Five of the Best for November 2011-2015

This was originally Cleo’s idea (Cleopatra Loves Books). It’s to look back over your reviews of the past five years and pick out your favourite books for each month from 2011 ‘“ 2015. I like it so much it inspired me to do the same.

I really enjoy looking back over the books I’ve loved reading. These are some of my favourite books for each November from 2011 to 2015 (click on the titles/covers to see my original reviews). November is apparently the month where the crime fiction books I’ve read have been my favourite reads.

Three of the five books are Ian Rankin’s Rebus books – November is the month he’s published his latest books and November is the month I read them.  Ian Rankin is one of my favourite authors and his Rebus books never fail to impress me both with their ingenuity and the quality of their plots and characterisations.

2011

White Nights by Ann Cleeves – the second in her Shetland Quartet, featuring Detective Jimmy Perez, set mainly in Biddista, a fictional village of a few houses, a shop, an art gallery and restaurant called the Herring House, and an old Manse. A man’s body is found, hanging in the hut where the boat owners of the village of Biddista keep their lines and pots. Perez recognises the dead man ‘“ he’s the mystery man who had caused a scene the previous evening at the opening of Bella Sinclair’s and Fran Hunter’s art exhibition.

This book is not only full of believable characters, each one an individual in their own right, it also has a nicely complicated plot and a great sense of location. It’s the place, itself, that for me conveyed the most powerful aspects of the book. The ‘˜white nights’ are the summer nights when the sun never really goes down. They call it the ‘˜summer dim’, the dusk lasts all night, and in contrast to the bleak, black winters, fills people with ‘˜a kind of frenzy‘˜.

2012

Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin. This is the first book after Rebus’s retirement in which he is working for SCRU ‘“ the Serious Crime Review Unit, a Cold Case unit of retired police officers, investigating the disappearance of a young woman missing since 1999, and linking it with later cases of missing women all in the vicinity of the A9. He also clashes with Malcolm Fox of Edinburgh’s internal affairs unit – their dislike is mutual.

I  was gripped by this book and liked the way Rankin included characters from earlier books, such as Big Ger Caffety, Siobhan Clarke, now a DI, and in particular Malcolm Fox.

2013

Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin. I think this is one of his best ‘“ a realistic and completely baffling mystery. a complex, multi-layered case, linking back to one of Rebus’s early cases on the force as a young Detective Constable. Rebus is now back on the force, the rules on retirement age having changed, but as a Detective Sergeant. Once more he is under scrutiny by Malcolm Fox. There are suspicions that Rebus and his colleagues, who called themselves ‘˜The Saints of the Shadow Bible’ were involved in covering up a crime, allowing a murderer to go free.

The interaction between Rebus and Fox is one of the joys of this book. Beneath his controlled exterior Fox is just as much a loose cannon as Rebus, he’s not a team player either and it is fascinating to see how Rebus gets under his skin and reveals Fox’s true nature.

2014

And now for a different author, but still crime fiction:

Blue Heaven by C J Box. I loved this book, the first one of C J Box’s books that I’ve read. The action takes place over four days in North Idaho one spring. It’s a story about two children, Annie and William who decide to go fishing without telling their mother, Monica, and witness a murder in the woods. One of the killers sees them and they run for their lives.

I loved the writing style – straightforward storytelling, with good descriptions of locality and characters; characters that are both likeable and downright nasty, but not caricatures. It’s a book that got right inside my mind so that I found myself thinking about when I wasn’t reading it and keen to get back to it. And the ending was what I hoped, and also dreaded it would be.

2015

Back to Rebus – although I also loved Claire Tomalin’s Mrs Jordan’s Profession.

Even Dogs in the Wild –  Now, two years later on from The Saints of the Shadow Bible Rebus is on his second retirement, working in a ‘˜consultative capacity’, albeit not as a cop and with no warrant card or real powers and with no pay. Once more this is a complicated plot, involving Malcolm Fox now seconded to the team of undercover cops from Glasgow, gang warfare, and Big Ger Cafferty. There are so many deaths and twists and turns that my mind was in a whirl as I tried to sort out all the characters.

