TBR Thursday 128…

Episode 128…

Woohoo! Down two this week, to 194! The dreaded 200 is receding into the distance! However, I have to confess to having a couple of NetGalley requests outstanding so it could go back up any time. But I’ll celebrate while I can…

The first three of this week’s choices are from my 20 Books of Summer list. Which I must admit is all going horribly wrong. I’ve abandoned three and have only read seven so far, and have only reviewed one. There’s still plenty of time though. Isn’t there?

Crime

Courtesy of NetGalley. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Megan Abbott’s last three books, all of which were told from the perspective of young girls. This one seems to be from the perspective of a mother of a teenage girl, so I’m intrigued to see whether this voice works just as well for me…

The Blurb says: Katie and Eric Knox have dedicated their lives to their fifteen-year-old daughter Devon, a gymnastics prodigy and Olympic hopeful. But when a violent death rocks their close-knit gymnastics community just weeks before an all-important competition, everything the Knoxes have worked so hard for feels suddenly at risk. As rumors swirl among the other parents, revealing hidden plots and allegiances, Katie tries frantically to hold her family together while also finding herself drawn, irresistibly, to the crime itself, and the dark corners it threatens to illuminate. From a writer with “exceptional gifts for making nerves jangle and skin crawl,” (Janet Maslin) You Will Know Me is a breathless rollercoaster of a novel about the desperate limits of desire, jealousy, and ambition.

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Crime

Courtesy of NetGalley, this one is actually making its second appearance on my TBR. It was a People’s Choice pollwinner a long time ago, and then I went off the idea after reading several reviews that suggest it’s pretty harrowing. However, it turned up again on NetGalley recently, so I thought I should at least try it…

The Blurb says: One man is dead.

But thousands are his victims.

Can a single murder avenge that of many?

When Christopher Drayton’s body is found at the foot of the Scarborough Bluffs, Detectives Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty are called to investigate his death. But as the secrets of his role in the 1995 Srebrenica Massacre surface, the harrowing significance of the case makes it difficult to remain objective. In a community haunted by the atrocities of war, anyone could be a suspect. And when the victim is a man with far more deaths to his name, could it be that justice has at long last been served?

In this striking debut, Ausma Zehanat Khan has written a compelling and provocative mystery exploring the complexities of identity, loss, and redemption.

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Fiction

Courtesy of NetGalley. This one has been lingering unread on my Kindle for the best part of a year and I don’t know why, since I really like the sound of it. I also have the audiobook, read by Aidan Kelly, so am intending to do a joint read/listen…

The Blurb says: After signing up for the US army in the 1850s, aged barely seventeen, Thomas McNulty and his brother-in-arms, John Cole, go on to fight in the Indian wars and, ultimately, the Civil War.

Having fled terrible hardships they find these days to be vivid and filled with wonder, despite the horrors they both see and are complicit in. Their lives are further enriched and imperilled when a young Indian girl crosses their path, and the possibility of lasting happiness emerges, if only they can survive.

Moving from the plains of the West to Tennessee, Sebastian Barry’s latest work is a masterpiece of atmosphere and language. Both an intensely poignant story of two men and the lives they are dealt, and a fresh look at some of the most fateful years in America’s past, Days Without End is a novel never to be forgotten.

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Fiction on Audio

One of my Classics Club re-reads, so I decided to try the audiobook, narrated by Sissy Spacek, this time. However, I have the paper copy on stand-by just in case…

The Blurb says: Beautifully narrated by actress Sissy Spacek, Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning literary masterpiece is unforgettable. Capturing an ephemeral moment in Southern history, it explores uncomfortable truths about justice and the human condition.

‘Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’

A lawyer’s advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee’s classic novel – a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the ’30s. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence, and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man’s struggle for justice. But the weight of history will tolerate only so much.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age story, an antiracist novel, a historical drama of the Great Depression and a sublime example of the Southern writing tradition.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads, NetGalley or Audible.

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

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Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….With relatively few exceptions, they [Golden Age crime writers] came from well-to-do families, and were educated at public school; many went to Oxford or Cambridge. . . .
….Theirs was, in many ways, a small and elitist world, and this helps to explain why classic crime novels often include phonetic renditions of the dialogue of working-class people which make modern readers cringe. Some of the attitudes evident and implicit in the books of highly educated authors, for instance as regards Jewish and gay people, would be unacceptable in fiction written in the twenty-first century. It is worth remembering that theirs was not only a tiny world, but also a very different one from ours, and one of the pleasures of reading classic crime is that it affords an insight into the Britain of the past, a country in some respects scarcely recognisable today.

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….It had to finish like this. Sooner or later he had been bound to discover what was concealed from other beings – that there was no real distinction between the living and the dead. It’s only because of the coarseness of our perception that we imagine the dead elsewhere, in some other world. Not a bit of it. The dead are with us here, mixed up in our lives and meddling with them…. They speak to us with shadowy mouths; they write with hands of smoke. Ordinary people, of course, don’t notice. They’re too preoccupied with their own affairs. To perceive these things you’ve got to have been incompletely born and thus only half involved in this noisy, colourful, flamboyant world…

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….When we reached the crest of the steep winding brae leading into it, the smoke from the straw chimneys was the only visible sign of life. Otherwise one might have imagined that some terrible scourge had made an end to all the inhabitants and no one had come near the clachan since from a superstitious dread.
….Green hill rising behind green hill – they raised in me a brooding, inherent melancholy. I felt this place had lived through everything, had seen everything, that it was saturated with memories and legends. I thought of it submerged under the sea, of the ocean receding farther and farther from it; of glaciers creeping down the mountains, forming the glens and ravines; of the mountains as spent volcanoes covered by the impenetrable Caledonian forest. And now there was nothing more for it to know and it was waiting for the clap of doom.

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….“There is so much lying going on around that I could scream. All my friends, all my acquaintances, people whom earlier I never would have thought of as liars, are now uttering falsehoods at every turn. They cannot help but lie; they cannot help but add to their own lies, their own flourishes to the well-known falsehoods. And they all do so from an agonising need that everything be just as they so fiercely desire.”

Ivan Bunin quoted in Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths

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….“No one’s going to harm a hair on my precious uncle’s head. He’s safe enough. He’ll always be safe – safe and smug and prosperous and full of platitudes. He’s just a stodgy John Bull, that’s what he is, without an ounce of imagination or vision.” She paused, then, her agreeable husky voice deepening, she said venomously, “I loathe the sight of you, you bloody little bourgeois detective.”
….She swept away from him in a swirl of expensive, model drapery. Hercule Poirot remained, his eyes very wide open, his eyebrows raised, and his hand thoughtfully caressing his moustaches. The epithet ‘bourgeois’ was, he admitted, well applied to him. His outlook on life was essentially bourgeois and always had been. But the employment of it as an epithet of contempt by the exquisitely turned out Jane Olivera gave him, as he expressed it to himself, furiously to think.

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So…are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 127…

Episode 127…

During my tennis-watching break the TBR fell dramatically, at one point going as low as 193. But as soon as I returned to the blogosphere this week it started to rise again, till now it’s back up to 196 – exactly where it was at my last TBR post. This provides conclusive proof of what I’ve long suspected – my TBR woes are all because of…

YOU!

So here’s this week’s attempt to get my own back!

All of this weeks choices are from my 20 Books of Summer list.

Fiction

Courtesy of NetGalley, this was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize…

The Blurb says: A group of children inherit an elemental paradise on earth in Roy Jacobsen’s phenomenally bestselling new novel about love, poverty and tragedy in early twentieth century Norway.

“Nobody can leave an island. An island is a cosmos in a nutshell, where the stars slumber in the grass beneath the snow. But occasionally someone tries . . .”

Ingrid Barrøy is born on an island that bears her name – a holdfast for a single family, their livestock, their crops, their hopes and dreams. Her father dreams of building a quay that will connect them to the mainland, but closer ties to the wider world come at a price. Her mother has her own dreams – more children, a smaller island, a different life – and there is one question Ingrid must never ask her.

Island life is hard, a living scratched from the dirt or trawled from the sea, so when Ingrid comes of age, she is sent to the mainland to work for one of the wealthy families on the coast. But Norway too is waking up to a wider world, a modern world that is capricious and can be cruel. Tragedy strikes, and Ingrid must fight to protect the home she thought she had left behind.

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Crime

Courtesy of NetGalley, another anthology of classic crime from the British Library…

The Blurb says: A man is forbidden to uncover the secret of the tower in a fairy-tale castle by the Rhine. A headless corpse is found in a secret garden in Paris – belonging to the city’s chief of police. And a drowned man is fished from the sea off the Italian Riviera, leaving the carabinieri to wonder why his socialite friends at the Villa Almirante are so unconcerned by his death. These are three of the scenarios in this new collection of vintage crime stories. Detective stories from the golden age and beyond have used European settings – cosmopolitan cities, rural idylls and crumbling chateaux – to explore timeless themes of revenge, deception, murder and haunting. Including lesser-known stories by Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, G.K. Chesterton, J. Jefferson Farjeon and other classic writers, this collection reveals many hidden gems of British crime.

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Factual

Courtesy of Princeton University Press. And not just about Russia for once…

The Blurb says: Krishan Kumar provides panoramic and multifaceted portraits of five major European empires—Ottoman, Habsburg, Russian/Soviet, British, and French—showing how each, like ancient Rome, saw itself as the carrier of universal civilization to the rest of the world. Sometimes these aims were couched in religious terms, as with Islam for the Ottomans or Catholicism for the Habsburgs. Later, the imperial missions took more secular forms, as with British political traditions or the world communism of the Soviets.

Visions of Empire offers new insights into the interactions between rulers and ruled, revealing how empire was as much a shared enterprise as a clash of oppositional interests. It explores how these empires differed from nation-states, particularly in how the ruling peoples of empires were forced to downplay or suppress their own national or ethnic identities in the interests of the long-term preservation of their rule. This compelling and in-depth book demonstrates how the rulers of empire, in their quest for a universal world order, left behind a legacy of multiculturalism and diversity that is uniquely relevant for us today.

