10 Books of Summer: Challenge Over

Cathy at Cathy 746 Books has an annual challenge, 20 Books of Summer, which ends today, 3 September 2017. I included e-books as well as paper books.

As I’m very good at listing the books I want to read and very bad at sticking to the list I went for the 10 book option, but even so I didn’t read all 10! I read 8 of the 10 books.

I read:

Here are my thoughts on the books I read. I enjoyed some more than others.

They’re all novels except for Long Road From Jarrow by Stuart Maconie, in which he describes how he retraced the route the Jarrow marchers took in 1936 and compared what Britain was like then compared to the Britain of today. It’s a mix of travel writing, social and cultural history and political commentary, with the main emphasis on the current social, cultural and political scene. I thought it was fascinating, thought-provoking and most entertaining.

The novels in A-Z order by author:

Beneath a Burning Sky by Jenny Ashcroft -a story of love, secrets and betrayal. I had mixed feelings about this book. I liked the historical setting – Alexandria at the end of the 19th century when Egypt was under British rule. Basically it’s romance and I’d hoped for more historical content. So, not a great success.

Miraculous Mysteries edited by Martin Edward – Locked-Room Murders And Impossible Crimes. There are sixteen stories in the collection. Martin Edwards has prefaced each one with a brief biographical note, which I found useful as some of the authors were new to me. I’m not a big fan of short stories, often finding them disappointing. So I’m glad to say that I enjoyed this anthology.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig –  a story of love and loss and living in the moment. This book caught my imagination right from the start and I read it quite quickly, enjoying the trips through time. Tom Hazard’s condition means that he ages much slower than other people and he’s been alive for centuries. He tells his life story in flashbacks, switching back and forth in time between the present day and the past. I really enjoyed it.

Did You See Melody? by Sophie Hannah – a suspense novel, but not one I found particularly gripping. Melody was seven when she disappeared and although her body had not been discovered her parents were tried and found guilty of murdering her. Then people report seeing her and as the details of what happened to her are gradually revealed the book picked up and I was keen to find out the truth. But I thought it was far-fetched, contrived and over complicated. And then in the last few pages I found something that really did send a little shiver down my spine – and left me wondering just what had really happened to Melody, and what would happen next.

Present Tense by W H S McIntyre – crime fiction with an edge of dark humour. Criminal lawyer Robbie Munro is based in Linlithgow and deals mainly with Scottish Legal Aid cases. He gets caught up in the mystery of what was in the box Billy Paris, ex-military had left with him.  It’s a legal drama, a tense and complicated mystery, combined with details of Robbie’s personal life and another book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

The One that Got Away by Annabel Kantaria, a story of loss and betrayal – I finished this a few days ago and haven’t reviewed it yet. It’s about Stella and George who meet at a school reunion. They last saw each other fifteen years – and they discover that there is still a spark between them. I’m still thinking about the book and will write about soon.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy – at once a love story and a provocation-a novel as inventive as it is emotionally engaging. Overall I found this a difficult book to read, good in parts only. In the middle section I was mainly bewildered. It is a heart breaking book about love and loss – and it doesn’t spare the details

The books I didn’t get round to reading are:

  • The King in the North by Max Adams – the life and times of Oswald of Northumbria in the 7th century
  • Mister Pip by Ernest Jones – a story within a story and a fable

Beneath a Burning Sky by Jenny Ashcroft

Publication Date: June 29th from Sphere

Source: Review Copy

When twenty-two-year-old Olivia is coerced into marriage by the cruel Alistair Sheldon she leaves England for Egypt, his home and the land of her own childhood. Reluctant as she is to go with Alistair, it’s in her new home that she finds happiness in surprising places: she is reunited with her long-estranged sister, Clara, and falls ‘“ impossibly and illicitly ‘“ in love with her husband’s boarder, Captain Edward Bertram.

