I see one of today’s Kindle deals is The Pure Gold Baby by Margaret Drabble. I thought it was the best book she’d written for ages and you can read my review here.
I've been sent a voucher for a free Kindle book. I was thinking of getting one by Elizabeth Edmondson but don't know which to choose.
Any particular favourites? I've already read Finding Philippe and the Very English Mysteries.

Edit. Bleh. You can only choose from a shortlist of bad books. Heigh ho.
creaturecomforts

It’s no secret how much I enjoy Trisha Ashley’s books, so I was delighted when NetGalley offered me the latest one. The first page was rather a downer for me. I’d had a stressful evening and was looking forward to a cosy read in bed, only to find the book begins with a fatal car crash. This is crucial to the story and a thread throughout but fear not, unhappy events of the past aren’t allowed to prevent present happiness.

When Izzy was sixteen, she was apparently driving a Range Rover up a private drive when it crashed, killing the son of the owner of the big house, Sweetwell. Izzy spent some time in a coma, after which she could remember nothing about the accident. Fast forward to the present day: she’s in her thirties and returning home after working in India, full of plans to set up her own retro clothing business. Soon after landing, while being driven by her then future father-in-law, she’s in yet another car crash. For a moment she finds herself hovering above the car when, according to her, she has a glimpse of heaven (as after the first crash) but is sent back to earth. After this, she increasingly has dreams and flashbacks which seem to reveal more of what really happened on that fateful night. She sets herself a mission (her word) to question everyone involved to get at the truth.

Home is Halfhidden, one of those incredible villages with a busy pub, several shops and thriving small artisanal businesses. (Similar fantasy villages from earlier books get a mention every now and then: Middlemoss, Sticklepond, Winter’s End.) Like many Ashley heroines, Izzy’s parentage is unusual and she’s been brought up by her glamorous Aunt Debo and her friend Judy. They run Debo’s Desperate Dogs, a sanctuary for dogs which are hard to rehome. This book is definitely for you if you like dogs because it’s full of them. The sanctuary is constantly short of funds but Debo’s little family is allowed to live in the lodge of the big house. Then the estate is inherited by Rufus, an unknown quantity. They have the lodge for life, but will he allow them to keep the dogs on his land?

That’s just one theme. Old relationships break up, new ones begin, and Izzy’s friends are deeply involved in improving Halfhidden by setting up holidays and day trips cashing in on the village’s reputation for ghosts. This is a world in which someone always knows someone who can supply materials, do a handy job, set up a new business without any of the frustrations which normally accompany such enterprises. It’s all so easy! And the place is full of wonderful cooks, so this is a book for foodies as well (recipes at the end).

Aha, you’re wondering already, what of the new owner of Sweetwell? Rufus is tall, handsome, runs a business selling garden antiques, seems unfriendly at first but soon turns out to be a softie. Is he the one for Izzy? And what of her mission? Two people connected with the accident are unpleasant and refuse to tell the truth about it, but truth will out, with the dreaded word ‘closure’ appearing. Phew, there’s so much going on in these books! A large cast of characters (including the dogs), people to love, people to loathe, everyone busy. I can’t say it’s my favourite Trisha Ashley book but great fun to read as always. It’s out very soon, on 26th February.
Wimsey with Harriet

Fans of Dorothy L Sayers and Lord Peter Wimsey will already be aware that the Drama Channel is showing the original 1987 drama series starring Edward Petherbridge and Harriet Walter. I’ve been recording the lot in order to save them on discs. I need to do this because some of our own discs (recorded from an ITV3 re-showing) have become corrupted. This is a shame, because my husband was so clever at this sort of thing that he could record a series and take out the advertisements, something I’ve never found out how to do. It’s also well worth doing, since DVDs of each story currently cost £29.99 on Amazon, so the whole lot would set you back £90.00.

