Sunday Salon | 21 July 2019

The tennis at Wimbledon is over and I’m only watching the Tour de France highlights each evening so there is no reason not to be reading, but here we are, with not much progress made. But it’s been an interesting couple of weeks since my last post so I shouldn’t complain (though of course I will, because that’s what I do!)

Instead, I’ve been on a horror film kick which means watching movies by myself as the Book God, who enjoys a good monster movie, doesn’t like the sort of thing that I’ve been focussed on, so it’s just as well that I am happy to go to the cinema by myself. Reviews of The Dead Don’t Die, Hereditary and Midsommar will follow shortly.

We also finally got to see the Manga exhibition at the British Museum, which was really excellent – there’s a small gallery of pictures I took there on my Instagram feed, as well as the one at the top of this post. If you’re in London I can really recommend it as there is so much to see.

But what about the books?

Books read since my last post:

Stalling for Time by Gary Noesner – I mentioned this in my last post and will be writing about it shortly. I found it absolutely fascinating as a companion to the Waco TV series which we have been watching

Our Rainbow Queen by Sali Hughes is a coffee table book which looks at QEII’s fashion over her long life organised by colour. If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time you will know that I love fashion so this was a no-brainer though I decided to get it in the Kindle edition. It’s a light and quick read consisting of photographs with captions by the author. I had a couple of quibbles about some of the information in the captions but this is more than made up for by the wonderful photographs.

New books since my last post, of which there are quite a few because I might not be reading but that doesn’t mean I’m not still collecting! These aren’t in any order….

Eternity’s Sunrise * Marion Milner – subtitled A Way of Keeping a Diary, this is another area of interest for me. I’m a very patchy journal-keeper and want to become more consistent in the practice. I like the idea behind this book, which suggests asking the simple question “What is the most important thing that happened yesterday?”

Exhalation * Ted Chiang – a new collection of short stories from the mind behind the story that was the basis for the movie Arrival. His work is quite challenging but worth the investment. This was a pre-order.

Five Seasons * Mons Kallentoft – I can be influenced by the “people who bought this book also bought these books” flags on Amazon and that’s how I found this author, and couldn’t resist buying the omnibus containing the five Malin Fors books.

Not For Use In Navigation * Iona Datt Sharma – more short works, described as thirteen stories of love and queerness, hope and decolonisation, and the inevitability of change. I may have been attracted by the cover.

Perihelion Summer * Greg Egan – science fiction novel by an author I don’t think I have read before. Looks good.

Rain Girl * Gabi Kreslehner – the first Franza Oberweiser detective novel with the standard young woman found dead and a search for justice undertaken but looks very interesting.

The Bee’s Kiss * Barbara Cleverley – a detective novel set in 1920s London, this is actually the fifth in the Joe Sandilands series. The first four are set in India and didn’t really appeal, though the Book God loved them. I understand that this book effectively kicks off a new series which shares the same character and is a good place to start.

The Reapers are the Angels * Alden Bell – a Southern Gothic post-apocalyptic novel which was included on a “best of” list on, I think, Crime Reads. Speaks to my interests.

The Survival of Molly Southbourne * Tade Thompson – the sequel to The Murders of Molly Southbourne which was one of my favourite reads from last year, I pre-ordered this as soon as it was announced. Excellent stuff and Thompson has just won the Arther C Clarke award for his novel Rosewater which I also have.

The Toll * Cherie Priest – another pre-order, this is a ghostly tale of swamps, cabins, mysterious bridges that may or may not exist and a missing wife. Creepy.

The Triumph of the Spider Monkey * Joyce Carol Oates – Ms Oates is one of my favourite writers and so prolific that I find it difficult to keep track of what she has published. This has been out of print for forty years or so and I am only aware of it because a fellow blogger reviewed it. madness, murder and maniacs.

This Is How You Lose the Time War * Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone – this has been on my radar for a while but shot up my to-buy list when I found out it’s an epistolary novel. I’m a sucker for those. Reviews have all been good.

Traces * Patricia Wiltshire – more non-fiction in the forensic science field.

Wanderers * Chuck Wendig – I’ve been looking forward to the release of this novel, which has been described as “a suspenseful, twisty, satisfying, surprising, thought-provoking epic.” A pre-order.

Wilder Girls * Rory Power – a disease which has killed many, a quarantined girls school, this sounds a bit Lord of the Flies, which is not a bad thing.

I’m currently reading The Clockwork Scarab (still) and Slowly We Die by Emilie Schep, Scandi noir. I’m about halfway through both of these and hope to finish them soon.

Hope you have a great reading week!

My Week | 7 July (with added pig)

I haven’t referred to this as an update on my reading week because I haven’t actually done much reading, for which I blame Wimbledon. Sporting distraction will be made much worse by the advent of the Tour de France which started yesterday but that is much more manageable because I tend to only watch the highlights. So that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

More about the pig later.

So I’m currently reading two books; The Clockwork Scarab which I mentioned in last week’s post I think (checks – yes, I did), and Stalling for Time which I’ll talk about more below. I’ve given myself a target to finish them both this week, which I think is achievable if I just manage to Pick. Them. Up.

In terms of new books, it’s been a good week as I try to limit my spending and I only bought two things:

  • the aforementioned Stalling for Time by Gary Noesner which I bought because we have started watching the Waco TV series and he is one of the FBI hostage negotiators featured. The blurb says that Noesner will take us on ” a harrowing tour through many of the most famous hostage crises in the history of the modern FBI, including the siege at Waco, the Montana Freemen standoff, and the D.C. sniper attacks.” I haven’t read much of the book but so far it is totally fascinating.
  • Growing Things & other stories by Paul Tremblay – “Unearth nineteen tales of suspense and literary horror, [..] that offer a terrifying glimpse into Tremblay’s fantastically fertile imagination.” I read The Cabin at the End of the World last year and was impressed enough to buy his other books. This is a new release which I think makes his short fiction available in the UK for the first time.

I also had an unplanned outing this week. I accompanied the Book God to an appointment and after that we took the opportunity to head to Greenwich to visit the Old Royal Naval College, specifically the Painted Hall which is a wonderful space as you can (hopefully) see from the picture at the top of the post. They provide wide seats in the centre of the room so that you can lie down and appreciate that ceiling. It’s also where Nelson’s body lay in state before his funeral.

And now ….. some of you will know that I was diagnosed with diabetes several years ago and one of the things I try to do to help manage my condition, with varying degrees of success, is exercise going for walks. This usually means covering a minimum of 3 miles at a time around my neighbourhood.

I really didn’t want to do it today – it had been drizzling and was very humid, but I got myself ready, plugged in my headphones so I could listen to podcasts (on this occasion My Favourite Murder and Quinn Cummings Gives Bad Advice) and set off. And I got an unexpected and delightful reward, because walking down a residential street not far from my house I met a young woman who was taking her pig for a walk. On a lead.

I live in south-west London and it is not usual to see a pig in the street 😀

Anyway I stopped to speak to the woman and complimented her on the pig, who was a handsome chocolate-brown chap standing about hip-height and a very solid animal. I didn’t want to impose too much and knew I had to make a choice – ask to take a photo or ask to touch the pig.

Reader, I stroked the pig.

It was awesome. And in the absence of a photo you will just have to take my word for it!

Have a great reading week!

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!

My Week | Out & About & Mini-Reviews

This time last week we were celebrating the Book God’s birthday, and those celebrations extended into the Monday when we travelled to Brighton so that we could visit the Royal Pavilion. Now we’re back to old clothes and porridge as they say (in a stronger Scottish accent) where I come from. More on Brighton later, but first – the books

I had a really good reading week, finishing three books, starting with Siren Song by Robert Edric, which I’ll review in a day or so.

As for the other two:

Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff & Georgia Hardstark – so I am fascinated by true crime as I have gone on about here ad nauseam, and one of my favourite sources is the podcast My Favourite Murder hosted by Karen & Georgia, the authors of this book, which is basically a joint memoir expanding on the stories they have told about their lives during the non-murdery parts of their broadcast. I love them and thoroughly enjoyed this book.

