TBR Thursday (on a Tuesday) 345 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 345

(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 2020, and a rather odd selection this month, all historical fiction but very different from each other. I like to run three months ahead with these polls, so the winner will be a November read. I picked up The Sealwoman’s Gift in a charity shop on impulse, mainly because I used to like the author’s father when he presented Mastermind on TV! I also bought Cold Mountain there on the same day, but it was on my wishlist since I’d previously enjoyed another of his books, Nightwoods. I loved Neil Munro’s The New Road, so acquired Doom Castle and it’s now on my Classics Club list. A Suitable Boy is one I’ve long wanted to read but its excessive length means it keeps getting shoved aside.

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Historical Fiction

The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson

Added 11th January 2020. 5,160 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.16 average rating. 365 pages.

The Blurb says: In 1627 Barbary pirates raided the coast of Iceland and abducted some 400 of its people, including 250 from a tiny island off the mainland. Among the captives sold into slavery in Algiers were the island pastor, his wife and their three children. Although the raid itself is well documented, little is known about what happened to the women and children afterwards. It was a time when women everywhere were largely silent.

In this brilliant reimagining, Sally Magnusson gives a voice to Ásta, the pastor’s wife. Enslaved in an alien Arab culture Ásta meets the loss of both her freedom and her children with the one thing she has brought from home: the stories in her head. Steeped in the sagas and folk tales of her northern homeland, she finds herself experiencing not just the separations and agonies of captivity, but the reassessments that come in any age when intelligent eyes are opened to other lives, other cultures and other kinds of loving.

The Sealwoman’s Gift is about the eternal power of storytelling to help us survive. The novel is full of stories – Icelandic ones told to fend off a slave-owner’s advances, Arabian ones to help an old man die. And there are others, too: the stories we tell ourselves to protect our minds from what cannot otherwise be borne, the stories we need to make us happy.

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Historical Fiction

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

Added 11th January 2020. 234,132 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.88 average. 449 pages.

The Blurb says: Based on local history & family stories passed down by Frazier’s great-great-grandfather, Cold Mountain is the tale of a wounded Confederate soldier, Inman, who walks away from the ravages of the war & back home to his prewar sweetheart, Ada. His odyssey thru the devastated landscape of the soon-to-be-defeated South interweaves with Ada’s struggle to revive her father’s farm, with the help of an intrepid young drifter named Ruby. As their long-separated lives begin to converge at the close of the war, Inman & Ada confront the vastly transformed world they’ve been delivered.

Frazier reveals insight into human relations with the land & the dangers of solitude. He also shares with the great 19th century novelists a keen observation of a society undergoing change. Cold Mountain recreates a world gone by that speaks to our time.

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Historical Fiction

Doom Castle by Neil Munro

Added 26th January 2020. 31 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.48 average. 360 pages.

The Blurb says: “No pomp, no pleasant amenities; the place seemed to jut into the sea, defying man’s oldest and most bitter enemy, its gable ends and one crenellated bastion or turret betraying its sinister relation to its age, its whole aspect arrogant and unfriendly, essential of war. Caught suddenly by the vision that swept the fretted curve of the coast, it seemed blackly to perpetuate the spirit of the land, its silence, its solitude and terrors.”

This was the Count Victor’s fist sight of Castle Doom. His mission to Scotland from France in 1755 brought him into this wild land of danger and mystery, where he met the haunting Count Doom, the lovely Olivia, the dastardly Simon MacTaggart – and gothic jeopardy armed with claymores, dirks, and bagpipes.

Here is the most unusual historical novel you will ever read, by a Scot worthy to sit at the right hand of the throne of Sir Walter Scott!

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Historical Fiction

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

Added 29th January 2020. 45,879 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.12 average. 1553 pages. 

The Blurb says: Vikram Seth’s novel is, at its core, a love story: Lata and her mother, Mrs. Rupa Mehra, are both trying to find—through love or through exacting maternal appraisal—a suitable boy for Lata to marry. Set in the early 1950s, in an India newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis, A Suitable Boy takes us into the richly imagined world of four large extended families and spins a compulsively readable tale of their lives and loves. A sweeping panoramic portrait of a complex, multi-ethnic society in flux, A Suitable Boy remains the story of ordinary people caught up in a web of love and ambition, humour and sadness, prejudice and reconciliation, the most delicate social etiquette and the most appalling violence.

