A Heart So White by Javier Marías

Substance submerged by style…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

a heart so whiteA few days after returning from her honeymoon, Teresa leaves the room in the middle of dinner, goes to the bathroom and shoots herself in the heart. Years later, in the present, as our narrator Juan is getting used to the changes brought about his own marriage, he becomes fascinated by the mystery of why Teresa killed herself. He has a personal connection – his father Ranz was married to Teresa at the time and later married her sister Juana, Juan’s mother. So Teresa would have been Juan’s aunt – though had she lived, of course she wouldn’t have been…

There are several themes going on in the book – the uncertainty of memory, the inability to forget something once heard, the increasing unknowableness of truth when stories are relayed from person to person. Both Juan and his wife Luisa are interpreters and the sections where Juan talks about listening and conveying meaning are fascinating. The title is a reference to Macbeth, specifically to Lady Macbeth’s reaction on being told of Duncan’s murder, illustrating a major theme – the complicity forced upon someone to whom a tale is told. Marías is also playing with the idea that events that are major in the present fade into insignificance as time passes, so that eventually all will be the same whether an event happened or didn’t. An interesting thought.

In fact, there are lots of interesting thoughts hidden in Marías’ prose – well hidden. This is yet another in what seems to be becoming my accidental theme of the year – stream of consciousness novels or, as I prefer to call them, badly punctuated. I admit this one is nowhere near as bad as Absalom! Absalom! But it’s up there with Mrs Dalloway for sure, although Marías does at least manage eventually to get to the end of his sentences without completely losing track of where he was heading. There is no doubt that this style of writing lends the prose an air of profundity which, once one breaks the sentences down into their constituent parts, often evaporates, as one realises that the difficulty of comprehension is due not so much to the complexity of the ideas as the complexity of the sentence structure.

Another recurring feature of the few stream of consciousness novels I have waded through (or not, as the case may be) is the constant repetitiveness that the authors tend to employ, as if somehow repeating a thing a few dozen times will make it more meaningful. Perhaps it does, if one likes this style of writing – for me, it simply makes it tedious. An idea that intrigues on first mention requires expansion rather than repetition to hold this reader’s interest, I fear.

To be fair, I hate this style in general, but I do think Marías does it much better than most. Much of what he has to say is perceptive, as for example in this quote about getting used to being married. (The style means any quote has to be a long one, so apologies.)

As with an illness, this “change of state” is unpredictable, it disrupts everything, or rather prevents things from going on as they did before: it means, for example, that after going out to supper or to the cinema, we can no longer go our separate ways, each to his or her own home, I can no longer drive up in my car or in a taxi to Luisa’s door and drop her off and then, once I’ve done so, drive off alone to my apartment along the half-empty, hosed-down streets, still thinking about her and about the future. Now that we’re married, when we leave the cinema our steps head off in the same direction (the echoes out of time with each other, because now there are four feet walking along), but not because I’ve chosen to accompany her or not even because I usually do so and it seems the correct and polite thing to do, but because our feet never hesitate outside on the damp pavement, they don’t deliberate or change their mind, there’s no room for regret or even choice: now there’s no doubt that we’re going to the same place, whether we want to or not this particular night, or perhaps it was only last night that I didn’t want to.

This is an example of both what I liked and didn’t about the book. It’s an interesting perspective and casts a good deal of light on Juan’s uncertainty about the married state, but the style drives me up the wall even though it’s one of the least waffly passages in the book.

Javier Marìas
Javier Marìas

In terms of substance, the book is pretty much plot free. There are several set-piece scenes, some of which are very well done and give an air of menace or perhaps impending doom, and illuminate Marías’ themes. But nothing much actually happens. And I must admit that by the time we finally got to the stage of discovering the reason for Teresa’s death, the thing had been so stretched out and the themes beaten into the reader’s head so often, that I couldn’t imagine anyone actually being surprised by it.

I’m sighing with frustration because there’s a lot of good stuff in here. Written in normal prose, it would have made an excellent, thought-provoking novella or short novel. As it is, it’s overlong, repetitive and filled with unnecessary waffle, all of which diminishes rather than adding to its impact. I found I could only read it in short sessions because the style frankly bored me into a dwam, and I would discover I’d read several pages (approximately half a paragraph) without absorbing any of it. So, recommended to people who enjoy stream of consciousness writing and not recommended to people who don’t.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Sweet and sour…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

 

the guernsey literary and potato peel societyNot long after the end of WW2, London-based journalist Juliet Ashton is looking for a book idea to follow up on the success of her humorous war-time columns. Coincidentally, she is contacted by Dawsey Adams, a man from the Channel Island of Guernsey, who has found her name and address in a second-hand volume of Charles Lamb, and asks for her help in finding more of his work, since the only bookshop on Guernsey closed during the German occupation of the island. He mentions the importance that the titular Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society had in keeping up morale during the Occupation. Fascinated, Juliet asks for more details, and so starts a correspondence that gradually spreads to include more of the Guernsey residents. And after a time, Juliet realises that she wants her book to tell the story of the islanders and their Society…

The entire book is told in the form of letters, mostly between the Guernsey people and Juliet, but also including her existing friends and publishers. This technique works pretty well for the most part, though it does begin to feel a bit contrived, especially once Juliet decides to visit the island for herself. In the early part of the book, the tone is light, with a lot of humour, and Juliet’s letters give what feels like an authentic description of post-war London beginning to rebuild after the war – authentic, but with the tragedy carefully sanitised. The letters from Guernsey are equally light at first, as the islanders tell Juliet how the Society came about, and how they each found books that helped them in the dark days.

And the days for the islanders got very dark indeed under the German Occupation, as the food they farmed was taken by the occupiers, leaving them hungry to the point of near starvation, while other necessities became unobtainable with the islands being cut off from mainland Britain. The islanders tell about the sadness of the children being evacuated just before the Germans arrived, a separation that lasted till the war was over. And any infringement of the rules laid down by the Germans could lead to severe punishment, including being sent to the prison camps in Europe in the most serious cases.

German troops marching along Guernsey's seafront during the occupation in WW2
German troops marching along Guernsey’s seafront during the occupation in WW2

The book is an odd combination of almost sickly sweetness combined with tales of terrible inhumanity and suffering. The characters are all too good to be true, dripping with 21st century political correctness, except for the baddies who are very bad. Not, as you may expect, the Germans, who when they’re not being cruel and vicious are all oddly nice, sensitive chaps – sending the islanders off to prison camps one minute and sharing their last potato with them the next. No, the real baddies are the ones who show what felt to me like more authentic 1940s attitudes – the ones who aren’t deeply sympathetic to women who had affairs with the German occupiers or had children out of wedlock, or who don’t think that homosexuality is a wonderful thing, etc. Whatever one might think of these attitudes, they ring truer to the time than the attitudes of tolerance and unselfish sweetness the authors give to the main characters. So that overall the Guernsey side of the story feels too fictional – inauthentic – even if the historical events are described accurately, as I assume they are. All the saccharin lessens the impact of the tougher stuff – an uneasy mix.

Mary Ann Shaffer (seated) and Annie Barrows
Mary Ann Shaffer (seated) and Annie Barrows

The characters are quirky, almost caricatures in some cases. The voices in the letters are all very similar, so that I constantly had to check the headings to see who was writing. There is a love story at the heart of the book which is quite enjoyable so long as your disbelief in the compatibility of the participants can be left to one side.

Overall, the humour and writing style make it entertaining enough to help the reader past the difficulties in character and credibility. I didn’t love it as much as the literally thousands of people who have given it glowing reviews, but I enjoyed it enough to recommend it as a light, heart-warming read for those grey days when grim realism may not be what you’re looking for.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 79… and End of Month Round-Up

People’s Choice 10 – The Result…

 

Well! The People’s Choice Begorrathon Special was exciting! One book raced into a clear read from the beginning and held off all challengers as it stormed towards the finishing line. So I hereby declare…

This Week’s Winner…

 

instructions for a heatwave

The Blurb – It’s July 1976. In London, it hasn’t rained for months, gardens are filled with aphids, water comes from a standpipe, and Robert Riordan tells his wife Gretta that he’s going round the corner to buy a newspaper. He doesn’t come back. The search for Robert brings Gretta’s children — two estranged sisters and a brother on the brink of divorce — back home, each with different ideas as to where their father might have gone. None of them suspects that their mother might have an explanation that even now she cannot share. Maggie O’Farrell’s sixth book is the work of an outstanding novelist at the height of her powers.

Thanks to Naomi at Consumed by Ink for the review that brought this book to my attention.

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And thanks to all who voted! It wouldn’t be the People’s Choice without you!

The book will be added to my TBR – now all I have to do is find time to read it!

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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…

TBR March 2016

Woohoo! The mathematically astute amongst you will note that although the official TBR has gone up, the overall total has gone down! This is due to books moving off the wishlist onto the TBR – see? I’m the Queen of Willpower and Spreadsheets – I’m so proud of myself. If I continue at this rate, the TBR will be clear by… 2038!

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Reading Ireland Month – #begorrathon16…

 

I have thoroughly enjoyed participating in the Begorrathon throughout March, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it too. I’d like to thank Cathy at 746 Books for creating this event and for all the hard work she’s done to make the bookish side of it a huge success. Not only has she inspired people all over the blogosphere to participate, but she’s pulled all the posts together to make them easy to access – here’s the link. And she has been the major contributor herself, with a series of brilliant posts that have introduced me to loads of new authors and taught me a lot about Irish literature.

Well done, Cathy – take a bow!!

 

I also must thank Cathy for her great giveaway, WHICH I WON!! Look what I WON!!!

* * * * *

the visitorThe Visitor is the haunting tale of Anastasia King, who, at the age of twenty-two, returns to her grandmother’s house in Dublin – the very house where she grew up – after six long years away. She has been in Paris, comforting her disgraced and dying mother, who ran away from a disastrous marriage to Anastasia’s late father, her grandmother’s only son. It is a story of Dublin and the unkind, ungenerous, emotionally unreachable side of the Irish temperament. Recently found in a university archive, The Visitor was written in the mid-1940s but was never published. This miraculous literary discovery deepens the oeuvre of Maeve Brennan and confirms her status as one of the best Irish writers of stories since Joyce.

* * * * *

the long gaze backThe Long Gaze Back, edited by Sinéad Gleeson, is an exhilarating anthology of short stories by some of the most gifted women writers this island has ever produced. Taken together, the collected works of these writers reveal an enrapturing, unnerving, and piercingly beautiful mosaic of a lively literary landscape. The Long Gaze Back features 22 new stories by some of the most talented Irish women writers working today. The anthology presents an inclusive and celebratory portrait of the high calibre of contemporary literature in Ireland.

These stories run the gamut from heartbreaking to humorous, but each leaves a lasting impression. They chart the passions, obligations, trials and tribulations of a variety of vividly-drawn characters with unflinching honesty and relentless compassion. These are stories to savour.

