TBR Thursday 259… and Quarterly Round-Up

TBR Quarterly Report

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

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

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

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

 

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The Classics Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

68 down, 22 to go!

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

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

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

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

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

40 down, 62 to go!

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Reading the Spanish Civil War Challenge

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

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

2 down, indefinite number to go!

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

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

Around the World in 80 Books Challenge – Wrap!

“The Road goes ever on and on…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Main Journey

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

The Detours

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

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Highlights

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

Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz

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

The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel

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

Endurance by Alfred Lansing

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

Springtime in a Broken Mirror by Mario Benedetti

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

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

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

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

Thanks for joining me on my epic journey. 😀

20 Books of Summer 2020 – Wrap!

Beating the slump…

Hurrah! I did it! I did it!! I DID IT!!! All twenty books read and reviewed within the time limit!

Given that I was in the midst of a major slump when the challenge began, the plan to read loads of short books turned out to be the perfect way to get back into the swing, and amazingly, for only the second time ever, I’ve actually beaten this fun but surprisingly difficult challenge, hosted by the lovely Cathy at 746 Books.

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So here’s a little summary of how it went…

Of the original 20 books, I read 16 in full and abandoned four, of which I reviewed two and replaced two. There is no doubt that, although my reading quantity is more or less back to normal, I’m still not enjoying books with my usual enthusiasm, and the high number of abandonments and lower than usual ratings reflect that. Pesky plague!

I mostly stayed in Britain, but I had little trips to Italy, Japan, Tanzania, Havana, the US, Argentina and Paris! And then I topped it off by travelling completely Around the World in Eighty Days. Along the way I met up with detectives and murderers, sabotaged a German gunboat, spent time with the prostitutes of Elgin, fished for marlin, and dug for bones – phew! No wonder I’m shattered! I need a holiday to recover from my holidays!

Despite my relative lack of enthusiasm compared to previous years, the combined star total of the 20 that make up my final list is a respectable 75, or an average of 3.75 per book. Not too bad, eh?

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Lowlights

The Killer and the Slain and Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi were two of the abandoned books, but they annoyed me enough to inspire grumpy 1-star reviews. The dull Watergate satire, The Abbess of Crewe, scraped a miserly two, while the “humorous” vintage crime, Weekend at Thrackley, gained a retrospectively generous 2½.

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The Middlelights

Only one in the three-star category this time around…

Thirst by Ken Kalfus

A variable selection of short stories in Kalfus’ first collection, but showing the promise he has since fulfilled in his more recent work.

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The Uplights

A stonking ten books achieved 4-star ratings, meaning I liked and recommend them, but just didn’t quite love them. I’m certain that in another year and a better reading mood several of these would have got the full five…

Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac
The African Queen by CS Forester
The Case of the Late Pig by Margery Allingham
The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo
Lady Susan by Jane Austen
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Maigret and the Reluctant Witnesses by Georges Simenon
The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths
Sula by Toni Morrison
A Month in the Country by JL Carr

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The Highlights

And that just leaves the final five books which achieved Five Glorious Glowing Golden Stars! I loved and highly recommend all of these – a nicely mixed bunch too! Here they are, in no particular order:

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
Maigret and the Ghost by Georges Simenon
The Spoilt Kill by Mary Kelly
The White Bird Passes by Jessie Kesson
Silent Kill by Jane Casey

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So, a mixed summer but with more good than bad! If… IF… I do this again next year, I must get off to an earlier start – I’ve spent the last couple of weeks frantically finishing books and writing rather sketchy reviews just hours before they’re due to be posted. Frazzled is the word that springs to mind! But now it’s all over, I’m feeling delightfully smug…

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And finally..

The Book of the Summer

is

Around the World in Eighty Days

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Thanks for joining me in my reading adventures! 😀

TBR Thursday 246… and Quarterly Round-Up

TBR Quarterly Report

At the New Year, as I do every year, I set myself some targets for my various reading challenges and for the reduction of my ever-expanding TBR. It was already beginning to go horribly wrong when I last reported at the end of March, and I fear my plaguophobia has made this my worst quarter since I started blogging and maybe for several years before that. However I haven’t given up all hope of finding my groove and making up for lost time in the second half of the year. Time to see just how bad the situation is!

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

 

Oh dear, most of the challenges have fallen badly behind, especially the Classics Club and the challenge to read some of the older books on my TBR.

However, while the TBR (books I own) remains stubbornly high, the combined TBR/wishlist figure is looking better. The mathematically-minded among you will realise that’s because books are gradually moving off the wishlist onto the TBR as I acquire them, and I’m not madly adding new ones. Mostly this is due to a lack of enthusiasm, but it’s also because I’m receiving almost no books for review at the moment, as my favourite publicity people remain furloughed. This is no bad thing since it’s allowing me to clear my feet of old overdue review copies a bit, but I do miss those parcels popping through the letterbox!

 

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The Around the World in 80 Books Challenge

Last check-in was in March, and since then I’ve broken out of quarantine three times but have only reviewed two of them so far – my reviewing slump is even worse than my reading slump!

On the Main Journey (made by the characters in Around the World in 80 Days) I spent a long visit in Egypt with the family of al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad in Naguib Mahfouz’s wonderful historical saga Palace Walkset in Cairo to the backdrop of the end of WW1 and the movement for independence. Then it was off to the Alps for a skiing holiday in the company of Carol Carnac in her Crossed Skis – a trip which, as is so often the way with vacations, promptly turned into a murder mystery. (Originally I had put Frankenstein in the Alps slot, but having now abandoned three books in my attempt to fill the Arctic slot, I’ve shoved Frankenstein into it and put this one in the Alps instead. All this world travelling gets quite complicated…)

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

78 down, 2 to go!

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The Classics Club

I’ve only read three from my Classics Club list this quarter, and still have two to review, so just one review this quarter…

63. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers – The story of deaf mute John Singer who attracts a small group of broken and lonely people, each of whom finds his silence allows them to talk openly to him in a way they can’t to other people.  A profound and moving study of the ultimate aloneness and loneliness of people in a crowd, and of the universal human desire to find connection with another. The writing is beautiful, emotional but never mawkish, with deep understanding of the human heart and sympathy for human fallibility – a book that fully deserves its classic status. 5 stars.

Low on quantity this quarter, but high on quality!

63 down, 27 to go!

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

Although I’ve read several vintage crime novels, I’ve only actually read one for this challenge this quarter. To see the full challenge, click here.

37.  The Innocence of Father Brown by GK Chesterton – This is the first collection of Chesterton’s stories about the little Catholic priest who not only solves inexplicable mysteries but also cures souls as he goes along. I honestly don’t know what it is other people see in the Father Brown stories – they don’t work for me at all, and I abandoned this after the first four stories. 1 star.

37 down, 65 to go!

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Reading the Spanish Civil War Challenge

This challenge really only started properly in June, so I’ve only read one book for it this quarter and unfortunately haven’t reviewed it yet. My enthusiasm is high though, so expect this section to be busier next time I report!

1 down, indefinite number to go!

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So not the most productive quarter but I still enjoyed most of the few books I read for my various challenges. Thanks as always for sharing my reading experiences!

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

20 Books of Summer

…aka Sheer Folly…

In the middle of the biggest reading slump of my life, it would be sheer folly to take part in Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer challenge, wouldn’t it? I’m determined not to do it. I’ve told Cathy I’m not doing it. I’m not doing it, OK?

But… if I was going to do it… which I’m not… then it would probably make sense to pick 20 short books. And it wouldn’t do any harm or commit me to anything (other than, perhaps, an asylum) to look and see what the twenty shortest books on my TBR are, would it? It wouldn’t mean I’d have to do it, and probably they’d all sound awful and that would bolster my determination not to do it…

Hmm! 15 might be more doable…

Well, just for interest’s sake, let’s see what the list would look like…

    1. The African Queen by CS Forester
    2. Maigret and the Ghost by Georges Simenon
    3. Thirst by Ken Kalfus
    4. The Killer and the Slain by Hugh Walpole
    5. Lady Susan by Jane Austen
    6. The Spoilt Kill by Mary Kelly
    7. Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
    8. The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo
    9. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
    10. The Case of the Late Pig by Margery Allingham
    11. The Abbess of Crewe by Muriel Spark
    12. Weekend at Thrackley by Alan Melville
    13. Up the Junction by Nell Dunn
    14. Maigret and Monsieur Charles by Georges Simenon
    15. A Month in the Country by JL Carr
    16. The White Bird Passes by Jessie Kesson
    17. Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi by Jorge Luis Borges
    18. All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan
    19. Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac
    20. Sula by Toni Morrison

Oh, dear, oh dear! They don’t look awful at all! They look great! Much more fun than all the heavyweight tomes on my existing reading list! And if I did do it, which I’m NOT going to, that would be…

2 from my Classics Club list

1 for my Around the World challenge

3 for the Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge

5 review books, including a couple of long overdue ones

15 that have been on my TBR since before this year

…and it would help me catch up with this year’s Goodreads challenge, on which I’ve fallen woefully behind. It’s almost a pity that I’m so determined NOT to do it.

Surely I could manage 10??

Maybe it wouldn’t do any harm to try… 😉

TBR Thursday 235… and Quarterly Round-Up

TBR Quarterly Report

At the New Year, as I do every year, I set myself some targets for my various reading challenges and for the reduction of my ever-expanding TBR. I usually start off pretty well and then it all goes horribly wrong later in the year. However, due to a severe dose of plagueomania, for most of March I’ve been struggling to read anything except thrillers and mysteries, so I fear the horribly wrong bit has started early this year !

Here goes – the first check-in of the year…

Actually I thought the reading targets figures might be much worse than they are. The classics are taking the worst hit as generally speaking they require the most concentration. The Reading the Spanish Civil War Challenge won’t get underway properly until I finish the Around the World Challenge, which should happen in April but may drift to May.

However, the TBR figures are going in completely the wrong direction! After exercising iron willpower over new releases all last year I seem to have gone mad this year and have acquired about a million! Well, slight exaggeration but it won’t be if I keep going on like this. Must do better!

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The Around the World in 80 Books Challenge

Last check-in was in December, and this quarter I’ve done most of my travelling in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. One is still patiently waiting for me to review it – better do it soon before the holiday tan wears off! It’ll appear in the next round-up.

