TBR Thursday 146…

Episode 146…

The Big Drop has begun! The TBR has fallen by a massive two this week, to 214. Told you! You just wait… you’re going to be stunned at how fast it comes down…

Here are a few more that have their skis on…

Nature

This has been on my TBR since September 2013, so it’s probably time to get around to reading it! It comes highly recommended by my oldest* blog buddy, Lady Fancifull.

(*oldest in the sense of going furthest back – like myself, she’s eternally youthful…)

The Blurb says: For many years Andrew Greig saw the poet Norman MacCaig as a father figure. Months before his death, MacCaig’s enigmatic final request to Greig was that he fish for him at the Loch of the Green Corrie; the location, even the real name of his destination was more mysterious still. His search took in days of outdoor living, meetings, and fishing with friends in the remote hill lochs of far North-West Scotland. It led, finally, to the waters of the Green Corrie, which would come to reflect Greig’s own life, his thoughts on poetry, geology and land ownership in the Highlands and the ambiguous roles of whisky, love and male friendship.

At the Loch of the Green Corrie is a richly atmospheric narrative, a celebration of losing and recovering oneself in a unique landscape, the consideration of a particular culture, and a homage to a remarkable poet and his world.

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Crime

Who knew actor Robert Daws writes books? Certainly not me, till I read about it on The Quiet Geordie’s excellent blog. Since I love his acting, I was intrigued, so entered The Quiet Geordie’s giveaway – and won! The prize was two of his books, of which this is the first…

The Blurb says: The Rock. Gibraltar. 1966. In a fading colonial house the dead body of a beautiful woman lays dripping in blood. The Rock. Present day. Detective Sergeant Tamara Sullivan arrives on The Rock on a three-month secondment from the London Metropolitan Police Service. Her reasons for being here are not happy ones, and she braces herself for a tedious 12 weeks in the sun. After all, murders are rare on the small, prosperous and sun-kissed Rock of Gibraltar and catching murderers is what Sullivan does best. It is a talent Sullivan shares with her new boss, Chief Inspector Gus Broderick of the Royal Gibraltar Police Force. He’s an old-fashioned cop who regards his new colleague with mild disdain. But when a young police constable is found hanging from the ceiling of his apartment, Sullivan and Broderick begin to unravel a dark and dangerous secret that will test their skills and working relationship to the limit.

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Crime

Courtesy of Endeavour Press via MidasPR. No little story behind this one – I just thought the blurb sounded intriguing…

The Blurb says: Chris Peters loves his work in a multi-national bank: the excitement of the trading floor, the impossible deadlines and the constant challenge of the superfast computers in his care. And he loves his beautiful wife, Olivia. But over time, the dream turns sour. His systems crash, the traders turn on him, and Olivia becomes angry and disillusioned. So much bad luck.

Or is it? A natural detective, Chris finds evidence of something sinister in the mysterious meltdown of a US datacentre. A new kind of terrorist. But can he get anyone to believe him? His obsessive search leads him to a jihadist website, filled with violent images; a man beaten to a pulp in a Dubai carpark; and a woman in a gold sari dancing in the flames of her own destruction. Slowly, a tragic story from decades ago in Yemen emerges.

Too late, Chris understands the nature of the treachery, so close to him. His adversary knows every move and is ready to strike. Even his boss agrees: if this program is run, it will destroy this bank as surely as a neutron bomb. And Chris Peters has 48 hours to figure it out…

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Mythology on Audio

I picked this up as one of Audible’s Daily Deals. (In case anyone doesn’t already know, each day they reduce the price of one of their titles to a pound or two, and you don’t need a membership to buy them. I’ve snaffled some great sounding books over the last few months, including this.) I’m not so sure about the reading outside on a freezing night – I’m more of a comfy sofa, blanket and hot chocolate kind of girl…

The Blurb says: Norse mythology forms the delicate backbone of countless modern stories. Fascinating, dramatic and deliberate, with a gripping tension and vitality, the best-selling author of American Gods brings these Norse tales to life.

The great Norse myths are woven into the fabric of our storytelling – from Tolkien, Alan Garner and Rosemary Sutcliff to Game of Thrones and Marvel Comics. They are also an inspiration for Neil Gaiman’s own award-bedecked, best-selling fiction. Now he reaches back through time to the original source stories in a thrilling and vivid rendition of the great Norse tales. Gaiman’s gods are thoroughly alive – irascible, visceral, playful and passionate – and the tales carry us from the beginning of everything to Ragnarök and the twilight of the gods. Galvanised by Gaiman’s prose, Thor, Loki, Odin and Freya are irresistible forces for modern listeners, and the crackling, brilliant writing demands to be heard around an open fire on a freezing, starlit night.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Audible.

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

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Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

“It’s a weakness in our family,” said Mrs Nickleby, “so, of course, I can’t be blamed for it. Your grandmama, Kate, was exactly the same – precisely. The least excitement, the slightest surprise – she fainted away directly. I have heard her say, often and often, that when she was a young lady, and before she was married, she was turning a corner into Oxford Street one day, when she ran against her own hairdresser, who, it seems, was escaping from a bear;– the mere suddenness of the encounter made her faint away directly. Wait, though,” added Mrs Nickleby, pausing to consider. “Let me be sure I’m right. Was it her hairdresser who had escaped from a bear, or was it a bear who had escaped from her hairdresser’s? I declare I can’t remember just now, but the hairdresser was a very handsome man, I know, and quite a gentleman in his manners; so that it has nothing to do with the point of the story.”

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By contrast, John Rylands’s library was a middlebrow mix of piety and practicality. The son of a draper from St Helen’s, Manchester’s first multi-millionaire lived from 1857 at Longford Hall, an Italianate mansion which he had built in the nearby village of Stretford. The house was unpretentious, and the library, of some 1,808 volumes, could hardly have been less like the library which Mrs Rylands later founded in her husband’s memory. Entirely devoid of antique or rare books, it included volumes of light reading (Dickens and Walter Scott) but also many religious books, as Rylands was a devout Congregationalist. [ . . .] Other books, like a Boy’s own Book of Boats (1868) seem somewhat more unexpected, while Scott’s Practical Cotton Spinner, and Manufacturer (Preston, 1840) and Etiquette for Gentlemen (1854) provoke interesting and perhaps rather moving reflections on the life story of a self-made man.

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“Have I ever told you that I think you’re a stunningly attractive woman?”
She turned her knowing brown eyes on him.
“You have, actually. Many times.”
“I’d love to kiss you. Properly, I mean.”
It nearly always worked, It was a simple wish expressed – heartfelt, genuine – and one hard to be offended by. It was a compliment, of sorts, though risqué. Sometimes the women said, “Well, thank you, but no thanks.” Or else, “Not here, not now.” Sometimes they looked at him, smiled, said nothing, and moved away. But, mostly, they were intrigued, and soon, after a while, after some more conversation, they found a way and a location and a time where the kiss could take place.
“You’ve already kissed me,” Suki said, sardonically. “If I recall.”

* * * * * * * * *

(The crew have been stranded on an ice floe for weeks, food is running out and they are on strict, tiny rations, facing starvation. All they are allowed for breakfast is some powdered milk and a lump of sugar. They had hoped to go back to their original camp that day to get food supplies that had been left there…)

Shackleton came to no. 5 tent, just at breakfast time, to inform Macklin that he had decided against the trip. It was a crushing disappointment, coming as it did on the heels of a miserable night of wet, misty weather during which nobody had slept much. Shackleton had hardly left when Macklin turned on Clark for some feeble reason, and the two men were almost immediately shouting at one another. The tension spread to Orde-Lees and Worsley and triggered a blasphemous exchange between them. In the midst of it, Greenstreet upset his powdered milk. He whirled on Clark, cursing him for causing the accident, because Clark had called his attention for a moment. Clark tried to protest, but Greenstreet shouted him down. Then Greenstreet paused to get his breath, and in that instant his anger was spent and he suddenly fell silent. Everyone else in the tent became quiet too and looked at Greenstreet, shaggy-haired, bearded and filthy with blubber-soot, holding his empty mug in his hand and looking helplessly down into the snow that had thirstily soaked up his precious milk. The loss was so tragic, he seemed almost on the point of weeping. Without speaking, Clark reached out and poured some of his milk into Greenstreet’s mug, then Worsley, then Macklin, and Rickinson and Kerr, Orde-Lees and finally Blackborow. They finished in silence.

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From the Archives…

Once their tears had dried, or before, they began naming roads and bridges, tunnels, highways and buildings for him, creating a grief-stricken empire of asphalt, mortar, brick, and bronze so extensive that if you extinguished every light on earth except those illuminating something named for him, astronauts launched from the Kennedy Space Center would have seen a web of lights stretching across Europe and North America, and others scattered through Africa and Asia…

(Click for full review)

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So…are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 145…

Episode 145…

OK, well, the TBR has increased by 2 this week to 216. But I’m pretty sure the underlying trend is down. It’s simply all depends on how you look at it…

Here are the next ones that will add to the massive reduction…

Crime

This book was shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel (2017). Our resident crime expert Margot Kinberg from Confessions of a Mystery Novelist was on the award panel and spotlighted each of the nominees on her fine blog. This was the book that appealed to me most, but there’s no sign of a UK publication date for it yet. After I bemoaned this fact, Margot very kindly sent me her own copy – thank you, Margot! This will take me to New Zealand for the Around the World in 80 Books Challenge

The Blurb says: When a woman’s body is discovered frozen in the ice of a river near the alpine resort of Queenstown, Detective Sergeant Malcolm Buchan faces both a mystery and a moral dilemma. The identity of the nude woman is critical to the motives and manner of her murder, and Buchan is personally involved. So are a number of locals, from ski bums to multi-millionaire businessman. Newly appointed to head CIB in the Southern Lakes district, Buchan hunts the killer through the entanglements of corruption and abuse that lie barely below the surface of the tourist towns.

The assistance of a woman traffic sergeant is critical to the hunt but she brings her own dilemmas. The community is practised at keeping its secrets, and finding the truth comes at a price.

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Classic Fiction

To celebrate the centenary of Muriel Spark’s birth, time to re-read this, perhaps her best-known novel. It’s from my Classics Club list, and will also be a great excuse to watch the wonderful film again…

The Blurb says: At the staid Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh, Scotland, teacher extraordinaire Miss Jean Brodie is unmistakably, and outspokenly, in her prime. She is passionate in the application of her unorthodox teaching methods and strives to bring out the best in each one of her students. Determined to instill in them independence, passion, and ambition, Miss Brodie advises them, “Safety does not come first. Goodness, Truth, and Beauty come first. Follow me.” And they do–but one of them will betray her.

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Vintage Crime

Courtesy of Poisoned Pen Press via NetGalley. Another anthology of vintage crime short stories from the great combo of the British Library and Martin Edwards. This time the focus is on early “police procedurals”…

The Blurb says: In classic British crime fiction, dazzling detective work is often the province of a brilliant amateur – whereas the humble police detective cuts a hapless figure. The twelve stories collected here strike a blow for the professionals, with teasing mysteries to challenge hard-working police officers’ persistence and scrupulous attention to detail. As in his previous anthologies for the British Library Crime Classics series, Martin Edwards introduces readers to fascinating neglected gems of British crime writing as well as uncovering lesser-known stories by the great novelists of the golden age.