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Fiction

Courtesy of NetGalley. I loved Helen Dunmore’s Exposure and have been meaning to read more of her ever since, so couldn’t resist her new one…

The Blurb says: It is 1792 and Europe is seized by political turmoil and violence. Lizzie Fawkes has grown up in Radical circles where each step of the French Revolution is followed with eager idealism. But she has recently married John Diner Tredevant, a property developer who is heavily invested in Bristol’s housing boom, and he has everything to lose from social upheaval and the prospect of war. Soon his plans for a magnificent terrace built above the two-hundred-foot drop of the Gorge come under threat. Tormented and striving Diner believes that Lizzie’s independent, questioning spirit must be coerced and subdued. She belongs to him: law and custom confirm it, and she must live as he wants–his passion for Lizzie darkening until she finds herself dangerously alone.

Weaving a deeply personal and moving story with a historical moment of critical and complex importance, Birdcage Walk is an unsettling and brilliantly tense drama of public and private violence, resistance and terror from one of our greatest storytellers.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

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

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Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….Meanwhile Esther was telling us about a friend from preschool who is named either Lisi or Ilse or Else and either took a toy away from her or gave her one, at which point the teachers did either nothing at all or just the right thing, or something wrong; little kids are not good storytellers. But Susanna and I exclaimed That’s great! and Incredible! and How about that! and the relief when she stopped talking brought us closer together.

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….The main aim of detective stories is to entertain, but the best cast a light on human behaviour, and display both literary ambition and accomplishment. [FF shouts: Hear! Hear!] And there is another reason why millions of modern readers continue to appreciate classic crime fiction. Even unpretentious detective stories, written for unashamedly commercial reasons, can give us clues to the past, and give us insight into a long-vanished world that, for all its imperfections, continues to fascinate.

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….I had tried to explain to my mother that it was awful to go so early; that one looked so silly when the field was full of small children. I could not explain that when it was dark a new dignity would transform the fair into an oasis of excitement, so that it became a place of mystery and delight; peopled with soldiers from the camp and orange-faced girls wearing head scarves, who in strange regimented lines would sway back and forth across the field, facing each other defiantly, exchanging no words, bright-eyed under the needle stars. I could not explain how all at once the lines would meet and mingle performing a complicated rite of selection; orange girls and soldier boys pairing off slowly to drift to the far end of the field and struggle under the hedges filled with blackberries.

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With this one it’s all about the images…

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….There are certain humiliating moments in the lives of the greatest of men. It has been said that no man is a hero to his valet. To that may be added that few men are heroes to themselves at the moment of visiting their dentist.
….Hercule Poirot was morbidly conscious of this fact.
….He was a man who was accustomed to have a good opinion of himself. He was Hercule Poirot, superior in most ways to other men. But in this moment he was unable to feel superior in any way whatever. His morale was down to zero. He was just that ordinary, craven figure, a man afraid of the dentist’s chair.

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….At first Mr Cooke is angry with Isabelle. He wants her to know what she is putting her mother through. When the anger lifts he wishes it back because then he is just terrified. He is so frightened he wants to hold his daughter tight and never let go. Then he just wants to hold her hand, then just to see her. Just to see her. The yearning is worse than the fear. The yearning is a sorrowing ache that burrows deep down into the core of him.
….As the night wears on he gets less and less tired. Mr Cooke knows how men talk about girls. He knows what might have happened to his own Isabelle. Over the long hours of the dark, as all the hope he will ever feel is sucked out through his soles into the wet, treacherous earth, it comes to feel absolutely vital that he find the dancing shoes that she has worn thin with all her dancing.

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So…are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 126… and Quarterly Round-Up

TBR Quarterly Report

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

Last time I mentioned that I had a new system for cutting back on review books – namely, that before I click request on NetGalley or Amazon Vine, I ask myself “Would you really rather be reading this than one of the books you already own?” This has actually been working well (though the figures don’t show it yet, mainly because so many publishers have been kindly providing me with books for the Reading the Russian Revolution Challenge, which I greatly appreciate). So I’ve now extended that principle to my wishlist which had got out of hand again, resulting in a massive cull of some of the many books on there that I can’t convince myself are must-reads. I’ll be culling even more deeply over the next few months…

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The Around the World in 80 Books Challenge

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

780px-Around_the_World_in_Eighty_Days_map

I haven’t visited any of the places on the Main Journey this quarter but I’ve made a few detours to some less frequented parts of my fictional world. Anthony Marra’s The Tsar of Love and Techno told me stories of war and love in Soviet Russia and Chechnya, so I’m declaring it for Chechnya on the grounds that I’m more likely to visit Russia again. Then Kanae Minato took me to Japan to witness the after-effects of a murder in Penance. Off for a brief visit to Beijing in the company of Peter May for murder and strange traditions in The Ghost Marriage. Colm Tóibín transported me through space and time to ancient Greece in House of Names – more murders, not to mention human sacrifice! And to finish, a different war – Scott Turow’s Testimony is set partly in Bosnia and Herzegovina and partly in the Hague at the war crimes tribunal. Hmm, declaring it for Bosnia, I think…

Maybe next quarter I’ll try to do a trip that involves a little less death and mayhem and a little more sun, sea and sand…

To see how I’m doing on the Main Journey plus all the detours so far, click here.

35 down, 45 to go!

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The Classics Club

classics club logo 2

Four off my Classics Club list this quarter, making a total of 10 in the first year – getting way behind schedule now! But I have several of the shorter ones planned for over the summer, and then will get into some of the chunkier ones over autumn and winter…

7. The Cone-Gatherers by Robin Jenkins – 3½ stars for a tragedy that left me disappointingly unmoved even though I admired the prose.

8. The Island of Dr Moreau by HG Wells – 5 stars! Superbly written, I found the depth of the ideas it contained vastly outweighed the horror of the imagery.

9. The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – another 5 star read, taking us on a thrilling adventure in the Pennsylvanian coalfields where the infamous Scowrer gang control the valley through fear, intimidation and murder!

10. Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor by RD Blackmore – 4 stars for this historical fiction about love and the infamous Doone gang in rural England. Coma-inducingly slow start, but worth it in the end…

I’m also making one change to my list. I’m removing William S Burroughs’ Naked Lunch – having read some reviews, I’ve gone totally off the idea. And I’m replacing it with We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which a couple of people have recommended to me both as an excellent book in its own right and as relevant to the Reading the Russian Revolution Challenge.

10 down, 80 to go!

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Reading the Russian Revolution

Just two reviews from the main list this quarter, but since they’re the two massive histories, I’m quite satisfied with that. I’ve also finished reading Doctor Zhivago and Lenin The Dictator, but haven’t reviewed them yet, so they’ll be included in the next round-up. To see the full challenge, click here.

3. History of the Russian Revolution by Leon Trotsky – an extremely detailed and occasionally biased account of the events of 1917. A fascinating book, not by any means an easy read, but certainly an enlightening and worthwhile one. 5 stars.

4. A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution by Orlando Figes. This is an exceptional book – an exemplary mix of the political, the social and the personal. Should you ever be struck with a sudden desire to read an 800-page history of the Russian Revolution, then without a doubt this is the one to read. 5 stars.

I’m adding another book that wasn’t on the original list:-

5. The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra. Although this isn’t about the Revolution itself, it has much to say about the USSR and Russia from 1937, under Stalin, to more or less the present day, but this time in fictional form. Another great book – 5 stars.

Finally, I’ve decided I can’t face Solzhenitsyn’s November 1916, which I included on the original list. So I’m replacing it with a biography of Rasputin which I suspect will be much more fun.

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20 Books of Summer

But there’s still two full months to go, right? Ooh, look! A diversionary tactic!

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Thanks for joining me on my reading journeys! 😀

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….I became aware that our love was doomed; love had turned into a love affair with a beginning and an end. I could name the very moment when it had begun, and one day I knew I should be able to name the final hour. When she left the house I couldn’t settle to work. I would reconstruct what we had said to each other; I would fan myself into anger or remorse. And all the time I knew I was forcing the pace. I was pushing, pushing the only thing I loved out of my life. As long as I could make believe that love lasted I was happy; I think I was even good to live with, and so love did last. But if love had to die, I wanted it to die quickly. It was as though our love were a small creature caught in a trap and bleeding to death; I had to shut my eyes and wring its neck.

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Lenin the Dictator by Victor Sebestyen

….At first the Immortalisation Commission was told by Dr Abrikosov that Lenin’s body could be preserved ‘for many, many years’ by refrigeration, if it was kept in the crypt, in a specially designed sarcophagus, at a carefully controlled temperature. But despite the most expensive and sophisticated freezing equipment bought from Germany, within two months there were already dark spots on Lenin’s face and torso and his eye sockets were deformed. The magnates were worried their plan would not work out, particularly as the weather was becoming warmer.
….Towards the end of March 1924 two prominent chemists, Vladimir Vorobyov and Boris Zbarsky, suggested re-embalming the body with a chemical mixture that they said ‘could last hundreds of years’. They had studied the ancient Egyptian techniques of mummification but they could do a lot better ‘and keep Vladimir Ilyich’s body looking natural’. They worked day and night whitening Lenin’s skin and devising the correct embalming fluid, under intense pressure, reporting directly to Stalin and Zinoviev. They experimented on several cadavers of fifty-ish-year-old men brought to them from morgues and scientific institutes in Moscow. After four months they found the correct formula of glycerin, alcohol, potassium acetate, quinine chlorate and another ingredient still strictly secret at the time of writing.

(FF says: I bet it’s beetroot soup…)

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….It hadn’t taken the landlady very long to find out that her lodger had a queer kind of fear and dislike of women. When she was doing the staircase and landings she would often hear Mr Sleuth reading aloud to himself passages in the Bible that were very uncomplimentary to her sex. But Mrs. Bunting had no very great opinion of her sister woman, so that didn’t put her out. Besides, where one’s lodger is concerned, a dislike of women is better than – well, than the other thing.

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….Gordon and Dudorov belonged to a good professional circle. They spent their lives among good books, good thinkers, good composers, good, always, yesterday and today, good and only good music, and they did not know that the calamity of mediocre taste is worse than the calamity of tastelessness. . . .
….He could see clearly the springs of their pathos, the shakiness of their sympathy, the mechanism of their reasonings. 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.’ But how would it be if one could make such declarations to one’s friends! And so as not to distress them, Yuri Andreevich meekly listened to them.

