Still Aiming to Clear The Decks

It’s been strange week. I finally accepted that I had to walk away from my job for the sake of my family and my mental health, and so I resigned. I had a birthday. And then a recurring eye problem flared up again.

I’m sure I’m doing the right thing, and that I’ll make it through, but the next few weeks are going to be tough.

I’ll get back to writing about books soon, but right now I’m thinking about putting things in order. And that includes my Clearing The Decks Project.

I have rounded up one hundred books that I think I will be happy into pass on, once I’ve read them and written about them. They are now my home library, stacked in a corner that I will turn to whenever I think I have nothing to read.

Some will be read, some I will accept just aren’t calling me any more and ditch.

I’m posting the books in batches of ten to bring them to the front of my mind, to remind myself why I bought them, why I wanted to read them.

And also to ask for help.

Can you see a book that you enjoyed ? Or a book that you didn’t?

Can you see a book that you’d like to know more about?

Ghost Town by Patrick McGrath

“A man is haunted by the memory of his mother with a rope round her neck. It is the American War of Independence, and having defied the British forces occupying New York she must pay for her revolutionary activities. But fifty years on, her son harbours a festering guilt for his inadvertent part in her downfall. In thrusting nineteenth-century New York, a ruthless merchant’s sensitive son is denied the love of his life through his father’s prejudice against the immigrants flooding into the city – and madness and violence ensue. In the wake of 9/11, a Manhattan psychiatrist treats a favoured patient reeling from the destruction of the World Trade Center, but fails to detect the damage she herself has sustained. In this trio of stunning tales from a master storyteller, Patrick McGrath excavates the layers of New York’s turbulent history.”

Patrick McGrath does this sort of subject so well. I spotted this one in the library, but I didn’t pick it up and it never appeared again. In the end I snared a copy on BookMooch.

Drood by Dan Simmons

“In 1865 Charles Dickens, the world’s most famous writer, narrowly escapes death in the Staplehurst Rail Disaster. He will never be the same again. A public hero for rescuing survivors, he slowly descends into madness as he hunts the individual he believes to be responsible for the carnage: a spectral figure known only as Drood. His best friend, Wilkie Collins, is enlisted for the pursuit. Together they venture into Undertown, the shadowy, lawless web of crypts and catacombs beneath London. Here Drood is rumoured to hold sway over a legion of brainwashed followers. But as Wilkie spirals ever further into opium addiction and jealousy of the most successful novelist, he must face a terrifying possibility: is Charles Dickens really capable of murder?”

When I started blogging a couple of years ago I seemed to be the only person in the world not reading this book. When it was finally published in the UK I ordered a copy straight away. And then it didn’t grab me. I thought that maybe I should reread Collins, read more Dickens, track down some good biographies instead. But I might just give Drood another go before I throw in the towel.

Sleep by Banana Yoshimoto

“Banana Yoshimoto has a magical ability to animate the lives of her young characters, and here she spins the stories of three women, all bewitched into a spiritual sleep. One, mourning a lost lover, finds herself sleepwalking at night. Another, who has embarked on a relationship with a man whose wife is in a coma, finds herself suddenly unable to stay awake. A third finds her sleep haunted by another woman whom she was once pitted against in a love triangle…”

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Banana Yoshimoto, and so when this appeared on a charity shop sale table I picked it up.

Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir

“Lady Jane Grey was born into times of extreme danger. Child of a scheming father and a ruthless mother, for whom she was merely a pawn in a dynastic power game with the highest stakes, she lived a live in thrall to political machinations and lethal religious fervour. Jane’s astonishing and essentially tragic story was played out during one of the most momentous periods of English history. As a great-niece of Henry VIII, and the cousin of Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I, she grew up realize that she could never throw off the chains of her destiny. Her honesty, intelligence and strength of character carry the reader through all the vicious twists of Tudor power politics, to her nine-day reign and its unbearably poignant conclusion.”

I’ve only met Jane Grey as a secondary character in stories of other lives, and so a novel about her by such a formidable historian was an intriging proposition. I bought a copy, and I really don’t know why I haven’t read it yet.

Stone Cradle by Louise Doughty

“‘Elijah Smith was born in the graveyard of the church at Werrington, a village in the Soke of Peterborough. I can tell you this for certain, as I am his mother and so was there at the time.’ Clementina is barely sixteen when she falls pregnant. Other girls had been put out on the highroad for less, but Clementina’s Dei and Dadus stand by her. But the Travellers are treated with suspicion wherever they go, and soon the family are rounded up by the ‘gavvers’, accused of poisioning local livestock. As the Romany people struggle to survive the changes of the twentieth century, Louise Doughty charts one family’s path through persecution and tragedy, asking, can the Romany spirit survive in a century that no longer has space for them?”

I loved Louise Doughty’s first few books. They were small and quirky, but then she started writing bigger more serious books I’m afraid I liked them a little less. I gave this one the benefit of the doubt though when it appeared in a three for two promotion in Waterstones a while back.

Restless by William Boyd

“It is 1939. Eva Delectorskaya is a beautiful 28-year-old Russian emigree living in Paris. As war breaks out she is recruited for the British Secret Service by Lucas Romer, a mysterious Englishman, and under his tutelage she learns to become the perfect spy, to mask her emotions and trust no one, including those she loves most. Since the war, Eva has carefully rebuilt her life as a typically English wife and mother. But once a spy, always a spy. Now she must complete one final assignment, and this time Eva can’t do it alone: she needs her daughter’s help.”

