WWW Wednesday: 1 April 2020

IMG_1384-0

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?

Currently reading:

Mystery of Princess LouiseThe Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria’s Rebellious Daughter by Lucinda Hawkesley. I’m finding this a fascinating biography of Louise, Victoria’s unconventional daughter. She was a sculptor and painter, who mixed with the artists of her day much to her mother’s dislike and was involved in many campaigns for reform in education and health. It’s packed with intrigues, scandals and secrets. I’ve read about two thirds of this book I borrowed from the library.

Mirror and LightThe Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel, the final book in Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy about the boy from Putney who climbed his way up to become Lord Cromwell, Secretary to King Henry VIII. I loved the first two books, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, so it was an easy decision to buy the third book in hardback to complete the set. It is heavy, weighing in at 2lbs 13ozs with almost 900 pages and so I’m reading it very slowly. Just like the other two books I think it’s beautifully written, full of colour and detail. Reading it I feel as if I’m there back in 1536.

Fresh water for flowers

Recently Finished: Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin, translated from the French by Hildegarde Serle. This is a complex novel, multi layered and centred on Violette, a cemetery keeper, switching between different people at different times in their lives.  I’ll write more about later on nearer its publication date in the summer.

Reading Next: This is where it gets difficult as there are so many I want to read. But it will probably be The Dutch House by Ann Patchett and  Queen Lucia by E F Benson, a book first published in 1920 for The 1920 Club hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings is taking place between 13th and 19th April 2020. The idea is that you read a book published in that year and share your thoughts/review with other participants.

But then it could easily be one of these books I’ve mentioned in recent posts:

What do you think – which one would you read next?

Top Ten Tuesday: Historical Mysteries

top-ten-tuesday-new

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

This week’s topic is Genre Freebie and I’ve chosen Historical Mysteries, a combination of two of my favourite genres Historical Fiction and Crime Fiction. I’ve read lots of historical mysteries, so these ten are just a selection – and just see how people coped in the past with the ‘plague’ and new diseases in the 19th century:

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood – based on the true story of the murder of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper in Canada in 1843. Grace and fellow servant James are found guilty of the murders. James was hanged and Grace imprisoned for life. The question, never answered to my satisfaction, all through the book is, was Grace guilty?

The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry, a combination of historical fact and fiction; the social scene, historical and medical facts slotting perfectly into an intricate murder mystery.  It is mainly set in 1850 in Edinburgh, when a mysterious illness baffles doctors, who are unable to identify the disease, let alone cure their patients. When Dr Simpson is blamed for the death of a patient in suspicious circumstances, Dr Will Raven attempts to clear his name and in doing so uncovers more unexplained deaths.

Arthur and George by Julian Barnes – based on the true story of Arthur Conan Doyle and George Edalji, a solicitor from Birmingham. In 1903, George was found guilty of a terrible crime and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment. Desperate to prove his innocence, he recruited Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, to help solve his mysterious case and win him a pardon.

Asta’s Book by Barbara Vine,  published as Anna’s Book in the USA. It begins in 1905. There’s a murder, a missing child, a question of identity and overarching it all are the stories of two families – the Westerbys and the Ropers and all the people connected to them.

The Plague Charmer by Karen Maitland, a fascinating medieval tale full of atmosphere and superstition, set in Porlock Weir in 1361 where a village is isolated by the plague when the Black Death spreads once more across England. It’s a complex story, told from different characters’ perspectives, following the lives of Will, a ‘fake’ dwarf, Sara, a packhorse man’s wife and her family, Matilda, a religious zealot, and Christina at nearby Porlock Manor amongst others. It’s also a tale of murder and of love.

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, recuperating from a broken leg, becomes fascinated with a contemporary portrait of Richard III that bears no resemblance to the Wicked Uncle of history. He determines to find out, with the help of the British Museum and an American scholar, what kind of man Richard III really was and who killed the Princes in the Tower.

Dissolution by C J Sansom – the first in his Tudor murder mystery series featuring lawyer Matthew Shardlake. This is set in 1537 – Shardlake investigates the death of a Commissioner during the dissolution of the monasteries.

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton, a novel split into two time zones, 1924 and 1999. The novel opens in 1999 with Grace’s dream of the night in 1924 when Robbie Hunter, a poet, committed suicide at Riverton Manor. Grace’s memories are revived after Ursula, an American film director who is making a film of the suicide had asked for her help as the only person involved who was still alive.

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin, set in Cambridge in 1170 during the reign of Henry II. A child has been murdered and others have disappeared (also found murdered). Adelia is a female doctor, who specialises in studying corpses. Running the risk of being accused of witchcraft, she cannot openly carry out her investigations in England in the 12th century and has to pretend that Mansur, a Muslim eunuch (her bodyguard) is the doctor.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, set in 1327. Franciscans in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate.When his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William turns detective.

