heyday as a star – and as a zealous, bullying supporter of ‘progressive’ political causes – Ira marries Hollywood’s beloved leading lady, Eve Frame. Their glamorous honeymoon is short-lived, however, and it is the publication of Eve’s scandalous bestselling expose that identifies Ira as ‘an American taking his orders from Moscow’.

In this story of cruelty, betrayal, and savage revenge, anti-Communist fever pollutes national politics and infects the relationships of ordinary Americans; friends become deadly enemies, parents and children tragically estranged, lovers blacklisted and felled from vertiginous heights.

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Fiction

The Leopard by Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

My brother, ForeignFilmFan, recommended this and the film of it to me long ago. There’s also a novel about the writing of this book, called Lampedusa, which my Canadian bloggie friends have been talking about recently, some loving it, some hating it, and it’s due out over here next month, so I’d like to read this first and then see if it inspires me to read that one. Plus, it will take me to Sicily for my Around the World challenge…

The Blurb says: The Leopard is a modern classic which tells the spellbinding story of a decadent, dying Sicilian aristocracy threatened by the approaching forces of democracy and revolution.

In the spring of 1860, Fabrizio, the charismatic Prince of Salina, still rules over thousands of acres and hundreds of people, including his own numerous family, in mingled splendour and squalor. Then comes Garibaldi’s landing in Sicily and the Prince must decide whether to resist the forces of change or come to terms with them.

‘Every once in a while, like certain golden moments of happiness, infinitely memorable, one stumbles on a book or a writer, and the impact is like an indelible mark. Lampedusa’s The Leopard, his only novel, and a masterpiece, is such a work.’ Independent

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Fiction

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

Courtesy of Faber & Faber via NetGalley. I requested this based purely on the blurb, and it’s getting great reviews. However I have a feeling from those reviews it will “trigger” me – it sounds as if it might be another of these tedious liberal identity politics tub-thumpers that America has been churning out during the Trump years. I sympathise, I really do, but I’m also bored. I’ve been forced to be “woke” for so long that I seriously need a nap now. However, maybe it will surprise me…

The Blurb says: Grace Park and Shawn Mathews share a city – Los Angeles – but seemingly little else. Coming from different generations and very different communities, their paths wouldn’t normally cross at all. As Grace battles confusion over her elder sister’s estrangement from their Korean-immigrant parents, Shawn tries to help his cousin Ray readjust to city life after years spent in prison.

But something in their past links these two families. As the city around them threatens to erupt into violence, echoing the worst days of the early 1990s, the lives of Grace and Shawn are set to collide in ways which will change them all forever.

Beautifully written, and marked by its aching humanity as much as its growing sense of dread, Your House Will Pay is a powerful and urgent novel for today.

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday (on a Sunday) 224…

An eighth batch of murder, mystery and mayhem…

(Yes, I know it’s Sunday but I’m so behind with postings that I’ll be reading books before I’ve included them on TBR posts soon, and I simply can’t cope with the mental and emotional discombobulation that would cause me!)

So, the first batch for 2020 for this challenge includes a couple of well-known names and a couple who are new to me…

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

This will be a re-read of the very first Christie novel. However it’s many, many years since I last read it, so I’ve pretty much forgotten it completely, including the crucial question of whodunit…

The Blurb says: Who poisoned the wealthy Emily Inglethorpe, and how did the murderer penetrate and escape from her locked bedroom? Suspects abound in the quaint village of Styles St. Mary–from the heiress’s fawning new husband to her two stepsons, her volatile housekeeper, and a pretty nurse who works in a hospital dispensary. Making his unforgettable debut, the brilliant Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is on the case. The key to the success of this style of detective novel lies in how the author deals with both the clues and the red herrings, and it has to be said that no one bettered Agatha Christie at this game.

Challenge details

Book No: 18

Subject Heading: The Great Detectives

Publication Year: 1920

Martin Edwards says: “Christie blends a rich variety of ingredients, including floor plans, facsimile documents, an inheritance tangle, impersonation, forgery and courtroom drama. The originality of her approach lay in the way she prioritised the springing of a surprise solution ahead of everything else…

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Trent’s Last Case by EC Bentley

I don’t remember ever reading anything by Bentley before so this is unknown territory…

The Blurb says: On Wall Street, the mere mention of the name Sigsbee Manderson is enough to send a stock soaring—or bring it tumbling back to earth. Feared but not loved, Manderson has no one to mourn him when the gardener at his British country estate finds him facedown in the dirt, a bullet buried in his brain. There are bruises on his wrist and blood on his clothes, but no clue that will lead the police to the murderer. It will take an amateur to—inadvertently—show them the way.

Cheerful, charming, and always eager for a mystery, portrait artist and gentleman sleuth Philip Trent leaps into the Manderson affair with all the passion of the autodidact. Simply by reading the newspapers, he discovers overlooked details of the crime. Not all of his reasoning is sound, and his romantic interests are suspect, to say the least, but Trent’s dedication to the art of detection soon uncovers what no one expected him to find: the truth.

Challenge details

Book No: 12

Subject Heading: The Birth of the Golden Age

Publication Year: 1913

Edwards says: “The book opens with a scathing denunciation of the ruthless American magnate Sigsbee Manderson. More than a century after the book was published, this passage retains its power, and reminds us that there is nothing new about the unpopularity of financiers…

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The Innocence of Father Brown by GK Chesterton

I’ve never been a fan of GK Chesterton’s Father Brown stories, so this one will be more of a duty than a pleasure… unless he manages to win me over this time!

The Blurb says: In thrilling tales such as “The Blue Cross,” “The Secret Garden,” and “The Hammer of God,” G. K. Chesterton’s immortal priest-detective applies his extraordinary intuition to the most intricate of mysteries. No corner of the human soul is too dark for Father Brown, no villain too ingenious. The Innocence of Father Brown is a testament to the power of faith and the pleasure of a story well told.

Challenge details

Book No: 7

Subject Heading: A New Era Dawns

Publication Year: 1911

Edwards says: “Chesterton took a real-life friend, a Bradford priest, as his model, ‘knocking him about; beating his hat and umbrella shapeless, untidying his clothes, punching his intelligent countenance into a condition of pudding-faced fatuity, and generally disguising Father O’Connor as Father Brown.’

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The Crime at Diana’s Pool by Victor L Whitechurch

I’m sure I’ve read and enjoyed a short story from Whitechurch in one of the BL’s anthologies, though I may be mistaken since I can’t find any reference to it on the blog. Anyway, this is certainly my first novel by him…

The Blurb says: The Reverend Harry Westerman was “an energetic, capable parish priest, a good organiser, and a plain, sensible preacher” and “a particularly shrewd and capable man. It was no idle boast of his that he had made a habit of observation – many of his parishioners little guessed how closely and clearly he had summed them up by observing those ordinary idiosyncrasies which escape the notice of most people. He was also a man who could be deeply interested in many things quite apart from his professional calling, and chiefly in problems which concerned humanity.” Attending the garden party of a newcomer to the parish of Coppleswick he makes a discovery that leads to a long and complicated investigation with sinister connections to past events.

Challenge details

Book No: 37

Subject Heading: Murder at the Manor

Publication Year: 1927

Edwards says: “As Dorothy L Sayers complained, he did not put the reader ‘on an equal footing with the detective himself, as regards all clues and discoveries’. For her, this was a throwback to ‘the naughty tradition’, but she acknowledged that the novel was otherwise excellent.”

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All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.
The quotes from Martin Edwards are from his book,
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.

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

TBR Thursday 223…

Episode 223

So the first TBR Thursday of the year and the first report since I set my annual target to reduce the TBR by 40. Hmm. Well, I’m rushing to do this before the postman arrives because I fear the situation is going to deteriorate badly when he does. At this precise moment it’s up by 1 to 206. Could be worse… let’s face it, WILL be worse…

Here are a few that are at the top of the heap…

Scottish Classic

Grey Granite by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

The winner of the last Classics Club Spin is this, the third volume of A Scots Quair trilogy. I loved the first one, Sunset Song, and found the second, Cloud Howe, disappointing, so anything could happen with this one… fingers crossed!

The Blurb says: Chris Guthrie and her son, Ewan, have come to the industrial town of Duncairn, where life is as hard as the granite of the buildings all around them. These are the Depression years of the 1930s, and Chris is far from the fields of her youth in Sunset Song. In a society of factory owners, shopkeepers, policemen, petty clerks and industrial labourers, “Chris Caledonia” must make her living as bets she can by working in Ma Cleghorn’s boarding house. Ewan finds employment in a steel foundry and tries to lead a peaceful strike against the manufacture of armaments. In the face of violence and police brutality, his socialist idealism is forged into something harder and fiercer as he becomes a communist activist ready to sacrifice himself, his girlfriend, and even the truth itself, for the cause. Grey Granite is the last and grimmest volume of the Scots Quair trilogy. Chris Guthrie is one of the great characters in Scottish Literature and no reader of Sunset Song and Cloud Howe should miss this last rich chapter in her tale.

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Vintage Crime

The Listening Walls by Margaret Millar

Courtesy of Pushkin Vertigo. I’ve seen Margaret Millar mentioned by various vintage crime fans around the blogosphere, so am looking forward to trying her for myself…

The Blurb says: Amy Kellogg is not having a pleasant vacation in Mexico. She’s been arguing nonstop with her friend and traveling companion, Wilma, and she wants nothing more than to go home to California. But their holiday takes a nightmarish turn when Wilma is found dead on the street below their room-an apparent suicide.

Rupert Kellogg has just returned from seeing his wife Amy through the difficulties surrounding the apparent suicide of her friend in Mexico. But Rupert is returning alone-which worries Amy’s brother. Amy was traumatized by the suicide, Rupert explains, and has taken a holiday in New York City to settle her nerves. But as gone girl Amy’s absence drags on for weeks and then months, the sense of unease among her family changes to suspicion and eventual allegations.

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Fiction

Braised Pork by An Yu

Courtesy of Harville Secker via NetGalley. I know nothing about either book or author but I thought it sounded intriguingly strange…

The Blurb says: One morning in autumn, Jia Jia walks into the bathroom of her Beijing apartment to find her husband – with whom she had been breakfasting barely an hour before – dead in the bathtub. Next to him a piece of paper unfolds like the wings of a butterfly, and on it is an image that Jia Jia can’t forget.

Profoundly troubled by what she has seen, even while she is abruptly released from a marriage that had constrained her, Jia Jia embarks on a journey to discover the truth of the sketch. Starting at her neighbourhood bar, with its brandy and vinyl, and fuelled by anger, bewilderment, curiosity and love, Jia Jia travels deep into her past in order to arrive at her future.

Braised Pork is a cinematic, often dreamlike evocation of nocturnal Beijing and the high plains of Tibet, and an exploration of myth-making, loss, and a world beyond words, which ultimately sees a young woman find a new and deeper sense of herself.

