A-Z of TBRs: E-Books: D, E and F

Earlier this year I looked through my TBRs – the ‘real’ books – and as it prompted me to read more of them, I’ve decided to take a fresh look at some of the TBRs on my Kindle. I have a bad habit of downloading books and then forgetting all about them – it’s as though they’ve gone into a black hole.

This is the second instalment of my A – Z of my e-book TBRs – with a little ‘taster’ from each. These are all fiction.

Daisy in Chains

D is for Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton (on my Kindle since November 2014.)  I can’t quite believe I haven’t read this book as Sharon Bolton is one of my favourite authors, but there it is – I can see I started it as I’m on page 22. It’s about a convicted murderer, Hamish Wolfe who tries to convince, defence barrister Maggie Rose that he is innocent.

The Times Online, Monday, 8 September 2014

CONTROVERSY IN COURT AS WOLFE TRIAL OPENS

Accused surgeon, Hamish Wolfe, refused to enter a plea on the first day of his trial at the Old Bailey today. In accordance with English law, he will now be tried as if he had pleaded not guilty.

Dressed in a dark grey suit, white shirt and blue tie, Wolfe appeared to be paying close attention to proceedings, but when asked to speak he remained silent, in spite of the judge, Mr Justice Peters, on three occasions, advising him that it was not in his interests to do so. (page 13)

There are letters, emails, and court transcripts as well as newspaper reports and the story is told from multiple viewpoints, told mainly as far as I can see from the little I’ve read, in the present tense, as in the following extract where Sandra, Hamish’s mother is talking to Maggie as she drives her home from the beach:

I came here today to talk to you,’ she says. I didn’t want to come to your house, I didn’t want to intrude, so I thought I’d wait for you at the beach. And then Daisy ran off just before you arrived. It all nearly went so horribly wrong.’

… ‘I drove over this morning,’ Sandra says before she’s even changed gear. ‘And yesterday morning too. I watched your car pull out of your drive. I guessed you were coming here. And that you come at high tide. (page 9)

Exposure

E is for Exposure by Helen Dunmore, on my Kindle since July 2017. It’s set in London in 1960 when the Cold War is at its height, and a spy may be a friend or neighbour, colleague or lover. At the end of a suburban garden, in the pouring rain, a woman buries a briefcase deep in the earth. She believes that she is protecting her family. What she will learn is that no one is immune from betrayal or the devastating consequences of exposure.

Another book written in the present tense, which again might be the reason I stopped reading this book at page 56:

It starts with a whistle of a train, shearing through the cold, thick dust of a November afternoon. Lily Callington hears it as she digs over her vegetable patch at the bottom of her garden in Muswell Hill. For a second she’s startled, because the whistle sounds so close, as if a rain is rushing towards her along the disused railway line at the bottom of the garden. She straightens and listens intently, frowning. the whistle goes through her, touching nerves so deep that Lily doesn’t even know where they are. The children! They aren’t here. She can’t see them, touch them, keep them safe.

Stop it you fool. They are not babies any more. Paul is ten, Sally almost nine. Even Bridget is five. They’re at school. What could be safer than a primary school in Muswell Hill?

(pages 4-5)

Flight Behaviour

F is for Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver, on my Kindle since February 2014. On the Appalachian Mountains above her home, a young mother discovers a beautiful and terrible marvel of nature: the monarch butterflies have not migrated south for the winter this year. Is this a miraculous message from God, or a spectacular sign of climate change? Entomology expert, Ovid Byron, certainly believes it is the latter. He ropes in Dellarobia to help him decode the mystery of the monarch butterflies.

Dellarobia is a restless farm wife who gave up her own plans when she accidentally became pregnant at seventeen. Now, after a decade of domestic disharmony on a failing farm, she has settled for permanent disappointment but seeks momentary escape through an obsessive flirtation with a younger man. As she hikes up a mountain road behind her house to a secret tryst, she encounters a shocking sight: a silent, forested valley filled with what looks like a lake of fire.

