A Quick Update – 9 October

A short post as all my thoughts have been concentrated on getting ready for my annual holiday which kicks off today. If I can get my act together I should be posting while I’m away, but if not I hope you won’t miss me while I’m gone, should there be any danger of that 😉

I shall leave you with a picture of a beautiful gown from the Azzedine Alaia exhibition I attended last week. More in that in a future post.

Femme Fatale: Sick, Sweet & Evil

IMG_0770I didn’t know anything about Chelsea Cain and her series of books about Archie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell until I came across a TV series called Gone; when I realised it was based on a novel I went looking for it and found the author’s other works. I love a decent serial killer so tried the first one and became hooked.

Since then I have read the first three in the six-book series and I know that I will be reading the remainder (in fact I already have book four on my TBR list) simply because they are so easy to read – I usually devour the whole thing in a single sitting.

But why?

For a start the premise is interesting. Archie Sheridan is a detective investigating a series of murders when he is captured and tortured by the serial killer herself, Gretchen Lowell. Gretchen has inserted herself into the investigation by posing as a psychologist and of course because she is stunningly beautiful and very intelligent no-one suspects that she is the one responsible for what she claims to be 200 murders over a lengthy period of time.

None of this is spoiler territory because it’s all made clear at the very beginning of the first book. She tortures, kills and revives Archie and then surrenders to the police. Once he recovers Archie visits her in prison regularly and for every visit she gives him information on where another of her victims can be found so that closure can be given to the families. Archie thinks he is in control but of course he isn’t; Gretchen is an expert manipulator and through all three of the books she is effectively directing the action.

I won’t go into the plots of the novels; although each is focussed on a particular case the main event is of course the warped relationship between the two main characters as well as the involvement of Susan Ward, a reporter for a local newspaper who is drawn into the ongoing drama.

As with a lot of serial killer novels this is in no way true to life or at all subtle. Gretchen is an almost mythical figure who becomes something of a folk hero to a certain type of person. She is a complete monster in the vein of Hannibal Lecter, with no scruples and an overwhelming desire to cause pain and suffering, though it’s clear that she can stop killing for periods of time when she feels like it. The books are pretty gruesome and almost veer into horror territory but not quite. The problem with series of this type, if you can call it a problem, is the need to keep increasing the tension and gore without falling into camp. The books have managed to avoid that so far.

Having said all that, and noting that if Gretchen really is so striking why does nobody ever seem to notice what she’s up to until it’s too late, I love these books and would recommend them for a quick and enjoyable read.

Slow Horses & Dead Lions

IMG_0771I was drawn to reading the Slough House series of novels by Mick Herron via a recommendation from Jen Williams (@sennydreadful on Twitter and a fine author herself), and before I finished the first one had already bought the second.

That should tell you something.

Slough House is the (as far as we know, fictional) part of MI5 and located near the Barbican in London. It’s where those members of the service who have blotted their copybooks are sent to endure a miserable, slow decline in the hopes that they will see sense and voluntarily resign; in my experience in the civil service the equivalent is being assigned to Special Projects or being sent to work in the library when you aren’t a librarian, though to be honest I could never understand why that was thought to be a punishment.

Anyway, the books.

Slow Horses is the terribly tortuous punning name given to those who “work” there, carrying out a series of meaningless tasks and boring paperwork. But Jackson Lamb knows what he’s doing and when, in the first novel, he senses that there is something not right at all about the hooded figure tied up and threatened with death on the interwebs, he finds a way for his team to get involved in a proper mission to resolve the issue. I won’t say any more about that.

In Dead Lions, the fallout from the previous novel is still being felt – and that’s one of the things I like about the series, it builds on what’s gone before – and when a former colleague is found dead on a bus (that’s what you get these days on  rail replacement services) he feels the need to investigate, at a time when a couple of members of his team have been assigned to protect a visiting Russian oligarch. It slowly become clear that the two issues are connected.

I really enjoy a good spy novel – one of my favourite reading experiences was le Carre’s The Honourable Schoolboy which I found in my then father-in-law’s bookshelf (and why didn’t the BBC film that?) – and these are wonderfully seedy, with that depressed air you get in some parts of the public service where everything seems futile. The characters are really strong, there are the obligatory wheels within wheels and of course lots and lots of double crossing. And when things happen there are real consequences.

There is a very good interview with Mick Herron in the Guardian which gives some insight into the characters he’s created, and this in particular made me laugh:

[…] I’m a London-bound commuter and an open-plan-office worker, and anyone who’s been either of those things knows that bile and venom are only ever a hair’s-breadth away.

So true.

I fully intend to read the whole series and if you like a good post-Cold War spy story you should give them a try too.

The Week in Review

IMG_0774I won’t lie – it’s been a quiet one. Apart from an outing to the osteopath (I have a shoulder problem, not affecting my drinking/eating arm thankfully 😀 ) and a visit to the cinema (the photo at the top of this post will give you a clue about the movie we saw), I’ve mostly been doing stuff at home in advance of our soon-to-be-upon-us annual holiday.

Here are the bookish stats:

Books finished:

Of course this means that I have exceeded my target of 52 books in 52 weeks, which I may just have mentioned before.

Currently reading:

  • Night Film – still reading this, will be trying to finish before my hols
  • Flowers in the Attic – a book club selection, which I haven’t read before; I must say that I am a bit wary

New books:

I am currently pulling together a selection of Kindle reads for my holiday, which I hope to share in my next Salon post.

Hope you all have a great reading week.

20 Books of Summer Report Card

IMG_0769Way back in the mists of time, before the heatwave we had here in London, I signed up for #20BooksofSummer because:

[…] as my reading is going pretty well this year I decided it was time that I took part in a challenge, and thought that this one (hosted by Cathy over at 746Books) was ideal. The twist is that I’ll be reading only books on my Kindle app; this doesn’t mean that I’m giving up on #ReadingMuriel2018 – I (foolishly) believe I can do both!

I’m very late reporting back (here’s Cathy’s closing post from 4 September) but in case you need a bit of a hint – not only couldn’t I do both, I didn’t complete either 😞

I’ve repeated my original list below – the items in bold are the ones that I read, though with the move to the new blog I decided not to go back and complete any outstanding reviews. All of the books I finished are really enjoyable. So here we go:

  • You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames (I also watched the film version which was excellent)
  • Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Amsterdam
  • All That Remains by Sue Black
  • The Boy on the Bridge by MR Carey
  • The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
  • Who Killed Sherlock Holmes by Paul Cornell
  • The Cathedral of Known Things by Edward Cox
  • Black Dahlia, Red Rose by Piu Eatwell
  • Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys
  • The Keeper by Alastair Gunn
  • Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix
  • Slow Horses by Mick Herron
  • The Summer Children by Dot Hutchinson
  • Head On by John Scalzi
  • I Still Dream by James Smythe
  • The Hunger by Alma Katsu
  • The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz
  • The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
  • Gilded Cage by Vic James
  • Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

In summary I read 18 books over the summer; 10 from my list, 3 Muriels and 5 others. I’m pretty happy with the outcome, so will definitely take part again next year.

Reading Horror: A Wishlist

img_0759I have been a fan of horror for as long as I can remember. In my final year of primary school (so I would have been 11) I managed to get my hands on an American paperback of HP Lovecraft stories which I devoured (I’m pretty sure my Mum would not have let me get the book if she had seen the cover first!). And then with Carrie being published in the mid-70s, I discovered Stephen King, and the rest is history.

So I was already minded to read through the NPR list of 100 favourite horror stories before it was drawn to my attention by my blog-chum Susan via her Facebook page, quickly followed by another blog-chum Daphne, whose post on the list is worth reading.

So as I can’t resist this sort of thing, I ran through the list and was pleased to see that I had read 34 of the titles and already owned a further 14 with plans to read them at some point.

Of course, I found even more on the list that I would like to read in future, and have a wish list so that I won’t forget what they are. I thought I’d include them here in case any of you are interested 🙂

  • Peter Straub – Shadowland – if you had asked me I would have said that I had already read this but apparently not
  • Ann & Jeff VanderMeer – The Weird – a compendium of strange and dark stories per the subtitle (I love Mr VanderMeer, he is awesome)
  • Kai Ashante Wilson – The Devil in America – Scant years after the Civil War, a mysterious family confronts the legacy that has pursued them across centuries, out of slavery, and finally to the idyllic peace of the town of Rosetree.
  • Poppy Z Brite – Exquisite Corpse – I read quite a few of Poppy’s works back in the day but didn’t get to this one
  • Gemma Files – Experimental Film – I enjoy a good downward spiral in my horror fiction, and this has to do with movies which are my other great love
  • Helen Oyeyemi – White is for Witching – a spine-tingling tribute to the power of magic, myth and memory
  • Livia Llewellyn – Furnace – a short story collection by an author nominated on multiple occasions for a Shirley Jackson Award
  • Sarah Monette – The Bone Key – confession time; I’ve already bought this one!
  • Michael McDowell – The Elementals – though long uninhabited, the third house is not empty
  • Robert Marasco – Burnt Offerings – apparently Stephen King has acknowledged this novel as having influenced The Shining, and there’s a film version which I may have to hunt down….
  • David Wong – John Dies at the End – horror meets comedy….
  • Kathe Koja – Cipher – winner of the 1991 Bram Stoker award
  • Victor LaValle – The Ballad of Black Tom – jazz age New York and a black protagonist in a story confronting the inherent racism in HP Lovecraft’s work (which all of us who love his stuff need to acknowledge)
  • Christopher Buehlman – Those Across the River – an unspoken dread that the townsfolk have lived with for generations [a] presence that demands sacrifice
  • Algernon Blackwood – The Willows – a classic from one of the masters

Looking forward to the long winter nights with this lot…….

 

 

Tuesday is the New Sunday

IMG_2021Salon posting is a little late this week because the Book God and I were away for the weekend with the Jeff Hawke Club. We stayed at West Dean College in Sussex, a fabulous place which focusses on art and conservation and offers lots of courses at all levels.

There may have been a list to the craft shop where money may have changed hands for art supplies. There was certainly a lot of rain and quite a bit of Prosecco.

But you all want to know about the books….

Books finished:

  • Victorians Undone – a post will follow (also 51 down, 1 to go to meet my 2018 reading target)

Currently reading:

  • Night Film
  • The Cabin at the End of the World

New Books:

  • The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas – a time travel murder mystery
  • Lethal White by Robert Galbraith – the fourth Cormoran Strike novel
  • Queen Victoria by Lucy Worsley – HMQV through her diaries
  • Follow Me by Angela Clarke – all about the scariness of social media, like we need to be reminded 🙂
  • Wychwood: Hallowdene by George Mann – Reporter. Local Witch. Excavation of grave. Won’t end well
  • I Always Find You by John Ajvide Lindqvist – Something strange is going on in the building’s basement – and the price of entry is just a little blood.
  • The Detective’s Daughter by Lesley Thompson – Detective Darnell died before he closed the case. Can his daughter solve it thirty years later?
  • The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler – The groundbreaking first novel in the bestselling Joona Linna thriller series. Perfect for fans of Jo Nesbo. As stated by Amazon
  • An Absolutely Remarkable Think by Hank Green – impact of social media; when something astonishing happens how does it affect the people sharing it on the interwebs?

Other stuff:

As it was so wet we curtailed our outings at the weekend, but before that we did manage to visit Butser Ancient Farm – this is a fascinating place which is a centre for experimental archaeology, demonstrating daily life in ancient Britain. It has buildings from the late Iron Age in pre-Roman times, as well as a reconstruction of a Roman villa. Here are a couple of photos.

Hope you have a great reading week.