New Additions to BooksPlease June 2022

Yesterday we went Barter Books in Alnwick, my favourite bookshop. This is a secondhand bookshop where you can ‘swap’ books for credit that you can then use to get more books from the Barter Books shelves. It’s back to ‘normal’ now, so there was no queue to get in, although they are still limiting the number of books you can take in.

These are the books I brought home – from top to bottom they are:

Hemingway’s Chair by Michael Palin, a comic novel about Martin, an assistant postmaster who is obsessed with Ernest Hemingway. But when Nick arrives and is appointed postmaster instead of Martin, Martin’s life is turned upside down and he plans the ultimate Hemingwayesque act of revenge.

The Mammoth Book of Historical Detectives edited by Mike Ashley, published in 1995 this anthology includes stories from the earliest locked-room mystery (35,000 BC), through ancient Rome and China to medieval England, the Wild West, the Indian Raj and Victoriam London. It’s arranged chronologically and includes stories by R L Stevenson, Ellis Peters, Peter Tremayne, Steven Saylor and others new to me.

Mr Mac and Me by Esther Freud. I remember seeing this on book blogs a while ago and thought it looked interesting. Set in 1914 on the Suffolk coast just as war with Germany is declared, this is a story of an unlikely friendship between a mysterious artist the locals call Mr Mac (Charles Rennie Macintosh)n and Thomas the crippled son of the village publican.

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt, another book I’ve spotted on some book blogs. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2011. It’s described on the inside cover as ‘an unforgettable comic tour de force. Filled with a remarkable list of characters – losers, cheaters, and ne’er-do-wells’ … ‘it captures the humour, melancholy and grit of the Old West and two brothers bound by blood, violence and love.

All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison – I enjoyed her book, Rain: Rour Walks in English Weather, so I’m keen to read this one, the winner of the EU Prize for Literature and the ‘Book of the Year’ New Statesman, Observer, Irish Times, BBC History Magazine. Set on a farm in Suffolk just before the Second World War, it introduces a girl on the cusp of adulthood. Glamorous outsider Constance FitzAllen arrives from London, determined to make a record of fading rural traditions and beliefs, and to persuade Edie’s family to return to the old ways rather than embrace modernity. She brings with her new political and social ideas – some far more dangerous than others. (Goodreads)

What do you think? Have you read any of these? Do they tempt you too?

Throwback Thursday: Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop

I’m linking up today with Davida @ The Chocolate Lady’s Book Review Blog for Throwback Thursday. It takes place on the Thursday before the first Saturday of every month (i.e., the Thursday before the monthly #6Degrees post). The idea is to highlight one of your previously published book reviews and then link back to Davida’s blog.

Today I’m looking back at my post on Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop. I first reviewed it on June 15, 2019.

My review begins:

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.’

Click here to read my full review

~~~

~~~

The next Throwback Thursday post is scheduled for August 4, 2022.

The Chapel in the Woods by Dolores Gordon-Smith

Severn House| 1 March 2022| 256 pages| e-book| Review copy| 3*

The Chapel in the Woods is the 11th Jack Haldean Murder Mystery, set in the 1920s.

Major Jack Haldean, a former World War I pilot, is a detective story writer. He and his wife Betty are visiting his cousin Isabelle and her husband Arthur in the hamlet of Croxton Abbas in Sussex. The neighbouring estate, Birchen Bower, had recently been bought by Canadian Tom Jago and his wife Rosalind. A fortnight earlier he had sent Derek Martin and his wife, Jean, in advance to open up the house and unpack their belongings, but when the Jagos arrive they discover the house open and that most of their things including Rosalind’s diamonds had been stolen. And the Martins have disappeared. But Jago can’t believe that Martin is the thief, maintaining he is perfectly honest. Jack has formerly helped his friend Detective Superintendent Ashley of the Sussex Police with a number of cases and as he is staying locally he gets involved in the police investigations.

