Knock, Murderer, Knock by Harriet Rutland

Careful with that knitting needle…

😀 😀 😀 😀

The long-term residents of Presteignton Hydro are mostly an elderly bunch, solid middle-class people, retired military men or the wives or widows of the same, and the occasional member of the titled gentry. So beautiful young Miss Blake stands out and becomes the subject of envy and gossip among the women and the target of lust among the elderly men. When she is found dead with a knitting needle through her brain, Inspector Palk finds himself up to his armpits in suspects, but soon catches his murderer… or so he thinks. And then another woman is found dead…

This is quite a fun mystery in the typical Golden Age style. The Hydro 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 the talented amateur – not that Mr Winkley, with his background in the military and his links with Scotland Yard, is exactly an amateur, but he doesn’t work through the normal police structure. He also doesn’t show up until the book is more than half over, so although poor Palk is upstaged at the end, it’s him we spend most time with in the early parts of the investigation.

Rutland has a keen eye for class and snobbery, and has a lot of fun with her characters, from the lowly housemaids all the way up to the not-quite aristocratic Lady Warme (her title a relic of her dead husband, knighted for being the man behind “Warme’s Patent Cornflour”, as her fellow residents can’t help reminding her from time to time). Palk is also fun, though we rather laugh at him than with him which I’m never as keen on. He jumps to conclusions, and having jumped is reluctant to ever admit he may have been wrong, so even the introduction of a second corpse, murdered in the same way, doesn’t shake his belief that he has caught the right person for the first murder. The second murder must be a copycat, he feels. But then the third body turns up and even he has to admit that three separate murderers might be stretching coincidence too far…

Although I enjoyed reading this overall, there were a couple of things that didn’t work for me and that I felt stopped it from reaching the top ranks of vintage crime. The first murder was of a perfect Golden Age victim – mysterious, shady background, not quite suited to her surroundings. The second victim, however, is a young woman who didn’t “deserve” to die and she left behind grieving relatives, whom I felt Rutland didn’t handle particularly well. The third murder was of someone else who, in my opinion, was too innocent to be a suitable victim, and I found it hard to reconcile the overall tone with these latter two murders. I also felt that the motive was a bit hackneyed and also a little obvious – I had a good idea of who the murderer was from quite early on, and also of why they were doing it.

As a result of these points I enjoyed the first half considerably more than the second. The characterisation of all the residents is well done – not too in depth and perhaps a little caricatured as “types”, but no less fun for that. As well as the Cornflour Widow and a variety of others, there’s the nurse seeking a husband, the put-upon doctor having to deal with as much hypochondria as genuine illness, the rivalry between the elderly men for beautiful Miss Blake’s attention, and the aspiring mystery writer whom Rutland uses to poke gentle fun at her own craft. In such a small, enclosed community there’s plenty of gossip along with the usual petty squabbles and resentments of those with too much time on their hands. Based on the first half it was heading for the full five stars from me, but I found my enthusiasm wore a little thin when the events darkened to a point where I found the light, humorous tone increasingly jarring.

Four stars, then, and I’d be happy to read more of Rutland in the future, though it appears she only wrote three books and then stopped, for reasons unknown.

This was The People’s Choice winner for September, and another good one – you’re on a roll, People!

Book 9 of 12

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

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On a personal note…

Last week I had to make the difficult decision to have my dear little Tuppence put to sleep after a short but terminal illness. I tell you this not to seek condolences – I know fellow pet lovers out there know how hard these things are – but because I’ve always joked about her on the blog and didn’t want her disappearance to go unexplained. She was a little cat with a big personality, and her brother Tommy and I are missing her very much.

TBR Thursday (on a Friday) 297 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. This has been a terrible quarter, reading-wise, with me taking a break of five or six full weeks from reading, so I’m expecting the worst for my poor targets!

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

Aarghh! Well, it’s just as bad as I expected and there’s no way I’ll be able to retrieve the situation in the last quarter of the year. I might catch up with the People’s Choice and fit in a few more classics, but the rest are pretty hopeless. I needed that break though and hey! Who’s counting? 😉

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The Classics Club

I’ve read just one from my Classics Club list this quarter, and had another still to review from the previous quarter…

79. My Ántonia by Willa Cather – I enjoyed this excellently written novel telling of the coming-of-age of the title character and the narrator, Jim, together with the story of the pioneering days in the fledgling USA. 4 stars.

80. I, The Jury by Mickey Spillane – One from the pulpy end of hard-boiled crime, complete with every ‘ism of its time. Violence, sex and guns galore – and yet oddly I enjoyed it! 4 stars.

Two books from the US that couldn’t really be more different, but both enjoyable in their own way!

80 down, 10 to go!

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

I’ve managed to read precisely none from this challenge this quarter! However I had one left over to review from the previous quarter…

46. Darkness at Pemberley by TH White – White throws just about every mystery novel trope into this preposterous story, but manages to pull it off! Hugely entertaining, and not to be taken too seriously. 5 stars.

46 down, 56 to go!

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Reading the Spanish Civil War Challenge

I’ve only read one for this challenge this quarter, and had another still to review from the quarter before. Unfortunately I haven’t reviewed either of them yet, so the sum total for this round-up is…

Reviews will follow soon though, I promise!

6 down, indefinite number to go!

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The People’s Choice

People's Choice Logo

I’ve only read two this quarter but hope to catch up before the end of the year. Did You, The People, pick me some good ones…?

JulyHalf of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – I found this tale of privileged members of the Igbo caught up in the Biafran War surprisingly flat in tone despite the human tragedy it describes. However I learned a good deal about the culture of that time and place, and overall am glad to have read it. 4 stars.

AugustThe Black Cabinet by Patricia Wentworth – A highly entertaining mystery from the Golden Age, starring a charming heroine meeting peril after peril in her attempts to do the right thing. Just the right combination of mystery, humour and romance to make for perfect relaxation reading. 5 stars.

One I’m glad to have read and one I thoroughly enjoyed, so take a bow, People – you chose well! And they’re off my TBR at last – hurrah!

8 down, 4 to go!

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Wanderlust Bingo

I haven’t filled many boxes this quarter, and I’m kinda kicking myself because I’ve got great-looking books lined up for every space now – it’s just a matter of finding time to read them! I have a few coming up on my reading list soon, but this challenge is definitely going to drift into next year (unless I grow an extra head). The dark blue ones are from previous quarters, and the orange are the ones I’m adding this quarter. I might shuffle them all around at the end so this is all quite tentative at this stage. (If you click on the bingo card you should get a larger version.)

SwedenTo Cook a Bear by Mikael Niemi – 5 stars. I’ve slotted this into Village, since the village setting is an important factor in the story.

France – The Man from London by Georges Simenon – 4½ stars. Simenon’s settings are always one of his main strengths, and here he gives a great picture of the working life of Dieppe as the background to his story. I’m putting this in the Europe box.

Biafra/NigeriaHalf of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – 4 stars. I can’t imagine a more appropriate book to fill the Africa box than this story of the short-lived existence of the Biafran nation.

Still a long, long way to go, but ’tis better to travel hopefully than to arrive…

10 down, 15 to go!

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A slightly shorter post this time, for which I’m sure you’re all very thankful. 😉 Thanks as always for sharing my reading experiences!

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

TBR Thursday 296…

Episode 296

It’s been an odd couple of weeks since I last reported on the state of the TBR, with some speed reading in the first week followed by a reading drought in the second. The end result, however, is a reduction – down 2 to 195! (I’m also days behind with reading your posts, as you may – or may not! – have noticed. But I’m slowly catching up!)

How are all our Review-Alongers getting on with Vanity Fair? I’m getting very worried – I’m only about halfway through with just a couple of weeks to go! (Reminder – review date is 25th October.) I think I’m going to have to master multi-tasking…

Here’s a few more that I should be reading soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith

Oh good! Although any of them would have been fine, I was secretly hoping you might pick this one! It was close for a while with A Distant Echo running neck-and-neck, but in the end Gorky Park took a pretty commanding lead. The other two were never really in contention. I should be reading this one in November, theoretically, though I’m even further behind than I was last week so who knows??

The Blurb says: It begins with a triple murder in a Moscow amusement center: three corpses found frozen in the snow, faces and fingers missing. Chief homicide investigator Arkady Renko is brilliant, sensitive, honest, and cynical about everything except his profession. To identify the victims and uncover the truth, he must battle the KGB, FBI, and the New York City police as he pursues a rich, ruthless, and well-connected American fur dealer. Meanwhile, Renko is falling in love with a beautiful, headstrong dissident for whom he may risk everything.

A wonderfully textured, vivid look behind the Iron Curtain, Gorky Park is a tense, atmospheric, and memorable crime story.

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Vintage Horror

Randalls Round by Eleanor Scott

Courtesy of the British Library. I know nothing about this author or the book, but it’s subtitled “Nine Nightmares” so that sounds good! Porpy? Porpy? Why are you hiding behind the sofa…?

The Blurb says: ‘These stories have all had their origins in dreams… These dreams were terrifying enough to the dreamer… I hope that some readers will experience an agreeable shudder or two in the reading of them.’ An enigmatic and shadowy presence answers the call of an ancient curse on the coast of Brittany; a traveller’s curiosity leads him to witness a hellish sacrifice by night; a treasure-hunt in a haunted mansion takes a turn for the tentacular.

Described in the author’s foreword as an attempt to convey a series of nightmares she experienced, Randalls Round is a thrilling collection of strange stories ranging from depictions of ritualistic folk horror to tales of ancient forces versus humanity in the vein of M R James. Despite being the only weird fiction written under the Scott pseudonym, this collection is deserving of a much wider readership and its place in the development of the weird and folk horror subgenres.

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Crime

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

Courtesy of HarperCollins. This unsolicited one nearly disappeared in my recent cull, but I decided I couldn’t resist trying it, despite my frequent tooth-gnashing over updates of the classics. Trying to imagine Mr Rochester as “Eddie” is already bringing on a migraine, though… 😉

The Blurb says: A girl looking for love…
When Jane, a broke dog-walker newly arrived in town, meets Eddie Rochester, she can’t believe her luck. Eddie is handsome, rich and lives alone in a beautiful mansion since the tragic death of his beloved wife a year ago.

A man who seems perfect…
Eddie can give Jane everything she’s always wanted: stability, acceptance, and a picture-perfect life.

A wife who just won’t stay buried…
But what Jane doesn’t know is that Eddie is keeping a secret – a big secret. And when the truth comes out, the consequences are far more deadly than anyone could ever have imagined…

A delicious twist on a Gothic classic, The Wife Upstairs is perfect for fans of Lucy Foley, Ruth Ware and Shari Lapena.