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Fiction on Audio

I tried listening to this a couple of years ago but failed. It wasn’t that I wasn’t enjoying the book – I was simply struggling to concentrate on the audio format. However, I’ve been training myself to listen to audiobooks since then, so time to give this one another chance. It might also count towards the Around the World in 80 Books Challenge… 

The Blurb says: There are six homesteads on Blackåsen Mountain. A day’s journey away lies the empty town. It comes to life just once, in winter, when the church summons her people through the snows. Then even the oldest enemies will gather.

But now it is summer, and new settlers are come. It is their two young daughters who find the dead man not half an hour’s walk from their cottage. The father is away. And whether stubborn or stupid or scared for her girls, the mother will not let it rest.

To the wife who is not concerned when her husband does not come home for three days to the man who laughs when he hears his brother is dead to the priest who doesn’t care, she asks and asks her questions, digging at the secrets of the mountain. They say a wolf made those wounds. But what wild animal cuts a body so clean?

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Audible.

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

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Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

“I shall not withdraw,” he said slowly, with a dull, dogged evenness of tone. “I shall not withdraw in any circumstance. I have gone too far,” he went on, raising his hand to check Falmouth’s appeal. “I have got beyond fear, I have even got beyond resentment; it is now to me a question of justice. Am I right in introducing a law that will remove from this country colonies of dangerously intelligent criminals, who, whilst enjoying immunity from arrest, urge ignorant men forward to commit acts of violence and treason? If I am right, the Four Just Men are wrong. Or are they right: is this measure an unjust thing, an act of tyranny, a piece of barbarism dropped into the very centre of twentieth-century thought, an anachronism? If these men are right, then I am wrong. So it has come to this, that I have to satisfy my mind as to the standard of right and wrong that I must accept – and I accept my own.”

* * * * * * * * *

The order to abandon ship was given at 5 P.M. For most of the men, however, no order was needed because by then everybody knew that the ship was done and that it was time to give up trying to save her. There was no show of fear or even apprehension. They had fought unceasingly for three days and they had lost. They accepted their defeat almost apathetically. They were simply too tired to care…

She was being crushed. Not all at once, but slowly, a little at a time. The pressure of ten million tons of ice was driving in against her sides. And dying as she was, she cried in agony. Her frames and planking, her immense timbers, many of them almost a foot thick, screamed as the killing pressure mounted. And when her timbers could no longer stand the strain, they broke with a report like artillery fire.

* * * * * * * * *

Niamh saw the lights change to green and the Mercedes start to turn left across the flow of traffic. And then she was blinded. A searing, burning light that obliterated all else, just a fraction of a second before the shockwave from the blast knocked her off her feet. As she hit the ground, sight returned. She saw glass flying from the broken windows of the [Café] Fluctuat Nec Mergitur, tables and chairs spinning away across the square. As she rolled over, the Mercedes was still in the air. Later she would remember it as being ten feet or more off the ground. But in fact it was probably no more than eighteen or twenty inches. Flaming debris showered down across the Place de la République as the car slammed back on to the road, a ball of flame.

* * * * * * * * *

But the pupils – the young noblemen! How the last faint traces of hope, the remotest glimmering of any good to be derived from his efforts in this den, faded from the mind of Nicholas as he looked in dismay around! Pale and haggard faces, lank and bony figures, children with the countenances of old men, deformities with irons upon their limbs, boys of stunted growth, and others whose long meagre legs would hardly bear their stooping bodies, all crowded on the view together; there were the bleared eye, the hare-lip, the crooked foot, and every ugliness or distortion that told of unnatural aversion conceived by parents for their offspring, or of young lives which, from the earliest dawn of infancy, had been one horrible endurance of cruelty and neglect. There were little faces which should have been handsome, darkened with the scowl of sullen, dogged suffering; there was childhood with the light of its eye quenched, its beauty gone, and its helplessness alone remaining; there were vicious-faced boys, brooding, with leaden eyes, like malefactors in a jail; and there were young creatures on whom the sins of their frail parents had descended, weeping even for the mercenary nurses they had known, and lonesome even in their loneliness. With every kindly sympathy and affection blasted in its birth, with every young and healthy feeling flogged and starved down, with every revengeful passion that can fester in swollen hearts, eating its evil way to their core in silence, what an incipient Hell was breeding here!

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From the Archives…

“I don’t drink…” Archy said, and stopped. He hated how this sounded whenever he found himself obliged to say it. Lord knew he would not relish the prospective company of some mope-ass m*********** who flew that grim motto from his flagpole. “…alcohol,” he added. Only making it worse, the stickler for detail, ready to come out with a complete list of beverages he was willing to consume. Next came the weak effort to redeem himself by offering a suggestion of past indulgence: “Anymore.” Finally, the slide into unwanted medical disclosure: “Bad belly.”

(Click for full review)

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So…are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 144…

Episode 144…

All fired up and ready to smash the TBR! You’re going to be amazed by how dramatically it’s going to fall over the next few weeks! You do believe me, don’t you? Don’t you?? It’s currently standing at 214.

Here are a few I’ll be getting to very soon…

Crime

(Isn’t that the most dreadful cover ever produced? Since the title is well-nigh illegible, it’s Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith.) For the Classics Club and because I’m fed up with being the last person living who hasn’t read it…

The Blurb says: In Patricia Highsmith’s debut novel, we encounter Guy Haines and Charles Anthony Bruno, passengers on the same train. But while Guy is a successful architect in the midst of a divorce, Bruno turns out to be a sadistic psychopath who manipulates Guy into swapping murders with him. As Bruno carries out his twisted plan, Guy is trapped in Highsmith’s perilous world – where, under the right circumstances, anybody is capable of murder.

The inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1951 film, Strangers on a Train launched Highsmith on a prolific career of noir fiction and proved her mastery of depicting the unsettling forces that tremble beneath the surface of everyday contemporary life.

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Vampire!

Courtesy of the publisher, Saraband. I was sent an unsolicited copy of this. Normally, I avoid vampire stories like the plague (Hmm! Is that a pun, I wonder?). But I’ve read a few Saraband publications recently, a couple of them well outside my comfort zone, and have thoroughly enjoyed them all, so will they be able to do it again? We’ll see…

The Blurb says: “A flint-hard, gorgeously written nightmare.” Laird Barron. One night in 1980, a man becomes a monster. Travis Stillwell spends his nights searching out women in honky-tonk bars on the back roads of Texas. What he does with them doesn’t make him proud – it just quiets the demons for a little while. But when he crosses paths with one particular mysterious pale-skinned girl, he wakes up weak and bloodied, with no memory of the night before. Finding refuge at a lonely motel, Travis develops feelings for the owner, Annabelle, but at night he fights a horrible transformation and his need to feed. A riveting new vampire story for fans of Cormac McCarthy, Joe Hill and Anne Rice.

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Fiction

For the Reading the Russian Revolution Challenge. This sounds wonderful, so I really hope it lives up to my high expectations – fingers crossed!

The Blurb says: In The Man Who Loved Dogs, Leonardo Padura brings a noir sensibility to one of the most fascinating and complex political narratives of the past hundred years: the assassination of Leon Trotsky by Ramón Mercader.

The story revolves around Iván Cárdenas Maturell, who in his youth was the great hope of modern Cuban literature—until he dared to write a story that was deemed counterrevolutionary. When we meet him years later in Havana, Iván is a loser: a humbled and defeated man with a quiet, unremarkable life who earns his modest living as a proofreader at a veterinary magazine. One afternoon, he meets a mysterious foreigner in the company of two Russian wolfhounds. This is “the man who loved dogs,” and as the pair grow closer, Iván begins to understand that his new friend is hiding a terrible secret.

Moving seamlessly between Iván’s life in Cuba, Ramón’s early years in Spain and France, and Trotsky’s long years of exile, The Man Who Loved Dogs is Padura’s most ambitious and brilliantly executed novel yet. This is a story about political ideals tested and characters broken, a multilayered epic that effortlessly weaves together three different plot threads— Trotsky in exile, Ramón in pursuit, Iván in frustrated stasis—to bring emotional truth to historical fact.

A novel whose reach is matched only by its astonishing successes on the page, The Man Who Loved Dogs lays bare the human cost of abstract ideals and the insidious, corrosive effects of life under a repressive political regime.

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Factual on Audio

Off to Antarctica for the Around the World in 80 Books Challenge. What little I know about Shackleton comes from the old Channel 4 production starring Kenneth Branagh, and I seem to have forgotten everything about it! So this might read as much like an adventure story as a factual book to me – I’m hoping so, anyway…

The Blurb says: The astonishing saga of polar explorer Ernest Shackleton’s survival for over a year on the ice-bound Antarctic seas, as Time magazine put it, “defined heroism.” Alfred Lansing’s scrupulously researched and brilliantly narrated book — with over 200,000 copies sold — has long been acknowledged as the definitive account of the Endurance’s fateful trip. To write their authoritative story, Lansing consulted with ten of the surviving members and gained access to diaries and personal accounts by eight others. The resulting book has all the immediacy of a first-hand account.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

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

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Friday Frippery! The Story of a Year in Books 2017…

The Assassins…

(Last year I created a story  – if it could be dignified by that name – using the titles of all the books I’d reviewed in the year… in the order I reviewed them! I couldn’t resist seeing if I could do it again this year. My twin obsessions of the year – the Russian Revolution and vintage crime – meant there could only really be one theme…)

Having prepared her design for murder, she began to plan the selection day when the final victim would be chosen. Shunning poison lest the dead wake, she had concealed a bar of cast iron under the headgear she had stolen from Party HQ, the President’s hat – it would be gory no doubt, but effective. She shuddered as she remembered the disaster of the death on the Riviera when the sandlands seemed full of the beautiful dead radio girls, who in fact came round an hour or so later and took bloody revenge on their would-be assassin. Not the Party’s finest hour! No, her mission would be more like the crime at Black Dudley Animal Farm, brutal but certain.

She jumped on her crimson snowmobile and sped to the Volga, where her colleague Maigret and Commissar Titian’s boatman were waiting. The boatman was singing…

(Some music to set the tone – if this doesn’t make you want to throw a revolution, nothing will!)

Hurriedly checking the traveler’s guide, “To Spacevski Prospekt, quickly!” she cried, aware of the irony that that was where the death of Kingsovovichskipopov had sparked the revolution in the first place.

“Ah, Maigret” she said, spotting an extra traveller. “If it isn’t our mutual friend Lorna, one of the good people!”

Maigret and the tall woman settled in the boat. Maigret said “So, FFskova, is it true you’re planning the massacre of mankind?”

“Shhh!” FFskova hissed, glancing round to make sure no members of the White Guard were within earshot. The dry tone of her voice admonished him. “You’ll find out soon enough – I’ll let the dead speak for themselves.”

