Down the TBR Hole #27

BookPileThis meme was originally 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.

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 until the entire list has been filtered

It’s time for me to attempt a bit more pruning of my To-Read shelf on Goodreads which now contains 488 books, unfortunately up by three from last time despite me reading quite a few books from my TBR pile. Oh well, let’s have another try…

DrJekyllandMrSeekDr. Jekyll and Mr Seek by Anthony O’Neill (added 30th September 2017)

Seven years after the death of Edward Hyde, a stylish gentleman shows up in foggy London claiming to be Dr Henry Jekyll. Only Mr Utterson, Jekyll’s faithful lawyer and confidant, knows that he must be an impostor – because Jekyll was Hyde. But as the man goes about charming Jekyll’s friends and reclaiming his estate, and as the bodies of potential challengers start piling up, Utterson is left fearing for his life … and questioning his own sanity.

This brilliantly imagined and beautifully written sequel to one of literature’s greatest masterpieces perfectly complements the original work. And where the original was concerned with the duality of man, this sequel deals with the possibility of identity theft of the most audacious kind. Can it really be that this man who looks and acts so precisely like Dr Henry Jekyll is an imposter?

Verdict: Keep – I’m still intrigued by the premise of this and I love the cover, although that’s pretty irrelevant as I only have a digital copy. 

The King's ConcubineThe King’s Concubine by Anne O’Brien (added 3rd October 2017)

A child born in the plague year of 1348, abandoned and raised within the oppressive walls of a convent, Alice Perrers refused to take the veil, convinced that a greater destiny awaited her. Ambitious and quick witted, she rose above her obscure beginnings to become the infamous mistress of Edward III. But always, essentially, she was alone…

Early in Alice’s life, a chance meeting with royalty changes everything: Kindly Queen Philippa, deeply in love with her husband but gravely ill, chooses Alice as a lady-in-waiting. Under the queen’s watchful eye, Alice dares to speak her mind. She demands to be taken seriously. She even flirts with the dynamic, much older king. But she is torn when her vibrant spirit captures his interest…and leads her to a betrayal she never intended.

In Edward’s private chambers, Alice discovers the pleasures and paradoxes of her position. She is the queen’s confidante and the king’s lover, yet she can rely only on herself. It is a divided role she was destined to play, and she vows to play it until the bitter end. Even as she is swept up in Edward’s lavish and magnificent court, amassing wealth and influence for herself, becoming an enemy of his power-hungry son John of Gaunt, and a sparring partner to resourceful diplomat William de Windsor, she anticipates the day when the political winds will turn against her.

For when her detractors voice their hatred,and accusations of treason swirl around her,threatening to destroy everything she has achieved, who will stand by Alice then?

Verdict: Dump – Ever since I saw her at Henley Literary Festival a few years ago I’ve been meaning to read one of Anne’s books. However, I don’t think it’s going to be this one. I have one of her (slightly) more recent books, Tapestry of Treason, that I received via NetGalley so I think that’s where I’ll start.

MyMother'sShadowMy Mother’s Shadow by Nikola Scott (added 7th October 2017)

Hartland House has always been a faithful keeper of secrets…

1958. Sent to beautiful Hartland to be sheltered from her mother’s illness, Liz spends the summer with the wealthy Shaw family. They treat Liz as one of their own, but their influence could be dangerous…

Now. Addie believes she knows everything about her mother Elizabeth and their difficult relationship until her recent death. When a stranger appears claiming to be Addie’s sister, she is stunned. Is everything she’s been told about her early life a lie?

How can you find the truth about the past if the one person who could tell you is gone? Addie must go back to that golden summer her mother never spoke of…and the one night that changed a young girl’s life for ever.

Verdict: Keep – I have mixed experiences with dual-time novels, often finding the past timeline way ore interesting than the present day one, but this was one of the books on my 20 Books of Summer list that I didn’t get round to reading so I’ll give it a chance.

Hidden FiguresHidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly (added 7th October 2017)

Before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as ‘Human Computers’, calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts, these ‘colored computers’ used pencil and paper to write the equations that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.

