My Friday Post: Book Beginnings & The Friday 56

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 one of my library books, Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver.

‘The simplest thing would be to tear it down,’ the man said. ‘ The house is a shambles.’

Barbara Kingsolver, who has been one of my favourite authors ever since I read The Poisonwood Bible and these opening sentences certainly drew me into the book.

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

Page 56:

Willa’s mother had always promised Tig would ‘settle out’, but she hadn’t survived to see it, and now Willa wondered who among them would live long enough to stop being flabbergasted by the girl.

Set in Vineland, New Jersey, this is a dual timeline novel, about two families living in the same house – one in the present century and the other in the nineteenth.

From Amazon:

Meet Willa Knox, a woman who stands braced against a world which seems to hold little mercy for her and her family – or their old, crumbling house, falling down around them. Willa’s two grown-up children, a new-born grandchild, and her ailing father-in-law have all moved in at a time when life seems at its most precarious. But when Willa discovers that a pioneering female scientist lived on the same street in the 1800s, could this historical connection be enough to save their home from ruin? And can Willa, despite the odds, keep her family together?

The Classics Club Spin Result

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin is number …

6

which for me is Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by 22 August, 2021.

This book has been on my Classics Club list for a long time. It’s the fourth novel in the Chronicles of Barsetshire series, first published in 1860. I’ve read the earlier books, so I’m looking forward to reading this one.

Mark Robarts is a clergyman with ambitions beyond his small country parish of Framley. In a naive attempt to mix in influential circles, he agrees to guarantee a bill for a large sum of money for the disreputable local Member of Parliament, while being helped in his career in the Church by the same hand. But the unscrupulous politician reneges on his financial obligations, and Mark must face the consequences this debt may bring to his family.

(Description from Amazon)

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

Books from the Mobile Library: July 2021

I borrowed three more books from the Mobile Library last Tuesday, all by new-to-me authors. The first two books in the photo below are books I picked from the shelves at random, so they’re in the nature of a lucky dip – I may or may not enjoy them. The third book is one I reserved.

Postcards from the Past by Marcia Willett. I have never come across her books before, even though I see she has written many books. The description on the back cover of a family with a mysterious past appeals to me.

From the back cover:

Siblings Billa and Ed share their beautiful, grand old childhood home in rural Cornwall. Their lives are uncomplicated. With family and friends nearby and their free and easy living arrangements, life seems as content as can be.

But when postcards start arriving from a sinister figure they thought belonged well and truly in their pasts, old memories are stirred. Why is he contacting them now? And what has he been hiding all these years?

The Beekeeper’s Promise by Fiona Valpy. I don’t read much romantic fiction, so this book may not be for me, but the opening paragraph appealed to me. I wrote about this book in My Friday post.

The Borrowers and The Borrowers Afield by Mary Norton. I’ve never read these children’s stories, although I vaguely remember watching a TV adaptation years ago.

From the book jacket:

Deep within the floorboards in the nooks and crannies of a quiet old house, live the tiny Borrowers, Pod, Homily and Arrietty Clock. They own nothing and borrow everything from the human ‘beans’ above them. And they have just one rule: they must never be seen.

Have you read any of these books? Are you tempted?

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

Harper Collins| 18 March 2021| 645 pages| 3*

1940, Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire.

Three very different women are recruited to the mysterious Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes.

Vivacious debutante Osla has the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses – but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, working to translate decoded enemy secrets. Self-made Mab masters the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and the poverty of her East-End London upbringing. And shy local girl Beth is the outsider who trains as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts.

1947, London.

Seven years after they first meet, on the eve of the royal wedding between Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, disaster threatens. Osla, Mab and Beth are estranged, their friendship torn apart by secrets and betrayal. Yet now they must race against the clock to crack one final code together, before it’s too late, for them and for their country.

My Thoughts:

I have very mixed thoughts about The Rose Code. On the one hand it’s just the sort of book I love – historical fiction with a thrilling story and interesting characters that kept me wanting to read on and yet also made me want it to last as long as possible. On the other hand, it’s unevenly paced, with a slow start and a rushed ending that was somewhat of an anti-climax. My favourite character was Beth and I enjoyed reading how her character developed from a shy down trodden young woman into a brilliant cryptanalyst.

