Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2018, Book Review, Books I have read

Mrs Woolf and the Servants – Alison Light #20BooksofSummer

Non Fiction
4*s

I choose to read this book after being so impressed with Alison Light’s book exploring the working lives of her ancestors in Common People that I read earlier this year.

Now obviously as I’m a reader and I know the basic details about the life of Virginia Woolf, but as I was to discover, that is a world away from looking at her life in her home settings, in relation to the servants that lived with and worked for this very literary woman. This book is an intimate portrayal of a woman at home, as part of a family but most pertinently in her relations with her servants which let’s just say were more complex than the popular portrayal that we are used to.

The first servant to appear in Virginia’s life was Sophie Farrell who was a servant to Julia Stephen, Virginia’s mother. We learn about how Sophie, in common with so many girls of her background left her home to work away ‘in service’ From this starting point we chart the history of women who lived their lives serving others up to the time of WWII. Alison Light also points out the type of ‘live out’ servants that are now part of modern lives. But let’s go back to towards the end of the Victorian period where Sophie Farell is working as one of servants in South Kensington. Following the deaths of so many people who were important to her the siblings set up home in Bloomsbury to live a more bohemian lifestyle and it was here that the Bloomsbury Group was formed. However the siblings relied on servants at this time, and as the book tells us Virginia and her sister did for the rest of her lives.

So where did Alison Light get all this information on the servants from? Well the starting point is the letters between the two sisters and her own diaries where unfiltered views of the women who gave her the space to have a room of her own were indelibly marked upon page after page.

I’m going to be honest, I found the Virginia Woolf in her own words, quite a hypocritical and snobbish woman. I was constantly reminding myself that this was a different time where expectations of life were set in stone, but it didn’t stop my overwhelming sympathy for the women who served and my feeling of contempt for the author.

Although Alison Light freely admits that many of the servants could not be traced, in these instances, because they weren’t even afforded a name, she has done some exceptional work in tracing some of the others. We are given a surprising amount of detail about a few most memorably of Nellie Boxhall who was eventually dismissed from the Woolf household. And for me it is the time after they left the Woolf household that are so sad. There were no pensions; if the servants weren’t kept on as family retainers then they could end up with no security whatsoever, in some cases after devoting half a century in serving. This is just one shocking aspect, the other being the way the members of the Bloomsbury set, well into the war period seemed to pass their servants backwards and forwards between the households as if these people were no more than useful objects.

Pretty most of the women on my maternal side up until those born in the 20th Century worked in service. I’d always wondered how the young girls of 12, 13 & 14 ended up living and working so far from where they’d been born and the stories of the servants researched by Alison Light included the hiring fairs and the preference for rural maids that were thought to be more malleable than their town and city cousins.

There are simply so many fascinating facts that it is impossible to put within a short review but if you are interested in the author or the lives of servants during this time period, you could do far worse than to read Mrs Woolf and the Servants.

Mrs Woolf and the Servants is my tenth read in my 20 Books for Summer 2018 Challenge It has opened my eyes to the life I would have lived if I had been born 100 years earlier and of course a less welcome insight into one of the most celebrated women writers of her time.

First Published UK: 2007
Publisher: Fig Tree
No of Pages:400
Genre: Non-Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Weekly Posts

Weekly Wrap Up (July 15)

Another long week at work broken up on Wednesday to watch the football as a neighbourhood in our front garden complete with a delicious lasagne and garlic bread. Shame we didn’t win but it was fun to get together.

This Week on the Blog

The first of four reviews this week was for the non-fiction book Wedlock by Wendy Moore which was one of my 20 Books of Summer 2018 Challenge.

My excerpt post was from an upcoming read, Open Your Eyes by Paula Daly which will be published later this month.

Next I reviewed the gripping court drama No Further Questions by Gillian McAllister.

Lisa Jewell’s latest novel Watching You was published on 12 July 2018 and my review for this dark outing  went up on the same day.

My final review of the week was for the second in the Adam Fawley series In the Dark by Cara Hunter.

Yesterday it was time for the annual Six in Six post which had me deciding six categories to sort my books into – great fun and a good way to remind myself of the excellent books I have read so far in 2018.

This Time Last Year…

I was reading The Spider and the Fly by Claudia Rowe. This exceptional book is a blend of crime fiction and memoir. Claudia Rowe who, with almost a sense of shame, initially sets out to write a journalistic piece on the serial killer, Kendall Francoise, who murdered eight women in Poughkeepsie, New York and kept their bodies in his parent’s loft.

Alongside the author’s correspondence with the killer and what that does, or doesn’t reveal is Claudia’s examination of her own life, although I found her quest far more nebulous. She seems to be persistently concerned about her obsession with Kendall whilst continuing the correspondence.

An interesting take on true crime and perhaps gives us some insight into the authors who choose to tell the tales from behind the prison walls.

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

Blurb

In this superb work of literary true crime–a spellbinding combination of memoir and psychological suspense–a female journalist chronicles her unusual connection with a convicted serial killer and her search to understand the darkness inside us.

“Well, well, Claudia. Can I call you Claudia? I’ll have to give it to you, when confronted at least you’re honest, as honest as any reporter. . . . You want to go into the depths of my mind and into my past. I want a peek into yours. It is only fair, isn’t it?”–Kendall Francois

In September 1998, young reporter Claudia Rowe was working as a stringer for the New York Times in Poughkeepsie, New York, when local police discovered the bodies of eight women stashed in the attic and basement of the small colonial home that Kendall Francois, a painfully polite twenty-seven-year-old community college student, shared with his parents and sister.

Growing up amid the safe, bourgeois affluence of New York City, Rowe had always been secretly fascinated by the darkness, and soon became obsessed with the story and with Francois. She was consumed with the desire to understand just how a man could abduct and strangle eight women–and how a family could live for two years, seemingly unaware, in a house with the victims’ rotting corpses. She also hoped to uncover what humanity, if any, a murderer could maintain in the wake of such monstrous evil.

