TBR Thursday 241…

Episode 241

Hallo, people! How have you been? Do you still remember me?? My little break seems to be turning into a lengthy sabbatical, so I thought I’d just pop in and say hi. Back soon – I hope you see that as a promise and not a threat! 😉 

Meantime, there’s been a HUMONGOUS drop in the TBR – down NINE to 208! Admittedly, I’ve abandoned seven in the last three weeks, so that may be something to do with it, but there have been a few excellent reads in there too. I’ll tell you all about them just as soon as I remember how to write reviews. 

Here are a few more I got from the prison library while I wait for my reprieve…

Spanish Civil War

The Spanish Labyrinth by Gerald Brenan

When I first posted about my Reading the Spanish Civil War challenge, I mentioned that I wanted to know more about the causes of the war, and was finding it hard to find anything written in English which tries to be objective, since there’s such a strong bias in most British writing towards the Republican side. Spanish buddy José Ignacio of A Crime is Afoot recommended this one, and from the blurb it sounds exactly what I’m looking for…

The Blurb says: Isolated from the rest of Europe politically as well as geographically, Spain is a difficult country for foreigners to understand. Yet when in 1936 the land was divided by the most disastrous civil war of this century, individuals and governments of many nations became involved. This book is an account of how and why things turned out as they did. The answers lie in the labyrinth of Spanish history between 1874 and 1936. Mr Brenan charts this labyrinth, disentangling and identifying the separate forces for disunity; he explains the part played by the Church, the army, and the various political parties – Anarchists, Anarcho-Syndicalists, Carlists and Socialists; and he shows how industrial unrest, unequal privileges, agrarian discontent, and provincial loyalties each had a share in producing a war in which ‘the vanquished were beaten and the victors defeated’.

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Short Stories

A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth by Daniel Mason

Courtesy of Pan Macmillan via NetGalley. I don’t read many non-genre short stories and I don’t know this author at all. I just liked the sound of the blurb… 

The Blurb says: From the bestselling, award-winning author of The Winter Soldier and The Piano Tuner comes a collection of interlacing tales of men and women as they face the mysteries and magic of the world.

On a fated flight, a balloonist makes a discovery that changes her life forever. A telegraph operator finds an unexpected companion in the middle of the Amazon. A doctor is beset by seizures, in which he is possessed by a second, perhaps better, version of himself. And in Regency London, a bare-knuckle fighter prepares to face his most fearsome opponent, while a young mother seeks a miraculous cure for her ailing son.

At times funny and irreverent, always moving, these stories cap a fifteen-year project that has won both a National Magazine Award and Pushcart Prize. From the Nile’s depths to the highest reaches of the atmosphere, from volcano-wracked islands to an asylum on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, these are lives of ecstasy and epiphany.

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American Classic

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

One from my Classics Club list. This massive Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is probably the one on the American section of my list that appeals most to me, although reading the blurb again now is giving me a mild resurgence of Post-Steinbeck Stress Disorder. I can but hope! I’m also told the film of the book is a noir classic in its own right (the 1949 version), so if I enjoy the book I shall seek out the movie…

The Blurb says: More than just a classic political novel, Warren’s tale of power and corruption in the Depression-era South is a sustained meditation on the unforeseen consequences of every human act, the vexing connectedness of all people and the possibility—it’s not much of one—of goodness in a sinful world. Willie Stark, Warren’s lightly disguised version of Huey Long, the one time Louisiana strongman/governor, begins as a genuine tribune of the people and ends as a murderous populist demagogue. Jack Burden is his press agent, who carries out the boss’s orders, first without objection, then in the face of his own increasingly troubled conscience. And the politics? For Warren, that’s simply the arena most likely to prove that man is a fallen creature. Which it does.

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Thriller

Cold Kill by Rennie Airth

Courtesy of Severn House via NetGalley. Decades before he started writing his slow and thoughtful historical crime series, Rennie Airth wrote a one-off manic standalone comedy thriller called Snatch, which I loved. It was so different from his later work that I several times wondered if perhaps there were two authors with the same name. Now he’s back with another standalone thriller – not sure it’s a comedy though – and I’m wondering if he can recapture the fast-paced magic after all these years. Must be honest, early reviews are mixed…

The Blurb says: An American actress arrives in London to find herself the target of a ruthless assassin in this compelling standalone thriller.

Actress Adelaide Banks is swapping her native New York for London to spend Christmas with her widowed Aunt Rose. Rose wrote in her note that she was off to Paris for a few days and would be back in time for Addy’s arrival. But when Addy reaches Rose’s Knightsbridge address, no one’s home, and she has two unexpected callers . . .

Where is Rose, and what has she got herself entangled in? Dragged into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse on the snowy streets of London, Addy finds herself navigating a dark underworld of ruthless assassins, rogue agents and international crime. Can she survive long enough to uncover the truth?

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 240…

Episode 240

Two in, two out this week, so the TBR total remains the same – 217. My reading slump is improving but the reviewing backlog is still growing! I may not be here again next week till I write a few more…

Here’s what should be reaching the top of the pile soon………………ish.

Fiction

The Moustache by Emmanuel Carrère

Courtesy of Random House Vintage via NetGalley. I loved Carrère’s true crime book, The Adversary, so couldn’t resist this even though I can’t quite imagine how two books could sound more different! I suspect this one may actually be more his usual style than the other was – it sounds intriguingly quirky…

The Blurb says: One morning, a man shaves off his long-worn moustache, hoping to amuse his wife and friends. But when nobody notices, or pretends not to have noticed, what started out as a simple trick turns to terror. As doubt and denial bristle, and every aspect of his life threatens to topple into madness – a disturbing solution comes into view, taking us on a dramatic flight across the world.

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Science Fiction

Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

Courtesy of Orion via NetGalley. I’ve taken nearly 500 books from NetGalley over the years, and reviewed the vast bulk of them. However every now and then one gets left behind in the rush, so I have a dozen or so very old ones lingering still unread. This is one of them – it’s been on my list since 2016, I’m ashamed to say. It still sounds as intriguing as it did back then, and it’s had a lot of positive reviews. There seems to be a dispute among reviewers as to whether it should be described as science fiction or literary fiction, which makes it sound even better to me… 

The Blurb says: Augustine, a brilliant, aging astronomer, is consumed by the stars. For years he has lived in remote outposts, studying the sky for evidence of how the universe began. At his latest posting, in a research center in the Arctic, news of a catastrophic event arrives. The scientists are forced to evacuate, but Augustine stubbornly refuses to abandon his work. Shortly after the others have gone, Augustine discovers a mysterious child, Iris, and realizes the airwaves have gone silent. They are alone.

At the same time, Mission Specialist Sullivan is aboard the Aether on its return flight from Jupiter. The astronauts are the first human beings to delve this deep into space, and Sully has made peace with the sacrifices required of her: a daughter left behind, a marriage ended. So far the journey has been a success, but when Mission Control falls inexplicably silent, Sully and her crew mates are forced to wonder if they will ever get home.

As Augustine and Sully each face an uncertain future against forbidding yet beautiful landscapes, their stories gradually intertwine in a profound and unexpected conclusion. In crystalline prose, Good Morning, Midnight poses the most important questions: What endures at the end of the world? How do we make sense of our lives?

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Fiction

Love by Roddy Doyle

Courtesy of Random House Vintage via NetGalley. I’ve never read anything by Roddy Doyle and am not at all sure he’ll be my kind of author. But Cathy at 746 Books has been gradually wearing down my resistance with her great reviews of his books, the blurb sounds intriguing, and frankly I find the cover irresistible…

The Blurb says: One summer’s evening, two men meet up in a Dublin restaurant. Old friends, now married and with grown-up children, their lives have taken seemingly similar paths. But Joe has a secret he has to tell Davy, and Davy, a grief he wants to keep from Joe. Both are not the men they used to be.

Neither Davy nor Joe know what the night has in store, but as two pints turns to three, then five, and the men set out to revisit the haunts of their youth, the ghosts of Dublin entwine around them. Their first buoyant forays into adulthood, the pubs, the parties, broken hearts and bungled affairs, as well as the memories of what eventually drove them apart.

As the two friends try to reconcile their versions of the past over the course of one night, Love offers up a delightfully comic, yet moving portrait of the many forms love can take throughout our lives.

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Vintage Science Fiction

The Man with Six Senses by Muriel Jaeger

Courtesy of the British Library. I loved Jaeger’s The Question Mark, previously also published by the BL, so am looking forward to this one…

The Blurb says: Hilda is besotted with Michael, because Michael has a gift. Through some mutation, his mind is able to perceive ‘lines of energy’ and ‘the vast ocean of movement’ – things beyond the limits of the five senses and perhaps even common understanding. But the gift, as so often in life, comes with a price. There are those who, in their resentment, come to covet the gift, threatening the blissful period of learning and freedom of thought that seemed so possible a future for Hilda and Michael. And then there are the expectations of society, whose demands for the idealised normal spell danger and disarray for the pair.

Muriel Jaeger’s second foray into science fiction sees her experimenting again with an impressive talent for blending genres. The Man with Six Senses is a sensitive depiction of how the different, or supernaturally able, could be treated in 1920s Britain, but also a sharp skewering of societal norms and the expectations of how women should behave – and how they should think. Thought-provoking and challenging, The Man with Six Senses still resonates today in a society whose expectations and structures still continue to trap those who fall outside the limits of acceptance.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 239…

Episode 239

A special edition this week – every book mentioned is either written, translated or published by one of the many talented friends I’ve made in this strange but rather wonderful online world! As regulars know, I’m in the middle of the biggest reading/reviewing slump in the history of the universe, so I hope that Margot, Matt and Marina Sofia will understand that it may be a while before I review these since I want to wait till my usual bookish enthusiasm is back in proper working order. I’m looking forward to each of them, though – don’t they sound great?

Not so good for the TBR however – up 3 to 217! But who’s counting…?

