IMG_0033Earlier this year I gave some thought to pulling together a short reading list centred around WWI and its aftermath, but didn’t do anything about it other than mention it in passing. But a visit to the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation at the Tower of London earlier this month, followed by a visit to Dryburgh Abbey while on holiday (relevant because as well as being the burial-place of Sir Walter Scott it also hosts the grave of Earl Haig) brought this back into focus, and as November is the month in which we commemorate the Armistice it seemed fitting that I concentrate my reading then.

So I’ve pulled together a very short list, a mixture of fiction and non-fiction, about the war as it is happening and its impact afterwards. I would like to read them all in the month but we shall see how I get on.

  • The Flowers of the Forest by Trevor Royle – Scotland and the First World War (actually bought in the Historic Scotland shop at Dryburgh)
  • Not So Quiet by Helen Zenna Smith – published in 1930 it presents the war through the eyes of a young woman who is an ambulance driver at the French front
  • The End of the Age of Innocence by Alan Price – the story of Edith Wharton’s efforts on behalf of Belgian and French refugees
  • Patrimony by Jane Thynne – “what is the truth about Valentine Siddons, acclaimed poet and World War One hero?”
  • Wake by Anna Hope – a novel about three women awaiting the arrival of the Unknown Soldier

I thought long and hard about whether I should re-read Testament of Youth, a book that had a huge effect on me when I first read it as a teenager, but I may save that for a proper Vera Brittain project at a future date.

www_wednesdays4W… W… W… Wednesdays poses the following questions:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

What am I currently reading?

I’m still working my way through Murder by Sarah Pinborough, on Kindle. I’m now 60% of the way through and still enjoying it though as it’s the most recent in a number of very dark reads I’ve also picked up Chris Riddell’s Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse which is a beautiful and hugely entertaining children’s book.

What did I recently finish reading?

The Book of Whispering Spirits by Jeff Ferrell is still my most recent completed read.

What do I think I’ll read next?

Having considered my choices I might park The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd and try something from the WWI reading shortlist I’ve been contemplating (and will blog about soon) and I guess that I really must try again with Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell which I attempted and failed as part of the Long Awaited Reads Challenge earlier this year as it’s going to be on TV over Christmas.

IMG_0140What’s it all about?

As per the blurb:

The Book of Whispering Spirits is a haunting collection of 18 ghost stories, ranging from Gothic horror to modern tales of terror. These tales of the supernatural will haunt your dreams and trouble your sleep, making you believe once more in the ghostly phantoms that wait for you in the shadows. In the tradition of Edgar Allan Poe, M.R. James and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, young spiritual medium Violet Winterbrook guides us through this collection of ghost stories, as told to her by the spirits who lived and died in them.

Why did I want to read it?

I’ll admit that although I’m a sucker for a decent ghost story what really drew me to this collection was the cover art by Abigail Larson, whom I just love (and a piece of whose work I treated myself to earlier in the year.)

What did I think of it?

It’s a nice collection of stories, none of them terribly memorable if I’m honest but fun to read at the time. The interesting thing for me is that the conceit that the medium Violet is sharing these tales is set up at the beginning and then disappears, without even a little epilogue at the end to round things off, which seems a shame. So absolutely fine but unlike the work of MR James (mentioned above and a regular re-read) I can’t see myself returning to this volume again.

This was my fifth read for RIP IX.

IMG_0169What’s it all about?

The Jennifer Morgue is the second in Charles Stross’s Laundry Files series, where espionage, the joy of the civil service and Cthulhu-adjacent occult matters all meet. In this case our hero Bob Howard is tasked with going into the field (the Caribbean, what a shame) to deal with a demon hell-bent in taking over the world through a suitably megalomaniac billionaire, and to do so is paired with a rather lovely partner who is not all she seems (OK, she’s an assassin under a glamour and possessed by a sex-vampire, but nobody’s perfect)

Why did I want thread it?

I love the Laundry Files and re-read the first volume (The Atrocity Archives, reviewed here) earlier this year. I am planning to work my way through the whole series.

What did I think of it?

I must admit I wasn’t sure what to make of this at first because it seemed very much a parody of the classic James Bond movies – location, gadgets, bad guy intent on sharing his details plans with the hero rather than just killing him, gorgeous good girl sidekick, gorgeous bad girl sidekick, super villain lair and so on – which all seemed a bit weird until it becomes clear that the James Bond thing is actually the whole point – it’s the occult construction that the baddies are using to control the whole thing and prevent themselves from being stopped. Though of course it doesn’t work out that way…

As always the fun here is in the combination of occult weirdness with classic civil service bureaucracy and infighting which is oh so recognisable to anyone who has ever worked in that world, though normally you’re not likely to get possessed with something tentacular. Not normally.

This was very enjoyable and raced along. It is also very funny in places and for anyone of my age who grew up with Dr No and Blofeld the Bond references are particularly enjoyable, right down to the white cat. And the nasties are very nasty indeed. There’s also a nice little additional story as a bonus.

Loved it, and looking forward to reading the next one.

This was my fifth read for RIP IX.

IMG_0153What’s it all about?

Tried to pull together a synopsis of the plot for this novel but can’t do much better than the blurb:

Life isn’t easy for Detective Inspector Bobby Maiden. Death is even harder. When Maiden is revived in hospital after dying in a hit and run incident, his memories are not the familiar ones of bright lights and angelic music, only of a cold, harsh place he has no wish to revisit…ever. But his experience means that Bobby Maiden may be the only person who can reach The Green Man, a serial murderer the police don’t even know exists…a predator who returns to stone circles, burial mounds and ancient churches in the belief that he is defending Britain’s sacred heritage.

There is also an additional plot involving an American journalist, Grayle Underhill, who specialises in New Age matters and has arrived on the Welsh borders to find out what has happened to her sister who has gone missing after becoming involved in research around Stone Age mysteries.

And of course the two stories will inevitably come together.

Why did I want to read it?

I have read a few of Rickman’s early horror stories, and have most of his Merrily Watkins books though I’m working through those extraordinarily slowly. I hadn’t come across this one before until it appeared on Kindle, largely because it was originally written under a the pseudonym Will Kingdom. It sounded right up my street.

What did I think of it?

Gosh this was grim, but I have often found that with Rickman’s books even as (or perhaps because) he has moved away from pure horror into what the “About the Author” note calls “realistic crime with a subtle element of the paranormal.”

I personally consider this to be a mainly a horror novel; yes there’s a serial killer with a weird fixation but the supernatural element is so strong and certain scenes and events are so nasty (in a non-pejorative sense) that it gave me the creeps as only the best horror can; quite disturbing. As I’ve often found with his work the darkness of tone means I tend to read them over a fairly lengthy period of time in manageable chunks, and this was no exception though it’s fair to say that the experience is always rewarding as the novels are so well written, and in this case about two-thirds of the way into the book something clicked and I did another marathon staying up into the wee small hours to finish it.

So a strong story with flawed but believable characters and a very interesting serial killer whose identity I sort of guessed but not that far in advance of the protagonists so can’t claim much there. I will pick up others in this series and am also looking forward to dipping my toe into his series about John Dee, one of my favourite Elizabethans.

This was my fourth read for RIP IX and means I have met Peril the First!

20140728-175313-64393728What’s it all about?

Savage Magic is the third in Lloyd Shepherd’s series about London’s River Police which started with The English Monster (which I reviewed here) and continued with The Poisoned Island which was my first read of this year, and to (for?) which this novel is something of a sequel, as the starting point for several of the characters is a direct result of the events of the previous novel. So although you don’t need to have read that first, it will all make a bit more sense if you have.

Unofficial plug over.

But what of the plot? Well….

It’s 1814 and London’s Covent Garden is at the centre of a dark trade, enticing rich and poor alike with a cocktail of gin and beer and sex. In the surrounding parishes a group of aristocratic young men are found murdered, all of them wearing the mask of a satyr, all of them behind locked doors with no sign of entry.

