TBR Thursday 197…

Episode 197

Goodness! The TBR is down another 3 this week to 222! At this rate, two things will happen: 1) I will run out of books and 2) several of you (you know who you are!) will turn purple with rage, green with envy and yellow with terror that the same thing might happen to you. Which will officially qualify you to join Clan Abercrombie…

Here are a few more that will be taking the high road soon. No heavy fiction since I’ll be starting Middlemarch soon and that might take me two or three decades to read, so it’s another Crime Week…

Crime

Courtesy of riverrun at Quercus. I saw several glowing reviews of the first book in this series, so when I was offered this second one, I grabbed it, especially since the publisher says each book works as a stand-alone. I realised recently that I’m not following very many current series since some have come to an end (or I’ve grown tired of them), so I’m on the lookout for a couple of new ones. Could this be one?

The Blurb says: The two boys never fitted in. Seventeen, the worst age, nothing to do but smoke weed; at least they have each other. The day they speed off on a moped with a stolen mobile, they’re ready to celebrate their luck at last. Until their victim comes looking for what’s his – and ready to kill for it.

On the other side of Kent’s wealth divide, DS Alexandra Cupidi faces the strangest murder investigation of her career. A severed limb, hidden inside a modern sculpture in Margate’s Turner Contemporary. No one takes it seriously – not even the artwork’s owners, celebrity dealers who act like they’re above the law.

But as Cupidi’s case becomes ever more sinister, as she wrangles with police politics and personal dilemmas, she can’t help worrying about those runaway boys. Seventeen, the same age as her own headstrong daughter. Alone, on the marshes, they’re pawns in someone else’s game. Two worlds are about to collide.

Kent and its social divisions are brilliantly captured in Deadland, a crime thriller that’s as ingeniously unguessable as it is moving and powerful.

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Crime

I’m slowly re-reading my favourite crime series of all time, Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series. This is number 5, and I remember when I first read it being utterly shocked at the idea of snuff movies. (In case you haven’t come across the term before, snuff movies are a variation of porn films where the violence against women portrayed onscreen is not acting, but real, up to and including the victim’s death.) I’d never heard of them and wondered if Hill had invented the idea, but apparently they actually exist or are at least rumoured to. The world is a sick, sick place…

The Blurb says: Love, or at least pornography, are for sale at the arty Calliope Kinema Club on posh, proper Wilkinson Square. According to Yorkshire police superintendent Dalziel, it’s all legal. Detective Peter Pascoe, however, doesn’t believe it. His dentist, who knows real broken teeth and blood when he sees them, insists that the pretty actress wasn’t playing a part when it happened. But the action that puts Pascoe into the picture is homicide. The sudden death of the Calliope’s proprietor soon turns a sleazy sex flick into serious police business. And now Dalziel and Pascoe are looking into the all-too-human desire for pain, pleasure…and murder.

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Crime

Courtesy of Hodder & Stoughton via NetGalley. This series is darker than I usually go for, but I love her writing – she usually creates a really creepy or tension-filled atmosphere. And I like the two lead characters too…

The Blurb says: The police find out about the crime the way everyone does: on Snapchat. The video shows the terrified victim begging for forgiveness. When her body is found, it is marked with a number 2…

Detective Huldar joins the investigation, bringing child psychologist Freyja on board to help question the murdered teenager’s friends. Soon, they uncover that Stella was far from the angel people claim – but even so, who could have hated her enough to kill?

Then another teenager goes missing, and more clips are sent. Freyja and Huldar can agree on two things at least: the truth is far from simple. And the killer is not done yet.

A brilliantly suspenseful story about the dark side of social media, The Absolution will make you wonder what you should have said sorry for…

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Thriller

Courtesy of Orion via NetGalley. I enjoyed Cavanagh’s debut novel, The Defence, a few years ago and really meant to keep up with his new releases – didn’t happen! However, I keep seeing glowing reviews of his books, so I’m jumping back on board with this new one. The blurb is singularly unhelpful, I must say, and if I didn’t know anything about the author, would certainly not tempt me to read the book… WRITING BLURBS IN CAPITALS DOESN’T MAKE THEM MORE EXCITING!!! (FF’s Eleventh Law… 😉 )

The Blurb says: BEFORE YOU READ THIS BOOK
I WANT YOU TO KNOW THREE THINGS:

1. The police are looking to charge me with murder.

2. No one knows who I am. Or how I did it.

3. If you think you’ve found me. I’m coming for you next.

After you’ve read this book, you’ll know: the truth is far more twisted…

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads.