The flame now appeared to lift from the individual treetops in showers of orange sparks, exploding the way a pine log does in a camp fire when it’s poked. The sparks spiralled upwards in swirls like funnel clouds. Twisters of brightness against gray sky. In broad daylight with no comprehension she watched. From the tops of the funnels the sparks lifted high and sailed out undirected above the dark forest.

A forest fire, if that’s what it was, would roar. This consternation swept the mountain in perfect silence. The air remained cold and clear. No smoke, no crackling howl. she stopped breathing for a second and closed her eyes to listen, but heard nothing. Only a faint patter like rain on leaves. (page 19)

If you’ve read any of these please let me know what you think?

Six Degrees of Separation from The Poisonwood Bible to …

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month the chain begins with The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, one of my favourite books. I’ve read it several times.

The Poisonwood Bible

Told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959, The Poisonwood Bible is the story of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

I bought The Poisonwood Bible in Gatwick airport bookshop just before boarding a plane to go on holiday. So my first link in the chain is to another book I bought in an another airport bookshop waiting to board another plane:

Fortune's Rocks

It’s Fortune’s Rocks by Anita Shreve. I had never heard of Anita Shreve, but I liked the look of this book – and the fact that it’s a chunky book of nearly 600 pages, good to read on holiday. It’s set in the summer of 1899 when Olympia Biddeford and her parents are on holiday at the family’s vacation home in Fortune’s Rocks, a coastal resort in New Hampshire. She is fifteen years old and this is the story of her love affair with an older man.

When I looked at it today, I saw that it’s written in the present tense. Recently I’ve been writing about my dislike of the present tense – but I obviously haven’t always disliked it, because I remember really enjoying this book.

Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell, #1)

Another book written in the present tense that I loved is Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, the story of Thomas Cromwell, the son of a blacksmith, and his political rise, set against the background of Henry VIII’s England and his struggle with the Pope over his desire to marry Anne Boleyn. Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres, which takes me to my next link, another book set in the reign of Henry VIII –

Lamentation (Matthew Shardlake, #6)

Lamentation by C J Sansom set in 1546, the last year of Henry VIII’s life. Shardlake, a lawyer is asked by Queen Catherine (Parr) for help in discovering who has stolen her confessional book, Lamentation of a Sinner. It evokes the people, the sights, smells and atmosphere of Henry’s last year and at the same time it’s an ingenious crime mystery, full of suspense and tension.

Barnaby Rudge

The next book also combines historical and crime fiction – Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens, set in 1780 at the time of the Gordon Riots.  It’s a story of mystery and suspense which begins with an unsolved double murder and goes on to involve conspiracy, blackmail, abduction and retribution.

Barnaby Rudge is a simple young man, living with his mother. His pet raven, Grip goes everywhere with him. He’s a most amazing bird who can mimic voices and seems to have more wits about him than Barnaby. Grip is based on Dickens’s own ravens, one of whom was also called Grip.

Ravens form the next link-

The Raven's Head

to The Raven’s Head by Karen Maitland, set in 1224 in France and England about Vincent, an apprentice librarian who stumbles upon a secret powerful enough to destroy his master. He attempts blackmail but when this fails Vincent goes on the run in possession of an intricately carved silver raven’s head. The plot revolves around the practice of alchemy – the search for a way to transform the base soul of man into pure incorruptible spirit, as well as the way to find the stone, elixir or tincture to turn base metals into precious metals.

And finally to the last link in this chain another book featuring alchemy –

Crucible (Alexander Seaton, #3)

Crucible by S G MacLean, the third of her Alexander Seaton books. Set in 1631 in Aberdeen Robert Sim, a librarian is killed. Alexander investigates his murder and finds, amongst the library books, works on alchemy and hermetics – the pursuit of ancient knowledge and the quest for ‘a secret, unifying knowledge, known to the ancients’ since lost to us. S G MacLean’s books are full of atmosphere. I think her style of writing suits me perfectly, the characters are just right, credible well-rounded people, and the plot moves along swiftly with no unnecessary digressions.