As they jumped off the boat at Spacevski Prospekt, the time machine on her wrist warned her that Rebecca would soon be arriving on the 12:30 from Croydon. It would have been a dangerous crossing after the accusation that had been made against her, but hopefully she would have brought with her the legacy that had justified her committing the ABC murders. A siren sounded, sending momentary shivers down FFskova’s spine, but she realised it was simply to warn drivers that the cone-gatherers were clearing the traffic cones left after the recent roadworks.

“Sometimes I’d rather be the devil than remember my part in the bloody history of the Russian Revolution,” she thought, “especially the horrific episode of the Cheltenham Square murder. Maybe I should give up being an assassin and run off to the island of Dr Moreau with the tsar of love and techno!” But she knew that if she did she’d be no better than a dead woman walking. Her priest, Father Thomas More, had told her to do penance but she knew it was too late for that. Her face white, tears dropped from her eyes down over her distinctive facial scar. Weather forecasts predicted worsening of the ice which covered the valley. Of fearful thoughts her head was suddenly full.

“Oh, Lorna Doone!” she cried to her old friend. “See what I have done! I feel I should give up the ghost!” “Marriage is the answer,” interrupted the old sexist, Maigret. “We should be able to find you a decent man in that new dating bureau, the House of Names,” he said. She said, as an aside to Lorna, “Metaphorically speaking, Maigret takes a room in the last kingdom, silly old dinosaur! Never mind – I’ve been in England often enough to know how to keep a stiff upper lip.” Jeeves, Maigret’s chauffeur, arrived and, hopping in, Maigret and Lorna drove off.

And then there were none but FFskova herself… and the follower, Lord Fibonacci, who mistakenly thought he hadn’t been spotted. FFskova quickly batted him over the head with the iron bar – a necessary evil but, given his unsavoury reputation as a buddy of Ra-Ra-Rasputin, lover of the Russian Queen, scarcely a people’s tragedy. She knew that she could rely on the Party to provide testimony if she were ever suspected of the murder of the vanishing lord. Perhaps it would go down as one of those miraculous mysteries, or perhaps with luck the tediously annoying Doctor Zhivago would be framed for the murder, the lodger who so annoyed Lenin. The dictator had been saying only yesterday that his lodger better stop spouting depressing Russian poetry or else…

You should have left,” she murmured to the corpse as she shoved it silently into the Volga, “if not for your own sake, then for the comfort of others.” She wasted no further thought on the gowk. Storm clouds were gathering and the river was racing, lessening still further the chances of the police ever finding Fibonacci.

* * * * *

Once the plane had finished the long drop and landed, FFskova saw Harriet disembarking. “Where’s Rebecca?” she asked.

Harriet said with sadness, “Her last job was particularly gruesome, killing all those policemen. After the end of the affair, Rebecca became she who was no more. Her sanity gone, she kept repeating the old nursery rhyme ‘one, two, buckle my shoe‘ till we had to have her incarcerated in the home for Seriously Befuddled Communist Gentlewomen. Now she wanders with her birdcage, walking endlessly around the corridors, murmuring ‘you will know me‘, which is ironic since she doesn’t know herself. I’m afraid it’s the story of classic crime. In 100 books, such is the fate of those destroyed by this job.”

The malice of waves beat against the banks of the Volga. “The word is murder,” FFskova said bitterly. “This Russian Revolution has turned us all into cop haters. A gentleman in Moscow told me it feels like days without end there. One day history will give its verdict. Of twelve of us who were chosen, five are dead, four officially insane, and last I heard, Galina had run off to kill a mockingbird, which makes me think she’s a little doolally too…”

“Indeed, that sounds like a portrait of a murderer. But at least we don’t do it for treasure! Is land worth all this, though? Even the great motherland? I am tired of the unwomanly face of war.” Harriet shook her head despairingly.

“Oh well, never mind!” said FFskova, popping a chocolate truffle into her mouth and cheering up. “We have continental crimes to commit! Put on your disguise – the minister’s black veil and your sword – and let’s get going to Munich. Lenin is a force of nature as you know, and we must carry out his bloody project – Operation Bluebird.” “Bluebird?” said Harriet. “So innocuous sounding! The man is as delusional and conceited as Mr Toad from The Wind in the Willows! His visions of empire are as monstrous as anything dreamed up by Frankenstein!” She put on the veil and slung the golden sabre over her shoulder, and they started off on their journey.

(FFskova and the team in basic training)

* * * * *

Some hours later in Munich, the two assassins stuffed four white bodies into the vanishing box which formed part of their kit. The Party would arrange for the corpses to be discovered at the site of the accident on the A35 which they were currently arranging. Meantime, Harriet prepared to go off to commit a murder on the Orient Express, while FFskova got ready to rush back to Moscow to organise a death at the President’s lodging – Lenin had made it clear the pesky Zhivago had to go. Before they parted, FFskova issued some final instructions.

“We shall meet again at Northanger Abbey once this is all over and we have at last reached the end. Of the website for online assassin lessons, there will be no further need. We shall get rid of all copies including the master. Of Ballantrae, we must never speak – that secret foundation was all the idea of Pietr the Latvian, but now all our enemies are eliminated, there will be no need for the genetically modified, man-eating sweet Williams after all.”

And so at last they retired from assassining, leaving a string of crimes unsolved. Soon the assassin training program was unplayable. Lies were told to explain the foreign bodies, and the police, being mere fools and mortals, were left baffled, although FFskova ever afterwards found it hard to look a police officer in the eye. “Of Osiris,” she reminded Harriet, “we must never speak – that code name for the mistletoe murder and other stories of horrific deaths must remain forever secret, known only to us and my secret lover, the man they call the Catcher.” In the rye bottle, Harriet found a welcome oblivion in the years to come, but no alcohol was ever strong enough to dull FFskova’s mental anguish. Only chocolate could do that…

The Catcher

>>> THE END <<<

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

LANG MAY YOUR LUM REEK!

New Year’s Resolutions…

So! Last year at this time I set myself some reading resolutions for 2017. Time to see just how badly I did! And then to gird myself anew for the fray… I shall nevah surrendah!

The 2017 Results

Right, you lot! Last year’s display of giggling was totally unseemly. Please try to behave in a more civilised fashion this year. That includes you! Yes, you! Anyone who chuckles will be sent to the Headmaster’s office, is that clear??

1) Cut back on taking freebies for review.

Take no more than 36 books during the year and reduce the total outstanding at year end from 30 to 20, none of which are overdue.

The Result: Hmm! Well, I reached 36 in May, so it’s fair to say that didn’t go so well. The final utterly outrageous total is 88! On the upside, if there is such a thing, the total outstanding is 32 which at least means I’ve read or abandoned almost as many as I’ve received. But 20 of the outstanding ones are overdue. Hmm!

2) A minimum of 12 re-reads.

The result: I succeeded! I succeeded!! 13! I feel so good! I think this may be the first bookish resolution I’ve ever achieved!

3) Reduce the TBR!

a) Reduce the overall total from 181 to 150.

The Result: Yes, well, I think we all know the result of this one. The figure at the end of the year is 215.

b) Read at least 35 books that have been on the TBR since 2015 or earlier.

The Result: I’m actually almost ashamed to admit to this one. I’ve read a paltry 9 of the books that have been on the TBR since 2015 or earlier. 

c) Read at least 50 books that went onto the TBR in 2016.

The Result: And I only managed 26 of the books on the TBR that were left over from 2016. Not good, is it? It’s all the review copies! If I only read 120-ish books a year and I take 80+ review copies, well… even I can do the maths!

4) Read 20 Classics

The Result: Smashed it out of the park! 22, and that doesn’t even include any of the Golden Age crime I’ve been reading. I’m declaring this one a major success!  

5) Other Stuff

I didn’t set targets for these, but aimed to read several from each.

The Result:

Science Fiction – 5
Around the World Challenge – 17
Catch-up books from authors I’ve previously enjoyed – 9
Reading the Russian Revolution – 12

A mixed result but I’m pleased about the Around the World and Russian challenges, so I’m going to call this a success too.

Woohoo! 3 out of 5 achieved! The major problem remains the dreaded review copies and getting to the older stuff on the TBR, but otherwise I’ve done far better than I expected. (Admit it – better than you expected too, you cynic! 😉 )

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Resolutions for 2018

Here goes! I’m going to try to be realistic again this year, because I actually quite like succeeding in achieving at least some of my resolutions! But let’s start with the killers… the review copies and the TBR…

1) Cut back on taking freebies for review.

Okay, I’m going to set a target of accepting no more than 48 for review. I’m also setting a target to read at least 48, so my backlog at the end of the year should be no more (and hopefully less) than it is at the end of 2017 – i.e., 32.

2) Reducing the TBR

Yes, I know! But this year I mean it! So, what I’m thinking is if I reduce the backlog of the old stuff that’s hanging around and add less than I read, then it should obviously go down, right? Right?? So my plan is simple…

a) Read at least 72 books that are on the TBR at the end of 2017

b) Buy no more than 36 books during the year *faints*

c) The TBR target for the end of the year will be 170. And the target for the overall figure, TBR plus wishlist, currently standing at a ridiculous 415, will be 360.

3)  The Challenges

That just leaves my ongoing challenges. There are enough books on the existing TBR/wishlist to achieve all of these without adding any more, so this ought to be perfectly feasible, especially since some books will fit into more than one category.

a) Reading the Russian Revolution – 5 books to go. I plan to finish this challenge around April/May.

b) Great American Novel Quest – I’m planning to restart this properly once the Russian challenge is finished, with a low target of just 4 books this year.

c) Classics Club – to stay on track with this, I need to read 24 books this year (and start tackling at least some of the longer ones).

d) Around the World in 80 Books – about halfway through this one and averaging 20 books a year, so that will be this year’s target too.

e) Murder, Mystery, Mayhem – Going for 20 books this year. At that rate, this will be a five year challenge. 

4) Other stuff

I’m not setting targets for anything else, but hope to fit in some more re-reads and do a bit more catching up with authors and series I’ve enjoyed.

Wish me luck!

Your invite to a Christmas Feast…

…with an international flavour…

These are all dishes that are traditionally eaten at Christmas, apparently.
Pull up a chair, dig in, and enjoy!

C

Czech Republic

Vánoční rybí polévka
(Christmas Fish Soup)

H

Hungary

töltött káposzta
(Stuffed Cabbage)

R

Rwanda

Goat Meat Kebabs

I

Iraq

Pacha
(Sheep’s head, trotters and stuffed tripe – yummy! *faints*)

S

South Korea

Bulgogi
(Marinated barbecued beef)

T

Trinidad & Tobago

Baked Ham

M

Mexico

Tamales
(Dough stuffed with pork and salsa, wrapped in corn husks)

A

Australia

Pavlova
(Meringue topped with whipped cream and fruit, especially berries)

S

Sweden

Risgrynsgröt
(Rice pudding dusted with cinnamon and with an almond hidden inside)
NB Apparently you must put a dish of risgrynsgröt outside the front door on Christmas Eve for the Christmas elf, or he will become mischievous…

* * * * *

Oh, and don’t forget the

Chocolate Liqueurs

(Thanks to the lovely Anne at I’ve Read This for unwittingly providing the inspiration for this post, and to the astoundingly mischievous Vince Carrola for unwittingly providing the music!)

