Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: The Library of the Dead by T L Huchu

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 The Library of the Dead by T L Huchu, the first book in the Edinburgh Nights series. It’s fantasy, set in a future or alternative Edinburgh, with a wealth of dark secrets in its underground. Teenager Ropa, has dropped out of school to become a ghost talker and when a child goes missing in Edinburgh’s darkest streets, Ropa investigates his disappearance.

I’m really not supposed to be doing this, but a girl’s gotta get paid. So, here we go.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

These 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:

‘Please find Oliver quickly. You should see what they’ve done to his friend Mark. The two boys were together when they disappeared. Only one came back.’

‘Okay, I’ll poke my nose around. Sniff the wind. Try to figure out what’s going on,’ I say.

About the Author:

T. L. Huchu is a writer whose short-fiction has appeared in publications such as Lightspeed, Interzone, AfroSF and elsewhere. He is the winner of a Nommo Award for African SF/F, and has been shortlisted for the Caine Prize and the Grand Prix de L’Imaginaire. Between projects, he translates fiction from Shona into English and the reverse.

Books Read in August 2021

August was a busy month for me and it didn’t leave much time for reading or writing reviews! But I did read 5 books, and as both Framley Parsonage (684 pages) and Dead Tomorrow (663 pages) are very long books, it took me over half of August to read just those two!

  1. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope 4* – see my review
  2. The Queen’s Spy by Clare Marchant 4*
  3. The Madness of Crowds by Douglas Murray 3*
  4. Dead Tomorrow by Peter James 3*
  5. Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch 4*

The only book I reviewed was Framley Parsonage. So, before I begin September’s books here are just a few brief thoughts on the other 4 books.

The Queen’s Spy by Clare Marchant – historical fiction with a dual timeline set in 1584 and 2021. I read this quickly drawn along by the plot and keen to know the links between the two main characters, Mathilde in the present day and Tom in the 16th century. I was more interested in Tom’s story. He is deaf and dumb, but he can lip read. He is an apothecary and also a spy, working for Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth I’s spymaster, during the period leading up to the Babbington Plot. Mathilde has inherited a medieval mansion, Lutton Hall, and she is surprised to find that she has family there she had never heard of before. The two timelines interlink as Mathilde discovers the secrets hidden at Lutton Hall.

The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity by Douglas Murray. Crowd behaviour fascinates me, so I hoped this book would cast some light on the subject – it certainly did. There are sections on sexuality, gender, technology and race, including a chapter on transgender, which I found the most enlightening. The synopsis describes how Murray “reveals the astonishing new culture wars playing out in our workplaces, universities, schools and homes in the names of social justice, identity politics and ‘intersectionality’.” Some of it I found shocking and infuriating.

Dead Tomorrow by Peter James – the 5th book in his Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series. Grace and his team investigate the deaths of three teenagers found by a dredger at the bottom of the English Channel, which leads them to a gang of human traffickers operating from Eastern Europe. Parallel with their investigation a desperate mother is fighting for her daughter’s life. One of the things I like about the Roy Grace series is the continuing story of Grace’s personal life. But what I find irritating is the way Peter James describes what all his characters are wearing and the details of all the little details of their surroundings. And this book in particular is far too long and drawn out.

Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch, the second Rivers of London novel. I loved the first book, Rivers of London. These are fast-paced police procedurals of a very different kind – urban fantasy, set in the real world of London, a mix of reality and the supernatural. You could probably read them as standalones, but I really think it’s best to read them in order to get the full background to what is going on and what has already happened to the main characters.

DC Peter Grant is assigned to work with Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale (who is the last wizard in England) as part of a special and secret branch of the Met, dealing with all things magical and supernatural. Moon Over Soho begins with the murder of Cyrus Wilkinson, a part-time jazz saxophonist, who had apparently dropped dead of a heart attack just after finishing a gig in a Soho jazz club. Peter can hear music coming from his corpse. What follows is a complicated story full of twists and turns, humour, and some gruesome and unusual murders.

Books from the Mobile Library

The mobile library came here this week and for the first time since the first lockdown we could go on board the van! I borrowed just three books this time.

The Seal King Murders by Alanna Knight – an Inspector Faro Mystery. Set in 1861 in Orkney, this is the second casebook of Constable Faro, looking back to his earlier career. A champion swimmer, has drowned in mysterious circumstances and Faro is met with rumours of missing artifacts, the myth of the seal king, a dead body under the floor of Scarthbreck, his first love, and a mother who is determined to find him a wife. 

