Apparently I’m now nearly thirty, which means I have to do all the things I’ve previously thought of as “grown-up stuff”. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been masquerading as a fully-fledged adult for some time now, and when forced, I do the things other adults apparently do.
Taxes… bills… rent… working… partaking of alcohol…
So many Magikarp. Magicarps?
The fun stuff. Not the really big proper things.
Buying a house, getting married, reproducing…
But as thirty looms, life has decided I need to also do some of the REALLY BIG PROPER ADULT THINGS. Not all of them. I mean, come on. But I am hitting two of the big three in the next 200 days, which is both exciting and extremely scary.
We’re in the process of buying a house, and if that wasn’t enough, last month OH proposed.
We’ve decided not to hang about waiting to get married because buying and decorating a house isn’t enough to do at one time. We’re also starting work on a new venture, and we both have full time jobs.
With that in mind, I’ve been considering the future of this site. Reading and reviewing a book takes me approx 5 hours a week, which doesn’t sound that much, but that’s only if the book I read is appropriate for the site. It’s a big commitment but it’s one I enjoy. Since starting this site I’ve discovered new authors and found books I loved which I wouldn’t necessarily have picked up before. It encourages me to read a lot more, and it’s a really fun thing to do.
So I’m not shutting it down. I considered it, but no. I am going to have to dial back on posts for the foreseeable future, so it may be quite sporadic and certainly not every week.
If you do have any recommendations for books I’d love to hear them, and if you’d be interested in guest posting, for goodness sake please drop me a line using any of the links on the top right on the page!
You know what’s nice? Watching people who are good at things do them well. There’s something so utterly satisfying about it.
This is the reason I love watching the Olympics, the rugby world cup… less so the football world cup! I love watching shows where people make stuff, like glass blowing, wood working and mending cars.
Of course, it’s always a pleasure to watch Hercule Poirot go about deducting, but there’s always something kept from the viewer/reader. Poirot is always held above – we don’t figure things out at the same time as he does, because we aren’t finicky little Belgians with a penchant for details. We’ve got jobs and messy flats, and hobbies beyond trimming mustachios.
The Lake District Murder doesn’t focus on superhuman personality and mighty little grey cells, instead the reader follows the process of some good, careful, thorough policing.
When a body is found at an isolated garage, Inspector Meredith is drawn into a complex investigation where every clue leads to another puzzle: was this a suicide, or something more sinister? Why was the dead man planning to flee the country? And how is this connected to the shady business dealings of the garage? This classic mystery novel is set amidst the stunning scenery of a small village in the Lake District.
In contrast with the irrepressible personality of detectives like Poirot, Inspector Meredith is almost without personality. He’s how I imagine a right and proper gent from the 30s – he always stops for lunch, he’s always punctual, never complains and has a healthy respect for his bosses. He’ll go the extra mile to solve a case, not because he’s on a mission for justice so much as because it’s his job, so that’s what he’s supposed to do.
We follow Inspector Meredith and are party to his innermost thoughts, both when he thinks then and when he reports them, working with him as he extrapolates his findings and posits solutions. In spite of the dead body, this is such a low drama mystery, as gentle and meandering as the roads around the Lake District which he must traverse on his combination motorbike.
Worth noting I’ve not been to the Lake District since I was 12 and as such have very little idea of the roads.
To compare this to the high-octane thrillers and American cop dramas I’ve been more familiar with, this probably reminds me most of Bones, both the tv show and the Kathy Reichs books. It’s methodical, it’s the complex made simple. The whodunnit aspect of The Lake District Murder isn’t a secret for long – we know for most of the book- the journey and the excitement comes from bringing the perpetrators to justice, in finding proof where there seems to be none, and all with careful, methodical thought and action. Gentle and uniquely satisfying, this book gave me the same kind of joy as watching Edd China replacing brake discs.
Review: Doubt (A Caroline Auden Legal Thriller) – by C. E. Tobisman
I saw the later Harry Potter films before I read the books, and one of the things which made me so excited to read them – aside from the obvious – was to see how all that action in the final battle could possibly be described in words.
In big Hollywood blockbusters, once actions sequences take off, it seems to me that the screen is full of STUFF.
