My Friday Post: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is one of my TBRs  and is one of the books on my 20 Books of Summer list. It’s about Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. I bought it 5 years ago and have started reading it more than once, but have never finished it. But ever since I read and loved A God in Ruins about Ursula’s brother Teddy, I have been meaning to pick it up again.

Life after life

 

November 1930

A fug of tobacco smoke and damp clammy air hit her as she entered the café. She had come in from the rain and drops of water still trembled like delicate dew on the fur coats of some of the women inside. A regiment of white-aproned waiters rushed around at tempo, serving the needs of the Münchner at leisure – coffee, cake and gossip.

So far, this time round I think this may be the right time for me to read this book.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

On the way home, Pamela carried both baby rabbits in her pinafore, holding it out proudly in front of her like Bridget with a tea-tray.

‘Look at you,’ Hugh said when they walked wearily through the garden gate. ‘Golden and kissed by the sun. You look like real countrywomen.’

‘More red than gold, I’m afraid,’ Sylvie said ruefully.

Blurb:

What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath.

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale.

What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?

Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, Kate Atkinson finds warmth even in life’s bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here she is at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.

If you have read this book I’d love to know what you think about it. And if you haven’t, would you keep reading?

The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry

Art of Dying

Canongate Books|29 August 2019|416 pages|e-book|Review copy|5*

A Note From the Publisher

 

Many thanks to Canongate Books for an e-book review copy via NetGalley.

A-Z of TBRs: E-Books: G, H and I

Once again I’ve been looking at all the forgotten e-books on my Kindle and this is the third instalment of my A – Z of my e-book TBRs – with a little ‘taster’ from each. These are all fiction.

Go set a watchman

G is for  Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, on my Kindle since November 2014. I remembered I hadn’t read this when recently I got a copy of Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep, in which she tells the story Harper Lee wanted to write and why she couldn’t after the success of To Kill a Mockingbird (which I loved).

Atticus Finch shot his left cuff, then cautiously pushed it back. One-forty. On some days he wore two watches: he wore two this day, an ancient watch and chain his children had cut their teeth on, and a wristwatch. The former was habit, the latter used to tell time when he could not move his fingers enough to dig in his watchpocket. He had been a big man before age and arthritis reduced him to medium size. He was seventy-two last month, but Jean Louise always thought of him hovering somewhere in his middle fifties – she could not remember him being any younger, and he seemed to grow no older. (page 17)

Go Set a Watchman is set two decades after To Kill a Mockingbird and is the story of Jean- Louise Finch – ‘Scout’ – as she returns home from New York City to visit her ageing father, Atticus. Her homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt.

I’d dithered over whether to read this and then forgot I had it!

Hidden depths

is for Hidden Depths by Ann Cleeves, on my Kindle since March 2014. It’s the 3rd book in her Vera Stanhope series, which I have been reading totally out of order. It doesn’t spoil my enjoyment, especially as over the years I’ve been watching the TV series and I think I remember seeing the TV version of Hidden Depths years ago.

It’s hot summer on the Northumberland coast and Julie Armstrong arrives home from a night out to find her son strangled, laid out in a bath of water and covered with wild flowers. In the following extract, his mother, Julie is talking to Vera:

Julie was sitting on the floor, her knees pulled up to her chin, her arms clasped around them. She looked up at the detective, who was still watching and waiting. It came to her suddenly that this woman, large and solid like rock, might once have known tragedy herself. That was why she could sit there without making those stupid sympathetic noises Sal and the doctor had made. This woman knew that nothing she could say would make it better. But Julie didn’t care about the detective’s sadness and the thought was fleeting. She went back to her story. (15).

Ann Cleeves is one of my favourite authors and I really should have read this book when I first bought it.

In too deep

I is for In Too Deep by Bea Davenport, on my Kindle since July 2013. I had totally forgotten that I had this book. Five years ago Maura fled life in Dowerby and took on a new identity, desperately trying to piece her life back together and escape the dark clouds that plagued her past. But then a reporter tracked her down, and persuaded her to tell her story, putting her own life in danger once again.

So then as I just get out the shower and the door buzzer sounds, I catch my breath. No-one ever comes to see me, and I don’t receive post unless it’s junk mail. When a man’s voice asks for Maura Wood, I feel a grip on my heart, clenching like a fist. I am frozen with fear.

I shiver involuntarily, goose bumps covering my body like guilty fingers. I haven’t heard that name for almost five years. I pull my towel tighter around me. ‘No, sorry. There’s no-one here of that name.’

But the voice has picked up on my pause. ‘I was told Maura Wood lives here. Is that not you, Maura?’

‘No, I’m not Maura. I’ve told you. Who is that?’

(7%)

Bea Davenport is the writing name of former print and broadcast journalist Barbara Henderson. In Too Deep, was her first crime/suspense novel. Bea spent many years as a newspaper reporter and latterly seventeen years as a senior broadcast journalist with the BBC in the north-east of England. Originally from Tyneside, she lives in Berwick-upon-Tweed, not very far away from me. I haven’t read any of her books.

If you’ve read any of these books please let me know what you think. Or if you haven’t read them do they tempt you?

Gallows Court by Martin Edwards

Gallows Court by Martin Edwards has been on my radar since it was published last year. And I’ve read plenty of reviews full of praise for it, so my  expectations were high as I began reading, especially as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of his other books that I’ve read, particularly his Lake District murder mysteries. Gallows Court, set in 1930s London, is a change of direction for Martin Edwards, born out of his fascination with that period in history and his love of Golden Age detective fiction. It is the first in a series; the next book, due out in March next year, is to be Mortmain Hall, a sequel to Gallows Court. 

Gallows Court

Blurb (Amazon):

London, 1930.
A headless corpse; an apparent suicide in a locked room; a man burned alive during an illusionist’s show in front of thousands of people. Scotland Yard is baffled by the sequence of ghastly murders unfolding across the city and at the centre of it all is mysterious heiress Rachel Savernake. Daughter of a grand judge, Rachel is as glamorous as she is elusive.

Jacob Flint, a tenacious young journalist eager to cover the gruesome crimes, is drawn into Rachel’s glittering world of wealth and power. But as the body count continues to rise, Jacob is convinced Rachel is harbouring a dark secret and he soon becomes part of a dangerous game that could leave him dancing at the end of the hangman’s rope if he pursues the truth.

My thoughts:

I think this must be the twistiest book I’ve read – there are twists and turns galore, my head was spinning as I read the first 100 pages. I had to stop when I realised that apart from Rachel and Jacob I had little idea of who anybody was, what they were doing and how they interacted. There are so many characters and the story is told in short sections moving rapidly from scene to scene and from one viewpoint to another. I had to go right back to the beginning – start again and this time concentrate much more on who was who and what they were up to.

Jacob Flint is constant throughout, but Rachel Savernack is not. I was never sure about her, what to think of her, or who she really was because it’s obvious that there is more to her than first meets the eye. The pressure never lets up – there is always tension and suspicion about who is telling the truth, and who is not who they appear to be. You just cannot believe anything as it’s full of illusions and tricks to baffle and mislead. Towards the end the fog lifted and I began to suspect the truth. It is certainly a challenging book and if you enjoy an intricately plotted murder mystery with plenty of suspense and intrigue then this is the book for you.

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Head of Zeus (6 Sept. 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1788546075
  • ISBN-13: 978-1788546072
  • Source: Library book
  • Martin Edwards website.
  • My rating: 4*

Reading challenge: The Virtual Mount TBR

Latest Additions at BooksPlease

It was my birthday last week and I was delighted to find amongst my presents two books – this lovely hardback book by Val McDermid, My Scotland, and an e-book, Transcription by Kate Atkinson.

My ScotlandIn My Scotland Val McDermid writes about the landscapes she has known all her life, and the places where her stories and characters reside. Accompanied by over 100 stunning photographs by Alan McCredie, it uncovers Val’s own Scotland in all its glory – from the iconic Isle of Skye to the majestic streets of Edinburgh; from the undiscovered hideaways of the Highlands to the wild and untamed Jura.

I’m a relative newcomer to Val McDermid’s books as years ago I couldn’t watch Wire in the Blood on TV, based on the characters she created, because of all the blood and gory details it was showing. So, for years I avoided her books, not realising that she writes far more than just the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series. So far I’ve only read her Karen Pirie books, but some of these feature in My Scotland and it’s a bonus to see the locations. And it also includes a short story, The Devil’s Share, set on Jura.

TranscriptionRecently I’ve seen some unfavourable reviews of Kate Atkinson’s books, but I’m hoping I’ll enjoy Transcription as I’ve loved some of her earlier books, especially A God in Ruins.

In 1940, eighteen-year old Juliet Armstrong is reluctantly recruited into the world of espionage. Sent to an obscure department of MI5 tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of British Fascist sympathizers, she discovers the work to be by turns both tedious and terrifying. But after the war has ended, she presumes the events of those years have been relegated to the past for ever.

Ten years later, now a producer at the BBC, Juliet is unexpectedly confronted by figures from her past. A different war is being fought now, on a different battleground, but Juliet finds herself once more under threat. A bill of reckoning is due, and she finally begins to realize that there is no action without consequence.

Other new arrivals – via NetGalley are:

Furious hoursFurious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep.

This is the story Harper Lee wanted to write. This is the story of why she couldn’t.

Reverend Willie Maxwell was a rural preacher accused of murdering five of his family members for insurance money in the 1970s. With the help of a savvy lawyer, he escaped justice for years until a relative shot him dead at the funeral of his last victim. Despite hundreds of witnesses, Maxwell’s murderer was acquitted – thanks to the same attorney who had previously defended the Reverend.

As Alabama is consumed by these gripping events, it’s not long until news of the case reaches Alabama’s – and America’s – most famous writer. Intrigued by the story, Harper Lee makes a journey back to her home state to witness the Reverend’s killer face trial. Harper had the idea of writing her own In Cold Blood, the true-crime classic she had helped her friend Truman Capote research. Lee spent a year in town reporting on the Maxwell case and many more years trying to finish the book she called The Reverend.

Now Casey Cep brings this story to life, from the shocking murders to the courtroom drama to the racial politics of the Deep South. At the same time, she offers a deeply moving portrait of one of the country’s most beloved writers and her struggle with fame, success, and the mystery of artistic creativity.

Lying RoomThe Lying Room by Nicci French. I’ve read a few of Nicci French’s books, so I have high hopes that I’ll like this book.

Neve Connolly looks down at a murdered man.
She doesn’t call the police. 

‘You know, it’s funny,’ Detective Inspector Hitching said. ‘Whoever I see, they keep saying, talk to Neve Connolly, she’ll know. She’s the one people talk to, she’s the one people confide in.’
A trusted colleague and friend. A mother. A wife. Neve Connolly is all these things.
She has also made mistakes; some small, some unconsciously done, some large, some deliberate. She is only human, after all.
But now one mistake is spiralling out of control and Neve is bringing those around her into immense danger.
She can’t tell the truth. So how far is she prepared  to go to protect those she loves?
And who does she really know? And who can she trust?
A liar. A cheat. A threat. Neve Connolly is all these things.
Could she be a murderer?

Nothing Ventured by Jeffrey Archer. Years ago I enjoyed reading two of his books –Not a Penny More and Kane and Abel, but nothing else since. So, I wondered if I’d enjoy Nothing Ventured, described as not a detective story, but a story about the making of a detective.

Nothing venturedWilliam Warwick has always wanted to be a detective, and decides, much to his father’s dismay, that rather than become a barrister like his father, Sir Julian Warwick QC, and his sister Grace, he will join London’s Metropolitan Police Force.