Faro later had an illustrious career as Chief Inspector in the Edinburgh City Police and personal detective to Her Majesty Queen Victoria at Balmoral. I haven’t read any of the Inspector Faro mysteries, so I think this could be a good place to start.

Alanna Knight had more than seventy books published in an impressive writing career spanning over fifty years. She was a founding member and Honorary Vice President of the Scottish Association of Writers, Honorary President of the Edinburgh Writers’ Club and member of the Scottish Chapter of the Crime Writers’ Association. Alanna was awarded an MBE in 2014 for services to literature. Born and educated in Tyneside, she lived in Edinburgh until she passed away in 2020.

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman. Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. This is fantasy in a world that is chaos-infested – the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. It is the first of 8 books in the Invisible Library series.

Genevieve Cogman got started on Tolkien and Sherlock Holmes at an early age, and has never looked back. But on a perhaps more prosaic note, she has an MSC in Statistics with Medical Applications and has wielded this in an assortment of jobs: clinical coder, data analyst and classifications specialist. Although The Invisible Library is her debut novel, she has also previously worked as a freelance roleplaying game writer. Genevieve Cogman’s hobbies include patchwork, beading, knitting and gaming, and she lives in the north of England.

A Bespoke Murder by Edward Marston, book 1 in the Home Front Detective series. Set in 1915 with thousands of Britons away in the trenches, a severely depleted police force remains behind to keep the Home Front safe and continue the fight against crime, espionage, and military desertion. Detective Inspector Harvey Marmion and Sergeant Joe Keedy investigate the murder of Jacob Stein, a Jewish tailor, a victim of anti-German riots after the sinking of the Lusitania. His shop is set ablaze, his daughter is raped and he is murdered

Edward Marston is a pseudonym used by Keith Miles, an English author, who writes under his own name and also historical fiction and mystery novels under the pseudonym Edward Marston. He is known for his mysteries set in the world of Elizabethan theatre. He has also written a series of novels based on events in the Domesday Book, a series of The Railway Detective and a series of The Home Front Detective.

I’ve read one of Alanna Knight’s books and one by Edward Marston, but none of Genevieve Cogman’s. Have you read any of these books? Are you tempted?

Movalwar by Benjamin Cornelius

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Benjamin Cornelius is 11 years old. He’s my friend’s great-nephew, and I was delighted to read his book Movalwar. He wrote it during the pandemic when he was in lockdown with his family. I was most impressed with it – his storytelling, his imagination and his command of language. It gripped me right from the first start and I just had to read on. It’s about two eleven year-old boys, Alfie and Ben and their exciting and dangerous journey to save the fate of two worlds.

With no school because of the pandemic, the boys’ adventure begins when Alfie has a dream demanding that he goes to Movalwar through a secret lake to return a mysterious possession that controls that evil kingdom. Then he finds a box in his grandparents’ attic, containing a multi-coloured gemstone that reveals a map showing mountains, islands, seas and jungles. And so their adventure begins as he and Bobby set out to find the entrance to the evil kingdom.

Meanwhile the pandemic has reached a peak, no cure has been found, the rate of infection is rising and a vaccine has yet to be created. London has been plunged into chaos. And in Movalwar Alfie’s and Bobby’s lives are in increasing danger. Will they succeed?

I liked the mix of fantasy and real life in this tense, fast-paced book that kept me absorbed in the story all the way through. Ben also designed the lovely cover for his book. I hope Ben will continue to write more stories – he says he is currently enjoying thinking of new ideas for another story.

  • Publisher : Eklegein (11 Sept. 2020)
  • Language: : English
  • Paperback : 116 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1907971653
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1907971655
  • Source: I bought the book
  • My rating: 5 stars

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Releases for the Second Half of 2020

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 Most Anticipated Releases for the Second Half of 2020.

I have previously read books by these authors, so I am eagerly looking forward to reading their new books – if not now, then later!

The book descriptions are either from Amazon or Goodreads.