Crime in Translation 1

Living Candles by Teodora Matei

Marina Sofia of Finding Time to Write has started a new translating and publishing venture with a few like-minded friends. Corylus Books aims to present “some of the great European crime fiction that wouldn’t normally make its way into English”, particularly “crime fiction with a social dimension”. This is one of the first off the press…

The Blurb says: The discovery of a woman close to death in a city basement sends Bucharest police officers Anton Iordan and Sorin Matache on a complex chase through the city as they seek to identify the victim. As they try to track down the would-be murderer, they find a macabre trail of missing women and they realise that this isn’t the first time the killer has struck. Iordan and Matache hit one dead end after another, until they decide they’ll have to take a chance that could prove deadly.

If you enjoy travelling the world virtually through your crime fiction, then Living Candles is the perfect book to convey the atmosphere of the Romanian urban environment. Or at least the murkier side of it: the blocks of flats where the neighbours all know each other’s business, the pensioners gossiping on the bench outside the entrances, the machismo impregnating the atmosphere so thickly, you could cut it with a knife.” Marina Sofia

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Historical Fiction

Atlantic View by Matthew Geyer

I first met Matt virtually several years ago now when we both glowingly reviewed Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary on Amazon US. An exchange of comments on each other’s reviews led me to discover that Matt had written his own novel, Strays, which I subsequently read and greatly enjoyed. Matt has recently started his own blog where he will be reviewing literary fiction as well as telling us about his own writing journey. This is his second novel, and I’m thrilled that he’s included a quote from my review of Strays on the back cover! 

The Blurb says: Set against the backdrop of the Obama presidential election, Atlantic View is the story of how Patrick Munchen loses his job, his wife and his way, only to discover an improbable new path with the support of his daughter, Megan. As the hope for change turns sour in the wake of another American election, the end of one way of life becomes the beginning of another.

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Crime

A Matter of Motive by Margot Kinberg

Margot used to blog about crime fiction and has introduced me to a whole world of authors I didn’t know about over the years we’ve been blog buddies. Her blog is much missed, but if stopping blogging has given her more time for writing then I forgive her! Previously she has written four books starring her academic amateur detective, Joel Williams, the most recent being Downfall. This new one, though, is a departure from that series – a standalone.

The Blurb says: A man is dead in his car, slumped over the steering wheel. But who killed him? Ron Clemons is the last person you’d think would be murdered. His wife and son love him. His employees respect him. His business is doing well. His clients seek him out. But someone wanted him dead.The Clemons case is a golden opportunity for newly minted police detective Patricia Stanley to prove herself. It’s her first murder investigation and she wants to do well. But it’s not going to be easy. For one thing, she has plenty to learn about handling a murder. And nearly everyone involved in this one is hiding something. Patricia faces her own challenges, too, as the investigation brings back the murder of an old love.

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Crime in Translation 2

Sword by Bogdan Teodorescu

A second selection from Corylus Books, and this one is translated by our very own Marina Sofia herself! The paper publication has been held up due to the ongoing situation with the pesky plague, but the Kindle version is available for pre-order and will be out on 8th May. Another excellent reason for having a Kindle…

The Blurb says: As a shadowy killer stalks the streets of Bucharest, seeking out victims from among the Roma minority, the police are at a loss to track down the murderer, who always dispatches in the same manner – hence the Sword nickname the media are quick to give to the killer. As panic starts to take hold and inter-racial tensions begin to reach boiling point, those in government and those who want to be try to manipulate the situation for their own ends.

A bestseller in Romania and France, Sword is a tumultuous political thriller by journalist and political analyst Bogdan Teodorescu – echoing much of the fears and tensions of today’s political landscape.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 238…

Episode 238

A tiny little drop in the TBR this week – down 1 to 214! My reading slump continues, but even worse is my review writing slump – I fear I may have to furlough myself for a bit if things don’t pick up soon.

Here are a few that might reach the top of the heap soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths

An excellent choice, people! It was an exciting race this time. The Cry shot into an early lead and for a while it looked unassailable. But then Elly Griffiths sneaked through on the inside lane and once she got her nose ahead there was no stopping her! She raced to a decisive victory! I’ve read and enjoyed several of the Ruth Galloway series and enjoyed them, up until the last couple when I thought the series had run out of steam. But I always intended to go back and read the couple of early ones I’d missed, so am looking forward to The Janus Stone – the second in the series. I’m planning to read it by the end of July.

The Blurb says: Forensics expert Ruth Galloway is called in to investigate when builders, demolishing a large old house in Norwich to make way for a new development, uncover the skeleton of a child – minus the skull – beneath a doorway. Is it some ritual sacrifice or just plain straightforward murder? DCI Harry Nelson must find out.

The house was once a children’s home. Nelson meets the Catholic priest who used to run the home. He tells him that two children did go missing forty years before – a boy and a girl. They were never found.

When carbon dating proves that the child’s bones predate the children’s home, Ruth is drawn more deeply into the case. But as spring turns to summer it becomes clear that someone is trying very hard to put her off the scent by frightening her half to death…

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History

The Spanish Civil War by Stanley G Payne

I didn’t get off to a very good start with the factual side of my new Spanish Civil War Challenge, quickly abandoning the history book I’d chosen – The Battle for Spain by Antony Beevor – for being the worst written history book I’ve ever attempted to read. I’ve spent an age trying to find one that looks good and relatively unbiased, and which reviews suggest might be suitable for a beginner. I’m not convinced about any of them, to be honest, but I’ll start with this shortish one and have a couple of more detailed ones lined up… wish me better luck this time!

The Blurb says: This book presents an original new history of the most important conflict in European affairs during the 1930s, prior to the events that produced World War II – the Spanish Civil War. It describes the complex origins of the conflict, the collapse of the Spanish Republic, and the outbreak of the only mass worker revolution in the history of Western Europe. Stanley Payne explains the character of the Spanish revolution and the complex web of republican politics, while also examining in detail the development of Franco’s counterrevolutionary dictatorship. Payne gives attention to the multiple meanings and interpretations of war and examines why the conflict provoked such strong reactions in its own time, and long after. The book also explains the military history of the war and its place in the history of military development, the non-intervention policy of the democracies, and the role of German, Italian, and Soviet intervention, concluding with an analysis of the place of the war in European affairs and in comparative perspective of revolutionary civil wars of the twentieth century.

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Crime

The Cutting Place by Jane Casey

Courtesy of HarperCollins via NetGalley. A new entry in Jane Casey’s excellent Maeve Kerrigan series is always a much anticipated treat, and the reviews of this one suggest it’s particularly good…

The Blurb says: Everyone’s heard the rumours about elite gentlemen’s clubs, where the champagne flows freely, the parties are the height of decadence . . . and the secrets are darker than you could possibly imagine.

DS Maeve Kerrigan finds herself in an unfamiliar world of wealth, luxury and ruthless behaviour when she investigates the murder of a young journalist, Paige Hargreaves. Paige was working on a story about the Chiron Club, a private society for the richest and most privileged men in London. Then she disappeared.

It’s clear to Maeve that the members have many secrets. But Maeve is hiding secrets of her own – even from her partner DI Josh Derwent. Will she uncover the truth about Paige’s death? Or will time run out for Maeve first?

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Fiction

The Motion of the Body Through Space by Lionel Shriver

Courtesy of HarperCollins via NetGalley. I always think Lionel Shriver’s books look great, which begs the question why I’ve still never read one, especially since at least two of them have been skulking in my TBR for years. However this one is a review copy and therefore gets the priority treatment – time to break my Shriver duck!

The Blurb says: In Lionel Shriver’s entertaining send-up of today’s cult of exercise—which not only encourages better health, but now like all religions also seems to promise meaning, social superiority, and eternal life—an aging husband’s sudden obsession with extreme sport makes him unbearable.

After an ignominious early retirement, Remington announces to his wife Serenata that he’s decided to run a marathon. This from a sedentary man in his sixties who’s never done a lick of exercise in his life. His wife can’t help but observe that his ambition is “hopelessly trite.” A loner, Serenata disdains mass group activities of any sort. Besides, his timing is cruel. Serenata has long been the couple’s exercise freak, but by age sixty, her private fitness regimes have destroyed her knees, and she’ll soon face debilitating surgery. Yes, becoming more active would be good for Remington’s heart, but then why not just go for a walk? Without several thousand of your closest friends?

As Remington joins the cult of fitness that increasingly consumes the Western world, her once-modest husband burgeons into an unbearable narcissist. Ignoring all his other obligations, he engages a saucy, sexy personal trainer named Bambi, who treats Serenata with contempt. When Remington sets his sights on the legendarily grueling triathlon, MettleMan, Serenata is sure he’ll end up injured or dead. And even if he does survive, their marriage may not.

The Motion of the Body Through Space is vintage Lionel Shriver written with psychological insight, a rich cast of characters, lots of verve and petulance, an astute reading of contemporary culture, and an emotionally resonant ending.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 237 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 237

(A reminder of the People’s Choice plan. Once a month or so, I shall list the four oldest books on the TBR, then the next four, and so on, and each time you will select the one you think I should read, either because you’ve read and enjoyed it, or because you think the blurb looks good. And I will read the one you pick within three months! If I begin to fall behind, I’ll have a gap till I catch up again. In the event of a tie, I’ll have the casting vote.)

OK, time for the next batch of four! These are all books that I added to my TBR in 2014 and it appears to be a crime week, purely by chance since I’m selecting them in strict order of acquisition. Three of these are authors I’d read and enjoyed before and the books were added as catch-ups (that worked well, eh?), while the fourth, The Cry, was added because it was getting so many rave reviews back then. I will read and review this month’s winner by the end of July.

Are you ready? Then, on your marks…get set…GO!

Crime

Punishment by Anne Holt

Added 1st January 2014. 3,021 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.70 average rating. 384 pages.

The Blurb says: One afternoon after school, nine-year-old Emilie doesn’t come home. Her father finds the backpack from her late mother, that would never be abandoned willingly. A week later, a five-year-old boy goes missing. And then another child.

Meanwhile, Johanna Vik, a former FBI profiler with a troubled past and a difficult young daughter, tries to overturn a decades-old false murder conviction. Police Commissioner Stubo lost his wife and daughter, has only his grandson left, and needs to solve the case. Johanna resists helping until the bodies return to their homes with notes “You got what you deserved”.

