My Friday Post: Book Beginnings & The Friday 56

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 one of my library books, Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver.

‘The simplest thing would be to tear it down,’ the man said. ‘ The house is a shambles.’

Barbara Kingsolver, who has been one of my favourite authors ever since I read The Poisonwood Bible and these opening sentences certainly drew me into the book.

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

Page 56:

Willa’s mother had always promised Tig would ‘settle out’, but she hadn’t survived to see it, and now Willa wondered who among them would live long enough to stop being flabbergasted by the girl.

Set in Vineland, New Jersey, this is a dual timeline novel, about two families living in the same house – one in the present century and the other in the nineteenth.

From Amazon:

Meet Willa Knox, a woman who stands braced against a world which seems to hold little mercy for her and her family – or their old, crumbling house, falling down around them. Willa’s two grown-up children, a new-born grandchild, and her ailing father-in-law have all moved in at a time when life seems at its most precarious. But when Willa discovers that a pioneering female scientist lived on the same street in the 1800s, could this historical connection be enough to save their home from ruin? And can Willa, despite the odds, keep her family together?

Books from the Mobile Library: July 2021

I borrowed three more books from the Mobile Library last Tuesday, all by new-to-me authors. The first two books in the photo below are books I picked from the shelves at random, so they’re in the nature of a lucky dip – I may or may not enjoy them. The third book is one I reserved.

Postcards from the Past by Marcia Willett. I have never come across her books before, even though I see she has written many books. The description on the back cover of a family with a mysterious past appeals to me.

From the back cover:

Siblings Billa and Ed share their beautiful, grand old childhood home in rural Cornwall. Their lives are uncomplicated. With family and friends nearby and their free and easy living arrangements, life seems as content as can be.

But when postcards start arriving from a sinister figure they thought belonged well and truly in their pasts, old memories are stirred. Why is he contacting them now? And what has he been hiding all these years?

The Beekeeper’s Promise by Fiona Valpy. I don’t read much romantic fiction, so this book may not be for me, but the opening paragraph appealed to me. I wrote about this book in My Friday post.

The Borrowers and The Borrowers Afield by Mary Norton. I’ve never read these children’s stories, although I vaguely remember watching a TV adaptation years ago.

From the book jacket:

Deep within the floorboards in the nooks and crannies of a quiet old house, live the tiny Borrowers, Pod, Homily and Arrietty Clock. They own nothing and borrow everything from the human ‘beans’ above them. And they have just one rule: they must never be seen.

Have you read any of these books? Are you tempted?

My Friday Post: The Beekeeper’s Promise by Fiona Valpy

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 one of my library books, The Beekeeper’s Promise by Fiona Valpy.

Eliane; 2017

She knew this would be her last summer. The warm caress of the late-spring sunlight couldn’t roll back the fog-like weariness that crept through her bones these days. But then there had been so many summers. Almost a hundred.

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

Page 56:

That night, as the girls lay in their attic bedroom at the mill listening to the owls softly declaring their territory in the darkness, Mireille whispered, ‘Eliane? Are you awake?’

‘Yes,’ came the reply from across the room.

‘It’s been a good Easter, hasn’t it?’

There was a pause. ‘One of the best.’

Set in France at the Château Bellevue, this is the story of two remarkable women, generations apart, who must use adversity to their advantage and find the resilience deep within.

Prophecy by S J Parris

Harper Collins| 2011| 448p| Library book| 4*

Prophecy by S J Parris (a pseudonym of Stephanie Merritt) is the second book in her Giordano Bruno series of historical thrillers. Giordano Bruno was a 16th century heretic philosopher and spy. On her website Stephanie Merritt has written about how she first discovered him. Her version of Bruno is a fictional creation, though many of the situations he encounters are based on historical fact.

Bruno started out as a Dominican friar in Naples, but fled his order to escape the Inquisition, went on the run through Italy, found work as an itinerant teacher and within three years had ended up in Paris as personal tutor to the King of France. By 1583 he was in England, working for the Queen Elizabeth I’s spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham.

