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, er, the 954 books on mine. 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, to coin a phrase…
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 every week until the entire list has been filtered (hmm, quite a few weeks then!)
The ten who need to demonstrate their worth this time are:
Absolution by Murder (Sister Fidlema #1) by Peter Tremayne
In A.D. 664, King Oswy of Northumbria has convened a synod at Whitby to hear debate between the Roman and Celtic Christian churches and decide which shall be granted primacy in his kingdom. At stake is much more than a few disputed points of ritual; Oswy’s decision could affect the survival of either church in the Saxon kingdoms. When the Abbess Etain, a leading speaker for the Celtic church, is found murdered, suspicion falls upon the Roman faction. In order to diffuse the tensions that threaten to erupt into civil war, Oswy turns to Sister Fidelma of the Celtic Church (Irish and an advocate for the Brehon Court) and Brother Eadulf of the Roman church (from east Anglia and of a family of hereditary magistrates) to find the killer. But as further murders occur and a treasonous plot against Oswy matures, Fidelma and Eadulf soon find themselves running out of time.
Verdict: Keep – I was all poised to dump this one because, let’s face it, do I need any more historical mysteries? Then I saw a few positive reviews from people whose opinion I value, so it stays. Plus I like the cover.
The Windsor Faction: A Novel by D. J. Taylor
If Wallis Simpson had not died on the operating table in December 1936, Edward VIII would not be King of England three years later. He would have abdicated for “the woman he loves,” but now, the throne is his. If Henry Bannister’s car had not careered off the Colombo back-roads in the summer before the war, Cynthia Kirkpatrick would never have found out about The Faction.
It is autumn 1939, and everything in history is just as it was. Except, that is, for the identity of the king in Buckingham Palace—and the existence of a secret organization operating at the highest levels of society and determined to derail the war effort against Nazi Germany. The Windsor Faction is an ingenious exercise in what-might-have-been that assembles a cast of real and imaginary characters in a horrifyingly plausible re-invention of history.
Verdict: Keep – I’m a bit of a sucker for alternative histories and this sounds like an imaginative example with a thriller element to boot. Actually, it’s the promise of a thriller element which didn’t materialize for some readers that has resulted in some less than positive reviews. I think I may give it a chance.
Solo by William Boyd
It is 1969 and James Bond is about to go solo, recklessly motivated by revenge.
A seasoned veteran of the service, 007 is sent to single-handedly stop a civil war in the small West African nation of Zanzarim. Aided by a beautiful accomplice and hindered by the local militia, he undergoes a scarring experience which compels him to ignore M’s orders in pursuit of his own brand of justice. Bond’s renegade action leads him to Washington, D.C., where he discovers a web of intrigue and witnesses fresh horrors.
Even if Bond succeeds in exacting his revenge, a man with two faces will come to stalk his every waking moment.
Verdict: Keep – As a fan of the (early) Bond films, I’m drawn to this particularly because of the calibre of the author. I’m also curious to see how it matches up to Anthony Horowitz’s recent additions to the Bond franchise (I have Trigger Mortis sitting on my Kindle).
Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen
A vivid and compelling novel about a woman who becomes entangled in an affair with Edgar Allan Poe—at the same time she becomes the unwilling confidante of his much-younger wife.
It is 1845, and Frances Osgood is desperately trying to make a living as a writer in New York; not an easy task for a woman—especially one with two children and a philandering portrait painter as her husband. As Frances tries to sell her work, she finds that editors are only interested in writing similar to that of the new renegade literary sensation Edgar Allan Poe, whose poem, “The Raven” has struck a public nerve.
She meets the handsome and mysterious Poe at a literary party, and the two have an immediate connection. Poe wants Frances to meet with his wife since she claims to be an admirer of her poems, and Frances is curious to see the woman whom Edgar married.
As Frances spends more and more time with the intriguing couple, her intense attraction for Edgar brings her into dangerous territory. And Mrs. Poe, who acts like an innocent child, is actually more manipulative and threatening than she appears. As Frances and Edgar’s passionate affair escalates, Frances must decide whether she can walk away before it’s too late…
Set amidst the fascinating world of New York’s literati, this smart and sexy novel offers a unique view into the life of one of history’s most unforgettable literary figures.
Verdict: Keep – If I’d caught sight of this on a book blog I’d have added it to my wish-list without hesitation. I love reading about the partners of famous writers or artists, which unfortunately tends to equal the wives of famous writers. For example, I loved The Secret Life of Mrs. London by Rebecca Rosenberg about the wife of author of Jack London. Hmm, this ‘clear out’ exercise isn’t going so well so far…
Strange Meeting by Susan Hill
‘He was afraid to go to sleep. For three weeks, he had been afraid of going to sleep . . .’
Young officer John Hilliard returns to his battalion in France following a period of sick leave in England. Despite having trouble adjusting to all the new faces, the stiff and reserved Hilliard forms a friendship with David Barton, an open and cheerful new recruit who has still to be bloodied in battle. As the pair approach the front line, to the proximity of death and destruction, their strange friendship deepens. But each knows that soon they will be separated…
Verdict: Keep – Albeit I have a strange feeling I may have read this (although Goodreads says no), as someone who loved The Woman in Black, I really can’t bring myself to dump this. And it’s a short book, which is always welcome.
The Song of the Lark (Great Plains Trilogy #2) by Willa Cather
Perhaps Willa Cather’s most autobiographical work, The Song of the Lark charts the story of a young woman’s awakening as an artist against the backdrop of the western landscape. Thea Kronborg, an aspiring singer, struggles to escape from the confines her small Colorado town to the world of possibility in the Metropolitan Opera House. In classic Cather style, The Song of the Lark is the beautiful, unforgettable story of American determination and its inextricable connection to the land.
Verdict: Keep – I’ve enjoyed all of Willa Cather’s books I’ve read; I think her writing is beautiful. I’m also drawn to this one because it’s supposed to be partly autobiographical.
Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch
Jamrach’s Menagerie tells the story of a nineteenth-century street urchin named Jaffy Brown. Following an incident with an escaped tiger, Jaffy goes to work for Mr. Charles Jamrach, the famed importer of exotic animals, alongside Tim, a good but sometimes spitefully competitive boy. Thus begins a long, close friendship fraught with ambiguity and rivalry.
Mr. Jamrach recruits the two boys to capture a fabled dragon during the course of a three-year whaling expedition. Onboard, Jaffy and Tim enjoy the rough brotherhood of sailors and the brutal art of whale hunting. They even succeed in catching the reptilian beast. But when the ship’s whaling venture falls short of expectations, the crew begins to regard the dragon—seething with feral power in its cage—as bad luck, a feeling that is cruelly reinforced when a violent storm sinks the ship.
Drifting across an increasingly hallucinatory ocean, the survivors, including Jaffy and Tim, are forced to confront their own place in the animal kingdom. Masterfully told, wildly atmospheric, and thundering with tension, Jamrach’s Menagerie is a truly haunting novel about friendship, sacrifice, and survival.
Verdict: Keep – This was another book that I was all set to remove from my To-Read shelf, wondering if it might have a bit too much of a fantasy element for me but – again – I was swayed by reading positive reviews from people whose opinion I rate. I think you can tell by now why I have over 900 books on my To-Read shelf, lol.
Far To Go by Alison Pick
When Czechoslovakia relinquishes the Sudetenland to Hitler, the powerful influence of Nazi propaganda sweeps through towns and villages like a sinister vanguard of the Reich’s advancing army. A fiercely patriotic secular Jew, Pavel Bauer is helpless to prevent his world from unraveling as first his government, then his business partners, then his neighbors turn their back on his affluent, once-beloved family. Only the Bauers’ adoring governess, Marta, sticks by Pavel, his wife, Anneliese, and their little son, Pepik, bound by her deep affection for her employers and friends. But when Marta learns of their impending betrayal at the hands of her lover, Ernst, Pavel’s best friend, she is paralyzed by her own fear of discovery—even as the endangered family for whom she cares so deeply struggles with the most difficult decision of their lives.
Interwoven with a present-day narrative that gradually reveals the fate of the Bauer family during and after the war, Far to Go is a riveting family epic, love story, and psychological drama.
Verdict: Keep – A Man Booker Prize finalist and described as ‘historical fiction at its very best’ – you know this decision was only going one way, didn’t you?
The Return of Captain John Emmett (Laurence Bartram #1) by Elizabeth Spellar
London, 1920. In the aftermath of the Great War and a devastating family tragedy, Laurence Bartram has turned his back on the world. But with a well-timed letter, an old flame manages to draw him back in. Mary Emmett’s brother John—like Laurence, an officer during the war—has apparently killed himself while in the care of a remote veterans’ hospital, and Mary needs to know why.
Aided by his friend Charles—a dauntless gentleman with detective skills cadged from mystery novels—Laurence begins asking difficult questions. What connects a group of war poets, a bitter feud within Emmett’s regiment, and a hidden love affair? Was Emmett’s death really a suicide, or the missing piece in a puzzling series of murders? As veterans tied to Emmett continue to turn up dead, and Laurence is forced to face the darkest corners of his own war experiences, his own survival may depend on uncovering the truth.
At once a compelling mystery and an elegant literary debut, The Return of Captain John Emmett blends the psychological depth of Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy with lively storytelling from the golden age of British crime fiction.
Verdict: Keep – I am honestly trying to find books on my To-Read shelf I no longer like the sound of but, unfortunately, this isn’t one of them. ‘Compelling mystery’, ‘elegant literary debut’, comparison with the work of Pat Barker, ‘golden age of British crime fiction’ – could you click on delete after that?
In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her? Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.
Verdict: Keep – I admit it, I’m a failure. When faced with a description of a historical fiction novel like this I don’t just want it on my To-Read shelf, I want it on my Waiting-To-Be-Read shelf.
The Result: For the first time doing this exercise – 10 kept, 0 dumped. When you’ve stopped laughing, I’d be interested to hear if you agree with my choices. Would you have dumped any of the books I’ve kept? I also apologise in advance if this post has added to your own To-Read shelf on Goodreads….