Reaching out after Francois was arrested, Rowe and the serial killer began a dizzying four-year conversation about cruelty, compassion, and control; an unusual and provocative relationship that would eventually lead her to the abyss, forcing her to clearly see herself and her own past–and why she was drawn to danger. Amazon

Stacking the Shelves

I was thrilled to receive this wonderful prize from the very generous Nikki Moore to celebrate Picnics in Hyde Park being published by HarperCollins IT. This book is part of the Love London series.

The question posed was where is your favourite place in London? There was no hesitation in my mind and so I shared my memories of my dear Grandmother taking me to Cleopatra’s Needle on the embankment with the words ‘Lets go and visit your needle and have our sandwiches, shall we?’ There we’d sit eat the sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper and drink orange squash with me safe in the knowledge that none of the other grandchildren got to share that particular treat because they didn’t have needles! It went some way towards not being able to choose tat from gift shops with my name on too!

 


Blurb

Hot summer romance…or cold revenge?

Super nanny, Zoe Harper is mad! It was bad enough discovering her ex-fiancé Greg cheating on her just weeks before their wedding. But now she’s returned home to London to find her younger sister Melody has been left jobless, homeless, broke and dumped.

Zoe is determined to get revenge on the infamous Reilly brothers for her sister’s heartbreak. So when an unexpected opportunity gives Zoe a way in to uncaring—and dizzyingly gorgeous!—successful music producer Matt Reilly’s world, she jumps at the chance to make him pay.

But living with Matt as nanny to his two adorable, but complicated children, Zoe soon begins to suspect that not everything is as it seems… Matt insists on pushing everyone away including his children, but why? And if his delicious summer kisses are anything to go by, he can’t be that bad surely?

Can Zoe convince Matt to open up a little and help fix this family before she leaves…or worse, before Matt learns who she really is? Amazon

Although I have one ARC it’s a secret so as I’ll be sharing that one later, I thought I’d show you some of the books recently acquired that got missed in the avalanche…

I have a copy of The Golden Child by Wendy James courtesy of Amazon Vine.


Blurb

When teenage bullying spirals out of control who is to blame?

Blogger Lizzy’s life is shiny, happy, normal. Two gorgeous children, a handsome husband, destiny under control. For her real-life alter-ego Beth, things are unravelling. Tensions simmer with her husband, mother-in-law, her own mother. Her daughters, once the objects of her existence, have moved into teenage-hood, their lives -­ at school, home and online – increasingly mysterious to her.

Then a fellow student is callously bullied and the finger of blame pointed at one of Beth’s girls. As an innocent child lies suspended between life and death, two families are forced to question everything they believe about their children, and the answers are terrifying.

As unsettling as it is compelling, The Golden Child asks: how well can you know anyone in the digital age?

A potent story with shades of The Party and Mary Kubica.

Two families must grapple with the tragic fallout of cyberbullying. Amazon

I received a copy of Burning Secret by Stefan Zweig for my birthday.


Blurb

BURNING SECRET is set in an Austrian sanatorium in the 1920’s. A lonely twelve-year-old boy is befriended and becomes infatuated by a suave and mysterious baron who heartlessly brushes him aside to turn his seductive attentions to the boy’s mother. Stefan Zweig, the author of Beware of Pity and Confusion provides the reader, in this newly available translation, with a study of childhood on the brink of adolescence and a boy’s uncontrollable jealousy and feelings of betrayal. Amazon

What have you found to read this week? Do share!

tbr-watch

Once again I have only managed to read 2 books this week but fortunately I only added two so no change on the TBR 172!
Physical Books – 112
Kindle Books – 42
NetGalley Books –17
Audio Books –1

One of this week’s reviews was for a book I own book, so I’ve added another 1/3 of a token. I’m now 2 1/3 books in credit, having bought no new books.

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

Watching You – Lisa Jewell

Psychological Thriller
5*s

Lisa Jewell just goes from strength to strength as she serves up different scenarios with a whole cast of different characters in this her sixteenth novel and I for one was hooked from page one, where there is out and out darkness in the form of a body on a kitchen floor. The police are in attendance and an investigation is opened.

First of all the author paints us a picture of perfection, a group of colourful houses perched on a hill, the type of house that Joey (Josephine) has always wanted to live in but that seemed unlikely after four years working in Ibiza, and now she’s home with her new husband Alfie in tow. Fortunately her older brother Jack and his pregnant wife Rebecca live in the cobalt coloured house in Melville Heights and her and Alfie had moved in while they sorted out where there life was going next.

Lisa Jewell’s latter books have all had some level of darkness about them but this one hurtles headlong into the undeniable thriller territory. After listening to Joey describing her life to her mum at her grave, we are launched into a transcript of a police interview held at Bristol police station nearly three months past this point. A word of warning, keep your eye on the changing dates, which are easily signposted, because this book does hop backwards and forwards until the past catches up with the present.

There are as in many of this author’s books a number of issues which are sensitively portrayed but with realism at its core rather than the reader getting the feeling that they’ve been used to bolster an otherwise flabby storyline.

At the centre of this book is Tom Fitzwilliam, the head of the local school who is married to Nicola. They also live at Melville heights with their teenage son, Freddie. Joey quickly becomes infatuated with Tom and is watching him. Tom’s son Freddie was documenting the neighbourhood using his digital binoculars but more recently has been using his spy equipment to watch the teenage girls in the vicinity while down in Lower Melville Frances Tripp is convinced that there is a mass of people watching her, so she is watching everyone else.