On the Main Journey (made by the characters in Around the World in 80 Days) I visited the Suez Canal only to find that I’d turned up in the middle of the Suez Crisis to witness the dying throes of the British Empire, in PH Newby’s Something to Answer For, the first ever Booker Prize winner.

I also had a few detours this quarter. First, I went to the Swedish island of Öland, where I got involved with the disappearance of a little boy many years earlier, in Johan Theorin’s excellent Echoes From the Dead. Off to Sicily next where I got caught up in Garibaldi’s attempt to unify Italy, spending some time with the decaying aristocracy in Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa’s The Leopard. Then I found myself in Ruritania, (which may have been a fictional country but is still probably better known than many a real one so I’ve decided it counts!) and had great fun with Englishman Rudolf Rassendyll as he impersonated the Ruritanian King in Anthony Hope’s swashbuckling adventure The Prisoner of Zenda. I also returned to China, a destination I’d already visited. I enjoyed the magically realistic look at life for the modern urban Chinese woman in An Yu’s Braised Pork so much I’ve decided to swap it in to replace the one I’d previously listed for China.

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

76 down, 4 to go!

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The Classics Club

Although I’ve only read three from my Classics Club list this quarter, I had a backlog of four from the previous quarter still to review. So six reviews this quarter, and one still to review which will appear next time…

57. The New Road by Neil Munro – Set midway between the two major Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745, this great adventure story tells of two men travelling north into Highland country at the time when General Wade was building his New Road as part of the effort to pacify the clans. Entertaining and very well written, although the heavy sprinkling of Scots language and rhythms combined with its assumption of familiarity with the historical context might make it a demanding read for non-Scots. But for me, 5 stars.

58. The Go-Between by LP Hartley – A re-read of a book I loved in my youth and happily I loved it just as much all over again. The narrator Leo looks back to the summer of 1900 from a distance of fifty years. The story he tells us is one of subtle gradations of class and social convention, of sexual awakening and the loss of innocence, and over it all is an air of unease created by the older Leo’s knowledge of the horrors of the wars which would soon engulf the 20th century, changing this enchanted world of privilege for ever. 5 stars

59. The House with the Green Shutters by George Douglas Brown – A miserable and misanthropic portrayal of small-town Scottish life in the mid-19th century. I admired the skill of it, and the use of language, but it’s not an enjoyable read. And, while it is undoubtedly insightful about some aspects of Scottish culture, it certainly doesn’t give a full or rounded picture. 3 generous stars.

60. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway – No such reservations for this wonderful classic set during the Spanish Civil War. A love story, a story of the horror of war, of loyalty and comradeship, and surprisingly with a very strong female character at its heart, there is so much beauty in this book, side by side with so much brutality and so much tragedy. A real masterpiece – the descriptive writing is wonderful and the depth of insight into humanity and how people behave in times of war is breathtaking. 5 supernova-bright stars.

61. Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens – Set during the Gordon Riots of 1780, this is Dickens’ first attempt at the historical novel. The structure he uses is not wholly successful, but it’s filled as always with some delightfully original characters and also has some very fine mob scenes that hint at what would come in his later, and much better, A Tale of Two Cities. 4 stars because I’m comparing it to other Dickens’ novels, but would be 5 stars if compared to almost any other author’s work.

62. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – In this excoriating study of the horrors of colonialism in Africa, Conrad shows the devastating impact the white man has on both the society and the land of Africa, but he also shows that this devastation turns back on the coloniser, corrupting him physically and psychologically, and by extension, corrupting the societies from which he comes. Not an easy read, but more than worth the effort. 5 stars.

A fantastic quarter! I hope my next batch of classics are just as good!

Update to the list: I abandoned the third book in Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s A Scots Quair trilogy, Grey Granite, at too early a stage to review. (If you’re interested in why, here’s a link to my comments on Goodreads.) So I’m replacing it with The White Bird Passes by Jessie Kesson. Details will appear on a future TBR post.

62 down, 28 to go!

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

Although I’ve continued to read a ton of vintage crime, I’ve only actually read two for this challenge this quarter. To see the full challenge, click here.

35.  The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie – When a rich old lady is killed in her country house, the various members of the household come under suspicion. This is the first book ever published by Agatha Christie and therefore our first introduction to the two characters who would become her most famous, Poirot and Hastings. Great fun to see how the Queen of Crime began! 4½ stars.

36.  Trent’s Last Case by EC Bentley – Another murder in a country house, this time of an American business tycoon. Trent is a journalist and amateur detective who soon thinks he knows what happened, but has his own reasons for not revealing his suspicions. From 1913, it’s an intriguing look at one stage on the road to development of the genre. 4 stars.

36 down, 66 to go!

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Reading the Spanish Civil War Challenge

Although this challenge hasn’t really started yet, it would be crazy not to link Hemingway’s classic to it…

1.  For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. This story of love set amidst war is one of the best known books in English about the Spanish Civil War. The wonderful writing and profound insight into Spanish culture and the realities of war mean it richly deserves its status as a major classic. A glowing 5 stars and a great way to start the challenge!

1 down, and who knows how many to go!

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Another great quarter’s reading, even if the last month has thrown me off track a little! Thank you for joining me on my reading adventures and…

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

Reading the Spanish Civil War…

¡No pasarán!
They Shall Not Pass!

The Spanish Civil War is one of those periods of history about which I am embarrassingly ignorant despite the fact that it inspired so many writers at the time and afterwards. Sometimes ignorance becomes self-reinforcing – when I see a book about the Spanish Civil War, I avoid it because I feel I don’t know enough about the history to understand the book, and therefore I never learn about it. But having enjoyed my Reading the Russian Revolution Challenge a couple of years ago, I feel inspired to finally read myself into this period of history in the same way.

I’m going for a mix of fact and fiction, and am hoping to read a selection that will show me the war through the eyes of contemporaries and also retrospectively, through history and novels. As well as books by British authors, I’ll be trying to read some Spanish writers, though unfortunately I’ll be restricted to those which are available in English. I’ll be hoping to mix some lighter, action reads in with the heavier stuff as I go along. I expect my initial list will expand and change as one book leads to another.

I’m already conscious that the books I’ve selected seem to be heavily weighted to the Republican side, so if anyone knows of any good fiction from the perspective of the Nationalists, or indeed other good books from the Republican perspective, I’ll be grateful for recommendations. It seems to have been the accepted position of most British writers of the time that we should be on the side of the Republicans, but I have no real view on the matter as yet, not being a fan of either fascists or communists as a general rule, so I’ll be starting at least with an impartial eye.

Here’s my initial list, in no particular order:

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (fiction)

High in the pine forests of the Spanish Sierra, a guerrilla band prepares to blow up a vital bridge. Robert Jordan, a young American volunteer, has been sent to handle the dynamiting. There, in the mountains, he finds the dangers and the intense comradeship of war. And there he discovers Maria, a young woman who has escaped from Franco’s rebels…

The Battle for Spain by Anthony Beevor (history) – Abandoned.

With new material gleaned from the Russian archives and numerous other sources, this brisk and accessible book (Spain’s #1 bestseller for twelve weeks), provides a balanced and penetrating perspective, explaining the tensions that led to this terrible overture to World War II and affording new insights into the war – its causes, course, and consequences.

In Diamond Square by Mercè Rodoreda (fiction)

Natalia is hesitant when a stranger asks her to dance at the fiesta in Diamond Square in Barcelona. But Joe is charming and forceful, and she takes his hand. They marry and soon have two children; for Natalia it is an awakening, both good and bad. Then the Spanish Civil War erupts, and lays waste to the city and to their simple existence…

The Frozen Heart by Almudena Grandes (fiction)

Alvaro discovers an old folder with letters sent to his father in Russia, faded photos of people he never met, and a locked grey metal box. From the provincial heartlands of Spain to the battlefields of Russia, this is a mesmerizing journey through a war that tore families apart, pitting fathers against sons, brothers against brothers, and wives against husbands…

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee (memoirs)

Young Laurie Lee walks to London, and makes a living labouring and playing the violin. But, deciding to travel further afield, he heads for Spain. With just a blanket to sleep under and his trusty violin, he spends a year crossing Spain, from Vigo in the north to the southern coast. Only the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War puts an end to his extraordinary peregrinations…

Winter in Madrid by CJ Sansom (fiction)

Madrid: Sept., 1940. Enter British spy Harry Brett, sent to win the confidence of a shadowy Madrid businessman. Meanwhile, ex-Red Cross nurse Barbara Clare is engaged in a secret mission of her own—to find her former lover, whose passion for the Communist cause led him into the International Brigades and who vanished on the bloody battlefields of the Jarama.

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell (memoirs)

“Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism…” Thus wrote Orwell following his experiences in the Spanish Civil War. Here he brings to bear the force of his humanity, passion, and clarity, describing with bitter intensity the hopes and betrayals of that chaotic episode.

Homage to Caledonia by Daniel Grey (history)

Thirty-five thousand people from across the world volunteered to join the armed resistance in a war on fascism. More people, proportionately, went from Scotland than any other country, and the nation was gripped by the conflict. What drove so many ordinary Scots to volunteer in a foreign war? Here, their stories are powerfully and honestly told, often in their own words.

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Additions

The Spanish Civil War by Stanley G Payne (history)

An excellent, concise and clearly presented introduction to the subject for the beginner, but there’s also plenty of analysis in here to interest those with an existing knowledge of events. Payne has been a historian of Spain and European fascism throughout his career, and this book feels like the sum of all that immense study, distilled down to its pure essence.

¡España una, grande, libre!
Spain, one, great and free!

TBR Thursday 222… and Quarterly Round-Up

TBR Quarterly Report

I usually include a summary of how I’m progressing (or not) towards the targets I set myself for the year, but since I’ll be looking at my New Year’s Resolutions old and new tomorrow, I’ll leave that for then. So just a round-up of the books I’ve read and reviewed for my various ongoing challenges this time. I’ve read loads but due to my recent break, I’m way behind with reviews…

(Reminds me of my postman throwing books at me…)

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The Around the World in 80 Books Challenge

Last check-in was in September, and this quarter I’ve been to three destinations…

On the Main Journey (made by the characters in Around the World in 80 Days) I took my time machine back to Omaha to visit the World Fair of 1898 in Timothy Schaffert’s surprisingly enjoyable The Swan Gondola. Then Joseph Conrad and Lord Jim took me on a revealing trip around various parts of the British Empire, including a harrowing voyage across another compulsory destination, the Arabian Sea.

