The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

The Stranger Diaries

Quercus |1 November 2018|410 pages|Hardback|Library Book|3*

I knew very little about The Stranger Diaries before I opened the book beyond the fact that it is a standalone novel by Elly Griffiths, a murder mystery with a Victorian Gothic feel. It sounded different from her other books that I’ve read, so I was intrigued. 

It begins with the opening of the Victorian Gothic writer R M Holland’s short story, The Stranger, a ghost story set at midnight at Halloween. Clare Cassidy, an English teacher at Talgarth High, where Holland once lived, runs short courses for adults on his work. She is also writing his biography, hoping to discover the truth behind the stories that his wife fell to her death down the stairs, (there are rumours that her ghost haunts the building). Was his wife killed, or was her death suicide or an accident? And was the mysterious ‘Mariana’ his daughter? There is no record of either her birth or her death. 

But the main plotline is the modern mystery – that of the murder of Ella,her friend and fellow English teacher. A line, ‘Hell is empty!‘ from Holland’s story is found in a note beside her body. Ella, however, is only the first murder victim and gradually it becomes clear that the motivation for the killings centres around Clare. Is she a suspect or a potential victim? The story has three narrators, each one clearly distinguishable – Clare, her teenage daughter Georgia, and Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur, giving different perspectives on events. Excerpts from The Stranger are interspersed between the chapters along with Clare’s diary, in which she records her suspicions and fears that could hold the clue to the killings, and those about the police investigation. 

Overall, I did enjoy The Stranger Diaries. I liked the literary references to Victorian literature and the details about R M Holland (a fictional character).  I thought the characters were interesting, especially Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur. But I didn’t find either the short story, The Stranger, or the atmospheric setting particularly spooky and I thought the murder mystery was rather unconvincing, especially the ending. Maybe my expectations were too high – or maybe it’s the wrong time of year to read it, and Halloween and November would be more appropriate!

Reading Challenges: Calendar of Crime (the main action takes place in November) and the Virtual Mount TBR challenge.

 

My Friday Post: I Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney

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 Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney is one of the books I borrowed from the library. It was due back yesterday and as I’d only just started to read it I tried to reserve it – but couldn’t. Fortunately it is available at the moment for 99p on Amazon, so I’ve now bought the e-book.

I know who you are

London, 2017

I’m that girl you think you know, but you can’t remember where from.

Lying is what I do for a living. It’s what I’m best at: becoming somebody else.

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.

Page 56:

I close my eyes and see Ben’s face, I don’t need a photo for that. It feels as if the us I thought we were is being demolished, lie by lie, leaving little more than the rubble of a marriage behind.

Blurb:

Aimee Sinclair: the actress everyone thinks they know but can’t remember where from. But I know exactly who you are. I know what you’ve done. And I am watching you.

When Aimee comes home and discovers her husband is missing, she doesn’t seem to know what to do or how to act. The police think she’s hiding something and they’re right, she is – but perhaps not what they thought. Aimee has a secret she’s never shared, and yet, she suspects that someone knows. As she struggles to keep her career and sanity intact, her past comes back to haunt her in ways more dangerous than she could have ever imagined.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

I shall! I wanted to read this book because I thoroughly enjoyed Alice Feeney’s debut, Sometimes I Lie.

Anything You Do Say by Gillian McAllister

Anything you do say

Penguin |25 January 2018|358 pages|Paperback|3*

This is a very short post about Anything You Do Say, the second of Gillian McAllister’s books. Walking home alone late one night Joanna is sure the man following her is the man who wouldn’t leave her alone in the bar. She turns to face him and panicking she pushes him away. He falls down the steps leading to the towpath alongside a canal and doesn’t move. What should she do? Should she face the consequences – phone the police and ambulance and wait for them to arrive and  or just leave him there, lying in a puddle and walk away?

Both decisions have consequences and from that point on the book explores what would happen if she revealed or concealed her actions.

At first I found it a bit confusing keeping the two stories separate in my mind, but that soon passed as the chapters are clearly headed Reveal or Conceal.  It’s a dilemma and Joanna is an indecisive character who in both scenarios regrets choosing both reveal and conceal. I really wanted to like this book and although I think it’s well written and the characters, although in the main not very likeable, come across as believable, I found Joanna’s lies and deceit became tedious and the stories dragged on too much for my liking. I think the structure of the book made it seem artificial, more an exercise in morality than a tense thriller or a mystery. 

I prefer her other books that I’ve read –  Everything But the Truth, No Further Questions and The Evidence Against You.  They are all standalone books, so can be read in any order. 

