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So, you might have noticed that I haven’t been around for a while. The simple reason for that is that I haven’t been reading. At all. My tally so far this year has been 3 books finished up to early March, one of them almost certainly started before the new year and the third (although i enjoyed it) I don’t ever get around to reviewing here. I have no explanation for this, the longest reading slump in my whole life (and believe me that represents a significant number of years!)
But I decided this could not go on and when I realised I had a day trip to Manchester (slightly over 2 hours each way not including the journey from my home to Euston) and that (for various reasons) I wasn’t taking my work laptop and therefore wouldn’t be working on the train I decided that this was a prime opportunity to pick up a physical book and get reading. And what do you know – it worked!
The Bullet is the story of Caroline Cashion, a professor of French literature who is having some physical problems – maybe RSI, maybe not – and during an MRI it is discovered that she has a bullet lodged in her neck, near the bottom of her skull. This is a huge shock as she has no memory of ever being shot and there seems to be no scar. When she confronts her family about this she discovers a number of significant facts – she is adopted, her birth parents were murdered in front of her when she was 3 years old, she was injured in the attack and apparently left for dead, and worst of all (in my mind anyway) the person who did all this was never caught. So, this being a thriller you just know what she’s going to do; yep, you’ve guessed it, she starts rummaging around and puts herself in danger. Of course. I think I might have done the same, to be fair.
I’m not going to say much more about the plot which unfolds in a very satisfying way. It moves at a fair speed and stays on the right side of being far-fetched. It is a first person narrative which for me succeeds or fails on the likability of the character and happily I liked Caroline very much, especially her interaction with her (adoptive) brothers; I have two brothers of my own and this rang true. And yes, there’s a bit of romance but at least she doesn’t rely on him to sort this all out for her (very much the opposite in fact).
So all in all a very satisfying reading experience. Recommended.
Happy Valentine’s Day, if you mark that sort of thing. I’d love to be able to say that I got chocolates and flowers, but the reason we haven’t done much to celebrate the festival here chez Bride is because I am shortly about to start fasting – nothing but water for 12 hours in advance of a blood test tomorrow morning, and bringing chocolate into the house would just have been adding insult to injury 🙂
I’m possibly in the early stages of another reading slump which will be very disappointing if it comes to pass. I’m going to try to set myself a minimum number of pages a day to read as this technique seems to be working with the book on Anne Boleyn I’m studying, where I have set myself two chapters every Sunday and so far (except for one weekend when I was unwell) I have stuck to it. My intention to read a lot in the hospital waiting area early this week came to nothing because they actually dealt with me pretty quickly so I didn’t really settle down with a book. This week I have a couple of days in London and a trip to Manchester so commuter reading is a distinct possibility and usually works.
I may not have finished reading anything this week but I’m still buying, though all of these are eBooks so no need to find space for them.
- Olivia Manning biography by Deirdre David – I love the Balkan and Levant trilogies and was interested in this recommendation from another blog (I think it was Dovegreyreader but as usual I failed to take a note of where I saw it and am too lazy to go and look)
- Data: A Love Story by Amy Webb, purchased because I heard her very enjoyable interview on The Allusionist podcast and had to find out more (you should check out the podcast if you are at all interested in language, it’s never less than fascinating)
- Fashion Victims by Alison Matthews David – recommended to me by my husband who read a review in a history magazine. Looks likely to be full of fascinating facts including the hazards of storing felt hats in museums because of potential toxicity.
But can’t touch any of them until April! Which shockingly isn’t actually all that far away….
I have taken quite a while to get round to writing about They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper because it’s really hard to know quite where to start. To help set some context I was going to quote from the blurb on the book’s Amazon page but I got quite cross reading the thing because it makes some claims (especially about the scholarship involved) that I don’t think really hold up. It’s basically a bonkers book.
What’s it all about?
So Bruce Robinson, former actor and most notably director of Withnail and I, has spent at least fifteen years researching the case of Jack the Ripper and this enormous book is the result of his labours. And it really is a huge thing so I’m glad I had the Kindle version (you may have read in one of my Sunday Salon posts that I saw this in a book shop teetering on the edge of a shelf, only just managing not to plummet to the floor due to its sheer size). Robinson has a preferred suspect and his book is all about proving he’s right, why the guy did it and how he managed not to get caught.
Why did I want to read it?
I will put my hand up and admit that I’ve long been fascinated by Jack the Ripper, though I am well aware that it is all petty lurid stuff. I’ve read enough to be clear that a lot of the ‘facts’ out there are just theories, and some of those are fairly crackpot. So I was interested to see what this latest one would reveal. Also it was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction which gave it a certain additional interest.
What did I think of it?
Well. I’ve always been a great believer in the cock-up rather than the conspiracy theory of history. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think plots and conspiracies can happen; they manifestly have, and some of have been very successful. But to my mind those are the exceptions, and so when it became clear right from the very beginning of this book that the identity of Jack the Ripper was protected by a consipracy that is so enormous that it would collapse under its own weight I felt a familiar sinking feeling.