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Crime

Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin

This has been languishing on my TBR since September 2016, which is odd since I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the couple of books I’ve previously read from this author. This is the first in a quartet, of which I’ve already read the last one – yeah, must stop doing that! This will take me to one of my last Around the World destinations, I hope…

The Blurb says: ‘Can you ever come to terms with a missing child?’ Julia Davidsson has not. Her five-year-old son disappeared twenty years previously on the Swedish island of Oland. No trace of him has ever been found.

Until his shoe arrives in the post. It has been sent to Julia’s father, a retired sea-captain still living on the island. Soon he and Julia are piecing together fragments of the past: fragments that point inexorably to a local man called Nils Kant, known to delight in the pain of others. But Nils Kant died during the 1960s. So who is the stranger seen wandering across the fields as darkness falls?

It soon becomes clear that someone wants to stop Julia’s search for the truth. And that he’s much, much closer than she thinks…

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Six Degrees of Separation – From Reid to…

Chain links…

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

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Haven’t read this one but here’s what the blurb tells us…

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock ‘n’ roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Doesn’t appeal to me, I’m afraid, despite the many glowing reviews I’ve read of it. However, it made me think of…

Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton. Hamish Wolfe is a prisoner, convicted of the murders of three young women. Maggie Rose is a defence barrister and author of several books regarding possible miscarriages of justice, some of which have resulted in the convicted men being released. Hamish and his little group of supporters on the outside are keen to get Maggie to take on his case. A deliciously twisted thriller from the pen of one of the best of the current crop of writers.

The anti-hero of this one is in prison, as is the hero of the next one…

Death in Captivity by Michael Gilbert. It’s 1943, and the British officers held in a prisoner-of-war camp in north Italy take their duty to escape seriously, so the camp is riddled with tunnels. The biggest and most hopeful of these is under Hut C, elaborately hidden under a trapdoor that takes several men to open. So when a body turns up in the tunnel the question is not only how did he die but also how did he get into the tunnel? One of the best of the British Library Crime Classics, this has a good mystery plot but the real interest is the unique setting.

Another book set in Italy is…

That Summer in Puglia by Valeria Vescina. When a PI tracks Tommaso down in London to give him the news that he has been left a large legacy, Tommaso tells him he doesn’t want it and pleads that his whereabouts should not be revealed. To make the PI understand why his anonymity is so important to him, Tommaso agrees to tell him the story of why he left Italy – the story of his last summer in Puglia. That was the summer, long ago when Tommaso was young, that he met and fell in love with Anna. An excellent début with a great sense of place.

Ostuni, Puglia

The next is another début from an author worth watching…

Goblin by Ever Dundas. Goblin is an old lady now, working as a Reader in an Edinburgh library. But when the newspapers report that a strange pile of objects have been unearthed – bones, bits of a doll, a shrew head and a camera – she is thrust back into memories of her early life as a street urchin in wartime London. The camera still works and when the police develop the pictures they determine they could only have been taken by a child. A strange book, dark in places and with some truly disturbing aspects, but because of the beautifully drawn central character it has a warmth and humanity that helps the reader to get through the tougher parts.

Goblin won the Saltire Society Literary Award for First Book of the Year (2017). The next one was shortlisted for the Saltire History Book of the Year in 2015 (and should have won!)

John Knox by Jane Dawson. In Scotland, John Knox is thought of as a misogynistic, hellfire-and-damnation preaching, old killjoy, who is responsible for the fairly joyless version of Protestantism that has blighted our country for hundreds of years. Well, that’s how I think of him anyway! Father of the Scottish Reformation, he is notorious for being the author of ‘The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women’. In this great biography, Jane Dawson sets out, not so much to overturn this impression of Knox, but to show that there was more to him than this.

Knox haranguing Mary Queen of Scots by Robert Inerarity Herdman

John Knox liked to think of himself (modestly) as “God’s Watchman”. Which made me think of…

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. The time is just after the Supreme Court decision that led to desegregation of schools in the South, when the NAACP were fighting for equality for blacks and the whites were resisting. Jean Louise is shocked to discover that her father, Atticus, and lover, Hank, are part of that white resistance. This is the book Harper Lee wanted to write, until her editor persuaded her to go off in the different direction which led to To Kill a Mockingbird. A pity – I’d have liked to see this one given the polish and care it deserved.

Harper Lee

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So Reid to Lee, via Daisy, prison, Italy, débuts, the Saltire Prize and watchmen!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

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 2019 Results

Last year I did something I’d never tried before. Here’s what I said:

“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…”

While of course I didn’t absolutely stick to the plan, overall it did help me to think more about which books to take for review or buy on a passing whim. But did it help me achieve my targets? Let’s find out!

1) Reading Resolutions

I planned to read:

a) 88 books that I already owned as at 1st Jan 2019. 

The Result: I read 60. Although this is way below the target, it’s significantly up on the previous year, when I only read 49.

b) 25 books for the Around the World challenge.

The Result: I read 17. I had hoped to finish this challenge this year, but I had a couple that I didn’t like well enough to include and otherwise generally just… didn’t! 

c) 25 books from my Classics Club list. 

The Result: Ooh, so close! I read 22, and in my defence some of them were chunky! However, that means I’m more or less back on track with this five-year challenge, so I’m happy with this result.

d) 10 books from my sadly neglected 5 x 5 challenge.

The Result: I read a dismal 6 but on the upside I’ve decided to banish John Steinbeck from my TBR for ever, so that reduces the books on the challenge by another three! Overall, I’m really not enjoying this challenge, so will read the books I’ve already acquired for it this year, and then quietly abandon the whole thing.

e) 12 books for the Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge.

The result: I read 12! I set the target low last year because I anticipated getting lots of vintage crime for review from the British Library, and indeed I did. For the same reason I’m going to set it low again this year – it might take me years to finish it, if ever, but I’m OK with that.

f) 24 books first published in 2019 (minimum). 

The Result: I only read (to the end) 20 new releases this year. Admittedly I also abandoned an astonishing 14 – mostly crime and some from authors I’ve previously enjoyed. I’m completely out of love with contemporary crime at the moment so will be concentrating more on general fiction for new releases this year.

2) Reduce the TBR

I aimed for an overall reduction of 40 books last year. So…

Target for TBR (i.e., books I own): 185

Result: 205

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

Result: 322

WOOHOO!!! You weren’t expecting that, were you?? Although the Books I Own figure is still above target, this is because I’ve acquired loads that were already on my wishlist at the beginning of the year. But I’ve been practicising iron self-control to limit additions to the wishlist, with the result that it’s way down.

Overall I read 126 books, which is the highest for a few years, mainly because vintage crime books don’t include the 100 pages of compulsory padding that every contemporary crime book has. But my page count was also up according to Goodreads, reflecting the fact, I think, that I’ve taken more blogging breaks than usual this year.

I didn’t set a specific target for review copies, but I took a total of 76, which is higher than I intended but lower than the 98 I took last year and, because I was more selective, way more enjoyable! The number of unread review books at the end of the year has dropped from 30 last year to 24 this year.

So despite missing most of the individual targets by a little each, the overall effect of planning the year ahead was a big success, not only in terms of reducing the TBR/wishlist but, more importantly, in my having one of my most enjoyable and varied reading years for ages.

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Resolutions for 2020

So since I found I liked the whole planning ahead thing, that’s what I’m going to do again this year. There’s a lot of crossover in these targets…

1) Reading Resolutions

I plan to read:

a) 88 books that I already own as at today. Like last year I probably won’t achieve this, but preparing a list of the interesting books I already own will deter me from randomly acquiring new ones, in theory. Lots of the books below are included in this figure, so it’s not as bad as it seems…

b) 8 books for the Around the World challenge. Only eight left to go in this challenge, which I’ve loved. I should finish it by April or May. 

c) 22 books from my Classics Club list. Ambitious, especially since a lot of the books left on my list are chunky, but I’m thoroughly enjoying my classics reading, so I think it’s doable.

d) 6 books in Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series. I’ve been trying to re-read this series for three years now and have only read five! So setting a target and including them in my plan should concentrate my mind. 

e) 7 books in a brand new mini-challenge to be announced shortly!

f) 12 books for the Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge. Going low again in the hopes that I’ll also get lots of other vintage crime for review during the year.

g) 24 books first published in 2020 (minimum). I do feel that I’m losing touch with new releases because of all these classics and vintage books I’m reading, so I’m going to try to read at least two a month.

2) Reduce the TBR

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

Target for TBR: 165

Target for combined TBR/wishlist (which is a truer picture): 282.

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

Wish me luck!

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A GUID NEW YEAR
TAE YIN AND A’!

LANG MAY YOUR LUM REEK!

TBR Thursday 222… and Quarterly Round-Up

TBR Quarterly Report

I usually include a summary of how I’m progressing (or not) towards the targets I set myself for the year, but since I’ll be looking at my New Year’s Resolutions old and new tomorrow, I’ll leave that for then. So just a round-up of the books I’ve read and reviewed for my various ongoing challenges this time. I’ve read loads but due to my recent break, I’m way behind with reviews…

(Reminds me of my postman throwing books at me…)

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The Around the World in 80 Books Challenge

Last check-in was in September, and this quarter I’ve been to three destinations…

On the Main Journey (made by the characters in Around the World in 80 Days) I took my time machine back to Omaha to visit the World Fair of 1898 in Timothy Schaffert’s surprisingly enjoyable The Swan Gondola. Then Joseph Conrad and Lord Jim took me on a revealing trip around various parts of the British Empire, including a harrowing voyage across another compulsory destination, the Arabian Sea.

I finished my quarter’s travels with a detour to visit the Igbo clan in colonial-era Nigeria in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

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

72 down, 8 to go!

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The Classics Club

I’ve read an astonishing eight from my Classics Club list this quarter and had another still to review from the previous quarter. So far I’ve only reviewed five of these nine though, so have four still to review…

52. Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence – The story of young Paul Morel, the son of a Nottingham miner and alter-ego of the author, as he grows through childhood into manhood, and of the three women who vie for his love. This stood up very well to re-reading after many years, to my delight since it was one of the formative novels of my own adolescence. 5 stars

53. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey – New patient Randle P McMurphy arrives on the mental ward and is soon challenging Nurse Ratched for supremacy, geeing the Acutes up to rebel against the institution’s rules. Another re-read, of a book I found disappointing when I first read it many years ago too close to watching the movie, but this time around thought was brilliant. 5 stars.

54. Cloud Howe by Lewis Grassic Gibbon – This second part of A Scots Quair trilogy follows the further life of Chris Guthrie, now married to a minister and having moved from her farm to the small town of Segget. Unfortunately I didn’t think it was anywhere near to Sunset Song in terms of the writing, structure or in what it has to say about society, though it tries. Just 3 stars.

55. Wild Harbour by Ian Macpherson – Billed as sci-fi, this is really more of an alternative history set in the then near future, in a Britain at war. The main protagonist doesn’t believe in killing so takes to the hills of Scotland with his wife, to live in a cave and wait for the war to be over. A bleak survivalist adventure that becomes dystopian in the end, that I found compelling despite my distaste for the premise. 4 stars.

56. East of Eden by John Steinbeck – The story of how two generations of an extended family live their lives in misery and strife, and then die, usually horribly. My last Steinbeck – I’ve had far too much of his utterly depressing view of humanity. A generous 2 stars.

I’m nearly back on track with this challenge and have several more lined up for the next quarter, including the winner of the latest Classics Club Spin, Grey Granite, the third book in A Scots Quair.

56 down, 34 to go!

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

I haven’t read any for this challenge this quarter since I’d already met my target for the year. However I still had three reviews pending from the quarter before. To see the full challenge, click here.

32.  Family Matters by Anthony Rolls – Robert and Bertha Kewdingham live in a state of constant quarrelling, tired of each other, dissatisfied with their lives but unable to change. It’s a pity that Bertha is attractive to other men, and that Robert keeps a pharmacy-size stock of poisons readily to hand to treat his rampaging hypochondria. Things are bound to get nasty… Excellent characterisation and a lot of fun. 4½ stars.

33.  Payment Deferred by CS Forester – Not really a mystery, this one. The murder happens right at the beginning, and the book is actually about the impact it has on the murderer’s psychology. We watch as guilt and fear eat away at him, destroying his already weak character. It’s very well written and psychologically convincing but, oh my, it’s depressing! Just 3 stars.

34.  The Curious Mr Tarrant by C. Daly King – A collection of eight stories. Tarrant is an amateur detective, but his interest is purely in the bizarre. He investigates for the intellectual thrill, and has no particular interest in achieving justice. I gave a couple of the early stories 5 stars and another 4. But the rest ranged from mediocre to dire, getting progressively worse as they went along. A disappointing 2 stars overall.

34 down, 68 to go!

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5 x 5 Challenge

Just one reviewed for this challenge this quarter. Struggling badly to motivate myself to continue with this since several of the books have been disappointing. But I’ll keep going for a little longer, although I’m dropping one of my five authors…

8.  East of Eden by John Steinbeck. As I said above in the Classics Club section, I’m done with Steinbeck now. There’s not enough chocolate in the world to compensate for the miasma of misery that hovers around him. A generous and final 2 stars.

8 down, 3 Steinbecks removed from list, 14 to go!

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A mixed quarter’s reading as far as challenge books have gone, but still with some gems among them! Thank you for joining me on my reading adventures and…

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

Friday Frippery! The Story of a Year in Books 2019…

The Disappearing Duck…

(At the end of 2016 and again in 2017, I created stories – if they could be dignified by that name – using the titles of all the books I’d reviewed in the year… in the order I reviewed them! I missed last year, but couldn’t resist seeing if I could do it again this year. As you will see, I’ve been reading an awful lot of vintage crime…)

The colour of murder is splendidly scarlet, especially when the crime is committed in cold blood. Let me tell you one of the local horror stories which happened just before my childhood’s end

It all began with the shop window murder. So, at that time I was a boarder at the Katharina Code School for Wayward Girls, a spooky old place where it was rumoured there were ghosts in the house. It was situated on the wild coast of the Western Highlands, just to the east of Belting Hall and the seashaken houses of the village. Far indeed from where I used to watch the glorious game at weekends, the Arsenal Stadium. Mystery was soon to creep out of the Highland mist and engulf us all.

My cousin Rachel lived in the nearby village. She was engaged to a zookeeper Tarzan, of the Apes House, who was heir to the Belting inheritance. But old Mr Belting’s lawyer and his gang had a dastardly plot to keep the inheritance for themselves. The plotters crept like spiders out of the dark, spinning false rumours to blacken Tarzan’s name. Soon the lost man was being accused of having broken the window of the local bookshop, killed the owner’s pet duck and stolen some festive stationery – the newspapers luridly referred to it as the Christmas Card Crime. And other stories, even darker, circulated about him and a scantily-clad woman named Jane. But love is blind and Rachel was true. The break-through came when they decided to flee to Europe, hoping that one day Tarzan’s reputation would be restored.

But once the police are involved it’s inevitable that the dead shall be raised from their tomb for a post-mortem. For the local constabulary, investigating the murder of a quacking duck provided a welcome break from their only other case – trying to track down the night tiger that, locals claimed, roamed the shore, leaving strange-looking pawprints on the beach. But enough of the riddle of the sands! We shall leave that mystery for another day.

The murder in the bookshop became more baffling when the police dug up the spot where the duck was rumoured to be buried, and found nothing! Now they had no body and no idea what their suspect looked like, since Tarzan wasn’t one for selfies. The police knew nothing about the man with no face except that during his time in America he had survived even the Dakota winters in only a loincloth, suggesting he had either superhuman endurance or really bad fashion sense.

With malice aforethought, the lawyer Humphry Clinker, the adversary of Tarzan, had arranged to meet his gang at the Friday night theatre show in the nearby spa town to divvy up the proceeds of the burglary. Each gave the sign of the four – their secret signal – then went into the theatre bar. Old Roger Ackroyd, always a bletherer, began to tell the others how to pick up a maid in Statue Square, but little Dorrit Smallbone, deceased, (or at least so the feckless police believed), turned a song of Solomon Burke up loud on the juke box to drown him out.

The fourth man, Dunstan Redmayne, was mostly known for the cruel acts he had carried out against the American heiress who once inexplicably loved him. But she had screamed blue murder and threatened to spearhead the clouds of witnesses against him when she learned of his part in the affair of the fair maid of Perth, a well known communist heroine. Following these critical incidents, Dunstan had trapped the heiress in a disused kiln and left her to die. But a brave young airman found her in time and rescued her, sadly then tumbling down into the kiln himself and breaking his neck. The death of an airman has never been more tragic.

But I digress! The spa town of Wakenhyrst was a poor shadow of its grander English rival, Bath. Tangled up in these tales of the death in captivity of the fair maid, or perhaps we should say the death of a red heroine, we mustn’t lose sight of the secret adversary of Tarzan. The man who made this town a dead land was the lawyer himself – a true criminal mastermind. The expedition of Humphry Clinker into his life of crime began when he defended the killers of the Flower Moon Dance Troupe and learned how much he could earn if he just left his morals behind. He became twisted and this led him to mistrust everyone. “Go set a watchman,” he ordered Dunstan now and Dunstan quickly obeyed. He didn’t want his name to be added to the blotting book where Clinker listed those who had crossed him – case histories showed that Clinker’s enemies did not fare well. Johnnie the Elephant’s journey to prison began when he ignored an order of Clinker’s. (Poor Johnnie – no one who saw his nose ever forgot it.)

Dunstan Redmayne’s bank balance was, as usual, in the red. Redmayne’s last attempt to burgle a house had fallen foul of one of the adventures of Maud West, lady detective, who held him at bay for several hours, shooting three bullets at him every 10 minutes 38 seconds. In this strange world where odd coincidences happen, he was saved by a group of UN Peacemakers who chanced to be passing, but he required a pinch of snuff to calm his nerves after those furious hours!

“The tree of death has deep roots” was always a proverb of the Highlanders, especially the women. Of the moon, they said that when it was full in midsummer one could see spectres converging on the shore from left, right and middle, marching from the caves in the heat of the night straight out until they were twenty thousand leagues under the seas. Mister Pip, the famous Scotland Yard detective, thought the Highlanders were a right superstitious bunch! He looked anxiously at his phone, always victim to the menace of the machine, and as he read the story about the mystery of the missing duck the conviction stole over him that the village policeman, Constable Sanditon, had a surfeit of suspects and very few resources to solve the crime. Sanditon had been helpful to him last winter when the famous spy Nada the Lily had nearly evaded capture by hiding out in the mountains. One good turn deserved another, Pip thought, remembering how the observations of the constable had trapped the spy, who came in from the cold rather gratefully in the end.

The town had three churches and Pip arranged to meet Sanditon outside the middle temple. Murder on the beach was what he feared had happened to the poor little duck – a mercy if it had been quick and painless. He shuddered as he remembered the case of Miss Elliot who had been brutally killed during a robbery at her home. Seven men of less than average stature had given the pearl they stole to the leader of their gang, an albino whose skin was snow white. And other tales came back to him too, all showing the infinite variety in the art of murder. In the mill-race at the edge of the village, the water frothed and churned. Too turbulent for ducks, Pip thought as he passed by.

Pip and Sanditon stopped for a beer at The Jewel in the Crown, and talked of the crimes they’d solved in the past, most of them involving bodies. From the library next door Mrs McGinty the librarian emerged, and locked up with the turn of the key. Pip realised it was late and although he’d napped on the train up, felt a great need for the second sleep. It seemed to him anyway that they needed an extra pair of hands on the case. But who should they get to help – that was the question? Mark Pearl, suggested Sanditon. Pearl was noted for his bravery and strength – while in New York, he had apprehended three bad guys single-handed, and was then seen walking wounded all the way to the last exit to Brooklyn. Sadly he had had a recent tragedy. The mother of Pearl had fallen victim to the hour of peril when the village was experiencing a big freeze – she slipped on the icy pavement outside Mrs McGinty’s. Dead, alas! But Sanditon was sure that Pearl would help them watch the river at night for signs of the duck, putting family matters aside. He phoned Pearl but as he was out, spoke to his wife instead. During the long call Sanditon told her about the mystery of the duck – had it gone missing or was it murder? She said she had never heard of such evil under the sun! Busy Mrs Pearl had to ring off then as her sons and lovers demanded her attention.

Pip asked the barman to put their drinks on the slate, then, payment deferred, made his weary way to his hotel. In the bathroom he gazed at the face in the glass, thinking he looked old and wondering whether he might soon be meeting up with St. Peter. Looking out of his window, he saw that the river was busy despite the hour – as well as the swan, gondolas containing lovesick romantics were punting up and down. He also saw old Mr Tarrant looking curiously around him in the evening light. The curious Mr Tarrant spotted him too and shouted “Hey, Mister Pip! Did I hear you were looking for a duck? One flew over the cuckoo’s nest in the trees there just fifteen minutes ago and landed in the deep waters of the village pond.”

While Pip was still mulling over this piece of hopeful news, a text arrived from Constable Sanditon. “Just received a Christmas card from Roger Ackroyd, signed on behalf of Clinker and the gang. It’s one of the stolen cards!” Suddenly everything was clear! Next day Clinker, Redmayne and Smallbone were arrested and charged with burglary. “Lucky for you” said Pip “that we believe the duck may have escaped so I can’t charge you with the murder.” Of Roger Ackroyd, however, nothing more was heard except a rumour that he had fled to the far north and joined a strange cult led by the notoriously deranged mystic, Enoch Powell.

Pip and Sanditon were congratulated by the Chief Constable, Lord Jim Campbell. Rachel and Tarzan returned to the lovely Belting Hall, leaving a darker domain in the French backstreet where they’d been living under a cloud. However, Rachel never forgets the woman in black who gave them lodgings when they most needed it in the wild harbour of Marseilles, and every year she sends her a bottle of the Christmas eggnog she has specially made. Tarzan and Rachel are so happy together they changed the name of the Hall, and now the school buildings are just east of Eden Place. But in the old deserted wing sometimes things fall apart and strange yodelling noises can be heard. Rachel tries not to listen to the old ghost stories the servants sometimes tell…

Oh yes, the duck! Well, having tasted freedom when it flew out through the broken shop window, it decided never to go back, and now it spends its days dabbling in the village pond. But sometimes, when the moon is full and the tide is out, it walks by night on the beach, leaving strange marks that, to a superstitious villager, might be taken for the pawprints of a tiger…

>>>THE END<<<

The Literary Fiction Book Tag – Christmas Edition

Dickens at Christmas…

A few months ago I did this tag concentrating mainly on Scottish fiction as my examples. Since now ‘tis the season to be jolly, and nothing could be jollier than Dickens at Christmastime, I thought I’d resurrect it and see how wonderfully the Great Man shines in all aspects of the art of literary fiction. Join me for a bit of…

1. How do you define literary fiction?

Last time I said “I’m looking for great writing – and by that I don’t mean creative writing, I mean writing that uses a vocabulary that stimulates the brain without baffling, that reads effortlessly and that creates wonderful images of places or people, or both, with beautiful descriptive prose. I want emotional truth – the characters might be realistic or exaggerated and even caricatured but they must fundamentally act in ways people would act. If it’s historical fiction, it must be true to the time in which it’s set. If it’s genre fiction, it must transcend the genre but must never forget its roots in its desire to be literary. If it’s contemporary fiction, it must say something intelligent and preferably profound about society, culture and/or the human condition.” Dickens meets all these criteria, and I suspect is the man who has been most influential in forming my opinion of what literary fiction should be.

2. Name a literary fiction novel with a brilliant character study.

Little Dorrit – of course Dickens is famous for his dazzling array of unique characters, but the character I’m choosing is less well known than some of the others: Flora Finching. She was the hero Arthur’s first love, but their parents prevented them from marrying. Now Flora is a widow and is no longer quite the beautiful young girl of whom Arthur once dreamed. But she flirts with him dreadfully, calling up all the silly, romantic things they said and did as young lovers and behaving as if she’s still a young girl, and she’s very, very funny. It could so easily have been a cruel portrayal, especially since she was inspired by Dickens re-meeting his own youthful first love in middle life to discover she had become old, fat and dull, and determined to flirt with him as if they were still lovers. But Flora’s character is actually done with a real degree of warmth – more warmth than Dickens showed to the original, I fear.

“Oh good gracious me I hope you never kept yourself a bachelor so long on my account!” tittered Flora; “but of course you never did why should you, pray don’t answer, I don’t know where I’m running to, oh do tell me something about the Chinese ladies whether their eyes are really so long and narrow always putting me in mind of mother-of-pearl fish at cards and do they really wear tails down their back and plaited too or is it only the men, and when they pull their hair so very tight off their foreheads don’t they hurt themselves, and why do they stick little bells all over their bridges and temples and hats and things or don’t they really do it?” Flora gave him another of her old glances.

Frivolous Flora and her elderly aunt-in-law

3. Name a literary fiction novel that has experimental or unique writing.

Bleak House – Dickens here shifts between a first person narrator, the young heroine Esther Summerson, and a third-person omniscient narrator, and also between present and past tenses. This may not seem like such a major thing now, when so many authors try to use present tense and shift between narrators, but it was innovative and experimental at the time and gives the book an essentially modern feel. Plus, Dickens being Dickens, he’s great at it, using present tense effectively and appropriately, which sadly is rarely the case with lesser beings…

Through the stir and motion of the commoner streets; through the roar and jar of many vehicles, many feet, many voices; with the blazing shop-lights lighting him on, the west wind blowing him on, and the crowd pressing him on, he is pitilessly urged upon his way, and nothing meets him murmuring, “Don’t go home!” Arrived at last in his dull room to light his candles, and look round and up, and see the Roman pointing from the ceiling, there is no new significance in the Roman’s hand tonight or in the flutter of the attendant groups to give him the late warning, “Don’t come here!”

Mr Tulkinghorn’s Roman

4. Name a literary fiction novel with an interesting structure.

Martin Chuzzlewit – In the middle of this one, Dickens suddenly transports Martin and his faithful servant Mark Tapley to America, and has them have a complete story there before returning them to the main story back in England. Dickens’ method of writing for serialisation meant that he often reacted to how early instalments were received by his public, and this book is a major example of that. While he clearly had the main arc of the story mapped out, apparently the decision to send young Martin off to America was made mid-way through in order to revive flagging sales. While I’m not convinced it was a great decision, it provides a good deal of opportunity for some of Dickens’ fine satire as well as some wonderful descriptive writing. Dickens’ picture of the newly independent United States is either deeply insightful and brutally funny (if you’re British) or rude and deeply offensive (if you’re American). Fortunately I’m British…

It was hastily resolved that a piece of plate should be presented to a certain constitutional Judge, who had laid down from the Bench the noble principle, that it was lawful for any white mob to murder any black man: and that another piece of plate, of similar value, should be presented to a certain Patriot, who had declared from his high place in the Legislature, that he and his friends would hang, without trial, any Abolitionist who might pay them a visit. For the surplus, it was agreed that it should be devoted to aiding the enforcement of those free and equal laws, which render it incalculably more criminal and dangerous to teach a negro to read and write, than to roast him alive in a public city.

The inaptly named Eden, young Martin’s American home.
By Phiz.

5. Name a literary fiction novel that explores social themes.

A Tale of Two Cities – every novel Dickens wrote explores social themes, but he never conveys his anger more effectively than in this book about the Terror following the French Revolution. We talk endlessly now of the dangers of the rise of populism in response to the inequality in our societies and then we smugly wrap ourselves back up in our warm and comfortable cloak of social privilege, and dismiss as ignorant anyone who disagrees with our world view. Dickens was warning his contemporaries of this way back then, showing how the Revolution arose out of the failure of the rich and powerful elite to respond to the growing discontent of the disadvantaged and ignored in society, and showing further and with immense power how once violence is unleashed in a society it feeds on itself, growing until it becomes a monster – the mob…

“Patriots and friends, we are ready! The Bastille!”
With a roar that sounded as if all the breath in France had been shaped into the detested word, the living sea rose, wave on wave, depth on depth, and overflowed the city to that point. Alarm-bells ringing, drums beating, the sea raging and thundering on its new beach, the attack began.
***
“To me, women!” cried madame his wife. “What! We can kill as well as the men when the place is taken!” And to her, with a shrill thirsty cry, trooping women variously armed, but all armed alike in hunger and revenge.

Storming of the Bastille
Jean-Pierre Houel

6. Name a literary fiction novel that explores the human condition.

Great Expectations – I was trying to stick to books I’ve reviewed on the blog, but really I think that perhaps his best exploration of that nebulous thing we call the “human condition” appears in my least favourite of his novels. Miss Havisham blighted by disappointment and betrayal; simple Joe Gargery’s generosity and fidelity; Estella’s nature deliberately warped from childhood so she can act as an instrument of Miss Havisham’s revenge: all of these are brilliant examples of how circumstance and nature collide to make us what we are. But Pip himself stands out – following him from an early age into manhood allows us to see how his character is formed by experience, shaped by the material expectations he’s told he has and by the social and emotional expectations of his family and friends. Ultimately, with two possible endings, there’s ambiguity around whether Pip’s original nature is stunted for ever, or is simply dormant, ready to put forth fresh shoots if the sun shines on him.

“But you said to me,” returned Estella, very earnestly, “‘God bless you, God forgive you!’ And if you could say that to me then, you will not hesitate to say that to me now—now, when suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but—I hope—into a better shape. Be as considerate and good to me as you were, and tell me we are friends.”
“We are friends,” said I, rising and bending over her, as she rose from the bench.

Pip and Estella

7. Name a brilliant literary-hybrid genre novel.

A Christmas Carol – Dickens brilliantly uses the format of a ghost story to explore the true meaning of Christmas as a time for family and joy, of course, but also for reflection on greed, generosity and the inequality that existed in extremes in his society and sadly still pervades our own. A chilling tale, warning his readers not to look away, not to become so concerned with their own narrow concerns that they cease to notice the plight of those less fortunate, not to impoverish their souls in pursuit of material wealth. The wonderfully redemptive ending is pure Dickens as he shows how material and spiritual generosity enrich the giver as much as the recipient. Dickens suggests we can begin to enjoy our rewards here on earth, and lessen the harsh judgement that may otherwise await us in the hereafter.

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

The Ghost of Jacob Marley

8. What genre do you wish was mixed with literary fiction more?

The joy of Dickens, and a lesson I wish many contemporary writers would learn, is that he saw no reason to limit himself to a single style or single subject, even within a single book. Each contains elements of social themes, human condition, romance, crime and horror – each is a microcosm of all that it is to be and to experience in this ugly, complicated, glorious world, and each shows the intelligence, insight and profound empathy that make him the greatest writer the world has ever known.

…and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!

* * * * *

HAVE THE DICKENS OF A CHRISTMAS, EVERYBODY!

Friday Frippery! Initial Thoughts…

Confessions of a book hoarder…

Having far too much time on my hands, I decided to see if I could find a book on my TBR for every letter of my blog name: my TBR being books I already own but haven’t yet read. I’m sure I’ve seen this as a tag around the blogosphere but don’t know where it originated, so apologies for not name-checking whoever created it. It’s a fun way of reminding myself of some of the many great-sounding books lingering unread on my Kindle or bookshelves…

Let’s go then!

F   Fell Murder by ECR Lorac
I    I Married a Communist by Philip Roth
C   Cloudstreet by Tim Winton
T   Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann
I    In Diamond Square by Merce Rodoreda
O  On the Road by Jack Kerouac
N  Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
F   Ford County by John Grisham
A   At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarçon
N   No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
S   Sula by Toni Morrison

B   Braised Pork by An Yu
O   The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
O   The Old Buzzard Had It Coming by Donis Casey
K   Knock, Murderer, Knock! by Harriet Rutland

R   Rupture by Ragnar Jonasson
E   Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin
V   The Vegetarian by Han Kang
I    In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin
E   Execution by SJ Parris
We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver
S   The Siege by Helen Dunmore

The ease with which I could do this proves that I own way too many unread books! Of course the real challenge would be if I said I’d read them all in 2020… hmm…

Which ones take your fancy?
Can you do it? I tag you…

Six Degrees of Separation – From Austen to…

Chain links…

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

Sanditon by Jane Austen. Sanditon is a fictional little village on the south coast of England, and local landowner Mr Thomas Parker dreams of turning it into a health resort like its bigger neighbours, Brighton and Eastbourne. The current fad among the fashionable is for sea-air and sea-bathing, both promised to cure any number of ills. Mr Parker and his wife invite the young daughter of a friend to visit, Charlotte Heywood, and it’s through her sensible eyes that the reader sees the inhabitants of Sanditon, with all their foibles, kindnesses and hypocrisies.

Sea bathing at Brighton

So many options for a chain! Should I take the probable romantic lead, Sidney Parker, and head off to the tragic romance of Sidney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities? Or head to Brighton and Elly Griffiths’ great Stephens and Mephisto series? No, I think I’ll see how health care has developed in Eastbourne in a great true crime book…

The Curious Habits of Doctor Adams by Jane Robins. In 1957, Dr John Adams, a general practitioner from Eastbourne, was tried for the murder of an elderly patient, ostensibly because he hoped to inherit her Rolls Royce. The investigation leading up to the trial was a press sensation, with rumours abounding that Adams had murdered as many as 300 patients. This book tells the story of the investigation and trial, and Jane Robins asks the reader to judge whether the eventual verdict was right or wrong – was Adams a mass-murderer in the mould of Harold Shipman or was he a maligned man?

Dr John Adams

My verdict: Guilty as sin!

Adams’ doctoring happened while the NHS was still in the process of settling in, but the medical man in my next book was pre-NHS, and before medicine became so strictly regulated…

The Murder of a Quack by George Bellairs. Nathaniel Wall, an elderly, well-regarded bonesetter, is found murdered in his surgery, and the local police promptly call in Inspector Littlejohn of the Yard. Today we’d think of Wall as an osteopath primarily, though he also dips into other fields of medicine including the more “alternative” one of homeopathy. The local qualified doctor is a drunken incompetent, who strongly resents that so many locals prefer to visit the “quack” Walls rather than him. It’s an interesting comparison of the skilled but unqualified practitioner and the feckless professional, with all the sympathy going to the former. Plus it’s a good mystery!

The only link I can come up with here is to another doctor – this seems to be becoming my theme for the month! This time we’re off to Holland to meet reluctant General Practitioner Marc Schlosser in…

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch. Marc has a reputation for being willing to help out with the occasional prescription for drugs that might not be strictly medically necessary. His patients think he’s wonderful and caring (or so he tells us) mainly because he allows twenty minutes for an appointment and appears to want to listen to what they want to say. But the reader has the dubious privilege of seeing inside Marc’s head, and we soon learn that he’s rather different to the image he projects.

Occasionally I’ll ask someone to undress behind the screen, but most of the time I don’t. Human bodies are horrible enough as it is, even with their clothes on. I don’t want to see them, those parts where the sun never shines. Not the folds of fat in which it is always too warm and the bacteria have free rein, not the fungal growths and infections between the toes…

Another doctor I wouldn’t give any awards for caring to is the philandering hero of my next book…

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. Separated from his family by war, Yuri Andreevich Zhivago is torn between his duty to his wife and family and his adoration of the lovely nurse Lara. Unfortunately, he seems to suffer from severe commitment issues alongside a healthy dose of narcissism but, fortunately, he’s such a wonderful, intelligent, incomparably talented poet and sensitive human being (we know this because he tells us himself) that all the people he abandons throughout his life still adore him, because they recognise his innate superiority to all other mortals.

He’s such a charmer…

However, he could not very well say to them: ‘Dear friends, oh, how hopelessly ordinary you and the circle you represent, and the brilliance and art of your favourite names and authorities, all are. The only live and bright thing in you is that you lived at the same time as me and knew me.’

Ooh, I say! Oops, I mean… Omar Sharif as the Doctor. Wonder if he does housecalls?

There must be some good doctors out there surely? Ah yes, of course!

The Good Doctor by Damon Galgut. Having retreated to a remote country hospital following the messy break-up of his marriage, Doctor Frank Eloff is in a reasonably contented rut. The hospital is in a homeland in South Africa that ceased to exist when apartheid ended, so that now the town is sparsely occupied and the hospital has very few patients and only a tiny staff. But one day a new doctor shows up – young Laurence Waters. Idealistic and somewhat naive, Laurence wants to do good, and his presence becomes a catalyst for change. This is a story of disillusionment – of a man and of a country.

Unfortunately we spend more time with the depressed and apathetic Frank than the idealistic Laurence, but surely my last doctor will redeem the reputation of the profession, in…

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. Hercule Poirot has retired to the village of King’s Abbott to grow vegetable marrows. Roger Ackroyd is a wealthy man and a leading light in the community, but he’s not always generous to his many dependants. So when he is found dead in his study there are plenty of suspects. Dr James Sheppard is first on the scene of the crime and once Poirot becomes involved in the investigation the doctor finds himself acting as his unofficial assistant.

Dr Sheppard and his delightfully nosy sister Caroline add much to the fun of the book, and Dr Sheppard has a spotless reputation as a caring physician in his small community. Phew! Glad I found one good doctor at last…

* * * * *

So Austen to Christie, via the health resort of Eastbourne, doctors, doctors, doctors, doctors and doctors!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

TBR Thursday 221…

Episode 221

Considering my inability to ignore all the political chaos on both sides of the Atlantic – as a spectator sport, it’s all fun so long as you can suspend your disbelief – it’s amazing that my TBR has actually gone down, by 1 to 214! And I’m proud to announce that I survived East of Eden – not unscathed, but ultimately unbowed…

A bumper batch this week, since this will be the last TBR Thursday of the year. Next week I’ll be starting the annual FictionFan Book of the Year posts – get your ballgown ready for the awards ceremony! Meantime, some shorter, lighter reads, mostly vintage crime, to accompany my Dickens book over the festive season… 

Crime

The Mugger by Ed McBain

The second in the long-running 87th Precinct series. I enjoyed many of these back in the day and more recently was impressed by a re-read of the first in the series, Cop Hater

The Blurb says: This mugger is special.

He preys on women, waiting in the darkness…then comes from behind, attacks them, and snatches their purses. He tells them not to scream and as they’re on the ground, reeling with pain and fear, he bows and nonchalantly says, “Clifford thanks you, madam.” But when he puts one victim in the hospital and the next in the morgue, the detectives of the 87th Precinct are not amused and will stop at nothing to bring him to justice.

Dashing young patrolman Bert Kling is always there to help a friend. And when a friend’s sister-in-law is the mugger’s murder victim, Bert’s personal reasons to find the maniacal killer soon become a burning obsession…and it could easily get him killed.

* * * * *

Vintage Crime

It Walks by Night by John Dickson Carr

Courtesy of the British Library. I have a feeling I read a few John Dickson Carr novels in my teens, but I fear I don’t remember them. More recently, I’ve come across a few of his short stories in various anthologies and have enjoyed them, so fingers crossed. As I’m sure you’ll agree, nothing says Christmas quite like a beheaded corpse…

The Blurb says: We are thrilled to welcome John Dickson Carr into the Crime Classics series with his first novel, a brooding locked room mystery in the gathering dusk of the French capital.

In the smoke-wreathed gloom of a Parisian salon, Inspector Bencolin has summoned his allies to discuss a peculiar case. A would-be murderer, imprisoned for his attempt to kill his wife, has escaped and is known to have visited a plastic surgeon. His whereabouts remain a mystery, though with his former wife poised to marry another, Bencolin predicts his return.

Sure enough, the Inspector’s worst suspicions are realised when the beheaded body of the new suitor is discovered in a locked room of the salon, with no apparent exit. Bencolin sets off into the Parisian night to unravel the dumbfounding mystery and track down the sadistic killer.

* * * * *

More Vintage Crime

Death in Fancy Dress by Anthony Gilbert

Courtesy of the British Library again. Apparently Anthony Gilbert was one of the pen names of Lucy Beatrice Malleson, who also wrote as Anne Meredith. So since I enjoyed Anne Meredith’s Portrait of a Murderer, I have high hopes for this one…

The Blurb says: The British Secret Service, working to uncover a large-scale blackmail ring and catch its mysterious mastermind ‘The Spider’, find themselves at the country residence Feltham Abbey, where a fancy dress ball is in full swing.

In the tumult of the revelry, Sir Ralph Feltham is found dead. Not the atmosphere bewildered young lawyer Tony was expecting, he sets out to make sense of the night’s activities and the motives of the other guests. Among them is Hilary, an independently-minded socialite still in her costume of vivid silk pyjamas and accompanying teddy bear…

This classic country house mystery, first published in 1933, contrasts the splendours and frivolities of the English upper classes with the sombre over-hang of the First World War and the irresistible complications of deadly familial relationships – with just the right amount of international intrigue thrown in.

* * * * *

Crime

The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau by Graeme Macrae Burnet

I loved the second book about Georges Gorski, The Accident on the A35, actually even more than Burnet’s Booker-nominated His Bloody Project, and have had this first one lingering on the TBR for far too long. (Yes, I know it would have made more sense to read them the other way round… 😉 )

The Blurb says: Manfred Baumann is a loner. Socially awkward and perpetually ill at ease, he spends his evenings quietly drinking and surreptitiously observing Adèle Bedeau, the sullen but alluring waitress at a drab bistro in the unremarkable small French town of Saint-Louis. But one day, she simply vanishes into thin air. When Georges Gorski, a detective haunted by his failure to solve one of his first murder cases, is called in to investigate the girl’s disappearance, Manfred’s repressed world is shaken to its core and he is forced to confront the dark secrets of his past. The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau is a literary mystery novel that is, at heart, an engrossing psychological portrayal of an outsider pushed to the limit by his own feverish imagination.

* * * * *

Vintage Science Fiction

Courtesy of the British Library again! Another of their fab anthologies, this time on the vexed subject of time travel. As Captain Janeway of the USS Voyager said – or maybe that should be, will say – “Time travel. Since my first day on the job as a Starfleet captain I swore I’d never let myself get caught in one of these godforsaken paradoxes – the future is the past, the past is the future, it all gives me a headache.” Sometimes headaches can be fun…

The Blurb says: The threads of time run forward, backward, round in circles and side by side in this new anthology of stories from the Golden Age of science fiction. How can you comprehend a newspaper whose current events cover the distant future? How do you escape from a day at the office which cycles, cruelly, endlessly? How do you prevent monks from the future smuggling your revolutionary miracle food into the past?

Charting the chronology of the time travel narrative from the 1880s to the late 1950s, classic tales of trips to the past and their consequences run alongside rare experimental and mind-bending pieces, with paradoxes, philosophical dilemmas and every perplexing strand of time travel unravelled in between.

* * * * *

Even More Vintage Crime

And yet again, courtesy of the British Library! (Clearly we have found the culprit behind my groaning TBR problems…) ECR Lorac is one of my favourite of all the authors the BL has introduced to me, so I’m looking forward to this one hugely…

The Blurb says: First published in 1944 Fell Murder sees E.C.R. Lorac at the height of her considerable powers as a purveyor of well-made, traditional and emphatic detective fiction. The book presents a fascinating ‘return of the prodigal’ mystery set in the later stages of the Second World War amidst the close-knit farmerfolk community of Lancashire s lovely Lune valley.