Rankin, as usual, successfully combined all the elements of the crime mystery with the personal lives of the main characters and at the same time highlighting various current political and social issues.

Is this the last we’ll see of Rebus? Only time and Ian Rankin will tell.

Five of the Best October 2011 – 2015

This was originally Cleo’s idea (Cleopatra Loves Books). It’s to look back over your reviews of the past five years and pick out your favourite books for each month from 2011 ‘“ 2015. I like it so much it inspired me to do the same.

I really enjoy looking back over the books I’ve loved reading. These are some of my favourite books for each October from 2011 to 2015 (click on the titles/covers to see my original reviews).

2011

The House of Stairs by Barbara Vine – It is a most remarkable book, in that it turns a murder mystery upside down, as it were. It is clear from the start that there has been a murder and the murderer is known ‘“ she has just been released from prison. But who did she murder? Why, where, when and how? The other characters all know ‘“ but not the reader. The House of Stairs is so called because it’s a big house on five floors with a staircase of 106 stairs.

The crime is only revealed very gradually, building up the suspense and tension in a series of flashbacks, as you realise the how, the where and the when, but only by inference. As for the identity of the victim, I kept changing my mind, only finally deciding it must be this person, just a few pages before the dénouement.

2012

The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas – this is a very cleverly constructed and quirky mystery with a twist at the end which took me totally by surprise. Strange blue chalk circles start appearing on the pavements of Paris and then the body of a woman with her throat savagely cut is found in one of them.

This is the first of her Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg novels. Adamsberg just doesn’t fit the usual detective profile ‘“ well, he is a loner, so that’s pretty standard, but apart from that he stands out  ‘“ an outsider from the Pyrenees, newly appointed to Paris as Commissaire of police headquarters in the 5th arrondissement. His colleagues don’t understand him, especially Inspector Danglard, who likes a drink and isn’t too reliable after about four in the afternoon. A most enjoyable read!

2013

The Shining by Stephen King tells the story of Jack Torrance and his family as they move into the Overlook Hotel in the Colorada Rockies. The Overlook is closed for the winter and Jack, a recovering alcoholic is the caretaker. Just what impels him towards murder is horrifyingly revealed as the winter weather closes in on the hotel and they are cut off from the rest of the world.

The characters are so well-drawn and so distinct. Their vulnerability, coupled with the way King gets inside each person’s head, increases the element of fear. There’s the horror of the father who has monsters inside his head, who still loves his son, but demands he should ‘˜take his medicine‘; the evil is palpable. It’s an excellent choice to read at Halloween.

2014

I read so many brilliant books in October 2014! I’ve picked just one for this post – the others are listed in this post.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel. I enjoyed this collection of stories,  which are brooding, somewhat melancholic, dark, disturbing and full of sharp and penetrating observations. One of my favourite stories was Sorry to Disturb, which describes the dilemma of a British woman living in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia when she finds herself befriended by a young Pakistani businessman ‘“ a situation that was ‘˜ripe for misunderstanding‘˜. It has a claustrophobic atmosphere.

Overall this is a compelling book, brilliantly written, keenly observed, with the power to chill and shock me.

2015

House of Shadows by Nicola Cornick – a time-slip novel with each strand of the story clearly defined, each set firmly in its historical context. It’s a fascinating mix of factual history combined with historical interpretation/imagination to fill in the gaps in the records.

There is so much I loved in this book ‘“ the history, all the storylines,  the characters, and the settings against the backdrop of years from the 16th to the 21st centuries. It has mystery, elements of the supernatural as well as being a love story. Once I started reading the House of Shadows I didn’t want to stop as the history of the crystal mirror and the Sistrin pearl, a jewel of rare beauty and price unfolds.

Five of the Best: September 2011-2015

This was originally Cleo’s idea (Cleopatra Loves Books). It’s to look back over your reviews of the past five years and pick out your favourite books for each month from 2011 ‘“ 2015. I like it so much it inspired me to do the same.