I don’t know how you would even begin to write that – the sense of a battle on that scale. And I can’t remember how it was written, only that my heart was beating fast and I raced through the words to find out what happened, even though I already knew.
I wasn’t expecting the same sort of thing from a legal thriller.
My knowledge of legal thrillers is extremely limited, I think I’ve probably watched a couple of films fitting that description (none of which immediately spring to mind). Does Making a Murderer count? Either way, new territory for me. I’m a bit of a fan of environmental documentaries though, so it was an easy way in to the legal thriller genre for me.
Ahhh, I see what they did with that U…
Doubt explores SuperSoy, a soybean spliced with a jellyfish gene to boost the protein. The healthiest members of society start eating it in their protein smoothies – vegans, vegetarians, fitness fanatics, those with dairy allergies – but a large number of them then suddenly develop degenerative kidney disorders.
WOAH THERE. We’re hitting vegans!? Man. As a vegan (and therefore presumably invincible – thanks, Scott Pilgrim) I felt a personal interest in this book. Do tell me more.
When Caroline Auden lands a job at a top Los Angeles law firm, she’s excited for the challenge—and grateful for the chance to put her dark past as a computer hacker behind her. Right away, her new boss asks her to find out whether a popular GMO causes healthy people to fall ill. Caroline is only supposed to dig in the trenches and report up the ladder, but her tech background and intuition take her further than planned. When she suspects a link between the death of a prominent scientist and the shadowy biotech giant, she cries foul and soon finds herself in the crosshairs. The clock is ticking and thousands of lives are on the line…including her own.
Now this rookie lawyer with a troubled past and a penchant for hacking must prove a billion-dollar company is responsible for thousands of deaths…before they come after her.
The mystery starts right away with the death of one scientist just before the publication of a controversial research paper, and then the disappearance of his partner. The reader knows it’s murder – and therefore that the stakes are higher than Caroline realises right from the off.
I’d say it’s a bit Da Vinci Code, as Caroline races around solving clues left to uncover the article in time to submit it as evidence.
Caroline is pretty cool. She can hack any manner of computer systems, she’s got an addictive personality she scrupulously tries to reign in, and a burning desire to both prove herself and fight for justice. She’s extremely clever and she don’t take no sh!t from guys who think she can’t do stuff. She’s thoughtful, hard working and an altogether diamond gal. I like her.
As the stakes get higher and time runs our before the case goes before a judge, the tension really amps up. I found myself reading this, leaning right over my kindle and racing through the pages. I suddenly realised I could feel my heart beating in the top of my chest and hear the blood rushing around my ears.
The thing of it is, and I suppose the sign that tense, thrilling action sequences are well written, is that I can’t remember how it was written. I was swept away in what was happening, to the point where I forgot that I was supposed to be learning. While that isn’t necessarily great for me developing as a writer, it sure makes for a brilliant book. And the really good news? It looks like the first in a series. I’ll definitely be reading more as they come out!
I think I’ve mentioned before that Game of Thrones has encouraged me, by dint of being both awesome and fuelled by gore, to seek out other historically themed gross-fests. As such, I accidentally spent 6 hours yesterday watching The Tudors. Late to the party, as always, but isn’t it a ridiculous show? There is actually a ghost in it. A ghost! And everyone is young and sexy. Almost everyone!
I’ve never been a big fan of the Tudor part of history – too many beheadings and too little hygiene – but recently there have been quite a few documentaries which have opened up the period for me like never before.
Of course, we all know Henry VIII – a capricious, bearded, fat man who couldn’t catch a break when it came to siring heirs.
Arguably my finest work.
He’s the one with all the wives – so many we made a rhyme about it just to remember them all. What else do I know about his wives? Well there was the one who was too old, the one who might have been a witch… and another four, one of whom was likened to a horse…
Perhaps it’s because I am now so very old that I can’t remember much we learned about the Tudors in school. Perhaps it’s because it’s not a period I’ve read a lot of fiction around, but boy, did I know hardly anything about those wives!
