TBR Thursday 300 – Joining the Classics Club 2.0

The Second List

Now that I’m very close to completing my first Classics Club list, I’ve hit a little problem in that I’ve used up all my Dickenses and, as regular blog buddies will know, I like to read a Dickens novel over the Christmas period each year. So I’ve decided to post my second list early, although other than a Dickens I won’t be reading any of these till my first list is done – probably around February or March next year.

Plus, adding a zillion extra books to my TBR/wishlist seems like a suitably dramatic way to mark the fact that this is my 300th TBR Thursday post! 😱

For people who aren’t familiar with the idea of the Classics Club, the rules are simple. Basically, a list of at least 50 books is required, along with a commitment to read and post about them within 5 years. The Club leaves it up to each member to come up with their own definition of “Classic”. I’m sticking with the same definition as I used first time round, namely, that any book first published more than 50 years ago counts, so my cut-off this time is 1971. Happily the Classics Club Gods don’t punish us if we run over time or swap books as we go along. As far as I know…

Because I generally read and re-read a lot of classics, I’ve decided this time to list 80, divided into four categories. Here goes…

The Scottish Section

The Adventures of Roderick Random by Tobias Smollett (1748)
The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides/A Journey to the Western Isles by James
….Boswell/Samuel Johnson (1785)
Guy Mannering by Sir Walter Scott (1815)
The Antiquary by Sir Walter Scott (1816)
Old Mortality by Sir Walter Scott (1816)
The Heart of Midlothian by Sir Walter Scott (1818)
The Bride of Lammermoor by Sir Walter Scott (1819)
Hester by Margaret Oliphant (1883)
The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883)
Doom Castle by Neil Munro (1901)
Gillespie by John MacDougall Hay (1914)
Open the Door! By Catherine Carswell (1920)
John Macnab by John Buchan (1925)
The Quarry Wood by Nan Shepherd (1928)
The Shipbuilders by George Blake (1935)
The Land of the Leal by James Barke (1939)
Young Adam by Alexander Trocchi (1954)
Tunes of Glory by James Kennaway (1956)
A Song of Sixpence by AJ Cronin (1964)
Consider the Lilies by Iain Crichton Smith (1968)

The Bride of Lammermoor
Henry Gillard Glindoni (1852–1913)
The New Art Gallery Walsall

The English Section

The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith (1766)
Evelina by Frances Burney (1778)
Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens (1848)
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë (1848)
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1850)
Bleak House by Charles Dickens (1853)
Hard Times by Charles Dickens (1854)
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (1854)
Silas Marner by George Eliot (1861)
The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens (1870)
Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy (1874)
The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (1875)
She by Henry Rider Haggard (1886)
The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad (1907)
The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett (1908)
Howard’s End by EM Forster (1910)
The Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham (1925)
Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell (1936)
The Third Man by Graham Greene (1949)
In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden (1969)

The Foreign Section

Written in English

Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth (1800)
Uncle Silas by Sheridan Le Fanu (1864)
The Story of a New Zealand River by Jane Mander (1920)
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (1929)
Cry The Beloved Country by Alan Paton (1948)
On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1955)
Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh (1956)
Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay (1967)
A Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (1967)
Fifth Business by Robertson Davies (1970)

In Translation

The Manuscript Found in Saragossa by Jan Potocki (1810)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo (1831)
Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac (1835)
The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni (1840)
The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas (1850)
Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada (1947)
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866)
Germinal by Émile Zola (1885)
In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S. Haasse (1949)
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (1967)

The Genre Section

Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne (1864)
Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy (1888)
The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1912)
The Land That Time Forgot Trilogy by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1918)
Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth (1928)
The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett (1931)
The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler (1939)
Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler (1940)
Laura by Vera Caspary (1942)
Mr Bowling Buys a Newspaper by Donald Henderson (1943)
Death Comes as the End by Agatha Christie (1944)
In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B Hughes (1947)
Vanish in an Instant by Margaret Millar (1952)
A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin (1953)
Gideon’s Day by JJ Marric (1955)
The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (1955)
The Guns of Navarone by Alastair MacLean (1957)
The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon (1959)
The Chill by Ross MacDonald (1963)
The Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout (1965)

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Thanks to all the many bloggers and commenters who have inspired me to add one or more of these books to my new list. The list will undoubtedly change over time but, meantime, what do you think? Any on there that you love? Or that you think doesn’t deserve a place?

Thanks for joining me on my reading travels!

TBR Thursday (on a Wednesday) 299…

An eleventh batch of murder, mystery and mayhem…

This is a challenge to read all 102 (102? Yes, 102) books listed in Martin Edwards’ guide to vintage crime, The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books. (100? Yes, 100.) Because of all the other great vintage crime being republished at the moment, I’m going very slowly with this challenge and they’ve proved to be a bit of a mixed bag so far, though with more winners than losers. Here’s the second batch for 2021 and the eleventh overall…

Tracks in the Snow by Godfrey R Benson

I’ve never come across Godfrey R Benson before, which isn’t too surprising since apparently this was his only venture into crime fiction. The blurb sounds quite appealing…

The Blurb says: Robert Driver is temporarily fulfilling the post of parson at Long Wilton, a position he finds tedious in the extreme. But the monotony is relieved in terrible fashion when, one snowy evening, his friend Peters is found murdered at his country house, Grenville Combe. Driver takes an interest in the case, and when a chance discovery leads him to suspect that the police’s suspicions about the culprit’s identity may be entirely incorrect, he is determined to see that justice is done. He finds he must proceed with caution, however, if he is to avoid bringing down further tragedy upon himself and his family.

Originally published in 1906, this vintage detective story will delight all fans of classic crime fiction.

Challenge details

Book No: 4

Subject Heading: A New Era Dawns

Publication Year: 1906

Martin Edwards says: “…Benson’s thoughtful, well-crafted prose, his insights into human behaviour, and the way in which the story touches on issues such as free will and the ramifications of Britain’s imperial past combine to make his brief venture into the crime genre notable.”

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Max Carrados by Ernest Bramah

I’ve read a couple of Max Carrados short stories in various anthologies and also the only novel he features in, The Bravo of London, and enjoyed them without loving them. Maybe this collection of eight stories will finally win me over…

The Blurb says: Max Carrados is the greatest detective you’ve never heard of. He may be blind, but what Carrados lacks in sight he more than makes up for in perception. He can pick out a voice in a crowded room and read a book by running his fingers over the print. Those who underestimate his abilities are soon surprised by the keen Carrados.

In one story, Carrados tracks down a criminal by analyzing a coin without ever leaving his study. Another finds him solving the mystery of a train accident that has far more to it than anyone expected. Bramah’s stories of Carrados regularly appeared in The Strand magazine, receiving top billing even over those of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

Challenge details

Book No: 11

Subject Heading: A New Era Dawns

Publication Year: 1914

Edwards says: “George Orwell, a critic with stern opinions about the genre, said that Carrados’ cases were, together with those of Arthur Conan Doyle and R Austin Freeman, ‘the only detective stories since Poe that are worth rereading’.

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Tragedy at Law by Cyril Hare

Again I’ve come across a couple of Hare’s short stories in anthologies and enjoyed them, particularly for the quality of his writing, so I’m looking forward to seeing how his style translates to novel form…

The Blurb says: Tragedy at Law follows a rather self-important High Court judge, Mr Justice Barber, as he moves from town to town presiding over cases in the Southern England circuit. When an anonymous letter arrives for Barber, warning of imminent revenge, he dismisses it as the work of a harmless lunatic. But then a second letter appears, followed by a poisoned box of the judge’s favourite chocolates, and he begins to fear for his life. Enter barrister and amateur detective Francis Pettigrew, a man who was once in love with Barber’s wife and has never quite succeeded in his profession – can he find out who is threatening Barber before it is too late?

Challenge details

Book No: 66

Subject Heading: The Justice Game

Publication Year: 1942

Edwards says: “For this unorthodox variation on the concept of a crime novel set in a realistically evoked working environment, Cyril Hare drew on his own experience. Fifteen years spent practising at the Bar, and a spell as a judge’s marshal, meant that he was ideally suited to describing life on a judicial circuit. 

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The Z Murders by J Jefferson Farjeon

I’ve read one novel by Farjeon in the BL’s Crime Classics series, Thirteen Guests, and wasn’t overly thrilled by it. However I didn’t hate it either, and I’ve had more success with a couple of his short stories in anthologies, so I’m keen to see if this novel will turn me into a fan…

The Blurb says: Richard Temperley arrives at Euston station early on a fogbound London morning. He takes refuge in a nearby hotel, along with a disagreeable fellow passenger, who had snored his way through the train journey. But within minutes the other man has snored for the last time – he has been shot dead while sleeping in an armchair. Temperley has a brief encounter with a beautiful young woman, but she flees the scene. When the police arrive, Detective Inspector James discovers a token at the crime scene: ‘a small piece of enamelled metal. Its colour was crimson, and it was in the shape of the letter Z.’

Temperley sets off in pursuit of the mysterious woman from the hotel, and finds himself embroiled in a cross-country chase – by train and taxi – on the tail of a sinister serial killer. This classic novel by the author of the best-selling Mystery in White is a gripping thriller by a neglected master of the genre.

Challenge details

Book No: 71

Subject Heading: Multiplying Murders

Publication Year: 1932

Edwards says: “…Farjeon cared about his prose, and liked to spice his mysteries with dashes of humour and romance. Time and again, imaginative literary flourishes lift the writing out of the mundanity commonplace in thrillers of this period”

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 298…

Episode 298

Another meteoric drop in the TBR this week – down 5 to 190! Still more to do with culling and abandonment issues than reading, I fear, but every little counts! 

Here are a few more that are rising to the top of the heap, and I’m almost certain that none of these will end up on the abandoned pile… 

Vintage Crime Shorts 

Bodies from the Library 4 edited by Tony Medawar

Courtesy of HarperCollins. The idea of this series is to bring together stories which have never appeared in book form before. While I very much enjoyed the second book (I haven’t read the first one), in my review of the third one I felt the quality of the stories had dipped and suggested that “there is bound to be a finite number of great stories that fall into that category”. We’ll see if this fourth collection can make me eat my words…

The Blurb says: Mystery stories have been around for centuries—there are whodunits, whydunits and howdunits, including locked-room puzzles, detective stories without detectives, and crimes with a limited choice of suspects.

Countless volumes of such stories have been published, but some are still impossible to find: stories that appeared in a newspaper, magazine or an anthology that has long been out of print; ephemeral works such as plays not aired, staged or screened for decades; and unpublished stories that were absorbed into an author’s archive when they died . . .

Here for the first time are three never-before-published mysteries by Edmund Crispin, Ngaio Marsh and Leo Bruce, and two pieces written for radio by Gladys Mitchell and H. C. Bailey—the latter featuring Reggie Fortune. Together with a newly unearthed short story by Ethel Lina White that inspired Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, and a complete short novel by Christianna Brand, this diverse mix of tales by some of the world’s most popular classic crime writers contains something for everyone.

Complete with indispensable biographies by Tony Medawar of all the featured authors, the fourth volume in the series Bodies from the Library once again brings into the daylight the forgotten, the lost and the unknown.

