Eight Books I Was SO EXCITED to Get, but Still Haven’t Read 

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

The topic this week is Books I Was SO EXCITED to Get, but Still Haven’t Read. Years ago I didn’t have had any books I hadn’t read – as soon as I bought or borrowed a book I read it. I didn’t have a backlog! Now I have so many that I have to prioritise, which means that books like these I’ve listed below keep being left on the shelves even though I was really excited to read them when I bought them. It’s comforting to know I have books ready to read, but it was also great when I could buy and read a book straight away.

There are two books listed on my LibraryThing catalogue that I’ve owned since 4 February 2007 – A Dead Language by Peter Rushforth and Thomas Hardy: The Time-torn Man by Claire Tomalin. I did start to read both of them years ago, but put them aside for a while – and that’s where they still are. I bought the Rushforth book as I’d loved his first book, Pinkerton’s Sister, but A Dead Language doesn’t have the same appeal, although I can’t bring myself to the point of actually abandoning it. Whereas I still really want to read the Hardy biography …

I have two novels about Troy –The Song of Troy by Colleen McCullough and Helen of Troy by Margaret George – both bought because I love historical fiction and have enjoyed books by both authors. I devoured McCullough’s Rome series and expected to be able to immerse myself in The Song of Troy but the book is in such a small font that I haven’t got very far reading it. I loved Mary, Called Magdalene by Margaret George years ago so I was really keen to read Helen of Troy, but it is such a big thick book of over 750 pages that it is so unwieldy, hard to hold and so tightly bound I can hardly open it.

The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone is a book I’ve been longing to read for years. It’s a biographical novel about Michelangelo. The copy I had was impossible to read as it was falling apart so I bought a new copy – but it’s still sitting waiting to be read. Why? Well because I have so many other books I really want to read …

Another book I’ve had since 2007, still waiting to be read for the same reason is 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro. 1599 was the year the Globe Theatre was built and that Shakespeare wrote Julius Caesar, Henry V, As You Like It and Hamlet. it’s full of detail, not just about Shakespeare, his plays and the theatre, but also about the events of his life and times!

Two more books I really wanted to read before now are The Children’s Book by A S Byatt and Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally.

When I bought The Children’s Book I was in the middle of reading Wolf Hall and I couldn’t cope with two such long and complicated books, so I temporarily put down The Children’s Book to read later – then other books got in the way.

I was really excited to read Schindler’s List when I bought it as I’d recently watched the film, Schindler’s List for a second time and was very moved by it – it had me in tears. It was first published as Schindler’s Ark. It recreates the story of Oskar Schindler, a member of the Nazi party, who risked his life to protect Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland. He rescued more than a thousand Jews from the death camps.

The Honourable Schoolboy by John Le Carré

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, the first book in John le Carré’s Karla trilogy, a long time ago and I remember enjoying it very much. The story continues in the second book, The Honourable Schoolboy, which I think is brilliant. First published in 1977, it won the Gold Dagger award for the best crime novel of the year and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

It’s wide ranging, set in 1974 in London, Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Phnom Pen (Cambodia), Vientiane (the capital and largest city of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic) Laos. My paperback copy has a map which is on such a small scale and is so detailed that it’s hardly legible. But, at least I could just about make out the main locations!

To say this has a complicated plot is a huge understatement. The amount of detail is staggering and for a while I was rather confused about what was happening. It certainly isn’t a book to read when you’re tired – you need to read it with a clear mind and be prepared to let yourself get fully immersed in the story. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy ends as George Smiley unmasks the identity of the ‘mole’, recruited by Karla, his Russian counterpart, as a spy within the British Secret Service. So, if you haven’t read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy you may want to read it before reading The Honourable Schoolboy because le Carré reveals the identity of that ‘mole’ in the first paragraph.

He then goes on to tell what happened afterwards as Smiley set about dealing with the consequences of that mole’s betrayal. He is appointed as a caretaker chief of the British Secret Service, known as ‘the Circus’, the name derived from the address of that organisation’s secret headquarters, Cambridge Circle. Smiley has Karla’s photo on his wall, determined to chase him down in revenge. Safe houses were closed and spies were recalled from abroad. In his search for Karla, Smiley sends Jerry Westerby, the eponymous Honourable Schoolboy to Hong King, undercover as a reporter, where he discovers a money laundering operation run by Moscow Intelligence and also an opium smuggling operation.

