Classics Club Spin

The Classics ClubIt’s time for another Classics Club Spin. I’ve been hoping we’d get another Spin in before the end of the year and here it is.

The Spin rules:

  •  List any twenty books you have left to read from your Classics Club list.
  • Number them from 1 to 20.
  • On Friday 17th November the Classics Club will announce a number.
  • This is the book to read by 31 December 2017.

This is my list:

  1. Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor by R D Blackmore
  2. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
  3. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  4. Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens
  5. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  6. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
  7. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  8. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
  9. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  10. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  11. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  12. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome
  13. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  14. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  15. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  16. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  17. Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
  18. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  19. Framley Parsonage (Barsetshire Chronicles, #4) by Anthony Trollope
  20. Orlando by Virginia Woolf

It shouldn’t matter which one comes up as I do want to read these books – but ideally at this time of year I’d like it to be one of the shorter books on this list.

The Fear Index by Robert Harris

The Fear Index

The Fear Index by Robert Harris is a fast-paced story set in the world of high finance and computer technology but it didn’t appeal to me as much as the other books by him that I’ve read. It’s about scientist Dr Alex Hoffman, who together with his partner Hugo Quarry, an investment banker, runs a hedge fund based in Geneva, that makes billions. Alex has developed a revolutionary form of artificial intelligence that tracks human emotions, enabling it to predict movements in the financial markets. It’s built around the standard measure of market volatility: the VIX or ‘Fear Index’.

Alex wakes up one morning in the early hours to find an intruder has managed to bypass the elaborate security of the house. He challenges him only to receive a blow to his head that knocks him out and the intruder escapes. That is just the start of his troubles. A brain scan indicates he may have MS or possibly dementia and he is advised to take further advice, which of course, he doesn’t want to do. It appears that someone is out to destroy him and his company and even worse it soon looks as though this will cause a major global economic crisis. He is at a complete loss as to who it can be. It’s someone who has infiltrated into all areas of his life, affecting his marriage as well as his business.  He even begins to doubt his sanity.

On the one hand it helped me understand a bit more about hedge funds and how they operate but I got lost in the computer technology details. The characters are all not particularly likeable, but it’s definitely a page turner with plenty of suspense as the story raced to a conclusion, and it kept me puzzling over what or who was really causing the paranoia and violence. I thought it began well but didn’t find the ending very illuminating or satisfying and was left wondering what it was really all about.

I liked the chapter headings with extracts from books such as Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which made me wonder if the book was about the evolution of man into machine. Just an idea – if you’ve read the book what did you make of it all?

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Hutchinson; First Edition, First Printing edition (29 Sept. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0091936969
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091936969
  • Source: Library book
  • My rating: 3*

Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore

Birdcage Walk

Blurb:

It is 1792 and Europe is seized by political turmoil and violence. Lizzie Fawkes has grown up in Radical circles where each step of the French Revolution is followed with eager idealism. But she has recently married John Diner Tredevant, a property developer who is heavily invested in Bristol’s housing boom, and he has everything to lose from social upheaval and the prospect of war. Soon his plans for a magnificent terrace built above the two-hundred-foot drop of the Gorge come under threat. Tormented and striving Diner believes that Lizzie’s independent, questioning spirit must be coerced and subdued. She belongs to him: law and custom confirm it, and she must live as he wants—his passion for Lizzie darkening until she finds herself dangerously alone.

Weaving a deeply personal and moving story with a historical moment of critical and complex importance, Birdcage Walk is an unsettling and brilliantly tense drama of public and private violence, resistance and terror from one of our greatest storytellers.

My thoughts:

This is Helen Dunmore’s last book, but the first one of hers I’ve read, although Exposure is sitting in my Kindle waiting to be read. It’s historical fiction, although I think it’s mainly a meditation on death and the legacy we leave behind. And that is most poignant as although at the time she was writing the book Helen Dunmore didn’t know it she was seriously ill and she died earlier this year. She was the author of 12 novels, three books of short stories, numerous books for young adults and children and 11 collections of poetry.