My chain this month has travelled from Africa to Scotland via America and England, and spans the years from the 13th century to the mid 20th century. It has followed a missionary and his family, a teenager in love with an older man, and looked in on power struggles in Tudor England, and the pursuit of the secret to turn metal into gold.

Links are: books I bought to read on holiday, books in the present tense, crime fiction and historical fiction (and a combination of these genres), ravens and alchemy.

Next month  (June 2, 2018), we’ll begin with  Malcolm Gladwell’s debut (and best seller), The Tipping Point, a book and author I’ve never come across before.

Six Degrees of Separation: from Like Water for Chocolate to The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month the chain begins begin with a book that Kate says people may not have discovered, were it not for the hugely popular movie version – Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate. I hadn’t discovered it at all until now! But I see that it’s a ‘bestseller’, a book about passion and the magic of food (including recipes), a tale of family life in  Mexico.

Like Water for Chocolate

The first link in my chain is a book also set partly in Mexico:

The Lacuna

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver is the story of Harrison Shepherd, the son of a Mexican mother and an American father and it’s told through his diaries and letters together with genuine newspaper articles, although whether they reported truth or lies is questionable. As you can see from the cover swimming plays a part in this book. As a boy, Harrison, loved swimming and diving into a cave, which was only available at certain tides, a cave that was there one day and gone the next – a lacuna.

Swimming also features in Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie.

Evil Under the Sun (Hercule Poirot, #23)

Poirot is on holiday in Devon staying in a seaside hotel. It’s August, the sun is hot, people are enjoying themselves, swimming and sunbathing until Arlena is found dead – she’d been strangled.

The next book in my chain is also crime fiction  – Blue Heaven by C J Box.

Blue Heaven

This is a story set in North Idaho about two children, Annie and William who decide to go fishing without telling their mother, Monica, and witness a murder in the woods. One of the killers sees them and they run for their lives. It’s fast-paced and full of tension right to the end.

I chose Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as the next link, a book that also has a colour in its title.

Half of a Yellow Sun

It’s based on the Nigeria-Biafra War of 1967 – 70. Focusing on the struggle between the north and the south, the Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa people, it brings home the horrors brought about by war, the ethnic, religious and racial divisions and the suffering that results.  It is also a novel about love and relationships, a beautiful and emotional book without being sentimental and factual without being boring.

Another book about war, but this one is non-fiction about a spy operation during World War Two – Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre.

Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story That Changed the Course of World War II

It’s about the Allies’ deception plan in 1943, code-named Operation Mincemeat, which underpinned the invasion of Sicily. It was framed around a man who never was. I thought it was so far-fetched to be almost like reading a fictional spy story. I marvelled at the ingenuity of the minds of the plans’ originators and the daring it took to carry it out.

Operation Mincemeat led me to think about a fictional spy in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carré.

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold

This is set in the Cold War period in the 1960s and tells the story of Alex Leamas’s final assignment. It’s a dark, tense book and quite short, but very complicated; a story  full of secrecy, manipulation, of human frailty and its duplicitous nature.

What a journey! My chain moves through time and place – from Mexico to Devon, North Idaho, Nigeria, Sicily and Berlin. It encompasses fiction and non-fiction and takes in several wars. All, except for the book that starts the chain, are books I’ve read and enjoyed. Six Degrees of Separation is always fascinating to compile and I’m always surprised at where it goes and where it ends up. Who would have thought that a book about family life in Mexico would end up linked to a spy novel about the Cold War?

My Week in Books: 20 September 2017

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

IMG_1384-0

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

Now: I’m currently reading:

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. This is a re-read of a book I first read and loved years ago. I’ve read about half the book and I still think it’s a fantastic book. It was several years ago when I last read it and although there are some things I remember, it’s like reading it for the first time:

The Poisonwood Bible

Blurb:

Told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian congo in 1959, The Poisonwood Bible is the story of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

I’m also reading Extraordinary People by Peter May

Extraordinary People (The Enzo Files, #1)

Blurb:

PARIS.

An old mystery.
As midnight strikes, a man desperately seeking sanctuary flees into a church. The next day, his sudden disappearance will make him famous throughout France.