The Private Life of Elder Things is “a collection of new Lovecraftian fiction about confronting, discovering and living alongside the creatures of the Mythos.” This is a bit patchy as all anthologies tend to be, but there are some very good stories included. A quick read with one of my favourite things, author’s notes.

This week’s new books:

  • The October Man * Ben Aaronovitch – A Rivers of London novella. Trier is famous for wine, Romans and for being Germany’s oldest city. So when a man is found dead with, his body impossibly covered in a fungal rot, the local authorities know they are out of their depth. Fortunately, this is Germany, where there are procedures for everything. [Pre-order]
  • The Paper Wasp * Lauren Acampora – An electrifying debut novel of two women’s friendship, a haunting obsession and twisted ambition, set against the feverish backdrop of contemporary Hollywood. [Pre-order]
  • 1913: The Defiant Swan Song * Virginia Cowles – It’s the eve of the First World War. One era ends as another is set to begin. Before life is changed forever in the maelstrom of war, the excess and extravagance of European high society blazes its trail. Acclaimed historian Virginia Cowles paints a picture of the glamour and scandals within the upper echelon of society of seven major cities, through rich prose and lively anecdotes.
  • Just One Damned Thing After Another * Jodi Taylor – Chronicles of St Mary’s Book 1 – When Madeleine Maxwell is recruited by the St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research, she discovers the historians there don’t just study the past – they revisit it. But one wrong move and History will fight back – to the death. And she soon discovers it’s not just History she’s fighting…

I’m currently reading The Man from the Train by Bill James which is an early twentieth-century true crime murder mystery. I’m still considering my fiction read.

Back to Brighton. We had a super day walking around the Pavilion before having a delicious meal in a local Italian restaurant, all of this despite the best efforts of two railway companies and rain that was at almost biblical levels. Seriously, it was running down the streets. But we still had fun.

Have a great reading week!

Sunday Salon | 2 June 2019

Here we are almost halfway through the year and as I write this #20BooksOfSummer is kicking off, though there is the small matter of finishing the book I’m in the middle of at the moment before I can start participating properly.

A deliberate choice of angle
and not the result of a French Martini

Last week was one of ups and downs. The downs were mainly focussed on our central heating boiler which was so temperamental that I was convinced that it had achieved sentience and was just pissing about with us. It took three visits by two very nice British Gas engineers before it was definitively identified that a new boiler would be required. We will be ceremoniously smashing open the piggy bank later 😀

The up was my (our) wedding anniversary which we celebrated with a trip to the Museum of London Docklands to view the Secret Rivers exhibition – of course, I took a (not very good) photo of the books inspired by the Thames display – and an excellent lunch at one of the most hipsterish restaurants I have ever visited. I may have led a sheltered life though.

How many of these have you read?

What I read

I managed to finish two books this week – the biography of Iris Origo which I have been reading for what seems like an age. I’m going to read some of her own work before I decide whether I’m going to write any more about her, but reading Caroline Moorehead’s beautifully written book has sent me down some WW2 rabbit-holes.

I also read King of Spies by Blaine Harden; the subtitle – the dark reign of America’s spymaster in Korea – tells you all that you need to know about the subject matter. I live in the part of southwest London with a very large South Korean population but realised that I knew very little about that country’s history. A fascinating but disturbing read which has inspired me to find out more.

