Six Degrees from It to The Vanishing Box

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month the chain begins with It by Stephen King – in the storm drains, in the sewers, IT lurks, taking on the shape of every nightmare, each one’s deepest dread. Sometimes IT appears as an evil clown named Pennywise and sometimes IT reaches up, seizing, tearing, killing…

It

I haven’t read It but I have read  a few of Stephen King’s books including Joyland, which is a ghost story, a love story, a story of loss and heartbreak, set in a funfair. It’s also a murder mystery and utterly compelling to read. (my review)

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The next link in my chain is to an another ghost story – Dark Matter by Michelle Paver, a chilling book, very chilling, both in the setting in the High Arctic and in atmosphere.

Dark Matter

It’s a ghost story in the form of a diary – that of Jack Miller who in 1937 was part of an expedition to the High Arctic to study its biology, geology and ice dynamics and to carry out a meteorological survey. As the darkness descends, Jack is left alone at the camp and his nightmare really begins. And it is very scary! (my review)

I’m moving away from dark and scary stories to another book with ‘matter in its title – to Alive, Alive Oh! And Other Things That Matter by Diana Athill.

Alive, Alive Oh!: and Other Things that Matter

It’s only a short book but it covers a wide range of Diana Athill’s memories, many images of beautiful places, and the friends and lovers she has known. The chapters follow on chronologically but are unconnected except for the fact that they demonstrate her love of life. It was heart breaking to read her remarkably candid account of  the miscarriage she had when she was in her early 40s and she nearly died. (my review)

Katherine of Aragon also suffered from miscarriages during her marriage to Henry VIII. Antonia Fraser’s Six Tudor Queens: Katherine of Aragon, the True Queen is fictional biography at its most straight forward, written in an uncomplicated style.

It’s a long and comprehensive study, told from Katherine’s point of view it follows her life from the time she arrived in England at the age of sixteen to marry Prince Arthur, the elder of Henry VII’s two sons, to her death in 1536. (my review)

Another Katherine living in the Tudor period is Lady Katherine Grey, who was one of the heirs to the throne and a rival to the Tudor Queens, Mary and Elizabeth I. Leanda de Lisle tells her story and that of her sisters in The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: The tragedy of Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey. 

The Sisters Who Would Be Queen

 

Lady Jane Grey  is remembered in British history as the monarch with the shortest reign… just nine days. In 1553 after the death of her cousin, the protestant King Edward VI she was proclaimed Queen in place of his Catholic half sister, Mary Tudor. Mary overthrew Jane 13 days later, and she was tried for treason, found guilty and was executed. (this is one of my TBR books)

Lady Jane Grey features in The Vanishing Box by Elly Griffiths, the fourth book in the DI Stephens and Max Mephisto series.

Lily Burtenshaw was murdered. She was found in her room tied to a chair, leaning forward and pointing to an empty crate with ‘King Edward Potatoes’ written on the side. She had been posed to look like Lady Jane Grey in the painting by Delaroche, of her execution at the moment she was being helped to lay her head upon the block. (my review)

My chain began with a book  about a scary clown, moved to a scary funfair to yet another scary book set in the Arctic. It then travelled to a different matter – that of miscarriages, then to the sister of a short-lived queen and finally to a murder mystery in which the victim was posed as Lady Jane Grey.  From America to England in both the past and the present, from fiction to historical biography and then to a murder mystery – from horror to murder in six steps!

Next month January 6, 2018), the chain will begin with an international bestseller (that I haven’t read) – Alexander McCall Smith’s No.1 Ladies Detective Agency.

My Week in Books: 15 November 2017

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.

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A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now:

Victoria: A Life

I’m still reading Victoria: a Life by A N Wilson and have just finished Part One, ending with the death of William IV at 2.20 on the morning of 20 June 1837. Victoria is woken to the news that she is now Queen.

The Skeleton Road

I’ve also started The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid, the third  of her DCI Karen Pirie novels.  So far I’m finding it a bit slow going with rather a bewildering number of characters introduced one after the other. When a skeleton with a bullet hole in its skull is found at the top of a crumbling, gothic building in Edinburgh Karen and her Historic Cases Unit is called in to identify the body and investigate how long it has been there.

