TBR Thursday 111…

Episode 111…

Oh, dear, oh dear, oh dear! The TBR has gone up again – how??? I’ve been so strict with myself!!! But I’m still managing to avoid going over the 200 watershed – this week’s total is 198…

Time to get some reading done – quickly! Here are some that are coming up soon…

Factual

a-peoples-tragedyFor the Reading the Russian Revolution Challenge. It’ll be ages before I get to this (I need to get through Trotsky first) but I thought I’d give it a mention now, since The Bodley Head have issued this special centenary edition and kindly let me have a copy. Another 900+ pages – whose idea was this challenge?? But it’s lavishly illustrated so that’s always a bonus… and it’s a nicely designed, good quality paperback with what I think are called French flaps on both the front and back covers.

The Blurb says: Opening with a panorama of Russian society, from the cloistered world of the Tsar to the brutal life of the peasants, A People’s Tragedy follows workers, soldiers, intellectuals and villagers as their world is consumed by revolution and then degenerates into violence and dictatorship. Drawing on vast original research, Figes conveys above all the shocking experience of the revolution for those who lived it, while providing the clearest and most cogent account of how and why it unfolded.

Illustrated with over 100 photographs and now including a new introduction that reflects on the revolution’s centennial legacy, A People’s Tragedy is a masterful and definitive record of one of the most important events in modern history.

* * * * *

Fiction

the cone gatherers 2This one appeared on a TBR post a couple of years ago but I didn’t get around to reading it at that time, and it’s been gazing at me accusingly ever since. So to make it feel better, I stuck it on my Classics Club list under the Scottish section…

The Blurb says:  Calum and Neil are the cone-gatherers – two brothers at work in the forest of a large Scottish estate. But the harmony of their life together is shadowed by the obsessive hatred of Duror, the gamekeeper.

Set during the Second World War, Robin Jenkins’ greatest novel is an immensely powerful examination of good and evil, and mankind’s propensity for both. Removed from the destruction and bloodshed of the war, the brothers’ oblivious happiness becomes increasingly fragile as darker forces close in around them.

Suspenseful, dark and unforgettable, The Cone-Gatherers is a towering work of fiction, a masterpiece of modern Scottish literature.

* * * * *

Crime

the-bishops-girlA couple of years ago, I reviewed Rebecca Burns’ excellent short story collection, The Settling Earth. So when she contacted me to offer a copy of her new novel, I was delighted. I realise the blurb makes it sound a bit like a romance, but I’m reliably informed (by the author!) that it’s actually a historical fiction/mystery…

The Blurb says: The body had no name. It was not supposed to be there…

Jess is a researcher on a quest to give the one-hundred-year-old skeleton, discovered in the exhumed grave of a prominent bishop, an identity. But she’s not sure of her own – her career is stalling, her marriage is failing. She doesn’t want to spend hours in the archives, rifling through dusty papers in an endless search for a name. And when a young man named Hayden makes clear his interest in her, Jess has to decide what is most important to her.

* * * * *

Crime

let-the-dead-speakCourtesy of NetGalley. Woohoo! Maeve Kerrigan is back – and it looks like she’s been promoted! It’s been a loooooooong wait for this one!

The Blurb says: The chilling new crime novel from award-winning author, Jane Casey. When an 18-year-old girl returns home to find her house covered in blood and her mother missing, Detective Maeve Kerrigan and the murder squad must navigate a web of lies to discover the truth… When eighteen-year-old Chloe Emery returns to her West London home she finds Kate, her mother, missing and the house covered in blood. There may not be a body, but everything else points to murder. Maeve Kerrigan is young, ambitious and determined to prove she’s up to her new role as detective sergeant. In the absence of a body, she and maverick detective Josh Derwent turn their attention to the neighbours. The ultra-religious Norrises are acting suspiciously; their teenage daughter definitely has something to hide. Then there’s William Turner, once accused of stabbing a schoolmate and the neighbourhood’s favourite criminal. Is he merely a scapegoat or is there more behind the charismatic façade? As the accusations fly, Maeve must piece together a patchwork of conflicting testimonies, none of which quite add up. Who is lying, who is not? The answer could lead them to the truth about Kate Emery, and save the life of someone else.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose…

…a Valentine post…

Not every great love is romantic in nature, so today I thought I’d send my Valentines to people, real or fictional, whose varied kinds of love have entertained and moved me over the years.

heart-and-roses* * * * *

Matthew and Anne
Anne of Green Gables

When shy Matthew Cuthbert goes to pick up a boy from the orphanage only to discover they’ve sent a skinny, red-haired little girl instead, he decides to leave it up to his sister Marilla to break the news to the child that she’ll have to go back. But during the drive home, little Anne chats brightly about her past and her imaginative impressions of this new place she’s found herself in, and by the time they reach Green Gables, Matthew has discovered he kinda likes having her around…

Matthew, much to his own surprise, was enjoying himself. Like most quiet folks he liked talkative people when they were willing to do the talking themselves and did not expect him to keep up his end of it.

Matthew soon becomes one of the pivotal people in Anne’s life, offering her support and admiration such as she has never known in her lonely life, and under his kind treatment she blossoms. Although Matthew doesn’t speak often, he has one of the most sob-worthy lines in the book…

“Well now, I’d rather have you than a dozen boys, Anne,’ said Matthew patting her hand. ‘Just mind you that – rather than a dozen boys. Well now, I guess it wasn’t a boy that took the Avery scholarship, was it? It was a girl – my girl – my girl that I’m proud of.”

anne-and-matthew

* * * * *

Holmes and Watson
The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot

Watson wears his deep love for his friend on his sleeve, but it’s not often Holmes shows his feelings. So it’s all the more affecting when he does…

…I broke through that cloud of despair and had a glimpse of Holmes’s face, white, rigid, and drawn with horror – the very look which I had seen upon the features of the dead. It was that vision which gave me an instant of sanity and of strength. I dashed from my chair, threw my arms round Holmes, and together we lurched through the door, and an instant afterwards had thrown ourselves down upon the grass plot and were lying side by side, conscious only of the glorious sunshine which was bursting its way through the hellish cloud of terror which had girt us in.

“Upon my word, Watson!” said Holmes at last with an unsteady voice, “I owe you both my thanks and an apology. It was an unjustifiable experiment even for one’s self, and doubly so for a friend. I am really very sorry.”

“You know,” I answered with some emotion, for I have never seen so much of Holmes’s heart before, “that it is my greatest joy and privilege to help you.”

holmes-and-watson

* * * * *

Alexander the Great and Bucephalus

When the great horse Bucephalus was offered for sale to Philip of Macedonia, the price seemed too high for a beast that no one had been able to tame. But Philip’s young son Alexander greatly admired the massive, black horse with a white star on his forehead. He made a wager with the owner that if he could ride the horse, the price would be waived. Alexander guessed that the horse was spooked by his own shadow, so turned Bucephalus’s face to the sun, and the horse allowed him to mount. From that moment they were inseparable companions until Bucephalus died many years later at the Battle of the Hydaspes. As a tribute to his great and loyal friend, Alexander founded a town and named it Bucephala.

(I was so in love with this story as a child that, when I finally persuaded my parents to let me have a puppy, I wanted to call him Bucephalus. My brother wanted to call him Hercules. My dad put his foot down, and the puppy became Sandy. He was a miniature poodle. Perhaps Dad was right… 😉 )

'Alexander taming Bucephalus' statue by 19thC Scottish sculptor, John Steell, at Edinburgh City Chambers, Edinburgh, Scotland
‘Alexander taming Bucephalus’ statue by 19thC Scottish sculptor, John Steell, at Edinburgh City Chambers, Edinburgh, Scotland

* * * * *

Scarlett O’Hara and Tara
Gone with the Wind

Husbands may come and go in Scarlett’s life, but her father taught her early to love their land – Tara…

Do you mean to tell me, Katie Scarlett O’Hara, that Tara, that land doesn’t mean anything to you? Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.

She learns her lesson well…

I can’t let Tara go. I won’t let it go while there’s a breath left in my body.

Even Rhett comes second…

Tara! Home. I’ll go home. And I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all… tomorrow is another day…

Personally, I prefer Rhett...
Personally, I’m not convinced she got her priorities right…

* * * * *

Lizzie and Jane
Pride and Prejudice

Long before Lizzie meets Darcy, she has another love in her life – her beloved sister Jane, whom she admires even while laughing at her just a little…

“But that is one great difference between us. Compliments always take you by surprise, and me never. What could be more natural than his asking you again? He could not help seeing that you were about five times as pretty as every other woman in the room. No thanks to his gallantry for that. Well, he certainly is very agreeable, and I give you leave to like him. You have liked many a stupider person.”

“Dear Lizzy!”

“Oh! you are a great deal too apt, you know, to like people in general. You never see a fault in anybody. All the world are good and agreeable in your eyes. I never heard you speak ill of a human being in your life.”

“I would not wish to be hasty in censuring anyone; but I always speak what I think.”

“I know you do; and it is that which makes the wonder. With your good sense, to be so honestly blind to the follies and nonsense of others! Affectation of candour is common enough — one meets with it everywhere. But to be candid without ostentation or design — to take the good of everybody’s character and make it still better, and say nothing of the bad — belongs to you alone.”

Oh, for goodness sake! It's Jane and Lizzie, okay? It's NOT a gratuitous Darcy pic!
Oh, for goodness sake! It’s Jane and Lizzie, okay? It’s NOT a gratuitous Darcy pic!

* * * * * *

happy-valentines-day-2014

TBR Thursday 110…

Episode 110…

Well, the TBR dipped a little during the week, but tragically a late run of arrivals shoved it right back up – to 197 again! Still, it may not have gone down, but at least it hasn’t gone up – so that’s success, right? Right?? And I’m still avoiding the big 200 for the moment – which is actually kinda sad, because a few of us were getting quite enthusiastic last time about forming a 200 Club and looking down our noses at people with tiny TBRs of only 180 or so… maybe next week! 😉

Meantime, here are some that are toppling off the top of the pile…

Factual

history-of-the-russian-revolution-2For the Reading the Russian Revolution Challenge. Penguin Modern Classics have issued a new edition of Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution for the centenary year, with the original three parts all collected into one volume, and have kindly provided me with a copy. It’s 992 pages long, (big pages, small print), so I may be some time…

The Blurb says: “During the first two months of 1917 Russia was still a Romanov monarchy. Eight months later the Bolsheviks stood at the helm. They were little known to anybody when the year began, and their leaders were still under indictment for state treason when they came to power. You will not find another such sharp turn in history especially if you remember that it involves a nation of 150 million people. It is clear that the events of 1917, whatever you think of them, deserve study.” Leon Trotsky, from History of the Russian Revolution

Regarded by many as among the most powerful works of history ever written, this book offers an unparalleled account of one of the most pivotal and hotly debated events in world history. This book reveals, from the perspective of one of its central actors, the Russian Revolution’s profoundly democratic, emancipatory character.

* * * * *

Short Stories

house-of-skinThis collection has been on my TBR list since April 2011! I actually read a couple of the stories back then and was very impressed, but then got distracted and put it aside. Well past time I got back to it, and it will fit nicely for the Around the World challenge…

The Blurb says:  These are provocative, often shocking, tales of obsession, love, racism, addiction, betrayal, even murder, but told in such sensuous, richly-textured prose each story is rendered magical and timeless. The stories are set in islands across the Pacific where the author has lived and traveled extensively – Hawaii, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Fiji, Vanuatu – parts of the world only barely explored in contemporary literature. Davenport offers her readers not just mesmerizing writing, but also brings them bulletins from an ancient, yet seemingly brave, new world.