Prophecy begins in the autumn of 1583, when Elizabeth’s throne is in peril, threatened by Mary Stuart’s supporters scheme to usurp the rightful monarch. I wrote about the opening of the book together with an extract from page 56 in this post. After a young maid of honour is murdered, with occult symbols carved into her flesh, Bruno is assigned to infiltrate the plotters and secure the evidence that will condemn them to death.

I think this description on the Fantastic Fiction website summarises the book very well:

It is the year of the Great Conjunction, when the two most powerful planets, Jupiter and Saturn, align – an astrological phenomenon that occurs once every thousand years and heralds the death of one age and the dawn of another. The streets of London are abuzz with predictions of horrific events to come, possibly even the death of Queen Elizabeth.

When several of the queen’s maids of honor are found dead, rumors of black magic abound. Elizabeth calls upon her personal astrologer, John Dee, and Giordano Bruno to solve the crimes. While Dee turns to a mysterious medium claiming knowledge of the murders, Bruno fears that something far more sinister is at work. But even as the climate of fear at the palace intensifies, the queen refuses to believe that the killer could be someone within her own court.

Bruno must play a dangerous game: can he allow the plot to progress far enough to give the queen the proof she needs without putting her, England, or his own life in danger?

In this utterly gripping and gorgeously written novel, S. J. Parris has proven herself the new master of the historical thriller.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I felt I was back there in 1583, in the thick of the intrigue and danger that characterised the period. I loved all the details of the court life and the interaction between the various factions, with rivalry between Catholics and Protestants, whilst the involvement of Dr John Dee intrigued me. Bruno, himself, fascinated me and now I want to know more about him and also about Stephanie Merrick’s books as well as those written under her pen name, S J Parris.

Books from the Mobile Library: June 2021

On Tuesday I borrowed three books from the mobile library, all by authors whose books I’ve read and enjoyed. I often can’t decide which books to borrow, but this week I picked these books off the shelves straight away and knew I wanted to read them:

The Glass-Blowers by Daphne du Maurier, one of my favourite authors. The first book of Daphne du Maurier’s that I read was my mother’s copy of Rebecca, which I first read as a young teenager and I loved it. Since then I’ve read most of her books, but there are a few that I haven’t read including this one. It’s a fictionalised reworking of her own family history. She was a descendant of a French master craftsman who settled in England during the French Revolution.

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver, who has been one of my favourite authors ever since I read The Poisonwood Bible. It’s a long book of over 500 pages, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to renew it as I doubt I’ll managed to read it by 13 July. Set in Vineland, New Jersey, this is a dual timeline novel, about two families living in the same house – one in the present century and the other in the nineteenth. Just reading the first two sentences made me to know more – ‘The simplest thing would be to tear it down,’ the man said. ‘The house is a shambles.’

Love Without End: A Story of Heloise and Abelard by Melvynn Bragg. It was reading his Soldier’s Return trilogy that first made me want to read more of his books. This is another novel with a dual timeline. It’s set in Paris in 1117 about the love affair of Heloise and Peter Abelard and nine centuries later about Arthur as he writes a novel about the couple, aiming to bring Heloise out of history’s shadows. I’ve never read the medieval story of Abelard and Heloise, so this will all be new to me.

Have you read any of these books? Are you tempted?

Books from the Mobile Library

The mobile library came here this week and for the first time since the first lockdown we could go on board the van! I borrowed just three books this time.

The Seal King Murders by Alanna Knight – an Inspector Faro Mystery. Set in 1861 in Orkney, this is the second casebook of Constable Faro, looking back to his earlier career. A champion swimmer, has drowned in mysterious circumstances and Faro is met with rumours of missing artifacts, the myth of the seal king, a dead body under the floor of Scarthbreck, his first love, and a mother who is determined to find him a wife. 

Faro later had an illustrious career as Chief Inspector in the Edinburgh City Police and personal detective to Her Majesty Queen Victoria at Balmoral. I haven’t read any of the Inspector Faro mysteries, so I think this could be a good place to start.