Then:

I’ve just finished The Corpse in the Snowman by Nicholas Blake, first published in 1941 as The Case of the Abominable Snowman. This is a manor house murder mystery  in which it first appears that Elizabeth Restorick has committed suicide. Or was it murder? Nigel Strangeways and Inspector Blount investigate.

Next:

Call the Dying (Lydmouth, #7)

I’m not sure, but Andrew Taylor’s Call the Dying caught my eye this morning when I passed the bookshelves in the hall. It’s set in the 1950s in the grip of a long, hard winter when dark forces are at play – a dead woman calls the dying in a seance, in a town shrouded in intrigue and suspicion. This is the seventh in Taylor’s Lydmouth series. I haven’t read any of the earlier books and I’m hoping that won’t matter.

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

A Pile of Books

I had a lovely surprise yesterday when a friend gave me this pile of books – which another friend had given to her.

Pile of Bks Nov17 P1020312

Some are by authors I’ve never heard of before and am not sure what to expect. From top to bottom they are:

  • The Lake House by Kate Morton (on of my favourite authors), historical fiction spanning different time periods and characters, centred on the disappearance of a baby boy from his home in 1933.
  • The Shadow Sister by Lucinda Riley, historical fiction and book three in The Seven Sisters series. I haven’t read the first two books. There’s an antiquarian bookshop, and links with Beatrix Potter and Alice Keppel.
  • The Cornish Guest House by Emma Burstall, the second book in the Tremarnock series (I haven’t read the first book), set in a small fishing village, crowded with holidaymakers.
  • My Map of You by Isabelle Broom, set on the Greek island of Zakynthos (Zante), where Holly has inherited a house.
  • The House on Bellevue Gardens by Rachel Hore – different characters seeking refuge in Leonie’s house in a tranquil London Square.
  • The Light Behind the Window by Lucinda Riley, in which Emilie inherits a chateau in southern France and an old notebook of poems that leads her in search of Sophia and a web of deception in occupied France in 1943.
  • I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh, a book already on my list of books I want to read, about Jenna Gray as she moves to a ramshackle cottage on the remote Welsh coast, trying to escape the memory of the car accident, haunted by her fears and grief.
  • The Nightingale by Kirstin Hannah, another book on my list of books I want to read. This is also historical fiction about two French sisters during World War 2 and in 1955.

These should keep me going for quite a while – before I pass them on to another reader.

If you’ve read any of these books please let me know what you thought of them!

 

 

Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore

Birdcage Walk

Blurb:

It is 1792 and Europe is seized by political turmoil and violence. Lizzie Fawkes has grown up in Radical circles where each step of the French Revolution is followed with eager idealism. But she has recently married John Diner Tredevant, a property developer who is heavily invested in Bristol’s housing boom, and he has everything to lose from social upheaval and the prospect of war. Soon his plans for a magnificent terrace built above the two-hundred-foot drop of the Gorge come under threat. Tormented and striving Diner believes that Lizzie’s independent, questioning spirit must be coerced and subdued. She belongs to him: law and custom confirm it, and she must live as he wants—his passion for Lizzie darkening until she finds herself dangerously alone.

Weaving a deeply personal and moving story with a historical moment of critical and complex importance, Birdcage Walk is an unsettling and brilliantly tense drama of public and private violence, resistance and terror from one of our greatest storytellers.

My thoughts:

This is Helen Dunmore’s last book, but the first one of hers I’ve read, although Exposure is sitting in my Kindle waiting to be read. It’s historical fiction, although I think it’s mainly a meditation on death and the legacy we leave behind. And that is most poignant as although at the time she was writing the book Helen Dunmore didn’t know it she was seriously ill and she died earlier this year. She was the author of 12 novels, three books of short stories, numerous books for young adults and children and 11 collections of poetry.

