Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Harriet Said – Beryl Bainbridge

Classic 5*s
Classic Fiction
5*s

Set in Formby soon after the end of the Second World War, Harriet Said is one of the darkest and most disturbing fictional books I have ever read, and those of you who read my reviews will note that I tend towards the dark side! There is something very frightening about young girls, and Harriet and her nameless friend our narrator, are just thirteen and fourteen years old at a time when we imagine that generation to be cloaked in innocence.

At the beginning of the summer holidays our narrator, having returned from boarding school is awaiting her older friend’s return from her holiday in Wales, but when Harriet returns she fears their bond is not as strong as their previous time together, one where they flirted with the Italian prisoners of war close to Formby beach and then Harriet dictated their escapades to be written in their shared diary. Harriet is painted as the more attractive, confident and daring of the two girls and as the title alludes to, the one who dreams up all their schemes for amusement. Harriet’s father is fierce, his wife subservient and Harriet herself is pretty much left to her own devices. Both girls go out in the evening most often to the beach where our narrator converses with Mr Biggs, who the girls have nicknamed ‘The Tsar’.

The contrast between their assumed innocence and the knowing way they engage the middle-aged Mr Biggs attention, baiting him, spying on him and his wife all the while determined that this summer they will top all their previous adventures. We know that this pair have transgressed in the past, this is the very reason why the younger of the two was sent to boarding school. But, this book isn’t all about what their plans are for Mr Biggs, it is about the almost obsessional relationship between the girls who seem to crave each other’s attention whilst vying for supremacy, for while Harriet is said to be the leader, the turn this book takes makes that seem far from certain.

If you are looking for a book with likeable characters you can relate to, don’t choose this book where just about everyone has a deep character flaw or at best odd. This is despite the fact that it is Harriet who shows this side the most, in the way she sweetly behaves in front of her elders, charms even those in the village who distrust her and patronises her mother without her even realising it. This is a girl who will turn up at her friend’s house and converse with her mother, a woman who surely is aware that this girl has been the cause of trouble in the past, even if it isn’t of the magnitude of the here and now! And no, I haven’t broken my only rule of reviewing, this is not a spoiler as we know from the beginning that something happens which the girls are covering up, what and why is not revealed until the end of this slim book, I thought I knew but, as usual I was a little off the beaten track!

I was finally prompted to buy my copy of this book after reading Ali’s wonderful review on her blog; Heavenali, and have since found out that Beryl Bainbridge wrote this book after being inspired by newspaper stories of a murder committed in Christchurch New Zealand in 1954 by two teenaged girls. This was the author’s first book, rejected because of its content and not published until 1972 when she was already the darling of the literary world. I am now looking forward to reading more by this author. For those of you wondering how such a dark book can have such a beautiful cover, there is a scene at a fairground which neatly highlights how young these two girls actually are, yet youth doesn’t always infer innocence.

If anyone can recommend me another book by this author, I’d really appreciate it.

Posted in Books I have read

A Place For Us – Harriet Evans

Contemporary Fiction 4*'s
Contemporary Fiction
4*’s

Winterfold is a beautiful old and rambling house, home to David and Martha Winter. In celebration of her eightieth birthday Martha sends out an invitation calling on her children to a party followed by a family lunch where she is set to reveal a secret.

This is a good old fashioned family saga, complete with eccentric characters and even a dog and enough secrets to keep the pages turning. David is a famous illustrator whose biggest ambition was to show the world the reality of London during the war, with the exposed houses and the broken men and women who lived in them, instead he has been producing cartoons about Wilbur (the dog) ever since his eldest daughter, Daisy was six.

Martha had been forced to leave her artistic ambitions behind as a young woman with three children, Daisy, Florence and Bill, to make Winterfold a home full of laughter and happiness, in sharp contrast to the couple’s early life.

As in all good family sagas over the years disagreements and conflicting priorities have meant that the family has fractured. Daisy has rarely been seen having left her daughter Cat to be bought up by David and Martha, Florence is an academic with a somewhat lonely life, leaving only Bill a doctor close by.

The story flowed along, with multiple viewpoints and time periods adding layers of detail and background to the secret that Martha feels she can no longer keep. With a splash of romance, more than a few misunderstandings and some darker moments there was plenty to keep me entertained. This book was originally published in four parts and whereas by the end of the first part I definitely wanted to keep reading, I’m not sure whether I’d have been as motivated to continue after part two. Maybe I prefer my books as one but I got the feeling that there was an artificial cliff-hanger inserted at this point which didn’t feel quite natural. Unusually with a book of this style although I was most interested in David’s backstory, I didn’t feel particularly drawn to any of the other characters, although I left still wanting to understand Daisy more. Bill and Florence had their quirks and the younger generation had strong story-lines but Cat’s in particular didn’t really stand up to close inspection. That said I didn’t ever feel the story dragged, the pace was good (except for the forced ends to each of the parts) and there was plenty to ponder over as I put the book down to go to sleep.

I’m not sure this really bears comparison to Maeve Binchy’s books, hers do tend to be more heart-warming whereas this was a little grittier which is not necessarily a bad thing! I’d be more than a little tempted to pick up whatever Harriet Evans produces next but preferably if it was designed as one book and not four.

I’d like to thank the publishers Headline for allowing me to read this book in return for this honest review. This book was published in one volume in January 2015.

