TBR Thursday 267…

Episode 267

Hmm, the new year splurging has begun. Only a little so far on the TBR – up 1 to 194 – but the wishlist has grown dramatically, and it’s mainly your fault. All these posts about books to look forward to in 2021, and best-of lists for 2020, not to mention recommendations for my challenges – frankly it’s all very stressful! I need a spa day…

Here’s another batch of ones I knead to get to soon…

Factual

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

Next up for my Spanish Civil War challenge, I suspect this is probably the best known book about the subject in the English language. I also suspect it might be too one-sided and polemical for my taste, but we’ll see…

The Blurb says: Homage to Catalonia is George Orwell’s personal account of his experiences and observations fighting for the Republican army during the Spanish Civil War. The war was one of the shaping events on his political outlook and a significant part of what led him to write, in 1946, “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for Democratic Socialism, as I understand it.”

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Review-along: Scottish Classic

The Silver Darlings by Neil M Gunn

A few of us have been discussing what book we could read as a review-along – i.e., those of us who blog will post our reviews on the same day, and those who don’t blog will post their opinions in the comments section. It came down to a shortlist of two: this, and Vanity Fair. So I’m suggesting we do both, though a few months apart. This one first, a highly rated Scottish classic from an author I haven’t tried before. Sounds great, though! I’m suggesting a review date of Wednesday 24th March to allow time for possible difficulties in getting hold of it. (If that date doesn’t work for anyone, let me know.) Rose and Christine are in – I’m hoping Alyson will be too if she hasn’t already read it (or fancies re-reading it). And anyone else who would like to join in will be very welcome – the more the merrier!

The Blurb says: The Silver Darlings is a tale of lives hard won from a cruel sea and crueller landlords. It tells of strong young men and stronger women whose loves, fears and sorrows are set deep in a landscape of raw beauty and bleak reward. The dawning of the Herring Fisheries brought with it the hope of escape from the brutality of the Highland Clearances, and Neil Gunn’s story paints a vivid picture of a community fighting against nature and history and refusing to be crushed.

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English Classic

Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp

Another one from my Classics Club list. Margery Sharp is an author I’ve heard so many people around the blogosphere praise, and this will be my introduction to her work. I’m not sure it’s my kind of thing, but I have my fingers crossed!

The Blurb says: Cluny Brown has committed an unforgivable sin: She refuses to know her place. Last week, she took herself to tea at the Ritz. Then she spent almost an entire day in bed eating oranges. To teach her discipline, her uncle, a plumber who has raised the orphaned Cluny since she was a baby, sends her into service to be a parlor maid at one of England’s stately manor houses.

At Friars Carmel in Devonshire, Cluny meets her employers: Sir Henry, the quintessential country squire, and Lady Carmel, who oversees the management of her home with unruffled calm. Their son, Andrew, newly returned from abroad with a Polish émigré writer friend, is certain that the world is once again on the brink of war. Then there’s Andrew’s beautiful fiancée and the priggish pharmacist. While everyone around her struggles to keep pace with a rapidly changing world, Cluny continues to be Cluny, transforming the lives of those around her with her infectious zest for life.

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Crime

The Less Dead by Denise Mina

Courtesy of Random House Vintage via NetGalley. I’ve only read a couple of Denise Mina’s books and have thoroughly enjoyed them, so I have high hopes for this one…

The Blurb says: When Margo goes in search of her birth mother for the first time, she meets her aunt, Nikki, instead. Margo learns that her mother, Susan, was a sex worker murdered soon after Margo’s adoption. To this day, Susan’s killer has never been found.

Nikki asks Margo for help. She has received threatening and haunting letters from the murderer, for decades. She is determined to find him, but she can’t do it alone…

A brilliant, thought-provoking and heart-wrenching new thriller about identity and the value of a life, from the award-winning author of The Long Drop and Conviction.

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 266…

Episode 266

A major step towards achieving my 2021 TBR reduction plan this week – no increase! Admittedly, no decrease either, but one step at a time. Sitting pretty on 193…

Here’s a few I should be pulling out soon…

Factual

The Invention of China by Bill Hayton

Courtesy of Yale University Press via Amazon Vine. It’s so rare that Amazon Vine offers me a book these days, much less an interesting-sounding one. I have a feeling the author, who is a journalist rather than a historian, is going to have to work quite hard to convince me of his argument though, unless the blurb over-simplifies it…

The Blurb says: China’s current leadership lays claim to a 5,000-year-old civilization, but “China” as a unified country and people, Bill Hayton argues, was created far more recently by a small group of intellectuals.

In this compelling account, Hayton shows how China’s present-day geopolitical problems—the fates of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, and the South China Sea—were born in the struggle to create a modern nation-state. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, reformers and revolutionaries adopted foreign ideas to “invent’ a new vision of China. By asserting a particular, politicized version of the past the government bolstered its claim to a vast territory stretching from the Pacific to Central Asia. Ranging across history, nationhood, language, and territory, Hayton shows how the Republic’s reworking of its past not only helped it to justify its right to rule a century ago—but continues to motivate and direct policy today.

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Vintage Crime

The Port of London Murders by Josephine Bell

Courtesy of the British Library. Isn’t it a gorgeous cover again? However, it’s getting pretty mixed reviews so far. I haven’t read anything by Bell before, so this will be my introduction to her…

The Blurb says: Wapping. Tugs and barges on the river. A west-end shop that deals apparently in nothing but lingerie. Women who sell their souls for something in a little screw of paper. A doctor in the slums who has mysterious visitors …

In a mean street of dockland a woman is dead, with every sign of suicide …

A derelict barge casts part of a cargo ashore, boxes which have double ends: some of these box-ends are empty, others conceal pink chiffon nightdresses …

The river police are concerned with the smuggling, Detective-Sergeant Chandler with an apparent suicide which he believes to be murder. River and shore police confer. Sergeant Chandler visits his suspects once more. He is never seen again …

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Crime

Cemetery Road by Greg Iles

Courtesy of HarperCollins. I was really tempted by Iles’ last hugely successful book, Mississippi Blood, but as usual never found time to read it, so I was pleased to be sent a copy of this one. I actually thought he was a newish author but it looks like he has an extensive back catalogue and a large and loyal fan base. Will I join them? It’s nearly 600 pages long, so it’ll have to be good to keep my attention…

The Blurb says: Marshall McEwan is one of the most successful journalists in Washington, DC. But his father is terminally ill, and he must return to his childhood home – a place he vowed he would never go back to.

Bienville, Mississippi, is no longer the city Marshall remembers. His family’s 150-year-old newspaper is failing, and Jet Talal, the love of his youth, has married into the family of Max Matheson, one of a dozen powerful patriarchs who rule the town through the exclusive Bienville Poker Club. The city’s only hope of economic salvation is a new, billion-dollar Chinese paper mill. But on the verge of the deal’s consummation, two deaths rock Bienville to its core.

Joining forces with his former lover, Marshall begins digging for the truth. But he and Jet soon discover that the soil of Mississippi is a minefield where explosive secrets can be far more destructive than injustice.

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Scottish Classic on Audio

Whisky Galore by Sir Compton Mackenzie read by David Rintoul

One from my Classics Club list. I vaguely know the story of this, I think from watching the ancient film version when I was a kid, but I’ve never read it. David Rintoul is a Scottish actor, so I’m expecting him to breeze through the islanders’ accents… 

The Blurb says: It’s 1943, and the war has brought rationing to the Hebridean Islands of Great and Little Todday. When food is in short supply, it is bad enough, but when the whisky runs out, it looks like the end of the world.

Morale is at rock bottom. George Campbell needs a wee dram to give him the courage to stand up to his mother and marry Catriona. The priest, the doctor and, of course, the landlord at the inn are all having a very thin time of it. There’s no conversation, no jollity, no fun – until a shipwreck off the coast brings a piece of extraordinary good fortune….

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

A new challenge for 2021…

Wanderlust Bingo

I loved the Around the World in Eighty Books challenge. It made me look for books I wouldn’t normally have gone for, many of which were great reads, and forced me out of my insular British comfort zone. I’ve been trying to think of a replacement challenge ever since I finished it. So here it is…

A bingo card with 25 boxes containing regions of the world, methods of travel and geographical features.

My plan is that for the first half of the year I’ll just wait and see what boxes I can fill from my general reading, and then towards the end I’ll frantically try to find books to fill in any missing squares! Any type of book will count – crime, fiction, science fiction, non-fiction. A country can only appear once, and one of the boxes will be filled by a book from my home country of Scotland.

If you fancy joining in, feel free! Otherwise, I’m hoping you’ll give me the pleasure of your company as I travel. 😀

Wish Me Bon Voyage!

Six Degrees of Separation – From O’Farrell 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…

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. I haven’t read it but the blurb tells me…

Hamnet is a luminous portrait of a marriage, at its heart the loss of a beloved child. Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet.

All the glowing reviews of this have tempted me to read it, but I believe it’s present tense (ugh!) and for some unaccountable and pretentious reason O’Farrell has chosen to refer to Anne Hathaway as Agnes, which would irritate me profoundly every time she was mentioned. In my first choice of books, she’s Anne…

The Secret Life of William Shakespeare by Jude Morgan. Shakespeare may get the title billing, and I loved his story as imagined by Morgan, but for me the standout feature of the book was the character of Anne – her love for Will, her fear of losing him, her strength to let him follow his driven path despite the cost to herself. She has to provide the strength that can make their relationship survive his absence, that gives him the freedom to be something she never fully understands. Will says:

‘You made Will Shakespeare, Anne. And without you there wouldn’t be a life, but the unformed shape of one, never to be.’ 

And such is Jude Morgan’s skill that this reader believed this completely.

Morgan introduces us to Shakespeare’s theatre friends and rivals, including Kit Marlowe, who stars in my next choice…

Crimson Rose by MJ Trow. It’s the opening night of Marlowe’s new play Tamburlaine Part 2 at the Rose Theatre and everyone is expecting it to be spectacular, especially the bit where they shoot the Governor. But as the guns go off, screams are heard from the audience and a woman falls dead, shot through the neck. This is a clever and funny mystery where Shakespeare is shown as a kind of hick just up from the country, while Marlowe is a 16th century James Bond. Great fun, especially the interactions among the theatre company.

More theatrical fun in my third book…

Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. I adore the wonderful section when Nicholas falls in with the travelling company of actors under the headship of actor-manager and all-round ham, Vincent Crummles. Who could ever forget the Infant Phenomenon…?

.‘May I ask how old she is?’ inquired Nicholas.
….‘You may, sir,’ replied Mr Crummles, looking steadily in his questioner’s face, as some men do when they have doubts about being implicitly believed in what they are going to say. ‘She is ten years of age, sir.’
….‘Not more!’
….‘Not a day.’
….‘Dear me!’ said Nicholas, ‘it’s extraordinary.’
….It was; for the infant phenomenon, though of short stature, had a comparatively aged countenance, and had moreover been precisely the same age–not perhaps to the full extent of the memory of the oldest inhabitant, but certainly for five good years. But she had been kept up late every night, and put upon an unlimited allowance of gin-and-water from infancy, to prevent her growing tall, and perhaps this system of training had produced in the infant phenomenon these additional phenomena.

Moving away from fiction but staying with Dickens and the stage takes me to…

Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World by Simon Callow. A superbly readable and affectionate account of the great man’s life, viewing it from the perspective of how Dickens’ love for the world of the theatre influenced his life and work. Interspersed generously with Dickens’ own words, taken from his correspondence with friends, we get a real feel for his massive personality, his sense of fun, his unstoppable energy and, yes, his occasional pomposity too.

Simon Callow as Dickens

Simon Callow has often performed as Dickens, and he also appeared in the film Shakespeare In Love, set during the period when Shakespeare was writing Romeo and Juliet. My next choice is set in that same period, though that’s where the resemblance ends!

Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell. A new playhouse is opening in London and the owners are determined to make it a huge success. Actors are easy to get hold of but new plays are the magic that bring in the playgoers. Over at the Theatre, Richard Shakespeare is struggling to survive on the measly wages he receives. He’s getting too old to play women’s roles and his older brother Will won’t promise him roles playing men. He seems like the perfect target for the new playhouse – offer him regular well-paid work and perhaps he’d be willing to steal the two new scripts Will is working on – A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet. This is a light-hearted historical mystery, which may not be one for purists but gives a great depiction of how theatre operated in Shakespeare’s day.

Shakespeare wrote some pretty good plays, but I feel his main claim to fame is as the creator of the fretful porpentine, our very own star of Tuesday Terror! The porpy, who rather neatly comes from Hamlet, also turns up in my last book…

Joy in the Morning by PG Wodehouse. With sundered hearts all over the place, drunken uncles dressed in Sindbad costumes and pestilential Boy Scouts to deal with, it’s surprising that Bertie and Jeeves have time for a little literary discussion…

….Do you recall telling me once about someone who told somebody he could tell him something which would make him think a bit? Knitted socks and porcupines entered into it, I remember.”
….“I think you may be referring to the ghost of the father of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, sir. Addressing his son, he said ‘I could a tale unfold whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, thy knotted and combined locks to part and each particular hair to stand on end like quills upon the fretful porpentine.’”
….“That’s right. Locks, of course, not socks. Odd that he should have said porpentine when he meant porcupine. Slip of the tongue, no doubt, as often happens with ghosts.”

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So from O’Farrell to Wodehouse via Shakespeare, Kit Marlowe, theatricals, Dickens, Simon Callow, and the fretful porpentine.

Hope you enjoyed the journey! 😀

New Year’s Resolutions aka…

…The Annual Failure Report…

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

The 2020 Results

I planned much of my reading at the beginning of the year, but events soon drove me into the mother of all slumps, so my good intentions were thrown by the wayside as I retreated into the comforting worlds of vintage and classics. That won’t stop me from planning ahead again this year, though! Failure is merely a state of mind…

1) Reading Resolutions

I planned to read:

a) 88 books that I already owned as at 1st Jan 2020. 

The Result: I read 52. This is bad. Very bad. Even worse than last year when I managed 60. Oh well, never mind! Might as well start off the way I mean to go on…

b) 8 books for the Around the World challenge.

The Result: Yay! I did it! I finally finished this challenge and loved doing it, so I count this one as a major success! 

c) 22 books from my Classics Club list. 

The Result: I read 12. This one all went horribly wrong! Not that I didn’t read classics – I did – tons of them. Just not the ones on my Classics Club list. I find as I get near the end of this challenge the books that looked so shiny when I put them on the list five years ago are now looking somewhat dull and tarnished. Must do better!

d) 6 books in Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series.

The Result: Ooh, so close! I read 5, mostly in audiobook format, and thoroughly enjoyed all of them. So I don’t care that I…

e) 7 books for my Spanish Civil War challenge

The Result: I read a measly miserly 2! I have no excuses – I hang my head in shame.

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

The result: I read 6. Despite reading a zillion vintage crime books, I failed to fit these in. I blame the British Library for sending me all the review copies…

g) 24 books first published in 2020 (minimum).

The Result: I only read (to the end) 20 new releases this year. Admittedly I also abandoned an astonishing 15 – mostly for being too woke or for sending me to sleep. Sometimes both. So my failure was not for want of trying! (Am I sounding defensive now? I think I am… 😂)

2) Reduce the TBR

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

Target for TBR (i.e., books I own): 165

Result: 193

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

Result: 280

WOOHOO!!! For the second year in a row I’ve met the combined target reduction! This is because I’ve continued to acquire loads that were already on my wishlist, while practising iron self-control to limit additions to the wishlist, with the result that it’s steadily decreasing.

Overall I read 112 books, which is the lowest number since I started recording my reading on Goodreads in 2013, and a lot of them were quite short! My page count was also down but this figure on Goodreads is never accurate since it assumes 100% of the pages in abandoned books and often assumes zero pages for audiobooks, so I tend to ignore it.

I didn’t set a specific target for review copies, but I took a total of 63 which is considerably down on the last few years, though still a bit too high. I’ve cut right down on NetGalley since I’ve found I’ve been abandoning so many new releases, but my favourite publishers have all been super generous with paper copies again this year, despite lockdowns! The number of unread review books at the end of the year has risen slightly from 24 last year to 26 this year.

Despite my see-sawing slumpiness throughout the year, and despite having failed at nearly every target I set myself, overall I feel good about my *ahem* achievements. 

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Resolutions for 2021

After this year’s dire failure to meet almost any of my targets I’m going to try to be a bit more realistic this year. There’s a lot of crossover in these targets…

1) Reading Resolutions

I plan to read:

a) 72 books that I already own as at today. Although I’m reducing the target, this is still higher than I’ve achieved in the last few years. Lots of the books in the targets below are included in this figure, so it’s not as bad as it seems…

b) 12 books from the People’s Choice Polls, where I reveal a few of the oldest books on my TBR and you, the People, choose which one I should read. I already have the last three you picked lined up to be read in the first three months of the year.

c) 18 books from my Classics Club list. I only have 18 left to go but I’m supposed to finish by mid-summer. I think that’s highly unlikely, so I’m extending the deadline to the end of the year. Doable.

d) 6 books in Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series. These get chunkier as the series goes along, so this might be ambitious, but I’m enjoying them, so we’ll see… 

e) 8 books for the Spanish Civil War challenge. This is the year when finally I intend to get into this challenge properly. If not now, never!

f) 12 books for the Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge. I’m sticking with 12 even though I failed so dismally this year. Not sure that I’ll succeed next year either!

g) 36 books first published in 2021 (minimum). I’m really losing touch with contemporary crime and fiction, so am upping this target considerably and am going to make a determined effort to find books that appeal to me. They must be out there, hiding! I’m sure I can do this…

2) Reduce the TBR

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

Target for TBR: 153

Target for combined TBR/wishlist (which is a truer picture): 240.

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

Wish me luck!

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A GUID NEW YEAR
TAE YIN AND A’!

LANG MAY YOUR LUM REEK!

TBR Thursday 265… and Quarterly Round-Up

TBR Quarterly Report

I usually include a summary of how I’m progressing (or not) towards the targets I set myself for the year, but since I’ll be looking at my New Year’s Resolutions old and new tomorrow, I’ll leave that for then. So just a round-up of the books I’ve read and reviewed for my various ongoing challenges this time. Given that I’ve read almost nothing except vintage crime and short story anthologies for the last few months, this may be the shortest report in the history of the blogosphere…

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The Classics Club

I only read one from my Classics Club list this quarter, but I had three left unreviewed from the previous quarter…

69. Earth Abides by George R Stewart – An apocalyptic tale set in a post-plague world that may have been startlingly original when it was first published, but sadly bored me to distraction now. I abandoned it at 20%. 1 star.

70. The American by Henry James – The story of cultures clashing when a nouveau riche American businessman attempts to marry into the snobbish European aristocracy. I enjoyed this more than I expected to, and it has left me less reluctant to tackle some of James’ other novels. 4 stars.

71. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren – The story of Willie Stark, an ambitious, high-flying politician in the Depression-era South, told through the eyes of his most loyal lieutenant, Jack Burden. Along the way we learn much about the corruption at the heart of American politics, but primarily this is a book about humanity in all its flawed imperfection. A brilliant book that earned a Pulitzer prize and the, arguably, even more prestigious accolade of being named my third Great American Novel. 5 stars.

72. Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald – A book full of narcissism and misogyny written by a misogynistic narcissist. Gah! I hated this and abandoned it at 32%. I did enjoy discovering that my fellow read-alongers all felt much the same way about it, though! 1 star, but only because I don’t have a zero rating.

So a very mixed bunch this quarter, but the brilliance of All the King’s Men made up for all the rest.

72 down, 18 to go!

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

Although I’ve read a ton of vintage crime over the last few months, none of them were part of this challenge…

40 down, 62 to go!

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Reading the Spanish Civil War Challenge

Oh, dear, oh, dear! Not only have I not ready any books for this challenge this quarter, I still haven’t reviewed the book that I finished reading back in July!

2 down, indefinite number to go!

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Well, that was exciting, wasn’t it? 😉 I’m sure things will pick up in the new year – 2021 has to be better than 2020! Doesn’t it?? Thanks as always for sharing my reading experiences!

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

Man Alive, number 5…

…or The Reading Bingo Challenge!

Another year draws to a close, so it must be time for… The Bingo Reading Challenge! I don’t deliberately look for books to read to meet this challenge, but at the end of the year it’s always fun to see how many boxes I can fill. Some of the categories are easy-peasy… others not so much. For some reason I didn’t do it last year, but I’d achieved a full house in each of the four years before that, so the pressure is on…

More than 500 pages

Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens. This one is always an easy starter for me because of my habit of reading a Dickens novel over Christmas and the New Year. Barnaby Rudge is the story of a group of people caught up in the Gordon Riots of the 1780s. Not a favourite but still very good.

A forgotten classic

Something to Answer For by PH Newby. Is it a classic? Well, it’s over 50 years old – just – and still in print, so it qualifies by my broad definition. Its main claim to fame is as the winner of the first ever Booker Prize. The story is set at the time of the Suez Crisis of 1956, and I think it’s trying to say something satirical about the effect on the British psyche of the loss of the Empire. I think. Sadly it’s kinda incomprehensible and not very good…

The second book in a series

Castle Skull by John Dickson Carr. The second Bencolin and Marle book, and like the first, a great mix of mystery and horror. Rich financier Jérôme D’Aunay begs Inspector Henri Bencolin to investigate the death of his friend, Myron Alison. Alison died in Castle Skull, last seen running ablaze about the battlements. As the name suggests, the castle is the ultimate in Gothic, and so is much of the story.

With a number in the title

The Man with Six Senses by Muriel Jaeger. Michael Bristowe is a young man with a strange talent – he can sense physical objects even when they are out of sight. But is it a gift or a curse? In this vintage SF novel from 1920, Jaeger seems to be questioning if humanity can continue to evolve at all in a world where difference is shunned.

A book that became a movie

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. As a small band of guerrillas await the order to blow up a bridge, an American volunteer falls in love with a Spanish girl. A brilliant start to my sadly neglected Spanish Civil War challenge.

Published this year

The Year Without Summer by Guinevere Glasfurd. Six intertwined stories show the effects around the world of the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. Some of the stories are fully fictional, while others are based on real people, such as Mary Shelley’s fateful trip when she would be inspired to write her masterpiece, Frankenstein.

Written by someone under 30

Braised Pork by An Yu. Following the death of her husband, as Jia Jia follows the steps of his final journey to Tibet, she finds herself drifting into a place where the lines between reality and dreams become blurred. An Yu was just 26 when this beautifully written book came out – makes you sick, doesn’t it? 😉

A mystery

Checkmate to Murder by ECR Lorac. Spoiled for choice in this category, so I’m going with a five-star book from one of my new favourite authors.  A foggy night in wartime London is the setting for this murder mystery which has aspects of an “impossible” crime.

A book with non-human characters

Dracula by Bram Stoker. Not only is Dracula the vampire himself non-human, but frankly the heroine, Mina, is so sickeningly perfect I began to wonder if she were an alien! I listened to the audiobook narrated by Greg Wise and Saskia Reeves, and their excellent performance carried me effortlessly through the boring bits slower sections.

A science fiction or fantasy book

The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray. When a rogue white dwarf star passes through the solar system, its gravitational pull affects the Earth’s rotation on its axis. Gradually over a period of years it slows, with days and nights lengthening; and then it stops completely, leaving half the earth’s surface in endless burning day and the other half in endless frozen night. Overlong, but well written and with excellent characterisation – a strong début.

A one-word title

Dissolution by CJ Sansom. One of Cromwell’s commissioners has been murdered at a monastery on the Sussex coast, and Cromwell dispatches lawyer Matthew Shardlake to investigate. The first book in this excellent series set in Tudor England, and a very enjoyable re-read.

