20 Books of Summer 2022

The 20 Books of Summer annual event, hosted by Cathy at 746 Books came to an end yesterday. I actually read just 10 of the 20 books I listed (I did swap some of the original list!) and still have 3 of the books to review. And over the summer I read a further 10 books – just not books that I’d originally listed! I’m not too good at sticking to reading lists.

These are my 10 Books of Summer

  1. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  2. In Too Deep by Bea Davenport
  3. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter
  4. The Night Hawks by Elly Griffiths
  5. A Tapping at My Door by David Jackson
  6. Death in Berlin by M M Kaye
  7. True Crime Story by Joseph Knox
  8. The Hiding Place by Simon Lelic
  9. A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
  10. The Key in the Lock by Beth Underdown

Joint favourites are The Riddle of the Third Mile and The Hiding Place!

Throwback Thursday: The Remorseful Day by Colin Dexter

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

Today I’m looking back at my post on The Remorseful Day by Colin Dexter, the last Inspector Morse book. I first reviewed it on August 2, 2015.

My review begins:

Chief Inspector Morse is one of my favourite fictional detectives (maybe even the favourite). I first ‘met’ him years ago in the ITV series Inspector Morse and so, just as Joan Hickson is forever in my mind as Miss Marple and David Suchet is Poirot, John Thaw is Morse. The series was first broadcast in 1987, but I don’t intend to write about the books versus the TV adaptations – I’ve enjoyed both. This post is just about the last book in the series – The Remorseful Day.

Click here to read my full review

~~~

The next Throwback Thursday post is scheduled for September 29, 2022.

The Night Hawks by Elly Griffiths

Quercus| 4 February 2021|e-book| Print Length 321 pages| My own copy| 4*

Synopsis:

Dr Ruth Galloway returns to the moody and beautiful landscape of North Norfolk to confront another killer. A devastating new case for our favourite forensic archaeologist in this acclaimed and bestselling crime series.

The Night Hawks, a group of metal detectorists, are searching for buried treasure when they find a body on the beach in North Norfolk. At first Nelson thinks that the dead man might be an asylum seeker but he turns out to be a local boy, Jem Taylor, recently released from prison. Ruth is more interested in the treasure, a hoard of Bronze Age weapons. Nelson at first thinks that Taylor’s death is accidental drowning, but a second death suggests murder.

Nelson is called to an apparent murder-suicide of a couple at the isolated Black Dog Farm. Local legend talks of the Black Shuck, a spectral hound that appears to people before they die. Nelson ignores this, even when the owner’s suicide note includes the line, ‘He’s buried in the garden.’ Ruth excavates and finds the body of a giant dog.

All roads lead back to this farm in the middle of nowhere, but the place spells serious danger for anyone who goes near. Ruth doesn’t scare easily. Not until she finds herself at Black Dog Farm …

My thoughts:

The Night Hawks is the 13th book in the Dr Ruth Galloway books. I’ve enjoyed the earlier books, despite the fact that they are written in the present tense. But it’s been a while since I last read one, 5 years to be precise and I’ve missed a few of them as the last one I read was the 9th book, The Chalk Pit.

So, Ruth’s life has moved on the three books I haven’t read! There is a Who’s Who of the main characters at the end of the book giving their backstories which helps if you haven’t read the earlier books, and reminded me of who they all are and their relationships.

Ruth, the central character, is now Head of the Department of Archaeology at her old university, the fictional University of North Norfolk, having been promoted after the retirement of her old boss, Phil Trent. Her replacement as the archaeology lecturer is David Brown, who Ruth finds annoying. She doesn’t really know why as they have the same academic speciality, the prehistoric era, particularly as that is partly why she employed him to teach the courses that she used to teach. She is also a special advisor to the north Norfolk police.

Her complicated relationship with Detective Chief Inspector Nelson, the father of her daughter, Kate, now ten years old, continues in this book. Nelson thinks of himself as an old-fashioned policeman. But Superintendent Jo Archer is keen to bring the force into the twenty-first century and wants him to retire. He dismisses that idea, maintaining that the police force needs his experience and know-how. He has no plans to retire and avoids talking to her whenever he can.