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

The Legacy (Children’s House 1) by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

A great start…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

When a horrific murder is carried out, there’s only one witness, 7-year-old Margrét, but she’s too shocked to tell her tale. So it’s decided to ask the Children’s House to help out – a place that specialises in helping traumatised children. Meantime the police are searching through the murder victim’s background to try to find any reason for her murder, but Elísa seems to have been normal in every possible way: happy marriage, a group of long-time friends, good at her job, and generally popular. And the next victim – because of course there’s a next one – seems equally unlikely. Margrét’s testimony seems to be the only hope…

This is the beginning of a new series for Yrsa Sigurdardóttir, based around Freyja, the psychologist in charge of the Children’s House, and Huldar, the detective in charge of the case. I’m not sure if both will appear in future books or just Freya, but they definitely share the billing in this one. The book is written in third person, past tense throughout. The crime seems to have its roots in the past but we learn about it through events in the present. Personally, I’m thrilled to see a crime book returning to this more traditional format of storytelling – the single time period flows more naturally than chopping backwards and forwards, the third person allows the author to range more widely across the characters without being restricted by what a first person narrator can know, and the past tense is so much more natural and appropriate that I really can’t understand why there’s such an insistence on using present tense. (I have never once seen anyone complain about a book being written in the past tense, have you?) I’m hoping maybe trends are finally shifting again…

As often happens with the first of a series, this one starts off pretty slowly, with much filling in of the backgrounds of the main characters – perhaps a little too much. There are places where it drags a bit and I found myself wishing that the plot would move along a little faster. However, I like both Freyja and Huldar as lead characters. Neither of them are perfect, but nor are they angst-ridden weirdos or drunks. They are both professionals who take their jobs seriously. Freyja clearly cares deeply about the children who pass through her care, but she’s professional enough not to get too emotionally involved to do her job well. This is Huldar’s first time in charge of an investigation, and we see him do his best to keep his team working well together, even though they get progressively more snappy with each other as the pressure mounts and time passes with no real leads appearing.

My one real complaint is that the murders are particularly horrific, and though in fact Sigurdardóttir only lingers over the detail of the first one, she writes so effectively that I found the images that she was putting in my head were too graphic for me, and unnecessarily so. The story is strong enough to stand without the gruesomeness, so that it felt pretty gratuitous to me.

Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

The plotting, however, is great! Twisty, credible (apart from the murder methods), and full of some lovely misdirection – nope, I didn’t get there until it was revealed at the end, but on looking back, the clues are all there, so no ‘cheating’. It is a whodunit to a degree, but it’s actually more about the why of the crime – once the motive is clear, so is the culprit. We see events unfold from various perspectives – Freyja and Huldar, of course, but also through the victims’ eyes, as baffled as we are as to why this is happening to them. And then there’s Karl, a young student and radio ham who has come across a strange station emitting strings of numbers that somehow seem to be connected to both him and the victims. The sections relating to Karl provide both the central mystery and some great characterisation of him and his friends, as they find themselves drawn into something they don’t understand.

Sigurdardóttir’s writing is as excellent as always, and the translation by Victoria Cribb is first class – had I not known it was a translation, I would have assumed it was written in English. The rather slow start and the too graphic murders meant that for most of the read it was heading for a solid four stars from me, but the strength of the last hundred pages or so lifted it – I found myself totally absorbed and the skill of the lead-up to the eventual solution both satisfied and impressed me. So I’m going with 4½, and will certainly be looking out for the next in what I hope will turn out to be a fine series, especially if Sigurdardóttir can rein in her imagination just a little on the gruesome front…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Hodder & Stoughton.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 113…

Episode 113…

Well, the TBR briefly touched the magic 200 but fortunately I managed to finish a few books quickly (not Trotsky obviously – the book is longer than the Revolution).  So phew! I’m back down to 198 and totally confident that a downward trend is just around the corner… if only I could get to the corner past the stacks of books in the way…

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

The winner of the Begorrathon Poll

sirenGosh, I think that’s the closest poll I’ve ever held! But this one took the lead right from the beginning and held on all the way through. Thanks to everyone who took part! I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing Siren in March, and will get to the other books over the next few months…

The Blurb says: Róisín Burns has spent the past twenty years becoming someone else; her life in New York is built on lies. A figure from her Belfast childhood flashes up on the news: Brian Lonergan has also reinvented himself. He is now a rising politician in a sharp suit. But scandal is brewing in Ireland and Róisín knows the truth.