Sometimes with history, with lives already lived, finished and conclusively summarized, it’s easy to forget these were three-dimensional people with their own motivations. We remember people by their York Notes, but condensing six wives – the lives of six queens, one of whom inspired a change in this country’s entire religious structure and sparked years of religious persecution – down to a rhyme doesn’t feel like enough for me anymore. And they were such interesting people. I don’t expect to get a particularly true account from The Tudors, but I do always find that reading fiction around a subject is a good way to learn a broader overview of the facts. Enter, Eliza Rose.
I like Lucy Worsley. I’ll stop there, rather than subject you to my sycophantic bleatings, but be aware that I like Lucy Worsley like Lesley Knope likes Ann Perkins.
With my interest kindled by The Tudors and an appetite for fiction, what better book to come up on my Amazon recs than Eliza Rose? I did mainly buy it because it’s by Lucy Worsley, though.
Eliza Rose Camperdowne is young and headstrong, but she knows her duty well. As the only daughter of a noble family, she must one day marry a man who is very grand and very rich.
But Fate has other plans. When Eliza becomes a maid of honour, she’s drawn into the thrilling, treacherous court of Henry the Eighth …
Is her glamorous cousin Katherine Howard a friend or a rival?
And can a girl choose her own destiny in a world ruled by men?
Now, this is pitched as a children’s book so I thought that, like the first Harry Potter book, it might be difficult to read as an adult. Not so much, as it happens – it certainly isn’t written down. It’s both a coming of age book for Eliza, our fictional main character, and a lovely humanisation of Katherine Howard. In spite of not knowing much about her, she’s been my preferred of the wives for a while, if only for the whole being called Katherine thing.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Katherine isn’t portrayed here as a particularly nice person – she’s controlling, flirtatious and often cruel – but Worsley explores her motivations fairly and fleshes her out beyond a two dimensional “silly girl” who didn’t realise she couldn’t just sleep with anybody she wanted while she was married to the King.
With Eliza, I learned what a position at court really meant, and what she had to be prepared to do to succeed. Eliza Rose made real – albeit in a gentle, suitable for children way – the decisions any young woman at court had to make. Eliza Rose, and Katherine Howard too, were very human, vulnerable and clever. It’s an interesting book I devoured in one sitting, and has such a wealth of glorious historical detail. I’d expect nothing less. Highly recommended, and I’d love a sequel!
I’m on the lookout for some good fiction around the rest of the wives, I’d love to hear if you’ve any recommendations?
I’ve been on holiday this past week, which you might think would mean I’ve had plenty of time to do loads of my own personal work, unhampered by the ties of the day job. You would be incorrect. What’s actually happened is I’ve ground to a shuddering halt and watched two full seasons of Game Of Thrones. Time well spent, yes, but it has put me behind on reading for this blog.
Oh no Jon Snow!
I did read a book while I was on leave, but it was in no way relevant to a blog which is, at best, tenuously linked to historical mysteries. I’ve linked it here, it you’re interested, but otherwise I’m not going to mention it.
In lieu of that, and bearing in mind that if I stop posting weekly I’ll probably never start again, let’s look at some books about DEATH.
Click the images for more information.
Amazing True Stories of Execution Blunders – by Geoffrey Abbott
These days, I consider myself something of an historical death aficionado, in so much as a person can be when they read a lot of fiction and are easily grossed out. I know all about the old punishments and the ones which never really happened, but this introduced me to several more disgusting methods which I had known nothing about. It’s not quite so Horrible Histories as it looks, either, and was a heavily sobering look at how awful people used to be – and still sometimes are.
The Buried Soul: How Humans Invented Death – by Timothy Taylor
Yes. This one.
I think it’s always a sign of a good book when you can remember, over a year later, exactly what you were doing when you started it.
I was on a train to London early one morning, sitting by myself in a deserted carriage. I was nervous about what I was going to London for – something to do with the day job – and wasn’t at all sure I’d chosen the right book to bring. I was testing myself – it was the first non-fiction book I’d ever read about death, and given my history and temperament, it could have set me off into a quivering, shrieking mess. Parts of it almost did.
The Buried Soul is a comprehensive look at the culture which has grown up around death, dating far back into pre-history and spanning the globe. It takes a close and respectful look at the taboos surrounding the way we treat our dead, the superstitions which have developed in different parts of the world and why, and what I found most interesting of all, our changing attitudes to cannibalism. Both grim and enlightening, a non-judgemental and intellectual study of why we do what we do, and why we stopped doing what we did.
