New Additions at BooksPlease

I’ve been lucky with some of the 99p e-books on offer on Amazon recently and bought three books, well five actually as one is a trilogy.

First a nonfiction book, Winds of Change: Britain in the Early Sixties by historian, Peter Hennessy. The centre of the book is 1963 – the year of the Profumo Crisis, the Great Train Robbery, the satire boom, de Gaulle’s veto of Britain’s first application to join the EEC, the fall of Macmillan and the unexpected succession to the premiership of Alec Douglas-Home. Then, in 1964, the battle of what Hennessy calls the tweedy aristocrat and the tweedy meritocrat – Harold Wilson, who would end 13 years of Conservative rule and usher in a new era. It’s the final book in Hennessy’s Post War trilogy.

Then three novels – all historical fiction: The Regeneration Trilogy: Regeneration; The Eye in the Door; The Ghost Road by Pat Barker, three novels set during the First World War. I already had the third book, but hadn’t read it because I wanted to read the trilogy in order. It tells the story of three men, shell-shocked soldiers, who were sent back to the front. It’s based on the experiences of poets, Siegfried Sassoon and Wifred Owen who met at Craiglockhart Hospital near Edinburgh.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton – A few years ago I borrowed this book from the library but had to return it unread. Later on I watched the TV series and thought I’d like to read the book. So, when it was on offer for 99p I bought it. It’s set in Amsterdam in 1686. Nella Oortman marries a rich merchant, but life in her new home is unfulfilled. Even her cabinet house brings a mystery to the secretive world she has entered as the lifelike miniatures somehow start eerily foreshadowing her fate.

This last book is my choice this month from Amazon First Reads free books:

Tears of Amber by Sofía Segovia – a novel set during the Second World War in East Prussia between 1938 and 1947. In her author’s note Sofia Segovia says her novel was inspired by the story of Ilse and Arno Schipper, who established a factory in Monterrey, Mexico, her home town. It is a mix of fact and fiction. Publication date 1 May 2021. I have started reading and it’s looking good so far.

The Classics Club Spin Result

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin is number …

which for me is Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by 31 May, 2021.

Little Dorrit is a classic tale of imprisonment, both literal and metaphorical, while Dickens’ working title for the novel, Nobody’s Fault, highlights its concern with personal responsibility in private and public life. Dickens’ childhood experiences inform the vivid scenes in Marshalsea debtor’s prison, while his adult perceptions of governmental failures shape his satirical picture of the Circumlocution Office. The novel’s range of characters – the honest, the crooked, the selfish and the self-denying – offers a portrait of society about whose values Dickens had profound doubts.

Little Dorrit is indisputably one of Dickens’ finest works, written at the height of his powers. George Bernard Shaw called it ‘a masterpiece among masterpieces’, a verdict shared by the novel’s many admirers. (Description from Amazon)

I have started this a few times before, but found the small print in my paperback copy too off putting. I’ll be reading the e-book this time.

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

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie

I first read Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia in 2012 but never got round to writing about it. It was a good choice to re-read for the 1936 Club as I didn’t remember much about it. It’s a Poirot mystery, but he doesn’t appear until about halfway. As the title tells you it is set in Mesopotamia, the area in the Middle East between the two rivers, Tigris and Euphrates (the area of present-day Iraq, Kuwait, and parts of Iran, Syria, and Turkey).

An archaeologist’s wife is murdered on the shores of the River Tigris in Iraq…

It was clear to Amy Leatheran that something sinister was going on at the Hassanieh dig in Iraq; something associated with the presence of ‘Lovely Louise’, wife of celebrated archaeologist Dr Leidner.