As she wrote in the Afterword:

I suppose that a writer’s creative self must have access to knowledge of which the conscious mind and the emotions are still ignorant, and that a novel written at such a time, under such a growing shadow, cannot help being full of a sharper light, rather as a landscape becomes brilliantly distinct in the last sunlight before a storm. I have rarely felt the existence of characters more clearly, or understood them more deeply – or enjoyed writing about them more.

I was completely absorbed in this book as I read it. It’s written beautifully and poetically, moving slowly as the details of Lizzie and Diner’s marriage come sharply into focus. Birdcage Walk was first published in March 2017, so I’m coming a bit late to reading it and the drawbacks of that are that I’ve seen several reviews and have realised that (like many books) there are mixed opinions about it. I’ve seen criticisms that the pace is too slow, and that much of the plot is given away in the opening chapters. But I felt the pace was just right for the story and the subject matter, and I think the opening chapters set the scene and the theme of the book – that is, that life is transitory, that the individual vanishes, as it were, that no record is left of the lives of many of past generations, despite the effect they had on the lives of their contemporaries.

The Prelude reveals that Birdcage Walk in the present day is a paved path between railings with pleached lime trees arching overhead on their cast-iron frame. But back at the end of the 18th century it was where Diner had started to build a terrace of houses with fantastic views over the Avon Gorge (before the building of the Clifton Suspension Bridge). When war was declared between Britain and France in 1793 this had a disastrous effect and like many builders and developers, Diner’s building work slowed and then ceased as he went bankrupt.

The novel shows the effect of the French Revolution on England through newspaper reports and letters, which I thought was effective casting light on the contemporary scene and showing the horror of what was happening across the Channel. The main focus, however, is on Lizzie. Diner’s repressive and jealous nature comes increasingly to the fore as his building work decreases, and the tension between him and Lizzie soars, accelerated when she discovers what had happened to Lucie, his first wife. The sense of foreboding and menace present in their marriage pervades the whole novel.

Many thanks to Grove Atlantic for providing me with an ARC copy through NetGalley.

My rating: 4*

Amazon UK
Amazon US

My Week in Books: 8 November 2017

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.

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A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now: I’m currently reading two books from my TBR shelves:

Victoria: a Life by A N Wilson. I’ve been meaning to read this book for a couple of years and watching the BBC’s version of Daisy Goodwin’s Victoria made me get this down from the shelves and start reading. My copy is a hardback book, long (over 650 pages) and rather awkward and heavy to hold so I’m taking my time reading it in short sections.

Victoria: A Life

 

I’m also reading  The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson, a novel of jealously, rivalry and the dangerous power of obsession. Looking through my TBR shelves this one caught my eye. I’ve only read a few chapters and it’s looking good.

The Other Side of the BridgeBlurb:

Two brothers, Arthur and Jake Dunn, are the sons of a farmer in the mid-1930s, when life is tough and another world war is looming. Arthur is reticent, solid, dutiful and set to inherit the farm and his father’s character; Jake is younger, attractive, mercurial and dangerous to know – the family misfit. When a beautiful young woman comes into the community, the fragile balance of sibling rivalry tips over the edge.

Then: I’ve recently finished reading Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore, her final novel. My review will follow soon.

Birdcage WalkBlurb:

 

It is 1792 and Europe is seized by political turmoil and violence.

Lizzie Fawkes has grown up in Radical circles where each step of the French Revolution is followed with eager idealism. But she has recently married John Diner Tredevant, a property developer who is heavily invested in Bristol’s housing boom, and he has everything to lose from social upheaval and the prospect of war.

Diner believes that Lizzie’s independent, questioning spirit must be coerced and subdued. She belongs to him: law and custom confirm it, and she must live as he wants.

But as Diner’s passion for Lizzie darkens, she soon finds herself dangerously alone.

Weaving a deeply personal and moving story with a historical moment of critical and complex importance, Birdcage Walk is an unsettling and brilliantly tense drama of public and private violence, resistance and terror from one of our greatest storytellers.