As a young(ish) lady of a naturally anxious disposition, it’s been reassuring to have what I strongly supposed backed up so consistently. I have the pessimist’s pleasure of being proved right.
IT COULD HAVE BEEN YOU NEXT TIME IT MIGHT BE KILL ME AGAIN *sorry*
Unfortunately for the heroines of what I like to call Lady Mysteries(TM), they do not share my sense of constant vigilance. In Kill Me Again, in spite of her career as a defence lawyer, and therefore regular contact with serial killers, Maggie Taylor is not of an anxious disposition, nor does she mistrust all people. Indeed, she believes she lives a pretty idyllic life, until her husband disappears.
When your life is a lie, who can you trust?
When Maggie Taylor accepts a new job in Manchester, she is sure it is the right move for her family. The children have settled well although her husband, Duncan, doesn’t appear to be so convinced.
But nothing prepares her for the shock of coming home from work one night to find that Duncan has disappeared, leaving their young children alone. His phone is dead, and she has no idea where he has gone, or why. And then she discovers she’s not the only one looking for him.
When a woman who looks just like Maggie is brutally murdered and DCI Tom Douglas is brought in to investigate, Maggie realises how little she knows about Duncan’s past. Is he the man she loves? Who is he running from?
She doesn’t have long to decide whether to trust him or betray him. Because one thing has been made clear to Maggie – another woman will die soon, and it might be her.
It’s an odd thing, the idea that you can be married to someone for ten years, think yourself blissfully in love, and then find out that you didn’t know them at all. On the one hand, how could anyone possibly be so stupid? But on the other hand, I regularly find out things I didn’t know about friends or co workers who I’ve known for years, and they weren’t things they were trying to keep secret. I’ve been in close relationships with people who have manipulated and lied to me for years without my knowledge. It happens.
When Maggie begins to unravel her husband’s lies, she struggles to cope with the idea that she’s married to a stranger. Yet the important part of Maggie’s story is less about what she did not know, and more about the choices she makes when she does find out the truth. She’s torn between Duncan’s betrayal of her, and the idea of betraying the man she loves to the police.
As the story evolved and more and more was revealed, I was drawn in to the point where I couldn’t put it down. It’s tense – I read the last 20% with my hand over my mouth and in a mad rush.
I’ve been thinking about this book from a feminist aspect, too. The women in this are almost all victims in the hands of men. They’re lied to, murdered, tortured, threatened. That seems to be the way in these things, doesn’t it? Serial killers usually are men, after all, and historically, women are the victims. Perhaps that’s why I always look out for books which tend the other way – it is fiction after all. I’d love any recommendations, are there any thrillers you’ve enjoyed with female serial killers?
All the men in Kill Me Again are awful in some way or another, apart from DCI Tom Douglas, the chiselled hero and Maggie’s son Josh, who is a small child. I honestly don’t think it would pass the Bechdel test, but that isn’t to say that all of the women are weak, in spite of being victims. I enjoyed the women in this, and that is because of Maggie’s actions towards the end. It was a great twist and I’d definitely read a Maggie-centred sequel, which there would be room for. In lieu of that, I’d definitely pick up another Rachel Abbott book.
To start with a gross generalisation, there’s little more interesting to writers than writers, and the most interesting writer to any writer is themselves. We marvel at our own artistic process, the way we can torture ourselves and hate ourselves and bleed into the page, and create unreadable rubbish and then – on magical moments – emerge with words of true genius. Words we may not even remember writing, but which speak to humanity with truth and ageless wisdom.
It’s the allure of the artist, the god creator, world builder, and purveyor of lies and truth in equal measure. And we write about ourselves, and then lie about it.
Experience colours what you write, and I am written into every line of sin and murder in my own books by dint only of having written them, (not, I hasten to add, due to having done any of that stuff). Perhaps that’s because I’m a ham writer, but perhaps it’s just the nature of being human. We can never fully dissociate from ourselves.
Enter About The Author, a Hitchcockian thriller about precisely that – the separation of the story and the writer.
Cal Cunningham lives a debauched life filled with hollow love affairs, only so at some point he can write the next great American novel about it all.