The Garths had farmed their fertile acres for generations and fine land it was with the towering hills of the Lake Country on the far horizon. Garthmere Hall itself was old before Flodden Field, and here hot-tempered Robert Garth, still hale and hearty at eighty-two, ruled his household with a rod of iron. The peaceful dales and fells of the north country provide the setting for this grim story of a murder, a setting in fact which is one of the attractive features of an unusual and distinctive tale of evil passions and murderous hate in a small rural community.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 220…

Episode 220

I’m back! As soon as the aliens caught sight of the assembled forces of Tommy, Tuppence and Porpy they fled back to their own sector of the galaxy, squealing! The Kpop stars have promised to stop dancing, and the sun has calmed down to a temperate glow. The world is safe! Well… for the moment anyway. The remarkable thing is that, despite everything, my TBR has gone up, by 2 to 215! My postman is clearly intrepid… 

Here are a few more I’ll be unpacking soon…

History

Brothers York by Thomas Penn

Courtesy of Allen Lane via NetGalley. I thoroughly enjoyed Thomas Penn’s earlier book on Henry VII, Winter King, so grabbed this at the first opportunity. My knowledge of the Wars of the Roses really comes more from popular culture than actual histories, not least the notoriously inaccurate (but utterly compelling) Shakespeare plays. So I’m looking forward to learning about the facts behind the legends…

The Blurb says: It is 1461 and England is crippled by civil war. One freezing morning, a teenage boy wins a battle in the Welsh marches, and claims the crown. He is Edward IV, first king of the usurping house of York…

Thomas Penn’s brilliant new telling of the wars of the roses takes us inside a conflict that fractured the nation for more than three decades. During this time, the house of York came to dominate England. At its heart were three charismatic brothers – Edward, George and Richard – who became the figureheads of a spectacular ruling dynasty. Together, they looked invincible. But with Edward’s ascendancy the brothers began to turn on one another, unleashing a catastrophic chain of rebellion, vendetta, fratricide, usurpation and regicide. The brutal end came at Bosworth Field in 1485, with the death of the youngest, then Richard III, at the hands of a new usurper, Henry Tudor.

The story of a warring family unable to sustain its influence and power, Brothers York brings to life a dynasty that could have been as magnificent as the Tudors. Its tragedy was that, in the space of one generation, it destroyed itself.

* * * * *

Dickens at Christmas

Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens

Courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics and another for my Classics Club list. It has long been my tradition to read a Dickens over Christmas and, in fact, as soon as I am appointed Queen of the World by popular acclaim it will be the law that everyone must. This year’s choice is a re-read, but it’s years since I read it so my memory of it is vague. Almost as good as reading it for the first time! And I’m looking forward to reading the intro and notes in my OWC copy – I haven’t read any of the novels in their editions before…

The Blurb says: Set against the backdrop of the Gordon Riots of 1780, Barnaby Rudge is a story of mystery and suspense which begins with an unsolved double murder and goes on to involve conspiracy, blackmail, abduction and retribution. Through the course of the novel fathers and sons become opposed, apprentices plot against their masters and Protestants clash with Catholics on the streets. And, as London erupts into riot, Barnaby Rudge himself struggles to escape the curse of his own past. With its dramatic descriptions of public violence and private horror, its strange secrets and ghostly doublings, Barnaby Rudge is a powerful, disturbing blend of historical realism and Gothic melodrama.

* * * * *

Vintage Crime

The Body in the Dumb River by George Bellairs

Courtesy of the British Library. I’ve enjoyed the other novels from George Bellairs which the BL has previously issued, so I’m looking forward to meeting up with Inspector Littlejohn again…

The Blurb says: Jim Teasdale has been drowned in the Dumb River, near Ely, miles from his Yorkshire home. His body, clearly dumped in the usually silent (‘dumb’) waterway, has been discovered before the killer intended — disturbed by a torrential flood.

With critical urgency it’s up to Superintendent Littlejohn of Scotland Yard to trace the mystery of the unassuming victim’s murder to its source, leaving waves of scandal and sensation in his wake as the hidden, salacious dealings of Jim Teasdale begin to surface.

* * * * *

Fiction

The Mystery of Cloomber by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Despite my life-long love affair with Conan Doyle there’s loads of his stuff I’ve never read, including this. Mystery, colonialism and shipwrecked Buddhist monks – what more could you possibly ask? Mind you, the spiritualism aspect is a bit of a worry – Conan Doyle did get a bit obsessed with it sometimes…

The Blurb says: What dark deed from the past haunts Major Heatherstone? Why does he live like a hermit at Cloomber Hall, forbidding his children to venture beyond the estate grounds? Why is he plagued by the sound of a tolling bell, and why does his paranoia rise to frantic levels each year on the fifth of October? With the sudden appearance of three shipwrecked Buddhist monks, the answers to these questions follow close behind.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Gothic thriller unfolds in his native Scotland, in a remote coastal village surrounded by dreary moors. The creator of Sherlock Holmes combines his skill at weaving tales of mystery with his deep fascination with spiritualism and the paranormal. First published in 1889, the novel offers a cautionary view of British colonialism in the form of a captivating story of murder and revenge.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

I’ll be catching up with all your posts and comments over the next couple of days.
I’ve missed you!

Tuesday Terror! Dystopia Hits Kirkintilloch!

The end of the world is nigh…

I’m hoping this urgent message gets through to you all, but I don’t hold out much hope. All the signs are that the end of the world is beginning… and it’s starting here in Kirkintilloch! Unless of course you’re not there already and I’m the last survivor…

It began on Friday, late at night, when suddenly the internet went down. Since then, it’s been in and out like the cuckoo in a Swiss clock, only less noisily, and it seems to be getting worse. Unable to draft posts or get round your blogs or even answer your comments except in brief bursts, I’ve had plenty of time to think about what’s going on, and it’s scary…

Here are the options:

1. It’s a local problem that will soon be fixed by my internet provider. Well, I’m sure that’s what They would like us to think! But I suspect one of the following is far more likely…

2. A solar flare has taken down communications throughout the world and all technology will collapse over the next few days leaving us at the mercy of vengeful nature. I have therefore gone into survival mode – I rushed to the supermarket and bought up all the chocolate.

 

3. The capitalists/socialists/anarchists/kpop fans (delete as applicable) have carried out a coup and have shut down the internet while they consolidate power. Any day now the identity of the new World President will be announced. My greatest fear is that it might be this chap…

… but I have the ultimate deterrent against him and his forces! If he sings that ghastly music at me, I shall retaliate by playing my guitar – a dreadful torture guaranteed to send any human insane within minutes.

4. Aliens are circling the earth and have cut off communications in a first step towards full-scale invasion. Hah! Little do they know about my impregnable Home Defence System! I have stopped emptying Tommy and Tuppence’s litter trays and within a few hours no one will be able to get within ten miles of my house without being overcome by a noxious miasma that will stun them into instant unconsciousness. (I admit there is a slight weakness in this plan, in that it depends on the aliens having noses…)

Whatever the cause, I urge you all, dear friends, to take your own precautions. Farewell, and be safe! May it all end up a bit more like Station Eleven than The Road!

Of course, in the unlikely event that it turns out to be option 1, I’ll see you all once it gets fixed and I can get some posts prepared…

The porpy is here with me inside our safety cordon,
ready to defend our liberty…

TBR Thursday 219…

Episode 219

No reduction in the TBR this week… but no increase either! Remaining stable on 213…

Here are a few more I’ll be butting up against soon…

English Classic

The Go-Between by LP Hartley

For my Classics Club list. During the last Classics Club spin, three of us – Rose, Sandra and myself – all put this book on our list at the same number thinking it would be fun to review it at the same time. The number didn’t come up but we decided to do a review-along anyway, all posting our reviews on 15th January if we can. Anyone else is welcome to join in, either with the reviewing or just the reading! It’s a long overdue re-read for me of a book I thought was brilliant first time around… and second… and….

Even if you haven’t read the book, I bet you recognise the first line…

The Blurb says: ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’

When one long, hot summer, young Leo is staying with a school-friend at Brandham Hall, he begins to act as a messenger between Ted, the farmer, and Marian, the beautiful young woman up at the hall. He becomes drawn deeper and deeper into their dangerous game of deceit and desire, until his role brings him to a shocking and premature revelation. The haunting story of a young boy’s awakening into the secrets of the adult world, The Go-Between is also an unforgettable evocation of the boundaries of Edwardian society.

* * * * *

Vintage Crime

The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly

A seasonal mystery, courtesy of the British Library. I’ve never heard of Mary Kelly, but apparently she was well regarded in her time. Another gorgeous cover, and it sounds like fun…

The Blurb says: London. 22nd December. Chief Inspector Brett Nightingale and Sergeant Beddoes have been called to a gloomy flat off Islington High Street. An elderly woman lies dead on the bed, and her trunk has been looted. The woman is Princess Olga Karukhin – an emigrant of Civil War Russia – and her trunk is missing its glittering treasure…

Out in the dizzying neon and festive chaos of the capital a colourful cast of suspects abound: the downtrodden grandson, a plutocratic jeweller, Bolsheviks with unfinished business? Beddoes and Nightingale have their work cut out in this tightly-paced, quirky and highly enjoyable jewel of the mystery genre.

* * * * *

New Crime

The Cabin by Jørn Lier Horst

Courtesy of Penguin UK – Michael Joseph via NetGalley. This is the second in Horst’s Cold Case Quartet and for once I’ve actually read the first! And I enjoyed it – William Wisting is the kind of detective I like – dedicated, hard-working, with a stable family life and a life outside work. And the cover looks delightfully seasonal…

The Blurb says: It’s been fifteen years since Simon Meier walked out of his house, never to be seen again. And just one day since politician Bernard Clausen was found dead at his cabin on the Norwegian coast.

When Chief Inspector William Wisting is asked to investigate he soon discovers he may have found the key to solving Meier’s disappearance. But doing so means he must work with an old adversary to piece together what really happened all those years ago.

It’s a puzzle that leads them into a dark underworld on the trail of Clausen’s interests and vices. A shady place from which they may never emerge – especially when he finds it leads closer to home than he ever could have imagined.

* * * * *

Fiction

Something to Answer For by PH Newby

This was the book that won the first ever Booker Prize in 1969. That’s not why I’m reading it though – I was recommended it to fill one of the tricky compulsory places on my Around the World challenge, the Suez Canal. The colonial aspects always appeal to me, so fingers crossed!

The Blurb says: It is 1956 and Townrow is in Port Said – of these two facts he’s reasonably certain. He has been summoned by the widow of his deceased friend, Elie Khoury. She is convinced that Elie was murdered, but nobody seems to agree with her. What about Leah Strauss, the mistress? And the invading British paratroops? Only an Englishman, surely, would take for granted that the British have behaved themselves. In this disorientating world Townrow must assess the rules by which he has been living his life – to wonder whether he, too, may have something to answer for. . .

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 218…

Episode 218

Spookily, the TBR has dropped by two this week, to 213. I feel as if I’ve read very little so I can only assume they’ve been scared off the list somehow…

(My cats love this gif so much!)

Here are a few more I’ll be busting soon – hope they haven’t been ghost-written!