 

The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey

A terrible secret lies buried at the heart of this house

Animals at Lockwood Manor

Mantle| 5 March 2020| 352 pages| e-book| review copy via NetGalley| 3*

I enjoyed The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey although I think is too long with some repetitions and so in places I felt it dragged a bit. It is historical fiction, part a love story and part a mystery, beginning in 1939 at the outbreak of World War Two. A taxidermy collection of mainly mammals is being evacuated from a natural history museum in London to Lockwood Manor in the countryside to save them from the threat of bombs. Owned by Major Lord Lockwood, the Lockwood estate is ancient, although most of the house had been built in the Jacobean style in the nineteenth century, with two round turrets and a pierce parapet with pinnacles. Most of its many rooms are empty as the only residents are the Major and his daughter, Lucy along with the servants, whose numbers are down as they enlist.

In charge of the collection is Hetty Cartwright, a young woman, who soon realises she had taken on more than she expected. And it’s not long before, one after another, some of the animals go missing or are mysteriously moved from their positions in the long gallery. The book begins well as the scene is set, and I could feel the tension and mystery surrounding the house and in particular surrounding Lucy and her mother, Heloise. Heloise died in a car crash not long before the book begins, but we see her in Lucy’s journal in which she writes down her nightmares, thoughts and memories.

The narration alternates between Lucy’s journal and the events as experienced by Hetty. The characters of Hetty and Lucy are well drawn as their relationship develops, and the house and the museum animals too are vividly described. I loved the details of the museum collection, and how the conditions at Lockwood affected their condition as insects invaded the stuffed creatures. 

After a good start the pace then slows down and not a lot really happens until the final dramatic ending. Some of the characters are caricatured – for example the Major who is portrayed as an overbearing lecherous man, a pantomime villain. There is a more than a touch of the supernatural in the book, and a lot in it that reminded me of Jane Eyre and The Woman in White, as Hetty fears she is descending into madness. It’s the type of story that would make an excellent film or TV drama and, this is not something I usually think, would probably be better than the book.

Many thanks to Mantle for a review copy via NetGalley.

Reading Challenges: Mount TBR Challenge, Calendar of Crime, Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Spring 2020 TBR

top-ten-tuesday-new

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

This week’s topic is Books On My Spring 2020 TBR. Some of these books have been on my shelves unread for a long time, some are new additions and others are e-books from NetGalley. These are just the tip of the iceberg and when the time comes to start a new book it might be one of these – or any of the other TBRs on shelves.

First the physical books

Spring 20 tbr

Deadheads by Reginald Hill, the 7th Dalziel and Pascoe novel. Patrick Alderman’s Great Aunt Florence collapsed into her rose bed leaving him Rosemont House with its splendid gardens. But was it murder?

Edwin: High King of Britain by Edoardo Albert, book 1 of 3 in the Northumbrian Thrones series. Historical fiction set in the 7th century-  Edwin, the deposed king of Northumbria, seeks refuge at the court of King Raedwald of East Anglia. But Raedwald is urged to kill his guest by Aethelfrith, Edwin’s usurper.

Sirens by Joseph Knox, the first Detective Aidan Waits thriller, set in Manchester. I’ve read books two and three, so it’s about time I read the first. It’s described on the back cover as a powerhouse of noir by Val McDermid.

The next two books are historical nonfiction:

As I’m currently reading Hilary Mantel’s third book in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, it reminded me that I haven’t read historian, Tracy Borman’s biography of him – Thomas Cromwell: the untold story of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant.

Peterloo: the English Uprising by Robert Poole, about the ‘Peterloo massacre’ in St Peter’s field, Manchester on 16th August 1819 when armed cavalry attacked a peaceful rally of some 50,000 pro-democracy reformers. This is described on the back cover as a landmark event in the development of democracy in Britain – the bloodiest political event of the nineteenth century on English soil.

Next e-books

The Last Protector by Andrew Taylor, book 4 in his James Marwood & Cat Lovett series, historical crime fiction set in Restoration England. I loved the first three books, so I have high hopes that I’ll love this one too. It will be published on 2 April.

The Lost Lights of St Kilda by Elisabeth Gifford, historical fiction, a love story that crosses oceans and decades. It’s set on a Scottish island in 1927 and in worn-torn France in 1940.

Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin and translated from the French by Hildegarde Serle, to be published in June. A funny, moving, intimately told story of Violette, the caretaker of a cemetery who believes obstinately in happiness.

The Measure of Malice: Scientific Detection Stories edited by Martin Edwards. A collection of classic mystery stories using scientific methods of detection.

The Deep by Alma Katsu, historical fiction set on the Titanic and its sister ship The Britannic. It’s a sinister tale of the occult. Anna Hebbley was a passenger on the Titanic who survived the 1912 disaster and four years later was a nurse on the Britannic, refitted as a hospital ship.

Six Degrees of Separation: from Wolfe Island to Blue Lightning

It’s time again for 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.

Wolfe Island

This month the chain begins with Lucy Treloar’s Wolfe Island. It is a book I have not read but one I think I’d like. It’s about Kitty Hawke, the last inhabitant of a dying island sinking into the wind-lashed Chesapeake Bay. She has resigned herself to annihilation… until one night her granddaughter blows ashore in the midst of a storm, desperate, begging for sanctuary.

I’m beginning my chain with a book by another LucyThe Book of Lost and Found by Lucy Foley. It’s the story of Tom and Alice beginning in 1928 in Hertfordshire and moving backwards and forwards in time and place to 1986, from Paris, to London, Corsica and New York. It all revolves around Kate, whose mother, June, had recently died in a plane crash.

The Flight by M R Hall is also about a plane crash. When Flight 189 plunges into the Severn Estuary, Coroner Jenny Cooper finds herself handling the case of a lone sailor whose boat appears to have been sunk by the stricken plane, and drawn into the mysterious fate of a ten year-old girl, Amy Patterson, a passenger on 189, whose largely unmarked body is washed up alongside his.

There is also a coroner in A Rustle of Silk by Alyis Clare – set in 1603 when former ship’s surgeon Gabriel Taverner has settled in Devon near his family and he is trying to set up a new practice as a physician. But it is not easy to gain the locals’ trust and someone is leaving gruesome little gifts on his doorstep. The local coroner, Theophilus Davey asks him to examine a partially decomposed body found beside the river.

Another book with the word ‘silk’ in the title is The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz, a Sherlock Holmes continuation novel. It’s narrated by Watson as he looks back on two of the most puzzling and sinister cases he and Holmes had to solve November 1890 – that of The Man in the Flat Cap and The House of Silk. The first involves an art dealer, Mr Carstairs who is being threatened by a member of the American Flat Cap Gang, whereas the second concerns the murder of Ross, a new member of the Baker Street Irregulars.

The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is my next link – the second book about the original Sherlock Holmes. Holmes and Watson investigate the mystery Mary Morstan presents to them – it involves the murder of Bartholomew Sholto, the Agra treasure stolen during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and a secret pact between the four thieves – the ‘Four’ of the title, resulting in a chase down the River Thames in a super-fast steam launch.  I listened to an audiobook of the novel, narrated by Derek Jacobi.

My last link is another audiobookBlue Lightning by Ann Cleeves, the fourth in her Shetland books, featuring Detective Jimmy Perez. It completes the chain too by linking back to Wolfe Island because it is set on another island, Fair Isle where Perez returns to his family home with his fiancée Fran. A woman’s body is discovered at the Fair Isle’s bird observatory, with feathers threaded through her hair, but as a storm sets in, Far Isle is cut off leaving Perez with no support from the mainland. 

My chain is a circle beginning and ending with books set on islands. They move from Chesapeake Bay in the Mid-Atlantic region through mainland Britain to Shetland in the Northern Atlantic covering a variety of genres and time periods, including contemporary fiction, historical and crime fiction.

Next month (4 April 2020), we’ll begin with Anna Funder’s ‘classic on tyranny and resistance’ – Stasiland the winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2004.

My Friday Post: A Body in the Bath House by Lindsey Davis

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.

A body in the bath house

A Body in the Bath House by Lindsey Davis is one of my current library loans. It’s historical crime fiction, a Marcus Didius Falco novel, an ‘informer with a nose for trouble’.

 

But for Rhea Favonia, we might have lived there.

‘There’s a smell! There’s a horrible smell. I’m not going in there!’

I didn’t need to be an informer to know we were stuck. When a four-year-old girl reckons she has detected something nasty, you just give in and look for it.

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

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

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

Page 56:

‘Imagine Britain as a rough triangle.’ Helena had a letter in her hand, so well studied she hardly referred to it. ‘We are going to the middle of the long south coast. Elsewhere there are high chalk cliffs, but this area has a gentle coastline with safe anchorages in inlets. There are some streams and marshland but also wooded places for hunting and enough good farming land to attract settlers. The tribes have come down from their hillforts peacefully here. Noviomagus Regnensis – the New Market of the Kingdom Tribes – is a small town on the modern model.’