The first of William Boyd’s books that I read – The Blue Afternoon – is high on my all time list, but none of his others have grabbed me in the same way. Yet. I like the look of this one and I was waiting for it to appear in the library when a copy appeared in a charity shop…

The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

“Set in Whitechapel in 1888, The Tea Rose is a tale of a love lost and won, of a family’s destruction, of murder and revenge — and one young woman’s quest to escape the poverty of her childhood and make her fortune in the tea trade. Fiona Finnegan is the spirited, ambitious daughter of an Irish dock worker. She longs to break free from the squalid lanes and alleys of Whitechapel, where she has a job in a tea factory. With the love of her life, Joe Bristow, she dreams of escaping the poverty and opening her own tea shop. But one by one her dreams fall apart as her father is killed in a dock accident, Joe is seduced by another woman, and her mother is viciously murdered — a suspected victim of Jack the Ripper. Devastated, her life in tatters, Fiona flees to New York where she sets up home with her alcoholic uncle. Slowly she builds his small grocery shop into a thriving tea house, and her new life flourishes. After years of hard work, she establishes herself as the head of her own powerful tea empire. But she cannot forget London — or Joe. Convinced that her father was murdered by his brutal employer, Fiona vows to seek revenge and ruin him once and for all. Making her way back to the streets of her impoverished childhood, Fiona must start her fight again…”

I can blame my mother for this one. She picked it up from the book stall at her lunch club for me.

Poker Face by Josie Barnard

“Allie retired behind her pulled-down fringe and a poker face when her mother walked out leaving three children and their father in a remote house in Yorkshire. Surviving was one thing; learning how to live a little was harder.”

I spotted a flash of Virago green on a charity shop sale table, and so I swooped. it was a rather tatty copy but definitely worth the 50p investment.

Double Fault by Lionel Shriver

“Tennis has been Willy Novinsky’s one love ever since she first picked up a racquet at the age of four. A middle-ranked pro at twenty-three, she’s met her match in Eric Oberdorf, a low-ranked, untested Princeton grad who also intends to make his mark on the international tennis circuit. Eric becomes Willy’s first passion off the court, and eventually they marry. But while wedded life begins well, full-tilt competition soon puts a strain on their relationship—and an unexpected accident sends driven and gifted Willy sliding irrevocably toward resentment, tragedy, and despair.”

I was knocked sideways by We Need to Talk About Kevin, and so I pounced on anything else carrying Lionel Shriver’s name. I started this one, but I wasn’t grabbed and so I put it to one side. Is it worth another try?

The Princess of Burundi by Kjell Eriksson

“The Princess of Burundi begins, benignly enough, with a morning jog. The run turns deadly when the jogger finds a mutilated body in the snow. The victim is soon identified as the town’s reformed troublemaker and an expert on tropical fish.Inspector Ann Lindell, despite being on maternity leave, is determined to find the brutal killer. Soon enough she is drawn into a cruel cat-and-mouse game that leads to the deadliest of confrontations.”

I spotted this one on a shelf in my local Oxfam shop. I picked it up to see what sort of book would have that title, and I was rather surprised to find an award-winning Scandinavian crime novel. It looked interesting but I put it back on the shelf and went to check the library catalogue. There wasn’t a copy in the county, and so when I was next in Oxfam and the book was still on the shelf I bought it.

… and that’s the end of this batch … Any thoughts?

Clearing The Decks: Introductions to Ten More Books

Let’s recap!

I have too many books and after many years hoarding I have realised that I don’t need to keep everything. There are so many wonderful books in the world, so many wonderful books still to come that I want to only hold on to the very best. The books that I want to pick up again and again, the books inspire an emotional reaction whenever I see or think about them.  

So I’ve selected a hundred books from the ridiculous number that I have unread. Books I want to read but probably don’t need to keep. Those books are now my home library, to be chosen from when I need a book but don’t have one in hand. And, like library books, passed along once I’ve finished with them.

I’m introducing the books ten at a time and at the end of each quarter I’ll report on my progress.

So here’s another batch. Do let me know if I have a book that you’ve loved and I’ll try to make it a priority. Or a book that you’ve hated and I should think twice about.

I really shouldn’t photograph books in the garden at night with a camera-phone…

Things to Make and Mend by Ruth Thomas

“As teenagers, Sally Tuttle and Rowena Cresswell were inseparable – united in teen angst and scorn for needlework lessons – until a devastating incident destroyed their friendship. Now both single mothers in their early forties they are haunted by memories of their lost intimacy. When Sally, now a faithful employee of In Stitches repair shop, unexpectedly wins an embroidery prize and is invited to speak at a conference in Edinburgh, it seems she has a chance to recapture something of her old, lost self.”

This was offered in exchange for one of my books on ReadItSwapIt. I loved the title, I liked the sound of the story, and so I took it. The first time I picked it up it didn’t grab me, but I think I just chose the wrong moment.

Divine Victim by Mary Wings

“Marya’s Aunt Rebecca has died, leaving Marya five million dollars on the condition that Marya live in her house for a year. But this house is both remote and unwelcoming – it’s packed with icons of the Blessed Virgin, ceramic images of female saints, and hidden relics like an ancient nun’s habit, a shining tangle of red-gold human hair, and a blood-spattered wedding dress. What drama has been played out in the house? And what is its legacy?”