A body is found on the beach at Blakeney Point, a young man who Nelson guesses is an illegal immigrant, an asylum seeker, and then a skeleton, buried in a mound of what appears to be Bronze Age weapons, discovered by the group known as the Night Hawks when they were searching for buried treasure.

The police are also investigating what at first appears to be a case of murder-suicide at Black Dog Farm, an isolated farm said to be haunted by the Black Shuck. Shuck is the name given to an East Anglian ghostly black dog that is said to roam the coastline and countryside of East Anglia, a large, shaggy dog said to be an omen of death. And there had been quite a few sightings of such a dog near Black Dog Farm.

I was thoroughly entertained by this mystery, glad to get re-acquainted with Ruth, her family and her friends and colleagues. There is a really strong sense of place, so much so that I could easily visualise the scenes and gain a sense of what it’s like to be there at the beach, with the shingle and the sand dunes at Blakeney Point and the north Norfolk countryside.

I hope to read books I’ve missed, namely The Dark Angel, The Stone Circle and The Lantern Men, before too long, and then the 14th in the series, The Locked Room.

Top Ten Tuesday: A School Freebie

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.

The topic this week is School Freebie (In honor of school starting up soon, come up with a topic that somehow ties to school/education. The book could be set at school/college, characters could be teachers, books with school supplies on the cover, nonfiction titles, books that taught you something or how to do something, your favorite required reading in school, books you think should be required reading, your favorite banned books, etc.)

These are 10 of the books set in schools/universities/colleges that I’ve enjoyed reading.

J K Rowling’s Harry Potter books are an obvious choice – all 7 of them would nearly fill a Top Ten post on their own. I haven’t got this box set, but I have read all seven books telling the story of Harry and his friends at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It’s a selective school, only children who show magical ability are admitted. Each student is allowed to bring an owl, a cat or a toad. And first-year students are required to acquire a wand, subject books, a standard size 2 pewter cauldron, a set of brass scales, a set of glass or crystal phials, a kit of basic potion ingredients (for Potions), and a telescope (for Astronomy). 

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark is set in 1936 in Edinburgh in the Marcia Blaine school, where schoolteacher Miss Brodie has groomed a group of young girls, known as the Brodie Set, to be the ‘creme de la creme‘. Marcia Blaine school is a traditional school where Miss Brodie’s ideas and methods of teaching are viewed with dislike and distrust. The Head Teacher is looking for ways to discredit and get rid of her. I enjoyed both the book and the film with Maggie Smith in the title role. The story is told in flashbacks from 1930 –1939 and quite early on in the book we are told who ‘betrayed’ Miss Brodie.

Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie is set in an exclusive and expensive girls’ school, Meadowbank, in England, said to be based on her daughter Rosalind’s school. Miss Bulstrode is the headmistress and like Miss Brodie she has built a reputation for excellence. But disaster strikes when two of the teachers, Miss Springer, the new Games Mistress and the History and German teacher, Miss Vansittart are murdered. Rather late in the day Hercules Poirot is called in to investigate their deaths.

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay. On St Valentine’s Day in 1900, a party of nineteen girls accompanied by two schoolmistresses sets off from the elite Appleyard College for Young Ladies, for a day’s outing at the spectacular volcanic mass called Hanging Rock. The picnic, which begins innocently and happily, ends in explicable terror, and some of the party never returned. What happened to them remains a mystery. I loved the detailed descriptions of the Australian countryside and the picture it paints of society in 1900, with the snobbery and class divisions of the period.

South Riding by Winifred Holtby. Set in the early 1930s in Yorkshire this book paints a moving and vivid portrait of a rural community struggling with the effects of the depression. One of the main characters is Sarah Burton, the new headmistress of Kiplington High School for Girls, a fiercely passionate and dedicated teacher. As the villagers of South Riding adjust to Sarah’s arrival and face the changing world, emotions run high, prejudices are challenged and community spirit is tested

Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey. Miss Pym was pleased and flattered to be invited to Leys Physical Training College by her old school friend, Henrietta Hodge, the college Principal, to give a lecture on psychology. But then there was a ’nasty accident‘. This is not a conventional crime fiction novel. It’s a psychological study focusing on the characters, their motivation and analysis of facial characteristics. It looks at the consequences of what people do and say.