This is on of my TBRs and also one of my 20 Books of Summer books.

Then She Vanishes by Claire Douglas

Then She Vanishes

Penguin UK – Michael Joseph|27 June 2019|403 pages|Review e-book copy|5*

I loved the other books by Claire Douglas that I’ve read – her third and fourth books, Last Seen Alive and Do Not Disturb, so I had high expectations for her latest book, Then She Vanishes. I was not disappointed – it is brilliant. It gripped me from the start and never let me go. It has twist upon twist upon twist, until I began to doubt everything I’d thought about what I’d read – I was guessing right up to the end when all is revealed. And even then the final twist took me by surprise. So good!

What more can I say? The opening is dramatic as a killer calmly and coolly considers which house harbours the victim and then enters and shoots first a man and then an older woman. Who are they and why were they killed in cold blood?

Enter Jess, a journalist reporting on the murders in the seaside Somerset town of Tilby for the local newspaper, The Bristol and Somerset Herald. She has recently returned to Tilby, her home town, after working in London and is keen to make a name for herself. But it’s not going to be easy, for it turns out that the murderer is Heather, her best friend from school. Heather is unconscious in hospital having tried to take her own life.

Jess can’t believe that her kind, generous friend Heather is capable of killing anyone. So, Jess is torn – how can she report objectively on the case and how will Heather and Margot, Heather’s mother, react when they realise she is a journalist? Their friendship had ended after Heather’s older sister Flora had disappeared, and both girls had withheld what they knew about Flora – Jess still feels guilty about what she did that summer of 1994. The story alternates between events in the present day, and in 1994 when Flora was last seen, told from Margot’s perspective. As Jess investigates she discovers things about Heather and her family she had not known as a young teenager.

Needless to say, but this is a book in which many family secrets are eventually uncovered. It delves into the nature of mother/daughter/sister relationships and of friendship and guilt. To write too much about the plot would only spoil it – you have to experience it as you read to get the full impact. At first it seems quite simple and straight forward, but of course, it isn’t.

Now, I want to read her first two books, The Sisters and Local Girl Missing.

Many thanks to the publishers, Penguin UK – Michael Joseph, for my review copy via NetGalley.

My Friday Post: The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

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’m currently reading The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths.

The Stranger Diaries

‘If you’ll permit me,’ said the Stranger, ‘I’d like to tell you a story.’

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.

Page 54 and page 56:

Ty could be drunk or on drugs for all I know. high on something, the modern equivalent of opium, like Wilkie Collins.

Blurb:

A dark story has been brought to terrifying life. Can the ending be rewritten in time?

Clare Cassidy is no stranger to murder. As a literature teacher specialising in the Gothic writer RM Holland, she teaches a short course on it every year. Then Clare’s life and work collide tragically when one of her colleagues is found dead, a line from an RM Holland story by her body. The investigating police detective is convinced the writer’s works somehow hold the key to the case.

Not knowing who to trust, and afraid that the killer is someone she knows, Clare confides her darkest suspicions and fears about the case to her journal. Then one day she notices some other writing in the diary. Writing that isn’t hers…

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck

Sweet thursdayI read John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row five years ago. At the time I didn’t know he’d written a sequel – Sweet Thursday. So when I discovered it, as I’d loved Cannery Row I wanted to read it. Written in 1954, I think it’s just as good, set in Monterey on the California coast the 1950s after the Second World War when the cannery had closed down.

Sweet Thursday’ is what they call the day after Lousy Wednesday – one of those days that’s just bad from the start. But ‘Sweet Thursday’ is sunny and clear, a day when anything can happen.

I was delighted to find that there is just as much humour and generosity within its pages. Some of the same characters are still there, Mack, Hazel and friends who live in the Palace Flop-house (a dosshouse) and Doc too. There are some new characters, notably Suzy at the house called the Bear Flag, the local brothel. Dora who ran the Bear Flag had died and it has been taken over by her sister Fauna (previously known as Flora). Lee Chong had sold the grocery and it is now owned by a Mexican called Joseph and Mary Rivas.

I loved the opening of the Prologue:

One night Mack lay back on his bed in the Palace flop-house and he said, “I ain’t never been satisfied with that book Cannery Row, I would have went about it different.”

And after a while he rolled over and raised his head on his hand and he said, “I guess I’m just a critic. But if I ever come across the guy that wrote that book I could tell him a few things.”

Doc returned from the war to his laboratory, Western Biological Laboratories, now run down, covered in dust and mildew. He’d left Old Jingleballicks, in charge and he’d neglected it. But his heart is now longer in his work and the ‘worm of discontent‘ is gnawing at him – he feels a failure.