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read

Winter Garden – Beryl Bainbridge #20booksofsummer

Classic Fiction
2*s

So far I have really appreciated the dark humour Beryl Bainbridge winds through the previous novels I’ve read; An Awfully Big Adventure, Sweet William and Harriet Said, but sadly any such flashes of brilliance in Winter Garden were overshadowed by either a weak plot or one that I simply didn’t ‘get’.

Douglas Ashburner is a lawyer, married or many years with two adult children when he is persuaded by Nina, who he is conducting a clandestine affair with, to join her on a trip to Moscow with the Soviet’s Artist Union. Douglas duly tells his wife he is off to the Highlands fishing, and arrives at Heathrow to meet his fellow travellers at the airport complete with his fishing rod.

The other members of the party are Bernard a minor celebrity in the world of art, and Enid a less well-known artist. Having to indulge in a certain amount of subterfuge regarding their true relationship Douglas finds himself sat apart from Nina during the flight, the book being set in the 1980s air travel was not the regimented affair it is today. Nina had asked Douglas to put her medication in her suitcase which doesn’t arrive in Moscow with the rest of the party. The failure to track down his case causes Douglas more than a bit of worry as he is going to have a devil of a job explaining why it got lost at an airport when it should be with him in Scotland.

If I’m honest after we reach this part of the book, I struggled to make much sense of anything further. Nina mysteriously disappears from the entourage with various excuses and explanations being given for where she is, mainly led by Olga, their translator for the trip. The weird occurrences keep happening with a particularly odd nocturnal encounter on a train trip to Leningrad, none of which are furnished with any real resolution that makes proper sense although I think I know what we are supposed to believe, the problem is I’m not sure!

What I did find interesting is the descriptions of Soviet Russia which come complete with the biting cold weather, not good news for Douglas as he misplaced his hat along the way although he does carry a pink scarf of Nina’s to keep the cold out of his ears. These descriptions of various engagements, viewing of graveyards and paintings include Beryl Bainbridge’s legendary wit, I was particularly fond of the visit to Stalin’s birthplace and the Russian characters we met. I’m really not so sure about Douglas who seemed incredibly naïve, and not just about his affair, particularly considering he’s supposed to be a lawyer. As Nina was off page she was fairly insubstantial although this aspect was nicely balanced by Enid who had some real depth. The trouble is interesting people only take you so far when these are pretty much disconnected from a plot.

Winter Garden was my second read of my 20 Books of Summer  Challenge 2017.

Posted in Weekly Posts

This Week in Books (June 7)

This Week In Books
Hosted by Lipsy Lost & Found my Wednesday post gives you a taste of what I am reading this week. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words

The last couple of weeks have been madly busy so as I have only just finished last week’s books I’m tweaking the format to show you my next three reads.

Up first is Winter Garden by Beryl Bainbridge, an author I only discovered relatively recently with her dark novel Harriet Said.

Blurb

Quiet and reliable, Douglas Ashburner has never been much of a womaniser. So when he begins an extra-marital affair with Nina, a bossy, temperamental artist with a penchant for risky sex, he finds adultery a terrible strain.
He tells his wife that he needs a rest, so she happily packs him off for a fishing holiday in the Highlands. Only, unknown to her, Douglas is actually flying off to Moscow with Nina, as a guest of the Soviet Artists’ Union. It is then that things begin to get very complicated indeed… Amazon

Next up is Blood Sisters by Jane Corry which will be published 29 June 2017 with an intriguing premise. Blood Sisters will be published on 29 June 2017.

Two women. Two versions of the truth.
Kitty lives in a care home. She can’t speak properly, and she has no memory of the accident that put her here. At least that’s the story she’s sticking to.
Art teacher Alison looks fine on the surface. But the surface is a lie. When a job in a prison comes up she decides to take it – this is her chance to finally make things right.
But someone is watching Kitty and Alison.
Someone who wants revenge for what happened that sunny morning in May.
And only another life will do…

And then hopefully my plane trip for my holiday will be accompanied by the latest Nicci French, Saturday Requiem.

Blurb

Thirteen years ago eighteen year old Hannah Docherty was arrested for the brutal murder of her family. It was an open and shut case and Hannah’s been incarcerated in a secure hospital ever since.

When psychotherapist Frieda Klein is asked to meet Hannah and give her assessment of her she reluctantly agrees. What she finds horrifies her. Hannah has become a tragic figure, old before her time. And Frieda is haunted by the thought that Hannah might be as much of a victim as her family; that something wasn’t right all those years ago.
And as Hannah’s case takes hold of her, Frieda soon begins to realise that she’s up against someone who’ll go to any lengths to protect themselves . . . Amazon

What do you think? Have you read any of these books? Do you want to?

What are you reading this week? Do share in the comments box below.

Posted in Weekly Posts

Weekly Wrap Up (April 23)

Weekly Wrap Up

Well it has been definitely feeling more spring like here in Jersey and I’m delighted to say that having read some really fantastic books over the last few weeks I’m also feeling rejuvenated.

This Week On The Blog

The week started well with a five star review for Dead Woman Walking by the exceptional writer that is Sharon Bolton, although the review was one of the hardest I’ve ever written, with so much that I wanted to say falling under the category of ‘spoiler’ this was pretty much a gush fest.

My excerpt post this week came from Want You Gone by Chris Brookmyre a tale of blackmail in cyber land.