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Fiction

Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks

Courtesy of Random House Cornerstone via NetGalley. I’ve had a mixed reaction to Faulks in the few books of his I’ve read so far, but his blurbs always appeal and the quality of his writing always makes me able to put up with any other weaknesses. This one sounds as if it could be great…

The Blurb says: 1914: Young Anton Heideck has arrived in Vienna, eager to make his name as a journalist. While working part-time as a private tutor, he encounters Delphine, a woman who mixes startling candour with deep reserve. Entranced by the light of first love, Anton feels himself blessed. Until his country declares war on hers.

1927: For Lena, life with a drunken mother in a small town has been impoverished and cold. She is convinced she can amount to nothing until a young lawyer, Rudolf Plischke, spirits her away to Vienna. But the capital proves unforgiving. Lena leaves her metropolitan dream behind to take a menial job at the snow-bound sanatorium, the Schloss Seeblick.

1933: Still struggling to come terms with the loss of so many friends on the Eastern Front, Anton, now an established writer, is commissioned by a magazine to visit the mysterious Schloss Seeblick. In this place of healing, on the banks of a silvery lake, where the depths of human suffering and the chances of redemption are explored, two people will see each other as if for the first time.

Sweeping across Europe as it recovers from one war and hides its face from the coming of another, SNOW COUNTRY is a landmark novel of exquisite yearnings, dreams of youth and the sanctity of hope. In elegant, shimmering prose, Sebastian Faulks has produced a work of timeless resonance.

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Crime

Risk of Harm by Lucie Whitehouse

Courtesy of HarperCollins. Another unsolicited one, but this time very welcome since I enjoyed the first book in the Robin Lyons series, Critical Incidents, and fully intended to read the next anyway…

The Blurb says: Robin Lyons is back in her hometown of Birmingham and now a DCI with Force Homicide, working directly under Samir, the man who broke her heart almost twenty years ago.

When a woman is found stabbed to death in a derelict factory and no one comes forward to identify the body, Robin and her team must not only hunt for the murderer, but also solve the mystery of who their victim might be.

As Robin and Samir come under pressure from their superiors, from the media and from far-right nationalists with a dangerous agenda, tensions in Robin’s own family threaten to reach breaking point. And when a cold case from decades ago begins to smoulder and another woman is found dead in similar circumstances, rumours of a serial killer begin to spread.

In order to get to the truth Robin will need to discover where loyalty ends and duty begins. But before she can trust, she is going to have to forgive – and that means grappling with some painful home truths.

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 295 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 295

(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 varied bunch this time, and we’re now moving into 2017. I’m still catching up after my recent hiatus, so this won’t be the usual three months ahead pick – the winner will be a November read, if I can fit it in! I bought Mrs Hudson and the Spirit’s Curse after enjoying another book in the series, Mrs Hudson and the Malabar RoseI’ve enjoyed the later books in Val McDermid’s Karen Pirie series and have been slowly backtracking to the earlier ones – The Distant Echo is the first in the series (and I think I may actually have read it before, from the blurb, but I’m not sure). I won The Mandibles in a giveaway and am deeply ashamed that I’ve still not got around to reading it! And I can’t remember now why I acquired Gorky Park – I suspect I just thought it sounded great. While some of these appeal more than others now, all of them still sound good so you really can’t pick a wrong’un…

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Holmes pastiche

Mrs Hudson and the Spirit’s Curse by Martin Davies

Added 6th January 2017. 807 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.93 average rating. 324 pages.

The Blurb says: What if Baker Street’s most gifted resident wasn’t called Sherlock Holmes?

An evil stalks London, blown in from the tropics. Stories of cursed giant rats and malign spirits haunt the garrets of Limehouse. A group of merchants are, one by one, dying: murdered, somehow. The elementary choice to investigate these mysterious deaths is, of course, Holmes and Dr Watson. Yet instead of deduction, it will be the unique gifts of their housekeeper, Mrs Hudson and her orphaned assistant Flotsam that will be needed to solve the case. Can she do it all under the nose of Sherlock himself?

From the coal fire at Baker Street to the smog of Whitechapel and the jungles of Sumatra, from snake bites in grand hotels to midnight carriage chases at the docks, it’s time for Mrs Hudson to step out of the shadows. Playfully breaking with convention, Martin Davies brings a fresh twist to classic Victorian mystery.

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Crime

The Distant Echo by Val McDermid

Added 1st March 2017. 15,412 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.97 average. 496 pages.

The Blurb says: It was a winter morning in 1978, that the body of a young barmaid was discovered in the snow banks of a Scottish cemetery. The only suspects in her brutal murder were the four young men who found her: Alex Gilbey and his three best friends. With no evidence but her blood on their hands, no one was ever charged.

Twenty five years later, the Cold Case file on Rosie Duff has been reopened. For Alex and his friends, the investigation has also opened old wounds, haunting memories-and new fears. For a stranger has emerged from the shadows with his own ideas about justice. And revenge.

When two of Alex’s friends die under suspicious circumstances, Alex knows that he and his innocent family are the next targets. And there’s only way to save them: return to the cold-blooded past and uncover the startling truth about the murder. For there lies the identity of an avenging killer…

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Fiction

The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver

Added 29th March 2017. 9,085 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.68 average. 515 pages. 

The Blurb says: In this eerily prophetic novel from the Orange Prize-winning author of We Need to Talk About Kevin, a once-wealthy family faces the prospect of ruin. This apocalypse is financial – the dollar is in meltdown, America’s national debt far beyond repayment.

It is 2029. The Mandibles have been counting on a sizable fortune filtering down when their 97-year-old patriarch dies, but now their inheritance is turned to ash. Each family member must contend with disappointment, but also — as the effects of the downturn start to hit — the challenge of sheer survival.

Recently affluent Avery is petulant that she can’t buy olive oil, while her sister Florence is forced to absorb strays into her increasingly cramped household. As their father Carter fumes at having to care for his demented stepmother now that a nursing home is too expensive, his sister Nollie, an expat author, returns from abroad at 73 to a country that’s unrecognizable.

Perhaps only Florence’s oddball teenage son Willing, an economics autodidact, can save this formerly august American family from the streets…

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Crime

Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith

Added 6th July 2017. 70,606 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.04 average. 433 pages.

The Blurb says: It begins with a triple murder in a Moscow amusement center: three corpses found frozen in the snow, faces and fingers missing. Chief homicide investigator Arkady Renko is brilliant, sensitive, honest, and cynical about everything except his profession. To identify the victims and uncover the truth, he must battle the KGB, FBI, and the New York City police as he pursues a rich, ruthless, and well-connected American fur dealer. Meanwhile, Renko is falling in love with a beautiful, headstrong dissident for whom he may risk everything.

A wonderfully textured, vivid look behind the Iron Curtain, Gorky Park is a tense, atmospheric, and memorable crime story.

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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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The Black Cabinet by Patricia Wentworth

Dangerous inheritance…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Chloe Dane’s family were once rich and lived in their ancestral home, Danesborough. But the family fell on hard times and now Chloe, at twenty, is an orphan, working in a dressmaker’s shop in the little town of Maxton. She’s not a languishing heroine though – she’s full of life and finds plenty of ways to have fun, and being very pretty is never short of admirers. Now her best friend is getting married and going off to India and Chloe is feeling that she needs a change. Out of the blue she is contacted by the new owner of Danesborough, a sort of distant cousin also called Dane, who is looking for someone to leave the property to when he dies. Chloe spends a week with him in Danesborough and develops an instinctive dislike of him. But then he dies, and she finds herself mistress of the house – or at least she will be when she comes of age in a few months time. Then, in the safe inside the black cabinet in the drawing room she discovers a dangerous secret and suddenly finds herself in grave danger, not knowing whom she can trust…

This is a lot of fun! Chloe is a lovely heroine, full of charm, brave, a little foolish, but determined to do the right thing at all costs. She has two main admirers and the reader quickly realises one of them is probably a baddie while the other is a goodie, but it’s not clear which is which till the end. The romantic element is as important as the mystery, and a lot of the suspense is around whether Chloe will pick the right man, both for her present safety and her future happiness. Both men are rather charming in different ways, and I must admit that, like Chloe, I changed my mind about which was the good guy several times through the course of the book.

There are also people who both Chloe and the reader know for sure are baddies – old Mr Dane’s secretary, Wroughton, and his friend Stran, who are determined to get hold of the documents from the safe inside the black cabinet. The only way they can do this is to find the combination to the lock, which only Chloe knows. So they need her alive, and they need to find some way to pressure or trick her into giving them the combination. And until Chloe reaches her majority, she can’t simply sack Wroughton and get rid of him. But she is equally determined that they won’t get the documents…

Patricia Wentworth

The characterisation is great, of Chloe especially – a hugely likeable heroine – but of all the other characters too. Wroughton is ostentatiously bad, but several of the other characters are beautifully ambiguous, both to Chloe and the reader, so that it’s impossible to fully trust anyone. Is Wroughton’s wife a poor little bullied creature who wants to help Chloe, or is she her husband’s willing partner, playing a part? Martin and Michael, both apparently in love with Chloe, but is one of them a member of the gang, trying to trick her? Are the servants loyal to Chloe, or to Wroughton? Chloe doesn’t know, and nor do we.

Wentworth puts poor Chloe through peril after peril, and she does a great job of building the tension as the story progresses. But it never gets too bleak – Chloe’s general high spirits mean she’s never down-hearted for long, and her natural courage and determination may falter occasionally but always spring back. And, although she gets help along the way from unexpected quarters, in the end it’s her own strength of character that carries her through. Thoroughly enjoyable – I raced through it, and am looking forward to reading more of Wentworth’s books soon.

This was The People’s Choice winner for August. Well done, People – you picked a good one!

Book 8 of 12

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 293…

Episode 293

Well, during my hiatus from the blog I also wasn’t reading much, but the books were still arriving. So tragically the TBR has rocketed up by a horrifying 15 to 205! In my defence the vast majority of the new arrivals were unsolicited books sent by publishers, so I don’t feel I can be held wholly responsible, m’lud…

Nose to the grindstone again then – must get back under that 200 mark asap! Here’s a few that I should be reading soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

Blackout by Ragnar Jonasson

Gosh, it was a close vote this month! Three of them were neck and neck most of the way through, with only The Sea languishing behind. But in the end, the winner pulled ahead by a margin of just a couple of votes. An excellent choice, People – I should be reading this one in October, theoretically, though I’m so far behind it may drift a little.

The Blurb says: On the shores of a tranquil fjord in Northern Iceland, a man is brutally beaten to death on a bright summer’s night. As the 24-hour light of the arctic summer is transformed into darkness by an ash cloud from a recent volcanic eruption, a young reporter leaves Reykajvik to investigate on her own, unaware that an innocent person’s life hangs in the balance. Ari Thór Arason and his colleagues on the tiny police force in Siglufjörður struggle with an increasingly perplexing case, while their own serious personal problems push them to the limit. What secrets does the dead man harbour, and what is the young reporter hiding? As silent, unspoken horrors from the past threaten them all, and the darkness deepens, it’s a race against time to find the killer before someone else dies …

Dark, terrifying and complex, Blackout is an exceptional, atmospheric thriller from one of Iceland’s finest crime writers.