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Crime

The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald

Added 1st January 2014. 4,274 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.79 average. 307 pages.

The Blurb says: When a baby goes missing on a lonely roadside in Australia, it sets off a police investigation that will become a media sensation and dinner-table talk across the world.

Lies, rumours and guilt snowball, causing the parents, Joanna and Alistair, to slowly turn against each other.

Finally Joanna starts thinking the unthinkable: could the truth be even more terrible than she suspected? And what will it take to make things right?

The Cry is a dark psychological thriller with a gripping moral dilemma at its heart and characters who will keep you guessing on every page.

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Crime

The Silence of the Sea by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Added 22nd January 2014. 3,100 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.67 average. 388 pages.

The Blurb says: An abandoned yacht, a young family missing – chilling crime from the queen of Nordic Noir.
The most chilling novel yet from Yrsa Sigurdardottir, an international bestseller at the height of her powers.

‘Mummy dead.’ The child’s pure treble was uncomfortably clear. It was the last thing Brynjar – and doubtless the others – wanted to hear at that moment. ‘Daddy dead.’ It got worse. ‘Adda dead. Bygga dead.’ The child sighed and clutched her grandmother’s leg. ‘All dead.’

A luxury yacht arrives in Reykjavik harbour with nobody on board. What has happened to the crew, and to the family who were on board when it left Lisbon?

Thora Gudmundsdottir is hired by the young father’s parents to investigate, and is soon drawn deeper into the mystery. What should she make of the rumours saying that the vessel was cursed, especially given that when she boards the yacht she thinks she sees one of the missing twins? Where is Karitas, the glamorous young wife of the yacht’s former owner? And whose is the body that has washed up further along the shore?

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Crime

The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths

Added 3rd July 2014. 17,758 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.92 average. 328 pages. 

The Blurb says: It’s been only a few months since archaeologist Ruth Galloway found herself entangled in a missing persons case, barely escaping with her life. But when construction workers demolishing a large old house in Norwich uncover the bones of a child beneath a doorway—minus its skull—Ruth is once again called upon to investigate. Is it a Roman-era ritual sacrifice, or is the killer closer at hand?

Ruth and Detective Harry Nelson would like to find out—and fast. When they realize the house was once a children’s home, they track down the Catholic priest who served as its operator. Father Hennessey reports that two children did go missing from the home forty years before—a boy and a girl. They were never found. When carbon dating proves that the child’s bones predate the home and relate to a time when the house was privately owned, Ruth is drawn ever more deeply into the case. But as spring turns into summer it becomes clear that someone is trying very hard to put her off the trail by frightening her, and her unborn child, half to death.

The Janus Stone is a riveting follow-up to Griffiths’ acclaimed The Crossing Places.

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VOTE NOW!

(Click on title and then remember to also click on Vote, or your vote won’t count!)

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

TBR Thursday 236…

Episode 236

Considering I’ve only managed to finish two books in the whole of April so far, it’s astonishing that my TBR has only increased by 1 – to 215! Imagine how much it would have dropped if only those pesky book-gods hadn’t stolen my reading superpower…

Here are a few more that I should be reading soon – ‘should’ being the operative word…

Historical Fiction

The Mauritius Command by Patrick O’Brian

I keep hearing great things about this series and a little trip to Mauritius will fit in well to my Around the World challenge. I’ve acquired the book and the audiobook, so am planning a full immersion – in the book, not the ocean!

The Blurb says: Captain Jack Aubrey is ashore on half-pay without a command — until his friend, and occasional intelligence agent, Stephen Maturin, arrives with secret orders for Aubrey to take a frigate to the Cape of Good Hope, under a Commodore’s pennant. But the difficulties of carrying out his orders are compounded by two of his own captains — Lord Clonfert, a pleasure-seeking dilettante, and Captain Corbett, whose severity can push his crews to the verge of mutiny.

Based on the actual campaign of 1810 in the Indian Ocean, O’Brian’s attention to detail of eighteenth-century life ashore and at sea is meticulous. This tale is as beautifully written and as gripping as any in the series; it also stands on its own as a superlative work of fiction. [FF says: Superlative? Gosh! 😲 ] 

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Fiction

Nostromo by Joseph Conrad

Courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics. I’m still gobsmacked that I seem to have become a Conrad fan! I must say this one sounds as if it’s been written specially for me – bit of politics, bit of empire, exotic location. I would have used it for the Around the World challenge except that apparently it’s set in an imaginary country and, since I just used Ruritania, I feel I ought to fill my remaining slots with real countries! But I’m still tempted… if it’s good…

The Blurb says: One of the greatest political novels in any language, Nostromo re-enacts the establishment of modern capitalism in a remote South American province locked between the Andes and the Pacific. In the harbor [sic] town of Sulaco, a vivid cast of characters is caught up in a civil war to decide whether its fabulously wealthy silver mine, funded by American money but owned by a third-generation English immigrant, can be preserved from the hands of venal politicians. Greed and corruption seep into the lives of everyone, and Nostromo, the principled foreman of the mine, is tested to the limit.

Conrad’s evocation of Latin America–its grand landscapes, the ferocity of its politics, and the tenacity of individuals swept up in imperial ambitions–has never been bettered. This edition features a new introduction with fresh historical and interpretative perspectives, as well as detailed explanatory notes which pay special attention to the literary, political, historical, and geographical allusions and implications of the novel. A map, a chronology of the narrative, a glossary of foreign terms [FF says: like harbor… 🙄 ], and an appendix reprinting the serial ending all complement what is sure to be the definitive edition of this classic work

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Factual

The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer

I never confess to my audiobook TBR but there are books that have been lingering there for as long as any on my main TBR. I acquired this one in 2012! I’ve started listening to it already and it’s going well so far, but it’s too early to be sure… 

The Blurb says: We think of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign (1558-1603) as a golden age. But what was it actually like to live in Elizabethan England? If you could travel to the past and walk the streets of London in the 1590s, where would you stay? What would you eat? What would you wear? Would you really have a sense of it being a glorious age? And if so, how would that glory sit alongside the vagrants, diseases, violence, sexism and famine of the time? [FF says: So what’s changed? 😱 ]

In this book Ian Mortimer reveals a country in which life expectancy is in the early thirties, people still starve to death and Catholics are persecuted for their faith. Yet it produces some of the finest writing in the English language, some of the most magnificent architecture, and sees Elizabeth’s subjects settle in America and circumnavigate the globe. Welcome to a country that is, in all its contradictions, the very crucible of the modern world.

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Vintage Crime

Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac

Courtesy of the British Library. Carol Carnac is another pseudonym of the already pseudonymous ECR Lorac, who is one of my favourites of the authors the BL has done so much excellent work in resurrecting from obscurity…

The Blurb says: In London’s Bloomsbury, Inspector Julian Rivers of Scotland Yard looks down at a dismal scene. Here is the victim, burnt to a crisp. Here are the clues – clues which point to a good climber and expert skier, and which lead Rivers to the piercing sunshine and sparkling snow of the Austrian Alps. [FF says: Eh? Where’s the rest of the blurb? 🤔 ]

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Amazon UK or Audible UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 235… and Quarterly Round-Up

TBR Quarterly Report

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

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

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

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

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The Around the World in 80 Books Challenge

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

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

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

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

76 down, 4 to go!

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The Classics Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

62 down, 28 to go!

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

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

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

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

36 down, 66 to go!

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Reading the Spanish Civil War Challenge

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

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

1 down, and who knows how many to go!

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

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

TBR Thursday 234…

Episode 234

It seems very odd to me that my plagueophobia seems to be stopping me from reading but not stopping me from acquiring books! The TBR is back at 214 – up 6! 

(Nope, no reason for this gif other than that it makes me happy!)

So I’ve thrown my reading list out of the window (making sure no one was within six feet of it at the time, of course) and picked some lighter reading till I get back to normal…

Historical Crime Fiction

Execution by SJ Parris

Courtesy of HarperCollins via NetGalley. I read and enjoyed the first book in this series when it came out way back in 2011, and the second book has been lingering unread on my TBR since 2014. The series is now up to number 6, and tragically, despite being so far behind, I couldn’t resist… well, it’s about Mary, Queen of Scots, after all…

The Blurb says: The sixth Tudor thriller featuring Giordano Bruno: heretic, philosopher and spy. Perfect for fans of C. J. Sansom.

England, 1586.

A TREASONOUS CONSPIRACY
Giordano Bruno returns to England to bring shocking new intelligence to Sir Francis Walsingham. A band of Catholic Englishmen are plotting to kill Queen Elizabeth and spring Mary Queen of Scots from prison to take the English throne in her place.

A DEADLY TRAP
Bruno is surprised to find that Walsingham is aware of the plot, led by the young, wealthy noble Anthony Babington, and is allowing it to progress. His hope is that Mary will put her support in writing and condemn herself to a traitor’s death.

A QUEEN IN MORTAL DANGER
Bruno is tasked with going undercover to join the conspirators. Can he stop them before he is exposed? Either way a queen will die; Bruno must make sure it is the right one. [FF says: I wonder which Queen will die? Tense, isn’t it…? 😉 ]

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Crime

All That’s Dead by Stuart MacBride

Courtesy of HarperCollins. I used to love this series in the early days but gradually I felt the characters evolved from being quirky to being outright cartoonish – I felt MacBride had bored of his own creations and wasn’t taking it seriously any more. So I gave up after book 8. However HC sent me this one – book 12 – and I’m happy to jump back in and see if he’s got back into his stride…

The Blurb says: Darkness is coming…

Inspector Logan McRae was looking forward to a nice simple case – something to ease him back into work after a year off on the sick. [FF says: Again? I’m sure this is at least the third book that has begun with Logan returning after a year off on the sick. Perhaps he should consider retraining. 🤔] But the powers-that-be have other ideas…

The high-profile anti-independence campaigner, Professor Wilson, has gone missing, leaving nothing but bloodstains behind. There’s a war brewing between the factions for and against Scottish Nationalism. Infighting in the police ranks. And it’s all playing out in the merciless glare of the media. Logan’s superiors want results, and they want them now.