Then Clara is abducted from one of the busiest streets in the city. Olivia is told it’s thieves after ransom money, but she’s convinced there’s more to it. As she sets out to discover what’s happened to the sister she’s only just begun to know, she falls deeper into the shadowy underworld of Alexandria, putting her own life, and her chance at a future with Edward, the only man she’s ever loved, at risk. Because, determined as Olivia is to find Clara, there are others who will stop at nothing to conceal what’s become of her . . .

Beneath a Burning Sky is a novel of secrets, betrayal and, above all else, love. Set against the heat and intrigue of colonial Alexandria, this beautiful and heart-wrenching story will take your breath away.

My Thoughts:

I have mixed feelings about Beneath a Burning Sky by Jenny Ashcroft. I liked the historical setting – Alexandria at the end of the 19th century when Egypt was under British rule. It is a complex book but it is not so much historical fiction but more of a romantic story. Overall I enjoyed it but thought the book was melodramatic and I was hoping for more historical content.

There is a large cast of characters and although the main character, Olivia is convincingly described, many of the other characters are rather flat stereotypes – Alistair the sadistic older husband, Millicent, the wicked grandmother, and Edward, the ‘good’ character, the handsome, romantic lover.

From the start of the novel there is a lot that is not explained and the action moves swiftly from location to location, switching between different sets of characters. Olivia, trapped in an appalling marriage, is reunited with her older sister Clara from whom she was separated at a very young age after the death of their parents. She has no memories of her parents or her early life in Egypt, but throughout the book has tantalising flashbacks. I would have liked to have discovered what had happened to her parents, but this was only hinted at. I also wondered why Millicent, the wicked grandmother, had hated Olivia’s mother so much. And I was not convinced about the plausibility of Olivia’s forced marriage to Alistair.

But this is not the main mystery – that concerns Clara, because shortly after Olivia arrives, Clara disappears. The police investigation is completely useless, mainly because the chief of police is corrupt. What follows is Olivia’s frantic search for Clara with multiple twists as various secrets and passions begin to surface.

An added complication is the story of Nailah, an Egyptian woman, and her family. This shows the contrast between the ruling British class and the local people and the conditions they experienced and I think Jenny Ashcroft’s portrayal is the best part of her book. But I floundered to understand Nailah’s role in the novel and it was only towards the end that that became clear.

It is easy reading, and I was keen to know what had happened to Clara and why she disappeared. But for me it was too long with too many episodes that I sometimes found confusing. However, other people enjoyed it more than I did -there are plenty of 5 and 4 star reviews both on Amazon and Goodreads.

With thanks to NetGalley and Sphere, the publisher for a review copy.

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Sphere (29 Jun. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0751565032
  • ISBN-13: 978-0751565034
  • My Rating: 3˜…

This is the second book for my 10 Books of Summer Challenge.

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 2017 and running until 3 September 2017. 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’m including e-books as well as paper books. I like Cathy’s idea of counting the pages and working out how many pages I need to read each day. My total comes to 3585 pages which means I have to read 37 pages a day to complete my challenge. I should be able to do that … shouldn’t I?

Here are my 10 books in A-Z order by author:

  1. The King in the North by Max Adams – the life and times of Oswald of Northumbria in the 7th century
  2. Beneath a Burning Sky by Jenny Ashcroft – a story of love, secrets and betrayal
  3. Miraculous Mysteries edited by Martin Edward – Locked-Room Murders And Impossible Crimes
  4. How to Stop Time by Matt Haig – a story of love and loss and living in the moment
  5. Did You See Melanie? by Sophie Hannah – a suspense novel
  6. Mister Pip by Ernest Jones – a story within a story and a fable
  7. The One that Got Away by Annabel Kantaria – story of loss and betrayal
  8. Present Tense by W H S McIntyre – crime fiction with an edge of dark humour
  9. Long Road from Jarrow by Stuart Maconie – Stuart Maconie walks North to South retracing the emblematic footsteps of the Jarrow marchers to discover what Britain is really like today
  10. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy – at once a love story and a provocation-a novel as inventive as it is emotionally engaging.

