Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016

3 Poisoners, 2 Doctors and a Nursery Maid – My #20booksofsummer Roundup

20 Books of Summer 2016

Cathy at Cathy 746 has a yearly challenge to read twenty books over the summer months starting on 1 June 2015 and finishing on 5 September 2016.

I’ll start by saying I didn’t finish all 20 books this year due to bad planning, a wedding and far too much work, but looking at the positives, I read some fantastic books and made some much-needed room on my bookshelf! The count of physical books on my shelf reducing from 94 to a mere 83 books.

Cathy’s rules are flexible but I challenged myself to read 20 books that I already owned as physical books before the challenge started – no review copies were included.

Did I stick to the rules? Well nearly the only exception was Did She Kill Him? by Kate Colquhoun which was a birthday present delivered in July! So that was just being polite, wasn’t it?

Of the 15 books I did read and review, I had just one DNF, with the Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton, with me concluding that this author’s style isn’t for me, 5 were non-fiction books – I only read 8 non-fiction books in the whole of 2015 but my interest in poisoners this year has definitely fuelled a surge this year.

The 3 suspected poisoners I read about this summer were:

Dr Adams who appeared in Jane Robins’s book The Curious Habits of Dr Adams. Dr Adams was arrested in 1956 under suspicion of killing a number of his patients in return for cars & money but his alleged crimes started many years previously. A fascinating five star read.

Gail Bell’s book The Poison Principle the subject matter was her paternal grandfather who was suspected of poisoning his two young sons in 1927. Gail Bell’s book took in real-life infamous poisoners and those in literature; who can forget the wicked witch and her poisoned apple in Snow White? in a wide-ranging and interesting read.

Florence Maybrick is one of the alleged poisoners that features frequently in lists of those women who poison – a real worry for Victorian society when a few fly-papers legally bought could see the demise of unwanted husbands and relatives. Kate Colquhoun’s book Did She Kill Him? was an immensely readable book which covered the entirety of Florence Maybrick’s life and was another five star read.

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My greatest achievement was finishing the entire 640 pages of Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain which is the author’s memoir of the First World War as a VAD and beyond. This was more of a mixed bag with some of the book incredibly interesting and sadly, parts which my lack of knowledge rendered a bit of a slog. I actually started this read in mid-July and finally turned the last page at the end of September, proving once again that reading more than one book at a time just doesn’t work for me!

Noel Streatfeild’s book about life as an Edwardian Nanny, Tea by the Nursery Fire, was a bit of a mixed-bag, my conclusion being that this favourite children’s author had passed her best by the time she wrote this in 1976.

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I had 2 books on my list that were a catch-up of series that I love – Sophie Hannah’s The Narrow Bed didn’t disappoint at all with an off-the-wall mystery with a literary base and gained five stars from me. Meanwhile Camilla Läckberg’s Swedish series featuring Patrik Hedström and Erica Falck often links past crimes with the present and Buried Angels was a superb mystery whose roots spread back to the beginning of the twentieth century.

Another series which I love and have read was written by the talented Reginald Hill and features Dalziel and Pascoe and Pictures of Perfection was book 13 in this series. Once again this author proved what a brilliant writer he was. An absorbing, clever and well-plotted read originally written in the early 1990s looking at a way of life that was dying out.

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I also took in two older books by authors that I’ve discovered more recently;

L.P. Hartley’s The Shrimp and the Anemone is a dark look at two siblings in the inter-war period, frail Eustace and his bossy elder sister Hilda – this is the first in a trilogy and based on this read the following two will appear here before too long.

Beryl Bainbridge is slightly more contemporary and An Awfully Big Adventure is set in 1950s Liverpool with theatre life under the microscope of this sharp author. Another author who I will be reading more from in the near future this book also being awarded five stars.

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And it wouldn’t be a summer list without one book entry from Agatha Christie and this year I chose The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. The second doctor on my list narrates this novel about his patient who has been stabbed in the back. I concur that this is one of the best of Christie’s novels.

I stayed in the past with Sarah Water’s The Little Stranger which could be read as a ghost story, unless you are me, as I’m not a fan of ghosts in books (or anywhere else for that matter), who couldn’t resist this fantastic author’s work and read it at a slightly different level!

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With the contemporary fiction on my list taking in the strange tale of two sets of twins in the aptly named The Twins by Saskia Sarginson, a couple recovering from the loss of their son set in Italy in Other People’s Secrets by Louise Candlish and a psychological thriller that is quite frankly still haunting me with You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz, all in all it was a varied summer reading wise.

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My aim is to keep the page devoted to 20 Books of Summer updated with the last 4 reads ready to beat this challenge in 2017 if Cathy is good enough to hold it again.

Top Read of 20 Books of Summer 2016

The question is how do you choose the best read when the subjects are as wide-ranging as the style of writing employed – the answer is it’s tough but in the end exceptionally easy based on the impact this book made – forever now linked to a pool in Crete where I sat and became absorbed by village life in Enscombe in Yorkshire.

The Top Read of 20 Books of Summer 2016 is Pictures of Perfection by Reginald Hill!