A Song for the Dark Times by Ian Rankin – 1 October 2020

The 23rd Rebus book

When his daughter Samantha calls in the dead of night, John Rebus knows it’s not good news. Her husband has been missing for two days. Rebus fears the worst – and knows from his lifetime in the police that his daughter will be the prime suspect. He wasn’t the best father – the job always came first – but now his daughter needs him more than ever. But is he going as a father or a detective? As he leaves at dawn to drive to the windswept coast – and a small town with big secrets – he wonders whether this might be the first time in his life where the truth is the one thing he doesn’t want to find…

Still Life by Val McDermid – 20 August 2020

Inspector Karen Pirie book 6

On a freezing winter morning, fishermen pull a body from the sea. It is quickly discovered that the dead man was the prime suspect in a decade-old investigation, when a prominent civil servant disappeared without trace. DCI Karen Pirie was the last detective to review the file and is drawn into a sinister world of betrayal and dark secrets. But Karen is already grappling with another case, one with even more questions and fewer answers. A skeleton has been discovered in an abandoned campervan and all clues point to a killer who never faced justice – a killer who is still out there. In her search for the truth, Karen uncovers a network of lies that has gone unchallenged for years. But lies and secrets can turn deadly when someone is determined to keep them hidden for good …

Just Like the Other Girls by Claire Douglas – 6 August 2020

Una Richardson’s heart is broken after the death of her mother. Seeking a place to heal, she responds to an advertisement and steps into the rich, comforting world of Elspeth McKenzie. But Elspeth’s home is not as safe as it seems. Kathryn, her cold and bitter daughter, resents Una’s presence. But more disturbing is the realization that two girls had lived here before. Two girls who ended up dead.

Why won’t the McKenzies talk about them? What other secrets are locked inside this house? As the walls close in around her, Una starts to fear that she will end up just like the other girls . . .

Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell – 6 August 2020

It is nearly midnight, and very cold. Yet in this dark place of long grass and tall trees where cats hunt and foxes shriek, a girl is waiting…

When Saffyre Maddox was ten something terrible happened and she’s carried the pain of it around with her ever since. The man who she thought was going to heal her didn’t, and now she hides from him, invisible in the shadows, learning his secrets; secrets she could use to blow his safe, cosy world apart.

Owen Pick is invisible too. He’s thirty-three years old and he’s never had a girlfriend, he’s never even had a friend. Nobody sees him. Nobody cares about him. But when Saffyre Maddox disappears from opposite his house on Valentine’s night, suddenly the whole world is looking at him. Accusing him. Holding him responsible. Because he’s just the type, isn’t he? A bit creepy?

The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett – 15 September 2020

The prequel to The Pillars of the Earth.

It is 997 CE, the end of the Dark Ages, and England faces attacks from the Welsh in the west and the Vikings in the east. Life is hard, and those with power wield it harshly, bending justice according to their will – often in conflict with the king. With his grip on the country fragile and with no clear rule of law, chaos and bloodshed reign. Into this uncertain world three people come to the fore: a young boatbuilder, who dreams of a better future when a devastating Viking raid shatters the life that he and the woman he loves hoped for; a Norman noblewoman, who follows her beloved husband across the sea to a new land only to find her life there shockingly different; and a capable monk at Shiring Abbey, who dreams of transforming his humble abbey into a centre of learning admired throughout Europe.

The Survivors by Jane Harper – 22 September 2020

Kieran Elliott’s life changed forever on a single day when a reckless mistake led to devastating consequences. The guilt that haunts him still resurfaces during a visit with his young family to the small coastal town he once called home. Kieran’s parents are struggling in a community which is bound, for better or worse, to the sea that is both a lifeline and a threat. Between them all is his absent brother Finn. When a body is discovered on the beach, long-held secrets threaten to emerge in the murder investigation that follows. A sunken wreck, a missing girl, and questions that have never washed away…

The House of Lamentations by S G MacLean – 9 July 2020

The final historical thriller in the award-winning Seeker series (Damian Seeker 5)

Summer, 1658, and the Republic may finally be safe: the combined Stuart and Spanish forces have been heavily defeated by the English and French armies on the coast of Flanders, and the King’s cause appears finished.

Yet one final, desperate throw of the dice is planned. And who can stop them if not Captain Damian Seeker?

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig – 13 August 2020

Between life and death there is a library.

When Nora Seed finds herself in the Midnight Library, she has a chance to make things right. Up until now, her life has been full of misery and regret. She feels she has let everyone down, including herself. But things are about to change. The books in the Midnight Library enable Nora to live as if she had done things differently. With the help of an old friend, she can now undo every one of her regrets as she tries to work out her perfect life. But things aren’t always what she imagined they’d be, and soon her choices place the library and herself in extreme danger. Before time runs out, she must answer the ultimate question: what is the best way to live?