Moving from World War II through NASA’s golden age, touching on the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the women’s rights movement, ‘Hidden Figures’ interweaves a rich history of mankind’s greatest adventure with the intimate stories of five courageous women whose work forever changed the world.

Verdict: Dump – I bought this after seeing the (very good) film in order to see how it differed, if at all. Although I think it would be interesting, I can’t see myself getting around to reading it. 

DISTRICT VIIIDistrict VIII by Adam LeBor (added 13th October 2017)

Balthazar Kovacs, a detective on Budapest’s murder squad, is on the trail of a dead man.

Minutes ago, Kovacs received an anonymous SMS showing a body and an address: 26 Republic Square – the former Communist Party headquarters and once the most feared building in the country. But now, amid the ruins of the demolished building, Kovacs finds no dead body, just six members of the Gendarmerie – an elite police force reporting directly to the prime minister – and an invitation to hand over his phone and cease his investigation.

Kovacs has taken his first step on a journey deep into Budapest’s dark heart, towards a deadly intersection of the criminal underworld, the corridors of power and the ghosts of history. A journey that will force him to choose between the law and family loyalty.

Verdict: Keep – This is billed as the first in a series, although there only seems to have been one further book since. I’m attracted to the setting though. 

In The DarkIn the Dark by Andreas Pflüger (added 13th October 2017) 

Jenny Aaron was a government assassin, part of an elite unit tracking Germany’s most dangerous criminals. She was one of the best, until a disastrous mission ended with her abandoning a wounded colleague and then going blind from her injuries.

Now, five years later, she has learnt to navigate a darkened world, but is haunted by betraying her colleague. When she is called back to the force to trace a ruthless serial killer, she seizes the opportunity to solve the case and restore her honour.

Strong-willed and fearless – but vulnerable too – Jenny Aaron is a character to stand side by side with Clarice Starling and Lisbeth Salander.

Verdict: Dump – This has an interesting premise but I’m put off by some reviews that say the pace is slow.

Magpie MurdersMagpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (added 23rd October 2017)

When editor Susan Ryeland is given the tattered manuscript of Alan Conway’s latest novel, she has little idea it will change her life. She’s worked with the revered crime writer for years and his detective, Atticus Pund, is renowned for solving crimes in the sleepy English villages of the 1950s. As Susan knows only too well, vintage crime sells handsomely. It’s just a shame that it means dealing with an author like Alan Conway…

But Conway’s latest tale of murder at Pye Hall is not quite what it seems. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but hidden in the pages of the manuscript there lies another story: a tale written between the very words on the page, telling of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition and murder.

Verdict: Keep – Although at 560 pages this is a bit of a chunky read, Anthony Horowitz never lets me down. It’s also one of the books on my 20 Books of Summer list that I didn’t get around to reading. 

The Assassin of VeronaThe Assassin of Verona by Benet Brandreth (added 4th November 2017)

All is not well in Venice.

Threatened daily by Papal assassins, William Shakespeare and his close friends Oldcastle and Hemminges are increasingly isolated – the lies that have protected them so far beginning to wear thin.

His companions want desperately to leave, but Will is tied to the city – his lover, the beautiful Isabella, is growing ever more sick. As tensions reach breaking point, their company is forced to split…

Verdict: Keep – This is the second in the series and I’m a little worried about not having read the first. It also seems to have divided opinions among reviewers. On the other hand it’s set in Venice which is always an attraction and I have a very attractive hardback copy. I think this is one where I’ll read the first few chapters and then decide whether to continue.  

TreasonTreason by James Jackson  (added 4th November 2017)

‘Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November…’

Behind the famous rhyme lies a murderous conspiracy that goes far beyond Guy Fawkes and his ill-fated Gunpowder Plot . . .

In a desperate race against time, spy Christian Hardy must uncover a web of deceit that runs from the cock-fighting pits of Shoe Lane, to the tunnels beneath a bear-baiting arena in Southwark, and from the bad lands of Clerkenwell to a brutal firefight in The Globe theatre.

But of the forces ranged against Hardy, all pale beside the renegade Spanish agent codenamed Realm.

Verdict: Keep – This is another book that was on my 20 Books of Summer list that I didn’t get to. It’s also the third in a series and I haven’t read the previous two. However, it sounds entertaining so it stays for now. 

LionLion by Saroo Brierley (added 19th November 2017)

Aged just five, Saroo Brierley was separated from his family in India when he boarded a train that took him 1500km from his hometown. After weeks surviving alone on the streets of Calcutta, he was eventually adopted by an Australian couple.

As an adult, Saroo couldn’t help but think about the family he’d lost. Years later, he swapped the map of India on his wall for Google Earth, scouring it for landmarks he knew from his childhood. One day, he saw something he recognised, and he set off on a journey to find his mother…

Verdict: Dump – Like Hidden Figures earlier, this is a book I bought after seeing the film adaptation. It’s a great story but I can’t see myself reading the book. I’m more likely to watch the film again.

The Result – 6 kept, 4 dumped. Would you have made different choices? Next time we might be close to reaching books added to my To-Read shelf less than five years ago…

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Down the TBR Hole #26

BookPileThis meme was originally 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.

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 until the entire list has been filtered

It’s time for me to attempt a bit more pruning of my To-Read shelf on Goodreads which now contains 485 books, down from 487 last time. Okay, I know, not much to boast about. Anyway, let’s have another try.

TheHoneyFarmontheHillThe Honey Farm on the Hill by Jo Thomas (added 3rd August 2017)

We never forget the one who got away.

Eighteen years ago Nell fell in love in the mountains of Crete and life changed for ever. Nell’s daughter, Demi, has never met her dad. Nell never saw him again. When she gets the chance to return to the hilltop town of Vounoplagia – where everything began – Nell can’t resist the urge to go back and find him.

Working on a honey farm perched high up in the hills, there’s plenty to keep her busy. And she will quickly realise the town harbours just as many secrets as she does.

But if Nell’s favourite romantic films are right, there’s a happy ending in store for each of us. All she has to do is seek out the magic of the mountains…

Verdict: Keep – This is a bit lighter than my usual fare but, having visited Crete, I’m attracted by the setting and prepared to give it a go. It was also one of the books on my list for the 20 Books of Summer 2022 reading challenge and, yes, I am aware that’s it’s now autumn.  

History of WolvesHistory of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (added 6th August 2017)

How far would you go to belong? 

Fourteen-year-old Linda lives with her parents in an ex-commune beside a lake in the beautiful, austere backwoods of northern Minnesota. The other girls at school call Linda ‘Freak’, or ‘Commie’. Her parents mostly leave her to her own devices, whilst the other inhabitants have grown up and moved on.

So when the perfect family – mother, father and their little boy, Paul – move into the cabin across the lake, Linda insinuates her way into their orbit. She begins to babysit Paul and feels welcome, that she finally has a place to belong.

Yet something isn’t right. Drawn into secrets she doesn’t understand, Linda must make a choice. But how can a girl with no real knowledge of the world understand what the consequences will be?

Verdict: Keep – I’m still intrigued by this and it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2017.

PompeiiPompeii by Robert Harris (added 15th August 2017)

All along the Mediterranean coast, the Roman empire’s richest citizens are relaxing in their luxurious villas, enjoying the last days of summer. The world’s largest navy lies peacefully at anchor in Misenum. The tourists are spending their money in the seaside resorts of Baiae, Herculaneum, and Pompeii.

But the carefree lifestyle and gorgeous weather belie an impending cataclysm, and only one man is worried. The young engineer Marcus Attilius Primus has just taken charge of the Aqua Augusta, the enormous aqueduct that brings fresh water to a quarter of a million people in nine towns around the Bay of Naples. His predecessor has disappeared. Springs are failing for the first time in generations. And now there is a crisis on the Augusta’s sixty-mile main line – somewhere to the north of Pompeii, on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius.

Attilius – decent, practical, and incorruptible – promises Pliny, the famous scholar who commands the navy, that he can repair the aqueduct before the reservoir runs dry. His plan is to travel to Pompeii and put together an expedition, then head out to the place where he believes the fault lies. But Pompeii proves to be a corrupt and violent town, and Attilius soon discovers that there are powerful forces at work – both natural and man-made – threatening to destroy him.

Verdict: Keep – I love Robert Harris’s books. In fact, I’ve just added his latest one, Act of Oblivion, to my TBR pile. So I have no explanation to offer as to why I haven’t read this yet. 

BeyondTopSecretUBeyond Top Secret U by Ewen Montagu (added 18th August 2017)

A keen sailor in the years preceding the outbreak of World War II, Ewen Montagu joined the Navy’s supplementary reserve, hoping that they would find some use for him. Following the emergence of his qualifications as a K.C. he found himself attached to the Admiralty and stepping into the shadowy world of British Intelligence.

For most officers Top Secret was the highest classification, but for those involved with Enigma it was Ultra Secret (Top Secret U), and yet there was a higher classification still. Working under the Director of Naval Intelligence, Montagu was one of those few privy to that highest classification, beyond Top Secret U, and the Double Cross System. Involved in the strategic deception surrounding D-Day and V-bombs, as well a lead role in Operation Mincemeat, his work was so secretive that it even prevented promotion.

Verdict: Dump – I’ve read The Man Who Never Was about the author’s involvement in Operation Mincemeat (recently brought to the big screen) and, although I think this would be interesting, I can’t see myself getting around to reading it. 

AtDuskAllCatsAreGreyAt Dusk All Cats Are Grey by Jerrard Tickell ohn Boyne (added 18th August 2017)

It’s not only the cats slinking through the dark…

Twenty-two-year-old Joanna Shirley is the only daughter and child of Lady and Sir Robert Shirley. Joanna grew up in the countryside of the Cotswold; in her view, she had an idyllic childhood roaming the rolling, green hills. Her teens were spent socialising in France, Austria and Germany, where she learnt of her affinity for languages and accents. In fact, while skiing once in Austria, her German was so good that she was arrested by the Gestapo on suspicion of being a spy…

It once seemed a jolly funny story to tell people, but now rumours that Hitler is edging his way to the Polish border and, feeling that now she must earn her own keep, Joanna moves to London. While studying at secretarial college, she meets Peter Havelock – a dull, somewhat absent-minded man who is desperately in love with her.

She soon gets a job at an advertisement firm – Silvertops run by the esteemed P. J. Martin. Like London as a whole, the firm is full of strange characters. There’s the stalwart Miss Phillips who keeps the firm from ruining itself into bankruptcy – and the conceited womaniser and copywriter, Neil Trevor. Trevor takes quite a fancy to Joanna but finds his old habits of woman, booze and lying hard to change.

Meanwhile, meeting Peter’s in-laws, Joanna meets Old Mr Havelock, who happens to also be a client of Silvertops. While she makes an impression on him, she makes an even greater impression on Colonel Seymour – especially with her proficiency in French and German. The Colonel wants to know if she’s interested in something a little more profitable and discreet than a receptionist. All she has to do is report back about a group of Austrian refugees…

A sinister darkness is creeping over Europe, and Joanna finds herself unable to recognise the world she once knew so well…

Verdict: Dump – I was exhausted just reading the blurb and have no interest in the book having done so. One of those books where you ask yourself, how on earth did this end up on my Kindle?

RivalsoftheRepublicRivals of the Republic by Annelise Freisenbruch (added 24th August 2017) 

As Rivals of the Republic begins, Roman high society is humming with gossip about the sudden, suspicious suicide of a Roman senator. Shortly afterward, the body of a Vestal Virgin is discovered in the River Tiber. When the Roman authorities turn a strangely blind eye, Hortensia, the daughter of the capital’s most celebrated lawyer, begins investigating a trail of murders that leads straight into the dark heart of Rome.

Defying her husband and her father and rebelling against the constraints imposed upon her sex, Hortensia plunges deeper into the corrupt underworld that lurks in the shadows cast by the city’s all-powerful elite. When more key witnesses are silenced by an unknown mastermind, Hortensia is forced to seek an unconventional ally: Lucrio, an ex-gladiator with secrets of his own.

Verdict: Keep – Bestselling author Alison Weir described this novel as ‘stunning’ and it was on my list for the 20 Books of Summer 2022 reading challenge, which I’m still working my way through. It’s also relatively short.

OurFatherOur Father by James Farner (added 22nd September 2017)

The Second German Reich has collapsed in the flames of World War I and the country is in chaos. Republicans, rogue soldiers, and communists are rampaging through the cities and villages of Germany. Faced with destruction, the nationalists fight back against their enemies, turning the country into a battlefield.

In Munich, Erich and Johann Brandt are a pair of impressionable teenagers just trying to get by. When Erich falls under the sway of young speaker Adolf Hitler, he joins the party without a second thought. Erich drives further and further into Hitler’s inner circle, which all culminates in a deadly march through the heart of Munich.

Horrified at his brother’s fall into National Socialism, Johann does what he can to fight back against the spell that Hitler has placed the country under. That is until he attracts the brutal attentions of SA captain Oswald Yorck. As elections turn against the democratic parties, Johann does his best to save his country before it’s too late. But it could cost him his life…

Verdict: Dump – I dithered about keeping this. On the one hand, it’s relatively short and being set in Germany between the two World Wars makes it interesting. However, it sounds similar in theme to Louise Fein’s People Like Us

TheGirlFromSimon'sBayThe Girl from Simon’s Bay by Barbara Mutch (added 28th September 2017)

Simon’s Town is a vibrant seafaring community in a picturesque part of the Union of South Africa. Louise Ahrendts, daughter of a local shipbuilder, nurtures the dream of becoming a nurse amid the unwritten, unspoken rules about colour that might hold her back.

As the port becomes a hub of activity following the outbreak of the Second World War, Louise crosses paths with man she is determined to be with – despite all the obstacles that life and war can throw in their way.

But when a new troubled moment of history dawns, can they find their way back to each other?

Verdict: Keep – Possibly this has more of a romance element than I would normally go for but I’m a sucker for a book set in WW2 and the South African location is a little different. It’s also another of the books on my list for the 20 Books of Summer 2022 reading challenge. And, apologies to Allison & Busby who sent me the review copy.  

VictoriaFour-ThirtyVictoria Four-Thirty by Cecil Roberts (added 30th September 2017)

“It would be very interesting to know the life history of everybody on this train – why we are travelling on it…”

London, 1937. A world famous composer, a honeymooning couple, a novelist in search of a plot, a German film star, a young crown prince and a sister of charity are among the disparate group of travellers on the boat train to continental Europe. Set amid the political upheaval of the 1930s, this is the witty, insightful and bittersweet story of the passengers on the 4.30pm from Victoria. Each is facing a different journey, with their own hopes, fears and challenges; and for some, their lives will cross in unexpected ways.

Verdict: Keep – Well, this is a little curiosity, isn’t it? It’s an 80th anniversary edition of a book first published in 1937. I find myself intrigued by it and I love the cover.

TheTobacconistThe Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler (added 30th September 2017)

When seventeen-year-old Franz exchanges his home in the idyllic beauty of the Austrian lake district for the bustle of Vienna, his homesickness quickly dissolves amidst the thrum of the city. In his role as apprentice to the elderly tobacconist Otto Trsnyek, he will soon be supplying the great and good of Vienna with their newspapers and cigarettes. Among the regulars is a Professor Freud, whose predilection for cigars and occasional willingness to dispense romantic advice will forge a bond between him and young Franz.

It is 1937. In a matter of months Germany will annex Austria and the storm that has been threatening to engulf the little tobacconist will descend, leaving the lives of Franz, Otto and Professor Freud irredeemably changed.

Verdict: Dump – So we’re back in pre-WW2 Germany again. If I didn’t have so many other unread books I’d be tempted to keep this but it does sound a little similar to Sebastian Faulk’s Snow Country which I read in August last year.

The Result – 6 kept, 4 dumped. Would you have made different choices? Next time we might even be on to books added to my To-Read shelf less than five years ago. Fancy that!