What I bought

  • Walking to Aldebaran * Adrian Tchaikovsky – I’M LOST. I’M SCARED. AND THERE’S SOMETHING HORRIBLE IN HERE. [Pre-order]
  • Longer * Michael Blumlein- In Longer, Michael Blumlein explores dauntingly epic topics—love, the expanse of the human lifespan, mortality—with a beautifully sharp story that glows with grace and good humour even as it forces us to confront deep, universal fears. [Pre-order]
  • Stormtide * Den Patrick – Book Two of the Ashen Torment series; I really like Den’s work and will be looking forward to readig this series. [Pre-order]
  • Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered * Karen Kilgariff & Georgia Hardstark – reflecting on the formative life events that shaped them into two of the most followed voices in the podcasting world. I follow their podcast religiously and am a member of their MFM Fan Cult so there was no way I wasn’t going to get this book. [Pre-order]
  • Pandemic * Sonia Shah – Scientists agree that a pathogen is likely to cause a global pandemic in the near future. But which one? And how? Bought this because of another podcast I follow (This Podcast Will Kill You – it’s awesome)
  • Blood Pearl * Anne Billson – Camillography Book 1 – Millie Greenwood leads an uneventful life with her overprotective parents in Bramblewood, the most boring village in England – until one day, not long after her sixteenth birthday, she sneakily forges her mother’s signature to go on a school trip to Paris.  I love Anne’s work as an author and a film critic so again this was always going to be on my To Buy list. Plus VAMPIRES!

What I’m reading now

Currently trying to finish the final Archie Sheriden & Gretchen Lowell serial killer novel by Chelsea Cain. I will have thoughts on the series as a whole I’m sure. I talked about the first three here if you are interested.

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!

Better Late Than Never (with some mini-reviews)

I really did have the best of intentions to write a Sunday Salon post this time last week but we were going to see Avengers: Endgame again and I ran out of time, and then it turned out to be the one week in the year (there is usually one) when I had something planned for every day, and here we are with two weeks to catch up on.

So, in terms of stuff done:

The Rite of Spring
  • I went to see a performance of the Rite of Spring at Sadler’s Wells, choreographed by the Chinese dancer Yang Liping, mixing Stravinsky with Tibetan music. It was strange and beautiful
  • Saw the Elizabethan miniatures exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery
  • Missed dinner with friends due to travel problems, but had lunch with other friends the following day neat Tower Bridge
  • Missed a book launch but attended a funeral

All human life is here.

It has been a really good couple of weeks from a reading perspective. I’m currently slightly more than halfway through Black Helicopters by Caitlin R Kiernan, and in the very last chapters of the Iris Origo biography I’ve been reading for what seems like forever.

I have finished the following:

The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor – a new writer to me, I thought this creepy murder mystery with tinges of horror was very well done and I read it in a couple of sessions. Enjoyed it so much I’ve already bought her next novel and have the one after that on my wish list.

Cradle Song by Robert Edric – the first his Song Cycle trilogy featuring his private detective Leo Rivers, this was also very well written and a compelling story. Will be interested to see whether the following volumes are linked in ways other than sharing a main character, because of course I bought them both as soon as I had finished this one.

The Gameshouse Trilogy by Claire North – I love Claire North. She is a remarkable young woman with an impressive catalogue of work and I had the pleasure of meeting her when her second novel Touch came out a few years ago. I bought these novellas (due to come out in a single volume very soon) when they were originally issued but only got round to reading them in the past week and they are so so good. The Serpent is set in 17th century Venice, The Thief in 1930s Thailand and The Master in the modern day. Highly recommended.

New books:

  • Siren Song and Swan Song by Robert Edric, as mentioned above
  • The Poison Song by Jen Williams – the final book in her Winnowing Flame trilogy, I was sad to miss the book launch but excited for all of the excellent reviews this book has been receiving
  • King of Spies: The Dark Reign of America’s Spymaster in Korea by Blaine Harden – “based on long-classified government records, unsealed court documents and interviews in Korea and the US […] tells the gripping story of the reign of an intelligence commander who lost touch with morality, legality and possibily even sanity” Irresistible.
  • Milk of Paradise: A History of Opium by Lucy inglis – “a tale of addiction, trade, crime, sex, war, literature, medicine, and, above all, money
  • Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep – “The stunning story of an Alabama serial killer and the true-crime book that Harper Lee worked on obsessively in the years after To Kill a Mockingbird
  • The Killer Across the Table by John E Douglas & Mark Olshaker – more true crime based on the experiences of Douglas, one of the original FBI profilers.

I am very, very behind with reviews so please look out for some round-up posts over the next week or so as I try to get back into some sort of regular posting schedule.

Have a great reading week!