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.
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…
Not real parties with real people, because I don’t very often get invited to those, but cultural parties. Take Harry Potter – I only read the books (after giving up on them as a kiddywink because they were too scary) when the last film came out. Same with Hunger Games, and loads and loads of other books. As such, when I “discover” books for myself they tend to have been out for quite a long time. Hence, I shan’t wax lyrical about any of the following books for more than a few sentences, because chances are you’ve read them already! If you haven’t, perhaps this will inspire you to give something different a try; I missed some of these books first time round because back then, I was neck-deep in romance, and murder mysteries just weren’t my bag.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer – Patrick Suskind
I only had a vague idea that this was about a guy who made perfume and killed people. While this is factually correct, what sets this book apart is the fragrant use of language. At times repugnant, scent and odour are conveyed through beautiful prose.
The Tea-Planter’s Wife – Dinah Jefferies
A young woman marries a man she barely knows and begins a new life in another country. A bit Rebecca, a bit Victoria Holt, and a little bit… “what!?”, but in a good way. If you know what I mean.
The Seed Collectors – Scarlett Thomas
An old aunt dies and leaves various members of the younger generation possibly poisonous seeds. Trippy, gripping, and even though I finished it weeks ago, it’s been on my mind ever since.
House of Shadows – Nicola Cornick
I don’t usually like time travelly, magicky stuff, (I’m looking at you, Labyrinth) but I loved this. Three stories revealed consecutively, three pairs of lovers each two centuries apart, their fates entwined with a mirror and a pearl. Who will be brave enough to give themselves to love?
What books have you discovered after the initial buzz had died down?
Review: Death at the Priory – Love, Sex and Murder in Victorian England – by James Ruddick
A few weeks ago I was speaking to a friend, and she said an approximation of the following:
“We woman all say we want equality, but really we want to go back to being married off and put on a pedestal by our husbands.”
The romanticism of arranged marriages in history is what inspired me to write An Unnatural Daughter – one of my first forays into having my heroines murder people. Historically, marriage hasn’t been all that great for ladies. They gained protection, yes, but at what cost?
There were, however, things they could do to get by – things that they did to help themselves when the demands on their bodies became too great.
This is where Death at the Priory comes in – an investigation into one of Victorian England’s most famous unsolved murders.
I bought it for the juicy murder, but came away with a deeper understanding of how women of a certain class coped with difficult marriages. It introduces us to Florence Bravo, a woman ahead of her time. Educated, wealthy, vivacious and beautiful, she had a loving and supportive family and everything going for her. But that support stopped when, having married a man who turned out to be a violent alcoholic, she asked her parents for help leaving him. I shan’t go into too much detail, but on the advent of her second marriage, Florence realized she’d made the same mistake again.
The first half of the book introduces us to the victim and suspects, and paints an intriguing picture of the lead up to the long and agonising death of Florence’s second husband, Charles Bravo, who was poisoned by an unknown hand. The second half follows Ruddick as he sifts through the available evidence before reaching his verdict on what really happened.
Ruddick’s investigations and conclusions occasionally take great leaps of faith, but nonetheless I raced through the book, eager to find out whodunnit according to his theories.
What really got me though, was the revelation that women of the higher classes were known to drug their husbands’ alcohol, when said husband habitually drank too much and became violent with it. The drug, antimony, was highly poisonous, but when used very sparingly it induced sickness or a deep sleep. This wasn’t something I had ever considered before, but as I read it I found myself thinking, but of course they did.
Ruddick also posited and then dismissed the idea that women did the same to control how often their husbands were able to share their beds. I wasn’t able to dismiss the idea so quickly as he did – to me it seems perfectly logical that in an age where death in childbirth was common and the miscarriage rate was high, women in such marriages would use any means at their disposal to save their health. Why would you drug your husband to stop him beating you, but still allow him open access to intimacy when another pregnancy might kill you?
From then on I found myself questioning all of his conclusions. Perhaps I’m blinded by my own agenda, much as I feel Ruddick was blinded by his. Nonetheless, though, an interesting read, and a fascinating window into the life of a very unhappy woman, and a timely reminder of the position of women in Victorian society.
Sometimes, I really resent being squeamish. As an adult, without having to worry about weekly biology class and the embarrassment of having to be excused or risk fainting, I sometimes forget how squeamish I still am. After all, I’m one of those hard people who can watch Bones (although not necessarily while eating). I can do anything.
Except… I can’t. I didn’t take History or English Lit at A Level because I knew the syllabus and I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it through without chucking up. Being squeamish means that I can’t take a first aid course at work, and that I almost passed out in a manual handling training course. I hate it. It’s embarrassing, at least partly psychosomatic and, when I’m feeling particularly bitter, directly responsible for any problem I’ve ever had, ever.
But let us not dwell! Let us instead consider my current quandary. Do I buy these disgusting but beautiful books?
Click through to look inside!
One thing that I am a lot better at now than when I was younger, is my ability to approach gore and general innards on my own terms. Some pictures of carpal tunnel surgery came up on my Pinterest feed the other day (Why though, Pinterest!?), and I was fascinated! But put me in a room with other people and no escape route and I’ll crawl under the desk in a cold sweat.
As I’m writing this, it seems like a childhood trauma I’m not over, and that just I need a good bit of therapy. Well, sure, that’s probably correct. I should get that sorted. Or, I could buy these beautiful gross pieces of art and avoid parts of my own house if they get too much.
I’m not just wondering whether or not to risk making myself sick on a whim. I will probably need these for my research, and look at them. They are a chronicle of some of the most important drawings in history. They are part of the journey we have taken to get to where we are today.
So I probably will buy them.
Just not yet.
What about you? Are you fascinated by your fears? How far do you push yourself to conquer them?
In other news, I still haven’t finished the book I was going to review. But! I started another one! Reviews back up next week… I’m going to be talking about Death at the Priory, Sex and Murder in Victorian England, by James Ruddick. If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear what you think!
Every new book I start, I intend to go through my research with a robot-like efficiency, then construct an infallible and beautiful structure to follow, from which I can write X-thousand words a day and finish my first draft in a matter of weeks.
Then I’ll be poorly, I’ll have to go visit people for the weekend, talk to people, do extra-curricular work activities, sleep… and the whole thing will go to pot. I don’t know why I don’t expect it any more, or why I don’t factor it in. Then I’ll feel guilty about missing targets, and everything will take even longer.
Many moons ago, back when I was young, fresh-faced and full of hope and bright ideas, I decided to start a podcast.
It has been fraught with error and dogged by misfortune.
Not that sort of dog, sadly.
From microphone issues to losing my voice, what I intended to take a month or two has stretched to almost a year!
You may think this is a filler blog, and in a way you’d be correct. I have been reading a very long and very good book for about three weeks now, in half hour snatches. I intended to have it as this week’s recommendation but alas, twas not to be. Similarly, I intended to have this post up on time, then…. got food poisoning? And was sick for a day and a half, hence…
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.