Armed with the evidence that could ruin Lonergan, she travels back across the Atlantic to the remote Lamb Island to hunt him down. But Lonergan is one step ahead; when Róisín arrives on the island, someone else is waiting for her…

* * * * *

Fiction

bright-air-blackCourtesy of NetGalley. I once had the great good fortune to see the wonderful Diana Rigg perform as Medea in a brilliant stage production and have been fascinated by her story ever since. So this book has quite a lot to live up to…

The Blurb says:  In Bright Air Black, David Vann transports us to 13th century B.C. to give a nuanced and electric portrait of the life of one of ancient mythology’s most fascinating and notorious women, Medea.

In brilliant poetic prose Bright Air Black brings us aboard the ship Argo for its epic return journey across the Black Sea from Persia’s Colchis – where Medea flees her home and father with Jason, the Argonauts, and the Golden Fleece. Vann’s reimagining of this ancient tale offers a thrilling, realist alternative to the long held notions of Medea as monster or sorceress. We witness with dramatic urgency Medea’s humanity, her Bronze Age roots and position in Greek society, her love affair with Jason, and her tragic demise.

Atmospheric and spellbinding, Bright Air Black is an indispensable, fresh and provocative take on one of our earliest texts and the most intimate and corporal version of Medea’s story ever told.

* * * * *

Crime

the-legacyCourtesy of Amazon Vine. I’ve read a few of Yrsa Sigurdardóttir’s books now and I’ve always liked and sometimes loved them, so I’m looking forward to this one. And it’ll be nice to actually start a series at the beginning for once!

The Blurb says: The murder was meant as a punishment – but what sin could justify the method? The only person who might have answers is the victim’s seven-year-old daughter, found hiding in the room where her mother died. And she’s not talking.

Newly promoted, out of his depth, detective Huldar turns to Freyja and the Children’s House for their expertise with traumatised young people. Freyja, who distrusts the police in general and Huldar in particular, isn’t best pleased. But she’s determined to keep little Margret safe.

It may prove tricky. The killer is leaving them strange clues: warnings in text messages, sums scribbled on bits of paper, numbers broadcast on the radio. He’s telling a dark and secret story – but how can they crack the code? And if they do, will they be next?

* * * * *

Fiction on Audio

the-tsar-of-love-and-technoCourtesy of Audible. Regular visitor underrunner recommended this book to me some months ago. Although it’s not about the Revolution as such, it looks at the history of the USSR and Russia over most of the last century so I’m hoping it will fit in with my Reading the Russian Revolution Challenge. From the sample, the narration sounds as if it will be great… and isn’t it a fab cover?

The Blurb says: This stunning, exquisitely written collection introduces a cast of remarkable characters whose lives intersect in ways both life-affirming and heartbreaking. A 1930s Soviet censor painstakingly corrects offending photographs, deep underneath Leningrad, bewitched by the image of a disgraced prima ballerina. A chorus of women recount their stories and those of their grandmothers, former gulag prisoners who settled their Siberian mining town. Two pairs of brothers share a fierce, protective love. Young men across the former USSR face violence at home and in the military. And great sacrifices are made in the name of an oil landscape unremarkable except for the almost incomprehensibly peaceful past it depicts. In stunning prose, with rich character portraits and a sense of history reverberating into the present, The Tsar of Love and Techno is a captivating work from one of our greatest new talents.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

* * * * *

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

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The Undesired by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

the undesiredFalling between two stools…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

As the book begins, a man and his young daughter are in the last stages of asphyxiation from exhaust fumes in his car. How did they get there? Who has done this to them? The story takes the reader back into the past to answer these questions. Odinn’s life was turned upside down a few months previously when his ex-wife fell from a window and died, leaving him with the responsibility for his young daughter, Rún. Until then he had been a weekend father, fond of his daughter but leading the life of a single man. As part of his readjustment, he has taken a new job in the State Supervisory Agency, office-based and with regular hours. He has been given the task of preparing a report on a former residential home for boys to check whether there are likely to be any claims from former residents for compensation for abuse or ill-treatment. The book is split between his investigation and the story of what led to the home’s closure, following the death of two of the boys.

This is being billed as a horror novel and does have some aspects of horror, but in reality it’s more of a crime novel with psychological aspects. The horror consists of some unexplained shadows and the occasional bit of spooky giggling, and rarely sent any shivers down my spine. And it really doesn’t add anything to the basic story, leaving me to wonder why it’s in there at all.