Free square

The Mystery of Cloomber by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Since Dickens and Christie are getting mentions, I couldn’t leave out Conan Doyle – he’d have been so hurt! A mystery with a generous dollop of horror, a touch of Empire and some suitably inscrutable, scarily mystical Orientals – what more could you ask?

A funny book

Joy in the Morning by PG Wodehouse. Jeeves and Bertie, Florence Craye and Stilton Cheesewright, Nobby Hopwood and Boko Fittleworth, Uncle Percy and pestilential young Edwin, all gathered together at Aunt Agatha’s home in Steeple Bumpleigh. Need I say more?

My fave Jeeves and Wooster

A book of short stories

A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth by Daniel Mason. I loved this collection of short stories linked by subject matter and style rather than through the characters, creating a wonderful homage to the science fiction of the late 19th/early 20th century. That’s not to say the stories feel old-fashioned or dated, though. Mason looks at the subjects he chooses with a modern eye, thus ensuring they also resonate with a modern reader.

Set on a different continent

Nostromo by Joseph Conrad. In the harbour town of Sulaco, on the coast of the South American country of Costaguana, the silver mine of San Tomé becomes a bone of contention when yet another political coup is on the cards. Costaguana is fictional, but geographically it is based on Colombia. A wonderful book that looks at the destructive and insidious economic colonisation by capitalist countries of those nations whose resources they exploit and whose cultures they destroy.

Heard about online

A Month in the Country by JL Carr. I had never come across this novella in pre-blogging days, but over the last few years several blog buddies have reviewed it, usually in glowing terms. A young man spends a summer restoring a wall painting in an old church. Badly damaged by his wartime experiences, not physically but mentally, he will find a kind of healing as the long summer passes.

Non-fiction

The Brothers York by Thomas Penn. A very readable history of the three sons of Richard, Duke of York, two of whom became Kings of England – Edward IV and Richard III – during the period known as the Wars of the Roses. Plenty of treachery, betrayal and general skulduggery from these monarchs and their supporters – in fact, not unlike the vastly superior “democratic” leaders we have today…

A best-selling book

The Guest List by Lucy Foley. Published just six months ago, nominated for the CWA Gold Dagger and winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for Mystery and Thriller, and with 171,660 ratings so far on Goodreads, I think it’s safe to call this book a best-seller! Set on a rugged island off the coast of Ireland during a flashy celebrity wedding, sadly I wasn’t as enthralled by it as many others have been – when will the trend for these formulaic “that day” novels end? Not while they sell in the hundreds of thousands, I suppose…

Based on a true story

The White Bird Passes by Jessie Kesson. Largely autobiographical and set in Scotland in the 1920s, this tells the story of Janie, a little girl growing up among the women of the Lane, a place where the poor struggle to eke out an existence. Janie doesn’t feel neglected by her prostitute mother, but the Cruelty Man disagrees. A beautiful book, full of empathy for those on the margins, that challenges the reader to be slow to judge.

From the bottom of the TBR pile

The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollingsworth. This had been lingering on my TBR since July 2012, and was the inaugural winner of the People’s Choice Poll, where I reveal some of the lingerers and you pick which one I should read. But it really wasn’t your fault that I abandoned it for being disjointed, unrealistic and frankly boring. I’m sure you’ll get better at this with practice… 😉

First book by a favourite author

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie. A long overdue re-read of Christie’s first book, and the first appearance of Poirot and the lovely Hastings. A poisoning, a country house, a selection of suspects and a dramatic dénouement – the intricacies of the plotting show the promise of her later skill and the book has the touches of humour that always make her such a pleasure to read.

A book a friend loves

The Go-Between by LP Hartley. This is a bit of a cheat because I didn’t read it because a friend loved it – instead, some friends read it with me, and happily  we all loved it! Leo Colston, as a middle-aged man, looks back to the year of 1900 when he was a child on the edge of puberty, spending a long golden summer with the family of a school-friend. A wonderful book, which I’m glad to say affected me just as much on this re-reading as when I first read it decades ago.

A book that scared me

The Weird Tales of William Hope Hodsgon. I don’t scare easily with books, but a couple of the stories in this collection had the porpy and me quivering, especially The Derelict, which tells of three idiots sailors who come across a derelict ship in the middle of the ocean and decide to board her… DON’T DO IT!!!

A book that is more than 10 years old

Lady Susan by Jane Austen. Again spoiled for choice but although not published till 1871 this was probably written around 1794, which makes it the oldest book I read this year. Lady Susan is a deliciously wicked creation who plots and schemes, and manipulates all the men around her who can’t resist her feminine wiles. Lots of humour in this comedy of manners, full of Austen’s trademark observational wit. A joy!

A book with a blue cover

The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope. There don’t seem to be as many blue covers around this year, but I like this one. A classic swashbuckling adventure that introduced the world to the fictional country of Ruritania, this spawned so many imitations they became a sub-genre all on their own, of “Ruritarian romances”. Great fun!

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Bingo! Full House!
What do I win??

TBR Thursday 264…

Episode 264

Three out, three in this week, so the TBR remains beautifully balanced on193…

Oh, by the way, in case you haven’t noticed it’s nearly Christmas…

Dickens at Christmas

The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

As always, I’ll be spending the festive season in the company of my old friend, Charles Dickens. I was going to re-read The Mystery of Edwin Drood this year, but then Rose’s review of this one reminded me that it’s the only one of the novels I’ve never read. An unread Dickens! What a treat!

The Blurb says: One of Dickens’s most haunting and bizarre novels, The Old Curiosity Shop is the story of “Little Nell” and her persecution by the grotesque and lecherous Quilp. It is a shifting kaleidoscope of events and characters as the story reaches its tragic climax, an ending that famously devastated the novel’s earliest readers. Dickens blends naturalistic and allegorical styles to encompass both the actual blight of Victorian industrialization and textual echoes of Bunyan, the Romantic poets, Shakespeare, pantomine, and Jacobean tragedy. This edition uses the Clarendon text, the definitive edition of the novels of Charles Dickens, and includes the original illustrations.

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Christmas Fiction

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

Courtesy of Penguin Classics via NetGalley. I’ve only read Capote’s In Cold Blood before, and this couldn’t really sound any more different…

The Blurb says: Tender and bittersweet, these stories by Truman Capote, the author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, are a captivating tribute to the Christmas season.

Selected from across Capote’s writing life, they range from nostalgic portraits of childhood to more unsettling works that reveal the darkness beneath the festive glitter. In the Deep South of Capote’s youth, a young boy, Buddy, and his beloved maiden ‘aunt’ Sook forage for pecans and whiskey to bake into fruitcakes, make kites – too broke to buy gifts – and rise before dawn to prepare feasts for a ragged assembly of guests; it is Sook who teaches Buddy the true meaning of good will. In other stories, an unlikely festive miracle, of sorts, occurs at a local drugstore; a lonely woman has a troubling encounter in wintry New York. Brimming with feeling, these sparkling tales convey both the wonder and the chill of Christmas time.

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Christmas Horror Stories

Spirits of the Season edited by Tanya Kirk

This is from the BL’s excellent Tales of the Weird series, one that I missed when it came out a couple of years ago. Should complement my Dickens reading nicely, and keep the porpy occupied while I eat turkey sandwiches…

The Blurb says: Festive cheer turns to maddening fear in this new collection of seasonal hauntings, presenting the best Christmas ghost stories from the 1860s to the 1940s.

The traditional trappings of the holiday are turned upside down as restless spirits disrupt the merry games of the living, Christmas trees teem with spiteful pagan presences, and the Devil himself treads the boards at the village pantomime.

As the cold night of winter closes in and the glow of the hearth begins to flicker and fade, the uninvited visitors gather in the dark in this distinctive assortment of Yuletide chillers.

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Shardlake on Audio

Sovereign by CJ Sansom read by Steven Crossley

It would have been nice if I could have rounded the post off with another Christmassy one, but I’ve already started this one and they’re always so long I might well still be listening to it at Christmas! I’m still thoroughly enjoying Steven Crossley’s readings of this great series…

The Blurb says: Autumn, 1541. King Henry VIII has set out on a spectacular Progress to the North to attend an extravagant submission by his rebellious subjects in York.

Already in the city are lawyer Matthew Shardlake and his assistant Jack Barak. As well as legal work processing petitions to the King, Shardlake has reluctantly undertaken a secret mission for Archbishop Cranmer – to ensure the welfare of an important but dangerous conspirator who is to be returned to London for interrogation.

But the murder of a York glazier involves Shardlake in deeper mysteries, connected not only to the prisoner in York Castle but to the royal family itself. And when Shardlake and Barak stumble upon a cache of secret documents which could threaten the Tudor throne, a chain of events unfolds that will lead to Shardlake facing the most terrifying fate of the age . . .

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 263…

Episode 263

There’s been a huge drop in the TBR since I last reported – down 6 to 193! This is partly because I’ve been abandoning books all over the place, which is annoying but great for the TBR reduction plan.

I’m surviving on an almost constant diet of vintage crime, anthologies and re-reads for the time being. It’s so long since I prepared this post I’ve actually read most of these now, so will be reviewing soonish. I’ll leave you in suspense till then…

Vintage Science Fiction

Nature’s Warnings edited by Mike Ashley

Courtesy of the British Library. Another new anthology from the BL, this time in their excellent Science Fiction Classics series, and with the timely theme of warnings of environmental disaster…

The Blurb says: Science fiction has always confronted the concerns of society, and its greatest writers have long been inspired by the weighty issue of humanity’s ecological impact on the planet. This volume explores a range of prescient and thoughtful stories from SF’s classic period, from accounts of exhausted resources and ecocatastrophe to pertinent warnings of ecosystems thrown off balance and puzzles of adaptation and responsibility as humanity ventures into the new environments of the future.

Featuring stories crucial to the evolution of eco-science fiction from Philip K. Dick, Margaret St Clair, J. D. Beresford and more, this timely collection is a trove of essential reading.

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Vintage Crime

The Lost Gallows by John Dickson Carr

Courtesy of the British Library. This is the third in the Bencolin series, and I loved the first two…

The Blurb says: It started when El Moulk’s automobile roared crazily through a London fog, its driver dead as a herring. The car screeched to a stop in front of that creaky relic of ancient horrors, the Brimstone Club. Through its cavernous rooms and gaslit passages a murderer hunted victims for a private gallows. The calling cards of a notorious hangman, a miniature gibbet, a length of rope, and an inscription from the tomb of Egyptian kings warned El Moulk and his dazzling French mistress that death was on their trail. It was a perfect case for Bencolin, a detective who preferred fantastic murders.

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Vintage Crime

A Surprise for Christmas edited by Martin Edwards

And… courtesy of  the British Library again! Another anthology of vintage crime short stories, each with a Christmas theme. And what better time of the year for a bit of murder and mayhem?

The Blurb says: Two dead bodies and a Christmas stocking weaponised. A postman murdered delivering cards on Christmas morning. A Christmas tree growing over a forgotten homicide. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, except for the victims of these shocking and often elaborate murders. When there’s magic in the air, sometimes even the facts don’t quite add up and the impossible can happen — and it’s up to the detective’s trained eye to unwrap the clues and put together an explanation neatly tied up with a bow. Martin Edwards compiles an anthology filled with tales of seasonal suspense where the snow runs red, perfect to be shared between super-sleuths by the fire on a cold winter’s night.