Jago is renovating the 17th century house, built around 1620, by William Cayden, set in woodland. The chapel in the woods contains the tomb of Anna, Cayden’s wife who was a native of Peru. Her tomb, a box tomb, is decorated with an elaborately carved leaping jaguar – hence the legend of the Jaguar Princess who haunts the chapel and grounds taking the form of a jaguar.

It gets more and more complicated. In the Victorian period Josiah Cayden, an explorer and big game hunter had imported wild animals from South America, wanting to recreate a piece of the Amazon in the grounds. And now the locals are convinced that there is something in the woods that shouldn’t be there. There have been stories about dead and mutilated animals being found around Birchen Bower woods, and every so often dogs and ponies go missing. So, when Jago hosts the village fete, the local residents throng to the estate, some keen to follow the path into the woods to visit the chapel, only to find a dead body, apparently mauled by a jaguar.

And then there is another body … Is there really a jaguar roaming the woods, or is something supernatural going on? And who stole the diamonds, was it Derek Martin or someone else? Where is Derek Martin? What is the truth about the legend of the Jaguar Princess?

It is entertaining, with a mysterious, even supernatural atmosphere in parts, but it all seems to me too unlikely and fanciful and too convoluted. I liked the setting, the scenes in the woodlands and the historical aspects. But, there is too much repetition of the events and too much discussion about the various possibilities. I lost interest and just wanted to know how the mystery was resolved. It all gets sorted out and ends as Jack explains how he uncovered what had really happened.

My thanks to Severn House for a review copy via NetGalley.

Traitor in the Ice by K J Maitland

Headline Review| 31 March 2022| 461 pages| e-book| Review copy| 2*

I don’t have very much to say about Traitor in the Ice, the second Daniel Pursglove book, by K J Maitland. It is set during the Great Frost of 1607-8 in England, when the Thames and many other rivers were frozen solid, but the countryside was the hardest hit. I preferred the first Daniel Pursglove book, The Drowned City.

It is a dark historical novel, describing life in England under the new king, James I of England and VI of Scotland. Daniel is continuing his search for the mysterious Spero Pettingar, suspected of plotting another conspiracy to kill James and reinstate a Catholic monarch and is sent by the Secretary of State, Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury, to Battle Abbey, near Hastings, in Sussex, a Catholic household, suspected of sheltering Catholic priests.

Daniel is an interesting character, needing all his determination and courage to discover what has been going on at Battle Abbey. It’s made even more difficult as it seems that everyone has something to hide, not just their politics and religious dissent, but also murder. A little bit more of his background is revealed in this second book, but he still remains a mysterious figure. And Spero Pettingar is an even more mysterious character, who is he – is he hiding at Battle Abbey? And will Daniel uncover all the secrets concealed within the Abbey?

But I enjoyed K J Maitland’s Author’s Note and information she gives in ‘Behind the Scenes of this Novel’ more than the novel. The details of her historical research are fascinating, with information about the real people behind her characters, such as Lady Magdalen, Viscountess Montague who did live at Battle Abbey. And the Glossary at the end of the book is also most helpful explaining a lot of the terms in the book I hadn’t come across before.

However, the book failed to hold my interest throughout as the wealth of detail she has put into the novel slows the action down and took away much of the suspense and tension – I felt like I was drowning in description. And at times I wasn’t really sure what was happening, especially at the end of the book – the Epilogue is mystifying.

My thanks to Headline Review for a review copy via NetGalley

Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

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 Silence of the Girls is one of the latest books I bought. It is the first book in Pat Barker’s Troy series, historical fiction retelling the story of the Trojan war from the point of view of the women.

The Book begins:

Great Achilles. Brilliant Achilles, shining Achilles, godlike Achilles … How the epithets pile up. We never called him any of those things; we called him ‘the butcher’.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice, where you grab a book and turn to page 56 (or 56% of an eBook), find one or more interesting sentences (no spoilers), and post them.

Page 56:

Somebody once said to me: You never mention his looks. And it’s true, I don’t, I find it difficult. At that time, he was probably the most beautiful man alive, as he was certainly the most violent, but that’s the problem. How do you separate a tiger’s beauty from its ferocity? Or a cheetah’s elegance from its speed of attack? Achilles was like that – the beauty and the terror were two sides of a single coin.