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The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak

Courtesy of Penguin via NetGalley. I adored Shafak’s last book, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World, and fully intended (intend) to read her earlier books. But she’s beaten me to it by producing another new one. My hopes are astronomically high!

The Blurb says: Two teenagers, a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot, meet at a taverna on the island they both call home. The taverna is the only place that Kostas and Defne can meet in secret, hidden beneath the blackened beams from which hang garlands of garlic and chilli peppers, creeping honeysuckle, and in the centre, growing through a cavity in the roof, a fig tree. The fig tree witnesses their hushed, happy meetings; their silent, surreptitious departures. The fig tree is there, too, when war breaks out, when the capital is reduced to ashes and rubble, when the teenagers vanish. Decades later, Kostas returns – a botanist, looking for native species – looking, really, for Defne. The two lovers return to the taverna to take a clipping from the fig tree and smuggle it into their suitcase, bound for London. Years later, the fig tree in the garden is their daughter Ada’s only knowledge of a home she has never visited, as she seeks to untangle years of secrets and silence, and find her place in the world.

The Island of Missing Trees is a rich, magical tale of belonging and identity, love and trauma, nature and renewal, from the Booker-shortlisted author of 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World.

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The Feast by Margaret Kennedy

Courtesy of Faber & Faber via NetGalley. I can’t remember if I saw a tempting review of this one or if I was just attracted by the blurb, but it sounds like it should be fun! And at last – a short blurb!

The Blurb says: Cornwall, Midsummer 1947. Pendizack Manor Hotel is buried in the rubble of a collapsed cliff. Seven guests have perished, but what brought this strange assembly together for a moonlit feast before this Act of God – or Man? Over the week before the landslide, we meet the hotel guests in all their eccentric glory: and as friendships form and romances blossom, sins are revealed, and the cracks widen … A wise, witty fable, The Feast is a banquet indeed.

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Dalziel and Pascoe

Pictures of Perfection by Reginald Hill

The 14th book in my slow re-read of my favourite contemporary crime series of all time, and this is one of the very best! Although the blurb doesn’t mention him (who writes these things?), this is the one where Wieldy comes into his own as an equal star of the series alongside Dalziel and Pascoe, and it has one of the most memorable prologues ever written…

The Blurb says: High in the Mid-Yorkshire Dales stands the traditional village of Enscombe, seemingly untouched by the modern world. But contemporary life is about to intrude when the disappearance of a policeman brings Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel and DCI Peter Pascoe to its doors.

As the detectives dig beneath the veneer of idyllic village life a new pattern emerges: of family feuds, ancient injuries, cheating and lies. And finally, as the community gathers for the traditional Squire’s Reckoning, it looks as if the simmering tensions will erupt in a bloody climax…

* * * * *

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday (on a Friday) 297 and Quarterly Round-Up

TBR Quarterly Report

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. This has been a terrible quarter, reading-wise, with me taking a break of five or six full weeks from reading, so I’m expecting the worst for my poor targets!

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

Aarghh! Well, it’s just as bad as I expected and there’s no way I’ll be able to retrieve the situation in the last quarter of the year. I might catch up with the People’s Choice and fit in a few more classics, but the rest are pretty hopeless. I needed that break though and hey! Who’s counting? 😉

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The Classics Club

I’ve read just one from my Classics Club list this quarter, and had another still to review from the previous quarter…

79. My Ántonia by Willa Cather – I enjoyed this excellently written novel telling of the coming-of-age of the title character and the narrator, Jim, together with the story of the pioneering days in the fledgling USA. 4 stars.

80. I, The Jury by Mickey Spillane – One from the pulpy end of hard-boiled crime, complete with every ‘ism of its time. Violence, sex and guns galore – and yet oddly I enjoyed it! 4 stars.

Two books from the US that couldn’t really be more different, but both enjoyable in their own way!

80 down, 10 to go!

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

I’ve managed to read precisely none from this challenge this quarter! However I had one left over to review from the previous quarter…

46. Darkness at Pemberley by TH White – White throws just about every mystery novel trope into this preposterous story, but manages to pull it off! Hugely entertaining, and not to be taken too seriously. 5 stars.

46 down, 56 to go!

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Reading the Spanish Civil War Challenge

I’ve only read one for this challenge this quarter, and had another still to review from the quarter before. Unfortunately I haven’t reviewed either of them yet, so the sum total for this round-up is…

Reviews will follow soon though, I promise!

6 down, indefinite number to go!

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The People’s Choice

People's Choice Logo

I’ve only read two this quarter but hope to catch up before the end of the year. Did You, The People, pick me some good ones…?

JulyHalf of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – I found this tale of privileged members of the Igbo caught up in the Biafran War surprisingly flat in tone despite the human tragedy it describes. However I learned a good deal about the culture of that time and place, and overall am glad to have read it. 4 stars.

AugustThe Black Cabinet by Patricia Wentworth – A highly entertaining mystery from the Golden Age, starring a charming heroine meeting peril after peril in her attempts to do the right thing. Just the right combination of mystery, humour and romance to make for perfect relaxation reading. 5 stars.

One I’m glad to have read and one I thoroughly enjoyed, so take a bow, People – you chose well! And they’re off my TBR at last – hurrah!

8 down, 4 to go!

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Wanderlust Bingo

I haven’t filled many boxes this quarter, and I’m kinda kicking myself because I’ve got great-looking books lined up for every space now – it’s just a matter of finding time to read them! I have a few coming up on my reading list soon, but this challenge is definitely going to drift into next year (unless I grow an extra head). The dark blue ones are from previous quarters, and the orange are the ones I’m adding this quarter. I might shuffle them all around at the end so this is all quite tentative at this stage. (If you click on the bingo card you should get a larger version.)

SwedenTo Cook a Bear by Mikael Niemi – 5 stars. I’ve slotted this into Village, since the village setting is an important factor in the story.

France – The Man from London by Georges Simenon – 4½ stars. Simenon’s settings are always one of his main strengths, and here he gives a great picture of the working life of Dieppe as the background to his story. I’m putting this in the Europe box.

Biafra/NigeriaHalf of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – 4 stars. I can’t imagine a more appropriate book to fill the Africa box than this story of the short-lived existence of the Biafran nation.

Still a long, long way to go, but ’tis better to travel hopefully than to arrive…

10 down, 15 to go!

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A slightly shorter post this time, for which I’m sure you’re all very thankful. 😉 Thanks as always for sharing my reading experiences!

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

TBR Thursday 296…

Episode 296

It’s been an odd couple of weeks since I last reported on the state of the TBR, with some speed reading in the first week followed by a reading drought in the second. The end result, however, is a reduction – down 2 to 195! (I’m also days behind with reading your posts, as you may – or may not! – have noticed. But I’m slowly catching up!)

How are all our Review-Alongers getting on with Vanity Fair? I’m getting very worried – I’m only about halfway through with just a couple of weeks to go! (Reminder – review date is 25th October.) I think I’m going to have to master multi-tasking…

Here’s a few more that I should be reading soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith

Oh good! Although any of them would have been fine, I was secretly hoping you might pick this one! It was close for a while with A Distant Echo running neck-and-neck, but in the end Gorky Park took a pretty commanding lead. The other two were never really in contention. I should be reading this one in November, theoretically, though I’m even further behind than I was last week so who knows??

The Blurb says: It begins with a triple murder in a Moscow amusement center: three corpses found frozen in the snow, faces and fingers missing. Chief homicide investigator Arkady Renko is brilliant, sensitive, honest, and cynical about everything except his profession. To identify the victims and uncover the truth, he must battle the KGB, FBI, and the New York City police as he pursues a rich, ruthless, and well-connected American fur dealer. Meanwhile, Renko is falling in love with a beautiful, headstrong dissident for whom he may risk everything.

A wonderfully textured, vivid look behind the Iron Curtain, Gorky Park is a tense, atmospheric, and memorable crime story.

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Vintage Horror

Randalls Round by Eleanor Scott

Courtesy of the British Library. I know nothing about this author or the book, but it’s subtitled “Nine Nightmares” so that sounds good! Porpy? Porpy? Why are you hiding behind the sofa…?

The Blurb says: ‘These stories have all had their origins in dreams… These dreams were terrifying enough to the dreamer… I hope that some readers will experience an agreeable shudder or two in the reading of them.’ An enigmatic and shadowy presence answers the call of an ancient curse on the coast of Brittany; a traveller’s curiosity leads him to witness a hellish sacrifice by night; a treasure-hunt in a haunted mansion takes a turn for the tentacular.

Described in the author’s foreword as an attempt to convey a series of nightmares she experienced, Randalls Round is a thrilling collection of strange stories ranging from depictions of ritualistic folk horror to tales of ancient forces versus humanity in the vein of M R James. Despite being the only weird fiction written under the Scott pseudonym, this collection is deserving of a much wider readership and its place in the development of the weird and folk horror subgenres.

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The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

Courtesy of HarperCollins. This unsolicited one nearly disappeared in my recent cull, but I decided I couldn’t resist trying it, despite my frequent tooth-gnashing over updates of the classics. Trying to imagine Mr Rochester as “Eddie” is already bringing on a migraine, though… 😉

The Blurb says: A girl looking for love…
When Jane, a broke dog-walker newly arrived in town, meets Eddie Rochester, she can’t believe her luck. Eddie is handsome, rich and lives alone in a beautiful mansion since the tragic death of his beloved wife a year ago.

A man who seems perfect…
Eddie can give Jane everything she’s always wanted: stability, acceptance, and a picture-perfect life.

A wife who just won’t stay buried…
But what Jane doesn’t know is that Eddie is keeping a secret – a big secret. And when the truth comes out, the consequences are far more deadly than anyone could ever have imagined…

A delicious twist on a Gothic classic, The Wife Upstairs is perfect for fans of Lucy Foley, Ruth Ware and Shari Lapena.

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Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks

Courtesy of Random House Cornerstone via NetGalley. I’ve had a mixed reaction to Faulks in the few books of his I’ve read so far, but his blurbs always appeal and the quality of his writing always makes me able to put up with any other weaknesses. This one sounds as if it could be great…

The Blurb says: 1914: Young Anton Heideck has arrived in Vienna, eager to make his name as a journalist. While working part-time as a private tutor, he encounters Delphine, a woman who mixes startling candour with deep reserve. Entranced by the light of first love, Anton feels himself blessed. Until his country declares war on hers.

1927: For Lena, life with a drunken mother in a small town has been impoverished and cold. She is convinced she can amount to nothing until a young lawyer, Rudolf Plischke, spirits her away to Vienna. But the capital proves unforgiving. Lena leaves her metropolitan dream behind to take a menial job at the snow-bound sanatorium, the Schloss Seeblick.

1933: Still struggling to come terms with the loss of so many friends on the Eastern Front, Anton, now an established writer, is commissioned by a magazine to visit the mysterious Schloss Seeblick. In this place of healing, on the banks of a silvery lake, where the depths of human suffering and the chances of redemption are explored, two people will see each other as if for the first time.