I finished my quarter’s travels with a detour to visit the Igbo clan in colonial-era Nigeria in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

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

72 down, 8 to go!

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The Classics Club

I’ve read an astonishing eight from my Classics Club list this quarter and had another still to review from the previous quarter. So far I’ve only reviewed five of these nine though, so have four still to review…

52. Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence – The story of young Paul Morel, the son of a Nottingham miner and alter-ego of the author, as he grows through childhood into manhood, and of the three women who vie for his love. This stood up very well to re-reading after many years, to my delight since it was one of the formative novels of my own adolescence. 5 stars

53. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey – New patient Randle P McMurphy arrives on the mental ward and is soon challenging Nurse Ratched for supremacy, geeing the Acutes up to rebel against the institution’s rules. Another re-read, of a book I found disappointing when I first read it many years ago too close to watching the movie, but this time around thought was brilliant. 5 stars.

54. Cloud Howe by Lewis Grassic Gibbon – This second part of A Scots Quair trilogy follows the further life of Chris Guthrie, now married to a minister and having moved from her farm to the small town of Segget. Unfortunately I didn’t think it was anywhere near to Sunset Song in terms of the writing, structure or in what it has to say about society, though it tries. Just 3 stars.

55. Wild Harbour by Ian Macpherson – Billed as sci-fi, this is really more of an alternative history set in the then near future, in a Britain at war. The main protagonist doesn’t believe in killing so takes to the hills of Scotland with his wife, to live in a cave and wait for the war to be over. A bleak survivalist adventure that becomes dystopian in the end, that I found compelling despite my distaste for the premise. 4 stars.

56. East of Eden by John Steinbeck – The story of how two generations of an extended family live their lives in misery and strife, and then die, usually horribly. My last Steinbeck – I’ve had far too much of his utterly depressing view of humanity. A generous 2 stars.

I’m nearly back on track with this challenge and have several more lined up for the next quarter, including the winner of the latest Classics Club Spin, Grey Granite, the third book in A Scots Quair.

56 down, 34 to go!

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

I haven’t read any for this challenge this quarter since I’d already met my target for the year. However I still had three reviews pending from the quarter before. To see the full challenge, click here.

32.  Family Matters by Anthony Rolls – Robert and Bertha Kewdingham live in a state of constant quarrelling, tired of each other, dissatisfied with their lives but unable to change. It’s a pity that Bertha is attractive to other men, and that Robert keeps a pharmacy-size stock of poisons readily to hand to treat his rampaging hypochondria. Things are bound to get nasty… Excellent characterisation and a lot of fun. 4½ stars.

33.  Payment Deferred by CS Forester – Not really a mystery, this one. The murder happens right at the beginning, and the book is actually about the impact it has on the murderer’s psychology. We watch as guilt and fear eat away at him, destroying his already weak character. It’s very well written and psychologically convincing but, oh my, it’s depressing! Just 3 stars.

34.  The Curious Mr Tarrant by C. Daly King – A collection of eight stories. Tarrant is an amateur detective, but his interest is purely in the bizarre. He investigates for the intellectual thrill, and has no particular interest in achieving justice. I gave a couple of the early stories 5 stars and another 4. But the rest ranged from mediocre to dire, getting progressively worse as they went along. A disappointing 2 stars overall.

34 down, 68 to go!

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5 x 5 Challenge

Just one reviewed for this challenge this quarter. Struggling badly to motivate myself to continue with this since several of the books have been disappointing. But I’ll keep going for a little longer, although I’m dropping one of my five authors…

8.  East of Eden by John Steinbeck. As I said above in the Classics Club section, I’m done with Steinbeck now. There’s not enough chocolate in the world to compensate for the miasma of misery that hovers around him. A generous and final 2 stars.

8 down, 3 Steinbecks removed from list, 14 to go!

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A mixed quarter’s reading as far as challenge books have gone, but still with some gems among them! Thank you for joining me on my reading adventures and…

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

TBR Thursday 214… and Quarterly Round-Up

TBR Quarterly Report

At the New Year, as I do every year, I set myself some targets for my various reading challenges and for the reduction of my ever-expanding TBR. It’s usually by this stage of the year that it becomes blindingly obvious that, unless cloning technology is invented tomorrow, I stand zero chance of meeting any of my targets, and I have a sinking feeling this year will be no different!

So here we are – the third check-in of the year…

Oh, dear! It’s not looking hopeful! The MMM challenge is done and dusted for this year, and I’m doing fine at keeping the new releases under control, but that was supposed to give me time to keep up with all the rest! I’ve picked up a tiny bit on the other challenges, but not nearly enough. I don’t understand it – I feel as if I’ve read nothing but challenge books for months… well, apart from vintage crime, vintage horror and vintage sci-fi. Hmm! I think I’m beginning to see the problem… oh well, three months to go and miracles do happen. Don’t they?

The TBR is going better. Although I’m unlikely to meet the target on books I own, especially the older ones, the overall combined TBR/wishlist figure is still on track. That calls for a celebration!

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The Around the World in 80 Books Challenge

Last check-in was in June, and this quarter I’ve visited four continents (maybe five – my geography is terrible) and sailed through every ocean!

On the Main Journey (made by the characters in Around the World in 80 Days) my exciting round the world voyage in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas took me through the Mediterranean, while my visit to fictional Mayapore in North Central India in Paul Scott’s wonderful The Jewel in the Crown will tick the box for the equally fictional Kholby in Uttar Pradesh. Confused? Me too!

I had several detours this quarter, some good, some not so much. I went to Papua New Guinea in Lloyd Jones’ Mister Pip, only to find myself in the midst of a bloody civil war, which I could have coped with if only the book hadn’t been quite so bad. I slipped back in time to Zululand in H. Rider Haggard’s wonderful Nada the Lily, for a stirring adventure based on African history and folklore. Then I was taken behind the Berlin Wall to East Germany, in John le Carré’s excellent and influential The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. My final trip was with John Steinbeck in The Pearl – a tragic (and profoundly depressing) story of the pointlessness of life (though I think it’s supposed to be about the evils of capitalism), set in Mexico.

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

69 down, 11 to go!

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The Classics Club

I’ve reviewed seven books from my Classics Club list this quarter and have one other pending…

45. Middlemarch by George Eliot – Set just before the Reform Act of 1832, Eliot uses the better off residents of the provincial town of Middlemarch to muse on the state of society at a point of change. A book that engaged my intellect more than my emotions and, in the end, failed to make me care about the outcomes for the people with whom I’d spent so much time. 3½ stars.

46. In the Heat of the Night by John Ball – Fundamentally a crime novel with a very good plot and some excellent detection elements, but it’s far more than that – it paints an entirely believable picture of being a black man in a town that’s run by the whites for the whites at a time when segregation and racism were still entirely acceptable. 5 stars.

47. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas by Jules Verne – Scientist Aronnax and his companions find themselves unwilling guests aboard the submarine Nautilus as Captain Nemo takes them on a fabulous journey beneath the seas and oceans of the world. The descriptions of the wonders of the deeps, the glimpses of other civilisations, the mystery surrounding Captain Nemo and the thrilling adventure aspects all more than made up for the excessive fish-detail. 5 stars

48. Nada the Lily by H. Rider Haggard – This is the tale of Umslopogaas, unacknowledged son of Chaka, a great Zulu king, and the beautiful Nada the Lily whom he loves. Excellently written in the voice of Umslopogaas’ adoptive father Mopo, Haggard has managed to create an entirely believable picture without projecting white people or their attitudes or values onto a story about Africa. 5 stars.

49. The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le Carré – British spymaster Alec Leamas is asked to stay “out in the cold” for one last operation – to take part in an elaborate sting to infiltrate the East German set-up and bring down his opposite number. Thought-provoking, intelligent, engrossing and hugely influential on the genre. 4½ stars.

50. On the Beach by Nevil Shute – A devastating nuclear war has been fought across the world, wiping out almost all life. We follow a group of characters in the city and suburbs of Melbourne as they figure out how to spend their last few months of life. Well written and with excellent characterisation and as relevant today as it was when written. 5 stars.

51. Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby, Jr. – A bunch of sad losers hang around getting drunk, drugged and beating each other up, with added sexual depravity. Ugh! The style is as vile as the content, making this the best argument for book-banning I’ve read. 1 star.

How is it that I’m still behind with this challenge?? Oh well, I have several more lined up over the next couple of months…

51 down, 39 to go!

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

I’ve read five of these this quarter but have only posted reviews for two so far – the rest will be coming soon. I also abandoned one at too early a stage to make a review worthwhile. To see the full challenge, click here.

29.  The Middle Temple Murder by JS Fletcher – When young newspaper editor Frank Spargo happens upon a murder scene late one night, his journalistic instincts lead him to follow the story. It’s dated in style but well written, cleverly plotted and entertaining – I enjoyed it a lot. 4½ stars.

30.  The Case of Miss Elliot by Baroness Orczy – An old man sits in the corner of a teahouse, endlessly twisting pieces of string into elaborate knots and mulling over the great unsolved mysteries of the day, in this collection of twelve short stories. Reasonably enjoyable but not wholly satisfying. 3½ stars.

31.  Case for Three Detectives by Leo Bruce – This is a parody spoofing three detectives, Wimsey, Poirot and Father Brown. I found it so dire as to be unreadable. Sometimes things are just old, not vintage. Can’t understand why Martin Edwards included this one, to be honest. Abandoned too early to review, so zero stars.

31 down, 71 to go!

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5 x 5 Challenge

Three reviewed for this challenge this quarter! Still a long way to go though…

5.  A Mercy by Toni Morrison. As Rebekka Vaark lies sick, possibly dying, of smallpox, we learn of the people who make up the household – how they came to be there, how they live, the relationships between them. And we get a picture of the birth of America, built with the blood and toil of those who came voluntarily and those who were brought against their will. Beautiful writing, excellent characterisation. 5 stars.

6.  The Pearl by John Steinbeck. One day, poor pearl fisherman Kino finds a huge and lustrous pearl, so valuable that it will change his life for ever. But when word spreads of his find, human greed will work its evil, dragging Kino into a nightmare. Beautiful prose, but really, Steinbeck’s view of the world is utterly joyless. He really should have eaten more chocolate. 3½ stars.

