The Classics Club Spin Result

Classics Club

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin was announced today. It’s number …

19

which for me is Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by May 31, 2019.

Sweet Thursday

I added this book to my Classics Club list after reading Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, a book I loved. I’m hoping it will be just as good,

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

In Monterey, on the California Coast, Sweet Thursday is what they call the day after Lousy Wednesday – one of those days that’s just bad from the start. But Sweet Thursday is sunny and clear, a day when anything can happen. Returning to the scene of Cannery Row, Steinbeck brilliantly creates its bawdy, high-spirited world of bums, drunks and hookers, telling the story of what happened to everyone after the war. There are colourful characters old and new, all united by love, laughter and tears: Fauna, the latest madam at the Bear Flag brothel, Doc, still there for everyone else but feeling strangely sad himself, and Suzy, the new hustler in town who might just be the girl to save him.

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

Top Ten Tuesday: The First Ten Books I Reviewed

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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.

This week’s topic is (First Ten) Books I Reviewed (These do not have to be formal reviews. A small sentence on a retailer site or Goodreads counts, too! Submitted by Rissi @ Finding Wonderland)

My Goodness

My Goodness:A Cynic’s Short-lived Search for Sainthood by Joe Queenan – the very first one was I wrote was several years before I began this blog – it was on Amazon UK in August 2001. I posted it on my blog a couple of weeks ago. Queenan describes himself as ‘an acerbic, mean-spirited observer of the human condition’ and I found his book amusing and ironic.

The Giant's House

The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCracken the first book I reviewed on my blog in May 2007. I re-posted it again in September 2017 after I’d changed server and some of my early posts hadn’t been imported to the new server. It’s a touching novel about the relationship of Peggy Cort, an introverted librarian and James Sweatt, who she meets when he is eleven years old and who grows up to be the tallest man in the world.

My next four reviews combined in one post. I’ve just shown a snippet from each below:

Daphne

Daphne by Margaret Forster –  She doesn’t sound an easy person to live with or be related to, but that doesn’t show in her passion for writing and Cornwall.

Dawkins Delusion

The Dawkin’s Delusion? by Alistair McGrath –  an Evangelical Christian who unsurprisingly doesn’t agree with Richard Dawkins!

Blessings

Blessings by Anna Quindlen, about a baby abandoned outside “Blessings”, a large house owned by Lydia Blessing.

The thirteenth tale

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, a book I didn’t like much, especially the ending which I thought was contrived.

The next two reviews were longer, also combined in one post, about The Woodlanders and Body Surfing, as I was reading them at the same time. I thought they provided a good illustration of how society has changed over time, both in attitudes to women and to social conventions.

The Woodlanders

The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy is the story of Grace, who had been educated out of her social class and returned to the woodlands, and the interaction between her, her family and Giles, the woodman and Fitzpiers, the doctor, from an aristocratic background.

Body Surfing

Body Surfing by Anita Shreve – full of emotion as Sydney, a 29-year-old woman, who has been once widowed and once divorced  spends a summer tutoring Julie, a teenage girl, in an ocean front cottage in New Hampshire and Julie’s brothers compete for Sydney’s affections.

My next two reviews were both non-fiction – one a memoir and the other a biography:

On trying to keep still

On Trying To Keep Still by Jenny Diski – I loved this book about Jenny Diski’s travels during a year when she visited New Zealand, spent three months in a cottage in Somerset and went to sample the life of the Sami people of Swedish Lapland.

Wilberforce

Wilberforce by John Pollock – born in Hull in 1759, William Wilberforce was instrumental in bringing an end to the slave trade in England. The majority of the book is about the twenty years struggle to end the slave trade through legislation, culminating in the passing of the Act of Abolition in March 1807. This made the slave trade illegal throughout the British Empire. He continued to fight against slavery itself right up to his death in 1833.

Looking back at these reviews makes me realise how much blogging has changed what I read – these days I read more crime fiction and historical fiction. But I still like to vary my reading and I still love biographies and memoirs.

