Books Read in November 2018

This month I read seven books, made up of one review copy that came to me via  NetGalley, two library books and four of my own books (two of these on Kindle). Two of the seven books are non-fiction and the rest are fiction. My ratings range from 5 to 2.5 stars and are based solely on my reactions to the books.

I’ve written about three of these books (click on the links to read my reviews):

Jacob's Room is Full of Books: A Year of ReadingAbsolute ProofIn a Dark, Dark Wood

  1. Jacob’s Room is Full of Books by Susan Hill 5*  – in which Susan Hill describes a year of her reading.
  2. Absolute Proof by Peter James 3.5* –  a standalone thriller that is very different from his Roy Grace books. It has similarities to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, as the search is on for proof of  God’s existence.
  3. In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware 2.5* – I was disappointed as this book promised to be a psychological thriller but it neither thrilled nor scared me, although it is a page-tuner. Leonora and Clare haven’t seen  or even spoken to each other since they were 16, ten years ago. So why has Clare invited Leonora to her hen party held in a glass house in the middle of a wood?

Here are some brief notes about the remaining four books:

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With DeathThe ReckoningThe New Mrs CliftonTombland (Matthew Shardlake, #7)

I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell 5* – I wrote this Friday post about this book, with two quotations and a summary of the book. It’s a memoir with a difference: seventeen encounters of near-death experiences, with Maggie at different ages, in different locations, revealing a whole life in a series of tense, visceral snapshots. It’s a beautifully written book that I loved.

The Reckoning by John Grisham 5*, about Pete Banning, Clanton’s favourite son, a returning war hero, the patriarch of a prominent family, a farmer, father, neighbour, and a faithful member of the Methodist Church. Why did he shoot and kill the Reverend Dexter Bell? And then refuse to say why he killed him? I was intrigued and fascinated by the whole book that went back into Pete’s wartime experiences during world War Two during the Bataan Death March in the Philippines.

The New Mrs Clifton by Elizabeth Buchan 4* this begins in 1974 with the discovery of a skeleton, the remains of a woman, between twenty-five and thirty, buried beneath a tree in the garden of house in Clapham, facing the Common. Her identity and why and how she was killed is not revealed until very nearly the end of the book.

It then moves back in time to 1945 when Intelligence Officer Gus Clifton returns to London with Krista, the German wife he married secretly in Berlin. For his sisters, Julia and Tilly, this broken woman is nothing more than the enemy. For Nella, Gus’s loyal fiancée, it is a terrible betrayal. Elizabeth Buchan paints a convincing and moving picture of life in both London and Berlin post-war, highlighting the devastation of the bombing and showing how people have to come to terms with the changes in their lives. All the way through the book I wondered who the killer was and which woman had been murdered.

Tombland by C J Sansom 5* – I wrote this Friday post this book, giving two quotations and a summary of the book. Set in 1549 this is a remarkable and detailed book about the situation as Edward VI is on the throne following the death of his father Henry VIII and his uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, rules as Protector.

Matthew Shardlake has been working as a lawyer in the service of Edward’s sister, the Lady Elizabeth. He is employed to investigate the gruesome murder of Edith Boleyn, the wife of John Boleyn – a distant Norfolk relation of Elizabeth’s mother. But the main part of the book is about Kett’s Rebellion – as thousands of peasants, in protest about the enclosures of common land, gather together on Mousehold Heath outside Norwich and battle ensues.

It’s an enormous book and I’m planning to write a longer post about it.

 

 

 

 

My Friday Post: Tombland by C J Sansom

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.

This week I’m featuring Tombland by C J Sansom, one of the books I’m currently reading.

Tombland (Matthew Shardlake, #7)

It begins with a Prologue:

January 1549

I had been in my chambers at Lincoln’s Inn when the messenger came from Master Parry, asking me to attend to him urgently. I wondered what might be afoot. He was the Lady Elizabeth’s Comptroller, head of the financial side of her household, and I had worked under him since I was recommended to Elizabeth by Queen Catherine Parr two years before, following King Henry’s death.