You might be able to tell from that very short synopsis, apart from a lot of watching, there are lots of characters in this book. And what characters they are, even the teenage girls are kept distinct by Lisa Jewell’s keen eye (and pen) for the little things that make each person unique.
In short I found this latest novel absolutely gripping. I wanted to know who had been murdered, who would want to murder but most of all I wanted to truly understand this eclectic bunch of people who became my neighbours for the duration of the book. Of course it wasn’t that simple with impeccable timing we are drip-fed pieces of information, some of which are red-herrings, so that my opinion on the characters altered the more I learned about them all.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again here, if you haven’t read one of Lisa Jewell’s books you really should, she has a very easy to read style but that isn’t to say that they are superficial, in fact they are anything but!

I’d like to thank the publisher Random House UK for allowing me to read a copy of Watching You and thank you to Lisa Jewell for such a gripping read.

First Published UK: 12 July 2018
Publisher: Random House UK
No of Pages: 496
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Lisa Jewell Novels

Then She Was Gone (2017)
I Found You (2016)
The Girls (2015)
The Third Wife (2014)
The House We Grew Up In (2013)
Before I Met You (2012)
The Making Of Us (2011)
• After The Party (2010)
The Truth About Melody Browne (2009)
• 31 Dream Street (2007)
• Vince and Joy (2005)
• A Friend of the Family (2004)
• One Hit Wonder (2001)
• Thirtynothing (2000)
• Ralph’s Party (1999)

Posted in Weekly Posts

This Week in Books (July 4)

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

I have just started No Further Questions by Gillian McAllister, one of my latest favourite authors. This book was published on Monday 2 July.

Blurb

he police say she’s guilty.
She insists she’s innocent.
She’s your sister.
You loved her.
You trusted her.
But they say she killed your child.
Who do you believe?
Original, devilishly clever and impossible to forget, this is a thriller with a difference. You won’t be able to tear yourself away from the trial that will determine both sisters’ fates. NetGalley

The last book I read was In the Dark by Cara Hunter the second in the Adam Fawley series set in Oxford which will be published on 12 July 2018.



Blurb

A woman and child are found locked in a basement room, barely alive. No one knows who they are – the woman can’t speak, and there are no missing persons reports that match their profile.

The elderly man who owns the house claims he has never seen them before. The inhabitants of the quiet Oxford street are in shock. How could this happen right under their noses?

But DI Adam Fawley knows that nothing is impossible. And that no one is as innocent as they seem . . NetGalley

Next on my list is The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola which will be published on 26 July 2018. I loved this author’s debut novel The Unseeing and so I’m hoping for great things from this one too.

Blurb

Audrey Hart is on the Isle of Skye to collect the folk and fairy tales of the people and communities around her. It is 1857 and the Highland Clearances have left devastation and poverty, and a community riven by fear. The crofters are suspicious and hostile to a stranger, claiming they no longer know their fireside stories.

Then Audrey discovers the body of a young girl washed up on the beach and the crofters reveal that it is only a matter of weeks since another girl disappeared. They believe the girls are the victims of the restless dead: spirits who take the form of birds.

Initially, Audrey is sure the girls are being abducted, but as events accumulate she begins to wonder if something else is at work. Something which may be linked to the death of her own mother, many years before. NetGalley

What do you think? Do any of these take your fancy?

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

Wrong Way Home – Isabelle Grey #BlogTour

Crime Fiction
5″s

I was absolutely delighted to be asked to take part in the blog tour celebrating publication of Wrong Way Home, thank you Anne Cater. I’ve long been a fan of this author and I rate this series amongst my favourite of the contemporary crime series.

In this, the fourth book in the DI Grace Fisher series, our likeable protagonist has a breakthrough using familial DNA to hunt for the man who raped and killed a girl twenty-five years ago.

Heather Bower was just nineteen years old when she visited Southend for a night out with her friends and on a night that should have been full of fun, she became separated from the group and was found dead in a park the following morning.

Freddie Craig is an aspiring journalist who has always felt a link to the fire on Southend Pier the same night that Heather died. The fire was started by two teenagers who dropped a cigarette in a boarded up building. Fortunately for them taxi driver Larry Nixon was on the scene and pulled the boys to safety so becoming something of a local hero. As the fire raged Freddie’s mother gave birth to him. Freddie is inspired by the death of Heather to make a series of podcasts about the murder and his links to my favourite fictional journalist, Ivo Sweatman. Ivo and Grace have a history of being mutually supportive but she is fully aware that this must not become common knowledge. The excerpts from Freddie’s podcasts veer from factual to wacky and then downright disturbing and made for an interesting perspective and an unusual one keeping the story bang up to date.

As the DNA profile links to a woman, Deborah Shillingford, who was arrested for drink driving, Grace now has her family members to investigate to the DNA left all those years before and she sets to work with her partner Sergeant Blake Langley. Grace and Blake have history which has caused a bit of an undercurrent but they are both professional as they interview Deborah and learn that she has two brothers and a father still alive. At the same time they have to inform Heather’s mother advising that this lead may not lead to an arrest but hopeful that the knowledge that they are still seeking justice for Heather will be of some comfort.

This is a multi-layered crime fiction novel of the highest standard. Isabelle Grey has plotted superbly, and so even though all the characters are fully rounded the story is undoubtedly led by a series of events in the present that threaten to derail the investigation. That’s not to say there is just action there are moments to pause and wonder at the bonds within a family as various tit-bits are revealed. The plot is held up by spot on timing; this is a book that gives the reader time to consider the evidence and stick a stake in the ground before it is blown away by a new piece of information.

Reading Wrong Way Home I remembered quite why I enjoy this series so much. DI Grace Fisher is my idea of the perfect protagonist, a determined woman and yet, she behaves like a woman and it is so refreshing to see a woman who can cry at a wedding and then walk away to review evidence before leading her team to find a killer, and she does it with style.