This one came from the wonderful, and sadly missed, Murder One Bookshop in Charing Cross Road. A mystery in a gothic mansion published by the wonderful Women’s Press was simply irresistible, and I have no idea why I haven’t read it yet.

Belief by  Stephanie Johnson

“In 1899 William McQuiggan leaves his young Australian wife and new-born twins in New Zealand and travels to America in search of God. Belief is the story of his journey and of his marriage to Myra, who follows him from Auckland to Salt Lake City, Utah, and to Zion City, Illinois. With each leg of the journey the family grows until William is the reluctant father of six, and Myra’s understanding of her husband deepens and matures. Belief is a vivid evocation of a way of life that has passed, a tale told on a grand scale: the story spans seventeen years, three countries and three religions. More than that, it is the story of how love and patience may triumph over violence and despair.”

This one came from another wonderful bookish emporium in Charing Cross Road – Any Amount of Books. It looks lovely, but it’s been tucked away in a box in the attic for years.

The Other Hand by Chris Cleave

“We don’t want to tell you too much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know something, so we will just say this: It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific. The story starts there, but the book doesn’t. And it’s what happens afterwards that is most important. Once you have read it, you’ll want to tell everyone about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds.”

One of those books that had so much attention that I picked up a copy from a charity shop, intending to find out what all the fuss was about.

Snobs by Julian Fellowes

“Edith Lavery is a woman on the make. The attractive only child of a middle-class accountant, she leaves behind her dull job in a Chelsea estate agents and manages to bag one of the most eligible bachelors of the day – Charles Broughton, heir to the Marquess of Uckfield. But is life amongst the upper echelons of ‘good’ society all that it seems? Edith soon discovers there’s much more to the aristocracy than dancing in Anabel’s, shooting small birds and understanding which fork to use at dinner. And then there is Charles’s mother, the indomitable Lady Uckfield, or ‘Googie’ to her friends, who is none too pleased with her son’s choice of breeding partner.”

I waiting for a long time for this to turn up in the library, but it never did. And so I picked up a copy in a charity shop.

By The Light of Falling Stars by J Robert Lennon

“The crash of an airplane on the outskirts of Marshall, Montana, takes more than just the lives of those on board. Two days later, a stranger appears at the home of the couple who watched the plane go down, saying only that he has come from Italy to begin his new life. He is the lone survivor of the disaster, although he mysteriously guards the secret. The stranger witnesses the disintegration of the couple’s marriage – the recent tragedy hastening its end – and befriends the husband, who is ever more adrift in the wake of his wife’s decision to leave.”

Another book that came home with me from London and has been hanging around for far too long. I like the look of it, but its moment never seems to come.

Like Being Killed by Ellen Miller

“‘I could never predict what was going to ruin me and what was going to rescue me.’ says Ilyana Meyerovitch, a self-confessed suicidal, strung-out Jew. Into her life, and her flat, walks her opposite – Susie Lyons – blonde, artistic, optimistic and above all, innocent. Like Being Killed is about the devastating effects the two women have on each other as they start to share more than a flat. Simultaneously drawn to Susie’s wholesome values and repelled, Ilyana’s desire for what Susie has will take her into the grip of a downward spiral whose only outcome is oblivion.”

Another London book that came home. I think I must have pulled out a few from the same box in the attic. Now I look at it again it seems much too dark for me, but it is a Virago V (one of a series of modern books by new authors published by Virago), and that suggests a certain quality.

The Greatest Gift by Danny Leigh

“A dazzling tale, told with great humour, of the last seconds of a man’s life as he leaps from a nine-storey building. Matthew Viss works for the city’s premier concierge service. Whatever you need, he can provide. And he’ll do it with a smile. He just wants to help – that’s all he’s ever wanted to do. The Greatest Gift is the story of his downfall.”

Another London book from another shop in Charing Cross Road. Blackwells this time, and I recall buying it as part of a three for two offer. The cover called me and a very short synopsis intrigued me.

Masterpiece by Miranda Glover

“Art, fashion, fame and sex – artist Esther Glass has it all. That is, until a ghost from her past threatens to destroy her perfect life. Trying to cover her tracks, Esther goes for ultimate sensation, selling herself as a living work of art. She takes the international art scene by storm, performing as the female sitters inside seven great paintings. But underneath the surface the cracks start to show as Esther is forced to reconcile a very private history with a very public life.”

I blame my dog for this one. In the winter when it’s too dark to go to the park or the beach in the evening I sometimes walk her up through the town. She sniffs the catering establishments and I gaze into the windows of bookshops and wool shops. I kept seeing this book in the same spot and I loved the cover, so eventually I visited in opening hours, took a closer look and bought a copy.

The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez

“On a balmy summer’s day in Oxford an old lady who once helped decipher the Enigma Code is killed. After receiving a cryptic anonymous note containing only the address and the symbol of a circle, Arthur Seldom, a leading mathematician, arrives to find the body. Then follow more murders – an elderly man on a life-support machine is found dead with needle marks in this throat; the percussionist of an orchestra at a concert at Blenheim Palace dies before the audience’s very eyes – seemingly unconnected except for notes appearing in the maths department, for the attention of Seldom. Why is he being targeted as the recipient of these coded messages? All he can conjecture is that it might relate to his latest book, an unexpected bestseller about serial killers and the parallels between investigations into their crimes and certain mathematical theorems. It is left to Seldom and a postgraduate mathematics student to work out the key to the series of symbols before the killer strikes again.”