So, as well as watching the Drama episodes as they appear, I’ve been checking the old discs. And what a surprise I got! I found the first two episodes of Strong Poison to be hopelessly corrupted. The third, however, is perfect and is vastly superior to what we’re getting from Drama. The colour, clarity of picture and sound quality are all much better *and* there are more scenes! Yes, fellow viewers, the Drama channel is short-changing us with this series, presumably in order to fit more advertisements into the allotted time. Not that it stops me watching, of course. For me, Edward Petherbridge is just perfect as Lord Peter.

dlspoison

Naturally, watching the programme made me want to read the book again and I did a very silly thing. Wanting to find out if it were available cheaply for the Kindle, I clicked the wrong button by accident and bought it by mistake. Duh! I have two other copies!
ettaottoetc

This is a remarkable first novel from Emma Hooper. Etta, Otto and Russell are in their eighties, yet still in a love triangle going back years. Initially I was confused by the location. The isolated farmsteads, the wind and dust suggest the Midwest but no, we’re in Saskatchewan. One morning Etta, aged eighty two, leaves a note and sets off on a solitary walk because she needs to see ‘the water’. She will be walking right across Canada.

The story is set before, during and a long time after the Second World War. The narrative is arranged like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle scattered all over a table; you have to put the picture together for yourself. At times the characters become confused so that one is sharing the experiences of the other. The style is also eccentric: no punctuation used for speech, for instance. Everything James says is printed in italics and to know the reason for that, you’ll just have to read the book.

As Etta progresses on her journey her picture appears in a newspaper and she becomes famous. Welcoming parties appear, people want to meet her and to give her things. This is all reminiscent of Rachel James’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry but the books couldn’t be more different. I’m now haunted by three images. Etta: the young school teacher, the war worker and the old woman with a mission it’s hard to understand. Faithful Russell, determined to find her. Otto waiting; writing letters Etta will never read, making animal sculptures for who knows what reason. A haunting and strangely touching novel.

I read this courtesy of NetGalley. It will be published by Penguin at the end of January and is worth looking out for.
coveryoureyes

I enjoy Adèle Geras’s novels because they’re so full of the kind of detail I like about clothes, houses, gardens etc. Cover Your Eyes has all this, as expected, but is also a kind of ghost story, with a mystery buried in the past. There are two main characters. Megan is an aspiring journalist who is dumped by her lover, also her boss. She has previously interviewed Eva Conway, a once-famous fashion designer, at her home, Salix House. When the two meet again, there seems to be a bond between them.

Salix House is at the heart of the novel. Eva and her husband Antoine bought it as a wreck and she turned the house and garden into a thing of beauty. Now Antoine is dead and the house is shared by Eva’s daughter Rowena, her husband and their two little girls. Eva had made the house over to Rowena to avoid death duties and now Rowena wants to sell it, because they can’t afford the upkeep. Eva is utterly miserable at the thought of leaving not only her creation but also her memories, both good and bad. For Eva is constantly suppressing bad memories, to the extent that she has every mirror covered up for fear of what she might see in it. Who or what is this presence which can sometimes be felt or worse, seen? It’s all linked, we know, to what happened to Eva just before the war, when she was sent to England with the Kindertransport and her sister was left behind. Curiously, when Megan visits the house again, then moves in to look after the children, she senses something strange and thinks she sees – someone? – in her looking glass. Possibly it’s because Megan also feels guilty about something in her past. So there we are; a ghost story and an exploration of the nature of guilt and forgiveness.

By the end of the book I’d changed my view of most of the characters. When Megan first appears, broken hearted, she seems a sympathetic character but isn’t she actually rather stupid, having an affair with a married man WHEN THEY NEVER LEAVE THEIR WIVES? Also something of a slag, sleeping with the first available man and then falling immediately for another. Can I really be more old fashioned than Adèle Geras who is, if she will forgive my saying so, even older than I am? Oh well, I’m not a popular novelist and obviously never will be as I am far too strikt. Rowena at first appears shrewish, bossing her mother about. When I knew more about her childhood, I felt sorry for her and started to dislike Eva. As this is fiction, every problem is resolved at the end of the book.

I read the book very quickly and although I don’t think it’s Adèle Geras’s best novel, it is an enjoyable read. It’s published by Quercus and I read it courtesy of NetGalley.
One of today's 99p Kindle deals is The Runaways by Elizabeth Goudge. I have this as Linnets and Valerians so don't go buying a book you've already got.

It's rather a whimsical story but if you like Elizabeth Goudge you're bound to enjoy it.
pottingshed2

When I reviewed The Garden Plot, I said I hoped for a series about gardener Pru Parke. My wish has been granted and here is the second book. We left Pru having been offered a proper head gardener's job at last and very attracted to policeman Christopher Pearse. Now, she’s working at Primrose House on the restoration of a Humphry Repton garden (Red Book, geddit?) and she and Christopher are definitely an item.

