Posted in 5 Of the Best

Five of the Best – Five Star Reads (January 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 January 2014 is historical fiction. Wake by Anna Hope features  The Hammersmith Palais de Danse acts almost as a character in its own right. The ‘real’ characters are:
Ada, 45, whose son never returned from the war.
Evelyn almost 30 lives with a friend, another spinster and goes to work each day in the Pension Exchange interviewing the wounded.
Hettie who lives with her mother and shell-shocked brother Fred who is employed as a dancer at The Hammersmith Palais de Danse.

This was a beautiful, if incredibly moving read, bravely, published in the hundredth anniversary of the start of the war, containing far more anti-war sentiment than many set in this time period.

Blurb

Remembrance Day 1920: A wartime secret connects three women’s lives: Hettie whose wounded brother won’t speak; Evelyn who still grieves for her lost lover; and Ada, who has never received an official letter about her son’s death, and is still waiting for him to come home. As the mystery that binds them begins to unravel, far away, in the fields of France, the Unknown Soldier embarks on his journey home. The mood of the nation is turning towards the future – but can these three women ever let go of the past? Amazon

I read one of the biggest psychological thrillers of 2015 in January of the same year: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins which although not the first big title featuring a ‘girl’ also helped to spawn a whole ream of other books with girls in the title.

My conclusion was that it is an accomplished debut, written by an author who has exactly the right balance of ingredients for a psychological suspense novel, a well-plotted mystery, a handful of life-like characters, events revealed at the right time and an ending that didn’t disappoint.

Blurb

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.

Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.
Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train… Amazon

I was a little bit further behind the times with my five star choice for 2016 as Burial Rites by Hannah Kent had been published in 2013. The story of Agnes Magnúsdótti, the last person to be executed in Iceland left its mark on me. This nuanced tale of a woman accused of murder living within a family whilst she awaited her fate is coiled with superstition and dread.

Blurb

In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnúsdóttir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of her lover.

Agnes is sent to wait out her final months on the farm of district officer Jón Jónsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderer in their midst, the family avoid contact with Agnes. Only Tóti, the young assistant priest appointed Agnes’s spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her. As the year progresses and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’s story begins to emerge and with it the family’s terrible realization that all is not as they had assumed.

Based on actual events, Burial Rites is an astonishing and moving novel about the truths we claim to know and the ways in which we interpret what we’re told. In beautiful, cut-glass prose, Hannah Kent portrays Iceland’s formidable landscape, in which every day is a battle for survival, and asks, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others? Amazon

January 2017 was always going to feature a book that is incredibly special to me (you can read why here). A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys is a historical tale set on an ocean liner at the brink of WWII. Not only is it a brilliant piece of social history, it has visits to far-flung places whilst encompassing a brilliant story with fabulous characters. The closed environment provides a somewhat combustible mix of characters, all bought brilliantly to life by the clothes they wear, their chatter over dinner along with how they chose to spend all their time while their new home, and life, inches closer – and there is a mystery – what more could you want?

Blurb

England, September 1939
Lily Shepherd boards a cruise liner for a new life in Australia and is plunged into a world of cocktails, jazz and glamorous friends. But as the sun beats down, poisonous secrets begin to surface. Suddenly Lily finds herself trapped with nowhere to go …

Australia, six-weeks later
The world is at war, the cruise liner docks, and a beautiful young woman is escorted onto dry land in handcuffs.
What has she done? Amazon

I always find it hardest to judge a favourite book closer to the time I read it but for the top review of 2018 I am choosing Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan which consists of a rape trial, Oxford University and Number 10 Downing Street. An explosive mix of the highly privileged and a scandal that has the power to destroy those in power. This is not only a triumph of impeccable timing given the state of politics and rape trials of the moment, it is also immensely readable.

Blurb

A high-profile marriage thrust into the spotlight. A wife, determined to keep her family safe, must face a prosecutor who believes justice has been a long time coming. A scandal that will rock Westminster. And the women caught at the heart of it.

Anatomy of a Scandal centres on a high-profile marriage that begins to unravel when the husband is accused of a terrible crime. Sophie is sure her husband, James, is innocent and desperately hopes to protect her precious family from the lies which might ruin them. Kate is the barrister who will prosecute the case – she is equally certain that James is guilty and determined he will pay for his crimes. Amazon

If you want to see what the five books featured on Five of the Best for January 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.

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 Uncategorized

My A-Z of Books

I saw this on Portebello Book Blog and By The Letter Book Reviews  and felt compelled to do this myself!