This Week in Books featured the authors Felicity Young, Netta Newbound and Sarah Schmidt, the first two keeping me on track with my Mount TBR 2017 challenge.

On Thursday I posted my review of The Killer on the Wall by Emma Kavanagh, a psychopath, a psychologist and a small town alongside Hadrian’s Wall made for a perplexing thriller.

Next came my review of Emma Flint’s Little Deaths which was an outstanding read inspired by the true events of the murder of Alice Crimmins in 1965. I have to say I’m really taken with the recent superb output in this sub-genre of crime fiction – why hasn’t it been given a snappy name? Or perhaps it has but I’m oblivious?

Yesterday I posted my review of Simon Said by Sarah R Shaber, the first in the Simon Shaw series about a forensic historian.

This Time Last Year…

I was reading Harriet Said by Beryl Bainbridge which sparked my interest in, wait for it, the true crime which inspired this book. I finally read the book about the young girls who carried out the murder this year in Anne Perry and The Murder of the Century by Peter Graham. Harriet also led to me reading more work by this talented author and I have another waiting on the TBR – I do love it when a single book sends you on a journey of discovery.
Harriet Said is set in Formby soon after the end of World War II and scarily creates the intense friendship between Harriet and the nameless friend who narrates out tale. With precocious behaviour coupled with pretence of innocence this was a truly disturbing read.

You can read my full review here or click on the book cover.

Blurb

A girl returns from boarding school to her sleepy Merseyside hometown and waits to be reunited with her childhood friend, Harriet, chief architect of all their past mischief. She roams listlessly along the shoreline and the woods still pitted with wartime trenches, and encounters ‘the Tsar’ – almost old, unhappily married, both dangerously fascinating and repulsive.
Pretty, malevolent Harriet finally arrives – and over the course of the long holidays draws her friend into a scheme to beguile then humiliate the Tsar, with disastrous, shocking consequences. A gripping portrayal of adolescent transgression, Beryl Bainbridge’s classic first novel remains as subversive today as when it was written. Amazon

Stacking the Shelves

Just one purchase this year because I visited one of the most tempting blogs I follow; Confessions of a Mystery Novelist which is crammed full of knowledge on crime fiction from past to present. This week Margot’s spotlight post was on  A Jarful of Angels by Babs Horton.

Blurb

The remote town in the Welsh valleys was a wonderful, magical- but sometimes dangerous place in which to grow up. It was there that Iffy, Bessie, Fatty and Billy experienced a plague of frogs one summer,stumbled upon a garden full of dancing statues, found a skull with its front teeth missing- and discovered just what it was that mad Carty Annie was collecting so secretly in those jars of hers. But at the end of that long, hot summer of 1963,one of the four children disappeared.

Over thirty years later, retired detective Will Sloane, never able to forget the unsolved case, returns to Wales to resume his search for the truth. His investigation will draw him into a number of interlocking mysteries,each one more puzzling than the last. Amazon

Already on the TBR shelf for publication in June is Greatest Hits by Laura Barnett who wrote The Versions of Us which thrilled me last year.



Blurb

Alone in her studio, Cass Wheeler is taking a journey back into her past. After a silence of ten years, the singer-songwriter is picking the sixteen tracks that have defined her – sixteen key moments in her life – for a uniquely personal Greatest Hits album.
In the course of this one day, both ordinary and extraordinary, the story of Cass’s life emerges – a story of highs and lows, of music, friendship and ambition, of great love and great loss. But what prompted her to retreat all those years ago, and is there a way for her to make peace with her past?

Daughter. Mother. Singer. Lover. What are the memories that mean the most? NetGalley

In July Bonnier Zaffre is publishing the debut novel Shelter by Sarah Franklin, the second book of the year that is set in The Forest of Dean where I grew up. This one, unlike The Doll Funeral is set long before I lived there though.

Blurb

It’s 1944 and Connie is a trainee ‘lumberjill.’ She’s been transferred from blitzed Coventry to the Forest of Dean to learn the lumberjack trade as one of the women forming the backbone of Britain’s war effort. She’s nursing a huge secret and running from her tragic past, and will soon have to make a life-changing decision…
Women like Connie are finding opportunity and liberty like never before, but in this explosive moment of history everything is changing for women … and nothing is changing. Then, as now, is the price Connie must pay for her freedom too great?

This is a novel about imprisonment and escape, about what makes a family, about solace in nature as civilisation is ripping itself apart, about renewal after devastation, about searching for safety, about love and about what personal liberty means for a woman. NetGalley

What have you found to read this week? Do share, I’m always on the lookout for a good book!

tbr-watch

Since my last post I’ve read 4 books and gained just 1!! Yes just one book has made it across the threshold this week, and so the grand total is hurtling downwards to 187, a low previously seen in early March
Physical Books – 112
Kindle Books – 58
NetGalley Books – 17

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century – Peter Graham

Non-Fiction
4*s

New Zealand on a fine wintery day in June 1954 a woman, her daughter and her daughter’s best friend took a walk in nearby Victoria Park. The little group stopped at a tea kiosk for refreshments and then walked further into the park. The next thing Agnes Richie, owner of the tea kiosk knew was that the two girls turned up screaming that Pauline’s mother Mrs Rieper had fallen, and there was lots of blood. There was no fall, Mrs Rieper had been bludgeoned to death by the two fifteen year old girls.