* * * * *

Sci-Fi

the-time-machineCourtesy of Amazon Vine. A new edition from Oxford World Classics, with an introduction and notes by Roger Luckhurst, who last appeared on the blog as the excellent and informative editor of The Classic Horror Stories of HP Lovecraft. Couldn’t resist this re-read…

The Blurb says: At a Victorian dinner party, in Richmond, London, the Time Traveller returns to tell his extraordinary tale of mankind’s future in the year 802,701 AD. It is a dystopian vision of Darwinian evolution, with humans split into an above-ground species of Eloi, and their troglodyte brothers.

The first book H. G. Wells published, The Time Machine is a scientific romance that helped invent the genre of science fiction and the time travel story. Even before its serialisation had finished in the spring of 1895, Wells had been declared ‘a man of genius’, and the book heralded a fifty year career of a major cultural and political controversialist. It is a sardonic rejection of Victorian ideals of progress and improvement and a detailed satirical commentary on the Decadent culture of the 1890s.

This edition features a contextual introduction, detailed explanatory notes, and two essays Wells wrote just prior to the publication of his first book.

* * * * *

Crime

the-dryI’ve seen so many glowing reviews of this, and was finally pushed over the edge by this one from Renee at It’s Book Talk… So I had to snaffle a copy from Amazon Vine…

The Blurb says: Amid the worst drought to ravage Australia in a century, it hasn’t rained in small country town Kiewarra for two years. Tensions in the community become unbearable when three members of the Hadler family are brutally murdered. Everyone thinks Luke Hadler, who committed suicide after slaughtering his wife and six-year-old son, is guilty.

Policeman Aaron Falk returns to the town of his youth for the funeral of his childhood best friend, and is unwillingly drawn into the investigation. As questions mount and suspicion spreads through the town, Falk is forced to confront the community that rejected him twenty years earlier. Because Falk and Luke Hadler shared a secret, one which Luke’s death threatens to unearth. And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, secrets from his past and why he left home bubble to the surface as he questions the truth of his friend’s crime.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Audible UK.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

Six Degrees of Separation – From Groff to…

Chain links…

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

fates-and-furies

This month’s starting book is Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I haven’t read this one, but the blurb tells me…

Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.

Doesn’t appeal, in truth, but the word “fate” in the title made me think of…

f daniel kehlmann

F: A Novel by Daniel Kehlmann. A book I loved for its wit and intelligence, while frankly having no idea what it’s about! F is for family, or failure, or faith, or fraud, or fear, or fate. Or possibly it isn’t. Knowingly pretentious, wickedly funny, marginally surreal at points and superbly written – a joy to read!

…and Arthur described his idea to write a book that would be a message to a single human being, in which therefore all the artistry would serve as mere camouflage, so that nobody aside from this one person could decode it, and this very fact paradoxically would make the book a high literary achievement. Asked what the message would be, he said that would depend on the recipient. When asked who the recipient would be, he said that would depend on the message.

The book that Arthur writes is called My Name is No One, which reminded me of…

Ooh!

Patrick Flanery’s I Am No One. This book looks at our new surveillance culture through the growing paranoia of the narrator, who believes he is being watched both online and in real life. As always with Flanery, the writing is excellent and, in the first person telling of this one, he sustains the narrator’s almost stream of consciousness voice beautifully, without ever losing the reader. The uncertainty of the plot is brilliantly done and creates an atmosphere of growing tension as the story slowly unfolds.

Patrick Flanery
Patrick Flanery

Although the book is set mainly in New York, it refers to the narrator having lived for several years in Oxford, England, which made me think of…

saints of the shadow bible

Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin, since as every reader of this series knows, Rebus’s favourite drinking den is The Oxford Bar. One of the things that I love most about this series is that Rankin always has his finger on the political pulse of Scotland, and this book is set to the background of the run-up to the recent Scottish Independence Referendum.

Ian Rankin in Rebus favourite pub, the Oxford Bar. Photograph by Murdo Macleod
Ian Rankin in Rebus favourite pub, the Oxford Bar.
Photograph by Murdo Macleod

But the plot also relates to the re-opening of a case from long ago – a case that Rebus worked on when he was just starting his career, which made me think of…

asking for the moon

Reginald Hill’s short story The Last National Service Man, in his collection titled Asking for the Moon. Written after the Dalziel and Pascoe series had been established for many years, Hill takes us back to their first meeting when young Pascoe was still wet behind the ears. Although the story could easily be read and enjoyed by a new reader, it’s full of little in-jokes and references for longtime fans, to whom Hill dedicated the collection with his usual wit…

Dedication 3

Throughout the series, Hill often included references to the works of Jane Austen in place and character names, and even occasionally in plot details, which made me think of…

northanger abbey

Northanger Abbey, the most deliciously light of all Austen’s books, filled with humour as Austen pokes gentle fun at her own class and gender. Catherine Morland is our naïve 17-year-old heroine, leaving her country parsonage home for the first time to visit the bright lights of Bath in the company of her generous neighbours, the Allens. Starry-eyed and romantic, she will soon be caught up in a horror story to match the Gothic sensation novels she loves – a product of her wild imagination… or is it??

Northanger illustration 1

She was heartily ashamed of her ignorance. A misplaced shame. Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well-informed mind is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can…

…I will only add, in justice to men, that though to the larger and more trifling part of the sex, imbecility in females is a great enhancement of their personal charms, there is a portion of them too reasonable and too well informed themselves to desire anything more in woman than ignorance.

As part of the hideous Austen Project, the surprisingly enjoyable modern take on Northanger Abbey was written by Val McDermid, which led me to think of…

out of bounds

Out of Bounds, the fourth book in McDermid’s DCI Karen Pirie series. Karen is dealing with two cold cases, one regarding a horrific rape and murder, and the other of what looked at the time like a terror attack by the IRA. But as Karen investigates, she begins to think the motive may have been more personal. Set in her native Scotland, this series shows McDermid back at her best, and McDermid’s best is pretty much unbeatable!

Val McDermid
Val McDermid

 * * * * *

So Groff to McDermid, via fate, book titles, Oxford, early careers, Austen references, and modern re-tellings!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

Four…

It’s my birthday!

Goodness! Who knew when I started the blog that I’d actually stick it out for four years! I certainly didn’t! I almost feel like I should apologise to those of you who’ve been around since the earliest days – you have read roughly 600 reviews, over 100 TBR posts, several nonsense posts, a couple of heartfelt political posts, and the occasional pastiche! You deserve a huge thank you…thank-youAnd thanks too to all the newer people who’ve joined me along the way – you should know I appreciate every view, every like, every comment. If it weren’t for all of you, I’d never have kept going this long. (So, in a sense, it’s your own fault… 😉 )

So, while I meander on about a few statistics, put your feet up and have a bit of cake…

4th-3

* * * * * * *

In 2016 I read 118 books – a total of 37770 pages, or an average of 103 pages per day. Down a good bit on 2015 (110) and even more on 2014 (117). I abandoned six books at too early a stage to justify a review. I went through a big reading slump last year, what with the world falling apart with Brexit, Trump and all. But even so, there’s no doubt blogging eats into my reading time more and more.  Which isn’t a problem yet, but might become so if I end up with no books to review!

The breakdown of ratings for the year was…

5 stars (I love it)                       55

4 stars (I like it)                        36

3 stars (It’s OK)                        16

2 stars (I don’t like it)                7

1 star    (I hate it)                       4

year-4-pie-chart

A similar pattern to 2015 overall, which I’m pleased about because there were points when I felt I might be rating more harshly than usual because of my slump. Any year where over three-quarters of books fall into either the “I like it” or “I love it” category has to be a good year!

* * * * * * *

The split of genres…

genre-split-2016

Crime continues to fall as my distaste for the current trend of misery-fests continues, though I’ve been reading far more vintage crime this year to make up for it. Genre fiction has collapsed! However I should read more SF this year, since I’ve included several in my Classics Club list. Pleased to see a bit of a rise again in fiction – I was surprised when it dropped off last year.

* * * * * * *

The divide continues between what you, my valued regulars, like, and what the rest of the great anonymous world out there pops in to view.

Here are the top 5 posts based on views: –

Thrawn Janet – a Tuesday Terror! post from March 2014. This story written in archaic Scots has been in the leading spot for the last two years. I’m convinced it must be on the curriculum of some massive online literature course. Rarely a day goes by when it doesn’t get a few visits. Very odd!

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains – from July 2014. Still in second place, as it has been since posting. I remain convinced it’s the pics that bring people in on that one.

DSCN0535

The Tell-Tale Heart – posted in October 2015, and like Thrawn Janet attracts visitors more or less daily. The Tuesday Terror! posts in general attract far more random visits from searches than any other kind of post on the blog.

Butchering Books – The Wind in the Willows – posted in October 2015, this one had stopped getting lots of views until a couple of months ago a visitor posted a link on her Facebook page, resulting in a big surge of visits over the next few weeks.

1985-wind-in-the-willows-police-chase-toad-print_700_600_U3R3

The Apple TreeTuesday Terror! again, from March 2014. This one has never really surged but picks up a steady stream of a few visits a week – no idea why. It’s a great story though!

* * * * * * *

But you, my dear regular visitors, are rather surprising in your tastes too! Here are the 5 reviews you most ‘liked’ last year…

4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

Exposure by Helen Dunmore

Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene

2001: A Space Odyssey (Film of the Book review)

Dubliners by James Joyce

Well! Only one 21st century book! I find that fascinating, considering that the vast majority of my reviews are of new releases or fairly recent books.

year-4-classic-pie-chart

I was so intrigued I checked the next five… Slaughterhouse-Five, 2001: A Space Odyssey (the book), Moby-Dick, Jekyll and Hyde, Black Narcissus! In fact, I only reviewed 17 classics and 8 of them appear in the top ten most “liked” reviews. Isn’t that odd??

* * * * *

Happily you also joined in on some of the fun posts, which are the ones I usually most enjoy doing. Here are some of the ones you “liked” and/or commented on most…

Let’s Have a Heated Debate! On Women’s Only Literary PrizesWoo, boy! You like a debate, don’t you?! I must find some other subject to rile you all up again soon… 😉

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again… – Oh, how you like to laugh at my total failure to achieve ANY of my New Year’s Resolutions! But I’ll achieve them all this year, you’ll see…

The Story of a Year in Books – a story created from all the book titles I read in 2016. I’m so glad you “liked” this one, because I had so much fun doing it! My personal favourite post of the year…

The Entertainer Blogger Award – frankly, I think you only visit for these tags and awards because you know there’ll be a picture of my Darcy…

darcy-smouldering

Friday Frippery: A conversation regarding whales… – that pesky whale seems to have dominated the year, so I had to get him out of my system somehow! I’ll miss him, you know…

So that was Year Four. Thank you all so much for being part of it!

Hope you’ll stick around for Year Five!

Visiting Cathy…

The Books That Built the Blogger…

I’m honoured to be guest posting over at Cathy’s place today, in her great new feature where she finds out about the Books That Built the Blogger. I do hope you’ll pop over.