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….When the client came out, I noticed the fake tan on her calves looked a bit streaky, which almost never happens. She either hadn’t noticed, or didn’t mind. She winked at Mum and said, ‘Enjoy tonight – look forward to hearing all about it.’
….Mum says everybody spills out all their news in the Powder Room. She thinks that it’s something to do with lying with a nice white towel under your head and a blanket over your legs and feet. She says everybody feels like a child tucked up safely in bed, mostly because when she raises them up their feet can’t touch the floor anymore and they are warm and safe and so they sing like canaries. They tell her all manner of very personal things. Her way to describe this is womb talk. Some nights she’ll pour herself a glass of wine and say, ‘oh my goodness I’ve had so much womb talk tonight if someone else says menopause or hysterectomy to me I’ll start mixing HRT with the Fakebake.’

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So…are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 125…

Episode 125…

It’s been a rollercoaster week for the old TBR this week! For a brief moment, it actually topped the dreaded 200 mark reaching 201, but a heroic effort on my part to read like billy-oh for days on end means it’s back down to a much more psychologically acceptable 197½ – phew! Admittedly outstanding review copies have increased 1 to 36, and I have about six unwritten reviews, but still… I reckon I deserve a reward…

Aaaah! Imagine what my reward will be once I’ve read these ones too…

Factual/Crime

Courtesy of NetGalley and one of my 20 Books of Summer, this is a companion piece to all the lovely British Library Crime Classics. Sounds great, and I can feel another challenge coming on…

The Blurb says: This book tells the story of crime fiction published during the first half of the twentieth century. The diversity of this much-loved genre is breathtaking, and so much greater than many critics have suggested. To illustrate this, the leading expert on classic crime discusses one hundred books ranging from The Hound of the Baskervilles to Strangers on a Train which highlight the entertaining plots, the literary achievements, and the social significance of vintage crime fiction. This book serves as a companion to the acclaimed British Library Crime Classics series but it tells a very diverse story. It presents the development of crime fiction-from Sherlock Holmes to the end of the golden age-in an accessible, informative and engaging style.

Readers who enjoy classic crime will make fascinating discoveries and learn about forgotten gems as well as bestselling authors. Even the most widely read connoisseurs will find books (and trivia) with which they are unfamiliar-as well as unexpected choices to debate. Classic crime is a richly varied and deeply pleasurable genre that is enjoying a world-wide renaissance as dozens of neglected novels and stories are resurrected for modern readers to enjoy. The overriding aim of this book is to provide a launch point that enables readers to embark on their own voyages of discovery.

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Fiction

From the Scottish Fiction section of my Classics Club list. In truth I had never heard of this book or author until I started looking for Scottish classics, so it will be a leap into the dark…

The Blurb says: A ‘gowk storm’ is an untimely fall of snow in early Spring – a fitting symbol for the anguished story that unfolds. Nearly a hundred years ago, three girls were born to a minister and his wife in a remote Highland manse; the rigid patriarchal structure of the times is set against their approaching womanhood and growing awareness of life beyond the safety of home.

After the disposal by marriage of the eldest, the sisters’ lives reach a new level of intensity. Emmy, the middle sister, finds to her horror that she is falling in love with her best friend’s fiancée. The unfortunate couple become estranged and a tragic outcome seems inevitable in the brooding symbolism of this disturbing story.

The Gowk Storm, published in 1933, was one of many award-winning books written by Nancy Brysson Morrison.

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Fiction

Courtesy of Amazon Vine UK. Also one of my 20 Books, plus I’m hoping it might work for my Reading the Russian Revolution Challenge too. I thoroughly enjoyed his last book, Rules of Civility, though this one sounds very different…

The Blurb says: On 21 June 1922 Count Alexander Rostov – recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt – is escorted out of the Kremlin, across Red Square and through the elegant revolving doors of the Hotel Metropol.

But instead of being taken to his usual suite, he is led to an attic room with a window the size of a chessboard. Deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the Count has been sentenced to house arrest indefinitely.

While Russia undergoes decades of tumultuous upheaval, the Count, stripped of the trappings that defined his life, is forced to question what makes us who we are. And with the assistance of a glamorous actress, a cantankerous chef and a very serious child, Rostov unexpectedly discovers a new understanding of both pleasure and purpose.

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Crime on Audio

I’m loving revisiting some old favourites on audio, in the company of some wonderful narrators. This is another read by Hugh Fraser, whose voice is up there in my list of Top 3 Most Gorgeous Voices in the History of the Universe. (Simon Shepherd and Derek Jacobi, in case you were wondering.)

The Blurb says: A dentist lies murdered at his Harley Street practice…

The dentist was found with a blackened hole below his right temple. A pistol lay on the floor near his outflung right hand. Later, one of his patients was found dead from a lethal dose of local anaesthetic. A clear case of murder and suicide. But why would a dentist commit a crime in the middle of a busy day of appointments?

A shoe buckle holds the key to the mystery. Now – in the words of the rhyme – can Poirot pick up the sticks and lay them straight?

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

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

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Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….‘My God!’ exclaimed the prince. From his standing position, he had a better view of the situation. I threw open my door, but before I could move, the man in saffron had stood up. He had wild eyes between dirty, matted hair, an unkempt beard and what looked like streaks of ash smeared vertically on his forehead. In his hand an object glinted and my insides turned to ice.
….‘Get down!’ I shouted to the prince while fumbling with the button on my holster, but he was like a rabbit hypnotised by a cobra. The attacker raised his revolver and fired. The first shot hit the car’s windscreen with a crack, shattering the glass. I turned to see Surrender-not desperately grabbing at the prince, trying to pull him down.
….All too late.
….As the next two shots rang out, I knew they would find their mark. Both hit the prince squarely in the chest. For a few seconds he just stood there, as though he really was divine and the bullets had passed straight through him. Then blotches of bright crimson blood began to soak through the silk of his tunic and he crumpled, like a paper cup in the monsoon.

* * * * * * * * *

Lenin the Dictator by Victor Sebestyen

….The public Lenin adopted a highly populist style of politics that would be recognisable – and imitated by many a rabble-rouser – a hundred years later, even in long-established, sophisticated democracies. He offered simple solutions to complex problems. He lied unashamedly. He was never a sparkling orator, as Kerensky and Trotsky were in their varying ways. But he was brilliant at presenting a case in direct, straightforward language that anyone could understand, and explaining how the world could be changed if only people would listen to him and his Bolsheviks… he argued that people had heard too much from experts. ‘Any worker will master any ministry in a few days, no special skill is needed…’

* * * * * * * * *

….His eyes were lifted meaningly to his listener’s face, and in a flash Loreto understood.
….‘Good God!’ he cried. ‘You were a friend of Lilian Hope! You have not been threatened by…’
….‘Yes,’ said Sir George, grimly. ‘I am the next on the list.’
….He drew a fairly large envelope from his breast pocket and extracted some folded papers. They were dingy and faintly yellow; one edge of the paper was jagged where it had been torn from the book, and Loreto immediately recognised these sheets as pages from Lilian Hope’s fatal diary.
….‘Poor Lilian!’ murmured the old man. ‘She was a wonderful creature, and I loved her once, though she never treated me too well. I had her picture – kept it for years, but my wife grew jealous. Poor Lilian! To think that she was in such poverty, and that she died in such a frame of mind!’

From: The Diary of Death by Marten Cumberland

* * * * * * * * *

….She cooked or did laundry and then with the remaining soapy water washed the floors in the house. Or, calm and less flushed, she ironed and mended her own, his, and Katenka’s linen. Or, having finished with the cooking, laundry, and tidying up, she gave lessons to Katenka. Or, burying herself in textbooks, she occupied herself with her own polemical re-education, before going back to the newly reformed school as a teacher.
….The closer this woman and girl were to him, the less he dared to see them as family, the stricter was the prohibition imposed upon his way of thinking by his duty to his family and his pain at being unfaithful to them. In this limitation there was nothing offensive for Lara and Katenka. On the contrary, this non-family way of feeling contained a whole world of respect, excluding casualness and excessive familiarity.
….But this split was always tormenting and wounding, and Yuri Andreevich got used to it as one gets used to an unhealed, often reopening wound.

* * * * * * * * *

….The others went upstairs, a slow unwilling procession. If this had been an old house, with creaking wood, and dark shadows, and heavily panelled walls, there might have been an eerie feeling. But this house was the essence of modernity. There were no dark corners – no possible sliding panels – it was flooded with electric light – everything was new and bright and shining. There was nothing hidden in this house, nothing concealed. It had no atmosphere about it. Somehow, that was the most frightening thing of all. They exchanged good-nights on the upper landing. Each of them went into his or her own room, and each of them automatically, almost without conscious thought, locked the door…

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 124…

Episode 124…

Oh, my! The TBR has reached 199 – will I be able to reduce it before any other book arrives to tip me over the 200 cliff? It’s partly the tennis, but mainly it’s all these Russian books, fact and fiction. There seems to be something about Russia that makes every book massive. When you start looking forward to books about mathematicians as light relief, then you know there’s something wrong! On the upside, I haven’t requested any review copies at all in June so far – isn’t that impressive? Admittedly I also haven’t finished any, meaning the total of outstanding books for review is still 35…

Gratuitous pic of the best clay court player in the history of the universe…

Back to books! Here are a few more that I hope to get to soonish, including three of my 20 Books of Summer

Crime

This has been on my TBR ever since I read and enjoyed Boileau-Narcejac’s Vertigo back in September ’15. Given that it’s only novella length, I should really have been able to fit it in before now…

The Blurb says: Every Saturday evening, travelling salesman Fernand Ravinel returns to his wife, Mireille, who waits patiently for him at home. But Ferdinand has another lover, Lucienne, an ambitious doctor, and together the adulterers have devised a murderous plan. Drugging Mireille, the pair drown her in a bathtub, but in the morning, before the “accidental” death can be discovered, the corpse is gone–so begins the unraveling of Ferdinand’s plot, and his sanity…

This classic of French noir fiction was adapted for the screen by Henri-Georges Clouzot as Les Diaboliques (The Devils), starring Simone Signoret and Véra Clouzot, the film which in turn inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

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Factual

Courtesy of the publisher, the British Library. The book is actually to accompany an exhibition they’re holding about the Revolution which I won’t be able to attend. But the book itself sounds interesting, and at first glance looks very well illustrated. It doesn’t look it from the cover photo but it’s actually a largish, coffee-table book in terms of style, though the contents look far from superficial…

 The Blurb says: One hundred years ago events in Russia took the world by storm. In February 1917, in the middle of World War I and following months of protest and political unrest, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated. Later that year a new political force, the socialist Bolshevik Party, seized power under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin. A bloody civil war and period of extraordinary hardship for Russians finally led to the establishment of the Soviet Union. This book accompanies a major exhibition that re-examines the Russian Revolution in light of recent research, focusing on the experiences of ordinary Russians living through extraordinary times. The Revolution was not a single event but a complex process of dramatic change. The story of the Revolution is told here through posters, maps, postcards, letters, newspapers and literature, photographs and personal accounts. Leading experts on Russian history reveal the Revolution as a utopian project that had traumatic consequences for people across Russia and beyond.