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte, published in 1847, is a novel about a young woman, a governess and her experiences working for two families in Victorian England. Agnes is the younger daughter of an impoverished clergyman. Her parents had married against her mother’s family’s wishes and when their fortune was wrecked Agnes determines to help out by working as a governess. It gives a very clear picture of the life of a governess, with all its loneliness, frustrations, insecurities and depressions. Anne Bronte based this novel on her own experiences as a governess and depicts the loneliness, isolation, and vulnerability of the position. 

The Hiding Place by Simon Lelic, a murder mystery set in Beaconsfield, a prestigious boarding school. When Ben Draper, a 14 year-old teenager with a troubled background, and a history of absconding from school, started at the school he is bullied, disliked and feels shunned and despised. But he does make three friends, Callum, Lance and Melissa. Longing to be accepted, he thinks they are his friends, but then he is drawn unwillingly into their plot to damage the school. After playing a game of Hide and Seek with them, that ended in terror, he went missing and his body was never found.

An Advancement of Learning by Reginald Hill, the 2nd Dalziel and Pascoe novel. It’s set in a college, Holm Coultram College, where Dalziel and Pascoe investigate the discovery of a body found when an eight foot high bronze statue of a former head of the College, Miss Girling, is being moved. The two detectives uncover plenty of disagreements and power struggles in both the staff and student bodies – from rivalries to revelries on the beach, and more dead bodies turn up before the mystery is solved.

I loved the setting in Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers – Shrewsbury College, a fictional all female college, at Oxford University (based on Somerville College, Sayers’ own college). Harriet Vane decides to go back to the College to attend the Shrewsbury Gaudy (a college reunion involving a celebratory dinner), not sure she can face meeting her fellow students and the dons. It doesn’t go well – there are poison pen letters, nasty graffiti and vandalism causing mayhem and upset. Under the pretence of helping one of the dons to rewrite her manuscript that had been destroyed in one of the nightly attacks Harriet is asked to investigate. 

Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison

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.

Yesterday I finished reading Shrines of Gaiety, Kate Atkinson’s new book which will be published in September. I’ll write about it in a later post. Although I’m still reading The Return of the King and The Island, I wondered what I’d like to read next. I was thinking of reading  Lion by Conn Iggulden, the first in a new series ‘The Golden Age’, set in Ancient Greece in the 5th century BC. But, today I wasn’t in the mood for ancient historical fiction and fancied something more rural and more modern – and spotted All Among the Barley in a pile of books waiting to be read. It’s set on a farm in Suffolk just before the Second World War.

Prologue

Last night I lay awake again, remembering the day the Hunt ran me down in Hulver Wood when I was just a girl.

And then Chapter 1:

My name is Edith June Mather and I was born after the end of the Great War. My father, George Mather, had sixty acres of arable land known as Wych Farm; it is somewhere not far from here, I believe. Before him my grandfather Albert farmed the same fields, and his father before him, who ploughed with a team of oxen and sowed by hand.

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

Page 56:

Unlike Doble, whose family had been tied to ours for generations, John was what we in the village called a ‘furriner’, having been born sixty miles or more north of us, where our clay gave way to flat, rich peat.

Synopsis from Amazon:

WINNER OF THE EU PRIZE FOR LITERATURE

‘BOOK OF THE YEAR’ NEW STATESMAN, OBSERVER, IRISH TIMES, BBC HISTORY MAGAZINE

The fields were eternal, our life the only way of things, and I would do whatever was required of me to protect it.


The autumn of 1933 is the most beautiful Edie Mather can remember, though the Great War still casts a shadow over the cornfields of her beloved home, Wych Farm.

When charismatic, outspoken Constance FitzAllen arrives from London to write about fading rural traditions, she takes an interest in fourteen-year-old Edie, showing her a kindness she has never known before. But the older woman isn’t quite what she seems.

As harvest time approaches and pressures mount on the whole community, Edie must find a way to trust her instincts and save herself from disaster.

