10 Books of Summer – Wrap Up

Cathy’s summer reading challenge ends tomorrow. I opted for the 10 book version. I revised my original list but still didn’t manage to read all 10. But I did read 7 of them and reviewed 5. I also read the first story in Daphne du Maurier’s short story collection and will read the rest maybe for the R.I.P. Challenge that started yesterday.

  1. On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill 
  2. Darkside by Belinda Bauer 
  3. Ruined Stones by Eric Reed
  4. The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
  5. Absent in the Spring by Agatha Christie
  6. Camino Island by John Grisham  – review to follow
  7. Cecile is Dead by Georges Simenon – review to follow
  8. Don’t Look Now and other stories by Daphne du Maurier – I’ve read the first story

The two I haven’t read are:

  1. Appleby’s End by Michael Innes – I’ve started it but I’m not impressed so far!
  2. Coffin Road by Peter May – I will definitely read this one – possibly also one for the R.I.P. Challenge.

10 Books of Summer – Update

I’m taking part in Cathy’s summer reading challenge and opted for the 10 book version, starting on 1 June 2018 and running until 3 September 2018. One of the joys of this challenge is that you can change your list at any time!

With just over a week left this is my revised list, showing the books I’ve read so far, with links to my posts:

  1. On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill 
  2. Darkside by Belinda Bauer 
  3. Ruined Stones by Eric Reed
  4. Camino Island by John Grisham  – review to follow
  5. The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
  6. Absent in the Spring by Agatha Christie
  7. Appleby’s End by Michael Innes
  8. Cecile is Dead by Georges Simenon
  9. Don’t Look Now and other stories by Daphne du Maurier – I’ve read the first story
  10. Coffin Road by Peter May

 

Absent in the Spring by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I love Agatha Christie’s crime fiction but I’ve held back from reading her other books written under the name of Mary Westmacott, not sure just what to expect. So, I was very glad to find that Absent in the Spring is just as good as her other books and I was thoroughly absorbed in the story of Joan Scudamore who was stranded in the desert, after visiting her daughter in Baghdad.

Agatha Christie managed to keep the true identity of Mary Westmacott a secret for fifteen years! Absent in the Spring is the one book she wrote that  satisfied her completely – and having now read it I can see why. She wrote the book in just three days in 1944. It had ‘grown inside‘ her for six or seven years. She had visualised all the characters and they were there ready for her to write about them and she just had to get it down on paper, writing in a ‘white heat‘, without interruptions until it was finished, leaving her exhausted. She slept for more or less twenty-four hours afterwards. She took the title from Shakespeare’s sonnet that begins ‘From you I have been absent in the spring.’ (Sonnet 98)

It is a great example of an unlikeable character that makes fascinating reading – you don’t have to like a character to love a book. In her Autobiography she wrote that it was:

… the picture of a woman with a complete image of herself, of what she was, but about which she was completely mistaken. Through her actions, her feelings and thoughts this would be revealed to the reader. She would be, as it were, continually meeting herself, not recognising herself, but becoming increasingly uneasy. What brought about this revelation would be the fact that for the first time in her life she was alone – completely alone – for four or five days. (page 516)

The novel is set in Mesopotamia (corresponding to today’s Iraq, mostly, but also parts of modern-day Iran, Syria and Turkey) in a railway rest-house at Tel Abu Hamid on the Turkish border, where Joan is stranded, delayed by floods – no trains or vehicles can get through to Mosul, her next stop on her journey home to London. There are no other travellers there, only an Arab boy and an Indian servant who brings her meals, but who speak little English and there is nowhere to go, except to walk in the desert.

At first she occupies herself writing letters and reading the two books she has with her, The Power House by John Buchan and Memoirs of Lady Catherine Dysart. Then she starts thinking about herself and gradually relives her past life, all the time with a growing feeling of unease and anxiety as she reinterprets her past. She wonders, for the first time in her life what she is really like and what other people think of her, with that unsettling, anxious feeling that she is not the person she thought she was. And she resolves to put things right when she returns home.

She is jolted out of her complacency  and self deception as she remembers how Rodney had looked as she watched him leave Victoria Station:

Suddenly, in the desert,with the sun pouring down on her, Joan gave a quick uncontrollable shiver.

She thought, No, no – I don’t want to go on – I don’t want to think about this …

Rodney, striding up the platform, his head thrown back, the tired sag of his shoulders all gone. A man who had been relieved of an intolerable burden …

Really, what was the matter with her? She was imagining things, inventing them. Her eyes had played a trick on her.

Why hadn’t he waited to see the train pull out?

She was imagining – Stop, that didn’t make it any better. If you imagined a thing like that, it meant that such an idea was already in your head.

And it couldn’t be true – the inference that she had drawn simply could not be true.

She was saying to herself (wasn’t she?) that Rodney was glad she was going away …

And that simply couldn’t be true! (pages 55-56)

It really is a most remarkable book. On the surface it is a simple story, but in fact it is a complex and in-depth character study, with a growing sense of tension. The setting adds to the uneasiness as Joan walks in the desert to get away from the rest-house, with its refuse dump of tins enclosed by a tangle of barbed wire,  and a space where skinny chickens run about squawking loudly and with clouds of flies surrounding the area. There is a twist at the end of the book, which I had begun to anticipate as I approached the final pages, which rounded it off very well. An excellent book.

Now, I really must get hold of her other Mary Westmacott books!

My copy is a paperback, published by Fontana, 2nd impression 1983, 192 pages. This is the 4th book for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 Challenge.

Catching Up: Darkside by Belinda Bauer & The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Once more I’m behind with reviews of some of the books I’ve read in the past few weeks, so here are some brief notes on two of them that fall into the 10 Books of Summer Reading category.

Darkside by [Bauer, Belinda]

5*

Darkside  is Belinda Bauer’s second novel, set in Shipcott on Exmoor a few years after the events in her first novel, Blacklands. Some of the characters in Blacklands also appear in Darkside, but only in minor roles and I think that Darkside can easily be read as a standalone novel. Shipcott is an isolated village and young PC Jonas Holly is the only policeman in the area covering seven villages and a large part of Exmoor. When Margaret Priddy is killed his inexperience means that has to call in the Taunton Homicide team, led by DCI John Marvel.

Jonas and Marvel clash and Jonas, undermined by as number of anonymous notes accusing him of failing to do his job, tries to keep out of Marvel’s way. More murders follow as Jonas, whose wife Lucy has been diagnosed with MS, is struggling to hold everything together. I liked the characterisation, the description of the setting and the twisty, turning plot. Like Blacklands, Darkside is full of a dark, brooding atmosphere and suspense. I had my suspicions about the identity of the murderer but it was only as I was getting near to the end of the book that I began to think I could possibly be right.

The Woman in Cabin 10

3*

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware didn’t satisfy me as much as Darkside. I liked the beginning of the book. The main character, journalist Lo Blacklock takes the opportunity to fill in for her boss on a luxury press launch on a boutique cruise ship and hopes it will help her recover from a traumatic break-in at her flat. But woken in the night by a scream from cabin 10 next to hers she believes a woman was thrown over board, only to discover that the ship’s records show that cabin 10 was unoccupied. Lo is exhausted from lack of sleep, overwrought with anxiety and dependent on pills and alcohol to see her through. She fails to convince anyone that she is telling the truth.

So far so good. I thought the setting on a luxury cruise ship worked well for this type of locked room mystery. But then as I read on I felt the book was too drawn out, I wasn’t convinced by the plot and in places I found it hard to believe. I wanted to know how it would end  and it is easy reading, so I kept turning the pages. But the final chapter left me cold – tying up the ends in a facile way.

On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill

I’ve been doing quite well with reading books for my 10 Books of Summer Challenge – but not so well at writing reviews of them.

On Beulah Height (Dalziel & Pascoe, #17)

So here is a quick review of the first of my 10 Books. It’s also one of my TBRs, a book I’ve owned for a couple of years:

I loved On Beulah Height is Reginald Hill’s 17th Dalziel and Pascoe novel. He wrote 25 in this series and although it would probably make sense to get a picture of their development I’ve been reading them out of order. It doesn’t seem to matter much, but in this one there are a few references to something that had happened in an earlier case (told in The Wood Beyond) that had affected Pascoe personally. It had  filled him with anger and it is still affecting him, whilst investigating this case. But this book can easily be read as a standalone novel.

It is not just a crime fiction novel, it is also a book that raises many issues about parenthood, the relationship between families and their children and the devastation and anguish of parents and a community at the loss of a child.