There are many characters and the action moves rapidly between Smiley in London and Westerby as he travels all over the various locations in the Far East. Le Carré’s style is clear and straight forward, the spy jargon, with the defined interwoven into the narrative, moving rapidly from one set of characters, all fully developed, to the next. Smiley, although the controlling character, is not present in much of the book. He is an enigmatic character, a lonely man, a ‘round little man in a raincoat’, as he walks alone in the evenings around the byways of London, immersed in his thoughts crammed with images, always ending in front of his own house where his estranged wife Ann lives.

From a slow start the pace steadily rose until the finale. It was gripped, eager to know how it would end. It was so much better than I thought when I began it and it’s definitely a book I’d like to re-read as I’m sure that I missed a lot in this first reading. But not right now as I’m keen to get on with the next book in the trilogy, Smiley’s People.

20 Books of Summer

Cathy at 746 Books is hosting her 20 Books of Summer Challenge again this year. The challenge runs from June through August. There are options to read 10 or 15 books instead of the full 20. And you can swap a book, or change the list half way through if you want.

You can sign up here.

During previous summers I’ve taken part in this challenge and never managed to read the books I’ve listed, although I’ve read over 20 books during the summer months. It seems that listing books I want to read somehow takes away my desire to read them – or it maybe that other books demand to be read when the time comes. The solution seems to be don’t list the books – but that’s not the challenge!

For now these are 20 books I want to read this summer, subject to change. I’ll be pleased if I read 10 of them:

  1. Winter Garden by Beryl Bainbridge
  2. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
  3. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  4. In Too Deep by Bea Davenport
  5. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter
  6. Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape by Cal Flyn
  7. Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
  8. Killing the Lawyers by Reginald Hill
  9. A Tapping at My Door by David Jackson
  10. Death in Berlin by M M Kaye
  11. The Hiding Place by Simon Lelic
  12. The Children Act by Ian McEwan
  13. I’ll Never Be Young Again by Daphne du Maurier
  14. Undercurrent by Barney Norris
  15. Maigret and the Ghost by Georges Simenon
  16. Spoon-Fed by Tim Spector
  17. King Solomon’s Carpet by Barbara Vine
  18. The Key in the Lock by Beth Underdown
  19. The Invisible Man by H G Wells
  20. The Reason Why by Cecil Woodham-Smith

What will you be reading?

TopTen Tuesdays: Bookish Characters

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

The topic this week is Bookish Characters (these could be readers, writers, authors, librarians, professors, etc.). There are some Top Ten Tuesday topics that I think I’d struggle to find ten books – not so with this one. It’s a no-brainer as I’ve read plenty of books with bookish characters, most of them librarians. These are just ten of them:

  1. The Serpent Pool by Martin Edwards, Marc Amos, a rare book dealer
  2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Liesel Meminger, who loves books
  3. The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett, Peter Byerly, an antiquarian bookseller and Bartholomew Harbottle in the Elizabethan/Stuart period and the Victorian Benjamin Mayhew 
  4. The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse, Bernard Joubert, a bookseller
  5. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, Mr Hutchings, Westminster travelling librarian
  6. The Wench is Dead by Colin Dexter – Christine Greenaway, a librarian at the Bodleian Library.
  7. The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles, Odile Souchet at the American Library in Paris
  8. Crucible of Secrets by S G Maclean, Robert Sim, the college librarian (it was called Crucible when I read it)
  9. Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake, Sourdust, the Gormenghast librarian
  10. The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCracken, Peggy Cort, an introverted librarian

Traitor in the Ice by K J Maitland

Headline Review| 31 March 2022| 461 pages| e-book| Review copy| 2*

I don’t have very much to say about Traitor in the Ice, the second Daniel Pursglove book, by K J Maitland. It is set during the Great Frost of 1607-8 in England, when the Thames and many other rivers were frozen solid, but the countryside was the hardest hit. I preferred the first Daniel Pursglove book, The Drowned City.