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Dalziel and Pascoe on Audio

Under World by Reginald Hill read by Colin Buchanan

Continuing my slow re-read of this series, this is book 10. By now the characters are well established, and Hill is incorporating the social issues of the day into his stories. This one was published just four years after the miners’ strike which fundamentally changed the face of British politics for a generation and hit Yorkshire, where this series is set, particularly hard…

The Blurb says: When young Tracey Pedley vanished in the woods around Burrthorpe, the close-knit community had their own ideas about what had happened, but Deputy Chief Constable Watmough has it down as the work of a child-killer who has since committed suicide – though others wondered about the last man to see her alive and his fatal plunge into the disused mine shaft. Returning to a town he left in anger, Colin Farr’s homecoming is ready for trouble, and when a university course brings him into contact with Ellie Pascoe, trouble starts…

Meanwhile Andy Dalziel mutters imprecations on the sidelines, until a murder in Burrthorpe mine forces him to take action that brings him up against a hostile and frightened community.

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Hallowe’en Frippery! The Case of the Haunted Widow

from the lost files of Sir Arthur Donan Coyle

Sir Arthur Donan Coyle

“Watson, my dear fellow, I am at your disposal whenever you are ready to discuss the problem.”

I started, shaken out of the reverie into which I had fallen. “Good Lord, Holmes! It is true that I have been considering whether to consult you over something, but how did you know?”

Holmes smiled kindly. “You have been gazing into the fire all morning, only now and again glancing across at me, sometimes shaking your head, and sometimes nodding. It is clear that something troubles you, and that you are making up your mind as to whether to lay the matter before me. I assume it is connected to your visit to the Spiritualist meeting yesterday evening.”

“By Heavens, Holmes, this is sorcery! How could you possibly know about that?”

Holmes laughed. “You are too honest and open a fellow to ever keep a secret, Watson! Yesterday afternoon, you looked at the advertisement column in the evening newspaper at least three times, then made such a great to-do about going out to meet a friend that it was clear you were hiding something. I glanced at the section you had been perusing, and since I assumed you were interested in neither Dr Quick’s Liver Pills, nor Madame Fifi’s Corsetry Emporium, it was easy to deduce that you had gone to the meeting at the Marylebone Spiritualist Association. You have been unusually quiet ever since you returned, a clear sign that you are troubled in mind.”

“I am, Holmes, very troubled, but I know your scepticism regarding the subject of spiritualism, and am unsure you will be able to help. However, I admit it would be a great relief simply to discuss the matter with you, if you are willing.”

Holmes indicated that I should continue, so I began my story.

“Yesterday, as you may recall, was the second anniversary of the death of my beloved wife, Mary.” Holmes reached across and patted my knee gently. I continued: “It seemed, therefore, a sign, when I saw that the Marylebone Spiritualist Association had a meeting planned, with the design of helping the bereaved to communicate with those they had lost. I determined to attend.” I glanced at Holmes, half-expecting a scornful response, but he merely smiled sympathetically and gestured for me to go on.

“To keep the matter short, I shall say at once that I was not fortunate enough to contact my dear Mary.” I paused to blow my nose. “Next to me, there sat a woman, dressed all in black, and visibly shaking. The meeting wore on, with various audience members receiving messages via the medium from those who have passed before us to a better life. Then it seemed as if the medium slumped into an even deeper trance, and from her came a gruff voice, unmistakeably the voice of a man!

““Ruby!” the voice said. “Ruby! You have betrayed me, Ruby, and you shall pay with your life! Expect me this time tomorrow…”

“The woman next to me sprang to her feet with a terrible shriek, and fell to the floor in a dead faint. I had her carried to a quiet room and laid on a sofa, and after a brief time, I managed to revive her. But while I was examining her, I discovered that her pulse was faint and irregular, and her lips had the bluish tinge that comes with disease. I fear her heart is very weak, Holmes, and if she were to sustain another such shock, it may kill her.

“When she came round, she told me that the voice was that of her deceased first husband, Albert Simpson, who had been a well-respected lawyer. She has recently married again, to a Mr Josiah Engle, and came to the meeting to seek Albert’s approval. His accusation of betrayal has distressed her profoundly, and she is in terror of his promise that he will come to her later today. It seems he was a kindly husband to her in life, so his apparent cruelty now has been doubly upsetting.”

“A strange story indeed,” said my friend, as he reached for his pipe. We sat in silence for some time, he with the expression that told me he was thinking deeply, and I, comforted already by having shared my worry with him, and hopeful that somehow his great intellect would suggest a way to save this poor woman.

Finally Holmes knocked out his pipe and asked if I had Mrs Engle’s address. On my replying that I had, he leapt to his feet with that eager energy that indicates he is on the scent. “Come then, Watson, we have only a few hours – we must make haste!”

It was the last day of October, and the winter fog was already darkening the sky, while the damp air bit coldly. We walked the few streets to Mrs Engle’s home in one of the quiet little squares off the Marylebone Road. She seemed relieved to see me, though her state of nervous excitement was pitiable indeed. I gave her a tincture to calm her a little, and introduced my friend. Holmes’ reassuring manner quickly put her at her ease, and he then said gently “I have just two questions for you, madam, and then we shall leave you for a few hours, but I promise we shall both be here well before the appointed hour this evening You need have no fear – all will be well. Now, firstly, what was your maiden name?”

Mrs Engle looked surprised, but answered readily, “Gardner, sir. Ruby Ethel Gardner.”

“And what is Mr Engle’s profession?”

“Why,” she said, with a little hesitation, “why, he has no profession just at present. He… he… is looking out for a suitable opening.”

“Thank you. Come, Watson, we have no time to waste!”

And off we went again into the deepening gloom of the afternoon. Holmes hailed a cab and shouted to the driver “The Strand, man, as quickly as you can. There’s a sovereign in it if you get us there by four of the clock!”

“Where are we going, Holmes?” I asked.

“To Somerset House,” he replied, and lying back against the cushions with his eyes closed, would say no more.

We got there ten minutes before the hour struck, and Holmes told me to stay in the cab while he entered the imposing building. I knew that Somerset House was where the records of all the births, marriages and deaths in England were stored, but I was at a loss to understand my friend’s reason for coming here. No more than twenty minutes passed before he emerged, jumping into the cab and shouting “Back to Marylebone, my good man!”

As he settled back against the cushions, he said, “Better than I hoped, Watson! It is a strange thing, my dear fellow, that so many people enter into marriage without taking the simplest precautions.” And not another word would he say on the matter until we reached our destination.

Mrs Engle was even more anxious than she had been earlier in the afternoon, and I feared she would become seriously ill if we could not find a way to relieve her fears quickly. I said as much to Holmes, and hinted that I hoped he would not allow his love for the dramatic flourish to delay any reassurance he could give. He assented gravely, and asked Mrs Engle when she expected her husband to return home. As he spoke, there was a loud knock on the door and Mrs Engle said “He is here!”

“Halloa, Ruby, my dear!” A florid-faced little man, dressed in a loud checked suit, bustled busily into the room. “Who are your friends?”

“I,” said Holmes, coldly, “am Sherlock Holmes, and you, sir, are a cad!”

Engle paled visibly, and blustered, “How dare you, sir! What do you mean by this outrage?”

“I mean by it, sir, that you are the same Josiah Engle who married Elizabeth Cooper in 1885… and that you are still her husband, and father to her seven children! And now, having married this poor woman bigamously, you have set out to frighten her into an early grave, leaving all her late husband’s wealth in your unscrupulous hands!”

I feared the effect of this astounding statement on poor Mrs Engle – or, as it would appear, once again Mrs Simpson – but when I turned to attend to her, I was astonished to see a look of dawning hope on her face.

“Oh, Mr Holmes, do you mean… do you really mean that I am not, that I have never been married to this dreadful little man? Oh, how can I ever thank you? You have freed me from the prospect of a life of misery and regret!” And she put her face in her hands and wept tears of joy.

Later, once Holmes had thrown Engle unceremoniously out of the house, commanding him never to return on peril of arrest on a charge of bigamy and perhaps even attempted murder, Mrs Simpson and I begged him to tell us how he had deduced Engle’s villainous plan.

“It was elementary,” he said. “Working on the premise that the spirit world rarely interferes with our own, it was immediately obvious that the medium was a fraud, delivering a false message. The assumption therefore was that she was in the pay of someone who wanted to frighten Mrs Simpson. Why would anyone wish to do such a thing? Mrs Simpson’s address told me that she was a woman of some wealth, and Dr Watson had informed me that a severe shock may be enough to kill her. The usual question is often the right one – who would benefit? In this case, her new husband. I admit I was fortunate in my visit to Somerset House, where I went to check the terms of Mr Simpson’s will, to discover that Engle’s marriage to Mrs Simpson was in fact bigamous. That simplified matters greatly, since he has no legal claim whatsoever over the lady or her property. If only people would carry out these simple checks prior to marrying, if marry they must.”

We left a grateful and relieved Mrs Simpson, happily writing to ask her spinster sister to come and share her home, so that she would never again be driven by loneliness into a rash act.

I was happy, of course, at the outcome for Mrs Simpson, and grateful to my friend for all he had done to save her. However, I couldn’t shake my sorrow that the medium had proven to be a fraud. Without a true intermediary, I feared I would have to accept that I would never be able to contact my dear Mary. It was with a heavy heart that I retired for the night, and I lay awake for some time remembering my lost happiness. Eventually, kind sleep began to call to me and I fell into that half-dozing state when we are most receptive to those influences that are too fragile to withstand the full glare and hubbub of the waking world. As the clock struck midnight, as if from afar I heard my Mary’s sweet voice…

“Don’t give up, dear John. The veil that parts us is thick indeed, but may yet be torn asunder by the faith and courage of a true and loving heart.”

I came full awake and found my face wet with tears. Were they my own, or a last gift of love from my darling? And then, like a fading echo, I seemed again to hear her: “Keep faith, my dear one. Keep faith.”

“Always,” I whispered huskily into the night. “Always.”

HAPPY HALLOWE’EN! 🎃

TBR Thursday 262…

Episode 262

I’m still reading considerably less than usual, though I’ve noticed my enthusiasm growing a little again in the last few days, so fingers crossed! Thank goodness for vintage crime, Christie audiobooks and horror stories – my saviours at the moment! So a couple of books out, a couple of books in and the TBR and I remain stuck on 199…

Here are a few more that I should get to soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves

Another exciting race this week! Black Water Rising leapt into an early lead, but The Crow Trap snuck up on the inside fence and soon stormed into a unassailable position! Good choice, People! I’m (almost) sure I’ll enjoy this one! It will be a January read…

The Blurb says: At the isolated Baikie’s Cottage on the North Pennines, three very different women come together to complete an environmental survey. Three women who, in some way or another, know the meaning of betrayal…

For team leader Rachael Lambert the project is the perfect opportunity to rebuild her confidence after a double-betrayal by her lover and boss, Peter Kemp. Botanist Anne Preece, on the other hand, sees it as a chance to indulge in a little deception of her own. And then there is Grace Fulwell, a strange, uncommunicative young woman with plenty of her own secrets to hide…

When Rachael arrives at the cottage, however, she is horrified to discover the body of her friend Bella Furness. Bella, it appears, has committed suicide – a verdict Rachael finds impossible to accept.

Only when the next death occurs does a fourth woman enter the picture – the unconventional Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope, who must piece together the truth from these women’s tangled lives…

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Horror

Into the London Fog edited by Elizabeth Dearnley

Courtesy of the British Library. Another anthology from the BL’s Tales of the Weird series, this one taking us on a hopefully terrifying tour of the various districts that make up London. Fog was designed for horror, so the porpy is taking precautionary tranquilisers…

The Blurb says: As the fog thickens and the smoky dark sweeps across the capital, strange stories emerge from all over the city. A jilted lover returns as a demon to fulfill his revenge in Kensington, and a seance becomes a life and death struggle off Regents Canal. In the borough of Lambeth, stay clear of the Old House in Vauxhall Walk and be careful up in Temple—there’s something not right about the doleful, droning hum of the telegram wires overhead…

Join Elizabeth Dearnley on this atmospheric tour through the Big Smoke, a city which has long fueled the imagination of writers of the weird and supernormal. Waiting in the shadowy streets are tales from writers such as Charlotte Riddell, Lettie Galbraith, and Violet Hunt, who delight in twisting the urban myths and folk stories of the city into pieces of masterful suspense and intrigue. This collection will feature a map motif and notes before each story, giving readers the real-world context for these hauntings and encounters, and allowing the modern reader to seek out the sites themselves—should they dare.