The crime aspect is better. Back in the ’70s, the story is seen through the eyes of Aldis, a young girl employed at the home who develops a relationship with one of the older boys. The owners of the home have their own secrets and don’t treat either the boys or the staff well, though thankfully this isn’t yet another child abuse tale. Again, the reader knows from Odinn’s investigation in the present day that two of the boys die, so this part of the story, like the present day one, is more about finding out what led to their deaths. Sometimes knowing what’s going to happen works, but in this case I found that all this foreknowledge led to a serious lack of tension. There is still a mystery, which I won’t detail for fear of spoilers, and I was surprised by the ending, but for most of the book it feels like a fairly long plod to get to a destination we already know.

Yrsa Sigurdardóttir
Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

Usually I love Sigurdardottir’s books, so my disappointment with this one is partly to do with my high expectations. Although it didn’t quite meet those, there’s still plenty in it to enjoy. The characterisation is good, especially of Aldis, and the part about the home is well done, giving a good feeling of authenticity. Sigurdardottir’s writing is always readable and the translation, by Victoria Cribb, is excellent. The plot is intriguing despite the ending being known, and although it crosses the credibility line it held my interest for the most part.

I think the book is trying to do two things at the same time – have a realistic plot and be a spooky horror story – and as a result neither works as well as it would have alone. It also makes the book overlong. Had the spooky aspects been cut, the whole thing would have been much tighter and would, I feel, actually have achieved a higher level of tension. I’m sure that Sigurdardottir fans like myself will find enough in it to make it a worthwhile read, but it wouldn’t be one that I would necessarily recommend to newcomers to her work. Much better to start with her Thora Gudmundsdottir series.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Hodder & Stoughton.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 68…

Episode 68

 

Woohoo! The TBR has actually gone down this week – by 4, to 148! So, well on target for the end of the year goal of 70… *chokes*

Anyway, no time to chat (or sleep, or eat)! Here are some that I shall be getting to soonish…

Factual

 

winston churchill at the telegraphHaving thoroughly enjoyed both The Telegraph Book of the First World War and The Churchill Factor recently, this one sounded like a good choice…

The Blurb says The Telegraph had a uniquely close connection with Churchill following every stage of his career, from his early days as a war correspondent for the paper, through his time in the political wilderness, the turbulent war years and his astoundingly energetic life as an elder statesman.  Collected here, for the first time, is the best reportage on this most fascinating of men. Unencumbered by his mythic status, there is praise and blame in equal measure: finding space for both dramatic accounts of his wartime premiership and affectionate reports on the animals living at Chartwell, his country estate.

The Telegraph was also a happy home for Churchill the journalist, and featured within are many pieces written in his unmistakeable prose – he was as comfortable issuing stern jeremiads about the dangers of socialism, or the threat of Hitler’s Germany as he was enthusing about painting.

Restoring much of the urgency and freshness to the life of this extraordinary man, Churchill at the Telegraph is a celebration of an intimate relationship that lasted over sixty years and shows Winston Churchill in all his paradoxical glory.

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Fiction

 

the walnut mansionCourtesy of Yale University Press via NetGalley. I’ve become addicted to the high-quality factual books Yale UP produce, so time to see if their fiction selections work for me too…

The Blurb says This grand novel encompasses nearly all of Yugoslavia’s tumultuous twentieth century, from the decline of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires through two world wars, the rise and fall of communism, the breakup of the nation, and the terror of the shelling of Dubrovnik. Tackling universal themes on a human scale, master storyteller Miljenko Jergovic traces one Yugoslavian family’s tale as history irresistibly casts the fates of five generations.

What is it to live a life whose circumstances are driven by history? Jergovic investigates the experiences of a compelling heroine, Regina Delavale, and her many family members and neighbors. Telling Regina’s story in reverse chronology, the author proceeds from her final days in 2002 to her birth in 1905, encountering along the way such traumas as atrocities committed by Nazi Ustashe Croats and the death of Tito. Lyrically written and unhesitatingly told, The Walnut Mansion may be read as an allegory of the tragedy of Yugoslavia’s tormented twentieth century.

* * * * *

Crime

 

even dogs in the wildHe’s back! He’s back!! Rebus is back!! And the lovely people at lovely Orion have sent me a lovely advance copy! Lovely! *turns cartwheels*

The Blurb says Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke is investigating the death of a senior lawyer during a robbery. But the case becomes more complex when a note is discovered, indicating that this may have been no random attack, and when local gangster Big Ger Cafferty receives an identical message, Clarke decides that the recently retired John Rebus may be able to help. He’s the only man Cafferty will open up to, and together the two old adversaries might just stand a chance of saving Cafferty’s skin.