Another charity shop bargain. I love mysteries and I love maths, so this seemed perfect.


And that’s it for this batch. Any thoughts?

When the Going Gets Tough … The Tough Clear The Decks

The idea of staying home and reading my way through my TBR and knitting my way through my yarn mountain is really appealing right now, but sadly I do have to earn a living.

Ah well!

I’m going to be positive, and press on with my Clearing The Decks Project – 100 books have been lodged in my home library to be read or ditched and then leave the house – it’s very therapeutic!

I cleared half a dozen in January, but then I had a little break to read Virago Modern Classics  and now in February I’m losing myself in Victorian novels. Well I have to read the keepers too!

But I’m still hitting the home library for things to read in between, and advice would be very welcome. This latest selection to be introduced has a fair few “why on earth did I but that” books, so I really don’t mind if it’s negative.

Please tell me –  which books did you like – or not like? Which would you like to know more about?

The Priest of Evil by Matti Joensuu

“After a strange succession of deaths at Helsinki tube stations, the police are baffled: no one has seen anything and the tapes from the CCTV show nothing. Detective Sergeant Timo Harjunpaa of the Helsinki Violent Crimes Unit has seen more than enough of the seamier side of human nature in his career, but the forces of evil have never before crossed his path in such an overwhelming fashion. It emerges that his adversary is a deluded but dangerous character living in an underground bunker in the middle of an uninhabited Helsinki hillside. Detective Sergeant Harjunpaa must now face his most terrifying case yet.”

I bought this in a secondhand bookshop with last year’s Orbis Terranum Reading Challenge, but then I read Tove Janssen for Finland instead. Maybe this year?!

Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters

“Stuart, A Life Backwards, is the story of a remarkable friendship between a reclusive writer and illustrator (‘a middle class scum ponce, if you want to be honest about it, Alexander) and a chaotic, knife-wielding beggar whom he gets to know during a campaign to release two charity workers from prison. Interwoven into this is Stuart’s confession: the story of his life, told backwards. With humour, compassion (and exasperation) Masters slowly works back through post-office heists, prison riots and the exact day Stuart discovered violence, to unfold the reasons why he changed from a happy-go-lucky little boy into a polydrug-addicted-alcoholic Jekyll and Hyde personality, with a fondness for what he called ‘little strips of silver’ (knives to you and me). Funny, despairing, brilliantly written and full of surprises: this is the most original and moving biography of recent years

I read a magazine article, I was intrigued and so I picked up a copy of the book in question. Not my usual sort of thing, but sometimes, I think, you have to read something completely different and you have to look at life’s harsher realities.

Never Eat Your Heart Out by Judith Moore

“A culinary memoir recollects the strange, good, and terrible dramas of the author’s life and places them in the context of the realm of food, from childhood mud pies and bridal dinners to the experiments created during an affair.”

This one caught my eye in a charity shop when I noticed that it was a US edition – not something we see to often in Cornwall – and I do like culinary memoirs so it came home. but now I look more closely I’m really not sure.

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo

“Twenty-three-year-old Zhuang (or Z as she calls herself) arrives in London to spend a year learning English. Struggling to find her way in the city, and through the puzzles of tense, verb and adverb; she falls for an older Englishman and begins to realise that the landscape of love is an even trickier terrain…”

Already read, and written about here. An interesting book, but one I can let go. The project works!

Book Lover by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack

“One woman’s passion for books and search for romance lie at the heart of this touching and funny novel about literature and longing in Los Angeles. ‘Women do different things when they’re depressed. Some smoke, others drink, some call their therapists, some eat!And I do what I have always done — go off on a book bender that can last for days.’ Whenever she’s in crisis — her marriage ends, her career stalls, her fantasy man shows signs of human frailty — Dora (named after Eudora Welty) escapes into not one, not two, but a carefully selected stack of books, shutting the door on the outside world until she emerges from her book binge strong enough to face her problems. Books have always been her saving grace, sheltering her during a difficult childhood and arming her with lessons and epigrams that are right for nearly every situation. But life is more complicated than a-book-a-day, and people — like her ex-alcoholic mother and judgmental sister — aren’t as compliant as beloved characters in a novel! Whether she’s being seduced by a quotation-quipping Quixote, or explaining death to a child by reading from ‘Charlotte’s Web’, Dora is Every-reader, and her charming story, shot through with humour and humanity, will delight anyone who’s ever sought solace in the pages of a book.”

I can never resist books about books, but I can’t hold on to them all.

Fault Lines by Nancy Huston

“Narrated by four children from different generations of the same family, “Fault Lines” is a tale of a present haunted by the past. Moving from California to New York, from Haifa to Toronto and Munich, its stories unwind back through the years until, reaching the Holocaust, the devastating secret at the heart of the family’s history is finally revealed.”Fault Lines” is a riveting and poignant novel in which love, music and faith rage against the spectre of evil. Domestic in focus, epic in scope, and with powerfully drawn characters, it is an irresistible showcase for Nancy Huston’s talents.”

I recognised Nancy Huston’s name when I saw this on the Orange Prize longlist a few years ago. I loved the mark of the Angel, and  so I put fault Lines on my BookMooch wishlist. It took a while, but eventually a copy turned up.

Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo

“Some secrets are too terrible to reveal . . . Some crimes are too unspeakable to solve . . . Painter’s Creek, Ohio may be a sleepy, rural town with both Amish and ‘English’ residents, but it’s also the place where a series of brutal murders shattered the lives of an entire community over a decade ago. When the killing stopped, it left in its aftermath a sense of fragility, and for the young Amish girl, Katie Burkholder, a realization that she didn’t belong. Now, 15 years, two dead parents and a wealth of experience later, Katie has been asked to return as Chief of Police. Her Amish background combined with her big-city law enforcement expertise make her the perfect candidate. Katie is certain she has come to terms with the past. Until the first body of a slaughtered young woman is found in a pristine, snowy field…”

It was 50p and the library sale shelf, so what could I do?!

A Tale of Two Sisters by Anna Maxted

“They were the best of friends, they were the worst of friends … Lizbet and Cassie are close, yet far apart. After a clueless upbringing (their parents’ basic childrearing beliefs: ‘play a trombone, see a monkey, get some fresh air’), the two sisters strike out in opposite directions, both desperate to escape… Cassie is skinny, clever, charismatic, successful – every right-thinking girl’s worst nightmare. The one flaw in her quality-controlled life may be her marriage – and if there are any other flaws lurking, Cassie has them covered. Lizbet is plumper, plainer, dreamier – more concerned about the design on her coffee cup than whether she can afford her new house. She works reluctantly for Ladzmag, desperate to make her name as a writer, but stuck writing embarrassing articles on sex. Her one achievement is her relationship with Tim, who thinks she’s cute not stupid for asking why Jesus has a Mexican name. Despite Cassie being the favoured child, she and Lizbet have managed to stay friends. Perhaps because – as Cassie says – they’ve always wanted different things. But that’s about to change. Confronted by challenges that they never asked for, forced apart by mistakes not their own, will Cassie and Lizbet ever realise the real meaning of sisterhood, or will true nature ruin everything…?”

A charity shop bargain. Anna Maxted writes a nice line in what I would call serious, grown-up chick lit. Does that make sense. The sort of book I would have devoured in my London commuting days but doesn’t call so loudly now I’m in Cornwall.

The Whisperer by Donato Carrisi

“Six buried arms. Six missing girls. A team led by Captain Roche and internationally renowned criminologist Goran Gavila are on the trail of a serial killer whose ferocity seems to have no limits. And he seems to be taunting them, leading them to discover each small corpse in turn; but the clues on the bodies point to several different killers. Roche and Gavila bring in Mila Vasquez, a specialist in cases involving children, and Mila discovers that the real killer is one who has never lifted a finger against the girls – but merely psychologically instructs others to do his work: a ‘subliminal killer’ – the hardest to catch…”

I spotted this one in the library and noticed that it was a bestseller in Italy, so I brought it home. The opening chapters were interesting, but I wasn’t really in the mood for a long crime novel, so when I saw a copy in the library sale i bought it and put it aside for the right moment. But now I’ve read some fairly critical reviews I’m really not sure …

The Family Tree by Carole Cadwalldr

“On the day of Charles and Diana’s wedding, Rebecca Monroe’s mother locked herself in the bathroom and never came out. Was it because her squidgy chocolate log collapsed or because Rebecca’s grandmother married her first cousin? Can we never know why we do what we do?”

Another charity shop bargain, and once again the sort of book I would have happily read on a London commute and am less sure about now I’m in Cornwall.


And that’s the end of this batch – advice please!

Clearing the Decks: half way through the introductions!

A quick reminder of the project:

I have too many books. Books on shelves, books in boxes, books in piles on pretty much every available surface …

So I have rounded up one hundred books that I think I will be happy into pass on, once I’ve read them and written about them. They are now my home library, stacked in a corner that I will turn to whenever I think I have nothing to read.

It seems to be working – since Christmas I’ve read three books and ditched two more.

I’ve been introducing those books in batches of ten, and I’d love to know if there are any you could particularly recommend. Or if there is a book you would particularly like, and I’ll pass it on to you if I can.

And here are books 41 to 50 …

Borrower of the Night by Elizabeth Peters

“A missing masterwork in wood, the last creation of a master carver who died in the violent tumult of sixteenth century Germany, may be hidden in the medieval castle in the town of Rothenburg. The prize has called to Vicky Bliss, drawing her and an arrogant male colleague into the forbidding citadel and its dark secrets. But the treasure hunt soon turns deadly. Here, where the blood of the long forgotten stains ancient stones, Vicky must face two perilous possibilities: either a powerful supernatural evil inhabits the place…or someone frighteningly real is willing to kill for what Vicky is determined to find. “

I read a lot of good reports about Elizabeth Peters, and so when the first book in one of her series turned up in a charity shop I snapped it up. Well, so often I pick up a book only to find it is part way through a series. This may well be letter E in my Crime Fiction Alphabet…

Lorelei’s Secret by Caroline Parkhurst

“Paul Iverson’s life is stable, orderly and dull – until he meets Lexy and her Rhodesian Ridgeback dog, Lorelei. From their first date, Lexy sweeps him off his feet and brings him passion, adventure and love. But one afternoon, Lexy climbs the apple tree in their backyard and falls to her death. Heartbroken, Paul cannot believe it was an accident and sets out to uncover the truth, with the help of the only creature who saw what happened, Lorelei.”