Peter Graham takes a forensic look at the circumstances that led up to the killing of Mrs Rieper, soon to be known as Honorah Parker, in the newspapers, because if the indignity of being the victim of matricide wasn’t enough, Bill, Pauline’s father had to disclose that the couple had never married despite having had four children together. The natural place to start is the friendship between the wealthy Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker, especially as the rumours were that the two girls were in a lesbian relationship and the author takes us through a comprehensive look at the facts, mainly supplied by Pauline’s diary but supplemented by the stories the two girls wrote and a few comments from contemporaries. He doesn’t leave it there the circumstances of both families are examined with microscopic detail to look for clues on where the seeds were sown for such an unnatural crime. Indeed rates of matricide, a fairly rare crime in itself, but when split by gender exceptionally so. Indeed those who commit this particular crime tend to be adult women living with elderly mothers, not teenage girls.

The book is fascinating, it starts with the scene of the crime and then looks backwards into the family details before moving onto the questioning of the girls and their eventual trial. If anything a lot of the details about Henry’s work as a scientist seemed a little superfluous but if nothing else it gave context, and indeed contrast, between the lives the two girls lived. The author tries, and in my opinion fails, to come up with an underlying mental illness for either girl, but as in the examination of their family set-ups, he doesn’t ever impose his views, rather gives the facts and lets the reader come to their own conclusion.

The big difference in this account is that we know what happens after the trial, after the two girls were released mainly because one of them became a famous author, of crime fiction. Her identity was discovered when in 1994 Peter Jackson directed the film Heavenly Creatures about this crime, then thirty years after the event. Anne Perry was alive and well, living in Scotland having succeeded in becoming a successful author. It is hard to put out of your mind the stories to the two friends wrote together, heavily inspired by the films they watched and their fertile imaginations. Pauline Parker was also tracked down by keen journalists, she also no longer lived in New Zealand but had settled in England under a new name.

This was a fascinating read although it is often the truth that as much as we want to, we learn little from murderers through true crime. The two girls in this instance, hatched a plan without any idea of what killing someone really entailed and as a result were quickly caught. Their plans to go to America and meet the film stars and become writers, didn’t come true… but for one of them it almost did.

I chose to read this book when I learned that Harriet Said by Beryl Bainbridge was inspired by this crime which was front page news around the world at the time. I thought that I would follow up with a book by Anne Perry herself, but to be honest I don’t have the stomach for that at the moment, but I have bought a copy of Heavenly Creatures to watch.

First Published UK: 2013
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
No of Pages: 325
Genre: Non Fiction – True Crime 
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Weekly Posts

Weekly Wrap Up (January 29)

Weekly Wrap Up

This Week on the Blog

On Monday I awarded five stars in my review for the psychological thriller Her Husband’s Lover by Julia Crouch, a masterpiece of plotting and misdirection. Her Husband’s Lover starts with a car crash and the death of Louisa Williams’ husband and children.

My excerpt post on Tuesday was from a standalone book Rush of Blood by Mark Billingham which sounds like it will be a very interesting read.

This Week in Books had me spotlight my upcoming read, a book that I’ve owned since September 2015; The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. This book is widely perceived to be one of the important pieces of feminist literature, first published in 1892.

On Thursday I hosted an Author Post by Caimh McDonnell as part of the blog tour for The Day That Never Comes, where Caimh talks about the inspiration for the book.

My review on Friday was for the much hyped Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough complete with the hashtag WTFthatending. I was thoroughly entertained and gripped by this psychological novel.

Yesterday my final review of the week was for The Day That Never Comes by Caimh McDonnell, a mixture of crime and humour.

This Time Last Year…

I was reading The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths, the eighth book in the Ruth Galloway series. In this novel the theme of Madonna runs strongly through the investigation into the death of a hospital patient found wearing a blue nightgown.

You can read my full review here or click on the book cover

The Woman in Blue

Blurb

A vision of the Virgin Mary foreshadows a string of cold-blooded murders, revealing a dark current of religious fanaticism in an old medieval town.

Known as England’s Nazareth, the medieval town of Little Walsingham is famous for religious apparitions. So when Ruth Galloway’s druid friend Cathbad sees a woman in a white dress and a dark blue cloak standing alone in the local cemetery one night, he takes her as a vision of the Virgin Mary. But then a woman wrapped in blue cloth is found dead the next day, and Ruth’s old friend Hilary, an Anglican priest, receives a series of hateful, threatening letters. Could these crimes be connected? When one of Hilary’s fellow female priests is murdered just before Little Walsingham’s annual Good Friday Passion Play, Ruth, Cathbad, and DCI Harry Nelson must team up to find the killer before he strikes again. Amazon

Stacking The Shelves

Let’s just say that I’ve been keeping our good old postie busy this week delivering books!

First to arrive was The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff which will be published with a huge number of other books on my pile on 23 February 2017.

the-orphans-tale

Blurb

In Nazi-occupied Holland, seventeen-year-old Noa snatches a baby from a train bound for the concentration camps, fleeing with him into the snowy wilderness surrounding the train tracks.
Passing through the woods is a German circus – a troupe of waifs and strays, led by the infamous Herr Neuroff. They agree to take in Noa and the baby, on one condition: to earn her keep, Noa must master the flying trapeze – under the tutorage of mysterious aerialist, Astrid.
Soaring high above the crowds, Noa and Astrid must learn to trust one another…or plummet. But with the threat of war closing in, loyalty can become the most dangerous trait of all. Amazon

And then another wartime novel When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea which will be published in paperback on 2 March 2017. I couldn’t resist this one because after bemoaning the fact that there are no books set in Jersey where I live, here’s another one.

when-the-sky-fell-apart

Blurb

Jersey, June 1940: it starts with the burning man on the beach just after the bombs land, obliterating the last shred of hope that Hitler will avert his attention from the Channel Islands. Within weeks, 12,000 German troops land on the Jersey beaches, heralding a new era of occupation.