But when I first began reading it earlier this year I stopped after the opening pages and only picked it up again a couple of weeks or so ago. I initially stopped as the storyline involving Prince Philip made me very uncomfortable – Prince Philip was still alive when this book was written and when I first started to read it. He died in April this year.

The book begins in 1947 as Osla Kendall, a journalist working for the Tatler, is wondering what to wear for the Royal Wedding. She is in a ‘foul mood‘ as she wonders what to wear to the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten.

Historical fiction mixes fact and fiction with both real and imaginary characters and I don’t have a problem with that. The character of Osla Kendall is based on a real person – in her Author’s Note Kate Quinn writes that she is ‘lightly fictionalized from the real-life Osla Benning, a beautiful, effervescent, Canadian-born heiress and Hut 4 translator who was Prince Philip’s long-term wartime girlfriend.‘ But by the time of the Royal Wedding Osla Benning was already married, not pining after Prince Philip. In writing their story Kate Quinn was not writing from facts but from her imagination as she put words in her characters’ mouths and described their emotions thoughts and feelings, which, of course, she could not have known.

However, I got over my dislike and read on – after all, this is fiction, not an accurate historical account. I like to know which is fact and which is fiction when I read historical fiction. So, after reading the review copy I received via NetGalley, I decided I needed to buy the published book and read the Author’s Note. And I’m glad did because I was relieved to find that Kate Quinn goes into a lot of detail to identify which characters are real and which fictional and how she has fictionalised them. She also reveals that she has also deviated from the historical records ‘to serve the story.’ I think this explains why I was uncomfortable with the book and why I don’t often read historical romances.

With thanks to NetGalley and to the publishers for my review copy.

My Friday Post: The Beekeeper’s Promise by Fiona Valpy

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 one of my library books, The Beekeeper’s Promise by Fiona Valpy.

Eliane; 2017

She knew this would be her last summer. The warm caress of the late-spring sunlight couldn’t roll back the fog-like weariness that crept through her bones these days. But then there had been so many summers. Almost a hundred.

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

Page 56:

That night, as the girls lay in their attic bedroom at the mill listening to the owls softly declaring their territory in the darkness, Mireille whispered, ‘Eliane? Are you awake?’

‘Yes,’ came the reply from across the room.

‘It’s been a good Easter, hasn’t it?’

There was a pause. ‘One of the best.’

Set in France at the Château Bellevue, this is the story of two remarkable women, generations apart, who must use adversity to their advantage and find the resilience deep within.

Prophecy by S J Parris

Harper Collins| 2011| 448p| Library book| 4*

Prophecy by S J Parris (a pseudonym of Stephanie Merritt) is the second book in her Giordano Bruno series of historical thrillers. Giordano Bruno was a 16th century heretic philosopher and spy. On her website Stephanie Merritt has written about how she first discovered him. Her version of Bruno is a fictional creation, though many of the situations he encounters are based on historical fact.

Bruno started out as a Dominican friar in Naples, but fled his order to escape the Inquisition, went on the run through Italy, found work as an itinerant teacher and within three years had ended up in Paris as personal tutor to the King of France. By 1583 he was in England, working for the Queen Elizabeth I’s spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham.

Prophecy begins in the autumn of 1583, when Elizabeth’s throne is in peril, threatened by Mary Stuart’s supporters scheme to usurp the rightful monarch. I wrote about the opening of the book together with an extract from page 56 in this post. After a young maid of honour is murdered, with occult symbols carved into her flesh, Bruno is assigned to infiltrate the plotters and secure the evidence that will condemn them to death.

I think this description on the Fantastic Fiction website summarises the book very well:

It is the year of the Great Conjunction, when the two most powerful planets, Jupiter and Saturn, align – an astrological phenomenon that occurs once every thousand years and heralds the death of one age and the dawn of another. The streets of London are abuzz with predictions of horrific events to come, possibly even the death of Queen Elizabeth.