 

The Seeker by S G MacLean

The Seeker (Damian Seeker, #1)

Quercus/ 9 May 2016/Paperback/ 432 pages/ Library Book/ 4*

The Seeker by S G MacLean is the first book in her Damian Seeker series, historical crime fiction set during the Interregnum under Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector. This one is set in 1654. I’ve read the second and third books in the series and whilst I  was happy to read them as standalones now I’ve read the first one I think it would have better if I had read them in order.

Damian Seeker, Captain of Cromwell’s Guard, works for John Thurloe, Cromwell’s Chief Secretary and spy master, in charge of the security of the regime, running a virtual secret service. He is an enigmatic character, and very little is revealed about his background until very near the end of the book. In the later books, particularly in the third, Destroying Angel, I learnt a lot more about him.

Like the later books The Seeker transported me to another time and place. It was as though I was back in England in the 17th century, a place of unrest, teeming with spies, exiles and assassins. Agents, sometimes clergymen or merchants, working for Cromwell, infiltrated the Royalists abroad supporting the future Charles II; the universities too were useful with dons expert at deciphering coded messages, and there was a highly effective postal service intercepting mail to suspect individuals before being resealed and delivered. And in London, bookshops, taverns and coffee houses were places where conversations were overheard and reported to the authorities.

England in 1654 is a Republic in name only, Parliament had been dissolved in 1653 and Cromwell was appointed as Lord Protector – King in all but name, he lived in the former Palaces of Whitehall and Hampton Court and his generals imposed even greater restrictions on the freedoms of the public.

It’s a complex novel, as Seeker investigates the murder of Lieutenant John Winter, one of Cromwell’s favoured officers in his New Model Army. He had found Elias Ellingworth, a radical lawyer and journalist, and an outspoken critic of Cromwell’s regime, standing over the bleeding body clutching a knife. But Seeker is not convinced of his guilt and thus the search for the real culprit begins. It takes in royalist plots, the slave trade, dodgy merchants’ deals and an attempt on Cromwell’s life. There are many characters and I had little idea who had killed Winter until right at the end, so I read eagerly trying to work it all out.

Having read three of  the series I particularly like Damian Seeker. He is definitely a man to have on your side, a man both respected and feared, and a man to trust. The books are based on solid historical research (S G Maclean has an M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of Aberdeen) bringing the atmosphere and tenor of the 1650s to life before my eyes. I particularly liked all the detail about Kent’s Coffee House. I thoroughly enjoyed it and wanting to know more about the period and Cromwell I’ve bought Antonia Fraser’s book, Cromwell: Our Chief of Men.

The Bear Pit, the fourth book in the Seeker series, is due out on 11 July this year.

The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker by Jenni Keer

Meet Lucy, aged 25, and Brenda, aged 79. Neighbours, and unlikely friends.

The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker

Avon Books UK|10 January 2019|Print length 309 pages|e-book Review copy|4*

The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker is a romantic novel with a touch of magic about it. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would as it’s a bit lighter than the type of book I usually prefer. But it has a feel-good factor and also gives a sympathetic and understanding picture of the problems of living with dementia. And as you can tell from the heading of my post this is a novel about friendship. It’s also about family relationships, love, caring for others and the importance of finding your own inner strength.

I like Lucy – she’s a cat lover and an excellent knitter and also a kind, warm-hearted and generous character. At the beginning she lacks self-confidence and finds it difficult to assert herself both with her overbearing mother and in her job at Tompkins Toy Workshop. Her friendship with Brenda helps her develop a sense of her own self worth. I also like Brenda, with her purple-streaked silvery hair, and a love of rainbow clothes; in a previous age she would probably have been called a ‘wise woman’ or even a ‘white witch’ with her herbal remedies, potions and lotions. But when she is diagnosed with dementia she realises that her life will inevitably change.

And more change is on the way when a new neighbour, George, moves into the house next door to Brenda and a scruffy black cat finds it way into the neighbourhood. It was not a huge surprise to me how things would turn out when Brenda gave Lucy a silver locket that when opened revealed words engraved in an ornate script. Brenda explains it’s a special locket that will boost Lucy’s confidence at work and with her mother and also help her find her true love.

Lucy’s confidence improves and her creative side begins to blossom. I loved all the details of Lucy’s job at Tompkins, where she works in the sales office and her friend, Jess who works in accounts. There’s plenty of office banter and gossip as well as disputes and misunderstandings. But things are about to change there too as a new general manager, Sam is appointed.

The characters are sympathetically drawn, the dialogue is realistic and there are plenty of amusing and moving scenes. I was thoroughly entertained and absorbed in the story, from the beginning, with the knitted figures of Poldark, Ed Sheeran, Harry Potter and Wolverine sitting on Lucy’s sofa, to the final scenes when Lucy realises that ‘true love is the real magic.’

This is Jenni Keer’s debut novel and I hope to read more of her books in the future.

About Jenni Keer (from her website):

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‘After gaining a history degree, Jenni Keer embarked on an interesting career in contract flooring before settling in the middle of the Suffolk countryside with her antique-restorer husband and their four teenage boys. She has valiantly attempted to master the ancient art of housework, but it remains a mystery, so is more usually found at her keyboard writing fun romantic comedies with #blindcat Seymour by her side. When not up to her elbows in family life, she can be found busy with her Edwardian marquetry business, planning her next fancy dress party or practising her formation dance moves.’

My thanks to the publishers, Avon Books UK for my review copy via NetGalley.

The Classics Club Spin: My List

It’s time for another  Classics Club Spin. By 22 April compile a Spin List of twenty books that remain ‘to be read’ on your Classics Club list.

On that day the Classics Club will randomly pick a number and that will be the book to read. You then have until the 31st May 2019 to finish your book and review it.

I have only 15 unread books left on my list  so, I’ve repeated five of the titles to make the numbers up to 20 – Little Dorrit, Oliver Twist, The Return of the Native, Sweet Thursday and Clouds of Witness.

  1. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter
  2. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  3. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  4. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  5. The Forsyte Saga (1) : The Man of Property by John Galsworthy
  6. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  7. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  8. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  9. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  10. Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers
  11. A Town Like Alice by Neville Shute
  12. The Saint- Fiacre Affair by Georges Simenon
  13. Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
  14. The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey
  15. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  16. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  17. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  18. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  19. Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
  20. Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers

I think I’d like it to be one of Charles Dickens’s books …

Top Ten Tuesday: Rainy Day Reads

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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.

This week’s topic is Rainy Day Reads (submitted by Shayna @ Clockwork Bibliotheca). My idea of a ‘rainy day read’ is that it is a book you can get lost in the story. I went round my bookshelves and picked out these books that I loved when I first read them – they are all books I’d happily re-read.

Click on titles below to see their descriptions on Goodreads.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, the classic that scared me when I first read about Pip’s meeting with Magwitch, the escaped convict in a graveyard. I must have been about 11 or 12 when I first read it – such memorable characters, the tragic Miss Haversham, cruel Estella, kind-hearted Joe Gargary as well as the terrifying Magwitch.

A book I first read and loved as a teenager – Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. It begins with this sentence: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. That first line has never failed to delight me and that dream sets the tone for the book. I’ve read it many times and each time I fall under its spell.

A book I read whilst recovering from flu – Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson, in which she records country life at the end of the 19th century – a portrait of a vanished England. It’s a gentle and beautiful picture of the lives of ordinary country people.

The first book by Kazuo Ishiguro that I read – The Remains of the Day I love the pathos of this novel about Stevens, an English butler, reminiscing about his service to Lord Darlington, looking back on what he regards as England’s golden age and his relationship with Miss Kenton who had been the housekeeper at Darlington Hall.

The first Tommy and Tuppence story I read, (but not the first one Agatha Christie wrote) – By the Pricking of My Thumbs in which ‘something wicked’ is afoot, there is evil about and Tuppence’s life is in danger. A dark and sinister tale.