Sweeping across Europe as it recovers from one war and hides its face from the coming of another, SNOW COUNTRY is a landmark novel of exquisite yearnings, dreams of youth and the sanctity of hope. In elegant, shimmering prose, Sebastian Faulks has produced a work of timeless resonance.

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Risk of Harm by Lucie Whitehouse

Courtesy of HarperCollins. Another unsolicited one, but this time very welcome since I enjoyed the first book in the Robin Lyons series, Critical Incidents, and fully intended to read the next anyway…

The Blurb says: Robin Lyons is back in her hometown of Birmingham and now a DCI with Force Homicide, working directly under Samir, the man who broke her heart almost twenty years ago.

When a woman is found stabbed to death in a derelict factory and no one comes forward to identify the body, Robin and her team must not only hunt for the murderer, but also solve the mystery of who their victim might be.

As Robin and Samir come under pressure from their superiors, from the media and from far-right nationalists with a dangerous agenda, tensions in Robin’s own family threaten to reach breaking point. And when a cold case from decades ago begins to smoulder and another woman is found dead in similar circumstances, rumours of a serial killer begin to spread.

In order to get to the truth Robin will need to discover where loyalty ends and duty begins. But before she can trust, she is going to have to forgive – and that means grappling with some painful home truths.

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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 295 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 295

(A reminder of The People’s Choice plan. Once a month, 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.)

* * * * *

OK, People, time for the next batch of four, a varied bunch this time, and we’re now moving into 2017. I’m still catching up after my recent hiatus, so this won’t be the usual three months ahead pick – the winner will be a November read, if I can fit it in! I bought Mrs Hudson and the Spirit’s Curse after enjoying another book in the series, Mrs Hudson and the Malabar RoseI’ve enjoyed the later books in Val McDermid’s Karen Pirie series and have been slowly backtracking to the earlier ones – The Distant Echo is the first in the series (and I think I may actually have read it before, from the blurb, but I’m not sure). I won The Mandibles in a giveaway and am deeply ashamed that I’ve still not got around to reading it! And I can’t remember now why I acquired Gorky Park – I suspect I just thought it sounded great. While some of these appeal more than others now, all of them still sound good so you really can’t pick a wrong’un…

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Holmes pastiche

Mrs Hudson and the Spirit’s Curse by Martin Davies

Added 6th January 2017. 807 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.93 average rating. 324 pages.

The Blurb says: What if Baker Street’s most gifted resident wasn’t called Sherlock Holmes?

An evil stalks London, blown in from the tropics. Stories of cursed giant rats and malign spirits haunt the garrets of Limehouse. A group of merchants are, one by one, dying: murdered, somehow. The elementary choice to investigate these mysterious deaths is, of course, Holmes and Dr Watson. Yet instead of deduction, it will be the unique gifts of their housekeeper, Mrs Hudson and her orphaned assistant Flotsam that will be needed to solve the case. Can she do it all under the nose of Sherlock himself?

From the coal fire at Baker Street to the smog of Whitechapel and the jungles of Sumatra, from snake bites in grand hotels to midnight carriage chases at the docks, it’s time for Mrs Hudson to step out of the shadows. Playfully breaking with convention, Martin Davies brings a fresh twist to classic Victorian mystery.

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The Distant Echo by Val McDermid

Added 1st March 2017. 15,412 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.97 average. 496 pages.

The Blurb says: It was a winter morning in 1978, that the body of a young barmaid was discovered in the snow banks of a Scottish cemetery. The only suspects in her brutal murder were the four young men who found her: Alex Gilbey and his three best friends. With no evidence but her blood on their hands, no one was ever charged.

Twenty five years later, the Cold Case file on Rosie Duff has been reopened. For Alex and his friends, the investigation has also opened old wounds, haunting memories-and new fears. For a stranger has emerged from the shadows with his own ideas about justice. And revenge.

When two of Alex’s friends die under suspicious circumstances, Alex knows that he and his innocent family are the next targets. And there’s only way to save them: return to the cold-blooded past and uncover the startling truth about the murder. For there lies the identity of an avenging killer…

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The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver

Added 29th March 2017. 9,085 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.68 average. 515 pages. 

The Blurb says: In this eerily prophetic novel from the Orange Prize-winning author of We Need to Talk About Kevin, a once-wealthy family faces the prospect of ruin. This apocalypse is financial – the dollar is in meltdown, America’s national debt far beyond repayment.

It is 2029. The Mandibles have been counting on a sizable fortune filtering down when their 97-year-old patriarch dies, but now their inheritance is turned to ash. Each family member must contend with disappointment, but also — as the effects of the downturn start to hit — the challenge of sheer survival.

Recently affluent Avery is petulant that she can’t buy olive oil, while her sister Florence is forced to absorb strays into her increasingly cramped household. As their father Carter fumes at having to care for his demented stepmother now that a nursing home is too expensive, his sister Nollie, an expat author, returns from abroad at 73 to a country that’s unrecognizable.

Perhaps only Florence’s oddball teenage son Willing, an economics autodidact, can save this formerly august American family from the streets…

* * * * *


Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith

Added 6th July 2017. 70,606 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.04 average. 433 pages.

The Blurb says: It begins with a triple murder in a Moscow amusement center: three corpses found frozen in the snow, faces and fingers missing. Chief homicide investigator Arkady Renko is brilliant, sensitive, honest, and cynical about everything except his profession. To identify the victims and uncover the truth, he must battle the KGB, FBI, and the New York City police as he pursues a rich, ruthless, and well-connected American fur dealer. Meanwhile, Renko is falling in love with a beautiful, headstrong dissident for whom he may risk everything.

A wonderfully textured, vivid look behind the Iron Curtain, Gorky Park is a tense, atmospheric, and memorable crime story.

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

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

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TBR Thursday 294…

Episode 294

A big drop in the TBR this week – down 7 to 198! Partly this is due to reading, but I cannot tell a lie – mostly it’s down to culling. I’ve suddenly been inundated with unsolicited books from one of my friendly publishers and decided I have to stop feeling as if I must read every book I get sent. So I checked blurbs and reviews and removed the ones I felt pretty sure would end up on the abandoned pile. Can’t tell you how traumatic the whole experience was…

Anyway, here’s a few that I should be reading soon…

Vintage Crime Shorts 

Guilty Creatures edited by Martin Edwards

Courtesy of the British Library. It feels like a while since there was one of these vintage crime anthologies from the BL, so I’m feeling refreshed and raring to go! Hope nothing bad happens to any of the animals though. We’ll see!

The Blurb says: “Curiously enough,” said Dr. Manners, “I know a story in which the detection of a murder turned on the behaviour of a bird: in this instance a jackdaw.”

Since the dawn of the crime fiction genre, animals of all kinds have played a memorable part in countless mysteries, and in a variety of roles: the perpetrator, the key witness, the sleuth’s trusted companion. This collection of fourteen stories corrals plots centred around cats, dogs and insects alongside more exotic incidents involving gorillas, parakeets and serpents – complete with a customary shoal of red herrings. From the animal mysteries of Arthur Conan Doyle and F. Tennyson Jesse through to more modern masterpieces of the sub-genre from Christianna Brand and Penelope Wallace, this anthology celebrates one of the liveliest and most imaginative species of classic crime fiction.

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Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

Courtesy of Little, Brown Book Group via NetGalley. I haven’t read either of Whitehead’s Pulitzer winners or any of his other books, so this will be my introduction to him. The ridiculously overlong blurb suggests it’s a thriller, but it seems to be being categorised as fiction. We’ll see! I’m wondering if I still really need to read the book after reading the blurb…

The Blurb says: Ray Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked… To his customers and neighbors on 125th street, Carney is an upstanding salesman of reasonably priced furniture, making a decent life for himself and his family. He and his wife Elizabeth are expecting their second child, and if her parents on Striver’s Row don’t approve of him or their cramped apartment across from the subway tracks, it’s still home.

Few people know he descends from a line of uptown hoods and crooks, and that his façade of normalcy has more than a few cracks in it. Cracks that are getting bigger all the time.

Cash is tight, especially with all those installment-plan sofas, so if his cousin Freddie occasionally drops off the odd ring or necklace, Ray doesn’t ask where it comes from. He knows a discreet jeweler downtown who doesn’t ask questions, either.

Then Freddie falls in with a crew who plan to rob the Hotel Theresa–the Waldorf of Harlem–and volunteers Ray’s services as the fence. The heist doesn’t go as planned; they rarely do. Now Ray has a new clientele, one made up of shady cops, vicious local gangsters, two-bit pornographers, and other assorted Harlem lowlifes.

Thus begins the internal tussle between Ray the striver and Ray the crook. As Ray navigates this double life, he begins to see who actually pulls the strings in Harlem. Can Ray avoid getting killed, save his cousin, and grab his share of the big score, all while maintaining his reputation as the go-to source for all your quality home furniture needs?

Harlem Shuffle‘s ingenious story plays out in a beautifully recreated New York City of the early 1960s. It’s a family saga masquerading as a crime novel, a hilarious morality play, a social novel about race and power, and ultimately a love letter to Harlem.

But mostly, it’s a joy to read, another dazzling novel from the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning Colson Whitehead.

* * * * *


The Disappearing Act by Catherine Steadman

Courtesy of Simon and Schuster UK via NetGalley. Another in my attempt to read more new releases, I picked this because it sounds from the blurb like it may be a spin on The Lady Vanishes. It’s getting mixed reviews, but overall more positive than negative. We’ll see!

The Blurb says: A woman has gone missing. But did she ever really exist?

Mia Eliot has travelled from London to LA for pilot season. This is her big chance to make it as an actor in Hollywood, and she is ready to do whatever it takes. At an audition she meets Emily, and what starts as a simple favour takes a dark turn when Emily goes missing and Mia is the last person to see her.

Then a woman turns up, claiming to be Emily, but she is nothing like Mia remembers. Why would someone pretend to be Emily? Starting to question her own sanity, she goes on a desperate and dangerous search for answers, knowing something is very, very wrong.

In an industry where everything is about creating illusions, how do you know what is real? And how much would you risk to find out?

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Vintage Crime

The Widow of Bath by Margot Bennett

Courtesy of the British Library. I read another book of hers the BL reissued a while ago – The Man Who Didn’t Fly – and had a rather mixed reaction to it, feeling it was one of those ones where the puzzle element was stronger than the characterisation and general plotting. Not sure the blurb of this one greatly appeals either, but… we’ll see!

The Blurb says: Hugh Everton was intent on nothing more than quietly drinking in the second-rate hotel he found himself in on England’s south coast – and then in walked his old flame Lucy and her new husband and ex-Judge, Gregory Bath. Entreated by Lucy to join her party for an evening back at the Bath residence, Hugh is powerless to resist, but when the night ends with the judge’s inexplicable murder he is pitched back into a world of chaos and crime – a world he had tried to escape for good.

First published in 1952, The Widow of Bath offers intricate puzzles, international intrigue and a richly evoked portrait of post-war Britain, all delivered with Bennett’s signature brand of witty and elegant prose.

