Nonfiction November: Week 2 Fiction/ NonfictionPairing

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Week 2: (Nov. 5 to 9) – Fiction / Nonfiction Book Pairing (Sarah’s Book Shelves): This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

I couldn’t stick to just pairs of books because I read more fiction than nonfiction, so my pairings are trios.

The first three I’ve chosen are about Richard III – what is the truth about him, was he deformed, with a withered arm, a hunch back and a limp as Shakespeare portrayed him, was he a cold-blooded, evil villain? Or has he been maligned and been turned into a  monster who killed his brother’s sons in order to take the Crown?

The Princes in the TowerThe Daughter of Time (Inspector Alan Grant #5)The Sunne In Splendour

Many years ago I read The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir, which examined the available evidence of the disappearance of the princes in 1483 at the time her book was first published in 1992. It has an extensive bibliography, her sources mainly supporting the view that Richard was guilty of their deaths. Alison Weir has since revised this book and published it as Richard III and the Princes in the Tower, published in 2014. I haven’t read this revised edition, but looking at Alison Weir’s website I see that she still holds the same views on Richard’s guilt.

Years later I came across The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, a novel in which Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, recuperating from a broken leg, becomes fascinated with a contemporary portrait of Richard III and investigates Richard’s role in the death of his nephews and his own death at the Battle of Bosworth. He concluded that Richard hadn’t murdered his nephews.

And two years ago I read The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman, probably the best historical novel that I’ve read. Penman portrays a very likeable Richard. From his childhood onwards he comes across as a kind, generous and brave man, a skilled leader on the battlefield, a loving husband to his wife, Anne, and devoted and loyal to his brother, Edward IV. I’m not going to reveal her solution to who killed the princes, but I was convinced by her version of events.

The discovery of Richard’s skeleton buried beneath a car park in Leicester in 2012 revealed that although ‘the curved spine on the skeleton does show he had Scoliosis, he did not have a withered arm or other details attributed to him in some characterisations’ (see the Incredible Discovery at the King Richard III Visitor Centre).

There are many books about Richard III, especially following the discovery of his remains, and in time I hope to explore more of them.

The next three books are about Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, Baron Cromwell of Okeham. He was born c.1485, Putney, near London and was executed on July 28, 1540.

Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII's Most Faithful Servant

Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies PBS Masterpiece E-Book Bundle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tracy Borman’s biography of Thomas Cromwell and Hilary Mantel’s novels, Wolf Hall/Bring Up the Bodies all cover the life of Cromwell, the son of a blacksmith, who rose to become Henry VIII’s Chief Minister and was executed for heresy and treason.

Hilary Mantel’s books bring the Tudor world to life for me. They are beautifully written, full of colour and detail so that there is no doubt that this is 16th century England, with vivid descriptions of the people, buildings, fabrics, and landscapes of both town and countryside. Her Thomas Cromwell is not the saint I thought he was from watching ‘A Man for All Seasons’, and neither is he the hard-hearted, cold and stern character I’d read about before, but he is humane, kind and considerate, hardworking, generous and cultured. But tough and ruthless too. I haven’t read Tracy Borman’s biography yet, so I have yet to see how it compares to the novels (and the TV adaptation), which I loved.

My third trio of books are about Robert Scott’s 1912 Antarctic expedition, comparing Beryl Bainbridge’s novel with two nonfiction books.

South with ScottThe Birthday BoysRace to the End: Scott, Amundsen and the South Pole

Ever since I bought South with Scott by Edward Evans, Lord Mountevans when I was at school I’ve been fascinated by the race to reach the South Pole. Evans was the Second-in-Command of the British Antarctic Expedition under Captain Scott. He nearly lost his life on the return journey from the Pole, falling ill with scurvy and was rescued. Years later I was delighted to find that Beryl Bainbridge’s novel, The Birthday Boys is about the expedition. It’s narrated by Captain Robert Falcon Scott and the other four men who died in the Antarctic having reached the South Pole. It gets inside each man’s mind, vividly describing the events as they progressed to the South Pole and the terrible conditions they had to endure.