Because I love cats I was drawn to this book in the bookshop one day in the 1990s – The Wild Road by Gabriel King. It’s a magical book of fantasy and adventure as cats and other animals navigate the ‘wild roads’ and meet the perils of sharing a world with humans – a story of good overcoming evil.

I first read some of Thomas Hardy’s books at school – The Woodlanders, though is one I’ve read after I began my blog. I love the way Hardy describes the landscape (the whole of this book is full of trees!) of Little Hintock in his fictional county of Wessex and how he integrates them with the characters.

The Falls by Ian Rankin  – this combines so much of what I like to read in crime fiction – a puzzling mystery, convincing characters, well described locations, historical connections and a strong plot full of tension and pace. When a carved wooden doll is found in a tiny coffin at The Falls Rebus then discovers that a whole series of them had been found dating back to 1836 when 17 were found on Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano within Holyrood Park, east of Edinburgh Castle.

The Rain Before it Falls by Jonathan Coe – there is so much that appealed to me in this book about three generations of women. It’s a story within a story – after her aunt Rosamond died Gill discovers family secrets she never knew before . 

And finally a beautiful book by Marghanita Laski – Little Boy Lost the story of Hilary Wainwright, who is searching for his son, lost five years earlier in the Second World War. It’s  emotional, heart-wrenching and nerve-wracking, full of tension, but never sentimental. It is a wonderful story!

The Evidence Against You by Gillian McAllister

A brilliant psychological thriller

The Evidence Against You

Penguin Michael Joseph|18 April 2019|432 pages|Review copy|5*

I was delighted to receive a review copy of  The Evidence Against You by Gillian McAllister from the publishers.  And as soon as I began reading it I knew I was going to love it and I just didn’t want to stop reading until I’d finished it. It’s the third book I’ve read by her (her earlier books I’ve read are Everything But the Truth and No Further Questions). 

Gabe (Gabriel) English has been released from prison on parole, having served seventeen years for the murder of his wife, Alexandra. Izzy, his daughter, now 36, is dreading his release. Following the death of her mother she had lived with her maternal grandparents until she married Nick, a police analyst and had carried on running her mother’s restaurant on the Isle of Wight.

Her childhood had been a happy one until the murder. The judge said it was an open and shut case and he had sentenced Gabe to life imprisonment. But nobody really knew exactly what had happened the night Alexandra was killed – she simply went missing and then her body was found – she’d been strangled. Izzy had thought that her father could never have harmed anybody, let alone her mother. Now, he swears that he is innocent and wants to tell his side of it. He asks her to consider the evidence for herself. But is he really guilty – can she trust her father?

This is a brilliant book that had me guessing all the way through. I was hoping for Izzy’s sake that Gabe was telling the truth even though the facts didn’t seem to back him up. Prison had changed him – he is angry, bitter and resentful – and Izzy is full of doubts about him and about her parents’ relationship. She questions her memories – what had seemed straight forward and certain to her before, now appears in a different light. But Paul, her father’s friend believes him, telling Izzy that some of the evidence was circumstantial, so she gives him the chance to explain, especially when Paul tells her that there was a witness who could have given Gabe an alibi if the police had found him.

It’s a character-driven story of conflict, of broken lives, of the destruction of families, and of devastating trauma as secrets from the past come to the surface; a story full of twists and turns that left me hoping so much that Gabe was innocent and wondering if he hadn’t killed Alexandra who had and why.

As well as the mystery it’s also about the catastrophic effects of being accused of a crime and being imprisoned long enough to become institutionalised, particularly on release from prison. Gabe finds simple things like shopping difficult and as well as being angry and bitter he is anxious and fearful, struggling with making decisions without the rules and discipline of being in prison.

It’s a tense, tightly plotted book and completely compelling reading.  The ending did take me by surprise, although looking back I can see that it was lightly foreshadowed and I just hadn’t noticed. It is without doubt one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. 

My thanks to the publishers, Penguin UK Michael Joseph for my review copy via NetGalley.