But a notorious family has arrived in Edinburgh, too, tailed by a team of undercover detectives. There’s something they want, and they’ll stop at nothing to get it. DI Malcolm Fox’s job is to provide the undercover squad with local expertise, but he’s soon drawn in too deep as the two cases look like colliding. And meantime, an anonymous killer stalks the nighttime streets, focussed on revenge. It’s a game of dog eat dog – in the city as in the wild.

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the undesiredCourtesy of Hodder & Stoughton via NetGalley. I like Yrsa Sigurdardottir so much I’ve even learned to spell her name! She writes both crime and horror, and this one sounds like it may be a little bit of a mix of the two…

The Blurb saysThe light spilling in from the corridor would have to do. Though weak, it was sufficient to show Aldís a boy sitting in the gloom at the furthest table. He had his back to her, so she couldn’t see who it was, but could tell that he was one of the youngest. A chill ran down her spine when he spoke again, without turning, as if he had eyes in the back of his head. ‘Go away. Leave me alone.’

‘Come on. You shouldn’t be here.’ Aldís spoke gently, fairly sure now that the boy must be delirious. Confused, rather than dangerous.

He turned, slowly and deliberately, and she glimpsed black eyes in a pale face. ‘I wasn’t talking to you.’

Aldis is working in a juvenile detention centre in rural Iceland. She witnesses something deeply disturbing in the middle of the night; soon afterwards, two of the boys at the centre are dead.

Decades later, single father Odinn is looking into alleged abuse at the centre following the unexplained death of the colleague who was previously running the investigation. The more he finds out, though, the more it seems the odd events of the 1970s are linked to the accident that killed his ex-wife. Was her death something more sinister?

Yrsa Sigurdardottir is a huge European bestseller both with her crime and horror novels. You might want to sleep with the light on after reading THE UNDESIRED . . .” 

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

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

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This will be the last TBR Thursday until December, since in two weeks time the annual FictionFan Awards extravaganza will be taking the Thursday stage for a while. I do hope you’ll join me for the pick of the genres and the naming of the FF Book of the Year. Personally I can’t wait to find out who will win!

 

Five of the Best!

FIVE 5-STAR READS
MAY

SMILEYS

Each month this year, I’ll be looking back over my reviews of the past five years and picking out my favourite from each year. Cleo from Cleopatra Loves Books came up with this brilliant idea and kindly agreed to let me borrow it.

So here are my favourite May reads…click on the covers to go to the full reviews, though it must be said my early reviews were somewhat basic…

 

2011

 

last-man-in-towerUK3002011 was the first year I chose a ‘Book of the Year’ and this was the book. For me, the best fiction must shed some light on the society in which it’s set, provide memorable characters and tell us something about the ‘human condition’. This book does that in spades. Masterji, the last man of the title, has become one of those rare characters who have gained a permanent place in my fictional landscape. As the Vakola area of Bombay begins to come up in the world, the inhabitants of an apartment block are offered money by a developer to move out. One man, Masterji, a retired teacher, wants to stay. This is the story of how the promise of wealth changes and corrupts a community. But it’s also so much more than that. The author takes us into the lives of Masterji and his neighbours, letting us see their thoughts and dreams and fears. With humanity and humour he paints a picture of the friendships, favours and shared histories that bind a community together; and then shows how small envies and old grievances are magnified when that community is divided. A great book.

 

2012

 

bring up the bodiesWhen a book is as good as Wolf Hall, a sequel is sometimes as much to be dreaded as anticipated. Here, though, Mantel succeeds in giving us a second instalment that is worthy of the first. As Anne Boleyn fails to give Henry his much-wanted son, Cromwell finds himself facing a similar situation as his mentor Cardinal Wolsey had – to find a way to rid the King of one Queen and replace her with another. Ever mindful of Wolsey’s fate, Cromwell is determined to succeed where he failed; and to settle a few old scores along the way. In this book, Cromwell is still presented as urbane, intelligent, mannerly and a loving father. But we also get to see more of his dark side – the man who will stop at nothing to achieve his ends. As the Seymours seek to rise to power on the back of Henry’s longing for the quiet Jane, we are given a clear picture of how women were schooled and used as objects of barter. But in the end, the outstanding character in this sequel remains Cromwell who, in Mantel’s confident hands, has become one of those literary characters who will remain in the mind long after the book has been read.