And if that wasn’t enough, there are also accusations of witchcraft in the countryside outside London which need to be looked into ….

Why did I want to read it?

I am a great fan of this series and had pre-ordered this as soon as I knew it was coming out. It’s a period of London history that I don’t know very much about and I have become fond of the main characters, particularly Abigail Horton, the wife of our main protagonist, so picking this up was a no-brainer for me.

What did I think of it?

As I’ve already said I enjoy this series very much but I think this is the best so far, which is interesting given that at least one of the main characters from previous volumes (Harrington) is offstage through illness for most of the narrative and the others (Abigail, her husband Charles and Aaron Graham) are apart for most of the novel for very good and important-to-the-plot reasons. In fact I became very anxious indeed about Abigail’s situation…..

The other interesting thing is that very little of the story has anything to do with the Thames at all, though convict transport to Australia and return to England do feature. What we do have is a thoroughly absorbing story which touches on the treatment of the insane (hint – it isn’t good, especially for female patients), the sex trade and in particular the debauchery of the wealthy (which seems in this case to have very few if any limits) and witchcraft and superstition, alive and well in rural parts even post-Enlightenment. I do enjoy a good-locked room mystery, and I also like to see how the various plot strands come together as they inevitably do. Very ingeniously done in this case, with a whiff of the not entirely natural which has been a theme of the series.

It’s also great fun to read about an area that I know pretty well given that when I’m working in London I’m based on Kingsway, just round the corner from Graham’s home in Great Queen Street and a stone’s throw away from Covent Garden.

The reading experience was an unusual one for me in that I started the novel some time ago and then a combination of increased workload before holiday (never a good time to read anything that requires attention in my experience) and the previously mentioned anxiety about what the author was going to put Abigail through meant that it languished on the TBR pile until I found myself in a hotel in the south-west of Scotland where I could give it the attention it deserved, and I read the last third in a single sitting late into the night. And very satisfying it was too.

If you haven’t given this series a try then you really should, whether it’s for the historical setting, the supernatural stuff or a good novel of detection. I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes next.

This was my third read for RIP IX. It is also the book that got me to my target of 52 books in 52 weeks, so everything I read after that is a bonus!

WORAT1024A monthly event hosted by The Book Vixen

By the end of this weekend and before I return to work after a three week break, I aim to have written and published or scheduled the following:

  • Savage Magic
  • The Cold Calling
  • The Jennifer Morgue
  • The Book of the Spirits

If I finish it this weekend I may also write and schedule a post on

  • Murder

I’m planning to see The Book of Life at the cinema on Sunday afternoon but it may be too much to expect to write a review the same evening (though I have done that before so not totally beyond the realms of possibility) and may try to fit in something horror-cinema-related on Saturday afternoon.

I also want to scope out my reading list for November where I want to focus on books about WWI as mentioned here.

IMG_0166Let the Old Dreams Die is a book of horror short stories by the Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist, first published in 2006 but only relatively recently available in an English language translation. I was very keen to read some of his shorter work having been very impressed by the three of his four novels that I’ve read so far:

I really enjoyed this collection which I read over several days while on holiday, staying in a former stately home in Cumbria. I like Lindqvist’s take on horror, which doesn’t ignore gory unpleasantness (as anyone who knows what happens at the end of Let the Right One In will confirm) but is overwhelmingly, to my mind at any rate, one of creepiness tinged with melancholy, which means they aren’t the sort of stories you can binge on. As an aside, I once heard an author being interviewed on the radio (I think it was Anne Enright but I’m not sure) who said something along the lines that people tend to approach anthologies the way they do a box of chocolates – they either eat them singly over time and savour each one, or they devour the lot in one go – I have done both in my time. This is definitely a one sweetie at a time thing.