I’d like to thank the publishers Quercus for allowing me to read a copy of Wrong Way Home and to Anne Cater for the invite to the blog tour and those thanks extend to the author for such a brilliant, plausible novel that had me enthralled by all its twists and turns. As always this review is unbiased and freely given.

First Published UK: 17 May 2018
Publisher: Quercus
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Isabelle Grey is a television screenwriter whose credits include Jimmy McGovern’s BAFTA award-winning Accused: Tina’s Story as well as over thirty-five episodes of Midsomer Murders, Casualty, Rosemary and Thyme, The Bill and Wycliffe. She has also written non-fiction and been a magazine editor and freelance journalist. Isabelle’s previous novels include two psychological thrillers, The Bad Mother and Out Of Sight as well as the first two books in the DI Grace Fisher series, Good Girls Don’t Die, Shot Through the Heart and The Special Girls. Isabelle grew up in Manchester and now lives in north London.

Twitter @IsabelleGrey
Website: http://www.isabellegrey.wordpress.com

Previous books by Isabelle Grey

Out of Sight
The Bad Mother
Good Girls Don’t Die – Grace Fisher #1
Shot Through The Heart – Grace Fisher #2
The Special Girls – Grace Fisher #3

 

There are still some stops left on the blog tour so make sure you check them out!

 

Posted in 5 Of the Best

Five of the Best – Five Star Reads (March 2014 to 2018)

5 Star Reads

In 2015 to celebrate reviewing for five years I started a series entitled Five of the Best where I chose my favourite five star reads which I’d read in that month. Later in 2018 I will be celebrating Five years of blogging and so I decided it was time to repeat the series.

You can read my original review of the book featured by clicking on the book cover.

My choice of review for March 2014 is That Dark Remembered Day by Tom Vowler which is a very cleverly presented book with the groundwork precisely laid before revealing what happened on That Dark Remembered Day.  In 1983 Richard had returned from the Falklands, his final posting before discharge from the arm and at its heart, this book is a reflection on the damage that war inflicts on those who are sent to fight. Part the story of a reluctant soldier, part the story of growing up in a small town but absolutely unforgettable. That Dark Remembered Day was longlisted for the Guardian Not the Booker Prize in 2014.

 

Blurb

One family, one town, devastated by one tragic event.

Can you ever know what those closest to you are really capable of?

When Stephen gets a phone call to say his mother isn’t well, he knows he must go to her straight away. But he dreads going back there. He has never been able to understand why his mother chose to stay in the town he grew up in, after everything that happened. One day’s tragic events years before had left no one living there untouched.
Stephen’s own dark memories are still poisoning his life, as well as his marriage. Perhaps now is the time to go back and confront the place and the people of his shattered childhood. But will he ever be able to understand the crime that punctured their lives so brutally? How can a community move on from such a terrible legacy? Amazon

I was spoilt for choice for five star books reviewed in March 2015 but have decided to chose a non-fiction book The Magnificent Spilsbury and the case of The Brides In The Bath by Jane Robins which recreates the story of Bernard Spilsbury’s rise to become, what today we know as expert witnesses. To do this she principally uses the trial of George Smith of three women who died after drowning in the bath to examine both forensic scientist and his methods. Spilsbury worked night and day testing his ideas, either in the mortuary or in the lab in his house and soon bodies were exhumed and theories espoused. In one chilling experiment to work out how the women could have been killed without a struggle female swimmers dressed in bathing costumes were recruited for experimentation. This book is a great mixture of a historic murder trial with some well-researched information about the scientist whose word could spell the end for the accused.

Blurb

Bessie Mundy, Alice Burnham and Margaret Lofty are three women with one thing in common. They are spinsters and are desperate to marry. Each woman meets a smooth-talking stranger who promises her a better life. She falls under his spell, and becomes his wife. But marriage soon turns into a terrifying experience.

In the dark opening months of the First World War, Britain became engrossed by ‘The Brides in the Bath’ trial. The horror of the killing fields of the Western Front was the backdrop to a murder story whose elements were of a different sort. This was evil of an everyday, insidious kind, played out in lodging houses in seaside towns, in the confines of married life, and brought to a horrendous climax in that most intimate of settings – the bathroom.

The nation turned to a young forensic pathologist, Bernard Spilsbury, to explain how it was that young women were suddenly expiring in their baths. This was the age of science. In fiction, Sherlock Holmes applied a scientific mind to solving crimes. In real-life, would Spilsbury be as infallible as the ‘great detective’? Amazon

I love crime fiction and struggle to keep the number of series I follow to a minimum. In March 2016 I picked up In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward and fell in love with the Derbyshire setting and the police team which includes DI Francis Sadler and DC Connie Childs.

This is an intricate mystery which has its roots in 1978 when two girls went missing in Bampton, but only one returned. Even better The ending was perfect, the book whilst having plenty of surprises does not bring a motive and character out of left field, rather staying true to the more ‘old-fashioned’ crime novels where the perpetrator is justly identified from combing the evidence which all makes for an incredibly satisfying read.

Blurb

Bampton, Derbyshire, January 1978. Two girls go missing: Rachel Jones returns, Sophie Jenkins is never found. Thirty years later: Sophie Jenkins’s mother commits suicide.

Rachel Jones has tried to put the past behind her and move on with her life. But news of the suicide re-opens old wounds and Rachel realises that the only way she can have a future is to finally discover what really happened all those years ago.

This is a story about loss and family secrets, and how often the very darkest secrets are those that are closest to you. Amazon

In March 2017 I posted my review of Everything But The Truth by Gillian McAllister and was delighted to find this is a psychological thriller with a moral dilemma at its heart.

Rachel and Jack are going to have a baby.

One night Jack’s iPad lights up and half-asleep Rachel reads the email sent which mentions an event that she knows nothing about. Rachel begins to wonder how well she knows Jack especially when the short reply he gives the next morning, isn’t wholly convincing.