Aren’t I lucky? 😀

 

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The Around the World in 80 Books Challenge – #AW80Books

Hosted by Sarah and Lucy at the wonderful Hard Book Habit…

Well, having spent the entire month in Ireland, unsurprisingly that’s the only destination I’m adding this month, and of all the books I’ve read the one I’m going to choose for this challenge is…

the heather blazing

Click to see the review

So here’s the summary to date…

780px-Around_the_World_in_Eighty_Days_map

The Main Journey

  1. London  – Martin Chuzzlewit
  2. Orient Express
  3. FranceThe Sisters of Versailles
  4. Alps
  5. Venice
  6. Brindisi
  7. Mediterranean Sea
  8. Suez
  9. Egypt
  10. Red Sea/Arabian Sea
  11. Bombay
  12. Calcutta
  13. Kholby
  14. Elephant Travel
  15. Allahabad
  16. Indian Ocean/ South China Sea
  17. Hong Kong
  18. Shanghai
  19. Yokohama
  20. Pacific
  21. San Francisco
  22. Sioux lands
  23. Omaha
  24. New York – I Am No One
  25. Atlantic Ocean
  26. Queenstown (Cobh) Ireland
  27. London – The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

 

I’ve got books planned for some of the gaps, but am still open to suggestions for any of the places highlighted in red. Any genre…

The Detours

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

  1. The Hebrides – Coffin Road
  2. Florida – Their Eyes Were Watching God
  3. Iceland – Snowblind
  4. Himalayas – Black Narcissus
  5. Ireland – The Heather Blazing

 

9 down, 71 to go!

 

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Phew! It’s been a fun month…thanks for sharing it with me!

TBR Thursday 78 – The People’s Choice Begorrathon Special…

The People’s Choice 10… #begorrathon16

 

The TBR now stands at a terrifying 166! Between mammoth books, exciting blog posts all round the blogosphere, and my sudden enthusiasm for TV & movie-watching I’m getting nowhere fast with reading, and yet adding books to the TBR seems to be too easy, not helped by Amazon’s Kindle spring sale…

And, talking of exciting blog posts, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying this year’s Reading Ireland Month. The participating bloggers have been inspiring me all month over books and authors I’ve never tried before, but who sound unmissable. So… time for you to help me decide which of the ones that appealed most should be added to the TBR. I’d like to add them all, but I’m trying to be realistic… *waits for the laughter to die down*

So which one will you vote for? Which of these tantalising books deserves a place? The winner will be announced next Thursday…

With my usual grateful thanks to all the reviewers who’ve intrigued and inspired me over the last few weeks, here are:

The Contenders…

 

the sea the seaThe BlurbWhen Charles Arrowby retires from his glittering career in the London theatre, he buys a remote house on the rocks by the sea. He hopes to escape from his tumultuous love affairs but unexpectedly bumps into his childhood sweetheart and sets his heart on destroying her marriage. His equilibrium is further disturbed when his friends all decide to come and keep him company and Charles finds his seaside idyll severely threatened by his past.

madamebibilophile says: “The Sea, The Sea is a novel that tackles major themes: the nature of love, the meanings we attach to our lives, how we decide what is real when we can only view from our own perspective, how we recognise what really matters. Arrowby’s narcissism is contemptible, but the skill of Murdoch’s writing shows him as an everyman (despite his belief in his own extraordinariness) and places us in a position where to judge him harshly is to judge ourselves.

See the full review at Madame Bibi Lophile Recommends

*******

instructions for a heatwaveThe Blurb – It’s July 1976. In London, it hasn’t rained for months, gardens are filled with aphids, water comes from a standpipe, and Robert Riordan tells his wife Gretta that he’s going round the corner to buy a newspaper. He doesn’t come back. The search for Robert brings Gretta’s children — two estranged sisters and a brother on the brink of divorce — back home, each with different ideas as to where their father might have gone. None of them suspects that their mother might have an explanation that even now she cannot share. Maggie O’Farrell’s sixth book is the work of an outstanding novelist at the height of her powers.

Naomi says: As with all the best books (in my opinion), this book is all about the characters and their interactions; what they say to each other and what they keep to themselves. Yes, there is a plot, but it would be flimsy without the interesting characters. As long as I could read about their lives, I was happy – it almost didn’t even matter to me what was going on.”

See the full review at Consumed by Ink

*******

the lostThe Blurb – Not everyone who’s missing is lost When two teenage girls go missing along the Irish border, forensic psychologist Paula Maguire has to return to the hometown she left years before. Swirling with rumour and secrets, the town is gripped by fear of a serial killer. But the truth could be even darker. Not everyone who’s lost wants to be found Surrounded by people and places she tried to forget, Paula digs into the cases as the truth twists further away. What’s the link with two other disappearances from 1985? And why does everything lead back to the town’s dark past- including the reasons her own mother went missing years before? Nothing is what it seems As the shocking truth is revealed, Paula learns that sometimes, it’s better not to find what you’ve lost.

jorobertson2015’s review is actually of the 4th book in the series, A Savage Hunger.

Jo says: “If you’ve never read this series before I think you would get way more enjoyment of the plot if you start at book 1 in the series. Then I can guarantee you will want to read the rest pretty quickly to catch up! The background descriptions of the troubles in Northern Ireland make this a very detailed and unique police crime procedural written with a great knowledge and understanding of that time. Bringing a present day missing persons case into the mix but still making it feel relevant to the past is a very clever trick indeed. An intelligent and thought provoking read and I can’t WAIT to see where Paula goes from here!”

See the full review at mychestnutreadingtree

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my oedipus complexThe (dreadful) Blurb – The story of the title deals with a little boy named Larry and his feelings towards his father. When his father returns home from World War II, Larry is resentful and jealous of losing his mother’s undivided attention, and finds himself in a constant struggle to win back her affections.

Cathy’s review is actually of Frank O’Connor’s book on the art of the short story, The Lonely Voice, but it inspired me to want to read more of O’Connor’s own work.

Cathy says: Frank O’Connor, the Irish writer and critic died on this day (March 10th) fifty years ago. Born Michael O’Donovan in Cork in 1903, he went on to wrote plays, biographies and essays and has become known as one of the twentieth century’s greatest short story writers. His book The Lonely Voice, based on lectures he gave at Stanford University in the 1960s is now considered to be one of the first in depth and most influential examinations of the short story form.”

See the full review at 746 Books

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house of splendid isolationThe (spoilerish) Blurb – Josie, the ailing, elderly inhabitant of an Irish country mansion, dwells in the shadowy world of remembered pain and loneliness. McGreevy, the terrorist, reintroduces the possibility of compassion and tenderness, but there is an inevitably violent conclusion to their understanding as the police net closes. With extraordinary skill and empathy, Edna O’Brien shows two faces of a divided land: the yearnings of a woman whose youthful joy was broken, and the intransigent idealism of her captor. Brave and moving, The House of Splendid Isolation is Edna O’Brien at her very best.

lailaarch says: Reading House of Splendid Isolation, I bemoaned the fact that I had never read anything by Edna O’Brien before.  I was thoroughly engrossed in the compelling story and propulsive writing style.  O’Brien has crafted a moving story with some thrilling scenes – I was reading the scene where McGreevy breaks into Josie’s house while my husband was working at night, and my son was asleep, and I was convinced I heard a noise outside. (I was totally creeped out!)”

See the full review at Big Reading Life

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NB All blurbs and covers are taken from Goodreads.

As usual I love the sound of all of these so…over to you! Choose just one or as many as you like – the book with most votes will be this week’s winner and added to my TBR…

.

Hope you pick a good one! 😉

HAVE A GREAT EASTER! 😀

The Blessing by Nancy Mitford

the blessingHmm…

🙂 😐

As WW2 is beginning, Grace receives a visit from Charles-Edouard, an aristocratic French friend of her fiancé, Hugh. Within a month, poor Hugh has been dumped, Charles-Edouard and Grace have married and C-E has gone off to war. Finding herself pregnant, Grace goes off to live in her father’s country house, and waits seven long years for C-E to return. When he does, he promptly whisks Grace and the child, Sigi, off to France, where he divides his time between his wife and his mistresses. Eventually Grace leaves him, and the big question is will they get back together? Sigi is enjoying having two parents vying to spoil him most, so he sets out to do everything he can to keep them apart…

Pretending to be a satire, it’s actually a nice little fluffy romance of the type where the man is a worthless, faithless leftover from a dying breed, and the woman is a bucolic, intellectually-challenged leftover from another dying breed. Hmm… I’m struggling to think of anything to say about it, really. Not my kind of thing, as it turns out. The “insights” into French society feel about as realistic as Wodehouse’s England, but unfortunately the book lacks either the humour or good-natured charm of his work. I think it’s supposed to be funny though…

I skipped the last 40 pages because, you know, who cares if they get back together?

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

I reckon we all need cheering up after that, so here’s a much more interesting man from a breed that shows little sign of dying out…

 

TBR Thursday 74…

The People’s Choice 9…The Result!

 

Ooh, last week’s poll was exciting!! For a good while The Secret River was the main challenger, then it was overtaken near the end by In The Shadow of the Glacier! But, right from the beginning, one got its nose in front and kept it there all the way to the line. So I hereby declare…

This Week’s Winner…

 

a heart so white

 

The Blurb – A Heart so White begins as, in the middle of a family lunch, Teresa, just married, goes to the bathroom, unbuttons her blouse and shoots herself in the heart. What made her kill herself immediately after her honeymoon? Years later, this mystery fascinates the young newlywed Juan, whose father was married to Teresa before he married Juan’s mother. As Juan edges closer to the truth, he begins to question his own relationships, and whether he really wants to know what happened. Haunting and unsettling, A Heart So White is a breathtaking portrayal of two generations, two marriages, the relentless power of the past and the terrible price of knowledge.

Thanks to MarinaSofia at findingtimetowrite for the review that brought this book to my attention.

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And thanks to all who voted! It wouldn’t be the People’s Choice without you!

The book will be added to my TBR – now all I have to do is find time to read it!

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Great news! The TBR hasn’t gone up this week! (OK, so it hasn’t gone down either – 2 out, 2 in). Standing still at 162!

Here are a few that will be rising to the top soon…

Fiction

 

the heather blazingColm Tóibín has rapidly moved onto my favourite authors list with his most recent novels, and I’m gradually working my way through some of his older books. Santa helped out by kindly providing this one…

The Blurb – The sea is slowly eating into the land, and the hill with the old watchtower has completely disappeared. The nearest house has crumbled and fallen into the sea. It is Ireland in the late twentieth century. Eamon Redmond is a judge in the Irish High Court. Obsessed all his life by the letter and spirit of the law, he is just beginning to discover how painfully unconnected he is from other human beings. With effortless fluency, Colm Tóibín reconstructs the history of Eamon’s relationships – with his father, his first “girl”, his wife, and the children who barely know him. He gives us a family as minutely realized as any of John McGahern’s, and he writes about Eamon’s affection for the landscape of his childhood on the east coast of Ireland with such skill that the land itself becomes a character. The result is a novel that ensnares us with its emotional intensity and dazzles with its crystalline prose.

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absalom absalomNext up for the GAN Quest! (It’s Absalom! Absalom!, in case you can’t make out the tiny writing on the cover.) It’s got a tough task to follow Beloved – review coming soon…

The Blurb – Quentin Compson and Shreve, his Harvard room-mate, are obsessed by the tragic rise and fall of Thomas Sutpen. As a poor white boy, Sutpen was turned away from a plantation owner’s mansion by a negro butler. From then on, he was determined to force his way into the upper echelons of Southern society. His relentless will ensures his ambitions are soon realised; land, marriage, children. But after the chaos of Civil War, secrets from his own past threaten to destroy everything he has worked for.