Scottish Crime

Blood City by Douglas Skelton

This is the first book in a quartet. I read and loved the fourth book a few years ago (I know, illogical, which proves I’m not Vulcan) and have been meaning to read the earlier books ever since. This has been on my TBR since 2016…

The Blurb says: Meet Davie McCall – not your average henchman. Abused and tormented by his father for fifteen years, there is a darkness in him searching for a way out. Under the wing of Glasgow’s Godfather, Joe ‘the Tailor’ Klein, he flourishes. Joe the Tailor may be a killer, but there are some lines he won’t cross, and Davie agrees with his strict moral code. He doesn’t like drugs. He won’t condone foul language. He abhors violence against women. When the Tailor refuses to be part of Glasgow’s new drug trade, the hits start rolling. It’s every man for himself as the entire criminal underworld turns on itself, and Davie is well and truly caught up in the action. But a young reporter makes him wonder if he can leave his life of crime behind and Davie must learn the hard way that you cannot change. Blood City is a novel set in Glasgow’s underworld at a time when it was undergoing a seismic shift. A tale of violence, corruption and betrayal, loyalties will be tested and friendships torn apart.

* * * * *

Vintage Crime Shorts

The Measure of Malice edited by Martin Edwards

Another anthology of vintage short detective stories from the wonderful British Library Crime Classics series. These may be a little less to my taste than usual, since mysteries that hinge on physical clues don’t usually work as well for me as those that depend on motive. But my lower expectations leave me hoping to be surprised!

The Blurb says: The detective’s role is simple: to catch the culprit. Yet behind each casual observation lies a learned mind, trained on finding the key to the mystery. Crimes, whatever their form, are often best solved through deliberations of logic – preferably amid complicated gadgetry and a pile of hefty scientific volumes.

The detectives in this collection are masters of scientific deduction, whether they are identifying the perpetrator from a single scrap of fabric, or picking out the poison from a sinister line-up. Containing stories by R. Austin Freeman, J. J. Connington and the master of logical reasoning, Arthur Conan Doyle, The Measure of Malice collects tales of rational thinking to prove the power of the human brain over villainous deeds.

* * * * *

Scottish Classic

The House with the Green Shutters by George Douglas Brown

From my Classics Club list. I think this sounds dismal and the words “postmodern alienation” send an apprehensive shiver down my spine. But my brother tells me it’s good, so I’ll either enjoy the book or I’ll enjoy bashing him over the head with it. Win-win!

The Blurb says: The most famous Scottish novel of the early 20th century, The House with the Green Shutters has remained a landmark on the literary scene ever since it was first published in 1901. Determined to overthrow the sentimental “kailyard” stereotypes of the day, George Douglas Brown exposed the bitter pettiness of commercial greed and small-town Scottish life as he himself had come to know it. More than this, however, his novel lays bare the seductive and crippling presence of patriarchal authority in Scottish culture at large, symbolized by the terrible struggle between old John Gourlay and his weak but imaginative son. Illuminated by lightning flashes of descriptive brilliance, Brown’s prose evokes melodrama, Greek tragedy, and postmodern alienation in a unique and unforgettably powerful reading experience. Introduced by Cairns Craig.

* * * * *

Historical Crime

Now You See Them by Elly Griffiths

Courtesy of Quercus via NetGalley. The latest entry in Griffiths’ so far excellent Stephens and Mephisto series, set in Brighton. Up till now it’s been set in the 1950s, but this one seems to be taking us into the ’60s… 

The Blurb says: DCI Edgar Stephens, Detective Sergeants Emma Holmes and Bob Willis, and of course magician Max Mephisto, are facing a brave new world: the 1960s. Max is a huge TV star in the USA, and life in Brighton has settled down for the three police officers.

The funeral of Diablo, actor and wartime comrade to Edgar and Max, throws the gang back together. A more surprising face to see is Ruby, Edgar ex-fiance, now the star of her own TV show. At the funeral Ruby asks Emma’s advice about someone who is stalking her. Emma is flattered and promises to investigate.

Then Ruby goes missing and the race to find her involves not only the old comrades but sundry new characters from the often bewildering world of the sixties music scene…

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

The Blogger Recognition Award

…aka How It All Began…

I’m thrilled to have been nominated for The Blogger Recognition Award by carllbatnag at The Pine-Scented Chronicles – thank you!

The Award Rules

1. Thank the blogger/s who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
2. Write a post to show your award.
3. Give a brief story of how your blog started.
4. Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
5. Select 15 other bloggers you want to give this award to.
6. Comment (or pingback) on each blog and let them know you have nominated them and provide the link to the post you created.

3. Give a brief story of how your blog started…

Once upon a time, there was a lovely young woman of noble birth, Lady FF, who fell in love with the King’s favourite son, and he loved her right back because did I mention she was gorgeous? She looked a bit like this…

…and her Prince looked a bit like this, when he was playing tennis, which he did a lot when he wasn’t telling Lady FF about how her eyes were like bright stars lighting up the vast void of his personal heaven…

The King looked a bit like this…

(…and, whisper it not, there were moments when Lady FF wondered if the more mature man might not be more her style. But the King was already married whereas the Prince wasn’t, so that helped with the decision.) The King’s wife looked a bit like this…

Now, Lady FF was never one to judge by appearances, which was a pity because any fool could have seen that the Queen had some kind of major personality disorder. The Queen was deeply jealous of Lady FF because of the love the Prince bore for her, plus because Lady FF was considerably better looking than she and frankly had better dress sense.

One day, the Prince went off to the forest to hunt. (Fear not! He didn’t actually kill anything – he simply hunted for pretty creatures, snapped them and posted the pics to his Instagram account. Pictures like this…)

When evening fell and he had not returned, Lady FF was worried so she set off bravely – did I mention she was terribly brave? – following the tracks of his horse’s hooves deep into the darkest depths of the deepest dell. (She’d been experimenting with alliteration recently.) There she came upon an ancient cottage. She knocked on the door and was astonished when who should open it but the Queen herself!

“Where is my Prince?” Lady FF demanded. She could be peremptory when required.

“Buried deep in cavern halls
Without his racquet or his balls.”

(Balls like this!)

(Seriously, people, your minds…!)

“But why?” Lady FF whined. She could be whiny too, but in an irresistibly attractive way.

“To keep him from your clutching hands.
You ne’er shall be Princess of these lands.”

“Ne’er?”

“Ne’er!”

Lady FF dropped to her knees, clasped her hands and looked beseechingly at the cruel Queen.

“Is there nothing I can do or say to make you change your mind, oh fair and gentle Queen?” (Flattery ne’er goes amiss in these circumstances.)

The Queen cackled gleefully.

“Listen close and I shall tell
The only way to break my spell.
The Royal Castle has a room
In which is piled your awful doom.
Three thousand books all bound in blue
You must read them all, it’s true.
And when you finish every one
You may then wed my loving son.
But proof I need of all you do
So every book you must review!”

And so Lady FF began a book blog, and dreamt each night of the time to come when she and her Prince would live happily ever after…

* * * * *

4. Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers…

a) Have fun! That’s what it’s all about. Do as much or as little as you like and don’t compare your blog to other people’s – they’re they and you’re you. And when it all starts to feel like work, take a break, bake a cake, sail on a lake, or run off with a sheik – the blog (and your followers) will still be there when you and your enthusiasm return.

b) If you want people to come to your blog and chat, go to their blogs and chat. Quid pro quo, as that great philosopher and linguist Donald J. Trump would say.

Bonus advice…

c) Never mention Donald J. Trump.

* * * * *

(Gratuitous Darcy pic…)

5. Select 15 other bloggers you want to give this award to.

OK, I don’t usually do this, but there don’t seem to have been so many awards and tags going around lately, so I’m going to spread the love this time. Here’s my fifteen – all bloggers who richly deserve an award for the fun they add to the blogosphere. I shall be deeply offended if you don’t accept the award and link your post back to me. In fact, I’m already plotting my revenge…

Cathy @ Between the Lines
Karissa @ Karissa Reads Books
MarinaSofia @ Finding Time to Write
Jennifer @ Tar Heel Reader
Margaret @ Books Please
Kelly @ Kelly’s Thoughts and Ramblings
Rose @ Rose Reads Novels
Katrina @ Pining for the West
Anne @ I’ve Read This
Jane @ Just Reading a Book
L. Marie @ El Space
Debbie @ Musings by an ND Domer’s Mom
Madame Bibi @ Madame Bibi Lophile Recommends
Eva @ Novel Delights
Stargazer

Have a great Wednesday! 😀

The Curious Mr Tarrant by C. Daly King

A mystery to me…

😐 😐

A collection of eight mysteries starring the mysterious Trevis Tarrant, ably assisted by his manservant, Katoh, who is actually a Japanese spy.

I must admit that sometimes the most baffling mystery to me is why a book has been included in Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, and this is one of those cases. Edwards says: The Curious Mr Tarrant is one of the most renowned collection of stories focusing primarily on impossible crimes.” It appears the stories were admired by Ellery Queen and Dorothy L Sayers, amongst others, so clearly they saw more in King than I. Apparently he never achieved popular success in his native America, though, and had difficulty finding publishers there. I’m kinda with the Americans on this one, and think it’s unfortunate this has been chosen to fill one of only four slots in the Across the Atlantic section.

It actually starts off pretty well. I gave a couple of the early stories 5 stars and another 4. But the rest ranged from mediocre to dire, getting progressively worse as they went along. The final story slumped all the way to one star.

Tarrant is an amateur detective, but his interest is purely in the bizarre. He investigates for the intellectual thrill, and has no particular interest in achieving justice. In the early stories the narrator is Jerry Phelan, a young man about town who meets Tarrant during the first case in the collection, The Episode of the Codex Curse. Jerry and the girl he loves, Valerie, are quite fun, as is Jerry’s sister, Mary – all three of them have a Wodehouse-ish vibe. They gradually play smaller and smaller roles and eventually all but disappear, and the later stories badly miss the element of humour they bring to the earlier ones. Tarrant himself is one of these annoying geniuses with a remarkable gift for working out what seems unfathomable to the mere mortals around him. I liked him well enough at the beginning but tired of him quite quickly. And the last few stories introduce a strange kind of supernatural or mystical element, which is too nonsensical to be taken seriously, but not nonsensical enough to be amusing.

Challenge details:
Book: 92
Subject Heading: Across the Atlantic
Publication Year: 1935

When reviewing a collection, I usually highlight a few of my favourite stories. Here I’m afraid there are only two that I really enjoyed, although, in fairness, both of them are very good:

The Episode of the Tangible Illusion – Valerie is refusing to marry Jerry because she thinks she’s going mad. She hears footsteps in her house when no-one is there, and sees strange images in her room at night. Jerry, having met Tarrant in a previous case and admiring his talent for explaining the inexplicable, asks him to investigate. This is the second story in the book and is very well told, with a great mix of humour, spookiness and a lovely little romance. The solution is ingenious and the detective element is stronger than in most of the other stories.

The Episode of “Torment IV” – Torment IV is the name of a small yacht, and the story is based on the idea of the Mary Celeste. One day the yacht is found abandoned, and it transpires that the family who were on it all drowned. Tarrant investigates what happened to drive them all into the sea, given that the sea had been calm and nothing seems to be amiss on the boat. This is as much horror as detection and it has a great element of suspense. Although the solution is actually a bit silly, the ending is quite effectively scary.

C Daly King

And that’s it. There’s another one, The Episode of the Nail and the Requiem – a traditional locked room mystery – which seems to be highly thought of. I fear I found it dull. The characterisation is non-existent and the whole thing hinges purely on the technical details of how the deed was done.

Overall, I couldn’t recommend this collection, although the couple of stories I’ve highlighted are worth reading should you ever happen across them. A disappointment.

(The Kindle version I’m linking to has an extra four stories that King wrote later which weren’t originally included in the collection. I’m afraid I couldn’t get up enough enthusiasm to read them.)

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 217…

Episode 217

Oops! A tiny little increase in the TBR this week – up 1 to 215. But it’s not my fault! It’s all these politicians! How is a girl to concentrate when the “civilised” world is going into meltdown?? Still, they might all be useless, but at least our new PM is more entertaining than the last one…

Here are a few more I’ll be putting to the vote soon…

American Classic

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

I surprised myself by loving my introduction to Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises, a few years ago, so am hoping he works the same magic with this one, which actually sounds more like my kind of thing…

The Blurb says: High in the pine forests of the Spanish Sierra, a guerrilla band prepares to blow up a vital bridge. Robert Jordan, a young American volunteer, has been sent to handle the dynamiting. There, in the mountains, he finds the dangers and the intense comradeship of war. And there he discovers Maria, a young woman who has escaped from Franco’s rebels…

* * * * *

Vintage Sci-Fi Shorts

Menace of the Monster edited by Mike Ashley

I thoroughly enjoyed the other volume I’ve read in this series of vintage sci-fi from the British Library, Menace of the Machine, so I have high hopes for this one. I’ve already dipped into it to find a Tuesday Terror! story and the porpy and I were both cowering behind a barrel of ant spray after reading De Profundis – we’re hoping they’re not all quite as scary as that one!

The Blurb says: The field of classic science fiction is populated with bizarre and fearsome creatures, be they lifeforms from other worlds, corrupted beasts from our own planet or entities from unimaginable dimensions.

Collected within is a diverse host of these otherworldly beings, from savage prehistoric revenants to nightmare predators encountered in the dark of space; from alien visitors on trial under US law to unfamiliar species under the knife in an intergalactic hospital; and from warlike Martians to the peaceful creatures for whom Man might be the monstrous invader…

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Horror

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

This has been on my TBR since 2014, mainly because I’ve only read one ghost story of Hill’s and it was bland, unscary and derivative. This one is of course much praised, so hopefully it will be better, but my expectations are low. I did see a theatre adaptation of it many moons ago and, hmm, well, let’s just say I snored more than I shrieked… but the book is always better, right? Right?

The Blurb says: The classic ghost story by Susan Hill: a chilling tale about a menacing spectre haunting a small English town.

Arthur Kipps is an up-and-coming London solicitor who is sent to Crythin Gifford—a faraway town in the windswept salt marshes beyond Nine Lives Causeway—to attend the funeral and settle the affairs of a client, Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. Mrs. Drablow’s house stands at the end of the causeway, wreathed in fog and mystery, but Kipps is unaware of the tragic secrets that lie hidden behind its sheltered windows. The routine business trip he anticipated quickly takes a horrifying turn when he finds himself haunted by a series of mysterious sounds and images—a rocking chair in a deserted nursery, the eerie sound of a pony and trap, a child’s scream in the fog, and, most terrifying of all, a ghostly woman dressed all in black. Psychologically terrifying and deliciously eerie, The Woman in Black is a remarkable thriller of the first rate.

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Scottish Classic

The New Road by Neil Munro

I know nothing about this one other than it regularly appears on lists of Scottish classics. The blurb might be short but it still sounds intriguing… 

The Blurb says: The New Road tells the story of Aeneas McMaster – a young man haunted by the disappearance of his Jacobite father 14 years earlier. It is also the story of the Highlands at the time when General Wade’s road was carving its way between Stirling and Inverness into the traditional strongholds of the Clans.

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 216…

Episode 216

You might want to hold on to your hats, people, because you’re in for a major shock! The TBR has plunged this week by a massive FOUR – down to 214! 

Here are a few more I’ll be diving into soon…

American Classic

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

This is on both my Classics Club list and my 5 x 5 Challenge. Oh dear! I do think Steinbeck’s prose is wonderful but I find his worldview depressing way beyond realism. I’m really hoping this will be the one that I can finally love without reservation… but I’m not confident…

The Blurb says: Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. Here Steinbeck created some of his most memorable characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity; the inexplicability of love; and the murderous consequences of love’s absence.

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Classic Sci-Fi

Wild Harbour by Ian MacPherson

Well, I made it through just 8% of Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein before throwing it at the wall. So I found I had an empty slot in the Sci-Fi section of my Classics Club list. Serendipitously, the British Library had sent me a copy of this vintage sci-fi from a Scottish author, which is quite a rarity in itself…

The Blurb says: Something has happened in Europe. Fearing the approach of it to Britain, Terry and Hugh retreat from their home to the remote highlands of Scotland, prepared to live a simple existence together whilst the fighting resolves itself far away. Encouraged by Terry, Hugh begins a journal to note down the highs and lows of this return to nature, and to process their concerns of the oncoming danger. But as the sounds of guns by night grow louder, the grim prospect of encroaching war threatens to invade their cherish isolation and demolish any hope of future peace. Macpherson’s only science fiction novel is a bleak and truly prescient novel of future war first published in 1936, just 3 years before the outbreak of conflict in Europe. A carefully drawn tale of survival in the wilderness and the value of our connection with others, Wild Harbour is both beautiful and heart-rending.

(Since I know some of you enjoy my embittered abandonment comments on Goodreads, here’s what I said about Starship Troopers

8% in and bored out of my mind. I paraphrase…

“I saw a building and directed a bomb with a funny name at it. It blew up. I saw another building and directed another bomb with an equally funny name at it. It blew up.” Ad nauseam.

If only I had a bomb with a funny name I could blow this book up. As it is, I’ll have to settle for deleting it from my Kindle. A classic? Perhaps, but only if you like bombs.)

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Historical Crime

Death in the East by Abir Mukherjee

The much-anticipated next instalment in Mukherjee’s excellent Sam Wyndham series, set in the last days of the Raj. My only criticism of this series has been Sam’s tedious opium addiction, so I’m delighted to see he’s seeking a cure – I sincerely hope he finds it…

The Blurb says: 1922, India. Leaving Calcutta, Captain Sam Wyndham heads for the hills of Assam, to the ashram of a sainted monk where he hopes to conquer his opium addiction. But when he arrives, he sees a ghost from his past – a man thought to be long dead, a man Wyndham hoped he would never see again.

1905, London. As a young constable, Sam Wyndham is on his usual East London beat when he comes across an old flame, Bessie Drummond, attacked in the streets. The next day, when Bessie is found brutally beaten in her own room, locked from the inside, Wyndham promises to get to the bottom of this. But the case will cost the young constable more than he ever imagined.

In Assam, Wyndham knows he must call his friend and colleague Sergeant Banerjee for help. He is certain this figure from his past isn’t here by coincidence, but for revenge . . .

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Historical Fiction

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

For my Around the World challenge, but also mainly because I’ve wanted to read this one for a long time. Regulars will know I enjoy colonial-era fiction, but it’s usually told through the eyes of the colonisers. This book is lauded as changing that, and putting an African voice and perspective centre-stage…  

The Blurb says: Okonkwo is the greatest warrior alive, famous throughout West Africa. But when he accidentally kills a clansman, things begin to fall apart. Then Okonkwo returns from exile to find missionaries and colonial governors have arrived in the village. With his world thrown radically off-balance he can only hurtle towards tragedy. Chinua Achebe’s stark novel reshaped both African and world literature. This arresting parable of a proud but powerless man witnessing the ruin of his people begins Achebe’s landmark trilogy of works chronicling the fate of one African community, continued in Arrow of God and No Longer at Ease.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Payment Deferred by CS Forester

Fade to grey…

🙂 🙂 🙂

We first meet William Marble as he sits in his dining room one evening, totting up his debts. William is a bank clerk who deals in currency exchange, and his salary is of the respectable rather than the generous kind. Despite his humble house, he and his wife Annie always overspend their budget and for a long time William has been shuffling his debt around, borrowing from one person to pay off another. But now he’s reached the point where he has no-one left to tap and his creditors are looking to be paid. Then his young nephew arrives unexpectedly from Australia, with a wallet stuffed with wads of banknotes. And it just so happens William has a cupboard full of photography chemicals that can easily double as poison…

This is not a detective novel, so that little blurb isn’t nearly as spoilerish as it might seem. The murder happens right at the beginning, and the book is actually about the impact it has on William’s psychology. We watch as guilt and fear eat away at him, destroying his already weak character. It’s very well written and psychologically convincing but, oh my, it’s depressing! William is deeply unlikeable while Annie is portrayed as so stupid that it seems unlikely that William would ever have found her attractive. They have two teenage children. Winnie, William’s favourite, starts out OK, but becomes progressively harder to like as the book goes on, while John, the son, has all the makings of a fine young man till his father’s increasingly erratic behaviour begins to affect him. I had a lot of sympathy for John, a little for poor stupid Annie, and none at all for the other two.

William eventually solves his money problems by carrying out a shady transaction at his bank – what today we’d describe as insider trading. Clearly Forester understood what he was talking he about when he described the details of how this scheme worked, but I fear I didn’t and my eyes began to glaze over. However, the end result is that William suddenly becomes well off, and we see how this change in fortune too affects the members of the family, not for the better.

Challenge details:
Book: 74
Subject Heading: The Psychology of Crime
Publication Year: 1926

The element of suspense comes from wondering what the outcome will be. Will William give himself away? Will Annie begin to suspect him? But it’s very underplayed – for reasons made clear early on, there’s no active investigation going on into the young victim’s disappearance. While the vast majority of the book is very credible, the ending left me annoyed at the abrupt and contrived way Forester tied everything up.

As you can probably tell, this one is not a favourite of mine. I often struggle with books where the criminal is the main character unless there’s plenty of black humour to lift the tone. In this one there is no humour, leaving it a bleak story with a couple of episodes that I found distinctly unpleasant. Had it been set amidst the anxious speed of big city life I would call it noir, but the respectable dullness of the middle-class suburban setting left the tone feeling grey. I also felt it went on too long (though in actual pages it’s quite short) – the endless descriptions of William drinking whisky to drown his guilt, his heart constantly thudding, pounding, racing, poor Annie’s repeated descent into sobbing for one reason or another, all became so repetitive that they lost any impact after a while.

CS Forester

However, this is mostly a matter of personal taste – I do think it does what it sets out to do very well; that is, to show the disintegration of the man and the effect this has on his family. Call me shallow but, although I admired the skill and the writing, I simply didn’t find it entertaining or enjoyable. Nor was it quite tragic enough to be harrowing, somehow. I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it, but the ratings on Goodreads suggest plenty of people have enjoyed it far more than I did, so if the idea of it appeals to you, don’t let my reaction put you off. Noir is not my favourite colour, even when it’s faded…

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link – sorry, can only find used copies on Amazon US.