Synopsis from Fantastic Fiction:

Here is the story of the Iliad as we’ve never heard it before: in the words of Briseis, Trojan queen and captive of Achilles. Given only a few words in Homer’s epic and largely erased by history, she is nonetheless a pivotal figure in the Trojan War. In these pages she comes fully to life: wry, watchful, forging connections among her fellow female prisoners even as she is caught between Greece’s two most powerful warriors. Her story pulls back the veil on the thousands of women who lived behind the scenes of the Greek army camp—concubines, nurses, prostitutes, the women who lay out the dead—as gods and mortals spar, and as a legendary war hurtles toward its inevitable conclusion. Brilliantly written, filled with moments of terror and beauty, The Silence of the Girls gives voice to an extraordinary woman—and makes an ancient story new again.

The Silence of the Girls was nominated for


Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Best Book
Women’s Prize For Fiction Best Novel
Costa Book Awards Best Novel

It was also:

A Washington Post Notable Book
One of the Best Books of the Year: NPR, The Economist, Financial Times
 
Shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award
Finalist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction

So, I’m really hoping I’ll enjoy it. What do you think? If you’ve read it do you think it lives up to its reputation?

Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter by Lizzie Pook

Mantle| 3 March 2022| 304 pages| e-book| Review copy| 3*

1886, BANNIN BAY, AUSTRALIA.