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Crime

Grave’s End by William Shaw

Courtesy of Quercus via NetGalley. I’ve only read one book by William Shaw so far and loved it, so have high hopes for this one…

The Blurb says: An unidentified body is found in a freezer. No one seems to know or care who it is or who placed it there.

DS Alexandra Cupidi couldn’t have realised that this bizarre discovery will be connected to the crisis in housing, the politics of environmentalism and specifically the protection given to badgers by the law. But there are dangerous links between these strange, reclusive, fiercely territorial creatures and the activism of Cupidi’s teenage daughter Zoe and her friend Bill South, her colleague Constable Jill Ferriter’s dating habits and long forgotten historic crimes of sexual abuse – and murder.

DS Alexandra Cupidi faces establishment corruption, class divide and environmental activism in this gripping new novel by a rising star of British crime fiction.

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Vintage Crime

Inspector French: Sudden Death by Freeman Wills Crofts

Courtesy of HarperCollins. I’ve loved the couple of Crofts’ books I’ve previously read, so am looking forward to this one, especially since vintage crime has become my slump-busting comfort reading at the moment!

The Blurb says: To mark the publishing centenary of Freeman Wills Crofts, ‘The King of Detective Story Writers’, this is one of six classic crime novels being issued in 2020 featuring Inspector French, coming soon to television.

Anne Day is the new housekeeper at Frayle, the home of Mr Grinsmead and his invalid wife. To Anne’s horror, her intuition that something is very wrong in the house culminates in an unexpected death. With the police jumping to devastating conclusions, Inspector French arrives to investigate. With the narrative switching between Anne’s and French’s perspectives, giving alternately the outside and inside track of an ingenious and elaborate investigation, will tragedy strike a second time before the mystery is solved?

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

A Cavalcade of Criminals…

…and a Diversity of Detectives…

Having become addicted to the British Library Crime Classics series quite early on, and being lucky enough to receive review copies of most of the new ones, I’ve read a considerable number of them now, and fully intend to backtrack at some point and fill in the gaps. Now that there are so many of them, I’ve heard one or two people say they’d like to read some but don’t quite know where to begin. So I thought I’d put together a little list of my top ten recommendations. This is an entirely subjective choice – I’m sure everyone’s list would be different – but these are all ones that I loved and that stand out from the crowd in some way, and I’ve selected them to give an idea of the many styles that exist in a genre that we often tend to think of, wrongly, as formulaic.

I could have filled all ten slots with just a couple of authors who’ve become firm favourites now, such as ECR Lorac or George Bellairs, but I decided instead to limit myself to one book per author. And to keep the post to a reasonable length, I’m not providing full blurbs – clicking on any title or book cover that intrigues you will take you to my full review of the book. They are in no particular order – picking an overall favourite would be impossible. Here goes…

The Body in the Dumb River
by George Bellairs

Inspector Littlejohn had a long-running career and this is from the middle of the series, from 1961. I loved the twin settings in the book – the flooded fenlands and a working-class Yorkshire town. The characterisations are very good, as is the observation of our class-ridden society with all its prejudices and snobberies. In style, it’s a police procedural, and Littlejohn and his sidekick Cromwell are a likeable pair.

The Poisoned Chocolates Case
by Anthony Berkeley

Berkeley was a stalwart of the detective novel, but in this one he is having some light-hearted fun at the expense of his fellow novelists. A group of amateur ‘tecs have a go at solving the same crime from the same clues, showing how each clue can be interpreted differently and lead to a variety of equally credible solutions. Humour is the main aim, but there’s a good mystery beneath it, and it seems to have become a tradition for other authors to add their own solution – the BL edition contains Martin Edwards’ own attempt.

Death in White Pyjamas and Death Knows No Calendar
by John Bude

A twofer! Previously I hadn’t rated John Bude as highly as many other readers, but these two changed my mind and shoved him straight onto my favourites list. The first is set in a country house, amidst a company of theatricals, while the second has the traditional village setting, where everyone knows each other’s business, or thinks they do! Lots of humour, some darker elements and excellent mysteries – highly entertaining.

It Walks By Night
by John Dickson Carr

A madman is on the loose and threatening to murder his ex-wife before she can remarry! This has some wonderfully creepy scenes alongside a rather less credible mystery plot, and seemed to me to draw as much on the tradition of the Decadent horror writing of the fin de siècle period as on the mystery conventions of the Golden Age. The writing is great, and Carr creates at times an almost hallucinatory atmosphere of horror and tension. Spooked me good and proper, it did!

Death in Captivity
by Michael Gilbert

All three of the Gilbert books the BL has so far republished are excellent and could have made this list. They’re all very different from each other, and I’ve chosen this one because the setting is so unique and so well done – the mystery takes place among the inmates in a prisoner-of-war camp in Italy during WW2. As well as a traditional murder plot, it has a side plot involving an escape attempt, which I actually enjoyed as much, if not more, than the mystery itself.

The Murder of My Aunt
by Richard Hull

We follow the awful Edward as he plots to murder his equally awful aunt. One couldn’t possibly like Edward, and in real life one would pretty quickly want to hit him over the head with a brick, but his journal is a joy to read. The writing is fantastic, and it’s a brilliant portrait of a man obsessed with his own comforts, utterly selfish, and not nearly as clever as he thinks he is. And it’s also hilarious!

Murder by Matchlight
by ECR Lorac

Lorac remains the star of the show for me, despite stiff competition. I’m clearly not alone in my admiration, since the BL has now republished more of her books than any other author, I think, and they’re all well worth reading. It’s her creation of entirely authentic settings that makes her stand out, and her wartime settings in particular are excellently done. This one makes full use of the Blitz and the blackout both as part of the plot itself, and also to create a very credible picture of plucky London keeping calm and carrying on.

Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm
by Gil North

Written somewhat later, in the ‘60s, the Sergeant Cluff books feel more modern than most of the others – a kind of bridge to the grittier crime fiction of today. The story is darker and Cluff, though a man of high moral principle, is something of a maverick, following his own path to justice when the system fails. The writing style takes a bit of getting used to, but his depictions of both his grim northern town and the wild isolated moors that surround it are great, creating a brilliant atmosphere of menace and terror towards the end.

Verdict of Twelve
by Raymond Postgate

This one is considered a classic, and with good reason. It has three distinct parts. First we meet each member of a jury and learn about the attitudes and experiences they will bring to their judgement. Only then do we learn about the crime and who’s on trial. And then we see the jury deliberate and come to their decision. The jurors’ stories form a kind of microcosm of society, and cover some unexpected topics for the time, such as homosexuality (still criminalised) and child abuse, although in a more understated way than the often too graphic portrayals in contemporary crime.

The Belting Inheritance
by Julian Symons

Another later one, from 1965, this reads more like the books of Ruth Rendell or PD James than the Golden Age writers. It’s not a traditional whodunit – more of a psychological and social study of the characters, set at a time when society was on the cusp of major changes. It’s an interesting insight into the growing egalitarianism of the post-war period, as the uppity proles began to think maybe they were just as good as the privileged blue-bloods after all. I feel it crosses over into literary fiction, with our old friend “the human condition” taking precedence over the mystery aspect, and the writing is excellent.

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So there they are – my Top Ten (or eleven if you count the twofer as two!). Have you read any of them? Are there others you feel should be included? Or if you haven’t tried any vintage crime yet, have I tempted you with any of these?

Have a Great Friday! 😀

TBR Thursday 261 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 261

(A reminder of the People’s Choice plan. Once a month or so, I shall list the four oldest books on the TBR, then the next four, and so on, and each time you will select the one you think I should read, either because you’ve read and enjoyed it, or because you think the blurb looks good. And I will read the one you pick within three months! If I begin to fall behind, I’ll have a gap till I catch up again. In the event of a tie, I’ll have the casting vote.)

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OK, time for the next batch of four! Still got loads from 2015 – seems to have been a big year for acquiring more books than I could feasibly read! As usual, I’m planning three months ahead so the winner will be a January read. I bought the Pascal Mercier novel after enjoying another book of his, Night Train to Lisbon – pre-blog, though, so no review. RJ Ellory is a hit-and-miss author for me, but when he’s good, he’s very good, and I’m told this is one of his best. Ann Cleeves also has had a mixed reaction from me, based on the only two books of hers I’ve read so far. Attica Locke (I seem to be developing a theme here) is another whom I sometimes love and sometimes don’t. All of these appeal to me still, so you really can’t go wrong!

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Fiction

Perlmann’s Silence by Pascal Mercier

Added 20th April 2015. 691 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.62 average rating. 625 pages.

The Blurb says: In a quiet seaside town near Genoa, experts are gathering for a linguistics conference. One speaker, Philipp Perlmann is recently widowed and, struggling to contend with his grief, is unable to complete his keynote address. As the hour approaches, an increasingly desperate Perlmann decides to plagiarize the work of Leskov, a Russian colleague who cannot attend, and pass it off as his own.

But when word reaches Perlmann that Leskov has arrived unexpectedly in Genoa, Perlmann must protect himself from exposure by constructing a maelstrom of lies and deceit, which will lead him to the brink of murder.

In this intense psychological drama, the author of Night Train to Lisbon again takes the reader on a journey into the depths of human emotion and the language of memory and loss.

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Thriller

City of Lies by RJ Ellory

Added 20th April 2015. 503 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.66 average. 468 pages.

The Blurb says: John Harper has just made a discovery: the father he believed to be dead for more than thirty years is alive, though lying in a coma in a Manhattan hospital. Returning home to New York brings with it memories of childhood, many of them painful, and yet Harper could never have prepared himself for the truth.

Confronted with the reality of his father’s existence, Harper finds himself seduced by a lifestyle that he seems to have inherited–an underworld life of power, treachery, and menace. As he desperately tries to uncover the facts of his own past, he is faced with one lie after another, and with each new discovery he becomes more and more entangled in a dark and shocking conspiracy.

From the acclaimed author of A Quiet Belief in Angels and A Simple Act of ViolenceCity of Lies is a tense and gripping thriller, each twist and turn more shocking than the last.

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Crime

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves

Added 20th May, 2015. 11,334 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.87 average. 561 pages. 

The Blurb says: At the isolated Baikie’s Cottage on the North Pennines, three very different women come together to complete an environmental survey. Three women who, in some way or another, know the meaning of betrayal…

For team leader Rachael Lambert the project is the perfect opportunity to rebuild her confidence after a double-betrayal by her lover and boss, Peter Kemp. Botanist Anne Preece, on the other hand, sees it as a chance to indulge in a little deception of her own. And then there is Grace Fulwell, a strange, uncommunicative young woman with plenty of her own secrets to hide…

When Rachael arrives at the cottage, however, she is horrified to discover the body of her friend Bella Furness. Bella, it appears, has committed suicide – a verdict Rachael finds impossible to accept.

Only when the next death occurs does a fourth woman enter the picture – the unconventional Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope, who must piece together the truth from these women’s tangled lives…

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Crime

Black Water Rising by Attica Locke

Added 3rd June, 2015. 5,727 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.52 average. 450 pages.

The Blurb says: Jay Porter is hardly the lawyer he set out to be. His most promising client is a low-rent call girl, and he runs his fledgling law practice out of a dingy strip mall. But he’s long since made peace with his path to the American Dream, carefully tucking away his darkest sins: the guns, the FBI file, the trial that nearly destroyed him.

Houston, Texas, 1981. It’s here that Jay believes he can make a fresh start. That is, until the night he impulsively saves a drowning woman’s life – and opens a Pandora’s Box. Her secrets put Jay in danger, ensnaring him in a murder investigation that could cost him his practice, his family, and even his life. But before he can get to the bottom of a tangled mystery that reaches into the upper echelons of Houston’s corporate powerbrokers, Jay must confront the demons of his past.

With intelligent writing that captures the reader from the first scene through an exhilarating climax, Black Water Rising marks the arrival of an electrifying new talent.

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VOTE NOW!

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

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

TBR Thursday 260…

Episode 260

Oh, dear! Back in lockdown, back in reading slump! I’ve only finished one book in the whole of October so far – this is becoming critical! It’s extremely hard to keep a book blog running if you can’t be bothered to read books or write reviews, I’ve discovered. I may have to come up with something creative – a cake-tasting blog, perhaps? All this is my excuse for why the TBR has crept back up by two to 199. Still below the magical 200, though…

Here are a few more that will be sliding off soon…

Horror

Weird Woods edited by John Miller

Courtesy of the British Library. Another themed anthology of vintage horror stories from the BL’s Tales of the Weird series – it makes the porpy and me so happy that they’re doing the same for vintage horror as they’ve done for vintage crime!

The Blurb says: Woods play an important and recurring role in horror, fantasy, the gothic and the weird. They are places in which strange things happen, where you often can’t see where you are or what is around you. Supernatural creatures thrive in the thickets. Trees reach into underworlds of earth, myth and magic. Forests are full of ghosts.

In this new collection, immerse yourself in the whispering voices between the branches in Wistman’s Wood on Dartmoor, witness an inexplicable death in Yorkshire’s Strid Wood and prepare yourself for an encounter with malignant pagan powers in the dark of the New Forest. This edition also includes notes on the real locations and folklore which inspired these deliciously sinister stories.

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American Classic

The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

Courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics. I’m sure there was a creaky old black and white TV adaptation of this when I was a kid, but apart from the character names I remember nothing else about it. Sounds as if it could be wonderful… or awful! We’ll see…

The Blurb says: The second of Cooper’s five Leatherstocking Tales, this is the one which has consistently captured the imagination of generations since it was first published in 1826. It’s success lies partly in the historical role Cooper gives to his Indian characters, against the grain of accumulated racial hostility, and partly in his evocation of the wild beautiful landscapes of North America which the French and the British fought to control throughout the eighteenth century. At the center of the novel is the celebrated `Massacre’ of British troops and their families by Indian allies of the French at Fort William Henry in 1757. Around this historical event, Cooper built a romantic fiction of captivity, sexuality, and heroism, in which the destiny of the Mohicans Chingachgook and his son Uncas is inseparable from the lives of Alice and Cora Munro and of Hawkeye the frontier scout. The controlled, elaborate writing gives natural pace to the violence of the novel’s action: like the nature whose plundering Copper laments, the books placid surfaces conceal inexplicable and deathly forces.

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Vintage Crime

The Progress of a Crime by Julian Symons

Courtesy of the British Library again! I’ve loved the previous books of Julian Symons that they’ve re-published, so have high hopes for this one. The cover’s very different from their usual style, isn’t it? 

The Blurb says: The murder, a brutal stabbing, definitely took place on Guy Fawkes night. It was definitely by the bonfire on the village green. There were definitely a number of witnesses to a row between a group of Teddy Boys. And yet, was it definitely clear to anybody exactly what they had seen?

In the writhing, violent shadows, it seems as if the truth may have gone up in smoke.

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Historical Fiction

Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor

Since I’m currently listening to Dracula, this seems like the obvious one to choose for my next listen, especially since I’ve seen some great reviews appearing around the blogosphere. It’s narrated by Anna Chancellor, whom I love, and Barry McGovern, whom I don’t know very well but am told is great, so I’m looking forward to filling some of the dark lockdown evenings with this…

The Blurb says: 1878: The Lyceum Theatre, London. Three extraordinary people begin their life together, a life that will be full of drama, transformation, passionate and painful devotion to art and to one another. Henry Irving, the Chief, is the volcanic leading man and impresario; Ellen Terry is the most lauded and desired actress of her generation, outspoken and generous of heart; and ever following along behind them in the shadows is the unremarkable theatre manager, Bram Stoker.

Fresh from life in Dublin as a clerk, Bram may seem the least colourful of the trio but he is wrestling with dark demons in a new city, in a new marriage, and with his own literary aspirations. As he walks the London streets at night, streets haunted by the Ripper and the gossip which swirls around his friend Oscar Wilde, he finds new inspiration. But the Chief is determined that nothing will get in the way of his manager’s devotion to the Lyceum and to himself. And both men are enchanted by the beauty and boldness of the elusive Ellen.

This exceptional novel explores the complexities of love that stands dangerously outside social convention, the restlessness of creativity, and the experiences that led to Dracula, the most iconic supernatural tale of all time.

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 259… and Quarterly Round-Up

TBR Quarterly Report

(Yes, I know it’s not Thursday, but I forgot to do my quarterly post yesterday, so I’m fitting it in today instead.) At the New Year, as I do every year, I set myself some targets for my various reading challenges and for the reduction of my ever-expanding TBR. Although I’m not slumping as badly as I was earlier in the year, I’m still not reading at anything like my usual rate, so there’s zero chance of me meeting targets this year. (What’s new??) But I’ve decided not to beat myself up over it, and I’m still slowly chipping away at my various challenges.

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

Well, it’s actually slightly better than I was expecting! Most of the challenges are still badly behind, but I think I’ve actually caught up a little since I last reported. The Classics Club is the real problem, since I’m supposed to finish my list by next summer. Does anyone know what the punishment is for failure? It better not be chocolate-denial…

The TBR had dipped a bit at the end of September, although honesty compels me to admit October has been a bit of a spree so far. My recent disappointing experiences with some of the older books on the TBR has given me just the excuse I needed to add new ones. Plus my favourite publishers have come out of lockdown and a few parcels have been arriving – yay! However, I continue to cull the wishlist monthly, so the combined figure is still on target – amazingly…

 

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The Classics Club

I’ve read a respectable six from my Classics Club list. I had two left unreviewed from the previous quarter, and now have three unreviewed at the end of September. My reviewing slump has actually been worse than the reading slump. Still, that means I’ve reviewed five this quarter…

64. Flemington by Violet Jacob – Set during the Jacobite Rebellions, this is the story of two men on opposite sides in the conflict. Well told, some great characterisation and a good deal of moral ambiguity, with Jacob showing that both sides believed in the honour of their cause. I enjoyed it very much. 4½ stars.

65. The African Queen by CS Forester – The book on which the classic Hepburn/Bogart film is based, this is the story of a spinster lady and a Cockney steamboat pilot coming together to destroy a German gunboat. The main strength of the book is in the descriptions of the African riverscape. It’s an old-fashioned adventure story, enjoyable but let down a little by the ending, which was changed in the film to make it more exciting. 3½ stars.

66. The White Bird Passes by Jessie Kesson – Set in Elgin in the 1920s, this autobiographical novel tells of a little girl growing up among the women of Lady’s Lane. Her mother is a prostitute and little Janie is seen as neglected, though she doesn’t feel that way herself. But when the Cruelty Man comes calling, Janie’s life will change. It’s a hard story, told with warmth and empathy and humour, and no bitterly pointed finger of blame from the adult Kesson. A beautiful book. 5 stars.

67. The Bull Calves by Naomi Mitchison – Another Scottish classic, this time set in Gleneagles just after the Jacobite Rebellion. It’s based on the history of Mitchison’s own family, and while it is clearly brilliantly researched and gives a real flavour of the lives of the minor aristocracy of the time, sadly it’s let down by a weak and rather dull plot. I abandoned it halfway through. Just 2 stars.

68. The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler – this classic noir simply didn’t work for me, but I take the blame since noir rarely does. The detective, Marlowe, is convinced that his friend didn’t murder his wife, even though he confessed and committed suicide. The book is way too long, with more emphasis on Chandler’s musings on life than on the plot. Again, just 2 stars.

A very mixed bunch this quarter, but with a couple of goodies in the mix. If I never read about another Jacobite though, I’ll die happy…

68 down, 22 to go!

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

I’ve read and reviewed three for this challenge this quarter. I’m going through a bad phase with these, often unable to see why Martin Edwards would have included them in his list. However, I’ll keep going for a while longer since, despite this quarter’s dismal experience, overall I’ve enjoyed most of the one I’ve read. To see the full challenge, click here.

38.  The Case of the Late Pig by Margery Allingham – A murder mystery with a twist – the dead man appears to have died twice! This is an unusual Campion mystery in that it’s told in the first person rather than the usual third. I enjoyed getting inside his head – it made him seem a little less of the silly ass that he sometimes appears. One of the more enjoyable Campion books for me. 4 stars.

39. The Killer and the Slain by Hugh Walpole – the story of a man driven to murder and the effect it has on him. This is a rip-off of Jekyll and Hyde, and not nearly as well done, dull and over-padded. I can’t imagine why it’s on the list. Abandoned halfway through, and a generous 1 star.

40. Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi by Jorge Luis Borges – dear me! I only got halfway again in this one! It’s a spoof of The Old Man in the Corner stories and filled with “humour”, but I found it overly wordy, condescendingly knowing and gratingly arch, with every client (of the three I read, at least) having exactly the same characterisation. 1 star, though I may have to introduce a zero stars rating soon.

40 down, 62 to go!

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Reading the Spanish Civil War Challenge

I’ve actually read two history books for this so far, but have only reviewed one (in October, but I’m counting it anyway). I haven’t managed to fit in any more of the fiction books yet, and I think this challenge is really only going to take off properly next year. My enthusiasm is still high, though – it’s just a matter of scheduling!

2. The Spanish Civil War by Stanley G Payne – this was an excellent introduction to the subject, concise but packed full of information, clearly presented. Payne has been a historian of Spain and European fascism throughout his career, and this book feels like the sum of all that immense study, distilled down to its pure essence. 5 stars.

2 down, indefinite number to go!

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So  a more productive quarter in terms of quantity, with enough great books to make it all worthwhile. Thanks as always for sharing my reading experiences!

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

TBR Thursday 258…

Episode 258

A tiny drop in the TBR this week – down 1 to 197. Not the most impressive achievement, but baby steps, baby steps…

(I know, I’ve used that one before, but it’s too good to only use once!)

Here are a few more that will be slipping off soon…

Classic Reviewalong

Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald

One for the Classics Club. When this one came up on a recent People’s Choice poll it lost, but Alyson suggested we read it anyway and co-ordinate our reviews and comments on 26th October, and a few other people decided that sounded like fun. So a reminder to Alyson, Christine and Eva if you’re still interested, and an invitation to anyone else who fancies joining in. (Sadly, Sandra has had to pull out of this one.) I have read this before but so long ago I remember very little about it except that it didn’t blow me away to the same extent as The Great Gatsby

The Blurb says: Between the First World War and the Wall Street Crash the French Riviera was the stylish place for wealthy Americans to visit. Among the most fashionable are the Divers, Dick and Nicole who hold court at their villa. Into their circle comes Rosemary Hoyt, a film star, who is instantly attracted to them, but understands little of the dark secrets and hidden corruption that hold them together. As Dick draws closer to Rosemary, he fractures the delicate structure of his marriage and sets both Nicole and himself on to a dangerous path where only the strongest can survive. In this exquisite, lyrical novel, Fitzgerald has poured much of the essence of his own life; he has also depicted the age of materialism, shattered idealism and broken dreams.

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Horror

Green Tea and Other Weird Stories by Sheridan Le Fanu

I have been the lucky recipient of a ton of anthologies and collections this year to feed my Tuesday Terror!, Transwarp Tuesday!, and even my long neglected Tuesday ‘Tec! short story slots. Here’s the first, courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics – a new collection just in time for spooky season. The porpy is thrilled! 

