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?

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.

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.

Six Degrees of Separation: from How To Be Both to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

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.

This month (April 6, 2019), the chain begins with Ali Smith’s award-winning novel, How to be Both.

How to be both

How to be Both is a novel all about art’s versatility. Borrowing from painting’s fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, it’s a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions. There’s a Renaissance artist of the 1460s. There’s the child of a child of the 1960s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real—and all life’s givens get given a second chance.’ (Goodreads)

I haven’t read this book but I’d like to sometime. I see that there are two versions: one begins with the contemporary story, the other with the 15th-century story. This reminded me of Carol Shields’ book Happenstance, two stories about the same five-day period – one from Jack Bowman’s point of view, and the other from his wife, Brenda’s. They’re printed in the same book in an unusual format of containing two books in one, either can be read first – then turn the book upside down and read the other story.

Happenstance

My next link is a bit of a jump – from the character Brenda in Happenstance I immediately thought of Brenda Blethyn, who plays Vera in Ann Cleeves’s books. One of these books is Silent Voices in which D I Vera Stanhope finds a dead body in the sauna room of her local gym. The victim, a woman had worked in social services – and was involved in a shocking case involving a young child.

Social Services also feature in Fair of Face by Christina James. Ten year old Grace is being fostered when her foster mother and her baby are found dead in their beds. Social Services are asked to work with the police, in order to question Grace and her friend Chloe, a child from a troubled family.

Another author with the name James, is P D James, also a crime writer. An Unsuitable Job for a Woman is a Cordelia Gray detective story in which she takes on an assignment from Sir Ronald Callander, a famous scientist, to investigate the death of his son, Mark who had been found hanged in suspicious circumstances. Mark had left Cambridge University without completing his degree and had taken a job as a gardener.

My next link is to Agatha Christie’s Cat Among the Pigeons, set mainly in an exclusive and expensive girls’ school, Meadowbank, in England. Some new staff members have been appointed, including Adam Goodman, a handsome young gardener.

My final link is to another school, the Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Muriel Spark’s novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Marcia Blaine is a traditional school where Miss Brodie’s ideas and methods of teaching are viewed with dislike and distrust. The Head Teacher is looking for ways to discredit and get rid of her. The girls in her ‘set’ fall under her spell, but one of them betrays her, ruining her teaching career.

Different formats, the name ‘Brenda’, Social Services, authors’ surname ‘James’, gardeners,  and girls’ schools all link How To Be Both to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Except for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie the books in my chain are all crime fiction and apart from How To Be Both I’ve read all the books in the chain – clicking on the titles takes you to my posts, where they exist.

Next month (May 4, 2019), the chain will begin with Jane Harper’s debut best-seller, The Dry.

The King’s Evil by Andrew Taylor

London, 1667 – a royal scandal that could change the face of England forever…

The King's Evil

HarperCollins|4 April 2019|464 pages|Hardback |Review copy|5*

This is the third book in Andrew Taylor’s series following James Marwood and Cat (Catherine) Lovett. I loved the first two – The Ashes of London (set in 1666) and The Fire Court (set in 1667, eight months after the Great Fire of London), so I was delighted when Felicity Denham at HarperCollins asked me if I’d like a proof copy of The King’s Evil to review. It is not necessary to read the earlier books as I think they all work well as standalones, but I think it helps if you do.

The King’s Evil carries on from where The Fire Court ended. Seven years after the restoration of the monarchy it’s still a time of political and social change. Whilst Charles II still had immense power as the King a new middle class, both professional and administrative, was evolving. James Marwood is a government agent in Whitehall, working as a clerk for William Chiffinch, one of the commissioners of the Board of Red Cloth. Chiffinch was also Keeper of the King’s Private Closet and Page of the Backstairs, an important position as he controlled private access to the King. In addition Marwood also works under Joseph Williamson, the Undersecretary to the Secretary of State for the South, one of Charles’s most powerful ministers.

Charles had reinstated the ceremony of ‘touching for the King’s Evil’ as a demonstration of his divine right to rule – a ceremony in which the monarch touched those people suffering from scrofula, a disease, now known as  tuberculosis, that caused the swelling of the bones and lymphatic glands in the neck (the book cover illustrates the ceremony). It was believed that the King’s touch cured the disease.

The novel begins as Marwood is in the Banqueting Hall at Whitehall watching the ceremony. Chiffinch had told him to attend on the orders of the King to meet Lady Quincy and do whatever she commanded. Lady Quincy, accompanied by a small African child, her footboy suffering from scrofula, tells Marwood to meet her outside the church near the Tower of London. She also warns him that Edward Alderley, her step-son, is out for revenge on Cat Lovett because of what she had done to him. (This refers to events in The Fire Court). 

In order to keep her identity secret Cat, whose father had been one of the Regicides, is going by the name of Jane Hakesby. She had been working for Simon Hakesby, a surveyor and architect, on a garden pavilion project in the grounds of Clarendon House. Then Alderley is found dead in the well in the garden pavilion.

Marwood is asked to look into the circumstances of Alderley’s death, under the King’s authority. He decides to keep his connection with Cat to himself, whilst he tries to find out where she has gone and who was responsible for Adderley’s death. Was it an accident, was it suicide, or was it murder? After Chiffinch received an anonymous letter naming Cat as the murdererhe sent officers to arrest her, but she had disappeared. So this was taken as a confession of her guilt. Marwood was afraid that this could implicate him too if it became known that he had told her that Alderley knew her whereabouts.

In addition, Lord Clarendon is convinced that Alderley was involved in a conspiracy against him and also suspects that someone in his household is involved in the plot. He is out of favour with Charles, and had recently been removed from the office of Lord Chancellor.  But he’s still potentially politically powerful as his daughter is married to Charles’s brother, James, the Duke of York. His grandchildren, the Princesses Mary and Anne, are the next heirs in the line of succession if Charles remained childless.

Marwood tries to find Cat, and also escorts Lady Quincy to Cambridge on a secret mission. Eventually his investigation into Alderley’s death leads him to discover who is behind the plot against Clarendon, and also to uncover a potential royal scandal in which Lady Quincy and the Duke of Buckingham, one of Charles’s favourites who had supplanted Clarendon, play important roles. 

I loved the characterisation and all the details of the setting, bringing to life scenes at the royal court as well as in the refugee camps that housed the homeless as the work of rebuilding London continued. Andrew Taylor is a supreme storyteller, combining fact and fiction – his novels are full of historical details that slot seamlessly into his stories. The King’s Evil is historical fiction at its best, full of suspense and tension, an intricate and tightly plotted murder mystery, enhanced by the intrigue of a royal scandal. 

I loved it.

Many thanks to the publishers, HarperCollins for my review copy.

WWW Wednesday: 27 March 2019

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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:

A Life of My Own: A Biographer’s Life by Claire Tomalin – a book that Marina @ Finding Time To Write, so kindly sent to me. I’ve been reading this a few chapters at a time for some while and am getting to the end of this book. This morning I read about the death of her second daughter, Susanna – such a moving tribute.

Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz – I’ve only read a few chapters so far. This is a Sherlock Holmes novel but without both Holmes and Watson – Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty have fallen to their deaths at the Reichenbach Falls. The discovery of a brutally murdered body in a leafy suburb is investigated by Pinkerton agent Frederick Chase  and Inspector Athelney Jones, a devoted student of Holmes’s methods of investigation and deduction.

Here Be Dragons by Sharon Penman, historical fiction, the first of her trilogy about the medieval princes of Gwynedd and the monarchs of England. I’m reading this on my Kindle and finding it just as compelling reading as her wonderful book The Sunne in Splendour. It tells the story of Llewelyn, the Prince of North Wales, and his rise to power and fame. So far, I’m reading about his childhood and teenage years.

I’ve recently finished:

Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham, which I first read two years ago. A very special book that is just as amazing to read as it was for the first time.

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver, a gothic novel due to be published on 4 April 2019. I loved her Dark Matter, a ghost story in the form of a diary set in the Arctic and so expected to love this one too. It’s not as chilling, but is just as atmospheric and full of mystery. I’ll be writing my review very soon.

In Edwardian Suffolk, a manor house stands alone in a lost corner of the Fens: a glinting wilderness of water whose whispering reeds guard ancient secrets. Maud is a lonely child growing up without a mother, ruled by her repressive father.

When he finds a painted medieval devil in a graveyard, unhallowed forces are awakened. Maud’s battle has begun. She must survive a world haunted by witchcraft, the age-old legends of her beloved fen – and the even more nightmarish demons of her father’s past.

My next book could be:

At the moment I don’t know. But it could be The Evidence Against You by Gillian Mcallister, due to be published on 18 April 2019.

The Evidence Against You

It’s the day Izzy’s father will be released from jail.

She has every reason to feel conflicted – he’s the man who gave her a childhood filled with happy memories.

But he has also just served seventeen years for the murder of her mother.

Now, Izzy’s father sends her a letter. He wants to talk, to defend himself against each piece of evidence from his trial.

But should she give him the benefit of the doubt?

Or is her father guilty as charged, and luring her into a trap?

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