For 10-year-old Claudine, it means a re-education under German rule, and as she befriends one of the soldiers, she inadvertently opens the gateway to a more sinister influence in her home with devastating consequences.

For Maurice, a local fisherman, it means protecting his wife at all costs. He has heard the whispers from France of what the occupiers do to invalids like Marthe and he is determined to keep them away from her – even if it means endangering his own life.

Edith, the island’s unofficial homeopath, is a Jerriais through to her bones. She sees her duty as caring for those who need her in their darkest time, but even she can’t save everyone, no matter how hard she tries.

And as for English doctor Tim Carter – on the arrival of the brutal Commandant, he becomes the subject of a terrifying regime that causes the Jersey locals to brand him a traitor, unaware of the torment he suffers in an effort to save them. Amazon

From the remainder of my Christmas voucher I bought a copy of In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, another book I feel as an avid crime reader, I really should have read before now!

in-cold-blood
Blurb

The chilling true crime ‘non-fiction novel’ that made Truman Capote’s name, In Cold Blood is a seminal work of modern prose, a remarkable synthesis of journalistic skill and powerfully evocative narrative published in Penguin Modern Classics.
Controversial and compelling, In Cold Blood reconstructs the murder in 1959 of a Kansas farmer, his wife and both their children. Truman Capote’s comprehensive study of the killings and subsequent investigation explores the circumstances surrounding this terrible crime and the effect it had on those involved. At the centre of his study are the amoral young killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock, who, vividly drawn by Capote, are shown to be reprehensible yet entirely and frighteningly human. Amazon

And the final pennies were spent on Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham. A book that I first came across on Fiction Fan’s Book Reviews in April 2014 – and it’s been on the wishlist ever since but since I read Harriet Said by Beryl Bainbridge which was inspired by this crime, I thought it time that I read this one too.

anne-perry-and-the-murder-of-the-century

Blurb

On June 22, 1954, teenage friends Juliet Hulme better known as bestselling mystery writer Anne Perry and Pauline Parker went for a walk in a New Zealand park with Pauline s mother, Honora. Half an hour later, the girls returned alone, claiming that Pauline s mother had had an accident. But when Honora Parker was found in a pool of blood with the brick used to bludgeon her to death close at hand, Juliet and Pauline were quickly arrested, and later confessed to the killing. Their motive? A plan to escape to the United States to become writers, and Honora s determination to keep them apart. Their incredible story made shocking headlines around the world and would provide the subject for Peter Jackson s Academy Award nominated film, Heavenly Creatures.
A sensational trial followed, with speculations about the nature of the girls relationship and possible insanity playing a key role. Among other things, Parker and Hulme were suspected of lesbianism, which was widely considered to be a mental illness at the time. This mesmerizing book offers a brilliant account of the crime and ensuing trial and shares dramatic revelations about the fates of the young women after their release from prison. With penetrating insight, this thorough analysis applies modern psychology to analyze the shocking murder that remains one of the most interesting cases of all time. Amazon

In addition to those lovelies I was approved on NetGalley for See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

see-what-i-have-done

Blurb

Lizzie Borden took an ax
And gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

Or did she?

In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.

As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling. NetGalley

 

Have you read any of these? Do you want to?

 

tbr-watch

Since my last post I’ve read a total of 4 books but gained 5 new ones making the grand total of 190
Physical Books – 111
Kindle Books – 67
NetGalley Books – 12

Posted in Reviewing Habit

Reading and Reviewing in 2016

g reading-2016

 

Well here we are nearly at the end of 2016 and as usual I will soon be posting my top 10 books published this year – but here is a chance for those books not published this year to have their moment in the spotlight as well as indulging me in my love of facts and figures.

So far I have read, and reviewed 148 books in 2016 which add up to a total of 47,624 pages which tells me 2016 has been spent reading even more books than normal! On the whole 2016 if nothing else, has been a fantastic year of books for me.

 

 

Goodreads tells me that the longest book I read was Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain with 562 pages, whilst I am only one person out of five on the site to have read a book set here in Jersey,  Standing in the Shadows by Jon Stasiak.

 

101,541 other Goodreads readers have also read Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight with me, making this my most popular read in 2016Psychological Thriller 4*s

Did She Kill HimAs usual my reading matter is crime heavy with 87 books equating to 59% falling squarely into the crime fiction or psychological thriller categories, but of course they can crime also features in my historical fiction section as well as popping up in the non-fiction category. This year I have had the pleasure of reading many true crime books featuring Victorian poisoners including the fabulous Did She Kill Him? by Kate Colquhoun

 

Pictures of perfection.jxrOne of my goals for 2016 was to read more of my own books to get a balance with all the wonderful books I receive for review. In 2015 I only read 34 of my own books, this year I have read an impressive 49 or 33%! I read 20 of these (some very belatedly, as in earlier this month,) for Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer which provided some exceptional reading in the form of Pictures of Perfection  by Reginald Hill

 

In 2016 I read 65 authors who were new to me, down from 71 in 2016 and of course once again, I have met some fantastic Buriel Ritesauthors who I hope will be revisited in 2017, including Burial Rites by Hannah Kent which I finally got around to reading early this year – I was blown away and it is one of my favourite reads of the year so I’m looking forward to The Good People which will be published early next year, aka very soon!

