Down the TBR Hole #32

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 450 books, twenty-six down on last time. Yes!  A lot of that reduction was through deleting books I don’t own from my Want-To-Read shelf. Let’s see if I can be similarly successful with books I do own. 

The Girl in the LetterThe Girl in the Letter by Emily Gunnis (added 7th August 2018)

1956. When Ivy Jenkins falls pregnant she is sent in disgrace to St Margaret’s, a dark, brooding house for unmarried mothers. Her baby is adopted against her will. Ivy will never leave.

Present day. Samantha Harper is a journalist desperate for a break. When she stumbles on a letter from the past, the contents shock and move her. The letter is from a young mother, begging to be rescued from St Margaret’s. Before it is too late.

Sam is pulled into the tragic story and discovers a spate of unexplained deaths surrounding the woman and her child. With St Margaret’s set for demolition, Sam has only hours to piece together a sixty-year-old mystery before the truth, which lies disturbingly close to home, is lost forever …

Read her letter. Remember her story …

Verdict: Keep – The subject matter is reminding of several other books I’ve read but I’m still interested in reading this one. 

The Death of Mrs WestawayThe Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware (added 15th August 2018)

On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person – but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.

Verdict: Keep – I remember this being all over social media at the time which is no doubt why I snapped up a copy. 

The Continuity GirlThe Continuity Girl by Patrick Kincaid (added 21st August 2018)

1969. Hollywood descends on a tiny Scottish village for the making of Billy Wilder’s most ambitious picture yet: a sprawling epic detailing The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. But the formidable director and his crew soon come into conflict with Jim Outhwaite, a young scientist seeking evidence for monsters.

2014. Stuck just a short walk from the East London street where she grew up, ambitious Film Studies lecturer Gemma MacDonald is restless and hungry for change. A job offer in the Highlands seems to offer escape – but only at a cost to her relationships with family and an equally ambitious American boyfriend.

Then a lost print of Gemma’s favourite film turns up, and with it, an idea…

Two stories, separated by 45 years, are set on collision course – on the surface of Loch Ness, under the shadow of a castle – by the reappearance of the continuity girl herself: April Bloom.

Verdict: Dump – Although the Billy Wilder angle appeals to me, the description of this as ‘a wistfully entertaining romantic comedy’ puts me off a little, as does the dual timeline structure. I think I’ll say ‘Cut’.

A House of GhostsA House of Ghosts by W. C. Ryan (added 12th September 2018)

Winter 1917. As the First World War enters its most brutal phase, back home in England, everyone is seeking answers to the darkness that has seeped into their lives.

At Blackwater Abbey, on an island off the Devon coast, Lord Highmount has arranged a spiritualist gathering to contact his two sons who were lost in the conflict. But as his guests begin to arrive, it gradually becomes clear that each has something they would rather keep hidden. Then, when a storm descends on the island, the guests will find themselves trapped. Soon one of their number will die.

For Blackwater Abbey is haunted in more ways than one…

Verdict: Keep – I won this hardback from Readers First but since I won’t get any points for a review after all this time, it’s slipped down the priority list.  I like the period it’s set in and it has generally positive reviews.  

The Distant HoursThe Distant Hours by Kate Morton (added 13th September 2018)

Edie Burchill and her mother have never been close, but when a long lost letter arrives with the return address of Milderhurst Castle, Kent, printed on its envelope, Edie begins to suspect that her mother’s emotional distance masks an old secret.

Evacuated from London as a thirteen year old girl, Edie’s mother is chosen by the mysterious Juniper Blythe, and taken to live at Millderhurst Castle with the Blythe family.

Fifty years later, Edie too is drawn to Milderhurst and the eccentric Sisters Blythe. Old ladies now, the three still live together, the twins nursing Juniper, whose abandonment by her fiancé in 1941 plunged her into madness.

Inside the decaying castle, Edie begins to unravel her mother’s past. But there are other secrets hidden in the stones of Milderhurst Castle, and Edie is about to learn more than she expected. The truth of what happened in the distant hours has been waiting a long time for someone to find it . . .

Verdict: Dump – I’ve read four other books by the author with an average rating of 3.5 stars.  Do I love the sound of this book enough to get through its 673 pages? I don’t think I do but hopefully someone browsing the charity bookshop it’s destined for will. Another plus point to getting rid of it is that it will free up space for a couple of other books.

Please, Mister PostmanPlease, Mr Postman by Alan Johnson (added 26th September 2018) 

In July 1969, while the Rolling Stones played a free concert in Hyde Park, Alan Johnson and his young family left West London to start a new life.

The Britwell Estate in Slough, apparently notorious among the locals, in fact came as a blessed relief after the tensions of Notting Hill, and the local community welcomed them with open arms. Alan had become a postman the previous year, and in order to support his growing family took on every bit of overtime he could, often working twelve-hour shifts six days a week.

It was hard work, but not without its compensations – the crafty fag snatched in a country lane, the farmer’s wife offering a hearty breakfast and even the mysterious lady on Glebe Road who appeared daily, topless, at her window as the postman passed by …

Please, Mister Postman paints a vivid picture of England in the 1970s, where no celebration was complete without a Party Seven of Watney’s Red Barrel, smoking was the norm rather than the exception, and Sunday lunchtime was about beer, bingo and cribbage. But as Alan’s life appears to be settling down and his career in the Union of Postal Workers begins to take off, his close-knit family is struck once again by tragedy …

Verdict: Dump – I’ve read most of Alan Johnson’s brilliant memoirs and also his first foray into crime fiction, The Late Train to Gipsy Hill. I’m sure I’d enjoy this one but – and here is the sneaky bit – the book actually belongs to my husband so I can safely remove it from my To-Read list on Goodreads without getting rid of the actual physical copy. 

The Lion Tamer Who LostThe Lion Tamer Who Lost by Louise Beech (added 27th September 2018)

Long ago, Andrew made a childhood wish, and kept it in a silver box. When it finally comes true, he wishes he hadn’t…

Long ago, Ben made a promise and he had a dream: to travel to Africa to volunteer at a lion reserve. When he finally makes it, it isn’t for the reasons he imagined…

Ben and Andrew keep meeting in unexpected places, and the intense relationship that develops seems to be guided by fate. Or is it? What if the very thing that draws them together is tainted by past secrets that threaten everything?

Verdict: Keep – I’ve loved every book I’ve read by Louise Beech and it has loads of enthusiastic reviews. 

Top Ten Tuesday About A Boy Please Mr Postman The Long and Winding RoadThis Boy by Alan Johnson (added 7th July 2018)

Alan Johnson’s childhood was not so much difficult as unusual, particularly for a man who was destined to become Home Secretary. Not in respect of the poverty, which was shared with many of those living in the slums of post-war Britain, but in its transition from two-parent family to single mother and then to no parents at all…

This is essentially the story of two incredible women: Alan’s mother, Lily, who battled against poor health, poverty, domestic violence and loneliness to try to ensure a better life for her children; and his sister, Linda, who had to assume an enormous amount of responsibility at a very young age and who fought to keep the family together and out of care when she herself was still only a child.

Played out against the background of a vanishing community living in condemned housing, the story moves from post-war austerity in pre-gentrified Notting Hill, through the race riots, school on the Kings Road, Chelsea in the Swinging 60s, to the rock-and-roll years, making a record in Denmark Street and becoming a husband and father whilst still in his teens.

This Boy is one man’s story, but it is also a story of England and the West London slums which are so hard to imagine in the capital today. No matter how harsh the details, Alan Johnson writes with a spirit of generous acceptance, of humour and openness which makes his book anything but a grim catalogue of miseries.

Verdict: Dump – Scoot back up to my comments about Please, Mr Postman as the same applies here. 

The Murder of Harriet MoncktonThe Murder of Harriet Monckton by Elizabeth Haynes (added 7th October 2018)

On 7th November 1843, Harriet Monckton, 23 years old and a woman of respectable parentage and religious habits, is found murdered in the privy behind the chapel she regularly attended in Bromley, Kent.

The community is appalled by her death, apparently as a result of swallowing a fatal dose of prussic acid, and even more so when the surgeon reports that Harriet was around six months pregnant.

Drawing on the coroner’s reports and witness testimonies, Elizabeth Haynes builds a compelling picture of Harriet’s final hours through the eyes of those closest to her and the last people to see her alive. Her fellow teacher and companion, her would-be fiancé, her seducer, her former lover – all are suspects; each has a reason to want her dead.

Verdict: Keep – Great reviews for this and I like the fact it’s based on a true story. 

China CourtChina Court by Rumer Godden (added 11th October 2018)

Five generations of Quins have lived in China Court, a house built in a remote village on the Cornish moors by Eustace Quin in 1840 and named after the china clay works from which the family draws its prosperity.

With infinite skill Rumer Godden has merged Then and Now into a timeless tapestry of human lives. A flower, a dog, a scent, the decorations of a dinner table, a word sharply spoken, a look evaded – all are significant in the pattern of life which flows through China Court. Although the canvas is a large one, there is no confusion. Each personality is clear and memorable, each incident set in delicate balance with another. 

Verdict: Dump – This is difficult because I have a secondhand copy, complete with dustjacket. On the other hand the blurb above, which is from this Book Club edition, doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm. Also some reviewers have described the writing style as ‘stream of consciousness’.  

The Result – 5 kept, 5 dumped. Not bad, I suppose… Would you have made different choices? 


Down the TBR Hole #31

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 476 books, seven down on last time…. Most of that reduction is through deleting books I don’t own from my Want-To-Read shelf. Let’s see if I can be similarly successful with books I do own. 

A German RequiemA German Requiem (Bernie Gunther #3) by Philip Kerr (added 30th April 2018)

In post-war Vienna, the term ‘peace’ is relative – the Americans, British and Russians govern the city in an uneasy truce, and the main difference is that now it’s the Soviet secret police making people disappear rather than the Nazis. When Bernie is asked by a high-ranking Soviet official to clear an old Kripo colleague’s name of the murder of an American officer, he quickly realises he’s in over his head.

Bernie’s ex-colleague Becker was working for a secret society of Nazi hunters, tracking down and executing war criminals who faked their own deaths to escape the noose at Nuremberg. Infiltrating the group, Bernie finds himself face to face with men he thought he’d never see again. They’ve cheated justice once – now Bernie must see that they don’t get away a second time.

Verdict: Keep – Last time I undertook this exercise it included two books from this series I acquired after reading Prussian Blue, which was book twelve. Since I kept those, I guess this one should stay as well.

The Greengage SummerThe Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden (added 7th May 2018)

On and off, all that hot French August, we made ourselves ill from eating the greengages….

The faded elegance of Les Oeillets, with its bullet-scarred staircase and serene garden bounded by high walls; Eliot, the charming Englishman who became the children’s guardian while their mother lay ill in hospital; sophisticated Mademoiselle Zizi, hotel patronne, and Eliot’s devoted lover; 16 year old Joss, the oldest Grey girl, suddenly, achingly beautiful. And the Marne river flowing silent and slow beyond them all….

They would merge together in a gold-green summer of discovery, until the fruit rotted on the trees and cold seeped into their bones…. 

Verdict: Keep – I have a rather lovely copy of this (probably picked up in a secondhand bookshop) which I simply cannot bring myself to part with. Older readers may remember the film version starring Kenneth More and Susannah York. 

TomblandTombland (Matthew Shardlake #7) by C.J. Sansom (added 17th May 2018)

Spring, 1549. Two years after the death of Henry VIII, England is sliding into chaos.

The nominal king, Edward VI, is 11 years old. His uncle, Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford, rules as Edward’s regent and Protector. In the kingdom, radical Protestants are driving the old religion into extinction, while the Protector’s prolonged war with Scotland has led to hyperinflation and economic collapse. Rebellion is stirring among the peasantry.

Matthew Shardlake has been working as a lawyer in the service of Henry’s younger daughter, the lady Elizabeth. The gruesome murder of one of Elizabeth’s distant relations, rumored to be politically murdered, draws Shardlake and his companion Nicholas to the lady’s summer estate, where a second murder is committed.

As the kingdom explodes into rebellion, Nicholas is imprisoned for his loyalty, and Shardlake must decide where his loyalties lie – with his kingdom, or with his lady?

Verdict: Keep – Unusually for me, I only have this in audiobook form (probably picked up as part of an Audible trial). I rarely listen to audiobooks which is perhaps why I haven’t yet got around to this yet, despite having read – and loved – every previous book in the series. Perhaps it might get me through my eight hour overnight flight tonight…

The VisitorThe Visitor by Katherine Stansfield (added 26th May 2018)

He turns and waves, twenty feet or so away… she can’t swim as strongly as usual. She can taste blood again. Nicholas bobs where he is, letting her catch up. Her nightdress blooms around her like a sail. She reaches him and he touches her arm, very gently. She wants to grab him, hold him tightly in the water. Would he let her?

Cornwall. 1880. Pearl, Jack and Nicholas play among the fishing boats of Skommow Bay, not understanding the undercurrents beneath their games. As they grow older, the choices they make shape the pattern of their lives.

1936 and everything has changed. The fish have stopped coming and the Pilchard Palace is abandoned. Pearl, exiled in favour of holidaymakers, turns to the memory of her great love, and her greatest loss. She’s waiting for her own visitor. Will he come for her? The sea’s ghosts are stirring. The past can be more alive than the present… 

Verdict: Keep – This has more of a romance feel about it than I would usually go for and I have a chequered history with dual time novels. However, since both timelines are set well in the past, I’m going to overlook that issue.  My first experience of the author’s writing was when I read The Magpie Tree, the second book in her Cornish Mysteries series. I very much enjoyed it, as I did the next book in the series, The Mermaid’s Call.

Sheriff and PriestSheriff and Priest (Dodnash Priory Chronicles #1) by Nicky Moxey (added 7th June 2018)

Wimer could have become a monk. Instead, his decision to become a Chaplain – to make his way in the wider world of men – has put his soul in mortal danger. In 12th Century East Anglia, poor Saxon boys stay poor. It takes an exceptional one to win Henry II’s friendship, and to rise to the job of High Sheriff of all Norfolk and Suffolk.

Falling foul of the stormy relationship between Henry and his Archbishop, he is excommunicated three times, twice by Thomas a’Becket, and once by the Pope. He also falls in love with the King’s Ward, Ida. Before he plucks up the courage to do anything about it, the King takes her as his mistress, and Ida needs Wimer’s support to survive that dangerous liaison.

Although he is eventually reinstated in the Church, his problems with his religious superiors, and his love for Ida, will guarantee him a place in Hell, unless he can find land and resources to do something spectacular in the way of penance…

Verdict: Dump – I have a confession to make: this was a review copy sent to me by the author.  At the time I couldn’t commit to a review of the book but I did host a guest post. Fast forward several years and I still haven’t found the time – or sufficient enthusiasm – to read it.

Anna of KleveAnna of Kleves, Queen of Secrets (Six Tudor Queens #4) by Alison Weir (added 14th July 2018) 

Newly widowed and the father of an infant son, Henry VIII realizes he must marry again to insure the royal succession. Now forty-six, overweight and unwell, Henry is soundly rejected by some of Europe’s most eligible princesses, but Anna of Kleve – a small German duchy – is twenty-four and eager to wed.

Henry requests Anna’s portrait from his court painter, who enhances her looks, painting her straight-on in order not to emphasize her rather long nose. Henry is entranced by the lovely image, only to be bitterly surprised when Anna arrives in England and he sees her in the flesh. She is pleasant looking, just not the lady that Henry had expected.

What follows is a fascinating story of this awkward royal union that had to somehow be terminated tactfully. Alison Weir takes a fresh and surprising look at this remarkable royal marriage by describing it from the point of view of Queen Anna, a young woman with hopes and dreams of her own, alone in a royal court that rejected her from the day she arrived.

Verdict: Keep – I’ve fallen rather behind with this series having read books two, three and five but not the first one (according to Goodreads) or the final book. I do feel I want to complete the set as I’ve also enjoyed several of the author’s standalone books.  

The Italian CoupleThe Italian Couple by J.R. Rogers (added 23rd June 2018)

Colonel Francesco Ferrazza, a disciplined and inflexible Royal Italian Army officer with Italy’s Fascist Military Information Service, and his British wife, Emilia, are posted to Asmara affectionately referred to as ‘Little Rome’ by Mussolini. The colonel is a familiar figure at the military casino and bordello where he brags at the bar he can bend a fireplace poker in half. But he is astonished when in 1938 he is ordered by his Rome superior to set in motion an unusual, but clandestine sabotage operation of the engineering marvel that is the Asmara-Massawa Cableway that links Italian Eritrea to the sea.

Built by the Italians it is the longest aerial line of its kind in the world but it is of such strategic importance the army comes to realize they may have made a strategic mistake in constructing it. They fear it could fall into the hands of neighboring Ethiopia – whom they defeated in a colonial war just two years ago.

Fearful of the devastating power of exposure, Ferrazza sets out to find someone to carry out Operation Red Lion and meets Mario Caparrotti, an amateur race car driver. He plans to compete in the first Christmas Day automobile race through town. Greedy, boastful, and ignorant, Caparrotti is all of the things the colonel detests in his fellow human beings, civilians in particular. But Ferrazza is desperate to recruit him because he is a cableway mechanic who has unfettered access to the engine room. The colonel entices him with his wife. Prodded by her husband the reluctant Emilia unhappily plays her part by becoming Caparrotti’s lover.

But things begin to fall apart: Caparrotti balks and now also demands significant sums of cash and when the colonel murders a colonial civil servant who has somehow learned of the plot he orders Caparrotti to help him dispose of the body. With the driver more reluctant than ever, and with the deadline drawing nearer, the colonel will do anything to ensure the sabotage is carried out.

Unexpectedly, Gyles Aiscroft, a Rome-based British freelance foreign correspondent, and an old family friend of Emilia’s parents arrives in Asmara. Her father, Edmund Playfair, the senior intelligence officer at the British embassy in Rome, has asked Aiscroft to look in on her. An older man she finds herself drawn to him and confides her plight to him. They embark on a brief, intense affair. But what she doesn’t count on is his falling in love with her and wanting to whisk her off to Capri.

Determined to leave Africa with his mission complete, and with the deadline almost upon him, Ferrazza instructs the resigned and fearful Caparrotti how to go about setting the dynamite charges. And as the tick-tock of the clock counts down the final hours the colonel belatedly grasps that in ‘Little Rome’ nothing is what it seems, no one can be trusted and, when serving Mussolini, failure will never be condoned.

Verdict: Dump – This is another author review copy that I never got round to reading. However, I did publish an extract from the book on my blog so that makes me feel slightly less guilty. To be honest, I feel exhausted just reading the blurb.

The One From The OtherThe One from the Other (Bernie Gunther #4) by Philip Kerr (added 7th July 2018)

Munich, 1949: Amid the chaos of defeat, it is home to all the backstabbing intrigue that prospers in the aftermath of war. A place where a private eye like Bernie Gunther can find a lot of not-quite-reputable work: cleaning up the Nazi past of well-to-do locals, abetting fugitives in the flight abroad, sorting out rival claims to stolen goods. It is work that fills Bernie with disgust – but it also fills his sorely depleted wallet.

Then a woman seeks him out. Her husband has disappeared. She’s not looking to get him back – he’s a wanted man who ran one of the most vicious concentration camps in Poland. She just wants confirmation that he’s dead.

It is a simple enough job. But in post-war Germany, nothing is simple.

Verdict: Keep – Scoot back up to my comments about A German Requiem

WreckerWrecker by Noel O’Reilly (added 1st August 2018)

Mary Blight, stuck in a remote Cornish fishing village where ships are often wrecked on the rugged coast, longs for a life beyond Porthmorvoren. Picking among the corpses of the most recent washed-up dead, she spots a fine pair of leather boots on a dead noblewoman and unlaces them for herself. Only once she has removed the boots does she notice the woman’s earlobes are missing too. And by then it is too late. Village scold Aunt Madgie has seen her, bending over the corpse, blood on her lips.

The horror of the bitten noblewoman makes the national press. That the villagers are such savages to bite jewellery off a corpse their hands too cold to unfasten it causes a national outcry. The Porthmorvoren Cannibal is the stuff of nightmares. And still Aunt Madgie watches Mary, knowingly, waiting for her moment.

When Mary rescues a man who is washed ashore, lashed to a barrel, she cares for him in her cottage, despite her neighbours’ disapproval. Mary already has a bad name among those in the village, a situation not helped by her recent dalliance with the betrothed of her rival, Loveday Skewes.

The rescued man is Gideon Stone, a Methodist minister. He decides to build a chapel in the village over the months to come, and appoints Mary as Sunday school teacher. Her enemies are outraged, having assumed Loveday Swewes would be given this position. Meanwhile, Mary sees a notice announcing that the bereaved sugar baron is offering a substantial reward for information leading to the arrest of the person who stole his wife’s earrings. And soon, her enemies in the village are plotting against her and Mary must gamble everything.

Verdict: Keep – I recently read and enjoyed the author’s latest book, The Darlings of the Asylum, and the Cornwall setting of this one appeals to me. 

The House We Called HomeThe House We Called Home by Jenny Oliver (added 1st August 2018)

The house where Stella and her sister Amy grew up never changes – the red front door, the breath-taking view over the Cornish coast, her parents in their usual spots on the sofa. Except this summer, things feel a little different…

Stella’s father is nowhere to be seen, yet her mother – in suspiciously new Per Una jeans – seems curiously unfazed by his absence, and more eager to talk about her mysterious dog-walking buddy Mitch.

Stella’s sister Amy has returned home with a new boyfriend she can barely stand and a secret to hide, and Stella’s husband Jack has something he wants to get off his chest too. Even Frank Sinatra, the dog, has a guilty air about him. This summer, change is in the air for the Whitethorns…

Verdict: Dump – I have this one tagged as ‘light read’ on Goodreads and although it’s set in Cornwall – a place I love – I think it’s too light for me. But I’m sure someone will pick it up in the charity shop and love it.

The Result – 7 kept, 3 dumped. Not bad, I suppose… Would you have made different choices?