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

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Death in the Tunnel by Miles Burton

A locked train carriage mystery…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

When Sir Wilfred Saxonby is found dead in a locked carriage in a train, it looks like it must have been suicide, for how could a murderer have got onto and then off a moving train? But Inspector Arnold of Scotland Yard can find no evidence that Sir Wilfred had been suicidal, and those who know him find it impossible to believe. And there are one or two odd things – like the mysterious red light that caused the train driver to slow down while the train was passing through Blackdown Tunnel, or the fact that Sir Wilfred apparently used an unlicensed gun even though he owned several licensed ones. Arnold can make no sense of it, so consults his old friend Desmond Merrion, a man with a gift of imagination that sometimes enables him to make sense of the seemingly senseless…

Although there’s a slight whodunit aspect to this, mostly it’s a howdunit, with the mystery revolving around various aspects of how the crime could have been committed, and who had alibis and who didn’t. It starts out well – the point about the red light and slowing train is intriguing, and the solution to that aspect, which comes quite early on, is fun. But then it kind of collapses into a morass of ever more complicated, and ever less interesting, speculation as to how the unnamed murderer or murderers did the deed, with Arnold and Merrion each spouting theory after theory, only for the next fact to come along and change everything.

This felt very different in style to the only other Merrion book I’ve read, The Secret of High Eldersham. That one had a wonderfully creepy atmosphere and aspects of a thriller, in that Merrion and others were put in peril. Merrion also had an enjoyable sidekick in it. This one had none of that – it is a cerebral puzzle with no peril and therefore very little atmosphere. Whoever turned out to be the culprit, I feel I’d have met it with a mental shrug, since none of the suspects were developed in a way to make me care about them. Having said that, Merrion himself is likeable and not nearly as insufferable as some of these brilliant amateur ‘tecs, and Arnold too is quite fun, even if he’s not exactly the brightest bulb in the chandelier.

Miles Burton

Although it’s well written and will probably appeal to the puzzle-orientated reader, I gradually found myself losing interest. I had decided on the most likely suspect fairly early on, and found it odd that neither Merrion nor Arnold seemed to be spotting what seemed like fairly obvious indicators. But I had no idea why the crime had been committed, and was disappointed that when all was revealed it was clear that the reader had had no chance to work that out, since the required information was withheld until very close to the end.

Overall, then, I found the plotting rather dull despite its “impossible” cleverness, and felt too much emphasis was given to the puzzle aspect at the expense of developing any sense of atmosphere or tension. However, it’s redeemed a little by the quality of the writing and the likeability of the two leads, Merrion and Arnold.

Book 7 of 12

This was the People’s Choice for July, and it was more enjoyable than not, so we’ll call that a success, People! 😉

Amazon UK Link

TBR Thursday (on a Tuesday) 340 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 340

(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 – moving in to 2020, and a reasonably varied bunch this month though heavy on crime. I like to run three months ahead with these polls, so the winner will be an October read. I loved the first book I read by William Shaw and abandoned the second, so Salt Lane could go either way. I acquired The Charing Cross Mystery because I’d enjoyed Fletcher’s The Middle Temple Murder. For some reason I’ve read very little Kazuo Ishiguro, so bought Never Let Me Go in a bid to correct that. And Mr Bowling Buys a Newspaper is on the TBR and on my Classics Club list because I loved Henderson’s A Voice Like Velvet. These all have the potential to be great reads, I think… 

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Crime

Salt Lane by William Shaw

Added 1st January 2020. 2,233 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.02 average rating. 452 pages.

The Blurb says: DS Alexandra Cupidi has done it again. She should have learnt to keep her big mouth shut, after the scandal that sent her packing – resentful teenager in tow – from the London Met to the lonely Kent coastline. Even murder looks different in this landscape of fens, ditches and stark beaches, shadowed by the towers of Dungeness power station. Murder looks a lot less pretty.

