The Bride Looks Back at – November

The month started off fairly slowly on the reading front, but the attraction of several British Library Crime Classics in my virtual collection meant finishing three books in a week, which is pretty good for me these days.

But onto the stats….

  • Books read = 5 including one audiobook
  • Pages read = 967 plus 15.5hours of listerning
  • Goodreads progress = 62 of 65 finished, 95% of my challenge target

Books I read:

  • Cthulhu Resurgent by David Conyers – volume 2 of the collected stories of Major Harrison Peel; a very military take on the elder gods but still enjoyable if you like that sort of thing (which I do)
  • Death of Jezebel by Christianna Brand – published in 1949, a post-war London murder mystery with the equivalent of a locked room scenario. I thought I had guessed the murderer but talked myself out of it only to be proved right but for all the wrong reasons and with no idea of how it was done. Fiendish.
  • These Names Make Clues by ECR Lorac – published in 1937 this isn’t exactly a locked room mystery but does appear to be an almost impossible murder given the situations of the victim and the main suspect (I will say no more). A literary treasure hunt at a publisher’s London home with a real life detective as one of the guests, this was heaps of fun and is definitely my book of the month
  • A Surfeit of Suspects by George Bellairs – published in 1964 so only a couple of years younger than me, this is very much of its time – financial shenanigans, loose morals, potential corruption, shifty bank managers and a joinery company that explodes. Dated but still fun to read.

I also listened to an unabridged version of Dracula with Alan Cumming and Tim Curry. I will have a review of that soon, as I definitely had Thoughts.

Currently reading:

I started several books and set them aside as not quite what I was looking for at present, though I’m sure I will go back to them all at some point. I’m currently absorbed in two:

  • The Explorer by James Smythe – the final book in his Anomaly Quartet came out this year and I am planning to read all four volumes this December. This is the third time I’ve read this, the first book in the series, and at about a quarter of the way through its just as excellent as I remember!
  • American Sherlock by Kate Winkler Dawson – an audiobook read by the author who is one of my favourite podcasters, though I’ve sometimes taken issue with her books. Very interesting, but I’m always slow when listening to non-fiction.

Looking forward to in December, the start of a year-and-one-month low buy challenge for books, but lots of gifts to come (fingers crossed)!

The Bride’s Early Autumn Wrap-Up

My reading progress has been significantly better during September and October, so it seems like a good time to get back into blogging with some thoughts on how it’s all been going.

SEPTEMBER

  • Books read = 5
  • Pages read = 1739
  • Goodreads challenge progress = 75% of my target

Book of the Month:

The Quest for Queen Mary by James Pope-Hennessy as edited by Hugo Vickers.

Pope-Hennessy was commissioned to write a biography of Queen Mary in 1959, a book which I have read and enjoyed; beautifully written and very discreet. In writing the book, he travelled around the UK and Europe meeting friends and family and taking copious notes, most of which are included in this book and contain his own observations as well as a number of topics which he either hinted at or left out altogether. The question he seems to have been asked more than once was whether the Duke of Clarence was suffering from syphilis at the time of his death.

Favourite anecdote, from a dancing class Princess May (as she then was) attended:

One of the most embarrassing exercises was to go around the room alone in turn, making a curtsey. Princess May said “Well goodness, that’s one thing I shall never have to do.” She was told to think again remarked Lady Reid.

OCTOBER

  • Books read = 7
  • Pages read = 2254
  • Goodreads challenge progress = 88% of my target

I made myself a nice long spooky reading list for October, not because I thought I would read them all but to give me some options. I like to have options.

I re-read A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny because that’s what I do in October. It is still awesome and will be back next year.

Book of the Month

The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay. Not so much frightening as it is sad and moving, I became totally absorbed in this novel after taking a while to get into it. Once I was settled with the characters I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Favourite quote:

A book is a coffin because it holds a body, sometimes more than one, and we readers are there to witness, mourn and celebrate.

Currently Reading

What have you guys been reading lately?

My (first) September book haul

It’s a very surreal (in some ways) and unsettling time here in the UK as we go through a period of transition. I’ve largely put books aside for the moment, and as I’m not reading much I thought it was a good time to post a book haul.

September is a key month in publishing and I had a lot of pre-orders in place; here’s what’s arrived so far.

REVENGE OF THE LIBRARIANS by Tom Gauld – a wonderful collection of cartoons on “the spectre of failure, wrath of social media and other supernatural enemies of the author” – I love reading his cartoons in the Guardian every Saturday.

SLENDERMAN: A Tragic Story of Online Obsession & Mental Illness by Kathleen Hale – this looks into the shocking stabbings in Wisconsin in 2014 where two 12-year-old girls attempted to kill a classmate, apparently under the spell of an internet meme. I remember this case and the fact the girls were tried as adults, and will be interested in the author’s take

BLACKSTONE FELL by Martin Edwards – the third in the excellent Rachel Savernake series; a locked room puzzle with “a Gothic sensibility” set in 1930 – what’s not to love?

DEATH OF A BOOKSELLER by Bernard J Farmer – the 100th book in the always excellent British Library Crime Collection, I actually got this as a paperback because its the hundredth (obviously), but also because it has a lovely cover. It’s the first time the novel has been in print since 1956.

FAIRY TALE by Stephen King – a mysterious shed, a recluse (and dog) and parallel worlds. It’s Mr King so of course I was going to buy it.

ITHACA by Claire North – I love Claire North and this sounds amazing (and is getting excellent reviews) – telling the story of Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, it “breathes life into myth”.

BACK TO THE GARDEN by Laurie R King – going back to her non-Holmesian roots, this is the story of a fifty-year old cold case opened up by the discovery of human remains in California, taking us back to wealthy people indulging themselves during the counterculture.

THINGS HAVE GOTTEN WORSE SINCE WE LAST SPOKE & Other Misfortunes by Eric LaRocca – an author new to me, recommended by other bloggers and a good opportunity for me to widen my horror reading; looking forward to giving this a go.

KOKO by Peter Straub – sad to hear of the passing of Mr Straub I thought that rather than re-reading something from the books of his that I already own I would get a hold of this, which I missed the first time round. Again, a recommendation, this time on Twitter.

AGATHA CHRISTIE: A Very Elusive Woman by Lucy Worsley – a biography with a particular focus on why Mrs Christie chose to portray herself as a “retiring Edwardian lady of leisure” when she was in fact an extremely successful working woman who loved to try new things. I have a nice little collection of Agatha-related books which I will enjoy reading when the darker nights arrive.

There will be more new books coming in during the next few weeks, so watch this space!

Summer 2022 Report Card

Well, that was a long break from blogging, mostly because I hit a major reading slump and had nothing to say to anyone. At the risk of jinxing myself, September is already looking significantly more promising, in that I’ve already finished two books and am well on the way to finishing another two, so hopefully my slump is over.

Anyway, the stats…

20 Books of Summer

From my original reading list (which you can find here) I only managed to finish seven (dreadful) and started a further two which I have set aside for now but fully intend to go back to at some point.

Honourable mentions go to Claire North’s The End of the Day which I really enjoyed, and The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum which taught me much about the development of forensics in Prohibition New York. I also enjoyed rediscovering Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli & Isles series, picking it up again at Book 7.

I’m also certain that if I haven’t written a review already then it’s not going to happen; starting September with clean slate.

My reading stats

  • June – 5 books
  • July – 4 books
  • August – 2 books (and one of those was an audiobook which was my walking companion and I probably started in early July)

Things, I feel, can only get better 🙂

What I was watching

I watched ten films over the three months, all of which I enjoyed to some degree with a couple of disappointments (Jurassic World: Dominion, which was fine, and The Secrets of Dumbledore which I only watched because I can be a bit of a completist) and two that were sufficiently strange that Mr B gave them a body swerve and I watched alone – Everything Everywhere All At Once (Michelle Yeoh is awesome) and Alex Garland’s folk horror Men which is very much an acquired taste; I found it unsettling rather than frightening and have a suspicion that I didn’t entirely understand what he was trying to achieve.

I loved, loved, loved the Netflix adaptation of The Sandman; the casting was excellent to the extent that I may now have a crush on Boyd Holbrook’s Corinthian which if you know anything about the character is problematic at best.

And Only Murders in the Building continued to deliver in season two; am tempted to indulge in a rewatch just to tide me over until the next one.

So that was my summer. How has your reading been going?

Almost halfway through June…

How did we get here so quickly?

This month has been relatively quiet, compared to last month at least. If you follow me on Instagram (link is at the top of my blog’s home page) you will have seen me posting lots of photographs of big cats, relatives up close and personal.

Not a real lion

That’s because at the end of May, partly celebrating our wedding anniversary, partly marking my significant birthday from back in January, we stayed at the Big Cat Sanctuary in Kent for their overnight experience, which included the opportunity to hand feed big cats. Mr B has a slight hand tremor so didn’t feel able to take part in that activity, so lucky me got to feed a white tiger (twice), a black jaguar and a white lioness. It was awesome, being so close to large, powerful animals who were gently taking food from your hands. So magical.

The Big Cat Sanctuary is an excellent organisation involved in the conservation of big (and small) cats and contributing to international breeding programmes. They have a fabulous Instagram feed of their own; go and check them out.

After that we celebrated Mr B’s birthday which involved presents (books of course) and a very nice Indian meal at a local restaurant, complete with cocktails. I think he enjoyed himself 😀

I’m making great progress on Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer Challenge (see my reading list here); so far I’ve finished three books, reviewed two on the blog and have another review prepping for posting in a day or so.

I’m currently reading two more:

  • Business as Usual by Jane Oliver and Ann Stafford, published in the 1930s; and
  • The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum, all about forensic science during the Jazz Age in New York

A couple more after that and I will have met my target for June, which feels good.

In terms of what I’ve been watching, way back in January (possibly even December) one of the UK channels began showing Major Crimes each weekday starting from the very first episode. Mr B loves this show but I had never watched it, so we decided to build it in to our routine and soon enough I was hooked; only 10 years after everybody else. Last week we came to the very last episode and I am bereft. Currently looking for something else to fill the void.

Temperatures are starting to rise here in my corner of SW London so summer is on its way. I hope you are all well and staying safe!

A Life in Death by Richard Venables

A behind the scenes look at how victims of accidents and natural disasters are identified, from the perspective of a British police officer.

Detective Inspector Richard Venables has helped identify thousands of bodies all over the world, piecing together fragments from tsunamis, transport and other disasters to return victims to their loved ones.

I have a fascination with this subject matter which goes back many years to reading a book about facial reconstruction from skeletal remains, covering historical figures to the last unidentified person from the 1987 King’s Cross fire (finally given his name back in 2004). Of course not only can I not remember the name of the book, I can’t find it on my shelves so you’ll have to take my word for it that it was absolutely worth reading.

Anyway, I regularly pick up books on the subject whenever I see them, and was particularly interested in this one because of its focus on UK disasters as well as, of course, the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami which led to the deaths of an estimated 230,000 people.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book for me at least, was the amount of detail Venables goes into in recounting the development of DVI policies and procedures. I don’t know whether it’s because I was a civil servant for thirty years and heavily involved in writing guidance documents myself, but I appreciated his descriptions of how he and colleagues learned from each of the events in which they were involved, trying to make things more efficient and easier for the people involved in the DVI (Disaster Victim Identification) process, as well as the families who had lost loved ones. It wasn’t a perfect system but what is when humans are involved?

Some of the events he talks about hit home to me, especially the London bombings in 2005. One of my friends was on the tube train which exploded at Russell Square, and our office (which was within easy walking distance from that station and Tavistock Square where a double-decker bus exploded) was on lockdown for several hours. My friend was thankfully not physically hurt, and the impact on all of us lasted a very long time.

But the event that obviously had the greatest long-term effect on Venables was the tsunami. He worked in Thailand for many weeks on the difficult task of identifying people who had drowned in the disaster, with the heat and the effects of salt water on the remains adding to the difficulty of the task. His affection for Thailand and its people comes across very clearly.

I found it an informative read but a bit unbalanced, not sure how much of the author’s personal life to include. But I would still recommend it if this is a subject that speaks to you. Or is it just me?

This was my second read for #20booksofsummer20

Relic by Preston & Child

The first in the long-running and possibly still going Agent Pendergast series by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child.

The New York Museum of Natural History is built over a subterranean labyrinth of neglected specimen vaults, unmapped drainage tunnels and long-forgotten catacombs.

SOMETHING IS DOWN THERE…..

I remember watching the 1997 film adaptation of this book back in the day but despite having the same title (obviously) I didn’t connect the two, and therefore was able to come to the story relatively fresh. It’s an enjoyable, fast-paced thriller with a reasonable amount of blood and guts and a protagonist who is clearly extremely clever but manages not to be annoying.

Ask me if I still feel that way if and when I get to volume 21.

So the NY Natural History Museum is hosting an exhibition called Superstition with artefacts from many cultures including a relic (hence the name) found during a disastrous expedition to South America where nearly everyone died in various ways while still managing (eventually) to get their finds back to New York. But, did something dangerous come back with them?

Why yes of course it did.

Following the discovery of the mutilated bodies of two young boys in the museum’s basement, our hero, Pendergast himself, arrives from New Orleans to investigate because something similar happened down there. Is there a serial killer, or something more sinister?

If you voted for sinister you would be correct.

Is there a cover-up by arrogant senior museum officials who eventually get their comeuppance? Yes.

Is there a local arrogant and incompetent FBI agent who (a) doesn’t like our hero; (b) won’t listen to advice & (c) also gets what’s coming to him? Yes.

Is there a more than competent young woman researcher going through personal stuff who is dismissed by almost all of the men around her but is key to unravelling the mystery? Yes

Charming but cranky professor in a wheelchair? Check.

Does the mystery get solved by our team? Partially (but worry not, there is an epilogue).

I enjoyed this greatly, despite unfortunately positive mentions of big game hunting, which YUCK, so much so that I seem to have obtained the next five books in the series. What can I say, these things happen.

This was my first completed read for #20BooksofSummer22

My Week – 22 May edition

It has been a very quiet week chez Bride so not that much to report.

Books finished:

Only one this week, Girl 4 by Will Carver, the first of his novels to be published (I think) and definitely the first in his Det. Insp. January David trilogy. Serial killer. Visions. Family drama. Nefarious plan. All good (as you will see later). I love Will Carver’s work and am enjoying delving into his earlier stuff.

Currently reading:

Unmasked by Paul Holes – not made much progress on this but hope to get it finished this week. Not having any difficulties with it, just fictional serial killers are holding my interest more than real life murderers.

The Two by Will Carver – January David #2; more than one serial killer (probably). Even more visions. Wicca. Internecine rivalry within the police. Very good indeed

But mostly I’ve been focussing on my 20 Books of Summer reading list which you can find here.

New books:

  • The Light of Italy: The Life and Times of Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino by Jane Stevenson – 15th century Italy and my favourite of the many city states of the time. Federico has long interested me, and on my last trip to Italy I was lucky enough to make it to Urbino and to see some of the amazing works he collected, including paintings by Pierro della Francesca.
  • The Surrogate by Tania Carver – the first in her Brennan & Esposito series (he’s a police detective, she’s a psychologist, they have history) sees a horrendous double murder in Colchester.
  • Parallel Hells by Leon Craig – a debut collection of short stories with gothic and folklore-related subjects. I think I saw this mentioned on Twitter and was intrigued enough to buy; I really must get back into reading short stories, she said wistfully…..

Other stuff:

As I said not much is happening around these parts. I’ve been doing some work in our tiny wee garden; though I’m not very good at gardening, things are taking shape.

Friday nights have become Michael Connelly & pizza night. We are watching Bosch: Legacy and The Lincoln Lawyer TV series and enjoying them both a great deal. The Book God has read the novels (not all of them, I think, because Mr Connelly is very prolific) but I’m just along for the ride, enjoying the small screen adaptations.

Hope you stay safe and have a great reading week!

20 Books of Summer ’22

It’s almost June so that means 20 Books of Summer, hosted every year by Cathy at 746 books, is upon us once more. Despite my failures in previous years, I’m going to have another go but I have Purpose and A Plan this time round.

I have decided to use this pretty relaxed challenge to restart some of the series I have neglected over the past wee while and get back into reading them again, and to read more physical volumes than ebooks.

If you are interested in joining the challenge then the announcement post is here and Cathy’s own list is here.

But what about my list? Well, here we go…….

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry – yes, I know I’m way behind everyone else in getting to this, and I’ve had it for ages (I was gift for Christmas one year. Or my birthday. I forget) but I like to read the book before I watch an adaptation and one T Hiddleston is the male lead in this so what can you do?

Keeping the Dead by Tess Gerritsen – the seventh in the Rizzoli & Isles series; can’t remember when I read number six but we’ve been catching up on the TV series and although is hugely different it made me want to pick up the books again

Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch – depending on whether you count the novellas or not (for info, I do) this is either the seventh or eighth in the Rivers of London series (how many times do you think I can type the word ‘series’ in this post, I wonder?).I actually started reading this ages ago, got almost halfway through and then stopped for reasons I can no longer recall. Will start from the beginning once more

Dreaming Spies by Laurie R King – the Mary Russell series hits volume 13. I love her and want to get back into the swing of Holmes-related stories again

Bryant & May: Strange Tide by Christopher Fowler – I have been neglecting Mr Fowler over the past few years and will put this right by starting off with number 13 in a series I have been reading forever. Until I wasn’t.

A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear – Maisie Dobbs returns having headed abroad at the end of volume 10; one of my favourite fictional characters, now lurching towards the outbreak of WW2

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo – the first of the standalone reads, this is a reimagining of the life of Jordan baker, one of the characters from The Great Gatsby. Really looking forward to this one, might be reading this near the beginning of the challenge

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – I’ve had this one on my TBR pile for ages, and as well as wanting to read it on its own terms, I’m hoping it will also lead me back into David Mitchell’s Utopia Avenue. I love rock band stories (the best being, of course, Espedair Street by Iain Banks. I will not argue about this)

Holy Terror: Stories by Cherie Priest – a bit of horror & creepiness in short form. I haven’t been reading a lot of short stories recently and this looks just wonderful.

The Poisoner’s Handbook By Deborah Blum – because it wouldn’t be a reading list of mine without death and destruction in a nonfiction form; pretty sure this will do what it says on the tin

A Life in Death by Richard Venable – nor is it a Bride list without something true crime adjacent; this is the story of Det. Insp. Venables, an expert in Disaster Victim Identification and a member of the UK Police’s Major Disaster Advisory Team

The Fall of Robespierre by Colin Jones – an hour by hour analysis of the last day of Robespierre’s leadership during the French Revolution. The only proper history book on this list; what have I become 🙂

Dreadful Company by Vivian Shaw – the second in the Dr Greta Helsing trilogy, our heroine is in Paris and dealing with vampires. Again.

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsin Muir – I loved Gideon the Ninth and don’t know why I’ve waited this long to read the follow-up; whatever the reason, encouragement has been provided by the imminent release of the next volume

A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz – the third in the series where Horowitz himself is the sidekick to the detective Hawthorne. I really like this clever series and am especially looking forward to reading this one

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers – the second Wayfarers book, where Lovelace, once a ship’s AI, wakes up in a new body and has to figure a lot of things out…

The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross – the eighth (I think) novel in the Laundry Files universe; another one that I started and set aside for a while but again I’m incentivised by having read one of the shorts in the same series and remembering how much fun these are. Sort of Lovecraft meets the civil service….

Business as Usual by Jane Oliver and Ann Stafford – I mentioned this in my most recent weekly round-up. I do love an epistolary novel

The End of the Day by Claire North – I love Claire North’s work but have fallen a little bit behind in reading her books, so this challenge feels the right time to pick her up again. She is such an intelligent and talented writer.

Relic by Preston & Child – I remember seeing the film version of this many moons ago not realising that it was based on this novel, the start of a long and well regarded series featuring FBI Agent Pendergast. Hopefully the first of many.

And that’s it. Not a bad list I think, and we’ll see how I get on – watch this space!

My Week – 15 May edition (just a wee bit late)

Looking back at last week where I managed to both do some reading and get out into the big wide world….

What I finished:

I managed two this week, a bit of entertaining true crime and an engrossing mystery

Alice Diamond and the Forty Elephants: Britain’s First Female Crime Syndicate by Brian McDonald

I was listening to an episode of the Dirty Sexy History podcast hosted by Jessica Cale (well worth a listen if you are interested in stuff that is a bit outside the mainstream history we mostly get taught) when this book was mentioned, and remembered that I had picked up the Kindle edition some time last year. It’s a very entertaining, extremely detailed and fast paced dive into mostly female criminality in south London, with some social history thrown in and lots of dodgy male offenders as well. I really liked it but the title is a bit misleading as we don’t get to Alice until we are quite far into the book, and what we do get was clearly insufficient for some reviewers on Goodreads who expected a full biography of the lady herself.

The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett

I really enjoyed Hallett’s first novel (The Appeal, which I didn’t review but should have because it was just excellent) and if anything this is even better. The narrative device this time is the use of transcriptions of voice recordings made by our protagonist Steven, who is recently out of prison and has become obsessed with trying to solve a mystery from his childhood – the disappearance of his teacher after a school outing where the investigated clues in the works of Edith Twyford, an out-of-fashion children’s author based loosely on Enid Blyton. Almost everything we read comes from Steven’s perspective and we are in potentially unreliable narrator territory here; I won’t say more because watching it all unfold is part of the joy of the book. The clues are all there for the reader to solve, and now that I know how things turn out I am almost certainly going to read it again to find the clues I missed. I really recommend this if you want something a bit different, and am looking forward to what she might do next.

What I’m currently reading:

The Fall of Paris has gone onto my Set Aside for Now stack; I will definitely be going back to it later in the year.

Girl 4 by Will Carver – this is the first novel from Carver who has become one of my favourite authors, largely due to his excellent DS Pace trilogy (which I loved so much and intend to read again). This is the first in a series of novels involving a police detective, January David, who specialises in very violent crimes. This first tale is a serial killer targeting young women (which is what they do) with the first victim hitting very close to home for our protagonist. I’m just over a third of the way in, so shall say no more.

Unmasked by Paul Holes – the cold case investigator whom I first came across via Michelle McNamara’s excellent I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (as mentioned here) and numerous mentions on the My Favorite Murder podcast , as well as his own investigative podcast with Billy Jensen, The Murder Squad. I have only just started this and it looks like a mix of cases he has worked on and the impact his career has had on his family and so far so good.

New books worth mentioning:

In honour of finishing the TV adaptation Slow Horses and the publication of the latest Slough House novel Bad Actors, I treated myself to all of Mick Herron’s series in one fell swoop. Will bereading the fifth entry in the series very shortly.

Last week I mentioned Under the Banner of Heaven which I had just finished, and had an interesting conversation with Kathy at Simple Tricks & Nonsense where she recommended Heaven’s Ditch about the building of the Erie Canal and religious stuff around it; now ordered and awaiting its arrival.

Most of this week’s book spend was focussed on the Book God’s birthday list, so my recommendation will be out of sync for the next wee while.

Other stuff:

So this week I finally got back to Sadler’s Wells, my favourite venue for all things dance, to see the Northern Ballet perform Casanova. I had such a good time; the costumes and sets were gorgeous and a quick glass of prosecco at the interval added to the fun. But oh, so many people on public transport were not wearing masks (I was fully masked the hole time) and that did make me feel uncomfortable, especially on the Tube which on the way home in particular was so crowded. This is how it will from now on I suppose….

Until next time I hope you are all well and have a great reading week!