 

2013

 

someone to watch over meWhen a residential unit for disabled people is burned down, all the residents are killed bar one. Jakob has Downs Syndrome and a grievance – he never wanted to be placed in the unit and he doesn’t like it there. It seems to be an open and shut case but, because of his disability, Jakob is sent to a secure psychiatric hospital rather than prison and it looks like he’ll stay there for life. At least, until one of the other inmates asks lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir to try to get the case reopened. I’ve discovered over the last few years that I don’t really get on very well with male Nordic writers, but enjoy some of the female ones a good deal. Haven’t quite analysed why this should be, yet. Sigurdardóttir manages the difficult subject of disability in this book without ever becoming mawkish or sentimental, and there’s a beautifully creepy strand woven through the main plot, which adds an extra layer of tension. One day I’ll read the rest in the series…

 

2014

 

a princess of marsArriving naked on Barsoom (Mars), John Carter finds himself captured by huge six-limbed green Martians, also naked, repulsive to look at and vicious by nature. However, endowed with superior strength and agility by the low gravity on Mars, the brave Carter has soon killed enough of these creatures to win their admiration and to be made a chieftain among them. This comes in handy when he meets his true love, in the guise of a (naked) red Martian, Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium. She has been captured by the green Tharks and is soon to be tortured to death for their amusement. But Carter is entranced by the beauty and spirit of Dejah Thoris and sets out to save her and return her to her own (naked) people, the Heliumites. In truth, the ‘best’ book I read in May 2014 was The Road, but this one has given me so much fun in terms of reading, reviewing and chatting that it has to be the winner. I’ve since read two of the sequels and expect to return to Barsoom again…

 

2015

 

you zoran drvenkarGrim and brutal, darker than black, and written almost entirely in the second-person present tense, so I should have hated it. But it’s brilliantly written, with language and imagery that would easily fit into the ‘literary’ category, and with a depth and range of characterisation that is rare in any kind of fiction. Although there’s no supernatural element to it, it feels strongly like a particularly savage fairy-tale. Fundamentally, it’s about evil. Three strands – a gangster looking for the person who left his brother dead and stole a stash of drugs, a group of teenagers worrying about a missing friend, and a serial spree killer. The viewpoint revolves through thirteen characters with the reader being put inside each of their heads in turn. Drvenkar handles the complexity in a masterly fashion and the second half of the book in particular whirls the reader on towards a climax that is almost operatic in its high drama and totally satisfying inevitability. It’s noir dark shot through with just enough gleams of light to keep it bearable, pacey and tense, grim and disturbing, no punches pulled – and quite stunning.

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If you haven’t already seen Cleo’s selection for May, why not pop on over? Here’s the link…

OxCrimes introduced by Ian Rankin

oxcrimesA high quality collection…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

You only have to look at the cover of this book to see some of the huge names who have contributed stories to this anthology in aid of Oxfam. In total, there are twenty-seven stories, most of them original, and the overall quality is exceptionally high. There are a few that are really quite short, but most of them are pretty substantial and a few of them star the detective for whom the author is famous. As well as straightforward crime/detection, there are examples of both horror and sci-fi with a crime element, and black humour puts in more than one appearance.

In any anthology some stories are going to be stronger, or more to the reader’s taste, than others. There were only a couple of stories that I really didn’t enjoy, for my usual reasons – excessive and gratuitous language/violence etc – but the majority rated at 4 or 5 stars for me. So many of them were good that it’s hard to single any out, but some of the standouts for me were…

Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Black Sky – We know Sigurdardottir can write crime and horror, but in this chilling story she shows that she can also combine those with proper science-based sci-fi. A disturbingly possible scenario built on the idea that humanity has found a way to mine the moon for precious minerals. But what happens when a cry for help is heard coming from an abandoned base…?

Stuart Neville’s Juror 8 spins the story of Twelve Angry Men, showing not just what happens after the trial but also putting a different twist on the events inside the juryroom. Dark and imaginative, and told from the perspective of Emmet McArdle, the old man who was the first to give support to Juror 8.

Anne Zouroudi’s The Honey Trap tells the story of a long-ago child disappearance and how the truth is brought to light. Zouroudi builds great atmosphere in this story and her descriptive writing brings the Greek setting to life.