I enjoyed it so much I wanted to find out more – which I did in Race to the End: Scott, Amundsen and the South Pole by Ross D E MacPhee, a beautifully illustrated account of each team’s trek to Antarctica and the Pole. Comparing the books I think Beryl Bainbridge’s fictionalised version is remarkable accurate, bringing the terrible hardships vividly to life.

I’ve enjoyed comparing these books – what books would you choose to compare?

A-Z of TBRs: E-Books: A, B and C

Earlier this year I looked through my TBRs – the ‘real’ books – and as it did prompt me to read more of them, I’ve decided to take a fresh look at some of the TBRs on my Kindle. I have a bad habit of downloading books and then forgetting all about them – it’s as though they’ve gone into a black hole.

So here is the first instalment of my A – Z of my e-book TBRs – with a little ‘taster’ from each. I’ve picked books from different genres – fantasy fiction, crime fiction and non-fiction – a biography.

Assassin's Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy, #1)

A is for Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb, Book One of the Farseer Trilogy  (On my Kindle since September 2014.)  It’s fantasy fiction set in the  imaginary realm of the Six Duchies and tells the story of the illegitimate son of a prince, assassin FitzChivalry Farseer. He is raised in the stables, rejected by all his family apart from his uncle Chade, who trains him as an assassin.

My memories reach back to when I was six years old. Before that, there is nothing, only a black gulf no exercise of my mind has ever been able to pierce. Prior to that day at Moonseye, there is nothing. But on that day they suddenly begin, with a brightness and detail that overwhelms me. Sometimes it it seems too complete, and I wonder if it is truly mine. Am I recalling it from my own mind, or from dozens of retelling by legions of kitchen maids and ranks of scullions and herds of stable-boys as they explained my presence to each other? Perhaps I have heard the story so many times, from so many sources, that I now recall it as an actual memory of my own. (page 2)

The Big Sleep (Philip Marlowe, #1)

B is for The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, with an introduction by Ian Rankin. It’s been on my Kindle since July 2017. Crime fiction is one of my favourite genres – I read a lot of it, but have never read any of Chandler’s books. This is his first book featuring Philip Marlowe. Rankin writes that is ‘a story of sex, drugs, blackmail and high society narrated by a cynical tough guy, Philip Marlowe‘ and that it is ‘such fun to read that you won’t notice how clever its author is being.’

The the old man dragged his voice up from the bottom of a well and said: ‘Brandy, Norris. How do you like you like your brandy, sir?’

‘Any way at all,’ I said.

The butler went away among the aboriginal plants. The General spoke again, slowly using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work showgirl uses her last good pair of stockings.

‘I used to like mine with champagne. The champagne as cold as Valley Forge and about a third of a glass of brandy beneath it.’ (page 4)

The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History

C is for The Churchill Factor: How One Man made History by Boris Johnson, on my Kindle since June 2016. The extract below is from the Introduction in which Boris explains why he wants to convey something of Churchill’s genius in this book, and asking what made up his character.

I knew that he had been amazingly brave as a young man, and that he had seen bloodshed at first hand, and had been fired at on four continents, and that he was one of the first men to go up in an aeroplane. I knew that he had been a bit of a runt at Harrow, and that he was only about 5 foot 7 and with a 31-inch chest, and that he had overcome his stammer and his depression and his appalling father to become the greatest living Englishman.

I gathered there was something holy and magical about him, because my grandparents kept the front page of the Daily Express from the day he died, at the age of ninety. … So it seems all the more sad and strange that today – nearly fifty years after he died – he is in danger of being forgotten or at least imperfectly remembered. (page 3)

If you’ve read any of these please let me know what you think?

Books Read in September 2018

How my reading habits have changed! It was only a few years ago that I read mostly paper books, but these days I read mostly e-books – six out of the nine books I read in September are e-books. Another major change is the amount of review copies I read. This month I read five review copies that came to me via NetGalley. I also read one library book and the other three books are all my own books – but only one of those is an actual physical book! And only one of the nine books is non-fiction.