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Reference

 

1001 booksOh no! What was I thinking?? A moment of weakness and somehow this slipped into my cart! Expect my TBR to rise by roughly 800 in the near future! But I’m thinking it might perhaps contain the secret of immortality…

The Blurb says: Completely revised and updated to include the most up-to-date selections, this is a bold and bright reference book to the novels and the writers that have excited the world’s imagination. This authoritative selection of novels, reviewed by an international team of writers, critics, academics, and journalists, provides a new take on world classics and a reliable guide to what’s hot in contemporary fiction. Featuring more than 700 illustrations and photographs and presenting quotes from individual novels and authors and completely revised for 2012, this is the ideal book for everybody who loves reading.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

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

 

TBR Thursday 73 – The People’s Choice…

The People’s Choice 9…

 

The TBR has gone up again!! How did that happen?! I’ve been so good, too! 162. But in my defence I did spend most of the last two weeks nocturnally watching tennis (end result, two Scottish champions and one Scottish defeated finalist – woohoo!!!) so reading took a bit of a back seat. Oddly, I seem to have been able to fit in adding more books to the pile, though…

Scottish Hall of Fame

 

Gordon Reid - winner of the Mens Wheelchair Singles
Gordon Reid – winner of the Mens Wheelchair Singles
Jamie Murray, winner of the Mens Doubles, with his partner Bruno Soares
Jamie Murray, (right), winner of the Mens Doubles, with his partner Bruno Soares
Andy Murray, defeated finalist, with winner, Novak Djokovic. (Whoever cleaned that tray really needs to have an eye-test...)
Andy Murray, defeated finalist, with winner, Novak Djokovic. (Whoever cleaned that tray really needs to have an eye-test…)

Anyway… it’s been ages since we last had a People’s Choice vote, but after your success with Snowblind, I feel it’s time for another look at some of the great reviews around the blogosphere, and for you to help me choose which one of these books deserves to be added to my TBR.  As always, an extremely difficult choice, I think…

So which one will you vote for? Which of these tantalising books deserves a place? The winner will be announced next Thursday…

With my usual grateful thanks to all the reviewers who’ve intrigued and inspired me over the last few weeks, here are:

The Contenders…

 

the secret riverThe Blurb – The Secret River is the story of Grenville’s ancestors, who wrested a new life from the alien terrain of Australia and its native people. William Thornhill, a Thames bargeman, is deported to the New South Wales colony in what would become Australia in 1806. The Secret River is the tale of Thornhill’s deep love for his small corner of the new world, and his slow realization that if he wants to settle there, he must ally himself with the most despicable of the white settlers, and to keep his family safe, he must permit terrifying cruelty to come to innocent people.

Rose says: “Kate Grenville certainly doesn’t shy away from putting the settlers in the wrong, clearly showing the terrible ways the Aboriginal people were treated. This is very unusual in Australian fiction, as in a lot of it the reader wouldn’t even realise that anyone else even lived in Australia when the English arrived. I grew up less than a kilometre from a beach called Massacre Bay, and until I was an adult, did not learn that this name was given because (allegedly),  the Aboriginal men living in the area had been driven off the cliffs near this beach, while the women and children had been drowned in a nearby swamp…. To be an Aboriginal person when I was growing up was even worse than having a convict in the family.

The story of The Secret River is sad and depressing, but also fascinating because somehow, from all of the horror and violence during those early times, that is where the Australia that we have now came from.

See the full review at Rose Reads Novels

Another review of this book also caught my eye…

TJ says: “It really struck me how similar the settlement of Australia was to the settlement of America when looking only at the interaction between settlers and natives. I don’t know why that has never occurred to me. Ignoring the fact that one group left voluntarily and the other group was forced to leave, the mindset of all colonists was more or less the same: They considered themselves superior to the native population, completely missing the fact that they could learn from a different way of life. (At the very least, it would have made their own survival a little easier.) And sadly, in both cases, the settlers wreaked havoc among the native population.”

See the full review at My Book Strings

*******

in the shadow of the glacierThe Blurb – Trouble is brewing in the small, bucolic mountain town of Trafalgar, British Columbia. An American who came to Trafalgar as a Vietnam War draft dodger has left land and money to the town. But there’s a catch. The money must be used to build a garden to honor draft dodgers. This bequest has torn the close-knit, peaceful town apart. Then the body of a leading garden opponent is found in an alley, dead from a single blow to the head. Constable Molly Smith is assigned to assist veteran Detective Sergeant John Winters in the investigation.

Kay’s review is actually of a later book in the series. She says: I have loved this series and loved revisiting the characters, the small town charm, and the gorgeous  setting.  Molly is an interesting character and her life is filled with good friends, an eccentric mother, and co-workers that have all kinds of issues, both good and bad.  The cold case mystery is always a favorite of mine and I was caught up in the investigation of the missing man and also loved the personal aspects of these characters.  This author does a good job of giving us a mystery to solve and friends to hang out with.  The best parts of reading a series.”

See the full review at Kay’s Reading Life

*******

a month in the countryThe Blurb – In J. L. Carr’s deeply charged poetic novel, Tom Birkin, a veteran of the Great War and a broken marriage, arrives in the remote Yorkshire village of Oxgodby where he is to restore a recently discovered medieval mural in the local church. Living in the bell tower, surrounded by the resplendent countryside of high summer, and laboring each day to uncover an anonymous painter’s depiction of the apocalypse, Birkin finds that he himself has been restored to a new, and hopeful, attachment to life. But summer ends, and with the work done, Birkin must leave. Now, long after, as he reflects on the passage of time and the power of art, he finds in his memories some consolation for all that has been lost.

Margaret says: “I loved this quiet novel, in which not a lot happens and yet so much happens as Tom describes the events of that summer – his relationships with the local people as well as with Moon and Arthur and Alice Keach…I loved the detail of the wall-painting – the original methods of painting, the colours, the people in the painting… But above all it is the writing that I loved the most – words that took me back in time to that glorious summer in Oxgodby.”

See the full review at BooksPlease

*******

the widowThe Blurb – The Widow is the story of two outcasts and their fatal encounter. One is the widow herself, Tati. Still young, she’s never had an easy time of it, but she’s not the kind to complain. Tati lives with her father-in-law on the family farm, putting up with his sexual attentions, working her fingers to the bone, improving the property and knowing all the time that her late husband’s sister is scheming to kick her out and take the house back. The other is a killer. Just out of prison and in search of a new life, Jean meets up with Tati, who hires him as a handyman and then takes him to bed. Things are looking up, at least until Jean falls hard for the girl next door.

JacquiWine says: “…circumstances and events conspire to force a dramatic denouement. This is a first-rate slice of noir from Simenon, just as dark and disturbing as its cover suggests. The style is spare yet very effective with the author carefully modulating the tension as the story unfolds. There is a palpable sense of foreboding from a fairly early stage in the narrative and if anything this feeling only grows as we move closer to the final chapters.”

See the full review at JacquiWine’s Journal

*******

a heart so whiteThe Blurb – A Heart so White begins as, in the middle of a family lunch, Teresa, just married, goes to the bathroom, unbuttons her blouse and shoots herself in the heart. What made her kill herself immediately after her honeymoon? Years later, this mystery fascinates the young newlywed Juan, whose father was married to Teresa before he married Juan’s mother. As Juan edges closer to the truth, he begins to question his own relationships, and whether he really wants to know what happened. Haunting and unsettling, A Heart So White is a breathtaking portrayal of two generations, two marriages, the relentless power of the past and the terrible price of knowledge.

MarinaSofia says: In theory, he is everything that writing craft workshops warn us against; he breaks all the rules and gets away with it. He moves from a personal point of view to a generalisation or something abstract within the same sentence, separated by nothing but a fragile comma. His characters are slippery and unknowable, enigmas to themselves and others. He has sentences that run on into whole paragraphs, half a page or more. He often repeats himself (or his characters do). And yet, somehow it all works (thanks also, no doubt, to Jull Costa’s outstanding translation). He is compulsively readable…”

See the full review at findingtimetowrite

*******

NB All blurbs and covers are taken from Goodreads.

As usual I love the sound of all of these so…over to you! Choose just one or as many as you like – the book with most votes will be this week’s winner and added to my TBR…

.

Hope you pick a good one! 😉

Snowblind by Ragnar Jónasson

snow blindThe place where nothing ever happens…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

Rookie cop Ari Thór Arason is so pleased to be offered a posting that he immediately accepts, even though it’s in the tiny town of Siglufjördur, so far north it’s closer to the Arctic than to Reykjavik. A place, so they say, where nothing ever happens. So when an elderly writer falls down a flight of stairs to his death everyone assumes it’s an accident, and when Ari Thór is reluctant to accept this, he is quickly warned off by his boss Tómas. But when a young woman is found unconscious in the snow and bleeding from a knife wound, even Tómas has to face up to the fact that crime has arrived in Siglufjördur.

This is described in the blurb as a ‘debut’, but I think it’s actually the second in a series although the first to be translated. There are references to what sounds like a previous story involving Ari Thór and his girlfriend Kristín, but this one works fine on its own and doesn’t give any major spoilers for the earlier book, should it ever appear.

The writing is excellent, and enhanced by a fine translation by Quentin Bates, who is himself a highly regarded crime writer. Jónasson slowly builds up a claustrophobic feeling to this small fishing community, approachable only by air or through a tunnel under the mountains, both of which routes become impossible as the winter snows deepen. Ari Thór finds himself feeling more and more cut off, emotionally as well as physically, especially since Kirstín hasn’t forgiven him for accepting the posting without discussing it with her. A newcomer to a place where families have to remain for generations before they are accepted as locals, Ari Thór finds himself in the position of an outsider in a community where everyone knows everything about their neighbours – or at least they think they do. But as Ari Thór continues to ask awkward questions, old scandals are disturbed and secrets begin to come to the surface.

Siglufjördur
Siglufjördur

The basic plot is very good. It’s a proper mystery, with motives and clues, and of course the isolated setting makes for a limited cast of suspects, especially since the death of the writer took place during a rehearsal of a play. Ari Thór is a good character, not in any way dysfunctional, but with enough of a past to make him interesting. And although he’s a policeman, his method of getting at the truth is based more on interviews and reading people than on DNA and autopsies. But despite the traditional feel of some aspects, the book doesn’t feel at all old-fashioned, since both the structure and the story are firmly modern. Some parts of the plot become clear relatively early, but there’s plenty still to be revealed as the book progresses, and the various strands are brought to credible and satisfying solutions.

It takes a while for the story to get going, and there are occasional dips in the pacing, mainly caused by Jónasson’s technique of giving the backstory of each character as he introduces them – sometimes more interesting and relevant than others, I found. And every now and then, the reader is suddenly given the solution to a little piece of the mystery without the characters doing anything to reveal it, which feels a little as if he hadn’t been able to see how to work it smoothly into the story. He also hit one of my pet hates when he would let Ari Thór learn something but not make the reader privy to it – done to keep up the tension, obviously, but again it feels as if he couldn’t always quite see how to give the clues but disguise them so the reader wouldn’t spot their significance.

