My Friday Post: I Am, I Am, I Am

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’m featuring I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell, one of the books I’m currently reading.

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death

I chose this book because I love Maggie O’Farrell’s books and as soon as I read the description I knew I had to read it:

About the Book

I AM, I AM, I AM is Maggie O’Farrell’s electric and shocking memoir of the near-death experiences that have punctuated her life. The childhood illness she was not expected to survive. A teenage yearning to escape that nearly ended in disaster. A terrifying encounter on a remote path. A mismanaged labour in an understaffed hospital.

This is a memoir with a difference: seventeen encounters with Maggie at different ages, in different locations, reveal to us a whole life in a series of tense, visceral snapshots. Spare, elegant and utterly candid, it is a book to make you question yourself. What would you do if your life was in danger? How would you react? And what would you stand to lose?

It begins:

Neck 1990

On the path ahead, stepping out from behind a boulder, a man appears.

This opening sentence drew me in immediately, knowing from the title and book description that this was not going to be a happy encounter – this is the ‘terrifying encounter on a remote path.’

~~~

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.

Pages 55-56:

Suddenly the plane is falling, dropping, plummeting, like a rock fallen from a cliff. The downward velocity is astonishing, the drag, the speed of it. It feels like the world’s most unpleasant fairground ride, like a dive into nothing, like being pulled by the ankles into the endless maw of the underworld. My ears and face bloom like petals of pain, the seatbelt cutting into my thighs as I am thrown upwards.

~~~

The title is taken from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar:

I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.

What about you? Does it tempt you or would you stop reading? 

The Darkest Place by Jo Spain

The Darkest Place (An Inspector Tom Reynolds Mystery, #4)

4*

Quercus Books|20 September 2018|352 pages|Review copy

The Darkest Place is Jo Spain’s 4th Inspector Tom Reynolds Mystery book and although I haven’t read the first three I was keen to read this book when I saw it offered on NetGalley as I’d enjoyed her standalone book The Confession. As I expected there are references to the cases Tom Reynolds and his team investigated in the earlier books and it’s probably best to read those first, but actually this didn’t affect my enjoyment of this book.

I was soon gripped by the mystery right from the opening lines of the book:

Forty years was too long to wait for somebody to come back from the dead.

But still, she liked to get  everything ready. Just in case.

The ‘somebody’ is Conrad Howe, who was one of the senior doctors at St Christina’s asylum on Oilean na Coillte,  known to locals as the island of lost souls, an island (fictional) off the south-west corner of Ireland. His wife, Miriam had never given up hope that he was alive and would return home.

The psychiatric hospital was closed down years ago, but now there are plans to build a retreat on the island, an exclusive hotel, and during the demolition work a mass grave for the patients had been uncovered. Conrad’s body was found, hidden beneath some of the body bags and it was obvious that he had been murdered.

The narrative alternates between the police investigation and extracts from the diary Miriam had found hidden in the attic, describing what was happening at the hospital and the horrific treatment some of the patients were subjected to by one of the doctors. A few of the hospital staff, including the former head of St Christina’s, Dr Lawrence Boylan and an ex-nurse, Carla Crowley, and it is soon clear that something evil is still going on at the asylum.

This really is a chilling book and in parts I found it disturbing and difficult to read. Jo Spain makes it clear in her Acknowledgements that although this is crime fiction it is based on fact – such terrible things really did happen in mental institutions, housing vulnerable people. They were patients with dementia, deformities, depression, epilepsy and homosexuals – people whose families could not deal with them and they were treated mainly as though they were suffering from a physical illness or disorder, that could be fixed. Those that couldn’t be fixed were kept locked up.

For most of the book I kept wondering what had actually happened to Conrad Howe and suspecting various people of killing him, mainly thinking it was one particular person until halfway into the book, then thinking it couldn’t be that one. I was right about that, but it was only just before the truth was revealed that I had the slightest suspicion of what had really happened, which makes it a very satisfying book indeed. I’m now on the lookout for more books by Jo Spain.

Thanks to Quercus Books and NetGalley for provided a review copy of this book.

A-Z of TBRs: E-Books: D, E and F

Earlier this year I looked through my TBRs – the ‘real’ books – and as it prompted 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.

This is the second instalment of my A – Z of my e-book TBRs – with a little ‘taster’ from each. These are all fiction.

Daisy in Chains

D is for Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton (on my Kindle since November 2014.)  I can’t quite believe I haven’t read this book as Sharon Bolton is one of my favourite authors, but there it is – I can see I started it as I’m on page 22. It’s about a convicted murderer, Hamish Wolfe who tries to convince, defence barrister Maggie Rose that he is innocent.

The Times Online, Monday, 8 September 2014

CONTROVERSY IN COURT AS WOLFE TRIAL OPENS

Accused surgeon, Hamish Wolfe, refused to enter a plea on the first day of his trial at the Old Bailey today. In accordance with English law, he will now be tried as if he had pleaded not guilty.

Dressed in a dark grey suit, white shirt and blue tie, Wolfe appeared to be paying close attention to proceedings, but when asked to speak he remained silent, in spite of the judge, Mr Justice Peters, on three occasions, advising him that it was not in his interests to do so. (page 13)

There are letters, emails, and court transcripts as well as newspaper reports and the story is told from multiple viewpoints, told mainly as far as I can see from the little I’ve read, in the present tense, as in the following extract where Sandra, Hamish’s mother is talking to Maggie as she drives her home from the beach:

I came here today to talk to you,’ she says. I didn’t want to come to your house, I didn’t want to intrude, so I thought I’d wait for you at the beach. And then Daisy ran off just before you arrived. It all nearly went so horribly wrong.’

… ‘I drove over this morning,’ Sandra says before she’s even changed gear. ‘And yesterday morning too. I watched your car pull out of your drive. I guessed you were coming here. And that you come at high tide. (page 9)

Exposure

E is for Exposure by Helen Dunmore, on my Kindle since July 2017. It’s set in London in 1960 when the Cold War is at its height, and a spy may be a friend or neighbour, colleague or lover. At the end of a suburban garden, in the pouring rain, a woman buries a briefcase deep in the earth. She believes that she is protecting her family. What she will learn is that no one is immune from betrayal or the devastating consequences of exposure.

Another book written in the present tense, which again might be the reason I stopped reading this book at page 56:

It starts with a whistle of a train, shearing through the cold, thick dust of a November afternoon. Lily Callington hears it as she digs over her vegetable patch at the bottom of her garden in Muswell Hill. For a second she’s startled, because the whistle sounds so close, as if a rain is rushing towards her along the disused railway line at the bottom of the garden. She straightens and listens intently, frowning. the whistle goes through her, touching nerves so deep that Lily doesn’t even know where they are. The children! They aren’t here. She can’t see them, touch them, keep them safe.

Stop it you fool. They are not babies any more. Paul is ten, Sally almost nine. Even Bridget is five. They’re at school. What could be safer than a primary school in Muswell Hill?

(pages 4-5)

Flight Behaviour

F is for Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver, on my Kindle since February 2014. On the Appalachian Mountains above her home, a young mother discovers a beautiful and terrible marvel of nature: the monarch butterflies have not migrated south for the winter this year. Is this a miraculous message from God, or a spectacular sign of climate change? Entomology expert, Ovid Byron, certainly believes it is the latter. He ropes in Dellarobia to help him decode the mystery of the monarch butterflies.

Dellarobia is a restless farm wife who gave up her own plans when she accidentally became pregnant at seventeen. Now, after a decade of domestic disharmony on a failing farm, she has settled for permanent disappointment but seeks momentary escape through an obsessive flirtation with a younger man. As she hikes up a mountain road behind her house to a secret tryst, she encounters a shocking sight: a silent, forested valley filled with what looks like a lake of fire.

The flame now appeared to lift from the individual treetops in showers of orange sparks, exploding the way a pine log does in a camp fire when it’s poked. The sparks spiralled upwards in swirls like funnel clouds. Twisters of brightness against gray sky. In broad daylight with no comprehension she watched. From the tops of the funnels the sparks lifted high and sailed out undirected above the dark forest.

A forest fire, if that’s what it was, would roar. This consternation swept the mountain in perfect silence. The air remained cold and clear. No smoke, no crackling howl. she stopped breathing for a second and closed her eyes to listen, but heard nothing. Only a faint patter like rain on leaves. (page 19)

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

Timekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed with Time by Simon Garfield

Timekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed With Time

3*

Synopsis:

Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana. The Beatles learn to be brilliant in an hour and a half. An Englishman arrives back from Calcutta but refuses to adjust his watch. Beethoven has his symphonic wishes ignored. A US Senator begins a speech that will last for 25 hours. The horrors of war are frozen at the click of a camera. A woman designs a ten-hour clock and reinvents the calendar. Roger Bannister lives out the same four minutes over a lifetime. And a prince attempts to stop time in its tracks.

Timekeepers is a book about our obsession with time and our desire to measure it, control it, sell it, film it, perform it, immortalise it and make it meaningful. It has two simple intentions: to tell some illuminating stories, and to ask whether we have all gone completely nuts.

My thoughts:

Timekeepers fulfils Simon Garfield’s intentions – to tell some illuminating stories, and to ask whether we have all gone completely nuts. It covers a wide variety of topics, all in one way or another about time – how it’s been recorded, the development of the calendar, the standardisation of time to aid with railway timetables, and aspects of time management, for example.

The chapters vary in length and some are more interesting than others. The one that interested me most was Movie Time, with an account of how the silent film, Safety Last! was made in 1923.

File:Safetylast-1.jpg
Harold Lloyd dangling from the clock in Safety Last! (1923)

Harold Lloyd climbs the outside of a department store, obstacles falling on him as he does so, until he reaches the giant clock at the top, grabs hold of it, and dangles above the street below. Garfield recalls that for the first audiences time just froze, some went into hysterics and others fainted. Garfield’s focus is on the concept of time that the movies portrayed and goes on to explain how films were originally produced and shown when the timing depended on the cranking skills of the cameraman during filming and the projectionist during showing.

I was also interested in the chapter on performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a long and complex piece of music involving a large orchestra, solo singers and a chorus, where Garfield’s focus is on the tempo of the music and the differences made by different composers’ interpretations; and also in the chapter on Nic Ut’s photograph of children fleeing after a napalm bomb had been dropped on a village in Trảng Bàng, Vietnam. Garfield’s focus here is on the fraction of a second when the photograph was captured that brought the story home to its viewers.

Several other chapters also interested me but I wasn’t taken with those on the technicalities of time measurement, time management,or the production of clocks and watches, that Garfield describes in great detail. The book jumps about from topic to topic with, as far as I can make out, no chronological order. But it is full of facts, and going off the Further Reading and Acknowledgement section it is well researched. A book to dip into rather than read straight through.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 4503 KB
  • Print Length: 369 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books; Main edition (29 Sept. 2016)
  • Source: Canongate Books via NetGalley
  • My Rating: 3 stars

Thanks to Canongate Books and NetGalley for my copy of this book for review.

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free

4*

Hodder and Stoughton|23 August 2018|432 pages|Review copy

The opening chapters of Now Well Shall Be Entirely Free drew me in immediately as I read about Captain John Lacroix’s return to England from Spain in 1809, close to death after the battle of Corunna, during the Peninsular War. Miller’s descriptive writing, lyrical and poetic, vividly sets the scene as Lacroix is nursed back to health by Nell, his servant. But it is clear that he is on the edge of a breakdown, mentally and emotionally, saying little about the battle and indeed, unable to face the memories of the horrors he experienced. When another officer arrives ordering him to report back to duty, he decides instead to leave for the Highlands to recuperate.

This is followed by an account of the investigation of the atrocities carried out  in the village of Los Morales during the army’s retreat to Corunna.  The village was burned down, men were lynched and women raped. Two men, a vicious Englishman, Corporal Calley is ordered to track down and kill the officer responsible and a Spaniard, Lieutenant Medina, a liaison officer with the British army, is assigned to accompany him and report back that the execution has been carried out. It is soon obvious that the officer is Captain John Lacroix and so the hunt is on, as Calley and Medina follow his trail from Somerset to Bristol and Glasgow and then on to the Hebrides, leaving a trail of violence and death behind them.

The pace is brisk, until Lacroix reaches the isles, where he meets the Frend family, a brother and sisters, living as part of an isolated community. Jane is pregnant and Emily is slowly losing her sight. At this point in the novel the pace dropped partly because of the vagueness in describing the location of the island (somewhere in the Outer Hebrides beyond Mingulay) and Lacroix’s own mental and physical slowing down on the island – after being attacked and robbed in Glasgow, he began taking opium to relieve his pain. My attention began to wander until he and Emily returned to Glasgow for an operation to improve her eyesight. The pace picked up and I was fascinated by the medical details, with intriguing insights into new discoveries in medical treatment.

But then the ending came all too quickly and left me feeling uncertain about what actually happened – the ambiguity surrounding their ‘freedom’. Freedom is a theme throughout the novel – its definition and how it differs for men and women. The relentless brutality of war, of course is another theme, demonstrated through the inhumanity of Calley’s actions and its effects on Lacroix as he finally reveals what had happened in Spain.

I enjoyed the historical details, the medical techniques as well as the effects of industrialisation, and in particular the conditions in the cotton mills, where Calley laboured as a child. He had worked as a ‘piecer’ mending the cotton threads and cleaning the machines, in danger of losing a limb, deafened by the noise in the hot machine room where the air was thick with little bits of cotton filling up your nose and lungs.

But most of all I enjoyed the writing. Miller’s ability to write in such a lyrical style, to convey emotions and create such complex characters that are so believable that you can empathise, to a limited extent, even with a thug like Calley, make this book remarkable.

Thanks go to Hodder and Stoughton and NetGalley for my copy of this book for review.

Rebus Returns! In My Friday Post

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.

In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin was published yesterday. It’s the 22nd book in Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series. 

In a House of Lies (Inspector Rebus #22)

It begins:

The car was found because Ginger was jealous of his friend Jimmy.

Description (Ian Rankin’s website)

IN A HOUSE OF LIES

Everyone has something to hide
A missing private investigator is found, locked in a car hidden deep in the woods. Worse still – both for his family and the police – is that his body was in an area that had already been searched.

Everyone has secrets
Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke is part of a new inquiry, combing through the mistakes of the original case. There were always suspicions over how the investigation was handled and now – after a decade without answers – it’s time for the truth.

Nobody is innocent
Every officer involved must be questioned, and it seems everyone on the case has something to hide, and everything to lose. But there is one man who knows where the trail may lead – and that it could be the end of him: John Rebus.

~~~

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.

I ‘m not up to 56% yet and my e-book doesn’t have page numbers, but by my reckoning page 56 is between 14-15% –  here DI Fox is talking about Rebus:

‘Rebus retired at the end of 2006. Well sort of.’

‘Sounds like you have come across him, though?’

‘John Rebus has a way of turning up. Anything in particular blot his copybook on the Bloom case?

‘He was mates with the boyfriend’s dad, a cop from Glasgow. Word was they kept meeting for a quiet drink.’ (14%)

~~~

I’ve been looking forward to reading this book as I’ve read all the previous 21 books. So, I had to start reading this as soon as it appeared on my Kindle yesterday even though I have plenty of books lined up to read next!

What about you? Does it tempt you or would you stop reading? 

 

First Chapter First Paragraph: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness is one of the books I’m currently reading. It’s the first book in the All Souls Trilogy series.

A Discovery of Witches (All Souls, #1)

The leather-bound volume was nothing remarkable. To an ordinary historian, it would have looked no different from hundreds of other manuscripts in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, ancient and worn. But I knew there was something odd about it from the moment I collected it.

Blurb:

When historian Diana Bishop opens an alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, it’s an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordered life. Though Diana is a witch of impeccable lineage, the violent death of her parents while she was still a child convinced her that human fear is more potent than any witchcraft. Now Diana has unwittingly exposed herself to a world she’s kept at bay for years; one of powerful witches, creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires.

Sensing the significance of Diana’s discovery, the creatures gather in Oxford, among them the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire genticist.

Diana is inexplicably drawn to Matthew and, in a shadowy world of half-truths and old enmities, ties herself to him without fully understanding the ancient line they are crossing. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels…

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

I wasn’t at all sure that I wanted to read this book as I don’t often read books about witches or vampires, although I have read Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian. It was the opening paragraph that made me decide to try it – for several years I worked in the Archives Department of a County Council, so anything to do with ancient manuscripts fascinates me. I’m up to chapter 7 and it’s slow, easy reading and Diana is as much a reluctant witch as I am a reluctant reader of vampire stories.