The Blurb says: Sheridan Le Fanu is one of the indispensable figures in the history of Gothic and horror fiction-the most important such writer in English, certainly, between Poe and M. R. James. While a number of his sensation and mystery novels were popular with mid-Victorian readers, it was in shorter forms that he truly excelled, and most showed himself an innovator in the field of uncanny fiction. Tales such as ‘Carmilla’ and ‘Green Tea’ prompted M. R. James to remark, ‘he succeeds in inspiring a mysterious terror better than any other writer’.

This landmark critical edition includes the original versions of all five stories later collected in the superb In a Glass Darkly, along with seven equally chilling tales spanning the length of Le Fanu’s career, from ‘Schalken the Painter‘, a pioneering story of the walking dead, to ‘Laura Silver Bell’, a haunting exploration of the dark side of fairy lore.

Aaron Worth’s introduction discusses the paranoid, claustrophobic world of Le Fanu’s fiction as a counterpoint-one in its own way equally modern-to the cosmic horror tale as practiced by such writers as H. P. Lovecraft.

* * * * *

Detectives

Bodies from the Library 3 edited by Tony Medawar

Courtesy of HarperCollins. I loved Bodies from the Library 2 so have high hopes for this anthology…

The Blurb says: This new volume in the Bodies from the Library series features the work of 18 prolific authors who, like Christie and Crofts, saw their popularity soar during the Golden Age. Aside from novels, they all wrote short fiction – stories, serials and plays – and although most of them have been collected in books over the last 100 years, here are the ones that got away…

In this book you will encounter classic series detectives including Colonel Gore, Roger Sheringham, Hildegarde Withers and Henri Bencolin; Hercule Poirot solves ‘The Incident of the Dog’s Ball’; Roderick Alleyn returns to New Zealand in a recently discovered television drama by Ngaio Marsh; and Dorothy L. Sayers’ chilling ‘The House of the Poplars’ is published for the first time.

With a full-length novella by John Dickson Carr and an unpublished radio script by Cyril Hare, this diverse collection concludes with some early ‘flash fiction’ commissioned by Collins’ Crime Club in 1938. Each mini story had to feature an orange, resulting in six very different tales from Peter Cheyney, Ethel Lina White, David Hume, Nicholas Blake, John Rhode and – in his only foray into writing detective fiction – the publisher himself, William Collins.

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Science Fiction

Born of the Sun edited by Mike Ashley

The British Library has been super generous with sci-fi and horror anthologies, so I’m looking forward to sharing the others with you soon. This is the first on my list, and I love the idea of travelling the solar system in this way…

The Blurb says: An original concept featuring a Golden Age science fiction for every planet in the Solar System, Born of the Sun includes never-before-republished material from the British Library collection – effectively exclusive by their rarity. This is the 7th of our weighty Science Fiction Classics anthologies, a set which wonderfully embodies the Golden Age of the genre.

Terror in the steamy jungles of Venus, encounters on the arid expanse of Jupiter; asteroids mysteriously bursting with vegetation whizz past and reveal worlds beyond imagination orbiting the giver of all known life – the Sun. Mike Ashley curates this literary tour through the space around this heavenly body, taking in the sights of Mercury, Venus, Mars, an alternate Earth, strange goings on on Saturn and tales from a bizarre civilization on Neptune. Pluto (still a planet in the Classic period of Science fiction) becomes the site for a desperate tale of isolation, and a nameless point at the limits of the Sun’s orbital space gives rise to a final poetic vision of this spot in the universe we call home…

Born of the Sun collects one story for each of the planets thought to be in our solar system during the Golden Age of Science fiction, from some of the greatest, and from some of the most obscure, authors of the genre. Featuring the genius works of Larry Niven, Poul Andersen, Clifford D Simak, Clare Winger Harris and many more.

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 257…

Episode 257

The TBR has been fluctuating wildly during my break but has settled back to exactly where it was last time I reported – 198! I’m still working on it though…

Here are a few more that will be falling off the edge soon…

Fiction

Red Pill by Hari Kunzru

Courtesy of Simon & Schuster UK via NetGalley. I’ve loved a couple of Hari Kunzru’s earlier books, especially White Tears, so a new release from him is a major event in my reading diary, especially since there’s usually a long wait between books. The blurb of this one makes it sound as if it’s been written specially for me…

The Blurb says: When a Brooklyn writer leaves behind his young family to take up the offer of a three month residency at the Deuter Centre on the shore of Berlin’s Lake Wannsee, he arrives with romantic dreams of days devoted to total artistic absorption. However, The Deuter Centre turns out to be anything but the idyllic writerly retreat he imagines and, rather than study at the clinical and closely monitored desk assigned to him, he opts to spend much of the time holed up in his bedroom watching Blue Lives, an ultraviolent cop show with a bleak and merciless view of the world.

One night, while at a glamourous party in the city, he meets Anton, the charismatic creator of Blue Lives, and they strike up a passionate and alcohol-fuelled conversation about the pessimism at the show’s core. It is a conversation that marks the beginning of the writer’s obsession with Anton and leads him on a journey into the heart of moral darkness that threatens to destroy everything he holds most dear, including his own mind.

Red Pill is a novel about the alt-right, online culture, creativity, sanity and history. It is the story of the 21st century, told through the prism of the centuries that preceded it, and it shows how the darkest chapters of our past have returned to haunt our present. More than anything, though, Red Pill is a story about love and how it can endure in a world where everything else seems to have lost all meaning.

* * * * *

Fiction

The Secrets of Strangers by Charity Norman

Courtesy of Atlantic Books via NetGalley. To be honest, I can’t remember why I requested this one, since it doesn’t totally sound like my kind of thing – a glowing review I saw around the blogosphere perhaps? However, it’s got a very high average rating on Goodreads, so I’m willing to be persuaded…  

The Blurb says: A regular weekday morning veers drastically off-course for five strangers whose paths cross in a London café  their lives never to be the same again when an apparently crazed gunman holds them hostage. But there is more to the situation than first meets the eye and as the captives grapple with their own inner demons, the line between right and wrong starts to blur. Will the secrets they keep stop them from escaping with their lives?

* * * * *

Thriller

The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer by Joël Dicker

Courtesy of Quercus via NetGalley. Again, not sure about this one, but I’m trying to get back to reading at least some contemporary crime before I lose touch completely. Maybe this will revive my enthusiasm… or crush it! It’s 640 pages long, so it will have to be really special to justify the length. We’ll see… 

The Blurb says: In the summer of 1994, the quiet seaside town of Orphea reels from the discovery of two brutal murders.

Confounding their superiors, two young police officers, Jesse Rosenberg and Derek Scott crack the case and arrest the murderer, earning themselves handsome promotions and the lasting respect of their colleagues.

But twenty years later, just as he is on the point of taking early retirement, Rosenberg is approached by Stephanie Mailer, a journalist who believes he made a mistake back in 1994 and that the real murderer is still out there, perhaps ready to strike again. Before she can give any more details however, Stephanie Mailer mysteriously disappears without trace, and Rosenberg and Scott are forced to confront the awful possibility that her suspicions might have been proved horribly true.

What happened to Stephanie Mailer? What did she know? And what really happened in Orphea all those years ago? 

* * * * *

Horror on Audio

Dracula by Bram Stoker read by Greg Wise and Saskia Reeves

I’ve been meaning to re-read Dracula for years, so couldn’t resist the idea of the lovely Greg Wise reading it to me… and Saskia, of course! Should keep the porpy and me entertained as we get into the swing of spooky season!

The Blurb says: Young lawyer Jonathan Harker journeys to Transylvania to meet with the mysterious Count Dracula only to discover that his nobleman client is a vampire who is thirsty for new blood. After imprisoning Harker in his castle, Dracula travels to England to seduce Jonathan’s fiancée, Mina, and the battle against an ineffable evil begins.

Led by philosopher and metaphysician Professor Van Helsing – Dracula’s most indomitable adversary – Harker, Mina, and a band of allies unite, determined to confront and destroy the Count before he can escape.

Bram Stoker ingeniously modernized gothic folklore by moving his vampire from traditional castle ruins to modern England. With Dracula, which has been interpreted and dissected by scholars for generations, Stoker changed the vampire novel forever.

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 256…

Episode 256

All you people who’ve been worried about my shrinking TBR can breathe a sigh of relief this week – it’s gone up 2 to 198! Still below the magic 200, though, and of course it wasn’t my fault. I tried to stop the postman delivering the box of books, but he insisted, so what could I do?? I’m sure I’ll be back on track soon…

Here are a few more that will be tripping my way soon…

Factual

The Haunting of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale

Courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing via NetGalley. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed several of Summerscale’s earlier books, loving her mix of true events and social commentary. This one sounds like a great way to kick off spooky season too…

The Blurb says: London, 1938. In the suburbs of the city, an ordinary young housewife has become the eye in a storm of chaos. In Alma Fielding’s modest home, china flies off the shelves, eggs fly through the air; stolen jewellery appears on her fingers, white mice crawl out of her handbag, beetles appear from under her gloves; in the middle of a car journey, a terrapin materialises on her lap. Nandor Fodor – a Jewish-Hungarian refugee and chief ghost hunter for the International Institute for Psychical Research – reads of the case, and hastens to the scene of the haunting. But when Fodor starts his scrupulous investigation, he discovers that the case is even stranger than it seems. By unravelling Alma’s peculiar history, he finds a different and darker type of haunting: trauma, alienation, loss – and the foreshadowing of a nation’s worst fears. As the spectre of Fascism lengthens over Europe, and as Fodor’s obsession with the case deepens, Alma becomes ever more disturbed. With rigour, daring and insight, the award-winning pioneer of non-fiction writing Kate Summerscale shadows Fodor’s enquiry, delving into long-hidden archives to find the human story behind a very modern haunting.

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American Classic

The American by Henry James

Courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics. One from my Classics Club list. I’ve only read a few of James’ ghostly novellas before, and am not at all convinced his style won’t drive me insane in a full-length book. But we book bloggers must sometimes suffer for our art, so I shall gird up my loins (do women have loins? I should have paid more attention in anatomy classes. I know men have them… and pigs…) and face him bravely!  

The Blurb says: During a trip to Europe, Christopher Newman, a wealthy American businessman, asks the charming Claire de Cintre to be his wife. To his dismay, he receives an icy reception from the heads of her family, who find Newman to be a vulgar example of the American privileged class. Brilliantly combining elements of comedy, tragedy, romance and melodrama, this tale of thwarted desire vividly contrasts nineteenth-century American and European manners. Oxford’s edition of The American, which was first published in 1877, is the only one that uses James’ revised 1907 text.

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Vintage Crime

Inspector French and the Mystery on Southampton Water by Freeman Wills Crofts

Courtesy of HarperCollins. To celebrate the publishing centenary of Freeman Wills Crofts, HarperCollins are reissuing three of his books and I was thrilled to receive a surprise box containing them all! I’ve only read one of the Inspector French books before, The 12:30 from Croydon, and loved it, and have been meaning to read more, so here’s the first. Couldn’t wait, so I’ve started it already…

The Blurb says: The Joymount Rapid Hardening Cement Manufacturing Company on the Solent is in serious financial trouble. Its rival, Chayle on the Isle of Wight, has a secret new manufacturing process and is underselling them. Having failed to crack the secret legitimately, two employees hatch a plot to break in and steal it. But the scheme does not go according to plan, resulting in damage and death, and Inspector French is brought in to solve one of the most dramatic and labyrinthine cases of his entire career. 

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Dalziel & Pascoe on Audio

Child’s Play by Reginald Hill read by Colin Buchanan

I enjoyed Colin Buchanan as narrator of these books more than I was expecting in Exit Lines (review soon), so decided to go for the audiobook again for the next one in my slow re-read of this great series… 

The Blurb says: Geraldine Lomas’s son went missing in Italy during World War Two, but the eccentric old lady never accepted his death.

Now she is dead, leaving the Lomas beer fortune to be divided between an animal rights organization, a fascist front and a services benevolent fund. As disgruntled relatives gather by the graveside, the funeral is interrupted by a middle-aged man in an Italian suit, who falls to his knees crying, ‘Mama!’

Andy Dalziel is preoccupied with the illegal book one of his sergeants is running on who is to be appointed as the new chief Constable. But when a dead Italian turns up in the police car park, Peter Pascoe and his bloated superior are plunged into an investigation that makes internal police politics look like child’s play…

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Around the World in 80 Books Challenge – Wrap!

“The Road goes ever on and on…”

Way back in March 2016, I decided to participate in the Around the World in 80 Books Challenge, created and hosted by Sarah and Lucy at Hard Book Habit. Here’s what they said:

Here’s the deal. You’ll need to read 80 books set or connected with the random destinations of your choice, then you blog about each book that you read en route. You can choose any books you like – this challenge is not limited to fiction – and the only catch is that you must read at least one book connected to each continent, one sea-based book, and a book that involves travel – think the Orient Express, flight, hot-air balloons, train journeys, car trips, etc… the rest is up to you.

(Sadly in the intervening years Hard Book Habit has ceased to exist, and as far as I know Sarah and Lucy are no longer blogging.)

Four and a half years later, I limped wearily home, having visited every continent, sailed every sea, travelled through time and even ventured into space.

My original plan, which for once I stuck to, was to go back to the book that inspired the challenge, Around the World in Eighty Days, and see if I could find books for each stage of Phileas Fogg’s original journey. Wikipedia not only told me where Fogg and his faithful servant Passepartout stopped, but they provided a map which became my logo for the challenge…

That would fill 27 of the 80 slots, and the other 53 would be detours – taking me anywhere and everywhere, but making sure to meet each of the requirements of the challenge.

So here it is – the final list, with links to all my reviews:

The Main Journey

  1. London  – Martin Chuzzlewit
  2. Orient Express – Travels with My Aunt
  3. France – The Sisters of Versailles
  4. Alps – Crossed Skis
  5. Venice – Titian’s Boatman
  6. Brindisi – That Summer in Puglia
  7. Mediterranean Sea – Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas
  8. Suez – Something to Answer For
  9. Egypt – Palace Walk
  10. Red Sea/Arabian Sea – Lord Jim
  11. Bombay – Selection Day
  12. Calcutta – A Rising Man
  13. Kholby – The Jewel in the Crown
  14. Elephant Travel – The Elephant’s Journey
  15. Allahabad – The Sign of the Four
  16. Indian Ocean/ South China Sea – A Dangerous Crossing
  17. Hong Kong – How to Pick Up a Maid in Statue Square
  18. Shanghai – Death of a Red Heroine
  19. Yokohama – Around the World in Eighty Days
  20. Pacific – Moby-Dick: Or, The White Whale
  21. San Francisco – The Dain Curse
  22. Sioux lands – Days Without End
  23. Omaha – The Swan Gondola
  24. New York – Three-Martini Lunch
  25. Atlantic Ocean – Treasure Island
  26. Queenstown (Cobh) Ireland – Dead Wake
  27. London – The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

The Detours

  1. The Hebrides – Coffin Road
  2. Florida – Their Eyes Were Watching God
  3. Iceland – Snowblind
  4. Himalayas – Black Narcissus
  5. Ireland – The Heather Blazing
  6. Channel Islands – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society
  7. Australian Outback – Fear is the Rider
  8. Portugal – The High Mountains of Portugal
  9. Milan, Italy – The Murdered Banker
  10. Havana, Cuba – A Heart So White
  11. Saturn – 2001: A Space Odyssey
  12. Kabul, Afghanistan – The Kite Runner
  13. Vatican City – Conclave
  14. Dresden, Germany – Slaughterhouse-Five
  15. Scottish Highlands – Murder of a Lady
  16. The French Riviera – Death on the Riviera
  17. Kiev, Ukraine – The White Guard
  18. North Korea – The Accusation
  19. Chechnya – The Tsar of Love and Techno
  20. Japan – Penance
  21. Beijing, China – Braised Pork
  22. Ancient Greece – House of Names
  23. Bosnia and Herzegovina – Testimony
  24. Moscow, Russia – Doctor Zhivago
  25. Republic of the Congo – Brazzaville Beach
  26. Thailand – Behind the Night Bazaar
  27. Antarctic – Endurance
  28. Wales – The Great God Pan and Other Horror Stories
  29. Spain – The Man Who Loved Dogs
  30. New Zealand – The Ice Shroud
  31. Gibraltar – The Rock
  32. Canada – Brother
  33. Jordan – Appointment with Death
  34. South Africa – The Good Doctor
  35. Lebanon – Pearls on a Branch
  36. Colombia – The Shape of the Ruins
  37. Uruguay – Springtime in a Broken Mirror
  38. Ancient Rome – Imperium
  39. Norway – The Katharina Code
  40. South Korea – The Plotters
  41. Europe – Europe: A Natural History
  42. Colonial Malay – The Night Tiger
  43. Istanbul, Turkey – 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World
  44. Papua New Guinea – Mister Pip
  45.  Zululand – Nada the Lily
  46.  East Germany – The Spy Who Came In from the Cold
  47.  Mexico – The Pearl
  48.  Nigeria – Things Fall Apart
  49.  Öland, Sweden – Echoes from the Dead
  50.  Sicily – The Leopard
  51.  Ruritania – The Prisoner of Zenda
  52.  The Arctic – Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus
  53.  Romania – Sword

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Highlights

I loved doing this challenge – probably the one I’ve enjoyed most of all the ones I’ve participated in. While I filled a lot of the spots on my journey from books I’d have been reading anyway, I also kept a weather eye open for books set in places I hadn’t yet visited, and that led me to read many books that probably would have otherwise passed me by. So to celebrate the end of the challenge, I’ve decided to highlight just five of the books, each of which I loved and probably wouldn’t have read without this incentive.

Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz

A family saga, set in Egypt to the backdrop of the end of WW1, the rise of nationalism and the dying days of colonial Egypt. It took me a long time to feel involved with this family and their community but once I did I became completely absorbed in the slow telling of their lives. Usually I’d be more interested in the out-going, more political lives of the sons, but in this case I found myself fascinated by Mahfouz’ depiction of the lives and feelings of the women – the total seclusion and lack of agency, and the way that the mothers themselves trained their daughters to accept, conform and even be contented with this half-life. A deserved classic, and for once a Nobel Prize-winning novel that I feel merits that accolade.

The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel

There are three distinct sections in this novel, each very different but with common themes running through them, and all linked to a small town in the High Mountains, Tuizelo. It is a subtle discussion of the evolution vs. faith debate, with the old evolutionary saw of “risen apes, not fallen angels” appearing repeatedly. Chimps appear in some form in each of the sections, sometimes symbolically, sometimes actually. I found the whole thing an original and insightful approach to the question that provokes thought without forcing any specific answers on the reader. The writing is nothing short of brilliant. It flows smoothly, feels light and airy, but is full of insight into grief and love and heartache, and has left some indelible images in my mind.

Endurance by Alfred Lansing

This is a straightforward, factual telling of the story of Ernest Shackleton and his crew, and their failed 1914 bid to cross the Antarctic on foot from west to east. It’s also one of the most stirring and emotionally turbulent books I’ve ever read. I found myself totally caught up in the men’s adventure, willing them on, crying over each new disaster, celebrating with them over any small triumph. Talk about emotional rollercoaster! As it got towards the end, my tension levels were going through the roof, just as they would have been had these men been personal friends – indeed, after the long journey I’d made in their company, I truly felt they were.

Springtime in a Broken Mirror by Mario Benedetti

Santiago is a political prisoner in Montevideo, Uruguay, in the 1970s. His family and friends are scattered, exiled from the country they call home. Although the book is based around the revolutions of South America, it is not about politics as such; rather, it is about the impact that political upheaval has on the individuals caught up in it. It’s about home and exile, loneliness, longing, belonging. It’s about loyalty and love, and sometimes despair. It’s profoundly moving – full of emotional truth. And, in the end, it holds out hope: that the human spirit has the resilience to find new ways of living when the old ones are taken away. A wonderful read.

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

Tequila Leila’s body is dead, but her brain has not yet shut completely down. As her consciousness slowly fades, she finds herself drifting through memories of her life – the childhood that made her the woman she would become, her family, her loves and, most of all, her friends. And along the way, we are given a picture of the underbelly of Istanbul, of those on the margins finding ways to live in a society that rejects them. The prose is wonderful, the many stories feel utterly true and real, and they are beautifully brought together to create an intensely moving picture of a life that might pass unremarked and unmourned by society, but showing how remarkable such a life can be in its intimate details and how mourning is a tribute gained by a loving, generous soul regardless of status.

This was an incredibly hard choice, since I tried hard to fill most of the slots with great books, and there are very few in the final list that I wouldn’t wholeheartedly recommend. And I thoroughly enjoyed rounding the whole thing off by reading the wonderful Around the World in Eighty Days itself, which not only filled the impossible Yokohama spot but was an excellent way to bring my travels to an end.

Thanks for joining me on my epic journey. 😀

TBR Thursday 255…

Episode 255

Another drop in the TBR since I last reported, despite having received more book post from lovely publishers! Down two to 196 – I’m getting worried…

Here are a few more I’ll be fretting over soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

There was never any doubt about which book would win this time – it took a commanding lead straight away and pulled further ahead as the race was run. Most of you picked it because you hoped I’d enjoy it, but *looks accusingly over top of reading glasses* some of you voted for it because you think I’ll hate it and you’re hoping for a grumpy 1-star review! Don’t try to look innocent – you know who you are! Either way, good choice, People – it’s one I’ve been intending to read for years. I’m falling behind, so it will be December before my review appears…

The Blurb says: The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it — from garden seeds to Scripture — is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

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Scottish Classic

The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

One from my Classics Club list – I’m in a race for the deadline now so the classics will be coming thick and fast! And this one is certainly thick…  On the upside, it’s not about the Jacobites! 

The Blurb says: Dunnett introduces her irresistible hero Francis Crawford of Lymond, a scapegrace nobleman of elastic morals and dangerous talents whose tongue is as sharp as his rapier. In 1547 Lymond is returning to his native Scotland, which is threatened by an English invasion. Accused of treason, Lymond leads a band of outlaws in a desperate race to redeem his reputation and save his land.

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Vintage Crime

Checkmate to Murder by ECR Lorac

Courtesy of the British Library. Hurrah! Another from ECR Lorac, one of my favourites of the authors the BL has introduced me to…

The Blurb says: On a dismally foggy night in Hampstead, London, a curious party has gathered in an artist’s studio to weather the wartime blackout. A civil servant and a government scientist match wits in a game of chess, while Bruce Manaton paints the portrait of his characterful sitter, bedecked in Cardinal’s robes at the other end of the room. In the kitchen, Rosanne Manaton prepares tea for the charlady of Mr. Folliner, the secretive miser next door.

When the brutal murder of ‘Old Mr. F’ is discovered by his Canadian infantryman nephew, it’s not long before Inspector Macdonald of Scotland Yard is called to the scene to take the young soldier away. But even at first glance the case looks far from black-and-white. Faced with a bevy of perplexing alibis and suspicious circumstances, Macdonald and the C.I.D. set to work separating the players from the pawns to shed light on this toppling of a lonely king in the dead of night.

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Classic on Audio

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë read by Patricia Routledge

Having mentioned this on my recent post about the audiobooks on my To-Be-Listened-to list, I decided it had to be bumped up the priority list, mainly because I simply can’t imagine Patricia Routledge “doing” Heathcliff, and yet the reviews are great! I’ve already started it and… well, I’ll leave you in suspense…

The Blurb says: As darkness falls, a man caught in a snowstorm is forced to shelter at the strange, grim house Wuthering Heights. It is a place he will never forget. There he will come to learn the story of Cathy: how she was forced to choose between her well-meaning husband and the dangerous man she had loved since she was young. How her choice led to betrayal and terrible revenge – and continues to torment those in the present. How love can transgress authority, convention, even death. And how desire can kill.

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?