A – Z of TBRs: S and T

I’m now up to S and T in my A – Z of TBRs, a series of posts in which I take a fresh look at some of my TBRs to inspire me to read more of them, or maybe to decide not to bother reading them after all.



– is for The Stranger House by Reginald Hilla book I’ve had a mere two years. I bought this because I love Hill’s books.

It’s a stand-alone book, a psychological thriller – no Dalziel and Pasco in this book. It’s set in Cumbria in a fictitious valley, Skaddale and village, Illthwaite, where the Stranger House offers refuge to travellers – people like Australian, Samantha Flood and Miguel Madero, a Spanish historian. The two of whom uncover intertwining tales of murder, betrayal and love. There are dark mysteries at the heart of this ancient place.

[Miguel] entered the Seminary in Seville at the age of twenty-three at the same time as nineteen-year-old Sam Flood entered Melbourne University, both convinced they knew exactly what they were doing and where the paths of their lives were leading them.

And yet neither yet understanding that a particular path is not a prospectus and that it may, in the instant it takes for a word to be spoken or a finger-hold to be lost, slip right off your map and lead you somewhere unimagined in all your certainties.

In the cases of Sam Flood and Miguel Madero this place was situated far to the north. (page 22)


S – is also for Slipstream: A Memoir by Elizabeth Jane Howard (1923 – 2014), the author of the Cazalet Chronicles. I’ve been meaning to read this for so long – it’s been on my shelves for 11 years, would you believe! It was published in 2002 when she was seventy nine.

This quotation comes from the final chapter of the book:

For the last two years while I have been writing this, I have been getting noticeably older. Getting old is a classic slipstream situation. It’s rather like that game Grandmother’s footsteps. I stand at the end of a lawn with my back to a row of the trappings of old age whose object is to reach me before I turn round and send them back to their row. One or two of these have caught me during the last five years: I have neither the health or the energy that once I had. In these respects I am not as young as I feel. Arthritis is dispiriting because it is both painful and incurable, and it takes time to become reconciled to it. I can’t – like my friend Penelope Lively – garden any more and that is for both of us a privation.

But on the plus side,  I am able to go on writing, I can sew and cook and have friends to stay and above all I can read. I continue to go to my women’s group; I can still learn. One of the good things about living longer is that we have more time to learn how to be old. It is clear to me now that inside the conspiracy of silence about age – because of the negative aspects of the condition – there is the possibility of art; that is to say that it can be made into something worth trying to do well, a challenge, an adventure. I don’t want to live with any sort of retirement, with nostalgia and regret wrapped round me like a wet blanket. I want to live enquiringly, with curiosity and interest for the rest of my life. (page 476)

T– is for The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson, a book I’ve had for three years. She is probably best known for her children’s books – the Moomin stories. I haven’t read those or any of her books for adults. But a few years ago I kept seeing her name cropping up on book blogs and thought I would like her books. This one is set in winter in a Swedish hamlet. A strange young woman fakes a break-in at the house of Anna Aemelin, an elderly artist, to persuade her that she needs companionship.

Her parents had lived long lives and never allowed anyone to cut trees in their woods. They’d been rich as trolls when they died. And the woods were still untouchable. Little by little they had grown almost impenetrable and stood like a wall behind the house; the ‘rabbit house’, they called it in the village. It was a grey wood villa with elaborate carved window frames in white, as grey-white as the tall backdrop of snow-drenched forest. The building actually resembled a large, crouched rabbit – the square front teeth of the white veranda curtains, the silly bay windows under eyebrows of snow, the vigilant ears of the chimneys. All the windows were dark. The path up the hill had not been shovelled.

That’s where she lives. Mats and I will live there too. But I have to wait. I need to think carefully before I give this Anna Aemelin an important place in my life. (pages 30-1)

T is also for The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney, another book I’ve had for 11 years! It was the 2006 Costa Book of the Year.looking at it now I think one of the reasons I haven’t read it yet is that it appears to be written in a mix of the present and past tenses.

Set in 1867 in Canada, on the isolated settlement of Dove River a man has been brutally murdered, a woman finds his body and her seventeen-year-old son has disappeared. She has to clear his name, heading north into the forest and the desolate landscape that lies beyond it …

In this extract Thomas Sturrock is listening to a conversation between two men when he just has to ask them who they are discussing – is it a trader?

‘A Frenchie trader in Dove River was murdered. I don’t know if there’s more than one such there.’

‘I don’t think there is. You didn’t hear a name by any chance?’

‘Not that I remember off the top of my head – something French, is all I recall.’

‘The name of my acquaintance is Laurent Jammet’.

The man’s eyes light up with pleasure. ‘Well I’m sorry, I truly am, but I think that was the name that was mentioned.’

Sturrock falls uncharacteristically silent. He has had to deal with many shocks in his long career, and his mind is already working out the repercussions of this news. Tragic, obviously for Jammet. Worrying, at the least for him. For there is unfinished business there that he has been very keen to conclude, awaiting only the financial means to do so. Now that Jammet is dead, the business must be concluded as soon as possible, or the chance may slip out of his reach for good. (pages 34-5)

What do you think? Do you fancy any of them? Would you ditch any of them?

The Midnight Line by Lee Child

A quest for justice

The Midnight Line (Jack Reacher, #22)

Bantam Press| 7 Nov 2017|391 p|Hardcover|4*

I wasn’t sure when I began reading The Midnight Line that it was my sort of book. It’s the 22nd book in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series and I haven’t read any of the earlier books. See this post for the first paragraph – what struck me was Lee Child’s straight forward style of writing and the short, staccato sentences.

Jack Reacher, a former military policeman, is looking for the owner of a West Point class ring from 2005. It’s a small ring, a woman cadet’s graduation present to herself, engraved with the initials S.R.S and Reacher wonders what she went through to get it and why it ended up in a pawn shop. He tracks the ring back to its owner in a search that takes him to the deserted wilds of Wyoming.

After a slow start containing too much description of fighting for my liking and too many short sentences I began to find that Child’s writing grew on me. It’s not all short sentences, and I liked the way that every now and then Reacher recaps where the search is taking him. I began to feel it was a book about a quest – reminiscent of tales of heroes or knights of old on a mission to rescue a damsel in distress, or of a ring-bearer returning the ring to its rightful owner – in a very modern setting.

I like the characters, particularly Reacher, a huge guy variously described as Bigfoot or the Incredible Hulk and I like the description of the landscape of the West with its vast open spaces – at least 20 miles between neighbours – long straight and dusty roads, rocky tracks and unmarked trails. Reacher doesn’t drive, but hitch hikes, or takes a bus, walking when he has to. He’s a loner, with no home, no belongings, just buying new clothes as he needs them, always on the move, a tough guy who uses a whole bar of soap when he showers.

The hunt first takes Reacher to Rapid City, South Dakota to find Arthur Scorpio, a laundromat owner, who tells him the ring came in from a guy in Wyoming in a place called Mule Crossing, a ‘wide spot’ on the road to Laramie. Whilst in Rapid City he meets Detective Gloria Nakamura, keeping Scorpio under surveillance and Terry Bramhall, a private detective, also watching Scorpio and looking for the same woman as Reacher. Reacher and Bramhall meet again at Mule Crossing and join forces.

It turns out that this is more than a search for the owner of the ring. As Reacher gets nearer to finding her he comes across the trail of a drug smuggling circle and I learned a lot about the history of heroin and pain relief and the terrible issues facing US veterans. Reacher finds out exactly what did happen to S.R.S., the owner of the ring, and it’s not pretty! This book is dedicated to the nearly two million recipients of the Purple Hearts awards.

I finished the book delighted that it was so much better than I thought it would be and was just as pleased when I went to Barter Books yesterday (more about that visit soon) and found the first book introducing Jack Reacher – Killing Floor – so that after reading the 22nd book I can start at the beginning.