I could pick any of a dozen more, from a decent Sherlock Holmes pastiche by Neil Gaiman to a blackly funny and yet quite moving story from Mark Billingham in which Santa is murdered. Peter James gives us truly spooky horror in a tale of hags, curses and haunted figurines, while Anthony Horowitz makes us laugh and shudder in a deliciously horrible and blackly humorous story of cosmic justice. We have black widows, overly competitive squash players, migrated souls, stolen paintings…

oxfam logo2

To be honest, you’d need to be pretty much impossible to please if you didn’t enjoy at least some of these stories. Imaginative tales and great writing from top authors – the fact that it’s for a good cause is just an added bonus. Highly recommended.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Tuesday Terror! I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

At last! A book that fully deserves the title of Fretful Porpentine! Light the candles, lock the doors and get ready for…

TUESDAY TERROR!

Tense and terrifying…

i remember youThree people arrive at a deserted village to renovate a house. There is no way back to civilisation except by the boat which will return for them in a week’s time. But it’s not long before odd things are happening…and who is the strange child they keep catching glimpses of? Meantime in the town of Isafjördur, psychiatrist Freyr has been called in to a case of vandalism in the local school, where amidst the destruction one word has been scrawled in crayon on the wall – ‘DIRTY’. As Freyr and the police begin to investigate, it appears that this episode mirrors one from 60 years before…and that terrible things have been happening to the people who were children in that earlier class. And somehow the case seems to be linked to Freyr’s own son who went missing three years ago and has never been found…

I recently read Sigurdardóttir’s Someone to Watch Over Me which, while primarily a traditional crime story, had a sub-plot concerning a possible haunting. Her excellent writing in these sections created a chilling and decidedly creepy atmosphere. So I was very intrigued to see if she could maintain that in a novel that is much more centred around the supernatural. The answer is both yes and no.

Isafjördur Photo by Oddurjons
Isafjördur
Photo by Oddurjons

The first half of this book is the scariest thing I’ve read in a long, long time. Sigurdardóttir’s writing and the excellent translation by Philip Roughton build an atmosphere so tense that I genuinely had to stop reading it at bedtime because I was too freaked to put the light out! I can’t quite explain why – it should all have been very clichéd – deserted house, ghostly children, noises in the night, strange smells and creepy childish chuckling. But somehow Sigurdardóttir’s timing and restraint meant that I was constantly on edge. The Freyr plotline takes a while to build, so in the beginning it provides a break from the haunted house plot, though it’s obvious from early on that they’ll be linked in some way. But somehow even when we’re in the relatively safe surroundings of Isafjördur, we’re still worrying about what’s happening to Katrín and the others in the village.

Photo credit:www.ravingravens.com
Photo credit:www.ravingravens.com

Sigurdardóttir takes time to let us get to know and like the characters, particularly Katrín and Freyr, which means that the reader feels a sense of emotional involvement that adds to the fear. And her descriptions of the isolated landscape and harsh weather conditions are great – no electricity, only torchlight and candles and the knowledge that if they leave the house in the night they might freeze to death…brilliantly atmospheric.

Yrsa Sigurdardóttir
Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

The second half of the book is less effective, unfortunately. There’s quite a lot of repetitiveness about the things that are happening in the house which means that eventually they lose their scare factor; and while the main plot concerning the earlier case of vandalism stands up well, the strand relating to Freyr’s son isn’t nearly as satisfactory. And, for me, the ending is the weakest part of the book.

There is a crime and investigation element to the plot, but this is primarily a ghost story with the supernatural taking centre stage. Despite the scariness falling away a bit towards the end, I enjoyed it thoroughly – especially once I gave up the unequal struggle and started reading in the afternoons rather than at night! I can truly say that there were points where each of my particular hairs stood on end like quills upon the fretful porpentine. Highly recommended if you’re looking for something to keep you awake at night…

IT’S A FRETFUL PORPENTINE!

porpentine

Fretful porpentine rating:     😯 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:              🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 10…

Episode 10

 

Well, while I’ve been sharing the FictionFan Awards with you, the list of TBR contenders has continued to grow. I have collected a massive total of 38 possibles from the interesting and inspiring reviews you have all been producing over the last few weeks. But with a TBR still sitting at 97, and a Santa-related surge expected soon, I am cutting this list ruthlessly down to three. I must admit this was so difficult to do, I’ve pretty much had to just stick a pin in at random.

So here goes, then, for this week’s top trio…

Everyone’s a winner…

 

With grateful thanks to all the reviewers who’ve intrigued and inspired, here are the ones I couldn’t resist:

the dinnerA dark family drama that seems to be loved and hated by readers in equal measure…

Cleopatra says: “I found this book thought-provoking although it wasn’t what you could call an entirely enjoyable read.  In short there were moments when I was genuinely shocked at the revelations on the page in front of me.  I found it disturbing how my sympathy for the various characters changed totally with each piece of information casually revealed.