It continues with

Chapter One

June 1549

It rained throughout our journey to Hatfield Palace; hard, heavy rain that dripped from our caps and made our horses’ reins slippery and slick. Occasionally, a gust of cold wind drove it at us slantwise; as though even now, in early June, the chill of the hard winter and cold spring was reluctant to let go of the land.

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

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Pages 56 – 57:

I turned to the young man. ‘I understand that you visited Master Boleyn in gaol.’

Lockswood turned to his master, who nodded his agreement, then said, ‘I visited him last week in the castle gaol, where he is held until trial. An unpleasant place, sir, and Master Boleyn was in a sorrowful state. He seemed shocked by what had happened to him, kept doddering -‘

~~~

About the Book (extracted from Amazon)

Tombland is the seventh novel in C. J. Sansom’s number one bestselling Shardlake series.

It’s set in the summer of 1549, two years after the death of Henry VIII, England is sliding into chaos . . .

The nominal king, Edward VI, is eleven years old. His uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, rules as Protector. The extirpation of the old religion by radical Protestants is stirring discontent among the populace while the Protector’s prolonged war with Scotland is proving a disastrous failure and threatens to involve France. Worst of all, the economy is in collapse, inflation rages and rebellion is stirring among the peasantry.

Matthew Shardlake is asked to investigate the murder of Edith Boleyn, the wife of John Boleyn – a distant Norfolk relation of Elizabeth’s mother Anne Boleyn.  Then he and his assistants get caught up in the rebellion against the landowners’ enclosures of the common land as thousands of peasants led by Robert Kett establish a vast camp outside Norwich.

~~~

I am thoroughly absorbed by this book, reading it at a leisurely pace, enjoying all the details. I knew about the early enclosures of common land, but hadn’t heard of Kett’s Rebellion before. It’s a long book of 866 pages including an historical essay, Reimagining Kett’s Rebellion, notes and a bibliography.

What about you? Does it tempt you or would you stop reading? 

Nonfiction November: Week 2 Fiction/ NonfictionPairing

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Week 2: (Nov. 5 to 9) – Fiction / Nonfiction Book Pairing (Sarah’s Book Shelves): This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

I couldn’t stick to just pairs of books because I read more fiction than nonfiction, so my pairings are trios.

The first three I’ve chosen are about Richard III – what is the truth about him, was he deformed, with a withered arm, a hunch back and a limp as Shakespeare portrayed him, was he a cold-blooded, evil villain? Or has he been maligned and been turned into a  monster who killed his brother’s sons in order to take the Crown?

The Princes in the TowerThe Daughter of Time (Inspector Alan Grant #5)The Sunne In Splendour

Many years ago I read The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir, which examined the available evidence of the disappearance of the princes in 1483 at the time her book was first published in 1992. It has an extensive bibliography, her sources mainly supporting the view that Richard was guilty of their deaths. Alison Weir has since revised this book and published it as Richard III and the Princes in the Tower, published in 2014. I haven’t read this revised edition, but looking at Alison Weir’s website I see that she still holds the same views on Richard’s guilt.

Years later I came across The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, a novel in which Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, recuperating from a broken leg, becomes fascinated with a contemporary portrait of Richard III and investigates Richard’s role in the death of his nephews and his own death at the Battle of Bosworth. He concluded that Richard hadn’t murdered his nephews.

And two years ago I read The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman, probably the best historical novel that I’ve read. Penman portrays a very likeable Richard. From his childhood onwards he comes across as a kind, generous and brave man, a skilled leader on the battlefield, a loving husband to his wife, Anne, and devoted and loyal to his brother, Edward IV. I’m not going to reveal her solution to who killed the princes, but I was convinced by her version of events.

The discovery of Richard’s skeleton buried beneath a car park in Leicester in 2012 revealed that although ‘the curved spine on the skeleton does show he had Scoliosis, he did not have a withered arm or other details attributed to him in some characterisations’ (see the Incredible Discovery at the King Richard III Visitor Centre).