Someone out there is trying to make a point, and they’re making it in blood. If Logan can’t stop them, it won’t just be his career that dies.

* * * * *

Thriller

The Split by Sharon Bolton

Courtesy of Orion via NetGalley. A new thriller from Sharon Bolton is always a special treat – one of my favourite current authors…

The Blurb says: She’s got nowhere else to hide…and now he’s coming for her.

Two years ago Felicity Lloyd desperately signed up for an extended research trip working on the remote island of South Georgia.

It was her only way to escape.

And now he’s coming for her.

Freddie Lloyd has just got out of prison for murder and is on his way to where Felicity is hiding. And this time, he won’t stop until he finds her.

Because no matter how far you run, some secrets will always catch up with you…

Tense, gripping and with a twist you won’t see coming, [FF says: well, I will now since you’ve told me to expect it! 🙄] Sharon Bolton is back in an explosive new thriller about a woman on the run…

* * * * *

Thriller

The Never Game by Jeffery Deaver

Courtesy of HarperCollins again. I was a huge fan of Deaver’s earliest books way back in the Dark Ages, but he lost me with his hugely successful and long-running Lincoln Rhyme series – I could never buy into the character, I’m afraid. So I’m delighted to see him starting a new series and can’t wait to see if this will revive the old magic for me!

The Blurb says: From the bestselling and award-winning master of suspense, the first novel in a thrilling new series, introducing Colter Shaw.

“You have been abandoned.”

A young woman has gone missing in Silicon Valley and her father has hired Colter Shaw to find her. The son of a survivalist family, Shaw is an expert tracker. Now he makes a living as a “reward seeker,” traveling the country to help police solve crimes and private citizens locate missing persons. But what seems a simple investigation quickly thrusts him into the dark heart of America’s tech hub and the cutthroat billion-dollar video-gaming industry.

“Escape if you can.”

When another victim is kidnapped, the clues point to one video game with a troubled past–The Whispering Man. In that game, the player has to survive after being abandoned in an inhospitable setting with five random objects. Is a madman bringing the game to life? [FF says: Oooh… 😲]

“Or die with dignity.”

Shaw finds himself caught in a cat-and-mouse game, risking his own life to save the victims even as he pursues the kidnapper across both Silicon Valley and the dark ‘net. Encountering eccentric game designers, trigger-happy gamers and ruthless tech titans, he soon learns that he isn’t the only one on the hunt: someone is on his trail and closing fast.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 233…

Episode 233

A massive drop of 5 in the TBR since I last posted two weeks ago – down to 208! I’ve been far too busy stockpiling chocolate and cat treats to acquire books! However, now that I have been sentenced to solitary confinement either I’ll be racing through the books on my TBR or I’ll be spending way too much time browsing the bookshelves on Amazon…

Here are a few that will reach the top of the heap soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

An excellent choice, people! Mind you, this whole thing is reminding me of how many seriously tempting books are lingering unread on my TBR so any of the four would have been excellent. The other three contenders all scored pretty evenly in the end, but this one took a clear lead from the beginning and never faltered as it sped towards the finish line.  I plan to read and review it by the end of June. 

The Blurb says: Penang, 1939. Sixteen-year-old Philip Hutton is a loner. Half English, half Chinese and feeling neither, he discovers a sense of belonging in an unexpected friendship with Hayato Endo, a Japanese diplomat. Philip shows his new friend around his adored island of Penang, and in return Endo trains him in the art and discipline of aikido. But such knowledge comes at a terrible price. The enigmatic Endo is bound by disciplines of his own and when the Japanese invade Malaya, threatening to destroy Philip’s family and everything he loves, he realises that his trusted sensei – to whom he owes absolute loyalty – has been harbouring a devastating secret. Philip must risk everything in an attempt to save those he has placed in mortal danger and discover who and what he really is.

With masterful and gorgeous narrative, replete with exotic and captivating images, sounds and aromas – of rain swept beaches, magical mountain temples, pungent spice warehouses, opulent colonial ballrooms and fetid and forbidding rainforests – Tan Twan Eng weaves a haunting and unforgettable story of betrayal, barbaric cruelty, steadfast courage and enduring love.

* * * * *

Historical Fiction

Serena by Ron Rash

Although Serena didn’t win the previous People’s Choice poll, MarinaSofia mentioned that she had a copy in her TBR too, so we decided to read it and co-ordinate our reviews for the week beginning 13th April. Regular commenter Christine (who doesn’t blog… yet) is going to read it too and share her view in the comments. Anyone else who has a copy fishing about, or feels like acquiring one, is more than welcome to join us!

The Blurb says: The year is 1929, and newlyweds George and Serena Pemberton travel from Boston to the North Carolina mountains where they plan to create a timber empire. Although George has already lived in the camp long enough to father an illegitimate child, Serena is new to the mountains—but she soon shows herself to be the equal of any man, overseeing crews, hunting rattle-snakes, even saving her husband’s life in the wilderness. Together this lord and lady of the woodlands ruthlessly kill or vanquish all who fall out of favor. Yet when Serena learns that she will never bear a child, she sets out to murder the son George fathered without her. Mother and child begin a struggle for their lives, and when Serena suspects George is protecting his illegitimate family, the Pembertons’ intense, passionate marriage starts to unravel as the story moves toward its shocking reckoning.

Rash’s masterful balance of violence and beauty yields a riveting novel that, at its core, tells of love both honored and betrayed.

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Vintage Crime

Settling Scores edited by Martin Edwards

Courtesy of the British Library. A new anthology from the BL is always a treat and I vastly prefer reading about sport than participating in it! And look! I’m sure that’s Centre Court at Wimbledon on the cover! Plus, I’m always a sucker for the word ‘skulduggery’…

The Blurb says: ‘The detective story is a game between two players, the author… and the reader.’ – Ronald Knox

From the squash court to the golf links, the football pitch to the swimming pool and the race course to the cricket square, no court, grounds, stadium or stand is safe from skulduggery. Entering the arena where sport clashes with crime, this spirited medley of short stories showcases the greatest deadly plays and criminal gambits of the mystery genre.

With contenders by some of the finest writers in the field, including Celia Fremlin, Michael Gilbert, Gladys Mitchell and Leo Bruce, this new anthology offers a ringside view of the darker side of sports and proves that crime, naturally, is a game for all seasons.

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Thriller

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Courtesy of HarperCollins. Another of the little batch of contemporary thrillers and crime novels that HP kindly sent me, with perfect timing as it turns out since I’m not in the mood for heavyweight fiction at the moment. This isn’t one I’d have picked for myself necessarily, but it’s getting great reviews and there’s nothing like a murder or two to make the day seem a little brighter… 😉

The Blurb says: On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favours, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.

And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 232 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 232

(A reminder of the People’s Choice plan. Once a month or so, I shall list the four oldest books on the TBR, then the next four, and so on, and each time you will select the one you think I should read, either because you’ve read and enjoyed it, or because you think the blurb looks good. And I will read the one you pick within three months! If I begin to fall behind, I’ll have a gap till I catch up again. In the event of a tie, I’ll have the casting vote.)

OK, are we all ready for the next batch of four? Leaping ahead by a whole year, these are all books that I added to my TBR in 2013/4, so it’s about time I read one of them, eh? I will read and review this month’s winner by the end of June.

Are you ready? Then put on your flippers, adjust your snorkel and dive in…

Crime

The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney

Added 4th January 2013. 3,879 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.66 average rating. 449 pages.

The Blurb says: Rose Janko is missing. It has been seven years since she disappeared, and nobody said a word. Now, following the death of his wife, her father Leon feels compelled to find her. Rumour had it she ran off when her baby boy was born with the family’s genetic disorder. Leon is not so sure. He wants to know the truth and he hires a private investigator to discover it – Ray Lovell. Ray starts to delve deeper, but his investigation is hampered by the very people who ought to be helping him – the Jankos. He cannot understand their reluctance to help. Why don’t they want to find Rose Janko?

* * * * *

Historical Fiction

The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

Added 5th June 2013. 10,890 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.23 average. 460 pages.

The Blurb says: Penang, 1939. Sixteen-year-old Philip Hutton is a loner. Half English, half Chinese and feeling neither, he discovers a sense of belonging in an unexpected friendship with Hayato Endo, a Japanese diplomat. Philip shows his new friend around his adored island of Penang, and in return Endo trains him in the art and discipline of aikido. But such knowledge comes at a terrible price. The enigmatic Endo is bound by disciplines of his own and when the Japanese invade Malaya, threatening to destroy Philip’s family and everything he loves, he realises that his trusted sensei – to whom he owes absolute loyalty – has been harbouring a devastating secret. Philip must risk everything in an attempt to save those he has placed in mortal danger and discover who and what he really is.

With masterful and gorgeous narrative, replete with exotic and captivating images, sounds and aromas – of rain swept beaches, magical mountain temples, pungent spice warehouses, opulent colonial ballrooms and fetid and forbidding rainforests – Tan Twan Eng weaves a haunting and unforgettable story of betrayal, barbaric cruelty, steadfast courage and enduring love. 

* * * * *

Fiction Short Stories

Between the Assassinations by Aravind Adiga

Added 20th December 2013. 5,277 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.35 average. 353 pages.

The Blurb says: Welcome to Kittur, India. It’s on India’s southwestern coast, bounded by the Arabian Sea to the west and the Kaliamma River to the south and east. It’s blessed with rich soil and scenic beauty, and it’s been around for centuries. Of its 193,432 residents, only 89 declare themselves to be without religion or caste. And if the characters in Between the Assassinations are any indication, Kittur is an extraordinary crossroads of the brightest minds and the poorest morals, the up-and-coming and the downtrodden, and the poets and the prophets of an India that modern literature has rarely addressed.

A blinding, brilliant, and brave mosaic of Indian life as it is lived in a place called Kittur, Between the Assassinations, with all the humour, sympathy, and unflinching candour of The White Tiger, enlarges our understanding of the world we live in today.

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Crime

Frozen Out by Quentin Bates

Added 1st January 2014. 1,943 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.60 average. 337 pages. 

