My Friday Post: The Guardians by John Grisham

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.

The guardians

The Guardians by John Grisham is described as ‘A canny and engrossing blend of two types of Grisham novel: enough of the familiar formula of a single lawsuit in a single town, mixed with a more picaresque and multistranded approach that has the significant advantage of taking in a wider swathe of America’ – The Sunday Times

Duke Russell is not guilty of the unspeakable crimes for which he was convicted; nonetheless, he is scheduled to be executed for them in one hour and forty-four minutes.

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:

Otis has been married to June for seventeen years. Frankie is assuming he is quite aware of her struggles with the truth, so why beat around the bush?

‘You’re calling her a liar?’ Otis said.

‘No not now. But you said yourself she was a different woman back then. She and  Quincy were at war. He owed her a bunch of money that he couldn’t pay. The cops leaned on her to take the stand and point the finger.’

Blurb

22 years ago Quincy Miller was sentenced to life without parole. He was accused of killing Keith Russo, a lawyer in a small Florida town. But there were no reliable witnesses and little motive. Just the fact that Russo had botched Quincy’s divorce case, that Quincy was black in a largely all-white town and that a blood-splattered torch was found in the boot of Quincy’s car. A torch he swore was planted. A torch that was conveniently destroyed in a fire just before his trial.

The lack of evidence made no difference to judge or jury. In the eyes of the law Quincy was guilty and, no matter how often he protested his innocence, his punishment was life in prison.

Finally, after 22 years, comes Quincy’s one and only chance of freedom. An innocence lawyer and minister, Cullen Post, takes on his case. Post has exonerated eight men in the last ten years. He intends to make Quincy the next.

