Catching Up: Darkside by Belinda Bauer & The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Once more I’m behind with reviews of some of the books I’ve read in the past few weeks, so here are some brief notes on two of them that fall into the 10 Books of Summer Reading category.

Darkside by [Bauer, Belinda]

5*

Darkside  is Belinda Bauer’s second novel, set in Shipcott on Exmoor a few years after the events in her first novel, Blacklands. Some of the characters in Blacklands also appear in Darkside, but only in minor roles and I think that Darkside can easily be read as a standalone novel. Shipcott is an isolated village and young PC Jonas Holly is the only policeman in the area covering seven villages and a large part of Exmoor. When Margaret Priddy is killed his inexperience means that has to call in the Taunton Homicide team, led by DCI John Marvel.

Jonas and Marvel clash and Jonas, undermined by as number of anonymous notes accusing him of failing to do his job, tries to keep out of Marvel’s way. More murders follow as Jonas, whose wife Lucy has been diagnosed with MS, is struggling to hold everything together. I liked the characterisation, the description of the setting and the twisty, turning plot. Like Blacklands, Darkside is full of a dark, brooding atmosphere and suspense. I had my suspicions about the identity of the murderer but it was only as I was getting near to the end of the book that I began to think I could possibly be right.

The Woman in Cabin 10

3*

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware didn’t satisfy me as much as Darkside. I liked the beginning of the book. The main character, journalist Lo Blacklock takes the opportunity to fill in for her boss on a luxury press launch on a boutique cruise ship and hopes it will help her recover from a traumatic break-in at her flat. But woken in the night by a scream from cabin 10 next to hers she believes a woman was thrown over board, only to discover that the ship’s records show that cabin 10 was unoccupied. Lo is exhausted from lack of sleep, overwrought with anxiety and dependent on pills and alcohol to see her through. She fails to convince anyone that she is telling the truth.

So far so good. I thought the setting on a luxury cruise ship worked well for this type of locked room mystery. But then as I read on I felt the book was too drawn out, I wasn’t convinced by the plot and in places I found it hard to believe. I wanted to know how it would end  and it is easy reading, so I kept turning the pages. But the final chapter left me cold – tying up the ends in a facile way.

Catching Up

It’s that time of year – the grass is growing at a rate of knots, the weeds are shooting up all over the place, the garden is crying out for attention and my time for writing is disappearing.

So here are two quick reviews of books I’ve read this month:

Blacklands

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer – her debut novel. I loved this book, so different from other crime fiction books I’ve read. It’s told mainly from Stephen Lamb’s perspective. Stephen is twelve years old. Nineteen years earlier Billy, Stephen’s uncle then aged eleven had disappeared. It was assumed that he had fallen victim to the notorious serial killer Arnold Avery, but his body had never been found. Stephen is determined to find where Arnold had buried his body and writes to him in prison.

What follows is an absolutely gripping battle of wits between Stephen and Arnold as they exchange letters. This is a dark and chilling story that took me inside the minds of both Stephen and Arnold, making this a disturbing experience and also a very moving and heartbreaking story. Since reading this book I’ve also read Snap, which although I enjoyed it I don’t think it is as good as Blacklands. I shall certainly be reading more of her books!

A Life in Questions

A Life in Questions by Jeremy Paxman (one of my TBRS). This is an interesting and entertaining autobiography, which is mainly about his career with little about his personal life, written in a very readable style. His sardonic wit and sense of humour come across, often aimed at himself. He tells of his childhood and his career first with the BBC in Northern Ireland and then in various war zones and trouble spots before becoming a presenter on Newsnight, where his interviews with politicians both infuriated and delighted me, and quizmaster on University Challenge. He has also done documentary programmes including an enlightening one on the EU, on art, and on history and has written several books on a variety of subjects. The only one I’ve read is The English: A Portrait of a People.

As I would expect from such a forthright person Paxman’s book is full of his opinions, but I couldn’t help wondering how much of  his grumpiness is a facade and what the real man behind it is really like. Maybe his reflections on his love for fly fishing and for nature, give us a glimpse of the real person. I liked these passages very much. Extending to 6 pages he describes how fishing is

essentially about trying to inserting yourself into an environment where you don’t belong, without being noticed. If you blunder about you won’t catch anything – on a sunny day you will be able to see the trout darting off in all directions when they sense your footfall on the bank, their flicking tails a snub to your clumsiness. Be quiet. And then, when you’re stalking a fish, things happen around you. A grass snake swims sinuously across the river. A water vole plops into a stream. Wagtails and oystercatchers dance at the water’s edge. Swallows and martins swoop low over the water, snatching flies. A kingfisher flashes that spectacular iridescent blue above the river; it is gone in an instant.

… To become absorbed in the natural world frees your mind: fish cannot survive in our element, and only imagination will allow us to live in theirs. …

In essence it is a solitary occupation. But the best fishing days are those spent with friends, meeting for a picnic lunch on the riverbank, united in the awareness that we are doing something which defies rational explanation. (extracts from pages 254-255)

 

Although I don’t fish I think I’d like to read his book on fishing: Fish, Fishing and the Meaning of Life.

Library Loot

It’s been a while since I wrote a post about my library books. I’m lucky as the mobile library van visits here once a fortnight, stopping nearly outside our house. So, I regularly borrow books both from the van and from the branch library. These are my recent library loans.

First three non fiction books:

Non Fic Lib Bks May 2018

  • Do No Harm by Henry Marsh one of the UK’s foremost neurosurgeons. I first read about this book on BookerTalk’s blog. She wrote: In Do No Harm he offers insight into the joy and despair of a career dedicated to one of the most complex systems in the body. This is a candid account of how it feels to drill into someone’s skull, navigate through a myriad of nerves that control memory, reason, speech and imagination and suck out abnormal growths. I thought it looks interesting, so I reserved the book to read it for myself.
  • And then I saw Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole by Allan H Ropper and B D Burrell sitting on the shelves. I admit that I was drawn to this book by its title on the spine, not realising until I took it off the shelf that this is also a book by a neurosurgeon, Dr Ropper, an American professor at Harvard Medical School. This is a glimpse into the ways our brains can go wrong, how a damaged brain can radically alter our lives.
  • Learn to Sleep Well by Chris Idzikowski. After reading Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker I thought it would be a good idea to read a book about getting better sleep as I don’t get the average of eight hours of sleep Professor Walker recommends. It’s sub-titled ‘get to sleep and stay asleep overcome sleep problems revitalize body and mind.’

And now the fiction:

Fic Lib Bks May 2018

  • A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale. It is set in Cornwall, about a parish priest Barnaby Johnson. Earlier this year I read Gale’s Notes from an Exhibition and found although this book is not a sequel it has some of the same characters and I want to know more about them.
  • Deadline by Barbara Nadel. I haven’t read any of her other books – this is an Inspector Ikmen Mystery set in Istanbul. I liked the blurb on the back cover – Ikmen is invited to a murder mystery evening at Istanbul’s famous Pera Palas Hotel where he finds himself embroiled in a deadly game of life imitating art. Halfway through the evening, one of the actors is found dead in the room where Agatha Christie used to stay when she was in Istanbul.
  • Sisters by Patricia MacDonald, another new-to-me author, (one of the reasons I like to borrow books is to check out new-to-me authors). This is described on the back cover as a ‘fast-paced novel of psychological suspense‘. Alex Woods is shocked to find out after her parents’ death that she has a sister that her mother had kept a secret from her. She decides to search for her.
  • How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn. I’d reserved this one, a book I’ve been thinking of reading for a while. It’s a story of life in a mining community in rural South Wales as Huw Morgan is preparing to leave the valley where he had grown up. He tells of life before the First World War.
  • Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer – see my Friday post for details of the novel and the opening sentences.  I’ve already started reading it. It’s about  Patrick Fort, a medical student with Asperger’s Syndrome, studying anatomy and trying to identify the cause of death of a body he is dissecting. I borrowed this book as I loved her first book, Blacklands.

 

My Friday Post: Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer

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.

I know I shouldn’t start another book just yet as I’m in the middle of three but this morning I couldn’t resist dipping into Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer. It looks so good.

Rubbernecker

It begins:

Dying is not as easy as it looks in the movies.

In the movies, a car skids on ice. It slews across the road, it teeters on the edge of the cliff.

It drops; it tumbles; the doors come off; it crumples and arcs, crumples and arcs – and finally stops at a tree, wheels up like a smoking turtle.

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.
  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:

I snap out of the cloud and get a bit frantic, which is difficult to do when you can’t move or make a sound. I try to open my eyes. No lying doggo now! But they won’t open.

Description (Goodreads):

Life is strange for Patrick Fort; being a medical student with Asperger’s Syndrome doesn’t come without its challenges–and that’s before he is faced with solving a possible murder. Because the body Patrick is examining in anatomy class is trying to tell him all kinds of things. And now he must stay out of danger long enough to unravel the mystery–while he dissects his own evidence.

~~~

I don’t see how I can stop reading this!

What about you? Would you stop? Have you read it – or are you planning to read it?

Snap by Belinda Bauer

Random House UK|Review Copy|3.5*

My Wednesday Post: 9 May 2018

There are two memes I take part in on Wednesdays:

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.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I have three books on the go at the moment,  – The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, from my TBR shelves.  I’m only up to chapter 3 so far but I’m enjoying his descriptive writing so much as Tom Joad returns to his family home in Oklahoma during a drought as a storm blew up and dust clouds covered everything. Tom, convicted of homicide has just been released from prison after serving four years of a seven year sentence.

I’m also reading Her Hidden Life by V S Alexander, a novel set in Germany during the Second World War, about the life of Magda, one of Hitler’s food tasters. See yesterday’s post for the opening paragraph and synopsis. I’m in chapter 6 at the moment when Magda sees photos taken by an SS officer at Auschwitz, that show that Hitler is lying about how the Reich is dealing with Jews and prisoners of war near the Eastern front.

The Summer Before the War

The third book I’m reading is The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson, about the  summer of 1914, set in Rye in East Sussex when spinster Beatrice Nash arrived to teach at the local grammar school. Her appointment was the result of Agatha Kent’s and Lady Emily Wheaton’s wish to have a female teacher as a Latin teacher. I’m in the middle of chapter 5 in which Beatrice is at Lady Emily’s annual garden party with the school governors, the Headmaster and staff and some of the local dignitaries. I’m finding it rather slow-going so far.

The last book I finished is Belinda Bauer’s latest book Snap, one of my NetGalley books. It’s crime fiction about Jack and his sisters and what happens to them after their mother is murdered. Belinda Bauer’s books are so original, full of tension and suspense. I’ll write more about it in a later post.

What do you think you’ll read next: I shall probably read The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott next, or if not next then by the end of the month as it’s the book chosen by my book group for our May meeting.

The Inheritance

Synopsis:

Written in 1849, when Louisa May Alcott was just seventeen years old, this is a captivating tale of Edith Adelon, an impoverished Italian orphan who innocently wields the charms of virtue, beauty, and loyalty to win her true birthright. Her inheritance, nothing less than the English estate on which she is a paid companion, is a secret locked in a long-lost letter. But Edith is loath to claim it _ for more important to her by far is the respect and affection of her wealthy patrons, and the love of a newfound friend, the kind and noble Lord Percy. This novel is Alcott writing under the influence of the gothic romances and sentimental novels of her day. The introduction considers early literary influences in the light of Alcott’s mature style

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

New-to-Me Books from Barter Books

On Tuesday it was time for another visit to my favourite bookshop Barter Books, one of the largest secondhand bookshops in Britain. This is where you can ‘swap’ books for credit that you can then use to get more books from the Barter Books shelves.

These are the books I brought home:

IMG_20180425_153217932.jpg

 

Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner. I first read this many years ago and want to reread it – and hope I still like it as much. It won the Booker Prize in 1984. From the back cover: ‘Into the rarefied atmosphere of the Hotel du Lac timidly walks Edith Hope, romantic novelist and holder of modest dreams. Edith has been exiled from home after embarrassing herself and her friends. She has refused to sacrifice her ideals and remains stubbornly single. But among the pampered women and minor nobility Edith finds Mr Neville, and her chance to escape from a life of humiliating spinsterhood is renewed . . .’ 

Now is the Time by Melvyn Bragg. I loved his Soldiers Return quartet amongst some of his other books, so I’m hoping this historical fiction set in 1381 at the time of  the Peasants’ Revolt will be as good. Richard II was on the throne of England when a vast force of people led by Wat Tyler and John Ball demanded freedom, and equality. 

Then, three books by Belinda Bauer that I’ve been wanting to read for some time now:

Blacklands, her first novel – this tells the story of a game of cat and mouse between a 12 year old boy, Steven, and Arnold Avery, a serial killer and an abuser of children, who murdered Steven’s Uncle Billy, when he was 11 years old, twenty years ago.

Her second book, Darkside is set in the middle of winter time, when the people who live in a peaceful place, Shipcott, are shocked by the murder of an old woman in her bed.

The Beautiful Dead is about Eve Singer, a TV crime reporter, who will go to any length to get the latest scoop. But when a twisted serial killer starts using her to gain the publicity he craves, Eve must decide how far she’s willing to go – and how close she’ll let him get.

I’d love to start all these books straight away but I think I’ll begin with Belinda Bauer’s books, especially as I also have a review copy of her latest book, Snap which is due to be published as an e-book on 3 May 2018, with the hardback and paperback editions coming out later this year.

What do you think? Have you read any of these? Do they tempt you too?