* * * * *

Fiction

Courtesy of NetGalley. I must say that early reviews of this one have dampened my enthusiasm considerably. Unlike the blurb which makes it sound balanced and nuanced, reviews seem to suggest it’s actually another of the great Indian misery novels – you know, the ones that suggest everything about life there is horrible and hopeless. If so, I imagine it will quickly be thrown at the wall as my tolerance for these books lessens each time I read one. But we’ll see…

The Blurb says: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness transports us across a subcontinent on a journey of many years. It takes us deep into the lives of its gloriously rendered characters, each of them in search of a place of safety – in search of meaning, and of love.

In a graveyard outside the walls of Old Delhi, a resident unrolls a threadbare Persian carpet. On a concrete sidewalk, a baby suddenly appears, just after midnight. In a snowy valley, a bereaved father writes a letter to his five-year-old daughter about the people who came to her funeral. In a second-floor apartment, a lone woman chain-smokes as she reads through her old notebooks. At the Jannat Guest House, two people who have known each other all their lives sleep with their arms wrapped around each other, as though they have just met.

A braided narrative of astonishing force and originality, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is at once a love story and a provocation-a novel as inventive as it is emotionally engaging. It is told with a whisper, in a shout, through joyous tears and sometimes with a bitter laugh. Its heroes, both present and departed, have been broken by the world we live in-and then mended by love. For this reason, they will never surrender.

Humane and sensuous, beautifully told, this extraordinary novel demonstrates on every page the miracle of Arundhati Roy’s storytelling gifts

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Crime

Courtesy of NetGalley again, and yet another that I was tempted to go for by Cleo’s great review. This sounds fascinating, especially since people in Glasgow still talked about Peter Manuel as a kind of bogeyman when I was growing up, even though he was hanged before I was born…

The Blurb says: A standalone psychological thriller from the acclaimed author of the Alex Morrow novels that exposes the dark hearts of the guilty…and the innocent.

The “trial of the century” in 1950’s Glasgow is over. Peter Manuel has been found guilty of a string of murders and is waiting to die by hanging. But every good crime story has a beginning. Manuel’s starts with the murder of William Watt’s family. Looking no further that Watt himself, the police are convinced he’s guilty. Desperate to clear his name, Watt turns to Manuel, a career criminal who claims to have information that will finger the real killer. As Watt seeks justice with the cagey Manuel’s help, everyone the pair meets has blood on their hands as they sell their version of the truth. The Long Drop is an explosive novel about guilt, innocence and the power of a good story to hide the difference.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Amazon.

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

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The London Breed by Benjamin Zephaniah

In light of events, today’s review seemed unsuitable, so instead I thought I’d share one of my favourite poems:

Benjamin Zephaniah – The London Breed from Johnny Fingers on Vimeo.

I love dis great polluted place
Where pop stars come to live their dreams
Here ravers come for drum and bass
And politicians plan their schemes,
The music of the world is here
Dis city can play any song
They came to here from everywhere
Tis they that made dis city strong.
A world of food displayed on streets
Where all the world can come and dine
On meals that end with bitter sweets
And cultures melt and intertwine,
Two hundred languages give voice
To fifteen thousand changing years
And all religions can rejoice
With exiled souls and pioneers.
I love dis overcrowded place
Where old buildings mark men and time
And new buildings all seem to race
Up to a cloudy dank skyline,
Too many cars mean dire air
Too many guns mean danger
Too many drugs means be aware
Of strange gifts from a stranger.
It’s so cool when the heat is on
And when it’s cool it’s so wicked
We just keep melting into one
Just like the tribes before us did,
I love dis concrete jungle still
With all its sirens and its speed
The people here united will
Create a kind of London breed.

* * * * *

With you in spirit, my London friends, on yet another awful day.

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….The Dean strides a little and pours himself another whisky. “Now, there is another thing, but I really shouldn’t be discussing it with the College servants.”
….“Alright then, Sir. I’ll be on my way.”
….“I intend to discuss it anyway. Sit down.”
….I obediently take a seat on the most humble looking pew I can find, an unsteady wicker affair placed near The Dean’s enormous fish tank. Quite why a man such as The Dean would keep tropical fish is a mystery. Whilst they are known for their calming properties, The Dean is a chap who is far happier being anything but calm. Maybe he shouts at them when there is no one else around.

* * * * * * * * *

Lenin the Dictator by Victor Sebestyen

….Lenin instantly understood the importance of the words Bolshevik [majority] and Menshevik [minority]. He never gave up the name for the group that followed him, or the psychological advantage it won. For long periods over the next few years the Mensheviks in fact far outnumbered the Bolsheviks, in Russia and among the revolutionaries in exile, and they were the majority in a series of future votes at various congresses and conferences. Yet they still accepted the name that Lenin had given them and they referred to themselves as Mensheviks. It was their ‘brand’ and Lenin knew how to exploit it. ‘A name he knew was a programme, a distilled essence, more powerful in its impact upon the untutored mind than dozens of articles in learned journals,’ one of his comrades said. It was foolish of the Mensheviks to allow themselves to keep that name permanently. It showed how tactically inept they were. Martov was a decent, erudite, highly clever man but a hopeless politician, no match for Lenin. If Lenin had been the minority he would have changed the name at once to something else – True Iskrists, Real Marxists, Orthodox Marxists, Revolutionary Wing of Social Democracy – anything but ‘the Minority’.

* * * * * * * * *

….Julie had been wrong to get her hopes up. The Evil One had come back even more terrible than before. She didn’t know what he’d been up to while he was away but there was a row of badly done stitches over his ribs encrusted with blood. That couldn’t be healthy.
….Julie hoped it was some girl who fought back hard, did him some damage. If only she’d managed to kill him – but no woman could fight that brute and win. Perhaps someone’s boyfriend or father caught him in the act, ripped him off her, had a weapon.
….She was glad he was hurt, even if he’d taken it out on her this morning. Even if she had a busted lip and a bruised eye, and had to put her cheek against the floor, unable to move for what must have been two hours, it was worth it to savor his fresh wounds. She decided to imagine that whoever did that to him, did it for her. An act of revenge without even knowing it.

* * * * * * * * *

….The night was filled with soft, mysterious sounds. Close by in the corridor, water was dripping from a washstand, measuredly, with pauses. There was whispering somewhere behind a window. Somewhere, where the kitchen garden began, beds of cucumber were being watered, water was being poured from one bucket into another, with a clink of the chain drawing it from the well.
….It smelled of all the flowers in the world at once, as if the earth had lain unconscious during the day and was now coming to consciousness through all these scents. And from the countess’s centuries-old garden, so littered with windfallen twigs and branches that it had become impassable, there drifted, as tall as the trees, enormous as the wall of a big house, the dusty, thickety fragrance of an old linden coming into bloom.
….Shouts came from the street beyond the fence to the right. A soldier on leave was acting up there, doors slammed, snippets of some song beat their wings.

* * * * * * * * *

From the archives…

….I have never understood how any woman can want positive discrimination. In the 1970s the attitude was robust: give us equal opportunities and we will show that we are as good as the men. In the 1990s that became: we can’t manage without special measures to smooth our paths and we want advantages over the men in order to compete…The culture of whingeing grievance is silly and sad. It lets down women and is hardly worthy of the heirs to the suffragettes.

(Click for full review)

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So…are you tempted?

Launch Day! The Vanishing Lord by Lucy Brazier

PorterGirl’s secrets revealed!

Lucy Brazier

Today is the day that one of my oldest and bestest blog buddies, Lucy Brazier, publishes the second book in her PorterGirl series, so I invited her along to answer some tough, penetrating questions that I think will help us to get deep inside her weird and wonderful mind. But first, a little about the books…

In real life, when Lucy became the first female Deputy Head Porter at one of Britain’s most ancient and prestigious colleges, she began writing about her experiences, which gradually turned into a humorous, fictionalised blog, and ultimately into what has become the PorterGirl series of novels. Being a huge lover of crime fiction, it’s not surprising Lucy decided to write in that genre, while anyone who has followed her blog will be equally unsurprised to know the emphasis is firmly on fairly rumbustious humour.

Previously…

First Lady of the Keys

(originally published as Secret Diary of Portergirlhere’s my review)

The Blurb says: ‘Porters are not the carriers of bags, they are the keepers of keys!’

As one of the most ancient and esteemed establishments of the academic elite, Old College is in for something of a shock when it appoints its very first female Deputy Head Porter. She struggles to get to grips with this eccentric world, far removed from everyday life. PorterGirl, the proverbial square peg in the round hole, begins to wonder quite what she is doing here.

First Lady Of The Keys is a touching, and at times laugh-out-loud funny, glimpse into a world that is usually reserved for the upper echelons of society. Whether she is chasing after naked students, drinking copious amounts of tea or getting embroiled in quaint, polite murders, Deputy Head Porter is never far from adventure.

Amazon UK Link                    Amazon US Link

* * * * *

Launching today!

The Vanishing Lord

The Blurb says: There’s nothing quite so annoying as having the police arrive when you are trying to cover up a crime that may or may not have happened. Lord Bernard has died unexpectedly. Is Deputy Head Porter being framed? Head Porter just wants to be kept out of the picture.

In this fast-paced whimsical British romp, a priceless work of art – the portrait of Old College founding father Lord Arthur Layton – has gone missing and with the death of Lord Bernard, the Master of arch rivals Hawkins College, there is nothing for it but for our heroine to don her trusty bowler hat and embark upon another eccentric investigation.