🤶MERRY CHRISTMAS!🎅

The Final Countdown 2017 plus Quarterly Challenges Report…

TBR Year-End Report

Last New Year I added up the full extent of the horror of the TBR, including the bits I usually hide. So, time for 2017’s final count to see how I did over the year…

Well, although the total has obviously gone up over the year, it’s not quite as bad as it looks. In August I started my new Murder, Mystery, Mayhem Challenge to read all 102 books listed in Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books – or at least as many of them as I can acquire. There are currently 76 of these in the overall total, and I’m proposing to take around four years to complete this challenge. The same applies to the Classics Club which has another four years to run and accounts for roughly another 70 books. So the underlying TBR problem is actually a mere 279, which I think shows my book habit is not spiralling out of control…

* * * * * * *

The Around the World in 80 Books Challenge

Last check-in was in September, and I’ve only been on a couple of trips since then…

780px-Around_the_World_in_Eighty_Days_map

I sailed with Long John Silver and the crew to Treasure Island, crossing the Atlantic which is one of the locations on the Main Journey (the places Phineas Fogg visited or travelled through in the original book, Around the World in 80 Days). And then I took a detour across the Arctic with Frankenstein in pursuit of his monster.

Since it’s the end of the year, here’s how the Main Journey is going so far…

The Main Journey

  1. London  – Martin Chuzzlewit
  2. Orient Express – Travels with My Aunt
  3. France – The Sisters of Versailles
  4. Alps
  5. Venice – Titian’s Boatman
  6. Brindisi
  7. Mediterranean Sea
  8. Suez
  9. Egypt
  10. Red Sea/Arabian Sea
  11. Bombay – Selection Day
  12. Calcutta – A Rising Man
  13. Kholby
  14. Elephant Travel
  15. Allahabad
  16. Indian Ocean/ South China Sea – A Dangerous Crossing
  17. Hong Kong
  18. Shanghai
  19. Yokohama
  20. Pacific – Moby-Dick: Or, The White Whale
  21. San Francisco
  22. Sioux lands – Days Without End
  23. Omaha
  24. New York – Three-Martini Lunch
  25. Atlantic Ocean – Treasure Island
  26. Queenstown (Cobh) Ireland – Dead Wake
  27. London – The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

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

39 down, 41 to go!

* * * * * * *

The Classics Club

classics club logo 2

So far, I’ve read nineteen from my Classics Club list – a little behind schedule, but not worryingly so. In this last quarter, I’ve read five…

  1. The Master of Ballantrae by Robert Louis Stevenson – 5 stars for this Scottish classic – an exciting adventure but also a great exercise in characterisation.
  2. Foundation by Isaac Asimov – hugely influential on the sci-fi genre but unfortunately showing its age a little – just 3 stars.
  3. Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley – 5 stars for this masterpiece of “mad science”.
  4. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin – 4 stars for one of the earliest dystopian novels that inspired many later classics like Brave New World and 1984.
  5. The Catcher in the Rye – review will appear next week, so I’ll keep you in suspense till then…

19 down, 71 to go!

* * * * * * *

Reading the Russian Revolution

The original plan was to finish this challenge by the end of the year, but I still have a few books that I haven’t managed to read yet, so it will continue until spring. I’ve reviewed three this quarter, none of which were on the original list. I’ve also read a biography of Rasputin which I’ll be reviewing soon. To see the full challenge, click here.

10. The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich – this is a collection of oral histories from some of the women who served on the Soviet front line during WW2. While I do think this is a valuable contribution to the historical record, I had some reservations about the author’s bias affecting her methodology. 3 stars.

11. The Golden Sabre by Jon Cleary – I loved this wild ride in a stolen Rolls Royce across post-revolutionary Russia. It’s a rip-roaring adventure story first and foremost, but Cleary has clearly done his research about Russia at this moment in time, and there’s a lot of insight into the maelstrom and confusion that followed the Revolution. 5 stars.

12. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin – this dystopian novel looks at the destruction of the individual in increasingly regimented totalitarian societies. Written in 1920, it seems remarkably prescient and was the first novel to be banned by Soviet censors, remaining unpublished in Zamyatin’s native country until 1988, during the period of glasnost. 4 stars.

* * * * * * *

Murder Mystery Mayhem

This quarter I’ve read and reviewed four books for my newest challenge. To see the full challenge, click here.

7.  Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith – This is an “inverted mystery” where the bulk of the story rests on whether and how the murderer will be caught. It’s also a psychological study of the murderer and of all the other people in the house. 5 stars.

8.  Death at the President’s Lodging by Michael Innes – this is a variation on the country house mystery, this time in the enclosed environment of a University college. Unfortunately, the perpetual intellectual snobbery and failure to move the plot along meant that I abandoned it at the 40% mark on the “life’s too short” principle. 1 star.

9.  Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon – the famous Maigret’s very first outing. While not as strong as some of the later novels in the series, I found it interesting from the point of view of being able to compare this first glimpse of Maigret to the more rounded character he would later become. 3 stars.

10. The Eye of Osiris by R Austin Freeman – this features Freeman’s regular “scientific” detective, Dr Thorndyke, but the main character in this one is the first person narrator, Dr Berkeley. It’s laid out as a traditional mystery and is very well written, full of wit, and with a charming romance for young Dr Berkeley to give it warmth. I loved it. 5 stars.

10 down, 92 to go!

* * * * * * *

A good quarter’s reading! Thank you for joining me on my reading adventures, and…

Here’s to another great year of reading in 2018! 😀

The Power of Chocolate…

aka My Year in Books…

This is a fun tag created by Adam at Roof Beam Reader. The rules? Pretty simple: answer the questions with books you read this year!

Well, that sounded so delightfully easy, but I had really planned to spend the afternoon carrying out a scientific experiment. So I decided to combine them.

The purpose of the experiment was to prove once and for all whether chocolate has mood-enhancing properties. So first I answered the questions before my medicinal chocolate afternoon snack…

…and then I answered them again afterwards. Here are the results…

 

Well, I think those results are pretty conclusive!

So, for the benefit of my visitors, I hereby pledge to ALWAYS stuff my face with chocolate before preparing blog posts so you only ever have to put up with the mood-enhanced version of FF (except when I’m writing 1-star reviews)…

HAVE A CHOCOLATEY DAY! 😀

TBR Thursday 143…

Episode 143…

I’ve been remarkably restrained in my book acquiring so far this month. Unfortunately after a manic burst of reading for a couple of weeks, I now seem to have slowed to a crawl again. So a moderate drop of just 1 in the TBR – to 217. And unless a miracle happens I’m going to fail to achieve my Goodreads challenge target of 125 – I’d need to finish 10 books before the end of the year. Not impossible… but not likely!

Oh, stop whining, Alice! The simple answer is to read more books…

Factual

Courtesy of Princeton University Press. Princeton keep offering me books that fall well outside my normal reading range – sometimes they work for me, sometimes they don’t. Will this one? Hmm, we’ll see…

The Blurb says: Curves are seductive. These smooth, organic lines and surfaces–like those of the human body–appeal to us in an instinctive, visceral way that straight lines or the perfect shapes of classical geometry never could. In this large-format book, lavishly illustrated in color throughout, Allan McRobie takes the reader on an alluring exploration of the beautiful curves that shape our world–from our bodies to Salvador Dali’s paintings and the space-time fabric of the universe itself.

The book focuses on seven curves–the fold, cusp, swallowtail, and butterfly, plus the hyperbolic, elliptical, and parabolic “umbilics”–and describes the surprising origins of their taxonomy in the catastrophe theory of mathematician Rene Thom. (FF says: Good gracious!) In an accessible discussion illustrated with many photographs of the human nude (FF says: Eh??), McRobie introduces these curves and then describes their role in nature, science, engineering, architecture, art, and other areas. The reader learns how these curves play out in everything from the stability of oil rigs and the study of distant galaxies to rainbows, the patterns of light on pool floors, and even the shape of human genitals (FF faints). The book also discusses the role of these curves in the work of such artists as David Hockney, Henry Moore, and Anish Kapoor, with particular attention given to the delicate sculptures of Naum Gabo and the final paintings of Dali, who said that Thom’s theory “bewitched all of my atoms.”

A unique introduction to the language of beautiful curves, this book may change the way you see the world.

* * * * *

Pastiche

Courtesy of the author. I was contacted by the publisher on behalf of the author of this one, on the grounds that since I love Holmes and Three Men in a Boat, I might also love this mash-up pastiche. I shuddered and got ready to haughtily refuse… but then I read the “look inside” sample on Amazon and found myself chuckling jollily. I suspect it’s going to be loads of fun…

The Blurb says: 221b Baker St., London, early 1890s. For three Victorian slackers—to say nothing of their dog—becoming Sherlock Holmes’s neighbors is very nearly the death of them. Jerome and his friends are planning a jaunt when Miss Briony Lodge calls at Baker Street. The beautiful young schoolmistress is in deadly danger. But what match are a bank clerk, a lawyer’s assistant, a dog and a novelist for an international gang of desperadoes? None whatsoever. It would take an intellect of Sherlock Holmes’s proportions to set things to rights. Or maybe, perhaps, an otter.

* * * * *

Fiction

Courtesy of NetGalley. I usually love William Boyd (but sometimes don’t!), so I have high hopes for this one. I’ve been delaying it because I’m currently listening to another Boyd book on audio, Brazzaville Beach – loving it, but for some reason it’s taking me forever to get through…

The Blurb says: A philandering art dealer tries to give up casual love affairs – seeking only passionate kisses as a substitute. A man recounts his personal history through the things he has stolen from others throughout his life. A couple chart the journey of their five year relationship backwards, from awkward reunion to lovelorn first encounter. And, at the heart of the book, a 24-year old young woman, Bethany Mellmoth, embarks on a year-long journey of wishful and tentative self-discovery.

The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth depicts the random encounters that bring the past bubbling to the surface; the impulsive decisions that irrevocably shape a life; and the endless hesitations and loss-of-nerve that wickedly complicate it. These funny, surprising and moving stories are a resounding confirmation of Boyd’s powers as one of our most original and compelling storytellers.

* * * * *

Bah Humbug!

I have a tradition of watching, reading or listening to A Christmas Carol over the festive season, and like to try out new versions if I can. This is one of Audible’s own full-cast original dramatisations (which regulars will know I’ve been loving this year) and stars the wondrous Derek Jacobi as Dickens (I’m assuming the narrator of the linking bits)…

The Blurb says: ‘If I had my way, every idiot who goes around with Merry Christmas on his lips, would be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. Merry Christmas? Bah humbug!’