A new science.
Forensic expert Enzo Macleod takes a wager to solve the seven most notorious French murders, armed with modern technology and a total disregard for the justice system.

A fresh trail.
Deep in the catacombs below the city, he unearths dark clues deliberately set – and as he draws closer to the killer, discovers that he is to be the next victim.

Then: I’ve recently finished reading The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse. My review will follow soon.

The Taxidermist's Daughter

Blurb:

The clock strikes twelve. Beneath the wind and the remorseless tolling of the bell, no one can hear the scream . . .

1912. A Sussex churchyard. Villagers gather on the night when the ghosts of those who will not survive the coming year are thought to walk. And in the shadows, a woman lies dead.

As the flood waters rise, Connie Gifford is marooned in a decaying house with her increasingly tormented father. He drinks to escape the past, but an accident has robbed her of her most significant childhood memories. Until the disturbance at the church awakens fragments of those vanished years . . .

Next: I think I’ll start reading After the Fire by Henning Mankel

Blurb:

Fredrik Welin is a seventy-year-old retired doctor. Years ago he retreated to the Swedish archipelago, where he lives alone on an island. He swims in the sea every day, cutting a hole in the ice if necessary. He lives a quiet life. Until he wakes up one night to find his house on fire.

Fredrik escapes just in time, wearing two left-footed wellies, as neighbouring islanders arrive to help douse the flames. All that remains in the morning is a stinking ruin and evidence of arson. The house that has been in his family for generations and all his worldly belongings are gone. He cannot think who would do such a thing, or why. Without a suspect, the police begin to think he started the fire himself.

Tackling love, loss and loneliness, After the Fire is Henning Mankell’s compelling last novel.

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

My Week in Books: 13 September 2017

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

IMG_1384-0

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

Now: I’m currently reading The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse.

The Taxidermist's Daughter

 

Blurb:

The clock strikes twelve. Beneath the wind and the remorseless tolling of the bell, no one can hear the scream . . .

1912. A Sussex churchyard. Villagers gather on the night when the ghosts of those who will not survive the coming year are thought to walk. And in the shadows, a woman lies dead.

As the flood waters rise, Connie Gifford is marooned in a decaying house with her increasingly tormented father. He drinks to escape the past, but an accident has robbed her of her most significant childhood memories. Until the disturbance at the church awakens fragments of those vanished years . . .

Then: I’ve just finished reading A Climate of Fear by Fred Vargas which I really enjoyed. My review will follow soon.

A Climate of Fear (Commissaire Adamsberg #10)

 

Blurb:

A woman is found dead in her bath. The murder has been disguised as a suicide and a strange symbol is discovered at the scene.

Then the symbol is observed near a second victim, who ten years earlier had also taken part in a doomed expedition to Iceland.

How are these deaths, and rumours of an Icelandic demon, linked to a secretive local society? And what does the mysterious sign mean? Commissaire Adamsberg is about to find out.

Next: For once I know exactly what I’ll be reading next, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. This is a re-read of a book I first read and loved years ago:

The Poisonwood Bible

Blurb:

Told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian congo in 1959, The Poisonwood Bible is the story of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

How about you? Have you read any of these books?  If so, what did you think of them? And what have you been reading this week?

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

If I don’t write about a book as soon as I’ve finished it the details begin to fade. I finished reading  Barbara Kingsolver’s first novel, The Bean Trees a few weeks ago. So this is a short post on the book, which doesn’t really do justice to it!

My thoughts:

I loved this book. Barbara Kingsolver writes in such a way that I can easily visualise the scenes, beginning with the opening paragraph in which she describes a tractor tire blowing up, flinging a man up in the air and throwing him over the top of a Standard Oil sign. Taylor (originally called Marietta/Missy) grew up in rural Kentucky. She left home when she had saved enough to buy a car, an old VW. She changed her name to Taylor after the first place where she ran out of petrol, which just happened to be Taylorville. She drove on until the car broke down in the middle of nowhere, on land owned by the Cherokee tribe. And it was there at a garage that an Indian woman abandoned a baby girl in Taylor’s car – she called the baby, Turtle.