As she wrote in the Afterword:

I suppose that a writer’s creative self must have access to knowledge of which the conscious mind and the emotions are still ignorant, and that a novel written at such a time, under such a growing shadow, cannot help being full of a sharper light, rather as a landscape becomes brilliantly distinct in the last sunlight before a storm. I have rarely felt the existence of characters more clearly, or understood them more deeply – or enjoyed writing about them more.

I was completely absorbed in this book as I read it. It’s written beautifully and poetically, moving slowly as the details of Lizzie and Diner’s marriage come sharply into focus. Birdcage Walk was first published in March 2017, so I’m coming a bit late to reading it and the drawbacks of that are that I’ve seen several reviews and have realised that (like many books) there are mixed opinions about it. I’ve seen criticisms that the pace is too slow, and that much of the plot is given away in the opening chapters. But I felt the pace was just right for the story and the subject matter, and I think the opening chapters set the scene and the theme of the book – that is, that life is transitory, that the individual vanishes, as it were, that no record is left of the lives of many of past generations, despite the effect they had on the lives of their contemporaries.

The Prelude reveals that Birdcage Walk in the present day is a paved path between railings with pleached lime trees arching overhead on their cast-iron frame. But back at the end of the 18th century it was where Diner had started to build a terrace of houses with fantastic views over the Avon Gorge (before the building of the Clifton Suspension Bridge). When war was declared between Britain and France in 1793 this had a disastrous effect and like many builders and developers, Diner’s building work slowed and then ceased as he went bankrupt.

The novel shows the effect of the French Revolution on England through newspaper reports and letters, which I thought was effective casting light on the contemporary scene and showing the horror of what was happening across the Channel. The main focus, however, is on Lizzie. Diner’s repressive and jealous nature comes increasingly to the fore as his building work decreases, and the tension between him and Lizzie soars, accelerated when she discovers what had happened to Lucie, his first wife. The sense of foreboding and menace present in their marriage pervades the whole novel.

Many thanks to Grove Atlantic for providing me with an ARC copy through NetGalley.

My rating: 4*

Amazon UK
Amazon US

Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Publication: 19 October 2017, Harper Collins

Source: Review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5*

First Chapter First Paragraph: The Skeleton Road

eca8f-fistchapEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros to share the first paragraph sometimes two, of a book that she’s reading or is planning to read soon.

This week’s first paragraph is from her third Karen Pirie book,  The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid, a book I’m about to read.

The Skeleton Road

 

Chapter 1

Fraser Jardine wanted to die. His stomach was knotted tight, his bowels in the twisted grip of panic. A teardrop of sweat trickled down his left temple. The voice in his head sneered at his weakness, just as it had since boyhood. Biting his lip in shame, Fraser forced open the skylight and pushed it outwards. He climbed the last three steps on the ladder one at a time and gingerly emerged on the pitched roof.

Never mind that tourists would have paid for this sensational view of a city classified as a World Heritage Site. All Fraser cared about was how far he was from the ground.

I can empathise with Fraser – I’ve never liked heights and always get that terrifying feeling that I’m about to fall whenever I climb up to the top of a tall building.

Blurb:

When a skeleton is discovered hidden at the top of a crumbling, gothic building in Edinburgh, Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie is faced with the unenviable task of identifying the bones. As Karen’s investigation gathers momentum, she is drawn deeper into a dark world of intrigue and betrayal, spanning the dark days of the Balkan Wars.

Karen’s search for answers brings her to a small village in Croatia, a place where people have endured unspeakable acts of violence. Meanwhile, someone is taking the law into their own hands in the name of justice and revenge — but when present resentment collides with secrets of the past, the truth is more shocking than anyone could have imagined . . .

I’ve read the first two Karen Pirie books and enjoyed them both, although I think the first one, The Distant Echo, is better than the second, A Darker Domain.

What do you think?  Would you continue reading? 

Six Degrees from Less than Zero to The Book of Dust

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month the chain begins with a controversial bestseller by a member of the eighties ‘literary Brat Pack’ – Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero.