The Blurb says: The discovery of a corpse washed up on a beach in an Icelandic backwater sparks a series of events that propels the village of Hvalvik’s police sergeant Gunnhildur into deep waters.

Although under pressure to deal with the matter quickly, she is suspicious that the man’s death was no accident and once she has identified the body, sets about investigating his final hours.The case takes Gunnhildur away from her village and into a cosmopolitan world of shady deals, government corruption and violence. She finds herself alone and less than welcome in this hostile environment as she tries to find out who it was that made sure the young man drowned on a dark night one hundred kilometres from where he should have been – and why.

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VOTE NOW!

(Click on title and then remember to also click on Vote, or your vote won’t count!)

 

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

TBR Thursday 231…

Episode 231

I seem to be in  major reading slump this week and not one of the 213 (up one) books on the TBR is calling my name! I can only hope the postman has gone on holiday and doesn’t visit till I get back in the swing…

Here are a few that hopefully will tempt me soon…

Lit-Crit

Scotland’s Books by Robert Crawford

I bought this ages ago in one of my periodic fits of feeling I ought to know my own literary heritage better. I assumed, wrongly, that it would be one of these list-style books, like 1001 Books Before You Die, etc. It turned out to be a hefty tome full of essays on various aspects of Scottish literature. Not what I was looking for at the time, so it has lain neglected on my shelves ever since. Time to bite the bullet and see if I can struggle through it… and maybe even learn something! 

The Blurb says: From Treasure Island to Trainspotting, Scotland’s rich literary tradition has influenced writing across centuries and cultures far beyond its borders. Here, for the first time, is a single volume presenting the glories of fifteen centuries of Scottish literature.

In Scotland’s Books poet Robert Crawford tells the story of Scottish writing and its relationship to the country’s history. Stretching from the medieval masterpiece of St Columba’s Iona – the earliest surviving Scottish work – to the imaginative, thriving world of twenty-first-century writing with authors such as Ali Smith and James Kelman, this outstanding collection traces the development of literature in Scotland and explores the cultural, linguistic and literary heritage of the nation. It includes extracts from the writing discussed to give a flavour of the original work, full quotations in their own language, previously unpublished works by authors and plenty of new research. Informative and readable, this is the definitive guide to the marvellous legacy of Scottish literature.

* * * * *

Historical Fiction

The Lady of the Ravens by Joanna Hickson

Courtesy of HarperCollins via NetGalley. This one caught my eye because I’ve just finished reading a history of the Yorks, so for once I actually know who Elizabeth of York is! Better read it quick before I forget again… 

The Blurb says: Elizabeth of York, her life already tainted by dishonour and tragedy, now queen to the first Tudor king, Henry the VII.

Joan Vaux, servant of the court, straining against marriage and motherhood and privy to the deepest and darkest secrets of her queen. Like the ravens, Joan must use her eyes and her senses, as conspiracy whispers through the dark corridors of the Tower.

Through Joan’s eyes, The Lady of the Ravens inhabits the squalid streets of Tudor London, the whispering walls of its most fearsome fortress and the glamorous court of a kingdom in crisis.

* * * * *

Adventure

The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope

Courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics. When I saw they were bringing out a new edition of this adventure story, I couldn’t resist! Who doesn’t need a bit of swashbuckling in their lives every now and then? Doesn’t it sound like fun?

The Blurb says: ‘If love were the only thing, I would follow you-in rags if need be … But is love the only thing?’

Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda is a swashbuckling adventure set in Ruritania, a mythical pocket kingdom. Englishman Rudolf Rassendyll closely resembles the King of Ruritania, and to foil a coup by his rival to the throne, he is persuaded to impersonate him for a day. However, Rassendyll’s role becomes more complicated when the real king is kidnapped, and he falls for the lovely Princess Flavia. Although the story is set in the near past, Ruritania is a semi-feudal land in which a strong sword arm can carry the day, and Rassendyll and his allies fight to rescue the king. But if he succeeds, our hero and Flavia will have to choose between love and honour.

As Nicholas Daly’s introduction outlines, this thrilling tale inspired not only stage and screen adaptations, but also place names, and even a popular board game. A whole new subgenre of ‘Ruritanian romances’ followed, though no imitation managed to capture the charm, exuberance, and sheer storytelling power of Hope’s classic tale.

* * * * *

Fiction on Audio

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

I loved Graham Greene when I was young, but have been rather disappointed by a couple of his books I’ve read recently. This has left me scared to revisit the ones I adored. This is one I’ve never read before and is considered one of his best, so fingers crossed it will revive my love. It’s narrated by Samuel West.

The Blurb says: A gang war is raging through the dark underworld of Brighton. Seventeen-year-old Pinkie, malign and ruthless, has killed a man. Believing he can escape retribution, he is unprepared for the courageous, life-embracing Ida Arnold. Greene’s gripping thriller, exposes a world of loneliness and fear, of life lived on the ‘dangerous edge of things’.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Audible UK or Amazon UK.

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 230…

Episode 230

Well, after last week’s dramatic rise, an even more dizzying drop this week – down SIX to 212! (Five finished, one abandoned.)

(No, this isn’t me – but I kinda wish it was…)

Here are a few more I’ll be dipping into soon…

Scottish Classic

Flemington by Violet Jacob

One from my Classics Club list. I know nothing about either book or author other than that this turns up frequently on Best Scottish Novels lists. I see it’s about the Jacobites again – clearly we still have some work to do to get that episode of history out of our systems! I may or may not read the included short story collection… I’ll see how I get on with the novel before deciding!

The Blurb says: Violet Jacob’s fifth and finest novel is a tragic drama of the 1745 Jacobite Rising, tightly written, poetic in its symbolic intensity, lit by flashes of humour and informed by the author’s own family history as one of the Erskines of the House of Dun near Montrose. Drawn back to these roots in her later years, Violet Jacob also wrote many unforgettable short stories about the people, the landscapes and the language of the North-east. In this volume fourteen of these stories are re-collected and re-edited as Tales from Angus.

* * * * *

Dalziel and Pascoe

A Killing Kindness by Reginald Hill

Continuing my very slow re-read of my favourite crime series, this is book 6, by which time Hill was really getting into his stride…

The Blurb says: When Mary Dinwoodie is found choked in a ditch following a night out with her boyfriend, a mysterious caller phones the local paper with a quotation from Hamlet. The career of the Yorkshire Choker is underway. If Superintendent Dalziel is unimpressed by the literary phone calls, he is downright angry when Sergeant Wield calls in a clairvoyant. Linguists, psychiatrists, mediums — it’s all a load of nonsense as far as he is concerned, designed to make a fool of him. And meanwhile the Choker strikes again — and again!

* * * * *

Crime

The Guesthouse by Abbie Frost

Courtesy of HarperCollins, who occasionally send me books I haven’t specifically requested and probably wouldn’t. I love this, because it tempts me to keep a toe in the water of contemporary crime, which regulars will know I’ve been struggling with recently. I’m guessing this one is a deliberate take on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None

The Blurb says: Seven guests. One Killer. A holiday to remember…

Not all the guests will survive their stay…

You use an app, called Cloud BNB, to book a room online. And on a cold and windy afternoon you arrive at The Guesthouse, a dramatic old building on a remote stretch of hillside in Ireland.

You are expecting a relaxing break, but you find something very different. Something unimaginable. Because a killer has lured you and six other guests here and now you can’t escape.

One thing’s for certain: not all of you will come back from this holiday alive…

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Christie on Audio

The Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie

I’m pretty sure I’ve read all Agatha Christie’s mystery novels but I think there are some short story collections I’ve missed over the years, and this may be one of them. I know I’ve come across some of the individual stories in anthologies but I don’t think I’ve read them all together. The narrator is again the wonderful Joan Hickson…

The Blurb says: When her friends from the Tuesday Night Club visit Miss Marple’s house, the conversation often turns to unsolved crimes. Trying to solve these 13 mysteries are Raymond West, a young writer; the artist Joyce Lemprière; Dr Pender, the clergyman, who claims to know the hidden side of human character; Mr Petherick, a lawyer who is only interested in the logical approach; and Sir Henry Clithering, whose experience as commissioner of Scotland Yard speaks for itself. Then, of course, there is Miss Marple, who has observed enough about human nature to be more than a match for the most perspicacious investigator.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Audible UK or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 229…

Episode 229

The relentless horror of the TBR continues to grow – up FIVE again, to 218. In my defence (I feel I use that phrase a lot these days…), three of them are unsolicited ones I received from publishers, all of which look interesting, so really, it’s not (all) my fault! I may have to put all the challenges to one side and have a month of reading review copies only to catch up.

Here are a few that should be exercising my brain soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst

We had a runaway winner in last week’s poll, gaining nearly half of all votes cast! And it seems the appropriate choice since it’s the oldest on my TBR. Serena was the runner-up, closely followed by Bloodstream, with poor old JK Rowling trailing in well behind the rest of the field. Thanks to everyone who voted – I shall be reading and reviewing this one by the end of May…

The Blurb says: From the Man Booker Prize–winning author of The Line of Beauty: a magnificent, century-spanning saga about a love triangle that spawns a myth, and a family mystery, across generations.

In the late summer of 1913, George Sawle brings his Cambridge schoolmate – a handsome, aristocratic young poet named Cecil Valance – to his family’s modest home outside London for the weekend. George is enthralled by Cecil, and soon his sixteen-year-old sister, Daphne, is equally besotted by him and the stories he tells about Corley Court, the country estate he is heir to. But what Cecil writes in Daphne’s autograph album will change their and their families’ lives forever: a poem that, after Cecil is killed in the Great War and his reputation burnished, will become a touchstone for a generation, a work recited by every schoolchild in England. Over time, a tragic love story is spun, even as other secrets lie buried – until, decades later, an ambitious biographer threatens to unearth them.

Rich with Hollinghurst’s signature gifts – haunting sensuality, delicious wit and exquisite lyricism – The Stranger’s Child is a tour de force: a masterly novel about the lingering power of desire, how the heart creates its own history, and how legends are made.

