Books Read in May

I can’t quite believe it but despite spending many hours in the garden in May mowing the grass and weeding (there are still too many weeds!) I managed to read ten books, bringing my total for the year so far to 45. They’re a bit of a mixed bag of excellent and not very good, with some good ones in between!

They are, in the order I read them, with links to my reviews (* marks crime fiction novels):

  1. The Big Four* by Agatha Christie – a bit of a let down, not up to her best!
  2. The Lost Army of Cambyses by Paul Sussman – goodish
  3. The Dance of Love by Angela Young – her second book due out at the end of July. I loved it!
  4. The Wicked Day by Mary Stewart – good
  5. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – very good
  6. Nemesis* by Agatha Christie – disappointing
  7. The Witch’s Brat by Rosemary Sutcliff – good
  8. No Stranger to Death*by Janet O’Kane – very good, her first book
  9. The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez -not very good and I don’t intend to write about it
  10. A Whispered Name* by William Broderick – excellent – see my thoughts below.

I’m not taking The Dance of Love into account in considering which book is my favourite book of the month because I’m saving my review for July when the book is published – but I can say now that it is brilliant!

The Graveyard Book and No Stranger to Death are both really good books and as I was reading each one I thought either could be my favourite book for May but then I read A Whispered Name and that decided it – it is my favourite book of the month and also my Crime Fiction Pick of the Month (hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise)!

 

A Whispered Name by William Brodrick is the third Father Anselm novel, which won the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award in 2009.

I think this is a most remarkable book and it kept me glued to the pages as I read about the First World War and the effects it had on those who took part, those left at home and on future generations. It is, of course, historical fiction.

From the back cover:

During the slaughter of Passchendaele in 1917, an Irish soldier faced a court martial for desertion. On the panel was a young captain, Herbert Moore, charged with a responsibility that would change him for ever.

After the war Herbert became a monk, one of the founders of Larkwood monastery, where Father Anselm came across two visitors, Kate Seymour and an unnamed old man, searching for Father Herbert. But he had died in 1985 and no one could answer their questions about the trial of a deserter, Joseph Flanagan and Father Herbert’s part in it. Father Herbert was revered and loved by all who knew him and Anselm was deeply dismayed at the thought that there was anything in his past that he had lied about and he set out to discover the truth.

I think the whole book is so well thought out with chapters revealing what happened from different characters’ viewpoints during the war and what Anselm discovered as he went through the records and talked to people. Nothing is straight forward, the records are ambiguous and there is confusion about identities. The horror of the war is there:

After the wallop, Herbert found himself prostrate with his face against the dirt, vaguely aware that time had passed, that water was creeping on him; that he would have to move or he’d drown.

… Herbert slid through a sludge of intestines and grit, hauling himself into the open. Staring across the beaten land he tried to gain his bearings … he couldn’t see anyone else from the regiment. (page 35)

And Herbert did indeed serve on a court martial that condemned Joseph Flanagan to death. But there is not just the horror of war in this book, it’s an intricate, evocative novel focussing on the themes of morality, justice, sacrifice and human redemption. It is a book above all that identifies the place of the individual within history, written so lyrically putting the past under a searching spotlight. One of the best books I’ve read for quite some time.

A Whispered Name is a thoroughly researched book with a list of sources at the end of the book, but it never reads like a dry factual account – it comes so vividly to life. Although based on fact, gathered from memoirs, reports, published research, Battalion War diaries and the original transcripts of trials, William Brodrick explains in his Author’s Note:

This novel is not about FGCMs [Field General Court Martial] in general. It does not imply a comprehensive critique of First World War executions from any perspective, be that historical, legal or moral. Rather, one might say, it is a parable of how a man found meaning in death, and how another – on seeing that – found faith in life. And it is about a fictional trial that cannot be compared with any genuine case. (p 344) (my emphasis)

William Brodrick became a barrister, having been an Augustinian monk for six years (the other way round from his fictional character, Father Anselm). After 10 years at the Bar, his interest in writing led him to writing the Father Anselm books.

The Father Anselm books are:

  1. The Sixth Lamentation (2003)
  2. The Gardens of the Dead (2006)
  3. A Whispered Name (2008)
  4. The Day of the Lie (2012)
  5. The Discourtesy of Death (2013)

I’ve now read the first three books and think A Whispered Name is probably the best. I have yet to read the next two – I hope to do so soon.

Books Read in February 2013

I enjoyed all the books I finished reading in February and my Pick of the Month goes to two excellent books – Dead Water (Shetland series 5) by Ann Cleeves and The Redemption of Alexander Seaton by Shona MacLean, both books being crime fiction.

Dead Water & Alex Seaton

The other books I read are also fiction, although Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man by Siegfried Sassoon is fictionalised autobiography. Two of the books are from my stock of unread books bought before January 2013, two are books from my local library and one is an e-book borrowed from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

The links are to my posts on the books – I have yet to write my thoughts about Agatha Christie’s Cat Among the Pigeons.

  1. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (from TBR books). This novel tells the story of Harrison Shepherd, the son of a Mexican mother and an American father. It’s told through his diaries and letters together with genuine newspaper articles, although whether they reported truth or lies is questionable.
  2. Dead Water by Ann Cleeves, crime fiction continuing the Shetland series featuring Inspector Jimmy Perez. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this –  a mixture of mystery and the creation of totally believable characters, set in Shetland Mainland.
  3. Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man by Siegfried Sasson (library book). Sassoon was born in 1886 and in this book he relives his childhood, youth and experiences as an officer during the First World War. He comes across as a likeable young man, shy, reserved, and modest, happy-go-lucky but aware of his own shortcomings. But all this changed with the onset of the First World War.
  4. The Redemption of Alexander Seaton by Shona MacLean (library book)  I think this is one of the best novels I’ve read recently. It’s historical crime fiction set in Scotland in the 1620s, mainly in the town of Banff, where on a stormy night Patrick Davidson, the local apothecary’s assistant collapses in the street. The next morning he is found dead.
  5. Death at Wentwater Court by Carola Dunn (Kindle) – this is crime fiction, the first in the Daisy Dalrymple series and it’s a quick and easy read, a mix of Agatha Christie and PG Wodehouse, set in 1923
  6. Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie (Poirot)

I’ve also been reading two non-fiction books in February and am still reading them –  Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain and Wildwood: a Journey Through Trees by Roger Deakin. It takes me longer to read non-fiction than fiction as I read it more slowly, especially these two books that are packed with facts and ideas. But I’m nearing the end of both of them.

After that I’m planning to finish reading The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell, which I first started reading last year and put to one side. I’ve had to start reading it again!

Other books waiting to be read, if not in March then later in the year are Memoirs of an Infantry Officer by Siegfried Sassoon, which I’ve borrowed from my local library. This is the next book in his fictionalised autobiography  I’ll also be reading (because it’s my book group choice for March) The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas, a story of wartime, family secrets and forbidden love, set against in the 1940s in Kashmir.

I’ve got a pile of other books from the library which I’m itching to read soon – I think I’ll do a separate post on these books. I’m always tempted to borrow more books than I can possible read in the loan period, but that’s me! As if I don’t have enough of my own unread books to keep me going all year and beyond.

October’s Books

October has been another good month for reading. As in September I read ten books, listed below (the titles are linked to my posts on the books):

  1. The Judgement of Strangers by Andrew Taylor 4/5
  2. Dancing Backwards by Salley Vickers 3.5/5 (library book)
  3. Fear in the Sunlight by Nicola Upson 3/5 (Kindle)
  4. The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas 4.5/5 (library book)
  5. Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan 3/5
  6. The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz 4/5
  7. Hickory Dickory Dock by Agatha Christie 4.5/5
  8. Mrs Harris MP by Paul Gallico 4/5
  9. The History of Scotland by Richard Killen 4/5 (from TBR books)
  10. The Expats by Chris Pavone 3.5/5 (Kindle)

So, a total of 9 fiction books of which 6 were crime fiction, and 1 non fiction. Two of the books were library books, 2 were e-books and 1 book was from my to-be-read books (books I’ve owned before January 2012).

It’s difficult to pick a Book of the Month this time as I’ve rated all of the books as 3 and over (meaning they were good, enjoyable books), with just two as 4.5/5 (meaning I thought they were very good and I wanted to get back to them each time I had to stop reading).

I was tempted to say my Book of the Month is Agatha Christie’s Hickory Dickory Dock, because it’s good on characterisation, but overall I think it has to be The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas for it’s sheer quirkiness and cleverly constructed plot.

For more books of the month see Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Pick of the Month on her blog Mysteries in Paradise.

 

September’s Books

September was a good month for reading. In total I read 10 books:

I read 4 crime fiction, 4 non fiction, 1 ghost story and 1 science fiction. Two of the books were library books, 3 borrowed from a friend and 4 books were from my to-be-read books (books I’ve owned before January 2012).

It’s not been such a productive month for writing about the books I’ve read – more reading means less writing. So I’ve not previously written about the book I’ve chosen as my Pick of the Month. For more ‘Picks of the Month’ see Kerrie’s blog Mysteries in Paradise.

It is, by a short margin, The Sixth Lamentation by William Brodrick, the first Father Anselm novel.

Synopsis from Fantastic Fiction:

What should you do if the world has turned against you? When Father Anselm is asked this question by an old man at Larkwood Priory, his response, to claim sanctuary, is to have greater resonance than he could ever have imagined. For that evening the old man returns, demanding the protection of the church. His name is Eduard Schwermann and he is wanted by the police as a suspected war criminal.

With her life running out, Agnes Aubret feels it is time to unburden to her granddaughter Lucy the secrets she has been carrying for so long. Fifty years earlier, Agnes had been living in Occupied Paris, a member of a small group risking their lives to smuggle Jewish children to safety – until they were exposed by a young SS Officer: Eduard Schwermann.

As Anselm attempts to uncover Schwermann’s past, and as Lucy’s search into her grandmother’s history continues, their investigations dovetail to reveal a remarkable story.

It’s my Pick of the Month because it is historical fiction and it’s also a mystery. It looks back  to the Second World War in occupied France, telling a dramatic tale of love and betrayal, full of suspense, and interwoven stories.William Brodrick explains in his Author’s Note that the novel weaves fact and fiction, with accurate details of life in Paris during the Occupation and the subsequent war trials. He gathered facts for his novel from a variety of sources, although he has taken ‘small liberties’ with some of them.

William Brodrick has also drawn on his own personal experience. He was formerly in religious life but left before his final vows. He has degrees in philosophy and theology and after studying law he became a barrister, specialising in personal injury. The idea of smuggling Jewish children out of the Nazis’ hands was prompted by the war time experience of his own mother, Margaretha Duyker. She was part of a smuggling ring and took a child out of Amsterdam by train to Arnhem. She was caught by the Gestapo and imprisoned and eventually released. She died of motor neurone disease (the disease that Agnes is suffering from) in 1989.

I’ve read one other book by William Brodrick – The Gardens of the Dead, also a Father Anselm book. There are two more:

The Sixth Lamentation also fits into the R.I.P.VII Challenge.

Books I read in March 2012

I read some good books in March, four of them are crime fiction, indicated below by *, and one is a memoir (Testament of Youth). The others are all fiction. (The links are to my posts on the books).

My Book of the Month has to be Pride and Prejudice and my Crime Fiction Book of the Month is a close call between the books rated 4/5, but on balance I think Peter Robinson’s Before the Poison comes out on top.

 

So far this month I’ve read 24 books, 22 of them fiction (12 of which are crime fiction), and  2 non-fiction. I’ve been making inroads into my TBR books, with 10 of the 24 books being books I’ve owned since before January 2012.

  1. The Labours of Hercules* by Agatha Christie 4/5
  2. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain 4/5 (from TBR books)
  3. The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski 3/5 (library book)
  4. The Messenger of Athens* by Anne Zouroudi 4/5 (Kindle from TBR bks)
  5. Before the Poison* by Peter Robinson 4/5 (library book)
  6. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen 5/5 (re-read)
  7. The Inspector’s Daughter* by Alanna Knight 3.5/5 (library book)
  8. The Parasites by Daphne du Maurier 3.5/5 (from TBR bks)
  9. Daphne by Justine Picardie 4/5 (from TBR bks)