Legs eleven…

…or The Reading Bingo Challenge!




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

More than 500 pages

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

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

A forgotten classic

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

A book that became a movie

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

black narcissus bell

Published this year

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

With a number in the title

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

2001 poster

Written by someone under 30

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

A book with non-human characters

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


A funny book

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

A book by a female author

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

A mystery

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

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

A one-word title

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

Free square

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

A book of short stories

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

James Joyce
James Joyce

Set on a different continent

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


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

First book by a favourite author

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

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

Heard about online

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

A best-selling book

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

From the bottom of the TBR pile

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

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

Based on a true story

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

A book a friend loves

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

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

A book that scared me

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

A book that is more than 10 years old

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

Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston

The second book in a series

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

A book with a blue cover

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

zero k

* * * * * * *

Bingo! Full House!


Wednesday Witterings – The past is the future…

The Bookish Time Travel Tag


This tag has been doing the rounds recently since it was created by The Library Lizard, and has inspired some great posts, so I was delighted when Jessica at The Bookworm Chronicles tagged me. Thanks, Jessica! So, here goes…

What is your favourite historical setting for a book?

I’m tempted to say the Tudors because that’s probably the period of history I know most about. But actually part of the attraction for me is visiting a period and place I don’t know much about. I’ve been on an Empire kick for the last couple of years, so have been loving anything about India or other far-flung corners of the Empire, like Abir Mukherjee’s A Rising Man, set in Calcutta under the Raj, or Rebecca Burns’ fine collection of stories about early immigrants to New Zealand, The Settling Earth. And I like books with a Scottish historical setting, such as crime novels like Lexie Conyngham’s Murray of Letho series, or more serious fiction like William McIlvanney’s excellent Docherty. And then there are the spy books set in WW2 or during the Cold War – Exposure by Helen Dunmore or Robert Harris’ great Enigma

High Street, Kilmarnock - the town on which fictional Graithnock is based in William McIlvanney's Docherty "High Street, both as a terrain and a population was special. Everyone whom circumstances had herded into its hundred-or-so-yards had failed in the same way. It was a penal colony for those who had committed poverty, a vice which was usually hereditary."
High Street, Kilmarnock – the town on which fictional Graithnock is based in William McIlvanney’s Docherty
“High Street, both as a terrain and a population was special. Everyone whom circumstances had herded into its hundred-or-so-yards had failed in the same way. It was a penal colony for those who had committed poverty, a vice which was usually hereditary.”

What writer/s would you like to travel back in time to meet?

I’d rather meet the fictional characters than the authors in truth. I’m sure it would be lovely to have a cup of tea with Ms Austen, but I’d much rather spend the time dancing the cotillion with Darcy. I’d love to spend some time with Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair – she’s so wicked, but great fun! I’d like to get hold of Sidney Carton and just whisper “she’s not worth it!” before he steps into the tumbril. However, I would love to meet Charles Dickens – well, more specifically, I’d like to attend one of his readings. Simon Callow gives a good flavour of them in The Mystery of Charles Dickens, but I’d love to see Dickens own interpretation of his wonderfully caricatured characters.

darcy dancing(Me, in my dancing outfit…)

What book/s would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?

Having recently discovered and loved Anthony Horowitz‘s books for adults, I’d give his books for children to my childish self. I will one day read them anyway, but I’m sure I’d have enjoyed them more when I was a kid, since I’m not an enthusiastic reader of kids’ books as an adult.

What book/s would you travel forward in time and give to your older self?

This one is hard, because when I want a book I want it NOW! So I think I’d give my older self some large-print versions of lifelong favourites – and cheerful ones, like Wodehouse and Three Men in a Boat. And Austen. And Dickens…

‘It has never been hard to tell the difference between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.’

PG Wodehouse

What is your favourite futuristic setting from a book?

Mars! I still haven’t given up hope that there’s life there – perhaps intelligent enough to be shielding itself from prying Earthling eyes. So many great books with Mars as a setting – Ken Kalfus’ brilliant Equilateral, Ray Bradbury’s fantastic The Martian Chronicles, HG Wells of course, and his War of the Worlds, Andy Weir’s hugely enjoyable The Martian, and no list would be complete without a mention of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom books – great fun!

Me, in my Barsoom outift...
Me, in my Barsoom outift…

A bit of me wishes we could stop exploring Mars in real life, so it can remain as a glowing red source of inspiration to generations of future writers…

“…red like a pomegranate seed, red like a blood spot on an egg, red like a ladybug, red like a ruby or more specifically a red beryl, red like coral, red like an unripe cherry, red like a Hindu lady’s bindi, red like the eye of a nocturnal predator, red like a fire on a distant shore, the subject of his every dream and his every scientific pursuit.

“Mars,” he says.”

Ken Kalfus, Equilateral

What is your favourite book that is set in a different time period (can be historical or futuristic)?

Just one? Oh, this is almost impossible! But if I must…

The entire Shardlake series of CJ Sansom is brilliant – each book huge and immersive, and building up a totally credible picture of life under Henry VIII. Shardlake himself has become a real person to me, and I’m hoping he’ll still be there to take us through the disruption that follows Henry’s death. The most recent book, Lamentation, won my Book of the Year award last year.

Best Crime Fiction

And I must be allowed to choose one more – Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, set in revolutionary France. Tighter and angrier than many of his books, the descriptions of the Terror and particularly of the mob show him at his excoriating best. A frightening depiction of how inequality and injustice can allow leaders to emerge who will use the mob violently and unscrupulously to achieve their own ends – as relevant today as it was when it was written, or in the period in which it’s set.

Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.

Six tumbrils roll along the streets. Change these back to what they were, thou powerful enchanter, Time, and they shall be seen to be the carriages of absolute monarchs, the equipages of feudal nobles, the toilettes of flaring Jezebels, the churches that are not my father’s house but dens of thieves, the huts of millions of starving peasants.

Storming of the Bastille Jean-Pierre Houel
Storming of the Bastille
Jean-Pierre Houel

Spoiler Time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book just to see what happens?

Never! There should be a law against it and when I become the Empress of Bookworld (pushed reluctantly into the job by popular acclaim, obviously, and adored by all my subjects) there will be! The punishment will be that the last nine pages will be removed from every book the perpetrator reads for a period of 25 years.

Me, in my Empress outfit...
Me, in my Empress outfit…

If you had a Time Turner, where would you go and what would you do?

Hmm… I’ve already mentioned dancing with Darcy, haven’t I? Well then, I would go to Sherwood Forest and get Robin to teach me archery. That could take a while, so the Time Turner would come in very handy. And I might lend it to Robin so he can rescue Marian from the wicked Sheriff, while Friar Tuck and I do a bit of feasting…

Me, in my archery outfit...
Me, in my archery outfit…

Favourite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in multiple time periods?

The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov tells of how people from the future have developed a method of time travel which they use to make subtle alterations in the timeline to minimise human suffering. However, those pesky time paradoxes mean they affect humanity in unintended ways…

In truth, though, my favourite take on time travel isn’t bookish at all – it’s the two Star Trek series, The Next Generation and Voyager, which return to the vexed subject of time paradoxes again and again. Not only does this give them a chance to visit the present day or recent past quite often, but it allows for the occasional appearance of characters like Mark Twain in the future.

mark twain star trek

Some of the episodes dealing with time-travel are light-hearted fun, like the one that suggests the sudden advances in computing and technology in the ’80s and ’90s were as a result of a crashed time ship from the 27th century falling into the wrong hands. But some are dark indeed, like the timeship whose captain made a calculation error, accidentally wiping out the colony in which the woman he loved was living, and now spends eternity making changes to the timeline to try to correct his mistake, causing chaos to all the worlds in that sector of space.

Me, in my Star Trek outfit...
Me, in my Star Trek outfit…

It may be just a sci-fi show with unbelievable aliens and no technical problem that can’t be solved by setting up a tachyon burst, but Star Trek at its best examines the ethics and morality of science as deeply as the best written science fiction. And, delightfully, Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize surely means I can also expand the meaning of literature to include script-writers…

Captain Janeway: "Time travel. Since my first day on the job as a Starfleet captain I swore I'd never let myself get caught in one of these godforsaken paradoxes - the future is the past, the past is the future, it all gives me a headache."
Captain Janeway: “Time travel. Since my first day on the job as a Starfleet captain I swore I’d never let myself get caught in one of these godforsaken paradoxes – the future is the past, the past is the future, it all gives me a headache.”

What book/series do you wish you could go back and read again for the first time?