 

I also discovered #49786eBeryl Bainbridge via her book featuring two teenaged girls, in Harriet Said, enjoying a Harriet Saidtotal of three of her books this year alone.

So there’s a small taste of what I’ve been reading. In 2017 I plan to finally hit my target of 40% of my reading to be from my own selection of books with the help of the Mount TBR Challenge on Goodreads and of course Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer Challenge which she’s confirmed she will be running again this year. Funnily enough I have plenty of books to chose from, especially with the Christmas additions.

 

As for you all, the Top Five Reviews of 2016 by viewer are as follows:

  1. My Husband’s Son by Deborah O’Connor
  2. The Swimming Pool by Louise Candlish
  3. Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard
  4. Kindred by Steve Robinson
  5. The Trespasser by Tana French

top-five-reviews

Coming very soon are my chosen top ten reads published in 2016– you can see all 148 books read and reviewed so far here or for a more compact view check out those books I chose for 2016 book bingo!

I’d like to thank all those authors and publishers who’ve given me a fantastic selection of books, the readers and commenters on this little blog and those who connect with my reviews via twitter, you have all made my world brighter in 2016.
Happy reading everyone and here’s to a Happy New Year full of more fabulous books!

Posted in Uncategorized

Reading Bingo 2016

reading-bingo-small

This is one of my favourite posts of the year so there was no question of me repeating this following my relative success in filling in the squares in both 2014 and 2015

I purposely don’t treat this like a challenge by finding books to fit the squares throughout the year, oh no! I prefer to see which of my (mostly) favourite books will fit from the set I’ve read.  As you can imagine this becomes a bit like one of those moving puzzles where one book is suitable for a number of squares… and then I’m left with empty squares which I have to trawl through the 136 books I’ve read and reviewed to see if any book at all will fit! This keeps me amused for many, many hours so I do hope you all enjoy the result.

Click on the book covers to read my reviews

A Book With More Than 500 Pages

Small Great Things

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult clocks in at 512 pages covering the injustice of a Ruth Jefferson, the only African-American nurse on duty when a baby gets into difficulty. With the parents white supremacists who want to blame someone Ruth is charged with murder. Not a comfortable read and I applaud the author for wanting to address racism and using an absorbing tale to do so.

A Forgotten Classic

Harriet Said

I came late to Beryl Bainbridge so I’m going to count this as a modern classic. I’ve read three of this author’s books so far, my favourite being Harriet Said. The story is based upon a murder case involving two teenaged girls in New Zealand, a case that was also the inspiration for the film Heavenly Creatures. The author creates two young teenage girls using them to reveal the push and pull of their relationship which is ultimately their undoing.

A Book That Became a Movie

Testament of Youth

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain has lots to recommend it although I admit some of the politics towards the end, went over my head, but the tale of a young woman nursing through World War I, having put her hard one academic ambitions on hold, was incredibly poignant. With the inevitable loss of friends and family her grief for herself and her generation is palpable The film was released in 2014 to great acclaim.

A Book Published This Year

The Ballroom

As a book reviewer I have read lots of books published this year but decided to feature one from my historical fiction selection. The Ballroom by Anna Hope tells the tale of life in an asylum in West Riding, the year being 1911. With a mixture of men and women housed in the asylum the author not only writes us a great story, but has accurately researched what life was like from the perspective of inmates and attendants.

A Book With A Number In The Title

The One in a Million Boy

I give you not one but two numbers in this title: The One in a Million Boy by Monica Wood is a book I denoted  ‘quirky’ but I’m so glad I read it. The story concerns the relationship between Ona Vitkus, a Lithuanian immigrant who has lived in the US since she was just four, and a boy Scout with a passion for the Guinness World Records. Touching without ever being overly sentimental this is one that will linger in my mind for quite some time.

A Book Written by Someone Under Thirty

Fiver Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain

Five Rivers Met On A Wooded Plain was written by Barney Norris who was born in 1987. This book not only touches on the history of Salisbury but weaves stories of five fictional characters in a literary, but oh so readable way. An accomplished novel that doesn’t let an obvious love of language interfere with a great story.

A Book With Non Human Characters

Little Stranger

Well I’m giving you double for your money with this book, not only is there a ghost in The Little Stanger by the fabulous Sarah Waters, there is also a Labrador that plays a key role in the subsequent downfall of the Ayres family. This spooky story is narrated by a country doctor in 1940’s Warwickshire and has plenty of other themes to enjoy even if you, like me, are not a fan of ghostly goings-on.

A Funny Book

A Man With One of those Faces

A Man With One Of Those Faces is a crime fiction novel written by stand-up comedian Caimh McDonnell. I know crime mixed with humour doesn’t sound as if it should work, but it does! A Man With One of Those Faces is full of observational humour with some truly entertaining characters without sacrificing a great plot with a whole heap of action to keep you on the edge of your seat.

