TBR Thursday 348…

Episode 348

A week or two ago, I made the mistake of saying that the porpy and I intended to finish up some anthologies from previous years that have been lingering half-read before acquiring any new ones. The Laughing Gods of Bookworld couldn’t pass up that chance, could they? Seven – I’ve received seven anthologies of vintage crime and spookiness since I made that foolish statement! So despite me still powering through books at an unprecedented rate, the TBR has gone up FIVE to 176, and the porpy is demanding higher wages and regular rest breaks! 

Here are a few more that should make me smile soon…

Spooky Anthology

Ghosts from the Library edited by Tony Medawar

Courtesy of Collins Crime Club. I’ve loved the Bodies from the Library series of vintage crime anthologies that CCC and Tony Medawar have been doing for the last few years, so I’m super excited to see them branching out into ghost stories from the pens of some of the great mystery writers. The porpy and I can’t wait to get into this one!

The Blurb says: It is said that books are written to bring sunshine into our dull, grey lives – to show us places we want to escape to, lives we want to live, people we want to love. But there are also stories that can only be found in the deepest, darkest corners of the library. Stories about the unexplained, of lost souls, of things that go bump before the silence. Before the screaming.

And some stories just disappear. Stories printed in old newspapers, broadcast live on the wireless, sometimes not even published at all – these are the stories you cannot find on even the dustiest of library shelves.

Ghosts from the Library resurrects forgotten tales of the supernatural by some of the most acclaimed mystery authors of all time. From Arthur Conan Doyle and John Dickson Carr to Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier, this spine-chilling anthology brings together thirteen uncollected tales of terror, plus some additional surprises.

Close the windows. Draw the curtains. Just don’t let the lights go out…

* * * * *

Historical Fiction

The Colony by Audrey Magee

Courtesy of Faber & Faber via NetGalley. I’m so far behind with review copies at the moment. I’ve had this for months, picked purely on the basis of the blurb, and in the interim it’s been longlisted for the Booker, and shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction! Does that make it more or less likely that I’ll love it? We’ll soon see!

The Blurb says: It is the summer of 1979. An English painter travels to a small island off the west coast of Ireland. Mr. Lloyd takes the last leg by currach, though boats with engines are available and he doesn’t much like the sea. He wants the authentic experience, to be changed by this place, to let its quiet and light fill him, give him room to create. He doesn’t know that a Frenchman follows close behind. Jean-Pierre Masson has visited the island for many years, studying the language of those who make it their home. He is fiercely protective of their isolation, deems it essential to exploring his theories of language preservation and identity.

But the people who live on this rock–three miles long and half a mile wide–have their own views on what is being recorded, what is being taken, and what ought to be given in return. Over the summer, each of them–from great-grandmother Bean Uí Fhloinn to widowed Mairéad to fifteen-year-old James, who is determined to avoid the life of a fisherman–will wrestle with their values and desires. Meanwhile, all over Ireland, violence is erupting. And there is blame enough to go around.

An expertly woven portrait of character and place, a stirring investigation into yearning to find one’s way, and an unflinchingly political critique of the long, seething cost of imperialism, Audrey Magee’s The Colony is a novel that transports, that celebrates beauty and connection, and that reckons with the inevitable ruptures of independence.

* * * * *

Domestic Thriller

Unfaithful by JL Butler

Courtesy of HarperCollins. Sometimes HC send me books that look great (see Ghosts from the Library above). Other times they send me ones that don’t sound like my kind of thing at all! The odd thing is that sometimes the great-looking ones turn out to be not-so-great, and occasionally the not-my-kind-of-thing ones turn out to be fun, so I’m always willing to at least try them. This is a not-my-kind-of-thing one…

(Unfortunately I’m not going to be able to read this without picturing the prominent Labour politician Rachel Reeves in the starring role. Does the author not know about her? The editor?? The publisher???)

The Blurb says: A FATAL attraction…
Rachel Reeves has it all. The perfect family, a rich husband, and a gorgeous home. But when her only child flies the nest, Rachel feels lost – and succumbs to a mind-blowing one-night stand.

With a DEADLY twist…
Instantly regretting her infidelity, Rachel cuts ties with Chris. But he won’t let her go that easily. She erases him from her life – until a text changes everything.

And an UNFORGETTABLE end…
Someone knows what she did.
And they’re ready to destroy her entire life because of it.
 

* * * * *

Crime

Catch Your Death by Lissa Marie Redmond

Courtesy of Severn House via NetGalley. Another one that might turn out to be not-my-kind-of-thing, although this time I chose it for myself on the grounds that it sounds like it could be fun! I don’t know the author at all but she seems to have a solid fan base and high ratings. This is the 6th book in a series.

The Blurb says: When Cold Case Detective Lauren Riley’s partner, Shane Reese, runs into an old friend, he’s invited to a school reunion at a new luxury spa and resort. Lauren’s also invited and it sounds like a perfect weekend getaway, except it brings up painful memories for Reese – like the unsolved murder of his high school friend Jessica Toakese seventeen years earlier.

The prime suspects will be at the reunion. Among those suspects is Reese, who has kept his involvement a secret from Lauren and the entire police force. As the friends reminisce an intense snowstorm traps them inside and tensions rise. After a heated confrontation, one of the party is brutally murdered and Lauren believes it’s connected to Jessica’s death.

But who could the murderer be: the jealous husband; the regretful trophy wife; the abused failed actor; the true crime podcast host; the drunken louse; the insecure millionaire; the desperate spa owner . . . or the Cold Case detective?

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Listen…

#20(Audio)BooksOfSummer Round-Up

I did it! I did it!! 20 audiobooks, all listened to, all reviewed!!! I succeeded at a challenge!!!! I’m running out of exclamation marks!!!!!

So before we get to the books, what have I learned from this harrowing wonderful experience?

1. I prefer male narrators to female on the whole. This is not actually sexism. There is no doubt that my hearing isn’t as sharp as it once was, and I find the lower voices of male narrators easier to hear clearly. Why this should be I don’t know, but ‘tis so. More mature female voices that have deepened work fine too – Jilly Bond, Joan Hickson, Diana Bishop are some of the ones I’ve hugely enjoyed during the challenge. High-voiced young actresses irritate my ears – sorry, ladies!

2. I prefer proper old-school actors as narrators, who have been trained to enunciate clearly. Authentic dialects, authentic drunken mumbling, authentic whispering – all fine, so long as the actor remembers that the listener needs to be able to make out what is being said!

3 . Fast-paced books with simple plots work fine as audiobooks, as do slow-paced books with intricate plots. But slow-paced books with simple plots send me to sleep, while fast-paced books with intricate plots require far better levels of concentration than I have!

4. Listening to a much loved book read by a great narrator is one of the finest pleasures this life can afford! Take a bow, Ian Carmichael, Timothy West, Hugh Fraser, Steven Crossley, Jonathan Cecil!

5. The final takeaway – listening to audiobooks for a minimum of two hours a day basically does my head in. I think that’s the technical term. I never want to repeat the experience as long as I live, or even in Paradise or… anywhere else I might end up after I’m dead. Never. I remember the wonderful comedian Dara O’Briain doing a monologue on the use of the word “Listen” and how it often portends no good. To his list, I’d add that the word “Listen” has now taken on horror aspects for me – as if I am submitting myself and my poor innocent ears to self-inflicted and unnecessary torture. Half an hour – enjoyable. An hour – bearable. Two hours – cruel and unusual punishment!

Warning: Dara uses some strong language…

* * * * *

I made a couple of changes to the list along the way, so here’s the final version, in ascending order:

Disappointing

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene read by Andrew Sachs

The Rendezvous and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier read by Edward de Souza

Cover Her Face by PD James read by Daniel Weyman

* * * * *

Okay

Pied Piper by Nevil Shute read by David Rintoul

* * * * *

Good

Rumpole’s Return by John Mortimer read by Robert Hardy

Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller read by Jilly Bond

* * * * *

Very Good

The Flemish House by Georges Simenon read by Gareth Armstrong

The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy read by Samuel West

The Misty Harbour by Georges Simenon read by Gareth Armstrong

By the Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie read by Hugh Fraser

* * * * *

Excellent

Heartstone by CJ Sansom read by Steven Crossley

N or M? by Agatha Christie read by Hugh Fraser

The Mating Season by PG Wodehouse read by Jonathan Cecil

Silas Marner by George Eliot read by Andrew Sachs

Rain and Other Stories by W Somerset Maugham read by Steven Crossley

Latter End by Patricia Wentworth read by Diana Bishop

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome read by Ian Carmichael

A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christie read by Joan Hickson

The Quiet American by Graham Greene read by Simon Cadell

* * * * *

Book of the Summer!

The Warden by Anthony Trollope read by Timothy West

* * * * *

A great summer of listening – have I tempted you?

TBR Thursday 347…

Episode 347

I’m racing through books at the moment, with the result that my TBR is still shrinking despite the arrival of new books – down 1 again this week, to 171! –  and my list of unwritten reviews is getting out of control! Still, between this week’s rather heavyweight selection of books and the US Open starting next week I think it’s safe to assume I’ll be slowing down!

Here are a few more that should reach the final round soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice

The winner took a huge early lead this week and although the other books fought back gamely they were never able to catch up. They all looked good this time which always makes for fun voting! And the one You, The People, have chosen looks like it could be excellent – good choice, People! Since I like to run three months ahead with these polls, the winner will be a November read. And the winner is…

The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson

The Blurb says: In 1627 Barbary pirates raided the coast of Iceland and abducted some 400 of its people, including 250 from a tiny island off the mainland. Among the captives sold into slavery in Algiers were the island pastor, his wife and their three children. Although the raid itself is well documented, little is known about what happened to the women and children afterwards. It was a time when women everywhere were largely silent.

In this brilliant reimagining, Sally Magnusson gives a voice to Ásta, the pastor’s wife. Enslaved in an alien Arab culture Ásta meets the loss of both her freedom and her children with the one thing she has brought from home: the stories in her head. Steeped in the sagas and folk tales of her northern homeland, she finds herself experiencing not just the separations and agonies of captivity, but the reassessments that come in any age when intelligent eyes are opened to other lives, other cultures and other kinds of loving.

The Sealwoman’s Gift is about the eternal power of storytelling to help us survive. The novel is full of stories – Icelandic ones told to fend off a slave-owner’s advances, Arabian ones to help an old man die. And there are others, too: the stories we tell ourselves to protect our minds from what cannot otherwise be borne, the stories we need to make us happy.

* * * * *

Lit-Crit

Honoré de Balzac: My Reading by Peter Brooks

Courtesy of Oxford University Press. Regulars will know from my scrappy reviews that I don’t really research the classics I read to any great extent, nor do I read much literary criticism. But, since I have included my first Balzac on my new Classics Club list, when I spotted this in the OUP’s latest catalogue I thought it might be fun to read it first. Apparently there’s a whole series of these for different classic authors…

The Blurb says: A book on the experience of reading Honoré de Balzac’s La Comédie humaine which recounts the process of Peter Brooks’ own discovery of Balzac.

A personal account of coming to terms with Balzac: moving from more classical and restrained authors to the highly-coloured melodramatic novels of the Human Comedy, which give us the dynamics of a new and challenging world on the threshold of modernity. This volume shows readers how to read, and to love reading, Balzac, and how to engage with his vast work.