It is a dark historical novel, describing life in England under the new king, James I of England and VI of Scotland. Daniel is continuing his search for the mysterious Spero Pettingar, suspected of plotting another conspiracy to kill James and reinstate a Catholic monarch and is sent by the Secretary of State, Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury, to Battle Abbey, near Hastings, in Sussex, a Catholic household, suspected of sheltering Catholic priests.

Daniel is an interesting character, needing all his determination and courage to discover what has been going on at Battle Abbey. It’s made even more difficult as it seems that everyone has something to hide, not just their politics and religious dissent, but also murder. A little bit more of his background is revealed in this second book, but he still remains a mysterious figure. And Spero Pettingar is an even more mysterious character, who is he – is he hiding at Battle Abbey? And will Daniel uncover all the secrets concealed within the Abbey?

But I enjoyed K J Maitland’s Author’s Note and information she gives in ‘Behind the Scenes of this Novel’ more than the novel. The details of her historical research are fascinating, with information about the real people behind her characters, such as Lady Magdalen, Viscountess Montague who did live at Battle Abbey. And the Glossary at the end of the book is also most helpful explaining a lot of the terms in the book I hadn’t come across before.

However, the book failed to hold my interest throughout as the wealth of detail she has put into the novel slows the action down and took away much of the suspense and tension – I felt like I was drowning in description. And at times I wasn’t really sure what was happening, especially at the end of the book – the Epilogue is mystifying.

My thanks to Headline Review for a review copy via NetGalley

Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens: a Brief Overview

The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit is my last book to review on my first Classics Club list. I read this in December 2017 and didn’t write a post, mainly because it was during the Christmas/New Year period, a busy time. All I recorded was this: ‘It is long, starts very slowly and then gets more interesting, with great characters and some comic and satirical episodes. It’s a study of selfishness and hypocrisy.’

From the back cover of my paperback copy:

Moving from the sunniest farcicality to the grimmest reaches of criminal psychology, Martin Chuzzlewit is a brilliant study in selfishness and hypocrisy.

The story of an inheritance, it relates the contrasting destinies of the two descendants of the brothers Chuzzlewit, both born and bred to the same heritage of selfishness, showing how one, Martin, by good fortune escapes and how the other, Jonas, does not – only to reap a fatal harvest. Peopled with Dickens immortals as Mrs Gamp, Poll Sweedlepipe, Montague Tiggs, Chevy Slime, it is one of Dickens’ great comic masterpieces.

It was Dickens’ sixth novel, serially published in 1843-44, and was something of a flop, with a dramatic decline in sales, compared to his early books. I can understand that because it’s not one of my favourites of his books. It is too long – over 900 pages in my Penguin Classics edition. I stuck with it as I had previously enjoyed watching the 1994 TV Mini Series with an excellent cast including Paul Schofield, Keith Allen, Julia Sawalha, Ben Walden, and Lynda Bellingham amongst others.

In this case I think the TV adaptation scores over the novel, which dragged in parts for me. It is a satire, a black comedy, a romance of the sickly sentimentality sort, a story of blackmail and murder, that involves hypocrisy, greed and selfishness.

I thought the section set in America where young Martin went to seek his fortune was overdone and it became tedious. It seems that Dickens had not enjoyed his own visit to America in 1842 as in this section he mocks what he disliked about America – the corrupt newspapers, slavery, the violence, obsession with business and money and so on and so forth. I was glad when young Martin returned to England.

But I enjoyed the comic characters – the drunken nurse of sorts, Mrs Gamp and her invisible friend, Mrs Harris, and Sam Pecksmith, the scheming architect. The Pecksmith family’s visit to London is hilarious. These characters saved the book for me. Mrs Gamp is one of the most bizarre characters with her mispronunciations and monologues recounting her conversations with her imaginary friend Mrs Harris. Her speciality lies in the polar extremities of life, birth and death:the lying in and the laying out.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Penguin Classics; Reissue edition (30 Jan. 1986)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 944 pages
  • Source: my own copy
  • My Rating: 3*

Six Degrees of Separation from True History of the Kelly Gang to Worth Killing For

It’s time again for Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

The starting book is True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey

I haven’t read True History of the Kelly Gang. According to Amazon: To the authorities in pursuit of him, outlaw Ned Kelly is a horse thief, bank robber and police-killer. But to his fellow ordinary Australians, Kelly is their own Robin Hood. In a dazzling act of ventriloquism, Peter Carey brings the famous bushranger wildly and passionately to life. Set in the desolate settler communities north of Melbourne in the late 19th century, the novel is told in the form of a journal, written by the famous outlaw and “bushranger” Ned Kelly, to a daughter he will never see.