Poor Pru, whenever she starts work in a garden there’s trouble. First what appears to be vandalism, then a murder for which half her work force seem to be suspects. As before, everyone except silly old Pru believes that she is in danger herself. She is. As if trying to restore an old garden and find a murderer weren’t enough, Pru has a mission of her own: trying to track down possible relatives of her English mother. This leads her to discover uncomfortable secrets in her own family history which she had no idea about. Luckily, she now has Christopher to lean on.

What I like about these books is that all the gardening detail is so accurate. That’s because Marty Wingate wrote non-fiction gardening books before turning to mysteries, so she really knows her stuff. The Red Book of Primrose House will be published by Alibi on 4th November. I read it courtesy of NetGalley. Roll on Potting Shed Mystery Three.
rebellionused
US edition

Rebellion (US) or Civil War (UK), is the third title in Peter Ackroyd’s ambitious projected six volume history of England. This book takes us from the accession of James VI & I to the ‘Glorious Revolution’. With his usual astonishing industry and ability to master a wide range of sources quickly, Ackroyd has written a very readable book. Yet I question where the market is for such a book, written by someone who is not a professional historian. It is a straightforward narrative which tells a story rather than explains events; still quite hard going for a reader with no prior knowledge of seventeenth century history. For those already familiar with the subject there is nothing new here and Ackroyd seems to have relied more upon older secondary sources than on new ones for his conclusions.

I’m a great admirer of Ackroyd’s writing on the whole. What I look for from him is the quirky take, the unusual insight. Sadly, I found neither in this book. He is at his best when writing about his favourite subject, London, or about writers and thinkers of the period. I wish he had used this social history as the basis for his book and given us something original.

I read the book courtesy of NetGalley.

civilwaruked
UK edition
souldiscretion

When the Simon Serrailler detective series started, I was so impressed that I read each book as it came out. Here’s what I wrote back in 2008:
‘after reading The Pure in Heart, (Susan Hill’s) second Simon Serrailler novel, I was hooked on the series. The books are set in middle England, the characters are interesting, the author’s social commentary wise. What grabs me about them is that I have never read any crime fiction which is so victim-centred. The reader is left in no doubt that murder is an evil crime with far reaching consequences for all whom it touches. Very different from the high-body-count, solve-the-puzzle fiction which can be very enjoyable but is much less engaging. I found myself lying awake at night thinking about the events in these books …’

Yet after a few books I gave up. I was sick of Serrailler, with his (to my mind) infantile hang-ups about his father and his inability to commit to any relationship. With his brains, good looks and skill as a detective, he was interesting but not likeable. Picking up his story again with The Soul of Discretion I found that he hadn’t changed at all: ‘He loved her. But did he ever love anyone enough to let them make a permanent home at the centre of his life?’ Nevertheless I was soon gripped by the book and read it very quickly. It was just what I needed: a book you can’t wait to get back to and end up reading late at night to finish.

From the start, it’s clear that this will be a story about child abuse and therefore not an easy read. Simon is asked to help crack a particularly unpleasant paedophile ring by going under cover, posing as a ‘nonce’. This is probably the hardest thing he’s ever had to do. His induction into the work of the child protection squad makes him sick: ‘They dealt with child abuse every day of their working lives and it was beyond Serrailler to know how they coped with it.’ Yet Jed, in charge, is able to escape into music: ‘Dirty old river,’ he hummed. ‘I’d have given my back teeth to have written that song.’ By the end of the book Simon’s dangerous job is done, but at a terrible price. There are enough loose ends to make us hope for a further instalment.

As always in this series Simon’s family and their friends each have their own stories: his long-suffering girlfriend, the stepmother he at first resented but came to love and above all, his doctor sister, Cat. Cat is far and away the most sympathetic character. Readers of the earlier books will know what she has already suffered, but she continues with her caring work. Her love for her patients, her particular interest in the local hospice, palliative care and helping people to die with dignity are all sustained partly by her Christian faith. I can’t help feeling that Cat is the voice of Susan Hill.