Without doubt, The Great Gatsby. The first time I read it I was totally blown away. I was about twenty at the time and working in the office of a hospital. They used to have a little fund-raising thing where everyone brought in books and you could rent them for tuppence (shows how long ago it was!). I rented Gatsby one lunchtime, started reading and absolutely couldn’t stop! I took it back to the office in the afternoon and kept reading. My boss came in at one point to ask me something about work, and I fear I told him he’d have to wait till I finished my book. Fortunately, he was a reader too, took a look and said “Ah! Gatsby! OK, I’ll catch you later…”

(Dear government, I promise I made the time up later… 😉 )

gatsby glasses

* * * * * * *

Thanks again to Jessica for tagging me on this one – I thoroughly enjoyed reminding myself of some of the great historical, and futuristic, fiction I’ve read over the years!

And now, I tag you!

you talkin to me

Yes, YOU!

The Entertainer Blogger Award

I’ve been nominated…

…for The Entertainer Blogger Award by Anne at i’ve read this – thanks, Anne! Always happy to talk about myself and, let’s face it, the blog is cheaper than a therapist, so here goes…


  1. Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  2. Add these rules to your post.
  3. Answer all the questions below.
  4. Display the award picture in your post.
  5. Nominate 12* other bloggers who are funny, inspiring and most important of all ENTERTAINING!


Q1. Why did you start a blog in the first place?

In the past, I’ve always said that it was a publisher who encouraged me to start a blog when she offered me a review copy of Patrick Flanery’s Fallen Land on the basis of my Amazon reviews. So I did!

But I think we’ve all known each other long enough now for me to tell you the truth…

I am a beautiful princess and I’ve been captured by an evil ogre who keeps me locked in a tower and tries to win my affection with copious supplies of chocolate. But no matter how much chocolate I eat, he still looks like Donald Trump on a bad hair day, so it’s never gonna happen.

Trump! Trump! Trump!
Trump! Trump! Trump!

Fortunately handsome Prince Darcy from the neighbouring state is also madly in love with me and is planning a rescue attempt. The ogre allows me an internet connection but monitors everything I do, so I use the blog to send coded messages to my Prince. Whenever I post a 1 star review it means “Oh, Darcy, my heart is yours always!” 2 stars means “How I long to dance the cotillion with you, dear one!” 3 stars is code for “I dream of your beautiful kisscurl, my sweet Prince!” 4 is One day our love shall be sealed with many kisses, my beloved!” A 5 star review means “Oooooh…”

No! I better not tell you for fear the ogre might see. He gets so jealous, you see!

darcy gif

Q2. What is your favourite book?

I’ve answered this before too, so I refuse to say Bleak House again! So I’m going to change the question to…

Q2. What is your favourite book about chimpanzees?

And the answer is The High Mountains of Portugal!


So… what’s your favourite book about chimpanzees?

Q3. What do you dislike the most?


Or if the question doesn’t refer to books, then hmm… well, I really, really dislike when I offer my chocolates around and someone takes the coffee cream. Grrrrrrr!!!!


Q4. What is your favourite food item from the mall?

Excuse me, I’m British! I think you mean shopping centre!

This question has me stumped, I admit. I avoid shopping centres like the plague whenever I can, and if I have to go to one my plan is always to get in and out in the shortest possible time, so I rarely eat there. But I do usually stop off at M&S on the way out and reward myself with some of their toffee meringues – yummy, scrummy and yumptious!!! Just as well I don’t go often really!

I think it's safe to say there are images of everything on t'Internet!
I think it’s safe to say there are images of everything on t’Internet!

Q5. What is your favourite pastime?

You think I’m going to say reading, don’t you? Well, perhaps you’re right…

… but it’s always possible that secretly I’m an extreme sports enthusiast who spends her evenings bungee jumping from the tops of skyscrapers, wearing a Wonder Woman outfit and a green feather boa. I guess you’ll never know…


* * * * * * *

Since every blogger I know is entertaining, I nominate you all!

Thanks again, Anne – I had fun doing this! 😀

Two little ducks, 22…

…or The Reading Bingo Challenge!




The Reading Bingo Challenge has been doing the rounds as a great way to look back over the year’s reading, so I thought I’d see how many categories I could complete… and it’s also a great opportunity to bring back some of my favourite pics from the year.

More than 500 pages

The Way Things Were by Aatish Taseer. Long but worth it, since this novel about India’s struggle to move on from the aftermath of Empire won my Literary Fiction Book of the Year Award.

A forgotten classic

Vertigo by Boileau-Narcejac. The book that inspired the Hitchcock film, but in this case I feel the book wins. There’s less of an emphasis on the effects of vertigo, and more of a study of a weak mind struggling against a growing obsession. Very dark.

A book that became a movie

Psycho by Robert Bloch. Another one that got the Hitchcock treatment, and in this case I’d say the book and film are equally good, though for different reasons. It was intriguing to see that even knowing the huge plot twist didn’t stop the book from building a great atmosphere of tension.

psycho 1

Published this year

The Invisible Man from Salem by Christoffer Carlsson. Spoiled for choice in this category, and this one only sneaks in as published in translation this year – the original won the Swedish Crime Association’s award for Best Crime Novel of 2013. I particularly enjoyed the ‘past’ element in this crime thriller, concerning a group of teenagers in a run-down estate in ’80s Sweden.

With a number in the title

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie. Finally, a Rushdie book I actually finished! And what’s more, thoroughly enjoyed! A brilliantly written and very funny satire on philosophy, politics, love, religion – well, on life, really – disguised as a fairy tale about the jinn. I may even be willing to try another Rushdie now.

Djinn by jwilsonillustration via deviantart.com
Djinn by jwilsonillustration via deviantart.com

Written by someone under 30

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This was Conan Doyle’s first Holmes story – a quite remarkable début for someone aged only 26 at time of writing. All Conan Doyle’s usual skills of great descriptive writing and characterisation are here, along with an intriguing story that takes us to Utah with the first Mormons.

A book with non-human characters

The Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. This is a shameless excuse to show a picture of my favourite non-Earth animal, the lovely ten-limbed Woola. What a smile, eh?

Woola...four legs missing, but still smiling...
Woola…four legs missing, but still smiling…

A funny book

The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum. Haven’t read much humour this year, but this collection of readers’ letters to The Telegraph is very funny – if you happen to be a UK political geek, that is…

A book by a female author

The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer. Again loads of choice, but Bauer manages to keep her standards high with every book she produces. This one is about missing children, is quite harrowing at times, and has a supernatural element. And yet I still loved it… proving what a truly talented writer she is.

A mystery

The Miser’s Dream by John Gaspard. I’m loving this series about stage magician Eli Marks and his friends. A little too strong to be ‘cosy’, these have almost a Golden Age feel, with proper mysteries complete with clues, red herrings, suspects etc. And loads of humour…

A one-word title

William McIlvanney William McIlvanney 1936-2015 Photo: Chris Watt for The Telegraph
William McIlvanney 1936-2015
Photo: Chris Watt for The Telegraph

Docherty by William McIlvanney. The story of an Ayrshire miner and his family in the first couple of decades of the twentieth century. McIlvanney writes beautifully, often poetically, in both English and Scottish dialect, and this book works as both an intimate family saga and as a fairly political look at the lot of those at the bottom of the ladder at a time when the world was undergoing huge change.

Free square

The Shapeshifters by Stefan Spjut. A weird but wonderful mix of crime novel and fairy tale, set in modern-day Sweden where the beasts from folk tales still exist. It works because of the quality of the writing and the matter-of-fact way Spjut introduces the trolls. Hard to categorise so the Free Square seems ideal…

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

A book of short stories

Coup de Foudre by Ken Kalfus. A new collection from one of my favourite authors. As always with Kalfus, there’s a blend of the personal and the political, darkness and humour, and there’s some great imagination on display here too. A good place to start with Kalfus…

Set on a different continent

Settling Earth by Rebecca Burns. This is a set of linked stories about the experiences of early women settlers in New Zealand. While life is shown as harsh and often brutal, it feels as though these women are on the cusp of change, that a new generation, native to this land as their mothers weren’t, may play a different role.


Resurrection Science by M.R. O’Connor. Without doubt, the most thought-provoking book I’ve read on the subject of conservation. O’Connor uses examples of projects happening now to examine and debate the ethics surrounding conservation, including the question of whether we should try to resurrect species already extinct.

Kihansi spray toad and baby at Bronx Zoo, one of only two remaining colonies, both in US zoos.
Kihansi spray toad and baby at Bronx Zoo, one of only two remaining colonies, both in US zoos.

First book by a favourite author

Secret Diary of PorterGirl by Lucy Brazier. I got to know Lucy and her work via blogging, and this first book is full of humour. Set in the not-entirely-fictional world of Old College, PorterGirl and her quirky colleagues are caught up in murder and mayhem of Dan Brown-esque proportions…

Heard about online

The Defence by Steve Cavanagh. So many choices for this category, but this book stood out as one everyone seemed to be talking about, and it lived up to the hype. A fast-paced thriller, perhaps a bit over the credibility line, but well-written, twisty and fun.

A best-selling book

Lamentation by CJ Sansom. A great book in a great series and my Book of the Year 2015, this book has over 2,000 reviews on Amazon UK, most of them 5 stars. Shardlake must discover who has stolen a potentially heretical manuscript written by Henry VIII’s last Queen…

Catherine Parr's book - Lamentations of a Sinner
Catherine Parr’s book – Lamentations of a Sinner

Based on a true story

Runaway by Peter May. A story of teenage boys in the ’60s, heading to London in search of fame and fortune, this is based on May’s own experiences, though hopefully he didn’t get involved in a murder…

From the bottom of the TBR pile

Waverley by Sir Walter Scott. Billed as the first historical novel in the English language, this is a tale of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. Given that this is one of the most important books ever written by a Scot, I’ve been meaning to read it for most of my life. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite as enjoyable as I’d hoped, but at least it’s now crossed off the list!

A book a friend loves

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver. Recommended by my earliest blog buddy, Lady Fancifull, this book, about an expedition to the Arctic that goes wrong, proved to be just as well written and frankly terrifying as she claimed. Psychological terror, though – look elsewhere if you require chainsaws and gore.

arctic night

A book that scared me

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. A group of people get together to spend the summer in a haunted house. But are the ghosts real or all in the head of Eleanor, the increasingly unreliable central character? Some parts of this had the porpentine fretting like billy-oh…

A book that is more than 10 years old

Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. This first volume of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s trilogy, A Scots Quair, focuses on the life of Chris Guthrie, daughter of a tenant farmer in the fictional estate of Kinraddie in the north-east of Scotland, before and during the First World War. A wonderful book that deserves it’s status as a great classic – and a new film adaptation has just been released…

Agyness Deyn as Chris in the new movie adaptation of Sunset Song
Agyness Deyn as Chris in the new movie adaptation of Sunset Song

The second book in a series

Smoke and Mirrors by Elly Griffiths. Historical crime set in Brighton just after WW2, this is part of Griffiths’ new Stephens and Mephisto series. She brings the setting and period to life, and stage magician, Max Mephisto, is a great partner for policeman Edgar Stephens, allowing the stories to be set around the world of theatre.

A book with a blue cover

The Blue Guitar by John Banville. Loved this introduction (for me) to Banville’s brilliant writing. The story of narcissist Olly Orme may not be saying anything terribly profound, but the prose is sparkling and witty. I came away from it feeling dazzled and entertained – what more can you ask from a book?

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Couldn't find an excuse for this one. But then I thought... who needs an excuse?
Couldn’t find an excuse for this one. But then I thought… who needs an excuse?

Made it! Full House! (Do I win a prize?)


TBR Thursday 69 – The TBR Book Tag

Confession time!


This tag has been doing the rounds recently – I first saw it here on Cleo’s blog – Cleopatra Loves Books. So I thought I’d share some of the arcane secrets of the TBR with you…

Part of the problem...
Part of the problem…

How do you keep track of your TBR pile?


I have a ridiculously complicated spreadsheet with different cross-referenced lists for the TBR, the GAN Quest, where I’ve posted reviews, lists of reviews by ratings (to aid in the FF Awards thingy), books from NetGalley, books that aren’t yet published that I want to acquire and my reading schedule for the next three months (which I almost never stick to, but have great fun rearranging)! Then there’s the list for a new feature I’m considering for next year. And a list to keep track of what reviews are doing well (and badly) on Amazon – UK and US. Oh, and a list of authors who got 5-stars for the last book I read, to remind me to read one of their other books as soon as I can fit them in. It’s a wonder I ever have any time to read, really…

Did I mention the colour coding? And the blame list of who made me add it?
Did I mention the colour coding? And the blame list of who made me add it?

Is your TBR mostly print or e-book?


Mostly e-book, but I do like to read paper books as well, especially factual and classics, or illustrated books. E-books for crime fiction mostly, though.

Another part of the problem...
Another part of the problem…

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


Sadly, for the last couple of years that’s been driven by my addiction to NetGalley, and trying to review as near publication date as possible, but I’m making a big effort to take far fewer review copies so that I can go back to choosing on the basis of mood. It’s actually beginning to work…

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


Green for Danger by Christianna Brand. I only started having a TBR list when I started blogging and this was one of the first books I was tempted into by a blog review. It’s been on the TBR for nearly three years now… it would almost be a shame to read it!

green for danger

A book you recently added to your TBR?


The most recent addition is The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White. There’s a reason for that… but I’m not telling you what it is yet. Crime aficionados might be able to guess though…

the wheel spins

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


Nope – I do like covers but am never influenced by them alone, good or bad, though if they’re especially good, they might at least tempt me to look at the blurb. This one did, and it introduced me to an author who’s now a firm favourite…


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


Why would I do that? (Though Moby Dick does keep getting moved down… and it might be a while before I get around to The Narrow Road to the Deep North…)

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


I Am No One by Patrick Flanery. Flanery has won my Book of the Year Award twice in four years for Absolution and Fallen Land. His new one is due out in February. And Peter May’s new one, Coffin Road, is being kept aside to read over Christmas. Publication due in January.

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


Hmm… not really. The closest that I can think of is The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, although a few of the GAN Quest books have been read by most Americans, it seems, often at school. But they often haven’t been read by many Brits.

A book on your TBR that everyone recommends to you?


The aforesaid Moby Dick! Though I reckon they only recommend it ‘cos they like it when I hate a book…

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


Pretty much all of them (except Moby Dick) or they wouldn’t be on there. But if I have to pick just one then I’m really keen to read Let the Great World Spin. And Gone with the Wind, Americanah, and Even the Dead. (You didn’t really think I could stick to one, did you?)

How many books are on your Goodreads TBR shelf?


None! I don’t use it – I only list books I’ve read or am reading on Goodreads. However, since both Cleo and MarinaSofia have ‘fessed up, I’d better too. I’ve spent most of this week reorganising my TBR (great fun!). Since most people seem to think of their TBR as books they actually possess, I took off most of the books I don’t own yet, and replaced them with all the books I do own that weren’t previously on it – the hidden list, you might call it. Then I added the removed ones that I don’t own yet to my Amazon wishlist. So here goes…

Books for review from NetGalley and publishers                                             28

Owned (mostly unread, but a few re-reads)                                                  126

Total TBR                                                                                                154

GAN Quest books owned but not yet on the TBR (complicated, isn’t it?)         12

On the wishlist (which I consider to be part of the TBR really, since
they don’t get on there unless I mean to read them)                                     195

Must reads being published in the next two months
that I haven’t managed to acquire yet                                                             4

Grand total                                                                                              365

Or roughly 3 years worth…!!!

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So better get some reading done soon! Here are a few that are coming up…


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I shall be making some booky New Year’s Resolutions soon – guess reducing the TBR might have to be Number 1…

Friday Frippery…

The Six Questions Tag…


Lovely Sindhuja over at The Random Book Review has tagged me to take part in the Six Questions Tag. If you haven’t met Sindhuja, pop on over – great reviews, often of Indian authors and books I wouldn’t normally hear about, plus the occasional sneak peek into her life – one of my favourite blog stops!

So… here goes…

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One beauty product you would recommend to your girlfriends

Wrinkle cream! I don’t need it myself, obviously, but I like to be helpful when I can…

(But seriously, all my friends are naturally gorgeous, especially Lady Fancifull who regularly bathes in the morning dew collected by fairies from the prettiest flowers of May…)


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Three books everyone must read


‘Tis the season to be jolly, so I’m going for…

Right Ho, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse – not just Jeeves and Bertie, but also sundered hearts and star-crossed lovers galore! Newt-fancier and orange-juice addict Gussie Finknottle getting sozzled and handing out the prizes at Market Snodsbury Grammar School for Boys. Soupy Madeleine Bassett – she who thinks the stars are God’s daisychain and that every time a fairy sheds a tear, a wee bit star is born. Poor Angela, devastated by Tuppy implying that her new hat makes her look like a Pekinese. And Tuppy pining for his own true love – Anatole’s steak-and-kidney pie…


Three Men in a Boat… to say Nothing of the Dog by Jerome K Jerome. I shall merely mention Uncle Podger and the picture-hanging, Montmorency and the kettle, the singing of the German comic song, George and the banjo-playing and the sad tale of Harris and the swan. If you’ve read it, you’ll know what I mean, and if you haven’t, well, do get on with it!

montmorency and the kettle

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens– everyone should be forced by law to read this every Christmas Eve to make sure they understand what Christmas is all about. And then they should be made to listen to Patrick Stewart’s reading, so they understand the meaning of joyousness! And when I rule the world, they will be…

patrick stewart as scrooge

And if you’re not jolly by the end of that little lot, I give up!

ho ho ho

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Favourite online shopping site


Oh dear! I know we’re supposed to hate them but I couldn’t survive without Amazon! Not just for books – music, films, cat toys – all the essentials of life! I’m deeply ashamed…

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Favourite phone app


Ahem – I don’t have a phone. Well, I do – one of those ones that plugs into the wall and you use it for speaking to people on – remember them? No txt spch in my life – isn’t that gr8? But needless to say my favourite app on my tablet is the Kindle app…


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One dish you are really good at making and its recipe


See, at this point I could tell you about my world-renowned boeuf bourguignon or my secret recipe, passed down through the generations, for hand-made haggis. I could – but I’m in the unfortunate position that my BigSister reads the blog and might laugh till she choked! And then who’d cook Christmas dinner…?

So I am forced to stick with the truth, however embarrassing…

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Now pay attention, ‘cos this is quite complicated.

Take 1 box of Ricicles (which, as you may or may not remember, are twicicles as nicicles)


Pour generously into a bowl.

Add milk – but be careful – this is the tricky bit! Too little and your Ricicles will be dry – too much and you might set off a tsunami in your kitchen.

Listen to them snap, crackle and pop.

Eat, while holding well away from passing felines.

Mmm... doesn't that look good! Enjoy! (Who actually takes a pic of a plate of Riciles and posts it on the internet? people are weird...)
Mmm… doesn’t that look good! Enjoy!
(Who actually takes a pic of a plate of Ricicles and posts it on the internet? Aren’t people weird…?)
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Five movies that I can watch over and over again


Only 5?? Well…

The Lord of the Rings trilogy – but that only counts as one, right? And I like other things about it apart from Aragorn, you know. Boromir, for example…


A Few Good Men – partly because Tom is so delicious in his dinky little white uniform, but mainly for Jack and his “You WANT me on that wall! You NEED me on that wall!” speech. ‘Cos secretly, in my heart, I do…

a few good men

Twelve Angry Men – it’s a real regret that I’ve only been allowed to serve on a jury once and the rotten so-and-so changed his plea to guilty just as I was gearing up to do my Henry Fonda act. The bit I love most is when they all get up one by one and turn their backs on the man who’s doing a Donald Trump impersonation…

twelve angry men

Rear Window – love the story, think it’s filmed gorgeously – great colour – Jimmy Stewart is fab (and kinda lovely – it’s his voice, I think), Thelma Ritter adds a lot of fun, but most of all it’s those fabulous dresses that Grace Kelly gets to wear! Oh how I wish I lived in a time when we dressed like that!

rear window

Casablanca – well, obviously! Fortunately I’m usually alone when I watch it, which makes it less embarrassing when I get up and join in with the singing of the Marseillaise – not easy, since I don’t know the words, but somehow that little detail never stands in my way…


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But ask me again tomorrow and it’ll be a different five…

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Thanks again, Sindhuja – I enjoyed this! And I tag… everybody!! Especially you!


The Secret Life of a Book Blogger…

Oooh, I’ve been tagged!




And it didn’t hurt a bit! Phil over at reviewsrevues has nominated me to take part in the Secret Life of a Book Blogger tag – thanks, Phil! 🙂 I was terribly worried at first that I might have to reveal what I do when I’m not blogging. But phew! It appears I don’t have to tell you about either the sumo-wrestling or the rehearsals for my famed role as back end of the cow in the Christmas panto! And of course if I revealed my true identity you’d never believe me anyway…


catwoman 2


So here are the actual questions…

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1. How long have you been a blogger?