With the reader gaining insight into Rachel’s life and her persistent digging into the lie she believes Jack has told her this is a taut and brilliant psychological thriller. There is no doubt that Gillian McAllister knows how to weave a tale that is complex and has space built into the narrative that allows the reader to put themselves into the character’s shoes, and yes to make judgements on that tricky morality scale.

Blurb

It all started with the email.

Rachel didn’t even mean to look. She loves Jack and she’s pregnant with their child. She trusts him.
But now she’s seen it, she can’t undo that moment. Or the chain of events it has set in motion.
Why has Jack been lying about his past? Just what exactly is he hiding? And doesn’t Rachel have a right to know the truth at any cost? Amazon

My choice for March 2018 is a really tough one with two excellent non-fiction books as well as a number of fiction reads that gained the magic five stars I am going to pick The Killing House by Claire McGowan on the strength that this is the best wrap-up of a story arc I’ve read for a long time.

Claire McGowan created Paula Maguire, a forensic psychologist who finds missing people. The team she works for is on the border between North and South Ireland so inevitably there are links back to The Troubles. In fact Paula’s own mother went missing when she was just thirteen, and whilst each individual book has its own mystery, what happened to Margaret Maguire is a thread that runs through the series.

I love the style of storytelling, and in The Killing House, we are transported back in time to hear the voice of one person held by the punishment team who have them held captive to find out the information for their cause. There are some horrific characters in this book but all held together by the basic goodness of many others, even those who may have done wrong in the past. The author has a way of differentiating between those who got caught up in the times, and those who enjoyed being part of it, exceptionally well so that the reader is able to look at this point in history at a personal level.

Blurb

When a puzzling missing persons’ case opens up in her hometown, forensic psychologist Paula Maguire can’t help but return once more.
Renovations at an abandoned farm have uncovered two bodies: a man known to be an IRA member missing since the nineties, and a young girl whose identity remains a mystery.
As Paula attempts to discover who the girl is and why no one is looking for her, an anonymous tip-off claims that her own long-lost mother is also buried on the farm.
When another girl is kidnapped, Paula must find the person responsible before more lives are destroyed. But there are explosive secrets still to surface. And even Paula can’t predict that the investigation will strike at the heart of all she holds dear.
Amazon

If you want to see what the five books featured on Five of the Best for March 2011 to 2015 were you can do so here

How many of these have you read? Did you enjoy them as much as I did? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Five of the Best 2018

January 2018
February 2018

 

 

Posted in Weekly Posts

Weekly Wrap Up (March 25)

I’m pleased to report I’ve had a lovely week off work which started with a visit to what turned out to be a snowy Gloucester to see my friend for the weekend. Due to the snow we took a snow day where we cooked and I taught her how to knit – we really know how to party! Don’t worry though, we did manage a couple of lovely meals and a few gins to help stave off the cold. I returned to Jersey with my brother so all round a great week catching up on all the news and eating and drinking way too much.

This Week on the Blog

My week belatedly started with my review of Last Letter Home by Rachel Hore, a historical dual time-line story featuring a German man in England at the time of World War II.

This Week in Books featured the authors Edmund Crispin, A.J. Pearce and Louise Candlish.

Next I reviewed The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth which was published on 22 March 2018. This book was set on a close of houses in Melbourne, and looked at the secrets each household was concealing, some were bigger than others.

I love a good ‘sliding doors’ type story which was exactly what And the Birds Kept on Singing by Simon Bourke delivered. The tale of an adoption, or not. This powerful debut novel which was set in the 1980s illustrating the different lives that Seán and/or Jonathan grew up in.

My final review of the week was my non-fiction read for March; Common People by Alison Light is a wide-ranging look at the lives, jobs and neighbourhoods that her family lived in based on the historical and family history research she carried out. A fascinating read.

 

This Time Last Year…

I was reading A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup, a non-fiction read of the highest standard. Kathryn Harkup looks at the role poison played in Agatha Christie’s life during World War I when she worked in the dispensary in her local Torquay hospital and her training to become as an apothecary’s assistant. No wonder then that she put that knowledge to such good use in many of her crime fiction. Each poison’s appearance is explained along with the symptoms any victim can expect which shows us just how much the Queen of Crime spared her readers in her books. Where there is a link to a famous case, this is also included with details of the crime, how it was discovered and the verdict if applicable. If all that wasn’t enough at the back there is a handy table listing Agatha Christie’s books and the murder method. An absolute gem of a book for lovers of poison and Agatha Christie.

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

Fourteen novels. Fourteen poisons. Just because it’s fiction doesn’t mean it’s all made-up …

Blurb

Agatha Christie revelled in the use of poison to kill off unfortunate victims in her books; indeed, she employed it more than any other murder method, with the poison itself often being a central part of the novel. Her choice of deadly substances was far from random – the characteristics of each often provide vital clues to the discovery of the murderer. With gunshots or stabbings the cause of death is obvious, but this is not the case with poisons. How is it that some compounds prove so deadly, and in such tiny amounts?

Christie’s extensive chemical knowledge provides the backdrop for A is for Arsenic, in which Kathryn Harkup investigates the poisons used by the murderer in fourteen classic Agatha Christie mysteries. It looks at why certain chemicals kill, how they interact with the body, the cases that may have inspired Christie, and the feasibility of obtaining, administering and detecting these poisons, both at the time the novel was written and today. A is for Arsenic is a celebration of the use of science by the undisputed Queen of Crime. Amazon

Stacking the Shelves

I have had some great new books from NetGalley since my last post…

The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola chosen because I loved her book The Unseeing a historical crime book. The Story Keeper will be published on 26 July 2018.

Blurb

Audrey Hart is on the Isle of Skye to collect the word-of-mouth folk tales of the people and communities around her. It is 1857, the Highland Clearances have left devastation and poverty, and the crofters are suspicious and hostile, claiming they no longer know their stories.

