Down the TBR Hole #5

This meme was created by Lia at Lost in a Story as a way to tackle the gargantuan To-Read shelves a lot of us have on Goodreads. Like other people, I’ve long ago forgotten what prompted me to add some of the books I have shelved. This meme is the perfect excuse to start taking back control…

The rules are simple:

  1. Go to your Goodreads To-Read shelf.
  2. Order on ascending date added.
  3. Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books
  4. Read the synopses of the books
  5. Decide: keep it or should it go?
  6. Repeat every week until the entire list has been filtered (hmm, quite a few weeks then!)

This week’s ten who need to demonstrate their worth are:

TBR#5TheSpyGameThe Spy Game by Georgina Harding (added 11th May 2013)

On a freezing January morning in 1961, eight-year-old Anna’s mother disappears into the fog. A kiss that barely touches Anna’s cheek, a rumble of exhaust and a blurred wave through an icy windshield, and her mother is gone. Looking back, Anna will wish that she could have paid more attention to the facts of that day. The adult world shrouds the loss in silence, tidies the issue of death away along with the things that her mother left behind. And her memories will drift and settle like the fog that covered the car.

That same morning a spy case breaks in the news–the case of the Krogers, apparently ordinary people who were not who they said they were; people who had disappeared in one place and reappeared in another with other identities, leading other lives. Obsessed by stories of the cold war and of the Second World War, which is still a fresh and painful memory for the adults around them, Anna’s brother, Peter, begins to construct a theory that their mother, a refugee from eastern Germany, was a spy working undercover, and might even still be alive. As life returns to normal, Anna struggles to sort between fact and fantasy. Did her mother have a secret life? And how does anyone know who a person was once she is dead?

Verdict: Keep – This sounds a lot like Restless by William Boyd which I really enjoyed although the reviews are not overwhelmingly positive. However, I’ll take a chance.

TBR#5TheSolitudeofThomasCaveThe Solitude of Thomas Cave by Georgina Harding (added 11th May 2013

In 1616, as the last warm days dwindle in the north Atlantic, the men on an English whaling ship prepare to head back toward home. But there is one exception among them: the quiet, headstrong Thomas Cave. For Cave has bet the rest of the crew that he can spend a winter on this Arctic island. Alone.

His shipmates sail away, the days shorten, and the cold weather moves in. Thomas Cave faces months of darkness, ice, and blizzards. He has nothing to his name except his rations, shelter, and a journal—a record in case he doesn’t survive to tell his story. But nothing so threatens the willful sailor as his own mind: he is haunted by the remembrances of another life and a lost love. From his post at the edge of the known world, Cave sees his own past, and begins to reflect on man’s relationship with God and the wilderness.

Verdict: Go – A bit too early to commit to another book by the same author until I’ve read the first one (see above).

TBR#5JackMaggsJack Maggs by Peter Carey (added 11th May 2013)

The year is 1837 and a stranger is prowling London. He is Jack Maggs, an illegal returnee from the prison island of Australia. He has the demeanor of a savage and the skills of a hardened criminal, and he is risking his life on seeking vengeance and reconciliation.   Installing himself within the household of the genteel grocer Percy Buckle, Maggs soon attracts the attention of a cross section of London society. Saucy Mercy Larkin wants him for a mate. The writer Tobias Oates wants to possess his soul through hypnosis. But Maggs is obsessed with a plan of his own. And as all the various schemes converge, Maggs rises into the center, a dark looming figure, at once frightening, mysterious, and compelling.

Verdict: Keep – I love Great Expectations so the idea of a reimagining of one of its characters really engages my interest.

TBR#5TheUndergroundManThe Underground Man by Mick Jackson (added 11th May 2013)

A humorous portrait of the fifth Duke of Portland – a wealthy, eccentric nineteenth-century nobleman who constructed a vast network of underground tunnels from which he could escape to the world outside.

Verdict: Go – This is one of those items on my To-Read shelf that I have no recollection adding or even why I added it.

TBR#5TheSeanceThe Séance by John Harwood (added 24th May 2013)

Wraxford Hall, a decaying mansion in the English countryside, has a sinister reputation. Once, a family disappeared there. And now Constance Langton has inherited this dark place as well as the mysteries surrounding it. Having grown up in a house marked by the death of her sister, Constance is no stranger to mystery, secrets, and the dark magic around us. Her father was distant. Her mother was in perpetual mourning for her lost child. In a desperate attempt to coax her mother back to health, Constance took her to a seance hoping she would find supernatural comfort. But tragic consequences followed, leaving her alone in the world– alone with Wraxford Hall. Saddled with this questionable bequest, she must find the truth at the heart of all these disappearances, apparitions, betrayal, blackmail, and villainy, even if it costs her life.

Verdict: Keep – I’m not a fan of horror (I’m a scaredy-pants) but this sounds like it’s more Gothic mystery than straight-up gore fest and it has a Victorian setting so I think I’ll take a chance.

TBR#5MoralityPlayMorality Play by Barry Unsworth (added 27th May 2013)

The time is the fourteenth century. The place is a small town in rural England, and the setting a snow-laden winter. A small troupe of actors accompanied by Nicholas Barber, a young renegade priest, prepare to play the drama of their lives. Breaking the longstanding tradition of only performing religious plays, the group’s leader, Martin, wants them to enact the murder that is foremost in the townspeople’s minds. A young boy has been found dead, and a mute-and-deaf girl has been arrested and stands to be hanged for the murder. As members of the troupe delve deeper into the circumstances of the murder, they find themselves entering a political and class feud that may undo them.

Verdict: Keep – When I saw this title on the list I thought immediately, OK this is one I can probably dump. Then I looked at the cover and read the synopsis and, uh oh, it’s got to stay…

TBR#5TheUntouchableThe Untouchable by John Banville (added 28th May 2013)

One of the most dazzling and adventurous writers now working in English takes on the enigma of the Cambridge spies in a novel of exquisite menace, biting social comedy, and vertiginous moral complexity. The narrator is the elderly Victor Maskell, formerly of British intelligence, for many years art expert to the Queen. Now he has been unmasked as a Russian agent and subjected to a disgrace that is almost a kind of death. But at whose instigation? As Maskell retraces his tortuous path from his recruitment at Cambridge to the airless upper regions of the establishment, we discover a figure of manifold doubleness: Irishman and Englishman; husband, father, and lover of men; betrayer and dupe. Beautifully written, filled with convincing fictional portraits of Maskell’s co-conspirators, and vibrant with the mysteries of loyalty and identity, The Untouchable places John Banville in the select company of both Conrad and le Carre.

Verdict: Keep – Cambridge spies (tick), ‘beautifully written’ (tick), compared to Conrad and le Carre (tick). Say no more, it stays…

TBR#5IslandofBonesIsland of Bones (Crowther and Westerman #3) by Imogen Robertson (added 5th June 2013)

Cumbria, 1783. A broken heritage; a secret history… The tomb of the first Earl of Greta should have lain undisturbed on its island of bones for three hundred years. When idle curiosity opens the stone lid, however, inside is one body too many. Gabriel Crowther’s family bought the Gretas’ land long ago, and has suffered its own bloody history. His brother was hanged for murdering their father, the Baron of Keswick, and Crowther has chosen comfortable seclusion and anonymity over estate and title for thirty years. But the call of the mystery brings him home at last. Travelling with forthright Mrs Harriet Westerman, who is escaping her own tragedy, Crowther finds a little town caught between new horrors and old, where ancient ways challenge modern justice. And against the wild and beautiful backdrop of fells and water, Crowther discovers that his past will not stay buried.

Verdict: Keep – I’m a sucker for a historical mystery and I’ve read the first two in this series and enjoyed them so I’m going to let this one stay for the time being.

TBR#5CircleofShadowsCircle of Shadows (Crowther and Westerman #4) by Imogen Robertson (added 5th June 2013)

Shrove Tuesday, 1784. While the nobility dance at a masked ball, beautiful Lady Martesen is murdered. Daniel Clode is found by her body, his wrists slit and his memories nightmarish. What has he done? Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther race to the Duchy of Maulberg to save Daniel from the executioner’s axe. There they find a capricious Duke on the point of marriage, a court consumed by luxury and intrigue, and a bitter enemy from the past. After another cruel death, they must discover the truth, no matter how horrific it is. Does the answer lie with the alchemist seeking the elixir of life? With the automata makers in the Duke’s fake rural idyll? Or in the poisonous lies oozing around the court as the elite strive for power?

Verdict: Go – Logic would say I keep this one as it’s no.4 in the series and I’ve just decided to keep no.3 (see above).  But I’m itching to remove something in this week’s cull and I can always add it back (and no.5 to complete the series) once I’ve read no.3.

TBR#5TheYearoftheFloodThe Year of the Flood (MaddAddam #2) by Margaret Atwood (added 12th June 2013)

The times and species have been changing at a rapid rate, and the social compact is wearing as thin as environmental stability. Adam One, the kindly leader of the God’s Gardeners – a religion devoted to the melding of science and religion, as well as the preservation of all plant and animal life – has long predicted a natural disaster that will alter Earth as we know it. Now it has occurred, obliterating most human life. Two women have survived: Ren, a young trapeze dancer locked inside the high-end sex club Scales and Tails, and Toby, a God’s Gardener barricaded inside a luxurious spa where many of the treatments are edible. Have others survived? Ren’s bioartist friend, Amanda? Zeb, her eco-fighter stepfather? Her onetime lover, Jimmy? Or the murderous Painballers, survivors of the mutual-elimination Painball prison? Not to mention the shadowy, corrupt policing force of the ruling powers . . .

Meanwhile, gene-spliced life forms are proliferating: the lion/lamb blends, the Mo’hair sheep with human hair, the pigs with human brain tissue. As Adam One and his intrepid hemp-clad band make their way through this strange new world, Ren and Toby will have to decide on their next move. They can’t stay locked away . . .

Verdict: Keep – Easy decision. Atwood is one of my literary heroines and this is the companion (you can’t really call it a sequel) to Oryx and Crake which I enjoyed. Reading Atwood is rarely easy but she takes you on such mad, wonderful journeys…

The Result: 7 kept, 3 dumped – not as good as last week. I can’t believe I’m still only considering books that I added in 2013, a whole four years ago! This could be the work of a lifetime, especially if I’m as reluctant to dump as I’ve been this week and [whisper] I keep adding new ones to my To-Read shelf.

Anyway, do you agree with my choices? Have I dumped any books you would have kept or vice versa?

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