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.

My Month in Review | May 2021

I can’t believe that we are already at the end of May (or the start of June when this will be published); almost halfway through the year. So much better than this time last year. The Book God and I have both been fully vaccinated, we’ve ventured out to a restaurant for the first time in I don’t know how long, and we have plans to do interesting things over the next few weeks.

The sun is also shining and the temperatures are beginning to climb above 20 degrees (centigrade) and things are looking good.

I’ve probably jinxed it now!

It’s been a good reading month too.

  • Books read this month = 8
  • Pages read = 3417
  • Progress against Goodreads challenge = 53% (8 books ahead of schedule)

In terms of challenges, I have half-heartedly started the David Copperfield Reading project with nothing substantive to report so far, and the Twenty Books of Summer challenge starts tomorrow (1 June). You can find my book selections here.

Next month’s pre-orders:

  • Castle Shade by Laurie R King – Mary & Holmes get caught up in a mystery involving Queen Marie of Romania. Transylvania might just be involved! This is the 17th entry in this series and I really do need to get caught up
  • The Wood Bee Queen by Edward Cox – librarians, local folklore, magical stones – what’ not to love! 
  • The Murder of Graham Catton by Katie Lowe – death of Mr C thought to be solved, done and dusted but along comes one of those pesky true crime podcasts to stir things up again
  • The Maidens by Alex Michaelides – exclusive students in a Cambridge college – actually made it four comments down on the Amazon page before I hit my first reference to The Secret History
  • Falling by TJ Newman – pilot’s family is kidnapped and the only way to save them is to crash the plane…..
  • Star Eater by Kerstin Hall – magical bloodlines, shadowy factions, spying, all of the things
  • Artifact Space by Miles Cameron – what is targeting the great spaceships which transport stuff  in human occupied space?

I’m going to try really, really hard not to buy anything else but we shall see. My track record is not good…

Nothing much else to add here, so I’ll wish you very happy reading, and stay safe!

My Week – ending Sunday 9 May

Otherwise known as a better late than never post!

Last week we had so much rain but I have turned into a person who says that “at least it’s good for the garden” – what have I become 😀 ?

I also had my second Covid-19 vaccination and all is well. My arm was a bit sore and I was very, very tired but all of that passed within 36 hours and I’ve been raring to go ever since.

I’ve also been trying to get back into walking daily, and part of the fun of that for me (besides listening to podcasts or audiobooks) is interacting with local pets and wildlife. I’ve been noticing a greater variety of birds in our garden, but our neighbourhood black cat resolutely ignores me whenever I see him on his daily patrol. I was sleepily regarded by a small fox curled up in the warm sunshine. We don’t normally see them during broad daylight, but it was a gorgeous animal and I’m glad I spotted it, though I wish I’d taken a photo

Yesterday (Tuesday) after a visit to the dentist I walked part of the way home along the Thames. Lovely.

Kingston riverside, Tuesday 11 May

But onto the books

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and finished two novels, the first in the Ava Lee series by Ian Hamilton and yet another in the Robert Hunter series by Chris Carter.

I really enjoyed reading about Ava Lee, a Chinese-Canadian forensic accountant who goes after missing money for private clients. It was fast paced and took the reader from Toronto to Hong Kong to Guyana to the British Virgin Islands and back again. I loved all the money stuff and the technicalities of finding out where it might be hidden, so much so that I managed to overcome two of my pet peeves which appeared right at the beginning of the story – irrelevant information about Ava’s breast size and the use of the word panties; I loathe that word. Anyway, I have already bought the next book and I expect to continue with the series.

I’m currently reading the very next Robert Hunter thriller and will round up the series when I have finished all 9, or is it 10. Still enjoying them but they are not for anyone who can’t handle graphic violence. 50+ years of reading horror has been good practice.

I’m also currently reading Greg Jenner’s Dead Famous, a book about celebrity over the ages and how as a concept it’s not as modern as we might think it is. Great fun and thought provoking, and I’m looking forward to seeing how his theories develop. A wee taste:

CELEBRITY (noun): A unique persona made widely known to the public via media coverage, and whose life is publicly consumed as dramatic entertainment, and whose commercial brand is profitable for those who exploit their popularity, and perhaps also for themselves.