I know many of you already follow Cathy, but if you haven’t met her yet, she writes great reviews and is the host of a couple of annual challenges that loads of us look forward to every year – the Reading Ireland Challenge in March and the 20 Books of Summer Challenge. She also cheers me up greatly in another way – her blog is called 746 Books because that’s how many books were on her TBR when she started blogging. Makes me chuckle every time…

Normal service will be resumed tomorrow. Meantime, for your delight and delectation…

Two great sportsmen. Aww, Rafa, next year for sure...
Two great sportsmen.
Aww, Rafa, next year for sure…

TBR Thursday 109…

Episode 109…

It’s inexplicable!! Despite the phenomenal and unprecedented amount of willpower I’ve gone through this week, somehow my TBR seems to have gone up 3… to 197!! 197!! It’s beyond human understanding! The worst thing is it was only 194 when I started writing this post… before the emails started arriving from NetGalley! Still at least the postman hasn’t brought any today… yet!

So I better start speed-reading or I’m going to drift over the 200 mark, which just can’t be allowed to happen! Here are a few that are getting near the top of the heap…

Fiction

the-accusationCourtesy of NetGalley. Heading off to North Korea on my Around the World tour, though this isn’t a holiday I’m expecting to enjoy exactly…

The Blurb says: The Accusation is a deeply moving and eye-opening work of fiction that paints a powerful portrait of life under the North Korean regime. Set during the period of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il’s leadership, the seven stories that make up The Accusation give voice to people living under this most bizarre and horrifying of dictatorships. The characters of these compelling stories come from a wide variety of backgrounds, from a young mother living among the elite in Pyongyang whose son misbehaves during a political rally, to a former Communist war hero who is deeply disillusioned with the intrusion of the Party into everything he holds dear, to a husband and father who is denied a travel permit and sneaks onto a train in order to visit his critically ill mother. Written with deep emotion and writing talent, The Accusation is a vivid depiction of life in a closed-off one-party state, and also a hopeful testament to the humanity and rich internal life that persists even in such inhumane conditions.

* * * * *

Crime

the-cheltenham-square-murderCourtesy of NetGalley. Having enjoyed John Bude’s Death on the Riviera recently, I jumped at the chance to read this one. Hurrah for the British Library Crime Classics!

The Blurb says:  In the seeming tranquility of Regency Square in Cheltenham live the diverse inhabitants of its ten houses. One summer’s evening, the square’s rivalries and allegiances are disrupted by a sudden and unusual death – an arrow to the head, shot through an open window at no. 6. Unfortunately for the murderer, an invitation to visit had just been sent by the crime writer Aldous Barnet, staying with his sister at no. 8, to his friend Superintendent Meredith. Three days after his arrival, Meredith finds himself investigating the shocking murder two doors down. Six of the square’s inhabitants are keen members of the Wellington Archery Club, but if Meredith and Long thought that the case was going to be easy to solve, they were wrong…

The Cheltenham Square Murder is a classic example of how John Bude builds a drama within a very specific location. Here the Regency splendour of Cheltenham provides the perfect setting for a story in which appearances are certainly deceiving.

* * * * *

Fiction

the-white-guardNext up for the Reading the Russian Revolution challenge. Another one that I suspect may be a tough read…

The Blurb says: White Guard, Mikhail Bulgakov’s semi-autobiographical first novel, is the story of the Turbin family in Kiev in 1918. Alexei, Elena, and Nikolka Turbin have just lost their mother—their father had died years before—and find themselves plunged into the chaotic civil war that erupted in the Ukraine in the wake of the Russian Revolution. In the context of this family’s personal loss and the social turmoil surrounding them, Bulgakov creates a brilliant picture of the existential crises brought about by the revolution and the loss of social, moral, and political certainties. He confronts the reader with the bewildering cruelty that ripped Russian life apart at the beginning of the last century as well as with the extraordinary ways in which the Turbins preserved their humanity.

* * * * *

Crime

rather-be-the-devilThe audiobook is narrated by James Macpherson, whom some of you may remember as DCI Michael Jardine from the old TV series, Taggart. I’ve listened to him read Rebus before, and he has the perfect accent for it plus the acting skills to bring the characters to life…

The Blurb says: Some cases never leave you.

For John Rebus, 40 years may have passed, but the death of beautiful, promiscuous Maria Turquand still preys on his mind. She was murdered in her hotel room on the night a famous rock star and his entourage were staying there, and Maria’s killer has never been found.

Meanwhile, the dark heart of Edinburgh remains up for grabs. A young pretender, Darryl Christie, may have staked his claim, but a vicious attack leaves him weakened and vulnerable, and an inquiry into a major money laundering scheme threatens his position. Has old-time crime boss Big Ger Cafferty really given up the ghost, or is he biding his time until Edinburgh is once more ripe for the picking?

In a tale of twisted power, deep-rooted corruption and bitter rivalries, Rather Be the Devil showcases Rankin and Rebus at their unstoppable best.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Audible UK.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

TBR Thursday 108…

Episode 108…

Phew! No further increase to the TBR this week, but no decrease either – stable on 194! I’m sure it’ll start to fall dramatically soon…

So here are a few more that should reach the top of the heap soonish…

Factual

the-travelers-guide-to-spaceCourtesy of NetGalley. Recent political events at home and abroad have given me an urgent desire to emigrate to another planet, so I’m hoping this book will give me some handy pointers…

The Blurb says: Traveling into space and visiting or even emigrating to nearby worlds will soon become part of the human experience. Scientists, engineers, and investors are working hard to make space tourism a reality. As experienced astronauts will tell you, extraterrestrial travel is incomparably thrilling. To make the most of the experience requires profound physical and mental adjustments by travelers as they adapt to microgravity and alterations in virtually every aspect of life, from eating to intimacy. Everyone who goes into space and returns sees Earth and life on it from a profoundly different perspective. If you have ever wondered about space travel, now you have the opportunity to find out.

Astronomer and former NASA/ASEE scientist Neil F. Comins has written the go-to book for anyone interested in space exploration, including potential travelers. He describes the joys and the dangers travelers will face—weightlessness, unparalleled views of Earth and the cosmos, the opportunity to walk on or jump off another world, as well as radiation, projectiles, unbreathable atmospheres, and potential equipment failures. He also provides insights into specific types of travel and destinations, including suborbital flights (nonstop flights to space and back), Earth-orbiting space stations, the Moon, asteroids, comets, and Mars—the first-choice candidate for colonization. Although many challenges to space travel are technical, Comins outlines these matters in clear language for all readers. He synthesizes key issues and cutting-edge research in astronomy, physics, biology, psychology, and sociology to create a complete manual for those eager to take the ultimate voyage, as well as those just interested in the adventure.

* * * * *

Crime

the-death-of-kingsCourtesy of Mantle. The latest entry in Rennie Airth’s series of thoughtful crime novels set in England just after the Second World War featuring Inspector John Madden (adore that cover!)…

The Blurb says:  On a hot summer day in 1938, a beautiful actress is murdered on the grand Kent estate of Sir Jack Jessup, close friend of the Prince of Wales. An instant headline in the papers, the confession of a local troublemaker swiftly brings the case to a close, but in 1949, the reappearance of a jade necklace raises questions about the murder. Was the man convicted and executed the decade before truly guilty, or had he wrongly been sent to the gallows?

Inspector Madden is summoned out of retirement at the request of former Chief Inspector Angus Sinclair to re-open the case at Scotland Yard. Set in the aftermath of World War II, The Death of Kings is an atmospheric and captivating police procedural, and is a story of honour and justice that takes Madden through the idyllic English countryside, post-war streets of London, and into the criminal underworld of the Chinese Triads.

* * * * *

Fiction

rebeccaFrom my Classics Club list, a much anticipated re-read and an opportunity to do a comparison with the wonderful Hitchcock film… (is this the worst blurb you ever read?? I would never pick this book up on the basis of it – sounds like Barbara Cartland on an off day!)

The Blurb says: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…

Working as a lady’s companion, the heroine of Rebecca learns her place. Her future looks bleak until, on a trip to the South of France, she meets Max de Winter, a handsome widower whose sudden proposal of marriage takes her by surprise. She accepts, but whisked from glamorous Monte Carlo to the ominous and brooding Manderley, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man. And the memory of his dead wife Rebecca is forever kept alive by the forbidding housekeeper, Mrs Danvers…

Not since Jane Eyre has a heroine faced such difficulty with the Other Woman. An international bestseller that has never gone out of print, Rebecca is the haunting story of a young girl consumed by love and the struggle to find her identity.

* * * * *

Delightfulness

stiff-upper-lip-jeevesJonathan Cecil is brilliant at narrating the Jeeves and Wooster books so this will be delicious fun… (Total count of unlistened-to audiobooks as at today = 78. See how sneakily I snuck that in…?)

The Blurb says: When the news breaks that Madeline Bassett is engaged to Gussie Fink-Nottle, Bertie’s relief is intense. But when Madeline attempts to turn Gussie vegetarian, Bertie’s instinct for self-preservation sends him with the steadfast Jeeves on another uproariously funny mission to Sir Watkyn Bassett’s residence, Totleigh Towers.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

TBR Thursday 107…

Episode 107…

I fear the TBR has reached its highest ever level – up a horrendous 9 to 194! This is mainly because I added several books for my Reading the Russian Revolution Challenge though, plus I picked up a few books that were on my wishlist in Amazon’s various Kindle sales.

Tragically, I also noticed recently that the number of audiobooks I’ve acquired over the years and then not listened to has grown to alarming numbers, and they’re not included in the TBR at all… I haven’t done a final count of them yet, but, inspired by the fact that I just acquired a spiffy new set of bluetooth headphones, I will be making an effort to get back into the habit of listening more regularly. A lot of the audiobooks I’ve picked up are re-reads, acquired as much for the narrator as the book itself – for example, the Joan Hickson readings of the Miss Marple stories, and lots of Jonathan Cecil reading PG Wodehouse. Then I’ve also picked up the audio version of some books that I’ll be reading so that I can swap between versions – I’m currently listening to Our Mutual Friend as well as reading it, and I downloaded Simon Callow’s reading of Animal Farm to go along with the book.

So without further ado, here are a few that are rising to the top of the pile…

Crime

a-dangerous-crossingCourtesy of Amazon Vine. When I heard that our very own Cleo won a charity auction to have her name included as a cameo role in this book, I simply had to snap up a copy. And then to start reading it instead of all the books that I had already scheduled…

The Blurb says: 1939: Europe is on the brink of war. Lily Shepherd, a servant girl, boards an ocean liner for Australia. She is on her way to a new life, leaving behind the shadows in her past. For a humble girl, the passage proves magical – a band, cocktails, fancy dress balls. A time when she is beholden to no one. The exotic locations along the way – Naples, Cairo, Ceylon – allow her to see places she’d only ever dreamed of, and to make friends with people higher up the social scale who would ordinarily never give her the time of day. She even allows herself to hope that a man who she couldn’t possibly have a future with outside the cocoon of the ship might return her feelings.

But Lily soon realises that her new-found friends are also escaping secrets in their past. As the ship’s glamour fades, the stage is set for something awful to happen. By the time the ship docks, two of Lily’s fellow passengers are dead, war has been declared and Lily’s life will be irrevocably changed.

