October Monthly Round-Up

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

A week late, but what a week it’s been! So many distractions, but I did still want to come on here and register my reading progress for October.

Books read = 4

Number of pages = 1401

Drum roll, please………

I have hit my reading goal for this year – 60 out of 60 books with two full months to go. To early to say how many more I will read before the end of the year, but I will be reading more that’s for sure.

November pre-orders:

  • Fortune Favours the Dead by Stephen Spotswood – New York, 1946. Lillian Pentecost is the most successful private detective in the city, but her health is failing. She hires an assistant to help with the investigative legwork. Willowjean Parker is a circus runaway. Quick-witted and street-smart, she’s a jack-of-all-trades with a unique skill-set – and together they investigate the murder of a wealthy young widow. First in a anew series, couldn’t resist.
  • One by One by Ruth Ware – Snowbound thriller full of tense corporate shenanigans plus avalanche. I haven’t read any Ruth Ware before, so very much looking forward to trying her out.
  • The Children of Red Peak by Craig DiLouie – survivors of a cult digging into their past, releasing memories and trauma that they have repressed for years. The answers will no doubt be found at Red Peak.
  • Last Stand in Lychford by Paul Cornell – Exploding fairies, the architect of the universe and a celestial bureaucratic blunder make this a satisfying conclusion to the ever-popular Witches of Lychford series.

That’s it from me! Hope you all have a great reading week.

Chris Carter’s Robert Hunter Novels #1-3

Whenever I see the name Chris Carter I immediately think of the X-Files but this Chris Carter is not the creator of the Truth is Out There, but the author of several (I haven’t gone to look at exactly how many) crime novels featuring his homicide detective and all-round whizz-kid Robert Hunter.

Hunter’s expertise is such that he gets all the really weird and gruesome murders that are almost always carried out by serial killers.

Earlier in the summer, I read the first three novels in the series, which are:

The Crucifix Killer – the body of a young woman is found in an abandoned cottage; tattoo on her neck is the signature of said Crucifix Killer but surely it can’t be him because he was caught, convicted and executed. More deaths follow. Did Hunter get the wrong man?

The Executioner – the body of a priest is found in his church on the altar steps, grotesquely mutilated and with the number 3 written on his chest in blood. More deaths follow, all numbered. What links the victims and who knows what they fear the most?

The Night Stalker – a woman has been abducted and murdered in a deeply gruesome way. More deaths follow. What links the victims and why are they being killed like this?

First things first, I really enjoyed these novels. The style, which is very straightforward and almost journalistic, is reminiscent of two other favourites writing in the genre – Richard Montanari and Chelsea Cain, both of whom I love.

The key to whether you’ll enjoy these books, assuming you are willing to accept without flinching the descriptions of murder and mutilation, is whether you like Robert Hunter or not. He has a very specific set of characteristics:

  • he is super-intelligent, a child prodigy who raced through school and college and whose unpublished thesis is, of course, required reading by those in the field
  • he is damaged – of course he is – for him it takes the form of insomnia
  • he self-medicates with single malt whisky so he gets extra points from me for that 😀
  • he is extremely good looking, and every woman he comes into contact with flirts with him
  • he is empathetic
  • he is attracted to strong women but these relationships do not end well, usually for the woman but just as often for him
  • people around him often get hurt; it is risky being his colleague
  • is there anything he doesn’t know and did he really learn it all from books?

At the moment I like him, and also the author’s style with one exception – his tendency to be overly specific about cars; I will definitely be reading the whole series.

My Week | 11 October ’20

It has been a very quiet week chez Bride. I’ve been somewhat under the weather and spending a lot of my time not sleeping well then napping, so on and so forth.

Naps are something new to me – when I was younger I just couldn’t sleep during the day unless I was ill, and now that I’m pushing 60 it’s staying awake that’s the problem 😀

I didn’t finish any books this week, and I’m still reading the third Malin Fors novel which I would like to complete as I’m itching to get into some creepy books for Hallowe’en season. I have a nice little list from which to select and I’m going to pick randomly from them as my fancy takes me.

I’m pleased to report that I only bought one book that wasn’t a pre-order, and that was Poems to Save the World With, selected and illustrated by one of my favourite artists, Chris Riddell.

I don’t read poetry very often but how can you resist a book which contains this image (to represent Ozymandias by Shelley):

What I have been doing instead of reading is decluttering my wardrobe, listening to podcasts (as always) and watching TV with Mr B. Season 1 of Evil has turned into something of a hit with us, and we were sad to see the end of S2 of The Boys – we both loved the comics and reckon the adaptation captures the spirit of the original, including the gore.

The big revelation has been Elementary. Yes, I know that I’m probably the last person in the universe to watch this, but in my defence Sherlock with Mr Cumberbatch got to me first, I had space for only one Holmes at a time, and I thought (wrongly) that the man himself may have been Americanised rather than just the setting moved to New York.