I recommend this highly as a novel, not just as a work of crime fiction. It will be published tomorrow, October 2nd, by Chatto & Windus. I read it courtesy of NetGalley.
savinggrace

This book got off to rather a slow start for me. Elegant Grace, an Englishwoman, is well known as a cook, a gracious hostess, and the philanthropic chef for Harmont House, a refuge for troubled women. She’s also Mrs Ted Chapman, wife of a rich and successful American writer; a wife who lives in constant fear of her husband’s sudden rages and belittling of her. Luckily, Grace and Ted have a wonderful assistant, Ellen, who ensures their lives run smoothly. What a relief not to have to mother her husband; for her husband needs not just a wife, but someone to hold his hand, soothe his soul, keep him calm, and there is only so much Grace is able to do. Why doesn’t she leave him? it doesn’t occur to her to leave. She made a vow, and the only thing of which she is absolutely certain is this too shall pass. It always does …

Ho hum, you might think, here comes an issues book about an unhappy, rich woman. Then Ellen is forced to leave them, Grace can’t cope, Ted’s rages get worse. Suddenly the book turns into a thriller. Grace and Ted’s daughter introduces Beth, a youngish woman who just happens to be looking for a job as a personal assistant and Grace employs her. Beth seems ‘like Mary Poppins’. In no time, she has the household organised, Ted soothed and Grace feeling grateful. Then Grace starts to feel ill, suffering from mood swings and depression; this coincides remarkably with Beth’s arrival. She gives Beth some clothes put aside for charity (Lanvin!) and plain, dumpy Beth suddenly appears in the cast-offs: slimmer, with a new haircut and yes, looking rather like Grace. With this and other incidents, Grace becomes suspicious of Beth’s motives but who will believe that there is anything sinister about perfect Beth? Doesn't the problem lie with Grace, with a history of mental illness in her family? To say any more about the plot would be to give away too much and ruin the read. I’ll just say that I was glued to the book for an evening and even missed a TV programme (Running Up That Hill), which I’d been looking forward to, I was so keen to find out what would happen to Grace.

Because Grace is famed for her English cooking, each chapter ends with a complete recipe. Some of these sound good but kedgeree made with ‘smoked salmon trout’? Noooo, so wrong! Perhaps smoked haddock is unobtainable in the States. While I’m Britpicking here, (Jane Green is English, BTW) no one in England calls the dear old Citroën 2CV (we used to have one) a Deux Chevaux. Don’t be put off; this is a really good read, even if it’s not very literary.

Saving Grace will be published by Macmillan on 25th September. I read it courtesy of NetGalley.
poppyfactory

The Poppy Factory contains two linked stories about the effects of combat on individuals. First we have Jess, back from front line service as a medic in Afghanistan. She’s loved her work, thinks she’s tough, but then everything goes wrong. She has flashbacks, violent nightmares and sudden rages. She drinks too much, trying to dull the pain and, as a result, destroys her relationship with Nate, the love of her life. Jess’s mother, a very understanding woman, says, ‘Something rather like that happened to your great-grandfather Alfred, too.’ She gives Jess her great-grandmother’s journal to read and from then on the narrative alternates between the two women.

Great-grandmother Rose married her sweetheart Alfie during the war. Her two brothers have been killed and Alfie returns from the war with one leg amputated. He’s inclined to think of himself as a useless wreck of a man and Rose starts to despair of the happy married life she’s dreamed of. Alfie, like Jess, suffers nightmares and anger and starts to drink himself senseless on money they can’t spare. Rose finds a job but Alfie’s old job has gone and he fails to get another, adding to his misery. Then the Poppy Factory opens opposite Rose’s place of work and it’s this which links the stories. The factory provides work for disabled servicemen, making artificial poppies for remembrance, just as today. Alfie looks on this as charity and refuses to ask for a job there. Back in the present day, a psychiatrist tells Jess about the modern work of The Poppy Factory, helping ex-service personnel find suitable employment. Like Alfie, Jess at first feels she doesn’t need any help. Will either of them accept that they have a problem and try to tackle it? It’s clear that there’s more help available for such people today than there was back in the early twentieth century.