Since the dawn of time or March 2013, whichever came first. (576 posts! Good grief!)

2. At what point do you think you will stop?

To be perfectly honest, I fantasise about stopping constantly, every time I stare at the blank screen trying to think of something even remotely interesting to say. But then I read a great book – or a terrible one – and my enthusiasm for reviewing is restored!

3. What is the best thing?

Free books!!!

Actually that’s not true at all – it might have been a major reason when I started but now it’s the bloggie chit-chat that keeps me going. So, you – yes, you there at the back – you’re the best thing!!!


you talkin to me


4. What is the worst thing? What do you do to make it OK?

Somewhat problematically for a book blog, it’s writing the reviews that’s the worst thing! Especially the crime novels where I feel I repeat myself on an endless loop – can’t understand why anyone reads them myself (the reviews, I mean, not the books).

So… I pick books that I might not usually read but think will be fun or interesting to review. The Barsoom books for example, or the Great American Novel Quest books. Or I do a silly post about tennis, or eyebrow raising techniques. And I’ve enjoyed doing my little Tuesday short story series – detectives, horror, sci-fi


david tennant


5. How long does it take you to find/create pictures for your post?

Varies from 5 or 10 minutes for a crime novel to maybe half an hour or more for a fantasy novel, a classic or a factual book. Searching for images is one of my favourite parts – especially for fantasy and sci-fi. There’s so much great fan art out there! And then, of course, I have to spend hours and hours sometimes searching for just the right picture of Rafa… or George… such a hardship!



6. Who is your book crush?

Ha! Hands up anyone who doesn’t know the answer to that one! Welcome, stranger!


darcy gif


7. What author would you like to have on your blog?

Seriously – none. I don’t like to have too much contact with authors in truth. I might have raved about their most recent book but I might not feel so enthusiastic about their next one and, while I love getting a bit of feedback from an author I’ve raved about, in reality having any kind of personal contact with them makes me feel very uncomfortable about reviewing future books. Hence, I seldom review books of authors I chat to on the blogosphere or elsewhere (though I often buy and read them!) and I never do author interviews or blog tours or guest posts or such-like, or set out to make contact with favourite authors in any other way. It’s not a rule that’s set in stone, though – it just kind of works out that way. And I’d make an exception for Charles Dickens

charles dickens


8. How long does it take to prepare?

Hmm… depends. Half an hour for a TBR Thursday post up to approximately 6 weeks for The Grapes of Wrath! Excluding reading time. I probably read for 2 or 3 hours a day, but it varies. And I don’t count that as preparation, since I’d be doing it whether I blogged or not.

9. What do you wear when you write your blog posts?

A pale green silken ballgown embroidered by the fairies at the bottom of my garden with a myriad of butterflies in threads of fine-spun gold and silver, and sprinkled liberally with the finest diamonds and emeralds. Matching shoes and handbag, of course, and for the more serious reviews, I also wear my crown.


scottish crown


10. How do you feel about the book/blogger community/culture?

I hate them all! Before I got to know them my TBR was a feasible 50 or so – now it’s close to 150 and rising! They should all be banned and have their chocolate taken away!

(OK – actually I love the community and they’re the reason I blog. But not just book bloggers – I adore the variety around the blogosphere and love all the talented and creative people out there spending their time entertaining others just because they can…)

11. What do you think one should do to get a successful blog?

Define success. Originally I thought I was blogging to a) get free books and b) inspire other people to read the books I love. I now get so many free books I can’t cope and I think Jilanne once read a book I recommended! But now I know that really I do it for the civilised discourse, intelligent debate and sparkling repartee – i.e., chit-chat, and if you want people to chit then you have to be willing to get out there and chat, and provide chat-inspiring content. I don’t care if my blog is ‘successful’ so long as being part of the bloggie community is fun! It amuses me endlessly that I always get more visitors and comments for silly posts than for serious book reviews – I might not be the most ‘successful’ book blogger in the blogosphere in terms of bookish influence, but I have met up with a lovely group of expert chit-chatters – for me, that’s success! (Wouldn’t it be totally embarrassing if nobody left a comment now…?? 😀 )



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Now I’m supposed to tag some of my favourite book bloggers, but I can’t possibly choose! So if you’d like to answer these questions, consider yourself tagged! It’s as much fun as eating chocolate cake, I promise!