After graduating from university, William begins a career that will define his life: from his early months on the beat under the watchful eye of his first mentor, Constable Fred Yates, to his first high-stakes case as a fledgling detective in Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques squad. Investigating the theft of a priceless Rembrandt painting from the Fitzmolean Museum, he meets Beth Rainsford, a research assistant at the gallery who he falls hopelessly in love with, even as Beth guards a secret of her own that she’s terrified will come to light.

While William follows the trail of the missing masterpiece, he comes up against suave art collector Miles Faulkner and his brilliant lawyer, Booth Watson QC, who are willing to bend the law to breaking point to stay one step ahead of William. Meanwhile, Miles Faulkner’s wife, Christina, befriends William, but whose side is she really on?

Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers

Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers, is the second Lord Peter Wimsey book and one of my 20 Books of Summer. It was first published in 1926. My copy was reprinted in 1984 and I bought it secondhand four years ago.

Clouds of witness Sayers

From the back cover of my paperback:

A man is found shot, and the Duke of Denver is charged with his murder. Naturally, it is his brother, Lord Peter Wimsey, who is called in to investigate the crime. This is a family affair, for the murdered man was the fiancé of the sister of Denver and Wimsey.

Why, then, does the Duke refuse to co-operate with the investigation? Is he really guilty, or is he covering up for someone? Why is Wimsey attacked by an enraged farmer on the lonely moors? Why is an attempt made on his life in a Soho street?

My thoughts:

So many questions! And as I read even more popped into my mind – why did Lady Mary, Wimsey’s sister, leave the house at 3am on the morning of the murder? Why is she feigning illness? Whose footprints are those near the body of Denis Cathcourt (the murdered man)? What is the significance of the diamond cat charm with eyes of bright emeralds? And why won’t the Duke defend himself? Then there are the bloodstains and signs that the body had been dragged to the door of the conservatory where it was found, leading into the nearby thicket. If the Duke didn’t kill Cathcart who did and why?

The evidence against the Duke is circumstantial. So, Wimsey has his work cut out to prove his innocence and save him from the death penalty. Together with his friend, Inspector Charles Parker (who is in love with Lady Mary), and Bunter, his manservant, they look for clues and interview the family’s guests on the night of the murder. There are several strands to the story and minor characters who all manage to confuse the mystery.

There are some memorable scenes, such as Wimsey and Bunter’s escapade on the moors when they attempted to get to Grider’s Hole. The fog had come on them suddenly, blotting out their surroundings and they had no idea what direction to take. They strode forward gingerly unable to distinguish uphill from downhill – then Wimsey tripped into a bog, and found himself sinking up to his thighs. As well as struggling in the foggy bog, Wimsey also got shot and rather dramatically flew to New York in pursuit of evidence, a dangerous journey in a fragile plane as a deep depression was crossing the Atlantic bringing storms with heavy rain and sleet, rising to a gale as the plane lurched from gust to gust.

The trial scene in the House of Lords is fascinating:

The historic trial of the Duke of Denver for murder opened as soon as Parliament reassembled after the Christmas vacation. The papers had leaderettes on ‘Trial by his Peers’, by a Woman Barrister, and ‘The Privilege of Peers: should it be abolished?’ by a Student of History. The Evening Banner got into trouble for contempt by publishing an article entitled ‘The Silken Rope’ (by an Antiquarian), which was deemed to be prejudicial, and the Daily Trumpet – the Labour organ – inquired sarcastically why, when a peer was tried, the fun of seeing the show should be reserved to the few influential persons who could wangle tickets for the Royal Gallery. (pages 217 -218)

Clouds of Witness is a book of its time, there is much banter, wit and humour, and plenty of snobbery of all types clearly showing the class distinctions between the working and upper classes. It is a clever story, well told, with colourful characters and I liked the details it gives about Wimsey’s family as I’ve been reading these books totally out of order.

All in all, I enjoyed it – 4*.

Reading challenges: 20 Books of Summer, Calendar of Crime, and Mount TBR challenge 2019

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

 A house with the darkest of secrets.

Family upstairs

Random House UK Cornerstone|8 August 2019|464 pages|e-book |Review copy|5*