TBR Thursday 331 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 331

(A reminder of The People’s Choice plan. Once a month, 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.)

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OK, People, time for another batch of four! Still in 2019, and an interesting mix this time, I think. I like to run three months ahead with these polls, so the winner will be an August read. A recent Rebus novel, In a House of Lies  by Ian Rankin slipped through my net when it was released and has been lingering ever since. I added Home by Marilynne Robinson because I loved Gilead a few years ago – it’s still the only one of hers I’ve read. Similarly, The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo was added because I loved her later The Night Tiger.  I acquired The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler on the recommendation of a blogger who later disappeared from the blogosphere – I’ve included it on my new Classics Club list.   I’ll be quite happy to read any of these, so you really can’t go wrong… 😉

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Crime

In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin

Added 23rd March 2019. 13,972 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.11 average rating. 370 pages.

The Blurb says: Everyone has something to hide
A missing private investigator is found, locked in a car hidden deep in the woods. Worse still – both for his family and the police – is that his body was in an area that had already been searched.

Everyone has secrets
Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke is part of a new inquiry, combing through the mistakes of the original case. There were always suspicions over how the investigation was handled and now – after a decade without answers – it’s time for the truth.

Nobody is innocent
Every officer involved must be questioned, and it seems everyone on the case has something to hide, and everything to lose. But there is one man who knows where the trail may lead – and that it could be the end of him: John Rebus.

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Fiction

Home by Marilynne Robinson

Added 27th April 2019. 24,611 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.03 average. 325 pages.

The Blurb says: Jack Boughton – prodigal son – has been gone twenty years. He returns home seeking refuge and to make peace with the past. A bad boy from childhood, an alcoholic who cannot hold down a job, Jack is perpetually at odds with his surroundings and with his traditionalist father, though he remains Boughton’s most beloved child. His sister Glory has also returned, fleeing her own mistakes, to care for their dying father. A moving book about families, about love and death and faith, Home is unforgettable. It is a masterpiece.

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Fantasy

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

Added 23rd August 2019. 28,329 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.80 average. 368 pages. 

The Blurb says: Seventeen-year-old Li Lan lives in 1890s Malaya with her quietly-ruined father, who returns one evening with a proposition – the fabulously wealthy Lim family want Li Lan to marry their son. The only problem is, he’s dead. After a fateful visit to the Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also her desire for the Lims’ handsome new heir. At night she is drawn into the Chinese afterlife – a world of ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, monstrous bureaucracy and vengeful spirits. Enlisting the help of mysterious Er Lang (a dragon turned clerk) Li Lan must uncover the secrets of the ghost world – before she becomes trapped there forever.

Drawing on traditional Malayan folklore and superstition, The Ghost Bride is a haunting, exotic and romantic read perfect for fans of Empress Orchid and Memoirs of a Geisha.

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Spy Thriller

The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler

Added 8th October 2019. 8,827 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.92 average. 244 pages.

The Blurb says: English crime novelist Charles Latimer is travelling in Istanbul when he makes the acquaintance of Turkish police inspector Colonel Haki. It is from him that he first hears of the mysterious Dimitrios – an infamous master criminal, long wanted by the law, whose body has just been fished out of the Bosphorus. Fascinated by the story, Latimer decides to retrace Dimitrios’ steps across Europe to gather material for a new book. But, as he gradually discovers more about his subject’s shadowy history, fascination tips over into obsession. And, in entering Dimitrios’ criminal underworld, Latimer realizes that his own life may be on the line.

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

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The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton

She ain’t no Becky Sharp…

😐 😐

Undine Spragg has been spoiled by her pathetic parents to the point of becoming barely functional as a human being. Greedy, shallow, brain-dead, common as muck, amazingly men fall for her because she has red hair. Because, let’s face it, the men are all shallow and brain-dead too, though far too classy to be greedy or common. No, the men are quite contented to amble pointlessly through life, living off the wealth of their relatives. Undine always wants something she can’t have – baubles, mainly, and bangles and beads. And admiration. And when she can’t have it she throws a tantrum because she has the mental capacity of a not very bright two-year-old. Surprisingly this behaviour appears to work, and people give her whatever she wants simply to shut her up, much in the way a stressed mother might shove a dummy in the mouth of a screaming child. And yet men love her…

This dismal, tedious tome is touted as a brilliant satire of American high society at the beginning of the twentieth century. “Brilliant” is a subjective term, so I’ll confine myself to subjectively disagreeing, wholeheartedly. “Satire”, however, has a specific meaning…

Satire: A poem or (in later use) a novel, film, or other work of art which uses humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize prevailing immorality or foolishness, esp. as a form of social or political commentary.

~ Oxford English Dictionary

The problem with the book is that there is no humour in it, no irony, not much exaggeration that I could see, and the very occasional attempt at ridicule doesn’t come off because they’re all such tedious people – not even worthy of ridicule. Becky Sharp (Vanity Fair) is a brilliantly drawn central figure in a satire, because she is witty, intelligent, manipulative and determined, and because she starts with nothing, making the reader have more sympathy for her than for the immoral, feckless snobs she makes her victims. Undine, on the other hand is dull, stupid and talentless, and comes from a background where her every whim has been met. Why would anyone sympathise with her?

Becky’s victims are indeed exaggerated, often to the point of caricature. Who can forget the awfulness of miserly, lascivious Sir Pitt the elder, or the sanctimonious hypocrisy of Sir Pitt the younger, or the gullible vanity of poor Jos Sedley? Simpering, snivelling Amelia is the Victorian heroine taken to extremes, and Thackeray’s demolition of the reader’s initial sympathy for her is masterly. And so on.

Undine’s victims are typical, unexaggerated society wastrels, living on inherited wealth and contributing nothing of either good or ill to the society they infest. They are dull in themselves, and therefore dull for the reader to spend time with. Can one ridicule someone with no outstanding characteristics? I guess it’s possible, but there are few signs of it happening here. Ridicule should surely make you laugh at the object, or perhaps if you’re a nicer person than I, wince in sympathy. It shouldn’t make you curl your lip disparagingly while trying to stifle a yawn…

Edith Wharton

I seriously considered abandoning the book halfway through on the grounds that I have sworn an oath that, whatever I die of, it won’t be boredom. But I decided to struggle on in the hope that perhaps there would be a whole marvellous cast of caricatured eccentrics waiting on the later pages, and maybe Undine would become deliciously wicked rather than depressingly selfish, and all the humour might have been saved for the later chapters. But sadly not, despite her following Becky Sharp’s career closely. Remarkably closely, actually, up to the very latter stages, which is why I have chosen to compare the books. I think the major difference is Becky enjoyed her life, so we enjoyed it with her, and despite her treatment of them she brought some fun and excitement into the lives of her victims – Undine is miserable pretty much all the time, empty and miserable, and she brings nothing but emptiness and misery into anyone’s life, including this reader’s. She sure ain’t no Becky Sharp, though it felt clear to me from the plagiarising mirroring of the plot that Wharton intended her to be.

Book 5 of 12

This was the People’s Choice winner for May – sorry, People! Never mind – it’s the first loser this year, and next month’s looks great… 😀

Amazon UK Link

TBR Thursday 327 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 327

(A reminder of The People’s Choice plan. Once a month, 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.)

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OK, People, time for the next batch of four! Still in 2019, and a crime month this month, mostly vintage. I like to run three months ahead with these polls, so the winner will be a July read. I’ve had a mixed reaction to Ann Cleeves, but enjoyed the first in her Shetland series – White Nights is the second. I acquired Death in the Tunnel after enjoying another of Miles Burton’s books, The Secret of High Eldersham. I’ve enjoyed a couple of Dashiell Hammett’s books in the past, and occasional blog visitor Christophe recommended The Glass Key as one of his best. Ellery Queen’s Calamity Town is one of the books for my Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge. I’ll be quite happy to read any of these, so you really can’t go wrong… 😉

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Crime

White Nights by Ann Cleeves

Added 24th February 2019. 23,244 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.01 average rating. 392 pages.

The Blurb says: It’s midsummer in the Shetland Islands, the time of the white nights, when birds sing at midnight and the sun never sets. Artist Bella Sinclair throws an elaborate party to launch an exhibition of her work at The Herring House, a gallery on the beach.

The party ends in farce when one the guests, a mysterious Englishman, bursts into tears and claims not to know who he is or where he’s come from. The following day the Englishman is found hanging from a rafter, and Detective Jimmy Perez is convinced that the man has been murdered. He is reinforced in this belief when Roddy, Bella’s musician nephew, is murdered, too.

But the detective’s relationship with Fran Hunter may have clouded his judgment, for this is a crazy time of the year when night blurs into day and nothing is quite as it seems.

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Vintage Crime

Death in the Tunnel by Miles Burton

Added 24th February 2019. 611 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.48 average. 190 pages.

The Blurb says: On a dark November evening, Sir Wilfred Saxonby is travelling alone in the 5 o’clock train from Cannon Street, in a locked compartment. The train slows and stops inside a tunnel; and by the time it emerges again minutes later, Sir Wilfred has been shot dead, his heart pierced by a single bullet.

Suicide seems to be the answer, even though no motive can be found. Inspector Arnold of Scotland Yard thinks again when learns that a mysterious red light in the tunnel caused the train to slow down.

Finding himself stumped by the puzzle, Arnold consults his friend Desmond Merrion, a wealthy amateur expert in criminology. Merrion quickly comes up with an ‘essential brainwave’ and helps to establish how Sir Wilfred met his end, but although it seems that the dead man fell victim to a complex conspiracy, the investigators are puzzled about the conspirators’ motives as well as their identities. Can there be a connection with Sir Wilfred’s seemingly troubled family life, his highly successful business, or his high-handed and unforgiving personality? And what is the significance of the wallet found on the corpse, and the bank notes that it contained?