I admit it. I was wrong.

Not only is it really, really good but Jonny Lee Miller may be one of my absolutely favourite incarnations of Holmes (Basil Rathbone will always be my No. 1. I know his films are flawed. Don’t at me). I’m devouring the first season and looking forward to steadily working my way through the lot.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. Hope you are all staying safe and well, and have a great reading week.

It’s a Book Haul

Forget that you ever, ever saw me mention a no-spend policy because as you will see, I blew that plan completely out of the water. And as I have absolutely no shame, I thought I would share my purchases from mid-September to date.

The Phlebotomist by Chris Panatier – “War brought the Harvest. Willa Mae Wallace is a Reaper.” Society is split along blood type lines as a result of mandatory drawing to support the war effort. There is of course a Big Secret and Willa will try to get to the bottom of it.

Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden – first published in 1939 and made into a remarkable film starring Deborah Kerr, as soon as I realised the BBC was producing an adaptation for Christmas I knew I should read the original.

That led me down a rabbit hole of classics…..

Effie Briest by Theodor Fontane – first published in 1894, this is the story of Effie, married off to a man twice her age, gets bored, has an affair with someone unsuitable which later comes back to haunt her. The consequences are fatal, of course. I will try not to think of Madame Bovary.

The Artificial Silk Girl by Irmgard Kelin – first published in 1932, this tale of Doris who runs off to 1920s Berlin to make it big in the movies but sinks into the city’s lower echelons was a huge bestseller in Weimar Germany until it was, of course, banned by the Nazis. I will try not to think of Cabaret.

The Grand Babylon Hotel by Arnold Bennett – a long time since I read Bennett’s famous Old Wives Tale, this sounds like a very different kettle of fish. Nella is refused service in the Grand Babylon Hotel, but her father is a millionaire so buys the thing for her. Shenanigans ensue. I will try not to get this confused with the Grand Budapest Hotel.

Now back to the present/near future…..

Adaptation by Malinda Lo – vast global conspiracy ahoy, involving birds, because of course it does. Reese is involved in an accident and is in a coma or similar for about a month. When she wakes up she remembers nothing but knows one thing – she’s different now……. I believe this is the first in a series. Any similarities to The Birds is coincidental, I’m sure.

Everything Under by Daisy Johnston – nominated for the 2018 Booker Prize, this is, according to the blurb, “an electrifying reinterpretation of a classical myth” and unsettling. I like unsettling.

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik – here is a confession – I haven’t read any Naomi Novik. Yet. There is a sorceress who doesn’t want to be one but has a destiny which involves changing the rules of magic. This sounds a good place to start.

Fashion on the Ration by Julie Summers – last week I was able to watch/listen to a lecture by Julie Summers via my V&A membership, talking about her latest book (which I bought earlier this year, it’s the life of the editor of British Vogue during the war years) but I was diverted by one of her anecdotes to look up this book about style in World War II and the difficulties of finding silk for your camiknickers.

Alice Diamond and the Forty Elephants by Brian McDonald – the history of Britain’s first female crime syndicate, who made shoplifting kind of glamorous, hiding the stuff they stole (fashion, jewels, furs) in specially adapted clothing and blowing the proceeds on the high life.

A Wash of Black by Chris McDonald – the first in the DI Erika Piper series, a famous actress is found dead and mutilated on an ice rink in Manchester, a copy of a scene from one of her big movies. Our heroine is now hunting the Blood Ice Killer, because of course there is a nickname; there is always a nickname.

And the first few books of October……

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton – it’s 1634 and the world’s greatest detective is being shipped to Amsterdam to be executed, but once the boat sets sail nasty things start to happen. Death, yes. Destruction, undoubtedly. But demons?

The SS Officer’s Armchair by Daniel Lee – subtitled In Search of a Hidden Life. You buy an armchair and then find a bundle of documents sewn into the chair’s cushion. They are covered in swastikas, so of course you need to set off on a quest to find out who owned the chair and presumably the documents.

Mr Cadmus by Peter Ackroyd – a stranger arrives in Little Camborne and in his wake comes mystery, revenge, murder, greed and jealousy. Everyday life in an English village. Where is Miss Marple when you need her?

Mantel Pieces by Hilary Mantel – even if she wasn’t already one of my very favourite literary people, the pun in the title would have been enough to make me want to read this collection of her essays, mostly (I think) from the London Review of Books.

Witness X by SE Moorehead – Neuropsycholgist hunts serial killer in the near future. Silence of the Lambs meets Blade Runner with a tinge of Stranger Things. Apparently.

The Girls of Brackenhill by Kate Moretti – Newly engaged. Dead aunt. Seriously ill uncle with not long to go. A mansion in the Catskills, and a sister who disappeared years ago. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Quite a varied selection I think you’ll agree 🙂

Sunday Salon | September round-up

A quiet but solid reading month. Here are the stats:

The Reader by Marie Fontain Latour

Books read = 5

Number of pages = 2096

I have read 56 out of 60 books so I’m tantalisingly close to my goal for 2020 (and in fact as I’m writing this I’ve actually hit 57 which is 95%)

I bought quite a few books in the second half of September so I will be posting a book haul in the next couple of days.

October pre-orders (titles only and not including four that I’ve already received and will be in the book haul post referenced above!)

  • Ruby by Nina Allan
  • Dark Archives by Megan Rosenbloom
  • The Silence by Don DeLillo
  • Over the Woodward Wall by A Deborah Baker – this is the book within the book from Middlegame
  • The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by VE Schwab
  • The Tindalos Asset by Caitlin R Kiernan
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, illustrated by Chris Riddell – an actual, physical book!
  • Dead Lies Dreaming by Charles Stross
  • The Once and Future Witches by Alix E Harrow

Hope you have a great reading week – see you in my next post!

Sunday Salon | 20 September

It’s starting to feel a lot like autumn. Here in SW London it’s been sunny but the wind has a bit of an edge to it and I for one am very happy about it.

From my walk earlier today

Books finished this week:

Reviews to follow shortly.

I’m currently reading a second novel by Mons Kallentoft and that’s all for the moment, which is unusual for me as I almost always have more than one book on the go, and I’m sure that practice will start up again soon.

New books:

  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke – I tried to read Jonathan Strange twice, and gave the TV series a shot (gave up on that too), but Piranesi sounds fascinating and less hyped and hopefully that will help
  • The Trials of Koli by MR Carey – the second novel in the well regarded Rampart trilogy
  • Standalone by Paul Michael Anderson – They are killers. They are monsters. They are evil. They are right up my street.
  • The 2084 Report by James Powell – An oral history of the Great Warming – used my Audible credit to get this one. I love a fictional oral history.

Hope you all have a great reading week. Take care and stay safe.

Madame Victoria

In 2001 the skeleton of a woman was found in woodland at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal. The hospital checked all of its patient records, DNA tests were carried out and forensic specialists built a reconstruction of her face to be used in public appeals. Despite all of this, the woman has never been identified, and her remains were put into storage, labelled Madame Victoria.

The investigation has stalled. The case has been assigned to a forensic anthropologist and crime novel celebrity*, who runs new tests on the skeleton and finds that Madame Victoria was a Caucasian woman of about fifty suffering from osteoporosis and arthritis-ridden joints but showing no signs of a violent death.

Catherine Leroux has written twelve stories, each of which imagines a different route to the eventual death of Madame Victoria in the woods. She has said in interviews that she was inspired less by the fact that the woman was found, but by the great efforts that the authorities took to identify her. She has said that she intended each chapter as a tribute, and she never forgot that this was a person who actually existed. And that she hopes Madame Victoria is eventually identified.

I enjoyed this book very much. In any selection of stories there some stronger than others, and this is no exception, though I felt that most of the tales here tended to the strong side.

I think it works as a concept because each of the stories is very different – Leroux has tried several genres including historical fiction, fantasy and sci-fi. Some common elements and references pop up in several of the stories but it’s very subtly done and I only really picked it up in the later ones. I wonder if I read it again whether I would find more?

In an interview about the book in the Montreal Gazette, Leroux said that in writing about a completely anonymous woman she found herself examining how women “were, and are, erased, in so many ways.”

This was a read for Twenty Books of Summer, and I highly recommend it if you want to try something a bit different, or you are looking for works by women in translation. Or, you know, both.

*Note – I’m assuming this is a reference to Kathy Reichs

Scary Sequels. More or Less.

Earlier this year I watched a couple of scary kind-of movies. Or more accurately, kind-of scary, because without a doubt they were movies 🙂

Anyway, I enjoyed them both and thought I would watch their sequels. Alone as per usual.

First up was Unfriended: Dark Web, directed by Stephen Susco, made in 2018 and rated 15 for strong threat, violence and language.

A teen comes into possession of a new laptop and soon discovers that the previous owner is not only watching him but will also do anything to get it back

A similar set up to its predecessor, I think this is actually the slightly better film, albeit that it lacks the supernatural elements. The horror is very much about the helplessness in watching your friends being targetted because of something you’ve done – in this case, it becomes clear that our teen protagonist may have come by this laptop by seeing it unattended in a coffee shop and just walking off with it. As with the original Unfriended, there are times when I found myself yelling at people not to do things, but it wouldn’t be a horror film if people were sensible, would it?

Then there is Creep 2, which is a proper sequel to a film which I really loved when I watched it a few months ago. This is just as good. Trust me.

A video artist looking for work drives to a remote in the forest to meet a man claiming to be a serial killer. But after agreeing to spend the day with him, she soon realises that she made a deadly mistake.

I don’t want to give to much away about this film except that it is equally as unsettling as the original Creep, with the same lead actor (Mark Duplass who is super), the same director (Patrick Brice) and I would recommend that you watch them in sequence because Creep 2 refers directly back to the first one.

That was a bit of a rambling paragraph but hopefully you’ll get the gist of what I’m trying to say.

So basically, fun films but not, IMHO, all that frightening. Creepy, yes, but not frightening. YMMV.

Sunday Salon | 13 September

It has been a very quiet reading week. I’ve been spending my Me Time binge listening to True Crime Bullsh** – an excellent podcast focussing (at least in the first two seasons) on serial killer Israel Keyes.

I know. I have always been this way.

Photo by Frederick Tubiermont on Unsplash


I finished exactly one book this week, which I read cover to cover over a few days – and yes, it’s true crime, but let’s just move along.Murder City: The Untold Story of Canada’s Serial Killer Capital 1959-84 by Michael Arntfield. This covers the same ground as Forest City Killer which I covered in my recent true crime reading list post, though it predates it by a couple of years and is more of an academic work. Very interesting and deeply depressing.

I’m currently reading the third Robert Hunter thriller by Chris Carter, and I’m about a quarter of the way through. If you’ve been paying attention, you will know that I turn to true crime when I’m stuck with fiction, and that’s where I am at the moment. Hoping to move on this soon.

I failed at my no spend this week but I’ve kept it limited to a couple of new books:

  • The Quickening by Rhiannon Ward – Feminist gothic fiction set between the late 19th century and the early 20th century – an era of burgeoning spiritualism and the suffragette movement 
  • Indecent Advances by James Polchin – A skillful hybrid of true crime and social history that examines the relationship between the media and popular culture in the portrayal of crimes against gay men in the decades before Stonewall. 

It’s going to get very warm again in south west London this week so I may be hiding indoors with the aircon switched on – ideal conditions for reading.

Hope you all have a great week!

True Crime Reading List

When I hit a fiction slump I turn to true crime to unblock my reading brain. There’s been a lot of that over the past few months so I thought I’d share my recent reading list.

Murder on Easey Street by Helen Thomas

Melbourne’s most notorious cold case

In 1977 two young women sharing a home in a suburb of Melbourne were brutally killed while the baby of one of the women was sleeping in his room. The author was a junior reporter at the time and was involved in covering the case, and has gone back to look at the evidence again. There are lots of contradictions, neighbours whom the police didn’t ever interview, and so many questions. Was it a random attack? If not, which of the women was the target, or was it both of them? Why was the killer never caught? Particularly interesting in looking at how the Australian police tended to operate at the time.

Dark Side of the Mind by Kerry Daynes

Kerry is a forensic psychologist, trying to understand why people convicted of crimes behave the way they do. She appears on TV in the Uk fairly often in true crime documentaries and has real insight into the cases she discusses. The book is partly an explanation of the purpose of forensic psychology and how the work is carried out, but more importantly, it’s a memoir of what it’s like to be a woman working in this field.

Memorable quotes:

Paul was in the approximately 10 per cent of all victims who are men killed by the women in their life. Just 1 per cent of victims are women killed by other women. Research also tells us over and over that when men kill their female partners or ex-partners, it usually follows months or years of them abusing her. On the other hand, when women kill their husbands or exes, it’s usually after months or years of having been abused by the man they have killed.

UK criminologists estimate that a maximum of four serial killers are operating in this country at any given time (which is fairly good news or utterly terrifying, depending on your point of view).

Misogyny – an ingrained prejudice against and contempt for women and girls – is one of the few human conditions that hasn’t yet been declared a mental illness. Probably because, if it were, it would be a pandemic.

The Forest City Killer by Vanessa Brown

50 years ago a serial killer was active in London, Ontario, abducting, raping and murdering young women and boys. Focussing on the unsolved case of a young woman called Jackie English, the author considers who may have committed those crimes. Was it one person? And if so, could he still be alive and capable of being identified through familial DNA similar to the Golden State Killer?

Hell in the Heartland by Jax Miller

At the end of 1999 in rural Oklahoma, two girls, Ashley & Lauria, were having a sleepover. By the next morning, Ashley’s parents had been murdered, their trailer home on fire and the girls were missing. What was behind all of this? Ashley’s brother had been shot by police and there was bad blood between the Sherriff’s office and the family as a result. There were strong rumours of police corruption. There was significant drug use in the area, particularly crystal meth, which through up some potential suspects. The case went cold until 2018 when some arrests were made. Jax Miller has written a powerful book in which her experiences investigating this crime are just as important as the crime itself.