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke – 15 September 2020

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell transported over four million readers into its mysterious world. It became an instant classic and has been hailed as one of the finest works of fiction of the twenty-first century.

Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville – 6 August 2020

It is 1788. Twenty-one-year-old Elizabeth is hungry for life but, as the ward of a Devon clergyman, knows she has few prospects. When proud, scarred soldier John Macarthur promises her the earth one midsummer’s night, she believes him.

But Elizabeth soon realises she has made a terrible mistake. Her new husband is reckless, tormented, driven by some dark rage at the world. He tells her he is to take up a position as Lieutenant in a New South Wales penal colony and she has no choice but to go. Sailing for six months to the far side of the globe with a child growing inside her, she arrives to find Sydney Town a brutal, dusty, hungry place of makeshift shelters, failing crops, scheming and rumours.

All her life she has learned to be obliging, to fold herself up small. Now, in the vast landscapes of an unknown continent, Elizabeth has to discover a strength she never imagined, and passions she could never express.

Inspired by the real life of a remarkable woman, this is an extraordinarily rich, beautifully wrought novel of resilience, courage and the mystery of human desire.

My Friday Post: Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

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.

I’ve been watching the BBC One adaptation of His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, which has made me pick up the first book in the trilogy, Northern Lights. I first read it several years ago but seeing the first two episodes has made me want to re-read it.

Pullman Northern Lights

Lyra and her dæmon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.

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:

“What is them Gobblers?” said Simon Parslow, one of Lyra’s companions.

The first gyptian boy said, “You know. They been stealing kids all over the country. They’re pirates -”

“They en’t pirates,” corrected another gyptian. “They’re canniboles. That’s why they call ’em Gobblers.”

“They eat kids?” said Lyra’s other crony Hugh Lovat, a Kitchen boy from St Michael’s.

“No one knows,” said the first  gyptian. “They take them away and they en’t never seen again.”

Blurb:

‘Without this child, we shall all die.’

Lyra Belacqua lives half-wild and carefree among the scholars of Jordan College, with her dæmon, Pantalaimon, always by her side.

But the arrival of her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, draws her to the heart of a terrible struggle – a struggle born of stolen children, witch clans and armoured bears.