There are many books about Richard III, especially following the discovery of his remains, and in time I hope to explore more of them.

The next three books are about Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, Baron Cromwell of Okeham. He was born c.1485, Putney, near London and was executed on July 28, 1540.

Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII's Most Faithful Servant

Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies PBS Masterpiece E-Book Bundle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tracy Borman’s biography of Thomas Cromwell and Hilary Mantel’s novels, Wolf Hall/Bring Up the Bodies all cover the life of Cromwell, the son of a blacksmith, who rose to become Henry VIII’s Chief Minister and was executed for heresy and treason.

Hilary Mantel’s books bring the Tudor world to life for me. They are beautifully written, full of colour and detail so that there is no doubt that this is 16th century England, with vivid descriptions of the people, buildings, fabrics, and landscapes of both town and countryside. Her Thomas Cromwell is not the saint I thought he was from watching ‘A Man for All Seasons’, and neither is he the hard-hearted, cold and stern character I’d read about before, but he is humane, kind and considerate, hardworking, generous and cultured. But tough and ruthless too. I haven’t read Tracy Borman’s biography yet, so I have yet to see how it compares to the novels (and the TV adaptation), which I loved.

My third trio of books are about Robert Scott’s 1912 Antarctic expedition, comparing Beryl Bainbridge’s novel with two nonfiction books.

South with ScottThe Birthday BoysRace to the End: Scott, Amundsen and the South Pole

Ever since I bought South with Scott by Edward Evans, Lord Mountevans when I was at school I’ve been fascinated by the race to reach the South Pole. Evans was the Second-in-Command of the British Antarctic Expedition under Captain Scott. He nearly lost his life on the return journey from the Pole, falling ill with scurvy and was rescued. Years later I was delighted to find that Beryl Bainbridge’s novel, The Birthday Boys is about the expedition. It’s narrated by Captain Robert Falcon Scott and the other four men who died in the Antarctic having reached the South Pole. It gets inside each man’s mind, vividly describing the events as they progressed to the South Pole and the terrible conditions they had to endure.

I enjoyed it so much I wanted to find out more – which I did in Race to the End: Scott, Amundsen and the South Pole by Ross D E MacPhee, a beautifully illustrated account of each team’s trek to Antarctica and the Pole. Comparing the books I think Beryl Bainbridge’s fictionalised version is remarkable accurate, bringing the terrible hardships vividly to life.

I’ve enjoyed comparing these books – what books would you choose to compare?

WWW Wednesday: 24 October 2018

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading: three books, one historical fiction in hardback, one crime fiction on my Kindle and one non-fiction that I’ve borrowed from the library.

Tombland by C J Sansom, the 7th book in his Shardlake series, set in 1549 two years after the death of Henry VIII.

Tombland (Matthew Shardlake, #7)

I’m just settling into this book – Edward VI, is eleven years old and his uncle Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford, rules England as Protector. Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer in the employ of Lady Elizabeth, the old King’s younger daughter, is once more called on to investigate a murder, that of Elizabeth’s distant relative, Edith Boleyn. 1549 is the year of Kett’s Rebellion, which began when a group of rebels destroyed fences that wealthy landowners had erected to enclose their land.

I’m also reading The Darkest Place by Jo Spain, the Kindle edition was published on 20 September 2018. It’s the fourth Inspector Tom Holland mystery. I’ve read nearly 70% and am really enjoying it.

The Darkest Place (Inspector Tom Reynolds, #4)

Synopsis:

Christmas day, and DCI Tom Reynolds receives an alarming call. A mass grave has been discovered on Oileán na Caillte, the island which housed the controversial psychiatric institution St. Christina’s. The hospital has been closed for decades and onsite graves were tragically common. Reynolds thinks his adversarial boss is handing him a cold case to sideline him.

But then it transpires another body has been discovered amongst the dead – one of the doctors who went missing from the hospital in mysterious circumstances forty years ago. He appears to have been brutally murdered.

As events take a sudden turn, nothing can prepare Reynolds and his team for what they are about to discover once they arrive on the island . . .