I’d really like to re-read it some time as it is a complex book, that begins with a transcript written by Betsy Allgood, then aged seven, telling what had happened in the little village of Dendale in Yorkshire before the valley was flooded to provide a reservoir. That summer three little girls had gone missing. No bodies were ever found, and the best suspect, a strange lad named Benny Lightfoot, was held for a time, then released. Benny then disappeared from the area

Fifteen years later another little girl, Lorraine, also aged seven went out for a walk one morning with her dog before her parents got up and didn’t return home, reviving memories of the missing children from fifteen years earlier. It was a case that has haunted Dalziel – and the fears increase when a message appeared, sprayed on the walls: BENNY’S  BACK. It’s been a hot, dry summer and the buildings beneath the reservoir are gradually becoming visible and tensions are rising as memories of the missing children increase the fears for Lorraine’s safety.

This book is tightly plotted with many twists that made me change my mind so many times I gave up trying to work out who the murderer was and just read for the pleasure of reading. Hill’s descriptive writing is rich and full of imagery. The main characters are fully rounded people and the supporting cast are believable personalities, often described with wry humour.

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (30 Jan. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007313179
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007313174
  • Source: I bought the book
  • My rating: 5*

WWW Wednesday: 13 June 2018

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading:

The Grapes of WrathOn Beulah Height (Dalziel & Pascoe, #17)

I’m making good progress with The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, and I’m still loving it.The Joads have arrived in California and it’s not what they expected – too many homeless, hungry people desperate for work being moved on from place to place. Steinbeck’s writing is detailed and richly descriptive. I feel as though I’m on the road with the characters.

I’m also reading On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill, crime fiction about missing children in a Yorkshire village. A little girl took her dog out for a walk early one morning and didn’t come home. Three little girls had disappeared 15 years earlier and their bodies were never found. I’ve read nearly half the book and as usual with Hill’s books I love the characterisation, the humour and his use of dialect. It’s the first of my 10 Books of Summer.

Recently finished: Come a Little Closer by Rachel Abbott – definitely creepy and disturbing. It’s the first book of hers I’ve read, but the seventh one she’s written. It reads well as a standalone. It’s described as a psychological thriller and the characters are certainly unstable, stressed and in complex and dangerous relationships. I gave it three stars on Goodreads – maybe that’s being generous, as I’m not at all sure I did ‘like’ it.

Come A Little Closer (DCI Tom Douglas #7)

Synopsis:

They will be coming soon. They come every night. 
  
Snow is falling softly as a young woman takes her last breath. 
  
Fifteen miles away, two women sit silently in a dark kitchen. They don’t speak, because there is nothing left to be said. 
  
Another woman boards a plane to escape the man who is trying to steal her life. But she will have to return, sooner or later. 
  
These strangers have one thing in common. They each made one bad choice – and now they have no choices left. Soon they won’t be strangers, they’ll be family… 
  
When DCI Tom Douglas is called to the cold, lonely scene of a suspicious death, he is baffled. Who is she? Where did she come from? How did she get there? 
  
How many more must die? Who is controlling them, and how can they be stopped?

I may write more about this book once I’ve sorted out my thoughts about it.

Reading next: Stalker by Lisa Stone, due to be published tomorrow 14 June.

Synopsis:

Someone is always watching…

Derek Flint is a loner. He lives with his mother and spends his
evenings watching his clients on the CCTV cameras he has installed inside their homes. He likes their companionship – even if it’s through a screen.

When a series of crimes hits Derek’s neighbourhood, DC Beth Mayes begins to suspect he’s involved. How does he know so much about the victims’ lives? Why won’t he let anyone into his office? And what is his mother hiding in that strange, lonely house?

As the crimes become more violent, Beth must race against the clock to find out who is behind the attacks. Will she uncover the truth in time? And is Derek more dangerous than even she has guessed?

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

10 Books of Summer

Cathy at Cathy 746 Books has an annual challenge, 20 Books of Summer, to read twenty books over the summer months starting on 1 June 2018 and running until 3 September 2018. The aim is to read from your TBR books already on your shelves.

There are also the options to read 15 or 10 books and as I’m very good at listing the books I want to read and very bad at sticking to the list I’m going for the 10 book option. I’ve never managed to stick to my list before so here’s hoping this year I’ll manage it. But the beauty of this meme is that if you change your mind you can even change your list!

So for now here are my 10 books:

10 Bks Summer 18

  1. The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
  2. The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell
  3. Between the Woods and the Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor
  4. On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill
  5. Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole
  6. Darkside by Belinda Bauer
  7. Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner
  8. Coffin Road by Peter May
  9. Absent in the Spring by Agatha Christie
  10. End in Tears by Ruth Rendell

I’ve not listed them in any particular order but I shall start with reading On Beulah Height.

So, any thoughts on my choices? Have you read any of these books? Are you taking part too?