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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 293…

Episode 293

Well, during my hiatus from the blog I also wasn’t reading much, but the books were still arriving. So tragically the TBR has rocketed up by a horrifying 15 to 205! In my defence the vast majority of the new arrivals were unsolicited books sent by publishers, so I don’t feel I can be held wholly responsible, m’lud…

Nose to the grindstone again then – must get back under that 200 mark asap! Here’s a few that I should be reading soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

Blackout by Ragnar Jonasson

Gosh, it was a close vote this month! Three of them were neck and neck most of the way through, with only The Sea languishing behind. But in the end, the winner pulled ahead by a margin of just a couple of votes. An excellent choice, People – I should be reading this one in October, theoretically, though I’m so far behind it may drift a little.

The Blurb says: On the shores of a tranquil fjord in Northern Iceland, a man is brutally beaten to death on a bright summer’s night. As the 24-hour light of the arctic summer is transformed into darkness by an ash cloud from a recent volcanic eruption, a young reporter leaves Reykajvik to investigate on her own, unaware that an innocent person’s life hangs in the balance. Ari Thór Arason and his colleagues on the tiny police force in Siglufjörður struggle with an increasingly perplexing case, while their own serious personal problems push them to the limit. What secrets does the dead man harbour, and what is the young reporter hiding? As silent, unspoken horrors from the past threaten them all, and the darkness deepens, it’s a race against time to find the killer before someone else dies …

Dark, terrifying and complex, Blackout is an exceptional, atmospheric thriller from one of Iceland’s finest crime writers.

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Christie Shorts

Midsummer Mysteries by Agatha Christie

Courtesy of HarperCollins. This is a gorgeous hardback edition of a new collection of some of Christie’s short stories, all set in summer. Glancing at the index, I’ve read several of them before but there are a few titles that don’t ring a bell, and anyway I can re-read Ms Christie endlessly…

The Blurb says: An all-new collection of summer-themed mysteries from the master of the genre, just in time for the holiday season. [FF says: Not really all-new – I think they mean these stories haven’t been put together as a collection before, but they’ve certainly all appeared before in other collections.]

Summertime – as the temperature rises, so does the potential for evil. From Cornwall to the French Riviera, whether against a background of Delphic temples or English country houses, Agatha Christie’s most famous characters solve even the most devilish of conundrums as the summer sun beats down. Pull up a deckchair and enjoy plot twists and red herrings galore from the bestselling fiction writer of all time.

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Classic Crime

I, The Jury by Mickey Spillane

One from my Classics Club list. I read and enjoyed a few Spillanes many decades ago, so I’m hoping the old magic will still work. He wrote one of my favourite lines in all crime fiction, describing one of his femmes fatales – “She walked towards me, her hips waving a happy hello.” Doesn’t that just conjure up a wonderful image? 

The Blurb says: When Jack Williams is discovered shot dead, the investigating cop Pat Chambers calls his acquaintance, and Jack’s closest friend, PI Mike Hammer. Back when they fought in the Marines together, Jack took a Japanese bayonet, losing his arm, to save Hammer. Hammer vows to identify the killer ahead of the police, and to exact fatal revenge. His starting point is the list of guests at a party at Jack’s apartment the night he died: Jack’s fiancée, a recovering dope addict, a beautiful psychiatrist, twin socialite sisters, a college student and a mobster.

But as he tracks them down, so too does the killer, and soon it’s not only Jack who is dead . . .

And now Hammer is firmly in the killer’s sights.

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Worst Idea Ever by Jane Fallon

Worst Idea EverCourtesy of Penguin Michael Joseph UK via NetGalley. Another in my attempt to read more new releases, I picked this because I’ve heard a lot of praise for this author around the blogosphere over the years. I can only hope the style of writing will be rather more literate than the style of the blurb – a true contender for Worst Blurb of the Millennium. FF muses: Do young people not get taught about paragraphs any more? 👵

The Blurb says: Best friends tell each other everything.

Or do they?

Georgia and Lydia are so close they’re practically sisters.

So when Lydia starts an online business that struggles, Georgia wants to help her – but she also understands Lydia’s not the kind to accept a handout.

Setting up a fake Twitter account, Georgia hopes to give her friend some anonymous moral support by posing as a potential customer.

But then Lydia starts confiding in her new internet buddy and Georgia discovers she doesn’t know her quite as well as she thought.

Georgia knows she should reveal herself, but she’s fascinated by this insight into her friend’s true feelings.

Especially when Lydia starts talking about her.

Until Lydia reveals a secret that could not only end their friendship but also blow up Georgia’s marriage.

Georgia’s in too deep.

But what can she save?

Her marriage, her friendship – or just herself?

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Nada by Carmen Laforet

One for my Spanish Civil War challenge. This isn’t specifically about the war itself though – it is set a few years later, during Franco’s early regime, but it shows up regularly on SCW book lists and is considered a classic.

The Blurb says: Eighteen-year old orphan Andrea moves to battle-scarred Barcelona to take up a scholarship at the university. But staying with relatives in their crumbling apartment, her dreams of independence are dashed among the eccentric collection of misfits who surround her, not least her uncle Roman. As Andrea’s university friend, the affluent, elegant Ena, enters into a strange relationship with Roman, Andrea can’t help but wonder what future lies ahead for her in such a bizarre and disturbing world.

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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?

Darkness at Pemberley by TH White

Mr Darcy would have been horrified!

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

darkness at pemberleyWhen Inspector Buller is called to a Cambridge college to the murder scene of a young man who has been shot, it quickly appears that the solution is easy – another man is found dead in the building opposite, also shot but apparently by his own hand. The obvious conclusion is that the second man killed the first and then in a fit of remorse took his own life. Buller is unconvinced – he has spotted odd little things in the second man’s room that make him believe he has also been the victim of an elaborate murder. Buller investigates, works out who the murderer is but can’t find the evidence to charge him. The murderer confesses, but only without witnesses and mostly to boast about his own cleverness. Buller, disgusted with his own failure to bring the murderer to justice, resigns from the police, which he can afford to do since he is one of those fortunate Golden Age policemen with private means.

That’s all in the nature of a prologue. The real fun begins when Buller tells the story to his friends, brother and sister Charles and Elizabeth Darcy, current occupants of Pemberley. Yes, that Pemberley! Charles, who has his own reasons for hating the idea of someone getting away with murder, decides to stick his oar in. Thus begins a romping adventure, where the murderer is trying to do away with Charles, and Buller and assorted friends, together with the faithful staff of Pemberley, are attempting to keep Charles safe.

The word that springs to mind for this is preposterous. The story is ludicrous, the credibility line doesn’t even exist, and White has thrown every possible mystery novel trope in to make a kind of glorious Irish stew – locked room, impossible crime, revenge thriller, car chase, both academic and country house settings, maniacal villain, gory deaths, mysterious drugs, poisons, amateur detectives, police, moral ambiguity, extrajudicial justice, shades of Gothic horror, touch of romance, bit of humour, dramatic thriller ending. It ought to be a complete mess, but by some miracle I can’t explain, it works! I found myself racing through it with a smile on my face, rushing through a lot of total nonsense to an ending I knew would be completely over the top, and yet enjoying it thoroughly all the way. I think the reason White gets away with it is simply that he was a very good writer, and wasn’t trying to take himself too seriously. It reads as if he had as much fun writing it as I did reading it.

Murder Mystery Mayhem Logo 2Challenge details:
Book: 8
Subject Heading: Singletons
Publication Year: 1932

Although Pemberley is the main setting and Charles and Elizabeth are descended from the original Darcy and Lizzie, there’s no attempt to make this any kind of Austen pastiche. In fact, I’m quite sure Mr Darcy would have been horrified at the behaviour of his descendants and I’m rather surprised that White restrained himself from throwing his disapproving ghost into the mix, especially since restraint doesn’t seem to have been one of White’s authorial traits. But young Elizabeth does seem to have inherited her namesake’s forceful, independent spirit, sense of humour and desire to only marry a man she can respect.

TH White-min
TH White

Martin Edwards lists this in his The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books in the Singletons section – that is, authors who only wrote one mystery novel in their lives. Part of me feels it’s a pity White didn’t write more of them, but a bigger part feels that it’s probably just as well, since I really can’t imagine how he could ever have topped this, and he’d pretty much used up a lifetime’s worth of plots already in this one novel. Unique, preposterous… and great fun!

I downloaded this one from fadedpage.com – here’s the link.

TBR Thursday 292 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 292

(A reminder of The People’s Choice plan. Once a month, 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, People, time for the next batch of four, three fiction and one crime this time, and this will be the last batch from 2016. Having missed the last couple of months, this won’t be the usual three months ahead pick – the winner will be an October read, if I can fit it in! The Secret River is one I’ve heard lots of good things about from various people, but it was Rose’s review that pushed it onto my TBR. I bought The Sea because I had enjoyed Banville’s later The Blue Guitar so much. And similarIy, I got No Country for Old Men because I had enjoyed McCarthy’s The Road (plus I loved the film of No Country). Blackout was acquired when I was going through a Nordic crime phase, and had enjoyed several of Jonasson’s other books. All of these sound great to me and I still want to read them all, so you really can’t go wrong…

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Historical Fiction

The Secret River by Kate Grenville

The Secret RiverAdded 14th October 2016. 18,972 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.81 average rating. 334 pages.

The Blurb says: The Orange Prize-winning author Kate Grenville recalls her family’s history in an astounding novel about the pioneers of New South Wales. Already a best seller in Australia, The Secret River is the story of Grenville’s ancestors, who wrested a new life from the alien terrain of Australia and its native people. London, 1806. William Thornhill, a Thames bargeman, is deported to the New South Wales colony in what would become Australia. In this new world of convicts and charlatans, Thornhill tries to pull his family into a position of power and comfort. When he rounds a bend in the Hawkesbury River and sees a gentle slope of land, he becomes determined to make the place his own. But, as uninhabited as the island appears, Australia is full of native people, and they do not take kindly to Thornhill’s theft of their home.

The Secret River is the tale of Thornhill’s deep love for his small corner of the new world, and his slow realization that if he wants to settle there, he must ally himself with the most despicable of the white settlers, and to keep his family safe, he must permit terrifying cruelty to come to innocent people.

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The Sea by John Banville

The SeaAdded 26th November 2016. 29,059 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.53 average. 195 pages.

The Blurb says: In this luminous novel about love, loss, and the unpredictable power of memory, John Banville introduces us to Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman who has gone back to the seaside town where he spent his summer holidays as a child to cope with the recent loss of his wife. It is also a return to the place where he met the Graces, the well-heeled family with whom he experienced the strange suddenness of both love and death for the first time. What Max comes to understand about the past, and about its indelible effects on him, is at the centre of this elegiac, gorgeously written novel among the finest we have had from this masterful writer.

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No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

No Country for Old MenAdded 27th November 2016. 164,364 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.10 average. 309 pages. 

The Blurb says: In his blistering new novel, Cormac McCarthy returns to the Texas-Mexico border, the setting of his famed Border Trilogy. The time is our own, when rustlers have given way to drug-runners and small towns have become free-fire zones.