I chose this book because earlier this year I enjoyed Melissa Harrison’s novella, Rain: Four Walks in English Weather, which is about four rain showers, in four seasons, across Wicken Fen, Shropshire, the Darent Valley and Dartmoor. I like the way she writes about the natural world and All Among the Barley looks as though it will bring to life a world governed by the old rural traditions, in an evocation of place and a lost way of life.

What do you think? Have you read this book ?

WWW Wednesday: 24 August 2022

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?

I’m still reading J R R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. This is a book I’ve read several times over the years since the first time I read it, just after I left school (a long time ago). I am now well into Book 3, The Return of the King. I don’t remember this one as much as the first two books, maybe I haven’t read it before as many times as the other two. It really is an amazing book, such vivid descriptions of characters, places and events. I am reading this hardback book slowly, taking my time over it, just a small section each day – letting the story soak into my mind. I think I may have to spend more time reading it from now on – the action is really gripping me, although, of course, I know how it ends.

The other books I’m reading are The Island by Victoria Hislop and Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson.

The Island is set mainly on the tiny, deserted island of Spinalonga – Greece’s former leper colony and is the story of Eleni and her daughters and a family rent by tragedy, war and passion. I’m reading a paperback edition, which means I’m not reading it in bed! I need more light to see the small typeface.

Shrines of Gaiety is to be published in September, so I’m reading a digital review copy from NetGalley. As with Atkinson’s Life After Life, I’ve found this a difficult book at the beginning and it took me until nearly 20% to get to know the characters. I nearly gave up a few times. But then I settled into the story and am nearing the end – now at 86%. I should finish it soon.

The last book I read is Nucleus by Rory Clements, historical fiction set in 1939 just before the start of the Second World War. I wrote about it in this post.

As always I haven’t quite decided what to read next. It could be Lion by Conn Iggulden, the first in a new series ‘The Golden Age’, set in Ancient Greece in the 5th century BC. It’s about the Athenian general and politician Pericles. 

But, then again when the time comes I could choose something completely different. I just don’t know.

Although this is a weekly meme I think I’ll take part once a month from now on.

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Series I’m Still Reading

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.

The topic this week is Completed Series I Wish Had More Books, but I’m tweaking it a bit as I have lots of series on the go that I haven’t finished. So this is my list of Series I’m Still Reading:

  1. Dr Ruth Galloway Mysteries by Elly Griffiths – 14 books have been published, with the 15th due out next year. I have read 8 of them.
  2. Tom Wilde books by Rory Clements – 6 books. I have read 4 of them.
  3. Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley – 7 books have been published with the 8th due out next year. I have read 3 of them.
  4. Kingsbridge by Ken Follett – 4 books. I’ve read 1.
  5. Dublin Murder Squad by Tana French – 6 books. I’ve read 1.
  6. Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin – 5 books. I’ve read 3.
  7. Rachel Savernake Golden Age Mysteries by Martin Edwards – 3 books, with another due out next year. I’ve read 2.
  8. Harry Devlin by Martin Edwards – 7 books. I’ve read 1.
  9. Daisy Dalrymple by Carola Dunn – 23 books. I’ve read 4.
  10. Sea Detective by Mark Douglas-Home – 4 books. I’ve read 3.

Nucleus by Rory Clements

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Zaffre| January 2018| 453 pages| Hardback| My own copy| 5 stars

Nucleus by Rory Clements is the second book in his Tom Wilde series (the full list is at the end of this post). I have been reading them out of order, as I came across them. I think I’d have understood the relationship of the characters better if I had read the series in order from the start, but that has not stopped me from enjoying them.

Blurb

WINNER OF THE CWA HISTORICAL DAGGER 2018.
The eve of war: a secret so deadly, nothing and no one is safe

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

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

I’ve found this quite a difficult book to summarise as there are various elements to the plot. I think the publishers’ blurb merely skims the surface, but to go into detail would give away too much. With several plot lines, this is a mix of historical fact and fiction, set in 1939 when England and Germany are on the brink of war. It is a fast-paced and gripping book, involving murder, IRA bombers, and espionage, with many twists and turns

In Nazi Germany Jews are in fear of their lives, trying to leave the country. Some have made it to England and America. In both countries the race is on to develop an atomic bomb.