The Brightwell family has sailed from England to make their new home in Western Australia. Ten-year-old Eliza knows little of what awaits them on these shores beyond shining pearls and shells like soup plates – the things her father has promised will make their fortune.

~~~

Ten years later and Charles Brightwell, now the bay’s most prolific pearler, goes missing from his ship while out at sea. Whispers from the townsfolk suggest mutiny and murder, but headstrong Eliza, convinced there is more to the story, refuses to believe her father is dead, and it falls to her to ask the questions no one else dares consider.

But in a town teeming with corruption, prejudice and blackmail, Eliza soon learns that the truth can cost more than pearls, and she must decide just how much she is willing to pay – and how far she is willing to go – to find it . . .

My thoughts:

I knew about diving for pearls, but I knew nothing about pearlers – the pearl divers/the people who trade in pearls – so I thought Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter would be a good way to find out more about it. And it is – I learned a lot. It has a great sense of both time and place. Although Bannin Bay is a fictional town in Western Australia its geography is modelled on parts of the north-west Kimberley coast. Lizzie Pook’s research, which she details in her Historical and Cultural Note at the end of the book, is fascinating. Her descriptive writing is very good and I felt that I was transported back to 19th century Australia experiencing the sights and smells of the coastal town and witnessing the appalling abuse and violence dealt out to the aboriginals who were forced to become pearl divers.

And I was also convinced by the main characters, Eliza in particular who comes across as a determined young woman, not cowed into conforming with the behaviour expected of women in the local community. She does everything she can to find out what happened to Charles, her father when he doesn’t return with his ship, the White Starling. It seems he just disappeared and no one can tell her what happened to him. She finds his diary and realises that there must be a reason why he didn’t take it with him as he always did. It contains detailed information about shell-beds, stars, storms, sharks and life at sea, but she also finds a sheet of paper between its pages with a cryptic clue she is convinced will help her find him. The police assume he went overboard and arrest one of the aboriginal divers for his murder. But Eliza is convinced that he is not dead and helped by Axel Kramer, a German and a newcomer to Bannin Bay, she sets sail on his lugger, Moonlight to search for him.

The book starts slowly, building up a picture of the town, its inhabitants, and landscape, and builds to a crescendo as Eliza’s search takes a dramatic turn when the Moonlight is caught up in a terrible storm putting their lives in danger. I enjoyed the book, just as much for its historical detail and vivid descriptions of the landscape and wildlife, as for the mystery of Charles’ disappearance.




New Additions to BooksPlease

Yesterday we went Barter Books in Alnwick, my favourite bookshop (this is a secondhand bookshop where you can ‘swap’ books for credit that you can then use to get more books from the Barter Books shelves). It’s only the second time we’ve visited since January 2020 before the first lockdown.

It’s almost back to ‘normal’ now, so there was no queue to get in. Some people, but not all, were wearing face masks and it was busy, busier than I would have liked and in some sections such as crime fiction and paperback fiction in particular where the bookcases are close together, people were crowded together choosing books, so I didn’t linger, as I would normally do. Consequently I didn’t get any crime fiction books. I did manage to get three historical novels, seizing the opportunity when people had moved away.

I took back 18 books and brought home 6, so I’m still in credit:

The descriptions are from Amazon and from top to bottom the books are:

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, the first book in the Troy series.

There was a woman at the heart of the Trojan War whose voice has been silent – until now. Discover the greatest Greek myth of all – retold by the witness that history forgot . . . Briseis was a queen until her city was destroyed. Now she is a slave to the man who butchered her husband and brothers. Trapped in a world defined by men, can she survive to become the author of her own story?

The King’s Witch – this is historian, Tracy Borman’s debut novel.

As she helps to nurse the dying Queen Elizabeth, Frances Gorges longs for the fields and ancient woods of her parents’ Hampshire estate, where she has learned to use the flowers and herbs to become a much-loved healer.

Frances is happy to stay in her beloved countryside when the new King arrives from Scotland, bringing change, fear and suspicion. His court may be shockingly decadent, but James’s religion is Puritan, intolerant of all the old ways; he has already put to death many men for treason and women for witchcraft.

So when her ambitious uncle forcibly brings Frances to court, she is trapped in a claustrophobic world of intrigue and betrayal – and a ready target for the twisted scheming of Lord Cecil, the King’s first minister. Surrounded by mortal dangers, Frances finds happiness only with the precocious young Princess Elizabeth, and Tom Wintour, the one courtier she can trust.

Nucleus by Roy Clemens – the second in the Tom Wilde series. I’ve already read book 1, Corpus and book 4, Hitler’s Secret.

June 1939. England is partying like there’s no tomorrow . . . but the good times won’t last. The Nazis have invaded Czechoslovakia, in Germany Jewish persecution is widespread and, closer to home, the IRA has embarked on a bombing campaign.