They range from 5 star to 2 star books and are a mix of crime and historical fiction plus one biography. My ratings are based solely on my reactions to the books.

I’ve written about five of these books – click on the links to read my reviews:

  1. The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry 5* – historical fiction set in Edinburgh in 1847 as Dr James Young Simpson, a professor of midwifery, discovered the anaesthetic properties of chloroform.
  2. The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin by Georges Simenon 3.5* – one of the early Maigret books, set in Belgium not France.
  3. The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Karen Morton 3* – historical fiction set over multiple time-lines and with multiple narrators. I loved parts of it and it’s richly descriptive, but found it hard to keep track of all the characters and separate strands of the story.
  4. Appleby’s End by Michael Innes 3* – an Inspector Appleby book. It’s surreal, a macabre fantasy with a  complex and completely unrealistic plot and strange characters.
  5. Down to the Woods by M J Arlidge 2.5* – crime fiction, a DI Helen Grace murder mystery, tense and dark with several twists and turns. Not my favourite book of the month!

Here are some brief notes about the remaining four books:

Dead Woman WalkingDead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton 5* – Sharon Bolton is a brilliant storyteller and this is a brilliant book – complex, very cleverly plotted, full of suspense and completely gripping with great characters and set in Northumberland. It begins with a balloon flight that ends in disaster and only Jessica survives as the balloon crashes to the ground, but she is pursued by a man who is determined to kill her.  I loved this book.

Wedlock: How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match

Wedlock:  How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match by Wendy Moore 4* – a biography of Mary Eleanor Bowes, who was one of Britain’s richest young heiresses. Her first husband was the Count of Strathmore – the Queen Mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, was a direct descendant of their marriage. Her second marriage to Andrew Robinson Stoney was an absolute disaster. He was brutally cruel and treated her with such violence, humiliation, deception and kidnap, that she lived in fear for her life. This is non-fiction and is full of detail, but even so it reads like a novel.

East of Eden

East of Eden by John Steinbeck 4* –  the story of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly re-enact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. I enjoyed this beautifully written book, which begins slowly, but not as much as The Grapes of Wrath, which I thought was amazing. It’s long – too long really – and to my mind it reads like a morality tale of good versus evil. There are many parallels to the Bible stories, with surely one of the most evil characters ever in Cathy. I liked the way Steinbeck set out the moral dilemmas and gave the characters choice using the Hebrew word ‘timshel‘, meaning ‘thou mayest’.

The Gaslight Stalker (Esther & Jack Enright Mystery #1)The Gaslight Stalker by David Field 2* – historical crime fiction set in London in 1888. This was a disappointing book, that provides a new solution to the Jack the Ripper murders. There are two elements to the plot and I don’t think they mixed well. I liked the historical facts based on the evidence in the Jack the Ripper case and thought they were well written, if a little repetitive. But the romance between Esther, a young seamstress and Jacob Enright, a young police officer, felt out of place and is too simplistically narrated.

WWW Wednesday: 12 September 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 Clockmaker’s DaughterI’m reading Kate Morton’s latest book, The Clockmaker’s Daughter due to be published on 20th September 2018. I’m enjoying it very much so far. It’s set in the 1860s at Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames where a group of young artists led by Edward Radcliffe are spending the summer and also in 2017 with Elodie, a young archivist in London, who finds a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river. It’s a story of murder, mystery and thievery, of art, love and loss.

East of Eden

I’m also reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck. It’s the story of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly re-enact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. I like Steinbeck’s writing, particularly the opening description of the Salinas Valley in California, but so far I’ve not found the book as absorbing as The Grapes of Wrath, which I loved, but then I’ve only read up to page 125 (612 pages in total) and am just getting used to the leisurely pace of the novel.