There’s a large cast of characters – the main one being Tom Wilde, an American professor of history at Cambridge University, who has returned from America after a meeting with President Roosevelt. There he was asked to liaise with two Americans in England, Colonel Dexter Flood and also to keep an eye on Milt Hardman, an American millionaire who is staying at Old Hall in Cambridgeshire with his family.

And so Wilde is drawn into Hardman’s world, meeting a Hollywood actress, drinking champagne, playing tennis, and partying. And then he soon finds himself having to deal with an increasingly complex situation when one of the Cavendish scientists, an introverted genius who was due to move to America to work with Oppenheimer, is found drowned in the River Cam, and then another one goes missing.

Meanwhile Albert, Eva Haas’ young son is also missing, apparently having been abducted from a Kindertransport train. Eva is a German Jewish physicist, who along with Arnold Lindberg, an elderly scientist rescued from Dachau, has arrived in Cambridge. Lydia, who is Tom’s neighbour and lover is a friend of Eva’s. She was to meet Albert in England and goes to Berlin to try to find out what has happened to him. There she is helped by Bertha Bracey and Frank Foley (real-life heroes). Bertha was working to rescue German Jewish children, organising Kindertransports, finding homes and schools for the children in Britain, and Frank, who was MI6’s top spy in Berlin. He broke all the rules to make sure as many Jewish people had visas to leave the country, saving many thousands of people.

I was totally immersed in the plot. It’s full of danger and action, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I learned much – not only about atomic fission, but also about the situation in Germany leading up to the Second World War – I hadn’t heard of the work of Bertha Bracey and Frank Foley before.

I’ve read three of Rory Clements’ books in his Tom Wilde series, with links to my posts:

Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: The Island by Victoria Hislop

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.

I’m currently reading The Island by Victoria Hislop, a book I’ve had on my bookshelves for years. The Wanderlust Bingo challenge has given me a massive nudge to read it now as it is the perfect book for the Island category! It is historical fiction inspired by a visit to Spinalonga, the abandoned Greek leprosy colony, an island off the coast of Crete, a stone’s throw from Plaka. I’ve now read 25% of this book and am enjoying it so far.

Plaka, 1953

A cold wind whipped through the streets of Plaka and the chill of the autumnal air encircled the woman, paralysing her body and mind with a numbness that almost blocked her senses but could do nothing to alleviate her grief.

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

Page 57 (page 56 is blank):

1939

Early May brings Crete its most perfect and heaven-sent days. On one such day, when the trees were heavy with blossom and the very last of the mountain snows had melted into crystal streams, Elena left the mainland for Spinalonga. In cruel contrast to this blackest of events, the sky was brilliant, a cloudless blue

Synopsis from Amazon:



On the brink of a life-changing decision, Alexis Fielding longs to find out about her mother’s past. But Sofia has never spoken of it. All she admits to is growing up in a small Cretan village before moving to London. When Alexis decides to visit Crete, however, Sofia gives her daughter a letter to take to an old friend, and promises that through her she will learn more.

Arriving in Plaka, Alexis is astonished to see that it lies a stone’s throw from the tiny, deserted island of Spinalonga – Greece’s former leper colony. Then she finds Fotini, and at last hears the story that Sofia has buried all her life: the tale of her great-grandmother Eleni and her daughters and a family rent by tragedy, war and passion.

She discovers how intimately she is connected with the island, and how secrecy holds them all in its powerful grip…

I’ve read three other books by Victoria Hislop and enjoyed them so I’m expecting this one to be good too.

What do you think? Have you read this book ?

Top Ten Tuesday:Books I Love That Were Written Over Ten Years Ago.

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.

The topic this week is Books I Love That Were Written Over Ten Years Ago. This is a hard topic because there are so many books that I love that were written over ten years ago. So, I have tried to choose books I haven’t featured before on my blog. I’ve linked them to either Goodreads or Amazon UK.

Chatterton by Peter Ackroyd (published in 1987). I have had this book for so long that I can’t remember when I bought it. Thomas Chatterton was an 18th century poet, a forger and a genius, whose life ended under mysterious circumstances. He died in 1770 when he was 18. His death was thought to be suicide: But what really happened?