7. Walking Wounded by William McIlvanney. McIlvanney takes to the short story form to create a collection of character studies of the inhabitants of his recurring setting of fictional Graithnock. Another excellent book from the modern Scottish bard – wonderfully written and insightful about the culture in which it’s set. 5 stars.

7 down, 18 to go!

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Another great quarter’s reading, even if I’m still behind! Thank you for joining me on my reading adventures and…

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

20 Books of Summer – Wrap!

A first time for everything…

Hurrah! I did it! I did it!! I DID IT!!! All twenty books read and reviewed within the time limit!

Oh, I’m so sorry – I shall try to calm down now. But in my defence, it’s the first time I’ve ever beaten this fun but surprisingly difficult challenge, hosted by the lovely Cathy at 746 Books.

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So here’s a little summary of how it went…

Of the original 20 books, I read 18, abandoned 1 partway through, and replaced one.

I stayed in Britain for part of the time, but I also managed to visit America, Mexico, France, East Germany, Turkey, India, Zululand, Australia and Papua New Guinea! Plus I sailed through every ocean in the world. Imagine how much post-vacation laundry has piled up! I travelled with murderers, detectives, prostitutes, spies, French Resistance fighters, John F Kennedy, Zulu warriors, and even witnessed the end of the world! No wonder I’m exhausted…

The combined star total of the 20 that make up my final list is a whopping 82! Or an average of 4.1 per book. Pretty stonking, huh?


⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Lowlights

Turns out I hated the Kate Atkinson Jackson Brodie books which I had been expecting to be the highlight of the summer. Oh, well! Case Histories got 2 stars, One Good Turn got a generous 1 star even though I abandoned it at 11%, and When Will There Be Good News? was deleted from my Kindle unopened. I replaced it with Murder in the Mill-Race by ECR Lorac.

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones was astonishingly bad considering it was a Booker Prize nominee (though the fact that that still has the power to surprise me surprises me) – 2 stars

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The Middlelights

These one rated as 3½ stars, meaning slightly better than OK – worth reading if the blurb takes your fancy.

Three Bullets by RJ Ellory
The Case of Miss Elliot by Baroness Orczy
The Pearl by John Steinbeck

And these ones rated as 4 stars, meaning good solid reads that I’d recommend.

Death Has Deep Roots by Michael Gilbert
Murder in the Mill-Race ECR Lorac

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The Uplights

These ones nearly made it. All 4½ stars, meaning excellent but just didn’t quite earn the full galaxy. Highly recommended, nevertheless.

Conviction by Denise Mina
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le Carré
The Middle Temple Murder by JS Fletcher

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The Highlights

An astonishing 9 books achieved Five Glorious Glowing Golden Stars! I loved the look of my list when I started out three months ago and am pleased that it lived well up to my expectations. All of these are highly recommended and several of them will be in the running for my Book of the Year Awards. Here they are, in no particular order:

The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective by Susannah Stapleton
10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak
In the Heat of the Night by John Ball
Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas by Jules Verne
Nada the Lily by H. Rider Haggard
The Observations by Jane Harris
On the Beach by Nevil Shute
A Mercy by Toni Morrison
The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott

So, a great summer’s reading! Hope you’ve enjoyed some of the reviews and that I’ve maybe even tempted you to add one or two to your own overloaded TBRs. Gotta go – got to start planning next year’s list…

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Oh, nearly forgot! And…

The Book of the Summer

is

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World

TBR Thursday 204… and Quarterly Round-Up

TBR Quarterly Report

At the New Year, as I do every year, I set myself some targets for my various reading challenges and for the reduction of my ever-expanding TBR. I was doing pretty well at the first check-in at the end of March, but I always start off full of enthusiasm. It’s the summer months that do for me – I read less, and lots of new shiny books have appeared so that my commitment to my challenges goes a bit wobbly.

So here we are – the second check-in of the year…

Uh-oh! It’s all beginning to go horribly wrong again! The MMM challenge is going fine, and I’m just about keeping the new releases under control. But the other challenges are sooooooo behind! Partly this is because I haven’t read much for the last few weeks, and also the classics I’ve read this year have been some of the chunkier ones. But even so. Some swift remedial work will be required. Look out for lots of classics and stuff over the next three months…

The TBR hasn’t dropped much, but thanks to yet another bout of rigorous (and emotionally devastating) culling, the more important combined TBR/wishlist reduction is well on track! I might be a loser, but I’m also a winner!

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The Around the World in 80 Books Challenge

Last check-in was in March, and this quarter I’ve visited a couple of places and been on a trek across Europe!

On the Main Journey (made by the characters in Around the World in 80 Days) I helped investigate a murder with Inspector Chen of the Shanghai police in Qiu Xiaolong’s excellent Death of a Red Heroine. Then I travelled from Portugal through Spain, over the sea to Italy and finally to Austria in José Saramago’s whimsical The Elephant’s Journey, ticking off the tricky elephant travel box as I went.

I had only one detour this quarter, but it’s one of the best trips I’ve taken, and I’d probably never have gone had it not been for this challenge – which is why I love it! Leila and her friends took me on a life-affirming tour of the underbelly of Istanbul in Elif Shafak’s wonderful 10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in this Strange World.

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

63 down, 17 to go!

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The Classics Club

I’ve reviewed just three books from my Classics Club list this quarter and have one other pending…

42. The Fair Maid of Perth by Sir Walter Scott – 5 bright and twinkling stars for this excellent Scottish classic – a historical novel that tells the story of Catherine Glover, the Fair Maid, who is beloved by the town’s famed armourer, Henry Smith of the Wynd. But she has also caught the eye of the pleasure loving and dissolute Earl of Rothsay, eldest son and heir to King Robert III. Great story, great writing, great book!

43. Bath Tangle by Georgette Heyer – Heyer’s Regency romances are the ultimate in comfort reading. This one wasn’t my favourite because I wasn’t so keen on the rather bullying hero and heroine, but there are some great secondary characters and it’s always fun to visit Bath. 4 stars.

44. The Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett – 5 stars again for another Scottish classic (am I biased? I think I might be…). Matthew Bramble, hypochondriac and charitable Welsh gentleman with a choleric temper and a humorously jaundiced view of life, takes his family on a journey round Britain seeking benefit to his health. As each member of the party writes letters to their friends we see the country and its regional customs through their eyes, meeting with some interesting and often eccentric characters, and being witness to some hilarious (and some not so hilarious) episodes along the way.

I should be at about the three-fifths mark now, so I’m a good bit behind. I’ll need to do some intensive Classics reading over the next few months!

44 down, 46 to go!

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

I’ve done a bit of catching up on this over the last three months, having reviewed five and with another one pending. Another challenge I’m thoroughly enjoying, being constantly surprised by the variety of styles and the wide range in tone, all the way from humour to near noir. To see the full challenge, click here.

24.  Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert –  When a rather decaying corpse turns up in a deed box in a lawyer’s office, Inspector Hazlerigg enlists the help of one of the new lawyers to investigate. Loved this one – 5 stars.

25.  Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers – oh dear! I really can’t stand Sayers’ snobbery and it’s out in full force here. Plus the plotting is fundamentally silly and the solution is a major cop-out. Just 2 stars.

26.  Death of an Airman by Christopher St. John Sprigg – when an experienced flying instructor crashes everyone is ready to write it off as a tragic accident. Everyone except for the Bishop of Cootamundra, that is, a pupil at the flying school. The plotting is messy and crosses the credibility line by miles, but the characterisation and gentle humour make up for it. 4 stars.

27.  The Blotting Book by EF Benson – well-meaning but greedy trustee Edward Taynton has been gambling with his client’s inheritance. When it looks as if this might be revealed before he can fix it, things begin to go very wrong. A thoroughly enjoyable, if not very mystifying, novella-length mystery – 5 stars.

28.  The Red Redmaynes by Eden Phillpotts – When Inspector Mark Brendon is investigating a murder, he is hampered by the fact that he has fallen head over heels in love with the victim’s lovely young widow. Great settings – Dartmoor and Italy – and a surprisingly modern-feeling motivation for the crime make up for the rather messy structure and some implausibility. 4 stars.

28 down, 74 to go!

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5 x 5 Challenge

Finally! I managed to actually review a couple for this challenge this quarter! Still going very slowly with it, though…

3.  Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. Sadly, this one failed to meet my perhaps over-high expectations. The story of an African-American man learning about his history and thus finding his own identity is filled with symbolism that didn’t seem to symbolise much, to me at least, and it’s filled with repeated scenes of ugliness and brutality. The excellent prose didn’t quite cover its weaknesses. 3 stars.

4.  The Kiln by William McIlvanney. As Tam Docherty is on his way home to the Ayrshire town where he was born and bred, he is visited by memories of his childhood and adolescence, his later life and marriage, but mostly of the summer of 1955 when, between leaving school and going to University, he worked in the local brickworks for a few months, and learned a little about life, girls and himself. Loved this sequel to the wonderful Docherty – together the two books tell the story of the working classes in Scotland through the twentieth century. 5 stars.

4 down, 21 to go!

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I may not have met my targets this quarter, but I’ve still read some jolly fine books!
I’m taking a Wimbledon break now, so I’ll see you in a week or so.

Meantime, thank you for joining me on my reading adventures and…

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

20 Books of Summer

…aka Why Do I Do This to Myself?

Actually, that title’s not quite true – it’s not me who does this to me, it’s the tyrannical taskmistress Cathy at 746 Books! Every year she tempts me. Every year I excitedly make a list. Every year I fail. Every year I swear I’ll never do it again. Every year she tempts me…

So the idea is to make a list of 20 books you commit to reading and reviewing between 3rd June and 3rd September. Cathy kindly allows us the option of going for 15 books, or even 10, but that’s for wusses. When I fail, I like to fail big!!

It’s not that twenty books in three months should be hard really – generally speaking I’d average about thirty in that time. It’s sticking to the list and avoiding distractions! What about all the shiny new books that will arrive during the period? What if Andy limps back on court at Wimbledon?? What if Rafa wins the French again in a tense five-setter???

And most importantly, how am I to pick a new young tennis hero to replace all my old creaky-kneed ones if I can’t concentrate????

(Here’s a sneak preview of the current shortlist for my new hero, by the way. Which do you think deserves that accolade? Of course, I’m anticipating you will be basing your judgement purely on their tennis skills, like me.)