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Vintage Crime

The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett

Added 24th February 2019. 11,647 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.94 average. 214 pages. 

The Blurb says: Paul Madvig was a cheerfully corrupt ward-heeler who aspired to something better: the daughter of Senator Ralph Bancroft Henry, the heiress to a dynasty of political purebreds. Did he want her badly enough to commit murder? And if Madvig was innocent, which of his dozens of enemies was doing an awfully good job of framing him? Dashiell Hammett’s tour de force of detective fiction combines an airtight plot, authentically venal characters, and writing of telegraphic crispness. [FF says: What on earth is a ward-heeler?]

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Vintage Crime

Calamity Town by Ellery Queen

Added 16th March 2019. 535 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.77 average. 290 pages.

The Blurb says: At the tail end of the long summer of 1940, there is nowhere in the country more charming than Wrightsville. The Depression has abated, and for the first time in years the city is booming. There is hope in Wrightsville, but Ellery Queen has come looking for death.

The mystery author is hoping for fodder for a novel, and he senses the corruption that lurks beneath the apple pie façade. He rents a house owned by the town’s first family, whose three daughters star in most of the local gossip. One is fragile, left at the altar three years ago and never recovered. Another is engaged to the city’s rising political star, an upright man who’s already boring her. And then there’s Lola, the divorced, bohemian black sheep. Together, they make a volatile combination. Once he sees the ugliness in Wrightsville, Queen sits back — waiting for the crime to come to him.

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

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TBR Thursday 324 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. My reading dipped for a few weeks this quarter when the news took on such a grim aspect but I’ve now reached a point where I just can’t watch it any more, so my reading has returned more or less to normal, though with quite a few books finding themselves on the abandoned heap, as seems to happen in times of stress!

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

Hmm, overperforming on some targets and underperforming on others, but overall that looks pretty good to me. But then the first quarter usually does when I haven’t yet had time to be diverted by new acquisitions! It will all go horribly wrong soon, I expect, but hey! Who’s counting? 😉

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The Classics Club

I’ve had a flurry of classics reading as I finished my first list and started my second. I’ve read seven this quarter and had three left still to review at the end of last quarter. I’m still miles behind with reviews, though, so again have three still to come next quarter…

First List

83. The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester – Gosh, I hated this bad taste pulp science fiction from the 1950s – a vile book about a vile man doing vile things in a vile society. 1 star.

84. Rabbit, Run by John Updike – Gosh, I hated this misogynistic pile of drivel, an early example of the sex-obsessed, narcissistic bilge that too often passes for literature in these degenerate days! 👵 1 star.

85. The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham – A wonderfully atmospheric thriller making great use of the London fog, although let down a little by the ending. 4 stars.

86. The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr – I could see why this is so popular among “impossible crime” enthusiasts but that’s not my favourite sub-genre so for me it was a mediocre read. 3 stars.

87. Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin – Gosh, I hated this tedious book, filled with the mumboing and jumboing of religious maniacs. I enjoyed seeing all the contrasting views from my Review-Along buddies though! 1 star.

88. No Mean City by A McArthur and H Kingsley Long – Not a great novel, perhaps, but of interest for its look at the Glasgow slums of the era, and as the book that gave the city the hardman reputation that has inspired so much gang-obsessed fiction since. 4 stars.

88 down, 2 to go!

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Second List

1. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham – A thought-provoking meditation on post-apocalyptic societies and how we humans treat those we see as different, while also managing to be a tense thriller. Again I enjoyed reading this as a Review-Along. 4½ stars.

I also attempted to read On the Road by Jack Kerouac but quickly abandoned it – I’m too old for the dreary drink and drug fuelled “adventures” of overgrown adolescents, I fear. I’ve replaced it on my list with The Walls of Jericho by Rudolph Fisher.

1 down, 79 to go!

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I think “mixed bag” is the only way to describe this batch of classics! That’s what happens when you get to the last books on your list and find you’ve lost all enthusiasm for them… 😉

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

I’ve read two for this challenge this quarter but haven’t reviewed either of them yet…

46 down, 56 to go!

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Reading the Spanish Civil War Challenge

I’ve read precisely none for this challenge this quarter, but reviewed one left over from the quarter before…

9. As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee – Despite many beautifully written passages, I felt that the whole memoir had been so embellished it was difficult to see what was true and what was fictional. Plus I hated the way he talked about women and young girls. 3 stars.

I have lots of books lined up for this challenge – it’s just a matter of fitting them in!

9 down, indefinite number to go!

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The People’s Choice

People's Choice Logo

I’ve read three and reviewed three – hurrah, I’m on track with this challenge! So did You, The People, pick me some good ones…?

January – The Siege of Krishnapur by JG Farrell – I was conflicted as to how I felt about this colonial satire, a fictionalised version of the real Siege of Lucknow of 1857. But my appreciation grew in the later stages, so in the end I was glad to have read it. 4 stars.

February – The Chink in the Armour by Marie Belloc Lowndes – An entertaining vintage crime novel, set in a gambling town just outside Paris. Far too long for its content, but fun overall, with a likeable, if frustratingly naive, heroine and a sexy French Count. 3½ stars.

MarchThe Chrysalids by John Wyndham – Set in a world devastated by nuclear war, this excellent novel provides much food for thought on the subjects of evolution and humanity’s tendency to fear and persecute difference. 4½ stars.

Three interesting, varied and enjoyable choices, People – you did great! Keep up the good work! 😉

3 down, 9 to go!

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Wanderlust Bingo

I’ve read three books for this challenge this quarter and had two still to review from the previous quarter. I’ve reviewed four, with one still to come. I’ve also abandoned one or two that I had planned would fill boxes, but I’ve tentatively selected others to replace them – fingers crossed! The dark blue boxes are books from previous quarters, and the orange are the ones I’m adding this quarter. I still might shuffle them again before the end if I have to, but I’m hoping not. (If you click on the bingo card you should get a larger version.)

CanadaStill Life by Louise Penny – 3 stars. The setting is one of the main strengths of the book, so I’ve slotted it into the North America box.

Turkey – Stamboul Train by Graham Greene – 5 stars.  Really the book covers a journey right across Europe from Ostend to Istanbul on the Orient Express, so it’s a perfect fit for the Train box.

IndiaThe Siege of Krishnapur by JG Farrell – 4 stars. Krishnapur may be fictional, but the events are based on the real history of the Indian Rebellion, so this slots nicely into the Indian Sub-Continent box.

USAThe Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles – 4 stars. This wasn’t quite as much of a road trip novel as I expected, but spends enough time on the Lincoln Highway to justify slotting it into the Road box.

Still some way to go, but the end is nearly in sight…

19 down, 6 to go!

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Doing well on some challenges, falling behind on others – story of my life, really! 😉 Thanks as always for sharing my reading experiences!

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

TBR Thursday 322 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 322

(A reminder of The People’s Choice plan. Once a month, 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.)

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OK, People, time for the next batch of four! Now moving into 2019, and another varied bunch, though all classics of their genres. I like to run three months ahead with these polls, so the winner will be a June read. Another leftover from my old Great American Novel Quest, Catch-22 would be a re-read, although I can’t remember after so many years whether I enjoyed it or not first time round. I’ve dipped into The Lottery and Other Stories once or twice for Tuesday Terror! posts, but there are still many stories in it I’ve never read. I’ve loved Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom books and Tarzan, so acquired The Land That Time Forgot, and have now included it on my new Classics Club list. The Painted Veil was added after I watched and enjoyed the film and because shamefully I haven’t read anything by W Somerset Maugham. It’s also now on my CC list. I’ll be quite happy to read any of these, so you really can’t go wrong! 😉

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

American Classic

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Added 24th December 2018. 772,909 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.98 average rating. 466 pages.

The Blurb says: At the heart of Catch-22 resides the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero endlessly inventive in his schemes to save his skin from the horrible chances of war.

His problem is Colonel Cathcart, who keeps raising the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempts to excuse himself from the perilous missions that he’s committed to flying, he’s trapped by the Great Loyalty Oath Crusade, the bureaucratic rule from which the book takes its title: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes the necessary formal request to be relieved of such missions, the very act of making the request proves that he’s sane and therefore, ineligible to be relieved.

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Short Horror Stories

The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

Added 5th January 2019. 69,128 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.05 average. 320 pages.

The Blurb says: The Lottery, one of the most terrifying stories written in the 20th century, created a sensation when it was first published in The New Yorker. “Power and haunting,” and “nights of unrest” were typical reader responses. This collection, the only one to appear during Shirley Jackson’s lifetime, unites The Lottery with twenty-four equally unusual stories. Together they demonstrate Jackson’s remarkable range–from the hilarious to the truly horrible–and power as a storyteller.

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Fantasy Adventure

The Land That Time Forgot Trilogy by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Added 30th January 2019. 7,686 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.90 average. 259 pages. 

The Blurb says: All Three Classic Adventures from the Prehistoric World that Lives Today – The Land that Time Forgot; The People that Time Forgot & Out of Time’s Abyss.

Before Jurassic Park there was The Land that Time Forgot. In 1916 the great World War is raging on land and on the world’s oceans. On the high seas a ship falls victim to a marauding German U-boat. The vagaries of fate decree that soon the tables will be turned on the aggressors, and the survivors will take control. This story of war becomes something far more bizarre as the search for land and fresh water draws the polyglot crew into a subterranean channel which leads to an exotic, unknown world. When an enormous, amphibian reptile – of a type only known from distant prehistory – appears in living form and attacks, devouring a man in the process, the survivors realise that this is the start of a high adventure beyond anything they could have imagined..

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English Classic

The Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham

Added 24th February 2019. 39,417 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.95 average. 280 pages.

The Blurb says: Set in England and Hong Kong in the 1920s, The Painted Veil is the story of the beautiful, but love-starved Kitty Fane.

When her husband discovers her adulterous affair, he forces her to accompany him to the heart of a cholera epidemic. Stripped of the British society of her youth and the small but effective society she fought so hard to attain in Hong Kong, she is compelled by her awakening conscience to reassess her life and learn how to love.

The Painted Veil is a beautifully written affirmation of the human capacity to grow, to change, and to forgive.

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

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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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Classics Club Spin #29 Result

The Spin Gods picked no. 11, which means I’ll be reading Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth. Must be a mistake – a short book that I really want to read! Someone check if the Spin Gods have a fever… 😉

The Blurb says: During the 1790s, with Ireland in political crisis, Maria Edgeworth made a surprisingly rebellious choice: in Castle Rackrent, her first novel, she adopted an Irish Catholic voice to narrate the decline of a family from her own Anglo-Irish class. Castle Rackrent‘s narrator, Thady Quirk, gives us four generations of Rackrent heirs – Sir Patrick, the dissipated spendthrift; Sir Murtagh, the litigating fiend; Sir Kit, the brutal husband and gambling absentee; and Sir Condy, the lovable and improvident dupe of Thady’s own son, Jason.

With this satire on Anglo-Irish landlords Edgeworth pioneered the regional novel and inspired Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814). She also changed the focus of conflict in Ireland from religion to class and boldly predicted the rise of the Irish Catholic Bourgeoisie.

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The Chink in the Armour by Marie Belloc Lowndes

Place your bets…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

Our naive young heroine, Sylvia Bailey, was married at nineteen to a man many years her elder. Now, still only in her twenty-fifth year, she is a widow – beautiful and wealthy, and keen to experience something of the world. So off she goes to Paris where she makes friends with another guest in the hotel – Anna Wolsky, slightly older than her and with a gambling habit that could easily be called an addiction. Anna introduces Sylvia to Lacville, a little town not far from Paris, the main attraction of which is its casino which draws all sorts of people, desirable and undesirable, to its gaming rooms. One of the desirables is the swoonworthy Count Paul de Virieu, who is staying at the same guesthouse as Sylvia. He has looks, a title, an aristocratic family, a sexy French accent – everything a girl could desire, in fact. Unfortunately he is also a gambling addict, having already lost the fortune he had inherited. Sylvia, of course, feels that she can change him. Meantime, various people warn Sylvia not to openly wear the ostentatious pearls she bought herself as a kind of symbol of her new-found freedom, since some of the undesirables around town may be tempted by them into nefarious deeds. Our Sylvia ignores all warnings, of course. And then Anna, having had a big win one evening, disappears…

This is quite fun, although it’s far too long for its content (proving it’s not only contemporary crime fiction that suffers from this problem). It’s pretty obvious from early on which characters are goodies and which are baddies, although it’s not obvious to our Sylvia who almost inevitably trusts the untrustworthy and dismisses the good people who are trying to warn her she’s putting herself in the way of danger. Still, it wouldn’t be much of a book if she’d listened to them, left Lacville and put her pearls in the bank, I suppose. Instead, she sets out to find out what happened to Anna, to cure Count Paul from his gambling fever, and to have a little fun along the way. But dark deeds are looming and Sylvia is soon in peril.

Marie Belloc Lowndes

Sylvia is so naive and trusting it’s almost painful to watch her, especially since the idea of her taking off to Paris on her own is delightfully liberated for the period – the book was published in 1912. She’s certainly strong-willed, but seems to lack any kind of judgement regarding other people or her own safety. Back home in England, William Chester, the young trustee of the legacy left her by her husband, is waiting patiently for her to sow her wild oats, so to speak, and then come back and settle down into the respectable role of being his wife. Eventually he follows her to France, and is frankly horrified to find her in a gambling town, flirting with a penniless, if sexy, Frenchman. Is Paul after her money, or is he truly in love? Will Sylvia abandon her home country to live a precarious (if exciting) existence with her gambling Count, or will she return to England and a life of safe (if dull) domesticity with sensible Charles? Will Anna ever re-appear? Will Sylvia’s pearls lead to tragedy? Or will it all end happily ever after?

Not a patch on the wonderful The Lodger, the only other of her novels that I’ve read, but enjoyable enough. I do wish someone had insisted on editing out about a third of it though – it would have been a better book as a result. It has a kind of dramatic denouement filled with danger when all is revealed, but it’s so slow getting there and is all too well signalled for there to be much tension. However young Sylvia is an entertainingly wilful heroine, even if I did spend most of the time wanting to knock some sense into her. And it’s probably an age thing, but I really found sensible Charles much more attractive than sexy Paul… hey ho!

Book 2 of 12

This was the People’s Choice for February (I’m late!) – an entertaining choice! Well picked, People!

Amazon UK Link

TBR Thursday 318 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 318

(A reminder of The People’s Choice plan. Once a month, 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.)

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OK, People, time for the next batch of four! Still all from 2018, and another varied bunch. I like to run three months ahead with these polls, so the winner will be a May read. I added 2010: Odyssey Two after loving 2001: A Space Odyssey. I pick up any Maigrets that show up as Kindle or Audible sales so there are always one or two on my TBR – don’t know why I haven’t read Maigret Enjoys Himself since I’ve read ones that I acquired much later. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was acquired as part my Great American Novel Quest (even though it isn’t a novel!) but got left behind with a few others when I ran out of steam on that challenge, and I incorporated the stragglers into my main TBR. This also applies to my last pick, The Custom of the Country. I’ll be quite happy to read any of these, so you really can’t go wrong! 😉

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Science Fiction

2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C Clarke

Added 1st November 2018. 53,964 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.93 average rating. 320 pages.

The Blurb says: When 2001: A Space Odyssey first shocked, amazed, and delighted millions in the late 1960s, the novel was quickly recognized as a classic. Since then, its fame has grown steadily among the multitudes who have read the novel or seen the film based on it. Yet, along with almost universal acclaim, a host of questions has grown more insistent through the years [FF says: I’ve deleted the host of questions since they are a host of spoilers for the original book! I’ve left just the last one…]

Would there be a sequel?

Now all those questions and many more have been answered. In this stunning sequel to his international bestseller, Clarke has written what will truly be one of the great books of the ’80s. Cosmic in sweep, eloquent in its depiction of Man’s place in the Universe, and filled with the romance of space, this novel is a monumental achievement.

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Vintage Crime

Maigret Enjoys Himself by Georges Simenon

Added 1st December 2018. 697 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.85 average. 176 pages.

The Blurb says: When Maigret’s holiday plans go awry he and his wife spend their vacation in Paris, on the condition that he has nothing to do with work. However a case involving the death of a doctor’s wife intrigues Maigret and he assiduously follows its development in the papers. He cannot resist playing a few tricks on his colleague Janvier who is running the case and along the way Maigret uncovers something that is crucial to the murderer’s discovery…

Penguin is publishing the entire series of Maigret novels in new translations. This novel has been published in a previous translation as Maigret’s Little Joke.

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Memoir

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Added 24th December 2018. 464,332 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.26 average. 317 pages. 

The Blurb says: Here is a book as joyous and painful, as mysterious and memorable, as childhood itself. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings captures the longing of lonely children, the brute insult of bigotry, and the wonder of words that can make the world right. Maya Angelou’s debut memoir is a modern American classic beloved worldwide.

Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.

Poetic and powerful, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings will touch hearts and change minds for as long as people read.

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Classic Fiction

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton

Added 24th December 2018. 11,509 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.04 average. 370 pages.

The Blurb says: Considered by many to be her masterpiece, Edith Wharton’s epic work is a scathing yet personal examination of the exploits and follies of the modern upper class. As she unfolds the story of Undine Spragg, from New York to Europe, Wharton affords us a detailed glimpse of what might be called the interior décor of this America and its nouveau riche fringes. Through a heroine who is as vain, spoiled, and selfish as she is irresistibly fascinating, and through a most intricate and satisfying plot that follows Undine’s marriages and affairs, she conveys a vision of social behavior that is both supremely informed and supremely disenchanted.

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

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The Siege of Krishnapur by JG Farrell

Mocking the Raj…

😀 😀 😀 😀

Although life in the small fictional town of Krishnapur is currently peaceful for the British colonial community, the Collector fears trouble – he has been coming across small piles of chapattis left in odd places, and he’s sure he’s heard that this happened somewhere else, just before a native uprising against the representatives of the Raj. His fears are soon to be realised, and the British will be driven to take refuge in the Residency where they will have to withstand constant attacks, disease and starvation as they wait for the Army to come to their rescue…

Gosh, I don’t remember feeling quite so conflicted about a book for a while! On the one hand, it is written as a sort of farcical comedy which is totally at odds with the serious subject matter, especially as the siege progresses and the suffering and death of the British contingent grows. On the other hand, there’s no doubt it is quite funny in places. On the one hand, it is clearly mocking the whole concept of colonialism and the British attempts to force their culture onto another society. On the other hand, the natives are still shown as kind of comedy characters – none are fully characterised, they are mostly simply one agglomerated mass, and, unlike the Brits, they get no opportunity to redeem themselves through heroism before the end. On the one hand, Farrell mocks the position of colonial women – seen as useless but pretty ornamentation at best, or, should they fail to remain within the restrictive rules of the British society, disgraceful embarrassments at worst. On the other hand, for the most part this is exactly how Farrell treats them too, suggesting his egalitarianism wasn’t much more than skin deep.

The first section before the siege goes on way too long and there were times when I wasn’t sure whether to stick with it. At this stage, though, at least the humour feels in keeping with the rather light-hearted depiction of the fairly pointless existence of most of the Brits. However, it becomes much more interesting once the siege finally gets underway. There’s no doubt that Farrell has researched the period well and, while Krishnapur and his characters are fictional, much of the action is based on the real Siege of Lucknow of 1857. The humour persists too long into the bleaker aspects of the story, but gradually style and content begin to match more and I began to find that at last I was beginning to care about some of the characters as people rather than seeing them solely as caricatures of colonial “types”.

As well as colonialism, Farrell plays with contrasting themes of faith and science, civilisation and materialism, and honour and reputation. It all feels quite light and superficial because of the overall humorous tone, but I found that after I had finished reading it was these questions that lingered in my mind, more than the specifics of what had happened to the characters.

As cholera strikes the besieged community, the two doctors argue bitterly over how it is spread – by miasma, as was then mostly accepted, or through contaminated water, as some were beginning to think. As the people are trying to decide which medical advice to follow, the clergyman is insisting that their troubles are all a judgement from God on their sins, and exhorting them to trust in prayer.

When the Brits retreat to the Residency they bring all their precious but useless valuables with them – exquisite china, beautiful paintings, even large items of furniture which they had paid a fortune to have shipped out from England. But as hunger and danger strike, some of them begin to see the futility of possessions and would cheerfully give up their priceless antiques for a square meal and an unbroken night of safety. Some however cling onto their goods as if they are the markers of what makes them superior to the marauding natives out there.

JG Farrell

But when the situation becomes one of life and death, some of the old moral and societal standards fall away, and people begin to behave in ways that would have been unthinkable in the safe days, the respectable and the disreputable finding that they may have to rely on each other after all. And, in the end many of the characters show true heroism, even the most unlikely of the men facing the fighting with all the courage and initiative they can muster, and some of the ornamental women turning their hands to the sordid, dirty and dangerous job of nursing the sick and wounded.

Although I had mixed feelings about a lot of it, I found that as it darkened my appreciation grew, and by the end I was glad I had stuck with it – the destination made what had felt like a long and sometimes tedious journey worthwhile. Perhaps it’s of its time – Farrell was clearly modern enough to be critical of colonialism, but perhaps not yet modern enough to prevent himself from falling into some of the attitudes he was mocking. Or perhaps he was so modern that he was mocking the attitudes of the people who were mocking the attitudes of the colonialists! I’ll quickly pull myself out before I get even more lost down that rabbit hole, give it four stars and add the other two books in his Empire trilogy, Troubles and The Singapore Grip, to my wishlist, which I suppose can be taken as some kind of a recommendation!

Book 1 of 12

This was The People’s Choice winner for January and started the year off well, so good choice, People!

Amazon UK Link

TBR Thursday (on a Wednesday) 313 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 313

(A reminder of The People’s Choice plan. Once a month, 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.)

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OK, People, time for the next batch of four, all from 2018 and an interesting list this time, I think.  I like to run three months ahead with these polls, so the winner will be a April read. The Cottage at Hope Cove is the only romance novel on my list, added because it was highly recommended by another blogger I followed back then, who specialised in romance. I added Picnic at Hanging Rock because I loved the film and wanted to read the book, and it’s now on my new Classics Club list. Mrs Ritchie was added because I enjoyed another book by the same author. And Nine Coaches Waiting is another that was added on the basis of a fellow blogger’s recommendation, this time Helen at She Reads Novels. There are a couple here I’d really like to read and a couple I’ll be happy to move off my TBR, so you really can’t go wrong! 😉

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Romance

The Cottage at Hope Cove by Hannah Ellis

Added 9th August 2018. 4,822 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.34 average rating. 337 pages.

The Blurb says: Lizzie Beaumont has it all: a great career, a wealthy fiancé, and the wedding of her dreams just months away. But when her fiancé puts work before her again, she sets off for a week in the picturesque town of Hope Cove. She’s hoping for time away from the chaos to find herself.

Instead, she finds Max.

When the gorgeous guy next door asks her for decorating help, Lizzie finds herself all too eager to please. The week she expected to drag suddenly flies by, and before she knows it, she has to return to her other life. The life with the impending marriage and the fiancé she loves.

Or does she?

One week with Max has left her questioning her life choices. Is her fiancé the man of her dreams, or just the man who asked? Now Lizzie must decide what her life will be. Will she go for the safe and predictable route, or take a chance on a man she hardly knows? No matter what she does, someone’s heart is going to break. She just doesn’t want it to be hers.

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Classic Historical Fiction

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

Added 17th August 2018. 18,008 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.69 average. 189 pages.

The Blurb says: It was a cloudless summer day in the year nineteen hundred.

Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three of the girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of Hanging Rock. Further, higher, till at last they disappeared.

They never returned.

Whether Picnic at Hanging Rock is fact or fiction the reader must decide for themselves.

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Scottish Fiction

Mrs Ritchie by Willa Muir

Added 6th October 2018. 1 rating on Goodreads, with a 5.00 average! 338 pages. 

The Blurb says: [FF says: For the first time ever, I can’t find a blurb for this book. Here’s an extract from the introduction in my copy instead.] Johnny and Annie’s marriage in Mrs Ritchie is also born out of deceit and disguise. The young Annie Rattray’s mask of gently wooing womanhood utterly blinds Johnny to the terrifying harridan within – and ultimately traps him into the baleful hell of a loveless and soul-destroying marriage. [FF says: Gosh! Despite this, Muir’s reputation is of a strong feminist, and that was certainly the feeling I had from her other novel.]

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Historical Suspense

Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart

Added 26th October 2018. 14,037 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.04 average. 342 pages.

The Blurb says: A governess in a French chateau encounters an apparent plot against her young charge’s life in this unforgettably haunting and beautifully written suspense novel.

When lovely Linda Martin first arrives at Château Valmy as an English governess to the nine-year-old Count Philippe de Valmy, the opulence and history surrounding her seems like a wondrous, ecstatic dream. But a palpable terror is crouching in the shadows. Philippe’s uncle, Léon de Valmy, is the epitome of charm, yet dynamic and arrogant, his paralysis little hindrance as he moves noiselessly in his wheelchair from room to room. Only his son Raoul, a handsome, sardonic man who drives himself and his car with equally reckless abandon, seems able to stand up to him. To Linda, Raoul is an enigma, though irresistibly attracted to him, she senses some dark twist in his nature. When an accident deep in the woods nearly kills Linda’s innocent charge, she begins to wonder if someone has deadly plans for the young count.

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

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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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TBR Thursday 312 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.

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The Classics Club

I’ve read four from my Classics Club list this quarter, but have only reviewed one so far…

81. The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw – This story of three young men and their experiences serving in the Second World War is wonderful – harrowing, thought-provoking, emotional and beautifully written. 5 stars.

I abandoned The Drowned World by JG Ballard, since death by drowning began to seem preferable to death by boredom. Rather than search out yet another SF “classic”, I’ve decided to swap in a book I’d already read and enjoyed…

82. The Society of Time by John Brunner – A trilogy of stories set in an alternative history where the Spanish Armada won and Britain became a colony of the Spanish Empire, this provides an interesting look at how our present is very much determined by our past. 4 stars.

Only a couple of reviews then, but The Young Lions by itself made it a great quarter for classics!

82 down, 8 to go!

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

I’ve read two from this challenge this quarter and reviewed them both…

47. Tragedy at Law by Cyril Hare – Hare takes us into the even then rather archaic and now defunct world of the Assizes – a system of travelling justice – for this very enjoyable mystery. 5 stars.

48. Tracks in the Snow by Godfrey R Benson – Dull, plodding, repetitive and riddled with plot holes, apparently this was the only mystery novel Benson wrote, and I can only say that I am heartily glad of that. 2 stars.

48 down, 54 to go!

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Reading the Spanish Civil War Challenge

I’ve only read one for this challenge this quarter, which I haven’t yet reviewed. However I had two still to review from the quarter before…

7.  Franco: A Personal and Political Biography by Stanley G Payne and Jesús Palacios – All-in-all, I learned a lot from this about Franco’s life, personality, politics and the powerful people in his court, but rather less about Spain under his rule than I had expected to. Although I felt sure the book was factually accurate, I found it hard to discount the obvious pro-Franco bias and this made me dubious about some of the authors’ interpretations. 3½ stars.

8. Nada by Carmen Laforet – In this story set in Barcelona under Franco’s post-war dictatorship, Laforet creates an atmosphere of almost hallucinatory, slightly nightmarish unreality which I felt was very effective in symbolising a city coming to terms with the after-effects of a war where the citizens had fought and killed each other in the streets only a few years earlier.

Hoping to pick up the pace on this challenge next year with lots of fiction to come.

8 down, indefinite number to go!

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The People’s Choice

People's Choice Logo

I’m up to date with this challenge! I read three this month and still had one to review from last quarter. Did You, The People, pick me some good ones…?

September – Knock, Murderer, Knock by Harriet Rutland – Set in a Hydro hotel, this is quite a fun mystery in the typical Golden Age style. The setting means there is a small circle of suspects, each with secrets and possible motives, while the police detective soon has to give way to a talented amateur. 4 stars.

October – Blackout by Ragnar Jónasson – Set in Iceland, the basic plot of the book is quite interesting and the last third is comparatively fast-paced as all the different strands finally come together. But oh dear, it’s hopelessly repetitive and it took all my willpower to stick it out to the end. 2½ (generous) stars.

NovemberGorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith – By 19%, three unidentified corpses, no suspects, no plot, two beatings, one naked woman, and endless lectures about Soviet history and how awful life is under Soviet rule. Abandoned because they still haven’t invented a vaccine for boredom. 1 star.

DecemberWe Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. When you start fantasising about the main character being murdered, then it’s probably time to stop reading. Abandoned at 35%. 1 star.

Well, okay, from one perspective Your Choices may not have been hugely successful. But on the other hand, look at all the awful books You’ve helped get off my TBR! Way to go, People!

12 down, 0 to go!

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Wanderlust Bingo

I’ve read several books for this challenge this quarter, some of which didn’t quite fit the boxes as I’d hoped and a couple of which I didn’t enjoy and abandoned. But with a bit of juggling I’ve still managed to fill five boxes and have another two reviews to come. So much better, but still way behind, and in conjunction with Margaret at BooksPlease, who’s also doing this challenge, we’ve agreed to forget the official end date of the end of 2021 and simply leave it open – we’ll finish when we finish! I have books lined up for every missing box, so fingers crossed for no more abandonments! The dark blue boxes are books from previous quarters, and the orange are the ones I’m adding this quarter. I still might shuffle them again before the end so this is all quite tentative at this stage. (If you click on the bingo card you should get a larger version.)

New Zealand – Pūrakāu edited by Witi Ihimaera and Whiti Hereaka – 3 stars. What could be more appropriate for the Oceania slot than this collection of updated Māori myths?

Universe – Spaceworlds edited by Mike Ashley – 4½ stars. A collection of vintage science fiction stories based on the theme of living in space, either on space stations or ships, neatly fills the Space slot.

AustriaSnow Country by Sebastian Faulks – 5 stars. The main setting of this novel is the Schloss Seeblick, a kind of mental health sanatorium in a mountain valley in Carinthia, so perfect for the Mountain slot.

GreenlandSeven Graves, One Winter by Christoffer Petersen – 4½ stars. A murder mystery set partly in Greenland’s capital, Nuuk, and partly in a small village in the very north of the island ticks off the Polar Regions slot.

IsraelThe Twisted Wire by Richard Falkirk – 4 stars.  This is an action thriller set in Israel at the height of the Middle East conflict of the late 60s/early 70s, so a nice fit for the Middle East slot.

Still a long, long way to go, but still travelling hopefully…

15 down, 10 to go!

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A better quarter, making progress on all my challenges for once! Thanks as always for sharing my reading experiences!

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Maternal urges…

🤬

A psychopathic teenager walks into his school and kills seven of his fellow students. His mother responds by making it all about her. She then decides to bore her absent husband to death (assuming he isn’t already dead – I couldn’t help feeling that perhaps he’d killed himself and she was communing with his memory) by writing him endless letters, moaning on for 2000 pages (judged by feeling, rather than counting) about how she never really liked kids anyway, especially not her own. I don’t know if her husband, dead or alive, continued to read all the letters but if I’d been him I’d have moved and not left a forwarding address. Happily I had the easier option of abandoning the book at the 35% mark and deleting it in a marked manner from my Kindle.

I have no idea if one is supposed to sympathise with Eva, the mother, but I didn’t. I didn’t sympathise with Kevin either. Or with Franklin, the dad. In the nurture v nature debate, I tend to think that sometimes it’s nurture and sometimes it’s nature, and the worst cases are usually where it’s both. In the what’s gone wrong with American society that makes young men behave like Kevin debate, it seems blindingly obvious that the answer is that young men can get hold of automatic assault weapons and, therefore, that school shootings would be easily preventable by the simple measure of banning guns. (Yes, I know that for some reason Shriver made him use a bow and arrow, and I can only assume this is because she too knows the answer to the real-life problem is blindingly obvious, so wanted to try to avoid people making that point. Too bad.) In the should we/shouldn’t we have a child debate, I have no sympathy whatsoever for any adult, educated woman living in a society where contraception is readily available, who knows she doesn’t like children but decides to have one anyway. Eva is supposedly an intelligent, educated feminist living in late 20th century America – so what’s her problem? Why would she decide to have a baby when what she really wanted was frequent flyer miles? I didn’t believe in her – she failed at the first hurdle, which was to convince me of her motivation.

So, having made this stupid decision, does she decide to make the best of it? Of course not. She whines and whines in the modern, narcissistic, me-me-me way, about how awful her privileged little middle-class life (complete with nannies for the unspeakable child) is and how her son is some kind of alien parasite, feeding on her, body and soul. Pah! I wondered why, when fictional Kevin had the fictional weapon in his hand, he didn’t decide to do the world a favour and rid us of fictional Eva before she became an avid letter-writer. Had I been the author, Eva would have been the first and only victim, and I would then have had the jury acquit Kevin on the grounds of justifiable homicide. It would have been a shorter book but, I feel, a more satisfying one.

Oh, yes, before I finish, don’t let me forget to mention that it’s wildly verbose, torturously overlong and unforgivably, soul-crushingly dull.

Book 12 of 12

This was The People’s Choice for December and I truly expected to love it, so you are not in any way responsible for my allergic reaction, People! Thank you for getting this one off my TBR. 😉

Amazon UK Link

TBR Thursday 311…

Episode 311

For the third week in a row the TBR has remained steady on 182. Have I found the secret of perfect balance?

Here are a few more I should be tripping over soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

One of the reasons I love the People’s Choice is that I never have any idea which book You, the People, will choose. If I’d had to bet on how You’d vote in the March poll, The Chrysalids wouldn’t even have been in the running. But it went into an immediate lead and gained strength all the way through the voting, winning in the end with a massive majority – more than twice the votes of the next contender. It’ll be a re-read so I’m in the happy position of knowing I’ll enjoy it, and it’s one from my new Classics Club list! Good choice, People!

The Blurb says: First published in 1955, The Chrysalids is a post-nuclear story of genetic mutation in a devastated world, which tells of the lengths the intolerant will go to to keep themselves pure.

David Strorm’s father doesn’t approve of Angus Morton’s unusually large horses, calling them blasphemies against nature. Little does he realize that his own son, his niece Rosalind and their friends, have their own secret aberration which would label them as mutants. But as David and Rosalind grow older it becomes more difficult to conceal their differences from the village elders. Soon they face a choice: wait for eventual discovery or flee to the terrifying and mutable Badlands…

Historical Fiction 

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

Courtesy of Random House Cornerstone via NetGalley. I’ve enjoyed Towles’ previous books, and this one sounds as if it should be just as good. Plus I’m hoping it will fill a box on my Wanderlust Bingo card. Plus gorgeous cover!

The Blurb says: The bestselling author of A Gentleman in Moscow and Rules of Civility and master of absorbing, sophisticated fiction returns with a stylish and propulsive novel set in 1950s America.

In June, 1954, eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson is driven home to Nebraska by the warden of the work farm where he has just served a year for involuntary manslaughter. His mother long gone, his father recently deceased, and the family farm foreclosed upon by the bank, Emmett’s intention is to pick up his eight-year-old brother and head west where they can start their lives anew. But when the warden drives away, Emmett discovers that two friends from the work farm have hidden themselves in the trunk of the warden’s car. Together, they have hatched an altogether different plan for Emmett’s future.

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Classic Crime

The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham

The final book from the Crime section of my first Classics Club list, this one has been recommended to me by many as the best of Allingham’s Campion books. I’ve never yet managed to become a huge fan of Allingham, but maybe this will be the one that finally does the trick…

The Blurb says: A fog is creeping through the weary streets of London—so too are whispers that the Tiger is back in town, undetected by the law, untroubled by morals. And the rumours are true: Jack Havoc, charismatic outlaw, knife-wielding killer, and ingenious jail-breaker, is on the loose once again.

As Havoc stalks the smog-cloaked alleyways of the city, it falls to Albert Campion to hunt down the fugitive and put a stop to his rampage—before it’s too late . . .

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Memoirs

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee

One for my Spanish Civil War challenge. I may be the only person on the planet who has never read Cider with Rosie, and now I’m bypassing it completely to jump straight to the second volume of Lee’s autobiographical trilogy (though there appears to be some debate over just how accurately autobiographical it is). Accurate or not, I’m hoping it will be beautifully written…

The Blurb says: ‘The stooping figure of my mother, waist-deep in the grass and caught there like a piece of sheep’s wool, was the last I saw of my country home as I left it to discover the world.’

Abandoning the Cotswolds village that raised him, the young Laurie Lee walks to London. There he makes a living labouring and playing the violin. But, deciding to travel further a field and knowing only the Spanish phrase for ‘Will you please give me a glass of water?’, he heads for Spain. With just a blanket to sleep under and his trusty violin, he spends a year crossing Spain, from Vigo in the north to the southern coast. Only the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War puts an end to his extraordinary peregrinations . . .

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Thriller

Over My Dead Body by Jeffrey Archer

Courtesy of HarperCollins. Way back when the world was young, I used to enjoy Jeffrey Archer’s books. They were usually nonsense, but good nonsense! Then he committed perjury over a rather sordid incident and went to jail, and I boycotted him. So when this one turned up unsolicited from the lovely people at HarperCollins, I swithered over whether I should stick to my principles or go with the flow. Looks like my principles lost… 😉

The Blurb says: The clock is ticking in this rollercoaster ride of a thriller…

In London, the Metropolitan Police set up a new Unsolved Murders Unit—a cold case squad—to catch the criminals nobody else can.

In Geneva, millionaire art collector Miles Faulkner—convicted of forgery and theft—was pronounced dead two months ago. So why is his unscrupulous lawyer still representing a dead client?

On a luxury liner en route to New York, the battle for power at the heart of a wealthy dynasty is about to turn to murder.

And at the heart of all three investigations are Detective Chief Inspector William Warwick, rising star of the department, and ex-undercover agent Ross Hogan, brought in from the cold.

But can they catch the killers before it’s too late?

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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?

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MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYBODY!

TBR Thursday 310 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 310

(A reminder of The People’s Choice plan. Once a month, 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.)

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OK, People, time for the next batch of four, a genre week, bit of crime, bit of sci-fi, still all from 2018. Finally I’m back to running three months ahead with these polls, so the winner will be a March read. Background for Murder is one for my on-going Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge. I’m ashamed to say Don’t Let Go is a NetGalley book that fell by the wayside when I took more review books than I could fit in. The Chrysalids will be a re-read of an old favourite, and is now on my new Classics Club list. And The Craftsman is from an author whose thrillers I usually love but sometimes don’t. I’d be happy for a variety of reasons to get any one of these off my TBR and onto my reading list, so you really can’t go wrong! 😉

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Vintage Crime

Background for Murder by Shelley Smith

Added 30th June 2018. 31 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.35 average rating. 204 pages.

The Blurb says: Dr Maurice Royd, the head of a psychiatric hospital, is found slumped over his desk with his skull caved in. But a lack of hard evidence leaves the local police stumped. The difficulty is that there are too many people who could have murdered Dr Royd, too many people who wished him dead. Any one of that ‘bunch of crazies’ might have yielded to the impulse to do it.

Private Investigator Jacob Chaos is given the case by Scotland Yard. Now time is of the essence for Chaos as he tries to get the job done discreetly, hushing up any possibility of a scandal. But it seems there is quite a lot of funny business concerning the late Dr Royd and digging any deeper seems to start stirring up trouble.

Before he knows it, Chaos inadvertently kick-starts a killing spree. Racing against the clock with an ever growing list of suspects, Jacob Chaos must work to unravel the twisted skeins hiding the truth and catch the audacious murderer…

Background for Murder is a classic whodunit and stark exposé of human horror in the tangled worlds of sanity and insanity.

* * * * *

Thriller

Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben

Added 4th July 2018. 54,445 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.05 average. 351 pages.

The Blurb says: Suburban New Jersey Detective Napoleon “Nap” Dumas hasn’t been the same since senior year of high school, when his twin brother Leo and Leo’s girlfriend Diana were found dead on the railroad tracks—and Maura, the girl Nap considered the love of his life, broke up with him and disappeared without explanation. For fifteen years, Nap has been searching, both for Maura and for the real reason behind his brother’s death. And now, it looks as though he may finally find what he’s been looking for.

When Maura’s fingerprints turn up in the rental car of a suspected murderer, Nap embarks on a quest for answers that only leads to more questions—about the woman he loved, about the childhood friends he thought he knew, about the abandoned military base near where he grew up, and mostly about Leo and Diana—whose deaths are darker and far more sinister than Nap ever dared imagine.

* * * * *

Classic Science Fiction

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

Added 16th July 2018. 48,172 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.93 average. 200 pages. 

The Blurb says: First published in 1955, The Chrysalids is a post-nuclear story of genetic mutation in a devastated world, which tells of the lengths the intolerant will go to to keep themselves pure.

David Strorm’s father doesn’t approve of Angus Morton’s unusually large horses, calling them blasphemies against nature. Little does he realize that his own son, his niece Rosalind and their friends, have their own secret aberration which would label them as mutants. But as David and Rosalind grow older it becomes more difficult to conceal their differences from the village elders. Soon they face a choice: wait for eventual discovery or flee to the terrifying and mutable Badlands…

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Thriller

The Craftsman by Sharon Bolton

Added 18th July 2018. 5,739 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.01 average. 431 pages.

The Blurb says: Old enemies . . . New crimes

Thirty years ago, WPC Florence Lovelady’s career was made when she arrested coffin-maker Larry Glassbrook for three shocking murders. Larry confessed; it was an open and shut case. But now he’s dead, and events from the past are repeating themselves.

The town Florence left behind still has many secrets. Will she finally uncover the truth? Or will time run out for her first?

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

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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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TBR Thursday 308…

Episode 308

Another massive drop in the TBR since I last reported to 182 – down 4! Which is almost exactly the same number as my abandoned heap has grown by. An odd coincidence, eh?

Here are a few more that will discover their fate soon. Exciting, isn’t it?

Christie Shorts 

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie

Courtesy of HarperCollins. Another of the HarperCollins series of special edition hardbacks of some of Christie’s short story collections, and again much more gorgeous than the cover pic makes it look. I’ve read this collection before but it must have been a long time ago since I haven’t reviewed it on the blog, so I’m looking forward to revisiting it. I also received a copy of The Tuesday Club Murders, which I’ve quite recently listened to on audio and reviewed, under its alternative title, The Thirteen Problems. So I’ll probably save it for a while before reading it again, but do recommend it – I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Blurb says: First came a sinister warning to Poirot not to eat any plum pudding… then the discovery of a corpse in a chest… next, an overheard quarrel that led to murder… the strange case of the dead man who altered his eating habits… and the puzzle of the victim who dreamt his own suicide.

What links these five baffling cases? The little grey cells of Monsieur Hercule Poirot!

Contains the stories:
• The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding
• The Mystery of the Spanish Chest
• Four-And-Twenty Blackbirds
• The Under Dog
• The Dream

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Vintage Crime

Murder in the Basement by Anthony Berkeley

Courtesy of the British Library. The last Berkeley novel the BL re-issued was a standalone, but this one stars his regular amateur ‘tec, Roger Sheringham, whom I’ve encountered before in a few short stories. I’m looking forward to seeing him in action in a full length novel.

The Blurb says: Roger and Molly Dane have something of a surprise in their new house. When Roger explores the basement on return from their honeymoon, he discovers something odd with the flooring. Hoping to find buried treasure, he digs up the body of a woman instead. Chief Inspector Moresby and Roger Sheringham are then left with the task of discovering who the lady was, how she came to be there, and who shot her in the back of the head.

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Thriller

The Chateau by Catherine Cooper

Courtesy of HarperCollins. This is another of the unsolicited thrillers they send me from time to time, some of which end up quite quickly on the abandoned heap, and some of which I unexpectedly enjoy! I’m hoping this one will fall into the latter category… 

The Blurb says: They thought it was perfect. They were wrong…

A glamorous chateau

Aura and Nick don’t talk about what happened in England. They’ve bought a chateau in France to make a fresh start, and their kids need them to stay together – whatever it costs.

A couple on the brink

The expat community is welcoming, but when a neighbour is murdered at a lavish party, Aura and Nick don’t know who to trust.

A secret that is bound to come out…

Someone knows exactly why they really came to the chateau. And someone is going to give them what they deserve.

The Sunday Times bestseller is back with a rollercoaster read, perfect for fans of Lucy Foley and Ruth Ware.

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Dalziel and Pascoe on Audio

The Wood Beyond by Reginald Hill narrated by Jonathan Keeble

Continuing my slow re-read of my favourite crime series of all time. A new narrator has taken over, so I’m hoping I’ll like him as much as I’ve grown to like Colin Buchanan who did most of the earlier books. My memory of this one is that I wasn’t as keen on it as most of the others in this middle section of the series, but it’s a long time since I last read it so we’ll see…

The Blurb says: A ravaged wood, a man in uniform long dead – this is not a World War One battlefield, but Wanwood House, a pharmaceutical research centre. Peter Pascoe attends his grandmother’s funeral, and scattering her ashes leads him too into war-torn woods in search of his great-grandfather who fought and died in Passchendaele. Seeing the wood for the trees is the problem for Andy Dalziel when he finds himself fancying an animal rights activist, despite her possible complicity in a murderous assault and her appalling taste in whisky. A mind-bending puzzle leading us on the wild side of the pastoral.

* * * * *

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 307 – Review-Along and The People’s Choice

Episode 307

A special edition this week, announcing the results of the Review-Along discussions and The People’s Choice Poll, so let’s dive straight in…

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Review-Along

Some great suggestions from Christine and Kelly provoked lots of interest and discussion – thank you, ladies!

One book quickly emerged as the front-runner and stayed that way, so it’ll be the February read. However there was another book that lots of people were interested in reading too, so I thought we could put it on for a later Review-Along. Obviously no one should feel obliged to read both, or indeed either, of the books, but anyone is welcome to join in whether you took part in the discussions or not.

For newcomers, the idea is simple – everyone will read the book in their own time and at their own pace, and we’ll all review it on the same day. For non-bloggers or anyone who doesn’t want to review the book on their own blog, you’re invited to leave your reviews/opinions in the comments section of my review on the day.

Here they are then…

Review-Along 16th February 2022

Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

12 people expressed an interest in reading this one! This is relatively short – my copy has 256 pages.

The Blurb says: Go Tell It On The Mountain, first published in 1953, is Baldwin’s first major work, a semi-autobiographical novel that has established itself as an American classic. With lyrical precision, psychological directness, resonating symbolic power, and a rage that is at once unrelenting and compassionate, Baldwin chronicles a fourteen-year-old boy’s discovery of the terms of his identity as the stepson of the minister of a storefront Pentecostal church in Harlem one Saturday in March of 1935. Baldwin’s rendering of his protagonist’s spiritual, sexual, and moral struggle of self-invention opened new possibilities in the American language and in the way Americans understand themselves.

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Review-Along 20th April 2022

The Hunchback of Notre-Dame/Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo

8 people said they might join in on this one, if they could fit it in. I’ve suggested 20th April 2022, but if that date doesn’t suit anyone let me know in the comments and we can change it. The book is chunky but not quite as chunky as I’d thought – my copy comes in at 592 pages.

The Blurb says: Victor Hugo’s Romantic novel of dark passions and unrequited love.

In the vaulted Gothic towers of Notre-Dame Cathedral lives Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bellringer. Mocked and shunned for his appearance, he is pitied only by Esmerelda, a beautiful gypsy dancer to whom he becomes completely devoted. Esmerelda, however, has also attracted the attention of the sinister archdeacon Claude Frollo, and when she rejects his lecherous approaches, Frollo hatches a plot to destroy her, that only Quasimodo can prevent. Victor Hugo’s sensational, evocative novel brings life to the medieval Paris he loved, and mourns its passing in one of the greatest historical romances of the nineteenth century.

* * * * *

I’m looking forward hugely to reading all the reviews of both of these books, and the books themselves, of course – hope you are too! I’ll remind of the dates nearer the time, on my regular Thursday TBR posts.