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I haven’t read this book and can’t say that it appeals to me at all. Filled with relentless drinking in seamy bars and glamorous nightclubs, wild, drug-fuelled parties, and dispassionate sexual encounters, Less Than Zero – narrated by Clay, an eighteen-year-old student returning home to Los Angeles for Christmas – is a fierce coming-of-age story, justifiably celebrated for its unflinching depiction of hedonistic youth, its brutal portrayal of the inexorable consequences of such moral depravity, and its author’s refusal to condone or chastise such behaviour. (Amazon UK)

Towards Zero

So, the first link in my chain is to an another book with the word ‘zero‘ in the title – Towards Zero by Agatha Christie.

It’s one of my favourite of Agatha Christie’s books, first published in 1944, with an intricately plotted murder mystery featuring Superintendent Battle. The hypothesis is that murder is not the beginning of a detective story, but the end. It is the culmination of causes and events bringing together certain people, converging towards a certain place and time – towards the Zero Hour. The idea presupposes that there is an inevitability – that once events have been set in motion then the outcome is determined. Agatha Christie dedicated this book to Robert Graves, author of I Claudius, who was her neighbour in Devon during the Second World War and the two had become friends.

I, Claudius & Claudius the God by Robert…

I read I, Claudius and Claudius the God  by Robert Graves many years ago after watching the TV adaptation with Derek Jacobi playing the role of Claudius. Set in the first century A.D. in Rome, this is the life story of the Roman Emperor Claudius. A lame man and a stammerer, he was despised and dismissed as an idiot. He recorded the antics of the imperial household as its members vied for power; a story of murders, greed and folly. He had a disastrous love affair with the depraved Messalina but his reign as Emperor was surprisingly successful.

22740513My next link is to another book I read after first watching the TV adaptation – it’s A Game of Thrones by G R R Martin, fantasy fiction. I loved both the book and the TV series. It’s complex and multifaceted, and it’s full of stories and legends, set in a grim and violent world full of tragedy, betrayals and battles; a tale of good versus evil in which family, duty, and honour are in conflict, the multiple viewpoints giving a rounded view of the conflicts the characters face. It’s a love story too.

The Sunne In Splendour

Just before I read The Game of Thrones I’d read The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman, historical fiction about the Wars of the Roses and had noticed the similarities between that and A Game of Thrones, the battles between the Houses of York and Lancaster paralleled by those between the Houses of Stark and Lancaster for example. This is one of the best historical novels that I’ve read. It is full of detail, bringing Richard III’s world to life. It’s a long book, nearly 900 pages and it took me a while to read it, but never once did I think it was too long, or needed editing. I loved it.

Another very long book is The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. It has 1,076 pages and is historical fiction set in 12th century England during the time of the civil war between Stephen and Matilda/Maud (she’s known by both names – in this book she’s called Maud, but at school we were taught her name was Matilda). It’s also the story of the building of a cathedral.  It is really a medieval soap opera – in essence a family saga. Parts of the novel came to life more than others and it is rather long-winded and repetitive, terrible things happen, the characters overcome them and recover only to be knocked down again by more terrible events.

La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust, #1)Earth‘ made me think of ‘dust to dust’ which in turn made me think of Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage, volume one of The Book of Dust. This is his latest book – I haven’t read it yet – set ten years before His Dark Materials, telling the story of Lyra Belacqua’s early life. Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead and his daemon, Asta, live with his parents at the Trout Inn near Oxford. Across the River Thames is the Godstow Priory where the nuns live. A baby by the name of Lyra Belacqua.

The next two books in the series, Pullman has said, will take place after the events of His Dark Materials – he describes this trilogy as neither a prequel nor a sequel but as an ‘equel’.

My chain began with a book I haven’t read and don’t want to read and ended, so far from where it began, with another book I haven’t read, but a book I’m looking forward to reading. It has travelled through time and space, taking in ancient Rome, medieval England and the fantasy worlds of G R R Martin and Philip Pullman.

Next month (December 2, 2017) the chain begins with Stephen King’s It – where that will end I have no idea yet.