Down the TBR Hole #7

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!)

It’s always great when a fellow blogger persuades you to ‘save’ a book based on personal recommendation. Last time, I’d planned to dump Perfect by Rachel Joyce but I was prevailed upon to give it a reprieve. And I’m glad I did, as I was lucky enough to hear Rachel talk at the Henley Literary Festival last week and she was absolutely fascinating. You can read my review of the event here. (However, it does mean I added more of her books to my To-Read shelf. Ho, hum…)

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

TBR#7CutototheQuickCut to the Quick (Julian Kestrel Mysteries, #1) by Kate Ross (added 21st June 2013)

There’s a beautiful young woman in Julian Kestrel’s bed. Unfortunately, she’s dead.  Add the unflappable Julian Kestrel to the ranks of great sleuths of ages past. He’s the very model of a proper Beau Brummell – except for his unusual willingness to plunge headlong into murder investigations. And an investigation’s hard to avoid when, luring an elegant weekend at a friend’s country estate, a murder victim turns up in his bed. With the help of his Cockney manservant, Dipper, Kestrel sets out to find the killer among the glittering denizens of 1820s London’s social stratosphere.

Verdict: Go – I like the sound of this but there are so many historical mystery series out there and my TBR is huge already.  I don’t think I can commit to starting another series.

TBR#7TheSandcastleGirlsThe Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian (added 28th June 2013)

When Elizabeth Endicott arrives in Aleppo, Syria she has a diploma from Mount Holyoke, a crash course in nursing, and only the most basic grasp of the Armenian language. It’s   1915 and she has volunteered on behalf of the Boston-based Friends of Armenia to help deliver food and medical aid to refugees of the Armenian genocide. There Elizabeth becomes friendly with Armen, a young Armenian engineer who has already lost his wife and infant daughter. When Armen leaves Aleppo and travels south into Egypt to join the British army, he begins to write Elizabeth letters, and comes to realize that he has fallen in love with the wealthy, young American woman who is so different from the wife he lost.

Fast forward to the present day, where we meet Laura Petrosian, a novelist living in suburban New York. Although her grandparents’ ornate Pelham home was affectionately nicknamed “The Ottoman Annex,” Laura has never really given her Armenian heritage much thought. But when an old friend calls, claiming to have seen a newspaper photo of Laura’s grandmother promoting an exhibit at a Boston museum, Laura embarks on a journey back through her family’s history that reveals love, loss – and a wrenching secret that has been buried for generations.

Verdict: Keep – I’ve heard good things about this and I like the period setting and its focus on an area of history I know little about.

TBR#7TheLightintheRuinsThe Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian (added 28th June 2013)

1943: Tucked away in the idyllic hills south of Florence, the Rosatis, an Italian family of noble lineage, believe that the walls of their ancient villa will keep them safe from the war raging across Europe. Eighteen-year-old Cristina spends her days swimming in the pool, playing with her young niece and nephew, and wandering aimlessly amid the estate’s gardens and olive groves. But when two soldiers, a German and an Italian, arrive at the villa asking to see an ancient Etruscan burial site, the Rosatis’ bucolic tranquility is shattered. A young German lieutenant begins to court Cristina, the Nazis descend upon the estate demanding hospitality, and what was once their sanctuary becomes their prison.

1955: Serafina Bettini, an investigator with the Florence police department, has her own demons. A beautiful woman, Serafina carefully hides her scars along with her haunting memories of the war. But when she is assigned to a gruesome new case—a serial killer targeting the Rosatis, murdering the remnants of the family one-by-one in cold blood—Serafina finds herself digging into a past that involves both the victims and her own tragic history.

Verdict: Go – Okay, I see what was going on here. However, I think I’ll wait to see what I think of The Sandcastle Girls before embarking on another book by the author.