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Christie Shorts

Midsummer Mysteries by Agatha Christie

Courtesy of HarperCollins. This is a gorgeous hardback edition of a new collection of some of Christie’s short stories, all set in summer. Glancing at the index, I’ve read several of them before but there are a few titles that don’t ring a bell, and anyway I can re-read Ms Christie endlessly…

The Blurb says: An all-new collection of summer-themed mysteries from the master of the genre, just in time for the holiday season. [FF says: Not really all-new – I think they mean these stories haven’t been put together as a collection before, but they’ve certainly all appeared before in other collections.]

Summertime – as the temperature rises, so does the potential for evil. From Cornwall to the French Riviera, whether against a background of Delphic temples or English country houses, Agatha Christie’s most famous characters solve even the most devilish of conundrums as the summer sun beats down. Pull up a deckchair and enjoy plot twists and red herrings galore from the bestselling fiction writer of all time.

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Classic Crime

I, The Jury by Mickey Spillane

One from my Classics Club list. I read and enjoyed a few Spillanes many decades ago, so I’m hoping the old magic will still work. He wrote one of my favourite lines in all crime fiction, describing one of his femmes fatales – “She walked towards me, her hips waving a happy hello.” Doesn’t that just conjure up a wonderful image? 

The Blurb says: When Jack Williams is discovered shot dead, the investigating cop Pat Chambers calls his acquaintance, and Jack’s closest friend, PI Mike Hammer. Back when they fought in the Marines together, Jack took a Japanese bayonet, losing his arm, to save Hammer. Hammer vows to identify the killer ahead of the police, and to exact fatal revenge. His starting point is the list of guests at a party at Jack’s apartment the night he died: Jack’s fiancée, a recovering dope addict, a beautiful psychiatrist, twin socialite sisters, a college student and a mobster.

But as he tracks them down, so too does the killer, and soon it’s not only Jack who is dead . . .

And now Hammer is firmly in the killer’s sights.

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Fiction

Worst Idea Ever by Jane Fallon

Worst Idea EverCourtesy of Penguin Michael Joseph UK via NetGalley. Another in my attempt to read more new releases, I picked this because I’ve heard a lot of praise for this author around the blogosphere over the years. I can only hope the style of writing will be rather more literate than the style of the blurb – a true contender for Worst Blurb of the Millennium. FF muses: Do young people not get taught about paragraphs any more? 👵

The Blurb says: Best friends tell each other everything.

Or do they?

Georgia and Lydia are so close they’re practically sisters.

So when Lydia starts an online business that struggles, Georgia wants to help her – but she also understands Lydia’s not the kind to accept a handout.

Setting up a fake Twitter account, Georgia hopes to give her friend some anonymous moral support by posing as a potential customer.

But then Lydia starts confiding in her new internet buddy and Georgia discovers she doesn’t know her quite as well as she thought.

Georgia knows she should reveal herself, but she’s fascinated by this insight into her friend’s true feelings.

Especially when Lydia starts talking about her.

Until Lydia reveals a secret that could not only end their friendship but also blow up Georgia’s marriage.

Georgia’s in too deep.

But what can she save?

Her marriage, her friendship – or just herself?

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Fiction

Nada by Carmen Laforet

One for my Spanish Civil War challenge. This isn’t specifically about the war itself though – it is set a few years later, during Franco’s early regime, but it shows up regularly on SCW book lists and is considered a classic.

The Blurb says: Eighteen-year old orphan Andrea moves to battle-scarred Barcelona to take up a scholarship at the university. But staying with relatives in their crumbling apartment, her dreams of independence are dashed among the eccentric collection of misfits who surround her, not least her uncle Roman. As Andrea’s university friend, the affluent, elegant Ena, enters into a strange relationship with Roman, Andrea can’t help but wonder what future lies ahead for her in such a bizarre and disturbing world.

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 292 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 292

(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, three fiction and one crime this time, and this will be the last batch from 2016. Having missed the last couple of months, this won’t be the usual three months ahead pick – the winner will be an October read, if I can fit it in! The Secret River is one I’ve heard lots of good things about from various people, but it was Rose’s review that pushed it onto my TBR. I bought The Sea because I had enjoyed Banville’s later The Blue Guitar so much. And similarIy, I got No Country for Old Men because I had enjoyed McCarthy’s The Road (plus I loved the film of No Country). Blackout was acquired when I was going through a Nordic crime phase, and had enjoyed several of Jonasson’s other books. All of these sound great to me and I still want to read them all, so you really can’t go wrong…

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Historical Fiction

The Secret River by Kate Grenville

The Secret RiverAdded 14th October 2016. 18,972 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.81 average rating. 334 pages.

The Blurb says: The Orange Prize-winning author Kate Grenville recalls her family’s history in an astounding novel about the pioneers of New South Wales. Already a best seller in Australia, The Secret River is the story of Grenville’s ancestors, who wrested a new life from the alien terrain of Australia and its native people. London, 1806. William Thornhill, a Thames bargeman, is deported to the New South Wales colony in what would become Australia. In this new world of convicts and charlatans, Thornhill tries to pull his family into a position of power and comfort. When he rounds a bend in the Hawkesbury River and sees a gentle slope of land, he becomes determined to make the place his own. But, as uninhabited as the island appears, Australia is full of native people, and they do not take kindly to Thornhill’s theft of their home.

The Secret River is the tale of Thornhill’s deep love for his small corner of the new world, and his slow realization that if he wants to settle there, he must ally himself with the most despicable of the white settlers, and to keep his family safe, he must permit terrifying cruelty to come to innocent people.

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Fiction

The Sea by John Banville

The SeaAdded 26th November 2016. 29,059 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.53 average. 195 pages.

The Blurb says: In this luminous novel about love, loss, and the unpredictable power of memory, John Banville introduces us to Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman who has gone back to the seaside town where he spent his summer holidays as a child to cope with the recent loss of his wife. It is also a return to the place where he met the Graces, the well-heeled family with whom he experienced the strange suddenness of both love and death for the first time. What Max comes to understand about the past, and about its indelible effects on him, is at the centre of this elegiac, gorgeously written novel among the finest we have had from this masterful writer.

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Fiction

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

No Country for Old MenAdded 27th November 2016. 164,364 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.10 average. 309 pages. 

The Blurb says: In his blistering new novel, Cormac McCarthy returns to the Texas-Mexico border, the setting of his famed Border Trilogy. The time is our own, when rustlers have given way to drug-runners and small towns have become free-fire zones.

One day, Llewellyn Moss finds a pickup truck surrounded by a bodyguard of dead men. A load of heroin and two million dollars in cash are still in the back. When Moss takes the money, he sets off a chain reaction of catastrophic violence that not even the law – in the person of ageing, disillusioned Sheriff Bell – can contain.

As Moss tries to evade his pursuers – in particular a mysterious mastermind who flips coins for human lives – McCarthy simultaneously strips down the American crime novel and broadens its concerns to encompass themes as ancient as the Bible and as bloodily contemporary as this morning’s headlines. No Country for Old Men is a triumph.

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Crime

Blackout by Ragnar Jonasson

BlackoutAdded 27th November 2016. 4,688 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.70 average. 220 pages.

The Blurb says: On the shores of a tranquil fjord in Northern Iceland, a man is brutally beaten to death on a bright summer’s night. As the 24-hour light of the arctic summer is transformed into darkness by an ash cloud from a recent volcanic eruption, a young reporter leaves Reykajvik to investigate on her own, unaware that an innocent person’s life hangs in the balance. Ari Thór Arason and his colleagues on the tiny police force in Siglufjörður struggle with an increasingly perplexing case, while their own serious personal problems push them to the limit. What secrets does the dead man harbour, and what is the young reporter hiding? As silent, unspoken horrors from the past threaten them all, and the darkness deepens, it’s a race against time to find the killer before someone else dies …

Dark, terrifying and complex, Blackout is an exceptional, atmospheric thriller from one of Iceland’s finest crime writers.

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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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Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Worthy, but soapy and strangely unmoving…

😀 😀 😀 😀

When inter-ethnic warfare in Nigeria leads to the Igbo breaking away to form their own short-lived nation of Biafra, the five main characters in the book find themselves caught up in the slaughter and mass starvation that results. Olanna and Kainene are twins, the privileged daughters of a wealthy businessman, who have both returned to Nigeria after being educated in English universities. Olanna is in love with Odenigbo, an academic with strong nationalist and revolutionary leanings. Kainene falls for Richard, a white man who is failing to write the book he came to Nigeria to research, and whose main purpose is to personify white guilt. Then there’s Ugwu, servant to Odenigbo and Olanna – his purpose appears to be to show how devoted the servant class is to the privileged who sit around pontificating while their servants do all the work of cooking, cleaning and bringing up their children for them, while having to beg for an occasional day off to visit their families.

This one took me nearly two months to read, largely because I found it almost completely flat in tone despite the human tragedy it describes. I learned a good deal about the background to the Biafran War, which happened when I was far too young to understand it but still registered with me and all my generation because of the horrific pictures of starving children that were shown on the news night after night for many months. I also learned a lot about the life of the privileged class in Nigeria – those with a conflicted relationship with their colonial past, adopting British education, the English language and the Christian religion while despising the colonisers who brought these things to their country. Adichie manages to be relatively even-handed – whenever she has one of her characters blame the British for all their woes, she tends to have another at least hint at the point that not all the atrocities Africans carry out against each other can be blamed on colonisation, since inter-ethnic hatreds and massacres long predated colonisation.

Biafran Flag

In this case it is the Igbo who are presented as the persecuted – the same ethnic group as Chinua Achebe writes about in Things Fall Apart, a book which I feel has clearly influenced Achebe’s style. The attempt at a degree of even-handedness struck me in both, as did the method of telling the political story through the personal lives of a small group of characters. In both, that style left me rather disappointed since I am always more interested in the larger political picture than in the domestic arena, but that’s simply a subjective preference. I felt I learned far more about how the Biafrans lived – the food they ate, the way they cooked, the superstitions of the uneducated “bush people”, the marriage customs, etc. – than I did about why there was such historical animosity between the northern Nigerians and the Igbo, which personally would have interested me more. On an intellectual level, however, I feel it’s admirable that Adichie chose not to devote her book to filling in the ignorance of Westerners, but instead assumed her readership would have enough background knowledge – like Achebe’s, this is a tale told by an African primarily for Africans, and as such I preferred it hugely to Americanah, which I felt was another in the long string of books written by African and Asian ex-pats mainly to pander to the white-guilt virtue-signalling of the Western English-speaking world.

Although I found all of the descriptions of life before and during the war interesting, the main problem of the book for me was that I didn’t care much about any of the characters. Just as I find annoying British books that concentrate on the woes of the privileged class, and especially on the hardships of writers, so I found it here too. Adichie is clearly writing about the class she inhabits – academics, politically-minded, wealthy enough to have servants – and I found her largely uncritical of her own class, and rather unintentionally demeaning towards the less privileged – the servants and the people without access to a British University education, many without even the right to basic schooling.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Adichie is far more interested in romantic relationships than I am, and the bed-hopping of her main characters occasionally gave me the feeling I had drifted into an episode of Dallas or Dynasty by mistake. I was also a little taken aback, given Adichie’s reputation as a feminist icon, that it appeared that the men’s infidelities seemed to be more easily forgiven than the women’s, even by the women. (I don’t think she’s wrong in this – it just surprised me that she somehow didn’t seem to highlight it as an issue.) But what surprised me even more, and left a distinctly unpleasant taste, was when she appeared to be trying to excuse and forgive a character who participated in a gang-rape of a young girl during the war. I think she was perhaps suggesting that war coarsens us all and makes us behave out of character, and I’m sure that’s true. But it doesn’t make it forgivable, and this feminist says that women have to stop helping men to justify or excuse rape in war. There is no justification, and I was sorry that that particular character was clearly supposed to have at least as much of my sympathy as the girl he raped.

So overall, a mixed reaction from me. I’m glad to have read it, I feel I learned a considerable amount about the culture of the privileged class of the Igbo and the short-lived Biafran nation, but I can’t in truth say I wholeheartedly enjoyed it.

Book 7 of 12

(Sorry for disappearing. I had a little health issue – nothing serious, but it left me kinda wabbit*. I hope to be back in action properly soonish.

*Wabbit: Scottish word meaning listless, lethargic, tired, and overcome with a desire to lie in bed eating chocolate. Though that last part may be just me.)

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 290 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 still seem to be storming through the books this year, which ought to mean I’ll be smashing all my targets. Ought to…

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

TBR Quarterly Jun 2021

Well, I don’t think I’ve ever been on track with so many targets at this point of the year – it can’t last! Poor old Reginald Hill is falling behind – must make more effort. I should be able to catch up with the Classics Club and finish by my extended deadline of the end of the year – only a couple of chunksters left and all the rest should be fairly quick reads. The shortfall in new releases has reduced considerably this quarter and (theoretically) will be smashed by the time I’ve read all the review books on my 20 Books of Summer list. The fact that I’m abandoning lots of new fiction isn’t helping, though! The TBR Reduction is awful – I can’t see me meeting those targets without magical intervention. But hey! Who’s counting? 😉

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The Classics Club

I read three from my Classics Club list this quarter but have only reviewed two so far, and had another still to review from the previous quarter…

76. Way Station by Clifford D Simak – I loved this well written, thought-provoking science fiction novel, with shades of Cold War nuclear fear, lots of imaginative aliens and a kind of mystical, New Age-y touch. 5 stars.

77. The Conjure-Man Dies by Rudolph Fisher – This, the first mystery novel written by a black American and with an exclusively black cast of characters, delighted me with its vivid, joyous picture of life in Harlem. Lots of humour and a great plot. 5 stars.

78. The Silver Darlings by Neil M Gunn – A slow-going but interesting look at the beginnings of the Scottish herring industry, following on from the devastation of the Highland Clearances. I enjoyed this one, not least because several of my blog buddies read it with me. 4 stars.

Not good on the quantity, perhaps, but high on quality!

78 down, 12 to go!

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

Managing to keep on track with this challenge at the moment more or less – I’ve read three this quarter, but only reviewed two of them so far. However I had one left over to review from the previous quarter…

43. The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude – One in Bude’s long-running Inspector Meredith series, I find these a little too painstakingly procedural for my taste, although the plot and setting of this one are good. 3½ stars.

44. The Cask by Freeman Wills Crofts – Talking of too procedural, I abandoned this one halfway through on the grounds of being determined not to die of boredom! Crofts’ first, and the best I can say about it is he improved in later books. 1 generous star.

45. The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey – Great writing and a perfectly delivered plot mean that this one’s reputation as a classic of the genre is fully deserved. More psychological than procedural, and with a wonderful depiction of an early version of “trial by media”. 5 stars

45 down, 57 to go!

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Reading the Spanish Civil War Challenge

I only read two for this challenge this quarter but in my defence one of them was a massive biography of Franco, which I haven’t yet reviewed. However I had one left to review from last quarter…

5. In Diamond Square by Mercè Rodoreda. The story of young wife and mother, Natalia, living in Barcelona while her husband is off fighting in the war. It’s a fascinating picture of someone who has no interest in or understanding of politics – who simply endures as other people destroy her world then put it back together in a different form. Packed full of power and emotion – a deserved classic. 4½ stars.

6. Last Days in Cleaver Square by Patrick McGrath. As Franco lies on his deathbed in Spain, Francis McNulty is convinced the dictator is haunting him, and his memories of his time in Spain as a volunteer medic on the Republican side and the horrors he witnessed there are brought back afresh to his mind. Beautifully written, entertaining, moving, full of emotional truth. 5 stars.

Two short books, two different squares, and two great reads, so hurrah for this challenge!

6 down, indefinite number to go!

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The People’s Choice

People's Choice Logo

Unbelievably I’m still up-to-date with this challenge, so three reviews for this quarter plus one that was left over from the previous quarter. Did You, The People, pick me some good ones…?

MarchThe Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves – The first of the Vera Stanhope series – the underlying plot is good and Vera is an interesting, if unbelievable, character. But oh dear, the book is massively over-padded and repetitive, and I found it a real struggle to wade through. 3 stars.

AprilCold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons – A parody of the rural rustic novel popular at the time, there’s a lot of humour in it with some very funny scenes, and it’s especially fun to try to spot which authors and books Gibbons had in mind. It outstayed its welcome just a little as the joke began to wear rather thin, but overall an entertaining read. 4 stars.

MayThe Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith – The first of the Cormoran Strike novels sees him investigating the death of a supermodel, with the help of his temporary secretary, Robin. I’m feeling repetitive myself now, but this is another with a good plot buried under far too much extraneous padding. Galbraith’s easy writing style carried me through, however. 4 stars.

June – Sweet Caress by William Boyd – In the early days of the twentieth century, young Amory Clay decides to become a professional photographer, and her elderly self looks back at where her career took her. Sadly this one didn’t work for me at all and I eventually abandoned it. 1 star.

Even if there were no five stars, there was only one complete dud, so I think you did pretty well, People! And they’re all off my TBR at last – hurrah!

6 down, 6 to go!

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Wanderlust Bingo

Wanderlust Bingo June 2021

I’ve done a little better this quarter and have also started looking ahead to try to make sure I have something for each box. I might shuffle them all around at the end so this is all quite tentative at this stage. The dark blue ones are from last quarter, and the orange ones are this quarter’s. (If you click on the bingo card you should get a larger version.)

EnglandThe Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey – 5 stars. I’ve slotted this into Small Town at the moment, since the setting plays an important part in the plot.

IcelandThe Chill Factor by Richard Falkirk – 4 stars. Another that could work for Small Town, or Europe, but I’ve slotted it into Island at present.

MalayaA Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute – 5 stars. Could be Australia as well, so Oceania, but I’ve gone with the Malayan section and put it into Walk.

AustraliaThe Survivors by Jane Harper – 4 stars. Another that would work for Oceania, but since the Beach plays a major part in the story that’s where I’ve put it.

ScotlandThe Silver Darlings by Neil M Gunn – 4 stars. Since this is all about herring fishing, I don’t imagine I’ll find a better fit for the Sea box.

Still a long, long way to travel, but there are some interesting reads coming up for this one…

7 down, 18 to go!

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Whew! Apologies for the length of this post, but I guess that indicates a successful quarter. Thanks as always for sharing my reading experiences!

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

TBR Thursday 289…

Episode 289

My reading has slowed to a crawl again this week and as a result the TBR has gone up a little – by 2 to 196. But it absolutely is NOT MY FAULT! For once, I managed to capture the culprit on camera…

andy murray gif

Spooky story part 1: Before I get to the books I want to tell you about something that really happened to me yesterday, and nearly made me get the Fretful Porpentine out of his hibernation early! I was leaving a comment on one of those blogs that gives you a form where you add your name and website details. Because I’ve commented on it many times before, my browser knows what I’m going to fill in so prompts me. But this time it gave me two choices – FictionFan or Aelfrida Tillyard. That seemed most odd to me since obviously I’ve never used the name Aelfrida Tillyard, and especially since to the best of my knowledge I’d never come across it in real life or in books. So I googled her…

Aelfrida Catharine Wetenhall Tillyard (5 October 1883 – 12 December 1959) was a British author, medium, lecturer on Comparative Religion and associated religious topics, spiritual advisor and self-styled mystic.”

Are you as spooked by that as I was?

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Anyway, here are a few more books that I should be serving up soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

Knock, Murderer, Knock by Harriet Rutland

Knock Murderer KnockIt was exciting this month! Life of Pi went into a huge early lead which I thought would be unassailable. But gradually, vote by vote, Knock, Murderer, Knock crept up on it over the next couple of days. They were neck and neck for a bit, and in the end the victory was won with just a one vote difference. Proves that more of You, the People, like the idea of homicidal maniacs in spas than animals in boats! Good choice, People – I shall be planning to read and review it in September.

The Blurb says: “I think,” said Palk slowly, “there’s a homicidal maniac loose in the Hydro, but who it is, God knows.”

Presteignton Hydro is a drably genteel spa resort, populated by the aged and crippled who relish every drop of scandal they observe or imagine concerning the younger guests. No one however expects to see gossip turn to murder as their juniors die one by one – no one, that is, except the killer. The crusty cast of characters make solving the case all the harder for Inspector Palk – until the enigmatic sleuth Mr. Winkley arrives to lend a hand.

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Fiction

The Promise by Damon Galgut

The PromiseCourtesy of Random House Vintage via NetGalley. Another in my bid to read more new fiction releases, but this time picked for the author rather than just the blurb since I’ve enjoyed the one book of his I’ve previously read, The Good Doctor. I must say the blurb sounds great, though… 

The Blurb says: The Promise charts the crash and burn of a white South African family, living on a farm outside Pretoria. The Swarts are gathering for Ma’s funeral. The younger generation, Anton and Amor, detest everything the family stand for — not least the failed promise to the Black woman who has worked for them her whole life. After years of service, Salome was promised her own house, her own land… yet somehow, as each decade passes, that promise remains unfulfilled.