Then Audrey discovers the body of a young girl washed up on the beach and the crofters tell her that it is only a matter of weeks since another girl has disappeared. They believe the girls are the victims of the spirits of the unforgiven dead. Initially, Audrey is sure the girls are being abducted, but then she is reminded of her own mother, a Skye woman who disappeared in mysterious circumstances.

It seems there is a link to be explored, and Audrey may uncover just what her family have been hiding from her all these years. NetGalley

I was also lucky enough to be approved for the next book in David Jackson‘s D.S. Nathan Cody series, Don’t Make a Sound. Since I voted the first in this series, A Tapping At My Door one of my top ten reads for 2016 and thoroughly enjoying Hope to Die which was published last year, this is one I’m keen to read before it is published on 3 May 2018.

Blurb


You can’t choose your family. Or can you?

Meet the Bensons. They’re an ordinary couple. They wash their car, mow their lawn and pass the time of day with their neighbours. And they have a beautiful little girl called Daisy.

There’s just one problem.

SHE’S NOT THEIRS.

D. S. Nathan Cody is about to face his darkest and most terrifying case yet . . . NetGalley

My last book that I’m sharing this week also comes from a crime fiction series – I keep saying I ought to cut down on the ones I follow but they are just so good! Isabelle Grey is publishing the fourth in her crime fiction series featuring DI Grace Fisher on 17 May 2018 with Wrong Way Home.

Blurb

A cold case leads DI Grace Fisher on the hunt for the most dangerous killer of her career – but after twenty-five years, can she really be sure she will get to the truth?

The same night a local hero saved two people from the burning Marineland resort in Southend, a young woman was raped and murdered minutes from the scene of the fire, the culmination of a series of brutal rapes in the town. The killer was never found.

Twenty-five years on, new DNA techniques have blown the cold case open. DI Grace Fisher relishes the prospect of finally catching the culprit, but when the evidence doesn’t point to one clear suspect, she must reconstruct the original investigation. Any suggestion that the Essex force was less than thorough at the time could alienate her colleagues and destroy her chances of reaching the truth.

Grace finds her investigation shadowed by a young true-crime podcaster backed by veteran crime reporter Ivo Sweatman. As pressure mounts she cannot afford to be distracted. She knows that a cold-blooded killer is slowly being backed into a corner, and a cornered predator is often the most dangerous of all… NetGalley

If you want to catch up on this series they before this one is published here’s the list in order…

Good Girls Don’t Die
Shot Through the Heart
The Special Girls

What have you found to read this week?

tbr-watch

Since my last post I have read 5 books and since I have gained a few so my TBR has stayed the same and the total is therefore 187
Physical Books – 110
Kindle Books – 54
NetGalley Books –23

I have banked two thirds of a book token this week so technically 3 1/3 books in credit but… well I’ve had to use the special 15% discount voucher that World of Books provided to me and my readers – if you haven’t used the code yet, make sure you do so before it expires on 31 March 2018! But as the books haven’t arrived yet…

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2018

A Clubbable Woman – Reginald Hill

Crime Fiction
3*s

I debated with myself whether or not, this the first in the superb Dalziel and Pascoe series could or should be included as one of my Classic Club’s crime reads, at the end of the (very) long battle with myself I decided against, but having now read it I think it would have provided an excellent example of what was expected from crime fiction at the start of the 1970s but more of that later in the review.

This police procedural revolves around the local Rugby Club and in a brutal match poor old Sam Connon, ‘Connie’ to his team-mates, gets a boot to the head and retires off the pitch early. After not feeling too well, despite the medicinal alcohol, he gets into his home and drives home. His wife, Mary Connon apparently less than impressed with his late arrival for dinner doesn’t speak to him and Connie duly passes out on his bed. Later the police are called, Mary Connon has had her head bashed in.

Even in this early book the plotting is seamless if the set-up is somewhat less than inspired than in the author’s later books but for all that, he clearly knows the rules and has lined up a selection of suitable and distinct suspects for the pot. Unsurprisingly Dalziel is a member of said rugby club, which is what the plot revolves around. We have a variety of men who almost made it big, those who keep order, their time having passed, and of course those whose attendance is possibly fuelled as much by the attractive young women who provide the decoration as the game. Peter Pascoe is there by dint of his job, i.e. being Dalziel’s whipping boy, the object of his derision as he hasn’t yet been promoted to any sort of sounding board at all and so most of his action is via monologues which always veer back to the attractive ladies. Common with what makes his later books so individually memorable is that the book uses the English language so well, the author using the rugby theme to sprinkle its terms through the book and somehow giving the feeling of something more than any old crime fiction novel. Of course I appreciated the more literary leanings in Pictures of Perfection but fortunately, I live with a man who supports Wales in the rugby, and so many of the terms were at least familiar to me.

And here’s the thing, the book isn’t wonderful but it is better than a great many, but the focus of all the male attention seemingly various beddable women was a bit of a shock to the system! It is hard to read in this day and age and imagine that fiction was created out of fact. Did my parent’s generation really spend their entire lives only interested in certain parts of anatomy? Was it really necessary to have some character or another lusting in various crude ways over one woman or another quite so frequently? Apparently the answer is yes. Welcome to the seventies!

That said, because I am a huge fan of this series it is possible to see that where Dalziel is in this book merely brash and uncouth, he did grow into a man with far more facets to his character and fortunately Peter met Ellie who put a stop to all that desperate lusting over girls far too young for him. And best of all I now know the exact point where the two men first fight crime. The carefully negotiating of the alliances that are so important in the small town Yorkshire setting is where these polar opposites will learn to use their very distinct skills to solve a few more crimes in the future. It isn’t just Dalziel and Pascoe that held my interest though, for all the sexism, even at this stage Reginald Hill has a range of characters that are far from stereotypical for the age with some particularly delightful lines from the bit player Anthony who is Connie’s daughter’s boyfriend. He’s introduced via a particularly squirm inducing scene where despite the death of her mother Connie has a brief consideration is given to whether it is appropriate for the two to share a room, of course it isn’t!