In this sequel to the début PorterGirl novel, First Lady of The Keys, Old College’s first and only female Porter must find the portrait or it will be her that is flat on the canvas and framed like a kipper. Tenacious detectives, ill-advised disguises, saucy medieval literature and Russian spies conspire to confuse matters further in this entertaining escapade.

Amazon UK Link                     Amazon US Link

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Maybe Old College looks something like this…

Interview with Lucy

FF: I understand you were a police officer before becoming Deputy Head Porter. Is the rumour true that you changed jobs because the porters get better hats?

Lucy: The hats are actually very similar, although for style and comfort, the Porters’ hats have the edge. They aren’t reinforced so don’t offer quite so much protection from marauding murders, which are apparently much more prevalent in Old College than the mean streets outside the walls.

Deputy Head Porter

FF: What was the first hat you remember wearing?

Lucy: My mum has a photograph of me wearing my grandad’s flat cap when I was about two! And very pleased I look about it, too! Before you ask, this photograph no longer exists, anywhere, ever, at all. And mum if you are reading this – don’t you dare say any different!

(FF: Lucy’s mum, if you’re reading, there could be a month’s supply of chocolate for you in this…)

FF: Who are your major writing influences?

Lucy: Oscar Wilde is my absolute literary idol. A mere mortal such as myself cannot hope to scale those kinds of heights, but he did inspire my love of ‘purple prose’ and my predilection for using ten words where one will do. Terry Pratchett is also a big influence. I’ve never much liked fantasy, but his wry observations of life – from the smallest details to the big, ponderous questions – really struck a chord with me and his use of humour is always very clever. Agatha Christie’s beautiful renditions of quintessential British characters and settings have been a huge influence and I have to put a good word in for the mighty Anthony Horowitz, although when I read his work I feel I should chuck in my pen and stop embarrassing myself!

FF: Deputy Head Porter is reputed to make a jolly good cuppa. Please share your tea-making secrets…

Lucy: Never let the water boil completely, you want to bathe those lovely little tea leaves – not cook them! A teapot is always best, but perfectly acceptable tea can be made directly in the mug. I suggest a large mug, so the bag can stretch itself out and relax a bit. Let it sit for a few minutes then squeeze gently with a spoon against the side – two squeezes should be plenty. It doesn’t matter whether milk goes in first or last, my personal preference is last.

(FF: Ooh, controversial! Hordes of milk-firsters will be sharpening their pitchforks…)

FF: A second book suggests a series. Are you planning on more?

Lucy: Oh yes, there are plans for seven books. I have outlines for them all and a big, dramatic finale for the end. Also a very surprising ending for Deputy Head Porter that will have been obvious from the start, for those reading closely enough.

(FF: Intriguing!! Hmm…perhaps…)

FF: Your deep love for the delectable Captain Hastings is well known. So that begs the question… if Captain Hastings and Head Porter were captured by a tribe of cannibals and you could save only one, who should prepare himself to go in the cooking pot?

Lucy: Oooh – tough one! What a fiendish question. I’m afraid it will have to be Hastings – I need Head Porter for the next five books. Also Captain Hastings will probably taste a lot better.

(FF: I’m shocked! Save me a leg…)

Head Porter and Captain Hastings
(As played by Paul Butterworth and Hugh Fraser)

FF: Sausage sandwiches figure highly in Deputy Head Porter’s life. To me, as a Scot, sausage sandwiches are normally made with square sausages, but which is Deputy Head Porter’s sausage of choice? Brown sauce, ketchup or mustard? Or do you prefer your sausages bare?

Lucy: I’m not averse to a nice bit of Lorne sausage myself! Deputy Head Porter is indeed quite fanatical about sausages. A nice cumberland with a bit of brown sauce is ideal for breakfast, but mustard is preferred for a lunchtime sausage.

FF: Tell us a secret you’ve never before revealed about…

Deputy Head Porter – she has a phobia of nuns.

(FF: Like this one?)

The Dean – his real name is revealed in the new book!

The Master’s Cat – the cat really exists and is even more vicious in real life.

Head Porter – he has secret ambitions to become a rock star… this is explored in the third book. (FF: The mind boggles!!)

Lucy Brazier – Eeek! Okay, this is embarrassing, so don’t tell anyone. I genuinely get Morgan Freeman and Martin Freeman mixed up. I know they look nothing alike, I just struggle to remember which one is which. Also, the little toe on my right foot is shaped like a triangle!

(FF: Yes, one can see why that would be an easy mistake to make… *shakes head sadly*)

* * * * *

Thanks, Lucy! Very revealing – it’ll be a while before I can chat to you without the toe image floating into my mind. My copy of The Vanishing Lord arrived on my Kindle this morning – can’t wait to find out the Dean’s name!

Hope the launch is a huge success! 😀

TBR Thursday 123 and 20 Books of Summer Poll Result…

Episode 123…

Just a small increase in the TBR since my last post – up 1 to 196. Oh, excuse me one moment – the postman’s at the door…

Now, where was I? Oh yes, up 2 to 197. But that’s pretty good, since I’ve been a little distracted…

Here are a few that should help fill in the gaps between matches during this tennis season…

Crime

Courtesy of the publisher, Harvill Secker. I loved Mukherjee’s debut novel, A Rising Man, so this is one of my most anticipated books of the year. No pressure then…

The Blurb says: India, 1920. Captain Wyndham and Sergeant Banerjee of the Calcutta Police Force investigate the dramatic assassination of a Maharajah’s son.

The fabulously wealthy kingdom of Sambalpore is home to tigers, elephants, diamond mines and the beautiful Palace of the Sun. But when the heir to the throne is assassinated in the presence of Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant ‘Surrender-Not’ Banerjee, they discover a kingdom riven with suppressed conflict. Prince Adhir was a moderniser whose attitudes – and romantic relationship – may have upset the more religious elements of his country, while his brother – now in line to the throne – appears to be a feckless playboy.

As Wyndham and Banerjee desperately try to unravel the mystery behind the assassination, they become entangled in a dangerous world where those in power live by their own rules and those who cross their paths pay with their lives. They must find a murderer, before the murderer finds them…

* * * * *

Fiction

One that’s been on my TBR for far too long – ever since Cleo’s great review of it way back in April last year. I loved the film Heavenly Creatures, which tells the story of the real-life murder on which this book is more loosely based – a fascinating  and disturbing case in its own right, so I have high hopes of this one. It will be my first Beryl Bainbridge…

The Blurb says: Beryl Bainbridge’s evocation of childhood in a rundown northern holiday resort.

A girl returns from boarding school to her sleepy Merseyside hometown and waits to be reunited with her childhood friend, Harriet, chief architect of all their past mischief. She roams listlessly along the shoreline and the woods still pitted with wartime trenches, and encounters ‘the Tsar’ – almost old, unhappily married, both dangerously fascinating and repulsive.

Pretty, malevolent Harriet finally arrives – and over the course of the long holidays draws her friend into a scheme to beguile then humiliate the Tsar, with disastrous, shocking consequences. A gripping portrayal of adolescent transgression, Beryl Bainbridge’s classic first novel remains as subversive today as when it was written.

* * * * *

Crime on Audio

Having loved Hugh Fraser’s narration of The ABC Murders, I promptly used up all my spare Audible credits on as many of his versions of the Christie novels as I could lay my greedy little hands on. Time to revisit one of the real gems… 

The Blurb says: Ten strangers, apparently with little in common, are lured to an island mansion off the coast of Devon by the mysterious U.N. Owen. Over dinner, a record begins to play, and the voice of an unseen host accuses each person of hiding a guilty secret. That evening, former reckless driver Tony Marston is found murdered by a deadly dose of cyanide. The tension escalates as the survivors realise the killer is not only among them but is preparing to strike again…and again. (See, even blurbs were shorter back in the Good Old Days…)

* * * * *

The 20th Book

Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poll to decide which book should take the 20th spot on my list for the 20 Books of Summer Challenge. It was very exciting, with three books staying neck and neck for a while, but eventually one pulled ahead into a clear lead…

And the winner is…

The Blurb says: On a foggy summer night, eleven people–ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter–depart Martha’s Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs–the painter–and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the crash and the backstories of the passengers and crew members–including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot–the mystery surrounding the tragedy heightens. As the passengers’ intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage.

Amid pulse-quickening suspense, the fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this stunning novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.

The Malice of Waves and Above the Waterfall came equal second, so they will be my fall-back books in case of abandonment issues…

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Audible UK.

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

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Doctor Zhivago – Choosing the translation…

Here we go again – literal or liberal?

Months ago, in preparation for the Reading the Russian Revolution Challenge, I bought a copy of the Richard Pevear/Larissa Volokhonsky translation of Doctor Zhivago from Amazon. But, for reasons best known to themselves, they sent me a copy of the Max Hayward/Manya Harari translation instead. I’d probably not have been too fussed about this, except that I had also bought a copy of the audiobook to do a combined read/listen, so obviously it was important to have the same translation in each. So I acquired the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation too. (A sad footnote to this episode was when I discovered that the Audible audiobook, also listed as Pevear, is in fact the Hayward! It appears Amazon and Audible don’t really understand that different translations matter. They should be clearer now they’ve read my e-mails on the subject… 😉 )

So at the weekend I finally settled down to read. The Pevear/Volokhonsky is the most recent translation and my initial sketchy research had suggested they’re the go-to people for Russian translation at the moment. The Hayward/Harari is, I believe, the translation most people will be familiar with who read the book before 2010. I decided to read the first chapter of each and decide which I preferred. And that’s when it began to get complicated…

The Hayward/Harari seems to be generally recognised as a good but liberal translation, where they’ve kept the meaning but made changes to word order and vocabulary to make it read more naturally in English. Apparently they’ve also omitted the occasional bit and, from my own reading, have sometimes added a little extra to clarify something which might not be immediately obvious to a non-Russian. Pevear/Volokhonsky, however, is claimed to be a more literal translation, keeping not just the words but often the order, and striving to emulate the rhythms in the original. Here are some comparisons…

H/H – “There was a certain amount of unpleasantness, and there are certain consequences. For instance, I am banned from the civil service for quite a long time and I am forbidden to go to Moscow or Petersburg. But these are trifles.”

