sunday-salon-2I am now fully back at work after my illness and unfortunately that’s coincided with a dip in my reading, probably because medication means that my brain is slower than normal and I can only manage one thing at a time so have focussed on getting back into the real world rather than losing myself in fictional ones.

I have also stepped back from any challenges though I’m hoping to re-read The Shining for the Horror Book Club meeting in August, partly because I haven’t read it in years and partly because it will also contribute to my tally for the 2015 Horror Reading Challenge and I do like a two birds with one stone scenario.

I haven’t been buying lots of books recently, but have picked up the following in the last couple of days, mainly as a result of going book shopping with friends who were stocking up on reading material for their holiday.

It would have been really impolite not to join in :D

So….

  • The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters – everyone knows about this one and I’ll probably be the last person in the universe to read it and in a pleasant twist it was actually a present from my friend Silvery Dude
  • Empty Space by M John Harrison – I know nothing about this book at all but thought it sounded intriguing and only when I got it home did I realise that it was the third in a trilogy; luckily we already have the first part and I will hunt down the second shortly
  • The Rival Queens by Nancy Goldstone – as some of you will know the 16th Century is my thing and the Book God drew this to my attention; it’s the story of Catherine de Medici and her daughter Queen Margot and it looks fascinating
  • The Fault in our Stars by John Green – a download recommended to me by a friend who thought I would enjoy it; I know a tiny bit about the story because of the movie version but that’s all, and I like YA so I’m definitely going to give this a shot.

I’m hoping to get my reading mojo back this week, especially as I have a business trip on Wednesday and will be travelling for 7 hours or so and thus will have no excuse.

I actually didn’t read that much non-fiction while I was away from the blog, probably because my fuzzy brain was incapable of dealing with anything too complicated. But I did manage the following:

4259Nick Hornby’s Housekeeping vs the Dirt and Shakespeare Wrote for Money

These are the last volumes collecting together Hornby’s book columns from The Believer magazine. As I think I’ve said somewhere previously, whether you enjoy these or not will depend almost entirely on whether you like Hornby’s personality (at least as it comes across here) but I definitely do so I was very happy reading 4457297these. After all, this is a man who has been able to articulate why I have never got on with the works of Thomas Hardy, to wit:

Hardy’s prose is best consumed when you’re young, and your endless craving for misery is left unsatisfied by a diet of The Smiths and incessant parental misunderstanding.

It is worth mentioning that I never got The Smiths either.

24861532Val McDermid’s Forensics (subtitled The Anatomy of Crime)

I love Val McDermid. I am ashamed to say that I have not kept up with her novels but I think she is just fabulous, and I will remedy the book thing at some point (I have at least made a note of what I haven’t read so that i can do the thing.) This was a fascinating book; I can’t resist this sort of thing as my dedication to  watching CSI and related shows will testify, and this was a great introduction to the various techniques and how they have developed over time using key historical (and more recent) cases as illustration. So well written, I devoured this in a couple of sittings. You will notice that there is a fly on the cover. It appears in random places throughout the book and I can’t tell you the number of time I turned the page and forgot what it was and tried to brush it off the paper. Idiot that I am :D

So the blog was on hiatus for a few weeks while I was dealing with some health issues which means that I have ten, count them, TEN book reviews to write and publish. But as part of my post-illness strategy is to not put pressure on myself, plus adjusting to the meds I’m now on during this period means things are a wee bit fuzzy, I’ve decided to write two posts, one each for fiction and non-fiction, with my short impressions of the books. So I can both satisfy the nerd part that wants everything recorded, while keeping the anxious part quiet. So here we go with *drum roll* fiction.

A God in Ruins

24524712I read the bulk of this on a very pleasant train journey from Edinburgh at the end of May. It’s one of those books that everyone but everyone has been reading and reviewing so I’m not sure that I can add much that’s meaningful to all the words already out there, except to say that I really enjoyed it, Teddy is a wonderful character, it’s beautifully written, the parts about Teddy’s war service are astonishingly good and it was very moving. I’m not entirely sure that I understood the ending, and I think I may still (very slightly) prefer Life After Life, but this was a goodie.