Charles Dickens’ ghostly tale of sour and stingy miser Ebenezer Scrooge has captivated readers, listeners and audiences for over 150 years. This Christmas, Audible Studios brings this story to life in an audio drama featuring an all-star cast.

Starring: Sir Derek Jacobi as Dickens, Kenneth Cranham as Ebenezer Scrooge, Roger Allam as Jacob Marley, Brendan Coyle as The Ghost Of Christmas Past, Miriam Margolyes as The Ghost Of Christmas Present, Tim Mcinnerny as The Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come, Jamie Glover as Bob Cratchit, Emily Bruni as Mrs. Cratchit, Jenna Coleman as Belle, Joshua James as Young Scrooge and Hugh Skinner as Fred.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Audible UK.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

Clickety click, 66…

…or The Reading Bingo Challenge!

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

More than 500 pages

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. Following my usual pattern of reading Dickens over Christmas, this category is usually easy to tick off! The major theme of the book is money – how possession of it corrupts, and how lack of it causes great suffering; and it satirises the class of society that hangs around the rich, especially the nouveau riche.

Betty Higden flees from the tender mercies of “the Parish”

A forgotten classic

The Gowk Storm by Nancy Brysson Morrison. The Classics Club inspired me to try to read some Scottish classics that I should probably have read long since. This book about three sisters finding their way through the restrictive social codes of the early 20th century was one, and a great one that deserves to be unforgotten!

A book that became a movie

The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes. I’ve been going on about this great book ever since I read it, so last time (maybe)! This is the story of a family who begin to suspect that their lodger may be a notorious serial killer. Set in the London of Jack the Ripper, the book inspired Hitchcock’s brilliant silent movie of the same name. Fab combo – read it, then watch it!

Ivor Novello as Mr Sleuth… or is he The Avenger?

Published this year

Sweet William by Iain Maitland. A very recent read, this is about a convicted killer who breaks out of his secure mental hospital to run off with his three-year-old son, sweet William. Dark and disturbing with touches of the blackest black humour, it’s a fabulous piece of writing with one of the best drawn disturbed central characters I’ve read in a long time.

With a number in the title

The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books by Martin Edwards. The book that inspired my new Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge and finally pushed my TBR into the stratosphere. A must-read for anyone who wants to read some vintage crime but doesn’t know where to begin, but also great for the more knowledgeable reader too, who will still find plenty of anecdotes to entertain.

Written by someone under 30

The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham. Allingham, a future Queen of Crime, was only 25 when this was published in 1929. It’s the first appearance of her long-running detective, Albert Campion, though he’s very different in this to what he would later become. Not her best, but always interesting to see how successful series begin.

A book with non-human characters

Animal Farm by George Orwell. Regulars will be only too aware of this year’s Russian obsession on my blog. This allegorical tale was one of the first of the year. Mind you, the way the year has gone, I’m not sure it really counts as having non-human characters – certain politicians are making the pigs look like a much higher stage of evolution…

Good Heavens! Has Napoleon taken to Twitter…???

A funny book

The Vanishing Lord by Lucy Brazier. Second in Lucy’s PorterGirl series, this farcical look at life in one of our prestigious universities is full of murder, mayhem and sausage sandwiches. Though not necessarily in that order…

A book by a female author

D’you know what? I hate this category. It suggests that there’s something odd about female authors or that they need special support because they’re such delicate little flowers. Nope! So I’m changing it for this and future years to…

A science fiction or fantasy book

The Island of Dr Moreau by HG Wells. There are some pretty horrific images in this novella – hardly surpising, perhaps, since it’s one in the line of books that looks at the dangers of mad science untempered by ethics. Here, Wells uses the subject of vivisection to consider questions of evolution and man’s relationship to his evolutionary forebears.

A mystery

The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie. One of the highlights of the reading year for me has been discovering the Hugh Fraser narrations of Agatha Christie’s books on Audible. He does a fab job, especially with the Poirot books and it’s encouraging me to revisit some of these true classics of the mystery genre. This one, about a serial killer of sorts, is one of the best…

A one-word title

Penance by Kanae Minato. I haven’t read much Japanese crime fiction, but am always intrigued and a bit discombobulated when I do. This one tells the tale of a group of women who were witnesses in a murder case when they were schoolgirls. The story shows how the shadow of that event has affected each of their lives…

Free square

Treasure Island: An Audible Original Drama. Not exactly a book, nor even an audiobook. This is a full-cast dramatic adaptation – a thing Audible seems to be getting into in a big way. Hurrah! The cast of this throw themselves into it with glee, and nothing has given me more pleasure bookishly this year than being marooned… maroooooned, I tell ‘ee… with Long John Silver and the lads for a few hours.

A book of short stories

Miraculous Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards. Most of the short stories I’ve read this year have been the vintage crime anthologies that are part of the British Library Crime Classics series. This is one of my favourites – a collection of “impossible” crimes – locked room mysteries, etc. Beautifully baffling!

Set on a different continent

Selection Day by Aravind Adiga. Set in modern-day Bombay or Mumbai (Adiga uses them interchangeably), this tale of sibling rivalry is tied in with a wider picture of corruption in society shown through the corruption in cricket. I find Adiga tends to give a more nuanced picture of India than a lot of contemporary authors, balancing the positives with the negatives.

Non-fiction

Dead Wake by Erik Larson. Larson gives a riveting account of the last voyage of the Lusitania, its passengers and crew, and the wider political situation that gave rise to the circumstances in which the ship was left unprotected in waters in which it was known U-boats were operating. A perfect balance of the personal and the political.

First book by a favourite author

The Time Machine by HG Wells. Wells’ second entry on the list – I’ve been having a bit of a Wells-fest recently! On the surface, this one looks at the far-distant future of humanity, but in reality it has just as much to say about the current concerns in Wells’ own society – evolution (again), communism, science. But first and foremost, it’s a great adventure yarn.

Heard about online

Sandlands by Rosy Thornton. This category could apply to just about every book I read, but this was one that I only came across because of other bloggers’ reviews. A beautifully written collection of loosely linked short stories based in the Suffolk sandlings, they build together to create a somewhat nostalgic picture of a way of life that is passing, and to look forward with a kind of fear to an uncertain future…

A best-selling book

Munich by Robert Harris. This is a lightly fictionalised account of the events leading up to and at the Munich conference where Hitler, Chamberlain and a few of the other European leaders met to determine the fate of the Sudetenland. As always, Harris shows himself a master of riveting storytelling.

From the bottom of the TBR pile

Lorna Doone by RD Blackmore. In a sense, this has been on my TBR all my life, since my Dad always used to say it was his favourite book. It certainly isn’t mine, but happily I enjoyed this romantic adventure set in 17th century Exmoor more than I expected to.

Based on a true story

The Long Drop by Denise Mina. This marvellous fictionalised account of the true story of Peter Manuel, one of the last men to be hanged in Scotland, in the late 1950s, won my award for the Crime Fiction Book of the Year. Mina brilliantly evokes the Glasgow of that era – the places, the people, the ever-present threat of violence…

A book a friend loves

A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys. Our very own Cleo from CleopatraLovesBooks appears in a cameo role in this book – she won the honour at a charity auction. In truth, I probably wouldn’t have read it but for that, so I was delighted when I loved this historical fiction set on  a ship taking immigrants to Australia just before WW2 began.

A book that scared me

The Willows by Algernon Blackwood. A novella really but packing plenty of spinetingling power! When two young men who are canoeing down the Danube in the middle of a great flood decide to camp for the night on a tiny island, what could possibly go wrong? Apart from the ancient and malign alien beings, that is! Sometimes, books are classics for a reason…

A book that is more than 10 years old

Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley. Spoiled for choice this year, so I’m going with this classic because I’d forgotten just how good it is and because next year, 2018, is its 200th anniversay.  I listened to the wonderful narration by Derek Jacobi. So much more than sci-fi or horror, this is a book that looks deeply into the darkness of the human heart…

The second book in a series

A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee. Second in the excellent Sam Wyndham series, set in colonial India just after WW1. When the son and heir of the Maharaja of Sambalpore is assassinated in front of him, Calcutta police captain Sam Wyndham manages to get himself invited to the prince’s funeral so he can do a bit of investigating…

A book with a blue cover

The Accident on the A35 by Graeme Macrae Burnet. On the face of it a crime novel, the quality of the writing and characterisation, the authenticity of the setting and the intelligence of the structure all raise it so that it sits easily in the literary fiction category at the highest level. I even preferred it to Burnet’s Booker-nominated His Bloody Project

* * * * * * *

Bingo! Full House!

 

The Eye of Osiris by R Austin Freeman

“Horrible discovery in a watercress-bed!”

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

One November day in 1902, John Bellingham disappears from the study of a friend’s house where he had been waiting for his friend to return home. Two years later, there has still been no sign of him and his potential heirs are left in limbo, unable to execute his rather strange will. And then pieces of a dismembered skeleton begin to show up in odd places. Meantime, young Dr Paul Berkeley, our narrator, has fallen in love with Ruth Bellingham, the missing man’s niece, whose father is one of the potential heirs. He persuades Ruth’s father, Godfrey Bellingham, to allow Dr John Thorndyke, an expert in medical jurisprudence, to look into the case. It’s up to Thorndyke to find a way to identify the remains and to find out what was behind Bellingham’s disappearance.

I’ve read a couple of Thorndyke short stories before, but this was my first full length novel, and it turned out to be not at all what I was expecting. Because of the heavy emphasis on Thorndyke being a scientific investigator, I thought it might be rather dry; and I knew that Freeman was famous for the “inverted” story, where the reader gets to see the villain commit the crime before watching the detective solve it. But this novel is laid out as a traditional mystery and is full of wit, with a charming romance between Berkeley and Ruth to give it warmth. I loved it. Actually, don’t tell anyone but I fell a little in love with young Dr Berkeley myself.

The plot is complex, not so much as to whodunit – the pool of potential suspects is very small – but as to how it was done and perhaps more importantly why it was done in the way it was. There’s a lot in it about Egyptology since several of the characters are linked by their involvement in that field, and a lot more about methods of identifying bodies when there’s not much left of them but bones. The missing man’s will provides another level of complexity, since he specified conditions with regards to where his body should be buried – not easy to fulfil unless his corpse turns up and can be convincingly identified. I believe Thorndyke’s sidekick, Jervis, is usually the narrator of these books, but although he appears in this one he only plays a small part. Berkeley acts as the main sidekick and major character – as a medical doctor he’s ideally placed to act as Godfrey’s representative at inquests, etc.

Challenge details:
Book: 9
Subject Heading: A New Era Dawns
Publication Year: 1911

In his discussion of this story in The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, Martin Edwards says that “the ‘love interest’ did not appeal to every reader; even Dorothy L Sayers – a fervent admirer of Freeman – deplored it.” Edwards also says “the prose lacks sparkle”. Oh dear! It appears I have to disagree with both Sayers and Edwards – I loved the elegance of the prose, which reminded me quite a lot of Conan Doyle’s easy style, and the wit in Berkeley’s observations of the other characters made me chuckle aloud several times. And I adored the romance! Ruth is a lovely love interest – she’s humorous and intelligent, strong and self-reliant. She feels remarkably modern considering the book was written in 1911, and Berkeley’s initial admiration is of her brain and character rather than of her looks or feminine delicacy. And Berkeley’s own realisation that he’s falling in love is done with a lot of beautifully self-deprecating wit and charm. Considering Ms Sayers is responsible for one of the sappiest romances in the history of crime fiction, with the adoring Lord Peter Wimsey languishing after his ladylove for several books, I think she has a bit of a cheek, quite frankly! 😉

“’Orrible discovery at Sidcup!”

