WWW Wednesday: 8 May 2019

IMG_1384-0

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?


Currently reading: Two books, Mrs Whistler by Matthew Pamplin and D H Lawrence: the Life of an Outsider by John Worthen.

Mrs Whistler is a new publication (3 May) and I’m reading an e-ARC from NetGalley. I’m loving it. It’s a novel is based on the life of the artist, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, and his muse Maud Franklin, covering the years from 1876 to 1880. During this period Whistler was engaged in a dispute with his patron F R Leyland over payment for his decoration of the Peacock Room and the trial in 1878 of the action Whistler brought against John Ruskin for his criticism of his works exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877. My description is the bare bones – the novel brings it all to life.

D H Lawrence: the Life of an Outsider is one of my TBRs. I bought the book in 2008 when I visited D H Lawrence’s birthplace at Eastwood, 8 miles from Nottingham. I’m reading this slowly, as I like to do with all non-fiction. It’s very readable and detailed – so far I’ve read about his birth in 1885, childhood and education and I am now reading about his first teaching job in Croydon as an elementary teacher in 1908. By 1908 writing had become a necessity to him – writing poetry, but he was too insecure to send any of it to a publisher.

Recently finished:

The Butterfly Room

The Butterfly Room by Lucinda Riley, a family saga that revolves around Posy Montague and her family home, Admiral House in the Suffolk countryside, a house that had been in her family for generations. I really enjoyed it and will read more of Lucinda Riley’s books. I’ve written more about it in this post.

My next book could be:

This is the most difficult part of this post – I don’t know until the time actually arrives. I’m itching to read several books – those I wrote about yesterday, but also new publications from NetGalley, the latest of which is The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell to be published in August, but then I want to read Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck, my Classics Club Spin book, and Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, the next choice for my local book club at the end of this month. Or it could be The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris, that a friend has lent me – she says it’s good.

I can’t decide today!

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

New Additions

May bks 2019

These are my latest additions to my TBR books from Barter Books in Alnwick. From top to bottom:

  • Anything You Do Say by Gillian McAllister – because I’ve loved other books by her. This is a psychological thriller that has two separate storylines following two paths that Joanna’s future might take.
  • Fire from Heaven: a novel of Alexander the Great by Mary Renault – because this book caught my eye in the historical fiction section and I remember enjoying some of her books years ago. This is the first in her Alexandrian Trilogy.
  • The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths, a Dr Ruth Galloway Mystery – because I like Ruth and enjoy these books, even though they are written in the present tense, which I can find irritating. This one is set in Italy.
  • The Sleeping and the Dead by Ann Cleeves – because I love her books. This is one of her earlier books, first published in 2001. It’s a standalone murder mystery featuring Detective Peter Porteous.
  • Christine Falls by Benjamin Black -because I’ve been on the lookout for this book ever since I read Vengeance, the 5th book in his Quirke Mysteries series. This is the 1st book in the series, a murder mystery set in the 1950s in Dublin where Quirke is a pathologist. Benjamin Black is the pen name of John Banville.

The Passengers by John Marrs

The passengers

 

The Passengers by John Marrs paints a scary picture of the future and I began to wonder whether this could actually happen one day as driverless cars become more advanced.

As I read it reminded me of those debates we had at school – about a hot air balloon which is losing height rapidly and will soon crash because it is overweight. The solution is to get rid of some of the passengers to enable the others to survive. Each passenger has to put forward a persuasive case as to why they should survive.

In The Passengers driverless cars have been developed to Level Five, with no steering wheels, pedals or a manual override option. A Hacker has taken over control of the cars, set them on a collision course, and tells each passenger that the destination they programmed into their GPS has been replaced with an alternative location. In approximately two hours time they are going to die. They are trapped inside unable to contact the outside world.

Meanwhile Libby Dixon has been selected for service on a Vehicle Inquest Jury, assessing liability for accidents involving driverless cars. Libby hates the way these cars are becoming the norm and she has reason to do so – but we only discover why much later on the book. So she is not comfortable with what she is forced to do and is determined to challenge decisions when she doesn’t agree with the other jurists’ verdict. The Hacker interrupts their proceedings and they are told that only one passenger can be saved. They have to talk to each passenger before deciding who is to be saved. In addition the whole thing is being broadcast and the public also has a vote. The passenger with the most votes will be spared when the cars collide.

This raises all sorts of issues as details of each of the passengers lives are made public – but are they all what or who they seem?  The passengers are: a TV star, a pregnant young woman, a disabled war hero, an abused wife fleeing her husband, an illegal immigrant, a husband and wife – and parents of two – who are travelling in separate vehicles and a suicidal man.

The tension rises, as the passengers’ private lives are exposed and moral and ethical questions about race, gender, immigration, religion and age are all scrutinised. I was expecting a particular twist in the plot and it came – but not when I thought it would! There were plenty of twists and surprises to follow before the book came to an end.