P/V – “There was some unpleasantness; it had its consequences. For instance, I can’t hold a government job for a long time. They won’t allow me in the capitals. But that’s all rubbish.”

In this one, H/H have clarified that the “capitals” are Moscow and St Petersburg. P/V have used “capitals” and then footnoted the explanation. On the one hand, this kind of thing makes H/H easier to read and simpler to understand on a superficial level. But on the other hand, it means that the reader is left unaware that the Russia of the time considered itself to have two capitals, an old (Moscow) and a new (St Petersburg), which, all my history reading of the last few months has led me to believe, is quite important to understanding the country and the revolution. P/V’s footnote clarifies this quite well. I’ve also never come across the term “civil service” in connection with government jobs in Russia – it’s a very British expression, I think.

P/V – A rain of clods drummed down as four shovels hastily filled the grave. Over it a small mound rose. A ten-year-old boy climbed onto it.

Only in the state of torpor and insensibility that usually comes at the end of a big funeral could it have seemed that the boy wanted to speak over his mother’s grave.

H/H – Clods of earth drummed on the lid like rain as the grave was filled hurriedly by four spades. A mound grew up on it and a ten-year-old boy climbed on top.

Only the numb and unfeeling condition which comes to people at the end of a big funeral could account for some of the mourners’ thinking that he wished to make an address over his mother’s grave.

Here, H/H have changed the structure of the sentences making them read more naturally and perhaps simplistically. P/V’s more literal translation follows the Russian structure, I assume, making it seem rather stilted and convoluted at points. On the other hand, I think P/V create a clearer image overall, and I prefer “torpor and insensibility” to “numb and unfeeling”.

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

H/H – During the night the boy, Yura, was woken up by a knocking at the window. The dark cell was mysteriously lit up by a flickering whiteness. With nothing on but his shirt, he ran to the window and pressed his face against the cold glass.

Outside there was no trace of the road, the graveyard or the kitchen garden, nothing but the blizzard, the air smoking with snow. It was almost as if the snowstorm had caught sight of Yura and, conscious of its power to terrify, roared, howled and did everything possible to attract his attention, revelling in the effect it had on him. Turning over and over in the sky, length after length of whiteness unwound over the earth and shrouded it. The blizzard was alone on earth and knew no rival.

P/V – During the night, Yura was awakened by a tapping at the window. The dark cell was supernaturally lit up by a fluttering white light. In just his nightshirt, Yura ran to the window and pressed his face to the cold glass.

Beyond the window there was no road, no cemetery, no kitchen garden. A blizzard was raging outside; the air was smoky with snow. One might have thought the storm noticed Yura and, knowing how frightening it was, revelled in the impression it made on him. It whistled and howled and tried in every way possible to attract Yura’s attention. From the sky endless skeins of white cloth, turn after turn, fell on the earth, covering it in a winding sheet. The blizzard was alone in the world; nothing rivalled it.

This third example is a little more bothersome to me. I like both these passages and think both translations convey a vivid picture of the snowstorm – my preference is for P/V. But ‘mysterious’ and ‘supernatural’ have distinctly different definitions and I am left wondering which translation catches Pasternak’s meaning. I suspect ‘supernatural’ might be closer, since even this first chapter shows me that religious belief or lack of it is going to be something of a theme in the book. But, when I started looking for other opinions on the two translations, Ann Pasternak Slater (Boris’s niece) points out in this interesting Guardian article, that, when describing the moon in a later passage, P/V have chosen “blackish purple”, while H/H have gone for “crimson” which Slater, herself a Russian speaker, thinks is closer to the meaning in the original. So P/V’s literal translation may not always convey the author’s intention better than H/H’s liberal one. (Or, of course, Slater could be wrong – being a relative of the author doesn’t necessarily confer greater depth of understanding. And I can’t help feeling crimson moons are a little banal while blackish purple ones are dramatically poetic…)

Looks like the heating’s on the bung again…

My final example is the one that I find most discombobulating…

P/V – As they passed by the Gordons’ compartment, wrapping the corners of their shoulders in shawls and turning the narrowness of the corridor into a source of fresh coquetry, it seemed to Misha that they hissed, or, judging by their compressed lips, meant to hiss: “Ah, just imagine, such sensitivity! We’re special! We’re intelligentsia! We simply can’t!”

H/H – When, with a coquettish wriggle of their shoulders for which the narrow passage offered an excuse, they passed the Gordons’ compartment, it seemed to Misha that through their pursed lips they must be hissing: “Gracious, what sensitive plants! They think they’re a special creation! They’re intellectuals! All this is too much for them!”

It seems to me that, on the surface, these two translations mean entirely different things, though I think P/V’s translation actually leaves the meaning quite unclear (“we simply can’t” what?). H/H suggest fairly strongly that the women were being rather dismissively anti-Semitic towards the Jewish Gordons (or at least that Misha thought they were), while P/V reads as if they were boasting instead about their own superior aristocratic sensitivity. Either works, but what was Pasternak’s intention? Having read the H/H version, I can now see that the P/V version could also be read as a snide comment on the Gordons, but I don’t think it’s at all clear. I studied Russian a little at school and while I’m entirely unable to understand the text in its original form, I can just about tell the difference between “they” and “we”. When I look at the text in Russian it undoubtedly uses “we”. But I suspect H/H may have caught the actual meaning better, perhaps by interpreting some nuance of language or punctuation that P/V have too literally translated. But in truth I have no idea…

My Omar with Julie Christie. Huh! I bet she wouldn’t look half so beautiful without the hat…

I’ve decided to go with Pevear/Volokhonsky, because of that “capitals” thing, because overall I prefer their vocabulary choices, because the footnotes are good, and because they haven’t anglicised the Russian names quite so annoyingly as H/H (who use Nicky instead of Nika, for example). However, I’ll keep H/H to hand to help on those occasions that P/V leave the meaning unclear. But what do you think? Have you read either, or both, and if so what did you think of them? And if not, which do you think looks more enjoyable based on the examples?

Six Degrees of Separation – From Martin 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 Shopgirl by Steve Martin, a book I’ve not only not read, but have never heard of before! The blurb tells me…

Lonely, depressed, Vermont transplant Mirabelle Buttersfield, who sells expensive evening gloves nobody ever buys at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills and spends her evenings watching television with her two cats. She attempts to forge a relationship with middle-aged, womanizing, Seattle millionaire Ray Porter while being pursued by socially inept and unambitious slacker Jeremy.

Hmm… not for me, I think, though it sounds quite amusing. But any mention of evening gloves inevitably makes me think of the wonderful…

American Pastoral. Roth’s brilliant novel tells the story of Seymour “Swede” Levov and the collapse of the 1950s American Dream. Swede owns a factory where skilled craftspeople lovingly create luxury gloves for the fashionable, but his daughter is of a different generation – the Vietnam generation that blew the old certainties apart as surely as Swede’s daughter blew up the local Post Office…

“Those assumptions you live with. You’re still in your old man’s dream-world, Seymour, still up there with Lou Levov in glove heaven. A household tyrannized by gloves, bludgeoned by gloves, the only thing in life – ladies’ gloves! Does he still tell the great one about the woman who sells the gloves washing her hands in a sink between each color? Oh where oh where is that outmoded America, that decorous America where a woman had twenty-five pairs of gloves? Your kid blows your norms to kingdom come, Seymour, and you still think you know what life is!”

As part of my GAN Quest, American Pastoral was the first book to which I awarded the title of The Great American Novel. Only one other novel shares that honour so far…

Toni Morrison’s wonderful Beloved. This story of one woman’s escape from slavery to liberty and the sacrifices she makes along the way is full of anger and sorrow, and some of the most savagely beautiful writing I have read.

They sang of bosses and masters and misses; of mules and dogs and the shamelessness of life. They sang lovingly of graveyards and sisters long gone. Of pork in the woods; meal in the pan; fish on the line; cane, rain and rocking chairs.

And they beat. The women for having known them and no more, no more; the children for having been them but never again. They killed a boss so often and so completely they had to bring him back to life to pulp him one more time. Tasting hot mealcake among pine trees, they beat it away. Singing love songs to Mr Death, they smashed his head. More than the rest, they killed the flirt who folks called Life for leading them on. Making them think the next sunrise would be worth it; that another stroke of time would do it at last.

Oprah Winfrey as Sethe revealing the “tree” on her back

Much though we sometimes like to pretend, slavery isn’t a thing of the past though its forms may be a little different today. Which made me think of…

The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham. The plot of this one is hard-hitting, involving illegal immigration, sex trafficking and forced commercial surrogacy. The trail takes police detective Alisha Barba to the sleaziest parts of Amsterdam, where she’s soon in trouble not just with the bad guys but with her superior officers back home. But she’s become too involved to pull back – too many lives are dependent on her, some of them very vulnerable. Robotham doesn’t hold back in the picture he gives of the exploitation of women trafficked as sex slaves from some of the war-torn places of the world and he has clearly done his research as thoroughly as always.

The book stars with Alisha attending a school reunion. Which made me think of another book that begins that way…

John Gaspard’s The Bullet Catch, the second in his excellent Eli Marks series. This is a series of murder mysteries with the hugely likeable stage magician Eli taking on the role of detective. A little too gritty to be cosy, these are nonetheless on the lighter side of crime fiction, filled with warmth and humour. Each book is named after a magic trick and Gaspard is brilliant at making the tricks come to life on the page while respecting the magicians’ code not to reveal how they’re done…

Another series set in the world of stage magic began with…

The Zig-Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths, book 1 in her great Stephens and Mephisto series. Edgar Stephens and Max Mephisto worked together during WW2 in a top-secret army unit dubbed the Magic Men, with the aim of misleading the enemy. Now, shortly after the war, Max has gone back to his old role of stage magician while Edgar has become a policeman in Brighton. When the various body parts of a beautiful young woman turn up in three boxes, it makes Edgar think of an old magic trick so he turns to his friend Max for help in solving the crime…

(The Zig-Zag Girl trick…)

Griffiths brings the post-war Brighton setting brilliantly to life. My last book is also set there…

Erin Kelly’s The Ties That Bind marries together two periods in the life of this ever-changing town – the ’50s and ’60s, when it was home to some seriously violent gangsters (the location, of course, for Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock), and today, when it has a brighter reputation as the UK’s gay capital and as the place where weary Londoners go to relax, soak up a little sea air, and party. Kelly shows that the town still hides a murky underbelly beneath the surface glitter though, in this well-written thriller with elements of redemption and revenge.