I turned wrathfully – for a London street-boy’s yell, let off at point-blank range, is, in effect, like the smack of an open hand – but the inscription on the staring yellow poster that was held up for my inspection changed my anger into curiosity.

“Horrible discovery in a watercress-bed!”

Now, let prigs deny it if they will, but there is something very attractive in a “horrible discovery.” It hints at tragedy, at mystery, at romance. It promises to bring into our grey and commonplace life that element of the dramatic which is the salt that our existence is savoured withal. “In a watercress-bed,” too! The rusticity of the background seemed to emphasise the horror of the discovery, whatever it might be.

In among the more serious characterisation and the scientific stuff, there are a couple of great humorous set pieces that provide a bit of light relief, such as the obstreperous jury member at the inquest, or the maid servant incapable of giving a direct answer to any question, or the various patients Berkeley sees in his professional capacity. Admittedly these smack a little of the golden age snobbery that tends to mock the working classes, but here it’s done with so much warmth I couldn’t find it in me to take offence. I did guess a couple of pieces of the solution but was still in the dark as to motive and exactly how the intricate details of the plot all fitted together until Thorndyke explained all in a typical denouement scene at the end. All together, a very enjoyable read that has left me keen to get to know Freeman and Thorndyke better.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 142… on Tuesday!

Episode 142…

Well, I wasn’t proposing to do another TBR post till after the annual FictionFan Awards, but I’ve been on a real reading kick for the last few weeks which means I’m powering through the books I had lined up quicker than expected, and I’ve been the lucky recipient of some fab books that I’d really like to fit in before Christmas. (Tragically this means the TBR has leapt up again to 218, but you know what? I don’t care!)

So here they are…

Magical Crime

Courtesy of NetGalley. One of my favourites of the lighter crime series, starring stage magician Eli Marks. This isn’t due out till January but I won’t be able to wait till then. (Although the blurb makes this sound like a cosy, in truth the books always seem to me a little too gritty to really fall into that category, and they’re always excellently plotted, usually with a nod to Golden Age style. There is lots of humour in them though.)

The Blurb says: What does Eli Marks have up his sleeve this time? Well, let me tell you, no matter the mystery, his sleight of hand always does the trick.

Eli’s trip to London with his uncle Harry quickly turns homicidal when the older magician finds himself accused of murder. Not Uncle Harry! A second slaying does little to take the spotlight off Harry. Instead it’s clear someone is knocking off Harry’s elderly peers in bizarrely effective ways. But who? The odd gets odder when the prime suspect appears to be a bitter performer with a grudge…who committed suicide over thirty years before. While Eli struggles to prove his uncle’s innocence—and keep them both alive—he finds himself embroiled in a battle of his own: a favorite magic routine of his has been ripped off by another hugely popular magician.

What began as a whirlwind vacation to London with girlfriend Megan turns into a fatal and larcenous trip into the dark heart of magic within the city’s oldest magic society, The Magic Circle. No one does intriguing magic and page-turning humor like John Gaspard. Pick it up and see if you can figure out the trick first.

* * * * *

Classic sci-fi

Courtesy of the publisher. I’ve loved a few of these Oxford World’s Classics issues of some of the greats of science fiction and horror over the last couple of years, because the introductions really enhance the stories by setting them in their literary and historical context. So I begged a copy of this – one I’ve wanted to re-read for a while…

The Blurb says: One of the most important and influential invasion narratives ever written, The War of the Worlds (1897) describes the coming of the Martians, who land in Woking, and make their way remorselessly towards the capital, wreaking chaos, death, and destruction.

The novel is closely associated with anxiety about a possible invasion of Great Britain at the turn of the century, and concerns about imperial expansion and its impact, and it drew on the latest astronomical knowledge to imagine a desert planet, Mars, turning to Earth for its future. The Martians are also evolutionarily superior to mankind.

About the Series For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.

* * * * *

Gorgeously Factual

Courtesy of Yale University Press. Somehow I always feel the ideal Christmas season requires a lavishly illustrated, gorgeous factual book and this fits the description perfectly. It’s not just pretty pictures though…

The Blurb says: Beginning with new evidence that cites the presence of books in Roman villas and concluding with present day vicissitudes of collecting, this generously illustrated book presents a complete survey of British and Irish country house libraries. Replete with engaging anecdotes about owners and librarians, the book features fascinating information on acquisition bordering on obsession, the process of designing library architecture, and the care (and neglect) of collections. The author also disputes the notion that these libraries were merely for show, arguing that many of them were profoundly scholarly, assembled with meticulous care, and frequently used for intellectual pursuits. For those who love books and the libraries in which they are collected and stored, The Country House Library is an essential volume to own.

* * * * *

Award-winning Fiction

The Saltire Society’s Literary Awards are Scotland’s premier awards for fiction, non-fiction and poetry. I already had a copy of this one courtesy of the lovely people at Saraband, so was thrilled to hear last week that it has won the award for First Book of the Year 2017. So I really have to bump it up to the top of the TBR… and another gorgeous cover, isn’t it?

The Blurb says: Ian McEwan’s Atonement meets Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth in this extraordinary debut.

A novel set between the past and present with magical realist elements. Goblin is an outcast girl growing up in London during World War 2. After witnessing a shocking event she increasingly takes refuge in a self-constructed but magical imaginary world. Having been rejected by her mother, she leads a feral life amidst the craters of London’s Blitz, and takes comfort in her family of animals, abandoned pets she’s rescued from London’s streets.

In 2011, a chance meeting and an unwanted phone call compels an elderly Goblin to return to London amidst the riots and face the ghosts of her past. Will she discover the truth buried deep in her fractured memory or retreat to the safety of near madness? In Goblin, debut novelist Dundas has constructed an utterly beguiling historical tale with an unforgettable female protagonist at its centre.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

‘I am slain,” she cries, “alas! I am slain!” I did not write the line, so I am not responsible for the older woman stating what must already have been obvious. The younger woman screams, not in shock, but in exultation.

The older woman staggers some more, turning now so that the onlookers can see the blood. If we had not been in a palace, then we would not have used the sheep’s blood, because the velvet gown was too rich and expensive, but for Elizabeth, for whom time does not exist, we must spend. So we spend. The blood soaks the velvet gown, hardly showing because the cloth is so dark, but plenty of blood stains the lavender silk, and spatters the canvas that has been spread across the Turkey carpets. The woman now sways, cries again, falls to her knees, and, with another exclamation, dies. In case anyone thinks she is merely fainting, she calls out two last despairing words, “I die!” And then she dies.

* * * * * * * * *

Josh Griffin was racing to beat the news deadline clock with his last story of the week when he heard his name.

It wasn’t in dulcet tones, either. “Griffin – you got a minute?”

Looking up from his computer, Josh zeroed in on his editor, seated in her office, clear across the crowded newsroom. She was wearing her usual scowl as she shuffled a stack of wire copy, confident her minion would jump to attention and present himself before her throne.

Josh felt his heart quicken. Any time Millie String bellowed at a hapless colleague, Josh cringed, knowing his turn would come one day, too. This must be my day of reckoning, he decided.

“I’m on deadline, Millie,” he called, without rising but with a point to the Seiko on his wrist. “Can’t it wait?”

Millie fixed a stare on him and shook her head. “Now,” was all she said.

* * * * * * * * *

Haruo’s room was near the front door. A child’s crayon drawings of “a general” and “a soldier with tulips” were pinned to the wall. In the middle of the room stood a potted fir tree, with braids of golden wire and chains of coloured paper threaded between the branches, topped by snow made of white cotton. It was the Christmas tree Sanshirō had bought for his son just before he had left for his temporary assignment.

But the first thing I noticed as I entered the room was the empty bed of the little master of the Christmas tree standing in front of a small desk in one corner. The blankets had been thrown back and the child who should have been sleeping there was nowhere to be seen. The silver paper stars of the Christmas Tree that had lost its master sparkled as they started to turn and sway in the cold currents of air.

From The Cold Night’s Clearing by Keikichi Osaka

* * * * * * * * *

If I move, even ever so slightly, this stair will creak and they will hear me. They’re all around me and one of them will cry out, that’s for sure. Bound to. Then I’m done for. I’ll never get another chance like this to get away. And I need to get away tonight, come what may. No matter what.

If I turn my head oh-so-slowly to the right and look up, I can see three doors on the first-floor landing above me. All shut. Ainsley is in the room at this end of the landing, closest to the stairs. He’ll be sitting there now, rocking gently back and forth and mumbling to himself. He’s sharper than you’d think, though. If he hears me, he’ll shout out, “Who’s there?” at the top of his thin, whiny voice. And he’ll do it over and over, each time louder than the last.

Sprake is in the middle room. He’ll be staring out of the window across the lawn. Absolutely motionless, he’ll be. I know. I’ve seen him. He sits that way for hours at a time. Like he’s in a trance. If I get out of here, I’ll have to stay round the side of the building to get away. If Sprake sees me he’ll start shouting and banging on the walls with his fists. He turns quickly, that one. He’s mad, proper mad. I’ve even seen him biting his toenails until they bleed.

* * * * * * * * *

From the Archives…

“Well, I’d got to talk so nice it wasn’t no comfort – I’d got to go up in the attic and rip out awhile, every day, to git a taste in my mouth, or I’d a died, Tom. The widder wouldn’t let me smoke; she wouldn’t let me yell, she wouldn’t let me gape, nor stretch, not scratch, before folks -” (Then with a spasm of special irritation and injury) – “And dad fetch it, she prayed all the time!”

* * * * *

The minister gave out the hymn, and read it through with a relish, in a peculiar style that was much admired in that part of the country. His voice began on a medium key and climbed steadily up till it reached a certain point, where it bore with strong emphasis upon the topmost word and then plunged down as if from a spring-board:

“Shall I be car-ri-ed toe the skies, on flow’ry BEDS of ease,
Whilst others fight to win the prize, and sail thro’ BLOOD-y seas?”

(Click for full review)

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

Pietr the Latvian (Maigret 1) by Georges Simenon

Introducing the great man…

🙂 🙂 🙂

Inspector Maigret is at the Gare du Nord on the trail of a notorious conman known only as Pietr the Latvian. He only has a description to go on, but he sees a man get off the train who matches it in every respect. However things get complicated when a corpse turns up on the train, and the corpse also matches the description! Who is the man on the train? And who is the man who got off the train? As Maigret hunts down the living man, his identity seems to become ever vaguer. But Maigret is nothing if not dogged…

This is the first book in the long-running Maigret series and, like many débuts, not one of the best when looked at retrospectively. The plot is a bit messy and the solution relatively obvious. It consists mostly of Maigret hanging around in hotels and bars as he follows his quarry about Paris and the little seaside town of Fecamp, interspersed with the occasional interview. However it shows Simenon’s skill in creating the authentic sense of place that would become a hallmark of the series and provides an introduction to the character of Maigret himself – perhaps more one-dimensional than he would later become, but already with that relentless persistence that would see him through more complex investigations in his future career.