I really enjoy looking back over the books I’ve loved reading. These are some of my favourite books for each September from 2011 to 2015 (click on the titles/covers to see my original reviews). These are all crime fiction, mostly dark scary books, because each September and October I take part in the R.I.P. Challenge, that is hosted this year by The Estella Society.

2011

Blood Harvest by Sharon Bolton.  I can’t quite believe that it’s four years ago that I read this book as I can still remember the tension, terror and suspense within its pages.  It’s a dark, scary book, set in the fictional town of Heptonclough in Lancashire.There are two churches, the ancient ruined Abbey Church and standing next to it the ‘˜new’ church of St Barnabas. The Fletchers have just moved into a new house built on the land right next to the boundary wall of the churchyard. But this is not a safe place for children, three little girls have died over the past ten years, and when the Fletcher children start to hear voices in the graveyard more disturbing events unfold.

2012

The Sixth Lamentation by William Brodrick, the first Father Anselm book. This is historical fiction and it’s also a mystery. It looks back  to the Second World War in occupied France, telling a dramatic tale of love and betrayal, full of suspense, and interwoven stories, with accurate details of life in Paris during the Occupation and the subsequent war trials. William Brodrick has also drawn on his own personal experience. He was formerly in religious life but left before his final vows.

2013

Relics of the Dead by Ariana Franklin, the third book in her Mistress of the Art of Death series. The date is 1176, the setting is Glastonbury where the monks, after a fire had destroyed their monastery, discovered two skeletons buried in their graveyard. The question is  ‘“ are these the remains of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere? Henry II needs evidence that they are not and sends Adelia Aguilar, the anatomist, to examine the bones for evidence. I’ve always liked the stories about King Arthur, about his life and death, about Excalibur (which does feature in this book), about Guinevere’s affair with Lancelot,  and the Holy Grail (which do not).

2014

The Brimstone WeddingBrimstone wedding by Barbara Vine. This is one of the best of Barbara Vine’s books that I’ve read ‘“ nearly as good as A Dark-Adapted Eye and writing under her real name, Ruth Rendell, A Judgement in Stone. it’s not horrific in the overblown graphic sense, but in a sinister, psychological way that really is ‘˜chilling’ and inexpressibly sad. The atmosphere is mysterious, a house isolated in the fens, seems to hold the key to the past. Stella, who is dying of lung cancer,  never mentions her husband or her past life, but gradually she confides in Jenny, a carer at the retirement home where Stella lives, telling her things she has never said to her son and daughter ‘“ things about her life she doesn’t want them to know.

2015

This September I’m spoilt for choice as I read several excellent books – The Ghosts of Altona by Craig Russell is just one of them. This is his 7th book featuring Jan Fabel, the head of Hamburg’s Murder Commission, a very cleverly plotted book, multi-layered and complex and I loved it.

A murder mystery combining a cold case and present day murders combined with great storytelling, rich descriptions, interwoven with details of near-death experiences, the Gothic, mental and personality disorders makes this most definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year.

I must also mention three of Sharon Bolton’s Lacey Flint books that I read this September – all excellent books.

Five of the Best: August 2011 – August 2015

This was originally Cleo’s idea (Cleopatra Loves Books). It’s to look back over your reviews of the past five years and pick out your favourite books for each month from 2011 ‘“ 2015. I like it so much it inspired me to do the same .

I really enjoy looking back over the books I’ve loved reading. These are some of my favourite books for each August from 2011 to 2015 (click on the titles/covers to see my original reviews).

2011

The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths – this is the second in the Ruth Galloway investigation series. Ruth is a forensic archaeologist. In this book she is called in to investigate when builders, demolishing a large old house in Norwich, uncover the skeleton of a child ‘“ minus the skull ‘“ beneath a doorway. Is it some ritual sacrifice of just plain straightforward murder? Ruth is pregnant, but she’s not sure she wants the father to know.

I like the mix of archaeology, mystery and crime fiction in Elly Griffiths’s books. This one has a double dose, with mythology and Catholicism running through the narrative as well as the police procedures.  Ruth is an interesting character, not your usual detective, she’s overweight, self-reliant but also feisty and tough. She has to be with everything that’s thrown at her and as her investigations lead her into great danger.

2012

The Girl on the Stairs by Louise Welsh is a dark, psychological thriller, full of atmosphere and claustrophobic tension. I really enjoyed it.  It’s a book that once I started reading it I just had to finish it. It’s full of suspense and increasing tension as Jane moves to an apartment in Berlin to join her partner, Petra. Everything is new to her, she only speaks a little German, she doesn’t know the area and has no friends there. And she’s pregnant.

For most of the time Jane is alone in the flat and her sense of isolation grows. She hears their neighbour Dr Mann and his daughter Anna ‘“ the girl on the stairs arguing – and fears Dr Mann is abusing Anna. She ventures out at 3.00am one dark morning drawn by a flickering light in the derelict house at the back, worried that Anna was hiding in there. And as more secrets are revealed I began to wonder just how paranoid Jane was and how much was down to her imagination. Are Jane’s fears justified or is she delusional?

2013

The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge – an absolutely fascinating novel about Captain Scott’s last Antarctic Expedition. It gets inside each man’s mind, it seemed to me, vividly describing the events as they progressed to the South Pole and the terrible conditions they had to endure. Beryl Bainbridge’s imagination and research combined make this a dramatic heroic story and an emotional roller-coaster set in the beautiful but deadly dangerous frozen landscape of the Antarctic.

At times I had to remind myself that I was reading a novel, but then again there were passages where I had to remind myself that these events really did take place as they seemed so fantastical. Beryl Bainbridge has written a most remarkable book, full of facts seamlessly woven into the narrative, and full of emotion and feeling. It was not only my favourite book of the month but also one of the best books I read in 2013.

2014

All Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard, the  fifth book in her Cazalet Chronicles. I’d read the first four books years ago and loved them, so I was keen to read this last one. It’s the story of the Cazalet family, a very large family by the time of this novel ‘“ 1956 ‘“ 1958, a lovely warm, old fashioned family saga, with both happy and sad events as the Cazalets move forward, and not successfully for all of them, in post-war England. It was a great treat!

2015

This August it was extremely difficult to choose which book I’ve enjoyed the most – see this post. It didn’t help that I gave three books five stars on Goodreads and two more would have been 4.5 if half stars were allowed on Goodreads. The three are all different genres so that made it practically impossible to choose one. In the end and for this post I’m highlighting:

A Change of Climate by Hilary Mantel –  one of Hilary Mantel’s early books, first published in 1994 and  described on the back cover as ‘˜a literary family saga’ and ‘˜a first rate thriller’. It’s a book with an ‘enormous destructive secret‘ at its heart.  A book about family, trust, disillusionment and tragedy, about bereavement and loss of faith. A great book on all counts, characters and locations beautifully described and a well constructed and convincing plot, powerful and challenging on several levels.

FIVE OF THE BEST: JULY 2011- 2015

This was originally Cleo’s idea (Cleopatra Loves Books). It’s to look back over your reviews of the past five years and pick out your favourite for each month from 2011 ‘“ 2015. I like it so much it inspired me to do the same .

I really enjoy looking back over the books I’ve loved reading. These are my favourite books for each July from 2011 to 2015 (click on the covers to see my original reviews).

2011

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. This is one of Agatha Christie’s most well known books, not least because of the films with Albert Finney and David Suchet as Poirot.

Poirot is on the Orient Express, on a three-days journey across Europe. But after midnight the train comes to a halt, stuck in a snowdrift. In the morning the millionaire Simon Ratchett is found dead in his compartment his body stabbed a dozen times and his door locked from the inside.

I liked this book enormously. I liked the characterisation and all the, now so non-pc, comments about nationalities, highlighting class and racial prejudice. I liked the problem-solving and ingenuity of the plot.

2012

The Crimson Rooms by Katherine MacMahon – set in London in 1924, with Britain still coming to terms with the aftermath of the First World War. Evelyn Gifford, one of the few pioneer female lawyers, is involved in defending several cases.

It’s beautifully written and I was fascinated by this account of early women lawyers. It clearly shows the prejudice these women had to overcome just to qualify as lawyers, never mind the difficulties of persuading law firms to employ them and clients to accept them. It’s also a novel about the way people’s lives were affected by the War, how men were unable to resume their old lives, some damaged by shell-shock and the horrors they had taken part in, or witnessed during the war.

2013

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – this is set in the Deep South of  America in the 1930s, and narrated by Scout (Jean Louise Finch) as she looks back as an adult to the Depression, the years when, with her older brother, Jem, and their friend, Dill, she witnessed the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white girl. Scout’s father, Atticus, a lawyer defends Tom. It’s also the story of Boo Radley, their neighbour, a man who is never seen, who is said to only come out at night.

I ‘d wondered if this book that all the world seems to love would live up to the hype for me. It did! It’s a wonderful book! Now two years later I’m wondering whether or not to read Go Set a Watchman … what if it spoils my enjoyment of To Kill a Mockingbird?

2014

Charles Dickens: a Life by Claire Tomalin was my five star book in July last year. I fully intended to write a post about it, but somehow never did. I thoroughly enjoyed this immensely detailed biography, complimented with maps of Gads Hill and Rochester and Dickens’ London, and a Cast List, copious notes,  a bibliography and an index – all essential reference material.

This biography brings Dickens, his books, his work for the poor, downtrodden and ill-treated, and his world to life. It’s a ‘warts and all’ biography; nothing is left out. And best of all it made me want to read more of Dickens’ own books.

2015

Another non-fiction book takes the top spot in July this year – The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards. This is the story of the writers who formed the Detection Club between the two World Wars. Edwards sets the authors and their works in context ‘“ that period when Britain was recovering from the horrors of the First World War, living through an age of austerity as unemployment grew, the cost of living soared leading to the General Strike whilst the rich partied and saw the beginnings of the end of the British Empire.

It is quite simply a tour de force, comprehensive, and crammed full of fascinating information about the period and the authors. Martin Edwards’ love of Golden Age fiction shines throughout the book, (skilfully writing about books without giving away any spoilers).

Five of the Best: June 2011- 2015

This was originally Cleo’s idea ‘“ see Cleopatra Loves BooksIt’s to look back over your reviews of the past five years and pick out your favourite for each month from 2011 ‘“ 2015.

I really enjoy looking back over the books I’ve loved reading. These are my favourite books for each June from 2011 to 2015 (click on the covers to see my original reviews).

2011

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake. Sometimes it’s dangerous to re-read a book you loved the first time round. There’s always the possibility that you’re going to be disappointed that it wouldn’t live up to to your expectations, especially if the first time you read it was whilst you were in your teens.

With Titus Groan I needn’t have worried. I thought it was fantastic the first time and absolutely fantastic when I re-read it in 2011.

The world Peake created in Gormenghast is real on its own terms. It has history, culture and its own rituals and traditions. The novel is poetical,  rich in imagination, description and characters. It all came alive as I read on and the same magic I felt the first time was still there.

 2012

The Secret River by Kate Grenville – a dramatic and vivid story. This is historical fiction, straight-forward story-telling following William Thornhill from his childhood in the slums of London to Australia. He was a Thames waterman transported for stealing timber; his wife, Sal and child went with him and together they make a new life for themselves. It’s about struggle for survival as William is eventually pardoned and becomes a waterman on the Hawkesbury River and then a settler with his own land and servants. It raises several issues ‘“ about crime and punishment, about landownership, defence of property, power, class and colonisation. 