Noviomagus Regnensis was the Roman town which is today called Chichester, in the modern English county of West Sussex.

Blurb

AD 75. As a passion for home improvement sweeps through the Roman Empire, Falco struggles to deal with a pair of terrible bath-house contractors who have been causing him misery for months. Far away in Britain, King Togidubnus of the Atrebates tribe is planning his own makeover. His huge new residence (known to us as Fishbourne Palace) will be spectacular – but the sensational refurbishment is beset by ‘accidents’. The frugal Emperor Vespasian is paying for all this; he wants someone to investigate.

Falco has a new baby, a new house, and he hates Britain. But his feud with Anacrites the Chief Spy has now reached a dangerous level, so with his own pressing reasons to leave Rome in a hurry, he accepts the task. A thousand miles from home, he starts restoring order to the chaotic building site and realises that someone with murderous intentions is now after him…

~~~

Fishbourne Roman Palace is in the village of Fishbourne, Chichester in West Sussex. The palace is the largest residential Roman building discovered in Britain, dated 75 AD, around thirty years after the Roman conquest of Britain.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

The Year Without Summer by Guinevere Glasfurd

Year without summer

Two Roads| 6 February 2020| 416 pages| e-book| review copy via NetGalley| 5 stars

The Year Without Summer: 1816 – one event, six lives, a world changed by Guinevere Glasfurd is a most remarkable book, telling how the volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora on Sumbawa Island in Indonesia in 1815 had a profound and far reaching impact on the world. It led to sudden cooling across the northern hemisphere, crop failures, famine and social unrest in the following year, which became known as The Year Without Summer and in North America as Eighteen hundred and froze to death. But it wasn’t until the mid twentieth century that volcanic eruptions were shown to affect climate change.

Guinevere Glasfurd’s novel illustrates how the impact of the extreme weather conditions affected the lives of six people. They never meet, or know each other, but their stories are intertwined throughout the book in short chapters, giving what I think is a unique look at the events of 1816. I enjoyed all the stories.

Henry Hogg was the ship’s surgeon on the Benares, the ship sent to investigate the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. He discovered the sea full of floating pumice and charred bodies, whilst the decks of the ship were covered a foot thick with ashes. The immediate effects of the eruption were simply tremendous and horrific, within a hundred miles forests, towns were covered, deep valleys were filled in and the contours of the coast were changed.

In 1816 Mary Shelley travelled to Switzerland with Percy Shelley and her son Willmouse, her step-sister, Claire and Lord Byron and Dr Polidori and after a month of rain, Byron suggests that they should each write a ghost story and that led to her writing Frankenstein.

John Constable’s love of landscapes is deeply unfashionable and his hopes to marry Maria Rebow depend upon him gaining a commission from her parents. His father is near to death and as he has passed his business to Abram, John’s younger brother, John has few prospects other than to make a living from his painting.

Farmworker Sarah Hobbs in the Fens is finding work hard to get and has to settle for shovelling shit in the stables in her bare feet for a penny a day.  Always hungry and with work getting even more scarce she gets involved in the Littleport hunger riots. Her story is based loosely on a real person who was condemned to hang for her part in the riots, but her sentence was eventually commuted to transportation. The suppression of these riots was repeated in the 1819 Peterloo Massacre when protesters had gathered in Manchester demanding political reform

The other two people are fictional – preacher Charles Whitlock in Vermont is struggling, having persuaded his flock not to travel to Ohio to escape the draught, only to find that this is followed by periods of hard frost and snow in August. Their prospects are very bleak and death soon follows.

The other fictional character is Hope Peter, a soldier returned from the Napoleonic wars, who finds his mother has died, his family home demolished and a fence has gone up in its place, enclosing the land. He too ends up taking part in a riot – this one at Spa Fields at Islington.

 I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s more like a collection of short stories than a novel, but it works very well for me, highlighting the global connections. It is of course about climate change, showing the far-reaching effects of the Tambora eruption, which weren’t limited to 1815 and 1816. It led to hardships in 1817 and 1818 with the outbreak of cholera and typhoid epidemics triggered by the failure of monsoons. As Guinevere Glasfurd explains in her afterword the eruption is ‘credited with social change throughout the nineteenth century and with the pressure for social reform.’

This was the first book by Guinevere Glasfurd  that I’ve read, but it’s not her first book – that was The Words in My Hand, shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award and was also longlisted in France for the Prix du Roman FNAC. She is currently working on her third novel, a story of the Enlightenment, set in eighteenth century England and France. I’ll be reading more of her work.

Many thanks to Two Roads for a review copy via NetGalley.