Next:  The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid, the third Karen Pirie novel. See the blurb and opening paragraph in my post yesterday.

The Skeleton Road

 

 

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? And what have you been reading this week?

Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Publication: 19 October 2017, Harper Collins

Source: Review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5*

First Chapter First Paragraph: The Skeleton Road

eca8f-fistchapEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros to share the first paragraph sometimes two, of a book that she’s reading or is planning to read soon.

This week’s first paragraph is from her third Karen Pirie book,  The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid, a book I’m about to read.

The Skeleton Road

 

Chapter 1

Fraser Jardine wanted to die. His stomach was knotted tight, his bowels in the twisted grip of panic. A teardrop of sweat trickled down his left temple. The voice in his head sneered at his weakness, just as it had since boyhood. Biting his lip in shame, Fraser forced open the skylight and pushed it outwards. He climbed the last three steps on the ladder one at a time and gingerly emerged on the pitched roof.

Never mind that tourists would have paid for this sensational view of a city classified as a World Heritage Site. All Fraser cared about was how far he was from the ground.

I can empathise with Fraser – I’ve never liked heights and always get that terrifying feeling that I’m about to fall whenever I climb up to the top of a tall building.

Blurb:

When a skeleton is discovered hidden at the top of a crumbling, gothic building in Edinburgh, Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie is faced with the unenviable task of identifying the bones. As Karen’s investigation gathers momentum, she is drawn deeper into a dark world of intrigue and betrayal, spanning the dark days of the Balkan Wars.

Karen’s search for answers brings her to a small village in Croatia, a place where people have endured unspeakable acts of violence. Meanwhile, someone is taking the law into their own hands in the name of justice and revenge — but when present resentment collides with secrets of the past, the truth is more shocking than anyone could have imagined . . .

I’ve read the first two Karen Pirie books and enjoyed them both, although I think the first one, The Distant Echo, is better than the second, A Darker Domain.

What do you think?  Would you continue reading? 

Fair of Face by Christina James

Tina Brackenbury and her baby daughter Bluebell are dead …

Fair of Face

Fair of Face is the sixth novel in the DI Yates series and  I think it stands well on its own. It is not a book you can read quickly as there are plenty of characters and several plot threads that need to be kept in mind. It is an intricately plotted mystery, re-assessing a crime from the past whilst investigating a present day murder, set in Spalding in Lincolnshire. I  didn’t find it an easy book to review.

The book begins with Tristram Arkwright, a prisoner in HMP Wakefield. He works in the prison library and is secretly in correspondence with Jennifer Dove, a bookseller who regularly supplies the prison. Jennifer is bored and finds Tristram a welcome diversion. He, meanwhile, is planning an appeal against his sentence insisting he is innocent.

Tina’s 10 year old foster daughter, Grace Winter was staying with a friend, Chloe and arrives home as DI Tim Yates and DS Juliet Armstrong are beginning their investigations into the deaths of Tina and Bluebelle. Grace acts strangely and doesn’t seem very upset by the murders and asks to see the bodies. But Grace has had a difficult life as this isn’t the first murder that she has encountered. Four years earlier her mother, sister and grandparents had been killed at their farmhouse and Grace had escaped by hiding in a cupboard. Grace was then adopted by Amy Winter, and only later sent to live with Tina. Her friend, Chloe, also has a troubled background, with brothers who are regularly in trouble with the police. She is noticeably intimated by them and by Grace. As both girls are only 10 years old the police work with Social Services in order to question them

I struggled for a while to sort out the relationships between all the characters and the relationship between the opening chapters and Tina and Bluebell’s murders. The narrative switches between the first person present tense (Juliet) and the third person past tense, which I found a bit awkward until I got used to it. And I was confused by characters with similar names – Tom and Tim for example – regularly having to check who was who. I also failed to see relevance of Jennifer Dove’s character in the opening chapters. But despite these drawbacks I enjoyed the book and was eager to solve the mysteries.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy of the book.

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Salt Publishing (15 Oct. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1784631086
  • ISBN-13: 978-1784631086
  • My rating: 3*