A Passage to India by E M Forster (published in 1924). This was the first of Forster’s books that I’ve read. Dr Aziz is a young Muslim physician in the British Indian town of Chandrapore. One evening he comes across an English woman, Mrs Moore, in the courtyard of a local mosque; she and her younger travelling companion Adela are disappointed by claustrophobic British colonial culture and wish to see something of the ‘real’ India. But when Aziz kindly offers to take them on a tour of the Marabar caves with his close friend Cyril Fielding, the trip results in a shocking accusation that throws Chandrapore into a fever of racial tension.

Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris (published in 2005). At St Oswald’s, a long-established boys’ grammar school in the north of England, a new year has just begun. For the staff and boys of the school, a wind of unwelcome change is blowing. Suits, paperwork and Information Technology rule the world; and Roy Straitley, the eccentric veteran Latin master, is finally – reluctantly – contemplating retirement. But beneath the little rivalries, petty disputes and everyday crises of the school, a darker undercurrent stirs.

Pictures of Perfection by Reginald Hill (published in 1994). High in the Mid-Yorkshire Dales stands the traditional village of Enscombe, seemingly untouched by the modern world. The disappearance of a policeman brings Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel and DCI Peter Pascoe to its doors. As the detectives dig beneath the veneer of idyllic village life a new pattern emerges: of family feuds, ancient injuries, cheating and lies. And finally, as the community gathers for the traditional Squire’s Reckoning, it looks as if the simmering tensions will erupt in a bloody climax…

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, one of the most devastating and heartbreaking novels I’ve read (published in 2007). The book, which spans a period of over 40 years, from the 1960s to 2003, focuses on the tumultuous lives and relationship of Mariam and Laila, two Afghan women. Mariam, an illegitimate child, suffers from the stigma surrounding her birth and the abuse she faces throughout her marriage. Laila, born a generation later, is comparatively privileged during her youth until their lives intersect and she is also forced to accept a marriage proposal from Rasheed, Mariam’s husband.

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard (published in 1988). The first in the Cazelet Chronicles. In 1937, the coming war is only a distant cloud on Britain’s horizon. As the Cazalet households prepare for their summer pilgrimage to the family estate in Sussex, readers meet Edward, in love with but by no means faithful to his wife Villy; Hugh, wounded in the Great War; Rupert, who worships his lovely child-bride Zoe; and Rachel, the spinster sister.

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka (published in 2005). Sisters Vera and Nadezhda must aside a lifetime of feuding to save their émigré engineer father from voluptuous gold-digger Valentina. With her proclivity for green satin underwear and boil-in-the-bag cuisine, she will stop at nothing in her pursuit of Western wealth. But the sisters’ campaign to oust Valentina unearths family secrets, uncovers fifty years of Europe’s darkest history and sends them back to roots they’d much rather forget . . . .

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake (published in 1946). I first read this as a teenager. It’s the first book in the Gormenghast trilogy, a gothic fantasy whose strange characters’ lives are dominated by the labyrinthine castle of Gormenghast and its ancient rituals.Titus, heir to Lord Sepulchrave, has just been born, he stands to inherit the miles of rambling stone and mortar that stand for Gormenghast Castle. There are tears and strange laughter; fierce births and deaths beneath umbrageous ceilings; dreams and violence and disenchantment contained within a labyrinth of stone.

Dark Fire by C J Sansom (published in 2004). I love all the books in the Shardlake series. This is the second book, set in England in 1540. Matthew Shardlake, believing himself out of favour with Thomas Cromwell, is busy trying to maintain his legal practice and keep a low profile. But his involvement with a murder case, defending a girl accused of brutally murdering her young cousin, brings him once again into contact with the king’s chief minister – and a new assignment . . .

A Jealous Ghost by A N Wilson (published in 2005). This is a re-writing of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. There is something rather disquieting about Sallie Declan, a young American in London, who is obsessed with The Turn of the Screw, the subject of her PhD. thesis. She leaves her studies for a temporary job as a nanny in a large country house and builds a fantasy about her emotional future there. Surely she can see it is all delusion? But a progressively darker reality unfolds leading inevitably to a terrible and shocking climax. It’s good, although not as good as Henry James’s novel.