In a few days’ time Hercule Poirot was due to drop in at the excavation site. But with Louise suffering from terrifying hallucinations, and tension within the group becoming almost unbearable, Poirot might just be too late…

Agatha Christie had first visited the Middle East in 1929 travelling on the Orient Express to Istanbul and then on to Damascus and Baghdad. She visited the excavations at Ur and returned there the following spring where she met archaeologist Max Mallowan – by the end of the summer they had decided to marry, which they did on 11 September 1930. So, by 1936 when she wrote Murder in Mesopotamia she had frequently accompanied Max on his archaeological digs and her books set in the Middle East are based on the everyday life that she experienced on a dig and on the people she met.

The murder victim is Louise Leidner, the wife of the leader of the expedition. The novel is narrated by Nurse Amy Leatheran, who had been asked by Dr Leidner to care for Louise, although he is vague about what is wrong with her. It seems she is scared and has nervous terrors. She has fearful visions and the other members of the expedition blame her for the oppressive atmosphere on the dig.

It’s a seemingly impossible murder – she is found in her room, dead from a blow on her head, and suspicion falls on Louise’s first husband who had been sending her threatening letters, or so she had claimed. But no strangers had been seen on or near the expedition house and it is down to Poirot to discover what had actually happened. Fortunately Poirot was in the area, having sorted out a military scandal in Syria (referred to at the beginning of Murder on the Orient Express) and was passing through the expedition site on his way to Baghdad before returning to London.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, although I think the details of how the murder was committed are rather far-fetched. I was hoping that Agatha Christie had mentioned writing it in her Autobiography, but I couldn’t find any reference to it, although she wrote extensively about her time in the Middle East with Max, and in her fascinating memoir, Come, Tell Me How You Live she wrote about how much she loved the country and its people.

The Mirror Dance by Catriona McPherson

Hodder and Stoughton| 21 January 2021| 259 pages| e-book| Review copy| 3*

Description:

Something sinister is afoot in the streets of Dundee, when a puppeteer is found murdered behind his striped Punch and Judy stand, as children sit cross-legged drinking ginger beer. At once, Dandy Gilver’s semmingly-innocuous investigation into plagiarism takes a darker turn. The gruesome death seems to be inextricably bound to the gloomy offices of Doig’s Publishers, its secrets hidden in the real stories behind their girls’ magazines The Rosie Cheek and The Freckle.

On meeting a mysterious professor from St Andrews, Dandy and her faithful colleague Alex Osbourne are flung into the worlds of academia, the theatre and publishing. Nothing is quite as it seems, and behind the cheerful facades of puppets and comic books, is a troubled history has begun to repeat itself.

My thoughts:

I’ve read some of the Dandy Gilver mysteries by Catriona McPherson, set in the 1920s and 1930s Scotland. The Mirror Dance is the 15th book. The last one I read was the 6th, a few years ago now, so when I saw it on NetGalley I requested it. I was pleased to find, that although I’d missed so many of the books in the series, it’s easy to read as a standalone.

It begins on an August Bank Holiday weekend in 1937, when Dandy (short for Dandelion Dahlia!), a private detective, receives a phone call from Miss Sandy Bissett, a magazine publisher in Dundee. She asks Dandy to go to Dudhope Park to warn the Punch and Judy man there that he is infringing copyrighted property as he is using two of the magazine’s cartoon characters, Rosie Cheeke and Freckles in his show. So, the next day, Bank Holiday Monday, together with her female staff, Grant, her lady’s maid, Becky her housemaid and Mrs Tilling, her cook, Dandy goes to Dundee to see the puppet show, looking out for the appearance of the magazine characters.

But during the show, the puppet Scaramouche extended his neck upwards, unfolding from pleats like an accordion and then stayed still like a tableau. The children lost interest and the adults were grumbling. When Dandy and Grant went to the back of the Punch and Judy tent they found the puppeteer slumped dead behind the scene, with his throat cut. The police are called but Dandy and her partner, Alec take it upon themselves to investigate the murder, an apparently impossible murder, with no signs of the murderer, and no one knew the puppeteer’s name.