He doesn’t write a word for years.
Unbeknownst to him, his quiet flatmate Stewart harbours his own dream to be a writer, and has written a novel based on stories Cal has told him, even using Cal’s title – Almost Like Suicide.
Following a freak accident which claims Stewart’s life, Cal feels no qualms about stealing the manuscript and passing it off as his own – he is the protagonist, after all! It’s based on his own past, his own words are quoted. Never mind that Stewart’s skilled prose far exceeds anything Cal could hope to have matched.
What follows is a tense path to fame and riches, followed by increasingly desperate actions on Cal’s part to try and prevent his fall from grace.
Let’s not beat around the bush – Cal’s an asshole. An unmitigated asshole. He is selfish and self-obsessed, and the bruising of his ego at the discovery of Stewart’s hidden talents is the catalyst for the hot mess of Cal’s ascent to the glory he thinks he deserves, but has yet to earn.
But Stewart, the poor, wronged genius taken too soon, is also an asshole, and so too are most of the people in the book. Yet in spite of all this assholery, I found myself warming to Cal. I wanted him to succeed because by the end, boy did he work for that success. As to whether or not he gets it, I’ll leave to you to find out.
About The Author is a masterclass of rising tension, and a pleasantly uncomfortable read.
I was one of those kids who hated gore. I hated seeing gory things on tv, hated reading about them in books, hated hearing people talk about things which might possibly have been related to gore, hated things which maybe once were near something which then went on at a later date to be gory…
How times have changed. No longer do I want to throw up whenever anyone mentions anything remotely gross. When I was on my work experience, a guy there told me about trapping his fingers in a door and scraping the skin off. I almost passed out! Now, my legs only go a tiny bit wobbly when I think of it! And now, I am the kind of person who can watch 98% of Game of Thrones. I’m so proud of my lessening sensitivity!
This new me is extending beyond tv, and into zombie books. Yes! Zombie books! The blurb of The Girl With All The Gifts doesn’t give that much away, and I bought it on a whim because… actually, I’m not sure why I bought it. I think I was trying to extend my reading with a few random picks, and this happened to catch my eye.
Well, it is very yellow.
I’m glad I didn’t know it was a zombie book, because then I wouldn’t have read it. I would have denied myself this beautiful book, so far from what I imagine a zombie book to be. It’s a book about humanity, with an ending that will tear your heart.
NOT EVERY GIFT IS A BLESSING
Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class.
When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite. But they don’t laugh.
Melanie is a very special girl.
Melanie’s gifts place her in grave danger, but her rescue puts the one person she cares about in graver danger still. She will do anything to protect the person she loves, even if that means protection from Melanie herself.
A little girl being a monster is not necessarily an unusual premise. I’m thinking of what I would call the “creepy Victorian children” trope. The twins in that horror thing with twins in. You know the one I mean. But Melanie is more like Frankenstein’s monster. She works against what is expected of her. Her love is what defines her, rather than her monstrousness.
On the run with two people who, for their own reasons, wish her dead, Melanie is forced to confront the reality of her condition. The most touching bit – and it chokes me up to think about it, is when we are reminded that Melanie is a little girl. At one point she’s given new clothes for the first time in her life, and can’t believe how beautiful they are. Unicorn jeans! Gah! What a terribly written review this is. But I don’t want to give too much away – if you haven’t read this, you need to discover it yourself, then you can join me in wailing “unicorn jeans!” and clutching at your chest.
This big book of monsters makes us question who the heroes really are.
All that said, I bet I’m too scared to see the film…
Review: In Twenty Years: A Novel, by Allison Winn Scotch
I’m at a point in my life, and seem to have been for the past six or so years, where I feel like I should know what I’m doing.
I spent – and I daresay, we spent – our school years dreaming of the lives we’d have as adults. Be that with marriages and children or with glittering careers, or both! In university I was impatient to start this ascent to the life I dreamed of, that I had been preparing for for so many years. I’m still impatient for it now, but I have no idea how to go about it. I’m nearly thirty, which is pretty much the half way point between having left school and achieving the accolade of being a Well-Rounded and Settled Adult(TM), and I seem further away from whatever it is I want out of life than ever, and have even less idea about what it is I actually do want.