Perhaps most worryingly of all, in Germany Otto Hahn has produced man-made fission and an atomic device is now possible. German High Command knows Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory is also close, and when one of the Cavendish’s finest brains is murdered, Professor Tom Wilde is drawn into the investigation. In a conspiracy that stretches from Cambridge to Berlin, and from the US to Ireland, can he discover the truth before it’s too late?

The Sound of Laughter: the Autobiography of Peter Kay – this is my husband’s choice, but I like Peter Kay too, so I’ll probably read this one too.

Peter Kay’s unerring gift for observing the absurdities and eccentricities of family life has earned himself a widespread, everyman appeal. These vivid observations coupled with a kind of nostalgia that never fails to grab his audience’s shared understanding, have earned him comparisons with Alan Bennett and Ronnie Barker.

In his award winning TV series’ he creates worlds populated by degenerate, bitter, useless, endearing and always recognisable characters which have attracted a huge and loyal following.In many ways he’s an old fashioned kind of comedian and the scope and enormity of his fanbase reflects this. He doesn’t tell jokes about politics or sex, but rather rejoices in the far funnier areas of life: elderly relatives and answering machines, dads dancing badly at weddings, garlic bread and cheesecake, your mum’s HRT…

His autobiography is full of this kind of humour and nostalgia, beginning with Kay’s first ever driving lesson, taking him back through his Bolton childhood, the numerous jobs he held after school and leading up until the time he passed his driving test and found fame. 

And finally two books on painting – both to encourage me to actually do some painting, rather than just reading about it.

Painting with Acrylics by Jenny Rodwell – 27 Acrylics Painting Projects, Illustrated Step-By-Step With Advice on Materials and Techniques with demonstrations of how to paint a variety of project, such as landscapes, portraits and still life etc.

Paint and Draw with Tony Hart – I remember enjoying watching Tony Hart’s TV programmes. This book contains 50 projects in a variety of materials – oil, watercolour, acrylic, gouache, pastel, crayon and other material. It looks excellent.

Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo

I have an old hardback copy of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (first published in 1831) in a very small font, too small for my eyes to cope with these days and a 49p e-book that I downloaded years ago when first got a Kindle. But I didn’t start reading it until a few months ago when FictionFan mentioned she was intending to read it and hold a Review-Along on her blog. I knew next to nothing about the book, not having seen any of the many films or TV versions, but I had read Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables back in 2008 and enjoyed it very much. So, I had high expectations that I would enjoy this one too.

But when I began reading my e-bookI was so disappointed – I thought it was so boring and it was hard to read, the sentences stilted and stumbling and obtuse with no flow. I was tempted to abandon it, after all it is a long book, and there are plenty of other books I want to read. However, I persevered, thinking surely it would get better. It didn’t, so then I wondered if it was me or the translation and began to look for another edition and I ended up with the Oxford World Classics edition, translated and with an introduction by Alban Krailsheimer, Notre-Dame de Paris, which is so much better, so much easier to read!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The English title is so misleading – this book is not just about the hunchback Quasimodo, the bell-ringer of Notre-Dame, it is historical fiction on a grand scale, with a large cast of characters. It revolves around four main characters – the beautiful gypsy dancer, Esmeralda who fell hopelessly in love with the handsome womaniser, Captain Phoebus de Châteaupers, who has no intentions of marrying her. She in turn is loved by Frollo, the Archdeacon of Notre-Dame and by Quasimodo, the deformed and deaf bell-ringer of the cathedral of Notre-Dame.

But that is not all – it is also the story of the cathedral itself, Notre-Dame de Paris, and Hugo describes it at great length, focusing on the Gothic architectural elements of its structure, particularly its use of the pointed arch and including its flying buttresses, clerestory windows, and stained glass. He was a great advocate for the preservation of its Gothic architecture and was also extremely upset about the changes to the cathedral, the repairs and additions that had been done over the years. And it is not just the cathedral, Hugo also devotes many pages to describing Paris, seeing it from a bird’s eye view and also to the invention of the printing press and its effect on culture, described by Hugo as ‘the greatest event in history’. These digressions were not what I expected to read – I just wanted to get on with the story. I was impatient with the digressions, but looking back at Les Mis, that is exactly what he had done in that book too, so I shouldn’t have been surprised.

The story of the main characters’ relationships is told in a complicated way, going forward and backward in time, filling in the background of the characters, whilst revolving around the events of 1482, during the reign of Louis XI (who makes an appearance in the book). And it is melodramatic, playing on all our emotions. Quasimodo was so named because he was found, abandoned on Quasimodo Sunday (that is the second Sunday after Easter) when he was four years old. He was ‘adopted’ by the sinister Archdeacon, Claude Frollo, and grew up in the cathedral, isolated by his deafness caused by all the years he’d spent ringing the bells, and feared because of his hideous appearance.