The narrator’s eye shifts and blinks: moving fluidly between characters, flying into their dreams; deliciously lethal in its observation. And as the country moves from old deep divisions to its new so-called fairer society, the lost promise of more than just one family hovers behind the novel’s title.

In this story of a diminished family, sharp and tender emotional truths hit home. Confident, deft and quietly powerful, The Promise is literary fiction at its finest.

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Thriller

False Witness by Karin Slaughter

False WitnessCourtesy of HarperCollins. I’ve always felt that Karin Slaughter’s thrillers sound too gruesome for my taste, but Eva at Novel Deelights has finally broken my powers of resistance with her gushings of love for her books. So I requested this one on NetGalley and then received a paper copy too from the lovely people at HC. I hope this doesn’t mean I need to read it twice, but who knows? Maybe I’ll want to…

The Blurb says: You thought no one saw you. You were wrong.

Leigh and her sister Callie are not bad people – but one night, more than two decades ago, they did something terrible. And the result was a childhood tarnished by secrets, broken by betrayal, devastated by violence. Years later, Leigh has pushed that night from her mind and become a successful lawyer – but when she is forced to take on a new client against her will, her world begins to spiral out of control. Because the client knows the truth about what happened twenty-three years ago. He knows what Leigh and Callie did. And unless they stop him, he’s going to tear their lives apart …

Just because you didn’t see the witness … doesn’t mean he wasn’t there.

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Thriller

The Twisted Wire by Richard Falkirk

The Twisted WireCourtesy of Collins Crime Club. I loved The Chill Factor, also from this author, so was delighted when this one popped through my letterbox…

The Blurb says: A crossed telephone wire causes a call from the President of the United States to his Ambassador in London to be overheard by geologist Tom Bartlett. Tom, preoccupied with thoughts of the conference he is to attend in Israel, puts the incident from his mind, unaware that he might not have been the only person listening in…

He has not been in Tel Aviv a day, however, before the first attempt is made on his life. As Arab, Israeli, Russian and American agents begin to converge on him, it’s clear that someone wants Tom’s briefcase – and will stop at nothing to obtain it.

The Twisted Wire, first published in 1971, is set at the height of the Middle East conflict, combining politics, espionage and murder into a compelling fast-moving adventure.

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Tolkien on Audio

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien read by Andy Serkis

The HobbitIt’s decades since I last read The Hobbit, unlike The Lord of the Rings which I re-read every few years. I think I was at that odd age of being both too old and too young for this one when I first read it – too old to enjoy it as a children’s book, too young to appreciate it with an adult eye. So although I liked it, I didn’t love it with the passion I felt for LOTR when I read it just two or three years later. Timing is everything! I’ve been intending to give it another chance for years, and when I saw that Gollum himself had recorded it, how could I possibly resist?

The Blurb says: Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely travelling further than the pantry of his hobbit-hole in Bag End. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard Gandalf and a company of 13 dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on a journey ‘there and back again’. They have a plot to raid the treasure hoard of Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon….

The prelude to The Lord of The RingsThe Hobbit has sold many millions of copies since its publication in 1937, establishing itself as one of the most influential books of the 20th century.

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Spooky story part 2: So anyway, I read on down the wikipedia entry for Aelfrida Tillyard, only to discover she had written one of the books in Yesterday’s Tomorrows. So I had indeed been searching on her name, along with 99 others, to find out if her book was available. Phew! The porpy can continue his snooze undisturbed…

Hibernating Porpentine

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday (on a Wednesday) 287 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 287

(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, and a nicely varied bunch this time, I think, still all from 2016. As usual I’m planning three months ahead so the winner will be a September read. Knock, Murderer, Knock was, I think, another Kindle impulse purchase during my early vintage crime frenzy – I’ve never read anything by the author before, but it sounds fun. The Vegetarian was one of those books everyone seemed to be raving about, so I acquired it and then, as usual, didn’t get around to reading it – the reviews make me feel I could love it or hate it. I’m ashamed to say Above the Waterfall is one of my ancient NetGalley ones that slipped through the net – I’ve loved one Ron Rash novel before and not loved one, so again it could go either way. And I acquired Life of Pi after loving Martel’s later book, The High Mountains of Portugal – I feel I may be the only person left alive who hasn’t read it. I still would like to read all of these pretty much equally, so you really can’t go wrong…

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Vintage Crime

Knock, Murderer, Knock by Harriet Rutland

Knock Murderer KnockAdded 15th July 2016. 202 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.70 average rating. 259 pages.

The Blurb says: “I think,” said Palk slowly, “there’s a homicidal maniac loose in the Hydro, but who it is, God knows.”

Presteignton Hydro is a drably genteel spa resort, populated by the aged and crippled who relish every drop of scandal they observe or imagine concerning the younger guests. No one however expects to see gossip turn to murder as their juniors die one by one – no one, that is, except the killer. The crusty cast of characters make solving the case all the harder for Inspector Palk – until the enigmatic sleuth Mr. Winkley arrives to lend a hand.

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Fiction

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The VegetarianAdded 20th July 2016. 104,335 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.59 average. 188 pages.

The Blurb says: Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiralling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavour will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.

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Fiction

Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash

Above the WaterfallAdded 15th August 2016. 5,115 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.52 average. 252 pages. 

The Blurb says: Les, a long-time sheriff nearing retirement, contends with the ravages of poverty and crystal meth in his small Appalachian town. Nestled in a beautiful hollow of the Appalachians, his is a tight-knit community rife with secrets and suspicious of outsiders.

Becky, a park ranger, arrives in this remote patch of North Carolina hoping to ease the anguish of a harrowing past. Searching for tranquillity amid the verdant stillness, she finds solace in poetry and the splendour of the land.

A vicious crime will plunge both sheriff and ranger into deep and murky waters, forging an unexpected bond between them. Caught in a vortex of duplicity, lies, and betrayal, they must navigate the dangerous currents of a tragedy that turns neighbour against neighbour—and threatens to sweep them all over the edge.

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Fiction

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Life of PiAdded 12th October 2016. 1,406,996 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.92 average. 461 pages.

The Blurb says: After the sinking of a cargo ship, a solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a sixteen-year-old boy named Pi, a hyena, a wounded zebra, an orangutan—and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger. The scene is set for one of the most extraordinary and beloved works of fiction in recent years.

Universally acclaimed upon publication, Life of Pi is a modern classic.

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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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Sweet Caress by William Boyd

Why not Bulgaria?

😦

Sweet CaressIn the early days of the twentieth century, young Amory Clay decided to emulate her uncle Greville and become a professional photographer. Many years later, Amory reminisces about where her profession has taken her over the years. And of course it has taken her to all the places we’d expect – the decadence of ‘30s Berlin, the rise of the Nazis, WW2, Vietnam, in most of which places, this being a Boyd book, she has sex with a “scandalous” edge – married men, women, etc.

I’m afraid I abandoned this halfway through, after it taking me over a month to get to that point. I used to love William Boyd and still think his earlier books, and an occasional later one, are great stories well told. But recently I’ve found myself struggling to get up any real interest in the lives of his characters or in their stories. This one has been told before and told better by Boyd himself, in Any Human Heart, the story of a man who lived through all the major events of the twentieth century (and had lots of sex). Why Boyd felt it would be a good idea to do it again with a female lead beats me, but even if I wasn’t having strong feelings of déjà vu I doubt if Avery would have won my heart.

The thing about her is that she goes to these interesting places – Berlin, London, New York – and seems to miss everything interesting about them, perhaps because she spends so much time in bedrooms. I found myself wearily wishing that just once an author would find somewhere new to explore rather than the overtrodden path of Nazis/WW2, etc. Not to labour the point, but the twentieth century lasted for a hundred years and involved countries other than the UK, the USA and Germany. Wouldn’t it be brilliant if some author leapt into the unknown and took us to, say, Bulgaria, or Bahrain, or Venezuela? I assume something must have happened in these countries over the course of a century. I know, I know – plenty of authors have gone further afield, but I was feeling bored and a little bitter while I was musing. Boyd used to be one of the authors to whom I looked to expand my fictional horizons, but recently his books feel safely settled in the overly familiar.

He also uses an odd device in this one, which I feel doesn’t work at all. Over the years in real life, he has collected random photographs from sales, etc., which he presents here as Amory’s work. This meant that, firstly, it often felt to me that he was manipulating the story to fit round the photos so that oddly random episodes would be included, like Amory briefly working as a fashion photographer, which didn’t sit well with the character or the overall thrust of her life. Secondly, the photos are not particularly special – for the most part they are rather mundane snaps of people doing random things. I felt that if these were supposed to highlight Amory’s talent, then the poor girl clearly didn’t have much.

Boyd, William
William Boyd

My other major complaint is that Amory comes over as such a passive character, which I don’t think was Boyd’s intent at all. I think he was trying to portray her as adventurous, daring, ahead of her time – an early example of a woman playing men at their own game. But at every step of her life (up to the halfway mark when I gave up), every job she gets is arranged for her by a man – her photographer uncle, her rich lover, and so on. Even when she crosses to Berlin to photograph the seedy side of life with a view to gaining some notoriety, she does so at her uncle’s suggestion and funded by his money, and on her return, it is he who arranges her exhibition and tempts the interest of the press. Amory fades to near invisibility in terms of her own input to the trajectory of her life.

So, bored and dismal, I gave up. Sorry, Mr Boyd!

People's Choice LogoBook 6 of 12

Oh dear, People! This was Your Choice for June, and I don’t blame you at all – I had high hopes for it myself. But I fear it turned out to be a major fail. Oh, well! 😥🤪😥

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 284…

Episode 284

I seem to have read about a zillion books in the last couple of weeks, so that even although half a zillion more have arrived, the overall result is that the TBR has plummeted by an amazing 5 to 197! And now that I’m starting my fast and furious 20 Books of Summer who knows how far it will drop??

freefall gif homer

Here are a few more that should fall off the edge soon…

NB Before I begin, an update on the Review-Along for The Silver Darlings: Rose has now received her copy and we’ve tentatively agreed a new review date of Monday 14th June, if that suits our fellow readers Christine and Alyson. Let me know if it doesn’t – otherwise brush off your notes!

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

The Black Cabinet by Patricia Wentworth

The Black CabinetThere was never much doubt about the winner this month, People – The Black Cabinet shot into the lead in the first couple of hours and never looked back. The other three were all so far behind I can only describe them as also-rans. A good choice – it sounds like it should be fun, and it’s short! Hurrah! My faith in You, The People, is restored… 😉

The Blurb says: The lowly assistant to a London dressmaker, Chloe Dane yearns for a new life. She has bittersweet memories of being a carefree child playing hide-and-seek at Danesborough, her family’s magnificent country estate. Decades later, the ancestral mansion has been restored to its former glory—and Chloe is shocked to discover that she is the sole heir.