Day Four

IMG_0273This is sort of a sequel to The Three which I read and enjoyed last year. It’s another creepy horror novel, this time with a group of people stuck on a cruise ship where Something Goes Terribly Wrong in an is it aliens or something else we don’t understand but is out to mess with us kind of way. I liked it a lot.

There were lots of characters with no redeeming social features who got what they deserved but enough reasonable people to root for, and it was nicely done. And has reinforced my view that cruises are simply not for me.

The Stolen Ones

The seventh in the series by Richard Montanari, I have to confess that this is a bit of a blur.

The structure is the same as always, alternating viewpoints between Byrne and Balzano and the perpetrator, and there is definitely something to do with an asylum and their personal lives develop further and I know that I enjoyed reading at the time but that’s all I’ve got for you, sorry.

IMG_0275The Doll Maker

The eighth and as far as I’m aware the latest Byrne and Balzano story, this is the one with the dolls, obvs. And Byrne buys a house which used to belong to a convicted killer from a case he was involved in before. And the POV of the killer(s) is even creepier than you might expect from this series, which has been consistently enjoyable.

But again the details are a bit vague which is probably just as well as you really want to come to these fresh. By the way, I hate this cover SO MUCH.

Death is a Welcome Guest

IMG_0277This is the second in the Plague Trilogy; I devoured the first volume last year (my review is here) and was looking forward to this one being published and got my hands on the e-book as soon as it came out.

Different set of characters trying to deal with the sickness that has decimated the population and the impact that it has had on society. Violence and peril and alliances and danger and sacrifice. beautifully written, very compelling, I enjoyed it immensely and I’m already hankering after the third volume which I understand from a Twitter exchange with the author will have lots of jeopardy.

51+N1aOiaZL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX324_SY324_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA346_SH20_OU02_The Hellbound Heart

The novella by Clive Barker which was the basis for the Hellraiser moves, I was mildly astonished that I hadn’t read this before (honestly, call myself a horror fan?) and this was actually a book group read for a meeting I didn’t manage to attend. It’s a nasty little story full of blood and guts and torture and I thought it was great. Quite different from the film version though and *whispers* I think the story is better.

The Rhesus Chart

IMG_0281The most recent of the Laundry Files (well at least until this week when the next volume is published and before you ask, yes I have ordered it), this is basically about the bit of the civil service which deals with occult nonsense as described previously, but this time involves vampires. In the City of London. And other weird stuff.

I liked it a lot. I just really love Bob, the main protagonist, and his wife and the stuff he has to deal with and the endless bureaucracy and the fact that he doesn’t always have an answer for everything and bumbles along. I’ve seen a couple of mentions on Twitter and elsewhere that suggest others had problems with this entry in the series but I don’t exactly know why and I’m not sure I care enough to look. I am anxious about the fate of one of my favourite characters though…

So that quick canter through recent fictions reads brings me up to date. I feel a little guilty that I’m not giving these books the full treatment they probably deserve but the alternative was just to ignore them and I would have felt even worse about that, so there we are.

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 4.47.12 PMWhat did I say I was going to do?

As I said in my sign up post, I am aiming to be a Brave Reader, which means reading 6-10 books during the course of the year. My first quarterly update can be found here.

How am I doing?

Not too bad considering that I’ve been struggling with health issues and my reading has been patchy to say the least. My blog has been on hiatus and I’m still deciding how I’m going to handle reviewing the books I have read since late May, but where I have already reviewed I’ve provided a link.

  • The Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge – shortlisted for the first James Herbert Award
  • Day Four by Sarah Lotz – a sequel to The Three which was a favourite read from last year
  • The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker – astonished I had never read this before given that it’s a bit of a classic
  • The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross – the fifth in The Laundry Files series – vampires!

I’ve still got a few horror novels on my TBR list so fairly confident I’m going to exceed my target for this challenge :-)

out-sickOver the past few months I’ve mentioned on and off that I have been struggling with some health issues. This has now all come to a head and I’m off work for the next few weeks at least. To help with my recovery I’ve decided to put my blogs on hiatus until I feel better, and I’m cutting back on social media as well. I’ll still be reading of course and will have lots to talk about when I do come back.

sunday-salon-2So I didn’t write a post last week because I hadn’t really been reading very much and I had also been a bit unwell and travelling (though luckily not too much overlap between those two things). This week has been quite a bit better, in that I actually got some stuff finished, largely due to a long train journey from Edinburgh to London where I (mostly) managed to avoid staring out of the window at the passing countryside and finished a chunky novel.