So that’s more or less my week. Hope you are well and staying safe!

Catching up – February movies


Spider-Man: Far From Home [2109]

Following the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), Spider-Man must step up to take on new threats in a world that has changed forever.

I am very much a fan of and adherent to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which often pains me as before all of these movies hit the screen way back when I had been staunchly a DC girl. Of the Marvel heroes Spider-Man was probably the one I knew best, and I have watched most of the Toby Maguire, all of the Andrew Garfield and the first Tom Holland films. It’s taken me a while to get to this latest one but I’m pleased to say that it was great fun, especially for a London-based viewer who enjoys trying to work out how they think the city works. Elevated by the presence of Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio and featuring the best Tower Bridge action since Northing Important Happened Today by Will Carver. Good Saturday night movie.

Directed by Jon Watts, SM: FFH is 2h 9 and rated 12A.


News of the World [2020]

A Civil War veteran agrees to deliver a girl, taken by the Kiowa people years ago, to her aunt and uncle, against her will. They travel hundreds of miles and face grave dangers as they search for a place that either can call home.

I have a complicated relationship with Westerns because my late Dad was a huge fan and I was brought up on a diet of John Wayne, Audie Murphy, Randolph Scott et al and I was burned out at a relatively early age. But the Western has changed and I am back in the fold. Cue Tom Hanks as a veteran of the Civil War who has seen A Lot and travels the West bringing news to isolated communities. He comes across a young girl and agrees (well, is kind of forced) to reunite her with her family, but of course that isn’t easy and there are some nasty folks out there. Elegiac and more violent than I expected from a Tom Hanks movie, I thought this was very well done and the ending in particular worked well. I may have shouted “GO BACK” at one point, and he must have heard me because he did.

Directed by Paul Greengrass, News of the World is 1h 58 and rated 12A


Wind River [2017]

A veteran hunter helps an FBI agent investigate the murder of a young woman on a Wyoming Native American reservation.

I have reservations about Jeremy Renner; I just do not warm to him at all though I have enjoyed several of the films in which he has appeared. Having said that I thought he was really good in Wind River, a film I missed first time out and came to now because of my girl crush on Elizabeth Olsen.

I really admire Taylor Sheridan having loved both Sicario and Hell or High Water so this is a hidden gem as far as I’m concerned. Will watch again.

Directed by Taylor SheridanWind River is 1h 47 long and rated 15

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!

Looking back on my week, ending 25 April

Part of me is thinking “How is it nearly May?”, but the other part of me, the one who was out in our tiny back garden today (Sunday) planting in the warm sunshine, was convinced that we are well into late spring!

This is a good thing.

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

And, despite being a little unwell and the (luckily) unsuccessful attempt to cut off my thumb with a craft knife – don’t ask me to explain the REALLY stupid thing I did that resulted in said injury – it has been a really good reading week. I’ve been on a bit of a roll, but of course now that I’ve said that I’ll hit a slump, but I don’t care.

Anyway, I read three books this week and I fully intend to review them over the next wee while. My track record on that has been appalling, so just in case…..

  • The Children of Red Peak by Craig DiLouie – cult survivors going back to Red Peak work out what actually happened on that fateful last night
  • An Evil Mind by Chris Carter (Robert Hunter #6) – the best of the Hunter novels so far IMHO, bit Silence of the Lambs, bit Israel Keyes, all good
  • Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots – what happens to the people who are collateral damage when the supes fight the villains?

Of these I would say that the greatest is Hench which I read in a single sitting on Friday, only stopping for comfort breaks and lunch.

This week’s impulse purchases were:

  • The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray – because the end of the world is always fascinating even in a pandemic
  • I Am Death (Robert Hunter 7) by Chris Carter – because this is one of my favourite series and I’m going to read them all
  • Shimmerdark by Sarah Mensinga – because I loved Sarah’s previous fantasy novel and the premise of this one sounds so good
  • Silenced by Solveig Palsdottir – because I have purchased (but not read) the first in this new series and the recommendations are many and uniformly favourable
  • Agatha Christie’s Marple by Anne Hart – because it sounds fun and I can’t resist anything that’s Agatha adjacent
  • Civilisations by Laurence Binet – because it sounds so cool

Currently reading The Deadly Touch of the Tigress by Ian Hamilton, the first in his Ava Lee series. I wish I could remember who recommended this (I think it might have been Musings from the Sofa) but whoever they were I’m enjoying it so far.