Danesborough is not the sun-filled, evergreen place she remembers. The trees are bare and the house is shrouded in mist. But the enormous gold-and-black lacquered Chinese cabinet in the drawing room is exactly the same. Chloe’s childhood imagination created an entire story out of the intricate carvings on the cabinet: a flowing river filled with boats and fishermen and one frightening man she called Mr. Dark.

But now, as Chloe begins to uncover Mitchell Dane’s true motives for bequeathing her the centuries-old manse, she has a very real reason to be afraid: The truth about what’s hidden in the black cabinet will soon threaten her life.

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Fiction

Highway Blue by Ailsa McFarlane

Highway BlueCourtesy of Harvill Secker via NetGalley. Another in my bid to read more new releases, picked purely on the basis of the blurb. The early reviews are distinctly mixed… 

The Blurb says: Anne Marie is adrift San Padua, living a precarious life of shift-work and shared apartments. Her husband Cal left her on their first anniversary and two years later, she can’t move on.

When he shows up suddenly on her doorstep, clearly in some kind of trouble, she reluctantly agrees to a drink. But later that night a gun goes off in an alley near the shore and the young couple flee together, crammed into a beat up car with their broken past. Their ill-at-ease odyssey takes them across a shimmering American landscape and through the darker seams of the country, towards a city that may or may not represent salvation.

Highway Blue is a story of being lost and found; of love, in all its forms; and of how the pursuit of love is, in its turn, a kind of redemption.

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Science Fiction

Yesterday’s Tomorrows: The Story of Science Fiction in 100 Books by Mike Ashley

Yesterday's TomorrowsCourtesy of the British Library. I’m terrified of this one! It’s similar to Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, which led to a new challenge and pushed my poor TBR rocketing into space. And now they’ve done the same for science fiction! Will I be able to resist yet another challenge?? I can only hope all the books sounds awful! It doesn’t say it in the blurb, but I believe the book’s focus is specifically on British science fiction (though that mention of Asimov has me wondering…)

The Blurb says: From the enrapturing tales of H. G. Wells to the punishing dystopian visions of 1984 and beyond, the evolution of science fiction from the 1890s to the 1960s is a fascinating journey to undertake. Setting out this span of years as what we can now recognize as the ‘classic’ period of the genre, Mike Ashley takes us on a tour of the stars, utopian and post-apocalyptic futures, worlds of AI run amok and techno-thriller masterpieces asking piercing questions of the present. This book does not claim to be definitive; what it does offer is an accessible view of the impressive spectrum of imaginative writing which the genre’s classic period has to offer. Towering science fiction greats such as Asimov and Aldiss run alongside the, perhaps unexpected, likes of C. S. Lewis and J. B. Priestley and celebrate a side of science fiction beyond the stereotypes of space opera and bug-eyed monsters; the side of science fiction which proves why it must continue to be written and read, so long as any of us remain in uncertain times.

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Fiction

Shadows Over the Spanish Sun by Caroline Montague

Shadows Over the Spanish SunCourtesy of Orion via NetGalley. Another new release that caught my eye due to its Spanish Civil War connection. I have a feeling it might be going to be more romance than historical fiction, but we’ll see…

The Blurb says: Spain, 1936. Leonardo’s only connection to his past is the half medallion he wears around his neck – a painful reminder of his origins, and of the man he must fight to become. As the shadow of war falls over his beloved country, Leonardo is drawn into a desperate, forbidden love affair. But risking everything for love is a dangerous gamble, where one mistake could destroy everything…

2019. When Mia Ferris discovers that her beloved grandfather has fallen from his horse and is in need of care, she immediately flies to Spain – leaving behind her new fiancé, and her own complicated feelings. But when she discovers a photograph of an unknown woman and a bundle of old letters in her grandfather’s room, Mia must untangle a terrible history that changes everything she thought she knew.

A sweeping novel of passionate love, betrayal and redemption, set against the turmoil and tragedy of the Spanish Civil War.

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Thriller

The Killing Kind by Jane Casey

The Killing KindCourtesy of HarperCollins via NetGalley. I love Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan series, but I’m excited to see her do a standalone thriller for a change. Early reviews are glowing…

The Blurb says: He tells you you’re special…
As a barrister, Ingrid Lewis is used to dealing with tricky clients, but no one has ever come close to John Webster. After Ingrid defended Webster against a stalking charge, he then turned on her – following her, ruining her relationship, even destroying her home.

He tells you he wants to protect you…
Now, Ingrid believes she has finally escaped his clutches. But when one of her colleagues is run down on a busy London road, Ingrid is sure she was the intended victim. And then Webster shows up at her door…

But can you believe him?
Webster claims Ingrid is in danger – and that only he can protect her. Stalker or saviour? Murderer or protector? The clock is ticking for Ingrid to decide. Because the killer is ready to strike again.

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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?

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

When the detective is more complicated than the plot…

😀 😀 😀 😀

The Cuckoo's CallingWhen supermodel Lulu Landry falls to her death from her apartment window, the police put it down to suicide. She had been seen earlier that evening having a big bust-up with her boyfriend. But her brother, John Bristow, doesn’t believe that verdict – he’s convinced that Lulu was murdered. So he seeks the help of Cormoran Strike, ex-military man and not very successful private detective, to investigate.

Strike has a complicated family and backstory, clearly designed to be a recurring detective in a long-running series, as of course he has indeed become. Son of a hippy groupie mother and a rockstar father, with a parcel of half-siblings on his father’s side with whom he has very little contact and one half-sibling on his mother’s side to whom he’s close, when we first meet him he is in the middle of a messy break-up with his long-term fiancée which leaves him homeless and sleeping in his office. Add to this his background as a military veteran who lost a leg when his vehicle was bombed, and, as I said, complicated. All of this complication may be why the book is ridiculously overlong. (FF muses: Poirot just came from Belgium – that was enough, wasn’t it? Miss Marple has even less backstory. And yet Agatha Christie books have been selling for a century. I wonder if readers in 2121 will still be reading about Cormoran Strike.)

Lulu Landry has an equally complicated background which we learn about at equal length. The adopted mixed race daughter of white parents, her beauty has made her rich and famous but not necessarily happy. Her boyfriend is perpetually drunk or high on drugs and the two regularly have spectacular rows. Her brother, also adopted, seems to love her to an unhealthy degree. Her adoptive mother, who seems to have treated Lulu like a pretty doll, is now dying of cancer. But there’s no real reason why Lulu would have committed suicide on this particular night – in fact, it seems highly unlikely. Just as well the police were so easily satisfied, though, or there would have been no case for Strike to investigate, I suppose!

Robert Galbraith
Robert Galbraith

Strike is assisted in his investigation by his new temporary secretary, Robin, who has secretly always wanted to be a private detective and discovers to her own delight and Strike’s surprise that she has something of a talent for the work. Soon she’s out from behind her typewriter, joining in on the action. Fortunately she finds Strike’s habit of descending into drunken maudlin self-pity more endearing than I did, and soon becomes a kind of emotional prop to him along with all her other skills.

I feel I’m being unfairly negative about the book. In fact, I quite enjoyed reading it. Galbraith’s writing style has an easy flow to it which keeps those pages turning even when there’s a lot of repetition and extraneous padding. I could have lived without the constant unnecessary swearing, which I assume Galbraith throws in to show she can write for adults as well as children. I’m pretty sure that in fact children would appreciate the foul-mouthery far more than this adult did. But otherwise I found it very readable, easy on the brain and, sadly, almost instantly forgettable. I wouldn’t refuse to read another in the series, but I won’t be rushing out to acquire them either, especially since I believe they actually increase in length as they go on, with the latest one coming in at a frankly ludicrous 944 pages. They would have to be chocolate pages to tempt me to pick that one up!

People's Choice LogoBook 5 of 12

This was the People’s Choice winner for May. A reasonably enjoyable read, and I’m happy it’s off my TBR – so a win! Thanks to all who voted. 😀

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 283 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 283

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

* * * * *

OK, time for the next batch of four, and I have baffled the desire of You, The People, to pick me a 600 page book every month by the ingenious device of not including any… bwahahaa!! Still in 2016, and all crime this time, most of it older or vintage. The first two are Brother Cadfael books – a series I loved long ago but haven’t revisited in years. No idea why I got The Black Cabinet – probably a Kindle Deal or something – but it sounds potentially entertaining. And, of course, although Martin Edwards’ book isn’t vintage crime, he is the man behind the British Library Crime Classics series, so still all connected! A trickier choice this time, I feel, because of the rough similarity in the books.

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Historical Crime

The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters

The Virgin in the IceAdded 11th April 2016. 8,018 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.14 average rating. 294 pages.

The Blurb says: The winter of 1139 will disrupt Brother Cadfael’s tranquil life in Shrewsbury with the most disturbing of events. Raging civil war has sent refugees fleeing north from Worcester. Among them are two orphans from a noble family, a boy of thirteen and an eighteen-year-old girl of great beauty, and their companion, a young Benedictine nun. The trio never reaches Shrewsbury, having disappeared somewhere in the wild countryside.

Cadfael is afraid for these three lost lambs, but another call for help sends him to the church of Saint Mary. A wounded monk, found naked and bleeding by the roadside, will surely die without Cadfael’s healing arts. Why this holy man has been attacked and what his fevered ravings reveal soon give Brother Cadfael a clue to the fate of the missing travelers. Now Cadfael sets out on a dangerous quest to find them. The road will lead him to a chill and terrible murder and a tale of passion gone awry. And at journey’s end awaits a vision of what is best, and worst, in humankind.

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Historical Crime

Brother Cadfael’s Penance by Ellis Peters

Brother Cadfael's PenanceAdded 8th May 2016. 4,576 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.27 average. 292 pages.

The Blurb says: November, 1145. While Cadfael has bent Abbey rules, he has never broken his monastic vows–until now. Word has come to Shrewsbury of a treacherous act that has left 30 of Maud’s knights imprisoned. All have been ransomed except Cadfael’s secret son, Olivier. Conceived in Cadfael’s soldiering youth and unaware of his father’s identity, Olivier will die if he is not freed.

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Vintage Crime

The Black Cabinet by Patricia Wentworth

The Black CabinetAdded 7th June 2016. 266 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.72 average. 251 pages. 

The Blurb says: The lowly assistant to a London dressmaker, Chloe Dane yearns for a new life. She has bittersweet memories of being a carefree child playing hide-and-seek at Danesborough, her family’s magnificent country estate. Decades later, the ancestral mansion has been restored to its former glory—and Chloe is shocked to discover that she is the sole heir.

Danesborough is not the sun-filled, evergreen place she remembers. The trees are bare and the house is shrouded in mist. But the enormous gold-and-black lacquered Chinese cabinet in the drawing room is exactly the same. Chloe’s childhood imagination created an entire story out of the intricate carvings on the cabinet: a flowing river filled with boats and fishermen and one frightening man she called Mr. Dark.