But there have also been medical appointments (which will run into next week too) which are a feature of having a chronic condition and you would think would lend themselves to further reading opportunities but unfortunately I get too anxious and unsettled and find myself occupied by Twitter instead. So all I had to show for it all was a selection of snarky tweets and a bruised hand from an unfortunately difficult blood test. I do not give blood up easily (insert the obligatory Scottish joke here) and I’ve been trying to convince everyone I was actually in a fight. A surprising number of my friends seem willing to believe that of me which is a bit alarming :-)

So last Sunday I took a run at and finished A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (magnificent), and followed it up with the new Sarah Lotz horror novel, a book of Nick Hornby columns from The Believer magazine, and the last two of the eight Byrne and Balzano detective novels by Richard Montanari which I have devoured over the past 5 weeks. This is unusual for me as I like to pace myself when reading a series, but these were just too enjoyable to put down and exactly what I needed when finding reading difficult.

Or at least I thought I was finding reading difficult but I have still managed to read 11 books in May, though to be fair 6 of those were the Montanaris. The downside of all the stuff I’ve mentioned above is that I now have a tidy stack of reviews to write next week.

I have lost count of the number of books bought this month (that’s the joy of the Kindle app, they are invisible to anyone else but also a little bit harder to keep track of myself) though clearly my interest in murder continues.

I’m currently reading a second volume of Hornby and I have dipped into White Apples by Jonathan Carroll; there are only 3 weeks left in the Once Upon a Time Challenge and I haven’t read anything for it yet.

Not sure what the coming week will be like; more medical appointments definitely but I’m mostly working at home, so will try to see what I can squeeze in around the day job.

Tony & SusanWhat’s it all about?

At its simplest Tony & Susan by the late American author Austin Wright is a book about the experience of reading. First published in 1993, it’s been out of print for a while (and think it might still be in the US), possibly because it isn’t a book that can be easily categorised, and is of interest for that reason alone. I was going to say that it “tells the story of” but it doesn’t really; we are with Susan as she reads the novel written and sent to her by her ex-husband Edward, while her current husband Adrian is away at a conference. We learn about Susan’s relationships as she ponders her past in between reading the novel, in which Tony is the central character.

Why did I want to read it?

I bought this as an ebook this time last year but can’t remember where I heard about it or who may have recommended it to me. It reappeared on my radar following a mention on Twitter by James Smythe (an author I really rate and have reviewed here more than once) as a book that really unsettled him, and as I had just been through a series of serial killer based police procedurals I was looking for something different and this was it.

What did I think about it?

This is a novel that has clearly resonated with a number of distinguished people who have loved it and praised it to the skies. You are probably expecting a “but” now, however I’m not going to disagree with them necessarily. It is an unsettling book in that I’m not sure exactly what it is, if I can put it that way. Much depends I think on your reaction to the book within the book, the story of Tony and the dreadful events that befall him (the internal novel is called Nocturnal Animals) and I suspect that’s where my problem lies because I really didn’t get on with NA at all; I’m not sure whether it was meant to be a thriller or a revenge tragedy but I got so cross with Tony that I didn’t really care what happened. I was much more invested in Susan, her fears and memories and hopes all triggered by the experience of reading NA. I liked her, I think I understood her and I was always impatient to get back to what she was thinking. I don’t know if that’s a gender thing (I’d like to think it’s not as simple as that given how much blood and guts revenge stuff I actually read) and in many ways Tony and Susan are equally passive, but I found her passivity easier to swallow, though of course I’ve never been through anything remotely as awful as Tony so have no idea about how I might act, and am therefore probably being totally unfair. I just wanted to shake him. A lot.

So a book that I admired rather than enjoyed, though Susan’s voice has stuck with me longer than I expected.

sunday-salon-2A very quiet week where I just haven’t been reading very much.

Having said that I’m actually in the middle of Tony & Susan by Austin Wright as recommended by @jpsmythe (excellent author via Twitter) and have just started Housekeeping vs the Dirt by Nick Hornby because when not sure about what to read the best thing (IMHO) is to read about stuff that others have been reading (albeit what they were reading 10 years ago).