…………   Dominic Thiem                            Alexander Zverev                           Stefanos Tsitsipas

* * * * *

Anyway, back to the books.

Here’s my list in pictorial form…

Don’t they all look great? If it actually happens, that would be…

5 from my Classics Club list

6 for my Around the World challenge

2 for the Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge

2 for my Five Times Five challenge

9 review books

7 that have been on my TBR for more than a year

Making a total of 31.

Eh? 31??? See, no wonder I fail! Clearly there are mysterious supernatural forces at work, or else I’ve been sucked through a rift in the space-time continuum to an alternative reality where the normal laws of mathematics no longer apply!

Psychedelic, man!

Wish me luck!

TBR Thursday 194… and Quarterly Round-Up

TBR Quarterly Report

At the New Year, I set myself some targets for my various reading challenges and for the reduction of my ever-expanding TBR. I do this each year because secretly I’m a masochist who thrives on feelings of personal failure it’s always good to have something to aim for. Things usually start well at the beginning of the year when my enthusiasm is high and then it all begins to go horribly wrong… round about April… and descends past laughable in the summer, to embarrassing by autumn, ending up in full-scale hair-raising horror by the depths of winter. It’s such fun!

So here we are – the first check-in of the year, and probably the best…

Impressive, huh? It would have been even better if I hadn’t abandoned Cannery Row for not having a plot (and to be fair, I was in the middle of a major reading slump and not enjoying much at that point. I may try it again later.) It should have been the third book for my 5 x 5 Challenge and the fifth on my Classics Club list. The sixth on the CC list is The Fair Maid of Perth which I’m currently reading but didn’t manage to finish in time to include it at the quarter’s end. So overall pretty successful on the challenges!

The TBR is up but, thanks to another bout of rigorous (and heart-rending) culling, the combined TBR/wishlist reduction is on track! Yeah, I’m as surprised at that as you are…

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The Around the World in 80 Books Challenge

Last check-in was in December, and I’ve been piling up the frequent flyer miles since then! I’ve read six, though I’ve only reviewed five of them so far, plus I had one left over from 2018 that I reviewed in January.

On the Main Journey (of the places mentioned in Around the World in 80 Days) there are a couple of places that Jules Verne invented, which makes finding books for them particularly difficult! One such place is Kholby, a fictional town or village in Uttar Pradesh in northern India. So I got as close as I could by visiting Agra, also in Uttar Pradesh, with the wonderful tour-guide Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in The Sign of the Four. Then I had a frankly disappointing short break in Hong Kong with Rea Tarvydas in How to Pick Up a Maid in Statue Square. If I get time, I’ll revisit Hong Kong before the challenge ends.

My first detour of the quarter was to Norway, where I got the chance to watch the police solve a cold case in Jørn Lier Horst’s The Katharina Code. Then off to South Korea with Un-Su Kim in The Plotters, a strange but compelling story of feuding assassins. Tim Flannery took me on an amazing journey all over Europe geographically and through time, showing me the flora and fauna through the ages and telling me tales of the ascent of man. Then Yangsze Choo whisked me off to colonial Malay in The Night Tiger, a wonderful tale steeped in the folklore of the Chinese Malaysians. Loving this challenge!

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

60 down, 20 to go!

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The Classics Club

I’ve read four books from my Classics Club list this quarter but have only reviewed three of them so far. However I’ve also reviewed a couple that were hanging over from last year…

37. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – 4 stars for this “non-fiction novel” in which Capote examines the minds and crimes of two real-life murderers. The writing is superb, but I wasn’t keen on the blurring of the lines between fact and fiction which left me resorting to Google to find out the truth of what happened.

38. Childhood’s End by Arthur C Clarke – a disappointed 3 stars for this sci-fi classic which didn’t wow me as much as I’d hoped. I’m still glad to have read it though, since it’s the book that inspired Stanley Kubrick’s collaboration with Clarke on the amazing film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

39. Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs – the full 5 stars for this romping adventure story. Lots of stuff about evolution as it was viewed back then, with racism and sexism of its time, but it’s so full of thrills, excitement, high love and general drama that it swept me along on a tsunami-sized wave of fun.

40. The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers – 4½ stars for this espionage adventure about two young Englishmen who set out to foil German invasion plans back in 1903. The second half gets slowed down by Childers’ desire to give a warning about the growing threat from German naval power, but an excellent read overall.

41. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens – the iniquity of debtors’ prisons, nepotism within the ruling classes, and the dangers of speculation on the stock market. Along the way, Dickens produces his usual dazzling array of characterisation and mix of drama, humour and occasional horror. The full 5 stars!

Still running behind, but not hopelessly. I’m making three changes to my list:

  • To replace the abandoned Cannery Row, I’ve added East of Eden. Glutton for punishment, me!
  • I’ve been given a copy of Oxford World’s Classics new edition of Middlemarch for review, so am adding it and removing The Heart of the Matter to make room.
  • I’ve also got the OWC’s new translation of Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas (yeah, the title has changed too!), so am removing Something Wicked This Way Comes to make space. (Hmm… three short books out, three stonkers in – not sure I’m doing this right…)

41 down, 49 to go!

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

I’m still going really slowly on this challenge, because of all the other vintage crime I’ve been lucky enough to receive for review. I’ve read three this quarter, but have only reviewed one so far. To see the full challenge, click here.

23.  Malice Aforethought by Francis Iles –  a doctor plans to murder his inconvenient wife in this ironical crime novel. Irony is never my favourite thing, so this didn’t work as well for me as I’d hoped. Just 3 stars.

23 down, 79 to go!

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5 x 5 Challenge

Oh, dear! This challenge is turning out to be a real albatross and I’m thinking of abandoning it, but I’ll stick it out a bit longer. This quarter I abandoned one and read two, neither of which I’ve yet reviewed, so nothing to report.

2 down, 23 to go!

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An unexpectedly good quarter’s reading, considering what a pig life has been! Thank goodness for books!
Thank you for joining me on my reading adventures and…

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

 

Knock at the door, number 4…

…or The Reading Bingo Challenge!

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

More than 500 pages

The Man Who Loved Dogs by Leonardo Padura. I’ve read a few chunky novels this year, so at random I’ve gone for this one, which I read as part of my Russian Revolution challenge. It tells the story of the assassination of Trotsky, allowing us to see his life as an exile and his assassin’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War and subsequent recruitment by Stalin’s regime.

Leon Trotsky (second right) and his wife Natalya Sedova (far left) are welcomed to Tampico Harbour, Mexico by Frida Kahlo and the US Trotskyist leader Max Shachtman, January 1937.
Getty Images/Gamma-Keystone

A forgotten classic

Marriage by Susan Ferrier. Following a discussion with my brother on Scottish classics, he sent me this one, of which I hadn’t heard. It tells of two sisters, separated as babies, one to be brought up in the strict religion of the Scottish Highlands, the other to live amongst the fashionably loose-moralled people of London.

A book that became a movie

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan. The story of Richard Hannay being chased around Scotland by some nasty German spies just before the First World War. I enjoyed this, but I enjoyed Hitchcock’s classic film version considerably more!

The 39 Steps – but he only kissed her to escape from the baddies…

Published this year

The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware. I loved this story of Hal Greenaway, who receives a letter telling her she has been left something by her grandmother. The only problem is Hal knows her real grandmother died years ago! But she decides to go anyway to the house in Cornwall to find out what she’s inherited. Deliciously Gothic in a modern setting.

With a number in the title

The Four Just Men by Edgar Wallace. This classic story from 1905 has a surprisingly contemporary storyline – of people objecting to political agitators using the safety of foreign countries to stir up revolutions back in their own nation. It’s a vigilante story – not my favourite kind – but I found it entertaining and unexpectedly thought-provoking.

Written by someone under 30

The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin. I always end up having to google authors for this one, and was amazed to find that Crispin wrote this book when he was only 25. The story is of a man who discovers a body in a toyshop but when he returns there with the police, the toyshop has gone! A mad romp of a book and great fun.

A book with non-human characters

Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd. Hope Clearwater works for a research project in the Republic of the Congo, observing chimpanzees. The chimps play a real role in the book and are as well developed as the human characters. Plus this may be my last opportunity to use one of my favourite GIFs…

A funny book

Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar by Olga Wojtas. Shona McMonagle, ex-student of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, becomes a time-traveller in this very funny romp set in pre-revolutionary Russia. Very well written, lots of delightful Scottish references and some less than reverential nods to that other book about pupils of the Marcia Blaine, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

A science fiction or fantasy book

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. I’ve read some brilliant classic science fiction this year, and this was up there with the best. A post-apocalyptic vision of life after strange green lights appear in the sky, striking blind everyone who saw them. And to make matters worse, the triffids have got loose – walking, man-eating plants! A great, thought-provoking story.

The 1962 movie…

A mystery

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths. I’m liking this trend towards modern Gothic very much, and this is another goodie! Clare Cassidy is writing a biography of the writer of a terrifying ghost story, The Stranger. And when one of her colleagues is brutally murdered, it becomes clear that somehow the story holds the clue to the case…

A one-word title

Brother by David Chariandy. The story of two brothers whose mother has immigrated from Trinidad to Canada. She has to work hard to make a living, so the boys are often left alone. Drifting into the ‘wrong’ crowd, they will become caught up in events that lead to tragedy. A story of the immigrant dream gone wrong, beautifully written and told.

Free square

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit by PG Wodehouse. Whenever my world is grey, Bertie Wooster brings the sunshine back. But, since they’re all re-reads for me, they never get in the running for my awards despite giving me so much pleasure. In this one, Bertie, Jeeves, Aunt Dahlia and Wodehouse are all on top form as they navigate Bertie away from the horrors of marriage once again – spiffing!

My fave Jeeves and Wooster

A book of short stories

The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre. Between classic crime and horror anthologies, I’m spoilt for choice this year. This one includes Scottish and Irish writers which makes it a little different from the usual, and the title story arose out of the same evening get-together that led to the writing of Frankenstein.

The Vampyre – Illustration by Anne Yvonne Gilbert

Set on a different continent

Springtime in a Broken Mirror by Mario Benedetti. My Around the World challenge has taken me to a few continents this year with some great reads along the way. This one is set mainly in Argentina, although it’s about Uruguayan political dissidents exiled there. A wonderful book, about home and exile, loneliness, longing, belonging – about loyalty and love, and hope, and sometimes despair.