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Vintage Crime

Death in White Pyjamas & Death Knows No Calendar by John Bude

Courtesy of the British Library. A twofer! I’ve quite enjoyed the couple of John Budes I’ve read previously although he hasn’t so far become one of the stars of the BL collection for me. But he has two chances to convince me in this new volume… they both sound good! And such a great cover again…

The Blurb says: Two of John Bude’s finest Golden Age mysteries return to the limelight.

Death in White Pyjamas: A theatre-owner, a ‘slightly sinister’ producer, a burgeoning playwright and a cast of ego-driven actors have gathered at a country home to read through the promising script for Pigs in Porcelain. Before the production ever reaches the stage, one of their number is found murdered in the grounds wearing what mysteriously seems to be somebody else’s white pyjamas. Enter Inspector Harting and Sergeant Dane to unravel this curious plot.

Death Knows No Calendar: Investigating a deadly shooting with no shooter in a locked artist’s studio, detective fiction enthusiast Major Tom Boddy has a long day ahead of him. With four colourful suspects to scrutinise, and not one but two ‘impossible’ elements of the crime to solve, this extremely rare and thoroughly entertaining mystery is long overdue its return to print. 

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Historical Fiction/Folklore

Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann

Courtesy of riverrun at Quercus via NetGalley. Sounds utterly weird and way out of my comfort zone, but I adored Kehlmann’s F: A Novel and suspect if anyone can pull this off, he can…

The Blurb says: He’s a trickster, a player, a jester. His handshake’s like a pact with the devil, his smile like a crack in the clouds; he’s watching you now and he’s gone when you turn. Tyll Ulenspiegel is here!

In a village like every other village in Germany, a scrawny boy balances on a rope between two trees. He’s practising. He practises by the mill, by the blacksmiths; he practises in the forest at night, where the Cold Woman whispers and goblins roam. When he comes out, he will never be the same.

Tyll will escape the ordinary villages. In the mines he will defy death. On the battlefield he will run faster than cannonballs. In the courts he will trick the heads of state. As a travelling entertainer, his journey will take him across the land and into the heart of a never-ending war.

A prince’s doomed acceptance of the Bohemian throne has European armies lurching brutally for dominion and now the Winter King casts a sunless pall. Between the quests of fat counts, witch-hunters and scheming queens, Tyll dances his mocking fugue; exposing the folly of kings and the wisdom of fools.

With macabre humour and moving humanity, Daniel Kehlmann lifts this legend from medieval German folklore and enters him on the stage of the Thirty Years’ War. When citizens become the playthings of politics and puppetry, Tyll, in his demonic grace and his thirst for freedom, is the very spirit of rebellion – a cork in water, a laugh in the dark, a hero for all time.

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Wodehouse on Audio

Joy in the Morning by PG Wodehouse

Time to top up my happiness quotient with a little trip to Wodehouse world in the company of Bertie Wooster, Jeeves and the perfect narrator for these stories, Jonathan Cecil. I’ve already started listening to this and am remembering the reason the word “guffaw” was invented…  

The Blurb says: Trapped in rural Steeple Bumpleigh, a man less stalwart than Bertie Wooster would probably give way at the knees.

For among those present were Florence Craye, to whom Bertie had once been engaged and her new fiance ‘Stilton’ Cheesewright, who sees Bertie as a snake in the grass. And that biggest blot on the landscape, Edwin the Boy Scout, who is busy doing acts of kindness out of sheer malevolence.

All Bertie’s forebodings are fully justified. For in his efforts to oil the wheels of commerce, promote the course of true love and avoid the consequences of a vendetta, he becomes the prey of all and sundry. In fact only Jeeves can save him…

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 228 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 228

As you know, I live in a constant state of war with my TBR and frankly it seems to be winning. So I’ve developed a new battle tactic and am recruiting you all as my crack regiment to help me defeat the enemy! 

The problem is that most of the new books I acquire are review copies or books for challenges and so they get priority. This means that books which don’t “need” to be read linger eternally in the deep recesses of my spreadsheet, getting a chance to escape only on the rare occasion I have a gap in my schedule. And of course it’s the longer books that tend to be left longest. 

So here’s the plan. Once a month or so, I shall list the four oldest books on the TBR, then the next four, and so on, and each time you will select the one you think I should read, either because you’ve read and enjoyed it, or because you think the blurb looks good. And I will read the one you pick within three months! (If I begin to fall behind, I’ll have a gap till I catch up again.) In the event of a tie, I’ll have the casting vote.

Are you ready? Then don your armour, leap on your warhorse, and get ready to fight the good fight!

Historical Fiction

The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst

The oldest book on the TBR, added on 29th July 2012! 10,060 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.31 average rating. 564 pages.

The Blurb says: From the Man Booker Prize–winning author of The Line of Beauty: a magnificent, century-spanning saga about a love triangle that spawns a myth, and a family mystery, across generations.

In the late summer of 1913, George Sawle brings his Cambridge schoolmate – a handsome, aristocratic young poet named Cecil Valance – to his family’s modest home outside London for the weekend. George is enthralled by Cecil, and soon his sixteen-year-old sister, Daphne, is equally besotted by him and the stories he tells about Corley Court, the country estate he is heir to. But what Cecil writes in Daphne’s autograph album will change their and their families’ lives forever: a poem that, after Cecil is killed in the Great War and his reputation burnished, will become a touchstone for a generation, a work recited by every schoolchild in England. Over time, a tragic love story is spun, even as other secrets lie buried – until, decades later, an ambitious biographer threatens to unearth them.

Rich with Hollinghurst’s signature gifts – haunting sensuality, delicious wit and exquisite lyricism – The Stranger’s Child is a tour de force: a masterly novel about the lingering power of desire, how the heart creates its own history, and how legends are made.

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Historical Fiction

Serena by Ron Rash

Added 13th September 2012. 32,849 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.53 average. 371 pages.

The Blurb says: The year is 1929, and newlyweds George and Serena Pemberton travel from Boston to the North Carolina mountains where they plan to create a timber empire. Although George has already lived in the camp long enough to father an illegitimate child, Serena is new to the mountains—but she soon shows herself to be the equal of any man, overseeing crews, hunting rattle-snakes, even saving her husband’s life in the wilderness. Together this lord and lady of the woodlands ruthlessly kill or vanquish all who fall out of favor. Yet when Serena learns that she will never bear a child, she sets out to murder the son George fathered without her. Mother and child begin a struggle for their lives, and when Serena suspects George is protecting his illegitimate family, the Pembertons’ intense, passionate marriage starts to unravel as the story moves toward its shocking reckoning.

Rash’s masterful balance of violence and beauty yields a riveting novel that, at its core, tells of love both honored and betrayed.

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Contemporary Fiction

The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

Added 27th September 2012. 291,491 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.30 average. 494 pages.

The Blurb says: When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.

Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war.

Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils … Pagford is not what it first seems.

And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?

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Thriller

Bloodstream by Tess Gerritson

Added 27th December 2012. 12,342 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.96 average. 516 pages. 

The Blurb says: A spine-tingling thriller from the bestselling author of the Rizzoli & Isles series.
The small resort of Tranquillity, Maine, seems like the perfect spot for Dr Claire Elliot to shelter her son, Noah, from the temptations of the city and the traumatic memory of his father’s death. Claire’s hopeful that she can earn the trust of the town as she builds a new practice. But her plans unravel when an outbreak of teenage violence, far more deadly than anything she has encountered in the city, erupts in the local school.

In trying to find a medical explanation for this murderous epidemic, Claire stumbles upon an insidious evil which has blighted the town’s past and threatens its future. Terrified that Noah too is at risk, she must prove her theory before everything she loves is destroyed.

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VOTE NOW!

 

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

TBR Thursday 227…

Episode 227

Hurrah! The awful rise in the TBR has been reversed this week due to me finally finishing a few books – down three to 213! I’m sure success is finally within my sights…

Here are a few more I’ll be banging into soon…

Fiction

The Siege by Helen Dunmore

I’ve already been to Moscow for my Around the World challenge, but given the size of Russia and the fact that both Moscow and St Petersburg/Leningrad have been considered capital cities, sometimes simultaneously, with Moscow looking east while St Petersburg looked west, I wanted to visit both. Doctor Zhivago took me back to the Revolution; this one is set during WW2.  

The Blurb says: Leningrad, September 1941. Hitler orders the German forces to surround the city at the start of the most dangerous, desperate winter in its history. For two pairs of lovers – Anna and Andrei, Anna’s novelist father and banned actress Marina – the siege becomes a battle for survival. They will soon discover what it is like to be so hungry you boil shoe leather to make soup, so cold you burn furniture and books. But this is not just a struggle to exist, it is also a fight to keep the spark of hope alive…

The Siege is a brilliantly imagined novel of war and the wounds it inflicts on ordinary people’s lives, and a profoundly moving celebration of love, life and survival.

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Classic American Fiction

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

One from my Classics Club list. I must admit I’m dreading this one – the blurb and reviews make it sound quite awful. But I know many people love it so (despite the fact that many people also love Gone with the Wind and East of Eden, making me doubtful about whether many people were reading the same versions as me 😉 ) I’ll give it a go. If it surprises me, it can only be in a good way…

The Blurb says: Carson McCullers’ prodigious first novel was published to instant acclaim when she was just twenty-three. Set in a small town in the middle of the deep South, it is the story of John Singer, a lonely deaf-mute, and a disparate group of people who are drawn towards his kind, sympathetic nature. The owner of the café where Singer eats every day, a young girl desperate to grow up, an angry drunkard, a frustrated black doctor: each pours their heart out to Singer, their silent confidant, and he in turn changes their disenchanted lives in ways they could never imagine. 

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Historical Fiction

The Year Without Summer by Guinevere Glasfurd

Courtesy of John Murray Press via NetGalley. Hmm, this sounds good but early reviews have been very mixed. Still, maybe the many people who didn’t like it are Steinbeck fans, so there’s still hope…

The Blurb says: In 1815, a supervolcanic eruption led to the extraordinary ‘Year Without Summer’ in 1816: a massive climate disruption causing famine, poverty and riots. Lives, both ordinary and privileged, changed forever.