I did finish one very short book though, The Art of Stillness by Pico Ayer, recommended by my friend Silvery Dude which I will read again I’m sure, much to think about in terms of disconnecting from modern life when you can. This is one of only (only!) two books that made it into the house this week (the other being Forensics by Val McDermid which looks great.)

Oh, and I joined a thing, The Horror Book Club which meets in central London. None of my friends read horror really, so I’m hoping this is both an excuse and an outlet. I will be throwing myself into The Hellbound Heart for my first meeting in June, I’ve never read much Barker so hoping this will be fun.

And finally, some of you will remember my struggles with Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, famously abandoned after two separate attempts. Well, the TV adaptation starts on the BBC this evening, and I’m going to watch it. Lets see if that’s more successful than reading it :-)

IMG_0263So what’s the set up?

The Killing Room is the sixth in Byrne and Balzano Philadelphia crime novels. It is all as you were before, but that’s not a problem because why would you tinker with a winning formal. After all, I’m still reading them, aren’t I?

What’s the killer’s thing?

Religious fanaticism. Unpleasant deaths, and I mean very unsettling. Deals with the Devil. Abandoned churches. High level of creepiness.

What’s the situation with Byrne?

He has become a mentor to a young boy in care whose brother was killed by drug dealers. He (Byrne, not the kid) gets a bit out of control with this dealer and ends up in mandated therapy. There may be a new woman in his life.

What’s the situation with Balzano?

Has moved house and is settling down with her lovely family. She is thinking of starting to hit things professionally again. One of the victims has a particular effect on her which lingers throughout the book.

Is there anything new here?

The level of backstory for the murderer is higher than before I think, and the external influences are a bit more obvious.

What did I think of it?

I liked this entry in the series a great deal; I’ve always been one for a high level of mayhem inspired by religious mania and we have it all here; belief in the Devil, making people deliver on the deals they have made with that particular entity, murders carried out in a bizarre but well thought out way. It has to be said though that there are some similarities to the very first book, The Rosary Girls – Catholic Church in embarrassing scandal, inconvenient sleazy journalist and so on, and elements of the story echo back to Se7en (though not quite as bizarrely gruesome). It even includes a significantly nasty killer returning from an earlier entry in the series. But as always what makes these books so good is the characterisation of the two leads, the vitality of the setting, and the pace and plotting. I read it in a single sitting (again).

However, they have kind of started blurring together a bit so I am going to take a break before reading the final two entries in the series. Still very highly recommended though!

IMG_0262So what’s the set-up?

The Echo Man is the fifth in the Byrne & Balzano Philadelphia series of crime novels. We are still following our two main heroes, but there are other characters more regularly in the mix.

What’s the killer’s thing?

Our murderer’s focus is on recreating past unresolved Philly murders by killing those who were apparently guilty but never prosecuted or convicted and posing them (and their accomplices where appropriate) at the original crime scene and related sites. They are all posed the same way, their faces covered in paper.

What’s the situation with Byrne?

Lots happening with the big guy. This case is tied in with his very first homicide investigation and his feelings for the woman convicted of that killing, a beautiful and talented cellist.

What’s the situation with Balzano?

At the beginning of the story Balzano takes down a nasty piece of work which you feel will inevitably come back to haunt her. She is also wanting to adopt a small boy she came across on a case, and she and her family are moving home, so lots going on here too.

Is there anything new here?

Bigger cast of characters, a return to more in-depth backstory for B&B, but honestly, how many women are there in Byrne’s life; they all seem to get involved in his work one way or another.

What did I think of it?

I liked this one a lot though I must admit there were times I just wanted  to give Byrne a shake, though it seems to be a trait prevalent in US law enforcement that the hero will go off the grid regardless of what the consequences might be if he thinks he is right (yes Ryan Hardy from The Following, I am looking directly at you). I also really thought I’d worked out who the killer was only to be totally blindsided by the reveal at the end. Some of it was a bit far-fetched but the characterisation of everyone involved is so strong and the writing so clear and pacy that you just tend to stick with it. I basically read this in one sitting and totally got swept along with it.

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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