I’ve recently finished:  

Wedlock: How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match by Wendy Moore, non fiction about Mary Eleanor Bowes who was the richest heiress in 18th century Britain. She fell under the spell of a handsome Irish soldier, Andrew Robinson Stoney and found herself trapped in an appallingly brutal marriage, terrorised by violence, humiliation, deception and kidnap, and fearful for her life. It’s full of detail and reads more like a novel than non-fiction .

Dead Woman Walking

Another book I’ve finished recently is Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton. I loved it – very clever plotting, great characters and set in an area of Northumberland that I know quite well (a bonus). It begins with a balloon flight that ends in disaster and only Jessica survives as the balloon crashes to the ground, but she is pursued by a man who is determined to kill her. I love this kind of book, full of suspense and surprises and one that draws me within its pages.

My next book could be:

Cold Earth (Shetland Island, #7)

Ann Cleeves’ 7th book in her Shetland series, Cold Earth because I really want to read her 8th book, Wild Fire which was published last week, only to discover that I haven’t read Cold Earth yet!

Synopsis

In the dark days of a Shetland winter, torrential rain triggers a landslide that crosses the main Lerwick-Sumburgh road and sweeps down to the sea.

At the burial of his old friend Magnus Tait, Jimmy Perez watches the flood of mud and peaty water smash through a croft house in its path. Everyone thinks the croft is uninhabited, but in the wreckage he finds the body of a dark-haired woman wearing a red silk dress. In his mind, she shares his Mediterranean ancestry and soon he becomes obsessed with tracing her identity.

Then it emerges that she was already dead before the landslide hit the house. Perez knows he must find out who she was, and how she died.

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

WWW Wednesday: 15 August 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:

I’ve started my Classics Club Spin book, He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr. Set not long after the Second World War end this is a ‘locked room’ type of mystery, in which the body of Howard Brooks is found, stabbed to death, on the top of a tower, but the evidence shows that no one entered or left the tower during the time the murder took place.

And I’m still reading Wedlock: How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match by Wendy Moore, non fiction about Mary Eleanor Bowes who was the richest heiress in 18th century Britain. She fell under the spell of a handsome Irish soldier, Andrew Robinson Stoney and found herself trapped in an appallingly brutal marriage. Fascinating reading that if it was fiction you’d say you couldn’t believe it.

I’ve recently finished:  

The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola, which was published on 26th July 2018. See yesterday’s post for the opening paragraphs and synopsis. It’s beautifully written and as I like folklore and legends, with a mystery interwoven within it, I’ve been enjoying this very much.

I’ll post my review in the next few days.

 

My next book could be:

The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry, co-written by best-selling crime writer Chris Brookmyre and consultant anaesthetist Dr Marisa Haetzman, to be published on 30 August 2018.

Synopsis

Edinburgh, 1847. City of Medicine, Money, Murder.

Young women are being discovered dead across the Old Town, all having suffered similarly gruesome ends. In the New Town, medical student Will Raven is about to start his apprenticeship with the brilliant and renowned Dr Simpson.

Simpson’s patients range from the richest to the poorest of this divided city. His house is like no other, full of visiting luminaries and daring experiments in the new medical frontier of anaesthesia. It is here that Raven meets housemaid Sarah, who recognises trouble when she sees it and takes an immediate dislike to him. She has all of his intelligence but none of his privileges, in particular his medical education.

With each having their own motive to look deeper into these deaths, Raven and Sarah find themselves propelled headlong into the darkest shadows of Edinburgh’s underworld, where they will have to overcome their differences if they are to make it out alive.

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

WWW Wednesday: 25 July 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 Woman in Cabin 10  by Ruth Ware, one of my 10 Books of Summer, and I’ve nearly finished it.

The Woman in Cabin 10

Travel journalist Lo Blacklock  is on a luxury press launch on a boutique cruise ship when she is woken in the night by screams from cabin 10, her next door cabin. She believes a murder has taken place even though the records show that the cabin was unoccupied. This is a locked house type mystery that begins quite slowly and builds to a climax. But it is testing my scepticism somewhat.