Whisky lost its sharp delight and the first long pull of beer from a frosty glass was not the joy it had been. He stopped listening in the middle of an extended story. He was not genuinely glad to see a friend …

What am I thinking? What do I want? Where do I want to go? There would be wonder in him, and a little impatience, as though he stood outside and looked in on himself through a glass shell …

Doc thought he was alone in his discontent, but he was not. Everyone on the Row observed him and worried about him. Mack and the boys worried about him. And Mack said to Fauna, “Doc acts like a guy that needs a dame.”

So they decide that Suzy is the answer. But Suzy, an independent spirit who isn’t much good as a hustler, doesn’t think she’s good enough for Doc. The schemes for getting the two of them together seem doomed from the start, ending in a disastrous party, when all Mack and Fauna’s good intentions seem to backfire. But this is not a tragedy, although at times it has touches of melancholy. Hazel, one of my favourite characters in the book, takes matters into his own hands. Although he appears to be slow and stupid, his problem is not that he lacks intelligence, but is that of inattention, as he just watches life go by. After the party he put his mind to thinking about what had gone wrong. And then he goes on a Quest …

Mack, in the Prologue, sums up for me what I like in a book. After saying that he likes to have a couple of words at the top of each chapter that tells what the chapter is about he says:

‘Well, I like a lot of talk in a book, and I don’t like nobody to tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. and another thing – I kind of like to figure out what the guy’s thinking by what he says. I like some description too,’ he went on. ‘I like to know what colour a thing is, how it smells and how it looks, and maybe how a guy feels about it – but not too much of that.’

This is what you get in Sweet Thursday, great dialogue, great sense of location, eccentric and funny characters, wit, humour, irony and a touch of farce and surrealism, along with plenty of philosophy. I loved it.

This was my Classics Club Spin book for May, but I was late finishing it! It’s also one of my TBRs and a book that qualifies for the What’s In a Name challenge.

 

Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop

Those who are loved

Headline Review|30 May 2019|496 pages|Review e-book copy|4.5*

Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop is one of the most moving novels I’ve read for a long time. But it begins slowly and it was only at about the halfway stage that it really took off for me. And now I’ve come to write about it I’m finding it difficult to put into words just how exceptional I think it is. Whatever I write will not do it justice – it really is ‘an epic tale of an ordinary woman compelled to live an extraordinary life‘.

It is historical fiction ‘set against the backdrop of the German occupation of Greece, the subsequent civil war and a military dictatorship, all of which left deep scars.’

The main character is Themis Koralis/Stravidis (in Greek mythology Themis is the personification of fairness and natural law). In 2016 she is a great grandmother and realising that her grandchildren knew very little about Greek history she decided to tell them her life story, beginning from when she was a small child in the 1930s, through the German occupation of Greece during the Second World War, the civil war that followed, then the oppressive rule of the military junta and the abolition of the Greek monarchy, up to the present day.

As she grew up she and her brothers and sister had many disagreements, holding differing political opinions, which came to a head when the Germans invaded Athens in 1941.  Themis and her brother Panos joined the communist party in their fight against the Germans, whilst her other brother Thanasis and her sister Margarita opposed them, hating the communists’ views and believing that Germany was a friend of Greece, not a foe.

During the civil war Themis was imprisoned on the islands of exile, Makronisos and then Trikeri. Her experiences were horrific, but only strengthened her determination to survive. On Makronisos she met Aliki, also a member of the communist party, and when Aliki is condemned to death, Themis promises to find and raise Aliki’s son, Nikos as her own.

During the early part of the book I felt it was rather like reading a history book. But then, the book sprang to life, the pace increased, and I was totally gripped and moved as history and fiction came together dramatically in glorious technicolor, telling the story of the characters personal lives and their parts in the action.

I have only skimmed the surface of this book – there is so much more to the story than I can mention here. But after the slow start I loved it, even though it is not a book I can say I ‘enjoyed’. It is a powerful and shocking story of remarkable characters faced with brutal and traumatic events. It has a completely convincing and vivid sense of location. I knew next to nothing about this period in Greek history before and I was astounded by what I learnt. 

On a personal note, the earthquake in Athens on 7 September 1999 plays a part in the story. We were there then on holiday. We had been out at sea on that day and travelled back to our hotel through Athens, seeing some of the destruction and terror it caused. The earthquake had been felt at our hotel in Marathon – people had been thrown out of the swimming pool and later that evening we could still feel the aftershocks.

Many thanks to the publishers, Headline Review, for my review copy via NetGalley.