About Lee Child

Lee Child (James ‘Jim’ Grant, known by his pen name Lee Child) is not American (as I thought) but British, born in Coventry.   He went to law school in Sheffield, England, and after part-time work in the theatre he joined Granada Television in Manchester for what turned out to be an eighteen-year career as a presentation director during British TV’s “golden age.” During his tenure his company made Brideshead RevisitedThe Jewel in the CrownPrime Suspect, and Cracker. He now lives in New York.

He has received many awards. The most recent is the CWA’s Diamond Dagger for a writer of an outstanding body of crime fiction, the International Thriller Writers’ ThrillerMaster, and the Theakston Old Peculiar Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award.

Many thanks to my husband for buying me this book as a surprise Christmas present.

I’m choosing this book in this year’s What’s In A Name Challenge in the category of a book with a shape in the title.

Amazon UK link
Amazon US link

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

the Nightingale

Pan |29 January 2015| 5*

The Nightingale, in 2015 was voted a best book of the year by Amazon, Buzzfeed, iTunes, Library JournalPasteThe Wall Street Journal and The Week.  Additionally, the novel won the coveted Goodreads and People’s Choice Awards. The audiobook of The Nightingale won the Audiobook of the Year Award in the fiction category. And I can see why.


Despite their differences, sisters Vianne and Isabelle have always been close. Younger, bolder Isabelle lives in Paris while Vianne is content with life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. But when the Second World War strikes, Antoine is sent off to fight and Vianne finds herself isolated so Isabelle is sent by their father to help her.

As the war progresses, the sisters’ relationship and strength is tested. With life changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Vianne and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions.

My thoughts:

The Nightingale is one of the most moving books I’ve read and I was emotionally drained by the end of the story. It tells of two French sisters and their experiences during the occupation of France in the Second World War. The younger sister, Isabelle is beautiful, impetuous and a rebel. She joins the Resistance Movement, whereas Vianne, married,  stays at home looking after her daughter whilst her husband goes off to war.

This is a story of courage, of love and of the determination to survive under dreadful and appalling conditions – the horrors and dilemmas of living in an occupied country under Nazi rule, with rationing, curfews, and the dangers of being caught helping or of being a Resistance fighter. Vianne was faced with the dilemmas of whether to collude with the Nazi officers billeted in her house and whether to help her Jewish friend to escape before she could be taken off to the concentration camps. Isabelle takes desperate risks as she helps British and American airmen to freedom over the Alps to Spain. Hannah spares no details and I struggled to read the details of what people can do to those they consider their enemies.

Interspersed at intervals the narrative moves to 1995 as one of the sisters is invited and goes to a reunion. For a long time I couldn’t decide which one it was and by the time it was revealed I was in tears at the sadness and pathos of it all.

This book is one of my TBRs – a book I’ve owned prior to 1 January 2018.

Victoria: A Life by A. N. Wilson

I finished reading Victoria: A Life at the end of January with a sense of sadness that it was over – I’d been reading it for three months and I have learned so much and enjoyed it immensely. Victoria was 81 when she died and had been Queen for nearly 64 years, from 1837 to 1901. She’d had 9 children and was grandmother of 42.

A. N. Wilson’s biography of Victoria is masterful, detailed and like all good biographies is well researched and illustrated, with copious notes, an extensive bibliography and an index. He had access to the Royal Archives and permission from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to quote from materials in royal copyright. He portrays her both as a woman, a wife and mother as well as a queen set against the backdrop of the political scene in Britain and Europe.

Whilst I was reading I wrote three posts about different aspects of the book that interested me at the time – one on my thoughts soon after I started reading the biography, one on Christmas at Windsor in 1860 and one on Victoria and John Brown.

And now I’ve finished it I’m not sure what to write about it. It has fascinated me and surprised me. It surprised me because it is so extensive, with so much about her involvement in the politics of the time. It has made me want to know more about so many of the people – such as Lord Melbourne, Gladstone, who she disliked so much that when he stayed at Balmoral she wouldn’t speak to him, Disraeli who she liked very much and of course her beloved Albert.

I think A.N.Wilson himself sums it up best in this quotation:

‘Writing about Queen Victoria has been one of the most joyous experiences of my life. I have read thousands (literally) of letters never before published, and grown used to her as to a friend. Maddening? Egomaniac? Hysterical? A bad mother? Some have said so. What emerged for me was a brave, original woman who was at the very epicentre of Britain’s changing place in the world: a solitary woman in an all-male world who understood politics and foreign policy much better than some of her ministers; a person possessed by demons, but demons which she was brave enough to conquer. Above all, I became aware, when considering her eccentric friendships and deep passions, of what a lovable person she was.’ A. N. Wilson

and in the last paragraph of the book he wrote of Victoria’s greatness and the awe awe she inspired:

The awe is for Queen Victoria the woman. Step over the carpet to that plump little figure that sits at her table, state papers or a Hindustani grammar open in front of her, the Munshi or Princess Beatrice at her side. You are approaching someone of great kindliness, someone of a far sharper intelligence than you would have guessed, and someone who – contrary to the most tedious of all the clichés about her – was easily amused. but you are also, if you have your wits about you, more than a little afraid. You are in the presence of greatness. (page 575)

This was going to be my last post about the book, but I have placed so many markers in places of interest to me as I read that I think I may do at least one more just of passages that I’d like to remember.


My Tuesday Post: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by The Purple Booker. Post two sentences from somewhere in a book you’re reading. No spoilers, please! List the author and book title too.

My first paragraph this week is from The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, which I’m currently reading. It’s one of my TBRs.

The Nightingale: Bravery, Courage, Fear and Love in a Time of War

It begins:

April 9, 1995 – The Oregon Coast

If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are. Today’s young people want to know everything about everyone. They think that talking about a problem will solve it. I come from a quieter generation. We understand the value of forgetting, the lure of reinvention.

Beginning in 1995 this novel moves back in time to the start of the Second World War to France.

Here is a teaser from page 88:

Vianne’s anger dissolved; without it, she felt inexpressibly tired. This essential difference had always been between them. Vianne the rule follower and Isabelle the rebel. Even in girlhood, in grief, they had expressed their emotions differently.


Despite their differences, sisters Vianne and Isabelle have always been close. Younger, bolder Isabelle lives in Paris while Vianne is content with life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. But when the Second World War strikes, Antoine is sent off to fight and Vianne finds herself isolated so Isabelle is sent by their father to help her.

As the war progresses, the sisters’ relationship and strength is tested. With life changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Vianne and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions.

I’ve read nearly half the book so far and am really enjoying it, but I’m not sure yet about the identity of the narrator in the opening chapter – which sister is it? I keep changing my mind about it. Please don’t tell me if you know – that would be a such a spoiler …

My Friday Post: The Lake House by Kate Morton

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week I’m featuring The Lake House by Kate Morton. This is one of my TBRs.

It begins in Cornwall in August 1933:

The rain was heavy now and the hem of her dress was splattered with mud. She’d have to hide it afterwards; no one could know that she’d been out.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice. These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  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

Sadie pictured the muddy lake and its eerie avian population. ‘Yes, that’s it. What happened there?’

‘A terrible business,’ Louise said, with a sad shake of her head. ‘Back in the thirties, before I was born. My mother used to talk about it, though – usually when she wanted to stop us kids from wandering too far. A child went missing on the night of a grand party. It was a big story at the time; the family was wealthy and the national press paid a lot of attention. There was a huge police investigation, and they even brought down the top brass from London. Not that any of it helped.

What a coincidence! I think these two extracts sum up what this book is about – an unsolved mystery of a child who disappeared without a trace.

I’ll be reading this book soon. What do you think? does it tempt you too?