As I’ve nearly finished The Woman in Cabin 10 I’ve just started reading The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola, which will be published on 26th July 2018. I’m only in Chapter 2 but I am totally captivated so far.

The Story Keeper

 

Synopsis

Audrey Hart is on the Isle of Skye to collect the folk and fairy tales of the people and communities around her. It is 1857 and the Highland Clearances have left devastation and poverty, and a community riven by fear. The crofters are suspicious and hostile to a stranger, claiming they no longer know their fireside stories.

Then Audrey discovers the body of a young girl washed up on the beach and the crofters reveal that it is only a matter of weeks since another girl disappeared. They believe the girls are the victims of the restless dead: spirits who take the form of birds.

Initially, Audrey is sure the girls are being abducted, but as events accumulate she begins to wonder if something else is at work. Something which may be linked to the death of her own mother, many years before.

And I’m also reading Wedlock: How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match by Wendy Moore, non fiction about Mary Eleanor Bowes who was the richest heiress in 18th century Britain. She fell under the spell of a handsome Irish soldier, Andrew Robinson Stoney. When Mary heard her gallant hero was mortally wounded in a duel fought to defend her honour, she felt she could hardly refuse his dying wish to marry her. Fascinating reading that if it was fiction you’d say you couldn’t believe it

Wedlock: How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match

I’ve recently finished:  No Further Questions by Gillian McAllister. I thought  her first book Everything But the Truth was brilliant and this one has lived up to my expectations – another brilliant book. I’ll write more in a later post.

Synopsis:

The police say she’s guilty.

She insists she’s innocent.

She’s your sister.

You loved her.

You trusted her.

But they say she killed your child.

Who do you believe?

My next book could be: Absent in the Spring by Agatha Christie, writing as Mary Westmacott.

Absent In The Spring

A striking novel of truth and soul-searching.

Returning from a visit to her daughter in Iraq, Joan Scudamore finds herself unexpectedly alone and stranded in an isolated rest house by flooding of the railway tracks.
Looking back over the years, Joan painfully re-examines her attitudes, relationships and actions and becomes increasingly uneasy about the person who is revealed to her…

Famous for her ingenious crime books and plays, Agatha Christie also wrote about crimes of the heart, six bittersweet and very personal novels, as compelling and memorable as the best of her work.

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

Library Books

Over the last few months I’ve reserved books at the library, but of course they all arrived at once instead of at regular intervals. This leaves me hoping I can renew them as there is no way I could read them all in the next three weeks!

Reserved bks June2018

From top to bottom they are:

  • Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf. Annabel  reviewed it recently on her blog Annabookbel, saying she absolutely adored it and that it was the best thing she’s read so far this year. I liked the look of it – it’s a novel about the pursuit of happiness and a story about growing old with grace. With such a recommendation I think I’ll start with this one.
  • Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. I reserved this ages ago. It’s set two decades after Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird, which I loved. I’ve read reviews that it’s disappointing, so I thought I’d see for myself what it’s like. Jean Finch, ‘Scout’, returns home to visit her father Atticus, in Maycomb, Alabama.
  • Elizabeth’s Rivals: the Tumultuous Tale of Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester by Nicola Tallis. I saw this on Amazon and fancied having a look at it, then saw it was available from the library. This is the first biography of Lettice Knollys, one of the most prominent women of the Elizabethan era. A cousin to Elizabeth I – and very likely also Henry VIII’s illegitimate granddaughter – Lettice Knollys had a life of dizzying highs and pitiful lows.
  • Paris by Edward Rutherfurd, a huge doorstop of a novel of over 700 pages, telling a tale of four families across the centuries set in Paris, the City of Lights. Helen at She Reads Novels wrote about Edward Rutherfurd’s books in one of her Historical Musings posts and I thought I’d like to try them. Paris was listed in the library catalogue and so I reserved it.

The beauty of borrowing library books is that you can then take your time deciding whether you really do want to read them – and if no one else reserves them you can renew the ones you haven’t finished in the loan period – my library lets you renew them 5 times!