When several of the queen’s maids of honor are found dead, rumors of black magic abound. Elizabeth calls upon her personal astrologer, John Dee, and Giordano Bruno to solve the crimes. While Dee turns to a mysterious medium claiming knowledge of the murders, Bruno fears that something far more sinister is at work. But even as the climate of fear at the palace intensifies, the queen refuses to believe that the killer could be someone within her own court.

Bruno must play a dangerous game: can he allow the plot to progress far enough to give the queen the proof she needs without putting her, England, or his own life in danger?

In this utterly gripping and gorgeously written novel, S. J. Parris has proven herself the new master of the historical thriller.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I felt I was back there in 1583, in the thick of the intrigue and danger that characterised the period. I loved all the details of the court life and the interaction between the various factions, with rivalry between Catholics and Protestants, whilst the involvement of Dr John Dee intrigued me. Bruno, himself, fascinated me and now I want to know more about him and also about Stephanie Merrick’s books as well as those written under her pen name, S J Parris.

Six Queens: Katheryn Howard the Tainted Queen by Alison Weir

Headline Review| 20 August 2020| 479 pages| Review copy| 2*

I wanted to read this book because I knew very little about Henry VIII’s 5th wife, except that she was beheaded on the grounds that she had committed adultery and treason.

Description

A NAIVE YOUNG WOMAN AT THE MERCY OF HER AMBITIOUS FAMILY.

At just nineteen, Katheryn Howard is quick to trust and fall in love.

She comes to court. She sings, she dances. She captures the heart of the King.

But Henry knows nothing of Katheryn’s past – one that comes back increasingly to haunt her. For those who share her secrets are waiting in the shadows, whispering words of love… and blackmail.

Having read it, I don’t think I know much more, except that Katheryn Howard comes across as a very shallow character, obsessed with sex, with luxury in all its forms, naive and easily manipulated. Alison Weir excels in her descriptive writing, bringing the Tudor court to life in all of its settings, locations, clothes and jewellery.

It has glowing reviews on Amazon full of praise and it is based on extensive research. Clearly other people love this book, but I didn’t. For me it came across as a romance novel, primarily focused on Katheryn’s imagined thoughts, emotions, and sexual encounters. It is simply written, but with too many cliches and modernised text.

Alison Weir’s Author’s Note is much more interesting than her novel, in which she acknowledges her sources, including Dr. Nicola Tallis’ unpublished DPhil thesis, All the Queen’s Jewels, 1445 – 1548, and a number of biographies of Katheryn Howard. She refers to original sources she used as the basis of the book – contemporary writers and wills, portraits showing her rich clothes and jewellery – jewels that have been tentatively identified in Katheryn Howard’s inventory.

She used these sources for the narrative of the book, weaving them into the dialogue and modernising the speech ‘where Tudor English looks out of place in a modern text.’ She states that ‘apart from fictionalising the historical record’ she has invented very little.’ There is also a Dramatis Personae, usefully indicating which characters are fictional and a Timeline, which is also very useful.

I think the Author’s Note is the best part of the book. There is rather too much of ‘fictionalising the historical record’ for me in the novel. I don’t like writing about a book I didn’t enjoy when I know so much work has gone into it and clearly other people have loved it. But this is just my opinion, for what it is worth.

With thanks to NetGalley and to the publishers for my review copy.

My Friday Post: The Dressmaker by Beryl Bainbridge

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.

My book this week is The Dressmaker by Beryl Bainbridge, one of the books I’ve just started reading, and also one of my 20 Books of Summer. It’s not long – just 160 pages.

It begins:

Afterwards she went through into the little front room, the tape measure still dangling round her neck, and allowed herself a glass of port.

This opening sentence makes me wonder -after what?

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.

Page 56:

She didn’t know how to remedy the situation. Rather like her Aunt Nellie who could never say she was sorry. She twisted her hands together and gazed helplessly at his hostile back.

Description

Wartime Liverpool is a place of ration books and jobs in munitions factories. Rita, living with her two aunts Nellie and Margo, is emotionally naïve and withdrawn. When she meets Ira, a GI, at a neighbour’s party she falls in love as much with the idea of life as a GI bride as with the man himself. But Nellie and Margo are not so blind…

The Dressmaker was runner up for the 1973 Booker Prize and also for the Guardian Fiction Prize. The Sunday Times, is quoted on the back cover: ‘ Like the better Hitchcock films Miss Bainbridge suggests a claustrophobic horror … An impressive, haunting book.’