A – Z of TBRs: P, Q and R

I’m now up to P, Q and R in my A – Z of TBRs, a series of posts in which I take a fresh look at some of my TBRs to inspire me to read more of them, or maybe to decide not to bother reading them after all. This time I’ve included one e-book.

– is for The Power House by John Buchana book I’ve had since 2014. I bought this book because I’d read and enjoyed John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps.

The Power House

It’s a short book of just 108 pages and my copy has an introduction by Stella Rimington. She writes:

The Power House is one of the least known of Buchan’s mature works, a tale without a plot, and so full of holes that it calls to mind Samuel Johnson’s definition of a ‘network’ – ‘anything reticulated and desuccated at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections’. It is pure essence of Buchan – a demonstration of his magical power to weave a tale out of no materials but the threads and colours of his imagination.

When his friend Charles Pitt-Heron vanishes mysteriously, Sir Edward Leithen, MP, is at first only mildly concerned. But a series of strange events that follow Pitt-Heron’s disappearance convinces Leithen that he is dealing with a sinister secret society. Their code name is ‘The Power-House’.

I cast my mind back to gather recollections of Pitt-Heron, but all I could find was an impression of a brilliant, uncomfortable being, who had been too fond of the byways of life for my sober tastes. There was nothing crooked in him in the wrong sense, but there might be a good deal that was perverse. I remember consoling myself with the thought that, though he might shatter his wife’s nerves by his vagaries, he would scarcely break her heart.

To be watchful, I decided, was my business. And I could not get rid of the feeling that I might soon have cause for my vigilance. (page 9)

Q – is for The Queen’s Man by Sharon Penman (on my Kindle for two years). I bought this after reading her Sunne in Splendour, which I absolutely loved.

The Queen's Man

It’s set in AD 1183, when Richard the Lionheart is missing, thought to be dead and his brother Prince John is scheming to take the Crown. Justin de Quincy has just discovered his father is the Bishop of Chester. A dying man, a goldsmith, gives him a letter to deliver to Queen Eleanor, (Richard’s and John’s mother) which brings him into great danger as it reveals whether Richard is alive or dead.

Captured by Henry’s soldiers, she [Eleanor] was held prisoner for sixteen years, freed only by Henry’s death. Such a lengthy confinement would have broken most people. It had not broken Eleanor. The passionate young queen and the embittered, betrayed wife were ghosts long since laid to rest. Now in her seventy-first year, she was acclaimed and admired for her sagacity and shrewd counsel, reigning over England in her son’s absence, fiercely protective of his interests, proud matriarch of a great dynasty. A living legend. And this was the woman expecting a letter from a murdered goldsmith? Justin thought it highly unlikely. (location 323)

R– is for Resistance by Owen Sheers a book I’ve had for nearly ten years. One of the reasons I haven’t read this before now is that I couldn’t find it for a while until I discovered it out of order behind other books that I’d double-shelved. I can’t remember now what had prompted me to buy this book. Owen Sheers is an author, poet and playwright.


Resistance gives an alternative outcome to World War Two, one in which the D-Day landings had failed in 1944 and the Nazis had invaded the UK. Sarah Lewis wakes to discover her husband and all the men in the Welsh border valley of Olchon have gone. It’s the story of a community under siege.

The meeting with Atkins had happened too quickly for George to think on the consequences yet. His head was light, open, and he swung his scythe with a renewed energy. He felt exposed, as if a layer of skin had been shaved from him, bringing him into closer contact with the world. The blade’s edge against the young stalks of bracken, the calligraphy of the swallows above him. Everything seemed clearer, brought into sharper focus. Just an hour ago the war was a different country, the contours of which he’d traced through the newspapers, in radio reports. But now he was involved, connected. He had the strange sensation of his life simultaneously diminishing and expanding under the impression of Atkins’s words and for the second time that week he felt older than his seventeen years. (page 25)

What do you think? Do you fancy any of them? Would you ditch any of them?