And I’ve also started to read Jacob’s Room is Full of Books, by Susan Hill in which she writes about the books she has read, reread or returned to the shelf during one year.

Jacob's Room is Full of Books: A Year of Reading

It’s a mix of reflections on the books, on writing and of observations about a variety of topics, month by month.

I’ve recently finished:  
The Ghost

The Ghost by Robert Harris. I quoted the opening paragraph and synopsis in this post. It’s a political thriller with an anonymous narrator who is the ‘ghost’ or rather a ghostwriter employed to write the autobiography of Adam Peter Benet Lang, recently retired prime minister of Great Britain. I’m writing my review and will post it in the next few days.

My next book could be:

I am torn, as usual, wanting to read several books at once. I so want to start Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton – I wrote a bit about this book in this post.  It’s crime fiction about a convicted murderer, Hamish Wolfe who tries to convince, defence barrister Maggie Rose that he is innocent.

Daisy in Chains

But there are many more books also crying out to be read, so when the time comes to start another book, it could be something completely different.

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

WWW Wednesday: 17 October 2018

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading:

The GhostTimekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed With Time

The Ghost by Robert Harris. I quoted the opening paragraph and synopsis in yesterday’s post. It’s a political thriller with an anonymous narrator who is the ‘ghost’ or rather a ghostwriter employed to write the autobiography of Adam Peter Benet Lang, recently retired prime minister of Great Britain. And he has a month to do it, or rather complete the manuscript started by his predecessor McAra, Lang’s assistant who was found dead, drowned, after falling overboard on the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard.

The film, The Ghost (in the UK)/ The Ghost Writer (in the US) is an adaptation of this book, with Ewan McGregor playing the part of the unnamed ghostwriter.

I’m also reading Timekeepers by Simon Garfield, a book of short essays on different aspects of time. It’s full of facts, but still easy reading written in an entertaining style. But so far I’m finding it ‘interesting’ rather than ‘fascinating’.

I’ve recently finished:  

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by andrew Miller. See this post for my review – historical fiction set in 1809 Captain John Lacroix, home from Britain’s disastrous campaign against Napoleon’s forces in Spain.

My next book could be:

Tombland (Matthew Shardlake, #7)

Although I have several books in mind to read next, it will most probably be Tombland by C J Sansom, which is to be published tomorrow. It’s the 7th book in his Shardlake series.

Synopsis:

Spring, 1549.

Two years after the death of Henry VIII, England is sliding into chaos…

The nominal king, Edward VI, is eleven years old. His uncle Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford, rules as Protector, presiding over a collapsing economy, a draining, prolonged war with Scotland and growing discontent amongst the populace as the old religion is systematically wiped out by radical Protestants.

Matthew Shardlake, meanwhile, is a lawyer in the employ of Lady Elizabeth, the old King’s younger daughter. The gruesome murder of Elizabeth’s distant relative Edith Boleyn soon takes him and his assistant Nicholas Overton to Norwich where he is reunited with Overton’s predecessor Jack Barak. As another murder drags the trio into ever-more dangerous waters, Shardlake finds his loyalties tested as Barak throws in his lot with the exploding peasant rebellion and Overton finds himself prisoner in Norwich castle.

Simultaneously, Shardlake discovers that the murder of Boleyn may have connections reaching into both the heart of the rebel camp and of the Norfolk gentry…

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free

4*

Hodder and Stoughton|23 August 2018|432 pages|Review copy

The opening chapters of Now Well Shall Be Entirely Free drew me in immediately as I read about Captain John Lacroix’s return to England from Spain in 1809, close to death after the battle of Corunna, during the Peninsular War. Miller’s descriptive writing, lyrical and poetic, vividly sets the scene as Lacroix is nursed back to health by Nell, his servant. But it is clear that he is on the edge of a breakdown, mentally and emotionally, saying little about the battle and indeed, unable to face the memories of the horrors he experienced. When another officer arrives ordering him to report back to duty, he decides instead to leave for the Highlands to recuperate.

This is followed by an account of the investigation of the atrocities carried out  in the village of Los Morales during the army’s retreat to Corunna.  The village was burned down, men were lynched and women raped. Two men, a vicious Englishman, Corporal Calley is ordered to track down and kill the officer responsible and a Spaniard, Lieutenant Medina, a liaison officer with the British army, is assigned to accompany him and report back that the execution has been carried out. It is soon obvious that the officer is Captain John Lacroix and so the hunt is on, as Calley and Medina follow his trail from Somerset to Bristol and Glasgow and then on to the Hebrides, leaving a trail of violence and death behind them.

The pace is brisk, until Lacroix reaches the isles, where he meets the Frend family, a brother and sisters, living as part of an isolated community. Jane is pregnant and Emily is slowly losing her sight. At this point in the novel the pace dropped partly because of the vagueness in describing the location of the island (somewhere in the Outer Hebrides beyond Mingulay) and Lacroix’s own mental and physical slowing down on the island – after being attacked and robbed in Glasgow, he began taking opium to relieve his pain. My attention began to wander until he and Emily returned to Glasgow for an operation to improve her eyesight. The pace picked up and I was fascinated by the medical details, with intriguing insights into new discoveries in medical treatment.

But then the ending came all too quickly and left me feeling uncertain about what actually happened – the ambiguity surrounding their ‘freedom’. Freedom is a theme throughout the novel – its definition and how it differs for men and women. The relentless brutality of war, of course is another theme, demonstrated through the inhumanity of Calley’s actions and its effects on Lacroix as he finally reveals what had happened in Spain.

I enjoyed the historical details, the medical techniques as well as the effects of industrialisation, and in particular the conditions in the cotton mills, where Calley laboured as a child. He had worked as a ‘piecer’ mending the cotton threads and cleaning the machines, in danger of losing a limb, deafened by the noise in the hot machine room where the air was thick with little bits of cotton filling up your nose and lungs.

But most of all I enjoyed the writing. Miller’s ability to write in such a lyrical style, to convey emotions and create such complex characters that are so believable that you can empathise, to a limited extent, even with a thug like Calley, make this book remarkable.

Thanks go to Hodder and Stoughton and NetGalley for my copy of this book for review.

New-To-Me Books

Another visit to  Barter Books in Alnwick means I’ve added 5 more books to my TBRs.

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From top to bottom they are:

Fair Stood the Wind for France by H E Bates – a Penguin modern classic. It was first published in 1944 and is about a British pilot, John Franklin, whose plane was shot down in occupied France, and Francoise, the daughter of a French farmer who hid Franklin and his crew from the Germans. I haven’t read any other books by Bates (1905 – 1974) – he was a prolific writer.

Recalled to Life by Reginald Hill, the 13th Dalziel and Pascoe book.  Dalziel reopens the investigation into a murder that took place in 1963 – the year of the Profumo Scandal, the Great Train Robbery and the Kennedy Assassination. I should be on safe ground with this book as I’ve enjoyed all the other Dalziel and Pascoe books I’ve read.

Mystic River by Dennis Lehane. Three boys’ lives were changed for ever when one of them got into a stranger’s car and something terrible happened. Twenty five years later they have to face the nightmares of their past. I’m not sure what to expect from this book, not having read any of Lehane’s books before, but a reviewer in the Guardian described it as one of the finest novels he’d read in ages.

The Hog’s Back Mystery by Freeman Willis Crofts, first published in 1933 during the Golden Age of detective fiction between the two world wars. It’s an Inspector French murder mystery set in Surrey, where first one person then others disappear. Have they been murdered? I’ve read just one of Crofts’ books before, Mystery in the Channel, which completely baffled me – will this be just as complicated?

The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier, the story of two women, born centuries apart and the ancestral legacy that binds them. This was Tracy Chevalier’s first novel. I’ve read and enjoyed some of her later books, including The Girl with a Pearl Earring and Falling Angels, so I’m looking forward to reading this book.

Please let me know if you’ve read any of these books and whether you enjoyed them – or not.