Throwback Thursday: 1 July 2021

I’m linking up today with Davida @ The Chocolate Lady’s Book Review Blog for Throwback Thursday. It takes place on the Thursday before the first Saturday of every month (i.e., the Thursday before the monthly #6Degrees post). The idea is to highlight one of your previously published book reviews and then link back to Davida’s blog.

This month I’m looking back at my review of The Dance of Love by Angela Young, which I first posted on 21 July 2014. It is a coming-of-age tale set in the same era as Downton Abbey. It spans two decades of vast historical change (1899-1919).  I read it because I had enjoyed her first book, Speaking of Love.

Here’s the first paragraph:

Angela Young‘s new novel The Dance of Love is historical fiction set at the turn of the twentieth century between 1899 and 1919. It is outstanding and I loved it so much. At times as I read it I could hardly see the pages through my tears – and there have not been many books that have that effect on me.  It’s a brilliant book, both a heart-rending love story and a dramatic story too, as the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and the devastating and tragic effects of the First World War impact on the characters’ lives.

Click here to read my full review

The next Throwback Thursday post is scheduled for 5  August 2021.

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Books of the Second Half of 2021

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. The topic this week is Most Anticipated Books of the Second Half of 2021. I’ve chosen these 10 books because I’ve read other books by these authors and enjoyed them in the past. I’m expecting these to be just as good.

I’ve listed them in release date order:

8 July
That Night by Gillian McAllister. During a family holiday in Italy, you get an urgent call from your sister. There’s been an accident: she hit a man with her car and he’s dead. She’s overcome with terror – fearing years in a foreign jail away from her child. She asks for your help. It wasn’t her fault, not really. She’d cover for you, so will you do the same for her? But when the police come calling, the lies start. And you each begin to doubt your trust in one another.

15 July
Running Out of Road: A gripping thriller set in the Derbyshire peaks by Cath Staincliffe – A missing schoolgirl, a middle-aged recluse, an exploited teenager. Lives thrown into chaos and set on collision course. With the police in hot pursuit.

22 July
The Crooked Shore by Martin Edwards – Lake District Cold-Case Mysteries Book 8. Hannah Scarlett is investigating the disappearance of a young woman from Bowness more than twenty years ago.

4 August
A Narrow Door by Joanne Harris – an explosive psychological thriller about one woman who, having carved out her own path to power, is now intent on tearing apart the elite world that tried to hold her back . . . piece by piece.

19 August
1979 by Val McDermid, the first book in the Allie Burns series. It is the winter of discontent, and reporter Allie Burns is chasing her first big scoop. There are few women in the newsroom and she needs something explosive for the boys’ club to take her seriously.

19 August
Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney. Things have been wrong with Mr and Mrs Wright for a long time. When Adam and Amelia win a weekend away to Scotland, it might be just what their marriage needs. Adam Wright has lived with face blindness his whole life. He can’t recognize friends or family, or even his own wife.

2 September
The Dark Remains by William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin. When McIlvanney died in 2015, he left half a handwritten manuscript of DC Laidlaw’s first case, a prequel to his Jack Laidlaw trilogy. Now, Ian Rankin has finished what McIlvanney started.

30 September
The Midnight Hour by Elly Griffiths, the sixth book in the Brighton Mysteries series, set in 1965. When theatrical impresario Bert Billington is found dead in his retirement home, no one suspects foul play. But when the postmortem reveals that he was poisoned, suspicion falls on his wife, eccentric ex-Music Hall star Verity Malone.

1 October
The Unheard by Nicci French. Tess’s number one priority has always been her three-year-old daughter Poppy. But splitting up with Poppy’s father Jason means that she cannot always be there to keep her daughter safe.

7 October
April in Spain by John Banville – the eighth book in the Quirke series. When Dublin pathologist Quirke glimpses a familiar face while on holiday with his wife, it’s hard, at first, to tell whether his imagination is just running away with him. Could she really be who he thinks she is, and have a connection with a crime that nearly brought ruin to an Irish political dynasty?