Non-fiction

Sleeping with the Lights On by Darryl Jones. A deceptively short history of horror in books in film, this is packed full of concentrated juicy goodness, written in an engaging and accessible style. It covers everything from mad science to creepypasta, and has added approximately five million titles to my must read/watch lists – horrifying!

Creepypasta – The Slenderman

First book by a favourite author

Fatherland by Robert Harris. I came late to Harris so am enjoying fitting some of his backlist in between his new releases as part of my Five Times Five challenge. This is the story of a murder in Berlin, set in a world where Nazi Germany won World War Two – a world in which Hitler still rules and the people of Germany are in the grip of a totalitarian regime.

Heard about online

That Summer in Puglia by Valeria Vescina. Most of the new releases I read, I first hear about online in some way, but this is one I was inspired to read directly by other bloggers’ reviews. It’s the story of a love affair, that we know from the beginning ends in tragedy. Beautifully written, and wonderfully evocative of the culture of Puglia in the 1980s.

A best-selling book

Tombland by CJ Sansom. Sansom’s books go directly to the bestseller lists long before they are released, and rightly so. This is another great addition to the Tudor-set Matthew Shardlake series, where Matthew is swept up in the Kett Rebellion while investigating a murder in Norfolk at the request of the young Princess Elizabeth.

Robert Kett at the Oak of Reformation
by Samuel Wale (c.1746)

Based on a true story

The Commissariat of Enlightenment by Ken Kalfus. Kalfus is one of my favourite authors and I’m going to keep going on about him till you all give in and read him! This one tells of the death of Tolstoy and the development of propaganda in Revolutionary Russia. Darkness leavened with humour, and all Kalfus’ sparkling originality in the story-telling.

From the bottom of the TBR pile

Raven Black by Ann Cleeves. Finally, after years of talking about it, I broke my duck with Ann Cleeves’ books. This, the first in her series of crime novels set on Shetland, had been sitting on my TBR since 16/12/2013, so it seemed like it might be time to actually read it! Now all I have to do is read all her other ones…

A book a friend loves

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith. Not just one friend, but nearly everyone I know who reads has recommended this one to me at some point! Two men meet on a train and one suggests that they swap murders – Bruno will murder Guy’s wife if Guy murders Bruno’s father. I enjoyed this influential psychological thriller, (but truthfully I enjoyed Hitchcock’s film of the book considerably more again…)

A book that scared me

Haunted Houses by Charlotte Riddell. These two short novels from a “forgotten” Victorian only scared me a little bit, but they entertained me hugely! The Uninhabited House is the stronger of the two, especially in terms of the ghostly aspects. But Fairy Water is full of charm with a delightful first-person narrator who grows ever more likeable as the book progresses. Horror for scaredy-cats!

A book that is more than 10 years old

The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux. In a year of classics and vintage crime, I’m spoiled for choice for this category! This early locked room murder mystery wins the spot because a) the murder weapon is a mutton-bone b) the murder victim isn’t dead(!) and c) Hercule Poirot describes it as “a masterpiece”. Good enough for me!

Rouletabille, the detective.
By Josep Simont i Guillén – Published in the French newspaper L’Illustration where the story was first serialised

The second book in a series

Bump in the Night by Colin Watson. I’ve had a lot of fun revisiting Colin Watson’s Flaxborough Chronicles this year, as they’ve been reissued for Kindle – a series I first enjoyed when it was still being published, and it’s now become “vintage”. So what does that make me?? (Rhetorical question – don’t you dare answer it!) Light-hearted crime with a touch of sly humour.

A book with a blue cover

Murder by Matchlight by ECR Lorac. Lorac is probably my favourite of all the authors the British Library Crime Classics have introduced me too – I’ve loved all three of the books they’ve reissued so far. This one takes place in WW2 London during the bombings and gives a real picture of ordinary Londoners just trying to get on with their lives.

* * * * * * *

Bingo! Full House!
What do I win??

 

TBR Thursday 184… and Quarterly Round-Up

TBR Quarterly 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 another count to see how I’m doing…

In a last ditch attempt to get down to the figure I set in my New Year’s Resolutions last year, I brutally culled the wishlist one last time, which led to much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Did I succeed? All shall be revealed when I post this year’s resolutions on Monday! But I’m getting so good at chopping, I’m thinking of taking up a new career…

 

I’ve done rubbishly on all my challenges this quarter, mainly because I’d developed a big backlog of review copies so I’ve been frantically reading them instead…

* * * * * * *

The Around the World in 80 Books Challenge

Last check-in was in September, and I’ve been nowhere since then! Nowhere!

However, I did pretty well taking the year as a whole, and will be packing my suitcase again in the New Year – I have some great books lined up!

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

54 down, 26 to go!

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The Classics Club

I’ve actually read five books from my Classics Club list this quarter but have only reviewed two so far, so expect a little splurge of classics reviews in January.

35. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy – 5 stars for this wonderful book that asks many questions that are still relevant in today’s world, about class, gender and how people are impacted by modernisation.

36. No Name by William Wilkie Collins – I’m afraid I found this book tedious, filled with unlikeable characters about whom I cared not a jot. Just 2 stars.

Again, I’ve done pretty well over the year as a whole. I should be halfway through at this stage and I’m only a little behind if you add in the ones awaiting review. And I’ve been tackling some of the longer ones recently so they’re not all left till the end.

36 down, 54 to go!

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

I’m going really slowly on this challenge, because of all the other vintage crime I’ve been lucky enough to receive for review, so I only managed a couple this quarter. To see the full challenge, click here.

21.  The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin – this is one of those crime novels that goes way beyond the credibility line, but makes up for its general silliness by being a whole lot of fun. I loved it! 5 stars.

22.  The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley – 5 stars again for this as Berkeley gently mocks the conventions of the mystery novel, and has a lot of fun at his fellow mystery writers’ expense, and his own. Highly entertaining and cleverly done!

22 down, 80 to go!

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5 x 5 Challenge

Oh, dear! I just can’t seem to get anywhere with this challenge. I’m doing great at acquiring the books – just not so good at actually finding time to read them! Next year…

2 down, 23 to go!

* * * * * * *

Not too successful with the challenges, then, but a good quarter’s reading nevertheless!
Thank you for joining me on my reading adventures and…

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

 

TBR Thursday 175… and Quarterly Round-Up

TBR Quarterly Report

At the New Year I added up the full extent of the horror of the TBR, including the bits I usually hide. So time for another count to see how I’m doing…

Impressively the overall figure has fallen again! It would have been even better if I hadn’t had a major splurge on review copies, but sometimes a splurge is irresistible. I’m still being rigid about adding sparingly to the wishlist and culling it ruthlessly at the end of every month. A book has to persuade me it’s essential to my happiness and wellbeing to win a coveted spot! I still have a long way to go to achieve my New Year’s Resolution – to reduce the overall total to 360. I shall sharpen my culling shears…

* * * * * * *

The Around the World in 80 Books Challenge

Last check-in was in June, and I’ve only made a couple of trips since then…

I actually read The Dain Curse back in June but forgot to include it in this challenge last quarter – this rather silly, almost entirely incomprehensible, but surprisingly entertaining book took me to San Francisco, one of the stops on the Main List. I visited Uruguay and several other countries in South America in the company of political exiles and their families, in Mario Benedetti’s wonderful Springtime in a Broken Mirror. And master storyteller Robert Harris took me back in time to Ancient Rome in Imperium for some political shenanigans in the company of Cicero and his pals. (I also discovered I’d been to Canada twice, so have dropped one of them off the list.)

Must do better! And must get to Africa!!

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

54 down, 26 to go!

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The Classics Club

I’ve reviewed six from my Classics Club list this quarter, which means I’ve caught up a little more. I’ll be slowing down for a bit though as I really must tackle some of the longer ones on my list rather than leaving them all to the end…

29. The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan – 4 stars for this “shocker”, an action thriller set amidst the murky world of wartime foreign agents, and involving much running around the moors of south-west Scotland.

30. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham – 5 stars for this, one of the finest examples of the science fiction books that grew out of Cold War paranoia – a suddenly dystopian society where the science horrors are balanced by an exceptionally strong human story and one of the best female characters in the genre.

31. Mildred Pierce by James M Cain – poor writing style, psychologically unconvincing and terminally dull. I feel I was generous in giving this tale of a troubled mother/daughter relationship in Depression-era America 2 stars.

32. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain again. 4 reluctant stars for this noir so black there’s no gleam of light, hope or beauty. Superbly done, but to what end? Left me feeling I needed to scrub my mind clean.

33. Marriage by Susan Ferrier – 3½ stars for this 1818 tale of two sisters, one good and tediously pious, the other mercenary but underdeveloped. Hyped by the publisher as the Scottish Jane Austen, I fear that the comparison doesn’t work to this one’s advantage.

34. Imagined Corners by Willa Muir – a modernist look at Scottish society through the prism of the small town of Calderwick and the families who live there. Feminism, repression and religion – the book takes on a lot and partially delivers. 4 stars.

I’ve also made a couple more changes to my list. I abandoned Miss Lonelyhearts after about 10 pages of abortion, suicide, marital rape and religious mania. That made me look again at my American list, which has been hugely disappointing so far, pulling the whole challenge down. I’m toying with swapping the rest out for something else – maybe Irish, maybe translated fiction. But perhaps I’ve just had some unlucky choices so far, so I’ll have one last rejig before I do:

  • I’ve replaced Miss Lonelyhearts with In the Heat of the Night by John Ball – at least it will be a good excuse to re-watch the excellent film.
  • And I’ve removed The Jungle – another one that sounds deliberately designed to show the miserable pointlessness of existence – and replaced it with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey.

34 down, 56 to go!

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

This quarter I’ve read just three books for this one, but they were all excellent so I don’t mind. To see the full challenge, click here.

18.  The Secret of High Eldersham by Miles Burton – mysterious goings-on and nefarious crimes in an English village. More of a thriller than a mystery, and quite dark – enjoyed this a lot! 5 stars.

19.  The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen Wilkinson – a locked room mystery set in the Houses of Parliament, written by one of early women MPs. A good mystery and a fun look at all the quirky traditions of Parliament. 4½ stars.

