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

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!