But now, as Chloe begins to uncover Mitchell Dane’s true motives for bequeathing her the centuries-old manse, she has a very real reason to be afraid: The truth about what’s hidden in the black cabinet will soon threaten her life.

* * * * *

Contemporary Crime

The Coffin Trail by Martin Edwards

The Coffin TrailAdded 9th June 2016. 1,781 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.66 average. 301 pages.

The Blurb says: Oxford historian Daniel Kind and his partner Miranda both want to escape to a new life. On impulse they buy a cottage in Brackdale, an idyllic valley in the Lake District. But though they hope to live the dream , the past soon catches up with him…

Tarn Cottage was once home to Barrie Gilpin, suspected of a savage murder. A young woman’s body was found on the Sacrifice Stone, an ancient pagan site up on the fell., but Barrie died before he could be arrested. Daniel has personal reasons for becoming fascinated by the case and for believing in Barrie’s innocence. When the police launch a cold case review, Brackdale’s skeletons begin to rattle and the lives of Daniel and DCI Hannah Scarlett become strangely entwined. Daniel and Hannah find themselves risking their lives as they search for a ruthless murderer who is prepared to kill again to hide a shocking secret.

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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 281…

Episode 281

Since I feel as if I’ve hardly finished anything this week being stuck yet again in the middle of several massive books, it’s a surprise to me that the TBR appears to have gone down 1 to 198! I’m sure my spreadsheet has a life of its own.

Confused spreadsheet gif

Here are a few more that should be coming up soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half of a Yellow SunWell, Dear People, for the fifth time in six months you have chosen the approximately 600-pages option, and this time sadly also the one I least wanted to read! The vote was neck-and-neck all the way through, and how I hoped that Barbara Vine’s A Dark-Adapted Eye would win (304 pages and sounds great). But it was not to be – a very late vote broke the deadlock, and Adichie won. Oh well! A lesson to me to delete books I’ve gone off! Maybe I’ll love it. (Or maybe I’ll just pretend A Dark-Adapted Eye won and read it instead… 😉 )

The Blurb says: Ugwu, a boy from a poor village, works as a houseboy for a university professor. Olanna, a young woman, has abandoned her life of privilege in Lagos to live with her charismatic new lover, the professor. And Richard, a shy English writer, is in thrall to Olanna’s enigmatic twin sister. As the horrific Biafran War engulfs them, they are thrown together and pulled apart in ways they had never imagined.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s masterpiece, winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction, is a novel about Africa in a wider sense: about the end of colonialism, ethnic allegiances, class and race – and about the ways in which love can complicate all of these things.

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Classic Crime Fiction

The Conjure-Man Dies by Rudolph Fisher

The Conjure-Man DiesCourtesy of the Collins Crime Club – Harlem imprint. This wasn’t on my original Classics Club list but it seems perfect to fill one of the remaining slots, so I’ve bumped Anatomy of a Murder to make room for it… 

The Blurb says: A unique crime classic: the very first detective novel written by an African-American, set in 1930s New York with only Black characters.

When the body of N’Gana Frimbo, the African conjure-man, is discovered in his consultation room, Perry Dart, one of Harlem’s ten Black police detectives, is called in to investigate. Together with Dr Archer, a physician from across the street, Dart is determined to solve the baffling mystery, helped and hindered by Bubber Brown and Jinx Jenkins, local boys keen to clear themselves of suspicion of murder and undertake their own investigations.

A distinguished doctor and accomplished musician and dramatist, Rudolph Fisher was one of the principal writers of the Harlem Renaissance, but died in 1934 aged only 37. With a gripping plot and vividly drawn characters, Fisher’s witty novel is a remarkable time capsule of one of the most exciting eras in the history of Black fiction.

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Fiction

Nightshift by Kiare Ladner

NightshiftCourtesy of Picador via NetGalley. Continuing my bid to read more contemporary fiction, I picked this on the basis of the blurb. Must admit so far I have abandoned more of my contemporary fiction choices than I’ve finished, so I’m hoping this one fares better…

The Blurb says: Nightshift is a story of obsession set in London’s liminal world of nightshift workers.

When twenty-three-year-old Meggie meets distant and enigmatic Sabine, she recognises in her the person she would like to be. Giving up her daytime existence, her reliable boyfriend, and the trappings of a normal life in favour of working the same nightshifts as Sabine could be the perfect escape for Meggie. She finds a liberating sense of freedom in indulging her growing obsession with Sabine and plunges herself into another existence, gradually immersing herself in the transient and uncertain world of the nightshift worker.

Dark, sexy, frightening, Nightshift explores ambivalent friendship, sexual attraction and lives that defy easy categorisation. London’s stark urban reality is rendered other-worldly and strange as Meggie’s sleep deprivation, drinking and obsession for Sabine gain a momentum all of their own. Can Meggie really lose herself in her trying to become someone else?

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Vintage Crime

The Man from London by Georges Simenon

The Man from LondonCourtesy of Penguin Classics via NetGalley. This will be my first experience of one of Simenon’s non-Maigret novels. Though Maigret is what he’s best remembered for, a lot of bloggers over the years have praised some of his other books at least as highly, sometimes more so. The blurb certainly makes it sound appealing…

The Blurb says: On a foggy winter’s evening in Dieppe, after the arrival of the daily ferry from England, a railway signalman habitually scrutinizes the port from his tiny, isolated cabin. When a scuffle on the quayside catches his eye, he is drawn to the scene of a brutal murder and his once quiet life changes forever. A mere observer at first, he soon finds himself fishing a briefcase from the water and in doing so he enters a feverish and secret chase. As the murderer and witness stalk and spy on each other, they gain an increasingly profound yet tacit understanding of each other, until the witness becomes an accomplice.

Written in 1933, soon after the successful launch of the Inspector Maigret novels, this haunting, atmospheric novel soon became a classic and the inspiration for several film and TV adaptations.

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 280 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 280

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

* * * * *

OK, time for the next batch of four! At last we’re moving into 2016, and I have far fewer books from that year than from 2015 – I must have been attempting to get hold of my ballooning TBR by this stage. However, there are plenty to take us through the next few People’s Choices. As usual, I’m planning three months ahead so the winner will be a July read. Most, but not all, of these still appeal to me, but I’ll keep my opinions to myself so as not to sway yours! I missed a few of Sharon Bolton’s early books and always intended to go back and read them, hence Blood Harvest. Half of a Yellow Sun is one of those books everyone seemed to be reading except me, and was added to my TBR as a result of all the glowing reviews. I’ve meant to try Barbara Vine’s books for centuries, and A Dark-Adapted Eye comes recommended as one of her best by the blogosphere’s resident crime expert, Margot Kinberg. And Grey Mask marks the first appearance of a vintage crime novel on The People’s Choice – this must have been the point where I finally snapped with contemporary crime and time travelled back to the Golden Age.

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Crime

Blood Harvest by Sharon J Bolton

Blood HarvestAdded 2nd March 2016. 5,948 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.96 average rating. 576 pages.

The Blurb says: Psychologist Evi is worried about one of her patients – a woman who is convinced her little girl is still alive. Two years after the fire that burnt their house down.

Meanwhile, the new vicar in town is feeling strangely unwelcome. Disturbing events seem designed to scare him away.

And a young boy keeps seeing a strange, solitary girl playing in the churchyard. Who is she and what is she trying to tell him?

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Fiction

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half of a Yellow SunAdded 23rd March 2016. 115,829 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.31 average. 562 pages.

The Blurb says: Ugwu, a boy from a poor village, works as a houseboy for a university professor. Olanna, a young woman, has abandoned her life of privilege in Lagos to live with her charismatic new lover, the professor. And Richard, a shy English writer, is in thrall to Olanna’s enigmatic twin sister. As the horrific Biafran War engulfs them, they are thrown together and pulled apart in ways they had never imagined.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s masterpiece, winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction, is a novel about Africa in a wider sense: about the end of colonialism, ethnic allegiances, class and race – and about the ways in which love can complicate all of these things.

* * * * *

Crime

A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine

A Dark-Adapted EyeAdded 23rd March 2016. 7,692 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.97 average. 304 pages. 

The Blurb says: Winner of the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award

Like most families they had their secrets . . .

And they hid them under a genteelly respectable veneer. No onlooker would guess that prim Vera Hillyard and her beautiful, adored younger sister, Eden, were locked in a dark and bitter combat over one of those secrets. England in the fifties was not kind to women who erred, so they had to use every means necessary to keep the truth hidden behind closed doors – even murder.

A Dark-Adapted Eye is modern classic. If you enjoy the crime novels of P.D. James, Ian Rankin and Scott Turow, you will love this book. Barbara Vine is the pen-name of Ruth Rendell.

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Vintage Crime

Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth

Grey MaskAdded 1st April 2016. 4,620 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.71 average. 320 pages.

The Blurb says: Furious at being jilted at the altar by his once-fiancé Margaret Langton, Charles Moray left England behind him. Now, four years later, he returns to his family home, only to find it unlocked and with a light burning in one of its abandoned rooms.

Eavesdropping, Charles soon discovers that a criminal gang has been using his house to plan a vicious crime. The target is the beautiful Margot Standing, who is due to inherit a considerable fortune. And what’s more he recognises the voices of one of the conspirators – his lost love Margaret Langton.

How did Margaret come to be involved? And who is the terrifying masked man who has her in his thrall? Charles contacts Miss Silver to unravel the mysteries of the case and, if she can, save Margot Standing’s life.

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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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Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Don’t go into the woodshed!

😀 😀 😀 😀

Cold Comfort FarmOrphaned at the age of 20, Flora Poste discovers her father was not the rich man the world thought. Once his debts are paid off, Flora only has an income of £100 a year. Her friend suggests she should take some kind of training and get a job, but the idea of this holds no appeal for Flora. So instead she writes to all her relations, most of whom she has never met, asking if she can come and live with them. All respond, and remarkably each of them offers her a home, though none of the homes sound terribly appealing to Flora. But the letter from her cousin Judith Starkadder intrigues her – the address, Cold Comfort Farm, in Howling, Sussex, conjures visions in itself, and Judith’s vague hints of some kind of dark deed having being done to Flora’s father for which the Starkadders owe atonement is too tempting. So off she sets to meet the huge extended family of Starkadders who live on the farm…

At first I feared this was going to be one of those many books that infest English literature where the sophisticated, upper-class, urbanite author mocks the unintelligent, uneducated and uncouth rustic yokels. But it quickly reveals that in fact it’s parodying just that kind of novel, and also the novels then in vogue showing the reverse – the kind of noble savage of the modernists, where those rustics are born with an innate honour and a stolid kind of decency as opposed to the sophisticate’s shallow decadence. Frankly, if I were DH Lawrence, I’d have sued her! (If I hadn’t been dead at the time, obviously.)