One day, Llewellyn Moss finds a pickup truck surrounded by a bodyguard of dead men. A load of heroin and two million dollars in cash are still in the back. When Moss takes the money, he sets off a chain reaction of catastrophic violence that not even the law – in the person of ageing, disillusioned Sheriff Bell – can contain.

As Moss tries to evade his pursuers – in particular a mysterious mastermind who flips coins for human lives – McCarthy simultaneously strips down the American crime novel and broadens its concerns to encompass themes as ancient as the Bible and as bloodily contemporary as this morning’s headlines. No Country for Old Men is a triumph.

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Blackout by Ragnar Jonasson

BlackoutAdded 27th November 2016. 4,688 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.70 average. 220 pages.

The Blurb says: On the shores of a tranquil fjord in Northern Iceland, a man is brutally beaten to death on a bright summer’s night. As the 24-hour light of the arctic summer is transformed into darkness by an ash cloud from a recent volcanic eruption, a young reporter leaves Reykajvik to investigate on her own, unaware that an innocent person’s life hangs in the balance. Ari Thór Arason and his colleagues on the tiny police force in Siglufjörður struggle with an increasingly perplexing case, while their own serious personal problems push them to the limit. What secrets does the dead man harbour, and what is the young reporter hiding? As silent, unspoken horrors from the past threaten them all, and the darkness deepens, it’s a race against time to find the killer before someone else dies …

Dark, terrifying and complex, Blackout is an exceptional, atmospheric thriller from one of Iceland’s finest crime writers.

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

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

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TBR Thursday 291…

Episode 291

Well, I seem to be reading faster than the books are arriving at the moment – I think I’ve been turbo-charged! So despite a little spending spree, the TBR has gone down 1 to 190. (FF muses: hmm, maybe I should have a bigger spending spree…) Aargh, help me!!

Golden Girls gif

Here are a few more I should be getting to soon – the third one is from my fast and furious 20 Books of Summer list.


The Listeners by Jordan Tannahill

The ListenersCourtesy of 4th Estate via NetGalley. This one sounds as if it might be horror-y or SF-y from the blurb, but early reviews suggest it’s more about conspiracy theories! Early reviews also suggest I’m going to hate it in so many different ways, but maybe it will surprise me…

The Blurb says: One night, while lying in bed next to her husband, Claire Devon suddenly hears a low hum. This innocuous sound, which no one else in the house can hear, has no obvious source or medical cause, but it begins to upset the balance of Claire’s life. When she discovers that one of her students can also hear the hum, the two strike up an unlikely and intimate friendship. Finding themselves increasingly isolated from their families and colleagues, they fall in with a disparate group of people who also perceive the sound. What starts out as a kind of neighbourhood self-help group gradually transforms into something much more extreme, with far-reaching, devastating consequences.

The Listeners is an electrifying novel that treads the thresholds of faith, conspiracy and mania. Compelling and exhilarating, it forces us to consider how strongly we hold on to what we perceive, and the way different views can tear a family apart.

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Will by Jeroen Olyslaegers

WillCourtesy of Pushkin Press via NetGalley. I must have been in a very strange mood when I requested this one, since I usually steer clear of books about the Nazis. Still, it does sound interesting…

The Blurb says: It is 1941, and Antwerp is in the grip of Nazi occupation. Wilfried Wils, novice policeman and frustrated writer, has no intention of being a hero. He just wants to keep his head down; to pretend the fear and violence around him aren’t happening.

But war has a way of catching up with people. When his idealistic best friend draws him into the growing resistance movement, and an SS commander tries to force him into betraying his fellow policemen, Wilfried’s loyalties become horribly, fatally torn. Should he comply, or fight back? As the beatings, destruction and round-ups intensify across the city, he is forced into an act that will shatter his life and, years later, have consequences he could never have imagined.

A searing portrayal of a man trying to survive amid the treachery, compromises and moral darkness of occupation, Will asks what any of us would do to stay alive.

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Historical Thriller

The Drowned City by KJ Maitland

The Drowned CityCourtesy of Headline via NetGalley. Ah, now this one sounds much more like my kind of thing! And I’ve been hearing lots of positive reports about it…

The Blurb says: 1606. A year to the day that men were executed for conspiring to blow up Parliament, a towering wave devastates the Bristol Channel. Some proclaim God’s vengeance. Others seek to take advantage.

In London, Daniel Pursglove lies in prison waiting to die. But Charles FitzAlan, close adviser to King James I, has a job in mind that will free a man of Daniel’s skill from the horrors of Newgate. If he succeeds.

For Bristol is a hotbed of Catholic spies, and where better for the lone conspirator who evaded arrest, one Spero Pettingar, to gather allies than in the chaos of a drowned city? Daniel journeys there to investigate FitzAlan’s lead, but soon finds himself at the heart of a dark Jesuit conspiracy – and in pursuit of a killer.

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Classic Fiction on Audio

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray read by Georgina Sutton

Vanity FairThis is the book for our next Review-Along on 25th October. I’m starting early because it’s very long and I’m so slow at listening to audiobooks. The narrator gets lots of praise, but I have a Kindle copy to fall back on if necessary! We’ve got lots of people joining us for this Review-Along – the regulars, Christine, Alyson, Rose, Sandra and me, and a few first-timers, louloureads, Madame Bibilophile and Jane from Just Reading a Book. Still plenty of room for more though if you’d like to join in! There’s only one “rule” – we all post our reviews on the same date, or for those who don’t blog (or don’t want to do a full review), you leave your thoughts in the comments section of my review.

The Blurb says: A novel that chronicles the lives of two women who could not be more different: Becky Sharp, an orphan whose only resources are her vast ambitions, her native wit, and her loose morals; and her schoolmate Amelia Sedley, a typically naive Victorian heroine, the pampered daughter of a wealthy family. (An extremely short blurb for such a long book!)

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 290 and Quarterly Round-Up

TBR Quarterly Report

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. I still seem to be storming through the books this year, which ought to mean I’ll be smashing all my targets. Ought to…

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

TBR Quarterly Jun 2021

Well, I don’t think I’ve ever been on track with so many targets at this point of the year – it can’t last! Poor old Reginald Hill is falling behind – must make more effort. I should be able to catch up with the Classics Club and finish by my extended deadline of the end of the year – only a couple of chunksters left and all the rest should be fairly quick reads. The shortfall in new releases has reduced considerably this quarter and (theoretically) will be smashed by the time I’ve read all the review books on my 20 Books of Summer list. The fact that I’m abandoning lots of new fiction isn’t helping, though! The TBR Reduction is awful – I can’t see me meeting those targets without magical intervention. But hey! Who’s counting? 😉

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The Classics Club

I read three from my Classics Club list this quarter but have only reviewed two so far, and had another still to review from the previous quarter…

76. Way Station by Clifford D Simak – I loved this well written, thought-provoking science fiction novel, with shades of Cold War nuclear fear, lots of imaginative aliens and a kind of mystical, New Age-y touch. 5 stars.

77. The Conjure-Man Dies by Rudolph Fisher – This, the first mystery novel written by a black American and with an exclusively black cast of characters, delighted me with its vivid, joyous picture of life in Harlem. Lots of humour and a great plot. 5 stars.

78. The Silver Darlings by Neil M Gunn – A slow-going but interesting look at the beginnings of the Scottish herring industry, following on from the devastation of the Highland Clearances. I enjoyed this one, not least because several of my blog buddies read it with me. 4 stars.

Not good on the quantity, perhaps, but high on quality!

78 down, 12 to go!

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

Managing to keep on track with this challenge at the moment more or less – I’ve read three this quarter, but only reviewed two of them so far. However I had one left over to review from the previous quarter…

43. The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude – One in Bude’s long-running Inspector Meredith series, I find these a little too painstakingly procedural for my taste, although the plot and setting of this one are good. 3½ stars.

44. The Cask by Freeman Wills Crofts – Talking of too procedural, I abandoned this one halfway through on the grounds of being determined not to die of boredom! Crofts’ first, and the best I can say about it is he improved in later books. 1 generous star.

45. The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey – Great writing and a perfectly delivered plot mean that this one’s reputation as a classic of the genre is fully deserved. More psychological than procedural, and with a wonderful depiction of an early version of “trial by media”. 5 stars

45 down, 57 to go!

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Reading the Spanish Civil War Challenge

I only read two for this challenge this quarter but in my defence one of them was a massive biography of Franco, which I haven’t yet reviewed. However I had one left to review from last quarter…

5. In Diamond Square by Mercè Rodoreda. The story of young wife and mother, Natalia, living in Barcelona while her husband is off fighting in the war. It’s a fascinating picture of someone who has no interest in or understanding of politics – who simply endures as other people destroy her world then put it back together in a different form. Packed full of power and emotion – a deserved classic. 4½ stars.

6. Last Days in Cleaver Square by Patrick McGrath. As Franco lies on his deathbed in Spain, Francis McNulty is convinced the dictator is haunting him, and his memories of his time in Spain as a volunteer medic on the Republican side and the horrors he witnessed there are brought back afresh to his mind. Beautifully written, entertaining, moving, full of emotional truth. 5 stars.

Two short books, two different squares, and two great reads, so hurrah for this challenge!

6 down, indefinite number to go!

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The People’s Choice

People's Choice Logo

Unbelievably I’m still up-to-date with this challenge, so three reviews for this quarter plus one that was left over from the previous quarter. Did You, The People, pick me some good ones…?

MarchThe Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves – The first of the Vera Stanhope series – the underlying plot is good and Vera is an interesting, if unbelievable, character. But oh dear, the book is massively over-padded and repetitive, and I found it a real struggle to wade through. 3 stars.

AprilCold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons – A parody of the rural rustic novel popular at the time, there’s a lot of humour in it with some very funny scenes, and it’s especially fun to try to spot which authors and books Gibbons had in mind. It outstayed its welcome just a little as the joke began to wear rather thin, but overall an entertaining read. 4 stars.

MayThe Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith – The first of the Cormoran Strike novels sees him investigating the death of a supermodel, with the help of his temporary secretary, Robin. I’m feeling repetitive myself now, but this is another with a good plot buried under far too much extraneous padding. Galbraith’s easy writing style carried me through, however. 4 stars.

June – Sweet Caress by William Boyd – In the early days of the twentieth century, young Amory Clay decides to become a professional photographer, and her elderly self looks back at where her career took her. Sadly this one didn’t work for me at all and I eventually abandoned it. 1 star.

Even if there were no five stars, there was only one complete dud, so I think you did pretty well, People! And they’re all off my TBR at last – hurrah!

6 down, 6 to go!

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Wanderlust Bingo

Wanderlust Bingo June 2021

I’ve done a little better this quarter and have also started looking ahead to try to make sure I have something for each box. I might shuffle them all around at the end so this is all quite tentative at this stage. The dark blue ones are from last quarter, and the orange ones are this quarter’s. (If you click on the bingo card you should get a larger version.)

EnglandThe Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey – 5 stars. I’ve slotted this into Small Town at the moment, since the setting plays an important part in the plot.

IcelandThe Chill Factor by Richard Falkirk – 4 stars. Another that could work for Small Town, or Europe, but I’ve slotted it into Island at present.