I’m not going to pick out any individual stories to mention (except perhaps Village on the Hill which led me to consider drains more carefully than I had before) but will say that for many readers the two titles of most interest  will be the title story which is sort of but not quite a sequel to Let the Right One In (Lindqvist himself says in his afterword that it deals with a problem of interpretation that he hadn’t identified until he saw the movie version) and The Final Processing, the longest story in the collection, which is basically a sequel to Handling the Undead. There is also Eternal/Love where I think you can see Lindqvist exploring some of the themes that pop up in Harbour.

I really enjoyed this selection; it was a perfect autumn holiday read and it has made me want to pick up the most recent novel, Little Star. Recommended.

This was my second read for RIP IX.

imageWhat’s it all about?

Edward Prendick survives a shipwreck and is picked up by another ship transporting a strange cargo under the direction of the disreputable Montgomery to a mysterious island in the tropics, home to Dr Moreau and his laboratory. Prendick finds out that Moreau is experimenting on animals, continuing work he started back in England but which appalled those in the know so much that he was forced to leave if he wished to continue his research. The callous disregard he has for the subjects of his experiments and the torture he puts them through does not end well, but what will it mean for Prendick?

Why did I want to read it?

The Island of Dr Moreau is one of those classics that you know so much about you think that you’ve actually read it and then of course you realise that you haven’t, and I thought it was about high time that I did. As you can see from the cover image from the edition I read I’ve had a copy of this since the release of the ill-fated and not terribly well-received 1996 movie version.

That’s how long things can moulder on Mount TBR round these parts.

What did I think of it?

I’m not sure it’s what I expected really, based on my only other Wells reading experience which is War of the Worlds, an exciting and pacy read. I thought this would be similar but it’s clearly trying to make more of a point in terms of its message on the price of scientific enquiry and the role of vivisection which has always been a contentious issue. Moreau himself has no redeeming features whatsoever and even Prendick is at times an ambivalent figure; he doesn’t seem to have a problem with the principles being applied, it’s Moreau’s methodology he takes issue with. The beasts themselves are for the most part not well developed and the social satire elements were lost on me.

I’m glad I read it as it is a classic which has influenced other works across a number of media; the song No Spill Blood by Oingo Boingo has just popped into my head and even my late lamented dentist used to refer to his surgery as the House of Pain.  So many of the references are embedded in popular culture but I must admit that as a novel it left me entirely cold.

This was my first read for RIP IX.

Reading WomanSo I may have mentioned that I’ve been on holiday for a few weeks and have done quite  bit of reading, mostly for Carl’s RIP IX challenge (my proposed book list for that is here and so far I’ve read six and have started on a seventh of the books mentioned with a week to go). One of the things that often happen after my annual break is I start thinking about what I might want to read over the next few months. I also usually buy some new books as I can’t resist popping into every bookshop I can see, and this year has been no exception on either count.

New books

A modest pile for me:

but there have also been various Kindle downloads too numerous to mention which would crank the number up if I could make the effort to list them all.

Reading lists

My reading has been very genre heavy this year, which isn’t a bad thing but I feel the need to stretch my wings a little bit.

There are five or six novels which my friend Silvery Dude has been pushing me to read, so that’s a list in itself (including Game of Thrones which I mentioned here, as well as Tigerman, Little Star and Norwegian Wood, which might lead me to a Japanese focussed list as I also have some unread Mishima which has been gathering dust in the stacks for donkey’s years).

I would also like to finish working my way through The Big Re-Read, a personal challenge which I talk about here and which has been chuntering on for ages.

I am also very keen to focus on a couple of my favourite authors, including a re-read of Virginia Woolf and attacking my backlog of Joyce Carol Oates’ books (she is so prolific, I can’t keep up).

But first I would like to do some reading in November around World War I. I probably won’t re-read A Testament of Youth which had a huge impact on me when I was in my late teens, but though the Royle book mentioned above plus a couple of novels (Helen Zenna Smith is somewhere on my shelves) but I haven’t thought it through as yet.

I always find it difficult to strike a balance between planning my reading and keeping some spontaneity so we’ll see how it works this time round!

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, entering my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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