Sunday Salon | 1 September

It’s been a quiet week mainly doing stuff around the house. And as it’s 1 September I have, of course, deployed a cardigan; it really does feel a bit cooler today.

A picture from my long walk around the town yesterday.

In terms of bookish stuff, I have been reading but haven’t finished anything yet. I totally failed on #20BooksofSummer – I managed to read 9 (might make it to 10 before Tuesday), with 2 started and not progressed. I blame my August reading slump for this, and will Do Better next time.

New books – very low this week (by no means a bad thing)

The Art of Dying * Ambrose Parry – second in a series which I haven’t started yet but fully expect to enjoy; the details “Edinburgh, 1850. Despite being at the forefront of modern medicine, hordes of patients are dying all across the city, with doctors finding their remedies powerless. But it is not just the deaths that dismay the esteemed Dr James Simpson – a whispering campaign seeks to blame him for the death of a patient in suspicious circumstances.

The Man Who Played With Fire * Jan Stocklassa – Subtitled Stieg Larsson’s Lost Files and the Hunt for an Assassin. “The author of the Millennium novels laid out the clues. Now a journalist is following them. When Stieg Larsson died, the author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had been working on a true mystery that out-twisted his Millennium novels: the assassination on February 28, 1986, of Olof Palme, the Swedish prime minister. It was the first time in history that a head of state had been murdered without a clue who’d done it—and on a Stockholm street at point-blank range.

Drowning with Others * Linda Keir – “Prep school sweethearts Ian and Andi Copeland are envied by everyone they know. They have successful businesses, a beautiful house in St. Louis, and their eldest daughter, Cassidy, is following in their footsteps by attending prestigious Glenlake Academy. Then, a submerged car is dredged from the bottom of a swimming hole near the campus. So are the remains of a former writer-in-residence who vanished twenty years ago—during Ian and Andi’s senior year. When Cassidy’s journalism class begins investigating the death, Ian and Andi’s high school secrets rise to the surface.” 

That’s all I have guys. Have a great reading week!

Strange Practice

Greta Helsing inherited the family’s highly specialized, and highly peculiar, medical practice. In her consulting rooms, Dr Helsing treats the undead for a host of ills – vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights, and entropy in mummies. Although barely making ends meet, this is just the quiet, supernatural-adjacent life Greta’s been groomed for since childhood.

Can you feel a BUT coming?

BUT, when Greta is called in by her friend, the vampire Edward Ruthven, to tend to another famous vampire, Sir Francis Varney, who has been attacked in his home with a combination of garlic and a cross-shaped dagger coated with something nasty, it becomes clear that there is a concerted effort to destroy the “monstrous” and the humans who work with them.

Of course, this means Greta herself is in danger along with the motley crew of vampires, ghouls, a demon and a researcher from the British Museum from a rampaging group of monks with a mission. But what’s motivating them and how can they be stopped?

Strange Practice is a really enjoyable urban fantasy which manages to mix traditional mythology (garlic, crosses and os on) with a different approach (alliances between human and undead), particularly the concept that such creatures would need medical support.

It works because not only is the conceit well-thought-out, but the characters, especially Greta, are complex, engaging and likeable. There’s even a glorious cameo from the Devil, and the use of my new favourite phrase “inferno-celestial politics”

I loved this and am looking forward to reading the remaining books in the series.

June 2019 | Second Half Round-Up

Halfway through the year already and as I didn’t post last week because I was under the weather for a few days this will be a catch up for the second half of the month. Here we go!

Books read

I managed to finish two books, both in this past week. The Man From the Train is a true crime book which was totally fascinating, and Strange Practice was a really excellent urban fantasy which I’ve had on my virtual TBR shelf since it came out a couple of years ago. I enjoyed it so much I’ve bought/pre-ordered the rest of the series (see below). Reviews of both of these books will follow later this week if I stick to my planned schedule.
I’m also on track for my #20BooksOfSummer reading plan.

New books

  • Chanel’s Riviera * Anne de Courcy – Life, Love and the Struggle for Survival on the Cote d’Azur 1930-1944 – ‘Far from worrying about the onset of war, in the spring of 1938 the burning question on the French Riviera was whether one should curtsey to the Duchess of Windsor. Few of those who had settled there thought much about what was going on in the rest of Europe. It was a golden, glamorous life, far removed from politics or conflict.
  • Chaos * Tom O’Neill – Charles Manson, the CIA and the Secret History of the Sixties – ‘In 1999, when Tom O’Neill was assigned a magazine piece about the thirtieth anniversary of the Manson murders, he worried there was nothing new to say. Weren’t the facts indisputable? Charles Manson had ordered his teenage followers to commit seven brutal murders, and in his thrall, they’d gladly complied. But when O’Neill began reporting the story, he kept finding holes in the prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s narrative, long enshrined in the bestselling Helter Skelter. Before long, O’Neill had questions about everything from the motive to the manhunt. Though he’d never considered himself a conspiracy theorist, the Manson murders swallowed the next two decades of his career. He was obsessed.
  • Dreadful Company * Vivian Shaw – A Dr Greta Helsing novel – ‘When Greta Helsing, doctor to the undead, is called to Paris to present at a medical conference, she expects nothing more exciting than professional discourse on zombie reconstructive surgery. Unfortunately for Greta, Paris happens to be infested with a coven of vampires – and not the civilised kind. If she hopes to survive, Greta must navigate the maze of ancient catacombs beneath the streets, where there is more to find than simply dead men’s bones
  • Our Rainbow Queen * Sali Hughes – ‘This riotously colourful book takes a photographic journey through Queen Elizabeth II’s ten decades of colour-blocked style. The photographs, which span the colours of the rainbow and a century of style, are gloriously accessorised with captions and commentary by journalist and broadcaster Sali Hughes.
  • The Affair of the Mysterious Letter * Alexis Hall – ‘Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Ms Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation. When Ms Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham is drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way, he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark.

Currently reading

This morning I started The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason, a sort of steampunk-alternative-history-YA-romance-mystery starring Sherlock Holmes’ niece and Bram Stoker’s sister. So far lots of fun, a lovely light read..

Other stuff

We had a couple of really good days out this last week despite horrendous humidity which left us both exhausted and grateful for our aircon at home.

On Tuesday we went to the House of Illustration in King’s Cross with our friend Susan to see the Posy Simmonds retrospective. It was so, so good to get close to her work; many of the cartoons I remember from reading her contributions to the Guardian’s Women’s Page back in the day had the original artwork on display. I may have bought one or two things from the gallery shop.

We also went to the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden which was huge fun; it’s ages since I’ve been there.

Photos from both events are available to view on my Instagram feed; do go and have a look if you don’t follow me there already.

Hope you all have a great reading week!

Siren Song

When the luxury yacht Helen Brooks was last seen on is found abandoned amid the treacherous marshlands of the Humber Estuary, foul play is suspected. However, in the absence of a body, nothing can be proven. The owner of the yacht, ambitious businessman Simon Fowler, seems unprepared even to offer any sort of explanation as to what Helen was doing on board. A year later, Hull private investigator Leo Rivers is approached by Alison Brooks, Helen’s mother, to investigate both the background to this disappearance and Fowler

Siren Song is the second in Robert Edric’s Song Cycle featuring Leo Rivers; I bought this and indeed the third novel after finishing Cradle Song which I reviewed here. I’ve read some of Edric’s other work and enjoyed it and it is interesting to see how he approaches the crime genre given his more “literary” background (I hate that phrase but what can you do?). When reviewing books I tend to focus on my own reading experience but I will occasionally go off and have a look at what professional reviewers are saying. It is always interesting to see what others think, especially when, in this case, the response is negative (dull and pedestrian seemed to be the keywords) or at best damned with faint praise.

I enjoyed this book. I like Leo Rivers as a character, perhaps because he is something of a cypher and we don’t really get a feel for his private life and circumstances, which is offputting to some. I do sometimes get irritated by crime novels being more about the investigator than the crime itself, and although Rivers does get intimately involved with on of the other characters it is part of the general theme of manipulation which underpins the plot. there was an added pleasure in that one of our friends is called Simon Fowler and every time I saw the name it gave me a little jolt.

I didn’t work out the solution which is something I can’t help but try to do when reading a crime novel, but I don’t think that’s the point here; the focus for me was on the moral ambiguities involved in the various relationships. There is quite a high body count for a story that isn’t about a serial killer though.

I thought this was a complex and satisfying tale about seeking the truth, finding peace and taking revenge. It’s fair to say that some of these aims are achieved more successfully than others but that reflects life I guess. I’m looking forward to reading the third volume soon.

This was my third read for 20 Books of Summer.

The Vanishing Season

A recent abduction becomes an unexpected link to a decades-long spree of unspeakable crimes.

This is the fourth entry in what was originally The Collector Trilogy which last year turned into The Collector Series. I had been quite sad when I finished The Summer Children (number 3) because I enjoyed this series so much, a feeling that turned to pleasure when I realised there was going to be a fourth book, and now I’m sad again because the changes that occur to a number of the main characters in The Vanishing Season are sufficiently significant that any additional books would require a major shift.

But at least the series gets a proper conclusion, and for that I should be grateful.

An eight-year-old girl, Brooklyn, has gone missing. Not only does this happen on the anniversary of the disappearance of FBI agent Brandon Eddison’s little sister, but the girls are also the spitting image of each other making this case particularly difficult for everyone involved. The Crimes Against Children team investigate and Agent Eliza Sterling quickly comes to the conclusion that not only are the two cases linked but there are many other cases going back decades.

Can they solve it? Yes, they can.

I really enjoyed this novel. It is well-written, nicely paced and although the crimes are awful the author doesn’t dwell on the nastiness too much, focussing instead on the procedural aspect of the investigation, and I’m a sucker for that sort of thing so this was very much in my wheelhouse

The series as a whole has developed nicely, moving from a story about victims in The Butterfly Garden which border on horror to the focus on the CAC team in the latest volume. This is a change that has happened gradually and organically but without losing any of the key people from the earlier stories.

I can’t recommend these books enough.

Series Details

Tnis is my first completed read for #20BooksOfSummer

Sunday Salon | 9 June

As I sat down to write/type this I realised that I hadn’t take any pictures to use for the post image this week, so just imagine something suitably pretty somewhere abov this paragraph 😀

It’s been a very quiet week focussed on domestic stuff, mostly to do with the replacement of our central heating boiler which has now been installed by Wayne, the very nice and extremely skilled British Gas engineer who spent the whole of Thursday Chez Bride.

It’s also the Book God’s birthday today, which means that loads of books have come into the house, they just weren’t for me. Sad.

Anyway, what about this week in books?

I finished two books this week, each bringing a series to a close. Let Me Go by Chelsea Cain is the last of the Archie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell serial killer series, and I’ve already written about it over here, and The Vanishing Season by Dot Hutchison, my first book for #20booksofsummer which I’ll review soon.

New books

Just because most of the new books this week are for my other half, doesn’t mean that I didn’t get anything for myself, oh no. There were a couple of pre-orders that came out this week, namely:

  • My Life as a Rat * Joyce Carol Oates – Violet Rue is the baby of the seven Kerrigan children and adores her big brothers. What’s more, she knows that a family protects its own. To go outside the family – to betray the family – is unforgivable. So when she overhears a conversation not meant for her ears and discovers that her brothers have committed a heinous crime, she is torn between her loyalty to her family and her sense of justice. The decision she takes will change her life for ever.
  • Inspection * Josh Malerman – J is one of only twenty-six students, all of whom think of the school’s enigmatic founder as their father. J’s peers are the only family he has ever had. The students are being trained to be prodigies of art, science, and athletics, and their life at the school is all they know-and all they are allowed to know.

Currently reading

I have started Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered by Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff and am enjoying it very much, and I am also about a quarter of the way through my second #20books selection, Siren Song by Robert Edric.

Hope you have a great reading week.

My Week in Review – 26 May

Not much reading done but immersed myself in several projects, a couple of trips and avoiding spoilers about Game of Thrones, closely followed by avoiding enraged GoT fans on Twitter.

For the record, I thought the finale was absolutely fine but would have liked the series to have had a few more episodes – everything seemed to happen very quickly. But that’s a minor quibble and I don’t really have a huge investment in the series as I have never read the books. The Book God has and he was equally OK with the outcome. More exciting is Good Omens coming to Amazon Prime at the end of this week; love that book and can’t wait to watch.

So, what else did I get up to this week?

  • we attended the Members Evening at the V&A and I got to see the Christian Dior exhibition with a reasonably sized crowd and no queues. I think it is possibly the most beautiful exhibition I have ever seen, not just because of the gowns but also the setting. It was magical and I may try to see it again before it closes in (I think) September
I may have gone a little overboard in the exhibition shop
  • we also went to see John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum which I really enjoyed and will write about in a day or two.

In terms of books, I finished one novella – Black Helicopters by Caitlin R Kiernan which I’m not sure I entirely ‘got’ and I’m still mulling over what I’m going to say about it when I finally get round to reviewing.

I’m currently reading the last of the Archie Sheridan & Gretchen Lowell series by Chelsea Cain. I’m only about 25% into the book and there is no Gretchen so far. I still have hope.

New books:

  • All the Lives We Ever Lived * Katharine Smyth – Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf. – ” Katharine Smyth was a student at Oxford when she first read Virginia Woolf’s modernist masterpiece To the Lighthouse in the comfort of an English sitting room, and in the companionable silence she shared with her father. After his death – a calamity that claimed her favourite person – she returned to that beloved novel as a way of wrestling with his memory and understanding her own grief.”
  • Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water * Vylar Kaftan – a pre-order – ” All Bee has ever known is darkness. She doesn’t remember the crime she committed that landed her in the cold, twisting caverns of the prison planet Colel-Cab with only fellow prisoner Chela for company. Chela says that they’re telepaths and mass-murderers; that they belong here, too dangerous to ever be free. Bee has no reason to doubt her—until she hears the voice of another telepath, one who has answers, and can open her eyes to an entirely different truth”
  • The Carnelian Crow * Colleen Gleason – Stoker & Holmes Book 4 – ” Evaline Stoker (sister of Bram) and Mina Holmes (niece of Sherlock) return in the fourth volume of the steampunk adventure series set in an alternate Victorian London.”
  • The Killer You Know * SR Masters – “I’ll murder three strangers. And you’ll know it was me . . . ” (cue maniacal laughter)
  • The Vanishing Season * Dot Hutchison – The Collector Book 4 – ” Eight-year-old Brooklyn Mercer has gone missing. And as accustomed as FBI agents Eliza Sterling and Brandon Eddison are to such harrowing cases, this one has struck a nerve. It marks the anniversary of the disappearance of Eddison’s own little sister. Disturbing, too, is the girl’s resemblance to Eliza—so uncanny they could be mother and daughter.” This was a pre-order and I’m extremely excited to read this book; I love this series and it has shot right up to the top of my TBR pile!

Which brings me to the last thing of note that happened this week – I’ve decided to take part in the 20 Books of Summer Challenge – you can see the book list at my sign-up post.

Hope you all have a great reading week!