Robinson identifies the Ripper as Michael Maybrick, a surname that may be familiar to some of you because of the Ripper diaries that were floating around some years ago where James Maybrick was outed as (potentially) being Jack, having been (allegedly) murdered by his wife. The diaries were eventually discredited, but the theory here is that Michael was Jack, murdered his brother and set him up to be the Ripper, and because he was that kind of guy, framed his hated sister-in-law Florence for the killing, with the collusion of the police and the judiciary, because *gasp* Freemasonry.
Yes, it’s the Freemasons what done it, or at least covered it all up. Knew who it was all along etc. and sacrificed the truth to protect the establishment.
I don’t think this holds up because it simply doesn’t make sense, and there is a definite air of selecting material to support a theory and ignoring the bits that don’t fit. Perhaps the Ripper sections on their own, though fairly potty, make some sort of case, but the mashing together with the Florence Maybrick case (which was a clear miscarriage of justice and Robinson is right to be angry about it), just doesn’t work IMHO.
The book is exhausting to read because the author is so angry about everything; it felt like the man was writing the whole thing with his CAPS lock on. It was like being shouted at constantly. His obsessions and prejudices shine through and his language is crude and at times inappropriate to my mind, and that really jars. There were a number of “wow – did he really just say that” moments
Having said all that, it’s also quite entertaining – even funny in places – and he makes some very good points about the Ripperology industry. BI certainly never consdered abandoning the book at any point. But having dumped all this information and conspiracy theory stuff on his readers, the whole thing gets a bit rushed and then. Just. Stops. A bit like Jack the Ripper himself.
A real oddity of a book.
I took part in this challenge earlier this year where I think it lasted only a month, and had great fun (and cleared a load of books from my e-reader. This time around it lasts for 3 months but with very much the same goals – read as many of those “I don’t remember buying this” volumes on your reader as you can in the period.
I like making lists but I’m not going to for this one, simply because I have so many ebooks that just looking at them is a bit overwhelming, and trying to decide which ones I’m going to read will probably fry my brain and I have too much to do at this time of year to allow myself to become a dribbling wreck.
But I’m going to add an extra dimension by including the comics on my Comixology app – clearing some of them out would also be a good idea. So, as many as I can before 31 March, running concurrently with the TBR Dare which I’ll blog about separately.
Against a background of young children turning on members of their families and killing them, Hesketh Lock is investigating a parallel series of incidents involving industrial sabotage across the world. Neither of these things make sense, but are they actually connected? What do you think? And who or what are The Uninvited?
Why did I want to read it?
What did I think of it?
This is the book that hopefully broke my reading slump of recent months. I found it fascinating and read it in a coupe of days which is quite something for me at the moment. Hesketh is a compelling character, a man with Asperger’s going through difficult times in his personal life and being confronted by two sets of mysteries which (not really a spoiler) are connected in a most unexpected way. How he reacts (or doesn’t) is central to the development of the story.
I don’t want to say too much about the plot other than that; how it all comes together part of the fun, if you can call the end of the world as we know it “fun”. But I have a particular fondness for books that describe the world falling apart (the literary equivalent of a disaster movie I suppose) and this very much fits into that genre, with the added bonus of really creepy children. It’s fast paced and an enjoyable read. I liked it.
Over 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.
Deadline is the sequel to Feed which I read and loved some 3 years ago and am ashamed that I’ve only just got round round to picking this up. In order to avoid spoilers about the plot I’m going to lift from the blurb:
Shaun Mason is a man without a mission. Not even running the news organisation he built with his sister has the same urgency as it used to. […] But when a researcher from the Centre for Disease Control fakes her own death and appears on his doorstep with a revenues pack of zombies in tow, Shaun’s relieved to find a new purpose in life.
So the novel picks up from where the last one left off, but this time it’s mostly from Shaun’s perspective and the conspiracy uncovered in Feed is still alive and well. Just worse. Much worse.
Why did I want to read it?
The zombie kick which I’ve been experiencing all year continues. Plus as I said I really enjoyed the tone and pace of the first book and this looked like it was going to be more of the same. Science + conspiracy + zombies, what’s not to like?
What did I think of it?
I wasn’t sure if I would like the book quite as much with the shift in protagonist but I needn’t have worried, this is just as exciting as Feed and I came to like Shaun just as much. The thing that I can’t talk about without spoiling the first book was a concern as I thought it would become really annoying or at best a bit unbelievable but actually it works really well because everyone recognises that it isn’t normal (and I have either said too much already or been so cryptic that you’re all scratching your heads wondering what I’m on about).
And it has another cracking ending which makes me very keen to read the final book in the trilogy, already downloaded and being saved for the holidays.
Another fine entry in an excellent run of reads. Waiting for it all to crash and burn 🙂
I’m using this post to keep track of my walking during August as part of the Book Blog Walkers thingy. My final tally for July can be found here.