Challenge details:
Book: 97
Subject Heading: Cosmopolitan Crimes
Publication Year: 1930

He was a big, bony man. Iron muscles shaped his jacket sleeves and quickly wore through new trousers. He had a way of imposing himself just by standing there.

Maigret is a bit of a superman in this one, requiring little in the way of sleep and able to battle on even when injured, possibly due to the extraordinary amount of alcohol he puts away. It’s more noir in tone, perhaps, than the later books (of which I’ve only read a couple, so am certainly no Maigret expert), as Maigret wanders through a kind of lowlife underworld full of rather sad and desperate people. His wife is referred to, but not really in the warm terms I’ve come to expect, of being Maigret’s true partner and best friend. Here she’s more of a “traditional” wife – there merely to provide food when required.

Georges Simenon

I listened to it on audio, well narrated by Gareth Armstrong. It’s part of Penguin’s re-issue of the series with new translations, and David Bellos does a fine job with it.

On the whole I felt one could see the kernel of what the series would develop into, but since these are all standalones, I’d tend to recommend newcomers to start with one of the later, better books as I did. In truth, had this been my first introduction to the great man, it may not have encouraged me to try more. But I found it interesting from the point of view of being able to compare this first glimpse of Maigret to the more rounded character he would later become, so would certainly recommend it on that basis.

NB This audiobook was provided for review by Audible via MidasPR.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link
Audible UK Link
Audible US Link

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

The Master of Ballantrae, James in baptism, took from his father the love of serious reading; some of his tact perhaps as well, but that which was only policy in the father became black dissimulation in the son. The face of his behaviour was merely popular and wild: he sat late at wine, later at the cards; had the name in the country of “an unco man for the lasses;” and was ever in the front of broils. But for all he was the first to go in, yet it was observed he was invariably the best to come off; and his partners in mischief were usually alone to pay the piper. This luck or dexterity got him several ill-wishers, but with the rest of the country, enhanced his reputation; so that great things were looked for in his future, when he should have gained more gravity. […] I think it notable that he had always vaunted himself quite implacable, and was taken at his word; so that he had the addition among his neighbours of “an ill man to cross.” Here was altogether a young nobleman (not yet twenty-four in the year ’45) who had made a figure in the country beyond his time of life.

* * * * * * * * *

She told him it had been six years ago that she had stayed a day with the Rasputins while on a pilgrimage to Kiev. It was the busy season, and Rasputin was mostly out in the fields, but he would often run home to check on things, each time trying to get her to kiss him. She resisted, insisting that it was not right, but he told her that “among us spiritual pilgrims seeking to save ourselves there is a type of spiritual kissing, like the way the Apostle Paul kissed St. Thekla.” Karneeva repeated how while climbing up out of the chapel beneath the stables, he had grabbed her and kissed her cheek. It was then Rasputin told her of the appearance of the Holy Spirit. Later that day, Glukhovtsev brought Karneeva and Rasputin together for what the Russians called an ochnaia stavka, a sort of face-to-face confrontation, to try to get to the bottom of her claims. Seated directly across from Rasputin, Karneeva repeated everything she had told Glukhovtsev. To each of her statements Rasputin said little more than “That was all long ago, I don’t recall a thing,” or “I don’t remember a thing from that far back,” or simply “I don’t remember that.”

* * * * * * * * *

I had visited the place several times when the professor was alive, and I was also a student of zoology, especially anthropods, so I should have been quite used to the sight; nevertheless it still gave me the shivers and I was rooted for a moment to the spot. Inside hundreds of bottles lining the walls, eight-legged monsters were running around and spinning their webs. Big Oni-gumo and Joro spiders, yellow with blue stripes; Harvestmen with legs ten times longer than their bodies; Cellar spiders with yellow spots on their backs. The grotesque Kimura spider and trapdoor spiders, Ji-gumo, Ha-gumo, Hirata-gumo, Kogane-gumo; all these different kinds of spider had not been fed for about a month and, having lost most of their flesh, were looking around with shiny, hungry eyes for food. Some jars had not been properly sealed and the escaped spiders had spun their webs on the ceiling and in the corners of the room. Countless numbers of the ghastly creatures were crawling around on the walls and ceiling.

From The Spider by Koga Saburo

* * * * * * * * *

I sauntered through the camp towards my hut. On my left, scattered amongst nim and palm trees and big clumps of hibiscus hedge, were the most important buildings in the camp complex – the garage and workshops, Mallabar’s bungalow, the canteen, the kitchen and storage sheds, and beyond them the now abandoned dormitory of the census workers. Beyond that, over to the right, I could just see, through a screen of plumbago hedge, the round thatched roofs of the cooks’ and small boys’ quarters.

I continued past the huge hagania tree that dominated the centre of the camp and which had given it its name: grosso arvore. The Grosso Arvore Research Centre.

On the other side of the track, opposite the canteen, was Hauser’s laboratory and behind that was the tin cabin he shared with Toshiro. Thirty yards along from the lab was the Vails’ bungalow, not as big as chez Mallabar but prettier, freighted with jasmine and bougainvillea. And then, finally, at the camp’s northern extremity, was my hut. In fact “hut” was a misnomer: I lived in a cross between a tent and a tin shack, a curious dwelling with canvas sides and a corrugated iron roof. I suppose it was fitting that it should go to me, on the principle that the newest arrival should occupy the least permanent building, but I was not displeased with it and was indifferent to what it might say about my status.

* * * * * * * * *

From the Archives…

Imaginings and resonances and pain and small longings and prejudices. They meant nothing against the resolute hardness of the sea…It might have been better, she felt, if there had never been people, if this turning of the world, and the glistening sea, and the morning breeze happened without witnesses, without anyone feeling, or remembering, or dying, or trying to love.

(Click for full review)

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

Death at the President’s Lodging (Inspector Appleby 1) by Michael Innes

I simply Kant take any more…

😖

When Dr Umpleby, the President of prestigious and ancient St Anthony’s College, is found murdered, Inspector Appleby of the Yard is rushed to the spot, as the local plods will clearly not be well educated or cultured enough to deal with such a sensitive affair. Fortunately Appleby can quote major and minor philosophers with the best of them and has more than a passing knowledge of all the arcane subjects covered in a classical Oxbridge education, all of which will no doubt help him to uncover who killed the President and why.

The tone of my introduction may have been somewhat of a spoiler for my opinion of the book, so I may as well jump straight to the conclusion – I abandoned this at just under 40%, finally throwing in the towel when one of the characters hinted that the clue to the mystery might be found in an anecdote about Kant quoted in a book by De Quincey. This, only a couple of pages after the following passage…

And he [Inspector Appleby] sipped his whisky and finally murmured to Titlow [a suspect], with something of the whimsicality that Titlow had been adopting a little before, “What truth is it that these mountains bound, and is a lie in the world beyond?”

There was silence while Titlow’s eye dwelt meditatively on the policeman conversant with Montaigne. Then he smiled, and his smile had great charm. “I wear my heart on my wall?” he asked. “To project one’s own conflicts, to hang them up in simple pictorial terms – it is to be able to step back and contemplate oneself. You understand?”

I couldn’t help but feel it might have been more useful had Appleby asked whether Titlow had crept into the college garden in the middle of the night and shot the President, or searched his rooms for the gun, but each to his own, I suppose. And certainly, my method wouldn’t have allowed Innes to show his vast erudition and superior intellect, which appears to be the main purpose of the book.

Challenge details:
Book: 52
Subject Heading: Education, Education, Education
Publication Year: 1936

The actual plot is based on there being a limited number of people, almost all academics, who could have had access to Dr Umpleby’s rooms at the time of the murder. Sadly, this aspect becomes tedious very quickly with much talk of who had or didn’t have keys, where rooms are in relation to each other, where walls and passages are. I felt a desperate need for a nap… oops, I mean a map… after the first several dozen pages of description. Oddly enough, Innes claims Appleby is happier dealing with problems on a “human or psychological plane” and then proceeds to have this great intellectual wandering around in the (literal) dark, playing hunt the missing key. By 40%, only one possible motive had emerged, largely because Appleby seems more interested in listing the academic tomes on the suspects’ bookshelves than in trying to find out where they had been at the time of the crime.

Michael Innes

This is one of Martin Edwards’ picks in his The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, and I’ve seen several positive reviews of other books of Michael Innes’ recently, so I’m willing to accept that my antipathy to this style of writing isn’t universal, or perhaps Innes improved in later books – this, I believe, was his first. However, the only emotions it provoked in me were tedium and irritation at the perpetual intellectual snobbery. Having been made to realise my own status as dullard, I shall take my inferior intellect and defective education off into the dunce’s corner now… but don’t feel too sorry for me, for I shall take with me an ample supply of chocolate and some books by authors who may not have achieved a First in Classics at Oxbridge but who nevertheless seem to have grasped the definition of the word “entertain”…

In truth, I think my rating of this one is harsh – had I been able to convince myself to struggle through it, it may have earned three stars for the quality of the writing and plot. But since I couldn’t bring myself to finish it, I fear I can only give it one.

PS Appleby and Umpleby? Seriously??

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Ipso Books.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

The TBR Book Tag 2017

The truth, the whole truth…

I first did this tag back in 2015, and then last week Cleo reminded me of it when she brought her own one up-to-date. So I thought I’d do it again and see what, if anything has changed…

How do you keep track of your TBR pile?

I have the same spreadsheet as I had back then, but it’s got even more complicated now! As well as sections for the TBR, the GAN Quest, lists of reviews, outstanding review copies, books that aren’t yet published, 5-star authors, etc., etc., plus the all-important reading schedule for the next three months, I now have lists for my four challenges too: Reading the Russian Revolution; Murder, Mystery, Mayhem; the Classics Club; and Around the World in 80 Books. Oh, and then there’s a separate spreadsheet for audiobooks. Frankly it’s a full-time job keeping it all up-to-date – no wonder I need to eat so much chocolate!

You have to admire the colour-coding though, eh?

Is your TBR mostly print or e-book?

It’s still mostly e-book, though I’ve been enjoying getting back to paper books a bit more recently. I vastly prefer factual books in paper – it’s so much easier to flick back and forwards to notes, maps etc. But I’ve rediscovered my love of reading crime and fiction in paperback too. However, my Kindle Fire is still my most prized piece of technology, full of NetGalley stuff, Complete Works collections of zillions of classic authors, books bought at bargain prices on offers from Amazon, and audiobooks.

How do you determine which book from your TBR to read next?