Ragnar Jónasson
Ragnar Jónasson

However, these are all minor niggles and things that often show up in an author’s early books while they are still developing their skills. And the weaknesses are well outweighed by the book’s strengths – the excellent sense of place, strong characterisation, intriguing and credible plotting and high quality writing. I have already added his next book (or at least the next to be translated, though I believe it’s no.5 in the series! Why do they do that?!) to my wishlist and am looking forward to reading more of them, though I can’t help but feel that tiny Siglufjördur might end up being as dangerous a place to visit as Midsomer or Cabot Cove…

An interesting side-note – apparently Jónasson has translated many of Agatha Christie’s books into Icelandic. I wonder if that may be one reason why the plotting in this one is as strong and as mystery-based as it is…

This was a People’s Choice winner. Well done, People! You picked a good one! And thanks, Raven, for the review that originally drew it to my attention.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 61…

The People’s Choice 8…The Result!

 

Ooh, last week’s poll was so close!! One raced ahead right from the beginning and then suddenly a late surge pushed another into a hairsbreadth of a lead! So exciting! In fact, it was such an epic battle it seems unfair for either of them to lose. So I hereby declare them both to be…

This Week’s Winners…

 

the blessing

The BlurbWith razor-sharp wit, Mitford blends a comedy of manners with culture shock as Grace Allingham, a naive English rose, marries Charles-Edouard de Valhubert, a French aristo who doesn’t believe in fidelity. Both are duped, meantime, by their son Sigismund — the Blessing of the title — a juvenile Machiavelli who mixes Gallic cunning with Saxon thoroughness to become one of Mitford’s most memorable characters. 

Thanks to Disha at Franklenstein for the review that brought this book to my attention.

 *******

snow blind

The BlurbSiglufjörður: an idyllically quiet fishing village in Northern Iceland, where no one locks their doors – accessible only via a small mountain tunnel. Ari Thór Arason: a rookie policeman on his first posting, far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik – with a past that he’s unable to leave behind. When a young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed, elderly writer falls to his death in the local theatre, Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life.

Thanks to Raven at Raven Crime Reads for the review that brought this one to my attention.

*******

And thanks to all who voted! It wouldn’t be the People’s Choice without you!

Both books will now be added to my ever-expanding TBR (151!) – now all I have to do is find time to read them!

*******

Since I’m still desperately trying to finish all the fiction and crime already listed for my 20 Books of Summer challenge, just a couple of factuals that will reach the top of the heap soon…

Factual

 

edmund burkeThis one has been sitting unread on my Kindle for about two years. In fact, those of you who memorise everything I say (What? You don’t??) will be aware that this is its second appearance on a TBR post – but this time I really mean to read it!

The BlurbEdmund Burke is both the greatest and the most underrated political thinker of the past three hundred years. A brilliant 18th-century Irish philosopher and statesman, Burke was a fierce champion of human rights and the Anglo-American constitutional tradition, and a lifelong campaigner against arbitrary power. Revered by great Americans including Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, Burke has been almost forgotten in recent years. But as politician and political philosopher Jesse Norman argues in this penetrating biography, we cannot understand modern politics without him.

Burke won admirers in the American colonies for recognizing their fierce spirit of liberty and for speaking out against British oppression, but his greatest triumph was seeing through the utopian aura of the French Revolution. In repudiating that revolution, Burke laid the basis for much of the robust conservative ideology that remains with us to this day: one that is adaptable and forward-thinking, but also mindful of the debt we owe to past generations and our duty to preserve and uphold the institutions we have inherited. He is the first conservative.

* * * * *

 

Atmosphere of HopeCourtesy of NetGalley, one can but hope the contents will be better than the cover…

The Blurb – The publication of this new book is timed for the lead-up to the Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015, which aims to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate from all the nations in the world. This book anticipates and will influence the debates.

Time is running out, but catastrophe is not inevitable. Around the world people are now living with the consequences of an altered climate—with intensified and more frequent storms, wildfires, droughts and floods. For some it’s already a question of survival. Drawing on the latest science, Flannery gives a snapshot of the trouble we are in and more crucially, proposes a new way forward, including rapidly progressing clean technologies and a “third way” of soft geo-engineering. Tim Flannery, with his inimitable style, makes this urgent issue compelling and accessible. This is a must-read for anyone interested in our global future.

(Why does that word “geo-engineering” bring on my nervous twitch?)

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or NetGalley.

* * * * *

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

 

TBR Thursday 60 – The People’s Choice…

The People’s Choice 8…

 

The TBR has reached a frightening 151! If that topples over, Tuppence may get brutally squished! So no room to add more… but still you all tempt me, day in, day out. Cruelty, I tell you!

So…time for another look at some of the great reviews around the blogosphere, and for you to help me choose which one of these books deserves to be added to my TBR. (You may look on this as a way to add one more book to my list, but I see it more as a way to keep another four off it!) An extremely difficult choice, I think…

So which one will you vote for? Which of these tantalising books deserves a place? The winner will be announced next Thursday…

With my usual grateful thanks to all the reviewers who’ve intrigued and inspired me over the last few weeks, here are:

The Contenders…

 

a tangled webbThe BlurbTwo feuding families will go to surprising lengths to secure a prized heirloom…

It all begins with Great Aunt Becky and her infamous prized possession: a legendary heirloom jug. After her death, everyone wants it. But the name of the new owner won’t be revealed for one year. In the next twelve months, scandals, quarrels and love affairs abound–with the jug at the center of it all. Then comes the night when Aunt Becky’s wishes will be revealed…and the family is in for the biggest surprise of all.

Rose says: “A Tangled Web is a much more grown up story than the Anne books. Aunty Becky dies and the story unfolds with a great many twists and turns. Creating this must have been like a spider weaving a web, with interlinked pieces all over the place until the very end, when all of the stories are satisfactorily resolved. A Tangled Web is one of my favourite books by LM Montgomery. It is sarcastic and witty and brilliant and it is extremely satisfying to get to the bottom of the mysteries, especially finding out why Joscelyn and Hugh’s marriage foundered. If you enjoyed the Anne books you should read this book.

See the full review at Rose Reads Novels

*******

snow blindThe Blurb – Siglufjörður: an idyllically quiet fishing village in Northern Iceland, where no one locks their doors – accessible only via a small mountain tunnel. Ari Thór Arason: a rookie policeman on his first posting, far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik – with a past that he’s unable to leave behind. When a young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed, elderly writer falls to his death in the local theatre, Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life.

Raven says: The book takes on the real feel of a locked room mystery, with a finite group of possible perpetrators of the violent crimes, in this case a severe physical assault and a suspicious death, and giving the reader a puzzling conundrum as we attempt to identify the guilty party or parties ourselves. Speaking as a crime reader, this is always one of the essential thrills of this nature of crime book, playing detective and navigating the red herrings along the way.”

See the full review at Raven Crime Reads

*******

london belongs to meThe Blurb – It is 1938 and the prospect of war hangs over every London inhabitant. But the city doesn’t stop. Everywhere people continue to work, drink, fall in love, fight and struggle to get on in life. At the lodging-house at No.10 Dulcimer Street, Kennington, the buttoned-up clerk Mr Josser returns home with the clock he has received as a retirement gift. The other residents include faded actress Connie; tinned food-loving Mr Puddy; widowed landlady Mrs Vizzard (whose head is turned by her new lodger, a self-styled ‘Professor of Spiritualism’); and flashy young mechanic Percy Boon, whose foray into stolen cars descends into something much, much worse …

Lady Fancifull says: “it fairly whirls absorbingly along, with a terrific mix of memorable, believable ‘characters’ – all pretty well ordinary working class Londoners. There is crime, – a central crime, and we know who did it, – there are romances, some of which are doomed to fail, others of which are more hopeful – there is seediness, there is deception, class-consciousness, socialism and fascism on the streets, penury, near-penury, greed, spiritualism, fake and possibly not quite  – and oodles of affection for London itself, for ordinary people living ordinary lives, and displaying all the wonderful combination of nobility, generosity and mean-mindedness which we all do, all-mashed up together.

See the full review at Lady Fancifull

*******

the blessingThe Blurb – With razor-sharp wit, Mitford blends a comedy of manners with culture shock as Grace Allingham, a naive English rose, marries Charles-Edouard de Valhubert, a French aristo who doesn’t believe in fidelity. Both are duped, meantime, by their son Sigismund — the Blessing of the title — a juvenile Machiavelli who mixes Gallic cunning with Saxon thoroughness to become one of Mitford’s most memorable characters.

Disha says: While Grace loses her patience with her skirt-chasing husband and separates from him, moving back to England – their son Sigi soon realises that he benefits more from having his parents apart and does everything in his power to keep it so. Full of wit and colourful characters, it is impossible not to be amazed by the clandestine goings-on of post-war European glitterati. In the end, in the war of elegance between the French and English, the English always win. But then of course, this is a book written in English by an English woman. But I’m sure she knew what she was talking about.

See the full review at Franklenstein

*******

this godforsaken placeThe BlurbThe year is 1885 and Abigail Peacock is resisting what seems to be an inevitable future—a sensible career as a teacher and marriage to the earnestly attentive local storeowner. But then she buys a rifle, and everything changes.

This Godforsaken Place is the absorbing tale of one tenacious woman’s journey set against the dramatic backdrop of the Canadian Wilderness and American Wild West. Told by four narrators—including Annie Oakley and Gabriel Dumont—Abigail’s story brings the high stakes of the New World into startling focus.

TJ @ MyBookStrings says: Armed with a gun, a charming horse, and a vague sense of newfound freedom, Abigail sets out to travel to the United States to find Buffalo Bill Cody and become friends with Annie Oakley. She accomplishes both and gets hired to be a helper in Bill’s Wild West Show, moving to New York City and even to England with the show. However, things become complicated when Shea Wyatt is accused of murder, and Abigail has to decide exactly how far she is willing to go to get justice.”

See the full review at My Book Strings

*******

NB All blurbs and covers are taken from Goodreads.

As usual I love the sound of all of these so…over to you! Choose just one or as many as you like – the book with most votes will be this week’s winner and added to my TBR…

.

Hope you pick a good one! 😉

TBR Thursday 54…

The People’s Choice 7…The Result!

 

A dramatic fall in the TBR for the second week in a row – down 1 to 138! That is, until I add in the one you chose in last week’s People’s Choice – oops! Back to 139.

It was another exceptionally close vote with the top two neck and neck for a few days. But in the end, by one vote, the winner is…

mister pip

Yes, Mister Pip squeaked it! (I’m so sorry – I couldn’t resist! I shall turn myself into the Pun Police immediately…)

The BlurbOn a copper-rich tropical island shattered by war, where the teachers have fled with most everyone else, only one white man chooses to stay behind: the eccentric Mr. Watts, object of much curiosity and scorn, who sweeps out the ruined schoolhouse and begins to read to the children each day from Charles Dickens’s classic Great Expectations.

So begins this rare, original story about the abiding strength that imagination, once ignited, can provide. As artillery echoes in the mountains, thirteen-year-old Matilda and her peers are riveted by the adventures of a young orphan named Pip in a city called London, a city whose contours soon become more real than their own blighted landscape. As Mr. Watts says, “A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe.” Soon come the rest of the villagers, initially threatened, finally inspired to share tales of their own that bring alive the rich mythology of their past. But in a ravaged place where even children are forced to live by their wits and daily survival is the only objective, imagination can be a dangerous thing.

 *******

Thanks to all who voted, and to katenich at Blogging Around My Bookcase for the review that brought this book to my attention.

So now all I have to do is find time to read it…

*******

And here’s a few that I’m looking forward to reading soon…

Factual

 

Pleasures of the TableCourtesy of the British Library. I loved the BL’s London: A Literary Anthology, and this is similar in format – a gorgeous hardback filled with lush illustrations, I believe from the BL’s own collection. A feast for the senses…

The Blurb – This beautifully illustrated collection of food writing includes delectable scenes of cooking and feasting from novels and stories, poems that use food to tempt and seduce, and fine writing by and about great cooks. Napoleon famously declared that an army marched on its stomach; less familiar is the idea that great authors were as eager to feed their stomachs as their imaginations. Far-ranging in both time and place, this exploration of literary eating and great writing about food will amuse, surprise, and make the mouth water. The anthology begins with examples of hospitality, ranging from Chaucer’s convivial Franklin to Walter Scott’s bountiful breakfasts and dinner with Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Ramsay. Next comes eating to impress – dazzling banquets from Flaubert to F. Scott Fitzgerald – and some great fictional love feasts (there is no doubt that in literature food and love go together rather better than love and marriage). Many of our most vivid memories of food in literature were laid down in childhood, and nostalgia is to the fore in such classic scenes as Pinocchio aching with hunger, Ratty and Mole picnicking, enchanted Turkish delight in Narnia, and a seaside picnic from Enid Blyton. A section on distant times and places ranges from seethed tortoise in ancient China to seal’s liver fried in penguin blubber as a treat for Captain Scott. Those who relish simplicity rather than excess will enjoy Sydney Smith’s delicate salad dressing and Hemingway’s appreciation of oysters.

* * * * *

Fiction

 

some luckCourtesy of NetGalley, here’s the review from the ever-fragrant Lady Fancifull which inspired me to read this one…

Lady Fancifull says“Jane Smiley’s ‘Some Luck’ is Volume 1 of a trilogy, examining a tumultuous 100 years from just after the end of the Great War to 2020. Smiley does this by taking an ordinary family from Iowa, from mixed European settler stock, and following them forward through the generations, as children grow and become parents, and those children grow, in a world which is endlessly, rapidly in change.

Like Smiley’s Pulitzer prizewinning A Thousand Acres, this first volume of the trilogy shows the author as a writer with a deep connection to rural place and landscape, and to the powerful hold than ‘land’ can exert. She effortlessly shows how a story can be both deeply and uniquely personal, familial, and how the personal is always shot through with the ripples, tugs, and in-roads which the wider world and its history makes in the lives of each unique individual, as we all come from place, and live through time.”

 * * * * *

Crime

 

a good way to goCourtesy of NetGalley. I thoroughly enjoyed Peter Helton’s effortless and entertaining writing style in Indelible, so am keen to see how it transfers to the police procedural format…

The Blurb – On his first day back at work following his suspension, DI McLusky finds himself in the midst of a major murder enquiry when a body is discovered in the canal at Netham Lock. Chained, weighted down, tied to a buoy by the neck, it has all the hallmarks of a premeditated, ritualistic killing. As he questions those who knew the victim in an attempt to uncover the dead woman’s secrets, McLusky’s investigations are disrupted by the discovery of a second body. Bound and gagged like the first – but there are differences. If McLusky could only work out what connects the victims, he would be one step closer to catching the killer – and preventing more deaths.

Meanwhile, his rival DI Kat Fairfield is pursuing a routine investigation which takes a decidedly sinister turn …

* * * * *

falling in loveCourtesy of NetGalley. After enjoying Donna Leon’s By Its Cover, I intended to go back and read some of the earlier books in the Commissario Brunetti series. Needless to say I haven’t done so, but couldn’t resist the new one anyway…

The Blurb – Donna Leon’s Death at La Fenice, the first novel in her beloved Commissario Guido Brunetti series, introduced readers to the glamorous and cutthroat world of opera and one of Italy’s finest living sopranos, Flavia Petrelli. Now Flavia has returned to Venice and La Fenice to sing the lead in Tosca.

Brunetti and his wife, Paola, attend an early performance, and Flavia receives a standing ovation. Back in her dressing room, she finds bouquets of yellow roses – too many roses. Every surface of the room is covered with them. An anonymous fan has been showering Flavia with these beautiful gifts in London, St. Petersburg, Amsterdam, and now, Venice, but she no longer feels flattered. A few nights later, invited by Brunetti to dine at his in-laws’ palazzo, Flavia confesses her alarm at these excessive displays of adoration. And when a talented young Venetian singer who has caught Flavia’s attention is savagely attacked, Brunetti begins to think that Flavia’s fears are justified in ways neither of them imagined. He must enter in the psyche of an obsessive fan before Flavia, or anyone else, comes to harm.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from NetGalley or Amazon.

* * * * *

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

 

TBR Thursday 53 – The People’s Choice…

The People’s Choice 7…

 

The TBR has dipped to below 140!! OK, only to 139, but still!

So…time for another look at some of the great reviews around the blogosphere, and for you to help me choose which one of these books deserves to be added to my TBR. Steering clear of factual since I have about a million of them already waiting, but a good mix of fiction and crime, I think. And an extremely difficult choice.

So which one will you vote for? The winner will be announced next Thursday…

With my usual grateful thanks to all the reviewers who’ve intrigued and inspired me over the last few weeks, here are:

The Contenders…

 

the burning airThe BlurbThe MacBrides have always gone to Far Barn in Devon for Bonfire Night, but this year everything is different. Lydia, the matriarch, is dead; Sophie, the eldest daughter, is desperately trying to repair a crumbling marriage; and Felix, the youngest of the family, has brought a girlfriend with him for the first time. The girl, Kerry, seems odd in a way nobody can quite put their finger on – but when they leave her looking after Sophie’s baby daughter, and return to find both Kerry and the baby gone, they are forced to ask themselves if they have allowed a cuckoo into their nest…

Cleo says: “In many ways The Burning Air is a book about moral issues with degrees of guilt and innocence being far more important, certainly in the background to this story, than the absolutes of right and wrong. I prefer my reading matter not to be black and white and so I think this book will be interpreted in a variety of ways depending on how morally responsible the reader holds the perpetrator.

See the full review at Petrona Remembered where Cleo was guest reviewing

*******

mister pipThe BlurbOn a copper-rich tropical island shattered by war, where the teachers have fled with most everyone else, only one white man chooses to stay behind: the eccentric Mr. Watts, object of much curiosity and scorn, who sweeps out the ruined schoolhouse and begins to read to the children each day from Charles Dickens’s classic Great Expectations.

So begins this rare, original story about the abiding strength that imagination, once ignited, can provide. As artillery echoes in the mountains, thirteen-year-old Matilda and her peers are riveted by the adventures of a young orphan named Pip in a city called London, a city whose contours soon become more real than their own blighted landscape. As Mr. Watts says, “A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe.” Soon come the rest of the villagers, initially threatened, finally inspired to share tales of their own that bring alive the rich mythology of their past. But in a ravaged place where even children are forced to live by their wits and daily survival is the only objective, imagination can be a dangerous thing.

katenich says: “This book left me with a lingering sense of loss and a burning desire to read Great Expectations. This is a book about the power of stories and the way great stories help us to understand the world.  It is also about what makes people part of a community, and how communities behave when they are under pressure. The final theme through the book is about how people can re-invent themselves, like young Pip, and the challenges of reconciling your new self with your old home – the migrant’s loss of belonging.”

See the full review at Blogging Around My Bookcase

*******

turn of the tideThe Blurb – Set in 16th Century Scotland Munro owes allegiance to the Cunninghames and to the Earl of Glencairn. Trapped in the 150-year-old feud between the Cunninghames and the Montgomeries, he escapes the bloody aftermath of an ambush, but he cannot escape the disdain of the wife he sought to protect, or his own internal conflict. He battles with his conscience and with divided loyalties – to age-old obligations, to his wife and children, and, most dangerous of all, to a growing friendship with the rival Montgomerie clan. Intervening to diffuse a quarrel that flares between a Cunninghame cousin and Hugh Montgomerie, he succeeds only in antagonizing William, the arrogant and vicious Cunninghame heir. And antagonizing William is a dangerous game to play…

Margaret says: “I loved it. It’s historical fiction and it captivated me completely transporting me  back in time to 16th century Scotland. If you have ever wondered, as I have, what it must have been like to live in a Tower House in the Scottish Borders then this book spells it out so clearly. And it puts you firmly in the middle of the centuries old feud between the Cunninghames and the Montgomeries, with all the drama of their battles, ambushes and schemes to further their standing with the young King James VI. It’s a tale of love, loyalty, tragedy and betrayal.

See the full review at Books Please

*******

notes on a scandalThe Blurb – Schoolteacher Barbara Covett has led a solitary life until Sheba Hart, the new art teacher at St. George’s, befriends her. But even as their relationship develops, so too does another: Sheba has begun an illicit affair with an underage male student. When the scandal turns into a media circus, Barbara decides to write an account in her friend’s defense–and ends up revealing not only Sheba’s secrets, but also her own.

Gemma says: Notes on a Scandal is very well written novel; Heller’s prose is insightful, perfectly depicting these two very different women. The lines and passages on loneliness are highlights for me. She depicts Barbara excellently, deftly describing loneliness in language which immediately captures what Barbara is feeling. The novel reminds me of Nabokov’s Lolita in the way that it’s written on a topic that’s uncomfortable to read about. Yet my overwhelming feeling after finishing the book and reflecting on it now is that it’s less about the affair between Sheba and the student, and more about the relationship between Barbara and Sheba.

See the full review at The Perfectionist Pen

*******

the twelveThe BlurbFormer paramilitary killer Gerry Fegan is haunted by his victims, twelve souls who shadow his every waking day and scream through every drunken night. Just as he reaches the edge of sanity they reveal their desire: vengeance on those who engineered their deaths. From the greedy politicians to the corrupt security forces, the street thugs to the complacent bystanders who let it happen, all must pay the price. When Fegan’s vendetta threatens to derail Northern Ireland’s peace process and destabilise its fledgling government, old comrades and enemies alike want him gone. David Campbell, a double agent lost between the forces of law and terror, takes the job. But he has his own reasons for eliminating Fegan; the secrets of a dirty war should stay buried, even if its ghosts do not. Set against the backdrop of a post-conflict Northern Ireland struggling with its past, The Twelve takes the reader from the back streets of the city, where violence and politics go hand-in-hand, to the country’s darkest heart.

Cathy says: The Twelve may read initially like a standard revenge thriller, but it is also an exploration of the corrupt underbelly of Northern Ireland politics and the price we have had to pay for an uneasy peace. Neville uses this political reality to give depth and detail to what could have simply been a genre piece and has produced a tight, taut gem of a book.”

See the full review at 746 Books

*******

NB All blurbs and covers are taken from Goodreads.

Yet again I love the sound of all of these so…over to you! Choose just one or as many as you like – the book with most votes will be this week’s winner…

Hope you pick a good one! 😉

TBR Thursday 50…

The People’s Choice 6…The Result!

 

Ooh! After two books sitting as joint leaders for several days, someone snuck in at the last minute and cast a winning vote. (Not me, honest!) So by the shortest of heads – this week’s winner is…

the guernsey literary and potato peel society

The Blurb – It is 1946, in the thick of World War II, when American writer Juliet Ashton becomes the sudden recipient of letters from the inhabitants of Guernsey, the small island in the English Channel that has fallen under Nazi control. The letter writers have formed the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society as a way to gather without attracting the attention of their occupiers. Out of these letters, Juliet comes to know the lives, loves, and hardships of a wonderfully eccentric and vivid cast of characters, and their charming philosophies and anecdotes help her resolve her own romantic conundrum.

 *******

Thanks to all who voted, and to Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books for the review that brought this book to my attention. Including this one, the TBR has gone back up to 138.

So now all I have to do is find time to read it…

*******

And here’s a few more that should be rising to the top of the pile soon…

Factual

 

gods of the morningCourtesy of NetGalley, a celebration of the natural world of the Scottish Highlands…

The Blurb – For more than three decades, John Lister-Kaye has been enraptured by the spectacular seasonal metamorphosis at Aigas, the world-renowned Highlands field centre. Over the years, the glen’s wildlife has come to infiltrate his soul, whether it is a warbling blackcap’s cascading refrains, whooper swans hauling winter along with them, pine martens causing havoc in the hen run, loyal resident tawny owls defending their territory from adolescents, or a regal roe buck strutting in the broom and gorse, suddenly gilded by a fiery ray of sunlight.

John Lister-Kaye has come to understand intimately the movements of these beloved creatures, but increasingly unpredictable weather patterns have caused sometimes subtle, sometimes seismic shifts in their behaviour. Gods of the Morning follows a year through the turning of the seasons at Aigas, exploring the habits of the Highland animals, and in particular the birds – his gods of the morning – for whom he has nourished a lifelong passion.

* * * * *

Fiction

 

widows and orphansCourtesy of the publisher, Arcadia Books, this one will be a real leap in the dark…

The Blurb – The Francombe & Salter Mercury has served the residents of two South Coast resorts for over 150 years. Hit by both the economic decline and the advent of new technology, Duncan Neville, the latest member of his family to occupy the editor’s chair, is struggling to keep the paper afloat. Duncan’s personal life is also in confusion as he juggles the demands of his elderly mother, disaffected son, irritable ex-wife and devoted secretary. At the same time, Geoffrey Weedon, his childhood friend, turned greatest rival, unveils plans to rebuild the crumbling pier, which, while promising to revive the town’s fortunes, threaten its traditional ethos. Then Duncan meets Ellen, a recent divorcee, who has moved to Francombe with her two teenage children and romance quickly blossoms. After the foreign landscapes and theological dramas of Jubilate and The Breath of Night, Michael Arditti’s latest novel is a return to the home front in both subject and setting. Witty and poignant, Widows and Orphans casts an unflinching eye over the joys and adversities of contemporary life and paints a masterful portrait of a decent man fighting for his principles.

 * * * * *

Crime

 

the winter foundlingsCourtesy of NetGalley, I’m late to the party on this one. But I enjoyed the previous books in the series…

The Blurb – Psychologist Alice Quentin has been looking forward to a break from her hectic London life. She has vowed to stay clear of police work. The previous cases she helped the police with have left her scarred. So, when Alice is given the rare opportunity to study treatment methods at Northwood high-security hospital outside of London, she is eager to get to work. But then a young girl is discovered, dressed all in white, on the steps of the Foundling Museum. Four girls have recently gone missing in North London—this is the third to be found, dead. The fourth may still be alive, and Alice Quentin may be able to help. Britain’s most prolific child killer, Louis Kinsella, has been locked up in Northwood for over a decade. Yet, these recent kidnappings and murders are clearly connected to Kinsella’s earlier crimes. It seems that someone is continuing where he left off. So, when Detective Don Burns comes asking for Alice’s help, how can she refuse? Alice will do anything to help save a child—even if that means forming a relationship with a charismatic, ruthless murderer.

* * * * *

arab jazzCourtesy of NetGalley. Two glowing reviews from Raven and Marina Sofia made this one irresistible…

The Blurb – Kosher sushi, kebabs, a second hand bookshop and a bar: the 19th arrondissement in Paris is a cosmopolitan neighbourhood where multicultural citizens live, love and worship alongside one another. This peace is shattered when Ahmed Taroudant’s melancholy daydreams are interrupted by the blood dripping from his upstairs neighbour’s brutally mutilated corpse. The violent murder of Laura Vignole, and the pork joint placed next to her, set imaginations ablaze across the neighborhood, and Ahmed finds himself the prime suspect. However detectives Rachel Kupferstein and Jean Hamelot are not short of leads. What is the connection between a disbanded hip-hop group and the fiery extremist preachers that jostle in the streets for attention? And what is the mysterious new pill that is taking the district by storm? In this his debut novel, Karim Miské demonstrates a masterful control of setting, as he moves seamlessly between the sensual streets of Paris and the synagogues of New York to reveal the truth behind a horrifying crime.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads, NetGalley or publisher’s publicity bumph.

* * * * *

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

 

TBR Thursday 49…

The People’s Choice 6…

 

Dramatic news! The TBR has gone down!! By 2 – to 136…but it’s a start, right?

So…that means I can squeeze in one more book, but which one? So many choices around the blogosphere – so many great reviews! Which means it’s time for another People’s Choice Poll…

Last time it was all crime, so this time the shortlist is all fiction. So which one of these do you think most deserves a place on the TBR? The winner will be announced next Thursday…

With my usual grateful thanks to all the reviewers who’ve intrigued and inspired me over the last few weeks, here are:

The Contenders…

 

the constant nymphThe BlurbTessa is the daughter of a brilliant bohemian composer, Albert Sanger, who with his “circus” of precocious children, slovenly mistress, and assortment of hangers-on, lives in a rambling chalet high in the Austrian Alps. The fourteen-year-old Tessa has fallen in love with Lewis Dodd, a gifted composer like her father. Confidently, she awaits maturity, for even his marriage to Tessa’s beautiful cousin Florence cannot shatter the loving bond between Lewis and his constant nymph.

heavenali says: “The Constant Nymph was Margaret Kennedy’s second novel, and probably her most successful and well known. I absolutely loved it, at once fully involving myself with the characters, as I became immersed in the world of ‘Sanger’s Circus’. I think Margaret Kennedy might be an author whose work I will have to read much more of.

See the full review at heavenali

*******

the beesThe BlurbBorn into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen. Yet Flora has talents that are not typical of her kin. And while mutant bees are usually instantly destroyed, Flora is reassigned to feed the newborns, before becoming a forager, collecting pollen on the wing. Then she finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers secrets both sublime and ominous. Enemies roam everywhere, from the fearsome fertility police to the high priestesses who jealously guard the Hive Mind. But Flora cannot help but break the most sacred law of all, and her instinct to serve is overshadowed by a desire, as overwhelming as it is forbidden…

Claire says: “I know little about the bee world, but the environment the author creates is fascinating, intriguing and imaginative with references to monarchy, spiritual devotion, universal instinct and power. It also contains a subtle environmental reference, one that will be recognised by nature lovers everywhere, without compromising the essence of great storytelling.”

See the full review at Word by Word

*******

passingThe BlurbNella Larsen, a writer of the Harlem Renaissance, wrote two brilliant novels that interrogated issues of gender and race. In Passing, her second novel published in 1929, she examines the troubled friendship between two mixed-race women who can pass as white. One, Irene Redfield, marries a black man and lives in Harlem, while the other, Clare Kendry, marries a bigoted white man. Clare re-enters Irene’s life after an absence of many years, and stirs up painful questions about identity.

My Book Strings says: “Even without the “issue of race,” the toxic relationship between the two women would have made for a fascinating story. But, of course, race is at the very heart of it. It permeates every single aspect of life, and at times, I found it quite shocking to read about it…

See the full review at My Book Strings

*******

the willowsThe Blurb – Two friends are midway on a canoe trip down the Danube River. Throughout the story Blackwood personifies the surrounding environment—river, sun, wind—and imbues them with a powerful and ultimately threatening character. Most ominous are the masses of dense, desultory, menacing willows, which “moved of their own will as though alive, and they touched, by some incalculable method, my own keen sense of the horrible.” American horror author H.P. Lovecraft considered this to be the finest supernatural tale in English literature.

The Bibliophile Chronicles says: “I absolutely love this book, I’ve read it before and it is no less creepy and wonderful the second time around. Personally I think that horror novels/films are most effective when you don’t actually see anything. That eerie sense of not knowing what is there seems to result in such a strong feeling of discomfort. That is very much at play in The Willows.

See the full review at The Bibliophile Chronicles

*******

the guernsey literary and potato peel societyThe BlurbIt is 1946, in the thick of World War II, when American writer Juliet Ashton becomes the sudden recipient of letters from the inhabitants of Guernsey, the small island in the English Channel that has fallen under Nazi control. The letter writers have formed the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society as a way to gather without attracting the attention of their occupiers. Out of these letters, Juliet comes to know the lives, loves, and hardships of a wonderfully eccentric and vivid cast of characters, and their charming philosophies and anecdotes help her resolve her own romantic conundrum.

Cleo says: The genius of this book is the perfect mix of horrific stories, those people who were deported, those who lived in fear along with the lack of food, but these are balanced out by some tender moments, with memories of bravery and humour and compassion, not least at the society’s meetings. There were some letters that took my breath away despite being familiar with the nature of the events that occurred.” (Cleo lives in the Channel Islands herself.)

See the full review at Cleopatra Loves Books

*******

NB All blurbs and covers are taken from Goodreads.

So…over to you! I love the sound of all of these so you can’t choose the wrong one! Choose just one or as many as you like – the book with most votes will be this week’s winner…

Hope you pick a good one! 😉

TBR Thursday 46…

The People’s Choice 5…The Result!

 

An exciting contest this time! On Day 1, it looked like there would be a runaway winner, but gradually two other contenders narrowed the gap, and it looked as though there might be a major upset. But in the end the frontrunner held its lead – this week’s winner is…

the unquiet dead

The Blurb – Despite their many differences, Detective Rachel Getty trusts her boss, Esa Khattak, implicitly. But she’s still uneasy at Khattak’s tight-lipped secrecy when he asks her to look into Christopher Drayton’s death. Drayton’s apparently accidental fall from a cliff doesn’t seem to warrant a police investigation, particularly not from Rachel and Khattak’s team, which handles minority-sensitive cases. But when she learns that Drayton may have been living under an assumed name, Rachel begins to understand why Khattak is tip-toeing around this case. It soon comes to light that Drayton may have been a war criminal with ties to the Srebrenica massacre of 1995.

 *******

Thanks to all who voted, and to Carol at Reading, Writing and Riesling for the review that brought this book to my attention.

Now all I have to do is find time to read it…

(Somehow or another, The Murder of the Century snuck on to the TBR as well. Don’t know how that happened…!)

*******

And here’s a few more that should be rising to the top of the pile soon…

Fiction

 

stay up with meCourtesy of NetGalley, this collection of short stories has been nominated for the 2015 Folio Prize…

The Blurb – The stories in Tom Barbash’s evocative and often darkly funny collection explore the myriad ways we try to connect to one another and to the sometimes cruel world around us. The newly single mother in ‘The Break’ interferes with her son’s love life over his Christmas vacation from college. The anxious young man in ‘Balloon Night’ persists in hosting his and his wife’s annual watch-the-Macy’s-Thanksgiving-Day-Parade-floats-be-inflated party, while trying to keep the myth of his marriage equally afloat. The young narrator in ‘The Women’ watches his widowed father become the toast of Manhattan’s midlife dating scene, as he struggles to find his own footing. The characters in Stay Up With Me find new truths when the old ones have given out or shifted course. Barbash laces his narratives with sharp humour, psychological acuity, and pathos, creating deeply resonant and engaging stories that pierce the heart and linger in the imagination.  

* * * * *

 

a tale of two citiesIn accordance with my resolutions, some Dickens – I shall be reading my beautiful Nonesuch edition of A Tale of Two Cities, courtesy of Santa Claus (Christmas, 2012, I think!)…

The Blurb – After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille, the ageing Doctor Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There the lives of two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette. From the tranquil roads of London, they are drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror, and they soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.

 * * * * *

Crime

 

the ice princessThis one has been on the TBR since I read The Stranger in May 2013! Time I got around to reading it, I think…

The Blurb – In this electrifying tale of suspense from an international crime-writing sensation, a grisly death exposes the dark heart of a Scandinavian seaside village. Erica Falck returns to her tiny, remote hometown of Fjällbacka, Sweden, after her parents’ deaths only to encounter another tragedy: the suicide of her childhood best friend, Alex. It’s Erica herself who finds Alex’s body—suspended in a bathtub of frozen water, her wrists slashed. Erica is bewildered: Why would a beautiful woman who had it all take her own life? Teaming up with police detective Patrik Hedström, Erica begins to uncover shocking events from Alex’s childhood. As one horrifying fact after another comes to light, Erica and Patrik’s curiosity gives way to obsession—and their flirtation grows into uncontrollable attraction. But it’s not long before one thing becomes very clear: a deadly secret is at stake, and there’s someone out there who will do anything—even commit murder—to protect it.

* * * * *

Sci-fi/Fantasy

the glittering worldCourtesy of NetGalley. Not quite sure if this is sci-fi, fantasy, horror – or all three. But hopefully I’ll know after I read it…

The Blurb – When up-and-coming chef Michael “Blue” Whitley returns with three friends to the remote Canadian community of his birth, it appears to be the perfect getaway from New York. He soon discovers, however, that everything he thought he knew about himself is a carefully orchestrated lie. Though he had no recollection of the event, as a young boy Blue and another child went missing for weeks in the idyllic, mysterious woods of Starling Cove. Soon thereafter, his mother suddenly fled with him to America, their homeland left behind.

But then Blue begins to remember. And once the shocking truth starts bleeding back into his life, his closest friends—Elisa, his former partner in crime; her stalwart husband, Jeremy; and Gabe, Blue’s young and admiring co-worker—must unravel the secrets of Starling Cove and the artists’ colony it once harbored. All four will face their troubled pasts, their most private demons, and a mysterious race of beings that inhabits the land, spoken of by the locals only as the Other Kind…

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or NetGalley.

* * * * *

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

(And aren’t all four of these covers gorgeous this week?)

TBR Thursday 45…

The People’s Choice 5…

 

It’s the 15th January and I’m still sticking rigidly to my resolutions. I’m somewhat baffled therefore as to why my TBR has gone up 4 this week to 137. It may have something to do with the fact that I appear to be reading three 600-page books at the same time – hmm! My brand new reading plan may need some fine-tuning.

So…a People’s Choice Poll! The first of the year, and these are all crime, though not all fiction. My willpower needs your help to resist temptation. So which one of these do you think most deserves a place on the TBR? The winner will be announced next Thursday…

With my usual grateful thanks to all the reviewers who’ve intrigued and inspired me over the last few weeks, here are:

The Contenders…

 

the secret placeThe Blurb – The photo on the card shows a boy who was found murdered, a year ago, on the grounds of a girls’ boarding school in the leafy suburbs of Dublin. The caption says, I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM.

Cleo says: “The plot is brilliant with the twists and turns keeping me guessing, torn between wanting to race through the book but holding back in case I missed a scrap of information that would hold the key to the mystery. I am pleased to report that the ending works well, this author hasn’t cheated us, the clues were all there revealed slowly but surely in amongst a whole bucketful of red-herrings.

See the full review at Cleopatra Loves Books

*******

the front seat passengerThe BlurbFabien and Sylvie both knew their marriage wasn’t working. But when Sylvie is involved in a fatal car accident, Fabien is stunned to discover she had a lover who died with her. Harbouring thoughts of revenge, he tracks down the lover’s widow, Martine, and begins stalking her. Fabien is desperate to get Martine on her own. And that won’t happen until he deals with her protective best friend, Madeleine…

Margot says: Garnier’s stories often feature ordinary human beings – people one might see at a shop, a restaurant or the cinema – who are driven to desperation. That desperation leads to all kinds of events that often go from bad to worse…

See the full review at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist

*******

the murder of the centuryThe Blurb – On Long Island, a farmer finds a duck pond turned red with blood. On the Lower East Side, two boys playing at a pier discover a floating human torso wrapped tightly in oilcloth. Blueberry pickers near Harlem stumble upon neatly severed limbs in an overgrown ditch. Clues to a horrifying crime are turning up all over New York, but the police are baffled: There are no witnesses, no motives, no suspects. The grisly finds that began on the afternoon of June 26, 1897, plunged detectives headlong into the era’s most baffling murder mystery. Seized upon by battling media moguls Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, the case became a publicity circus. Reenactments of the murder were staged in Times Square, armed reporters lurked in the streets of Hell’s Kitchen in pursuit of suspects, and an unlikely trio — a hard-luck cop, a cub reporter, and an eccentric professor — all raced to solve the crime.

History Reading Challenge says: “Collins does a magnificent job of capturing mood and public sentiment in the tone of his narrative. That is, he maintains the excitement of spectacle – the tasteless kind you can’t quite look away from – and yet, you can still take seriously what he has to say because his research offers such a complete picture and plenty of food for thought.

See the full review at History Reading Challenge

*******

the house of stairsThe Blurb – Lizzie hasn’t seen her old friend, Bell, for some fourteen years, but when she spots her from a taxi in a London street she jumps out and pursues her despite ‘all the terrible things’ that passed between them. As Lizzie reveals those events, little by little, the women rekindle their friendship, with terrifying results…

Lady Fancifull says: “…Vine assembles a wonderfully drawn collection of individuals from across the classes, painting a portrait of a society moving from the more rigid mores of the 50s to a period of change, shake up and anything goes sex. And the twists, turns and plot intricacies, though slowly unfurled, are inexorable and keep the reader glued to ‘just another chapter’

See the full review at Lady Fancifull

*******

the unquiet deadThe BlurbDespite their many differences, Detective Rachel Getty trusts her boss, Esa Khattak, implicitly. But she’s still uneasy at Khattak’s tight-lipped secrecy when he asks her to look into Christopher Drayton’s death. Drayton’s apparently accidental fall from a cliff doesn’t seem to warrant a police investigation, particularly not from Rachel and Khattak’s team, which handles minority-sensitive cases. But when she learns that Drayton may have been living under an assumed name, Rachel begins to understand why Khattak is tip-toeing around this case. It soon comes to light that Drayton may have been a war criminal with ties to the Srebrenica massacre of 1995.

Carol says: This is a complex book about family, beliefs, relationships, loss, justice, trust, crimes and the ugliness in our world. This book begs you to read it and defies you to not be moved, this book pricks at your conscience and perhaps persuades you to choose a path that is more tolerant and accepting or maybe it gives you a nudge to become a more political individual; after you have read this book you will not be the person you were when you woke this morning.”

See the full review at Reading, Writing and Riesling

*******

NB All blurbs and covers are taken from Goodreads.

Another tricky choice, isn’t it? So…over to you! Choose just one or as many as you like – the book with most votes will be this week’s winner…

Hope you pick a good one! 😉

TBR Thursday 39…

The People’s Choice 4…The Result!

 

Excitingly, the voting has once again resulted in a tie for first place! The Professor and the Madman sounds like a great read. But since I’m up to my eyes in factual books at the moment and since the spooky season will soon be upon us, I’m giving the casting vote to…

the haunting of hill house

The BlurbFirst published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

 *******

Thanks to all who voted, and to Cathy at 746 Books for the review that brought this book to my attention.

Now all I have to do is find time to read it…

*******

And here’s a few more that should be rising to the top of the pile soon…

Factual

 

joan of arc

Courtesy of NetGalley, heading away from British and American history for a bit…

The BlurbWe all know the story of Joan of Arc. A peasant girl who hears voices from God. A warrior leading an army to victory, in an age that believes women cannot fight. The Maid of Orleans, and the saviour of France. Burned at the stake as a heretic at the age of just nineteen. Five hundred years later, a saint. Her case was heard in court twice over. One trial, in 1431, condemned her; the other, twenty-five years after her death, cleared her name. In the transcripts, we hear first-hand testimony from Joan, her family and her friends: a rare survival from the medieval world. What could be more revealing? But all is not as simple as it seems, because this is a life told backwards, in hindsight – a story already shaped by the knowledge of what Joan would become.

In Joan of Arc: A History, Helen Castor tells this gripping story afresh: forwards, not backwards, setting this extraordinary girl within her extraordinary world where no one – not Joan herself, nor the people around her, princes, bishops, soldiers or peasants – knew what would happen next.

 

* * * * *

Crime

 

the beat goes onPublication today, it will be interesting to see how the Grand Old Man of Tartan Noir fares in short story format…

The BlurbOver the years, Ian Rankin has amassed an incredible portfolio of short stories. Published in crime magazines, composed for events, broadcast on radio, they all share the best qualities of his phenomenally popular Rebus novels.

Brought together for the first time, and including brand new material, this is the ultimate Rebus short-story collection and a must-have book for crime lovers and for Ian’s millions of fans alike.

No Rankin aficionado can go without it.

 

* * * * *

Fiction

 

nora webster

From NetGalley again, towards the end of the dreariest year I can remember for new literary fiction, here’s hoping Colm Tóibín can lift the standard…

The BlurbSet in Wexford, Ireland, Colm Tóibín’s superb seventh novel introduces the formidable, memorable and deeply moving Nora Webster. Widowed at forty, with four children and not enough money, Nora has lost the love of her life, Maurice, the man who rescued her from the stifling world to which she was born. And now she fears she may be drawn back into it. Wounded, strong-willed, clinging to secrecy in a tiny community where everyone knows your business, Nora is drowning in her own sorrow and blind to the suffering of her young sons, who have lost their father. Yet she has moments of stunning empathy and kindness, and when she begins to sing again, after decades, she finds solace, engagement, a haven—herself.

 

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

* * * * *

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

TBR Thursday 38…

The People’s Choice 4…

 

The TBR is sitting at a 112 – ridiculously high but heading downwards for once. Despite my iron willpower in requesting nothing from NetGalley and Amazon Vine, my fellow bloggers remain a souce of constant temptation – grrrr!! But I can’t add them all…so, yet again, I need your help in deciding, Which one deserves a coveted place on the TBR?

Here’s my shortlist – and they all look great! So which is it to be?  The winner will be announced next Thursday…

With my usual grateful thanks to all the reviewers who’ve intrigued and inspired me over the last few weeks, here are:

The Contenders…

 

the brokenThe Blurb – Best friends tell you everything; about their kitchen renovation; about their little girl’s schooling. How one of them is leaving the other for a younger model. Best friends don’t tell lies. They don’t take up residence on your couch for weeks. They don’t call lawyers. They don’t make you choose sides. Best friends don’t keep secrets about their past. They don’t put you in danger.

Best friends don’t always stay best friends.

Rebecca Bradley says: “Then it happened, I looked at the book, looked at the clock and realised I couldn’t put the book down. There just wasn’t a chance it was going to leave my hands until I had got to the end. The tension had been ramped up. The behaviours and relationships were becoming stretched thin and yet the people within them didn’t seem capable of doing anything to stop what was happening and the strange thing was, I could completely see how that would happen.

See the full review at Rebecca Bradley

*******

the professor and the madmanThe BlurbThe Professor and the Madman, masterfully researched and eloquently written, is an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary — and literary history. The compilation of the OED began in 1857 – it was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.

I Know What You Should Read says: …by and large, the book reads like fiction—it is fast-paced, interesting, and exciting (War? Check! Murder? Check! Dismemberment? Check!). Appropriately, each chapter begins with an excerpted OED word entry that corresponds to an event or person highlighted in that chapter (the words range from “bedlam” to “sesquipedalian”). The words and definitions serve as a fun tie-in to the OED–they bring to life the work that is being discussed throughout the book.

See the full review at I Know What You Should Read

*******

the house at rivertonThe BlurbSummer 1924 – On the eve of a glittering society party, by the lake of a grand English country house, a young poet takes his life. The only witnesses, sisters Hannah and Emmeline Hartford, will never speak to each other again.

Winter 1999 – Grace Bradley, ninety-eight, one-time housemaid of Riverton Manor, is visited by a young director making a film about the poet’s suicide. Ghosts awaken and old memories – long consigned to the dark reaches of Grace’s mind – begin to sneak back through the cracks. A shocking secret threatens to emerge, something history has forgotten but Grace never could.

Set as the war-shattered Edwardian summer surrenders to the decadent twenties, The House at Riverton is a thrilling mystery and a compelling love story.

What Amy Read Next says: “From the first paragraph this novel gripped me. The quote above, the novel’s opening paragraph, is one of the many beautiful passages evoking the haunting feel of war-time Britain, so intricately and vividly done that you can almost imagine yourself there. The House at Riverton is a beautifully written and enthralling read, perfect for fans of Daphne Du Maurier, Ian McEwan’s Atonement- and Downton Abbey.

See the full review at What Amy Read Next

*******

the haunting of hill houseThe BlurbFirst published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

Cathy at 746 Books says: The Haunting of Hill House is a taut and creepy master class in how to write a ‘ghost story’ that is as much about the demons of a haunted house as it is about the demons inside our own heads. Like all good ghost stories, Hill House offers some spine-tingling chills, but what the book really exudes is a lingering, oppressive sense of dread.”

See the full review at 746 Books

*******

station elevenThe BlurbOne snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time-from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains-this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet. Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

wanderaven says: You guys, this book is incredible. If, like me before reading this book, you read apocalyptic and cringe, please, please don’t move on. Does it help if I tell you that it is partially set in the current era, before the collapse of the world? Does it help if I tell you that much of the apocalyptic part is during the time immediately after the collapse so it’s all too painfully easy to imagine precisely what it would be like if this all happened to you today?”

See the full review at wanderaven

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NB All blurbs and covers are taken from Goodreads.

An impossible choice, isn’t it? So…over to you! Choose just one or as many as you like – the book with most votes will be this week’s winner…

Hope you pick a good one! 😉

TBR Thursday 29…

The People’s Choice 3…The Result!

 

Excitingly, the voting has resulted in a tie for first place! Both sound great (well, they all did) and the TBR has taken a bit of a dip this week to 96 – so rather than using my casting vote I’m adding both to the TBR.

Here they are then…

The Winners…

 

the dead witnessThe Blurb – Gathering the finest adventures among private and police detectives from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries-including a wide range of overlooked gems-Michael Sims showcases the writers who ever since have inspired the field of detective fiction. From luminaries Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Bret Harte, Wilkie Collins, and Arthur Conan Doyle to the forgotten author who helped inspire Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue to a surprising range of talented female authors and detectives, The Dead Witness offers mystery surprises from every direction.

 

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the last refugeThe Blurb – When John Callum arrives on the wild and desolate Faroe Islands, he vows to sever all ties with his previous life. He desperately wants to make a new start, and is surprised by how quickly he is welcomed into the close-knit community. But still, the terrifying, debilitating nightmares just won’t stop. Then the solitude is shattered by an almost unheard of crime on the islands: murder. A specialist team of detectives arrives from Denmark to help the local police, who seem completely ill-equipped for an investigation of this scale. But as tensions rise, and the community closes rank to protect its own, John has to watch his back. But far more disquieting than that, John’s nightmares have taken an even more disturbing turn, and he can’t be certain about the one thing he needs to know above all else. Whether he is the killer…

 

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NB All blurbs are taken from Goodreads or Amazon.

Thanks to all who voted, and to Past Offences and Novel Heights for the reviews that brought these books to my attention.

Now all I have to do is find time to read them…

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Meantime, the tennis reaches the semis…

 

maria sharapova

C’mon Maria!

 

TBR Thursday 28…

The People’s Choice 3…

 

The TBR is sitting at a dangerous 98, so only room to add one this week. But yet again my journeys around the blogosphere have resulted in a list of almost irresistible temptations. So, after your success in choosing Ethan Frome, I need your help once again in deciding which one to choose. (To know how your other choice, The Phantom Tollbooth, rated – tune in tomorrow!)

Here’s my shortlist – and they all look great! So which is it to be?  The winner will be announced next Thursday…

With my usual grateful thanks to all the reviewers who’ve intrigued and inspired me over the last few weeks, here are:

The Contenders…

 

destiny of the republicThe Blurb – James Abram Garfield was one of the most extraordinary men ever elected president. Born into abject poverty, he rose to become a wunderkind scholar, a Civil War hero, a renowned congressman, and a reluctant presidential candidate who took on the nation’s corrupt political establishment. But four months after Garfield’s inauguration in 1881, he was shot in the back by a deranged office-seeker named Charles Guiteau. Garfield survived the attack, but become the object of bitter, behind-the-scenes struggles for power—over his administration, over the nation’s future, and, hauntingly, over his medical care. Meticulously researched, epic in scope, and pulsating with an intimate human focus and high-velocity narrative drive, The Destiny of the Republic brings alive a forgotten chapter of U.S. history.

booksandbuttons says: “…good reading right to the end of the book.  So, a “tale of madness, medicine and the murder of a president” receives a thumbs up from this reviewer.

See the full review at booksandbuttons

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the pledgeThe BlurbSet in a small town in Switzerland, The Pledge centers around the murder of a young girl and the detective who promises the victim’s mother he will find the perpetrator. After deciding the wrong man has been arrested for the crime, the detective lays a trap for the real killer—with all the patience of a master fisherman. But cruel turns of plot conspire to make him pay dearly for his pledge. Here Friedrich Dürrenmatt conveys his brilliant ear for dialogue and a devastating sense of timing and suspense.

The Game’s Afoot says I cannot but recommend this novella not only to all crime fiction readers but to everyone in general. A small gem in my view. Given its length, it will only take but a few hours of your precious time, but it’s worth it. It took me two or three sittings even if I’m not a fast reader. It is paradoxical to write a detective novel, to announce the requiem for the detective novels, but the answer can be found reading this remarkable story. A masterpiece.”

See the full review at The Game’s Afoot

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the confabulistThe BlurbThe Confabulist weaves together the life, loves and murder of the world’s greatest magician, Harry Houdini, with the story of the man who killed him (twice): Martin Strauss, an everyday man whose fate was tied to the magician’s in unforeseen ways. A cast of memorable characters spins around Houdini’s celebrity-driven life, as they did in his time: from the Romanov family soon to be assassinated, to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the powerful heads of Scotland Yard, and the Spiritualists who would use whoever they could to establish their religion.

realizinggrace says: “Houdini’s story takes us all over the world, into secrets gatherings and behind the curtain of some of the most famous magic tricks. It isn’t until further into the novel that the clues of Martin’s life begin to come together to reveal an entirely different secret. I was spellbound.

See the full review at realizinggrace

*******

the dead witnessThe Blurb – Gathering the finest adventures among private and police detectives from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries-including a wide range of overlooked gems-Michael Sims showcases the writers who ever since have inspired the field of detective fiction. From luminaries Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Bret Harte, Wilkie Collins, and Arthur Conan Doyle to the forgotten author who helped inspire Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue to a surprising range of talented female authors and detectives, The Dead Witness offers mystery surprises from every direction.

Past Offences says: Sims has done an excellent job as curator – often these whistle-stop tours of early detective fiction are dominated by British and American authors, but The Dead Witness is more cosmopolitan, bringing in stories from Canada, Australia and France. The staples are here – Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown, C. Auguste Dupin – but they are outweighed by rarities.”

See the full review at Past Offences

*******

the last refugeThe Blurb – When John Callum arrives on the wild and desolate Faroe Islands, he vows to sever all ties with his previous life. He desperately wants to make a new start, and is surprised by how quickly he is welcomed into the close-knit community. But still, the terrifying, debilitating nightmares just won’t stop. Then the solitude is shattered by an almost unheard of crime on the islands: murder. A specialist team of detectives arrives from Denmark to help the local police, who seem completely ill-equipped for an investigation of this scale. But as tensions rise, and the community closes rank to protect its own, John has to watch his back. But far more disquieting than that, John’s nightmares have taken an even more disturbing turn, and he can’t be certain about the one thing he needs to know above all else. Whether he is the killer…

Novel Heights says: The location is a really interesting choice, the isolation, small population and the harsh and varied environment give the book the feel of a ‘Nordic noir’. The bleak and gloomy weather and surroundings matching the dark tone of Callum’s past and the situation that he finds himself in. Seeing the setting through Callum’s eyes, as an outsider, is the perfect way to introduce an unusual location, and all I know about the Faroe Islands I found out from this story.”

See the full review at Novel Heights

*******

NB All blurbs are taken from Goodreads or Amazon.

Tough choice, isn’t it? So…over to you! Choose just one or as many as you like – the book with most votes will be this week’s winner…


Hope you pick a good one! 😉