Alanna Knight had more than seventy books published in an impressive writing career spanning over fifty years. She was a founding member and Honorary Vice President of the Scottish Association of Writers, Honorary President of the Edinburgh Writers’ Club and member of the Scottish Chapter of the Crime Writers’ Association. Alanna was awarded an MBE in 2014 for services to literature. Born and educated in Tyneside, she lived in Edinburgh until she passed away in 2020.

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman. Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. This is fantasy in a world that is chaos-infested – the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. It is the first of 8 books in the Invisible Library series.

Genevieve Cogman got started on Tolkien and Sherlock Holmes at an early age, and has never looked back. But on a perhaps more prosaic note, she has an MSC in Statistics with Medical Applications and has wielded this in an assortment of jobs: clinical coder, data analyst and classifications specialist. Although The Invisible Library is her debut novel, she has also previously worked as a freelance roleplaying game writer. Genevieve Cogman’s hobbies include patchwork, beading, knitting and gaming, and she lives in the north of England.

A Bespoke Murder by Edward Marston, book 1 in the Home Front Detective series. Set in 1915 with thousands of Britons away in the trenches, a severely depleted police force remains behind to keep the Home Front safe and continue the fight against crime, espionage, and military desertion. Detective Inspector Harvey Marmion and Sergeant Joe Keedy investigate the murder of Jacob Stein, a Jewish tailor, a victim of anti-German riots after the sinking of the Lusitania. His shop is set ablaze, his daughter is raped and he is murdered

Edward Marston is a pseudonym used by Keith Miles, an English author, who writes under his own name and also historical fiction and mystery novels under the pseudonym Edward Marston. He is known for his mysteries set in the world of Elizabethan theatre. He has also written a series of novels based on events in the Domesday Book, a series of The Railway Detective and a series of The Home Front Detective.

I’ve read one of Alanna Knight’s books and one by Edward Marston, but none of Genevieve Cogman’s. Have you read any of these books? Are you tempted?

Library Books: April 2021

Our libraries are now open – for limited browsing and the ‘Select and Collect’ service they’ve been running whilst the libraries have been closed. The mobile library is also back and on Tuesday the van came almost to our door, backing down our access drive! We still couldn’t go in the van, but could ask for books. There were no books by the authors I wanted, but there was plenty of crime fiction to choose from – I realise now how limited my crime fiction reading has been as these are all by authors I hadn’t heard of before.

As they are all new-to-me authors I’ve included some details about them – two are American , two are British and three of them are also screenwriters.

From top to bottom they are:

The Promise by Robert Crais, an Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novel.

Robert Crais is a New York Times bestselling author of twenty novels, sixteen of them featuring private investigator Elvis Cole and his laconic ex-cop partner, Joe Pike. Before writing his first novel, Crais spent several years writing scripts for such major television series as Hill Street BluesCagney & LaceyMiami ViceQuincyBaretta, and L.A. Law. He received an Emmy nomination for his work on Hill Street Blues, and one of his standalone novels, Hostage, was made into a movie starring Bruce Willis. His novels have been translated into forty-two languages and are bestsellers around the world. A native of Louisiana, he lives in Los Angeles.

Book description: Loyalty, commitment, the fight against injustice – these are the things that have always driven Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. If they make a promise, they keep it – even if it could get them killed. When Elvis Cole is hired to locate a woman who may have disappeared with a stranger she met online, it seems like an ordinary case – until Elvis learns the missing woman worked for a defence contractor and was being blackmailed to supply explosives components for a person or persons unknown.

The Hunt Club by John Lescroart, the first Wyatt Hunt murder mystery.

John Lescroart is an American author best known for two series of legal and crime thriller novels featuring the characters Dismas Hardy and Abe Glitsky. In addition to his novels, Lescroart has written several screenplays. He is the author of twenty-nine novels.

Book description: Wyatt Hunt is a self-employed P.I., working low-profile surveillance and insurance fraud cases. Following the death of his fiancée and a twelve-year stint with San Francisco’s Child Protective Services, he isn’t looking for any trouble. So when a federal judge is found murdered in his Pacific Heights home with his mistress, Wyatt figures it’s someone else’s case – until his friend and business associate, attorney Andrea Parisi, becomes the lead suspect in the murder. The case takes a wild turn after Andrea mysteriously disappears, and with the help of his confederation of friends, stringers, and associates – known as the Hunt Club – Wyatt does whatever he must to find Andrea and bring a murderer to justice.