This book has everything! It is by turns a farcical comedy, a tale of obsessions and unrequited passions, of love and lust, of a terrible miscarriage of justice, of outsiders, of violent mobs, of cruelty, arrogant men, silly women, of monsters, of alchemy, of intolerance, of prejudice, jealousy, fury, torture, corruption and above all of tragedy. And it has a cast of colourful and distinct characters, that I either despised, loved or hated, including Esmeralda’s little goat Djali, who could dance and do tricks and spells (I loved Djali). It is difficult for me to love the book and equally as hard to dislike it as a whole, set firmly in its medieval time frame, against the dramatic backdrop of the cathedral (even though I grew impatient with all the architectural details). But I was convinced by the end of the book that Hugo had successfully brought the place and the people of 1482 dramatically to life for me.

My apologies to FictionFan for being nearly a week late to her Review-Along and thanks for nudging me into reading Notre-Dame de Paris at long last. I am glad I read it even if I can’t give it more than 3 stars – I  liked it, a good, enjoyable book.

Throwback Thursday: The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey

I’m linking up today with Davida @ The Chocolate Lady’s Book Review Blog for Throwback Thursday. It takes place on the Thursday before the first Saturday of every month (i.e., the Thursday before the monthly #6Degrees post). The idea is to highlight one of your previously published book reviews and then link back to Davida’s blog.

Today I’m looking back at my post on The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey, historical fiction, a medieval murder mystery. I first reviewed it on March 7, 2018.

My review begins:

The Western Wind really is an extraordinary book. I was drawn into the story right from the start. Samantha Harvey’s writing brings to life the sights, smells and sounds of the daily life of the ordinary people living in Oakham, a small village in Somerset  in 1491. So often in historical fiction it’s about the notable historical figures of the period that are the main characters – here there none (although there is a reference to their bishop who is in prison for trying to put a pretender on the throne (Perkin Warbeck had first claimed the English throne in 1490).

Click here to read my full review

The next Throwback Thursday post is scheduled for May 5, 2022.

The Drowned City by K J Maitland

Headline Review| 1 April 2021| 495 pages| e-book| Review copy| 3*

1606. England stands divided in the wake of the failed Gunpowder Plot. As a devastating tidal wave sweeps the Bristol Channel, rumours of new treachery reach the King.

In Newgate prison, Daniel Pursglove receives an unexpected – and dangerous – offer. Charles FitzAlan, close confidant of King James, will grant his freedom – if Daniel can infiltrate the underground Catholic network in Bristol and unmask the one conspirator still at large.

Where better to hide a traitor than in the chaos of a drowned city? Daniel goes to Bristol to investigate, but soon finds himself at the heart of a dark Jesuit conspiracy – and in pursuit of a killer.

My thoughts:

I didn’t realise when I began reading The Drowned City that K J Maitland is Karen Maitland, an author whose books I’ve enjoyed in the past. It is the first book of a new series featuring Daniel Pursglove, set in Jacobean England under the reign of James I of England and VI of Scotland. It is an historical thriller set in 1606, a year after the Gunpowder Plot failed.

It begins dramatically as a huge wave surges up the Bristol Channel, flooding the surrounding countryside in south-west England and parts of South Wales causing devastation and loss of life. The drama continues with Daniel Pursglove’s arrival in Bristol sent on the orders of King James to find Spero Pettingar, one of the conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot. King James is fearful of his life as there are rumours of more Catholic uprisings and plots to assassinate him, especially if the flood is taken as a sign of God’s anger, revenge for the executions of the conspirators.

Daniel is an interesting character, but there is a mystery about him. He was in Newgate prison at the start of the book, but no details are given about what crime he had committed, and little is given about his family background. He is offered his freedom if he finds Spero, or torture and death if he doesn’t. King James is an expert on witchcraft and also fears the flood was caused by enchantments, by witches and sorcerers paid by Jesuits to wreck the King’s ports and open the country to an invading army.

Daniel’s real name is not Pursglove. He’s skilled at opening locks, described as a ‘crossbiter’ meaning a trickster, and hints are given about his origins – we know he had been educated as a nobleman and brought up to act the lord, but without money, title of position, raised in Lord Fairfax’s Catholic household. He is also a most determined and courageous investigator and he needs all his skills during his visit to Bristol, as his life is in danger more than once.

I like description in a novel but it is excessive in the this book, so much so, that it slowed down the narrative almost to a standstill in places and I had to really concentrate to keep track of who was who and even what was actually going on. The detailed description makes it a long book.

There is an extensive Glossary at the end of the book that explains many of the terms that puzzled me and was unable to find in a dictionary – I wish I’d discovered it when I began the book, rather than in the middle. Maitland’s historical research is impressive but at times I felt I was reading a history book rather than a novel. However, overall I enjoyed reading it and I’m looking forward to reading the second book in the series, The Traitor in the Ice.