A Book By A Female Author

My Husband's Wife

So many great books by so many fab women – in the end I chose My Husband’s Wife by Jane Corry which falls into one of my favourite genres, psychological thrillers of the domestic variety. This tale mixes past and present with a whole heap of flawed characters and is told by two separate narrators Lily and Carla and they reveal more and more about themselves, and those around them. An extremely tense read which was utterly satisfying.

A Book With A Mystery

Pictures of perfection.jxr

What better mystery can there be than that of a missing policeman on Dalziel’s patch? Pictures of Perfection is the fourteenth in the Dalziel & Pascoe series written by the outstandingly talented Reginald Hill and this book was an absolute delight to read. With a horrific opening scene, the book then switches to the more genteel setting of a country fair in 1980s rural Yorkshire. Fear not though this isn’t window dressing, the plot is superb with a proper mystery to be solved.

A Book With A One Word Title

Viral

Like last year I have read six books that have a single word as their title but I have chosen Viral by Helen Fitzgerald because of the very contemporary storyline. Viral examines what happens when a sex act carried out in Magaluf ends up online for all Su Oliphant-Brotheridge’s friends and family to see but despite that taster, this story didn’t go in the direction I expected it to.

 A Book of Short Stories

manipulated-lives

Manipulated Lives by H.A. Leuschel is a collection of five novellas all looking at manipulators and the effect on the lives of those they choose to manipulate. The author picked five different characters and settings to explore this theme and I have to admit, not being a huge fan of short stories, the common thread was far more appealing to me than some other collections.

 Free Square

Lying in wait

For my free square this year I have decided to go with the book with the best opening sentence; Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent:
My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.’
With the rest of this book more than living up to the first line there was so much to love not only does the author keep the tension stretched as taut as could be, despite that opening revelation we have a wonderful Irish setting as background.

A Book Set On A Different Continent

The Woman on the Orient Express

The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford is a novel that ends up in Baghdad recreating a trip to an archaeology dig that Agatha Christie made following the divorce from her first husband. This wasn’t so much of a mystery rather a historical novel using Agatha Christie herself as the centre of the story of three woman all making this trip for very different reasons. An unusual and rewarding read with an exotic setting along with a fantastic mode of transport.

A Book of Non-Fiction

Did She Kill Him

I have read some brilliant non-fiction books, mostly about murders, and a fair proportion about poisoners, my interest (or obsession) of the year, so I am going with Did She Kill Him? by Kate Colquhoun. Florence Maybrick is the subject of this book, a middle-class woman living in Liverpool in 1889 when she stood trial for the murder, by arsenic, of her husband. While the majority of the book is relatively sympathetic to Florence, the author cleverly takes apart the arguments in the last section leaving the reader to make up their own mind if she was guilty or not.

The First Book By A Favourite Author

In Bitter Chill

I enjoyed In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward so much earlier in the year that I had to buy the second in the series, A Deadly Thaw. The setting in Bampton Derbyshire was stunning which made the awful tale of the disappearance of two girls back in 1978 all the more shocking, especially as only one of those girls returned home. Rachel Jones went  home but now an adult a suicide prompts her to find out what really happened all those years ago.

A Book I Heard About Online

The Versions of Us

Since blogging I find most of my new author finds on-line and to be honest, it is fairly easy to persuade me I must read crime fiction or psychological thrillers, I’m more resistant to other genres. But all the rave reviews about The Versions of Us by Laura Bennett, a sliding-doors novel had me intrigued – and what a great find this was. The incident that kicks off the three different lives in The Versions of Us is a student falling off her bike whilst studying at Cambridge University in October 1958 and the three tales that follow are all equally brilliant. This was an absorbing read especially taking into consideration the complicated structure.

A Best Selling Book

Love You Dead

Peter James’ Roy Grace series consistently makes the best seller list, and also happens to be my favourite police procedural series so it is only right and fitting that Love You Dead is featured for this square. For those of you who also enjoy not only the mystery but also reading about Roy Grace (and his beautiful wife, Cleo), some key story arcs are cleared up in this, the twelfth book in the series. Mystery fans don’t need to worry either, the key plot is a good one featuring a pretty woman at its heart.

A Book Based Upon A True Story

Buriel Rites

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent turned out to be one of my favourite reads of the year! With the Icelandic landscape as a backdrop to Agnes Magnúsdóttir’s final months awaiting trial for the murder of two men, we see the family she had been sent to stay with learning to adjust to the stranger in their midst. Be warned if you haven’t read this book, it is devastating, I had grown to love Agnes and yet her fate was sealed and no amount of wishing can change the course of history.

A Book At the Bottom Of Your To Be Read Pile

The Mistake

The Mistake by Wendy James is a book inspired by a true event rather than based upon it and one that had been on my TBR for a couple of years.  In The Mistake we meet Jodi Garrow whose comfortable life as the wife of a lawyer unravels when a nurse in a small town hospital remembers her from years before when she gave birth to a little girl, there is no sign of that baby and Jodi does her best to cover up the truth but the media are determined to find the truth.

 A Book Your Friend Loves

blood-lines

I introduced a friend to the wonders of DI Kim Stone this year and she loved the series, in fact, despite not being a book blogger, she told me about the upcoming release of Blood Lines by Angela Marsons before I knew it was happening!  This series goes from strength to strength and her characterisation underpins a fantastic multi-stranded mystery as our protagonist tries to find the link between the stabbing of a compassionate, well-loved woman and a prostitute.