The man drowned in the slurry pit had been herded there like an animal. He was North African, like many of the fruit pickers that work the fields. The more Cupidi discovers, the more she wants to ask – but these people are suspicious of questions.

It will take an understanding of this strange place – its old ways and new crimes – to uncover the dark conspiracy behind the murder. Cupidi is not afraid to travel that road. But she should be. She should, by now, have learnt.

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Vintage Crime

The Charing Cross Mystery by JS Fletcher

Added 1st January 2020. 185 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.56 average. 268 pages.

The Blurb says: When a retired police inspector suddenly drops dead in a train carriage arriving at Charing Cross station, young London barrister Hetherwick finds himself the key witness to the murder. Thrust into the centre of this terrifying mystery, Hetherwick must unveil the disturbing truths of the case and locate the nefarious culprit. Fans of ‘Sherlock Holmes’ will be enthralled by this 20th century crime classic, a gripping tale of mystery and suspense that will have them on the edge of their seats till the very end.

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Fiction

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Added 10th January 2020. 578,195 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.84 average. 275 pages. 

The Blurb says: Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it.

Within the grounds of Hailsham, Kathy grows from schoolgirl to young woman, but it’s only when she and her friends Ruth and Tommy leave the safe grounds of the school (as they always knew they would) that they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.

Never Let Me Go breaks through the boundaries of the literary novel. It is a gripping mystery, a beautiful love story, and also a scathing critique of human arrogance and a moral examination of how we treat the vulnerable and different in our society. In exploring the themes of memory and the impact of the past, Ishiguro takes on the idea of a possible future to create his most moving and powerful book to date.

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Vintage Crime

Mr Bowling Buys a Newspaper by Donald Henderson

Added 10th January 2020. 338 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.55 average. 215 pages.

The Blurb says: In Raymond Chandler’s favourite novel, Mr Bowling buys the newspapers only to find out what the latest is on the murders he’s just committed…

Mr Bowling is getting away with murder. On each occasion he buys a newspaper to see whether anyone suspects him. But there is a war on, and the clues he leaves are going unnoticed. Which is a shame, because Mr Bowling is not a conventional serial killer: he wants to get caught so that his torment can end. How many more newspapers must he buy before the police finally catch up with him?

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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!)

There’s a problem with the poll, as you’ve probably discovered! However the votes are being recorded at Crowdsignal, the poll host, even if it shows as still buffering. Thanks for voting and sorry for the problem – hopefully I’ll be able to work out the winner from the Crowdsignal records, and if not I’ll base it on the preferences in the comments. So if your vote doesn’t seem to record, please also tell me your choice in the comments. UPDATE: Problem now resolved and the poll is working normally.

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TBR Thursday (on a Tuesday) 338 and Quarterly Round-Up

TBR Quarterly Report

At the New Year, as I do every year, I set myself some targets for my various reading challenges and for the reduction of my ever-expanding TBR. I’ve been reading up a storm recently (Editor’s note: I wrote this before Wimbledon crashed my reading to zero) and have banned myself from acquiring books from NetGalley for a few months (Editor’s note: I wrote this before acquiring two books from NetGalley this week) to catch up with all my other reading. Has it worked?

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

Woohoo! I don’t think I’ve ever been this much on target halfway through the year! I have reduced the target for the Spanish Civil War challenge – see below – and the Wanderlust challenge is still wandering on, six months after the original deadline. But overall I’m happy with these figures.

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The Classics Club

I’ve been racing through my new Classics Club list so far, partly because a couple of the recent People’s Choices have been CC books. I’ve read five this quarter and had three left still to review at the end of last quarter, including the final two for my first list. I’m finally up to date with CC reviews, for the first time in ages…

First List

89. Children of the Dead End by Patrick MacGill – Ugh! I abandoned this misogynistic fictionalised memoir halfway through. Mr MacGill dislikes women nearly as much as I dislike him. 1 star.

90. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen – I saved this re-read of a favourite as a treat for myself for finishing the first list, and a treat it certainly was! 5 stars.

90 down, 0 to go!

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Second List

2. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay – A deliciously ambiguous story of missing girls, that manages to be entertaining and unsettling in equal parts. 5 stars.

3. Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo – After way too much architectural detail in the first half, the thrilling story in the second half won me over! I also enjoyed reading this along with fellow bloggers in a Review-Along. 5 stars.

4. Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth – This satire on Anglo-Irish landowners is a rather slight novella, mildly entertaining, but I felt it didn’t live up to its reputation. 3 stars.

5. Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens – although this re-read was my annual Christmas Dickens, I didn’t get around to reviewing it until May! As always, a great read, even though it’s not quite in Dickens’ top rank. 4 Dickensian stars, which glow brighter than normal stars.

6. The Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham –  Set in colonial Hong Kong, this tells the story of initially empty-headed Kitty Fane when her husband drags her into a cholera zone in China. Well-written and thought-provoking. 4½ stars.

7. Vanish in an Instant by Margaret Millar – dark but not quite noir, this is well written, and alongside the murder mystery element takes a thoughtful look at the shame of a respectable woman succumbing to alcoholism in her later life. 4 stars.

One or two duds, but mostly some great reading in this quarter’s classics reading!

7 down, 73 to go!

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

I’ve read three for this challenge this quarter and had two left still to review from the quarter before. I’ve reviewed three and still have another two not yet reviewed…

49. The Z Murders by J Jefferson Farjeon. More a thriller than a mystery, involving a chase across England in pursuit of a lurid serial killer. Fast-paced and entertaining. 4 stars.

50. The Grell Mystery by Frank Froest. Written by a genuine ex-top cop, this has too much of a feel of being a memoir for it to work well as a mystery novel. Interesting rather than entertaining. 3 stars.

51. The House by the River by AP Herbert. A great little story about the psychological effects of murder on the murderer and his loyal friend, unfortunately buried in a mass of description and digression. 2½ stars.

Still very much a mixed bag, this challenge, and I’m considering giving it up once I’ve read the remaining books I’ve already acquired for it.

51 down, 51 to go!

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Reading the Spanish Civil War Challenge

I’ve started plenty of books for this challenge, but most of them have ended up on the abandoned heap pretty quickly. I finished just one…

10. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Zafón does a wonderful job of depicting a city in the aftermath of civil war, but first and foremost this is a great story, wonderfully told. 5 stars.

As a result of my increasing disappointment and irritation with many of my choices for this challenge, I’ve decided to read the remaining three books I already own, cancel the other ones from my wishlist, and then draw a line under it.

10 down, 3 to go!

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The People’s Choice

People's Choice Logo

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

April – Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay. Plenty of layers in this ambiguous tale – mild horror, some humour, and a true mystery at its heart. 5 stars.

May – The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton – A book that follows the plot of Vanity Fair remarkably closely – very remarkably closely – and yet fails to duplicate any of the humour or insightful satire of the original. A generous 2 stars.

JuneThe Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham. An excellent character study combined with a colonial setting in this tale of a woman who traps herself in marriage to a man she doesn’t love. 4½ stars.

Two out of three ain’t bad! Well done, People – you did great! Keep up the good work! 😉

6 down, 6 to go!

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Wanderlust Bingo

I’ve read three books for this challenge this quarter and had one still to review from the previous quarter. I’ve reviewed three, with one still to come. The blue boxes are books from previous quarters, and the orange are the ones I’m adding this quarter. If you click on the bingo card you should get a larger version.

GibraltarKilling Rock by Robert Daws – 5 stars. The unique setting of this last outpost of Empire provides an added level of interest to this police procedural series. I’ve slotted it into the Free Square.

Sahara/North Africa – Biggles Defends the Desert by Capt WE Johns – 5 stars.  A WW2 adventure for flying ace Biggles and his squadron, as they fight to ensure the safety of Allied planes crossing the desert. Unsurprisingly, I’m slotting it into the Desert box!

Hong Kong/China – The Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham – 4½ stars. The colonial backdrop of Hong Kong provides the initial setting while the meat of the story takes place in the Chinese interior, so a perfect fit for the Far East box.

Three excellent books this quarter but this challenge is cursed! I keep picking interesting looking books that turn out to be duds. So I’m dropping my initial plan to fill all the boxes only with books I recommend or I could still be trying to fill the last three boxes sometime in the next millennium!

22 down, 3 to go!

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Overall, a great quarter and I’ve made some progress on all my challenges – hurrah! Thanks as always for sharing my reading experiences!

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

The Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham

Adultery in the time of cholera…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

Despite her charm and beauty and although she has had many admirers, Kitty Garstin at the age of twenty-five finds herself still unmarried and close to ending up on the shelf. The situation becomes more urgent when her younger sister makes an excellent match, and Kitty is horrified at the idea of her sister marrying first. So she accepts a proposal from a man she doesn’t love – Walter Fane, a bacteriologist who is about to take up a position in Hong Kong, (called Tching-yen in the book). Once out in the colony, Kitty falls for the easy charm of Charlie Townsend, the Assistant Colonial Secretary, and they begin an affair. Kitty thinks this is true love, but for Charlie it’s merely one episode of many – his true love is his wife, despite his infidelity to her. So when Walter finds out about the affair he gives Kitty a choice – divorce him and marry Charlie, or accompany him to an area of China in the midst of a cholera epidemic. It’s then that Kitty discovers Charlie has no intention of leaving his wife, and seems quite comfortable with the idea of Kitty going into China…

Although written in the third person, the book is told from Kitty’s perspective throughout, and so we only get to know as much about the other characters as she knows. This leaves Walter as rather vague, since Kitty never really understands him, not even why he should be in love with someone that he clearly sees, justifiably, as his intellectual inferior. When Walter makes his demand that she accompany him into the cholera zone, she believes that he is hoping that she will die there. And she may be right.

I found Kitty rather annoying at first, empty-headed and shallow. She never really develops a great deal of depth in her personality, but Maugham certainly creates depth in his characterization of her. In some ways it’s a coming of age story, as Kitty’s experiences first show her how empty of any meaning her life has been, and then give her the opportunity to grow. It’s also a study of the position of this class of women in that era, when a good marriage was still the ultimate sign of success and when divorce was still so scandalous that it would thrust a woman out of respectable society. Kitty has been trained and educated only to be ornamental and charming, so one can hardly blame her for her shallowness. Her role as a wife is to support her husband and to have children. Perhaps if Kitty had had a child she may not have indulged in an affair, but being the wife of a man obsessed by his work and having servants to do all the tedious work around the home leaves Kitty, and all colonial women to an extent, with very little to fill their empty days.

Book 6 of 80

First published in 1925, the book is of its age when it comes to colonial attitudes. Some of the language that Maugham uses in describing the Chinese characters and culture certainly seems offensive to modern eyes, more so, I felt, than in some other colonial writing from the same era. However, it does give an idea of how foreign and unsettling everything seems to Kitty, and as the story unfolds she shows at least a little desire to understand more about the people she finds herself living amongst. But mostly China is relegated to a beautiful and exotic background against which a very English story plays out.

There’s also a religious aspect to the book that rather puzzled me. Kitty has no belief in a God, but once in the cholera zone she begins to help out at the local convent which is caring for both cholera patients and orphans, and in her conversations with the nuns there’s a suggestion that she comes to feel that her lack of faith is part of the emptiness inside her. Yet there’s no suggestion of her converting to a life of religion. I couldn’t quite make out what Maugham was trying to say about religion – he seemed to admire the dedication and faith of the nuns without accepting the truth of their beliefs. I googled him afterwards and actually think that maybe this is a reflection of his own ambivalence – he seems to have been an atheist or agnostic of the kind who struggles with and perhaps regrets his lack of faith.

W Somerset Maugham

I loved the book for the quality of the writing and the characterization, and particularly appreciated the way he developed Kitty gradually and realistically over the course of the story. But I had two minor quibbles that just stopped it from being a five-star read for me. The first is entirely subjective and isn’t a criticism of the book – I had seen and thoroughly enjoyed the film before I read it and that unfortunately meant that I knew how the story was going to play out, which took away any suspense and reduced my emotional response. My second criticism is more objective – I hated the way it ended, the last few pages being filled with a kind of pretentious, breathless hyper-emotionalism that didn’t seem to match the rest of the book, nor tie in with Kitty’s character as we had come to know her. Again, it had the same kind of jumbled religious undertones that I felt had been confusing throughout, so perhaps Maugham was trying to resolve Kitty’s feelings about faith in some way in the end. But if so, I’m afraid it didn’t work for me.

Despite that, overall I found it interesting, thought-provoking and enjoyable, and very well written, and it has certainly left me keen to read more of his work. 4½ stars for me, so rounded up.

Book 6 of 12

This was the People’s Choice winner for June. An excellent choice, People – well done!

Amazon UK Link

TBR Thursday 336 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 336

(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 – the final books from 2019, and all fiction this time. I like to run three months ahead with these polls, so the winner will be a September read. Amazon had a Kindle daily deal on all Toni Morrison books and I bought, I think, five of them – I’ve read three and still have Jazz and The Bluest Eye to go. Australian blogger Rose is a fan of Tim Winton, and when I asked her where I should start with him, she recommended Cloudstreet. Sansom’s Winter in Madrid will be a re-read, to tie in with my Spanish Civil War challenge. I do have a preferred choice this month, but I’m not telling you which!

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Fiction

Jazz by Toni Morrison

Added 10th November 2019. 26,843 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.86 average rating. 229 pages.

The Blurb says: In the winter of 1926, when everybody everywhere sees nothing but good things ahead, Joe Trace, middle-aged door-to-door salesman of Cleopatra beauty products, shoots his teenage lover to death. At the funeral, Joe’s wife, Violet, attacks the girl’s corpse. This passionate, profound story of love and obsession brings us back and forth in time, as a narrative is assembled from the emotions, hopes, fears, and deep realities of black urban life.

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Fiction

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Added 10th November 2019. 207,795 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.09 average. 208 pages.

The Blurb says: Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison powerfully examines our obsession with beauty and conformity—and asks questions about race, class, and gender with her characteristic subtly and grace.

In Morrison’s bestselling first novel, Pecola Breedlove—an 11-year-old Black girl in an America whose love for its blond, blue-eyed children can devastate all others—prays for her eyes to turn blue: so that she will be beautiful, so that people will look at her, so that her world will be different. This is the story of the nightmare at the heart of her yearning, and the tragedy of its fulfillment.

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Fiction

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

Added 1st December 2019. 22,625 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.00 average. 426 pages. 

The Blurb says: Hailed as a classic, Tim Winton’s masterful family saga is both a paean to working-class Australians and an unflinching examination of the human heart’s capacity for sorrow, joy, and endless gradations in between. An award-winning work, Cloudstreet exemplifies the brilliant ability of fiction to captivate and inspire.

Struggling to rebuild their lives after being touched by disaster, the Pickle family, who’ve inherited a big house called Cloudstreet in a suburb of Perth, take in the God-fearing Lambs as tenants. The Lambs have suffered their own catastrophes, and determined to survive, they open up a grocery on the ground floor. From 1944 to 1964, the shared experiences of the two overpopulated clans — running the gamut from drunkenness, adultery, and death to resurrection, marriage, and birth — bond them to each other and to the bustling, haunted house in ways no one could have anticipated.

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Historical Fiction

Winter in Madrid by CJ Sansom

Added 18th December 2019. 15,624 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.85 average. 549 pages.

The Blurb says: 1940: The Spanish Civil War is over, and Madrid lies ruined, its people starving, while the Germans continue their relentless march through Europe. Britain now stands alone while General Franco considers whether to abandon neutrality and enter the war.

Into this uncertain world comes Harry Brett: a traumatized veteran of Dunkirk turned reluctant spy for the British Secret Service. Sent to gain the confidence of old school friend Sandy Forsyth, now a shady Madrid businessman, Harry finds himself involved in a dangerous game – and surrounded by memories.

Meanwhile Sandy’s girlfriend, ex-Red Cross nurse Barbara Clare, is engaged in a secret mission of her own – to find her former lover Bernie Piper, a passionate Communist in the International Brigades, who vanished on the bloody battlefields of the Jarama.

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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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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?