I liked the setting. There is a good sense of location in Dundee in the 1930s, when the effects of the First World War were still lingering and the threat of another war was on the horizon. This is a convoluted murder mystery, where there is more than meets the eye. There is a lot of detail about the publishing industry and the theatrical world of the time which was interesting, but overall the amount of detail of everyday life, with all its sights and smells, slowed the book down too much for me.

There are several complications, red herrings and apparent impossibilities and I was puzzled about the relevance of a murder 50 years earlier in the same park, of an earlier Punch and Judy man. I became a bit lost in the detail about the number of women suspects Dandy and Alec consider – there were two, and then perhaps there were three. Who were they and what was the motive for the murder? Gradually that became clear, but I got exasperated at the number of times Dandy and the others went over and over what was happening, working out how it could have happened and why. Although some of it is confusing and I hadn’t worked out the identity of the murderer some of it seemed so obvious to me that I couldn’t see why it took them so long to work it out. So, although I enjoyed the actual murder mystery and the mirror dance aspect, where everything is turned on its head, I did not enjoy how it was told.

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

A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville

Canongate| 6 August 2020| 325 pages| e-book| Review copy| 4*

I’m late getting round to reading A Room Made of Leaves, because I am behind with reviewing my NetGalley books. But it was well worth the wait. It’s historical fiction telling the story of the Macarthurs, Elizabeth and John Macarthur, who settled in Australia at the end of the eighteenth century. It’s based on the real lives of the Macarthurs using letters, journals and official documents of the early years of the New South Wales colony. But, although based on fact this is not history, it is fiction, as Kate Grenville makes clear in her Author’s Note at the end of the book (which I read after I read the opening paragraphs of the Editor’s Note at the start of the book).

Description

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 a soldier, John Macarthur promises her the earth one midsummer’s night, she believes him and with a baby on the way she marries him. Only then 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 thoughts:

I’ve enjoyed all of the books by Kate Grenville that I’ve read so far. Her writing suits me – historical fiction, straight-forward story-telling, with good descriptive writing setting the scenes vividly in their locations. I find her books difficult to put down and they stay in my mind long after I’ve finished reading. This one is no exception.

It begins in Devon where Elizabeth was born and grew up, first with her parents and then after her father died on her grandfather’s sheep farm and then with the local vicar’s family, whose daughter, Bridie is her friend. There she meets John Macarthur, an ensign. When she becomes pregnant they marry and then he tells her he has signed on as a lieutenant in the New South Wales Corps in the penal colony at Sydney Cove. But their married life is not a happy one. John was rash, impulsive, changeable, self-deceiving, and given to embarking on grandiose schemes. He was quick to take offence and was dangerously unbalanced. Over the course of their marriage he was forced to return to England twice, at first for four years and later for nine. During that time Elizabeth made the best of life, carrying on with their sheep farm at Parramatta, where she improved the flock, and helped to establish New South Wales as a reliable supplier of quality wool.

One of the outstanding parts of the book for me is her relationship with William Dawes, an astronomer with the Corps, who was mapping the night sky. He had an observatory near Elizabeth’s farm and it was there that she met some of the local inhabitants and learned a bit of their language and about their ways of life. And it is with William that Elizabeth learns to appreciate not just the night sky, but also the landscape and its flora and fauna and in particular the ‘room made of leaves’ – a private space enclosed on three sides by greenery, a place where you could simply be yourself.

This is a book that captivated me from the opening paragraphs, and there is so much more in it than I have mentioned in this post. It gave me much to think about, in particular bearing in mind the epigraph, an actual quotation from one of Elizabeth’s letters: Believe not too quickly, reminding me that this is a work of fiction. I enjoyed it immensely. And it makes me want to know more about the Macarthurs. I came across Michelle Scott Tucker’s biography: Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of the World and I was delighted to see that Kate Grenville references this book as the standard biography in her Acknowledgements. It is now on my wishlist!

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

My Friday Post: The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville

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’m currently reading A Room Made of Leaves by Elizabeth Grenville, her latest book, and have nearly finished it. I love her books and as I’ve nearly finished it I was wondering which book to read next and remembered I have one of her earlier books, The Lieutenant still waiting to be read. To my surprise when I opened it this morning I found that it is another book about one of the characters in A Room Made of Leaves. That character is William Dawes, a real person, a soldier in the first days of the Colony of New South Wales.

The Lieutenant  is about Daniel Rooke, based on real events in William Dawes’ life, using his notebooks in which he recorded his conversations with a young girl, Patyegarang, (also in A Room Made of Leaves), in his efforts to learn the language of the indigenous people of Sydney. It is a novel that stays close to the historical events. 

It begins:

Daniel Rooke was quiet, moody, a man of few words. He had no memories other than of being an outsider.

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

  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:

It seemed that the natives did not like the surgeon’s music any more than they had enjoyed his performance with the pistol. Their faces were stony. After a minute they took the two pieces of shield and disappeared into the woods.

Book description:

1788 Daniel Rooke sets out on a journey that will change the course of his life. As a lieutenant in the First Fleet, he lands on the wild and unknown shores of New South Wales. There he sets up an observatory to chart the stars. But this country will prove far more revelatory than the skies above.

Based on real events, The Lieutenant tells the unforgettable story of Rooke’s connection to an Aboriginal child – a remarkable friendship that resonates across the oceans and the centuries.

We Are Not In The World by Conor O’Callaghan

Transworld Publishers| 18 February 2021 |272 pages | Kindle review copy via NetGalley/ 2*

Heartbroken after a long, painful love affair, a man drives a haulage lorry from England to France. Travelling with him is a secret passenger – his daughter. Twenty-something, unkempt, off the rails.

With a week on the road together, father and daughter must restore themselves and each other, and repair a relationship that is at once fiercely loving and deeply scarred.

As they journey south, down the motorways, through the service stations, a devastating picture reveals itself: a story of grief, of shame, and of love in all its complex, dark and glorious manifestations.

My thoughts:

A strange, confusing and depressing book that I read as though I was in fog, never really getting to grips with the plot. It meanders and drifts through the characters, shifting between the past, the near past and the present, and from place to place, as Paddy drives the lorry from England down to the south of France. I was often not sure what was happening, when or where it was happening and to whom it was happening. It’s a stream of consciousness, as the various characters move in and out of focus.

There were times when I wondered why I was reading this, it was like a dream where the scenes move randomly through a number of sequences, and you wake up with that fearful feeling that something dreadful has been going on inside your head that was disturbing, and unsettling. There’s a sense of timelessness and of detachment from the day to day reality – they are not in the world. And yet I was compelled to read on, if only just to get to the end and see if my suspicions about what had actually happened were right. They were, although there is a little twist at the very end that I hadn’t expected.

The fairy tale of Oisin, a tale Paddy tells his daughter, interests me. Oisin was a warrior who fell in love with a fairy named Niamh. He takes her home to Tir na nOg, where they will stay forever young, but he can never return home. After three years he is homesick and returns on a magic horse, on the condition that he has to stay on the horse on pain of death. But three hundred years have actually gone by, not three, and everyone he knew is dead. He meets an old man who knew his father and moving to help him he slips off the horse, touches the ground and dies in an instant. He repeats this story several times to his daughter as they travel through France. It links with Tir na nOg, the name of his family home, now neglected and empty after his mother’s death three years earlier.

This is not an easy read, as you have to concentrate on all the different strands. Paddy’s life is a complete mess, he has lost everything: his family, his home and his sense of belonging. He looks back at the broken relationships with his parents, his brother, ex-wife, daughter, and ex-lover. It’s told in fragments and you have to read between the lines to understand it. I didn’t enjoy the book, and found it difficult to follow. It is too vague, and as soon as I thought I’d begun to understand it, it drifted away into obscurity. and I was left floundering.

My thanks to the publishers and to NetGalley for my advance review copy.