Other stuff

For the second year in a row I am not pulling an all-nighter to watch the Oscars. I just haven’t been paying attention to the eligible movies and performances so would have been solely focusing on outfits and the red carpet will be a bit weird this year.

Sadly we have come to the end of the very last episode of Elementary. We’ve been watching these steadily over the past few months having come to it late due to misplaced snobbery. It’s now my favourite incarnation of the Great Detective (other than Basil Rathbone of course) and I may at some point go back to the beginning and start again just because I can. We shall see. Now looking for something else to fill the gap – may go back to The Blacklist as I’ve only watched the first two seasons.

Spent Sunday night focussed on the penultimate episode of Line of Duty S6 – as Ted Hastings would say “Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the wee donkey”; if you know, you know 😀

Anyway, enough rambling from me. Hope you are all staying safe, and have a great reading week.

Catching up – January movies

The Lincoln Lawyer [2011]

A lawyer defending a wealthy man begins to believe his client is guilty of more than just one crime.

Giving away the fact that the defendant is guilty in the first place I guess, so not really a spoiler? Also Ryan Philippe is agreeably arrogant and superior not to mention smug so just by looking at his face you would guess that he was guilty in any case. I watched this largely because it’s based on the first in a series of novels by Michael Connelly and this household has been deeply addicted to Bosch, but the same author. The Book God, who has read many of the books in both series advises, me that the two lead characters are half-brothers (I think) and so there is a shared universe vibe in the background.

I enjoyed this much more than I thought I would; not sure why I had not seen it before to be honest, though I suspect it may have had something to do with not really rating Matthew McConaughey – well. until I watched True Detective season one. But he is very charming in this, justice is served and can we really ask for anything more?

Directed by Brad Furman, The Lincoln Lawyer is 1h 58 long and rated 15 for themes of sexual violence.

Wonder Woman 1984 [2021]

Diana must contend with a work colleague and businessman, whose desire for extreme wealth sends the world down a path of destruction, after an ancient artifact that grants wishes goes missing.

So, ancient artefact (check), greedy businessman who really only wants to make his son proud of him so is he really that bad (check), overlooked female academic who becomes glamorous and powerful and doesn’t want to give it up (check) and by the way she taps into her inner Big Cat, a heroine grieving for her lost love (check) who has somehow come back from the dead in an unfortunate manner (don’t see that every day) and a showdown involving lots of smashing of people and things (check).

I was really looking forward to the new Wonder Woman movie and while its a solid entry into the DC Universe (which lets face it needs all the help it can get) I felt that it didn’t really hit the eights of the first film. Well, it did once at the very beginning when we had tiny wee Diana being awesome. I think it suffered from too many villains, neither of whom was really sufficiently nasty, plus the whole love interest thing which was mildly creepy when you stopped to think about it. Still enjoyable but a little Too Much.

Also, the 1980s; who really wants to revisit that?

Directed by Patty Jenkins, WW84 is 2h 31 long and rated 12A for moderate threat, violence and a scene of domestic abuse. Not to mention the psychological impact of the means used to bring Steve Trevor back from the dead (not a spoiler, Chris Pine is on the cast list)

Tenet [2020]

Armed with only one word, Tenet, and fighting for the survival of the entire world, a Protagonist journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time.

I recently rewatched Inception so felt that I was sufficiently prepared for high-class wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey shenanigans but readers I WAS NOT.

This is a classy film benefitting from excellent performances, especially Sir Ken as a very, very nasty Russian person, properly villainous and deserving of everything that might happen to him, and Elizabeth Debicki who continues to be luminous in all that she does. Shout out to Robert Pattinson being dashing, some fabulous set pieces and young Mr Washington as the Protagonist.

But do not ask me (a) what this is about or (b) what happens because I was Confused. Enjoyably so, but Confused nevertheless.

I feel I may need to watch this again but that it might not help.

Directed by Christopher Nolan, Tenet is 2h 30 long and rated 12 for moderate violence, threat, domestic abuse and infrequent strong language