Brighton’s iconic West Pier

 * * * * *

So Martin to Kelly, via gloves, Great American Novels, slavery, school reunions, stage magicians and Brighton!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

TBR Thursday 122 – The 20 Books of Summer 2017 List and Poll

It’s that time again…!

Cathy at 746 Books is again hosting her 20 Books of Summer Challenge this year, and after much swithering I’ve decided I can’t resist the opportunity to make a list! The reason I was a bit reluctant is that, in the last two years, participating has left me with a huge backlog of review books and I feel as if I’ve been scrambling to catch up ever since. So I had a brainwave! (Which, I have to tell you, doesn’t happen often…)

I shall read twenty review copies!

I currently have 35 outstanding (tragically, it was only 34 when I started drafting this post…) – many new ones that will be being published over the next few months, and a smaller pile of old ones that have fallen by the wayside and frankly might never be read – my enthusiasm for some of them has waned. If I read twenty and restrict myself severely from adding more, I should in theory end the summer feeling more on top of the TBR and with the way clear to keep going with my various other challenges. Sounds like a plan, eh?

(Oh, shut up, Rabbie!)

Since some of the blurbs have already appeared on TBR posts and the rest will appear on future ones, I’m merely listing the titles and authors and linking them to Goodreads. I have nineteen scheduled so far and then need your help picking number 20…

The 19…

  1. The Comfort of Others by Kay Langdale
  2. Miraculous Mysteries ed. Martin Edwards
  3. The Bishop’s Girl by Rebecca Burns – abandoned
  4. Finding Fibonacci by Keith Devlin
  5. Based on a True Story by Delphine di Vigan – abandoned
  6. You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann
  7. The Long Drop by Denise Mina
  8. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
  9. Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths ed. Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia
  10. The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen
  11. Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore
  12. Continental Crimes ed. By Martin Edwards
  13. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
  14. The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books by Martin Edwards
  15. The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan
  16. Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
  17. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy – abandoned
  18. Visions of Empire by Krishan Kumar
  19. The Golden House by Salman Rushdie

The Poll

OK, the ones left on my list of unread review copies are mostly older ones that I’ve been ignoring for ages in favour of newer, shinier baubles. So I’m asking for your help in choosing one and telling me why you think I should reignite my enthusiasm for it! Here are the contenders:-

On a foggy summer night, eleven people–ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter–depart Martha’s Vineyard headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the passengers disappear into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs–the painter–and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of a wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family.
.

* * * * *

For five years Priest’s Island has guarded the mystery of Max Wheeler’s disappearance. In this isolated township on the edge of the Atlantic, there are no secrets — except what really happened to fourteen-year-old Max. Now Cal McGill has taken up the quest. A grieving father, a community riven by tragedy — and resentful of the suspicion — all make a powderkeg of secrets and vengeance ready to explode.

* * * * *

Melody Shee is alone and in trouble. Her husband doesn’t take her news too well. She doesn’t want to tell her father yet because he’s a good man and this could break him. She’s trying to stay in the moment, but the future is looming – larger by the day – while the past won’t let her go. What she did to Breedie Flynn all those years ago still haunts her. It’s a good thing that she meets Mary Crothery when she does. Mary is a young Traveller woman, and she knows more about Melody than she lets on. She might just save Melody’s life.

* * * * *

Ten years ago, fourteen-year-old Scarlett Rainsford vanished without a trace during a family holiday to Greece. Not being able to find Scarlett was one of the biggest regrets of DCI Louisa Smith’s career and when Scarlett is discovered back in her home town after all this time, Lou is determined to find out what happened to her and why she remained hidden for so long. Was she abducted or did she run away?

* * * * *

Les, a long-time sheriff nearing retirement, contends with the ravages of poverty and crystal meth in his small Appalachian town. Becky, a park ranger, arrives in this remote patch of North Carolina hoping to ease the anguish of a harrowing past. Searching for tranquility amid the verdant stillness, she finds solace in poetry and the splendor of the land. A vicious crime will plunge both sheriff and ranger into deep and murky waters…

* * * * *

Thanks in advance for voting! I shall announce the winner on my next TBR Thursday post.

And whatever your own reading plans are…

HAVE A GREAT SUMMER! 😀

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….“…I knew there was no point. I could claw at the rock the rest of my life and get no closer. I knew the truth.”
….“And what truth was that, sir?”
….“They were dead. My woman. My children. All the People. They were dead. Buried alive. All four hundred of them.”
….Although virtually everyone in the courtroom – the judges, the rows of prosecutors, the court personnel, the spectators behind the glass, and the few reporters with them – although almost all of us knew what the answer to that question was going to be, there was nonetheless a terrible drama to hearing the facts spoken aloud. Silence enshrouded the room as if a warning finger had been raised, and all of us, every person, seemed to sink into ourselves, into the crater of fear and loneliness where the face of evil inevitably casts us.
….So here you are, I thought suddenly, as the moment lingered. Now you are here.

* * * * * * * * *

….One moment the sun had shone, then we were abruptly thrust into the devil’s playground as the squall hit us like a shield wall. The ship shuddered, water and wind and gloom smashing us in sudden turmoil and Heahengel swung to the blow, going broadside to the sea and nothing I could do would hold her straight, and I saw Leofric stagger across the deck as the stærbord side went under water. ‘Bail!’ I shouted desperately, ‘bail!’ And then with a noise like thunder, the great sail split into tatters that whipped off the yard, and the ship came slowly upright, but she was low in the water, and I was using all my strength to keep her coming round, creeping round, reversing our course so that I could put her bows into that turmoil of sea and wind, and the men were praying, making the sign of the cross, bailing water, and the remnants of the sail and the broken lines were mad things, ragged demons, and the sudden gale was howling like furies in the rigging and I thought how futile it would be to die at sea so soon after Ragnar had saved my life.

* * * * * * * * *

….‘We are slaves because we are unable to free ourselves,’ Herzen once wrote. If there was one lesson to be drawn from the Russian Revolution it was that the people had failed to emancipate themselves. They had failed to become their own political masters, to free themselves from emperors and become citizens. Kerensky’s speech of 1917, in which he claimed that the Russian people were perhaps no more than ‘rebellious slaves’, was to haunt the revolution in succeeding years. For while the people could destroy the old system, they could not rebuild a new one of their own. None of the democratic organizations established before October 1917 survived more than a few years of Bolshevik rule, at least not in their democratic form. By 1921, if not earlier, the revolution had come full circle, and a new autocracy had been imposed on Russia which in many ways resembled the old one.

* * * * * * * * *

….Across the room, near the window, there was a dressing table fitted with an oval three-piece mirror. The mirror was not quite closed; the upper edges of the glass glinted through the cracks like splinters of ice. In front of the mirror rose a small city of bottles: eau de Cologne, perfume sprays, lavender toilet water, a Bohemian glass goblet, facets glittering in the light… a crumpled pair of brown-lace gloves lay withering like cedar leaves.
….A couch and two chairs, a floor lamp, and a low, delicate table were arranged directly under the window. An embroidery frame, the beginnings of a pattern needled into the silk, was propped on the couch. The vogue for such things had passed long ago, but his mother loved all kinds of handicraft. The pattern seemed to be the wings of some gaudy bird, a parrot maybe, on a background of silver-gray. A pair of stockings lay in a heap next to the embroidery. The shocking embrace of sheer nylon and the imitation damask of the couch gave the room an air of agitation. She must have noticed a run on her way out and changed in a hurry.
….Only dazzling sky and a few fragments of cloud, hard and glossy as enamel in the light bouncing off the water, could be seen through the window.

(Nastiness Alert! Don’t be fooled by this quote – the book has subsequently been abandoned for being one of the nastiest little pieces of nastiness I’ve come across in a long time.)

* * * * * * * * *

From the archives…

….The letters told Eilis little; there was hardly anything personal in them and nothing that sounded like anyone’s own voice. Nonetheless, as she read them over and over, she forgot for a moment where she was and she could picture her mother in the kitchen taking her Basildon Bond notepad and her envelopes and setting out to write a proper letter with nothing crossed out.

(Click for full review)

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 121…

Episode 121…

The TBR has been hit by a mysterious mystery this week! My spreadsheet tells me it’s gone down 2 to 195, and yet I’ve only finished one book – how can this be?? Has some kind of hideous book-eating virus escaped from the laboratory of a crazed scientist? Well, if it goes on like this there’s only one solution – I shall have to go on a book-buying spree…

Here are a few that should legitimately leave the TBR soon…

Factual

Courtesy of Princeton University Press. A little break from the USSR. My current knowledge of Fibonacci consists of knowing that Fibonacci Numbers are called after him. Of course, I don’t know what they actually are. Or who he was. Or why he was important. Hopefully I’ll be better informed once I’ve read it…

The Blurb says: In 2000, Keith Devlin set out to research the life and legacy of the medieval mathematician Leonardo of Pisa, popularly known as Fibonacci, whose book Liber abbaci has quite literally affected the lives of everyone alive today. Although he is most famous for the Fibonacci numbers—which, it so happens, he didn’t invent—Fibonacci’s greatest contribution was as an expositor of mathematical ideas at a level ordinary people could understand. In 1202, Liber abbaci—the “Book of Calculation”—introduced modern arithmetic to the Western world. Yet Fibonacci was long forgotten after his death, and it was not until the 1960s that his true achievements were finally recognized.

Finding Fibonacci is Devlin’s compelling firsthand account of his ten-year quest to tell Fibonacci’s story. Devlin, a math expositor himself, kept a diary of the undertaking, which he draws on here to describe the project’s highs and lows, its false starts and disappointments, the tragedies and unexpected turns, some hilarious episodes, and the occasional lucky breaks. You will also meet the unique individuals Devlin encountered along the way, people who, each for their own reasons, became fascinated by Fibonacci, from the Yale professor who traced modern finance back to Fibonacci to the Italian historian who made the crucial archival discovery that brought together all the threads of Fibonacci’s astonishing story.

* * * * *

Fiction?

Courtesy of NetGalley. This one sounds rather weird and I’m not at all sure whether it’s fiction or crime. The blurb only tells half the tale – in fact the narrator and protagonist is the author herself, and there seems to be a blurred line between reality and fiction. It’s getting mixed reviews and I reckon it’s about 50/50 as to whether I’ll love or hate it…

 The Blurb says: Today I know that L. is the sole reason for my powerlessness. And that the two years that we were friends almost made me stop writing for ever.” Overwhelmed by the huge success of her latest novel, exhausted and unable to begin writing her next book, Delphine meets L. L. is the kind of impeccable, sophisticated woman who fascinates Delphine; a woman with smooth hair and perfectly filed nails, and a gift for saying the right thing. Delphine finds herself irresistibly drawn to her, their friendship growing as their meetings, notes and texts increase. But as L. begins to dress like Delphine, and, in the face of Delphine’s crippling inability to write, L. even offers to answer her emails, and their relationship rapidly intensifies. L. becomes more and more involved in Delphine’s life until she patiently takes control and turns it upside down: slowly, surely, insidiously. Based on a True Story is a chilling novel of suspense that will leave you questioning the truth and its significance long after you have turned the final page.

* * * * *

Radio Drama…

Courtesy of Amazon Vine UK. OK, it’s not a book, it’s a radio play. But it’s written by Val McDermid so I couldn’t resist. Doesn’t sound like her normal type of thing either… intriguing!

The Blurb says: Gina McKee stars in this chilling apocalyptic radio drama by award-winning writer Val McDermid.

It’s the Summer Solstice weekend, and 150,000 people have descended on a farm in the North East of England for an open-air music festival. Reporting on the event is journalist Zoe Meadows, who files her copy from a food van run by her friends Sam and Lisa. When some of Sam’s customers get sick, it looks like food poisoning, and it’s exacerbated by the mud, rain and inadequate sanitary facilities. It’s assumed to be a 24-hour thing, until people get home and discover strange skin lesions, which ulcerate and turn septic. More people start getting ill – and dying. What looked like a minor bug is clearly much more serious: a mystery illness that’s spreading fast and seems resistant to all antibiotics. Zoe teams up with Sam to track the outbreak to its source; meanwhile, can a cure be found before the disease becomes a pandemic?

From a No 1 bestselling author, this original drama envisages a nightmare scenario that seems only too credible in our modern age. Duration: 2 hours 30 mins approx.

* * * * *

Fiction?

Courtesy of NetGalley. Again, I have no idea how to classify this one – it’s listed on Amazon as both crime and horror, but I suspect with Kehlmann there will be “literary” fictional aspects too. It’s also being marketed and listed (and priced) as if it’s a novel but the Kindle length suggests it’s a short story or at most a short novella…all very odd. But again intriguing…

The Blurb says: “It is fitting that I’m beginning a new notebook up here. New surroundings and new ideas, a new beginning. Fresh air.”

These are the opening lines of the journal kept by the narrator of Daniel Kehlmann’s spellbinding new novel: the record of the seven days that he, his wife, and his four-year-old daughter spend in a house they have rented in the mountains of Germany—a house that thwarts the expectations of his recollection and seems to defy the very laws of physics. The narrator is eager to finish a screenplay, entitled Marriage, for a sequel to the movie that launched his career, but something he cannot explain is undermining his convictions and confidence, a process he is recording in this account of the uncanny events that unfold as he tries to understand what, exactly, is happening around him—and in himself.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….In my memory they slid from a bank of sea mist, and perhaps they did, but memory is a faulty thing and my other images of that day are of a clear, cloudless sky, so perhaps there was no mist, but it seems to me that one moment the sea was empty and the next there were three ships coming from the south.
….Beautiful things. They appeared to rest weightless on the ocean, and when their oars dug into the waves they skimmed the water. Their prows and sterns curled high and were tipped with gilded beasts, serpents and dragons, and it seemed to me that on that far off summer’s day the three boats danced on the water, propelled by the rise and fall of the silver wings of their oar banks. The sun flashed off the wet blades, splinters of light, then the oars dipped, were tugged and the beast-headed boats surged and I stared entranced.

* * * * * * * * *

….I wanted to ask her then if she did not remember. I wanted to ask if the manner of her death had been erased from her memory, if she lived now as if those things had not occurred.
….Perhaps the days before her death, and the way death was given to her, are nothing in the place where she is. Perhaps the gods keep the memory of death locked up in their store, jealously guarded. Instead, the gods release feelings that were once pure or sweet. Feelings that mattered once. They allow love to matter since love can do no harm to the dead.
….They approach each other, my father and my sister, their movements hesitant. I am not sure that, once they have seen each other, they still see me. I am not sure that the living interest them. They have too many needs that belong to themselves only; they have too much to share.

* * * * * * * * *

….The trains of the London and West Coast Railway run over the lines of another company as far as this town, which should have been reached by the special rather before six o’clock. At a quarter after six considerable surprise and some consternation were caused amongst the officials at Liverpool by the receipt of a telegram from Manchester to say that it had not yet arrived. An inquiry directed to St. Helens, which is a third of the way between the two cities, elicited the following reply:-
….‘To James Bland, Superintendent, Central L. & W. C., Liverpool. – Special passed here at 4.52, well up to time. – Dowser, St. Helens.’
….This telegram was received at 6.40. At 6.50 a second message was received from Manchester:-
….‘No sign of special as advised by you.’
….And then ten minutes later a third, more bewildering:-
….‘Presume some mistake as to proposed running of special. Local train from St. Helens timed to follow it has just arrived and has seen nothing of it. Kindly wire advices. – Manchester.’

From The Lost Special by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

* * * * * * * * *

….By 1921, there were twice as many bureaucrats as workers in Russia. They were the social base of the regime. This was not a Dictatorship of the Proletariat but a Dictatorship of the Bureaucracy. Moscow, in Lenin’s words, was ‘bloated with officials’: it housed nearly a quarter of a million of them, one-third of the total workforce in the city by the end of 1920. The centre of Moscow became one vast block of offices as committees were piled on top of councils and departments on top of commissions.
….Perhaps a third of the bureaucracy was employed in the regulation of the planned economy. It was an absurd situation: while the economy came to a standstill, its bureaucracy flourished. The country was desperately short of fuel but there was an army of bureaucrats to regulate its almost non-existent distribution. There was no paper in the shops but a mountain of it in the Soviet offices (90 per cent of the paper made in Russia during the first four years of Soviet rule was consumed by the bureaucracy).

* * * * * * * * *

….I broke off. He was looking at me with a cold, glassy stare, as no doubt he had looked at the late lions, leopards and gnus whose remains were to be viewed on the walls of the outer hall. Fellows at the Drones who have tried to touch Oofy Prosser, the club millionaire, for a trifle to see them through till next Wednesday have described him to me as looking just like that.
….‘Oh, so that’s it!’ he said, and even Pop Bassett could not have spoken more nastily. ‘I’ve got your number now. I’ve met your sort all over the world. You won’t get any five pounds, my man. You sit where you are and don’t move. I’m going to call the police.’
….‘It will not be necessary, sir,’ said a respectful voice, and Jeeves entered through the french window.
….His advent drew from me a startled goggle and, I rather think, a cry of amazement. Last man I’d expected to see, and how he had got here defeated me. I’ve sometimes felt that he must dematerialize himself like those fellows in India – fakirs, I think they’re called – who fade into thin air in Bombay and turn up five minutes later in Calcutta or points west with all the parts reassembled.

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So…are you tempted?

MAKE FFLAND GREAT AGAIN! #mfga

An election manifesto…

Thank you to whoever nominated me for the Best Book Blog Award at this year’s Annual Bloggers Bash Awards! I am thrilled and honoured!

I considered simply blushing and waiting to see if anyone voted for me – highly unlikely since I’m up against some phenomenal competition, not least my own choice – the lovely Cleo from Cleopatra Loves Books.

But then I remembered that sometimes the least likely person can win elections, even against the most qualified candidates who have ever stood! It all depends on making sure the offer appeals enough to the electorate, and boiling those messages down to some easily remembered slogans. So here is my manifesto…

BUILD THE WALL!

If you vote for me, I will build a giant circular wall, 20 feet high, and I will have it lined with bookshelves! Inside the wall will be a new country where we will all live in a yuge palace, complete with loads of comfy chairs, reading lamps and coffee tables.

BAN THE BOOK HATERS!

All people with a TBR greater than 181 will be automatic citizens of FFLand (as I propose to modestly call this new country) and library cards will be issued instead of identity papers. However Book Haters with a TBR of 181 or less will be left on the outside – we don’t want them coming into our country and spreading their horrible ideas about TBR reduction plans and reading what they already have before acquiring more. Unnatural!

EXTREME VETTING!

There will be an immigration plan but potential immigrants will be extremely vetted before being allowed to enter. They must swear the following oath of allegiance…

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign library of which I have heretofore been a member; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of FFLand against all Book Haters, foreign and domestic; that I will bear books on behalf of FFLand when required by the law; that I will read for a minimum of 8 hours per day and blog at least three times a week; that I will never return library books on time nor allow my TBR to drop below 182; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion. I swear this oath on the latest block-buster novel.”

LOCK HER UP!

Wikileaks have just released the following shock news! They’ve received details, via Russians who have hacked into her blog, of the latest state of Crooked Cleo’s TBR and I have to tell you that, although she pretends to be a book lover, horrifically she has allowed her TBR to drop to 181! Click here if you want to see the evidence for yourself! Proof positive that she’s a secret Book Hater!! If I win, I shall instruct the FFBI to investigate her instantly, find her guilty of something, and Lock Her Up! Lock Her Up!! LOCK HER UP!!!

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I suspect you’re all longing to vote for me now, understandably. But just in case, by some odd freak of nature, Crooked Cleo wins the popular vote, then obviously this could only be because she has bussed in three billion illegal Book Haters from the Lands Beyond The Wall to rig the vote! (Lock Her Up!) So to encourage you all to turn out and vote the right way – i.e., FOR ME! – there will be free chocolate at my inauguration rally!!

So click on the ballot box to…

VOTE FOR ME!!!

MAKE FFLAND GREAT AGAIN!!!