* * * * *

Fiction

titians-boatmanCourtesy of Black & White Publishing. I thoroughly enjoyed Victoria Blake’s true crime book, Mrs Maybrick, so am keen to try her fiction. Her new book will be published later this month…

The Blurb says:  It is 1576 and Venice is in chaos, ravaged by disease and overrun by crime.In the midst of the anarchy we find those brave souls who have chosen not to flee the city. Titian, most celebrated of Venetian painters, his health failing badly; Sabastiano, a gondolier who is the eyes and ears of the corrupted and crumbling city and Tullia, the most famous courtesan of the age who must fight to retain her status as well as her worldly possessions. And in the present day the echoes of what happened centuries earlier still ripple as the lives of ordinary people as far distant as London and New York are touched by the legacy of old Venice…

* * * * *

Crime

the-abc-murdersAmidst my Audible backlog are several of Agatha Christie’s Poirot novels narrated by the lovely Hugh Fraser, better known to Christie fans, perhaps, as Captain Hastings. I’ve already started this one and he’s doing a great job…

The Blurb says: There’s a serial killer on the loose, bent on working his way through the alphabet. And as a macabre calling card he leaves beside each victim’s corpse the ABC Railway Guide open at the name of the town where the murder has taken place. Having begun with Andover, Bexhill and then Churston, there seems little chance of the murderer being caught – until he makes the crucial and vain mistake of challenging Hercule Poirot to frustrate his plans.

* * * * *

Thriller

live-by-nightCourtesy of Audible. Every month I am offered some Audible releases to review and have been refusing them for ages, but of course now I know I have a huge backlog I can’t resist adding to it. I’ve only read one Dennis Lehane before but loved it, so this one appeals. It’s being re-launched by Audible to tie in with the movie release this month…

The Blurb says: Joe Coughlin is 19 when he meets Emma Gould. A small-time thief in 1920s Boston, he is told to cuff her while his accomplices raid the casino she works for. But Joe falls in love with Emma – and his life changes forever.

That meeting is the beginning of Joe’s journey to becoming one of the nation’s most feared and respected gangsters. It is a journey beset by violence, double-crossing, drama, and pain. And it is a journey into the soul of prohibition-era America….

A powerful, deeply moving novel, Live by Night is a tour-de-force by Dennis Lehane, writer on The Wire and author of modern classics such as Shutter Island, Gone, Baby, Gone and The Given Day.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Audible UK.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

Six Degrees of Separation – From Larrson to…

Chain links…

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

the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo

This month’s starting book is Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In truth, I wasn’t a fan of this trilogy, finding it all rather long-drawn out and tedious, and I never could get up any affection for the weird Lisbeth Salander. I abandoned book 2 and never got around to the third one.

The dragon in the title made me think of…

Click for review

Sharon Bolton’s novella Here Be Dragons. It’s part of her brilliant Lacey Flint series, but this time told from the perspective of the lovely Mark Joesbury, one of my (many) fictional heroes. It’s such a great little thriller, I had to create an entirely new rating system for it – it was the first to score 5 on the Yippee Ki Yay scale, thus making it a Bruce Willis!

Yippee Ki Yay rating:    😮😮😮😮😮

It's a Bruce Willis!
It’s a Bruce Willis!

The action all takes place on the Thames, which made me think of…

fearie tales

Neil Gaiman’s short story Down to a Sunless Sea, which I came across in an excellent anthology of horror stories based on fairy tales, Fearie Tales. Gaiman’s story is a take on The Singing Bone, though in many ways much darker. A woman wanders the Rotherhithe docks ‘as she has done for years, for decades.’ She tells the story of her young son who ran away to sea and signed on with a stormcrow ship – one cursed by ill luck…

The Thames is a filthy beast: it winds through London like a snake, or a sea serpent. All the rivers flow into it, the Fleet and the Tyburn and the Neckinger, carrying all the filth and scum and waste, the bodies of cats and dogs and the bones of sheep and pigs down into the brown water of the Thames, which carries them east into the estuary and from there into the North Sea and oblivion.

I find it impossible to think of Neil Gaiman without thinking of another story of his…

the truth is a cave

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains. This dark tale is superbly illustrated by Eddie Campbell and the pictures and words complement each other perfectly to create something truly stunning. It is the tale of a journey, a quest into the Black Mountains to find a cave – to find the truth. Our narrator is a small man, a dwarf, but he’s strong and he’s driven. As we meet him, he is about to hire a guide, Calum MacInnes, to take him to a cave on the Misty Isle which is reputed to be filled with gold…

I am old now, or at least, I am no longer young, and everything I see reminds me of something else I’ve seen, such that I see nothing for the first time. A bonny girl, her hair fiery-red, reminds me only of another hundred such lasses, and their mothers, and what they were as they grew, and what they looked like when they died. It is the curse of age, that all things are reflections of other things.

I say that, but my time on the Misty Isle, that is also called, by the wise, the Winged Isle, reminds me of nothing but itself.

DSCN0545

The Misty Isle is based on the Isle of Skye, which is part of the Inner Hebrides, an island group off the coast of Scotland. Which made me think of a book set in the Outer Hebrides…

The Blackhouse

Peter May’s The Blackhouse. This is the first of his trilogy set on Lewis, and was the book that shot him onto the bestseller lists when it was selected as a Richard and Judy pick.  DS Fin MacLeod is sent back to Lewis to investigate a murder that resembles one that took place earlier in his Edinburgh patch. It gradually emerges that the shadow of the past may be involved in the current investigation.

Peter May on Lewis
Peter May on Lewis

Before he wrote the Lewis books, Peter May wrote a series based in China, which made me think of…

imperial woman

Imperial Woman by Pearl S Buck. This is a fictionalised biography of Tzu Hsi, who ruled as regent and Empress of China from 1861-1908, effectively the end of the empire, which collapsed just 3 years after her death. Tzu Hsi is portrayed here as a beautiful, ambitious tyrant, scheming to become and then remain Empress. The language is rather too stylised for my taste but Tzu Hsi’s story is a fascinating one and certainly worth the telling.

In the fourth moon month the wisteria blooms. It was the duty of the Court Chief Gardener to report to the Empress the exact day upon which the vines would blossom and he had so reported. The Empress did then decree that upon this day she would not appear in the Audience Hall, nor would she hear any affairs of state.

Portrait of Tzu Hsi by Hubert Voss (1906)
Portrait of Tzu Hsi by Hubert Voss (1906)

And thinking of female rulers reminded me of…

the rival queens

The Rival Queens, Nancy Goldstone’s romping history of Catherine de’ Medici, Queen of France, and her daughter Marguerite de Valois, Queen of Navarre. It was a great time for Queens. Over in England, Elizabeth was working up to the beheading of her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots. But the shenanigans of Catherine and Marguerite frankly make the British Royals look tame. A little biased in Marguerite’s favour, I felt, but hugely enjoyable, complete with a fair amount of ribald humour. At points it reads like a great thriller, complete with cliffhanger endings to chapters, and then at others it becomes like an episode of Dallas, with Catherine in the role of JR and Marguerite as sweet little Pamela.

the-rival-queens-portraits
Catherine and Marguerite

 * * * * *

So Larrson to Goldstone via dragons, the Thames, Neil Gaiman, the Hebrides, China, empresses and queens!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

TBR Thursday 106…

Episode 106…

The first TBR post of the New Year and unsurprisingly the TBR has leapt up over the festive season… by 9 to 185! But this is normal, so I’m not worried. No, really, I’m not! Do I look worried? Don’t answer that…

Best thing to do is to get on with some reading… here are a few that will reach the top of the pile soon…

Sci-Fi

the-massacre-of-mankindCourtesy of NetGalley. Since I love The War of the Worlds, love books about Mars, and have heard good things about Stephen Baxter’s writing, this sounded irresistible, especially since it’s been authorised by HG Wells’ estate…

The Blurb says: It has been 14 years since the Martians invaded England. The world has moved on, always watching the skies but content that we know how to defeat the Martian menace. Machinery looted from the abandoned capsules and war-machines has led to technological leaps forward. The Martians are vulnerable to earth germs. The Army is prepared. So when the signs of launches on Mars are seen, there seems little reason to worry. Unless you listen to one man, Walter Jenkins, the narrator of Wells’ book. He is sure that the Martians have learned, adapted, understood their defeat.

He is right.

Thrust into the chaos of a new invasion, a journalist – sister-in-law to Walter Jenkins – must survive, escape and report on the war. The Massacre of Mankind has begun.

* * * * *

Fiction

animal-farmFirst up for the Reading the Russian Revolution Challenge. I haven’t re-read this since it broke my heart as a teenager (Boxer! Sniff!) but I’m hoping I’m tougher now, and might be able to remember it’s an allegory…

The Blurb says:  One night on an English farm, Major the boar recounts his vision of a utopia where his fellow creatures own the land along with the means of production and are no longer the slaves of humans. Before long his dream comes true, and for a short while all animals really are equal. But the clever pigs educate themselves and soon learn how to extend their own power, inevitably at the expense of the rest of the community.

This well-loved tale is, of course, a satire on the Soviet Communist system that still remains a powerful warning despite the changes in world politics since Animal Farm was first published.

* * * * *

Crime

the-12-30-from-croydonCourtesy of NetGalley. Inspector French was one of Martin Edwards’ tips in his guest post Ten Top Golden Age Detectives, so I jumped at the chance to get my hands on this one…

The Blurb says: We begin with a body. Andrew Crowther, a wealthy retired manufacturer, is found dead in his seat on the 12.30 flight from Croydon to Paris. Rather less orthodox is the ensuing flashback in which we live with the killer at every stage, from the first thoughts of murder to the strains and stresses of living with its execution. Seen from the criminal’s perspective, a mild-mannered Inspector by the name of French is simply another character who needs to be dealt with. This is an unconventional yet gripping story of intrigue, betrayal, obsession, justification and self-delusion. And will the killer get away with it?

* * * * *

Fiction

the-good-peopleCourtesy of NetGalley. Having loved Hannah Kent’s début, Burial Rites, this is one of my most anticipated books of 2017. It’s been out for a while elsewhere but is only being published over here in February, so I’ve spent much of the last few months trying to avoid reading reviews of it…

The Blurb says: Nóra Leahy has lost her daughter and her husband in the same year, and is now burdened with the care of her four-year-old grandson, Micheál. The boy cannot walk, or speak, and Nora, mistrustful of the tongues of gossips, has kept the child hidden from those who might see in his deformity evidence of otherworldly interference. Unable to care for the child alone, Nóra hires a fourteen-year-old servant girl, Mary, who soon hears the whispers in the valley about the blasted creature causing grief to fall upon the widow’s house.

Alone, hedged in by rumour, Mary and her mistress seek out the only person in the valley who might be able to help Micheál. For although her neighbours are wary of her, it is said that old Nance Roche has the knowledge. That she consorts with Them, the Good People. And that only she can return those whom they have taken…

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken or adapted from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again…

…aka New Year’s Resolutions…

So! Last year at this time I set myself some reading resolutions for 2016. Time to see just how badly I did! And then to set myself up for another bout of humiliation next year. Still, you know what they say…’tis better to travel hopefully than to arrive. (I’m pretty sure all these cliché writers had massive TBRs too.)

The 2016 Results

OK, there will be no unseemly laughter, catcalling or crowing, is that clear? Anyone who emits so much as a giggle will be sent to stand in the corner, and a guffaw will earn the perpetrator two hours in the public stocks – I have been collecting rotten tomatoes specially…

No, Darcy, not even you!
No, Darcy, not even you!

1) Cut back on taking freebies for review.

Take no more than 18 books during the year, and reduce the total outstanding at year end from 25 to 12.

The Result: Oh, dear! Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! Well, I suppose it’s best to get the worst one over with first. Ahem! OK, I took 63 books for review over the year, and I have 30 outstanding at year end, of which 17 are overdue. What can I say? I’m weak! This dramatic failure goes a long way to explain the rest of my results…

shame-gif-1

2) A minimum of 12 re-reads.

The Result: Er… 8. 66%. Two-thirds. OK, OK – failed!

shame-gif-2

3) Reduce the TBR!

a) Reduce the overall total to 130.