 

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Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016, Book Review, Books I have read

The Poison Principle – Gail Bell #20booksofsummer

Book 1

Non-Fiction 4*s
Non-Fiction
4*s

Here is the very first of the books I’ve read in my 20 Books of Summer 2016! To find out about the rest of the books on my list, I have dedicated a page which if all goes according to plan will include the entire list of my book reviews by 5 September 2016.

And what a start to the challenge – this is one of those fascinating books where you don’t know quite what you are about to learn from one page to the next. If you too love learning more about poisons and those who administer them, you can’t go wrong with this book. Even for those of you who don’t have quite the same niche interest as me, there is plenty to ponder on the literary side, those myths, fairy tales through Shakespeare and Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and taking in a few other’s along the way.

The backbone of the book is the discovery the author made that her paternal Grandfather had poisoned two of his young sons in their Australian home in 1927. The author started to unravel the truth behind this family tale in 1980 by contacting her Grandmother’s sister who one afternoon agreed to be interviewed and told her the facts, the background to the perpetrator William Macbeth, and what life was like for the family at the time, and afterwards.

The book does read a little like a stream of consciousness but fortunately that stream is one of knowledge coupled with intelligence so it maintains a loose kind of structure. Along the way we learn about the origins of some of the popular poisons, famous poisoners which include those who used this method as suicide, forensics and even a poisoned circus elephant gets a place in this eclectic read.

My interest in poisoners has me fairly well-versed in the most infamous of this group including Crippen, Florence Maybrick, Madeline Smith amongst a whole host of others and I got to know some new ones too with the mini case histories the author provides us with. Gail Bell also looks at the notion that poisoning was a woman’s crime, sneaky and devious and using the traditional woman’s nurturing hand to provide poison rather than sustenance. She examines the statistics which bear out the truth that most non-accidental poisonings are against family members. As you can tell there is a lot to enjoy and discover but perhaps as a pay-off there is little that goes too deeply below the surface which I have to confess suited me perfectly – this is perhaps a friendlier read than the more learned book that The Secret Poisoner was and fortunately doesn’t include the gut-wrenching descriptions of poisons doing their work in the human body. What Bell does give us is a look at what action different poisons take on the body, a physiological study rather than one of the symptoms which again, I use the word again, was fascinating!

I have to confess that the subject matter took a turn for the truly bizarre when the author gave some of the characters, including Cleopatra, an imaginary rescue through quick action of those around them, for me the book could have lost these imaginations.

By the end of this meandering look at a whole range of poisoners both real and literary, we find out the truth of what happened to the poor Macbeth boys. A sad tale indeed for the whole family, including the author’s father who was fostered out to a rural farm to carry out chores for his bed and board.

I’d like to say a big thank you to Hayley of Rather Too Fond of Books who took the time to suggest this one to me following my review of The Secret Poisoner – that’s the best aspect of book blogging – I would never have come across this book, published in 2002 by Macmillan without such a recommendation.

To see what everyone else is reading look out for #20booksofsummer on twitter or go and check out the list of participants at Cathy 746 and of course the lovely Cathy herself, who came up with this challenge!

Posted in Challenge

20 Books of Summer 2016! #20booksofsummer

20 Books of Summer 2016

Cathy at Cathy 746 has a yearly challenge to read twenty books over the summer months starting on 1 June 2016 and running until 5 September 2016, and I’ve decided to join her. In preparation I had already decided not to read ARCs during June to get me off to a flying start.

As I’m competitive I’m signing up for the full twenty. My personal challenge is to read these twenty books from my bookshelf, physical books that I already own before today. Funnily enough I have plenty to choose from… a whole 95 in fact!

Because I know that facts in one book tend to lead me to seek out other books in my tangential reading style, I’ve decided to start with a spread of genres and authors for the first ten books – fat books, thin books and books inbetween! I will post the next ten when these are all finished hopefully mid-July, if I’m on schedule!

The links below will take you to the Goodreads description

The Testament of Youth by Vera Britten

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

The Poison Principle by Gail Bell

The Curious Habits of Doctor Adams by Jane Robins

Other People’s Secrets by Louise Candlish

You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz

An Awfully Big Adventure by Beryl Bainbridge

Pictures of Perfection (Dalziel & Pascoe #13) by Reginald Hill

Buried Angels (Patrik Hedström #8) by Camilla Läckberg

The Shrimp and the Anemone by L.P. Hartley

I will be joining Cathy by tweeting my way through the challenge using the hashtag #20booksofsummer and I will provide (a yet to be decided logo) to demonstrate when one of my reads is part of this challenge!

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Like last year there will be a master page linking the titles to my reviews as they are posted, and of course eventually listing the entire twenty books.

There’s still time to join in and Cathy has also provided a 10 Books of Summer image or even a 15 Books of Summer image for those of you who feel aiming for 20 is quite frankly ridiculous. Visit Cathy to get the full details here

So what do you think to my choices? Do you have any suggestions on where I should start or perhaps you think some of these need to be put back on the shelf and forgotten about? All comments welcomed!