I think this one came courtesy of ReadItSwapIt. It’s one of the three books I’ve read and I’ve already swapped it again for a travel book for my fiance.

The Harvest by Christopher Hart

“In the heart of Wessex, 17-year-old Lewis Pike is the last of a tribe, refusing the lure of urban life, desperate to cling to his village birthright. But what does a village mean? Is it the microcosm of a wider dysfunction, as drunken poet Gerald tells him? Is it the imposition of alleged rituals like the corn dolly the “incomers” want to introduce into the harvest church service? Does it lie in the memories of his elderly grandmother? In the community forged by the illicit dogfights? Is it a family heritage, when the family is now a charity case, and Lewis can’t hold down a job?”

I bought this in a 3 for 2 offer in Waterstones ages ago. The cover is lovely, but when it was shelved the black spine never caught my eye.

Bing Banged My Lula by Frankie Park

“Standing by the school gates there are only two kinds of people: the smug marrieds and the single mums. You’re either with Charlie and her mates, Conka, Sharon and Tasha, or you’re against her, happy in your domesticity and financial security. As an escape from the constant demands of more money, kids and ex-husbands, Charlie and Conka decide to form a band. But their plans to secure a record deal the size of Kansas are thwarted by a series of life-changing events which include a miscarriage, a spot of head-butting and an outbreak of unexpected passion …”

This one has been hanging around for longer than I care to admit. I really don’t know why.

Down Among The Gods by Kate Thompson

“Two lonely people, a chance meeting at an adult education class, an almost instant attraction. But why do they keep misunderstanding each other, missing each other? What is it that conspires to keep Jessie and Patrick apart? Down among The Gods is an urban romance with a difference. A tale of mortals acted by immortals, it is an extraordinary, disquieting tale of human powerlessness in the face of the havoc wreaked by the Gods of classical mythology.”

Oh dear, another book that’s been sitting waiting for a long, long time. Now I pick it up again I do like the look of it, and it’s published by Virago which generally a good sign.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

“What if, as Franklin Roosevelt once proposed, Alaska — and not Israel — had become the homeland for the Jews after World War II? In Michael Chabon’s Yiddish-speaking ‘Alyeska’, Orthodox gangs in side-curls and knee breeches roam the streets of Sitka, where Detective Meyer Landsman discovers the corpse of a heroin-addled chess prodigy in the flophouse Meyer calls home. Marionette strings stretch back to the hands of charismatic Rebbe Gold, leader of a sect that seems to have drawn its mission statement from the Cosa Nostra — but behind Rebbe looms an even larger shadow. Despite sensible protests from Berko, his half-Tlingit, half-Jewish partner, Meyer is determined to unsnarl the meaning behind the murder. Even if that means surrendering his badge and his dignity to the chief of Sitka’s homicide unit — also known as his fearsome ex-wife, Bina.”

This was one of those books that everyone seemed to be blogging about a while ago.  I liked the look of it and so when I saw a good used copy I picked it up. I still like the look of it, but other books have been calling louder lately.

Toby Alone by Timothee de Fombelle

“Toby Lolness is just one and a half millimetres tall, and he’s the most wanted person in his world, the Great Oak Tree. When Toby’s father makes a ground-breaking discovery, tapping into the very heart of the Tree’s energy, he also realizes that exploiting it could permanently damage their world. Refusing to reveal the secret of his invention to an enraged community, the family is exiled. But one man is determined to get hold of the forbidden knowledge … and his plan is to destroy the Tree. Now Toby’s parents have been imprisoned and sentenced to death. Only Toby has managed to escape, but for how long?”

I saw this in the Oxfam shop towards the end of last year and I was intrigued. Well, I don’t come across many multi award-winning children’s books in translation!

The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent

“Martha Carrier was hanged on August 19th 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts, unyielding in her refusal to admit to being a witch, going to her death rather than joining the ranks of men and women who confessed and were thereby spared execution. Like her mother, young Sarah Carrier is bright and wilful, openly challenging the small, brutal world in which they live. In this startling novel, she narrates the story of her early life in Andover, near Salem. Her father is a farmer, English in origin, quietly stoical but with a secret history. Her mother is a herbalist, tough but loving, and above all a good mother. Often at odds with each other, Sarah and her mother have a close but also cold relationship, yet it is clear that Martha understands her daughter like no other. When Martha is accused of witchcraft, and the whisperings in the community escalate, she makes her daughter promise not to stand up for her if the case is taken to court. As Sarah and her brothers are hauled into the prison themselves, the vicious cruelty of the trials is apparent, as the Carrier family, along with other innocents, are starved and deprived of any decency, battling their way through the hysteria with the sheer willpower their mother has taught them.”

Another one of those books that was being written about everywhere, and it went on my wishlist long before it was published in the UK. So it was inevitable that when I saw a copy I would pick it up.

Sleep Pale Sister by Joanne Harris

“Henry Chester, a domineering and puritanical Victorian artist, is in search of the perfect model. In nine-year-old Effie he finds her. Ten years later, lovely, childlike and sedated, Effie seems the ideal wife. But something inside her is about to awaken. Drawn by her lover, Mose, into a dangerous underworld of intrigue and blackmail, she meets Fanny Miller, the brothel-keeper, and her shadowy daughter, Marta – murdered ten years ago on the day of Henry’s weekly visit…And as friendship becomes possession and Henry’s secret past is revealed, Effie and Marta plan their revenge together.”

I didn’t know this book existed until I spotted it in a charity shop. It was love at first sight!

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

“In Cambridge a child has been hideously murdered and other children have disappeared. The Jews, made scapegoats by the all-powerful Christian clergy, have been forced to retreat into the castle to avoid slaughter by angry townspeople. Henry, King of England, is displeased. The Jews provide a large part of his revenue and therefore the real killer must be found, and quickly. A renowned investigator, Simon of Naples, is recruited and he arrives in town from the continent accompanied by an Arab and a young woman, Adelia Aguilar. There are few female doctors in twelth century Europe, but Adelia is one of them, having qualified at the great School of Medicine in Salerno. What’s more, her speciality is the study of corpses; she is, in fact, a mistress of the art of death, a skill that must be concealed in case she’s accused of witchcraft. Adelia’s investigation takes her deep into Cambridge, its castle and convents and in a medieval city teeming with life, Adelia makes friends and even finds romance. And, fatally, the attention of a murderer who is prepared to kill again…”

I love the look of this one, but I haven’t been in the mood for the medieval lately. But when I am I’ll be ready!

… and now I’m half way through the introductions. And I need advice please!

Sister by Rosamund Lupton

Imagine that you’re in New York, with a successful career and a brand new engagement ring on your finger.

You miss your family, back in England, but that isn’t something you dwell on. Life is good!

And then imagine receiving a telephone call from your mother, telling you that your sister has gone missing.

What do you do?

Beatrice comes home.

And although her mother and her sister’s friends are able to accept what the police tell them has happened to Tess, Beatrice cannot. And so she begins to investigate her sister’s life, searching answers to explain what has happened, and why.

This story unfolds in a series of letters that Beatrice writes in her head to Tess. Wonderful letters. She talks of the past, of what she is doing, of what she is feeling.

The letters are such an effective device. They paint complex, vivid and utterly real pictures of the relationship between the two sister. They provide a moving account of a mother and her only surviving child realigning their relationship.They speak painfully clearly of the many stages of grief, of how it changes you, and of how difficult it is to put a life back together after a shattering loss.

Two sisters, and their mother. Real, complex, believable people to care about.

Emotionally, this novel is pitch perfect.

I’m afraid that the crime story rather lets it down. It was compelling and it raised some interesting questions, but the science didn’t ring true for me, and the complexity of the investigation just didn’t sit well with the emotional story.

If only the story of what happened to Tess had been a little simpler, had reached a different conclusion, this could have been a far finer novel.

As it was, the conclusion was striking – not so much a twist as a revelation that makes you rethink things you have read – was striking, but it didn’t feel quite right. I’m afraid I felt that maybe I had been cheated.

I’m holding on to the emotional story, but letting go of the crime story.

And I’m hoping that Rosamund Lupton can get the balance just a little bit better next time. Because then she really could write something very, very special.

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo

This book sat and waited for me for a very long time. It looked good – and that it was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2007 was an excellent sign – and yet I didn’t pick it up. I thought that I knew just what it would hold, just what it would be about before I even read it.

The combined forces of my own Clearing The Decks Project and Orange January made me pick up A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers on New Years Day. And I’m very glad.

Yes, the story, the themes were very much as I had expected, but reading brought them into my heart and into my mind.

“Beijing time 12 clock midnight.
London time 5 clock afternoon.
But I at neither time zone. I on airplane”

Zhuang Xiaoqiao (called “Z” because people find it difficult to pronounce her name) is a 23-year-old Chinese girl sent to the UK to study English. I wondered if I could cope with Z’s fractured English, but that didn’t worry me for very long at all.

The picture painted of Z is perfect: she is naive, and eager to learn, she is always watching and thinking. I was charmed, and I wanted to follow her, to walk beside her into her new life.

Her impressions and experiences as she found her feet in London were wonderfully observed, and her use of language illuminated the gulf between Chinese and English in a way that was both beautiful and clever.

I was also struck by the bravery of anyone who travels alone to a country with a very different language that they hardly know. A country so different, so far from home. I’m not sure that I could ever be that brave.

A chance meeting and a linguistic misunderstanding result in Z much older man, a failed artist, a drifter. In time she falls in love with him.

That relationship illustrates wider cultural differences. Attitudes to food, travel, sex, openness, privacy … so many things that go to the very heart of relationships. So many differences, so many things that Z’s dictionary just can’t explain.

And it’s one thing to identify differences, but quite another thing to understand everything that those differences mean and to learn to live with them.

“But why people need privacy? Why privacy is important? In China, every family live together, grandparents, parents, daughter, son and their relatives too. Eat together and share everything, talk about everything. Privacy make people lonely. Privacy make family fallen apart.”

All of the other characters, even her lover, were faintly drawn, emphasising how different and how alone Z was. She clung to her lover and  there was no room for others. How I wished she would mix with her fellow students, experience a different life, but no.

I still loved her, but at times she infuriated me.

How much was character and how much was culture? I really couldn’t say.