  • ASINB08119RXD6
  • Publisher : Transworld Digital (18 Feb. 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Print length : 264 pages
  • Page numbers source ISBN : 0857526855
  • Source: Review copy
  • My rating: 2*

My Friday Post: Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

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 Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell, one of my TBRs that I bought two years ago. It’s a standalone book, first published in 2017.

It begins with a Prologue:

Those months before she disappeared were the best. .

Chapter One begins:

Laurel let herself into her daughter’s flat. It was, even on this relatively bright day, dark and gloomy. The window at the front was overwhelmed by a terrible tangle of wisteria while the other side of the flat was completely overshadowed by the small woodland it backed onto.

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

  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 57 (page 56 is blank):

Laurel was alone. Her family was broken. There was nothing left. Literally nothing.

Blurb:

She was fifteen, her mother’s golden girl.
She had her whole life ahead of her.
And then, in the blink of an eye, Ellie was gone.

Ten years on, Laurel has never given up hope of finding Ellie. And then she meets a charming and charismatic stranger who sweeps her off her feet. But what really takes her breath away is when she meets his nine-year-old daughter. Because his daughter is the image of Ellie. Now all those unanswered questions that have haunted Laurel come flooding back.

What really happened to Ellie? And who still has secrets to hide?

Can’t-Wait Wednesday: The Girl Who Died by Ragnar Jónasson

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released.

This week I’m featuring The Girl Who Died by Ragnar Jónasson, release date 3 June 2021. I’ve read just two of Ragnar Jónasson’s books in his Icelandic Hulda series and enjoyed both of them. So, I’m keen to read this one, which is a standalone novel.

Description


‘TEACHER WANTED ON THE EDGE OF THE WORLD . . .’
.

Una knows she is struggling to deal with her father’s sudden, tragic suicide. She spends her nights drinking alone in Reykjavik, stricken with thoughts that she might one day follow in his footsteps.

So when she sees an advert seeking a teacher for two girls in the tiny village of Skálar – population of ten – on the storm-battered north coast of the island, she sees it as a chance to escape.

But once she arrives, Una quickly realises nothing in city life has prepared her for this. The villagers are unfriendly. The weather is bleak. And, from the creaky attic bedroom of the old house where she’s living, she’s convinced she hears the ghostly sound of singing.

Una worries that she’s losing her mind.

And then, just before midwinter, a young girl from the village is found dead. Now there are only nine villagers left – and Una fears that one of them has blood on their hands . . .

What upcoming release are you eagerly anticipating?

My Friday Post: Not Dark Yet by Peter Robinson

Yesterday Peter Robinson’s latest Inspector Banks book, Not Dark Yet was published and once I’d read the opening pages I decided to abandon any plans I had for what to read next and started to read it properly. So this is my choice this week for Book Beginnings on Friday and 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.

The book begins in Moldova:

Zelda hadn’t visited Chișinău since she had been abducted outside the orphanage at the age of seventeen. And now she was back. She wasn’t sure how she was going to find the man she wanted – she had no contacts in the city – but she did have one or two vague ideas where to begin.

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

  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:

Banks found himself with a lot to think about as he made his way back to Vauxhall Underground station. He had originally intended to do some shopping while he was in London, check out the big Waterstones in Piccadilly, visit FOPP in Cambridge Circus, but decided he couldn’t face it. Like everyone else, he did most of his shopping online these days. London was too hot and too crowded today; he just wanted to go home.

My thoughts exactly each time I’ve been to London – I can’t stand crowds.

This is the 27th Inspector Banks books and I’ve read I’ve several of them, totally out of order, which doesn’t seem to matter – they work well as stand alone books. I’ve also watched the TV series, which I enjoy even though they are different from the books and my vision of Banks is nothing like Stephen Tompkinson who plays him. In fact, the characters are clearly meant to be different versions of the same person; they look different, have different personalities and meet different fates in different worlds.