They travel on to Tucson, where she settled for a while, living with Lou Ann, a mother whose husband, Angel Ruiz left before their son was born, and working for Mattie at ‘Jesus Is Lord Used Tires’. Mattie, however, is also involved in an underground railway moving illegal Guatemalan and Salvadoran immigrants to safe houses. She talks of the obligation under the United Nations ‘something or other’ ‘to take in people whose lives are in danger’. And Taylor becomes involved in helping her.

There are several themes running throughout this short, but well written book – both political and social including family relationships, particularly mother/child, sexual and physical abuse of small children, the integration of cultures, as well as the always current issue of refugees and illegal immigrants. I thought it was all thought-provoking as well as fascinating reading.

I have read some of Barbara Kingsolver’s later books, including The Poisonwood Bible, a longer and much more complex book, which I’ve read twice and loved. There is a sequel to The Bean Trees that I really want to read now – Pigs In Heaven.

Reading Challenges: What’s In a Name? in the category of a book with the word ‘tree’ in the title.

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

Some years ago I was browsing in a bookshop at Gatwick airport to add to the books I’d brought with me to read on holiday and I bought Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. I loved it. I’ve read some of her other books, but none as good as The Poisonwood Bible. When I saw that she had written The Lacuna and it had won the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction, (actually beating Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall!) I bought it, expecting great things. That was two and half years ago and it’s only this year that I’ve read it.

I was disappointed as I don’t think it’s as good as either Wolf Hall or The Poisonwood Bible. There some good parts, but overall I was glad to finish reading it. It’s a long tale (670 pages), moving from Mexico in the 1930s to the McCarthy trials of alleged communists in the USA of the 1940s and 1950s. I thought it began and ended well, with good descriptions and fascinating characters, but I got bored several times in the middle.

It’s the story of Harrison Shepherd, the son of a Mexican mother and an American father and it’s told through his diaries and letters together with genuine newspaper articles, although whether they reported truth or lies is questionable. It begins in Mexico where Harrison’s mother took him to live when she left his father to live with a Mexican businessman, she calls Mr Produce the Cash behind his back. I thought this part came to life with lyrical descriptions of the people and the landscape. But it is only in the second half of the novel that I felt Harrison himself came alive as a character, no longer talking about himself in the third person, ‘the boy’, and referring to himself as ‘I’.

Throughout the book Kingsolver intermingles real characters and events with her fictional ones and I thought that worked well. There are the artists Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo. Harrison works for Diego, mixing plaster for his huge murals he painted in Mexico City. Whilst working for Rivera, who was a communist he met and subsequently worked for the exiled Bolshevik leader, Lev Trotsky. And it is this connection that eventually lands him in difficulties later on when he had moved to live in the USA and became a novellist writing historical fiction about the Aztecs. He is accused of being a communist and being Un-American.

I found the historical parts very interesting as I knew nothing about Rivera, or his wife, and very little about Trotsky and the McCarthy trials. But eventually I found the level of detail was just too much and the story meandered, losing impetus. Harrison himself comes across as too passive, too accepting of what ever happened to him, a victim of circumstances. Much more interesting is the second narrator, Violet Brown who becomes his secretary and friend, who saved his diaries from being burnt.

There are several instances of lacunas, missing parts and gaps, scattered throughout the book. For example, some of Harrison’s diaries and notebooks go missing. As a boy he loved swimming and diving into a cave, which is only available at certain tides:

Today the cave was gone. Saturday last it was there. Searching the whole rock face below the cliff did not turn it up. Then the tide came higher and waves crashed too hard to keep looking. How could a tunnel open in the rock and then close again? … Leandro says the tides are complicated and the rocks on that side are dangerous, to stay over here in the shallow reef. He wasn’t pleased to hear about the cave. He already knew about it, it is called something already, la lacuna. (page 45)

But although The Lacuna is well written and well researched I felt there was something missing, the personal elements that brought the story to life for me were few and far between; I couldn’t feel involved and just wanted it to end. I persevered because it has had such good reviews and recommendations, but sadly it dragged for me.