* * * * *

Classic in Translation

Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac

So obviously I’ll then have to read my first Balzac before I forget everything I’ve just read! No idea how I’m going to fit this in, to be honest, but at least it doesn’t look like quite as much of a brick as I feared it might be!

The Blurb says: Monsieur Goriot is one of a select group of lodgers at Madame Vauquer’s Parisian boarding house. At first his wealth inspires respect, but as his circumstances are reduced he is shunned by those around him, and soon his only remaining visitors are two beautiful, mysterious young women. Goriot claims that they are his daughters, but his fellow boarders, including master criminal Vautrin, have other ideas. And when Eugène Rastignac, a poor but ambitious law student, learns the truth, he decides to turn it to his advantage. Père Goriot is one of the key novels of Balzac’s Comédie Humaine series, and a compelling examination of two obsessions, love and money. Witty and brilliantly detailed, it is a superb study of the bourgeoisie in the years following the French Revolution.

* * * * *

Vintage Crime

Crook o’Lune by ECR Lorac

Courtesy of the British Library. I’m always delighted when a “new” ECR Lorac pops up in the BL’s Crime Classics series, and this one sounds as intriguing as always…

The Blurb says: It all began with sheep-stealing. A hateful act among the shepherds of the fells, and yet not a matter of life and death. Then came arson and with the leaping of the flames, death and disorder reached the peaceful moors.

Holidaying with his friends the Hoggetts in High Gimmerdale while on a trip to find some farmland for his retirement, Robert Macdonald agrees to help in investigating the identity of the sheep-stealers, before being dragged into a case requiring his full experience as Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard.

Drawing on her own experience living in Lunesdale, Lorac spins a tale portraying the natural beauty, cosy quiet and more brutal elements of country living in this classic rural mystery first published in 1953.

* * * * *

Gaskell on Audio

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell read by Juliet Stevenson

Another one for my Classics Club list. I may or may not get on with the audiobook – I’ve struggled a bit with Juliet Stevenson’s narrations in the past – so if it doesn’t grab me I’ll abandon it and read a paper copy later. But fingers crossed – maybe this will be Stevenson’s chance to win me over! And after galloping through the books on the #20(Audio)BooksOfSummer challenge, I intend to take plenty of time over this one!

The Blurb says: Written at the request of Charles Dickens, North and South is a book about rebellion; it poses fundamental questions about the nature of social authority and obedience. Gaskell expertly blends individual feeling with social concern, and her heroine, Margaret Hale, is one of the most original creations of Victorian literature.

When Margaret Hale’s father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience she is forced to leave her comfortable home in the tranquil countryside of Hampshire and move with her family to the fictional industrial town of Milton in the north of England. Though at first disgusted by her new surroundings, she witnesses the brutality wrought by the Industrial Revolution and becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of the local mill workers. Sympathetic to the poor she makes friends among them and develops a fervent sense of social justice. She clashes with the mill-owner and self-made man, John Thornton, who is contemptuous of his workers. However, their fierce opposition masks a deeper attraction.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Looking forward to…

Episode 8

Another selection in my occasional looks back at old reviews which I finished by saying something along the lines of “I’ll be looking forward to reading more of her work/this series/his books in the future” to see if I actually did read more and, if I did, did I like the ones I looked forward to as much as the ones that made me look forward to them?

Let’s see then…

Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, Victim: A 900-Year-Old Story Retold by John Guy

First reviewed 5th May 2013. This was the book that started me reading serious history again after a lengthy break during my working life. I said “For a non-historian like myself, this is exactly how history should be presented – assume no knowledge on the part of the reader, fill in all the necessary background, give a picture of the wider society and tell the whole thing in an interesting way.” The five-star rating put Guy on my list of authors to read more of. But did I?

I did! I loved his sympathetic biography of the divisive Mary, Queen of Scots, and was equally impressed by his biography of the later years of that other towering female of the Tudor era, Elizabeth I. I also read a couple of short histories he’s written, on the Tudors generally and on Thomas More, both of which I felt were good but too brief to do the subjects justice. I don’t know if he’ll be writing more – he’s retired from academia now – but if he does I’ll be reading it!

* * * * *

Testament of a Witch by Douglas Watt

First reviewed 7th May 2013. A historical crime fiction set in late 17th century Scotland, a time of uneasy peace, treasonable plots, religious division, superstition and witch-hunts. I thought this was an excellently researched novel from a man who should know his stuff, since he holds a PhD in Scottish History and has written factual history. It gives a great picture of Scotland just at the moment when the days of superstition are about to give way to the age of Enlightenment. I said “I will now be backtracking to read the first in the series, Death of a Chief, and look forward to meeting MacKenzie and Scougall [the detectives] again in the future.” But did I?

No, I didn’t! What can I say? Death of a Chief has been lingering in the depths of my wishlist ever since, and the series now runs to five books! I am duly ashamed, and will purchase it forthwith. And I’ll try my best not to let it linger for another several years on my TBR!

* * * * *

The Stranger by Camilla Läckberg

First reviewed 14th May 2013. This book briefly restored my then-fading interest in Nordic crime because the lead character, policeman Patrik Hedström, is that rare and precious creature – a sober, likeable, intelligent detective who works within the rules and has a happy home life. Such a change from the stream of drunken, angst-ridden detectives who had already begun to bore me. I said “…this book works well as a standalone for anyone who, like me, hasn’t read the previous ones in the series – an omission I now intend to rectify.” But did I?

Hmm, well, yes and no. I backtracked to the first in the series, The Ice Princess, and thoroughly enjoyed it too, so added the second book, The Preacher, to my TBR where it has remained ever since! There is a reason for this, though. In the interim, I tried to read a new book by her, a non-series book called The Gilded Cage. Here’s the feedback I sent to the publisher via NetGalley:

Umm…no thanks. I still have some standards of decency, unlike, apparently, Ms Lackberg, whose books I used to enjoy. I didn’t make it past the first few pages. I think the blurb should have given some indication of the graphic, indeed pornographic, sex scenes the unsuspecting reader will encounter as soon as she opens it. Then I could have put on my dirty mac and turned the collar up, like the dirty old men who used to sidle into the ‘blue’ movies in my youth…

It rather put me off Lackberg, I fear! I may still read The Preacher one day, though, once Time the Great Healer has had a chance to work… 😂

* * * * *

Someone to Watch Over Me by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

First reviewed 15th May 2013. Another Nordic crime, this is the fifth in a series but was the first I read. Darker than Lackberg and with a mild supernatural element to it, it’s very well written and chillingly atmospheric, and with an excellent sense of the Icelandic setting – its culture, weather and recent economic woes. I said “Highly recommended, and I look forward to backtracking through the rest of the series.” But did I?

No, but I read several other books by the prolific Sigurdardóttir that aren’t in this series. She alternates between dark crime and supernatural stories, sometimes combining them, and I continued to admire her writing, sense of place and ability to create an incredibly tense and often spine-tinglingly spooky atmosphere. However, my tastes were changing and gradually she became too dark for me. Some of her murder methods have remained inextricably lodged in my memory banks and I suspect I’d need several years of therapy to get them out! I have a couple of her books still sitting in my TBR, including the first in this series, Last Rituals, and will read them some day, but I’ll need to be in the right mood to cope with the inevitable gore…

* * * * *

So, one I’ll read again if he publishes another book, one I have shamefully neglected and am now vowing to put that right, and two Nordic crime novelists who are both in different ways victims of my increasingly conservative tastes. Safe to say this is a fairly mixed batch, but none of them have been banished from my reading list for eternity… 😂

Have you read any of these authors?
Are they on your “looking forward to” list?

TBR Thursday 346…

Episode 346

A big drop in the TBR this week – down 3 to 172! I might even get below the magic 170 soon, if I don’t fall at the last hurdle…

Here are a few more I should run into soon…

Crime

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer

My Looking Forward posts have made me thoroughly ashamed of all the books lingering on my TBR that I acquired because I’d enjoyed the author before. So I’m going to try my hardest to fit some of them into my reading schedule, starting with this one from Belinda Bauer, which I acquired in 2015!

The Blurb says: Twelve-year-old Steven Lamb digs holes on Exmoor, hoping to find a body. Every day after school, while his classmates swap football stickers, Steven goes digging to lay to rest the ghost of the uncle he never knew, who disappeared aged eleven and is assumed to have fallen victim to the notorious serial killer Arnold Avery.

Only Steven’s Nan is not convinced her son is dead. She still waits for him to come home, standing bitter guard at the front window while her family fragments around her. Steven is determined to heal the widening cracks between them before it’s too late. And if that means presenting his grandmother with the bones of her murdered son, he’ll do it.

So the boy takes the next logical step, carefully crafting a letter to Arnold Avery in prison. And there begins a dangerous cat-and-mouse game between a desperate child and a bored serial killer . . .

* * * * *

Maigret on Audio

The Misty Harbour by Georges Simenon read by Gareth Armstrong

The last three for the #20(Audio)BooksOfSummer challenge. Having unexpectedly raced through the longest book left on my list over last weekend, it’s now looking possible that I might actually finish the challenge on time! First up, another admirably short Maigret, read as usual by the excellent Gareth Armstrong…

The Blurb says: A new translation of Georges Simenon’s gripping tale of lost identity. A man picked up for wandering in obvious distress among the cars and buses on the Grands Boulevards. Questioned in French, he remains mute… A madman?

In Maigret’s office, he is searched. His suit is new, his underwear is new, his shoes are new. All identifying labels have been removed. No identification papers. No wallet. Five crisp thousand-franc bills have been slipped into one of his pockets.

Answers lead Maigret to a small harbour town, whose quiet citizens conceal a poisonous malice.

* * * * *

Greene on Audio

The Quiet American by Graham Greene read by Simon Cadell

One I haven’t read before from Graham Greene. It was the narrator as much as the book that made me choose this one as an audiobook – I have fond memories of the late Simon Cadell as an actor. The blurb sounds interesting too, though, and I’m intrigued to find out what it is that makes it “controversial”…

The Blurb says: “I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused,” Graham Greene’s narrator Fowler remarks of Alden Pyle, the eponymous “Quiet American” of what is perhaps the most controversial novel of his career. Pyle is the brash young idealist sent out by Washington on a mysterious mission to Saigon, where the French Army struggles against the Vietminh guerrillas. As young Pyle’s well-intentioned policies blunder into bloodshed, Fowler, a seasoned and cynical British reporter, finds it impossible to stand safely aside as an observer. But Fowler’s motives for intervening are suspect, both to the police and himself, for Pyle has stolen Fowler’s beautiful Vietnamese mistress.

Originally published in 1956 and twice adapted to film, The Quiet American remains a terrifiying and prescient portrait of innocence at large. 

* * * * *

Christie on Audio

By the Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie read by Hugh Fraser

What better incentive to get to the end of the challenge than a Christie/Fraser/Tommy and Tuppence mystery! There are aspects of creepiness in this one that shiver my spine whenever I think of them…

The Blurb says: While visiting Tommy’s Aunt Ada at Sunny Ridge Nursing Home, Tuppence encounters some odd residents including Mrs. Lancaster who mystifies her with talk about “your poor child” and “something behind the fireplace”.