MalayaA Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute – 5 stars. Could be Australia as well, so Oceania, but I’ve gone with the Malayan section and put it into Walk.

AustraliaThe Survivors by Jane Harper – 4 stars. Another that would work for Oceania, but since the Beach plays a major part in the story that’s where I’ve put it.

ScotlandThe Silver Darlings by Neil M Gunn – 4 stars. Since this is all about herring fishing, I don’t imagine I’ll find a better fit for the Sea box.

Still a long, long way to travel, but there are some interesting reads coming up for this one…

7 down, 18 to go!

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Whew! Apologies for the length of this post, but I guess that indicates a successful quarter. Thanks as always for sharing my reading experiences!

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

Six in Six 2021

A half-year retrospective…

This fun meme is run by Jo of The Book Jotter. The idea is to look back over the first six months of the reading year, select six categories from the selection Jo provides or create your own categories, and then find six books you’ve read between January and June to fit each category. It’s my fourth time of joining in, and I really struggled to find six categories – I’ve discovered I’m reading far too much vintage crime! I’m also a million years behind with reviewing, so not all of these have appeared on the blog yet. However with only a small amount of cheating, here they are – all books I’d recommend…

Six British Library Crime Classics

Still loving this series and hoping they go on doing it for ever, despite the damage to my TBR…

The Port of London Murders by Josephine Bell

The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude

The Corpse in the Waxworks by John Dickson Carr

Murder’s a Swine by Nap Lombard

Two-Way Murder by ECR Lorac

Due to a Death by Mary Kelly

Six Audiobooks with Great Narrators

Honourable mention must go to two fabulous narrations that I never got around to reviewing – Patricia Routledge’s wonderful version of Wuthering Heights (loved the narration far more than the book), and Alan Rickman’s fab rendition of The Return of the Native (loved both equally). But here are six that I either have reviewed or will be shortly:

Revelation by CJ Sansom narrated by Steven Crossley

Cécile is Dead by Georges Simenon narrated by Gareth Armstrong

The Return of Sherlock Holmes narrated by Derek Jacobi

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute narrated by Robin Bailey

Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie narrated by Hugh Fraser

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris narrated by Anna Bentinck

Six New(ish) Releases

I’m still struggling to find contemporary books I love in either fiction or crime, but here are six released in the last year or so, all of which I gave either 4 or 5 stars…

The Less Dead by Denise Mina

The Silence by Susan Allott

Nightshift by Kiare Ladner

Last Days in Cleaver Square by Patrick McGrath

The Survivors by Jane Harper

The Pact by Sharon Bolton

Six Classics

I haven’t read as many classics so far this year, but I’ve managed to find six that I’d recommend – again, I haven’t yet reviewed all of them:

The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

The Silver Darlings by Neil M Gunn

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

My Antonia by Willa Cather

In Diamond Square by Mercè Rodoreda

Six New-to-me Authors

I’ve read loads of new-to-me authors as usual and many of them have already been included in the categories above, so here are the best of the rest:

The Old Buzzard Had It Coming by Donis Casey

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Taken by Lisa Stone

Way Station by Clifford D Simak

The Conjure-Man Dies by Rudolph Fisher

The Chill Factor by Richard Falkirk

Six Recent Additions to the Wishlist

Ok, this is cheating a bit since I haven’t read these. But as the bard said, some rules are more honoured in the breach than the observance… 😉

No Other Life by Brian Moore

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

The Female Man by Joanna Russ

The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux

City by Clifford D Simak

Every Seventh Wave by Tom Vowler

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So that’s my six sixes, and they tell me I need to read less vintage crime and more other stuff! Jo gives us till the end of July to do our sixes, so if you haven’t already joined in you still have time – it’s a wonderful way to waste spend some time!

Here’s to the next six months! 😀

TBR Thursday 289…

Episode 289

My reading has slowed to a crawl again this week and as a result the TBR has gone up a little – by 2 to 196. But it absolutely is NOT MY FAULT! For once, I managed to capture the culprit on camera…

andy murray gif

Spooky story part 1: Before I get to the books I want to tell you about something that really happened to me yesterday, and nearly made me get the Fretful Porpentine out of his hibernation early! I was leaving a comment on one of those blogs that gives you a form where you add your name and website details. Because I’ve commented on it many times before, my browser knows what I’m going to fill in so prompts me. But this time it gave me two choices – FictionFan or Aelfrida Tillyard. That seemed most odd to me since obviously I’ve never used the name Aelfrida Tillyard, and especially since to the best of my knowledge I’d never come across it in real life or in books. So I googled her…

Aelfrida Catharine Wetenhall Tillyard (5 October 1883 – 12 December 1959) was a British author, medium, lecturer on Comparative Religion and associated religious topics, spiritual advisor and self-styled mystic.”

Are you as spooked by that as I was?

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Anyway, here are a few more books that I should be serving up soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

Knock, Murderer, Knock by Harriet Rutland

Knock Murderer KnockIt was exciting this month! Life of Pi went into a huge early lead which I thought would be unassailable. But gradually, vote by vote, Knock, Murderer, Knock crept up on it over the next couple of days. They were neck and neck for a bit, and in the end the victory was won with just a one vote difference. Proves that more of You, the People, like the idea of homicidal maniacs in spas than animals in boats! Good choice, People – I shall be planning to read and review it in September.

The Blurb says: “I think,” said Palk slowly, “there’s a homicidal maniac loose in the Hydro, but who it is, God knows.”

Presteignton Hydro is a drably genteel spa resort, populated by the aged and crippled who relish every drop of scandal they observe or imagine concerning the younger guests. No one however expects to see gossip turn to murder as their juniors die one by one – no one, that is, except the killer. The crusty cast of characters make solving the case all the harder for Inspector Palk – until the enigmatic sleuth Mr. Winkley arrives to lend a hand.

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The Promise by Damon Galgut

The PromiseCourtesy of Random House Vintage via NetGalley. Another in my bid to read more new fiction releases, but this time picked for the author rather than just the blurb since I’ve enjoyed the one book of his I’ve previously read, The Good Doctor. I must say the blurb sounds great, though… 

The Blurb says: The Promise charts the crash and burn of a white South African family, living on a farm outside Pretoria. The Swarts are gathering for Ma’s funeral. The younger generation, Anton and Amor, detest everything the family stand for — not least the failed promise to the Black woman who has worked for them her whole life. After years of service, Salome was promised her own house, her own land… yet somehow, as each decade passes, that promise remains unfulfilled.

The narrator’s eye shifts and blinks: moving fluidly between characters, flying into their dreams; deliciously lethal in its observation. And as the country moves from old deep divisions to its new so-called fairer society, the lost promise of more than just one family hovers behind the novel’s title.

In this story of a diminished family, sharp and tender emotional truths hit home. Confident, deft and quietly powerful, The Promise is literary fiction at its finest.

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False Witness by Karin Slaughter

False WitnessCourtesy of HarperCollins. I’ve always felt that Karin Slaughter’s thrillers sound too gruesome for my taste, but Eva at Novel Deelights has finally broken my powers of resistance with her gushings of love for her books. So I requested this one on NetGalley and then received a paper copy too from the lovely people at HC. I hope this doesn’t mean I need to read it twice, but who knows? Maybe I’ll want to…

The Blurb says: You thought no one saw you. You were wrong.

Leigh and her sister Callie are not bad people – but one night, more than two decades ago, they did something terrible. And the result was a childhood tarnished by secrets, broken by betrayal, devastated by violence. Years later, Leigh has pushed that night from her mind and become a successful lawyer – but when she is forced to take on a new client against her will, her world begins to spiral out of control. Because the client knows the truth about what happened twenty-three years ago. He knows what Leigh and Callie did. And unless they stop him, he’s going to tear their lives apart …

Just because you didn’t see the witness … doesn’t mean he wasn’t there.

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The Twisted Wire by Richard Falkirk

The Twisted WireCourtesy of Collins Crime Club. I loved The Chill Factor, also from this author, so was delighted when this one popped through my letterbox…

The Blurb says: A crossed telephone wire causes a call from the President of the United States to his Ambassador in London to be overheard by geologist Tom Bartlett. Tom, preoccupied with thoughts of the conference he is to attend in Israel, puts the incident from his mind, unaware that he might not have been the only person listening in…

He has not been in Tel Aviv a day, however, before the first attempt is made on his life. As Arab, Israeli, Russian and American agents begin to converge on him, it’s clear that someone wants Tom’s briefcase – and will stop at nothing to obtain it.

The Twisted Wire, first published in 1971, is set at the height of the Middle East conflict, combining politics, espionage and murder into a compelling fast-moving adventure.

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Tolkien on Audio

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien read by Andy Serkis

The HobbitIt’s decades since I last read The Hobbit, unlike The Lord of the Rings which I re-read every few years. I think I was at that odd age of being both too old and too young for this one when I first read it – too old to enjoy it as a children’s book, too young to appreciate it with an adult eye. So although I liked it, I didn’t love it with the passion I felt for LOTR when I read it just two or three years later. Timing is everything! I’ve been intending to give it another chance for years, and when I saw that Gollum himself had recorded it, how could I possibly resist?

The Blurb says: Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely travelling further than the pantry of his hobbit-hole in Bag End. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard Gandalf and a company of 13 dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on a journey ‘there and back again’. They have a plot to raid the treasure hoard of Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon….

The prelude to The Lord of The RingsThe Hobbit has sold many millions of copies since its publication in 1937, establishing itself as one of the most influential books of the 20th century.

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Spooky story part 2: So anyway, I read on down the wikipedia entry for Aelfrida Tillyard, only to discover she had written one of the books in Yesterday’s Tomorrows. So I had indeed been searching on her name, along with 99 others, to find out if her book was available. Phew! The porpy can continue his snooze undisturbed…

Hibernating Porpentine

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

Trial by media…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

The Franchise AffairRobert Blair’s life as a country solicitor is peaceful and contented, though just recently he’s been wondering if it isn’t just a little too contented. When he is contacted by Marion Sharp with a request for his help with a matter involving the police, his first reaction is to refer her to another lawyer specialising in criminal matters. But Miss Sharpe is adamant – she wants someone of her own class, and that means Robert. And the case sound intriguing, so Robert heads off to Miss Sharpe’s house, The Franchise, to meet her, her mother and Inspector Grant of Scotland Yard…

The Sharpes, mother and daughter, are eminently respectable ladies, though fairly new to the neighbourhood having inherited The Franchise just a few years earlier. So the story that schoolgirl Betty Kane tells sounds fantastical – she claims that the two women abducted her, locked her in their attic and tried to force her to work as their servant, doling out regular vicious beatings when she didn’t comply. The whole thing would have been written off as nonsensical, but for the fact that Betty is able to describe things in the house and grounds that she couldn’t possibly have known, since she had never been in the house for legitimate reasons. However, Grant can find no corroborating evidence and so the matter would have rested, except that the local crusading newspaper decided to take the matter up. Now the Sharpes are being vilified and harassed, and the matter is no longer only one of whether or not they will be prosecuted – it becomes imperative to prove that Betty is lying so as to clear their names completely. And for Robert it has become personal as he finds himself increasingly drawn to Marion.