The Result: The final total is… 181!

b) Read at least 35 books that have been on the TBR since 2014 or earlier.

The Result: A miserable… 14!

c) Read at least 45 books that went onto the TBR in 2015.

The Result: So near, and yet… so far! 44!

FAILED! FAILED! FAILED!

shame-gif-6

4) New-to-me authors.

a) No more than 20 books by new-to-me authors to be added to the TBR during 2016.

The Result: I really don’t want to tell you this!! Really!! OK, here goes… 53!!

b) Read at least 20 catch-up books from authors I’ve previously enjoyed.

The Result: Lucky for some! But not me… 13!

shame-gif-4

5) Classics

Read at least 10 GAN Quest novels and at least 5 other classics, including Dickens.

The Result: 7 GAN Quest books read in the year (or abandoned, which is much the same thing), 6 other classics read, including Dickens. Ooh, almost a partial success, but overall… a failure!

shame-gif-7

6) Read at least 12 sci-fi/fantasy novels, mixed between classic and new.

The Result: A totally pathetic… 4!!

shame-gif-5

* * * * *

I am now popping outside for a moment to throw those rotten tomatoes at myself… back soon!

* * * * *

Resolutions for 2017

Right! (Does anyone know how to get tomato stains out?) This year I’m completely confident I’ll achieve all my resolutions… maybe even over-achieve! You do believe me… don’t you? I’m going to try to be a little more realistic this time…

I know you've seen this one before, but I just love it so much!
I know you’ve seen this one before, but I just love it so much!

1) Cut back on taking freebies for review.

Take no more than 36 books during the year, averaging 3 a month, and reduce the total outstanding at year end from 30 to 20, none of which are overdue. This means I’ll be reading roughly 4 a month. If I can stick to that, all the other resolutions should be easy…

2) A minimum of 12 re-reads.

I’m sticking with that – it seems as if it should be easily achievable. Though I thought that last year too…

3) Reduce the TBR!

a) Reduce the overall total from 181 to 150.

Should be possible, though it will depend on how many books move from the wishlist to the TBR…

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

I currently have a ridiculous 103 books that have been on the TBR for more than a year (because of my addiction to review copies). But realistically it’ll be a slow job to reduce this figure, so I’m only aiming to cut them by a third. With luck I might overachieve on this since a lot of them are classics and GAN books.

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

I have 78 books outstanding from 2016, including nearly all of my review copy backlog. If I can resist adding so many new books this year, then I should be able to read the majority of these.

This one's just 'cos I needed cheering up!
This one’s just ‘cos I needed cheering up!

4) Classics

Read 20 classics. I’m not completely abandoning the GAN Quest – some of the books on my Classics Club list are Great American Novel contenders, and there are still a few of the last batch on my TBR – but I’m not setting a separate target for this year. 

5) Other Stuff

I’m not setting targets for science fiction, the Around the World Challenge, or catch-up books from authors I’ve previously enjoyed, but I’ll still be aiming to read several from each category. I’ll also be setting myself another little challenge – details next week – but otherwise my main concentration this year will be reading stuff I already have, and trying not to add too many new books.

Wish me luck!

fireworks

HAPPY NEW YEAR!
LANG MAY YOUR LUM REEK!

The Final Countdown plus 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 2016’s final count to see how I did over the year…

tbr-dec-2016

Well, I know you won’t believe me, but despite the fact that the overall total has gone up, I’m going to declare this a major victory. Firstly, it’s only increased by 12 overall. The TBR (books I own) has increased by nearly thirty, but the wishlists (books I don’t yet own) have fallen. This is due to my wonderful system of sticking all the books I’d like to read on my Amazon wishlist and then snapping them up any time they go on sale – and anyone who Kindles will know that books go on sale all the time. And the jolly thing is that piles of Kindle books don’t take up nearly as much room as piles of paper books.

ostrichSecondly, after a major splurge on review books in the middle of the year, I have made a serious effort to stop requesting so many, and the number outstanding is finally beginning to drop.

But thirdly – and the real reason I’m feeling rather smug – is that in the middle of the year I joined the Classics Club, and this involved adding between 40 and 50 books to either the TBR or the wishlist. So for the end of year total to have only increased by 12 means it would in fact have reduced by a decent amount if not for those added classics. And the Classics Club challenge runs over five years, so it doesn’t stress me out that my overall total includes nearly 90 classics at the moment, since I only intend to read about twenty a year, regardless of how quickly I acquire them.

I can hear you laughing, but I do genuinely feel more in control of the TBR than I have in ages…

denialcalvin-hobbes690x400

* * * * * * *

The Around the World in 80 Books Challenge

Last check-in was in September, and I’ve been concentrating since then on bringing review copies under control, but I’ve seen a little bit of the world nonetheless…

780px-Around_the_World_in_Eighty_Days_map

I went for a looooong sea voyage in the company of Cap’n Ahab, Ishmael and the boys from the Pequod. I’m trying to only add books I recommend to my Around the World list, but I’m slotting Moby-Dick in for the Pacific meantime, to be replaced later if I read something I prefer. I visited 19th century New Brunswick in Canada to witness a true crime and subsequent trial in Black River Road by Debra Komar. Then I was shown the horror of the WW2 fire-bombing of Dresden in Germany in the wonderful Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. My last trip was closer to home and considerably more relaxing, if you discount a murder or two – north to the Scottish Highlands in the company of Anthony Wynne in Murder of a Lady.

Since it’s the end of the year, here’s the full list 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
  6. Brindisi
  7. Mediterranean Sea
  8. Suez
  9. Egypt
  10. Red Sea/Arabian Sea
  11. Bombay
  12. Calcutta – A Rising Man
  13. Kholby
  14. Elephant Travel
  15. Allahabad
  16. Indian Ocean/ South China Sea
  17. Hong Kong
  18. Shanghai
  19. Yokohama
  20. Pacific – Moby-Dick: Or, The White Whale
  21. San Francisco
  22. Sioux lands
  23. Omaha
  24. New York – Three-Martini Lunch
  25. Atlantic Ocean
  26. Queenstown (Cobh) Ireland
  27. London – The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

The Detours

That leaves 53 spots for me to randomly tour the world, so here’s where I’ve been so far…

  1. The Hebrides – Coffin Road
  2. Florida – Their Eyes Were Watching God
  3. Iceland – Snowblind
  4. Himalayas – Black Narcissus
  5. Ireland – The Heather Blazing
  6. Channel Islands – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society
  7. Australian Outback – Fear is the Rider
  8. Portugal – The High Mountains of Portugal
  9. Milan, Italy – The Murdered Banker
  10. Madrid, Spain – A Heart So White
  11. Saturn – 2001: A Space Odyssey
  12. Kabul, Afghanistan – The Kite Runner
  13. Vatican City – Conclave
  14. New Brunswick, Canada – Black River Road
  15. Dresden, Germany – Slaughterhouse-Five
  16. Scottish Highlands – Murder of a Lady

23 down, 57 to go!

* * * * * * *

The Classics Club

classics club logo 2

So far, I’ve read four from my Classics Club list – a little behind schedule, but I’m expecting to make that up quickly now that I’ve got fewer review copies to contend with.

  1. 4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie – a 5-star re-read. Classic crime writing at its best.
  2. Passing by Nella Larson – 4 stars for this book about race and belonging.
  3. Moby-Dick: or, The White Whale by Herman Melville – just 2 stars for that pesky and apparently ubiquitous whale.
  4. The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White – 5 stars for the book on which Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes is based.

4 down, 86 to go!

* * * * * * *

Here’s to another great year of reading in 2017! 😀

The Story of a Year in Books…

A Victorian Murder Mystery

(OK, so I was bored. And it occurred to me it might be fun to see if I could make a story out of the titles of all the books I’ve reviewed this year… in the order I reviewed them! I really need to get a proper hobby… The eagle-eyed amongst you might spot one film in there – couldn’t resist – it just seemed to fit. 😉 )

Martin Chuzzlewit and the sisters of Versailles rattled through the swirling London fog and snow on their way to the Children’s Home. As they travelled along Coffin Road, their eyes were watching Godfrey, their cabbie, knowing his broken promise to turn up on the dot of seven o’clock had made them late for their appointment.

london fog

“Take the A26, Godfrey,” Chuzzlewit called out. Snowblind, Godfrey swerved, nearly knocking down Martin Luther and a clubbable woman who were crossing the road arm in arm. A passing journalist, Winston Churchill at The Telegraph, pushed them to safety just in time, crying “Even the dead would be scared to walk these streets in this damnable weather!”

“Thank you, sir!” said Martin, gratefully. “I am no one important, but Mrs Dalloway here is on a vital mission. She is carrying a potion made from the rare black narcissus, which it is believed may be the cure for the strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.”

Hyperventilating hysterically and gulping down some Vichy water, Mrs Dalloway cried “Blessed are those who thirst! You are beloved, dear sir! I call down all the blessings of heaven on your head! Now we must rush if we are to be in time to prevent the murder at the manor!”

At that moment, they heard the noise of time as Big Ben struck the hour. Turning into Euston Station, they hurried swiftly through the massive building, dark and echoing at this hour, like caves of steel. In a corner, an old flower seller had tried to fend off the cold by setting the heather blazing, but she still had a little left. “Buy some lucky heather, pretty lady,” she crooned as Mrs Dalloway sailed past. Nightblind, Mrs Dalloway heard only the echo of the words, which seemed to her disordered mind like a spectral voice rising from the cold, cold ground.

As they left the station and hurried across the Hyde Park green, Martin Luther’s fearful eyes searched around the green for danger. In the woods, he spied a group of Dubliners, teaching each other the names of the trees. “Well, this is an advancement of learning,” mused Martin, philosophically. “Hey ho! Let the great world spin!”

london-fog

Finally they arrived at the Theatre Royal where that evening a performance of Henry IV was to be staged. A woman in blue stood by the entrance, with a large dog on a leash by her side. The previous evening’s storm had uprooted an old tree which now lay across the road. In the gaslight, the shadow cast on the ground by its twigs looked so like a mysterious old map that Martin found himself unconsciously looking for the traditional marking: Here Be Dragons. But then, as he looked more closely, he saw to his horror a reflection of the moon in a dead eye!

Absalom! Absalom!” he cried in great dismay, recognising immediately his old friend and bank manager. The woman in blue, known to her wide acquaintanceship as Mrs Maybrick, cackled haggishly. “There will be a dark redemption for this night’s work, sir!”

Shortly, two Bow Street Runners arrived on the scene, Gandhi and Churchill. Earlier that day, they had been doing crowd control at the Easter Parade, (unusually, being held in November this year) where the ladies of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society had got somewhat out of hand after imbibing rather freely of the punch provided at that event. Gandhi was still trembling nervously, for when ladies get up to horseplay, fear is the rider, he had discovered. “I wish I could go on a little holiday to the High Mountains of Portugal,” he thought, wistfully, “rather than having to deal with the sans pareil mystery that we have here!”

Close your eyes,” commanded Runner Churchill. “You know you’ll faint if you look at the murdered banker. Especially since he’s been so horrifically mutilated; that snow-covered thing on his left kneecap is a heart so white!

victorian-bobbies

Mrs Maybrick, (whom, after the sudden death of her landlady six months earlier, some suspected of being  the secret poisoner), was in the grip of a ruling passion by now, chuckling and dancing, till she was pulled from her feet by the power of the dog. Normally, she kept Daisy in chains, but that day she had felt in need of protection after having a strange, prophetic vision of a murder during a futuristic journey, in the year 2001: a space odyssey, in fact. It brought back to her all the horrible memories of her typist sister, Elizabeth: the forgotten years and the tragedy that happened during that other terrible journey she always thought of as her “travels with my aunt” – the wicked boy, the exposure and, worst of all, the dead witness. Thank goodness the other typist had been on hand to catch the culprit, and it would be a long time before her arch-nemesis Douglas MacArthur saw the outside of a jail cell again. But I digress!