The Passengers is a shocking book. I found it riveting, even if it is preposterous, and sinister with a frightening view of the future that may not be that ridiculous. It kept me glued to the page right to the end.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 21081 KB
  • Print Length: 406 pages
  • Publisher: Ebury Digital (1 April 2019)
  • Source: I bought it
  • My rating: 5*

The Butterfly Room by Lucinda Riley

The Butterfly Room

Macmillan|2 May 2019|624 pages|Review copy|4*

If you love family sagas spanning generations then you’ll love The Butterfly Room by Lucinda Riley. This is a standalone novel and the first book by Lucinda Riley that I have read, although I have some of her Seven Sisters series waiting to be read.

The story revolves around Posy Montague and her family home, Admiral House in the Suffolk countryside, a house that had been in her family for generations. The narrative alternates between the different periods of her life from her childhood in the 1940s to the present day in 2006 as she nears her seventieth birthday. It is not a fast paced book but moves in a leisurely fashion through the various decades building a complex picture of her life.

Her early childhood years were idyllic spent with her parents at Admiral House. It was then that her love of nature began as her beloved father encouraged her to draw plants and showed her how to catch butterflies. The Butterfly Room in the Folly in the grounds of Admiral House plays an important role in the book. As a child Posy thought it looked like a fairy-tale castle with its turret made of yellow sandy brick. It was there that her father spent a lot of time on his own and she imagined it as a place where fairies and their butterfly friends lived. However, as the story developed it was clear to me that the Folly was not the wonderful place she imagined – and there is a dark secret hidden behind its locked door.

After a period spent with her grandmother in Cornwall and her time at Cambridge University followed by a job at Kew Gardens, she married and returned to Admiral House where she brought up her two sons. Years later the house is in desperate need of restoration, which Posy can’t afford and she is faced with the prospect of selling it, despite all the memories it holds and the beautiful garden she had created in the grounds.

But life is never straightforward for Posy and her two sons both present her with almost insurmountable problems. Then Freddie arrives on the scene, a man who broke her heart fifty years earlier when he suddenly ended their engagement without any explanation. He is still reluctant to tell her why and much as she wants to trust him she hesitates.

There is so much more in the book than I’ve mentioned here, too much to reveal in this post without spoiling the story.  I used to read family sagas like this years ago, books I used to race through and read one after another. I don’t think they have quite the same appeal to me these days, but I did enjoy it, and even though I think it is too long, it kept my attention to the end. Maybe because I read a lot of crime fiction I could see what would happen to some of the characters, but as for the secret of the Butterfly Room, I guessed some of the truth, but not the whole secret! It reads well, is a page-turner, full of interesting situations and believable characters. A minor criticism, which is purely personal, is that I became so tired of Posy addressing her family and friends as darling/dear boy/girl so often.

Many thanks to the publishers, Macmillan for my review copy via NetGalley.

Six Degrees of Separation: from The Dry to The Song of Troy

I love doing 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. But for this chain the books are all connected in that they are all books on my TBR shelves.

The Dry

This month the chain begins with The Dry by Jane Harper, crime fiction set in a small country town in Australia, where the Hadler family were brutally murdered. I have had this book on my TBR shelves for quite some time now and I really want to read it as I loved Force of Nature and The Lost Man. I was thinking of linking to one of these books but decided to go for another book, one that I bought on the same day as The Dry. It’s Longbourn by Jo Baker, a story about the Bennet’s servants in a re-imagining of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Another book that is a re-imagining is Rebecca’s Tale by Sally Beauman, a companion novel to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. It is set 20 years after the death of Rebecca and the burning of Manderley. I’m hoping I’ll  love it as much as I loved Rebecca and Hitchcock’s 1940 film of the book. Sally Beauman was a journalist before she became an author. She wrote Rebecca’s Tale after writing an article about the work of Daphne du Maurier in The New Yorker magazine.

My next link is through the author’s first name – Sally – to  another author called Sally,  Sally Gunning and her book, The Widow’s War. It’s historical fiction set in Cape Cod, Massachusetts during the years prior to the War of Independence. After Lyddie Berry’s husband of 20 years dies in a whaling accident she has to fight a ‘war’ for control of her own destiny. Under the laws of the colony widows had the use of only one third of their husbands’ real estate, and did not inherit the ownership.

A different type of war is the subject of Small Wars by Sadie Jones. This is historical fiction set in  Cyprus in the 1950s as the EOKA terrorists are fighting for independence from Britain and union with Greece.

Another book set on an island is The Island by Victoria Hislop.  Alexis Fielding discovers the story of her mother’s family on the island of Spinalonga, a tiny, deserted island off the coast of Crete – Greece’s former leper colony.  Victoria Hislop was also a journalist before she became an author.

As was Colleen McCullough, the author of numerous books including the Masters of Rome series. So, my final link is to one of her books – The Song of Troy in  which she recounts the tale of Helen and Paris, sparking the Trojan War. Colleen McCullough was also an Australian author so it links back to the first book, The Dry by Jane Harper, also an Australian author, who I’m delighted to see was also a journalist before becoming an author!

In addition to all the books being TBRs, four of the authors were journalists before becoming authors and two are Australian authors.

The chain moves through time from the present day back to late classical Antiquity, beginning in Australia and passing through England, America, Cyprus, Crete to Anatolia in modern Turkey.

Next month (June 1, 2019), the chain will begin with the winner of the 2019 Wellcome Prize, Murmur by Will Eaves.

My Friday Post: Iris and Ruby by Rosie Thomas

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.

This week I’ve been looking at some of my TBRs deciding which one to read next and came across Iris and Ruby by Rosie Thomas. It’s been on my shelves a long time – 12 years – it really is time I read it!

Iris and Ruby

I remember.

And even as I say the words aloud in the silent room and hear the whisper dying away in the shadows of the house, I realise it’s not true.

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:

‘I remember the Blitz. the beginning of it anyway. Then I came out here, to Cairo, to work.’

‘ Did you? How come?’

‘That’s the beginning of another long story.’

Blurb:

The unexpected arrival of her wilful teenage granddaughter, Ruby, brings life and disorder to 82-year-old Iris Black’s old house in Cairo. Ruby, driven away from England by her fraught relationship with her own mother, is seeking refuge with the grandmother she hasn’t seen for years.

An unlikely bond develops as Ruby helps Iris document her fading memories of the glittering, cosmopolitan Cairo of World War Two, and of her one true love – the enigmatic Captain Xan Molyneux – whom she lost to the ravages of war.

This lost love shaped Iris’s past – and will affect Ruby’s future in ways they could not have imagined…

~~~

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Immortal life of HL

Pan|First Paperback Edition edition (1 Jan. 2011)|431 pages|5*

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is an outstanding book! It took her more than ten years to research and write and has won numerous awards and been made into a film starring Oprah Winfrey as Deborah Lacks, Renee Elise Goldsberry as Henrietta Lacks, and Rose Byrne as Rebecca Skloot.

I found it all fascinating, but harrowing to read in parts, from all the details of Henrietta’s life, how she was treated for cervical cancer in 1951, when she was just 30, to her death nine months later.  During her diagnosis and surgery cancer cells taken from her tumour were cultured and amazingly those cells multiplied, doubling every twenty four hours. They became known as HeLa cells (pronounced hee-lah) and have formed the basis for much medical research and drug development ever since. It is also a history of the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and considers the ethical issues around ownership of her cells and the distress, anger and confusion this caused her family. It raises many issues not just regarding ethics, but also regarding science, race and class.

Cancer treatment in 1951 with radium was brutal, but what made it worse was that Henrietta was a black woman, living in near-poverty in Baltimore. Black oral history from at least the 1800s tells of kidnapping black people for research and there were disturbing truths behind the stories – doctors did test drugs on slaves and carried out operations to develop surgical techniques. In 1951 Henrietta was treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital, a hospital built for the benefit of Baltimore’s poor, but black residents suspected it had been ‘built in a poor black neighborhood  for the benefit of scientists – to give them easy access to potential research subjects.’ (page 190)

The Lacks family were poor and they misunderstood what was happening. They became fearful and distressed, and some of them were aggressive when they realised with horror that Henrietta still lived on in a way they couldn’t understand. They had no health insurance and received no financial benefit from the research done on the HeLa cells. Rebecca Skloot’s investigation reveals the mental anguish they went through and her account is so very moving. In particular her times with Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah are heart breaking as she records the terrible struggles Deborah had to overcome. It was only years later that Deborah understood that it was her mother’s cancer cells that were still ‘alive’ and not her own normal cells.

‘So we don’t have the thing that made her cells grow forever?’ Deborah asked. Christoph shook his head. ‘Now you tell me after all these years!’ Deborah yelled. ‘Thank God, cause I was wonderin.’

She pointed at a cell on the screen that looked longer than the others. ‘This one is cancer, right? And the rest are her normal ones?’

‘Actually, HeLa is all just cancer,’ Christoph said.

‘Wait a minute,’ she said,’you mean none of our mother’s regular cells still livin? Just her cancer cells?’

‘That’s right.’

‘Oh! See, and all this time I thought my mother regular cells still livin!’ (page 302)

Rebecca Skloot based her book on an impressive amount of research  – archival documents, scientific and historical research, including legal documents and medical records. She also used Deborah’s personal journals as well as conducting more than a thousand hours of interviews with Henrietta’s family and friends, and lawyers, ethicists, scientists and journalists who have written about the Lacks family.

This is not a dry scientific account – although there is a lot of scientific detail in the book (not all of which I’m sure I fully understood). It is a remarkable and personal record of the Lacks family that comes to life through dialogue, by adopting the language with which each person spoke and wrote. She explains that where she wrote in the first person using Deborah’s voice she was quoting what she said, only edited for length and occasionally clarity. It is brilliantly written, giving me much to think over – one of the most moving books of non-fiction I’ve read!