Murder Mystery Mayhem Logo 2Challenge details:
Book: 87

Subject Heading: Fiction from Fact
Publication Year: 1948

This is considered a classic of crime fiction, and it fully deserves its reputation. Although it’s billed as an Inspector Grant novel, in fact he plays only a tiny part – the real “detective” is Robert, floundering a little out of his depth since he’s never had anything to do with the criminal side of the law before, but righteously determined to do everything in his power for his clients. He’s extremely likeable, and the ambiguity over Marion and Mrs Sharpe means that for most of the novel the reader doesn’t know whether to hope his romantic feelings for Marion will blossom, or whether he’s setting himself up for a broken heart. Marion and her mother are great characters – both opinionated individualists with a healthy cynicism about their society’s prejudices, but finding that when that society cuts one off, life, especially in a small town where everyone knows everyone else, rapidly becomes intolerable. Although the reader also finds it difficult to believe that they could be guilty, it’s equally hard to see why and how young Betty could have invented such a detailed and consistent story. It was long, long into the novel before I felt I could decide on the Sharpes’ innocence or guilt.

The writing is great and the plot is perfectly delivered. First published in 1948, the social attitudes are very much of their time, and it becomes pretty clear that Ms Tey was probably a good old-fashioned Tory snob whose ideas on class and politics ought to have roused my rage. But actually I found them amusing, and a great, if unintentional, depiction of that particular class of ultra-conservativism which still exists today, particularly in the letters page of The Telegraph and other newspapers read mainly by the retired colonels and maiden aunts of the Shires.

It’s also a wonderful picture of the kind of trial by media with which we are all too familiar, although it happens more slowly when people must write actual literate and grammatical letters to the newspapers and wait for them to be printed rather than firing off foul-mouthed libellous tweets, as we do now that we’re so much more advanced. Tey shows how quickly mob feelings can be aroused, and how easily some people will proceed to take what they would call justice into their own hands. She also shows, though, that there are decent people in the world who will rally round and help, even when it’s unpopular to do so.

Josephine Tey

I don’t want to risk any spoilers, so I’ll simply say that the gradual revelations are very well paced so that my attention never flagged, and I found the eventual resolution completely satisfying. But more than this, I found it a highly entertaining read with all the elements that make good vintage crime so enjoyable – an intriguing mystery, an atmosphere of building tension, a likeable protagonist who is neither alcoholic nor angst-ridden, a touch of romance, a sprinkling of humour. Great stuff! I now officially forgive Josephine Tey for boring me to death with The Daughter of Time and look forward to getting to know Inspector Grant and her better.

I downloaded this one from fadedpage.com – here’s the link.

TBR Thursday 288…

Episode 288

I’ve slowed down a little this week since the books I’m reading are longer ones, but two out, two in, means the TBR remains finely balanced on 194…

balance beam

Review-Alongers! We previously discussed reading Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray next. If you’re still up for it, I’m proposing a review date of Monday, October 25th. This long notice is partly to give everyone who’s interested time to acquire and read this very long book, but selfishly it’s also because I intend to listen to the 32-hour audiobook, which will take me months! Let me know below if you’re still interested and if that date works for you. New review-alongers always welcome! There’s only one “rule” – we all post our reviews on the same date, or for those who don’t blog (or don’t want to do a full review), you leave your thoughts in the comments section of my review.

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Here are a few I should be getting to soon – the two middle ones are from my fast and furious 20 Books of Summer list. Too early for this month’s People’s Choice winner – it will be announced next week, so you still have time to vote! 

Historical Fiction

To Cook a Bear by Mikael Niemi

To Cook a BearCourtesy of Quercus via NetGalley. Another in my attempt to read more new fiction releases, a mission that is causing me to have severe abandonment issues. Happily this one sounds as if it might actually have a plot…

The Blurb says: It is 1852, and in Sweden’s far north, deep in the Arctic Circle, charismatic preacher and Revivalist Lars Levi Læstadius impassions a poverty-stricken congregation with visions of salvation. But local leaders have reason to resist a shift to temperance over alcohol.

Jussi, the young Sami boy Læstadius has rescued from destitution and abuse, becomes the preacher’s faithful disciple on long botanical treks to explore the flora and fauna. Læstadius also teaches him to read and write – and to love and fear God.

When a milkmaid goes missing deep in the forest, the locals suspect a predatory bear is at large. A second girl is attacked, and the sheriff is quick to offer a reward for the bear’s capture. Using early forensics and daguerreotype, Læstadius and Jussi find clues that point to a far worse killer on the loose, even as they are unaware of the evil closing in around them.

To Cook a Bear explores how communities turn inwards, how superstition can turn to violence, and how the power of language can be transformative in a richly fascinating mystery.

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Vintage Crime

The Chianti Flask by Marie Belloc Lowndes

The Chianti FlaskCourtesy of the British Library. I loved The Lodger but haven’t got around to reading anything else from Marie Belloc Lowndes, so I was delighted to see her name pop up in the BL’s Classic Crime series. Since I abandoned one of my original 20 Books of Summer (Bullet Train), I’ve slotted this one into the vacancy…

The Blurb says: An enigmatic young woman named Laura Dousland stands on trial for murder, accused of poisoning her elderly husband Fordish. It seems clear that the poison was delivered in a flask of Chianti with supper, but according to the couple’s servant in the witness-box, the flask disappeared the night Fordish died and all attempts to trace it have come to nothing. The jury delivers its verdict, but this is just the end of the beginning of Marie Belloc Lowndes’ gripping story.

First published in 1934, this exquisitely crafted novel blends the tenets of a traditional mystery with an exploration of the psychological impact of death, accusation, guilt and justice in the aftermath of murder.

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Scorpion by Christian Cantrell

ScorpionCourtesy of Penguin Michael Joseph via NetGalley. Although the blurb suggests this is a straight thriller, reviews suggest it’s as much science fiction. Sounds intriguing, though early reviews are distinctly mixed…

The Blurb says: Around the world, twenty-two people have been murdered. The victims fit no profile, the circumstances vary wildly, but one thing links them all: in every case the victim is branded with a number. With police around the globe floundering and unable to identify any pattern, let alone find a killer, CIA Analyst Quinn Mitchell is called in to investigate.

Before long, Quinn is on the trail of an ice-hearted assassin with seemingly limitless resources – but she’s prepared for that.

What she isn’t prepared for is the person pulling the strings…

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Christie on Audio

Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie read by Hugh Fraser

Cat Among the PigeonsTime for another Christie re-read! Although this never makes my list of top favourite Christies, it’s well up in the second tier. It’s many years since I last read it, so I’m not sure if I’ll remember whodunit, or why…

The Blurb says: Late one night, two teachers investigate a mysterious flashing light in the sports pavilion, while the rest of the school sleeps. There, among the lacrosse sticks, they stumble upon the body of the unpopular games mistress, shot through the heart from point blank range.

The school is thrown into chaos when the “cat” strikes again. Unfortunately, schoolgirl Julia Upjohn knows too much. In particular, she knows that without Hercule Poirot’s help, she will be the next victim!

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday (on a Wednesday) 287 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 287

(A reminder of The People’s Choice plan. Once a month, 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, People, time for the next batch of four, and a nicely varied bunch this time, I think, still all from 2016. As usual I’m planning three months ahead so the winner will be a September read. Knock, Murderer, Knock was, I think, another Kindle impulse purchase during my early vintage crime frenzy – I’ve never read anything by the author before, but it sounds fun. The Vegetarian was one of those books everyone seemed to be raving about, so I acquired it and then, as usual, didn’t get around to reading it – the reviews make me feel I could love it or hate it. I’m ashamed to say Above the Waterfall is one of my ancient NetGalley ones that slipped through the net – I’ve loved one Ron Rash novel before and not loved one, so again it could go either way. And I acquired Life of Pi after loving Martel’s later book, The High Mountains of Portugal – I feel I may be the only person left alive who hasn’t read it. I still would like to read all of these pretty much equally, so you really can’t go wrong…

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Vintage Crime

Knock, Murderer, Knock by Harriet Rutland

Knock Murderer KnockAdded 15th July 2016. 202 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.70 average rating. 259 pages.

The Blurb says: “I think,” said Palk slowly, “there’s a homicidal maniac loose in the Hydro, but who it is, God knows.”

Presteignton Hydro is a drably genteel spa resort, populated by the aged and crippled who relish every drop of scandal they observe or imagine concerning the younger guests. No one however expects to see gossip turn to murder as their juniors die one by one – no one, that is, except the killer. The crusty cast of characters make solving the case all the harder for Inspector Palk – until the enigmatic sleuth Mr. Winkley arrives to lend a hand.

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The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The VegetarianAdded 20th July 2016. 104,335 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.59 average. 188 pages.

The Blurb says: Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiralling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavour will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.

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Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash

Above the WaterfallAdded 15th August 2016. 5,115 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.52 average. 252 pages. 

The Blurb says: Les, a long-time sheriff nearing retirement, contends with the ravages of poverty and crystal meth in his small Appalachian town. Nestled in a beautiful hollow of the Appalachians, his is a tight-knit community rife with secrets and suspicious of outsiders.

Becky, a park ranger, arrives in this remote patch of North Carolina hoping to ease the anguish of a harrowing past. Searching for tranquillity amid the verdant stillness, she finds solace in poetry and the splendour of the land.

A vicious crime will plunge both sheriff and ranger into deep and murky waters, forging an unexpected bond between them. Caught in a vortex of duplicity, lies, and betrayal, they must navigate the dangerous currents of a tragedy that turns neighbour against neighbour—and threatens to sweep them all over the edge.

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Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Life of PiAdded 12th October 2016. 1,406,996 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.92 average. 461 pages.

The Blurb says: After the sinking of a cargo ship, a solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a sixteen-year-old boy named Pi, a hyena, a wounded zebra, an orangutan—and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger. The scene is set for one of the most extraordinary and beloved works of fiction in recent years.

Universally acclaimed upon publication, Life of Pi is a modern classic.

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

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

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TBR Thursday 286…

Episode 286

Goodness, I appear to have turned into a reading machine over the last few weeks! Could this be an unexpected side-effect of the vaccine? If so, much more useful than becoming magnetic, for sure! (I imagine magnetic humans would be very bad for Kindles…) Maybe Bill Gates really has microchipped my brain – thanks, Bill! Anyway, the result of all this reading means that the TBR has dropped by… wait for it… wait for it… SIX to 194! And that despite NetGalley approving me for a couple! Of course, this means I have a million reviews to write – every silver lining has a cloud…

rain gif

The other result is that I can’t say my usual “Here are some I should get to soon” since I’ve already read one of these and started two of the others. I either need to do more TBR posts or read less! The two middle ones are from my fast and furious 20 Books of Summer

American Classic

My Ántonia by Willa Cather

My AntoniaOne from my Classics Club list, this was originally recommended to me as a possible Great American Novel contender (sorry, can’t remember who recommended it). So my expectations are high…

The Blurb says: My Ántonia (1918) depicts the pioneering period of European settlement on the tall-grass prairie of the American midwest, with its beautiful yet terrifying landscape, rich ethnic mix of immigrants and native-born Americans, and communities who share life’s joys and sorrows. Jim Burden recounts his memories of Ántonia Shimerda, whose family settle in Nebraska from Bohemia. Together they share childhoods spent in a new world. Jim leaves the prairie for college and a career in the east, while Ántonia devotes herself to her large family and productive farm. Her story is that of the land itself, a moving portrait of endurance and strength.