2013

Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter by Ruth Rendell. This was first published in 1992 and I’d owned for over 20 years before I read it – I wished I’d got round to it earlier, but  it was well worth the wait. It’s an Inspector Wexford murder mystery, full of red herrings; an excellent book, both for the mystery element and for the characterisation, even the lesser characters stand out as real people. I had my suspicions quite early on in the book about the murder, but it was only intuition ‘“ I couldn’t put my finger on the reason for my thoughts.

2014

Sisters of Sinai by Janet Soskice, a biography of twin sisters, who in the latter half of the nineteenth century, travelled to St Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai where they discovered one of the earliest copies of the Gospels written in ancient Syriac. Their father died when the twins were 23 leaving his fortune to them and they decided to have a trip down the Nile. And that was just the beginning; their lives were transformed.

They learnt Greek, Arabic, Hebrew and Syriac, returning to Egypt and Sinai many times, befriending the monks of St Catherine, despite their religious differences, and getting embroiled in disputes with Cambridge academics. An enthralling book about two courageous and enterprising women.

2015

 

I read so many good books this month it should have been hard choosing a favourite, because I loved all the Jane Casey books and the Agatha Christie book I read, but The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton surpassed them all.  I loved everything about this book’“ the descriptive passages, the mystery, the secrets and the characters involved. It begins on a summer’s day in 1961 in Suffolk when sixteen-year old Laurel is shocked when she sees her mother, Dorothy, stabbing a stranger who had come to their farm.  It’s a story moving between time periods from 2011, back to the 1960s and also to the 1940s as Laurel discovers the secrets about Dorothy’s life.

It really is a book I didn’t want to put down and also a book I wanted to enjoy as long as possible. By the end, though, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough!

Five of the Best: May 2011 – May 2015

This was originally Cleo’s idea ‘“ see Cleopatra Loves Books.It’s to look back over your reviews of the past five years and pick out your favourite for each month from 2011 ‘“ 2015.

I really enjoy looking back over the books I’ve loved reading. These are my favourite books for each May from 2011 to 2015 (click on the covers to see my original reviews).

2011

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. Poirot is on the Orient Express, on a three-days journey across Europe. But after midnight the train comes to a halt, stuck in a snowdrift. In the morning the millionaire Simon Ratchett is found dead in his compartment his body stabbed a dozen times and his door locked from the inside. I liked this book enormously. I liked the characterisation and all the, now so non-pc, comments about nationalities, highlighting class and racial prejudice. I liked the problem-solving and ingenuity of the plot.

2012

Fatherland by Robert Harris. Another murder mystery, this time set in Germany in 1964, but not the historical Germany of that date, because Hitler is approaching his 75th birthday, and Germany had won the Second World War ‘“ it’s historical fiction that never was ‘“ an alternative history. The homicide investigator is Xavier March of the Kriminalpolizei (the Kripo) and the victim is Josef Buhler, one of the former leading members of the Nazi Party.  It’s a real page-turner and full of suspense.

2013

The Frozen Shroud by Martin Edwards, the sixth book in his Lake District Mystery series, featuring historian Daniel Kind and DCI Hannah Scarlett, head of the Cold Case Review Team. When a third murder occurs  the characters are all so alive, the settings so vividly described and the plots so intricate and compelling. I love all the historical and literary references he uses, weaving them seamlessly into the books, and then there is the ongoing friendship between Daniel and Hannah.

2014

The Dance of Love by Angela Young absolutely entranced me. It’s historical fiction set at the turn of the twentieth century between 1899 and 1919, 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. I cannot praise it too highly,  a beautifully written, brilliant book that moved me deeply.

2015

This year’s choice is by one of my favourite authors – Ann Cleeves and it’s the sixth book in the Vera series, namely Harbour Street. It has everything I like in a crime fiction novel ‘“ atmospheric setting, convincing characters and a cleverly constructed and complex plot. It kept me guessing right to the end. It revolves around the stabbing of Margaret Krukowski on the Newcastle Metro but Vera’s investigations extend into the past and uncover an earlier murder.