A Book That Scares You

A Tapping at my Door

I rarely get scared by a book but from the opening excerpt of The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe this book had me well and truly spooked by A Tapping At My Door by David Jackson. With opening scenes of a woman hearing a tapping sound, I was glad I wasn’t reading this on a dark night on my own. But this isn’t just a spooky police procedural, it is incredibly clever – I can’t tell you exactly how as that would spoil it but this was a book with a superb plot, probably one of the best I’ve read this year. That with a lively and interesting character in DS Nathan Cody, a Liverpool setting and more than a dash of humour, means it was an all-round great read.

A Book That Is More Than 10 Years Old

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

I decided to pick the oldest book that I’ve read this year and this one was first published in 1926 so in fact 90 years old; The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is considered by many to be one of the best written by Agatha Christie and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this book narrated by a doctor and one of my very favourite detectives, Monsieur Poirot leading the search for the murderer of Roger Ackroyd, killed in his very own study if you please – oh and of course the door was locked!

The Second Book In A Series

the-kill-fee

I have a love of 1920s London and Fiona Veitch Smith’s creation Poppy Denby, journalist at The Daily Globe had her second outing in The Kill Fee, this year. The mystery had its roots in Russia and the revolution and Poppy romps her way around extricating herself from ever more tricky circumstances made for a delightful and informative read.

A Book With A Blue Cover

The Museum of You

I can’t let this square go without asking has anyone else noticed the increase in blue covers? The one I’ve chosen was my surprise hit of the year; The Museum of You by Carys Bray – a story about a twelve-year-old girl putting together an exhibition about her mother wouldn’t normally make it onto the TBR, let alone be loved so much… but the lack of overt sentimentality in this book along with an exceptional array of characters made it a firm favourite for 2016.

Well look at that, for the first time ever I have completed every square!

How about you? How much of the card could you fill in? Please share!

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Sweet William – Beryl Bainbridge

Classic Fiction 4*s
Classic Fiction
4*s

Ann is a young woman who works at the BBC in London and when we first meet her she is waving off her fiancé, academic who is flying to America to start a new life. Soon Ann will follow. Ann’s mother is very proud of the new life, less enamoured it would seem of Gerard, the fiancé particularly his carnal desires, in reality than on paper.

I wonder how differently this story would play out if it was set now, and not in the midst of the sexual revolution. Why? Because Ann meets William, a married man who captivates and thrills Ann in a way Gerard never has. William visits Ann’s bed and then cycles off to look after his children while their mother works and has a font of bizarre tales to distract from his frequent absences, the furtive phone calls and crucially his intentions. However William is an important man, he is putting on a play which will tour England, and even though Ann is less than impressed by the play itself, she understands that her role is to support, so out goes the job at the BBC so that she can devote herself to this exceptional man. Oh the irony.

This is not only Ann’s story but in the shadows are other women connected to William, the wife, the mother, her landlady, her cousin and those women who phone up looking for him at odd times of the night and day. It is also the story of Ann’s mother, a woman who lives in Brighton with Ann’s father, a man who seems entirely eclipsed by his indomitable wife, who represents those who lived before the sexual revolution.

Ann felt it was funny that anyone should call Mrs Walton ordinary. It wasn’t an adequate word. She thought of her mother’s piano playing her scheming, her ability to read French, the strength of her convictions, the inflexibility of her dreadful will.

The truth is that when Ann met William, she was woefully unprepared, she’s an unworldly girl who it seems has none of the support that most women today enjoy. Perhaps because the women that knew them both were complicit in covering up William’s fickle ways, his selfishness and his disregard for Ann’s feelings.

She didn’t know enough about men. Her mother said they were brutes, self-absorbed and secretive. But William wasn’t like that: he was open and he loved her and he had forced her to meet his wife.

This love story takes a turn for the worse, as well you might expect but there is plenty of black humour, something that Beryl Bainbridge employs to great effect. To be honest the black humour is made infinitely easier because I don’t think I am the first person to read this book who wants to shake Ann and truly open her eyes to the half-truths she knows. So while I felt a smidgen of sympathy for her plight, I couldn’t believe she couldn’t see what was right in front of her. After all William may have lied but when pushed he really makes the situation very obvious:

‘But Edna needs to look after me. I give her money for the housekeeping… she doesn’t want to be done out of cooking for me. Who am I to deny her that?’
He bent his head humbly. There was a flaw in his argument, she knew, but she couldn’t put it into words. He’d denied Edna everything else; it didn’t’ seem particularly cruel to tell her he didn’t want any food.

The more I read of this author’s work, the more I enjoy it. Beryl Bainbridge is definitely my find of the year with her exceptionally clever writing and yet still immensely readable. This black comedy published in 1975 both conjures up a bygone time and yet, I know that Sweet William still exists, maybe in a slightly different guise, although I suspect this was his true era, when there were plenty of naïve women just waiting to fall for his charms and willing to shake of the older generation’s morals that had protected the majority of previous generations.

I received my copy of Sweet William from the publishers Open Road Integrated Media who are republishing a number of this authors books, this one on 29 November 2016.

First Published UK: 1975
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media
No of Pages: 192
Genre: Classic Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Reviews of other books by Beryl Bainbridge

Harriet Said
An Awfully Big Adventure