Described on publication as ‘one of the best [novels] that any American has ever done’, My Ántonia paradoxically took Cather out of the rank of provincial novelists as the same time that it celebrated the provinces, and mythologized a period of American history that had to be lost before its value could be understood.

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Vintage Crime

Due to a Death by Mary Kelly

Due to a DeathCourtesy of the British Library. I’ve loved the two previous books from this author that the BL has published, The Spoilt Kill and The Christmas Egg, so I have very high hopes for this one…

The Blurb says: A car speeds down a road between miles of marshes and estuary flats, its passenger a young woman named Agnes – hands bloodied, numbed with fear, her world turned upside down. Meanwhile, the news of a girl found dead on the marsh is spreading round the local area. A masterpiece of suspense, Mary Kellys 1964 novel follows Agnes as she casts her mind back through the past few days to find the links between her husband, his friends, a mysterious stranger new to the village and a case of bloody murder.

Complex and thoroughly affecting, Due to a Death was nominated for the Gold Dagger Award and showcases the author’s versatility and remarkable skill for characterization and dialogue.

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The Goodbye Man by Jeffery Deaver

The Goodbye ManCourtesy of HarperCollins via NetGalley. This is the middle book in Deaver’s new trilogy about modern-day bounty hunter Colter Shaw, and both this and the third book are on my 20 Books of Summer list. I enjoyed the first one, The Never Game, which had a standalone story as well as the running story in the background, so I’m hoping the other two will be just as good…

The Blurb says: In pursuit of two young men accused of terrible hate crimes, Colter Shaw stumbles upon a clue to another mystery. In an effort to save the life of a young woman–and possibly others–he travels to the wilderness of Washington State to investigate a mysterious organization. Is it a community that consoles the bereaved? Or a dangerous cult under the sway of a captivating leader? As he peels back the layers of truth, Shaw finds that some people will stop at nothing to keep their secrets hidden.

All the while, Shaw must unravel an equally deadly enigma: locating and deciphering a message hidden by his father years ago, just before his death–a message that will have life-and-death consequences.

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Vintage Crime on Audio

A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes read by Samuel L Jackson

A Rage in HarlemWhen I read the first mystery novel written by a Black American recently, The Conjure-Man Dies, the intro informed me that there were no others for over two decades, until Chester Himes came along. So I looked him up and discovered that Penguin Audio have just released the first one in his Harlem series, read by Samuel L Jackson – doesn’t that sound utterly irresistible? So obviously, I failed to resist…  

The Blurb says: A dark and witty work of hardboiled detective fiction set in the mean streets of New York, Chester Himes’s A Rage in Harlem includes an introduction by Luc Sante in Penguin Modern Classics.

Jackson’s woman has found him a foolproof way to make money – a technique for turning 10 dollar bills into hundreds. But when the scheme somehow fails, Jackson is left broke, wanted by the police and desperately racing to get back both his money and his loving Imabelle. The first of Chester Himes’s novels to feature the hardboiled Harlem detectives ‘Coffin’ Ed Johnson and ‘Grave Digger’ Jones, A Rage in Harlem has swagger, brutal humour, lurid violence, a hearse loaded with gold and a conman dressed as a Sister of Mercy. 

Chester Himes (1909-1984) was born in Jefferson City, Missouri and grew up in Cleveland. Aged 19, he was arrested for armed robbery and sentenced to 20 to 25 years in jail. In jail he began to write short stories, some of which were published in Esquire. Upon release he took a variety of jobs from working in a California shipyard to journalism to script-writing while continuing to write fiction. He later moved to Paris where he was commissioned by La Série Noire to write the first of his Harlem detective novels, A Rage in Harlem, which won the 1957 Grand Prix du Roman Policier, and was adapted into a 1991 film starring Forest Whitaker and Danny Glover.

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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?

The Cask by Freeman Wills Crofts

Enough to drive a girl to drink…


The CaskAs a cargo ship is unloading at the docks in London, an accident causes a cask to fall and split. Two employees of the shipping company spot that some gold coins have fallen from it so not unnaturally they decide to have a little poke around inside to see if there are more. There are, but more shockingly there is also a dead hand which appears to be attached to an equally dead woman! So begins this ridiculously over-complicated, utterly tedious investigation into the death of someone I didn’t care about at the hands of one of the tiny group of suspects about whom I cared even less. If only the cask had been full of red wine, I could have got paralytically drunk and been happy…

Dear me, that’s the nearest I’ve come to death by boredom in a while! I’ve read a few of Crofts’ extremely procedural procedurals now, with varying degrees of enthusiasm or lack thereof, but this one is in a class of its own. Pages and pages and pages of shipping routes of casks, three detectives going over and over and over the same pieces of evidence again and again and again, zero characterisation of victims, suspects or detectives – truly it is a mystery to me how anyone manages to make it all the way through to the end of this with their sanity intact. I gave up at 53% when it became clear to me that I would soon be screaming out loud rather than just inside my head. I was “interested” enough to flick to the last chapter to find out which of the suspects had done the deed, and when I got there I realised I’d been right along – I really didn’t care!

Murder Mystery Mayhem Logo 2Challenge details:
Subject Heading: The Birth of the Golden Age
Publication Year: 1920

And since I’m moaning, let me have a brief rant about the dialogue. People do not speak as if they are a business letter. No one – NO ONE – ever – in the history of the universe – has ever said in conversation, and I quote:

“That cask, as you see, was invoiced out via Havre and Southampton on the 30th ultimo, and yet it turned up in London on Monday, the 5th instant,…”

Good grief! And then there’s the convoluted journey of the corpse-containing cask, which turns up in Paris, London, Southampton, Le Havre and Rouen, some of them several times. Why? WHY?? Why would a murderer go to these ridiculous lengths to get rid of a body? What’s wrong with burying it in the woods or, since it crosses the Channel at least three times as far as I could gather, dumping it in the sea? And I don’t wish to lower the tone, but would a corpse travelling about in a cask for days in the height of summer remain… ahem… fresh??

(I realise the answers to the above may be given in the 47% of the book I didn’t read, but despite my mouth-frothing ranting, I DON’T CARE!!)

Freeman Wills Croft

This was apparently Crofts’ first book, so a very strong argument against reading books in order. He undoubtedly did improve, even if his later books occasionally also bore me into fits of the screaming abdabs. At least he got over the desire to make his characters talk as if they were dictating letters to their secretaries. Apparently writer and critic Julian Symons classed him as one of “the humdrum school” of mystery novelists – on the basis of this one I feel Symons was being too kind. But Martin Edwards is even kinder when he uses the euphemism “meticulous” to describe the endless mind-numbing tediosity of repeated details. Amazingly the book has sold over 100,000 copies. I downloaded my copy free and yet still feel I’ve been overcharged…

If you’ve been having too interesting a time recently and feel the desire to be bored rigid for a change, you too can read this – it’s available here. But get your own cask of medicinal wine first – I’ll need all of mine…

TBR Thursday 285…

Episode 285

Well it was all going brilliantly! Until yesterday, when it seemed as if postmen were queuing at the door with parcels from everywhere. End result – the TBR has gone back up 3 to 200. 

Horse treadmill

Here are a few I should be galloping through soon – the two middle ones are from my fast and furious 20 Books of Summer list…


Summerwater edited by Sarah Moss

SummerwaterCourtesy of Picador via NetGalley. This had a lot of buzz when it came out and I’ve had this copy for ages, plus it’s very short, but here I am as usual – all behind like the cow’s tail!  It’s had mixed reviews, but the overall impression seems to be positive…

The Blurb says: On the longest day of the summer, twelve people sit cooped up with their families in a faded Scottish cabin park. The endless rain leaves them with little to do but watch the other residents.

A woman goes running up the Ben as if fleeing; a retired couple reminisce about neighbours long since moved on; a teenage boy braves the dark waters of the loch in his red kayak. Each person is wrapped in their own cares but increasingly alert to the makeshift community around them. One particular family, a mother and daughter without the right clothes or the right manners, starts to draw the attention of the others. Tensions rise and all watch on, unaware of the tragedy that lies ahead as night finally falls.

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Mother Loves Me by Abby Davies

Mother Loves MeCourtesy of HarperCollins. This is an unsolicited one from HC. They’ve sent me some brilliant ones I’d never have come across otherwise, and also some dire ones (or, to be fairer, not to my taste) that have been abandoned very quickly. The blurb of this suggests it’s more likely to fall into the second category, but I’ve been wrong before… 

The Blurb says: The creepiest debut thriller you will read this year!

One little girl.
Mirabelle’s mother loves her. She’s her ‘little doll’. Mother dresses her, paints her face, and plaits her hair. But as Mirabelle grows, the dresses no longer fit quite as well, the face paint no longer looks quite so pretty. And Mother isn’t happy.

Two little girls.
On Mirabelle’s 13th birthday, Mother arrives home with a present – a new sister, 5-year-old Clarabelle, who Mother has rescued from the outside world.

But Mother only needs one.
As it dawns on Mirabelle that there is a new ‘little doll’ in her house, she also realizes that her life isn’t what she thought it was. And that dolls often end up on the scrap heap…

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The Pact by Sharon Bolton

The PactCourtesy of Orion via NetGalley. Sharon Bolton used to be a totally safe bet for me, but her last few books have seemed more variable and have sometimes strayed too far over the credibility line, so this could go either way…  

The Blurb says: A golden summer, and six talented friends are looking forward to the brightest of futures – until a daredevil game goes horribly wrong, and a woman and two children are killed.

18-year-old Megan takes the blame, leaving the others free to get on with their lives. In return, they each agree to a ‘favour’, payable on her release from prison.

Twenty years later Megan is free.
Let the games begin . . .

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Maigret on Audio

Cécile is Dead by Georges Simenon read by Gareth Armstrong

Cecile is DeadI’ve been dipping my toe into the Maigret series over the last couple of years, but fellow blogger José Ignacio over at the excellent A Crime is Afoot plunged in head-first and has now read all 79 novels and 28 short stories. He has given a list of his favourites, and finished by saying “However, if you just want to read one before making up your mind, I would suggest: Cécile is Dead.” With an endorsement like that, it had to be the next on my list! 

The Blurb says: A new translation of this moving novel about the destructive power of greed.

Poor Cécile! And yet she was still young. Maigret had seen her papers: barely 28 years old. But it would be difficult to look more like an old maid, to move less gracefully, in spite of the care she took to be friendly and pleasant. Those black dresses that she must make for herself from bad paper patterns, that ridiculous green hat!

In the dreary suburbs of Paris, the merciless greed of a seemingly respectable woman is unearthed by her long-suffering niece, and Maigret discovers the far-reaching consequences of their actions.

This novel has been published in a previous translation as Maigret and the Spinster.

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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?