Cathy has allocated 2 ‘spares’ and because I know that I could easily not fancy reading one or more of these books when the time comes I’m reserving the option of substituting 2 ‘spares’ as well. They are:

The Shadow PuppetThe Shadow Puppet by Georges Simenon – an Inspector Maigret mystery.

Maigret uncovers a tragic story of desperate lives, unhappy families, addiction and terrible, fatal greed.

and

The Last Kingdom by Bernard CornwellThe Last Kingdom (The Saxon Stories, #1), the first in his Saxon series, set in 9th century Northumbria, about Uhtred an English boy, adopted by a Dane and taught Viking ways.

A Medal for Murder by Frances Brody

Last year I read and enjoyed Dying in the Wool, the first of Frances Brody’s series of historical crime fiction books set in 1920s Yorkshire and featuring Kate Shackleton. The second book, A Medal for Murder is even better and I was thoroughly immersed in the mystery.

A pawn shop robbery brings Kate and her assistant Jim Sykes, an ex-policeman,  their second case. It leads on to her discovery of a dead body, that of Lawrence Milner, outside a Harrogate theatre where Kate had been watching a production of a dramatisation of Arnold Bennett’s novel, Anna of the Five Towns. Then Captain Wolfendale, a Boer War veteran asks Kate to find his granddaughter, Lucy, who had starred in the play, as she has disappeared and he had received a ransom note. The murder  brings Kate into contact again with Inspector Marcus Charles of Scotland Yard (she had first met him in Dying in the Wool).

The book is told from the different characters’ perspective, but mainly from Kate’s, with flashbacks to the Boer War at the turn of the century. This is a detailed, complex plot which kept me guessing almost to the end about the identity of the murderer.  What is Captain Wolfendale hiding in his attic that he doesn’t want Kate to see? Just what is his relationship with Lawrence Milner who had also fought in the Boer War? How/is the pawn shop robbery connected to the murder? Will Lucy be rescued? And why doesn’t Dan Root, a watch maker, who also rents a room in the Captain’s house want to Kate to see inside his workroom?

There is so much going on in this book, and yet it was easy to read and each sub-plot fitted in so well with the main mystery that I didn’t get confused – I just couldn’t see who could have killed Milner. I had several suspects, all of whom turned out to be innocent of the crime. I liked the historical setting and the characters rang true. I’m left wondering whether Kate’s relationship with Inspector Charles will develop further, and whether she will ever hear what happened to her husband, reported missing in the 1914-18 War.

These are the books in the Kate Shackleton Mystery series:

1. Dying in the Wool (2009)
2. A Medal For Murder (2010)
3. Murder in the Afternoon (2011)
4. A Woman Unknown (2012)
5. Murder on a Summer’s Day (2013)
6. Death of an Avid Reader (2014)
7. A Death in the Dales (2015) to be published 1 October 2015

For more information about the author and her books see Frances Brody’s blog and website.

Reading Challenges: Mount TBR Reading Challenge, 10 Books of Summer, Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

The Remorseful Day by Colin Dexter

Chief Inspector Morse is one of my favourite fictional detectives (maybe even the favourite). I first ‘met’ him years ago in the ITV series Inspector Morse and so, just as Joan Hickson is forever in my mind as Miss Marple and David Suchet is Poirot, John Thaw is Morse. The series was first broadcast in 1987, but I don’t intend to write about the books versus the TV adaptations – I’ve enjoyed both. This post is just about the last book in the series – The Remorseful Day.

I’ve delayed reading this for so long (I watched the TV version when it was first broadcast, which was 15 years ago!) because it’s the last of the Morse books and sadly the end of Morse too. So if you’ve not read any of the Morse books I suggest that you don’t start with this one.

Needless to say that I loved it. The plot is detailed, complex and as usual with Morse a puzzle type murder mystery with plenty of challenging clues. Sergeant Lewis is left to investigate the murder of nurse Yvonne Harrison that had remained unsolved for a year – Morse initially refused to work on the case, despite Chief Superintendent Strange’s wishes. Sergeant Lewis is concerned as this looks just the sort of puzzle Morse excels in solving … and Morse’s behaviour has been worrying Lewis recently.  Lewis can’t believe that Morse could have a personal reason to keep out of the investigation. And when Morse phones to say he is feeling unwell Lewis is most concerned – Morse seldom mentioned his health, what is wrong with him?

The plot is complex, but the real focus of the book is on Morse and how he copes with his illness and his drinking habits and it becomes obvious just how alone he is in the world and how devastating his situation is to Lewis. The novel also reveals more about Strange’s character and also about his understanding of Morse. I found it both a most satisfying book and a very sad one.

There are only 13 Morse books. The links are to my posts on the books – I read some before I began to write this blog and I’m hoping to re-read those in due course.

  1. Last Bus to Woodstock (1975)
  2. Last Seen Wearing (1976)
  3. The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn (1977)
  4. Service of All the Dead (1979)
  5. The Dead of Jericho (1981)
  6. The Riddle of the Third Mile (1983)
  7. The Secret of Annexe 3 (1986)
  8. The Wench is Dead (1989)
  9. The Jewel That Was Ours (1991)
  10. The Way Through the Woods (1992)
  11. The Daughters of Cain (1994)
  12. Death is Now My Neighbour (1996)
  13. The Remorseful Day (1999)

As The Remorseful Day has sat unread on my shelves for so long it obviously qualifies for the Mount TBR Challenge 2015. I also included it as one of My 10 Books of Summer, which brings my total to 5.

The Man in the Wooden Hat and Last Friends by Jane Gardam

These are companion novels to Old Filth, which I read years ago. The Man in the Wooden Hat is written from the perspective of Old Filth’s wife, Betty.

Blurb:

Filth (Failed In London, Try Hong Kong) is a successful lawyer when he marries Elisabeth in Hong Kong soon after the War. Reserved, immaculate and courteous, Filth finds it hard to demonstrate his emotions. But Elisabeth is different – a free spirit. She was brought up in the Japanese Internment Camps, which killed both her parents but left her with a lust for survival and an affinity with the Far East. No wonder she is attracted to Filth’s hated rival at the Bar – the brash, forceful Veneering. Veneering has a Chinese wife and an adored son – and no difficulty whatsoever in demonstrating his emotions . . .

How Elisabeth turns into Betty and whether she remains loyal to stolid Filth or is swept up by caddish Veneering, makes for a page-turning plot in a perfect novel which is full of surprises and revelations, as well as the humour and eccentricities for which Jane Gardam’s writing is famous.

I suppose you could read this book without reading Old Filth first, but it certainly helps to know what happens in the first book from the husband’s point of view. Both books follow the lives of husband and wife over 50 years, but as The Man in the Wooden Hat is told from Betty’s point of view I got a totally different view of events, particularly of the couple’s relationship with Old Filth’s arch rival in Hong Kong, fellow lawyer Terry Veneering.

Last Friends revisits the same events telling Terry Veneering’s story from Dulcie Williams’ perspective. Dulcie is the widow of “Pastry Willy” Williams, a judge who was also in the foreign service with Old Filth and Veneering. She provides the back stories of these characters, and throws yet more light on the events told in the first two books.

Blurb:

Old Filth and The Man in the Wooden Hat told with bristling tenderness and black humour the stories of that Titan of the Hong Kong law courts, Old Filth QC, and his clever, misunderstood wife Betty. Last Friends, the final volume of this trilogy, picks up with Terence Veneering, Filth’s great rival in work and – though it was never spoken of – in love.

Veneering’s were not the usual beginnings of an establishment silk: the son of a Russian acrobat marooned in northeast England and a devoted local girl, he escapes the war to emerge in the Far East as a man of panache, success and fame. But, always, at the stuffy English Bar he is treated with suspicion: where did this blond, louche, brilliant Slav come from?

