My Week in Books – 7th January ’18


New arrivals  

The New Mrs CliftonThe New Mrs Clifton by Elizabeth Buchan (ebook)

As the Second World War draws to a close, Intelligence Officer Gus Clifton surprises his sisters at their London home. But an even greater shock is the woman he brings with him, Krista – the German wife whom he has married secretly in Berlin.

Krista is clearly devastated by her experiences at the hands of the British and their allies – all but broken by horrors she cannot share. But Gus’s sisters can only see the enemy their brother has brought under their roof. And their friend Nella, Gus’s beautiful, loyal fiancée, cannot understand what made Gus change his mind about their marriage. What hold does Krista have over their honourable and upright Gus? And how can the three women get her out of their home, their future, their England?

Haunted by passion, betrayal, and misunderstanding these damaged souls are propelled towards a spectacular resolution. Krista has lost her country, her people, her identity, and the ties that bind her to Gus hold more tightly than the sisters can ever understand…

KilledKilled by Thomas Enger (ebook, review copy courtesy of Orenda Books)

Crime reporter Henning Juul thought his life was over when his young son was murdered. But that was only the beginning…

Determined to find his son’s killer, Henning doggedly follows an increasingly dangerous trail, where dark hands from the past emerge to threaten everything. His ex-wife Nora is pregnant with another man’s child, his sister Trine is implicated in the fire that killed his son and, with everyone he thought he could trust seemingly hiding something, Henning has nothing to lose … except his own life.  Packed with tension and unexpected twists, Killed is the long-awaited finale of one of the darkest, most chilling and emotive series you may ever read. Someone will be killed. But who?

Song of Praise for a FlowerSong of Praise for a Flower by Fengxian Chu & Charlene Chu (ebook, review copy courtesy of the author)

For nearly two decades, this manuscript lay hidden in a Chinese bank vault until a long-lost cousin from America inspired 92-year-old author Fengxian Chu to unearth it. Song of Praise for a Flower traces a century of Chinese history through the experiences of one woman and her family, from the dark years of World War II and China’s civil war to the tragic Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, and beyond. It is a window into a faraway world, a sweeping epic about China’s tumultuous transformation and a harrowing yet ultimately uplifting story of a remarkable woman who survives it all and finally finds peace and tranquillity.

Chu’s story begins in the 1920s in an idyllic home in the heart of China’s rice country. Her life is a struggle from the start. At a young age, she defies foot-binding and an arranged marriage and sneaks away from home to attend school. Her young adulthood is thrown into turmoil when the Japanese invade and ransack her village. Later her family is driven to starvation when Mao Zedong’s Communist Party seizes power and her husband is branded a ‘bad element.’ After Mao’s death in the 1970s, as China picks up the pieces and moves in a new direction, Chu eventually finds herself in a glittering city on the sea adjacent to Hong Kong, worlds away in both culture and time from the place she came from.

On What Cathy Read Next last week

Blog posts

Monday – I published my Five Favourite December Reads.

Tuesday – I shared my Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read in 2017 which included five established authors whose books I read for the first time and five debut authors.

WednesdayWWW Wednesday is the opportunity to share what I’ve just finished reading, what I’m reading now and what I’ll be reading next.   I also published my review of Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather, a book on my Classics Club list and, just as importantly, a book from my TBR pile!

Thursday –For Throwback Thursday, I shared my review of 1066: What Fates Impose by G. K. Holloway. As well as clearing another book from my stack of review copies from authors, this was also a book that counts towards my Historical Fiction Reading Challenge and the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Friday – I published an extract from Kit Sergeant’s fascinating sounding historical fiction, 355: The Women of Washington’s Spy Ring.

Saturday –I introduced the first book in my Buchan of the Month reading project: The Power-House.  It was good to use my extensive collection of books by and about Buchan to research how the book came to be written and its reception at the time.  There’s still time to join me in my Buchan reading project.

Sunday – I published my review of Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon.