As she hurtles towards danger in the cold far North, Lyra never suspects the shocking truth: she alone is destined to win, or to lose, the biggest battle imaginable.

~~~

It’s compelling reading, both in terms of storyline (with many parallel worlds) and in terms of ideas.

Are you watching His Dark Materials too? Have you read the books? Do let me I know.

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Rivers of London

Gollanz|January 2011|396 pages|e-book |5*

Blurb:

My name is Peter Grant and until January I was just probationary constable in that mighty army for justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service (and as the Filth to everybody else). My only concerns in life were how to avoid a transfer to the Case Progression Unit – we do paperwork so real coppers don’t have to – and finding a way to climb into the panties of the outrageously perky WPC Leslie May. Then one night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, I tried to take a witness statement from someone who was dead but disturbingly voluble, and that brought me to the attention of Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England.

Now I’m a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard, the first apprentice in fifty years, and my world has become somewhat more complicated: nests of vampires in Purley, negotiating a truce between the warring god and goddess of the Thames, and digging up graves in Covent Garden … and there’s something festering at the heart of the city I love, a malicious vengeful spirit that takes ordinary Londoners and twists them into grotesque mannequins to act out its drama of violence and despair.

The spirit of riot and rebellion has awakened in the city, and it’s falling to me to bring order out of chaos – or die trying.

My thoughts:

I wish I had read Rivers of London when was first published in 2011, or in 2016 when I bought it because, when I finally began reading it I found I just didn’t want to put it down. 

I really didn’t expect to enjoy it so much, but I was completely engrossed in this book right from the beginning. It is a magical reading experience, and a fast-paced police procedural of a very different kind. It’s fantastical in the literal meaning of the word; an urban fantasy set in the real world of London. It’s a mix of reality and the supernatural, as Peter explains ‘Police work is all about systems and procedures and planning – even when you’re hunting a supernatural entity.

When a headless corpse is found in front of the West Portico of St Paul’s at Convent Garden, Peter interviews a witness, Nicholas Wallpenny, who tells him he has been dead for at least a hundred and twenty years – he is a ghost. From that point on nothing is straight forward as Peter is assigned to work with Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale (who is the last wizard in England) as part of a special and secret branch of the Met, dealing with all things magical and supernatural. And there are more murders

But interwoven with the murders is the feud between the Rivers of London, or rather between Mother Thames, whose territory is downstream and Father Thames who owns upstream. They both believe they rule the Thames and its tributaries. The dividing line is at Teddington Lock, two miles downstream from Eel Pie Island. Nicholas wants Peter to speak to Mother Thames to find out what the problem is and to find an amicable solution. And so he meets Beverley Brook and the other river goddesses.

Ben Aaronovitch knows London like he back of his hand and it shows in this book. It’s complex, the characters are great, the London setting is wonderfully detailed, and the writing is humorous and very entertaining. I loved it! It’s the first book in the Rivers of London series. The 8th book, False Value, will be published next year. So I have lots more Peter Grant novels to read, beginning with the next one, Moon Over Soho.

About the author:

Born and raised in London, Ben worked as a scriptwriter for Doctor Who and Casualty before the inspiration for his own series of books struck him whilst working as a bookseller in Waterstones Covent Garden. His unique novels are the culmination of his experience of writing about the emergency services and the supernatural.

See more about him and his work on his website.

Six Degrees of Separation: from Gaudy Night to The Cuckoo’s Calling

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 it’s a wild card – the chain begins with the book that ended our July chains, which means that my starting book is Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers.

Gaudy Night

It’s set at Shrewsbury College at Oxford University. Harriet Vane attends the Shrewsbury Gaudy (a college reunion involving a celebratory dinner). It doesn’t go well – there are poison pen letters, nasty graffiti and vandalism causing mayhem and upset. It’s 1935 and explores the role of women in society, particularly with regard to education and marriage and the importance of truth and honesty. 

My first link is the word night’ in the title:

Endless Night by Agatha Christie. It differs from most of her other books in that it is a psychological study. It reminded me very much of Ruth Rendell’s books, writing as Barbara Vine. It has the same suffocating air of menace throughout the book, with more than one twist at the end. It’s a murder mystery, but there is little or no detection, and no investigators – no Poirot or Miss Marple – to highlight the clues to the murders, for there are several.

So, my second link is, The Brimstone Wedding, by Barbara Vine, also a book full of a menacing atmosphere. In it Stella, reveals her past as she talks to Jenny, one of the carers at the retirement home where she lives. It’s all very subtle at first with tantalising hints about what had really happened in Stella’s past. But the full horror is left to the end –  it’s not horrific in the overblown graphic sense, but in a sinister, psychological way that really is ‘chilling’ and inexpressibly sad.

And my third link takes me to another chilling book, The Craftsman by Sharon Bolton –  a remarkably powerful book, full of tension and fear. Assistant Commissioner Florence Lovelady attends the funeral of Larry Glassbrook, the convicted murderer she arrested thirty years earlier. The victims had been buried alive. But as she revisits the scenes of the burials she starts to think that maybe Larry wasn’t the murderer after all.

Moving away from chilling books about death and burials my mind jumped to a completely different book about death – The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. This is the story of Bod, the baby who escapes a murderer. He stumbles into the local disused graveyard where he is rescued by ghosts. Silas, who is neither dead nor alive appoints himself as his guardian. It’s about life, love and friendship, loyalty and the fight between good and evil. Above all it is about growing up and the excitement and expectations that Bod has about life.

Another character called Silas is Silas Marner, written by George Eliot about a weaver who was wrongly accused of theft and left his home town to live a lonely and embittered life in Raveloe where he became a miser, hoarding his gold and counting it each night. George Eliot is the pen name of Mary Anne Evans.

Finally this leads me to my last link, The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, J K Rowling’s pen name. It’s crime fiction, set in the world of Cormoran Strike , an ex-army private detective, who is struggling to get clients and pay his bills, sleeping on a camp bed in his office.

My links are via the word ‘night’, chilling books, death and burials, characters called Silas and authors using pen names (the links on titles are to my posts on the books). I have read and enjoyed all these books.

Next month (September 7, 2019), we’ll begin with A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – a book I haven’t read, or even heard of before.

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.

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?