Runner Churchill gazed at the open wounds on the victim, whose name he had now learned was Absalom Hudson. At that moment, the widow turned up, just as the organ grinder on the corner began to play the Rat Stone Serenade. Mrs Hudson, and the Malabar rose she wore in her lapel (a rare bloom), presented a tragic but charming picture as she begged Runner Churchill for a sight of her husband’s corpse.

“I fear that’s impossible, ma’am. It’s against the rules, and our Sergeant Cluff stands firm on the matter. And he’s American!” “Ah!” interjected Gandhi. “That explains the three-martini lunches, then!” Ignoring him, Churchill continued “No one may see the body till the police artist has drawn the hospital sketches – I wish someone would hurry up and invent photography!”

chalk-outline

At the hospital, Mrs Hudson was joined by a friend who was staying with them for a while, the visitor being a French citizen, Kane by name. Bending over the body, Nurse Oliver twisted round to confirm the corpse was dead – though most people felt the missing heart was a good indicator of that status. But it’s always best to have these things confirmed by a professional. “His pulse rate is zero, ‘K? That means he’s dead.” Mrs Dalloway’s eyes skittered around, for one moment making her look truly, madly, guilty. “Eureka!” cried Doctor LaRose. “I’ve always wondered how to tell! It’s always been an enigma to me!” The girls in nurses’ uniforms in the corridor giggled, especially Nurse Jane Steele, who secretly was rather in love with the doctor.

A crusading journalist, always the seeker after truth, arrived fresh from a prayer meeting at Chapel Springs, (survival of which was frankly quite remarkable given the length of the sermon). The magnificent Spilsbury, as he was called, had rushed to the hospital on the 4:50 from Paddington. He was a different class, upper-middle, to be precise, and wondered aloud if the death might have been accidental. Mrs Hudson was outraged. “It’s murder,” she said. “As my husband himself would tell you if only it were possible that he had from the dust returned.” Strangely, a kite suddenly appeared around the corner of the corridor, and a moment later, a small child ran by in the perfect pass, holding the kite. Runner Gandhi boxed his ears and sent him on his way.

All the parties now gathered in a conclave to hear the opinion of Runner Dick Churchill, who was considered something of a rising man. He had studied the methods of Sergeant Cluff, and refined them in his head as he walked his beat along the dirt roads of old London. His greatest success to date had been in the case of the Magpie murders, when he deduced that the perpetrators were the infamous Seagull Gang, led by the notorious Henry Vavasour. As a pupil, during the schooldays, of Jesus College, Cambridge, Churchill had often skipped off out of bounds, down by the Black River Road, where he had made a detailed study of various types of mud, and produced a short monograph that had about it some echoes of Sherlock Holmes.

london-fog-2

Churchill was something of a philosopher about death, having spent much time in the thin air of the Cambridgeshire countryside, contemplating, amongst other things, the long, long life of trees. He himself had no fear of the blood, cardinal red though it may be. He thought of death as but a passing, a welcome to the Universe where he believed the immortal soul would spend a blissful eternity, looking back at life simply as being in the past tense. His thoughts were suddenly disturbed…

“Lend me your moby, Dick,” said Mrs Hudson. “I’d like to call my lawyer.”

Suddenly it all fell into place. “Mobile phones haven’t been invented yet!” Churchill cried, cuffing her. He had realised she was none other than the Black Widow, a time traveller from the future who had come back to Victorian London to escape justice for the crimes she would commit in 2001 – three dead husbands and the murder of a lady! Locking her temporarily in the hospital’s Slaughterhouse-Five (a name they were soon to change to Intensive Care Unit), he set off to hail a cab to take them to the police station. And so we leave them, as the cabhorse pulls off onto the road to justice, and the wheel spins. We must pray that time will bring the balm of Gilead to those shattered witnesses of this horrific crime…

fog-cab

* * * * * * * * *

HAVE A GREAT DAY! 😀

Friday Frippery! Dear Santa…

…A Last Minute Request

I’ve gone and missed the last posting date for my Christmas pressies, so I’m hoping you and Rudolph could help me by dropping off some gifts while you’re doing your rounds tomorrow night. Here’s the list…

For Lizzie Bennet…

lizzies-present

…a set of noise cancelling headphones for when her mother’s trying to persuade her to marry the oleaginous Mr Collins.

mrs-bennet-gif

* * * * * * * * *

For Sherlock Holmes…

sherlocks-present

… a nice vaping pipe. Three of these should solve any problem…

* * * * * * * * *

For Hercule Poirot…

poirots-gift

…a Flick Knife Moustache Comb – useful should he ever have to defend his moustache from an evil villain.

* * * * * * * * *

For Mr Rochester…

rochesters-present

…one or other of these self-help books should be useful, I think…

* * * * * * * * *

For Miss Marple…

miss-marples-present

…a handy tote bag, and something to help her with that difficult gift for Hercule…

* * * * * * * * *

For Bertie Wooster…

bertie-and-the-aunts

…to help deal with those occasional pesky infestations…

aunt-spray-3

* * * * * * * * *

For Scrooge…

scrooges-present

… a nice t-shirt will keep him warm and provide a handy reminder for when he hears those chains start to clank…

* * * * * * * * *

For Darcy…

darcy standing

Ahh, Darcy! The man who has everything! What could I give him but…

mirror

Well, why should he be denied the opportunity to admire his own magnificence?

* * * * * * * * *

Thanks for your help, Santa, and…

santa-gif

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

 

Legs eleven…

…or The Reading Bingo Challenge!

 

reading-bingo-small

 

I managed a Full House last year in The Reading Bingo Challenge, but will I be able to do it again? Whether or not, it’s a fun way to look back over the year’s reading, so I thought I’d see how many categories I could complete… and it’s also a great opportunity to bring back some of my favourite pics from the year.

More than 500 pages

Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens. First review of the year following my usual pattern of reading Dickens over Christmas. And a fine one to start with – Dickens tackling the subjects of selfishness and greed, both in Britain and America. Hmm… almost counts as contemporary fiction…

The inaptly named Eden, young Martin's American home. By Phiz.
The inaptly named Eden, young Martin’s American home. By Phiz.

A forgotten classic

Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm by Gil North. One of the British Library re-issues, this is set somewhat later than many of them, in the Yorkshire of the early 1960s. I loved the grim Northern setting and grew to appreciate North’s distinctive style of short, sharp sentences. Plus reviewing it led to one of my favourite posts of the year – a guest post from Martin Edwards introducing us to his Ten Top Golden Age Detectives

A book that became a movie

Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden. I’ve reviewed several “Films of the Books” this year so I’m spoiled for choice. This one is wonderfully melodramatic and a pretty faithful adaptation. The book itself tells the story of a small group of nuns who are sent to open a convent in school in the remoteness of the Himalayas. For each, the experience will change her forever in ways she never imagined…

black narcissus bell

Published this year

I Am No One by Patrick Flanery. Again spoiled for choice in this category. Flanery’s latest book is a study of paranoia in our new world of constant surveillance. Flanery raises the question of how far we are willing to compromise our privacy in the name of security, and suggests that we should be wary of giving up our hard-won freedoms too easily.

With a number in the title

2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C Clarke. I seem to be mentioning this book a lot in these end of year posts and that’s because of the impact it had on me. I followed the author’s suggestion to ‘read the book, then see the film’ and wow! Together they blew me away! The story of man’s ascent from primitive ape-like creatures to space travellers and beyond is surely what the word ‘pychedelic’ was coined for. Far out, man!

2001 poster

Written by someone under 30

The Girls by Emma Cline. I could only find one for this, but fortunately it’s a great one. Based on the story of the Manson murders, this is about the psychology of cults, about how vulnerable people can find themselves being led to behave in ways that seem incomprehensible to onlookers, giving them an aura of almost demonic evil. A young author who is one to watch, for sure!

A book with non-human characters

The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel. Another book I find myself mentioning and thinking about often, this is a book about grief, religion, and the old evolution v faith debate – beautifully and movingly told, with more than an edge of surrealism in parts. It’s also about chimpanzees…

chimp-gif

A funny book

Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene. I struggled with this category. Although I enjoy some humour in books, I rarely read one that could be described as ‘funny’. This is a gentle little comedy without any of the profundity of Greene’s major works but still with a certain amount of charm.

A book by a female author

Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton. (This always strikes me as such an odd category – as if female authors are somehow unusual. Anyway…) This is Sharon Bolton at her twisty, twisted best, and her best is pretty brilliant! Maggie Rose is a defence barrister and author of several books regarding possible miscarriages of justice. But convicted killer Hamish Wolfe is a handsome charmer, and it soon seems that Maggie may be falling under his spell…

A mystery

4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie. A classic re-read for this category, since no-one does mystery better than Agatha Christie! When Elspeth McGillicuddy glances out of the window of her train carriage, she is horrified to see a woman being strangled by a tall, dark man in another train. But fortunately Mrs McGillicuddy is on her way to visit an old friend, Miss Marple…

Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple in Murder, She Said
Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple in Murder, She Said which is based (roughly) on the book.

A one-word title

Exposure by Helen Dunsmore. This is a spy story with a difference – it’s seen mainly from the point of view of the family of a man accused of treason. It’s also an intelligent take on the story of The Railway Children, but seen from the adult perspective.

Free square

Open Wounds by Douglas Skelton. Davie McCall is a gangster with a moral code. Now he wants out of this life, but first he has to do one last job for his boss. I loved this look at Glasgow gangster culture – so much more authentic than most of what’s classed as ‘Tartan Noir’. However this is the fourth book in a quartet, so I should really have begun with Blood City.

A book of short stories

Dubliners by James Joyce. Joyce’s collection of 15 stories takes the reader through the various strata of Dublin society of the early years of the twentieth century. Some of the stories are outstanding and, as a collection, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing, the weaker parts being more than compensated for by the stronger.

James Joyce
James Joyce

Set on a different continent

A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee. It’s 1919 – the corpse of a white man is discovered in an alleyway in an unsavoury part of Calcutta, and Inspector Sam Wyndham is assigned to investigate. This debut novel is the start of a series of historical crime fiction set in India under the dying days of the Raj. Great stuff, with a real authenticity about the setting – looking forward to more from this author.

Non-fiction

The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale. This is a chilling but fascinating true crime story from the end of the Victorian era. Robert Coombes was thirteen when he murdered his mother. Summerscale looks at his possible motivation, the justice system of the time, and Robert’s future life, asking the question if redemption is ever possible after such a horrific crime.

First book by a favourite author

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell. It’s Prohibition Era and Rose, the narrator, is a little jealous of the new typist Odalie, hired to work alongside her in the police department; but when Odalie decides to befriend her, Rose quickly falls under her spell. I loved this and Rindell’s next book, Three-Martini Lunch – she creates such authentic settings and unique voices for her characters. A new favourite author, and one I’m keen to watch develop.

Keira Knightley has bought the films rights to The Other Typist apparently - I think she'd make a great Odalie...or maybe Rose!
Keira Knightley has bought the films rights to The Other Typist apparently – I think she’d make a great Odalie…or maybe Rose!