But there were powerful and ruthless people behind Russo’s murder. They prefer that an innocent man dies in jail rather than one of them. There’s one way to guarantee that. They killed one lawyer 22 years ago, and they’ll kill another without a second thought.

~~~

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Top Ten Tuesday: Historical Mysteries

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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.

 

Stay At Home Blog Tour – Becoming Mrs Lewis

In these days of social distancing and self isolation I am finding lots of things to do and one of them is this online blog tour. It’s organised by Anne Bogel, an author, and the creator of the blog Modern Mrs. Darcy. She runs The Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club online, a group of readers who gather online for community, classes, and conversation about all things books and reading.  She writes:

we’re inviting authors whose in-person book events have been disrupted by COVID-19 to join us online for a virtual, stay-at-home book tour. We’ll keep the format of a bookstore author talk, but we’ll do it online, in a series of events. We won’t do signings or selfies, but we hope to bring the delight of a good book tour event straight to you, wherever you are.

And today at noon EDT – in the UK at 4pm – I’ll be joining one –  Patti Callahan, Becoming Mrs. Lewis. I am so pleased as this is one of the books I’m currently reading! Do have a look if this interests you too.

Becoming Mrs Lewis

Description

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

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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.

Stone Cold Heart by Caz Frear

Stone Cold Heart

2*

Stone Cold Heart is Caz Frear’s second novel and I’m sorry to say that I didn’t get on with it very well. However, I’m in the minority as there are lots of 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. My copy is a NetGalley copy that I’ve had far too long – I did start reading it when I first downloaded it but soon realised that it would be better if I read her debut novel, Sweet Little Lies first. These are police procedurals written in the first person present tense narrated by DC Cat Kinsella who is part of the Murder Investigation Team 4, and her personal life is a major part of both books.

Naomi Lockhart, a young Australian woman was murdered and at first it looked as though her flatmate had killed her. The night before she was murdered Naomi had been at a party held by her employer, Kirstie Connor and her husband, Marcus. Also at the party were Joseph Madden and his meek wife, Rachel, Marcus’ sister. Joseph is an emotionally abusive narcissist, who manages the local coffee shop and when suspicion then falls on him and he is arrested he claims that Rachel is setting him up. And so begins a most convoluted and tangled tale about Joseph and the rest of his family, filled with secrets and lies, most of which are complete red herrings.  

Alongside the murder mystery, the book follows the story of DC Cat Kinsella’s family and the mystery surrounding Maryanne Doyle that was told in Sweet Little Lies – you really do need to read that book first to understand what is going on in her family life in this book. Cat is a conflicted character to say the least and although other readers have found her a warm and likeable character I found her one of the most irritating fictional detectives in crime fiction. She is full of guilt and angst about her family, in particular about her father and her brother. She is keeping the identity of her boyfriend a secret from everybody – if you’ve read Sweet Little Lies you’ll know why, otherwise you’ll be as mystified as her family and police colleagues are.

I found the secrets surrounding Cat’s family the most interesting part of the book, more so than the investigation into Naomi’s murder. The Murder Investigation Team all get on well together, but their continuing team meetings in which they endlessly consider all the possible theories about the murder and what happened, although interesting at first soon became tedious – far too much hypothesising. The book just dragged on and on. And then there is the ending – except it’s just the murder mystery that ends as it looks as though there is still more to come about Cat Kinsella. If you like long detective stories, full of twists and turns, lots of red herrings and dubious and unreliable characters who withhold evidence you may like it more than I did.

Amazon UK link
Amazon US link

My thanks to the publishers, Zaffre, for a review copy via NetGalley.

Reading challenges: Mount TBR challenge and Calendar of Crime – the main action takes place in November.

Writing Wild by Kathryn Aalto

Writing Wild

3.5*

‘An exciting, expert, and invaluable group portrait of seminal women writers enriching a genre crucial to our future.’ —Booklist

Blurb:

In Writing Wild, Kathryn Aalto celebrates 25 women, both historical and current, whose influential writing helps deepen our connection to and understanding of the natural world. These inspiring wordsmiths are scholars, spiritual seekers, conservationists, scientists, novelists, and explorers. They defy easy categorization, yet they all share a bold authenticity that makes their work both distinct and universal.

Part travel essay, literary biography, and cultural history, Writing Wild ventures into the landscapes and lives of extraordinary writers and encourages a new generation of women to pick up their pens, head outdoors, and start writing wild.

My thoughts:

Writing Wild: Women Poets, Ramblers and Mavericks Who Shape How We See The Natural World is by Kathryn Aalto and illustrated by Gisela Goppel. Published by Timber Press it will be released in paperback on 1 April, with a Kindle edition to follow on 14 April 2020.

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but I do enjoy reading books about nature, so Writing Wild appealed to me. Kathryn Aalto’s reason for writing her book was to highlight what these 25 women writers have written, their historical significance and the barriers, biases and bullying they overcame to write. It covers two hundred years of women’s history through nature writing, including natural history, environmental philosophy, country life, scientific writing, garden arts, memoirs and meditations and does not aim to dismiss men’s contributions. Gisela Goppel’s portraits of each writer head each chapter. Aalto writes an introduction to each writer and includes excerpts of prose, poems and essays with added recommendations for further reading, plus a list of sources and an index.

Predominantly American and British, some of these women writers are familiar to me, such as Dorothy Wordsworth, Vita Sackville West, Nan Shepherd, Rachel Carson, Mary Oliver, Annie Dillard and Helen Macdonald. Others are new to me, but I would like to read several of their works, such as Andrea Wulf’s book The  Brother Gardeners in which  she explores how England became a nation of gardeners. Wulf, a design historian, writes horticultural and historical history through narrative nonfiction, borrowing techniques from fiction to make nonfiction come alive. Elena Passarello’s Animals Strike Curious Poses essay collection, which Aalto describes as written with  laugh-out-loud humour and depth of empathy, also particularly appeals to me.

One of the things I learned reading this book is the name ‘Cli-fi’. I hadn’t come across it before but of course, it is not a new genre. As Aalto points out it goes back at least to Jules Verne’s 1889 The Purchase of the North Pole. Contemporary examples including Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood and Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour. The writer she chooses to illustrate this genre is Saci Lloyd, an acclaimed writer of cli-fi, whose vivid and action packed books include The Carbon Diaries, about the effects of carbon reduction policies. They are gritty eco-thrillers featuring Laura Brown a 16 year old trying to manage life with a carbon deficit card.

Kathryn Aalto is a writer, designer, historian and lecturer. For the past twenty-five years, her focus has been on places where nature and culture intersect: teaching literature of nature and place, designing gardens, and writing about the natural world. Her work explores historic and horticultural themes with a contemporary twist. She is the author of The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A Walk Through the Forest that Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood (2015) and Nature and Human Intervention (2011). Her website is kathrynaalto.com.

My thanks to Timber Press for a review copy via NetGalley.