When Aunt Ada dies a few weeks later, she leaves Tommy and Tuppence a painting featuring a house, which Tuppence is sure she has seen before. This realization leads her on a dangerous adventure involving a missing tombstone, diamond smuggling and a horrible discovery of what Mrs. Lancaster was talking about.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday (on a Tuesday) 345 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 345

(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 another batch of four – still in 2020, and a rather odd selection this month, all historical fiction but very different from each other. I like to run three months ahead with these polls, so the winner will be a November read. I picked up The Sealwoman’s Gift in a charity shop on impulse, mainly because I used to like the author’s father when he presented Mastermind on TV! I also bought Cold Mountain there on the same day, but it was on my wishlist since I’d previously enjoyed another of his books, Nightwoods. I loved Neil Munro’s The New Road, so acquired Doom Castle and it’s now on my Classics Club list. A Suitable Boy is one I’ve long wanted to read but its excessive length means it keeps getting shoved aside.

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Historical Fiction

The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson

Added 11th January 2020. 5,160 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.16 average rating. 365 pages.

The Blurb says: In 1627 Barbary pirates raided the coast of Iceland and abducted some 400 of its people, including 250 from a tiny island off the mainland. Among the captives sold into slavery in Algiers were the island pastor, his wife and their three children. Although the raid itself is well documented, little is known about what happened to the women and children afterwards. It was a time when women everywhere were largely silent.

In this brilliant reimagining, Sally Magnusson gives a voice to Ásta, the pastor’s wife. Enslaved in an alien Arab culture Ásta meets the loss of both her freedom and her children with the one thing she has brought from home: the stories in her head. Steeped in the sagas and folk tales of her northern homeland, she finds herself experiencing not just the separations and agonies of captivity, but the reassessments that come in any age when intelligent eyes are opened to other lives, other cultures and other kinds of loving.

The Sealwoman’s Gift is about the eternal power of storytelling to help us survive. The novel is full of stories – Icelandic ones told to fend off a slave-owner’s advances, Arabian ones to help an old man die. And there are others, too: the stories we tell ourselves to protect our minds from what cannot otherwise be borne, the stories we need to make us happy.

* * * * *

Historical Fiction

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

Added 11th January 2020. 234,132 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.88 average. 449 pages.

The Blurb says: Based on local history & family stories passed down by Frazier’s great-great-grandfather, Cold Mountain is the tale of a wounded Confederate soldier, Inman, who walks away from the ravages of the war & back home to his prewar sweetheart, Ada. His odyssey thru the devastated landscape of the soon-to-be-defeated South interweaves with Ada’s struggle to revive her father’s farm, with the help of an intrepid young drifter named Ruby. As their long-separated lives begin to converge at the close of the war, Inman & Ada confront the vastly transformed world they’ve been delivered.

Frazier reveals insight into human relations with the land & the dangers of solitude. He also shares with the great 19th century novelists a keen observation of a society undergoing change. Cold Mountain recreates a world gone by that speaks to our time.

* * * * *

Historical Fiction

Doom Castle by Neil Munro

Added 26th January 2020. 31 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.48 average. 360 pages.

The Blurb says: “No pomp, no pleasant amenities; the place seemed to jut into the sea, defying man’s oldest and most bitter enemy, its gable ends and one crenellated bastion or turret betraying its sinister relation to its age, its whole aspect arrogant and unfriendly, essential of war. Caught suddenly by the vision that swept the fretted curve of the coast, it seemed blackly to perpetuate the spirit of the land, its silence, its solitude and terrors.”

This was the Count Victor’s fist sight of Castle Doom. His mission to Scotland from France in 1755 brought him into this wild land of danger and mystery, where he met the haunting Count Doom, the lovely Olivia, the dastardly Simon MacTaggart – and gothic jeopardy armed with claymores, dirks, and bagpipes.

Here is the most unusual historical novel you will ever read, by a Scot worthy to sit at the right hand of the throne of Sir Walter Scott!

* * * * *

Historical Fiction

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

Added 29th January 2020. 45,879 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.12 average. 1553 pages. 

The Blurb says: Vikram Seth’s novel is, at its core, a love story: Lata and her mother, Mrs. Rupa Mehra, are both trying to find—through love or through exacting maternal appraisal—a suitable boy for Lata to marry. Set in the early 1950s, in an India newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis, A Suitable Boy takes us into the richly imagined world of four large extended families and spins a compulsively readable tale of their lives and loves. A sweeping panoramic portrait of a complex, multi-ethnic society in flux, A Suitable Boy remains the story of ordinary people caught up in a web of love and ambition, humour and sadness, prejudice and reconciliation, the most delicate social etiquette and the most appalling violence.

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

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TBR Thursday 344…

Episode 344

Well, I was doing well, racing through some shorter books and feeling confident. But then at the last moment a parcel arrived! The result – the TBR remains perfectly balanced for another week on 175…

Here are a few more I should get to soon…

Horror

Queens of the Abyss edited by Mike Ashley

It will soon be time for the porpy to come out of hibernation in preparation for the spooky season! Before acquiring any new anthologies or collections this year, he wants to try to finish the few that are lingering on our TBR, which we’ve dipped into in past years for Tuesday Terror! posts but not read all the way through. This is the first of those…

The Blurb says: It is too often accepted that during the 19th and early 20th centuries it was the male writers who developed and pushed the boundaries of the weird tale, with women writers following in their wake—but this is far from the truth. This new anthology follows the instrumental contributions made by women writers to the weird tale, and revives the lost authors of the early pulp magazines along with the often overlooked work of more familiar authors. See the darker side of The Secret Garden author Frances Hodgson Burnett and the sensitively-drawn nightmares of Marie Corelli and Violet Quirk. Hear the captivating voices of Weird Tales magazine contributors Sophie Wenzel Ellis, Greye La Spina, and Margaret St Clair, and bow down to the sensational, surreal, and challenging writers who broke down the barriers of the day. Featuring material never before republished, from the abyssal depths of the British Library vaults.

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Fiction

The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux

Possibly the last book for my cursed Wanderlust challenge, assuming I manage not to abandon it! I don’t think I’ve read anything by Paul Theroux before, but I’m pretty sure I saw the film of this one many moons ago. Don’t remember anything about it though! Sounds great…

The Blurb says: The Mosquito Coast – winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize – is a breathtaking novel about fanaticism and a futile search for utopia from bestseller Paul Theroux.

Allie Fox is going to re-create the world. Abominating the cops, crooks, junkies and scavengers of modern America, he abandons civilisation and takes the family to live in the Honduran jungle. There his tortured, messianic genius keeps them alive, his hoarse tirades harrying them through a diseased and dirty Eden towards unimaginable darkness.

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James on Audio

Cover Her Face by PD James read by Daniel Weyman

Another couple for the #20(Audio)BooksOfSummer challenge! I’m falling behind now and losing my impetus, so I may or may not get to these in time. This one is a replacement for Neverwhere, which I abandoned after five minutes due to the mumbling of the cast drowned out by the ridiculously overpowering sound effects – ugh! I loved PD James back in the day – for years she was an autobuy on publication day for me. I didn’t love her later books quite so much – her style dated quite badly, I think. But I thought I’d go back to where it all began and see if my enthusiasm can be revived…  

The Blurb says: From P. D. James, one of the masters of British crime fiction, comes the debut novel that introduced Scotland Yard detective Adam Dalgliesh. Set against the English countryside, Cover Her Face is a classic murder mystery filled with James’ trademark plot twists, intrigue, and suspense.

Though the Martingale manor house has hosted the annual St Cedd’s Church fête for generations, this year feels different. On top of organizing stalls and presiding over luncheon, the bishop, and the tea tent, Mrs Eleanor Maxie now also has to contend with the news of her son’s sudden engagement to the new parlour maid, the sly and sensuous single mother Sally Jupp.

Sally has quite a reputation as a ruthless social climber, and no one at Martingale seems too happy about the engagement. But the Maxie family barely has time to contend with her wily ways – on the following morning the whole village is shocked by the discovery of Sally Jupp’s body.

Investigating the violent death at the manor house, Detective Chief Inspector Adam Dalgliesh becomes embroiled in the complicated passions beneath the calm surface of English village life.

In Cover Her Face, award-winning P. D. James meticulously plots a complex story of family secrets and suspicion. 

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Heller on Audio

Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller read by Jilly Bond

This is another replacement, for Reginald Hill’s Death’s Jest Book. Long story, but basically there’s one audiobook in the Dalziel and Pascoe series missing on Audible, the one before this, and I had intended to re-read the paper copy of it by now – hasn’t happened yet, so I have to postpone this one for a while. However, I loved the film of Notes on a Scandal and have been meaning to read the book for years, so I’m happy with the exchange!

The Blurb says: A lonely schoolteacher reveals more than she intends when she records the story of her best friend’s affair with a pupil in this sly, insightful novel.

Schoolteacher Barbara Covett has led a solitary existence; aside from her cat, Portia, she has few friends and no intimates. When Sheba Hart joins St. George’s as the new art teacher, Barbara senses the possibility of a new friendship. It begins with lunches and continues with regular invitations to meals with Sheba’s seemingly close-knit family. But as Barbara and Sheba’s relationship develops, another does as well: Sheba has begun a passionate affair with an underage male student. When it comes to light and Sheba falls prey to the inevitable media circus, Barbara decides to write an account in her friend’s defense—an account that reveals not only Sheba’s secrets but her own.

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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?

Six Degrees of Separation – From Ozeki to…

Chain links…

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

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki. The blurb on Goodreads says…

After the tragic death of his beloved musician father, fourteen-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house — a sneaker, a broken Christmas ornament, a piece of wilted lettuce. Although Benny doesn’t understand what these things are saying, he can sense their emotional tone; some are pleasant, a gentle hum or coo, but others are snide, angry and full of pain. When his mother, Annabelle, develops a hoarding problem, the voices grow more clamorous.

I fear I thought Ozeki’s previous novel, A Tale for the Time Being, was one of the silliest books I’ve ever had the misfortune to be hyped into reading, so I certainly won’t be falling for the hype around this one, which sounds equally nonsensical.

Using voices as the link leads me to my first choice…

The Voices Beyond by Johan Theorin

The fourth book in Theorin’s Öland Quartet, this atmospheric crime thriller begins when a young boy has a terrifying experience when he takes his dingy out in the middle of the night. Drifting in the darkness, a sudden shaft of moonlight shows a boat approaching and he doesn’t have time to get out of the way. He manages to climb aboard the boat before his dingy is sunk, but what awaits him there is the stuff of nightmares – dying men (or are they already dead?) on the deck stalking towards him and calling out in a language he doesn’t understand. The book has a strand that takes the reader back to time of the Great Terror in the Stalinist USSR, and it is this strand that lifts the book so far above average.

And Stalin leads me to my second book…

The Man Who Loved Dogs by Leonardo Padura

The story the man who loved dogs tells is of Ramón Mercader del Rio, a young Spaniard caught up in the Spanish Civil War, who is recruited by the Stalinist regime to assassinate Stalin’s great enemy, Trotsky. This introduces the two main strands of the novel which run side by side. We follow Ramón through the Spanish Civil War, learning a good deal about that event as we go, and seeing the idealism which drove many of those on the Republican side to believe that the USSR was a shining beacon to the masses of the world. And we meet Trotsky just as he is exiled from the USSR, with Stalin re-writing history to portray him as a traitor to the Revolution.

I’m spoiled for choice when I use the Spanish Civil War as a link! I’ll go for…

In Diamond Square by Mercè Rodoreda

One evening in the early 1930s in Barcelona, Natalia dances with a young man at a fiesta in Diamond Square. They fall in love, marry and have children, but the political situation is deteriorating and soon the nation will be plunged into civil war. This is the story of Natalia’s marriage and life, before, during and after the war. It is 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.

We didn’t get up on Sundays so as not to be so hungry. And we took the kid to a [refugee] camp in a lorry Julie sent our way after I’d done a lot of persuading. But he knew he was being lied to. He knew better than I did that it was a lie and I was the liar. And we talked about sending him to a camp, before we actually did, and he’d look down and clam up, as if we grown-ups didn’t exist. Mrs Enriqueta promised she’d visit him. I told him I’d go every Sunday. The lorry left Barcelona with us in the back and a cardboard suitcase held together by a piece of string, and it turned down the white road that led to the lie.

Barcelona takes me to my next novel…

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Barcelona, 1945. Young Daniel Sempere’s father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books – a mysterious place full of labyrinthine corridors where rare and banned books are piled randomly on shelves. There, Daniel is told he should select a book and it will then be his responsibility to ensure that his chosen book survives. Daniel selects a book called The Shadow of the Wind by a forgotten author called Julián Carax. As Daniel comes under the spell of the book, he finds himself searching for the truth of what happened to Carax…

Under the warm light cast by the reading lamp, I was plunged into a new world of images and sensations peopled by characters who seemed as real to me as my surroundings. Page after page I let the spell of the story and its world take me over, until the breath of dawn touched my window and my tired eyes slid over the last page. I lay in the bluish half-light with the book on my chest and listened to the murmur of the sleeping city. My eyes began to close, but I resisted. I did not want to lose the story’s spell or bid farewell to its characters just yet.

This series of anthologies is itself a library of forgotten stories. I’ve picked the second in the series, which to my mind is the best… 

Bodies from the Library 2 edited by Tony Medawar

This collection of fifteen stories includes some of the biggest names of all, like Sayers and Christie, some of the authors who are currently being resurrected for a modern audience, like ECR Lorac and John Rhode, and some whose names were unfamiliar to me, though they’re probably well known to real vintage crime aficionados, like Helen Simpson or C.A. Alington. Described as ‘forgotten’, the stories are previously uncollected and in several cases unpublished, so even those who have read quite widely in this genre will find some real treats here.

One of my favourite stories in the collection is by Christianna Brand, which leads me to my final selection…

Green for Danger by Christianna Brand

World War 2 is underway and a military hospital has been set up at Heron’s Park in Kent. When a patient at the hospital dies unexpectedly on the operating table, at first it’s assumed the death was no more than an unusual reaction to the anaesthetic, but when Inspector Cockrill is called in to confirm this, he learns a couple of things that lead him to suspect the death may have been murder. But before he can find out who did it, he first has to work out how it was done…

This has everything you would hope for from a true Golden Age mystery, and is exceptionally well written to boot.

Alastair Sim as Inspector Cockrill in the film version of Green for Danger

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So from Ozeki to Brand, via voices, Stalin, the Spanish Civil War, Barcelona, forgotten stories and Christianna Brand!

Hope you enjoyed the journey! 😀

Friday Frippery! Classics Club 10th Anniversary…

…and a questionnaire

The Classics Club is celebrating its 10th anniversary and has posed us all ten questions about our experiences with the club and with classics in general…

1.  When did you join the Classics Club?

I signed up in June 2016, and took five and a half years to finish my first list of ninety books, having made several changes to the original list along the way. I started on my second list at the beginning of this year – just eighty books this time – and am racing through them in the first flush of enthusiasm that only a shiny new booklist can bring!

2.  What is the best classic book you’ve read for the club so far? Why?

All of these questions are nearly impossible to answer, and my responses would probably be different on a different day! Excluding re-reads (which therefore excludes Dickens who would otherwise always win) I think I’d have to say The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Not only was it considerably more enjoyable than I expected with a lot of humour, but it’s Scottish, and it really helped put a lot of later Scottish fiction into context for me. It has the duality and the national obsession with our love/hate (mainly hate) relationship with our Knoxian brand of Calvinism, both themes that run through much of our literature. I think of it often, which has to be a sign of a great book.

3.  What is the first classic you ever read?

The thing is, I’m relatively ancient, which means that many children’s books I read when young which are now considered classics weren’t old enough to be thought of as classics when I read them! The Narnia books, even The Hobbit, weren’t classics when I read them. Possibly The Wind in the Willows was one of the first that would have counted by my own definition of being more than fifty years old, although I’m pretty sure I read the Holmes stories when I couldn’t have been much older (though shockingly even some of the later Holmes stories wouldn’t have counted as classics when I first read them!), and also some Rider Haggard, especially King Solomon’s Mines. Little Women and its sequels. And Anne of Green Gables, of course! But which was the first? Your guess is as good as mine!

4.  Which classic book inspired you the most?

I don’t know that any have really inspired me, but I did look on Anne of Green Gables as my role model when I was a kid. You could say Dickens’ books inspired me never to become a writer – I decided very early on that I’d never write a book if I couldn’t write one as good as his. The rest is history… 😉

5.  What is the most challenging one you’ve ever read, or tried to read?

Hmm, I’m never quite sure what “challenging” means in the context of books. I’ve disliked many that I’ve read – Lolita, Moby Dick, East of Eden – and abandoned many because I hated them – Earth Abides, Cannery Row, Last Exit to Brooklyn – but I wouldn’t say any of them challenged me. Maybe Heart of Darkness – it took me three reads to really appreciate it and I certainly found the notes essential, so yes, perhaps that counts as challenging.

6.  Favourite movie adaptation of a classic? Least favourite?

That really is an impossible question! Most favourite – any Hitchcock adaptation, especially Strangers on a Train, Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility, In the Heat of the Night, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, etc., etc. So I’m going to pick Moby-Dick – I thought the book was pretty bad but the film cut out all the stuff I disliked about the book and did what the book should have done but didn’t – turned Captain Ahab’s hunt for the whale into a thrilling adventure! I loved the film! And in the same vein, I’ll pick Slaughterhouse-Five as my least favourite – it seemed to miss out most of the complexity which made the book so thought-provoking and the changes the director made to the story weakened its impact and depth. I didn’t hate the film but I wouldn’t really recommend it either.

7.  Which classic character most reminds you of yourself?

The Queen in Snow White.

8.  Has there been a classic title you expected to dislike and ended up loving? Respecting? Appreciating?

Hmm, it would be rare for me to put a book I actually expected to dislike on my reading list – so rare I can’t think of one, in fact. I read purely for pleasure so whenever I open a book I hope it will thrill me, and am disappointed if it doesn’t – as happens frequently! However sometimes my expectations are lower than others – like with Silas Marner recently which, based on my lukewarm reaction to Middlemarch, I thought might be a middling read but ended up enjoying far more than I expected to.

9.  Classic/s you are DEFINITELY GOING TO MAKE HAPPEN next year?

Goodness, I don’t know! That’s far too far in the future! OK, I’ll pick one randomly from my new list and then we’ll see if I actually stick to it – Crime and Punishment!

10. Favourite memory with a classic and/or your favourite memory with The Classics Club?

Hmm, another difficult one! I remember how breathlessly I raced through The Great Gatsby the first time I read it long, long ago. I remember how much fun and laughter I had buddy-reading Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom books with a blogging friend.

I remember how I sobbed over that bit in Little Women/Good Wives that I can’t specify since it would be a spoiler, but you all know the bit I mean! I remember how I swooned over my Darcy – and still do! And with the Classics Club? My favourite memory of it would be seeing some of my blog buddies join in with lists of their own, so that now we can all compare spin lists and exchange opinions! And seeing some of you reading some relatively unknown Scottish classics on my recommendation, and enjoying them! And the chit-chat that reviewing classics always seems to inspire.

Thanks again to all the moderators past and present who have given generously of their time to make the Classics Club the huge success it is!

Have a Classic Day! 😀

TBR Thursday 343…

Episode 343

Another drop in the TBR this week – down 2 to 175! This is mainly because I’m running out of steam on the #20(Audio)BooksOfSummer challenge and drifting back to paper books…

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

Factual

Homage to Caledonia by Daniel Gray

One of the last few books for my Spanish Civil War challenge. While it’s true that Scottish support went pretty overwhelmingly to the Communists/Republicans, I’ll be interested to see if the book acknowledges that there was support for the Fascists/Nationalists too, as readers of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie will be aware. Sometimes we like to airbrush bits of history out…

The Blurb says: Thirty-five thousand people from across the world volunteered to join the armed resistance in a war on fascism. More people, proportionately, went from Scotland than any other country, and the entire nation was gripped by the conflict. What drove so many ordinary Scots to volunteer in a foreign war?

Their stories are powerfully and honestly told, often in their own words: the ordinary men and women who made their way to Spain over the Pyrenees when the UK government banned anyone from going to support either side; the nurses and ambulance personnel who discovered for themselves the horrors of modern warfare; and the people back home who defied their poverty to give generously to the Spanish republican cause.

Even in war there are light-hearted moments: a Scottish volunteer drunkenly urinating in his general’s boots, enduring the dark comedy of learning to shoot with sticks amidst a scarcity of rifles, or enjoying the surreal experience of raising a dram with Errol Flynn. They went from all over the country: Glasgow, Edinburgh. Aberdeen, Dundee, Fife and the Highlands, and they fought to save Scotland, and the world, from the growing threat of fascism.

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Crime

The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths

I loved the first book in Griffiths’ new Harbinder Kaur series, The Stranger Diaries, but for some unknown reason I missed this second one when it was released. And now the way too prolific Griffiths has already produced a third! I need to learn how to speed read! 

The Blurb says: The death of a ninety-year-old woman with a heart condition should absolutely not be suspicious. DS Harbinder Kaur certainly sees nothing to concern her in carer Natalka’s account of Peggy Smith’s death.

But when Natalka reveals that Peggy lied about her heart condition and that she had been sure someone was following her…
And that Peggy Smith had been a ‘murder consultant’ who plotted deaths for authors, and knew more about murder than anyone has any right to…
And when clearing out Peggy’s flat ends in Natalka being held at gunpoint by a masked figure…

Well then DS Harbinder Kaur thinks that maybe there is no such thing as an unsuspicious death after all.

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Du Maurier on Audio

The Rendezvous and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier read by Edward de Souza

Another couple for the #20(Audio)BooksOfSummer challenge! First, another collection of stories. I prefer du Maurier as a short story writer than a novelist, on the whole. I don’t know Edward de Souza well, but his narration of this collection gets heaps of praise from Audible reviewers!  

The Blurb says: A happily married woman commits suicide for no apparent reason; a young man tries to break some important news to the beautiful girl he had hoped to marry; a con girl plays the same bold game too often and a novelist embarks on a romantic adventure but is woefully disappointed.

In all these stories, glimpses into personal lives are vividly portrayed, but they are all written with warmth and are wonderfully evocative.

This collection includes 14 of du Maurier’s short stories.

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Hardy on Audio

The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy read by Samuel West

Having loved Timothy West’s narration of Trollope last week, now here’s his son narrating Hardy! I’ve listened to Samuel West before, narrating Brighton Rock, and I thought he was wonderful, so I’m expecting great things of this one. It’s the longest remaining book on my challenge…

The Blurb says: In this classically simple tale of the disastrous impact of outside life on a secluded community in Dorset, Hardy narrates the rivalry for the hand of Grace Melbury between a simple and loyal woodlander and an exotic and sophisticated outsider. Betrayal, adultery, disillusion, and moral compromise are all worked out in a setting evoked as both beautiful and treacherous. The Woodlanders, with its thematic portrayal of the role of social class, gender, and evolutionary survival, as well as its insights into the capacities and limitations of language, exhibits Hardy’s acute awareness of his era’s most troubling dilemmas.

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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?

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my recent reading in quotes…

….…you could tell by her eyes that she was losing interest and Iain was looking warningly at his mother but she didn’t pay too much attention to that for after all didn’t he have to be saved from himself. How could this girl, so pale and fashionable, milk the cows, cut the corn with a sickle, plant potatoes, carry the peats home and do all the other jobs a woman had to do?
….Unless, of course, Iain went to Glasgow.
….Hadn’t she done everything for him, even when her mother had been screaming inside her that she must be strict with him? And now this girl, hatched heaven knows where but quite suited to Glasgow with its lights like the fires of hell, had come to her home and was only half listening to what she had to say. And looking so confident though she was only seventeen, and casting around very likely to see if there were any mirrors in the room and comparing this house to the great houses in which she was used to staying. I do not like her, she was saying to herself, as she took back the scone which had been barely pecked at (but perhaps in Glasgow they had finer food than that and something called coffy which you could buy in a dish).

~ Consider the Lilies by Iain Crichton Smith

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….I forward the file to her, and she opens it on a computer display, clicking on PLAY. All we see is darkness, the muddy image of the road leading to Colonial Landing’s walled brick entrance.
….At 5:13 P.M., something is pulled over one camera, then the other, making a quiet crinkly plastic sound exactly as August described. Two minutes later, Gwen Hainey’s code, 1988, is entered, and the entrance gate slides open. There’s no car engine, no sound of anything driving through.
….Just the wind and rain, then the faint strains of organ music getting louder, crescendoing like The Phantom of the Opera. But what we’re listening to isn’t Andrew Lloyd Webber.
….“Next you hear the entrance gate close, and then nothing,” I say to Lucy. “Apparently, all was quiet until fifty-two minutes later.”
….I fast-forward the recording almost to the end. We listen to the noise of the metal exit gate opening. Then the same eerie musical theme is playing again, and it’s enough to make one’s hair stand on end.

~ Autopsy by Patricia Cornwell

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….To look at Montmorency you would imagine that he was an angel sent upon the earth, for some reason withheld from mankind, in the shape of a small fox-terrier. There is a sort of Oh-what-a-wicked-world-this-is-and-how-I-wish-I-could-do-something-to-make-it-better-and-nobler expression about Montmorency that has been known to bring the tears into the eyes of pious old ladies and gentlemen.
….When first he came to live at my expense, I never thought I should be able to get him to stop long. I used to sit down and look at him, as he sat on the rug and looked up at me, and think: “Oh, that dog will never live. He will be snatched up to the bright skies in a chariot, that is what will happen to him.”
….But, when I had paid for about a dozen chickens that he had killed; and had dragged him, growling and kicking, by the scruff of his neck, out of a hundred and fourteen street fights; and had had a dead cat brought round for my inspection by an irate female, who called me a murderer; and had been summoned by the man next door but one for having a ferocious dog at large, that had kept him pinned up in his own tool-shed, afraid to venture his nose outside the door for over two hours on a cold night; and had learned that the gardener, unknown to myself, had won thirty shillings by backing him to kill rats against time, then I began to think that maybe they’d let him remain on earth for a bit longer, after all.

~ Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome

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Nor were they entirely safe in the city: in early April 1986, after two performances of a piece titled The Idiot President, Diciembre’s lead actor and playwright was arrested for incitement, and left to languish for the better part of a year at a prison known as Collectors. His name was Henry Nuñez, and his freedom was, for a brief time, a cause célèbre. Letters were written on his behalf in a handful of foreign countries, by mostly well-meaning people who’d never heard of him before and who had no opinion about his work. Somewhere in the archives of one or another of the national radio stations lurks the audio of a jailhouse interview: this serious young man, liberally seasoning his statements with citations of Camus and Ionesco, describing a prison production of The Idiot President, with inmates in the starring roles. “Criminals and delinquents have an intuitive understanding of a play about national politics,” Henry said in a firm, uncowed voice.

~ At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón

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So… are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 342…

Episode 342

Phew! A little flurry of finished books and no new arrivals means the TBR has fallen this week, down 2 to 177!

Here are a few more that are reaching the top of the heap…

Winner of the People’s Choice

It became even more exciting than usual this month when the poll suddenly stopped working halfway through! Happily, although they weren’t showing up on the blog the votes were being recorded on Crowdsignal’s site, the poll host, where I was also able to delete the myriad of multiple votes from people who’d tried several times to get their vote to record. So I think the final result is accurate! Mr Bowling Buys a Newspaper put up a very strong performance but in the end it was pipped at the post by just one vote. The winner is…

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Blurb says: Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it.

Within the grounds of Hailsham, Kathy grows from schoolgirl to young woman, but it’s only when she and her friends Ruth and Tommy leave the safe grounds of the school (as they always knew they would) that they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.

Never Let Me Go breaks through the boundaries of the literary novel. It is a gripping mystery, a beautiful love story, and also a scathing critique of human arrogance and a moral examination of how we treat the vulnerable and different in our society. In exploring the themes of memory and the impact of the past, Ishiguro takes on the idea of a possible future to create his most moving and powerful book to date.

Good choice, People! It’ll be an October read.

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Fiction

Dr. B. by Daniel Birbaum

Courtesy of 4th Estate via NetGalley. I picked this one purely on the basis of the blurb, but sadly it’s getting pretty negative ratings on Goodreads. However given my track record of disagreeing with the majority on books, maybe that means I’ll love it! Maybe. 

The Blurb says: In 1933, after Hitler and the Nazi Party consolidated power in Germany, Immanuel Birnbaum, a German Jewish journalist based in Warsaw, is forbidden from writing for newspapers in his homeland. Six years later, just months before the German invasion of Poland that ignites World War II, Immanuel escapes to Sweden with his wife and two young sons.

Living as a refugee in Stockholm, Immanuel continues to write, contributing articles to a liberal Swiss newspaper in Basel under the name Dr. B. He also begins working as an editor for the legendary German publisher S. Fischer Verlag. Gottfried Bermann Fischer had established an office in Stockholm to evade German censorship, publishing celebrated German writers such as Thomas Mann and Stefan Zweig.

Immanuel also becomes entangled with British intelligence agents who produce and distribute anti-Nazi propaganda in Stockholm. On orders from Winston Churchill, the Allied spies plan several acts of sabotage. But when the Swedish postal service picks up a letter written in invisible ink, the plotters are exposed. The letter, long a mystery in military history accounts, was in fact written by Dr. B. But why would a Jew living in exile and targeted for death by the Nazis have wanted to tip them off?

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Queen of Crime

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

Courtesy of HarperCollins. Sometimes out of the blue HarperCollins send me a couple of Christies. I don’t know why – they don’t seem to be new editions. New print-runs maybe? Anyway, whatever the reason I always enjoy getting them – nice covers! This one has always been a favourite – how could it not be, with such an iconic title? 

The Blurb says: When the Bantrys wake to find the body of a beautiful, young stranger in their library, Dolly Bantry knows there’s only one person to call: her old friend Miss Marple.

Who was the young girl? What was she doing in the library? And is there a connection with another dead girl, whose charred remains are discovered in an abandoned quarry?

Miss Marple must solve the mystery, before tongues start to wag, and the murderer strikes again.

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Jerome on Audio

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome read by Ian Carmichael

Another couple for the #20(Audio)BooksOfSummer challenge! First, one of my favourite books of all time. I’ve read it so often I practically know it by heart but it still makes me cry with laughter and even at one point – the same point every time – actually cry. Ian Carmichael, who was once a wonderful Bertie Wooster, seems like a very appropriate choice for narrator…

The Blurb says: A comic masterpiece that has never been out of print since it was first published in 1889.

Martyrs to hypochondria and general seediness, J. and his friends George and Harris decide that a jaunt up the Thames would suit them to a ‘T’. But when they set off, they can hardly predict the troubles that lie ahead with tow-ropes, unreliable weather forecasts and tins of pineapple chunks – not to mention the devastation left in the wake of J.’s small fox-terrier Montmorency. Three Men in a Boat was an instant success when it appeared in 1889, and, with its benign escapism, authorial discursions and wonderful evocation of the late-Victorian ‘clerking classes’, it hilariously captured the spirit of its age.

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Forster on Audio

Howard’s End by EM Forster read by Edward Petherbridge

Why have I never read or seen Howard’s End? Baffling. Since Breakfast at Tiffany’s and I didn’t get along, I abandoned it and am swapping this one in to replace it. This one is on my Classics Club list. I fell in love with Edward Petherbridge many years ago, when he played a wonderful Newman Noggs in a fabulous RSC stage production of Nicholas Nickleby which was filmed for TV – a very rare event back in 1982. So I’m looking forward to his narration as much as to the book – fingers crossed!

The Blurb says: Howards End is the story of the liberal Schlegel sisters and their struggle to come to terms with social class and their German heritage in Edwardian England. Their lives are intertwined with those of the wealthy and pragmatic Wilcox family and their country house, Howards End, as well as the lower-middle-class Basts.

When Helen Schlegel and Paul Wilcox’s brief romance ends badly the Schlegels hope to never see the Wilcoxes again. However, the family moves from their country estate, Howards End, to a flat across the road from them. When Helen befriends Leonard Bast, a man of lower status, the political and cultural differences between the families are exacerbated and brought to a fatal confrontation at Howard’s End.

Considered by some to be Forster’s masterpiece it is a story about social conventions, codes of conduct, and personal relationships in turn-of-the-century England.

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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?

Looking forward to…

Episode 7

Another selection in my occasional looks back at old reviews which I finished by saying something along the lines of “I’ll be looking forward to reading more of her work/this series/his books in the future” to see if I actually did read more and, if I did, did I like the ones I looked forward to as much as the ones that made me look forward to them?

Let’s see then…

The Secret Life of William Shakespeare by Jude Morgan

First reviewed 24th April 2013. A well researched and beautifully written imagining of Shakespeare’s life and the events that may have influenced his writing. I said “A wonderful book that will appeal not only to Shakespeare fans but also to anyone who appreciates a superbly crafted tale filled with poetry, humanity and tenderness.” Its five-star rating put Morgan onto my looking forward list to read more of his work. But did I?

I did not! I find this unaccountable. He is no longer on my list and I can only assume I removed him during a particularly brutal cull. Over the intervening years, several people have recommended his book about the Brontës, The Taste of Sorrow, and I have now added it to my wishlist. (These posts are playing havoc with my TBR!)

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Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux

First reviewed 25th April 2013. This one is hard to summarise in a few words. Part science fiction, it’s really a study of what it is that makes us us. I said “A story of mad science turned to evil purpose, the age-old search for immortality, man’s inhumanity to man, but at its heart this is a search for a definition of humanity.” I loved it and again its five stars put him on my list to read more. But did I?

I did! I read his next book, Far North, and sadly felt it was a pretty standard post-apocalypse thriller that didn’t really thrill me. As a result Theroux slipped off my list. I’d still be happy to read another of his books if it came my way, but I no longer specifically look out for him. (Harsh, I know, to drop someone on the basis of one book, but there are well over a hundred authors on my Looking Forward To list, so I have to be pretty brutal.)

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Free Fall by Chris Grabenstein

First reviewed 3rd May 2013. Set in the sunny beach resort of Sea Haven, this is the 8th book in a series about police detective John Ceepak, as told by his sidekick, Officer Danny Boyle. I described it as “cosy with an edge” and said “I’m certainly looking forward to spending some more time in Sea Haven in the future.” But did I?

I did not! To be fair, this is mostly because he hasn’t published another in this series since, seeming now to be concentrating on a highly successful series of children’s books. But I could have – should have – read some of the earlier books in the series! I’ve now added the first, Tilt-A-Whirl, to my wishlist.

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The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann

First reviewed 4th May 2013. This historical fiction is beautifully written, though sometimes a little too sweet and frothy for my taste. However the art of the folding fan, its manufacture and use, is given centre stage, and I found that aspect fascinating. As a debut novel, I felt it showed real promise and said “overall this book gave me a sense of deep enjoyment. I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.” But did I?

I did not! However I’m completely exonerated from the charge of neglect this time, since she has never published another novel. Such a pity, since I felt she has a lot to offer. Her website tells me she’s working on another, so I’ll keep looking forward to reading more sometime in the future…

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So, two neglected authors I’ve now reinstated to my wishlist, one who fell off my must-read list but stayed on my might-read list, and one who has stymied my desire to read more by not writing more! Undoubtedly my least successful batch of four so far – told you things would soon start to go downhill. 😂

Have you read any of these authors?
Are they on your “looking forward to” list?

TBR Thursday 341…

Episode 341

Not only is the #20(Audio)BooksOfSummer challenge wrecking my reading of normal books, but now I’m falling behind on the challenge too! So the TBR is up again – only by 1 to 179, but I know for a fact that there’s a parcel on the way…

Guess which of these dogs I feel like? Anyway, here are a few more that should be keeping me awake soon…

Fiction

At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón

I added this to my TBR years ago, presumably because it was recommended or I had seen a glowing review – can’t remember! However I’m still desperately trying to fill the South America box in my Wanderlust challenge, so hopefully this will do the trick – the unnamed country is apparently a fictionalised Peru… 

The Blurb says: Nelson’s life is not turning out the way he hoped. His girlfriend is sleeping with another man, his brother has left their South American country and moved to the United States, leaving Nelson to care for their widowed mother, and his acting career can’t seem to get off the ground. That is, until he lands a starring role in a touring revival of The Idiot President, a legendary play by Nelson’s hero, Henry Nunez, leader of the storied guerrilla theatre troupe Diciembre. And that’s when the real trouble begins.

The tour takes Nelson out of the shelter of the city and across a landscape he’s never seen, which still bears the scars of the civil war. With each performance, Nelson grows closer to his fellow actors, becoming hopelessly entangled in their complicated lives, until, during one memorable performance, a long-buried betrayal surfaces to force the troupe into chaos.

Vintage Crime

The Seat of the Scornful by John Dickson Carr

Courtesy of the British Library. I loved Carr’s Inspector Bencolin books but so far haven’t enjoyed the Dr Gideon Fell ones nearly so much. I keep hoping though, and as always the blurb sounds good…

The Blurb says: Judge Horace Ireton didn’t care about the letter of the law. He was interested in administering absolute, impartial justice as he saw it. To some, his methods of meting out justice made him seem hardly human, for they were coldly calculated – the same type of “cat and mouse” technique that he used in his chess games with Dr. Gideon Fell, the elephantine detective. The system, as he explained it, consisted in “letting your opponent think he’s perfectly safe, winning hands down: and then catch him in a corner.” But the system was not infallible. One day Judge Ireton was found with a pistol in his hand, beside the body of his daughter’s fiancé, a man he had every reason to dislike, as many people knew; and he found that when one was on the inside looking out, the game had to be played differently.

(P.S. I’ve skipped the BL’s May release because it has finally happened that it’s one I have previously read and reviewed. It’s Green for Danger by Christianna Brand, and it’s excellent – highly recommended! Here’s my review.)

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Miss Silver on Audio

Latter End by Patricia Wentworth read by Diana Bishop

Another couple for the #20(Audio)BooksOfSummer challenge! I recently read a standalone mystery by Wentworth and thoroughly enjoyed it, so want to try her long-running Miss Silver series. I don’t know this narrator but reviews are good and if I enjoy her, zillions of the books are available on audio… 

The Blurb says: Things had never been quite the same at Latter End since Lois had taken over. Suddenly life seemed to be an endless succession of bitter family rows which Lois, needless to say, invariably won.

More than one person at Latter End found themselves stretched to the limit by Lois and her bullying, and it was only a matter of time before somebody snapped. It was unthinkable of course . . . but if anyone ever murdered Lois Latter, it would be very embarrassing to discover just how many people might have wished her dead.

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Trollope on Audio

The Warden by Anthony Trollope read by Timothy West

I love this book and have read it many times over the years, so I’m looking forward to listening to it this time. It’s read by Timothy West whom I haven’t previously listened to as a narrator but have always enjoyed as an actor. I hope he’s good, since I seem to have acquired his narrations of several hefty classics! This one is reasonably short though…

The Blurb says: Trollope’s witty, satirical story of a quiet cathedral town shaken by scandal – as the traditional values of Septimus Harding are attacked by zealous reformers and ruthless newspapers – is a drama of conscience that pits individual integrity against worldly ambition.

In The Warden Anthony Trollope brought the fictional county of Barsetshire to life, peopled by a cast of brilliantly realised characters that have made him among the supreme chroniclers of the minutiae of Victorian England. It is the first book in the Chronicles of Barsetshire.

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday (on a Tuesday) 340 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 340

(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 another batch of four – moving in to 2020, and a reasonably varied bunch this month though heavy on crime. I like to run three months ahead with these polls, so the winner will be an October read. I loved the first book I read by William Shaw and abandoned the second, so Salt Lane could go either way. I acquired The Charing Cross Mystery because I’d enjoyed Fletcher’s The Middle Temple Murder. For some reason I’ve read very little Kazuo Ishiguro, so bought Never Let Me Go in a bid to correct that. And Mr Bowling Buys a Newspaper is on the TBR and on my Classics Club list because I loved Henderson’s A Voice Like Velvet. These all have the potential to be great reads, I think… 

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Crime

Salt Lane by William Shaw

Added 1st January 2020. 2,233 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.02 average rating. 452 pages.

The Blurb says: DS Alexandra Cupidi has done it again. She should have learnt to keep her big mouth shut, after the scandal that sent her packing – resentful teenager in tow – from the London Met to the lonely Kent coastline. Even murder looks different in this landscape of fens, ditches and stark beaches, shadowed by the towers of Dungeness power station. Murder looks a lot less pretty.

The man drowned in the slurry pit had been herded there like an animal. He was North African, like many of the fruit pickers that work the fields. The more Cupidi discovers, the more she wants to ask – but these people are suspicious of questions.

It will take an understanding of this strange place – its old ways and new crimes – to uncover the dark conspiracy behind the murder. Cupidi is not afraid to travel that road. But she should be. She should, by now, have learnt.

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Vintage Crime

The Charing Cross Mystery by JS Fletcher

Added 1st January 2020. 185 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.56 average. 268 pages.

The Blurb says: When a retired police inspector suddenly drops dead in a train carriage arriving at Charing Cross station, young London barrister Hetherwick finds himself the key witness to the murder. Thrust into the centre of this terrifying mystery, Hetherwick must unveil the disturbing truths of the case and locate the nefarious culprit. Fans of ‘Sherlock Holmes’ will be enthralled by this 20th century crime classic, a gripping tale of mystery and suspense that will have them on the edge of their seats till the very end.

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Fiction

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Added 10th January 2020. 578,195 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.84 average. 275 pages. 

The Blurb says: Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it.

Within the grounds of Hailsham, Kathy grows from schoolgirl to young woman, but it’s only when she and her friends Ruth and Tommy leave the safe grounds of the school (as they always knew they would) that they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.

Never Let Me Go breaks through the boundaries of the literary novel. It is a gripping mystery, a beautiful love story, and also a scathing critique of human arrogance and a moral examination of how we treat the vulnerable and different in our society. In exploring the themes of memory and the impact of the past, Ishiguro takes on the idea of a possible future to create his most moving and powerful book to date.

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Vintage Crime

Mr Bowling Buys a Newspaper by Donald Henderson

Added 10th January 2020. 338 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.55 average. 215 pages.

The Blurb says: In Raymond Chandler’s favourite novel, Mr Bowling buys the newspapers only to find out what the latest is on the murders he’s just committed…

Mr Bowling is getting away with murder. On each occasion he buys a newspaper to see whether anyone suspects him. But there is a war on, and the clues he leaves are going unnoticed. Which is a shame, because Mr Bowling is not a conventional serial killer: he wants to get caught so that his torment can end. How many more newspapers must he buy before the police finally catch up with him?

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

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VOTE NOW!

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

There’s a problem with the poll, as you’ve probably discovered! However the votes are being recorded at Crowdsignal, the poll host, even if it shows as still buffering. Thanks for voting and sorry for the problem – hopefully I’ll be able to work out the winner from the Crowdsignal records, and if not I’ll base it on the preferences in the comments. So if your vote doesn’t seem to record, please also tell me your choice in the comments. UPDATE: Problem now resolved and the poll is working normally.

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TBR Thursday 339…

Episode 339

Due to me spending so much time listening to audiobooks for the 20 (Audio)Books Of Summer challenge, not to mention Wimbledon, my reading of “proper” books has slumped dramatically, yet they continue to pop through the letterbox! Result – the TBR is up 7 to 178! Help!! I knew it would all start to go wrong again…

Here are a few more that should reach the top of the pile soon…

Vintage Crime Anthology

Bodies from the Library 5 edited by Tony Medawar

Courtesy of Collins Crime Club. I’m always delighted when one of this series of anthologies pops through the door, so I’m glad to see the publisher describing them as “annual” in the blurb, suggesting they intend to continue producing them…

The Blurb says: The Golden Age still casts a long shadow, with many of the authors who were published at that time still hugely popular today. Aside from novels, they all wrote short fiction – stories, serials and plays – and although many have been republished in books over the last 100 years, Bodies from the Library collects the ones that are 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 . . .

Complete with fascinating biographies by Tony Medawar of all the featured authors, this latest volume in the annual Bodies from the Library series once again brings into the daylight the forgotten, the lost and the unknown, and is an indispensable collection for any bookshelf.

Historical Fiction

Booth by Karen Joy Fowler

Courtesy of Serpent’s Tail via NetGalley. I read a biography of John Wilkes Booth some years ago, and while I enjoyed it, I remember thinking at the time that the rest of his family actually sounded considerably more interesting than him! So I really like the sound of this one and am happy to see it’s getting pretty high ratings so far…

The Blurb says: In 1822, a secret family moves into a secret cabin some thirty miles northeast of Baltimore, to farm, to hide, and to bear ten children over the course of the next sixteen years. Junius Booth–breadwinner, celebrated Shakespearean actor, and master of the house in more ways than one–is at once a mesmerizing talent and a man of terrifying instability. One by one the children arrive, as year by year, the country draws frighteningly closer to the boiling point of secession and civil war.