Heard about online

In the Woods by Tana French. This category could apply to just about every book I read, but I’ve gone for this one since Tana French has been recommended by so many fellow bloggers in glowing terms. While I wasn’t completely blown away by this, her first novel, I’m still looking forward to reading more of her books.

A best-selling book

Conclave by Robert Harris. This is an absolutely fascinating and absorbing look at the process of how a new Pope is chosen. Of course, being a novel, Harris makes sure there are plenty of scandals and secrets to come out, each one subtly changing the balance of power amongst the cardinals. Amazon has it marked as a “Bestseller”, so that’s good enough for me.

From the bottom of the TBR pile

Green for Danger by Christianna Brand. A classic murder mystery set in a WW2 military hospital. When a patient at the hospital dies unexpectedly on the operating table, it’s up to Inspector Cockrill to find the murderer. But first he has to work out how it was done. This spent more than three years on the TBR before it reached the top of the heap…

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

Based on a true story

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Written during the height of the Vietnam War, Vonnegut uses his own experiences of the bombing of Dresden in WW2 to produce a powerful protest novel, disguised as science fiction – a book that concentrates on the effects of war at the human, individual level.

A book a friend loves

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. This book tells the story of a group of people whose lives were all touched in some way by the incredible high-wire walk of Philippe Petit between the Twin Towers one August morning in 1974. It was highly recommended to me by fellow blogger DesertDweller, so I was delighted to be able to declare it A Great American Novel.

Philippe Petit - this picture gives me vertigo...
Philippe Petit – this picture gives me vertigo…

A book that scared me

Thin Air by Michelle Paver. A group of mountaineers have to contend with scarier things than extreme weather and dangerous conditions on their expedition in the Himalayas. Paver is excellent at building tension and creating a subtle atmosphere of horror.

A book that is more than 10 years old

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Thurston. Another book I read as part of the Great American Novel Quest, this tells the story of Janie, a black woman on a journey of self-discovery. Although I wasn’t uncritical of it, I loved it for the language and the compelling story-telling, and for making me think.

Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston

The second book in a series

An Advancement of Learning by Reginald Hill. I’m gradually re-reading my favourite detective series of all time, Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series. These early ones are good in their own right, but are also intriguing for seeing the characters before they’re fully formed and for watching Hill’s style and technique develop.

A book with a blue cover

Zero K by Don DeLillo. This is a strange and unsettling book that takes the science fiction cliché of cryogenics and turns it into a thought-provoking reflection on death and identity. From a shaky beginning, I grew to love it, for the writing, the imagery and the sheer intelligence of it.

zero k

* * * * * * *

Bingo! Full House!

 

TBR Thursday 105…

Episode 105…

My persistent attempt at exercising willpower is finally showing results, with another week where my TBR has remained stable – at 176! Happily, the review copy backlog has dropped 4 to 32, of which only 18 are overdue – the best it’s been for a long time. Feeling good about being able to get off the review copy treadmill in the new year, and having time to read some of the books I’ve been stockpiling for far too long.

Of course, I’m still looking forward to getting review copies of books from favourite authors and there’s a couple of those here, specially scheduled to ensure some great reading over the festive season. A bumper edition this week, since this will be the last TBR post till 2017…

Factual

how-shakespeare-put-politics-on-the-stageCourtesy of NetGalley. Shakespeare, politics, a bit of history and Yale University Press – how could it go wrong? Hmm… early reviews, including one from a reviewer I know and trust on this kind of book, suggest it could be way too academic and dry for my dilettante mind… but we’ll see…

The Blurb says: With an ageing, childless monarch, lingering divisions due to the Reformation, and the threat of foreign enemies, Shakespeare’s England was fraught with unparalleled anxiety and complicated problems. In this monumental work, Peter Lake reveals, more than any previous critic, the extent to which Shakespeare’s plays speak to the depth and sophistication of Elizabethan political culture and the Elizabethan imagination. Lake reveals the complex ways in which Shakespeare’s major plays engaged with the events of his day, particularly regarding the uncertain royal succession, theological and doctrinal debates, and virtue and virtù in politics. Through his plays, Lake demonstrates, Shakespeare was boldly in conversation with his audience about a range of contemporary issues. This remarkable literary and historical analysis pulls the curtain back on what Shakespeare was really telling his audience and what his plays tell us today about the times in which they were written.

* * * * *

Crime

the-beautiful-deadCourtesy of NetGalley. I have no doubts about this one though! A new Belinda Bauer is always a major treat…

The Blurb says:  In her latest, The Beautiful Dead, Bauer turns the trope of the media-attention-hungry killer on its head, with a riveting narrative centered on a down-on-her-luck crime reporter and a serial killer desperate for the spotlight.

Crime reporter Eve Singer’s career is on the downward slope when a spate of bizarre murders—each carefully orchestrated and advertised like performance art—begin in her territory. Covering these very public crimes revives her byline, and when the killer contacts Eve to discuss her coverage of his crimes, she is suddenly on the inside of the biggest murder investigation of the decade. But as the killer becomes increasingly obsessed with her, Eve realizes there’s a thin line between inside information and becoming an accomplice to murder—possibly her own.

A seamlessly-plotted thriller that will keep readers breathless until the very end, The Beautiful Dead cements Belinda Bauer’s reputation as a master of heart-stopping suspense..

* * * * *

Crime

cast-ironCourtesy of Quercus via MidasPR. The new Peter May has become part of my festive tradition in recent years. I’m going to whisper a little secret though – the Enzo Files series, of which this is #6, isn’t my favourite May series. In fact, I’ve only read a couple of them. The earlier ones were written several years ago, before the Lewis series, and I do think he’s been at his peak for the last few years, so will he be able to change my mind? Exciting… and even May’s less good books are still way ahead of most of the competition…

The Blurb says: West of France, 1989. A weeping killer deposits the unconscious body of nineteen year old Lucie Martin, her head wrapped in a blue plastic bag, into the water of a picturesque lake.

Lot-et-Garonne, 2003. Fourteen years later a summer heatwave parches the earth, killing trees and bushes and drying out streams. In the scorched mud and desiccated slime of the lake a fisherman finds a skeleton wearing a bag over its skull.

Paris, October 2011. In an elegant apartment in Paris, forensic expert Enzo Macleod pores over the scant evidence of this, the sixth cold case he has been challenged to solve. In taking on this old and seemingly impossible task he will put everything and everyone he holds dear in a peril he could never have imagined.

* * * * *

Fiction

our-mutual-friendMy major festive reading tradition is to read Dickens (hence why there are five Dickens novels on my Classics Club list, including this one). For some incomprehensible reason, I’ve never read this one before – an omission I can’t wait to rectify…

The Blurb says: A satiric masterpiece about the allure and peril of money, Our Mutual Friend revolves around the inheritance of a dust-heap where the rich throw their trash. When the body of John Harmon, the dust-heap’s expected heir, is found in the Thames, fortunes change hands surprisingly, raising to new heights “Noddy” Boffin, a low-born but kindly clerk who becomes “the Golden Dustman.” Charles Dickens’s last complete novel, Our Mutual Friend encompasses the great themes of his earlier works: the pretensions of the nouveaux riches, the ingenuousness of the aspiring poor, and the unfailing power of wealth to corrupt all who crave it. With its flavorful cast of characters and numerous subplots, Our Mutual Friend is one of Dickens’s most complex—and satisfying—novels.

* * * * *

Horror

dark-talesCourtesy of NetGalley. Horror stories are an essential part of the Christmas season – the perfect antidote to all that excess goodwill floating around. Bah, humbug! And who better than Shirley Jackson to shiver the spine…

The Blurb says: There’s something nasty in suburbia. In these deliciously dark tales, the daily commute turns into a nightmarish game of hide and seek, the loving wife hides homicidal thoughts and the concerned citizen might just be an infamous serial killer. In the haunting world of Shirley Jackson, nothing is as it seems and nowhere is safe, from the city streets to the country manor, and from the small-town apartment to the dark, dark woods…

* * * * *

Crime

maigret-and-the-tall-womanCourtesy of NetGalley. I’ve been enjoying reading some older crime fiction recently, so this should fit in nicely. I did read some Maigret in my youth, but that’s soooo long ago, he feels like a new-to-me author…

The Blurb says: A visit from a tall, thin woman he arrested many years ago—now married to a hapless burglar—leads Maigret on a tortuous investigation in which he struggles with a formidable suspect. The thirty-eighth book in the new Penguin Maigret series.

A face from Maigret’s past reappears to tell him about the misadventures of her husband, a safecracker nicknamed “Sad Freddie” who discovered a dead body while committing a burglary and fled the scene in a panic. In a race against the clock, Maigret must use his full arsenal of investigative methods to solve the crime.

* * * * *

Fiction

el-doctorowCourtesy of NetGalley again! Some more short stories to fill in those short gaps that happen around this time of year, when there’s just not enough time to get properly stuck into a longer novel. And my first introduction to EL Doctorow…

The Blurb says: A superb collection of fifteen great stories by an American master, E. L. Doctorow—the author of Ragtime, The March, The Book of Daniel, and Billy Bathgate.

In A House on the Plains, a mother has a plan for financial independence, which may include murder. In Walter John Harmon, a man starts a cult using subterfuge and seduction. Jolene: A Life follows a teenager who escapes her home for Hollywood on a perilous quest for success. Heist, the account of an Episcopal priest coping with a crisis of faith, was expanded into the bestseller City of God. The Water Works, about the underbelly of 1870s New York, grew into a brilliant novel. Liner Notes: The Songs of Billy Bathgate is a corollary to the renowned novel and includes Doctorow’s revisions.

These fifteen brilliant stories, written from the 1960s to the early twenty-first century, and selected, revised, and placed in order by the author himself shortly before he died in 2015, are a testament to the genius of E. L. Doctorow.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

* * * * *

So…what do you think?
Doesn’t this just look like a fab festive reading list?

* * * * *

Six Degrees of Separation – From Yates to…

Chain links…

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

revolutionary-road

This month’s starting book is Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road. This is a book that blew me away when I read it as part of the Great American Novel Quest a couple of years ago. It’s a book about failure – of individual hopes and dreams, of a marriage, of the American Dream.

Long after the time had come for what the director called “really getting this thing off the ground; really making it happen,” it remained a static, shapeless, inhumanly heavy weight; time and again they read the promise of failure in each other’s eyes, in the apologetic nods and smiles of their parting and the spastic haste with which they broke for their cars and drove home to whatever older, less explicit promises of failure might wait for them there.

The film can’t quite match the depth of the book, but it’s excellent nevertheless.

kate winslet in RR

It stars Kate Winslet, which made me think of…

enigma 2

Robert Harris’ Enigma. A first rate spy thriller, written with all the qualities of literary fiction, this story is set amid the codebreakers of Bletchley Park during WW2. A great depiction of the almost intolerable pressure placed on the shoulders of these mainly young men at a time when the course of the whole war depended on their success.

enigma 1

The WW2 setting reminded me of…

vertigo

Vertigo by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. The book from which the famous Hitchcock film was made but, unlike the film, the book is set in wartime France, with the first section taking place in Paris just as the war is beginning and the second part four years later in Marseilles as it is heading towards its end. This gives a feeling of disruption and displacement which is entirely missing from the film, set as it is in peacetime America. For once, despite my abiding love for Mr Hitchcock, on this occasion the victory goes to the book!

vertigo-alfred-hitchcock-865414_1024_768

And thinking of Hitchcock reminded me of…

the birds

The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier. The title story is of course the one on which Hitchcock based his film of the same name, but my favourite story in this great little collection tells the tale of a recent (unnamed) widower, bereaved but not bereft. Frankly, he had found his wife Midge irritating for years. So he happily admits to himself, though not to the world, that her death from pneumonia was more of a relief than a loss. And suddenly he’s enjoying life again – until one day he looks out of his window and spots that one of his apple trees bears an uncanny resemblance to the hunched, drudging image of his late wife…

Up and down went the heavy axe, splitting and tearing at the tree. Off came the peeling bark, the great white strips of underwood, raw and stringy. Hack at it, blast at it, gouge at the tough tissue, throw the axe away, claw at the rubbery flesh with the bare hands. Not far enough yet, go on, go on.