I found Jess’s modern day story, a third person narrative, more believable than Rose’s. I enjoyed reading the details of Rose’s family life and her problems, but could not accept that an uneducated butcher’s daughter would have written in the way that she does. In particular, I found it incredible that Rose would be giving the modern reader little history lessons by describing the origins of The Poppy Factory. The idea for the poppies ‘was dreamed up by someone called Anna Guerin, and what a woman she must be!’ ‘She’s even been to visit Field Marshal Earl Douglas Haig,’ (Perlease, call him Douglas Haig or Earl Haig but not ‘Earl Douglas Haig’!) Rose is supposed to have got all this information from newspapers: ‘The Sketch printed the poem by John McCrae that started it all off.’ The poem (In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row,) is then copied out in full into Rose’s journal. Sorry, I just couldn’t believe it.

It’s clear that Liz Trenow has been moved by the research she’s done for the book and it is a very compassionate account of what in Alfie’s case was called shell shock and in Jess’s, PTSD. At the end of the book there is praise for the work of The British Legion and you can read for yourself about the modern Poppy Factory here. This book should certainly sell a few poppies. I read it courtesy of NetGalley.

I think I’m going to give up reading new books which publishers have persuaded their authors to tie in to the First World War centenary. I just can’t put up with the historical inaccuracies. For instance, early in this book a young woman, at the end of the First World War, is slightly disappointed by a present she receives. ‘Nylons would have been much more welcome.’ Nylon wasn’t invented until 1935! I don’t think anyone at that time would have said a person was ‘made up’ when something pleased them, nor have used the expression ‘stuffing envelopes’ to describe a dull job. I don’t blame the authors for this type of error. They’re not social historians; they’re writing to a brief in order to earn a crust. As so often, the fault lies in the editing.
stonyground

In his brilliant introduction, Richard Overy (author of The Bombing War), points out that although this book is fiction, it is ‘not fictitious’. Leslie Mann (1914 – 1989) joined the RAF in 1939. He flew as a tail gunner until being shot down over Germany in June 1941 during a raid on Düsseldorf, and taken prisoner. It’s thought that he wrote this fictional account of life in Bomber Command sometime in the late 1940s.

The story is written in the third person, describing exactly what Mann’s fictional alter ego, Pilot Officer Mason, did and thought during one day and night while on ‘ops’. The style is spare: ‘Mason did this, Mason thought that’ but the terseness only adds to the sense of grim reality in the account. At the time Mann/Mason was a ‘Bomber Boy’, British airmen were flying Armstrong Whitworth Whitley bombers, already out of date and unreliable. Raids on German industrial sites had been authorised to show that Britain was taking some action against Germany and to raise morale at home. In reality, the ratio of loss of life and machines to bombing success was so poor that these raids were largely futile and the deaths of trained air crew not worth the results. It’s horrible to think of nineteen and twenty-year-olds being sent off to pointless doom in this way. Mann/Mason was very aware of this, which accounts for the bitterness in his story.

Mason describes life on the station: a visit to the local pub, a dance in the mess, a chance encounter with an attractive girl. The preparations he makes for the night’s flight are given in detail, as are the actions of the crew. Once they’re underway, the sense of claustrophobia inside the plane is palpable. Imagine being the rear gunner, exposed in that little Perspex bubble; the navigator, whom everyone depended on to get them to their target and safely back, when they were hundreds of miles from home and solid ground; the pilot, responsible for the safety of his crew. And everyone afraid. This is no Dam Busters.

The bald narrative of events is mixed throughout with Mason’s reflections: on past sorties, on lost friends and comrades (too many), on reasons for fighting. When a new boy asks Mason what an op is like, he replies laconically, ‘Not so bad.’ This is what he’s really thinking:
What could you tell these first-trippers? That it was bloody awful, frightening, sickeningly so, and more often fatal? That each trip got worse? That each time you got back you could hardly believe it? That the ground seemed so solid and firm and friendly and you were just about to feel happy when you realised that it only meant you were alive to go again, and again, and then again, until God knows when?

Pondering on death, as he does almost all the time, he wonders,
Was defeat more bitter than death, was death sweeter than defeat? He supposed so, but he didn’t at this moment really understand it, because death could be achieved any time, in dozens of ways – if defeat was so bad – without taking the lives of others. Living was the difficulty, not dying.
He also makes it clear that he and others he knew were not fighting on, even when they were afraid, for some nebulous idea of sacrificing their lives for their country.
That was the great thing – to be alive at the end of the war with a conscience that was clear and open to inspection and criticism. It had nothing to do with patriotism.
As he makes clear, fear is not the same thing as cowardice; fear was natural.

This is a short book and I think it would be best read at one sitting, to get the feeling of real time, as in Len Deighton’s Bomber. I read this book courtesy of NetGalley and gave it five of five stars, unusually for me. I understand that it’s being published in collaboration with the Imperial War Museum. That’s just as it should be because, in my opinion, this little book deserves to be a wartime classic for its exploration of how it felt to be actively engaged in combat. It will be published by Icon Books on September 4th and I hope it has great success.
macandme

I’d previously read and enjoyed Esther Freud’s Hideous Kinky and Peerless Flats so I said yes, I would like to read Mr Mac and Me. It’s very different from the others. Set, like so many novels published this year, in the period of the First World War, it tells the story of Thomas Maggs. He’s a Suffolk boy with ‘a twisted foot’, the only surviving son of a drunken publican father and a hardworking mother. His ambition is to be a sailor but his father hates the sea and his mother fears all the time for his safety, determined not to have one living son who ‘survived for nothing’.

When writing her semi-autobiographical novels, Esther Freud knew her subject. Unfortunately, she knows 0 about the First World War. Tom’s sister Mary comes rushing home to announce that they’ve heard ‘on the radio’ at the big house where she works, that war has broken out. Remarkable, since the BBC didn’t start broadcasting until 1922. Then Tom and his mother go to read the new DORA which has been posted up. This seems to have been cut and pasted from Wikipedia. To add to my difficulty in continuing with the book after these annoyances, it turns out that ‘Mr Mac’ is Charles Rennie Mackintosh and I tend not to like fiction about real people. So, how did I get on with the rest of the book?
Here’s how. )
everywoman

I’ve written before about how much I enjoy Trisha Ashley’s chicklit for the intelligent person. In no time we have references to the Bröntes, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens (I found ‘Barkis is willing’ very funny), Frank Zappa (that’s an unusual one) and Bob Dylan. Her books are always well written, with nothing to irritate. Every Woman for Herself was first published in 2002, so is earlier than the others I’ve read.

You wouldn’t expect a book which begins with a divorce and a case of manslaughter to be funny, but Every Woman for Herself manages it. Artist Charlie Fry (née Rhymer) is suddenly informed by her rat of a husband that he’s divorcing her, everything is fixed and she just has to sign a few papers. Shocked, if not that sad, she prepares to go back to her family for a while. Home is the Parsonage (an affectation of her father’s, since it’s no such thing), inhabited by a bunch of very eccentric characters. Ran, the father, is a writer who keeps a series of mistresses in the Summer Cottage. His latest is Jessica, known as the Treacle Tart. She has moved into the house with her twin girls, an unprecedented threat. Ran hoped to raise an extraordinary family and he succeeded. Tough, outspoken (she’s terribly rude to Jessica) Emily, a wonderful cook, runs the household and dabbles in white witchcraft. Anne, usually overseas as a war correspondent, is home recovering from cancer. Wars didn’t seem to last long once she’d (Anne) arrived – I think they took one look and united against a greater peril. The really clever one is Branwell, an academic whose behaviour is definitely abnormal. He occasionally returns home to recover his equilibrium. The other members of the household are faithful retainers Walter and Gloria Mundi, brother and sister who live in a separate cottage. Gloria is a mother figure for the children. Like Emily, she has the power of sight and tries to interfere in people’s lives (for their own good as she sees it) by reading tea leaves and brewing vile potions.
more )
meatspace

This book begins, ‘The first and last thing I do everyday is see what strangers are saying about me.’ That’s Kitab Balasubramanyam writing, a young man for whom the virtual world is the true reality. Later he says, ‘anything I can think of, anything that I do online. Which is everything, because who knows in this day and age where to even buy a stamp?’

Poor Kitab is rather a mess. He’s published a novel which was noticed but didn’t sell many copies; he spends time giving readings in pubs and other grim venues. His widowed father tries to treat him as a friend and talks all the time about his many girlfriends. Worst of all, Kitab’s girlfriend Rach has moved out. ‘She was constantly irritated that I spent my time self-promoting on the internet and living off my inheritance instead of giving her any attention.’ There’s a surprise! After losing Rach, Kitab fails to get on with his second novel, hardly goes out and doesn’t eat properly. His tenuous grasp on reality leads to a potentially dangerous fantasy, which has a surprise in store for the reader. All this before an Indian boy with the same name, who has been stalking him on the internet, turns up in person and starts to seriously mess with his life. Kitab 2, as he becomes known, is trouble for Kitab 1.

As so often these days with books about young men (see also Nick Hornby), I found myself mentally shouting, ‘Grow up! Get a proper job! Take some responsibility!’ Nevertheless, it’s hard not to like Kitab; so basically nice, so vulnerable, so screwed up by unresolved family issues. I found the book amusing in its use of language, and also touching. A warning to sensitive souls: there is far more here about internet porn and its usage than I wanted to know. I’m not the target audience for this book but then I’m so analogue innit.

To be published by The Friday Project on July 3rd. I read it courtesy of NetGalley.
lastfriends

I was really surprised by how short this book is; I read it in an evening. Silly me, to start a trilogy with the last book! The title says it all: the characters from the previous novels are ancient and tottering on gamely, or dead. I was entranced by the dotty inhabitants of Old Filth’s Dorset village and the back story of pre-war Teesside. Now that I’ve got so interested in Old Filth, Veneering, Fiscal Smith, Dulcie et al I simply must read Old Filth and The Man in the Wooden Hat. Absorbing reading about bizarre characters, just slightly reminiscent of Kingsley Amis’s Ending Up.

Has anyone else read Bilgewater? I really liked it.

I read the book courtesy of NetGalley. To be published 6th March by Little, Brown.
bleiberg

The weather is worse than ever here today and if, like me, you’d enjoy a couple of hours’ distraction with a page-turning thriller, The Bleiberg Project is for you. It’s another from the imprint Le French Book and was a bestseller in France as Le Projet Bleiberg. It was translated by Simon John and published in English last year.

Jeremy Corbin/Novacek is a handsome, rich young Wall Street trader with a lot of baggage in his life and, as he sees it, not a lot to live for. Everything changes when two military types arrive on his doorstep to tell him that the father he hasn’t seen for years is dead. From then on Jeremy finds that everything he thought he knew about his family and his boss was wrong and that there is a link somewhere to horrific experiments carried out by Nazis during the war. ‘I have to get to the bottom of this. Take a shaker. Add a shot of Air Force, a slug of CIA, two fingers of Switzerland and a twist of Nazi. That’s a cocktail I can’t resist.’

This is the typical thriller scenario: bloke taken over by events he didn’t know he was connected to and suddenly in constant danger. ‘I’m caught up in something straight out of an Ian Fleming novel.’ The narrative whizzes along in short chapters, alternating with scenes from the past. I did guess one of the book’s secrets but that didn’t detract from the excitement of ‘how will they get out of this one?’ Highly recommended light, gripping reading, in spite of the high body count.

I read the book courtesy of NetGalley.
I know some people are still resistant to the whole idea of e-books, but consider this. I had a £5.00 Amazon gift certificate and in the past few days I’ve bought:

The Pure Gold Baby, Margaret Drabble
Dear Lupin, Charles Mortimer, Roger Mortimer
Love, Nina, Nina Stibbe
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

and I still have another £1.04 to spend. How else could I get these recently published books so cheaply? Unread books on the Kindle will be rivalling my TBR pile soon, but they take up no house room.

goldfinch
This year, I’ve noted which books I’ve read as ‘real books’, as some people will still call them, which I read on the Kindle and which were borrowed from the library. Here are the results.
Dead tree books: 108
Kindle books: 45
Library books: 15 (in addition to the ‘real’ books above)

Could I choose a book of the year? These were the candidates:
The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert
An Officer and a Spy, Robert Harris
The Dead in their Vaulted Arches, Alan Bradley
The Burgess Boys, Elizabeth Strout
Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein
The Little Women Letters, Gabrielle Donnelly
At Break of Day/The First of July, Elizabeth Speller
The President’s Hat, Antoine Laurin
The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ London, Judith Flanders

And the winner is a novel publicised as a YA book: Code Name Verity.

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January 2017

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