Author You’ve Read the Most Books From

This has to be Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine when you take into the stand-alones and the Wexford series I have devoured a fair few of her books.

Best Sequel Ever

This is really hard but I’m going to pick The Lewis Man by Peter May which is the middle book of the Lewis Trilogy – if you haven’t read these, you are missing out.

Currently Reading

Play Dead by Angela Marsons the fourth in the amazing Kim Stone series

Drink of Choice While ReadingCoffee

Coffee, coffee and coffee – I’m addicted

E-Reader or Physical Book
I love my kindle and couldn’t live without it for ease and space reasons but I now accept that I prefer a physical book

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated in High School

At the time I was in high school it would have been Rupert Campbell-Black from Jilly Cooper’s Riders although he would have been far too old for me of course!

Fiver Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain

Glad You Gave this Book a Chance

There are loads but most recently, Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain by Barney Norris was an amazing read, one that has softened my opinion of literary fiction considerably.

Hidden Gem Book

White Lie by Andrea Gillies which blew me away with its deep and dark secrets that shaped generations of the Salter family in Scotland.

Important Moment in Your Reading Life

Being invited to join the Amazon Vine program which meant that I was offered books that I might previously have ignored which really expanded my reading.

Just Finished

Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica

Kind of Books You Won’t Read

No fantasy novels or sci-fi – I’ve tried to embrace the genre but it just isn’t me!

Longest Book You’ve Read

I’m not sure this is the longest in all time but about six years ago I read London by Edward Rutherfield which came in at a whopping 1152 pages – it took a long time for me to read but it was worth it to travel through London’s history and witness the changes.

Major Book HangoverBuriel Rites

Ooh this is hard, possibly after reading Burial Rites by Hannah Kent where I had immersed myself in Agnes’s story in Iceland where she awaited trial for murder with the Jonsson family – heartbreakingly sad!

Number of Bookcases You Own

Four but I desperately need a new one, I can’t part with any of the books currently residing in my abode!!

One Book You’ve Read Multiple Times

Margaret Forster’s Shadow Baby a book which underlines the fact that mothers come in all shapes and sizes and not always in a good way! Better still this is one of those dual time-line stories which I love!

Preferred Place to Read

If I could be on holiday all year round it would be by the pool on a sun-lounger with a fruity cocktail – reality designates my dear bed though.

Quote that Inspires You/Gives You all the Feels from a Book You’ve Read

I’m not sure that this inspires me so I’m going for the second half of the question from The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

Reading Regret

That I will never have time to read all the books that I want to! TBR cupboard

Series You Started and Need to Finish

Lots and lots, including those that I started part way through! The one I am most compelled to finish is Camilla Läckberg’s  Patrik Hedstrom and Erica Falck series– I’m up to book eight, Buried Angels but I think I still need to read book four too!

Three of Your All-Time Favourite Books

I’m not sure how I’m supposed to choose just three, I will but on the proviso that I can change my mind at any time to include the three-hundred books which would be a far fairer question.

Asta’s Book by Barbara Vine

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brook

I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb

Three books

Unapologetic Fangirl For

I’m not really a fangirl in the long-term way, maybe I don’t have the stamina but everyone who talks books to me gets told about the aforementioned Lewis Trilogy by Peter May

Very Excited for this Release more than All Others

This has to be Love You Dead by Peter James which is out later this month! Considering I am fairly rubbish at reading series, this is one I always pre-order and make space in the reading schedule for!

Worst Bookish Habit

Buying far too many books that deep down I know I will never have time to read.

X Marks the Spot: Start on the Top Left of Your Shelf and Pick the 27th Book

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver, which is a ‘sliding-doors’ novel; Irina McGovern’s destiny hinges on a single kiss. Whether she stays with her reliable partner Lawrence, or runs off with Ramsey, a hard-living snooker player.

Your Latest Purchase

Pariah by David Jackson, the first in Detective Callum Doyle series bought because although I have the fourth in this series, Cry Baby, I enjoyed A Tapping at my Door so much I wanted to start at the beginning of his previous series.

Zzzzz-Snatcher Book (Last Book that Kept You up Way too late)

White Is The Coldest Colour by John Nicholl which was not only compulsive reading, the subject matter was so dark sleep wouldn’t come easily anyway.

 

Reading silhouette

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

Burial Rites – Hannah Kent

Historical Fiction 5*s
Historical Fiction
5*s

Well this was a devastating read!!

Telling the tale, as it does of Agnes Magnúsdóttir:

‘Agnes Magnúsdóttir was the last person to be executed in Iceland, convicted for her role in the murders of Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson on the night between the 13th and 14th of March 1828, at Illugastadir, on the Vatnsnes Peninsula, North Iceland.’

There were no surprises as to the ending, but the further I read through, right up until the last page I was willing history to be changed, for Agnes to pardoned and her life to be saved. Why was I rooting so hard for a murderess? Well Hannah Kent has in her words to:

‘This novel has been written to supply a more ambiguous portrayal of this woman’

She does this by recounting the run-up to the murders, partly in the first person narrative that Agnes gives to her chosen priest, Assistant Reverand Tóti Jónsson who is to prepare her spiritually for her death and later to Magrét Jónsson whose farm she was sent to while awaiting her execution. We also have an omnipresent third person narrator who lends a wider view of the crime committed, and of Agnes herself. From this we get an alternative view of how and why Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson came to be slayed with a knife and a hammer one night. It would take the hardest of hearts not to feel some sympathy for Agnes, not because the author tells us so, oh no, far cleverer than that Hannah Kent paints a captivating picture of the coldness, darkness and sheer bleakness of life in nineteenth century Iceland alongside the more common tale of a woman deceived by her lover. For Natan and Agnes were lovers; it was for Natan she’d left the comparatively well-populated life in the valley farms as a workmaid to follow him to more or less entire seclusion in Illugastadir.

‘All my life people have thought I was too clever. Too clever by half, they’d say. And you know what Reverend? That’s exactly why they don’t pity me. Because they think I’m too smart, too knowing to get caught up in this by accident.’

Hannah Kent has used the Icelandic sagas as a base to weave the story around, many of the characters we meet prefer these sagas to the Christian teaching of the church. Through this we have the subtle yet powerful lyrical narrative that had me drawn into Agnes’s tale.

‘My tongue feels so tired; it slumps in my mouth like a dead bird, all damp feathers, in between the stones of my teeth.’

With its references to the superstitions of the day frequently referencing the ravens I came to dread their appearance fearing what horrors they may be about to foretell despite being in a nice warm cosy home not a home where the boards hiding the dung used to build the walls had been sold to enable the family of Jón Jónsson to eat.  The feelings of the household to the newly billeted prisoner are also deftly drawn with a light touch. It is a supposed honour which comes with compensation but one that can’t be refused despite the concerns of both Jón and Magrét about the spiritual and moral welfare of both their daughter.

I can’t praise the author for the haunting simplicity of the writing in this book, although as the story worked its way towards its tragic ending, I was heartbroken.

‘They said I must die. They said that I stole the breath from men and now they must steal mine.’

If you, like me, didn’t get around to reading this when it was first published, I urge you to, this book which does not flinch from the realities of Agnes’s life and death should not be missed.

Posted in Weekly Posts

This Week In Books (January 13)

This Week In Books

Hosted by Lypsyy 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

Alongside the TBR Reduction plan I am making an effort to read some of the older items that are lurking on it – these are usually in kindle format so I have started The Siren by Alison Bruce which was purchased on 29 July 2012 soon after I read the first in this series featuring DC Goodhew, Cambridge Blue. The choice was also prompted by the fact that I have the sixth in the series, The Promise, from NetGalley to read soon!

The Siren

Blurb

All it took was one small item on the regional news for Kimberly Guyver and Rachel Golinski to know that their old life was catching up with them. They wondered how they’d been naïve enough to think it wouldn’t. They hoped they still had a chance to leave it behind – just one more time – but within hours, Rachel’s home is burning and Kimberly’s young son, Riley, is missing.
DC Goodhew begins to sift through their lives, and starts to uncover an unsettling picture of deceit, murder and accelerating danger. Kimberly seems distraught but also defensive and uncooperative. Is it fear and mistrust of the police which are putting her son at risk, or darker motivations?
With Riley’s life in peril, Goodhew needs Kimberly to make choices, but she has to understand, the one thing she cannot afford is another mistake. Amazon

So that’s the something old, now for the something new…

I have just finished The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth

The Things We Keep

See yesterday’s post for the synopsis and a taster from this book

And next I’m going to read one from ‘I should have read this ages ago’ pile; Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Buriel Rites

Blurb

A brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829.
Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.
Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard.
Riveting and rich with lyricism, BURIAL RITES evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others? Amazon

What are you reading this week? Please leave your links in the comments section below