I have to try to juggle the review copies with my various challenges, so at the end of each month I spend a couple of hours planning three months ahead. I don’t stick rigidly to it if something comes along that I can’t resist but it does keep me vaguely on track. I still have the same problem of too many review copies though – some things never change!

A book that’s been on your TBR the longest?

The Observations by Jane Harris. I am deeply ashamed to say that I bought it on 20th June 2011, and yet somehow haven’t managed to fit it in during the last six years. I’d feel better about it if it was the only one from 2011, but sadly not. No Name by Wilkie Collins is lingering there too. In my defence, it only went on my actual list a couple of years ago when I trawled through all my Kindle books and found loads I had bought on 99p deals in my first flush of Kindle enthusiasm and never read…

The Blurb says: Scotland, 1863. In an attempt to escape her past, Bessy Buckley takes a job working as a maid in a big country house. But when Arabella, her beautiful mistress, asks her to undertake a series of bizarre tasks, Bessy begins to realise that she hasn’t quite landed on her feet. In one of the most acclaimed debuts of recent years, Jane Harris has created a heroine who will make you laugh and cry as she narrates this unforgettable story about secrets and suspicions and the redemptive power of love and friendship.

A book you recently added to your TBR?

I’m super enthusiastic about my most recent addition – it will be one of the final books for my Russian Revolution thing, and I think it sounds great.

The Blurb says: In The Man Who Loved Dogs, Leonardo Padura brings a noir sensibility to one of the most fascinating and complex political narratives of the past hundred years: the assassination of Leon Trotsky by Ramón Mercader.

The story revolves around Iván Cárdenas Maturell, who in his youth was the great hope of modern Cuban literature—until he dared to write a story that was deemed counterrevolutionary. When we meet him years later in Havana, Iván is a loser: a humbled and defeated man with a quiet, unremarkable life who earns his modest living as a proofreader at a veterinary magazine. One afternoon, he meets a mysterious foreigner in the company of two Russian wolfhounds. This is “the man who loved dogs,” and as the pair grow closer, Iván begins to understand that his new friend is hiding a terrible secret.

Moving seamlessly between Iván’s life in Cuba, Ramón’s early years in Spain and France, and Trotsky’s long years of exile, The Man Who Loved Dogs is Padura’s most ambitious and brilliantly executed novel yet. This is a story about political ideals tested and characters broken, a multilayered epic that effortlessly weaves together three different plot threads— Trotsky in exile, Ramón in pursuit, Iván in frustrated stasis—to bring emotional truth to historical fact.

A novel whose reach is matched only by its astonishing successes on the page, The Man Who Loved Dogs lays bare the human cost of abstract ideals and the insidious, corrosive effects of life under a repressive political regime.

A book on your TBR strictly because of its beautiful cover?

Nope – I can only repeat my answer from 2015. I do like covers but am never influenced by them alone, good or bad, though if they’re especially good, they might at least tempt me to look at the blurb. I love the British Library Crime Classics covers though…

…and the Agatha Christie covers that Audible is currently using…

A book on your TBR that you never plan on reading?

No… not really… well… I admit… some of those 99p bargains I mentioned above have lost a lot of their appeal over the years, but I periodically trawl through and delete any that I really don’t want to read, so theoretically at least I plan on reading everything on my current list…

An unpublished book on your TBR that you’re excited for?

I’ve been trying not to acquire so many advance copies so I don’t have many unpublished books on the TBR at the moment. But this is one I picked purely on the basis of the blurb and publisher – Canongate are one of the leaders in promoting quality Scottish fiction writers. I’m hoping it’ll be as good as it sounds…

The Blurb says: Shetland: a place of sheep and soil, of harsh weather, close ties and an age-old way of life. A place where David has lived all his life, like his father and grandfather before him, but where he abides only in the present moment. A place where Sandy, a newcomer but already a crofter, may have finally found a home. A place that Alice has fled to after the death of her husband.

But times do change – island inhabitants die, or move away, and David worries that no young families will take over the chain of stories and care that this valley has always needed, while others wonder if it was ever truly theirs to join. In the wind and sun and storms from the Atlantic, these islanders must decide: what is left of us when the day’s work is done, the children grown, and all our choices have been made?

The debut novel from one of Scotland’s most exciting new literary voices, The Valley at the Centre of the World is a story about community and isolation, about what is passed down, and what is lost between the cracks.

A book on your TBR that everyone has read but you?

So, so many now that I’ve joined the Classics Club! But the one that stands out most is Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith – EVERYBODY has read it! And I hereby swear on all I hold most dear…

… I too will have read it before spring is sprung!

A book on your TBR that everyone recommends to you?

Hmm… probably the one that has been most often recommended to me over the years is In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – I can’t understand why I’ve never read it. And I hereby swear on all I hold most dear…

… I will have read it before spring is sprung! (But I’m not specifying which spring…)

A book on your TBR that you’re dying to read?

About 90% of them, which is a lot! But here are a few that I’m absolutely determined to read soon!

How many books are on your Goodreads TBR shelf?

None! I don’t use it – I only list books I’ve read or am reading on Goodreads. However, here are the dreaded figures from the spreadsheet…

So… up by 62 since 2015! But considering I added zillions when I joined the Classics Club, and zillions more when I started the 100 Classic Crime novels challenge, I think that’s pretty good! It’s only 4 years worth, after all! In fact, I might have to think about topping it up soon…

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Of course, I haven’t included the audiobooks…

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Go on – I tag you! Reveal all…

TBR Thursday 141…

Episode 141…

A massive drop in the TBR this week! Down 2 to 217! Well on the way to single figures, see? I may have to stock up on a few more books before I run out…

This might be the last TBR post before Christmas, since the annual FictionFan Awards will be kicking off soon, so here are a few that I’m determined to fit in before year end… somehow or other!

Dickens for Christmas

I’ve had a tradition for many years of reading Dickens over Christmas, which is why I included five of his novels on my Classics Club list. This will be a re-read of one that I love for all the weird and wonderful characters…

The Blurb says: When Nicholas Nickleby is left penniless after his father’s death, he appeals to his wealthy uncle to help him find work and to protect his mother and sister. But Ralph Nickleby proves both hard-hearted and unscrupulous, and Nicholas finds himself forced to make his own way in the world. His adventures gave Dickens the opportunity to portray an extraordinary gallery of rogues and eccentrics: Wackford Squeers, the tyrannical headmaster of Dotheboys Hall, a school for unwanted boys; the slow-witted orphan Smike, rescued by Nicholas; and the gloriously theatrical Mr and Mrs Crummles and their daughter, the ‘infant phenomenon’. Like many of Dickens’s novels, Nicholas Nickleby is characterised by his outrage at cruelty and social injustice, but it is also a flamboyantly exuberant work, revealing his comic genius at its most unerring.

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Crime

I have a lot of very talented blog buddies, which is great for me but a killer for my TBR! Angela Savage is one of them and I’ve been intending to read this, her debut novel from before I ‘met’ her, for ages. She’s written another two in the series and is currently working on a non-series novel, so I better get a move on!

The Blurb says: Thirty-something Australian Jayne Keeney works as a PI in Bangkok. Shaken by a serious incident, she heads north to visit her close friend Didier in Chiang Mai, though there’s no relief for her there.

Murder is in the air and the police, led by Lieutenant Colonel Ratratarn, have no interest in justice. But Jayne does. With some help from Arthur Conan Doyle, she digs deep – past the tacky glamour of the city’s clubs and bars, arrogant expats, corrupt officials, and a steamy affair – to find out just what happened behind the Night Bazaar.

Angela Savage has brought the streets of Thailand vividly to life. In Jayne Keeney she has created a gutsy heroine. This is an unforgettable debut novel and the start of an exciting new series.

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Factual

Courtesy of NetGalley. When The Graduate came out in 1967, I was too young to see it, but I did watch it several times in the following decades. It didn’t have quite the impact on me that this book claims it had on those who saw it when it came out, but nonetheless there are some scenes that are etched indelibly in my memory. And of course, there’s the music…

The Blurb says: When The Graduate premiered in December 1967, its filmmakers had only modest expectations attached to what seemed to be a small, sexy, art house comedy adapted from an obscure first novel by an eccentric twenty-four-year-old. There was little indication that this offbeat story–a young man just out of college has an affair with one of his parents’ friends–would turn out to be a monster hit, with an extended run in theaters and seven Academy Award nominations.

The film catapulted an unknown actor, Dustin Hoffman, to stardom with a role that is now permanently engraved in our collective memories. And just as it turned the word plastics into shorthand for soulless work and a corporate, consumer culture, The Graduate sparked a national conversation about what came to be called “the generation gap.”

Now, in time for this iconic film’s fiftieth birthday, author Beverly Gray offers up a smart close reading of the film itself and vivid, never-before-revealed details from behind the scenes of the production–including all the drama and decision-making of the cast and crew. For movie buffs and pop culture fans, Seduced by Mrs. Robinson brings to light The Graduate’s huge influence on the future of filmmaking, and it explores how this unconventional movie rocked the late sixties world, both reflecting and changing the era’s views of sex, work, and marriage.

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Crime

I have a lot of very talented blog buddies, which is great for me but a killer for my TBR! No, you’re not suffering from déjà vu – this is another one! Caleigh O’Shea is the pen name of my blog buddy Debbie who blogs over at Musings by an ND Domer’s Mom, and this is her newly-released debut novel…

The Blurb says: Texas journalist Josh Griffin lives for scoops, but he’s never faced real danger to get one. Nor has he ever been emotionally drawn into his stories. Then he gets an anonymous tip that teenaged golf superstar Lexi Carlisle has been kidnapped, and Josh embarks on an investigation destined to change his life forever. Lexi Carlisle is the daughter of Josh’s college sweetheart; watching Amanda agonize over her missing daughter while refuting police insinuations that she had something to do with the crime is more than Josh can handle. And when he unravels the web of lies spun by Lexi’s crazed kidnapper — who has killed once and isn’t afraid to do so again — Josh realizes the story takes second place to the girl’s rescue.

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Christmas Crime on Audio

Narrated by Jenny Agutter and Daniel Weyman, doesn’t this sound like perfect festive fun?

The Blurb says: A collection of four short stories from P. D. James, published together for the first time.

As the acknowledged “Queen of Crime”, P. D. James was frequently commissioned by newspapers and magazines to write special short stories for Christmas. Four of the very best of these have been rescued from the archives and are published together. P. D. James’ prose illuminates each of these perfectly formed stories, making them ideal listening for the darkest days of the year.

While she delights in the secrets that lurk beneath the surface at enforced family gatherings, her Christmas stories also provide enjoyable puzzles to keep the reader guessing. From the title story about a strained country-house Christmas party to another about an illicit affair that ends in murder and two cases for James’ poet-detective Adam Dalgliesh, each treats the reader to James’ masterfully atmospheric storytelling, always with the lure of a mystery to be solved.

The four stories are: The Mistletoe Murder; A Very Commonplace Murder; The Boxdale Inheritance; The Twelve Clues of Christmas.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Audible UK.

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

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