TBR#7TheParisWinterThe Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson (added 28th June 2013)

Maud Heighton came to Lafond’s famous Academie to paint, and to flee the constraints of her small English town. It took all her courage to escape, but Paris, she quickly realizes, is no place for a light purse. While her fellow students enjoy the dazzling decadence of the Belle Epoque, Maud slips into poverty. Quietly starving, and dreading another cold Paris winter, she stumbles upon an opportunity when Christian Morel engages her as a live-in companion to his beautiful young sister, Sylvie.  Maud is overjoyed by her good fortune. With a clean room, hot meals, and an umbrella to keep her dry, she is able to hold her head high as she strolls the streets of Montmartre. No longer hostage to poverty and hunger, Maud can at last devote herself to her art. But all is not as it seems. Christian and Sylvie, Maud soon discovers, are not quite the darlings they pretend to be. Sylvie has a secret addiction to opium and Christian has an ominous air of intrigue. As this dark and powerful tale progresses, Maud is drawn further into the Morels’ world of elegant deception. Their secrets become hers, and soon she is caught in a scheme of betrayal and revenge that will plunge her into the darkness that waits beneath this glittering city of light.

Verdict: Go – I can see why I was attracted to this: the setting and the subject of art.  However there are some lukewarm reviews so I don’t think it rates saving.

TBR#7MerivelMerivel: A Man of His Time (Restoration #2) by Rose Tremain (added 28th June 2013)

The gaudy years of the Restoration are long gone. Robert Merivel, physician and courtier to Charles II, loved for his gift for turning sorrow into laughter, now faces the agitations and anxieties of middle age. Questions crowd his mind: has he been a good father? Is he a fair master? Is he the King’s friend or the King’s slave? In search of answers, Merivel sets off for the French court. But Versailles – all glitter in front and squalor behind – leaves Merivel in despair, until a chance encounter with Madame de Flamanville, a seductive Swiss botanist, allows him to dream of an honorable future.Yet will that future ever be his? Back home at Bidnold Manor, his loyalty and medical skills are tested to their limits, while the captive bear he has brought back from France begins to cause havoc in his heart and on his estate.With a cascade of lace at his neck and a laugh that can burst out of him in the midst of torment, Merivel is a uniquely brilliant creation—soulful, funny, outrageous, and achingly sad. He is Everyman. His unmistakable, self-mocking voice speaks directly to us down the centuries.

Verdict: Go – Although she is a well-regarded writer, I’ve had mixed experiences with Tremain’s books. I was rather disappointed with The Gustav Sonata, which was nominated for The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction in 2017 but I enjoyed The Colour which I read some years before. This is the second book in a series and, as I haven’t read the first one, it’s a good excuse to let it go.

TBR#7SugarintheBloodSugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire by Andrea Stuart (added 29th June 2013)

In the late 1630s, lured by the promise of the New World, Andrea Stuart’s earliest known maternal ancestor, George Ashby, set sail from England to settle in Barbados. He fell into the life of a sugar plantation owner by mere chance, but by the time he harvested his first crop, a revolution was fully under way: the farming of sugar cane, and the swiftly increasing demands for sugar worldwide, would not only lift George Ashby from abject poverty and shape the lives of his descendants, but it would also bind together ambitious white entrepreneurs and enslaved black workers in a strangling embrace. Stuart uses her own family story—from the seventeenth century through the present—as the pivot for this epic tale of migration, settlement, survival, slavery and the making of the Americas.  Interspersing the tectonic shifts of colonial history with her family’s experience, Stuart explores the interconnected themes of settlement, sugar and slavery with extraordinary subtlety and sensitivity. In examining how these forces shaped her own family–its genealogy, intimate relationships, circumstances of birth, varying hues of skin–she illuminates how her family, among millions of others like it, in turn transformed the society in which they lived, and how that interchange continues to this day. Shifting between personal and global history, Stuart gives us a deepened understanding of the connections between continents, between black and white, between men and women, between the free and the enslaved. It is a story brought to life with riveting and unparalleled immediacy, a story of fundamental importance to the making of our world.

Verdict: Keep – One of my favourite places in the world is Barbados; so much so, that my husband and I were married there (in the wonderful Hunte’s Gardens). The island has a fascinating if, at times, troubled, history which I keep meaning to read more about. This sounds like the ideal book to keep me going until my next visit.

TBR#7ImperiumImperium (Cicero #1) by Robert Harris (added 18th July 2013)

When Tiro, the confidential secretary (and slave) of a Roman senator, opens the door to a terrified stranger on a cold November morning, he sets in motion a chain of events that will eventually propel his master into one of the most suspenseful courtroom dramas in history. The stranger is a Sicilian, a victim of the island’s corrupt Roman governor, Verres. The senator is Marcus Cicero – an ambitious young lawyer and spellbinding orator, who at the age of twenty-seven is determined to attain imperium – supreme power in the state.  Of all the great figures of the Roman world, none was more fascinating or charismatic than Cicero. And Tiro – the inventor of shorthand and author of numerous books, including a celebrated biography of his master (which was lost in the Dark Ages) – was always by his side. Compellingly written in Tiro’s voice, Imperium is the re-creation of his vanished masterpiece, recounting in vivid detail the story of Cicero’s quest for glory, competing with some of the most powerful and intimidating figures of his – or any other – age: Pompey, Caesar, Crassus, and the many other powerful Romans who changed history.

Verdict: Keep – Robert Harris writes terrific books: Fatherland, Enigma, Pompeii, An Officer and a Spy, to name a few. This sounds like another cracker.

TBR#7JonathanStrange&MrNorrellJonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (added 21st July 2013)

In the year 1806, in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars, most people believe magic to have long since disappeared from England – until the reclusive Mr Norrell reveals his powers and becomes a celebrity overnight. Another practicing magician emerges: the young and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell’s pupil and the two join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic and soon he risks sacrificing not only his partnership with Norrell, but everything else he holds dear.

Verdict: Go – I dithered over this one but, in the end, I decided I’m not really up for something that’s 866 pages long and that reviewers seem quite divided over.

TBR#7KatherineKatherine by Anya Seton (added 24th July 2013)

This classic romance novel tells the true story of the love affair that changed history – that of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the ancestors of most of the British royal family. Set in the vibrant 14th century of Chaucer and the Black Death, the story features knights fighting in battle, serfs struggling in poverty, and the magnificent Plantagenets – Edward III, the Black Prince, and Richard II – who ruled despotically over a court rotten with intrigue. Within this era of danger and romance, John of Gaunt, the king’s son, falls passionately in love with the already married Katherine. Their well-documented affair and love persist through decades of war, adultery, murder, loneliness, and redemption.

Verdict: Keep – An easy one, this, as it’s on my Classics Club Challenge list. Plus I adore the cover and it has great reviews.

TBR#7CrimsonPetalandtheWhiteThe Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber (added 24th July 2013)

Sugar, an alluring, nineteen-year-old whore in the brothel of the terrifying Mrs Castaway, yearns for a better life and her ascent through the strata of 1870’s London society offers us intimacy with a host of loveable, maddening and superbly realised characters. Gripping from the first page, this immense novel is an intoxicating and deeply satisfying read, not only a wonderful story but the creation of an entire, extraordinary world.

Verdict: Keep – We’ve already established I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to big books. The thing is – there are so many wonderful books out there it’s a big investment to take on a book weighing in at 836 pages. In cases like these, I usually look at the views of a few trusted reviewers.  They all mention that despite its size, it’s a gripping read, so I’m convinced.

The Result: 5 kept, 5 dumped. This is my seventh time doing this exercise.  If I’d got rid of nothing, I’d have 70 books on my To-Read shelf up to 24th July 2013. In fact, I have only 36, so perhaps I’m making progress after all….

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

11 thoughts on “Down the TBR Hole #7

    1. Not better, just more ruthless! I’m finding I’d added multiple books by the same author before I’d even read one to see if I liked their writing. The same with series. In the next batch are 8 books in a series I’ve only read the first few books of. I’ve made myself a rule only to keep the next in a series and delete later ones. That’s going to reduce it quite a bit. After all, one can always add back!


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