Sacrifice by Max Kinnings, an Ed Mallory thriller.

Max Kinnings is a screenwriter and novelist based in Oxford, England. Max has written feature films, Act of Grace (2012), Alleycats (2016) and The Pagan King (2018) as well as various projects in development including an adaptation of his novel, Baptism. He is the author of four novels, Hitman (2000), The Fixer (2002), Baptism (2012) and Sacrifice (2013). He was the ghost writer of actor/comedian Rik Mayall’s bestselling spoof autobiography, Bigger Than Hitler Better Than Christ (2005) and part of the writing team for the award winning Sony PlayStation game, Little Big Planet 3 (2014). Prior to writing full-time, Max spent twelve years devising advertising and marketing campaigns for music festivals, tours, comedy shows and West End theatre productions. He lectures in Creative Writing at Brunel University London where he was recently awarded a PhD.

Book description:

London, Christmas Morning.

09:13am. Disgraced hedge fund manager Graham Poynter hides shamefully in his Belgravia mansion.

10:16am. A masked intruder stands over Poynter and his terrified family, while the last remaining security guard hangs impaled on a railing spike outside the house.

10:38am. Surrounding the scene are police helicopters, special forces teams, and Ed Mallory – blind hostage negotiator – who must stop this twisted retribution.

Her Father’s Daughter by June Tate – other people who borrowed this book said they didn’t know what to make of it – it’s funny book, not funny ha ha but funny peculiar, so I thought I’d see what I think.

June Tate was born in Southampton and spent the early years of her childhood in the Cotswolds. After leaving school she became a hairdresser on cruise ships the Queen Mary and the Mauritania, meeting many Hollywood film stars and VIPs on her travels. She has written 22 books. I found this post on Allison and Busby’s blog about how she constructs an authentic sense of period in her novels.

Book description: On the night before the grand reopening of Club Valletta, former Wren Victoria Teglia can’t help but wonder what her late father would think. She can still clearly remember the day her mother told her that, rather than simply being a courageous hero, her father was also a criminal, and his club was a hotbed of prostitution and illegal gambling.

I’m not sure about any of them – so, I’d love to know what you think – have you read any of these books, if so did you enjoy them? If not, do they tempt you?

My Friday Post: Prophecy by S J Parris

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 one of my library books, Prophecy, It’s the second in S J Parris’ Giordano Bruno series set in the reign of Elizabeth I. Bruno was a monk, poet, scientist, and magician on the run from the Roman Inquisition on charges of heresy for his belief that the Earth orbits the sun and that the universe is infinite. In this book set in 1583, Elizabeth’s throne is in peril, threatened by Mary Stuart’s supporters scheme to usurp the rightful monarch.

It begins with a Prologue:

Mortlake, House of John Dee
3rd September, Year of Our Lord 1583

Without warning, all the candles in the room’s corners flicker and feint, as if a sudden gust has entered, but the air remains still. At the same moment, the hairs on my arms prickle and stand erect and I shudder; a cold breath descends on us, though outside the day is close.

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

Page 56:

‘Treaties be damned!’

Henry Howard throws back his chair and pounds a fist on the table, so suddenly that again we all jolt in our seats. The candles have burnt down so far that his shadow leaps and quivers up the panels behind him and creeps over the ceiling, looming like an ogre in a children’s tale.

Lord Henry Howard, was a devout Catholic and a dangerous man, the head of the most powerful Catholic family in England. He took part in the 1583 Throckmorton Plot, one of a series of attempts by English Roman Catholics to depose Elizabeth I of England and replace her with Mary, Queen of Scots, then held under house arrest in England.

Candles flickering, shadows cast and a feeling of dread and suspense in both these extracts set the scene for a thrilling story!

Library Books – December 2020

I last wrote about the books I’ve borrowed from the library in February – just before the lockdown in March. Although the libraries opened up a while ago with a Select and Collect service I haven’t used it and now there is time-limited browsing at some branches, and the mobile library is also operating. On Tuesday it came here and I ventured up the road to the library van.

We can’t actually go into it but I could ask for books – I came home with just three. I had to wait for a couple of days before I could actually touch them. Here they are in a library bag showing the date of the next mobile visit.

Today I took them out of the bag – all historical fiction:

I haven’t read any of S J Parris’ books before but Prophecy looks very interesting. It’s the second in her Giordano Bruno series set in the reign of Elizabeth I. Bruno was a monk, poet, scientist, and magician on the run from the Roman Inquisition on charges of heresy for his belief that the Earth orbits the sun and that the universe is infinite. In this book set in 1583, Elizabeth’s throne is in peril, threatened by Mary Stuart’s supporters scheme to usurp the rightful monarch.

Next Red Rose, White Rose by Joanna Hickson, set in 15th century England during the Wars of the Roses when Cecily Neville was torn between both sides. Her father was Richard Neville, the Duke of Westmorland and a staunch Lancastrian and she married Richard Plantagenet of York and became the mother of Edward IV and Richard III. I’ve read and enjoyed two of her books, The Tudor Crown and The Lady of the Ravens, so I’m expecting to like this book too.

I’ve always been fascinated by stories of Richard the Lionheart, so Lionheart by Sharon Penman about Richard I appeals to me. Richard was crowned King in 1189 and set off almost immediately on the Third Crusade to regain the Holy Land. Sharon Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour is one of my all time favourite books, and I have four more by her in my Kindle waiting to be read – Here Be Dragons, The Queen’s Man, Prince of Darkness and When Christ and His Saints Slept. So I can see that next year will be a Penman reading feast – and I may have to buy an e-book copy of Lionheart as the font is minute in the printed book!

Somebody at the Door by Raymond Postgate

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Somebody at the Door is one of the British Library Crime Classics, originally published in 1943. It’s set in 1942 and it gives a vivid picture of what life was like in wartime England. There is an interesting introduction by Martin Edwards.

In January 1942, Henry Grayling is on the 6.12 train from Euston, travelling home to Croxburn from work in London. There’s a fuel shortage so there are less trains than usual and the carriages are crowded – Grayling views all his fellow passengers with dislike and suspicion as he clutches his attache case, containing £120 pounds close to his chest.

He sits next to a young man, Evetts, who works for the same company and is smoking a foul smelling pipe, and on his other side is the Vicar of Croxburn, both of whom he knows. He also recognises Ransom, a corporal in the Home Guard platoon in which he, Grayling is a second lieutenant. The other occupants of the carriage are a fair young man with a club foot, a refugee doctor, a fat middle aged woman and her teenage daughter, and two young working men in overalls. Most of the passengers are suffering from colds, coughing and sneezing and Grayling has to hold his handkerchief in front of his nose. He is relieved to leave the train when it eventually pulls into the station at Croxburn. However, when Grayling arrived home he is seriously ill and dies later that evening.

An autopsy reveals that he had died of mustard gas poisoning and Inspector Holly finds that there are too many suspects; Grayling was an extremely unlikable person. The rest of the book reads like a collection of short stories as Holly investigates Grayling’s fellow passengers. Their stories are detailed and at times I felt they were too long and slowed the book down too much, but they are interesting in themselves. I particularly like the German refugee’s story, casting light on what life was like in Germany just before and at the onset of the war.

I did enjoy the book, the characters stand out as real people and also reflect Postgate’s own likes and dislikes. Martin Edwards’ introduction gives the background to Postgate’s writing – he was an atheist and a one-time Communist. His stories reveal the corruption in local government at that period, and the attitudes of the British government in the lead up to the war. The murder mystery is really secondary to the suspects’ stories, which makes the book more a reflection of the period, which Postgate does really well, than crime fiction. However, the murder mystery is well plotted, giving me plenty to unravel and it was only in the final section that I guessed who had killed Grayling.

  • Kindle Edition
  • File Size : 3089 KB
  • Print Length : 239 pages
  • Publisher : British Library Publishing (10 Oct. 2017)
  • Source: Prime Reading Library