Challenge updates

  • Goodreads 2018 Reading Challenge – 3 out of 156 books read, 3 more than last week
  • Classics Club Challenge – 7 out of 50 books read, 1 more than last week
  • NetGalley/Edelweiss Reading Challenge 2018 (Silver) – 2 ARCs read and reviewed out of 25, 2 more than last week
  • From Page to Screen– 9 book/film comparisons out of 15 completed, same as last week
  • 2018 TBR Pile Challenge – 1 out of 12 books read, 1 more than last week
  • Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2018 – 1 book out of 50 read, 1 more than last week
  • When Are You Reading? Challenge 2018 – 3 out of 12 books read, 3 more than last week
  • What’s In A Name Reading Challenge – 0 out of 6 books read

On What Cathy Read Next this week

Currently reading

Planned posts

  • Review: Under an Amber Sky by Rose Alexander
  • Review: Oliver Loving by Stefan Merrill Block
  • Review: Shadows on the Grass by Misha M. Herwin
  • Review: The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen by Collins Hemingway
  • Throwback Thursday/Review: Carol by Patricia Highsmith

Buchan of the Month: Introducing… The Power-House

Buchan of the Month

The Power-House is the first book in my Buchan of the Month reading project. To find out more about the project and my reading list for 2018, click here. If you would like to read along with me you will be very welcome – leave a comment on this post or on my original challenge post to let me know you’re taking part.

What follows is an introduction to the book (no spoilers!). It is also an excuse to show pictures of my prized first edition of The Power-House (without dust jacket, unfortunately) found in a bookshop on the island of Iona, of all places. As Buchan might have put it, I had ‘tramped’ through the cold, wet rain that day in search of the shop and was rewarded with this treasure.

I will be posting my review of the book later in the month.

“You think that a wall as solid as the earth separates civilisation from barbarism. I tell you the division is a thread, a sheet of glass.”

The Power-House first appeared in Blackwood’s Magazine of December 1913. However, it wasn’t until May 1916, following the success of The Thirty-Nine Steps (published in 1915), that William Blackwood & Sons published The Power-House in novel form. Clearly they were hoping to cash in on the success of The Thirty-Nine Steps and this seems to have been an astute decision because, according to Buchan’s first biographer, Janet Adam Smith, The Power-House (priced at one shilling) had sold 24,000 copies by the end of 1916.

The Power-House DedicationIn the dedication to The Power-House, John Buchan writes, “I have printed this story, written in the smooth days before the war, in the hope that it may enable an honest man here and there to forget for an hour the too urgent realities”. He also wryly observes that the dedicatee, Major-General Sir Francis Lloyd, shares his own “liking for precipitous yarns”.

In describing The Power-House as a ‘yarn’, commonly defined as a long or rambling story, especially one that is implausible (although The Power-House is neither long nor rambling), it seems Buchan intended this first foray into the thriller genre to be a form of escapism from the troubled times the world was living through. In fact, he always used the self-deprecating term ‘shocker’ rather than thriller to describe his adventure stories.

The hero of The Power-House is Edward Leithen, whom Christopher Harvie describes as ‘the first and last of Buchan’s heroes’ and ‘the one closest in character to his author’. In fact, Leithen had earlier appeared briefly in ‘Space’ a short story by Buchan in his collection The Watcher by the Threshold, published in 1902. In The Power-House, Leithen recounts his story to a group of friends during a duck shooting trip, explaining “I once played the chief part in a rather exciting business without ever once budging from London”.

Although an early novel, The Power-House touches on a theme that will recur in later Buchan books, namely the fragility of civilisation. The period during which Buchan was writing The Power-House was a troubled time in his life. In 1910 he had unsuccessfully stood for Parliament and the following year his father died. This was followed by further family tragedy when his younger brother, Willie, died suddenly from an infection contracted while in India. Added to this, Buchan began to suffer from the digestive problems that would plague him for the rest of his life. It was a troubling time in world events as well. As Christopher Harvie notes, “The Power-House announces the terrific anarchy to be loosed upon the world”.

Janet Adam Smith describes Buchan’s recipe for The Power-House (and The Thirty-Nine Steps) as ‘brisk, improbable action played out against a realistic background’. In his autobiography, Memory-Hold-The-Door, Buchan describes himself as ‘a natural storyteller, the kind of man who for the sake of his yarns would in prehistoric days have been given a seat by the fire and a special chunk of mammoth’.

So find yourself a comfy reading spot and turn to the first page of The Power-House

John Buchan, Memory-Hold-The-Door (Hodder & Stoughton, 1964 [1940])
David Daniell, The Interpreter’s House: A Critical Assessment of the Work of John Buchan (Nelson, 1975)
Christopher Harvie, ‘Introduction’ to The Leithen Stories by John Buchan (Canongate Classics, 2000)
Kate Macdonald, John Buchan: A Companion to the Mystery Fiction (McFarland, 2009)
Janet Adam Smith, John Buchan: A Biography (OUP, 1985 [1965])

Throwback Thursday: 1066 What Fates Impose by G K Holloway


Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Renee at It’s Book Talk. It’s designed as an opportunity to share old favourites as well as books that we’ve finally got around to reading that were published over a year ago. If you decide to take part, please link back to It’s Book Talk.

Today I’m reviewing a book that was kindly sent to me by the author, Glynn Holloway, quite a few months ago now but which has only just reached the top of my review pile. Published in 2013, it’s his debut historical fiction about the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

1066WhatFatesImposeAbout the Book

England is in crisis. King Edward has no heir and promises never to produce one. There are no obvious successors available to replace him, but quite a few claimants are eager to take the crown. While power struggles break out between the various factions at court, enemies abroad plot to make England their own. There are raids across the borders with Wales and Scotland. Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex, is seen by many as the one man who can bring stability to the kingdom. He has powerful friends and two women who love him, but he has enemies who will stop at nothing to gain power. As 1066 begins, England heads for an uncertain future. It seems even the heavens are against Harold. Intelligent and courageous, can Harold forge his own destiny – or does he have to bow to what fates impose?

Format: ebook (456 pp.)                             Publisher: Matador
Published: 4th March 2013                       Genre: Historical Fiction

Purchase Links* ǀ
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find 1066: What Fates Impose on Goodreads

My Review

The powerful opening chapter of the book places the reader by the bedside of the dying William the Conqueror, in 1087. What follows is a sort of book length flashback setting out the factional and political machinations that would lead inexorably – is the author’s suggestion based on the title – to the events of 1066 and the defeat of Harold at the Battle of Hastings.

Most students of English history will, I suspect, be familiar with the events of 1066 but like me know less about the events of the preceding 20 years. Starting in 1045 in the reign of Edward (the Confessor), the author takes the reader in detail through the rivalries, quarrels, battles for land, influence and power of the nobles close to the throne. There are a lot of characters to keep track of so a dramatis personae would have been a useful addition to the book. It’s probably the nature of the times that the female characters play a pretty shadowy role, their chief value being as diplomatic bargaining chips, marriage material or reproductive machines to provide the all-important male heirs.

I’ll be honest and say that half way through the book I was beginning to feel slightly overwhelmed with all the political machinations. Occasionally, the author’s obviously extensive research seemed a little obtrusive with sections on sword-making, dining customs, etc. feeling a little like they had been inserted from a text book. At times, the dialogue came across as rather stilted or included modern idioms that seemed out of place but you did get a sense of the characters from the way they interacted with each other. There were also a couple of nice succinct lines that drew my eye:

On the death by Count Conan by poison: ‘Brittany now had a new Count, Alan the Red, friend and ally of Duke William. Such is fate.’
On Earls Edwin and Morcar manoeuvring Harold into marrying their sister, Aldytha: ‘Harold had their sister but they had him.’

The pace really picked up for me in the final third of the book as events drew nearer to the decisive Battle of Hastings. The author does a great job of explaining all the factors that played a part in the outcome of that day; some a question of chance, the weather or a seemingly unimportant foolish decision. The battle scenes are absolutely gripping. Harold, although ruthless when needed, definitely comes out as the more likeable character and, although I feel a bit soppy for saying this since everyone knows the outcome of the battle, I couldn’t help wishing events had ended differently and he’d prevailed (if only for poor Edyth waiting under that tree).

This was a violent time in history when life was often short and death did not always come about by natural causes. In keeping with the period, there are some gruesome scenes (especially towards the end of the book where the reader encounters a particularly unpleasant character) although nothing worse I would say than you might find in Game of Thrones.

There was a lot I learnt from reading this book, such as the fact that William was able to use his influence to get the Pope to pronounce his campaign against Harold as a crusade, causing additional troops from across Europe to rally to the Norman standard. For historical fiction fans who like their history detailed and aren’t afraid of a large cast of characters, this would make a rewarding read.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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In three words: Detailed, well-researched, absorbing

Try something similarThe King’s Jew by Darius Stransky (click here for my review)

Glynn HollowayAbout the Author

Glynn writes: Born in the 1950s in an anonymous northern English town, I left school at sixteen and worked in a series of manual jobs until, at the age of 24, I decided to do something more challenging and rewarding. I chose to combine education and travel, by working over the winter while I studied and touring Europe in the summer after taking exams. I did this for a couple of years until I had the qualifications to get myself on to a degree course. I have been interested in history since I was a boy, which I suppose explains why, when I came across a degree course in History and Politics at Coventry University that looked tailor made for me, I applied right away.

In my first year at Coventry I lived in the halls of residence within a stone’s throw of the Leofric Hotel. Just a short walk from my halls, is the bell tower that houses a clock, which when its bell chimes the hour, produces a half size model of a naked Lady Godiva riding a white horse. Above her, Peeping Tom leans out of a window for a better view. In all of the three years I was there, it never once occurred to me that I would one day write a book featuring Earl Leofric and his famous wife, as key characters.

After graduating, I spent a year in Canada before returning to England to train as a Careers Officer in Bristol. Later, I lived and worked in Gloucestershire as a Careers Officer and then in Adult Education. After I met my wife, I moved back to Bristol to live and I worked at Bath Spa University as a Student Welfare Officer. It was about this time I read a biography about King Harold II which fascinated me so much it inspired me to write my own version of events. Now, after many years of study and time spent over a hot keyboard, I have finally produced that novel.

The decision to write 1066 was one of best I ever made. Research took to places I either had never heard of or I thought I’d never see. In England I visited York, Stamford Bridge, Winchester, Bosham, Battle, Stowe Anglo Saxon village. In Normandy I went to Falaise, Mont St Michael and of course Bayeux, to see the famous tapestry. The more I researched the more amazed I became about how events played out. For Harold, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. It was as though the gods were against him; hence the title, 1066 What Fates Impose.

Connect with Glynn

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Book Review: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Death Comes For The ArchbishopAbout the Book

In 1851 Father Jean Marie Latour comes as the Apostolic Vicar to New Mexico. What he finds is a vast territory of red hills and tortuous arroyos, American by law but Mexican and Indian in custom and belief. In the almost forty years that follow, Latour spreads his faith in the only way he knows—gently, although he must contend with an unforgiving landscape, derelict and sometimes openly rebellious priests, and his own loneliness.

The novel is based on the life of Jean-Baptiste Lamy (1814-1888), and partially chronicles the construction of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.

Format: ebook (306 pp.)                       Publisher: Annie Rose Books
Published: 25th January 2016 [1927] Genre: Historical Fiction, Modern Classics

Purchase Links* ǀ
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find Death Comes for the Archbishop on Goodreads

My Review

Set in the mid-nineteenth century, Death Comes for the Archbishop tells the story of two priests – Bishop Jean Marie Latour and Father Joseph Vaillant – who are sent to establish the Catholic Church in the newly acquired territory of New Mexico.  The book is episodic in nature, almost a collection of short stories or parables, depicting their experiences and many of the characters they encounter along the way.

In fulfilling the task they have been entrusted with, and in order to carry out their pastoral duties, they are forced to travel vast distances across harsh but beautiful landscape.  I was left with a sense of awe for the courage and determination of these pioneering men, inspired by their faith to undertake such arduous and dangerous journeys, often only with a native guide, their trusty mules and simple rations.  Along the way they come across venality, immorality and corruption, sometimes by priests who have become used to running their parishes as personal fiefdoms.

One of the things I loved about the book is the depiction of the friendship between the two men, formed in their earliest days as trainee priests at a seminary in their native France.  Despite frequently being apart for long stretches of time and the fact that Latour, as the senior of the two, must often send his friend on dangerous journeys, their friendship prevails to the very end of their lives.  Despite being quite different in character – Latour ‘gracious to everyone, but known to a very few’, Vaillant a man who ‘added a glow to whatever kind of human society’ – the two men share a love of good food and wine and an unshakeable belief in their vocation.

Latour, perhaps, is more sensitive to the traditional beliefs and customs of the native Indians and their need for a certain ‘theatricality’ about the practice of their religion, with women throwing down their shawls for him to walk on, people clamouring to kiss his Episcopal ring and gaudy decoration of their churches.

The author seems admiring of the Indians attitude to their environment, lauding their sympathetic approach to the land they inhabit and which they consider sacred.  (This is contrasted with the European’s desire to ‘master nature, to arrange and recreate’.)

‘It was as if the great country was asleep, and they wished to carry on their lives without awakening it; or as if the spirits of the earth and air and water were things not to antagonize and arouse.  When they hunted, it was with the same discretion; and Indian hunt was never a slaughter.  They ravaged neither the rivers nor the forest, and if they irrigated, they took as little water as would serve their needs.  The land, and al that it bore, they treated with consideration; not attempting to improve it, they never desecrated it.’

Latour too gradually falls in love with the landscape of New Mexico as this scene close to the end of the book demonstrates:

‘In New Mexico he always woke a young man; not until he rose and began to shave did he realize that he was growing older.  His first consciousness was a sense of the light dry wind blowing in through the windows, with the fragrance of hot sun and sage-brush and sweet clover; a wind that made one’s body feel light and one’s heart cry “To-day, today” like a child’s.’  

My first introduction to Willa Cather’s writing was through O Pioneers!, which I then followed with My Antonia, perhaps her most well-known book.  From the very start, I admired her beautiful writing and wonderful storytelling and these qualities were evident once more in Death Comes for the Archbishop.  As noted earlier, the book is episodic in nature and certain chapters read more like short stories.  One I particularly liked was December Night, in which the Bishop’s ‘dark night of the soul’ is restored by the piety of an old woman prevented by her cruel employers from practising her faith.

This book forms part of my Classics Club list and my 2018 TBR Pile Reading Challenge.

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In three words: Inspiring, engaging, friendship

Try something similar…Sick Heart River by John Buchan

Willa CatherAbout the Author

Wilella Sibert Cather was born in Back Creek Valley (Gore), Virginia, in December 7, 1873. Her novels on frontier life brought her to national recognition. In 1923 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her novel, One of Ours (1922), set during World War I. She grew up in Virginia and Nebraska. She then attended the University of Nebraska, initially planning to become a physician, but after writing an article for the Nebraska State Journal, she became a regular contributor to this journal. Because of this, she changed her major and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English. After graduation in 1894, she worked in Pittsburgh as writer for various publications and as a school teacher for approximately 13 years, thereafter moving to New York City for the remainder of her life. She travelled widely and often spent summers in New Brunswick, Canada. In later life, she experienced much negative criticism for her conservative politics and became reclusive, burning some of her letters and personal papers, including her last manuscript. She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1943. In 1944, Cather received the gold medal for fiction from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, an award given once a decade for an author’s total accomplishments. She died of a cerebral haemorrhage at the age of 73 in New York City.


What’s In A Name Reading Challenge 2018


What's In A Name 2018

This challenge (which is going to be my final challenge sign-up for 2018) is hosted by Charlie at The Worm Hole.

The challenge runs from January to December. During this time you choose a book to read from each of the six categories listed. I’ve had great fun making my selections and trying to source as many as possible from my TBR pile.  My final list is below and if you click on the title it will take you to the book’s entry on Goodreads. Once I’ve read each book, I’ll replace this with a link to my review.

The word ‘the’ used twice    The Honey Farm on the Hill by Jo Thomas

A fruit or vegetable               Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

A shape                                    Diamond Cut Diamond by Jane Jakeman

A title that begins with Z      Zoo Station by David Downing (can be after ‘The’ or ‘A’)

A nationality                          The German Messenger by David Malcolm

A season                                 The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson