The Bride looks back at March

So March turned out not to be the greatest reading month this year (so far) largely because I spent almost two weeks being sick – a head cold not Covid thankfully but it just would not shift – compounded by a bout of conjunctivitis which also lingered and made reading a bit uncomfortable.

So I didn’t. Read, that is.

The Stats:

  • Books read = 3
  • Pages read = 1,664
  • Goodreads challenge = 16 out of 72, or 22% of my target for the year

I’m also taking part in a TBR reduction challenge. This month that involved a main goal of starting a series and a stretch goal of completing that series during the upcoming year.

I started Habits of the House by Fay Weldon but didn’t get very far, not because I wasn’t enjoying it, I just lost momentum because of being sick. I’ve set it aside for now, along with the other stuff I was reading until I’m ready to pick it all up again when I no longer associate them with feeling yucky..

I covered two of the books I read this month in my last post (which you can find here); the third book I read is one that I have been working on for what feels like eons.

That book is Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century by Geoffrey Parker. It’s a huge book full of fantastic detail and many things to think deeply about, but although it’s incredibly readable it’s also very info heavy which is why it’s taken me so long to read.

Progress went as follows – I started reading it in November 2018, set it aside in September 2019, picked it up again in August 2021, let it drift for a bit, started reading it seriously again last November and finally finished it March 14th. I have eight pages of quotes in my reading journal so clearly got a lot out of it.

I bought a lot of new books this month but not sure if I’m going to do a book haul. I’d like to be consistent with my weekly posts where I can better cover what I’m currently reading (which I haven’t properly settled on for April yet) and what new bookish goodies come into my home.

Let me know what you think, and have a great reading week!

The Bride’s Fortnight in Review

More or less, including what’s coming up in what’s left of March.

Not a bad beginning to the month. I managed to finish two books and made significant progress on one other, a chunky non-fiction that I’ve been reading on and off for what seems like centuries, but I’m determined to finish it this month. Determined I tell you!

Books read:

Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca

Sadomasochism. Obsession. Death. All of the above are included in this set of three long short stories. I absolutely loved the title of this collection, though interestingly the main story isn’t the strongest one for me – everything in it happens so quickly and for once the email/message structure isn’t the most effective, though the ending was very creepy. The other two worked better for me, especially You’ll Find It’s Like That All Over (another great title). I will definitely be reading more of this author’s work in the future.

Written in Bone: Hidden Stories in What We Leave Behind by Sue Black

Or Dame Professor Sue Black as I like to acknowledge. She is one of my absolute heroes and this book doesn’t disappoint. Working her way through the human skeleton from head to toe each section is a mixture of anthropological insights, personal experience and heaps of anecdotes, many from criminal cases on which she has worked. I learned such a lot from this book and my admiration for her keeps growing.

Currently Reading:

Three books currently on the go – Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz which I’ve kind of set aside for now but want to get moving on; ditto for Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull, a British Library Crime Classic by an author I don’t know and which I may have purchased because I really liked the cover; and Global Crisis which is a chunkster on 17th century world history and the impact of climate change during that period, which has popped up on this blog many times in the past and I WILL finish this month.

Coming up in March:

The TBR reduction challenge is to start a series I’ve never read before, with a stretch goal of completing the series this year. I’ve decided to choose the Love & Inheritance Trilogy by Fay Weldon, in honour of the fact that she died recently, starting with (obviously) book one Habits of the House.

Yes, it could be argued that a trilogy isn’t a series in the spirit of the challenge but I don’t care, I’m including it anyway. Don’t at me.

I also wanted to mention the passing of Christopher Fowler, author of the Bryant & May series, lots of creepy short stories and some fabulous standalone horror. I was lucky enough to meet him several times and he was a smashing person. He will be missed a great deal.

I have several books on pre-order which will be dropping into my reader this month:

  • Red London by Alma Katsu – Why? Female CIA operatives, Russian oligarchs and London.
  • Nothing but the Rain by Naomi Salman – Why? I’m from the west of Scotland where rain was a way of life when I was a child, so the idea that being out in the rain can wash away your memories sounds intriguing
  • The White Lady by Jacqueline Winspear – Why? OK, it’s not a Maisie Dobbs story but it is about a female ex-spy, corruption in Scotland Yard and organised crime in London. There is possibly a pattern here…..
  • A House with Good Bones by T Kingfisher – Why? It’s a “haunting Southern Gothic” family saga.
  • Rubicon by JS Dewes Why? First line of the description: “Sergeant Adrienne Valero wants to die. She can’t.
  • Games for Dead Girls by Jen Williams – Why? I love Jen’s work and this has urban legends, macabre secrets, and has been described as a propulsive read so I. Am. In.

That’s it so far!

The Bride looks back at February

It’s almost Spring, so we just need to hang on in there for a wee bit longer.

February was not a bad reading month. I had a bit of a gap in the middle where I didn’t make that much progress but it wasn’t a slump; I was enjoying what I was reading, I was just distracted by other things.

The Stats:

  • Books read = 6
  • Pages read = 1952
  • Progress against my reading goals = 13% (2 books ahead of schedule to meet 72 books read in 2023)
  • Progress against my TBR reduction goals = near miss 😦

The goal for TBR reduction was to read 28 short stories in February (ie one a day) and the stretch goal was to read 4 novellas (ie one a week). I managed to read 25 short stories and 2 novellas. Perhaps if I’d concentrated on the short stories I’d have been successful, but do you know what? I still got four items off my stack and that’s a win for me.

Don’t ask how many books came into the Bride’s collection during the month, though. Just don’t. 🙂

What did I read for the challenge?

The Talosite by Rebecca Campbell

It’s 1916, during the First World War, in an alternate world where resurrection is possible. Anne Markham, the daughter of a celebrated neurologist, is reusing the bodies of the dead, combining them into new forms and sending them back into combat, building creatures so complex, and so enormous, that they can encompass all of the fallen.

I loved this story, so grim but also beautifully written and deeply strange. Found myself trying to visualise the creatures being created and couldn’t quite get there. Will definitely be re-reading this story.

The Catch by Mick Herron

John Bachelor is the saddest kind of spy: not a joe in the field, not even a desk jockey, but a milkman—a part-time pension administrator whose main job is to check in on aging retired spies. Late in his career and having lost his wife, his house, and his savings after a series of unlucky choices, John’s been living in a dead man’s London apartment, hoping the bureaucracy isn’t going to catch up with him and leave him homeless. But keeping a secret among spies is a fool’s errand, and now John has made himself eminently blackmailable.

Another excellent addition to the Slough House world, this fits in to the series after Book 6, which I haven’t read yet but I don’t think it matters that I came to this out of order. I love this world so much.

The Best Horror of the Year Volume 14, edited by Ellen Datlow

Like all anthologies there are stories included that just don’t work for me, but it did include one of favourites from the last year – Shards by Ian Rogers which I had read as a standalone but was very happy to revisit (and will no doubt read again).

Some favourite authors included and confirmation that I will enjoy Eric LaRocca’s work.

Ghost 19 by Simone St James – classed as a short story for the purposes of this challenge

A woman moves to a town where she becomes obsessed with watching the lives of her neighbours while stuck in a house that refuses to let her leave

This story gave me very strong Rear Window vibes and I am not mad about that at all. Nicely creepy, and I really liked Ginette.I really must read The Book of Cold Cases……


I also managed to read a couple of other titles:

The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels by Janice Hallet

Open the safe deposit box. Inside you will find research material for a true crime book. You must read the documents, then make a decision. Will you destroy them? Or will you take them to the police?

Another nicely twisty novel by Ms Hallett, this is told through exchanges between two true crime authors forced to collaborate on the same story, that of the Alperton Angels, a cult who were convinced that the Antichrist had been born to a young woman within the group and that they needed to kill it. Clearly all is not as it appears and we watch the story unfold. I can’t resist anything to do with cults so enjoyed this very much (though I still think The Appeal is the best of her three novels so far)

Enemies Within: Communists, the Cambridge Spies and the Making of Modern Britain by Richard Davenport-Hines

I also can’t resist anything about the Cambridge Five in particular and espionage in general, so picked this up recently though I think it’s been out for a while. I found it really enjoyable to read (you should see the quotes I pulled for my reading journal – pages of them) because the author writes wonderfully bitchy pen portraits of almost everyone involved, however tangentially, but I was not entirely convinced by his thesis that it was less about class and more about the culture of masculinity, though that undoubtedly played a role. Not sure it had the impact on the “making of modern Britain” that he suggests, and his dislike of certain individuals comes across so strongly that I think it undermines his position, but I’m glad I read it.


So that’s it for this month. Hope you are all well and having a great almost the end of winter!

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

Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand

My third read for Twenty Books of Summer is short book packed full of atmosphere, which unsurprisingly won the Shirley Jackson award.

A group of young acid-folk musicians are sent off to an old country house a la Mike Oldfield by their manager to work on that difficult second album (at least I think it’s their second, but that’s not important right now). However, all is not as it seems. There is something distinctly odd about the house itself; the village is pretty welcoming, though their closest neighbour warns that they shouldn’t wander in the woods alone…..

Of course this warning goes unheeded by the band’s charismatic lead singer Julian. Among the standard sex & drugs & rock’n’roll there are the usual musical and relationship tensions and the appearance of a mysterious unnamed young girl with whom Julian becomes obsessed. And then he disappears and never comes back.

The story is told by the surviving band members, friends and associates as someone is making a documentary about what became a hugely influential album with a very influential cover. Who is that strange figure that no-one remembers being there on the day.

I will admit that I had to look up what acid rock actually was, only to find that I had listened to loads of it over the years which amused me greatly. It became popular in the 1960s and merged acoustic folk with instruments with elements more often found in psychedelia. Think early T.Rex and my fellow countryman Donovan.

I enjoyed this very much. I loved the structure of the novel because I’m a sucker for anything resembling oral history, podcast transcripts and so on, and this is a really good example of that genre (if it’s a genre). The story has a lovely creepy gothic quality enhanced by the hazy summer setting, and has some unsettling moments. Very much worth reading.

Looking back at June 2021

A quick round-up of bookish things from the last month. There was so. much. RAIN!

The stats:

  • Books read – 5
  • Pages read – 1382
  • Goodreads update – 37 books completed, 62% of my target

Challenges:

  • 20 Books of Summer – I have only read five books from the 20 I’m aiming for, with three currently underway.
  • David Copperfield – I’ve decided not to do this now; I think it’s more of a winter project for me.

And now to July’s pre-orders

  • What Big Teeth by Rose Szabo – being described as Miss Peregrine meets the Addams Family; works for me.
  • Notes from the Burning Age by Claire North – “Ven was once a holy man, a keeper of ancient archives. It was his duty to interpret archaic texts, sorting useful knowledge from the heretical ideas of the Burning Age – a time of excess and climate disaster. For in Ven’s world, such material must be closely guarded, so that the ills that led to that cataclysmic era can never be repeated.” I love Claire and I’m really looking forward to this.
  • A Psalm for the Wild Built by Becky Chambers – the beginning of a new series called Monk and Robot; much anticipated.
  • The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix – sounds most excellent and I’ll try very very hard not to compare if to We Are All Completely Fine 🙂
  • Mimic by Daniel Cole – more serial killers; this one recreating works of art with dead bodies because of course they are
  • The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig – Rural Pennsylvania, long-buried secrets, a child in danger – share your secrets with your family before you move into the creepy house, people!
  • The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox – a supernatural police force, a spirit guide and a detective called Lazarus; should be fun
  • Bryant & May – London Bridge is Falling Down by Christopher Fowler – the next entry in the long-running and thoroughly enjoyable B&M series.
  • Dog Rose Dirt by Jen Williams – I have a lot of admiration for Jen and am really looking forward to her first foray into crime/thriller territory
  • The Letters of Shirley Jackson, because I love reading other people’s letters……

I’m currently reading four books and hoping to have a prolific month, but we’ll have to wait and see. Hope you all have a great July and stay well 🙂

1974 by David Peace

David Peace is an author I’ve been meaning to read for a very long time, but I suppose I was nervous to give him a try as I had heard that he was difficult to read and/or an acquired taste. But what is #20booksofsummer for if not to give new things a try. So I thought I’d start at the very beginning with the author’s very first novel.

A young girl has gone missing in Yorkshire. Eddie Dunford, is the local young reporter assigned to the case. Because the child is found dead and mutilated, Eddie starts to make connections between this case and previous murders of young girls, which in turn leads him into the very murky world of corruption, police brutality and violence. It does not end well. At all.

I was born in 1962 so a lot of the references in this novel to the mid-1970s are so, so familiar. Everything was a shade of brown, mostly due to the seemingly constant smoking. There is/was so much drinking. And of course there is the horrible murder itself with echoes of Hindley & Brady and the Yorkshire Ripper yet to come. There are some scenes of genuinely horrifying brutality which were quite difficult to read, but they added such depth to what is undoubtedly an immensely powerful novel.

I’m kicking myself for waiting so long to engage with David Peace’s work, but I’ve already bought the next novel in the Red Riding sequence and can see myself reading much more.

This was my second read for Twenty Books of Summer 2021