In Twenty Years: A Novel, shows that I am not remotely alone.
Sadly no knitwear is actually featured in the story.
This novel follows a group of friends who lived together at college, and their reunion twenty years later.
One of their number, Bea, who held the group together, is dead. The other five have been splintered and fractured by unrequited loves and petty rivalries. One is a top plastic surgeon, another an ageing and fabulously famous rock star. One is a rich housewife and lady of leisure, one is the Martha Stewart-style head of her own craft empire, and the last, her husband, is a stay at home father and former lawyer.
In spite of each of the characters being unusually successful (not a single one isn’t fantastically wealthy), and all having achieved their dreams, each has lost their way. The lives they envisaged for themselves at college haven’t turned out as they planned. To all appearances they are happy and fulfilled, but each has their own secret shame that they will do anything to hide from their seemingly perfect former friends.
Actually, I can’t relate to that all that much, being as I am neither successful nor wealthy. But nonetheless, these characters all seemed very human, in a way I don’t recall finding in any other novel I have read. Perhaps the idea of losing your way, and the feelings of shame and separation from everyone you used to know, who appear to be doing so well (via their carefully curated lives on social media) are themes all millenials such as myself can relate to.
Over the course of this story, Bea is the central character, in spite of her only being present as narrator for the first chapter. Her death clings to the group, as they each remember how friendship with her made them a better person. Her view of them, if she hadn’t died, is the one which they feel most shamed by – if Bea could see me now, she’d be so disappointed by what I have become. Bea’s zest for life and the feeling that while hers was cut short, theirs has been squandered, is the main driver for the events of the book.
It made want to do things, to shake off the fog of lethargy which seems to accompany me everywhere these days. It made me not want to compromise the things which are important to me, to draw more, to work on my writing, to read more and… to not spend my time at home dreading going to work, and my time at work wishing for home.
This is inspirational self-help dressed as a novel. This is teenage angst meets mid-life crisis. This should be on your TBR pile. Get it now, then start doing the things you always dreamed of.
Some books just grab you. I spent about a week dipping in and out of a not-particularly-interesting book that I was glad to finish, then started Coming Home. I wanted something exciting, something a bit dark, and this seemed to fit the bill.
Hey, if Judy Finnigan loved it…
Boy, did it ever.
Evie, 28, has lived in Dubai for 5 years. She left London to escape from the shadow of her brother’s death, and the demands of her unstable mother. She’s had the time of her life, finally free from the emotional shackles of her family and able to become her own person at last.
Then her father dies.
Evie returns home to face not only her father’s death, but also the mother she left behind.
Struggling to cope with a grief she isn’t able to express, Evie begins to uncover her father’s secrets. These are revealed in tandem with flashbacks of therapy sessions Evie had as a child following the sudden death of her brother. Every page seems to bring new questions, and what would be a main plot twist in another book is just another layer in this one.
Who did her father transfer enormous sums of money to, just before his death?
Where did her father really go during the week when he said he was away working?
Why did Evie’s father not tell her about the cancer which had got so bad, so quickly?
Why doesn’t Evie’s mother speak to her brother?
And most importantly of all, how much did her mother already know?
I got a real sense of the confusion felt by Evie as she discovered hidden truths and faced memories she’d deliberately buried. Having spent her life trying to help her parents at the expense of her own grief, Evie’s shock and confusion at being lied to is palpable. In a world which places so much emphasis on the sanctity and perfection of a mother’s love, I am always interested in stories regarding the significant absence or abuse of that love.
It’s an emotionally complex book, and I welled up several times while reading – and I had to read it all in one sitting. We lost someone a few months ago, and the grief in this book rang so true, it brought back everything I’d felt during that awful period. It was a difficult read, but a worthwhile one.
The numbness of grief coupled with having to grapple with what, at the best of times, would be overwhelmingly difficult truths, are sensitively and honestly brought to life by Kantaria’s delicately woven prose.
I couldn’t put this book down and raced to the conclusion, only to find myself left with a moral dilemma. The question of all questions – how far would you go to protect your family? I know which path I’d have chosen. Why don’t you find out what you’d do?
Katherine Holt (www.murderandmanners.com) is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk.