This 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:
- Go to your Goodreads To-Read shelf.
- Order on ascending date added.
- Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books
- Read the synopses of the books
- Decide: keep it or should it go?
- 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 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 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 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 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 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, 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 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.
This 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 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 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?