20.  The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie – Miss Marple’s first outing as she uses all her knowledge of human nature and evil to discover who shot Colonel Protheroe in the vicar’s study. One of the best! 5 stars.

20 down, 82 to go!

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5 x 5 Challenge

Still struggling to fit this challenge in, but I have a couple scheduled over the next few weeks. Just one again this quarter though…

2. Imperium by Robert Harris – the first book in the Cicero trilogy, this tells of his early struggles to get ahead in law and politics. Excellently written, but not a period that ever really grabs me, so it’s not my favourite Harris. However, I’m still looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy. 4 stars.

2 down, 23 to go!

* * * * * * *

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

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

 

Reading the Russian Revolution – Wrap-Up

All Power to the Soviets!

A year and a half ago I thought it would be fun to commemorate the centenary of the Russian Revolution by setting myself a challenge to read all about it. It’s a period I knew very little about, having forgotten what little I learned in school back in the dark ages. The plan was to read some history, some contemporaneous accounts and some fiction, both classic and modern. And I have to admit, at risk of sounding even weirder than usual, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience!

White propaganda poster – a happy worker in Soviet Russia

If you want to see the full list of the books I read, you’ll find it here. I decided against three of the books on my initial list of ten as I went along, and abandoned another too early to review. On the other hand, I added eleven – a combination of books that were published during the centenary year and books to which some other part of my revolutionary reading led me.

In total, then, seventeen books, of which seven are factual and ten fiction. I enjoyed the vast majority of them, with only a couple being quite disappointing. So to celebrate the end of this challenge, I thought I’d pick out what were the highlights for me – all books that I unreservedly recommend – and some of the images I used to illustrate my reviews.

* * * * *

FACTUAL

A People’s Tragedy by Orlando Figes (1996)

Massive in scope and meticulously researched, this history of the Revolution is brilliantly written and well laid out, making it easy to read and understand despite the immense complexity of the subject, even for someone with no previous knowledge. It’s an exemplary mix of the political, social and personal, so that I came away from it understanding not just the politics and timeline of events, but how it must have felt to have lived through them. Should you ever be struck with a sudden desire to read an 800-page history of the Russian Revolution, then without a doubt this is the one to read.

Some animals are more equal than others…
Starving Russian children in the Volga region circa 1921 to 1922

* * * * *

History of the Russian Revolution by Leon Trotsky (1932)

Trotsky’s own detailed account of the events of 1917 and analysis of what led to Russia being ripe for revolution at that moment. Dry and jargon-filled when discussing Marxist theory; sarcastic and even humorous when talking about Stalin or the bourgeoisie; angry and contemptuous when discussing the Romanovs and imperialists in general. But when he gets misty-eyed about the masses, describing a rally or demonstration or some other part of the struggle, he becomes eloquent and even inspirational, writing with real power and emotionalism, reminding the reader that he was a participant and passionate leader in the events he’s describing. Essential reading for anyone with a real interest in the period.

Trotsky addressing the Red Guard

* * * * *

FICTION

The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov (1925)

It is 1918, and Kiev in the Ukraine is at the swirling centre of the forces unleashed by war and revolution. The three Turbin siblings are White Russians, still loyal to the Russian Tsar, hoping against hope that he may have escaped the Bolsheviks and be living still. But there are other factions too – the German Army have installed a puppet leader, and the Ukrainian peasantry are on the march in a nationalist movement. This is the story of a few short days when the fate of the city seems up for grabs, and the lives of the Turbins, like so many in those turbulent times, are under constant threat.

Great and terrible was the year of Our Lord 1918, of the Revolution the second. Its summer abundant with warmth and sun, its winter with snow, highest in its heaven stood two stars: the shepherds’ star, eventide Venus; and Mars – quivering, red.

A truly brilliant book that, while concentrating on one small city, gives a brutal and terrifyingly believable picture of the horrors unleashed in the wake of bloody revolution.

St Vladimir watching over the city…

* * * * *

And Quiet Flows the Don by Mikhail Sholokhov (1928-32)

This Nobel Prize-winning novel follows the members of one family, the Melekhovs, through the upheavals of early 20th century Russia, casting light on those events from the Cossack perspective. It’s divided into four sections – Peace, the Great War, Revolution and Civil War. The book has the added fascination that we’re seeing how it all played out through the eyes of those at the bottom of the society’s power structures, rather than via the political actors and intelligentsia whose opinions are the ones we normally hear.

Very similar were all the prayers which the cossacks wrote down and concealed under their shirts, tying them to the strings of the little ikons blessed by their mothers, and to the little bundles of their native earth. But death came upon all alike, upon those who wrote down the prayers also. Their bodies rotted in the fields of Galicia and Eastern Prussia, in the Carpathians and Roumania, wherever the ruddy flames of war flickered and the traces of cossack horses were imprinted in the earth.

A wonderful book, one that fully deserves its reputation as a great classic of the Revolution, and of literature in general. To be able to tell such a difficult and complicated history while simultaneously humanising it is a real feat, and one Sholokhov has pulled off superbly.

A Cossack troop rides off to war c.1914

* * * * *

The Commissariat of Enlightenment by Ken Kalfus (2003)

It is 1910 and a packed train makes its way into Astapov, a little village suddenly famous because Tolstoy is there, in the process of dying. Aboard the train are two men: Professor Vladimir Vorobev, a scientist who has developed a new method of embalming that can make corpses look strangely alive; and Nikolai Gribshin, a young film-maker attached to Pathé News. These two men will soon be swept up in events, as Lenin and Stalin create their Communist utopia…

According to secret reports from the Commissariat’s foreign agents, the movies had reached every burb and hamlet of America. This transformation of the civilized world had taken place in a single historic instant. Despite its rejection of Byzantium, the West was creating an image-ruled empire of its own, a shimmering, electrified web of pictures, unarticulated meaning, and passionate association forged between unrelated ideas. This was how to do it: either starve the masses of meaning or expose them to so much that the sum of it would be unintelligible.

The major theme of the book is about the development of propaganda techniques under Stalin, specifically using film. More widely, it’s about facts, presentation of facts, distortion of truth using facts, myth-making; and, as such, feels even more timely today than I suspect it would have done when originally published. Plus it’s brilliantly written and highly entertaining.

Soviet propaganda poster – Retreating, the Whites are burning the crops

(NB The three propaganda posters are from Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths edited by Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia – another excellent and recommended book.)

* * * * *

The Man Who Loved Dogs by Leonardo Padura (2009)

The story of three men whose lives become intertwined across decades and continents: the Cuban narrator who tells the story, Trotsky living in exile in Mexico, and a young Spaniard, Ramon Mercader del Rio, who has been recruited by Stalin. The primary story is of Trotsky’s assassination in 1940. Its purpose runs deeper though: to look at the corruption and failure of the utopian dream of communism and to inspire compassion for the people caught up in this vast and dreadful experiment.

He [Trotsky] whistled, demanding Maya’s presence, and was relieved when the dog approached him. Resting his hand on the animal’s head, he noticed how the snow began to cover him. If he remained there ten or fifteen minutes, he would turn into a frozen mass and his heart would stop, despite the coats. It could be a good solution, he thought. But if my henchmen won’t kill me yet, he told himself, I won’t do their work for them. Guided by Maya, he walked the few feet back to the cabin: Lev Davidovich knew that as long as he had life left in him, he still had bullets to shoot as well.

Padura’s deep research is complemented by his intelligence, insight and humanity, all of which means that the book is more than a novel – it’s a real contribution to the history of 20th century communism across the world, looked at from a human perspective. My only caveat is that without some existing knowledge of the history, it may be a struggle to get through. But for anyone with an interest in the USSR, Cuba or the Spanish Civil War, I’d say it’s pretty much an essential read.

Ramon Mercader del Rio after the assassination

* * * * *

So it’s a wrap!

Thank you for joining me on my journey and I hope you enjoyed at least some parts of my obsession with the Revolution – an obsession which I’m not sure has really ended yet, although the challenge has. The last word must go to Trotsky…

Suddenly, by common impulse – the story will soon be told by John Reed, observer and participant, chronicler and poet of the insurrection – “we found ourselves on our feet, mumbling together into the smooth lifting unison of the Internationale. A grizzled old soldier was sobbing like a child… The immense sound rolled through the hall, burst windows and doors and soared into the quiet sky.” Did it go altogether into the sky? Did it not go also to the autumn trenches, that hatch-work upon unhappy, crucified Europe, to her devastated cities and villages, to her mothers and wives in mourning? Arise ye prisoners of starvation! Arise ye wretched of the earth!”

White propaganda poster – Peace and freedom in Soviet Russia

PEACE, LAND, BREAD!

Clickety click, 66…

…or The Reading Bingo Challenge!

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

More than 500 pages

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

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

A forgotten classic

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

A book that became a movie

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

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

Published this year

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

With a number in the title

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

Written by someone under 30

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

A book with non-human characters

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

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

A funny book

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

A book by a female author

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

A science fiction or fantasy book

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

A mystery

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

A one-word title

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

Free square

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

A book of short stories

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

Set on a different continent

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

Non-fiction

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

First book by a favourite author

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

Heard about online

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

A best-selling book

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

From the bottom of the TBR pile

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

Based on a true story

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

A book a friend loves

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

A book that scared me

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

A book that is more than 10 years old

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

The second book in a series

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

A book with a blue cover

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

* * * * * * *

Bingo! Full House!

 

TBR Special – The Murder Mystery Mayhem Challenge…

Adding how many books to the TBR?!??

Yesterday I reviewed Martin Edwards’ excellent book on the development of the crime novel – The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books. It will not surprise those of you who’ve read any of my TBR posts to learn that I found this book an irresistible excuse for a brand new spreadsheet! But what’s the point of a new spreadsheet without a new challenge to go with it? So here it is…

The challenge is to read and review all 102 of the books Edwards includes on his main list. Yes, 102. Don’t ask me why a book called “…100 Books” actually lists 102, but the spreadsheet never lies, so 102 it is! However, I’m off to a flying start since I’ve already reviewed five of them on the blog, so this means I only have to add 97 to my TBR or wishlist…

I’ve decided not to list all 102 Books up front. The book has only just been published and somehow it seems unfair – almost like a major spoiler. So instead I’m going to start today with a batch of ten – the five I’ve reviewed and five others that I already own but haven’t yet read. Once I get to the end of this batch, I’ll list another batch, and so on. I’ll be adding an index page shortly where I’ll put links to all the books as I review them, so gradually – very gradually – it will grow to become a complete list. I’ll be reading them in totally random order as and when I acquire them, but on my index page I’ll organise them in the order and under the subject headings in the book. I reckon it will take me a minimum of four or five years to read them all, so if you can’t wait to know all 102 of the titles, then you’ll have to buy the book!