1815, Sumbawa Island, Indonesia
Mount Tambora explodes in a cataclysmic eruption, killing thousands. Sent to investigate, ship surgeon Henry Hogg can barely believe his eyes. Once a paradise, the island is now solid ash, the surrounding sea turned to stone. But worse is yet to come: as the ash cloud rises and covers the sun, the seasons will fail.

1816.
In Switzerland, Mary Shelley finds dark inspiration. Confined inside by the unseasonable weather, thousands of famine refugees stream past her door. In Vermont, preacher Charles Whitlock begs his followers to keep faith as drought dries their wells and their livestock starve. In Britain, the ambitious and lovesick painter John Constable struggles to reconcile the idyllic England he paints with the misery that surrounds him. In the Fens, farm labourer Sarah Hobbs has had enough of going hungry while the farmers flaunt their wealth. And Hope Peter, returned from Napoleonic war, finds his family home demolished and a fence gone up in its place. He flees to London, where he falls in with a group of revolutionaries who speak of a better life, whatever the cost. As desperation sets in, Britain becomes racked with riots – rebellion is in the air.

The Year Without Summer is the story of the books written, the art made; of the journeys taken, of the love longed for and the lives lost during that fateful year. Six separate lives, connected only by an event many thousands of miles away. Few had heard of Tambora – but none could escape its effects.

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Science Fiction

The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray

Courtesy of Random House Cornerstone via NetGalley. I don’t know anything about either book or author – I just took a fancy to try some contemporary sci-fi for a change…  

The Blurb says: The Last Day is set 40 years into the future after the planet’s rotation has slowed to a halt, resulting in half the earth facing the constant light of the sun while the other half lives in an endless, frozen night. The plot centres on a young scientist who is called back to London from the frozen Atlantic and begins to uncover a truth which could change the future of the human race.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 226…

Episode 226

No! No, no, no!!! What’s happening to me??? After last week’s ginormous jump, I was so sure the TBR would drop this week, but… it’s up another FOUR to 216! Partly this is because I’m currently reading three longish books so haven’t finished one for days, and partly it’s because I’ve had a couple of unsolicited ones sent by publishers (which is always fun and gets me to read things I wouldn’t necessarily otherwise pick). Then there have been a couple of unmissable Kindle deals. So you see, it’s really not my fault! 

Here are a few I should get to soon…

Fiction

Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz

Mahfouz is a Nobel Prize winner, which ought to be a recommendation but, given my experiences with fellow winners in the past, I view more as a warning. However, it does sound excellent. I’m only planning to read the first in the trilogy, Palace Walk, as a way to visit Egypt for my Around the World challenge. Hopefully I’ll love it enough to want to read the other two later… 

The Blurb says: The Nobel Prize—winning writer’s masterwork is the engrossing story of a Muslim family in Cairo during Britain’s occupation of Egypt in the early decades of the twentieth century.

The novels of The Cairo Trilogy trace three generations of the family of tyrannical patriarch Al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, who rules his household with a strict hand while living a secret life of self-indulgence. Palace Walk introduces us to his gentle, oppressed wife, Amina, his cloistered daughters, Aisha and Khadija, and his three sons–the tragic and idealistic Fahmy, the dissolute hedonist Yasin, and the soul-searching intellectual Kamal. Al-Sayyid Ahmad’s rebellious children struggle to move beyond his domination in Palace of Desire, as the world around them opens to the currents of modernity and political and domestic turmoil brought by the 1920s. Sugar Street brings Mahfouz’s vivid tapestry of an evolving Egypt to a dramatic climax as the aging patriarch sees one grandson become a Communist, one a Muslim fundamentalist, and one the lover of a powerful politician.

Throughout the trilogy, the family’s trials mirror those of their turbulent country during the years spanning the two World Wars, as change comes to a society that has resisted it for centuries. Filled with compelling drama, earthy humour, and remarkable insight, The Cairo Trilogy is the achievement of a master storyteller.

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Classic English Fiction

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

I read this a year or so ago and tragically kept putting off writing a review until it got to the point I no longer felt it was fresh enough in my mind to do so. Fortunately it’s short and I loved it, so it’s no hardship to read it again. This time I’ll take notes! One for the Classics Club. 

The Blurb says: Conrad’s narrator Marlow, a seaman and wanderer, recounts his physical and psychological journey in search of the infamous ivory trader Kurtz: dying, insane, and guilty of unspeakable atrocities. Travelling upriver to the heart of the African continent, he gradually becomes obsessed by this enigmatic, wraith-like figure. Marlow’s discovery of how Kurtz has gained his position of power over the local people involves him in a radical questioning, not only of his own nature and values, but also those of western civilisation. The inspiration for Francis Ford Coppola’s Oscar-winning film Apocalypse Now, Heart of Darkness is a quintessentially modernist work exploring the limits of human experience and the nightmarish realities of imperialism.

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Thriller

Westwind by Ian Rankin

Courtesy of Orion via NetGalley. There appears to be a new trend of publishers digging out the early, out of print works of famous authors and re-publishing them, and this is one of those. Sometimes this turns up a hidden gem, other times one feels it would have been kinder to leave them buried in the past. We’ll see which category this one falls into…

The Blurb says: It always starts with a small lie. That’s how you stop noticing the bigger ones.

After his friend suspects something strange going on at the launch facility where they both work – and then goes missing – Martin Hepton doesn’t believe the official line of “long-term sick leave”…

Refusing to stop asking questions, he leaves his old life behind, aware that someone is shadowing his every move. The only hope he has is his ex-girlfriend Jill Watson – the only journalist who will believe his story.

But neither of them can believe the puzzle they’re piecing together – or just how shocking the secret is that everybody wants to stay hidden…

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Vintage Crime

Castle Skull by John Dickson Carr

Courtesy of the British Library. I absolutely loved It Walks by Night – the first Bencolin and Marle book – so am thrilled that the BL has now followed up with the second. The very title send shivers of pleasurable anticipation down my spine…

The Blurb says: That is the case. Alison has been murdered. His blazing body was seen running about the battlements of Castle Skull.

And so a dark shadow looms over the Rhineland where Inspector Henri Bencolin and his accomplice Jeff Marle have arrived from Paris. Entreated by the Belgian financier D’Aunay to investigate the gruesome and grimly theatrical death of actor Myron Alison, the pair find themselves at the imposing hilltop fortress Schloss Schädel, in which a small group of suspects are still assembled.

As thunder rolls in the distance, Bencolin and Marle enter a world steeped in macabre legends of murder and magic to catch the killer still walking the maze-like passages and towers of the keep.

This new edition of John Dickson Carrs spirited and deeply atmospheric early novel also features the rare Inspector Bencolin short story ‘The Fourth Suspect’.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 225…

Episode 225

Oh, dear! Oh, dear, oh, dear, oh, dear!! The postman arrived, NetGalley trapped me AND I visited the local charity shops since I last reported. The result is a massive increase in the TBR – up SIX to 212. I’m so ashamed…

Here are a few that have nearly reached the top of the heap…

History

The Battle for Spain by Antony Beevor

First up for my brand new Spanish Civil War challenge. It seems to make sense to get an understanding of the history before embarking on the fictional accounts…

The Blurb says: To mark the 70th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War’s outbreak, Antony Beevor has written a completely updated and revised account of one of the most bitter and hard-fought wars of the twentieth century. With new material gleaned from the Russian archives and numerous other sources, this brisk and accessible book (Spain’s #1 bestseller for twelve weeks), provides a balanced and penetrating perspective, explaining the tensions that led to this terrible overture to World War II and affording new insights into the war – its causes, course, and consequences.

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Fiction

I Married a Communist by Philip Roth

A re-read of the second book in what is known as Roth’s American Trilogy. I tried to listen to this as an audiobook last year but didn’t get along with the narrator’s accent, so am reverting to the paper copy. I remember enjoying this but not being as blown away by it as I was by American Pastoral first time round, but it has undoubtedly lingered in my mind – always the sign of a great (or terrible!) book… 

The Blurb says: I Married a Communist charts the rise and fall of Ira Ringold, an American roughneck who begins life as a ditchdigger in 1930s New Jersey, becoming a big-time radio hotshot in the 1940s. In his heyday as a star – and as a zealous, bullying supporter of ‘progressive’ political causes – Ira marries Hollywood’s beloved leading lady, Eve Frame. Their glamorous honeymoon is short-lived, however, and it is the publication of Eve’s scandalous bestselling expose that identifies Ira as ‘an American taking his orders from Moscow’.

In this story of cruelty, betrayal, and savage revenge, anti-Communist fever pollutes national politics and infects the relationships of ordinary Americans; friends become deadly enemies, parents and children tragically estranged, lovers blacklisted and felled from vertiginous heights.

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Fiction

The Leopard by Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

My brother, ForeignFilmFan, recommended this and the film of it to me long ago. There’s also a novel about the writing of this book, called Lampedusa, which my Canadian bloggie friends have been talking about recently, some loving it, some hating it, and it’s due out over here next month, so I’d like to read this first and then see if it inspires me to read that one. Plus, it will take me to Sicily for my Around the World challenge…

The Blurb says: The Leopard is a modern classic which tells the spellbinding story of a decadent, dying Sicilian aristocracy threatened by the approaching forces of democracy and revolution.

In the spring of 1860, Fabrizio, the charismatic Prince of Salina, still rules over thousands of acres and hundreds of people, including his own numerous family, in mingled splendour and squalor. Then comes Garibaldi’s landing in Sicily and the Prince must decide whether to resist the forces of change or come to terms with them.

‘Every once in a while, like certain golden moments of happiness, infinitely memorable, one stumbles on a book or a writer, and the impact is like an indelible mark. Lampedusa’s The Leopard, his only novel, and a masterpiece, is such a work.’ Independent

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Fiction

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

Courtesy of Faber & Faber via NetGalley. I requested this based purely on the blurb, and it’s getting great reviews. However I have a feeling from those reviews it will “trigger” me – it sounds as if it might be another of these tedious liberal identity politics tub-thumpers that America has been churning out during the Trump years. I sympathise, I really do, but I’m also bored. I’ve been forced to be “woke” for so long that I seriously need a nap now. However, maybe it will surprise me…

The Blurb says: Grace Park and Shawn Mathews share a city – Los Angeles – but seemingly little else. Coming from different generations and very different communities, their paths wouldn’t normally cross at all. As Grace battles confusion over her elder sister’s estrangement from their Korean-immigrant parents, Shawn tries to help his cousin Ray readjust to city life after years spent in prison.

But something in their past links these two families. As the city around them threatens to erupt into violence, echoing the worst days of the early 1990s, the lives of Grace and Shawn are set to collide in ways which will change them all forever.

Beautifully written, and marked by its aching humanity as much as its growing sense of dread, Your House Will Pay is a powerful and urgent novel for today.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday (on a Sunday) 224…

An eighth batch of murder, mystery and mayhem…

(Yes, I know it’s Sunday but I’m so behind with postings that I’ll be reading books before I’ve included them on TBR posts soon, and I simply can’t cope with the mental and emotional discombobulation that would cause me!)

So, the first batch for 2020 for this challenge includes a couple of well-known names and a couple who are new to me…

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

This will be a re-read of the very first Christie novel. However it’s many, many years since I last read it, so I’ve pretty much forgotten it completely, including the crucial question of whodunit…

The Blurb says: Who poisoned the wealthy Emily Inglethorpe, and how did the murderer penetrate and escape from her locked bedroom? Suspects abound in the quaint village of Styles St. Mary–from the heiress’s fawning new husband to her two stepsons, her volatile housekeeper, and a pretty nurse who works in a hospital dispensary. Making his unforgettable debut, the brilliant Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is on the case. The key to the success of this style of detective novel lies in how the author deals with both the clues and the red herrings, and it has to be said that no one bettered Agatha Christie at this game.

Challenge details

Book No: 18

Subject Heading: The Great Detectives

Publication Year: 1920

Martin Edwards says: “Christie blends a rich variety of ingredients, including floor plans, facsimile documents, an inheritance tangle, impersonation, forgery and courtroom drama. The originality of her approach lay in the way she prioritised the springing of a surprise solution ahead of everything else…

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Trent’s Last Case by EC Bentley

I don’t remember ever reading anything by Bentley before so this is unknown territory…

The Blurb says: On Wall Street, the mere mention of the name Sigsbee Manderson is enough to send a stock soaring—or bring it tumbling back to earth. Feared but not loved, Manderson has no one to mourn him when the gardener at his British country estate finds him facedown in the dirt, a bullet buried in his brain. There are bruises on his wrist and blood on his clothes, but no clue that will lead the police to the murderer. It will take an amateur to—inadvertently—show them the way.

Cheerful, charming, and always eager for a mystery, portrait artist and gentleman sleuth Philip Trent leaps into the Manderson affair with all the passion of the autodidact. Simply by reading the newspapers, he discovers overlooked details of the crime. Not all of his reasoning is sound, and his romantic interests are suspect, to say the least, but Trent’s dedication to the art of detection soon uncovers what no one expected him to find: the truth.

Challenge details

Book No: 12

Subject Heading: The Birth of the Golden Age

Publication Year: 1913

Edwards says: “The book opens with a scathing denunciation of the ruthless American magnate Sigsbee Manderson. More than a century after the book was published, this passage retains its power, and reminds us that there is nothing new about the unpopularity of financiers…

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The Innocence of Father Brown by GK Chesterton

I’ve never been a fan of GK Chesterton’s Father Brown stories, so this one will be more of a duty than a pleasure… unless he manages to win me over this time!

The Blurb says: In thrilling tales such as “The Blue Cross,” “The Secret Garden,” and “The Hammer of God,” G. K. Chesterton’s immortal priest-detective applies his extraordinary intuition to the most intricate of mysteries. No corner of the human soul is too dark for Father Brown, no villain too ingenious. The Innocence of Father Brown is a testament to the power of faith and the pleasure of a story well told.

Challenge details

Book No: 7

Subject Heading: A New Era Dawns

Publication Year: 1911

Edwards says: “Chesterton took a real-life friend, a Bradford priest, as his model, ‘knocking him about; beating his hat and umbrella shapeless, untidying his clothes, punching his intelligent countenance into a condition of pudding-faced fatuity, and generally disguising Father O’Connor as Father Brown.’

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The Crime at Diana’s Pool by Victor L Whitechurch

I’m sure I’ve read and enjoyed a short story from Whitechurch in one of the BL’s anthologies, though I may be mistaken since I can’t find any reference to it on the blog. Anyway, this is certainly my first novel by him…

The Blurb says: The Reverend Harry Westerman was “an energetic, capable parish priest, a good organiser, and a plain, sensible preacher” and “a particularly shrewd and capable man. It was no idle boast of his that he had made a habit of observation – many of his parishioners little guessed how closely and clearly he had summed them up by observing those ordinary idiosyncrasies which escape the notice of most people. He was also a man who could be deeply interested in many things quite apart from his professional calling, and chiefly in problems which concerned humanity.” Attending the garden party of a newcomer to the parish of Coppleswick he makes a discovery that leads to a long and complicated investigation with sinister connections to past events.

Challenge details

Book No: 37

Subject Heading: Murder at the Manor

Publication Year: 1927

Edwards says: “As Dorothy L Sayers complained, he did not put the reader ‘on an equal footing with the detective himself, as regards all clues and discoveries’. For her, this was a throwback to ‘the naughty tradition’, but she acknowledged that the novel was otherwise excellent.”

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All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.
The quotes from Martin Edwards are from his book,
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.

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

TBR Thursday 223…

Episode 223

So the first TBR Thursday of the year and the first report since I set my annual target to reduce the TBR by 40. Hmm. Well, I’m rushing to do this before the postman arrives because I fear the situation is going to deteriorate badly when he does. At this precise moment it’s up by 1 to 206. Could be worse… let’s face it, WILL be worse…

Here are a few that are at the top of the heap…

Scottish Classic

Grey Granite by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

The winner of the last Classics Club Spin is this, the third volume of A Scots Quair trilogy. I loved the first one, Sunset Song, and found the second, Cloud Howe, disappointing, so anything could happen with this one… fingers crossed!

The Blurb says: Chris Guthrie and her son, Ewan, have come to the industrial town of Duncairn, where life is as hard as the granite of the buildings all around them. These are the Depression years of the 1930s, and Chris is far from the fields of her youth in Sunset Song. In a society of factory owners, shopkeepers, policemen, petty clerks and industrial labourers, “Chris Caledonia” must make her living as bets she can by working in Ma Cleghorn’s boarding house. Ewan finds employment in a steel foundry and tries to lead a peaceful strike against the manufacture of armaments. In the face of violence and police brutality, his socialist idealism is forged into something harder and fiercer as he becomes a communist activist ready to sacrifice himself, his girlfriend, and even the truth itself, for the cause. Grey Granite is the last and grimmest volume of the Scots Quair trilogy. Chris Guthrie is one of the great characters in Scottish Literature and no reader of Sunset Song and Cloud Howe should miss this last rich chapter in her tale.

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Vintage Crime

The Listening Walls by Margaret Millar

Courtesy of Pushkin Vertigo. I’ve seen Margaret Millar mentioned by various vintage crime fans around the blogosphere, so am looking forward to trying her for myself…

The Blurb says: Amy Kellogg is not having a pleasant vacation in Mexico. She’s been arguing nonstop with her friend and traveling companion, Wilma, and she wants nothing more than to go home to California. But their holiday takes a nightmarish turn when Wilma is found dead on the street below their room-an apparent suicide.

Rupert Kellogg has just returned from seeing his wife Amy through the difficulties surrounding the apparent suicide of her friend in Mexico. But Rupert is returning alone-which worries Amy’s brother. Amy was traumatized by the suicide, Rupert explains, and has taken a holiday in New York City to settle her nerves. But as gone girl Amy’s absence drags on for weeks and then months, the sense of unease among her family changes to suspicion and eventual allegations.

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Fiction

Braised Pork by An Yu

Courtesy of Harville Secker via NetGalley. I know nothing about either book or author but I thought it sounded intriguingly strange…

The Blurb says: One morning in autumn, Jia Jia walks into the bathroom of her Beijing apartment to find her husband – with whom she had been breakfasting barely an hour before – dead in the bathtub. Next to him a piece of paper unfolds like the wings of a butterfly, and on it is an image that Jia Jia can’t forget.

Profoundly troubled by what she has seen, even while she is abruptly released from a marriage that had constrained her, Jia Jia embarks on a journey to discover the truth of the sketch. Starting at her neighbourhood bar, with its brandy and vinyl, and fuelled by anger, bewilderment, curiosity and love, Jia Jia travels deep into her past in order to arrive at her future.

Braised Pork is a cinematic, often dreamlike evocation of nocturnal Beijing and the high plains of Tibet, and an exploration of myth-making, loss, and a world beyond words, which ultimately sees a young woman find a new and deeper sense of herself.

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Crime

Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin

This has been languishing on my TBR since September 2016, which is odd since I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the couple of books I’ve previously read from this author. This is the first in a quartet, of which I’ve already read the last one – yeah, must stop doing that! This will take me to one of my last Around the World destinations, I hope…

The Blurb says: ‘Can you ever come to terms with a missing child?’ Julia Davidsson has not. Her five-year-old son disappeared twenty years previously on the Swedish island of Oland. No trace of him has ever been found.

Until his shoe arrives in the post. It has been sent to Julia’s father, a retired sea-captain still living on the island. Soon he and Julia are piecing together fragments of the past: fragments that point inexorably to a local man called Nils Kant, known to delight in the pain of others. But Nils Kant died during the 1960s. So who is the stranger seen wandering across the fields as darkness falls?

It soon becomes clear that someone wants to stop Julia’s search for the truth. And that he’s much, much closer than she thinks…

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 222… and Quarterly Round-Up

TBR Quarterly Report

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

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

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The Around the World in 80 Books Challenge

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

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

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

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

72 down, 8 to go!

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The Classics Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

56 down, 34 to go!

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

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

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

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

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

34 down, 68 to go!

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5 x 5 Challenge

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

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

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

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

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