See the full review at Cleopatra Loves Books

*******

i remember youA chilling ghost story set in an isolated Icelandic village…

Novel Heights says “I can say for certain that Sigurdardottir knows how to crank up the tension! Most chapters end on something of a cliff-hanger and there were some incredibly tense scenes that I really wouldn’t have wanted to read when I was on my own. There is very little graphic horror but much more the fear of what you can’t see – what’s around the corner or behind the door.

See the full review at Novel Heights

*******

witness the nightOne of Margot’s picks of the year – so a must-read! Set in Punjab, a young girl is suspected of a horrific crime…

Margot says “This astounding debut novel tells the story of the murders of thirteen members of the wealthy Atwal family, and the efforts of one social worker to find out what happened on the night they died. It’s an unflinching look at life in Punjab, at the choices people make and why they make them, and at the effects of class, wealth and prejudice.

See Margot’s top picks at her guest post on Pulp Curry

*******

And a few that slipped on to the TBR when I wasn’t looking…

 

silent springA seminal book on environmentalism, recommended to me by BigSister, this has influenced not just many of the environmental writers of today but also government policy over the five decades since it was written.

Despite condemnation in the press and heavy-handed attempts by the chemical industry to ban the book, Rachel Carson succeeded in creating a new public awareness of the environment which led to changes in government and inspired the ecological movement. It is thanks to this book, and the help of many environmentalists, that harmful pesticides such as DDT were banned from use…” Amazon

*******

a kingdom far and clearA beautifully illustrated trilogy of novellas making up one contemporary fantasy. Recommended by blogging buddy Professor VJ Duke, better known for his rips than his tips…

The Prof says: “There is a lingering sadness in each of the stories that is buffered by a thread of hope. A perfect example of a modern “Fairy Tale,” that is as suitable to adults as well as to children, A Kingdom Far and Clear is a haunting read that will stay with you long after you’ve read the last word.

          See the full review at The Punchy Lands!

*******

a naked singularityRecommended by Mike, not a blogger but a fellow Amazon reviewer. Mike’s previous recommendations to me include Gravity’s Engines, winner of this year’s FF Award for Science…but he’s also responsible for forcing me to read War and Peace. In typical Mike style, he has told me nothing about this book other than the title…

Funny, smart and always surprising, A Naked Singularity speaks a language all of its own and reads like nothing else ever written. Casi’s beautiful mind and planetary intelligence make him an inimitable and unforgettable narrator.” Amazon

*******

An intriguingly eclectic mix this week, as I’m sure you’ll agree. Now all I have to do is find time to read them…

Someone to Watch Over Me by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

Guilty until proven innocent…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

someone to watch over meWhen a residential unit for disabled people is burned down, all the residents are killed bar one. Jakob has Downs Syndrome and a grievance – he never wanted to be placed in the unit and he doesn’t like it there. It seems to be an open and shut case but, because of his disability, Jakob is sent to a secure psychiatric hospital rather than prison and it looks like he’ll stay there for life. At least, until one of the other inmates asks lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir to try to get the case reopened…

This is a very well written entry into the field of Nordic crime – Iceland, on this occasion – and the translation by Philip Roughton is first-rate. Apparently this is the fifth in the series, but it’s the first I’ve read. The characterisation throughout the novel is particularly strong and Thóra herself is a likeable lead, strong and capable but with a soft centre. As well as dealing with the case, she’s having to juggle home life as her parents move in on a temporary basis to a house already filled with Thóra’s children, grandchild and partner, Matthew.

Yrsa Sigurdardóttir
Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

In the course of her investigation, Thóra has to deal with people with a variety of severe disabilities. Sigurdardóttir handles this well, managing to convey the difficulties they face without becoming overly mawkish or sentimental. Thóra’s dealings with the relatives of the victims show her sensitivity, particularly when dealing with Jakob’s mother. And her aversion to Jósteinn, the psychopathic child abuser who has hired her, grows steadily as she wonders what his motivation is for wanting to help Jakob. A sub-plot concerning a possible haunting is cut in to short sections between chapters and Sigurdardóttir’s excellent writing makes this part of the story chillingly atmospheric and decidedly creepy. There’s also a real sense of place in the novel, as the culture, weather and recent economic woes of Iceland all play their part.

Overall, a very satisfying read that, together with Läckberg’s The Stranger, has reawakened my enthusiasm for Nordic crime. Highly recommended, and I look forward to backtracking through the rest of the series.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link