So here goes with the first ten…

ALREADY READ AND REVIEWED
(titles link to my review)

 

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Book No: 1

Subject Heading: A New Era Dawns – here Edwards discusses some of the books that came out before the Golden Age proper got under way, showing how they influenced the development of the genre.

Publication Year: 1902

Edwards says: “Atmospheric and gripping, The Hound of the Baskervilles is the best of the four long stories about Holmes…”

* * * * *

The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes

Book No: 10

Subject Heading: A New Era Dawns

Publication Year: 1913

Edwards says: “The strength of The Lodger derives from its focus on the tensions of domestic life rather than lurid melodrama.”

* * * * *

Murder of a Lady by Anthony Wynne

Book No: 31

Subject Heading: Miraculous Murders – locked room mysteries and impossible crimes.

Publication Year: 1931

Edwards says: “The puzzle is cleverly contrived, and the explanation is not – as is often the risk with a locked-room mystery – a let-down.”

* * * * *

Green for Danger by Christianna Brand

Book No: 63

Subject Heading: The Long Arm of the Law – books where the detective is a police officer rather than a gifted amateur.

Publication Year: 1944

Edwards says: “…we are told that ‘Inspector Cockrill was anything but a sweet little man’. He has been described… as ‘one of the best loved “official” detectives in the whole of the crime and mystery genre’.”

* * * * *

The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie

Book No: 72

Subject Heading: Multiplying Murders – early examples of the serial killer novel.

Publication Year: 1936

Edwards says: “This novel is one of Christie’s masterpieces, and has been much flattered by imitation, although elements of the brilliant central plot idea were borrowed by Christie herself, for instance from a short story by GK Chesterton…”

TO BE READ

 

The Eye of Osiris by R Austin Freeman

Book No: 9

Subject Heading: A New Era Dawns

Publication Year: 1911

Edwards says: The Eye of Osiris blends elements of a real-life murder in Boston, Massachusetts, with forensic science, Egyptology and romance. The result is a memorable challenge for Dr John Thorndyke, an expert in medical jurisprudence, and the first major scientific detective to appear in twentieth-century crime fiction.”

* * * * *

Some Must Watch by Ethel Lina White

Book No: 38

Subject Heading: Murder at the Manor – country house mysteries.

Publication Year: 1933

Edwards says: “Helen, aged nineteen, takes a position quaintly described as a ‘lady-help’ with the Warren family at their lonely country house… Its remoteness makes working there an unattractive proposition for anyone who is not desperate – but Helen is desperate… Ethel Lina White builds the tension with unobtrusive skill as a ruthless murderer closes in on Helen…”

* * * * *

Death at the President’s Lodging by Michael Innes

Book No: 52

Subject Heading: Education, Education, Education – crimes set in schools, colleges and universities.

Publication Year: 1936

Edwards says: “Michael Innes announced his arrival as a detective novelist characteristically, with a quotation, a paradox, a baroque scenario and a touch of humour. Umpleby has been shot, little piles of human bones have been scattered around his corpse, and on the oak panels of his study, someone has chalked a couple of grinning death’s heads.”

* * * * *

Verdict of Twelve by Raymond Postgate

Book No: 65

Subject Heading: The Justice Game – crimes involving members of the legal profession.

Publication Year: 1940

Edwards says: “…despite Raymond Postgate’s unrelenting focus on the haphazard workings of the English justice system, he also fashions a fascinating story that combines exploration of human nature with a teasing mystery. The first and longest of the book’s four sections presents studies of the twelve members of a jury convened for a murder trial. The jurors are a varied bunch, and one of them has got away with committing a murder.”

* * * * *

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith

Book No: 95

Subject Heading: Across the Atlantic – a look at what was happening in American crime fiction.

Publication Year: 1950

Edwards says: “The uncertain post-war world was ready for crime fiction that explored the ambiguities of guilt and innocence, and Highsmith’s subtle and ambitious writing paved the way for gifted successors such as Ruth Rendell, who wanted to take detective stories in a fresh direction.”

* * * * * * * * *

I hope you’ll join me on my journey through early crime fiction. And if you’re planning to read The Story of Classic Crime and perhaps some of the 102 Books, do let me know – I’d love to see what you think of them too.

Murder, mystery and mayhem!
Life would be so much duller without them!

Reading the Russian Revolution Challenge…

Proletariat of the World, Unite!

rrr-challenge-logo

2017 sees the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution that ushered in nearly a century of Soviet rule in Russia and its satellites and annexed territories, while its aftershocks still reverberate through the world today. It’s a period about which I know very little – I’m more aware of mid-20th century history as it relates to the USSR than I am about the period just before and after the revolution. So I have decided to set myself a little challenge to read myself into this period of history during the centenary year.

lenin-quote-revolutionary-situation

I’m going for a mix of factual and fiction, and since several of these books are monsters in terms of size, my list is pretty short. However, I’ve tried to come up with a selection that will show me the Revolution through the eyes of contemporaries, both supporters and opponents, and also retrospectively, through history, biography and fiction. I’ve also tried to select books that are considered to be amongst the most important written on the subject, even though I expect some of them will be pretty tough going.

george-orwell-quote-revolution

Here’s my initial list (in no particular order), which might be subject to change or additions as I go along…

history-of-the-russian-revolutionHistory of the Russian Revolution by Leon Trotsky (history)

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.

animal-farmAnimal Farm by George Orwell (fiction)

“All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.”

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.

memoirs-of-a-revolutionaryMemoirs of a Revolutionary by Victor Serge (memoir)

Victor Serge was an anarchist who initially supported the Russian Revolution. He was also a writer of rare integrity, who left behind a remarkable eyewitness record in fiction, journalism, and above all his masterwork, Memoirs of a Revolutionary. In it he tells the story of how the Revolution unfolded, swept up an entire nation, and eventually failed.

blood-red-snow-whiteBlood Red, Snow White by Marcus Sedgewick (fiction)

When writer Arthur Ransome leaves his unhappy marriage in England and moves to Russia to work as a journalist, he has little idea of the violent revolution about to erupt. Unwittingly, he finds himself at its center, tapped by the British to report back on the Bolsheviks even as he becomes dangerously, romantically entangled with Trotsky’s personal secretary.

revolution-trotsky

ten-days-that-shook-the-worldTen Days that Shook the World by John Reed (journalism)

John Reed’s eyewitness account of the Russian Revolution. A contemporary journalist writing in the first flush of revolutionary enthusiasm, he gives a gripping record of the events in Petrograd in November 1917, when Lenin and the Bolsheviks finally seized power. Reed’s account is the product of passionate involvement and remains an unsurpassed classic of reporting.

doctor-zhivagoDoctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (fiction)

This epic tale about the effects of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath on a bourgeois family was not published in the Soviet Union until 1987. One of the results of its publication in the West was Pasternak’s complete rejection by Soviet authorities; when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 he was compelled to decline it.

a-peoples-tragedyA People’s Tragedy by Orlando Figes (history)

Vast in scope, exhaustive in original research, written with passion, narrative skill, and human sympathy, A People’s Tragedy is a profound account of the Russian Revolution for a new generation. Distinguished scholar Orlando Figes presents a panorama of Russian society on the eve of the Revolution, and then narrates the story of how these social forces were violently erased.

november-1916November 1916 by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (fictionalised history)

The month of November 1916 in Russia was outwardly quiet—the proverbial calm before the storm—but beneath the placid surface, society seethed fiercely.With masterly and moving empathy, through the eyes of both historical and fictional protagonists, Solzhenitsyn unforgettably transports us to that time and place—the last of pre-Soviet Russia.
.

revolution-jfk

the-white-guardThe White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov (fiction)

Drawing closely on Bulgakov’s personal experiences of the horrors of civil war, The White Guard takes place in Kiev, 1918, a time of turmoil and suffocating uncertainty as the Bolsheviks, Socialists and Germans fight for control of the city. It tells the story of the Turbins, a once-wealthy Russian family, as they are forced to come to terms with revolution and a new regime.

Lenin the Dictator by Victor Sebestyen

I can’t find an existing one that seems to be accepted as definitive and relatively unbiased, so I’m leaving this blank at the moment in the hopes that a new one may be published during the centenary. However, if anyone knows of a good one, please let me know. (Lenin the Dictator was published during the year, so I went for it.)

* * * * * * *

Should be fun! Well… maybe not fun, exactly, but… er… interesting. Or something.

stalin-quote
* * * * * * *

If anyone feels like joining in, I’d be more than happy to do an occasional round-up post linking to reviews. Just in case, I’ve drawn up an extensive list of rules, which must be strictly adhered to. Are you ready?

READING THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION CHALLENGE

THE RULES

1. Read whatever you like, whenever you like, if you like. Or watch a film. Or don’t.

* * * * * * *

Seriously, my list is history heavy because as you know I enjoy reading heavy history. But it’s not to everyone’s taste, so if you prefer to read entirely fiction, or fiction and some memoirs, or watch movies or documentaries, or anything at all really, then that’s great. I’m also not setting any targets (for you or me) in terms of how many books to read, and no deadlines of any kind. The only “rules” I would suggest are, firstly, that you let me know in the comments if you decide to join in; and, secondly, that, if you do, you tag any relevant WordPress post as RRRchallenge (and for Tweets, #RRRchallenge). That way, I’ll be able to pick up any posts when I do a summary. If you’re not on WordPress or Twitter, then a comment on this or any other post of mine will have the same effect.

churchill-on-lenin

I’m also not restricting the time period. Personally I’m interested in learning more about the period from before the revolution (roughly 1890) up to the 1930s because that’s when I know least about, but if anyone wants to read about Stalin or the post-WW2 period, or the end of the USSR, or even Putin’s Russia, then feel free. And lastly, don’t feel under any pressure to join in at all! I won’t be offended… well, not enough to declare war on you anyway, (though I may sing the Red Flag to you which, frankly, would be worse).

* * * * * * *

putin-democracyPEACE, LAND, BREAD!