Flora is not decadent – she’s far too well brought up for that. She is however supremely self-confident in her ability to sort people’s lives out for them, and the inhabitants of Cold Comfort Farm offer her plenty of opportunities to indulge her passion for turning messiness into order. There’s brooding Seth, shirt unbuttoned half-way down his chest to reveal bulging muscles and an ultra-masculine lustiness irresistible to all women (except Flora). Reuben, obsessive about improving the farm, but thwarted at every turn by his father and brother. Amos, the father, who is a terrible farmer, devotes his free time to hellfire preaching in the local town. Young Elfine, wild as a woodland sprite, struggling to win the man she loves. Old Mrs Starkadder, living her life in her room, haunted by the memory of when she was two and saw “something narsty in the woodshed”, is a kind of matriarchal tyrant, refusing to allow any of the younger family members to leave the farm and make different lives for themselves. Even the farm animals merit Flora’s reforming zeal, as she is determined that the bull be allowed out of the barn where he seems to spend his entire life.

There is a lot of humour in it with some very funny scenes, and it’s especially fun to try to spot which authors and books Gibbons had in mind. DH Lawrence, I felt, was never far from her thoughts – all that intensely brooding animal sexuality and profound angst. But Thomas Hardy is surely in there too, with his somewhat idealised but simple rural characters. I’m not well read or analytical enough to catch all the references, and there might be a tendency to start creating links that don’t exist – for instance, when Flora meets the hot weather by donning her green linen suit, I couldn’t help wondering if Ted Burgess from The Go-Between might have played his part in influencing Seth’s character. Wikipedia informs me that the main influences are apparently two authors I haven’t read, Sheila Kaye-Smith and Mary Webb – I’ll take their word for it, although to me it’s so DH Lawrence that I can’t imagine he wasn’t one of her major influences too. Gibbons also occasionally veers outside her own remit of literature to take a pop at her modern world, and these bits are very enjoyable, such as when we meet a Hollywood producer and hear his opinion on the qualities required in a romantic male movie-star.

Stella Gibbons
Stella Gibbons

Despite all the good things it has going for it, it also has some weaknesses that stopped me from whole-heartedly loving it. There are so many characters I was still struggling to remember who was who well into the later stages, except for the three or four main characters. It gets a little repetitive – the joke begins to wear thin after a while and there’s a lot of repetition, for example, of the references to “something narsty in the woodshed”. There are things that I simply didn’t get – possibly my fault, possibly they are referencing some book I haven’t read and would have been hilarious if I had. For instance, the various cows around the farm keep losing legs or horns with no explanation – this baffled rather than amusing me. And, while I kept reminding myself it was humour and not to be taken too seriously, I found Flora’s solutions to various people’s problems probably made her happier than the characters whose lives she was supposedly improving.

Overall, though, the good certainly outweighs the less good parts of it. An enjoyable read for anyone who has dipped their toes into early 20th century English literature, and I’m sure would be even more entertaining for people who are widely read in it.

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This was a People’s Choice winner, and hurrah, you picked a good one! You’re definitely getting better at this, People! 😀

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The Crow Trap (Vera Stanhope 1) by Ann Cleeves

Is there an editor in the house?

🙂 🙂 🙂

The Crow TrapThree women are staying at Baikie’s Cottage to carry out an environmental impact study on land which is earmarked to be turned into a quarry. Rachael is the leader of the team, and knows the area well – her friend Bella lives on the neighbouring farm. She knows Bella loves her life in this harsh landscape so when she arrives only to find Bella dead, hanged in the barn, she finds it hard to accept the official verdict of suicide. The other two women on the team are strangers to Rachael and to each other. Anne is an extrovert, and has had a string of affairs, most recently with the man who wants to turn the land into a quarry. Grace is the complete opposite – introverted, quiet, clearly unhappy. When a body is found on the land, it will be up to Inspector Vera Stanhope and her right-hand man Joe Ashworth to work out motives and opportunity, and to connect the dots between the murder and Bella’s suicide…

Sometimes I feel like a stuck record, but at well over 500 pages this novel is ridiculously over-long – repetitive and padded to the point where I several times considered abandoning it. The underlying plot is good and Vera is an interesting, if unbelievable, character – another of these detectives one feels would have been quietly shuffled to a desk job long ago since she is incapable of following rules and doesn’t mind putting herself, her colleagues and even members of the public at risk in pursuit of her case. But hey-ho! That’s modern crime fiction for you, and plenty of people seem to like these damaged detectives. At least Vera is functional.

The book starts off well enough, telling of Rachael’s arrival at the cottage, her finding of Bella, and then of the next few days as the three women get to know each other a little. It’s already far too drawn out at this stage, but eventually the body is discovered and we can hope the police procedural element is about to begin. Only for those hopes to be dashed! Back we go to the very beginning, this time following Anne through those same few days, learning more about her life, and seeing things from her perspective. And then… you’ve guessed, haven’t you… we do it all again, this time in the company of Grace. It’s not that any of the three women’s stories are uninteresting in their own right, but to cover the same period again and again had me feeling as if I was in Groundhog Day.

Ann Cleeves
Ann Cleeves

Finally, about halfway through, this introductory stage is at last over, and Vera arrives on the scene. It picks up a bit after that, although there’s so much backstory about Vera’s life interspersed among the plot that the pace never gets out of second gear. Vera’s method is to set the women up to be bait in the hope the murderer will return, while sending these civilians off to ask questions of suspects and bring her back the information. Extremely odd method of policing, far more suited to the Golden Age of the amateur detective than the modern police procedural. However, it’s reasonably enjoyable, and well written.

Overall, I can’t say this one thrilled me much – a crime novel requires far more plot and less repetition to hold my interest for so long. However I see that the next book is considerably shorter (though still longer than a crime novel should be) so hopefully Cleeves reined in her desire to cover every detail three times. I’d consider reading more of them, but I fear Cleeves, with two less than enthusiastic reviews out of three from me so far, is perhaps never going to make it onto my must-read list. Given her huge popularity, I don’t expect that will bother her much!

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This was The People’s Choice for March. Thank you, People – I know you meant well… 😉

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TBR Thursday 278… 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. Now that last year’s slump seems to be a thing of the past, I’m storming through the books this year, which ought to mean I’ll be smashing all my targets. Ought to…

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

TBR Quarterly Mar 2021

On the whole, I’m pretty OK with these figures. The shortfall in new releases will be made up very quickly since I have tons on the TBR now, which also explains why the TBR total has gone up rather than down. Of course, that will make it harder to fit other challenge books in, but hey! Who’s counting? 😉

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The Classics Club

I read four from my Classics Club list this quarter, but have only reviewed three of them so far…

73. The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens – The only Dickens novel I hadn’t read before, and happily I loved the story of Little Nell and her grandfather, evil Daniel Quilp, and the usual myriad of quirky characters Dickens has created to delight us. 5 stars

74. Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp – A rom-com that neither thrilled me with the rom nor amused me with the com. Cluny’s coming-of-age story meanders unrealistically through the social classes of pre-war Britain. Just 2 stars.

75. Whisky Galore by Compton Mackenzie – unfortunately the humour didn’t work for me in this cosy wartime tale of Hebridean highlanders and a shipwreck full of whisky. An excellent narration lifted it, though. 3 stars.

So a couple of disappointments this quarter, but Dickens more than compensated!

75 down, 15 to go!

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

Doing slightly better on this challenge this quarter – I’ve read three, though I’ve only reviewed 2 so far…

41. Crime at Diana’s Pool by Victor L Whitechurch – During a garden party, the host turns up dead, face down in a pond with a knife in his back. The local vicar quickly deduces it’s murder! Quite enjoyable, but with nothing to really make it stand out from the crowd. 3 stars.

42. At the Villa Rose by AEW Mason (link to be added) – When an elderly widow is murdered and her beautiful young companion goes missing, her lover (the companion’s, not the widow’s) begs Inspector Hanaud of the Sûreté to take on the investigation. Oddly structured, but I enjoyed it a lot. 4 stars.

42 down, 60 to go!

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Reading the Spanish Civil War Challenge

Finally getting into this challenge properly and enjoying it greatly so far, and I’ve got some interesting fiction to come now that I’ve got a bit of an understanding of the factual history. I read two this quarter and had one still to review from last year. Only two reviews though – my reviewing is very behind at the moment.

3. The Spanish Labyrinth by Gerald Brenan. Gerald Brenan explains in his introduction that, having been there at the start of the Spanish Civil War, he wanted to understand what led to it, and preoccupied himself with studying this during the war. This book, first published in 1943, is the result, and is now considered a classic history of the period. Deservedly so. 5 stars.

4. Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. Orwell fought with the Trotskyite POUM faction against Franco’s Fascists, and later was involved in the left’s in-fighting during the Barcelona May Days. This is his personal memoir of his time in Spain. An excellent read, with the politics reserved for the appendices. 5 stars.

4 down, indefinite number to go!

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The People’s Choice

People's Choice Logo

I’m just finishing March’s pick so haven’t reviewed it yet, so just two reviews so far – did You, The People, pick me some good ones…?

JanuaryThe Old Buzzard Had It Coming by Donis Casey – Harley Day beats his wife, terrorises his children, fights with his neighbours and has fallen out with his relations, so when he turns up dead the general feeling in the little town of Boynton and the surrounding farming community is that the old buzzard sure had it coming! I thoroughly enjoyed this cosy-ish murder mystery, set in the early 1900s in Oklahoma. 4½ stars.

FebruaryThe Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver – The Price family arrive in a remote village in the Belgian Congo to take over the Baptist mission there. The four daughters of the family tell us of their time there and how it affected their future lives, and along the way show us the impacts of modern colonialism. A wonderful book, well deserving of all the praise and plaudits it has received. 5 stars.

Well done, People – you did great!

2 down, 10 to go!

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Wanderlust Bingo

Wanderlust Bingo March 2021

I haven’t stepped out of my usual UK beat much yet this year, and will probably juggle with this a lot as I go along to slot things into the various categories. I’ll be spoiled for choice for books set in Scotland and England so will leave them to the end and see which boxes I’m struggling to fill. Here’s what I’m considering so far…

CongoThe Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver – 5 stars. I’ve slotted this into River at the moment, but it could also fit Africa or Forest.

SpainIn Diamond Square by Mercè Rodoreda (review to follow) – set in Barcelona, I’ve put this in City, but it could also fit Europe.

Hmm… lot’s of work to do on this one, but I have a few interesting locations coming up on the TBR.

2 down, 23 to go!

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A much better quarter, in terms of both quantity and quality, not to mention enjoyability. Thanks as always for sharing my reading experiences!

PS I appear to have gone on an unintentional break by virtue of not having written any reviews! So I’m going to take that as a sign and have a couple of weeks off to get ahead of myself again. Be good, and…

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