First Link:

True Grit by Charles Portis follows Mattie Ross, a determined 14 year-old, who in the 1870s leaves her mother and younger brother at home whilst she sets out after Tom Chaney, who had worked for her father and had killed him. Chaney had joined a band of outlaws – the Lucky Ned Pepper gang and had gone into hiding in the Indian territory. She hires one of the marshals, Rooster Cogburn to get Tom Chaney.

Second Link:

A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry, set in Tennessee in the 1870s, where former soldiers Thomas McNulty and John Cole and Winona, the young Indian girl they had adopted are living on a farm, about seven miles from a little town called Paris. These are dangerous times not just in the town but also in the woods outside the town from Zach Petrie’s gang of ‘nightriders’.

Third Link:

Any of the Rebus books by Ian Rankin, featuring Big Ger Cafferty, the ruthless gangster boss, organiser of crime in Edinburgh. The Black Book is the first book in which he appears.

Fourth Link:

Macbeth by Jo Nesbo. Inspector Macbeth, an ex-drug addict is the head of the SWAT team in an industrial town in the 1970s in Scotland, a town full of drug addicts, where there is a titanic struggle for control between the police force, corrupt politicians, motorbike gangs and  drug dealers.

Fifth Link:

In Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens young Oliver is forced to join a gang of young pickpockets led by the Artful Dodger under the control of Fagin in Victorian London.

Sixth Link:

My final link is Worth Killing For by Ed James. It reminded me of Oliver Twist with a phone-theft gang of young hoodies on bikes, who snatch mobile phones in modern day London. They are led by the mysterious Kamal.

My chain has just one link running through it. It has travelled from north of Melbourne in Western Australia to western Arkansas in America, then to Edinburgh in Scotland and ends in London in England, linked by gangs in each location – gangs of outlaws, ‘nightriders’, organised criminals, drug dealers, motorbike gangs, gangs of pickpockets and mobile phone thieves.

Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

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.

The Silence of the Girls is one of the latest books I bought. It is the first book in Pat Barker’s Troy series, historical fiction retelling the story of the Trojan war from the point of view of the women.

The Book begins:

Great Achilles. Brilliant Achilles, shining Achilles, godlike Achilles … How the epithets pile up. We never called him any of those things; we called him ‘the butcher’.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice, where you grab a book and turn to page 56 (or 56% of an eBook), find one or more interesting sentences (no spoilers), and post them.

Page 56:

Somebody once said to me: You never mention his looks. And it’s true, I don’t, I find it difficult. At that time, he was probably the most beautiful man alive, as he was certainly the most violent, but that’s the problem. How do you separate a tiger’s beauty from its ferocity? Or a cheetah’s elegance from its speed of attack? Achilles was like that – the beauty and the terror were two sides of a single coin.

Synopsis from Fantastic Fiction:

Here is the story of the Iliad as we’ve never heard it before: in the words of Briseis, Trojan queen and captive of Achilles. Given only a few words in Homer’s epic and largely erased by history, she is nonetheless a pivotal figure in the Trojan War. In these pages she comes fully to life: wry, watchful, forging connections among her fellow female prisoners even as she is caught between Greece’s two most powerful warriors. Her story pulls back the veil on the thousands of women who lived behind the scenes of the Greek army camp—concubines, nurses, prostitutes, the women who lay out the dead—as gods and mortals spar, and as a legendary war hurtles toward its inevitable conclusion. Brilliantly written, filled with moments of terror and beauty, The Silence of the Girls gives voice to an extraordinary woman—and makes an ancient story new again.

The Silence of the Girls was nominated for


Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Best Book
Women’s Prize For Fiction Best Novel
Costa Book Awards Best Novel

It was also:

A Washington Post Notable Book
One of the Best Books of the Year: NPR, The Economist, Financial Times
 
Shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award
Finalist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction

So, I’m really hoping I’ll enjoy it. What do you think? If you’ve read it do you think it lives up to its reputation?