Week 1 (Aug 4)
- 17,269 steps
- 12.3 km
- 3:23 hours
Week 2 (Aug 11)
- 11,500 steps (minimum and a guess as the Moves app on my iPhone has been bought by Facebook and is now mostly inaccurate rubbish!)
- 16.3 km
- 3:43 hours
Week 3 (Aug 18)
- 28,856 steps (another minimum as Moves app is still wonky – though better than it was – and the additional one I downloaded – Pacer – never shows the same number of steps as Moves even though on the same device – I despair) (actually think its closer to 32.5k)
- 20.5 km min
- 4:47 hours (min – I could work this out accurately but really can’t be bothered)
Week 4 (Aug 25)
- 31,409 steps
- 20.1 km
- 4:49 hours
Black Thursday. Four passenger planes fall out of the sky in four different locations for apparently no reason. Three children from separate flights have miraculously survived . There is also a mysterious message left by a dying American woman. What does it all mean? Who are The Three and is there a purpose behind their survival? And how will the world react?
Why did I want to read it?
I didn’t know anything about this book until (I think) I saw a tweet from Lauren Beukes (author of The Shining Girls which I adored and am therefore pre-disposed to listen to her opinions). I then saw a couple of reviews which suggested that this might be My Sort of Thing.
What did I think about it?
This was great stuff, a nicely creepy conspiracy thriller (bordering on horror), written at real pace and a proper page turner. I like the structure very much, it reminded me a bit of Carrie though with less real-time action and (obviously) more of the story being told through extracts from books and interviews and so on and consequently with several POVs, though the main character (if there is one) is Elspeth, the journalist who wrote a sensational book about The Three and which, along with the message left by Pamela May Donald as she lay dying, gives impetus to a range of conspiracy nuts including a pastor who uses suspicions about the children to set up his own church. Growing paranoia leads to the search for a fourth child survivor and it all ends up in various forms of violence.
I don’t want to go into the plot too much because half the fun is working out where it’s all going; there are lots of hints throughout the story of something bigger and there is a sort of resolution though I think it leaves some of the story elements open (which is not necessarily a bad thing, I don’t necessarily need everything tied up in a bow!).
Another absorbing read.
Ursula Todd is born during an English snowstorm in 1910 and dies immediately.
Ursula Todd is born during an English snowstorm and lives.
And at key points throughout her life things happen to her or she makes choices which sometimes see her die and sometimes see her live, and also see the fates of those around her change, all running in parallel with major events of the twentieth century, particularly World War Two.
Why did I want to read this?
I like what I’ve read of Kate Atkinson’s work, most especially Case Histories (read before I started this blog so no review I’m afraid). Life After Life was consistently well reviewed and everyone seemed to be reading it all at once, especially after it won the Costa award. I knew that I was always going to read this but wanted to wait until I was good and ready so that I could savour the book without too much chatter. And I’m glad to say it was worth the wait.
What did I think about it?
I thought this was an absolutely wonderful novel. It starts off quite sensationally with the attempted (we’re not sure if Ursula is successful on this occasion) assassination of Hitler, then leaps back to a very short chapter, really only a paragraph, describing the first time (we assume) that Ursula is born, dying before she can take her first breath as she is strangled by her umbilical cord. The throughout the book we are in a world of parallel universes, where Ursula’s life takes different paths at what we come to recognise are key points. In that sense there is a thriller element to it; what’s going to happen to her this time, at what point will the darkness of death descend and she start her story again.
Two things in particular make this work for me. The first is that we avoid Groundhog Day comparisons; not only is Ursula not living the same day over and over, but Atkinson has us picking up the story at different points.
The second is that I really like Ursula as a character and wanted her to have a long and happy life. This is a real issue in one of the strands where she is the victim of domestic violence to quite a horrendous extent, so well written that I was anxious and cringing while I read it (and just wanted to get out of the storyline as quickly as possible, just because of the power of the writing).
The most compelling parts of the novel are those around WW2, whether we are with Ursula in Germany where she has married a man who will become a member of Hitler’s inner circle, or whether we are with her in London during the Blitz. The latter is really astonishing in its recreation of what I imagine it must have been like to be bombed, really very moving. The characters around Ursula are very well drawn and themselves often affected by the different timelines, sometimes living and sometimes dying.
The key question of course is whether there is a purpose to all of this. There are points in the novel where you can clearly see that Ursula knows or suspects things ands tries to prevent them happening and ends up under psychiatric treatment. There are also hints that some of her family may have something like deja vu and get glimpses of what might have been. And the end is quite odd, leaving us with a very minor character, though I for one am not sure why, though still very affecting.
It’s one of my favourite reads of the year so far and a book that I will definitely go back to to see whether I can follow the various threads now that I know where rings are likely to end up.
So if you are one of the few people who hasn’t read this then I can highly recommend it.