Veneering, Filth and their friends tell a tale of love, friendship, grace, the bittersweet experiences of a now-forgotten Empire and the disappointments and consolations of age.

The three books together form a memorable trilogy, of love and life, humour and heartbreak in colonial Hong Kong and the contrasting setting of the English countryside. Maybe Old Filth is the outstanding book, but maybe that is because I read it first and loved it so much, that the others don’t quite live up to it.

I’ve had both these books for a couple of years, so both qualify for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2015, and The Man in the Wooden Hat for the 10 Books of Summer Challenge and the Colour Coded Challenge (the dominant colour of the  cover is white) too.

Zen There Was Murder by H. R. F. Keating

I don’t think I’ve read anything like Zen There Was Murder, a mixture of Zen Buddhism and murder. It was the second book H R F Keating wrote, first published in 1960 and then published in 1963 by Penguin Books in their green Penguin Crime series. (This cover is much more appropriate than the Bloomsbury Reader e-book cover showing guns)

It was the Zen Buddhist setting that made it difficult for me to get to grips with the murder. In fact it is practically halfway into the book before the murder actually takes place. The first half is taken up with introducing the characters, gathered together for a course on Zen Buddhism.  There is a schoolteacher, Alasdair Stuart, a clergyman, the Rev. Cyprian Applecheek, Miss Olive Rohan, Miss Flaveen Mills, Honor Brentt, a jounalist and her husband, Gerry Manvers, and Jim Henderson, an Irishman from Ulster.

None of them know anything about Zen and much time is spent with them trying to understand what it is. Mr Utamaro, the lecturer comes out with various sentences, such as ‘Books about Zen are legs on a snake‘, saying you cannot understand Zen by reading a book about it and applying the principles of logic to what you read, and tweaking Alasdair’s nose saying, ‘this is Zen‘, as well as using koans, such as ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping?‘ But they fail to understand, saying it is nonsense. Mr Utamaro agrees.

Mr Utamaro shows them a sword, locked in a glass showcase. The sword, a wakizashi, is one of pair used by samurai for hari-kiri, and on the evening of the first day Mr Utamaro discovers that the sword has been taken from the case, leaving it intact and without setting off the alarm. And then Flaveen is found dead, the sword driven into her body up to the hilt.

The clue to discovering the identity of the murderer is in solving who is telling lies  and why.  For most of the time I was completely bamboozled and kept wondering just how the two German girls employed to make the beds and do the cooking fitted into the mystery. Their conversations regularly interrupt the narrative as they comment on the characters and the events taking place.

All in all this book has a surreal feel about it. It’s not just a puzzle type of murder mystery but as Keating explained in an interview with Dale Salwek in Mystery Voices: Interviews with British Crime Writers it is also making a point about something you believed:

And the thing I believed in, one of the things that bugged me most, was the subject of telling lies, which is fine for a detective story. And that was how I came to write my second, Zen There Was Murder, which is really more about telling lies than about Zen.

When writing the second book, I thought I could say something about telling lies. At that time, too, Zen Buddhism was a fad over here, and so for the background of the book, I took Zen, which does reflect very much on lies. I found I could say things about lies by giving each of the characters a different viewpoint on telling lies – ranging from one of those people who absolutely objects to lying in any way to the sort of pathological liar. And I made the whole book turn on that. (pages 64-65)

H R F Keating (1926 – 2011) was chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) (1970’“71), chairman of the Society of Authors (1983’“84) and president of the Detection Club (1985’“2000). He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.  His most famous novels are the Inspector Ghote books (I have just one on my TBR shelves – Inspector Ghote’s Good Crusade, the second in the series).  For more information about Keating see this article by Martin Edwards.

I’ve had this book for about three years, so it qualifies for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2015 and it is also one of the books I listed for the 10 Books of Summer Challenge, and the TBR Pile Challenge.