Throwback Thursday: Painting as a Pastime by Winston S. Churchill

I’m linking up today with Davida @ The Chocolate Lady’s Book Review Blog for Throwback Thursday. It takes place on the Thursday before the first Saturday of every month (i.e., the Thursday before the monthly #6Degrees post). The idea is to highlight one of your previously published book reviews and then link back to Davida’s blog.

Today I’m looking back at my post on Painting as a Pastime by Winston S. Churchill. I first reviewed it on March 15, 2018.

My review begins:

I was delighted on Sunday when my son gave me Painting as a Pastime by Winston Churchill as a Mother’s Day present. I read it straight away and loved it. The cover shows Churchill’s painting of his home, Chartwell. Churchill was forty when he first started to paint at ‘a most trying time‘ in his life and art became his passion and an ‘astonishing and enriching experience‘.

Click here to read my full review

The next Throwback Thursday post is scheduled for June 2, 2022.

Adam Bede by George Eliot

I’ve finished reading the 50 books on my first Classics Club List, but there are two books I didn’t review immediately after I finished reading them, which means now I can only write short reviews as the details are no longer fresh in my mind. And that is difficult as they are both long novels.

The first is Adam Bede by George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans). It was her first novel, published in 1859.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Synopsis

Carpenter Adam Bede is in love with the beautiful Hetty Sorrel, but unknown to him, he has a rival, in the local squire’s son Arthur Donnithorne. Hetty is soon attracted by Arthur’s seductive charm and they begin to meet in secret. The relationship is to have tragic consequences that reach far beyond the couple themselves, touching not just Adam Bede, but many others, not least, pious Methodist Preacher Dinah Morris. A tale of seduction, betrayal, love and deception, the plot of Adam Bede has the quality of an English folk song. Within the setting of Hayslope, a small, rural community, Eliot brilliantly creates a sense of earthy reality, making the landscape itself as vital a presence in the novel as that of her characters themselves. (Amazon)

This is a long and slow-moving novel set in the rural community of Hayslope, a fictional village, based on Ellastone in the West Midlands in 1799. Overall I liked the book, but not as much as I remember liking Middlemarch, which I read long before I began this blog, and Silas Marner (my review). As in those two books it took me a while to get used to George Eliot’s style of writing, with her long, long sentences – some so long I had forgotten how they had started, before I got to the end. But I liked the dialect used by the characters, according to their class, that helps identify their position within the village community.

They’re cur’ous talkers i’ this country, sir; the gentry’s hard work to hunderstand ’em. I was brought hup among the gentry, sir, ‘an’ got the turn o’ their tongue when I was a bye. Why, what do you think the folks here says for ‘hevn’t you?’ – the gentry, you know, says, ‘hevn’t you’ – well, the people about here says ‘hanna yey.’ It’s what they call the dileck as is spoke hereabout, sir. That’s what I’ve heared Squire Donnithorne say many a time; it’s the dileck, says he.’

It is about love, seduction, remorse, crime and religion. a study of early 19th century rural life and education. It emphasises the value of hard work; the power of love; and the consequences of bad behaviour. As the title indicates the main character is Adam Bede, a hard working young man, a carpenter, with a strong sense of right and wrong, strong and intelligent:

In his tall stalwartness Adam Bede was a Saxon, and justified his name; but the jet black hair, made the more noticeable by its contrast with the light paper cap, and the keen glance of the dark eyes that shone from under strongly marked, prominent and mobile eyebrows, indicated a mixture of Celtic blood. The face was large and roughly hewn, and when in repose had no other beauty than such as belongs to an expression of good-humoured honest intelligence.

The novel revolves around a love ‘rectangle’ – the beautiful but self-absorbed Hetty Sorrel; Captain Arthur Donnithorne, the young squire who seduces her; Adam Bede, her unacknowledged suitor; and Dinah Morris, Hetty’s cousin, a fervent, virtuous and beautiful Methodist lay preacher.

This short post doesn’t do justice to the novel. I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads when I read it in 2015, but I have started to re-read it and I am enjoying it. I think that this time round maybe l’ll change my rating to 4 stars …

~~~

The other book I have left to review is Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens – my post will follow next week.