I wouldn’t recommend that anyone starts with this book. My entry to the series was probably over two decades later and read in random order depending on what the library had to offer, and over the last few years I have had enormous pleasure in re-reading a few and really appreciating the depth that this author bought to the genre. A Clubbable Woman might not be up with the best but it most definitely wasn’t without its merits.

A Clubbable Woman is the eighth book I’ve read for my Mount TBR Challenge 2018 having been purchased in November 2017 so I gain another third of a book token!


 

First Published UK: 1970
Publisher: HarperCollins
No of Pages: 256
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Dalziel & Pascoe Series

A Clubbable Woman (1970)
An Advancement of Learning (1971)
Ruling Passion (1973)
An April Shroud (1975)
A Pinch of Snuff (1978)
A Killing Kindness (1980)
Deadheads (1983)
Exit Lines (1984)
Child’s Play (1987)
Under World (1988)
Bones and Silence (1990)
One Small Step (1990, novella)
Recalled to Life (1992)
Pictures of Perfection (1994)
The Wood Beyond (1995)
On Beulah Height (1998)
Arms and the Women (1999)
Dialogues of the Dead (2002)
Death’s Jest-Book (2003)
Good Morning, Midnight (2004)
The Death of Dalziel (2007)
A Cure for All Diseases (2008)
Midnight Fugue (2009)

Posted in 5 Of the Best

Five of the Best – Five Star Reads (February 2014 to 2018)

5 Star Reads

In 2015 to celebrate reviewing for five years I started a series entitled Five of the Best where I chose my favourite five star reads which I’d read in that month. Later in 2018 I will be celebrating Five years of blogging and so I decided it was time to repeat the series.

You can read my original review of the book featured by clicking on the book cover.

My choice of review for February 2014 is Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent which can’t help but grab your attention from the very first line:

‘I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.’

A book reminiscent of those written by Patricia Highsmith and Barbara Vine, Unravelling Oliver seeks to peel back the layers of Oliver’s life in a study of a psychopath.

As we travel through the five decades of his life different characters from Oliver’s life tell us a little bit more about the man, as if they are giving interviews to the media as monologues, each one giving us a little more insight into Oliver’s character and the events that shaped his life.

The originality, cleverness and fantastic characters which peel back the layers of Oliver over the years was a sheer delight to read.

Blurb

Liz Nugent’s gripping novel of psychological suspense, Unravelling Oliver, is a complex and elegant study of the making of a sociopath in the tradition of Barbara Vine and Patricia Highsmith.

Oliver Ryan is a handsome and charismatic success story. He lives in the suburbs with his wife, Alice, who illustrates his award-winning children’s books and gives him her unstinting devotion. Their life together is one of enviable privilege and ease – enviable until, one evening after supper, Oliver attacks Alice and beats her into a coma.

In the aftermath, as everyone tries to make sense of his astonishing act of savagery, Oliver tells his story. So do those whose paths he has crossed over five decades. What unfolds is a story of shame, envy, breath-taking deception and masterful manipulation.

Only Oliver knows the lengths to which he has had to go to get the life to which he felt entitled. But even he is in for a shock when the past catches up with him. Amazon

It is another psychological that takes the top spot for February 2015 although this one is of the more action-packed variety. Hidden by Emma Kavanagh opens with a shooting at a Welsh hospital with our own reporter, Charlie, who was onsite at the time this is one of those books that had me convinced this could be a ‘real-life’ event. 

This was a tense and complex read which is a mixture of more traditional crime fiction alongside the psychological element. The plotting and characterisation both key to pulling of this unforgettable read.

Blurb

HE’S WATCHING
A gunman is stalking the wards of a local hospital. He’s unidentified and dangerous, and has to be located. Urgently.

Police Firearms Officer Aden McCarthy is tasked with tracking him down. Still troubled by the shooting of a schoolboy, Aden is determined to make amends by finding the gunman – before it’s too late.

SHE’S WAITING

To psychologist Imogen, hospital should be a place of healing and safety – both for her, and her young niece who’s been recently admitted. She’s heard about the gunman, but he has little to do with her. Or has he?
As time ticks down, no one knows who the gunman’s next target will be. But he’s there. Hiding in plain sight. Far closer than anyone thinks… Amazon

As well as crime fiction my other great reading love is for historical fiction and this is an author who also appeared in January’s Five of the Best – The Ballroom by Anna Hope takes us to Sharston Asylum in West Riding Yorkshire and is set in 1911.

With stand-out characters which include patients as well as one of the doctors, we learn about a community where the care of those with mental health issues was no longer completely in the dark ages. The title refers to the dances, complete with band, which took place to lift the spirits of the inmates.

The story is told by each of the three narrators; Ella, John and Charles each evocative in different ways and perfectly providing the reader with a picture of the summer of 1911 when the heat was unbroken, the fields filled with crops and the steamy and smelly laundry where Ella washed underwear and sheets, was damp and hot.

An unforgettable read, not to be missed.

Blurb

1911: Inside an asylum at the edge of the Yorkshire moors, where men and women are kept apart by high walls and barred windows, there is a ballroom vast and beautiful.
For one bright evening every week they come together and dance.
When John and Ella meet It is a dance that will change two lives forever.

Set over the heatwave summer of 1911, the end of the Edwardian era, THE BALLROOM is a historical love story. It tells a page-turning tale of dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which. Amazon

I finally got around to reading and reviewing The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell in February 2017 and was blown away by this story set in the time of the American Prohibition.