That story is called The Apple Tree, which made me think of…

the color master

The Color Master by Aimee Bender. The first story in this excellent collection of modern folk tales is called Appleless, and has undertones of the story of Eve and the fall from grace. The quality of the stories varies but the quality of the writing is so high that it easily carries the weaker ones in the collection.

“…I did what the Color Master had asked, and went for blue, then black, and I was incredibly slow, but for one moment I felt something as I hovered over the bins of blue. Just a tug of guidance from the white of the dress that led my hand to the middle blue. It felt, for a second, like harmonizing in a choir, the moment when the voice sinks into the chord structure and the sound grows, becomes more layered and full than before. So that was the right choice.”

donkeyskinOne of the stories I particularly liked is The Devourings, which tells the story of a woman who married a troll. And that made me think of…

the shapeshifters

Stefan Spjut’s strange but rather wonderful The Shapeshifters. In many ways, this is a traditional crime novel set in modern Sweden – but in this version of Sweden trolls still exist in some of the more isolated places. There’s a folk-tale feel about the whole thing as if the fables of the old days have somehow strayed back into the real world. As with so much Nordic fiction, the weather and landscape plays a huge role in creating an atmosphere of isolation – all those trees, and the snow, and the freezing cold.

Scandinavian Fairy Tale illustration by Theodore Kittlesen 1857-1914
Scandinavian Fairy Tale illustration by Theodore Kittlesen 1857-1914

 

Thinking of crime novels set in Sweden reminded me of…

the voices beyond

The Voices Beyond by Johan Theorin. The bulk of the book is set in the present day, but there’s another strand that takes the reader back to time of the Great Terror in the Stalinist USSR, and it is this strand that lifts the book so far above average. This time of horrors is brilliantly depicted – no punches are pulled, and there are some scenes that are grim and dark indeed. Theorin doesn’t wallow, though, and at all times he puts a great deal of humanity into the story which, while it doesn’t mitigate the horrors, softens the edges a little, making it very moving at times.

Stalin poster

* * * * *

So Yates to Theorin via Kate Winslet, WW2, Alfred Hitchcock,  apple trees, trolls, and Swedish crime.

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

TBR Thursday 104…

Episode 104…

I’m delighted to say my reading slump appears to be finally over, and I powered through the books during my blogging break, with the result that there’s been a massive drop of 5 in the TBR since I last posted – down to 176! I’m still keeping strict control over NetGalley and publisher requests – the outstanding list of review copies has dropped 2 to 36. I’m feeling quite smug! I wonder how long that will last…

Oh, and I finished Moby-Dick!!! *turns double somersault and harpoons Melville out of sheer joie de vivre* Review soon!

Here are a few that will make it to the top of the heap soon. I’m still trying to clear as many review copies as possible before the end of the year…

Factual

deep-lifeCourtesy of Princeton University Press. I’m hoping this is as exciting as it sounds!

The Blurb says: Deep Life takes readers to uncharted regions deep beneath Earth’s crust in search of life in extreme environments and reveals how astonishing new discoveries by geomicrobiologists are helping the quest to find life in the solar system.

Tullis Onstott, named one of the 100 most influential people in America by Time magazine, provides an insider’s look at the pioneering fieldwork that is shining vital new light on Earth’s hidden biology–a thriving subterranean biosphere that scientists once thought to be impossible. Come along on epic descents two miles underground into South African gold mines to experience the challenges that Onstott and his team had to overcome. Join them in their search for microbes in the ancient seabed below the desert floor in the American Southwest, and travel deep beneath the frozen wastelands of the Arctic tundra to discover life as it could exist on Mars.

Blending cutting-edge science with thrilling scientific adventure, Deep Life features rare and unusual encounters with exotic life forms, including a bacterium living off radiation and a hermaphroditic troglodytic worm that has changed our understanding of how complex subsurface life can really be. This unforgettable book takes you to the absolute limits of life–the biotic fringe–where today’s scientists hope to discover the very origins of life itself.

* * * * *

radio-girlsFiction

I don’t often get sent unsolicited review copies (which I’m quite glad about, since I always end up feeling obliged to read them). But Allison & Busby sent me a little batch a few months ago, none that are really in quite my usual style, but which each look quite intriguing of their kind. Might be fun to try something a bit different – this is the one that appeals most…

The Blurb says:  London, 1926. Maisie Musgrave is thrilled to land a job at the fledgling British Broadcasting Corporation whose new and electrifying radio network is captivating the nation. Famous writers, scientists, politicians – the BBC is broadcasting them all, but behind the scenes Maisie is drawn into a battle of wills being fought by her two bosses. John Reith, the formidable Director-General and Hilda Matheson, the extraordinary Director of Talks Programming, envisage very different futures for radio. And when Maisie unearths a shocking conspiracy, she and Hilda join forces to make their voices heard both on and off the air . . .

* * * * *

Crime

design-for-murderCourtesy of NetGalley. As cosy afternoon viewing, there’s nothing to beat six episodes of Murder, She Wrote one after the other! Will the books have the same relaxing, uplifting effect? I’ve often wondered – now’s the time to find out…

The Blurb says: Jessica is in Manhattan to attend the debut of a new designer. Formerly Sandy Black of Cabot Cove, the young man has reinvented himself as Xandr Ebon, and is introducing his evening wear collection to the public and—more important—to the industry’s powers-that-be: the stylists, the magazine editors, the buyers, and the wealthy clientele who can make or break him. At the show, the glitz and glamour are dazzling until a young model—a novice, taking her first walk down the runway—shockingly collapses and dies. Natural causes? Perhaps. But when another model is found dead, a famous cover girl and darling of the paparazzi, the fashion world gets nervous.

Two models. Two deaths. Their only connection? Xandr Ebon. Jessica’s crime-solving instincts are put to the test as she sorts through the egos, the conflicts of interest, the spiteful accusations, and the secrets, all the while keeping an amorous detective at arm’s length. But she’ll have to dig deep to uncover a killer. A designer’s career is on the line. And another model could perish in a New York minute.

* * * * *

Crime

death-on-the-rivieraCourtesy of NetGalley. And to round off what must surely be the cosiest TBR post ever, another from the British Library Crime Classics series…

The Blurb says: When a counterfeit currency racket comes to light on the French Riviera, Detective Inspector Meredith is sent speeding southwards – out of the London murk to the warmth and glitter of the Mediterranean. Along with Inspector Blampignon – an amiable policeman from Nice – Meredith must trace the whereabouts of Chalky Cobbett, crook and forger.

Soon their interest centres on the Villa Paloma, the residence of Nesta Hedderwick, an eccentric Englishwoman, and her bohemian house guests – among them her niece, an artist, and a playboy. Before long, it becomes evident that more than one of the occupants of the Villa Paloma has something to hide, and the stage is set for murder.

This classic crime novel from 1952 evokes all the sunlit glamour of life on the Riviera, and combines deft plotting with a dash of humour. This is the first edition to have been published in more than sixty years and follows the rediscovery of Bude’s long-neglected detective writing by the British Library.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

Friday Frippery! A conversation regarding whales…

Call me FF…

moby-dick-john-barrymore

Tap-thump! Tap-thump! Tap-thump! FF heard the unmistakeable sound of the captain crossing the deck.

“Ahoy, FF, thou lazy dog! Whyest dost thou lyeth there on that… thing… whilst Ahab practiceth his best cod Shakespearian?? Whatest is that thing, anyway, in the name of the gods above in Heaven, or perhaps the devils beneath in Hell! Or vice-versa. If Gods exist. Eth.”

FF raised her sunglasses and perched them on her golden curls. “It’s a sun-lounger, sir. Don’t you like it? I ordered it from Amazon and they had a drone drop it off an hour ago. It’s very comfortable.”

Ahab stuck his bone leg in the socket he had had specially made for it and, swivelling madly like Zebedee on his spring, cried out, “Thou liest here in the sun imbibing the devil’s grog…”

“It’s a margarita,” murmured FF, sipping.

“… when there is work to be (or not to be) done! Hast thou seen the great white whale?”

“No, and I’m at 92% now. Strange, isn’t it?”

Ahab ceased to swivel and fixed her with his mad eye. “Eh? 92%? Thou speakest in strange riddles as of one who has seen things not of nature!”

“Well, the book’s called Moby-Dick: or, the White Whale so you’d kinda think the whale would actually be in it, wouldn’t you?” FF waved her Kindle at the infuriated captain. “But no. We’ve sailed every sea in the entire world and not a blessed sign of him yet. A cheat, I call it! Plenty of other whales though – big ones, little ones, lots and lots of dead ones. And as for gory! Well, let’s just say I know more than I ever wanted to about how to skin them and squeeze the oil out of their blubber.” She shuddered, and sipped her margarita. “Sir.”

moby-dick-the_voyage_of_the_pequod

Ahab shook his fist at the cloudless sky. “Thou wasteth time reading stupid books on thy infernal device when thou shouldst be aloft the main mast searching for the monster whom thou hast sworn a great oath to destroyeth!”

“To be fair, though, sir, that was during the first night party and you’d been pretty generous with the old gin before you asked. I’m not sure that really counts as a proper oath.”

“Thy honour grovels on its lowly belly acrost the mud in the deeps where lie littered the bodies of great heroes and the monsters they pursued to their doom! Queequeg the cannibal shalt not fail me, he with his skin tattooed with marks that would scare the devils themselves. Nor even the poor, crazed savage, Pip, whose little black hand is nearly as soft as that of a decent white boy!”

“That reminds me, sir, an e-mail came in from Head Office. They want you to confirm you’ve completed the online training course in cultural sensitivity.”

“Aarghh! Get thee up to the lookout afore I call on the Heavens to strike thee with the unnatural fire of the corpusants!”

“No can do, I’m afraid, sir. Health and safety. You’ll just have to rely on the sonar equipment.”

“Gah! Art thou a yellow-bellied poltroon?? Thou wilt know real danger when Ahab sends thee in the little boat to stick harpoons in the monstrous Leviathan!”

FF shuddered. “I fear that won’t be possible, sir. Whaling has been outlawed by international convention. These days we use electricity to light our lamps.”

Ahab leapt up and down so hard his bone leg began to splinter. “Outlawed?! Never! For here, on the great ocean, Ahab is all – the captain, the King, the God! And the great white whale shall die, die horribly, because Ahab sayeth so! Look! What ist that strange vessel that approacheth?”

“It’s Greenpeace, sir. They’re here to protect the whale. I Skyped them when I realised you were insane, sir.”

Ahab turned purple with rage, and shook both fists at FF. “Thou hast ruined my revenge! Truly, verily, and yea, ’tis true what they say! To allow a woman aboardeth a ship is folly, for they are cursed, and curseth those who saileth with them!” Tap-thump! Tap-thump! Tap-thump!

“Silly old misogynist!” murmured FF, as she lay back on her lounger and opened the new Ian Rankin.

moby-dick-cartoon

HAVE A GREAT FRIDAY! 😉