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

Art in the Blood by Bonnie MacBird

My first book in this year’s 20 Books of Summer is by an author new to me, writing in one of my favourite genres – Sherlock Holmes stories.

It is the winter of 1888, and a very, very bored Sherlock Holmes is only pulled out of his deep fug by the receipt of a letter from France, written in code. The writer is a Parisian cabaret artist, Mlle de Victoire, who needs his help in finding her missing son. Her boy’s father is a British aristocrat married to an American who is raising the child as her own, and is also (the aristo) deeply involved in the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the Winged Victory from Marseilles, the suspicion being that it is heading to England to be added to his art collection.

Holmes and Watson of course take on the case with some pressure from brother Mycroft, and find themselves dealing with a rival French detective and an additional mystery surrounding the deaths of children who had worked in said aristo’s Lancashire silk mills.

As you might expect, all of this is connected.

Like I said at the top of the post, I love a good Holmes pastiche (if that’s the right word?) and there was no way I was going to ignore this one, especially given the very favourable reviews at the time of publication and the gorgeous cover which is what caught my eye in the first place.

This was a really well-done story, building on Holmesian tradition in terms of relationship dynamics (especially Holmes-Watson-Mycroft but modernised in the way that the crimes that take place are described. The sadism of of one character is not only explicitly referenced but we get to see his brutality in action. The implicit abuse of children is also made explicit when the murderer is unmasked as a pederast (a word you don’t hear very often these days).

Holmes himself continues to be drug-addicted, abrupt and often callous bu driven by the desire to achieve justice, which is his saving grace I suppose. How Watson stands him I do not know, let alone how Mrs Hudson copes. But his complexity is what makes me to continue reading about him. I ahem stopped envisioning him as Basil Rathbone and am now imagining him as Jonny Lee Miller, albeit in a top hat.

I really enjoyed this story, so much that I have ordered the remainder of the series (a further three novels as of now) and am looking forward to reading them in the not too distant future.

Twenty Books of Summer 2021

Better late than never with formally signing up to and producing my selection for this years 20 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy over at 746Books. I have been dithering about what I want to read for so long, and have decided that I will pick from a selection of 25 books, which allows me to put aside any duds or things I’m just not in the mood for at that moment.

THE LIST

PART 1 – Kindle editions

Civilisations by Laurent Binet (bought in 2021 – 311 pages)

I really enjoyed his novel HhHH (capitalisation may be incorrect but I’m too lazy to check) and thought I would try another. This is a counterfactual story (I’m a sucker for those) and it will be good to read some European literature.

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir – The Locked Tomb #2 (bought in 2020 – 512 pages)

I read the first book in this series during last year’s challenge so it seemed only fitting to include this one here.

Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford (bought in 2021 – 336 pages)

This has an interesting premise, as it looks at the infinite possibilities of five lives during the 20th century in London. Will I be able to read this without comparing it to Kate Atkinson? Perhaps….

Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi (bought in 2020 – 341 pages)

There are rules for murder mysteries. There must be a victim. A suspect. A detective. The rest is just shuffling the sequence. Expanding the permutations. Grant McAllister, a professor of mathematics, once sat down and worked them all out – calculating the different orders and possibilities of a mystery into seven perfect detective stories he quietly published. Irresistible.

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton (bought in 2020 – 463 pages)

It’s 1634 and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported to Amsterdam to be executed for a crime he may, or may not, have committed. Travelling with him is his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes, who is determined to prove his friend innocent. Ooh, interesting!

Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell (bought in 2020 – 574 pages)

I love David Mitchell. I love books about rock bands. No contest, but how will this measure up to my all-time favourite Espedair Street – we will see….

Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer – Borne #2 (bought in 2019 – 352 pages)

I adored Borne and will read anything set in the same universe, so here we are!

Comet Weather by Liz Williams (bought in 2020 – 304 pages)

There’s a comet. There are four sisters. There is a missing mother who used to be a Vogue cover model. It has a gorgeous tree on the cover. People I admire have given it good reviews. It’s on the list!

The Fifth Queen by Ford Madox Ford (bought in 2011 – 624 pages)

If you have been around here for a while you will know that the 16th century is my jam (I will not bore you with my dissertation title) and of course the Six Wives are a topic of interest. Kat Howard is the one I know least about and this novel comes recommended.

Queen of the Underworld by Gail Godwin (bought in 2012 – 368 pages)

I used to devour Gail Godwin’s books but haven’t read one in a while. This is apparently sultry literary fiction so ideal for summer. Probably.

Rustication by Charles Palliser (bought in 2014 – 337 pages)

It is winter 1863, and Richard Shenstone, aged seventeen, has been sent down—”rusticated”—from Cambridge under a cloud of suspicion. Addicted to opium and tormented by sexual desire, he finds temporary refuge in a dilapidated old mansion on the southern English coast inhabited by his newly impoverished mother and his sister, Effie. Soon, graphic and threatening letters begin to circulate among his neighbors, and Richard finds himself the leading suspect in a series of crimes and misdemeanors ranging from vivisection to murder. Enough said.

Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand (bought in 2015 – 148 pages)

More music, this time acid-folk, the big break and a lead singer that goes missing… Gothic.

Winter Journal by Paul Auster (bought in 2017 – 240 pages)

Facing his sixty-third winter, internationally acclaimed novelist Paul Auster sits down to write a history of his body and its sensations both pleasurable and painful. I will be 60 in January. Aches and pains are a way of life.

Blackwater by Michael McDowell (bought in 2017 – 895 pages)

Blackwater traces more than fifty years in the lives of the powerful Caskey family of Perdido, Alabama, under the influence of the mysterious and beautiful—but not quite human—Elinor Dammert. I read my first McDowell novel not that long ago and loved his style. This is apparently very cool and I’m looking forward to picking it up.

1974 by David Peace (bought in 2018 – 322 pages)

It’s winter, 1974, Yorkshire, and Eddie Dunford’s got the job he wanted – crime correspondent for the Yorkshire Evening Post. He didn’t know it was going to be a season in hell. I have never read David Peace so thought I would start here.


PART 2 – Physical books

Touch by Claire North (published in 2015, signed by the author at a launch event – 426 pages)

Claire North is a delight and I have loved everything of hers that I have read. She was fun to meet and I’m sorry I still haven’t read this yet…

The Ancestor by Danielle Trussoni (a 2020 Christmas gift – 345 pages)

This is giving me serious The Historian vibes and I have no idea whether that’s accurate or not, but I am happy to give it a try.

A Gentleman’s Murder by Christopher Huang (a Christmas gift – 352 pages)

The year is 1924, and Lieutenant Eric Peterkin, formerly of the Royal Fusiliers, is a new member of the Britannia―London’s most prestigious club. It’s a family tradition, but an honor he’s not sure he quite deserves. So, when a gentleman’s wager ends with one man dead in the vault under the club, Eric is only too ready to tackle the mystery head on.

Empire State by Adam Christopher (a Christmas gift – 439 pages)

Energy blasts. Holes in reality. Parallel New York. Unstable rifts. Fighting to survive. Awesome.

Art in the Blood by Bonnie MacBird (bought on holiday back home in Scotland – 317 pages)

I cannot, I repeat, cannot, resist a Holmes pastiche/reinvention/homage. Also the covers for this series are great.

The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yakamoto (borrowed from my husband – 189 pages)

1937 Japan. Impending nuptials. Sinister masked men. Recommended by Mr B so obviously on the list!

Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt (bought in 2020 – 346 pages)

I’ve long wanted to read Siri Hustvedt but never been sure where to start; 1970s New York seems like a good place.

Our Friends in Berlin by Anthony Quinn (bought in 2020 – 280 pages)

I picked up this spy thriller set in 1941 London when I realised that I was going to read one of the later books in the series, and I am nothing ig not someone who likes to start at the beginning.

The Grip of It by Jac Jemc (bought in I know not when – 283 pages)

 It wouldn’t be summer without a decent haunted house novel, would it?

Death at Intervals by Jose Saramago (bought in absolutely no idea – 196 pages)

What happens when on the first day of the year Death goes on strike and it looks like folks have achieved immortality? Nothing good I suspect. 


So that’s it – a long one but hopefully of interest. I am going to try really hard to review what I read as part of this challenge, so watch this space!

April in Review

Here we are with a quarter of the year already gone and it’s time for another monthly round-up.

April was a good month for bookish matters.

The Stats

  • Books read = 8
  • Pages read = 2846
  • Goodreads challenge = 5 books ahead of schedule and already at 40%

Pre-orders for May

  • Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon – “Vern – seven months pregnant and desperate to escape the strict religious compound where she was raised – flees for the shelter of the woods. There, she gives birth to twins, and plans to raise them far from the influence of the outside world. But even in the forest, Vern is a hunted woman.”
  • Phase Six by Jim Shepard – reading a book about a global pandemic while in the middle of a global pandemic seems counter-intuitive but I am unable to resist. This was written pre-Covid btw
  • The Album of Doctor Moreau by Daryl Gregory – HG Wells meets boy band culture with some murder thrown in. Sounds awesome.
  • Last Days in Cleaver Square by Patrick McGrath – I have always had a great fondness for McGrath but it’s a while since I’ve read anything by him. The premise of this – set in 1975 where an old man is haunted by visions of the dying General Franco – sounds fascinating.
  • The Beresford by Will Carver – two of my favourite books so far in 2021 were written by Will Carver and I fully expect to love this new standalone thriller also
  • Witch by Iain Rob Wright – all I know about this is it is horror, there’s a witch (duh) and there may or may not be cursed manuscripts…….
  • The Nine by Gwen Strauss – my interest in the experiences of women caught up in WWII continues; this is the story of nine women fleeing a German forced labour camp.

Coming up

I get my second Covid vaccination this week about which I am very glad. Mr B is already fully vaccinated and I’m looking forward to feeling more confident about heading into London again as the museums re-open.

A BBC adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love by Emily Mortimer starts next weekend. It looks lush and enjoyable with a great cast and high production values and I for one am sold.

I have a couple of challenges coming up:

  • Cathy at 746Books is hosting Twenty Books of Summer from 1 June to 1 September and I’m already compiling my list. This will be my year to finish, I can feel it 🙂
  • I’m challenging myself to read David Copperfield, prompted by having watched Armando Ianucci’s recent film version. These days I do tend to struggle with classic Victorian authors so I’m giving myself a chance and planning to read in line with the original publication schedule, which means I should finish around November. November 2022, that is.

Apart from that all is quiet (despite the howling wind outside at the moment). Hope you are all staying safe and have a great reading week!

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

20 Books Report Card | 1-3

Quick thoughts on the first three books I read in this summer’s challenge.

These go way back to June, and I’m not even sorry.

The Deep by Nick Cutter

So, a plague (similar to dementia I think) is destroying the world’s population – sounds familiar, doesn’t it? – but a potential “miracle cure” might have been found in the deep ocean. Hence the title. Our hero – OK, so I’ve forgotten his name and I’m too lazy to look it up – anyway, our hero’s brother is one of the scientists in an ocean floor base studying what has become known as ambrosia. Contact with the base has been lost, because of course it has, but the last message received was from the brother asking for Our Hero. This is strange because they don’t get on at all (again, of course they don’t) and Hero is reluctant to go but does so, and heads down to the base with Kickass Female Sidekick to find out what’s going on. Of course it does not go well.

I’m kind of making fun of the tropes here, but this is a well-written horror novel with a creepy colour out of space vibe, using the feeling of being trapped and afraid of whatever is around the next corner for its scares, although there is still a solid amount of gruesomeness for us horror fans.


Transcription by Kate Atkinson

It is 1940 and Juliet Armstrong (I paid attention to names in this one, aren’t you proud of me?) is 17 years old when she is recruited by MI5 to assist with the war effort. She is assigned to a team responsible for monitoring what British Fascist sympathisers are up to but the work is fairly boring – she is manually transcribing the conversations an undercover agent is having with said sympathisers in the flat next door. She then gets the opportunity to go undercover herself, which leads to a series of events which deeply affect her. Leap ahead to 1950 and Juliet is a radio producer at the BBC when she spots a figure from her spy days who clearly and deliberately fails to recognise her, and she starts to investigate, shedding light on her past.

I loved this book. It is so good, beautifully written with a wonderful nested structure and I spent my time alternating between marking up (far too many) passages which I had enjoyed and speculating on the real-life counterparts for some of the characters. An unexpected revelation towards the end of the book tickled me greatly, but I know some readers have found that difficult to accept. I thought it made a lot of sense, personally.

This is one of my favourite reads of the year so far and I would highly recommend it.


Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

The Emperor needs necromancers. The Ninth necromancer needs a swordswoman. Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines and no more time for undead nonsense.

The Lady of the Ninth House stood before the drill shaft wearing black and sneering. Reverend Daughter Harrowhark Nonagesimus had pretty much cornered the market on wearing black and sneering. It comprised 100% of her personality. Gideon marvelled that someone could live in the universe only seventeen years and yet wear black and sneer with such ancient self-assurance.

That’s kind of all you need to know really.

Oh, OK then.

There are necromancers with their accompanying swords-people. There is an ancient building and a puzzle to be solved. Things do not work out as anticipated.

It’s awesome – a strong story with great characters, a lot of snark and some real horrors, and it’s the first in a trilogy to boot. Very little is better than that.

How can it be September already?

Way back on August 2nd I let you all know that I was taking the month off from blogging and would see you all in September, and what do you know that’s, um, now!

It’s been feeling quite autumnal in my little part of London over the past day or so, if by autumnal you mean grey, damp and chill. This is also going to be a big month for book publishing; a shame as I’m launching into a low spend for the rest of 2020.

The Kibble Palace in Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens. I used to live near there when I was a student and it always makes me think of Autumn and the start of a new year at Uni.
Photo by Crawford Jolly on Unsplash

But setting aside all of that, July & August were both good reading months; here are the stats to prove it:

  • Books read = 8 in July, 7 in August
  • Number of pages = over the two months I read 5180 pages
  • Progress against Goodreads = 85% of my target, 11 books ahead of schedule

Very pleased with that.

In terms of the Twenty Books of Summer challenge, which ran between 1 June and 1 September, I did read 20 books but only 7 were from the booklist I announced.

I’m still going to count that as a win and I dare any of you to question that!

I mentioned a low spend earlier and that’s because I have made a lot of impulse purchases over the past few months, so I’m trying to stick to what I have pre-ordered and shove everything else onto my wish list.

Speaking of pre-orders, here is what I have on the slate for September

  • The Trials of Koli by MR Carey
  • Written in Bone by Sue Black
  • Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots
  • Sweet Harmony by Claire North

I’ll write more about those in my Sunday Salon posts as the books arrive. I’ll also be doing some round-up posts so that you can find out a little about what I read, so keep your eyes open over the next few weeks.

I hope you all had a good summer and look forward to a good reading month!

June Reading Round-up

Halfway through the year already. Time is moving quickly despite being at home 99% of the time and the pace of life feeling slower, but that’s physics for you.

Photo by Maddi Bazzocco on Unsplash

The Stats:

  • Books read = 5
  • Number of pages = 2267
  • Progress against Goodreads = 60% of my target, still 7 books ahead of schedule

20 Books of Summer – 3 out of 20 (not good, need to get my act together )

June PBB book club – we read Middlegame by Seanan McGuire, a 5* read if ever there was one, and I saw this morning that it received the Locus Award for best fantasy novel of 2019, which is very cool and well-deserved.

June purchases – not going there; I’m seriously looking at a no extra spend for the rest of the summer, but will settle for cutting back.

July pre-orders:

  • Malorie by Josh Malerman – this is the sequel to Bird Box, which I really liked, so I’ll be very interested to see how the story develops
  • Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings – In a small Western Queensland town, a reserved young woman receives a note from one of her vanished brothers—a note that makes her question memories of their disappearance and her father’s departure.
  • Bryant & May: Oranges & Lemons by Christopher Fowler – I think this is the 18th B&M novel and I have them all. Still one of the very best series around
  • A Peculiar Peril by Jeff VanderMeer – Jonathan Lambshead stands to inherit his deceased grandfather’s overstuffed mansion—a veritable cabinet of curiosities—once he and two schoolmates catalog its contents. But the three soon discover that the house is filled with far more than just oddities. The first in The Misadventures of Jonathan Lambshead series.
  • Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay – New England is locked down, a strict curfew the only way to stem the wildfire spread of a rabies-like virus. The hospitals cannot cope with the infected, as the pathogen’s ferociously quick incubation period overwhelms the state. The veneer of civilisation is breaking down as people live in fear of everyone around them. Staying inside is the only way to keep safe. This might sound familiar, and I might not read it for a while 🙂
  • Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell – a rock novel! This is the story of Utopia Avenue’s brief, blazing journey from Soho clubs and draughty ballrooms to the promised land of America, just when the Summer of Love was receding into something much darker
  • Stranger in the Shogun’s City by Amy Stanley – a history/biography of a woman named Tsuneno, born in 1804 and her life in Edo (now Tokyo). Looks fascinating
  • Hell in the Heartland by Jax Miller – On December 30th, 1999, in rural Oklahoma, 16-year-old Ashley Freeman and her best friend, Lauria Bible, were having a sleepover. The next morning, the Freeman family trailer was in flames and both girls were missing. Yes it’s true crime, don’t @ me
  • The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson – Amazon says this is The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Village, so read into that what you will.

The PBB Book Club selection for July is Augustown by Kei Miller, a good choice as I’m trying to read more BIPOC authors.


So that’s it! I’m very behind on reviews but hoping to crack through them all and be up to date by this time next month. Wish me luck!