So we are in 1920s Brooklyn during the Prohibition period. Rose our narrator is a typist in the Police Precinct there and we hear her thoughts on the other typists who she feels superior to. And then Odalie joins the typing pool and Rose’s life is thrown into disarray. In my review I comment that Rose isn’t so much an unreliable narrator as a nebulous one, even at the end of the book I found it hard to pinpoint exactly where the truth ended and the lies began… A superb character study in a time-period and place I know far too little about so all I can say is it had me hooked and oh, that ending!

Blurb

New York City, 1924: the height of Prohibition and the whole city swims in bathtub gin.
Rose Baker is an orphaned young woman working for her bread as a typist in a police precinct on the lower East Side. Every day Rose transcribes the confessions of the gangsters and murderers that pass through the precinct. While she may disapprove of the details, she prides herself on typing up the goriest of crimes without batting an eyelid.
But when the captivating Odalie begins work at the precinct Rose finds herself falling under the new typist’s spell. As do her bosses, the buttoned up Lieutenant Detective and the fatherly Sergeant. As the two girls’ friendship blossoms and they flit between the sparkling underworld of speakeasies by night, and their work at the precinct by day, it is not long before Rose’s fascination for her new colleague turns to obsession.
But just who is the real Odalie, and how far will Rose go to find out? Amazon

My choice for February 2018 is also one from my own bookshelf; Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase is an evocative read set between two time zones. Easter 1968 a tragic event at the house affectional known as Black Rabbit Hall by the Alton changes the family’s life forever.

In the present day Lorna is looking for the perfect wedding venue and is drawn to happy holiday memories in Cornwall with her parents and her sister. But, yes, you’ve guessed it – there are secrets that are there to be uncovered!

This is a beautiful tale, wonderfully descriptive with all the elements of a traditional fairy tale wrapped up in a believable family saga.

Blurb


One golden family. One fateful summer. Four lives changed forever.

Amber Alton knows that the hours pass differently at Black Rabbit Hall, her London family’s country estate where no two clocks read the same. Summers there are perfect, timeless. Not much ever happens. Until, one stormy evening in 1968, it does.
The idyllic world of the four Alton children is shattered. Fiercely bonded by the tragic events, they grow up fast. But when a glamorous stranger arrives, these loyalties are tested. Forbidden passions simmer. And another catastrophe looms . . .
Decades later, Lorna and her fiancé wind their way through the countryside searching for a wedding venue. Lorna is drawn to a beautiful crumbling old house she hazily remembers from her childhood, feels a bond she does not understand. When she finds a disturbing message carved into an old oak tree by one of the Alton children, she begins to realise that Black Rabbit Hall’s secret history is as dark and tangled as its woods, and that, much like her own past, it must be brought into the light.
A thrilling spiral into the hearts of two women separated by decades but inescapably linked by Black Rabbit Hall. A story of forgotten childhood and broken dreams, secrets and heartache, and the strength of a family’s love. Amazon

If you want to see what the five books featured on Five of the Best for February 2011 to 2015 were you can do so here

How many of these have you read? Did you enjoy them as much as I did? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Five of the Best 2018

January 2018

 

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

My Life in Houses – Margaret Forster

Non-Fiction – Memoir
4*s

In hindsight so many of Margaret Forster’s books contain autobiographical detail but it was Hidden Lives which first really opened my eyes to the link between this talented story teller and her own background, although cleverly only ever apparent by reading between the lines. In My Life in Houses we learn more details about Margaret’s first house, the one on the Raffles estate which she was so ashamed of, preferring those on the better side of town. And though the book’s pages, we learn that from the tender age of seven this author began her own game of choosing another house to live in.

Of course, as an adult with a number of ‘important’ houses in her life, she realises that what she started with could have been so much worse, and so she explains how it defined her. How a house with only room for Margaret and her younger sister to sleep together in an alcove in their parent’s bedroom left her yearning for her own space. Even when the girls got older they had to share a bed even if they did have their own room because their older brother was off doing his national service at the time.

Having read Hidden Lives I was already aware that Margaret’s mother had aspirations and so eventually, through her hard work, although the money to fund the move and the increased rent was down to her husband working overtime, the family moved to the better side of town.

From here we follow Margaret to her student digs, her first house as a young married woman on the edge of Hampstead Heath, and beyond, including holiday homes both abroad and nearer her native Carlisle.

This is a fairly slim novel and the houses described are littered with personal details about the way she felt about neighbours, builders, her writing and sadly her illness. Sadly the cancer had already spread by the time she wrote this, her last piece of non-fiction, and more than likely is the explanation for the brevity and the matter of fact way she touches on her options is probably even harder to read in retrospect. Margaret Forster died on 8 February 2016 aged 77 having left a wealth of books behind to entertain and enlighten new generations of readers.

The most fascinating part of this book of however has nothing to do with the author and everything to do with how life changed so considerably between 1938 when she was born and 2014 when the book was published. Her early memories include the black-leading of the fireplace and not without a certain amount of wryness does she delight in this once hated job being integral in her second home in Carlisle. Of course Margaret Forster was more affluent than most but as she references sitting-tenants and shared bathrooms in the past she is describing the lives that certainly were the options open for my ancestors if they wanted to leave home. Life is very different with so many household gadgets nowadays but here is a woman describing the novelty of a home telephone.

For a different type of memoir this method is incredibly effective although I’m not sure I would have loved it quite so much had I not already had an insight not only into the author’s life but those important beliefs around feminism and socialism which seem to have featured long before they might have been expected to surface.

This copy of My Life in Houses was from the local library in my bid to support this wonderful community lifeline which has previously been such a huge part of my life. I would not be the reader I am now if it hadn’t been for libraries to keep me stocked up with books.

First Published UK: 6 November 2014
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
No of Pages: 272
Genre: Non-Fiction – Memoir
Amazon UK
Amazon US