As the tenor of the world shifts, the Booths emerge from their hidden lives to cement their place as one of the country’s leading theatrical families. But behind the curtains of the many stages they have graced, multiple scandals, family triumphs, and criminal disasters begin to take their toll, and the solemn siblings of John Wilkes Booth are left to reckon with the truth behind the destructively specious promise of an early prophecy.

Booth is a startling portrait of a country in the throes of change and a vivid exploration of the ties that make, and break, a family.

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Crime

Autopsy by Patricia Cornwell

Courtesy of HarperCollins. I loved the first few Kay Scarpetta books but eventually grew tired of them – there’s only so often a forensic pathologist and her family can be targeted by a crazed killer in every book before it becomes just a tad unbelievable! It must be twenty years since I read one. So I’m not sure whether this one will work for me or not – only one way to find out!

The Blurb says: Forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta has returned to Virginia as the chief medical examiner. Finding herself the new girl in town once again after being away for many years, she’s inherited an overbearing secretary and a legacy of neglect and possible corruption.

She and her husband Benton Wesley, now a forensic psychologist with the U.S. Secret Service, have relocated to Old Town Alexandria where she’s headquartered five miles from the Pentagon in a post-pandemic world that’s been torn by civil and political unrest. Just weeks on the job, she’s called to a scene by railroad tracks where a woman’s body has been shockingly displayed, her throat cut down to the spine, and as Scarpetta begins to follow the trail, it leads unnervingly close to her own historic neighborhood.

At the same time, a catastrophe occurs in a top secret private laboratory in outer space, and at least two scientists aboard are found dead. Appointed to the highly classified Doomsday Commission that specializes in sensitive national security cases, Scarpetta is summoned to the White House Situation Room and tasked with finding out what happened. But even as she works the first crime scene in space remotely, an apparent serial killer strikes again. And this time, Scarpetta could be in greater danger than ever before.

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Maugham on Audio

Rain and Other Stories by W Somerset Maugham read by Steven Crossley

A couple more for the #20(Audio)BooksOfSummer challenge! It was the narrator as much as the author that attracted me to this one, Steven Crossley being the wonderful narrator of the Shardlake books that I’ve been enjoying so much. However since I acquired this, I’ve read and enjoyed The Painted Veil, so I’m looking forward to spending more time with Maugham, especially since several of you commented on how much you’d enjoyed his short stories.

The Blurb says: W. Somerset Maugham is one of the best-loved short story writers of the last 100 years. In this collection of his finest short work Maugham takes the listener to the sun-drenched Pacific islands where the Governor mercilessly abuses the inhabitants; to the story “Rain”, in which the Reverend and the prostitute play out one of the most famous finales ever written; to the studies of chauvinistic Colonels, and snide conversations in Edwardian drawing rooms, as well as at the gates of heaven. As an introduction to one of the greatest writers in the English language Steven Crossley’s reading is the perfect place to start.

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Gaiman on Audio

Neverwhere: A BBC Radio Full Cast Dramatisation

First swap for the challenge! Sadly the full cast adaptation of Mansfield Park was dire – badly adapted, lots of irritating incidental music and Billie Piper sounded as if she was suffering from sinusitis! So I quickly abandoned it and am swapping it for this one which I acquired years ago when I was going through a brief Gaiman phase. Not sure if this will work for me either, but we’ll see! It certainly has a stellar cast list…

The Blurb says: Beneath the streets of London there is another London. A subterranean labyrinth of sewers and abandoned tube stations. A somewhere that is Neverwhere…. An act of kindness sees Richard Mayhew catapulted from his ordinary life into the strange world of London Below. There he meets the Earl of Earl’s Court, faces a life-threatening ordeal at the hands of the Black Friars, comes face to face with the Great Beast of London, and encounters an Angel. Called Islington. Accompanied by the mysterious Door and her companions, the Marquis de Carabas and the bodyguard Hunter, Richard embarks on an extraordinary quest to escape from the fiendish assassins Croup and Vandemar and to discover who ordered them to murder her family – all the while trying to get back to his old life in London Above. Adapted for radio by the award-winning Dirk Maggs, this captivating dramatisation features a stellar cast including David Harewood, Sophie Okonedo, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christopher Lee, Anthony Head and David Schofield. Contains over 25 minutes of additional unbroadcast material, including extended scenes, bloopers and outtakes.

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday (on a Tuesday) 338 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’ve been reading up a storm recently (Editor’s note: I wrote this before Wimbledon crashed my reading to zero) and have banned myself from acquiring books from NetGalley for a few months (Editor’s note: I wrote this before acquiring two books from NetGalley this week) to catch up with all my other reading. Has it worked?

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

Woohoo! I don’t think I’ve ever been this much on target halfway through the year! I have reduced the target for the Spanish Civil War challenge – see below – and the Wanderlust challenge is still wandering on, six months after the original deadline. But overall I’m happy with these figures.

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The Classics Club

I’ve been racing through my new Classics Club list so far, partly because a couple of the recent People’s Choices have been CC books. I’ve read five this quarter and had three left still to review at the end of last quarter, including the final two for my first list. I’m finally up to date with CC reviews, for the first time in ages…

First List

89. Children of the Dead End by Patrick MacGill – Ugh! I abandoned this misogynistic fictionalised memoir halfway through. Mr MacGill dislikes women nearly as much as I dislike him. 1 star.

90. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen – I saved this re-read of a favourite as a treat for myself for finishing the first list, and a treat it certainly was! 5 stars.

90 down, 0 to go!

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Second List

2. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay – A deliciously ambiguous story of missing girls, that manages to be entertaining and unsettling in equal parts. 5 stars.

3. Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo – After way too much architectural detail in the first half, the thrilling story in the second half won me over! I also enjoyed reading this along with fellow bloggers in a Review-Along. 5 stars.

4. Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth – This satire on Anglo-Irish landowners is a rather slight novella, mildly entertaining, but I felt it didn’t live up to its reputation. 3 stars.

5. Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens – although this re-read was my annual Christmas Dickens, I didn’t get around to reviewing it until May! As always, a great read, even though it’s not quite in Dickens’ top rank. 4 Dickensian stars, which glow brighter than normal stars.

6. The Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham –  Set in colonial Hong Kong, this tells the story of initially empty-headed Kitty Fane when her husband drags her into a cholera zone in China. Well-written and thought-provoking. 4½ stars.

7. Vanish in an Instant by Margaret Millar – dark but not quite noir, this is well written, and alongside the murder mystery element takes a thoughtful look at the shame of a respectable woman succumbing to alcoholism in her later life. 4 stars.

One or two duds, but mostly some great reading in this quarter’s classics reading!

7 down, 73 to go!

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

I’ve read three for this challenge this quarter and had two left still to review from the quarter before. I’ve reviewed three and still have another two not yet reviewed…

49. The Z Murders by J Jefferson Farjeon. More a thriller than a mystery, involving a chase across England in pursuit of a lurid serial killer. Fast-paced and entertaining. 4 stars.

50. The Grell Mystery by Frank Froest. Written by a genuine ex-top cop, this has too much of a feel of being a memoir for it to work well as a mystery novel. Interesting rather than entertaining. 3 stars.

51. The House by the River by AP Herbert. A great little story about the psychological effects of murder on the murderer and his loyal friend, unfortunately buried in a mass of description and digression. 2½ stars.

Still very much a mixed bag, this challenge, and I’m considering giving it up once I’ve read the remaining books I’ve already acquired for it.

51 down, 51 to go!

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Reading the Spanish Civil War Challenge

I’ve started plenty of books for this challenge, but most of them have ended up on the abandoned heap pretty quickly. I finished just one…

10. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Zafón does a wonderful job of depicting a city in the aftermath of civil war, but first and foremost this is a great story, wonderfully told. 5 stars.

As a result of my increasing disappointment and irritation with many of my choices for this challenge, I’ve decided to read the remaining three books I already own, cancel the other ones from my wishlist, and then draw a line under it.

10 down, 3 to go!

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The People’s Choice

People's Choice Logo

I’ve read three and reviewed three – hurrah, I’m still on track with this challenge! So did You, The People, pick me some good ones…?

April – Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay. Plenty of layers in this ambiguous tale – mild horror, some humour, and a true mystery at its heart. 5 stars.

May – The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton – A book that follows the plot of Vanity Fair remarkably closely – very remarkably closely – and yet fails to duplicate any of the humour or insightful satire of the original. A generous 2 stars.

JuneThe Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham. An excellent character study combined with a colonial setting in this tale of a woman who traps herself in marriage to a man she doesn’t love. 4½ stars.

Two out of three ain’t bad! Well done, People – you did great! Keep up the good work! 😉

6 down, 6 to go!

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Wanderlust Bingo

I’ve read three books for this challenge this quarter and had one still to review from the previous quarter. I’ve reviewed three, with one still to come. The blue boxes are books from previous quarters, and the orange are the ones I’m adding this quarter. If you click on the bingo card you should get a larger version.

GibraltarKilling Rock by Robert Daws – 5 stars. The unique setting of this last outpost of Empire provides an added level of interest to this police procedural series. I’ve slotted it into the Free Square.

Sahara/North Africa – Biggles Defends the Desert by Capt WE Johns – 5 stars.  A WW2 adventure for flying ace Biggles and his squadron, as they fight to ensure the safety of Allied planes crossing the desert. Unsurprisingly, I’m slotting it into the Desert box!

Hong Kong/China – The Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham – 4½ stars. The colonial backdrop of Hong Kong provides the initial setting while the meat of the story takes place in the Chinese interior, so a perfect fit for the Far East box.

Three excellent books this quarter but this challenge is cursed! I keep picking interesting looking books that turn out to be duds. So I’m dropping my initial plan to fill all the boxes only with books I recommend or I could still be trying to fill the last three boxes sometime in the next millennium!

22 down, 3 to go!

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Overall, a great quarter and I’ve made some progress on all my challenges – hurrah! Thanks as always for sharing my reading experiences!

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

TBR Thursday 337…

Episode 337

As anticipated, the tennis is playing havoc with my reading, but happily I haven’t had time to acquire many books either. So the TBR is remaining steady on 174…

(I’m behind with reading posts and answering comments too – sorry! I blame this chap!)

Anyway, here are a few more books I’m hoping to catch up with soon… 

Winner of the People’s Choice

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

Wow, another one vote victory! Cloudstreet and Winter in Madrid ran neck and neck all the way through but in the end Cloudstreet broke the tape! Toni Morrison was never in contention but I suspect that’s because she had two entries which split the pro-Morrison vote. Excellent choice, People – I’m looking forward to it! It will be a September read.

The Blurb says: Hailed as a classic, Tim Winton’s masterful family saga is both a paean to working-class Australians and an unflinching examination of the human heart’s capacity for sorrow, joy, and endless gradations in between. An award-winning work, Cloudstreet exemplifies the brilliant ability of fiction to captivate and inspire.

Struggling to rebuild their lives after being touched by disaster, the Pickle family, who’ve inherited a big house called Cloudstreet in a suburb of Perth, take in the God-fearing Lambs as tenants. The Lambs have suffered their own catastrophes, and determined to survive, they open up a grocery on the ground floor. From 1944 to 1964, the shared experiences of the two overpopulated clans — running the gamut from drunkenness, adultery, and death to resurrection, marriage, and birth — bond them to each other and to the bustling, haunted house in ways no one could have anticipated.

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Historical Fiction 

Privilege by Guinevere Glasfurd

Courtesy of John Murray via NetGalley. I enjoyed Glasfurd’s first novel, The Year Without Summer, so I’m hoping this one will be just as good. Certainly sounds interesting…

The Blurb says: After her father is disgraced, Delphine Vimond is cast out of her home in Rouen and flees to Paris. Into her life tumbles Chancery Smith, apprentice printer sent from London to discover the mysterious author of potentially incendiary papers marked only D . In a battle of wits with the French censor, Henri Gilbert, Delphine and Chancery set off in a frantic search for D ‘s author. But who is D and does D even exist?

Privilege is a story of adventure and mishap set against the turmoil of mid-18th century France at odds with the absolute power of the King who is determined to suppress opposition on pain of death. At a time when books required royal privilege before they could be published – a system enforced by the Chief Censor and a network of spies – many were censored or banned, and their authors harshly punished. Books that fell foul of the system were published outside France and smuggled back in at great risk.

Costa-shortlisted author Guinevere Glasfurd has conjured a vibrant world of entitlement and danger, where the right to live and think freely could come at the highest cost.

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Wodehouse on Audio

The Mating Season by PG Wodehouse narrated by Jonathan Cecil

Another batch for the #20(Audio)BooksOfSummer challenge! Can’t go wrong with Wodehouse! And Jonathan Cecil is the perfect narrator for the Jeeves and Wooster books. A bit of light relief to keep my spirits up through the challenge!

The Blurb says: At Deverill Hall, an idyllic Tudor manor in the picture-perfect village of King’s Deverill, impostors are in the air. The prime example is man-about-town Bertie Wooster, doing a good turn to Gussie Fink-Nottle by impersonating him while he enjoys fourteen days away from society after being caught taking an unscheduled dip in the fountains of Trafalgar Square. Bertie is of course one of nature’s gentlemen, but the stakes are high: if all is revealed, there’s a danger that Gussie’s simpering fiancée Madeline may turn her wide eyes on Bertie instead.

It’s a brilliant plan – until Gussie himself turns up, imitating Bertram Wooster. After that, only the massive brain of Jeeves (himself in disguise) can set things right.

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Eliot on Audio

Silas Marner by George Eliot narrated by Andrew Sachs

Fortified with Wodehouse, I hope to have the strength to get through this one, which is one of those books I feel I should read more than actually wanting to. One for my Classics Club list, and on the upside, it’s reasonably short!

The Blurb says:  Falsely accused, cut off from his past, Silas the weaver is reduced to a spider-like existence, endlessly weaving his web and hoarding his gold. Meanwhile, Godfrey Cass, son of the squire, contracts a secret marriage. While the village celebrates Christmas and New Year, two apparently inexplicable events occur. Silas loses his gold and finds a child on his hearth. The imaginative control George Eliot displays as her narrative gradually reveals causes and connections has rarely been surpassed.

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Rumpole on Audio

Rumpole’s Return by John Mortimer read by Robert Hardy

I suspect I’ll need a bit of a mood lift after Silas Marner! Rumpole is always fun, and while I’d have liked Leo McKern to narrate them (the actor who played Rumpole on TV), I love Robert Hardy and think he’ll be an excellent substitute…

The Blurb says: Has Rumpole hung up his wig for good? Can it be? Yes, the beloved barrister is now retired (though far from retiring) and gently ripening to a rosy hue in the Florida sunshine. But a colleague’s casual request for advice on a difficult case sends him winging back across the Atlantic, and before he’s through, our hero will come up against a fanatical religious cult and a mysterious letter written in blood.

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my recent reading in quotes…

….The commissioner added, “These guys talk about a Day of Retribution, when those who’ve made their lives miserable will get what’s coming to them. We’ve been seeing increasing references to it.”
….“It’s a delicate balancing act,” Joesbury said. “They want to get their communities excited, wound up about what’s coming, without giving too much away.”
….Brabin said, “Why babies? Why was the first attack on babies? How does that fit with their woman-hating agenda?”
….“We think it’s about attention?” Joesbury said. “Terrorists want to shock, to have everyone talking about them. An attack going unnoticed would be the worst kind of failure. Well, what would cause more outrage than an attack on a baby?”
….“Killing a puppy?” Brabin suggested.
….Joesbury let his lips relax into a half smile. “I stand corrected.”

~ The Dark by Sharon Bolton

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….While Mannering was gazing round the ruins, he heard from the interior of an apartment on the left hand the voice of the gipsey he had seen on the preceding evening. He soon found an aperture through which he could observe her without being himself visible; and could not help feeling that her figure, her employment, and her situation conveyed the exact impression of an ancient sibyl.
….She sate upon a broken corner-stone in the angle of a paved apartment, part of which she had swept clean to afford a smooth space for the evolutions of her spindle. A strong sunbeam through a lofty and narrow window fell upon her wild dress and features, and afforded her light for her occupation; the rest of the apartment was very gloomy. Equipt in a habit which mingled the national dress of the Scottish common people with something of an Eastern costume, she spun a thread drawn from wool of three different colours, black, white, and grey, by assistance of those ancient implements of housewifery now almost banished from the land, the distaff and spindle. As she spun, she sung what seemed to be a charm.

~ Guy Mannering by Sir Walter Scott

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….A week before he was due to leave, Katherine held a small goodbye tea party for her husband. He had few friends and most of them were also tuners: Mr Wiggers, who specialised in Broadwoods, Mr d’Argences, the Frenchman whose passion was Viennese uprights, and Mr Poffy, who wasn’t actually a piano tuner since he repaired organs mostly – It is nice, Edgar once explained to Katherine, to have variety in one’s friends. Of course, this hardly spanned the full array of Those Associated with Pianos. The London Directory alone, between Physicians and Pickle and Sauce Manufacturers, listed Pianoforte makers, Pianoforte action-makers, Pianoforte fret-cutters, hammer coverers, hammer- and damper-felt manufacturers, hammer rail-makers, ivory bleachers, ivory cutters, key makers, pin makers, silkers, small-work Manufacturers, Pianoforte string makers, Pianoforte tuners. Notably absent from the party was Mr Hastings, who also specialized in Erards, and who had snubbed Edgar ever since he had put up a sign in his workshop reading ‘Gone to Burma to tune in the service of Her Majesty; please consult Mr George Hastings for minor tunings that cannot await my return’.

~ The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason

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….He began to hiccup with nerves at the thought of facing for the seven hundred and thirty-eighth time his harsh house-keeper – his wife. There she would be, lying in the big shameless bed that filled up half the room, a bony shadow within the mosquito tent, a lanky jaw and a short grey pigtail and an absurd bonnet. She thought she had a position to keep up: a government pensioner; the wife of the only married priest. She was proud of it. “José.”
….“I’m.. hic…coming, my love,” he said, and lifted himself from the crate. Somebody somewhere laughed.
….He lifted little pink eyes like those of a pig conscious of the slaughter-room. A high child’s voice said: “José.” He stared in a bewildered way around the patio. At a barred window opposite, three children watched him with deep gravity. He turned his back and took a step or two towards his door, moving very slowly because of his bulk. “José,” somebody squeaked again, “José.” He looked back over his shoulder and caught the faces out in expressions of wild glee; his little pink eyes showed no anger – he had no right to be angry; he moved his mouth into a ragged, baffled, disintegrated smile, and as if that sign of weakness gave them all the licence they needed, they squealed back at him without disguise, “José, José. Come to bed, José.” Their little shameless voices filled the patio, and he smiled humbly and sketched small gestures for silence, and there was no respect anywhere left for him in his home, in the town, in the whole abandoned star.

~ The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

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So… are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 336 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 336

(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 another batch of four – the final books from 2019, and all fiction this time. I like to run three months ahead with these polls, so the winner will be a September read. Amazon had a Kindle daily deal on all Toni Morrison books and I bought, I think, five of them – I’ve read three and still have Jazz and The Bluest Eye to go. Australian blogger Rose is a fan of Tim Winton, and when I asked her where I should start with him, she recommended Cloudstreet. Sansom’s Winter in Madrid will be a re-read, to tie in with my Spanish Civil War challenge. I do have a preferred choice this month, but I’m not telling you which!

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Fiction

Jazz by Toni Morrison

Added 10th November 2019. 26,843 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.86 average rating. 229 pages.

The Blurb says: In the winter of 1926, when everybody everywhere sees nothing but good things ahead, Joe Trace, middle-aged door-to-door salesman of Cleopatra beauty products, shoots his teenage lover to death. At the funeral, Joe’s wife, Violet, attacks the girl’s corpse. This passionate, profound story of love and obsession brings us back and forth in time, as a narrative is assembled from the emotions, hopes, fears, and deep realities of black urban life.

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Fiction

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Added 10th November 2019. 207,795 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.09 average. 208 pages.

The Blurb says: Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison powerfully examines our obsession with beauty and conformity—and asks questions about race, class, and gender with her characteristic subtly and grace.

In Morrison’s bestselling first novel, Pecola Breedlove—an 11-year-old Black girl in an America whose love for its blond, blue-eyed children can devastate all others—prays for her eyes to turn blue: so that she will be beautiful, so that people will look at her, so that her world will be different. This is the story of the nightmare at the heart of her yearning, and the tragedy of its fulfillment.

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Fiction

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

Added 1st December 2019. 22,625 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.00 average. 426 pages. 

The Blurb says: Hailed as a classic, Tim Winton’s masterful family saga is both a paean to working-class Australians and an unflinching examination of the human heart’s capacity for sorrow, joy, and endless gradations in between. An award-winning work, Cloudstreet exemplifies the brilliant ability of fiction to captivate and inspire.

Struggling to rebuild their lives after being touched by disaster, the Pickle family, who’ve inherited a big house called Cloudstreet in a suburb of Perth, take in the God-fearing Lambs as tenants. The Lambs have suffered their own catastrophes, and determined to survive, they open up a grocery on the ground floor. From 1944 to 1964, the shared experiences of the two overpopulated clans — running the gamut from drunkenness, adultery, and death to resurrection, marriage, and birth — bond them to each other and to the bustling, haunted house in ways no one could have anticipated.

* * * * *

Historical Fiction

Winter in Madrid by CJ Sansom

Added 18th December 2019. 15,624 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.85 average. 549 pages.

The Blurb says: 1940: The Spanish Civil War is over, and Madrid lies ruined, its people starving, while the Germans continue their relentless march through Europe. Britain now stands alone while General Franco considers whether to abandon neutrality and enter the war.

Into this uncertain world comes Harry Brett: a traumatized veteran of Dunkirk turned reluctant spy for the British Secret Service. Sent to gain the confidence of old school friend Sandy Forsyth, now a shady Madrid businessman, Harry finds himself involved in a dangerous game – and surrounded by memories.

Meanwhile Sandy’s girlfriend, ex-Red Cross nurse Barbara Clare, is engaged in a secret mission of her own – to find her former lover Bernie Piper, a passionate Communist in the International Brigades, who vanished on the bloody battlefields of the Jarama.

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

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