* * * * *

The People’s Choice Poll

It was a close race for most of the way this time, but then one book gradually pulled ahead by a few votes, so it’ll be my January read. Regulars will know I’ve been struggling to get back to running three months ahead with these since I fell behind during my long hiatus in the middle of the year, so I’ve decided that, rather than run a separate poll for February, the second choice book will get that slot. So we have two winners, and I think they both sound as if they could be great – fingers crossed!

January Winner

The Siege of Krishnapur by JG Farrell

The Blurb says: India, 1857–the year of the Great Mutiny, when Muslim soldiers turned in bloody rebellion on their British overlords. This time of convulsion is the subject of J. G. Farrell’s The Siege of Krishnapur, widely considered one of the finest British novels of the last fifty years.

Farrell’s story is set in an isolated Victorian outpost on the subcontinent. Rumours of strife filter in from afar, and yet the members of the colonial community remain confident of their military and, above all, moral superiority. But when they find themselves under actual siege, the true character of their dominion–at once brutal, blundering, and wistful–is soon revealed.

The Siege of Krishnapur is a companion to Troubles, about the Easter 1916 rebellion in Ireland, and The Singapore Grip, which takes place just before World War II, as the sun begins to set upon the British Empire. Together these three novels offer an unequalled picture of the follies of empire.

Winner of the Booker Prize.

* * * * *

February Winner

The Chink in the Armour by Marie Belloc Lowndes

The Blurb says: Wealthy widow Sylvia Bailey is idling around Europe when she befriends another widow, Madame Wolsky, who is a gambling addict. As they are spending their last days together in Paris, two friends decide to go to a fortune teller, but the visit leaves them anxious.

However, despite a psychic’s warning that they will find themselves in a grave danger from which at least one of them will not escape, Sylvia and Madame Wolsky decide to go to the gambling town of Lacville in order to test their fortune.

* * * * *

Thanks to everyone who participated in either the Review-Along discussion or the People’s Choice Poll. You’ve made some excellent choices! 😀

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith

A Reading Diary

Day 1

Off to a mixed start! Three bodies, frozen under the snow in Gorky Park in Moscow, faces and fingertips mutilated to prevent easy identification. Bit of tension between our hero-to-be, Arkady Renko, and the boo-hiss stereotypical baddie from the KGB. The writing is messy with sentences quite often requiring more than one reading to try (or fail) to work out what the author is trying to communicate, but maybe it will improve. Or maybe it won’t.

“Vodka was liquid taxation, and the price was always rising. It was accepted that three was the lucky number on a bottle in terms of economic prudence and desired effect. It was a perfect example of primitive communism.”

Eh?

Day 2

No movement in the plot whatsoever. I say plot, but I fear one has yet to appear. We’ve had our first naked woman though, complete with nipple description! Arkady’s wife, who seems to stroll around their apartment naked despite the Arctic weather outside – who knew Muscovites had such effective heating systems in the 1980s? Impressive! And fortunate, since she and Arkady generate no heat of their own, clearly disliking each other quite a lot. Arkady meets another girl, though – a weird and quirky twenty-one-year-old, with whom our middle-aged hero is obviously destined to have sex at some point. I wonder what her nipples will be like…

Day 3

Still no identification of the corpses. Still no movement in the investigation. Arkady and his wife have split up after Arkady got into a punch-up with her lover. Arkady has been beaten up by someone whose identity we also don’t know, but despite being punched in the heart twice and kicked in the head, next day he’s fine. To summarise – three unidentified corpses, no suspects, no plot, two beatings, one naked woman, and endless lectures about Soviet history and how awful life is under Soviet rule (because presumably we didn’t know that). To quote Chandler Bing, could I be more bored?

Day 4

Apparently I could.

* * * * *

Abandoned at 19%. Life is too short and the book is too long.

* * * * *

This was The People’s Choice winner for November. Thanks for getting it off my TBR, People! 😉

Book 11 of 12

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday (on a Friday) 306 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 306

(A reminder of The People’s Choice plan. Once a month, 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, People, time for the next batch of four, a mixed bunch, all from 2018. I’m still trying to get back to being three months ahead with these polls, so excuse the frequency of them at the moment. The winner of this one will be a January read, in theory! The first couple – The Chink in the Armour and The Red Thumb Mark – are two vintage crimes I added because I’d enjoyed other books by those authors. The Scarlet Letter is a hangover from back when I was doing the Great American Novel Quest – I’m kind of ashamed that I’ve still never read it. And The Siege of Krishnapur is on there just because I liked the blurb. I reckon all of these sound as if they could be good or terrible, so it’s up to you to find a good one for me! 😉

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Vintage Crime

The Chink in the Armour by Marie Belloc Lowndes

Added 3rd April 2018. 61 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.43 average rating. 230 pages.

The Blurb says: Wealthy widow Sylvia Bailey is idling around Europe when she befriends another widow, Madame Wolsky, who is a gambling addict. As they are spending their last days together in Paris, two friends decide to go to a fortune teller, but the visit leaves them anxious. However, despite a psychic’s warning that they will find themselves in a grave danger from which at least one of them will not escape, Sylvia and Madame Wolsky decide to go to the gambling town of Lacville in order to test their fortune.

* * * * *

Vintage Crime

The Red Thumb Mark by R Austin Freeman

Added 13th May 2018. 818 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.73 average. 235 pages.

The Blurb says: In all of London, there are few who know more about science than Dr. John Thorndyke, and fewer still who know more about crime. A “medical jurispractitioner” equally at home in the lab or the courtroom, he has made his name confronting the deadliest criminals in England with irrefutable proof of their guilt. In the case of the red thumb mark, however, Thorndyke must set his singular mind to saving an innocent man.

A cache of diamonds has been stolen out of a shipping firm’s safe, and the only evidence is a perfect thumbprint left in a pool of blood. The print is a match to Reuben Hornby, nephew of the firm’s owner. Hornby insists that he had nothing to do with the theft, however, and asks Dr. Thorndyke to find the real culprit. With all the evidence pointing in one direction, only he is brilliant enough to look the other way.

* * * * *

American Classic

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Added 19th May 2018. 758,294 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.42 average. 279 pages. 

The Blurb says: Hailed by Henry James as “the finest piece of imaginative writing yet put forth in the country,” Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter reaches to our nation’s historical and moral roots for the material of great tragedy. Set in an early New England colony, the novel shows the terrible impact a single, passionate act has on the lives of three members of the community: the defiant Hester Prynne; the fiery, tortured Reverend Dimmesdale; and the obsessed, vengeful Chillingworth.

With The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne became the first American novelist to forge from our Puritan heritage a universal classic, a masterful exploration of humanity’s unending struggle with sin, guilt and pride.

* * * * *

Fiction

The Siege of Krishnapur by JG Farrell

Added 17th June 2018. 6,791 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.91 average. 344 pages.

The Blurb says: India, 1857–the year of the Great Mutiny, when Muslim soldiers turned in bloody rebellion on their British overlords. This time of convulsion is the subject of J. G. Farrell’s The Siege of Krishnapur, widely considered one of the finest British novels of the last fifty years.

Farrell’s story is set in an isolated Victorian outpost on the subcontinent. Rumours of strife filter in from afar, and yet the members of the colonial community remain confident of their military and, above all, moral superiority. But when they find themselves under actual siege, the true character of their dominion–at once brutal, blundering, and wistful–is soon revealed.

The Siege of Krishnapur is a companion to Troubles, about the Easter 1916 rebellion in Ireland, and The Singapore Grip, which takes place just before World War II, as the sun begins to set upon the British Empire. Together these three novels offer an unequalled picture of the follies of empire.

Winner of the Booker Prize.

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

* * * * *

VOTE NOW!

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

* * * * *

Blackout (Dark Iceland 2) by Ragnar Jónasson

Repeat after me…

🙂 🙂 😐

A man is found brutally killed outside a house he was building. Although the case is being run from the police office in Akureyri, the victim, Elías, had also been working on the new road tunnel being built in Siglufjörður , so the local police are asked to help. Unfortunately since it’s a tiny place there are only three police officers there, and each of them is far more concerned with his personal life than dealing with pesky crimes. Fortunately there’s a news reporter also on the trail, and although she has more than her fair share of personal issues too, she at least seems keen to actually do her job.

The basic plot of the book is quite interesting and the last third is comparatively fast-paced as all the different strands finally come together so that we learn why Elías was killed and get to the resolutions of some of the myriad of personal problems swilling around. For that reason, the book has escaped the one-star review that it had been heading directly towards up until that stage. But, oh dear, it’s been a long time since I read something so hopelessly repetitive as this – was there any kind of edit done on it? The number of typos and missing words in the Kindle version certainly suggest the publisher saved a bit of money on proof-reading.

By repetitive, I don’t mean that the author goes over the same things in different ways to show different aspects – done well, that can be interesting. No, in this case it’s actual repetition of the same thoughts, again and again, expressed in almost identical ways each time, and all having nothing to do with the actual case. We hear over and over about how Hlynur was a bully in his childhood and now feels guilty about it. Ari Thór still hasn’t got over his break-up with Kristín, despite two years having passed – but then again Kristín, whose thoughts on the subject we also hear repeatedly, hasn’t got over it either. The third police officer hasn’t got over the fact that his wife has left him to live in the big city. The journalist hasn’t got over something that we keep getting hints about but which isn’t revealed till very late on. Dear me, what a miserable, self-pitying, self-absorbed bunch of people to spend time with!

Then there’s the ash. The book is set just after the unpronounceable (and unspellable) volcano erupted back in, I think, 2010, and we are told innumerable times that Reykjavik is still being affected by ash in the air, while Siglufjörður is not. Once is enough. Or describe it differently each time. But to simply keep repeating it is more than tiresome.

Ragnar Jónasson

Anyway, as I said(!), on the rare occasions that the plot appears, it’s quite interesting. Elías appears to have two different reputations depending on who you talk to. Some think he’s a good man, who spends his spare time working for a charity that helps people affected by the economic crash. Others hint that he’s got a dark side, dabbling in crime and with a cruel streak. Yet others know exactly what he’s been doing, but can’t share that knowledge with the police for fear of incriminating themselves. In the brief moments that the police and the journalist can spare from their personal problems, they manage to piece together Elías’ true character and find the reason for his murder. There is also a linked strand that leads to a kind of thriller ending – a race against time to save a life – and this is done reasonably well, although still interrupted by all the personal problems reaching their climaxes at the same time.

I have loved some Jónasson books in the past, and I honestly don’t know if it’s that I’ve become more critical of the kind of filler employed by contemporary crime writers and their concentration on their protagonists’ angst rather than the mystery at hand, or if indeed this book simply isn’t up to the standard of his others. Probably a combination of both. Either way, I’d find it hard to recommend this one. I made it to the end but only by dint of exerting every ounce of willpower I possess…

This was The People’s Choice winner for October. You win some, you lose some… 😉

Book 10 of 12

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 303…

Episode 303

I knew it couldn’t last! After a few weeks of dramatic drops, the TBR is fighting back and has regained some lost ground – up 3 to 188! It’s not my fault – I’m clearly suffering from mind control by aliens experimenting to discover the limits of human endurance…

Here are a few more they’ll be making me read soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

The voting was pretty close for a while but then We Need to Talk About Kevin pulled out in front and gradually built up a decent lead. I’m delighted it did, because no other book in any previous poll has provoked so many strong opinions, with nearly as many people expressing a desire to vote against it as for it, all of which made me very keen to read it and see why it’s so divisive! I might hate it or I might love it, but either way I can’t wait to find out. Good one, People!

The Blurb says: Eva never really wanted to be a mother; certainly not of the boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker and a teacher who tried to befriend him. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with Kevin’s horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband. Uneasy with the sacrifices of motherhood, Eva fears that her dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so drastically off the rails.

Winner of the 2005 Orange Prize, We Need To Talk About Kevin is a brilliant, controversial, unsettling book.

American Classic 

Rabbit, Run by John Updike

One for my Classics Club list. (This is a replacement for The Last of the Mohicans, which sadly I didn’t get along with at all and abandoned too early to review.) I’ve read Rabbit, Run before but don’t remember much about it. I have a feeling I neither loved nor hated it – they’re the ones I usually forget quickest. However, I’ve read far more American fiction since then, so am hoping I may be more in tune with it now and be able to appreciate it more. I also have the Audible version, narrated by William Hope, so will be switching between print and audio…

The Blurb says: Rabbit, Run is the book that established John Updike as one of the major American novelists of his—or any other—generation. Its hero is Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, a onetime high-school basketball star who on an impulse deserts his wife and son. He is twenty-six years old, a man-child caught in a struggle between instinct and thought, self and society, sexual gratification and family duty—even, in a sense, human hard-heartedness and divine Grace. Though his flight from home traces a zigzag of evasion, he holds to the faith that he is on the right path, an invisible line toward his own salvation as straight as a ruler’s edge.

* * * * *

Classic Science Fiction

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

And another Classics Club one. I know nothing about this book or author and picked it from various “best of” lists when compiling my list of classics. It sounds as if it could be brilliant… or awful! But I love the cover…

The Blurb says: In this pulse-quickening novel, Alfred Bester imagines a future in which people “jaunte” a thousand miles with a single thought, where the rich barricade themselves in labyrinths and protect themselves with radioactive hit men – and where an inarticulate outcast is the most valuable and dangerous man alive. “The Stars My Destination” is a classic of technological prophecy and timeless narrative enchantment by an acknowledged master of science fiction.

* * * * *

Thriller

The Turnout by Megan Abbott

Courtesy of Little, Brown Book Group via NetGalley. I’ve loved several of Abbott’s earlier books, so have high hopes for this one. However, its lowish ratings on Goodreads have me a little concerned. I’ve avoided reading any reviews though, so I don’t know what it is about it that people are objecting to. We shall see…

The Blurb says: Ballet flows through their veins. Dara and Marie Durant were dancers since birth, with their long necks and matching buns and pink tights, homeschooled and trained by their mother. Decades later the Durant School of Dance is theirs. The two sisters, together with Charlie, Dara’s husband and once their mother’s prize student, inherited the school after their parents died in a tragic accident nearly a dozen years ago. Marie, warm and soft, teaches the younger students; Dara, with her precision, trains the older ones; and Charlie, back broken after years of injuries, rules over the back office. Circling around each other, the three have perfected a dance, six days a week, that keeps the studio thriving. But when a suspicious accident occurs, just at the onset of the school’s annual performance of The Nutcracker, a season of competition, anxiety, and exhilaration, an interloper arrives and threatens the delicate balance of everything they’ve worked for.

Taut and unnerving, The Turnout is Megan Abbott at the height of her game. With uncanny insight and hypnotic writing, it is a sharp and strange dissection of family ties and sexuality, femininity and power, and a tale that is both alarming and irresistible.

* * * * *

Psychological Thriller on Audio

A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine narrated by Harriet Walter

The Kindle version of this has been lingering on my TBR for far too long so when I spotted it on Audible narrated by the wonderful Harriet Walter, I couldn’t resist! I may flick back and forwards between Kindle and audio, or I may simply immerse myself completely in the narration…

The Blurb says: Faith Severn has grown up with the dark cloud of murder looming over her family. Her aunt Vera Hillyard, a rigidly respectable woman, was convicted and hanged for the crime, but the reason for her desperate deed died with her. Thirty years later, a probing journalist pushes Faith to look back to the day when her aunt took knife in hand and walked into a child’s nursery. Through the eyes of a woman trying to understand an unspeakable, inexplicable family tragedy, Barbara Vine leads us through a shadow land of illicit lust, intimate sins, and unspoken passions—to a shattering and illuminating climax, as inevitable as it is unexpected. In this enthralling masterpiece, a great crime writer has achieved both a flawlessly crafted novel of psychological suspense and a deeply probing work of literary art.

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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 Wednesday) 301 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 301

(A reminder of The People’s Choice plan. Once a month, 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.)

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OK, People, time for the next batch of four, an odd bunch this time I think, finishing 2017 and taking us into 2018. I’m still catching up after my mid-year hiatus, so this won’t be the usual three months ahead pick – the winner will be a December read, if I can fit it in! The first couple – The House by the River and The Grell Mystery – are two of the more obscure ones for my Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge. At Night We Walk in Circles was recommended to me by occasional commenter Matthew Geyer long ago, when I was trying to expand my then almost exclusively Anglo-Saxon American reading into other ethnicities. We Need to Talk About Kevin is on my list just because I liked the sound of it. I have fairly mixed enthusiasm about all of these, so I’m relying on you to pick a good’un!

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Vintage Crime

The House by the River by AP Herbert

Added 26th August 2017. 13 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.28 average rating. 236 pages.

The Blurb says: After the inquest, The Chase had plenty to talk about. Mrs. Ambrose and Mrs. Church were kept very busy. For few of The Chase had been actually present in the flesh—not because they were not interested and curious and indeed aching to be present, but because it seemed hardly decent. Since the great Nuisance Case about the noise of the Quick Boat Company’s motor-boats there had been no event of communal importance to The Chase; life had been a lamentable blank. And it was an ill-chance that the first genuine excitement, not counting the close of the Great War, should be a function which it seemed hardly decent to attend: an inquest on the dead body of a housemaid from The Chase discovered almost naked in a sack by a police-boat at Barnes.

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Vintage Crime

The Grell Mystery by Frank Froest

Added 26th August 2017. 98 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.55 average. 304 pages.

The Blurb says: Robert Grell is a daring explorer who has also enjoyed success in the worlds of finance and politics in the United States prior to settling in England as a gentleman of leisure. He spends his ‘last night of bachelordom’ prior to marrying the lovely Lady Eileen Meredith at his club. When he tells his friend Sir Ralph Fairfield that he needs to keep an appointment, his evasiveness about what he is doing puzzles Fairfield. Two hours later, ‘a wildeyed breathless servant’ is reporting to the police that Grell has been found murdered in his study, and it emerges that another servant, a Russian called Ivan, has vanished. All is not, however, as it seems. The police quickly establish that the dead man is not Grell, but someone who bears him a close resemblance…

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Fiction

At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón

Added 6th October 2017. 2,669 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.62 average. 384 pages. 

The Blurb says: Nelson’s life is not turning out the way he hoped. His girlfriend is sleeping with another man, his brother has left their South American country and moved to the United States, leaving Nelson to care for their widowed mother, and his acting career can’t seem to get off the ground. That is, until he lands a starring role in a touring revival of The Idiot President, a legendary play by Nelson’s hero, Henry Nunez, leader of the storied guerrilla theater troupe Diciembre. And that’s when the real trouble begins.

The tour takes Nelson out of the shelter of the city and across a landscape he’s never seen, which still bears the scars of the civil war. With each performance, Nelson grows closer to his fellow actors, becoming hopelessly entangled in their complicated lives, until, during one memorable performance, a long-buried betrayal surfaces to force the troupe into chaos.

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Crime

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Added 1st January 2018. 187,436 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.04 average. 478 pages.

The Blurb says: Eva never really wanted to be a mother; certainly not of the boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker and a teacher who tried to befriend him. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with Kevin’s horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband. Uneasy with the sacrifices of motherhood, Eva fears that her dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so drastically off the rails.

Winner of the 2005 Orange Prize, We Need To Talk About Kevin is a brilliant, controversial, unsettling book.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Amazon UK or extracted from Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.

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