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers has is flaws: the use of language is sometimes inconsistent, and the story does drag in places.

But it illuminates some wonderful truths as Z navigates through her relationship.

“People always say it’s harder to heal a wounded heart than a wounded body. Bullshit. It’s exactly the opposite—a wounded body takes much longer to heal. A wounded heart is nothing but ashes of memories. But the body is everything. The body is blood and veins and cells and nerves. A wounded body is when, after leaving a man you’ve lived with for three years, you curl up on your side of the bed as if there’s still somebody beside you. That is a wounded body: a body that feels connected to someone who is no longer there.”

I am so pleased that I have read this book at last: I have met a heroine to cherish, and her has touched my heart and my mind far more that I thought it would.

Clearing the Decks: Round 4

I was going to be terribly organised today and write a reading resolutions post, but my brain is saying no, it really doesn’t want to think that hard.

So I’ll ponder resolutions a little longer and write about them in a few days. I’ve read books that I really must write about before too long as well.

Tonight though, I’m going to present the next batch of books for my Clearing The Decks project.

100 books have been lodged in my home library to be read or ditched and then leave the house. It’s working – I finished one book today and I’ve already picked up another.

Advice would be very welcome. Which books did you like – or not like? Which would you like to know more about?

For The Love of Angel by Susan Penhaligon

“A time of great change in Truro – set in 1880 – the foundation stone of the new cathedral is laid – there is a strike of clay workers which creates civil disorder and great strife. Florence Trevern is left to look after her baby sister when her mother drowns. Their father is over-possessive of both daughters, obsessively controlling their lives. Florence, self-willed, has to protect her sister from their father’s unhealthy love whilst trying to gain her own independence, complicated by her passion for Russell, a striking clay worker.”

I passed on copies of this one several times, because the cover made it look as if it would be romantic nonsense. But when I was looking for something else on the Truran Books website I read the synopsis and it looked rather good. My copy came from BookMooch and it’s registered with BookCrossing so I’d like to pass it on again once it’s read.

The Consolation of Nature by Valerie Martin

“The ten elegant stories in this book go beyond mere terror to locate the darkness that abides beneath the everyday. A Halloween mask refuses to come off; a family’s placid equilibrium is shattered by the coming of a large and oddly durable rat; a mermaid with a cold pale stare lures a fisherman to his death; and death itself, when met is unshakeably, erotically alluring.”

I had an offer for a book that had been sitting on my list for ages on ReadItSwapIt. There was nothing I was particulary looking for on the requestors list, but I recognised Valerie Martin’s name and thought this might be interesting, so I took it.

Carmen Dog by Carol Emshwiller

“It’s a dog’s life in a world dominated by men, but when Pooch, a rather attractive golden setter, finds herself becoming a rather attractive young woman, she discovers there is more to be feared from men than a swat with a rolled up newspaper. All over the words dogs, cats, guinea pigs and snakes are turing into women, while women are mutating into birds, bison and other beasts – unexplained transformations which men struggle to deny and control in the name of reason. But the forces of women and nature combine, led by the mysterious Rosemary, to make the world safer for females. After many adventures, Pooch finds true love and happiness as an opera singer.”

When this turned up in the Oxfam Shop  the title made me pick it up, and when I read the synopsis I thought that it would be one of those books that was either brilliant or terrible. Because it was published by The Women’s Press I gave it the benefit of the doubt.

Careless in Red by Elizabeth George

“It is barely three months since the murder of his wife and Thomas Lynley takes to the South-West Coast Path in Cornwall, determined to walk its length in an attempt to distract himself from his loss. On the forty-third day of this walk, he sees a cliff climber fall to his death, apparently witnessed by a surfer in a nearby cove. Shortly afterwards, Lynley encounters a young woman from Bristol whose personal history is a blank before her thirteenth year. These events propel him into a case that brings Barbara Havers from London and thrusts both detectives into a world where revenge is only one of the motives they must sift through to identify a killer.”

I’ve liked a lot of Elizabeth George’s books, but I was horribly disappointed in her last book and a half. I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt, and I picked up a used copy to read on holday a couple of years ago but didn’t get to it.

Cowboy by Sara Davidson

“Sara Davidson, television producer, scriptwriter, author, now in her forties, had established her way of life. A divorced mother, her two teenagers lived with her: she had a good circle of friends, a successful career. Then she meets Zack, an itinerant cowboy, a man from a completely different background — and what began as a light romance, deepens into the kind of love Sara Davidson had never felt before. But her friends, her children, her colleagues find him unacceptable: find her behaviour crazy: and she finds herself uncomfortable in her own surroundings. So should she give up such an unsuitable lover?”

This one came from Any Amount of Books in Charing Cross Road not long before I moved out of London. It’s been tucked away in a storage box since then, but I uncovered it when I went through all of my boxes in search of books for this project.

Autobiography of a Geisha by Sayo Masuda

“Masuda was a geisha at a rural hot-springs resort where the realities of sex for sale were unadorned by the trappings of wealth and power. Sent to work as a nursemaid at the age of six she was then sold to a geisha house at the age of twelve to learn the geisha arts. When she made her debut as a geisha in 1940 she was sixteen. Although she had barely learnt to write Masuda was determined to set down her story, motivated by the desire to tell the truth about life as a geisha and explode the myths surrounding their secret world.”

I live in a town with good bookshops, but they are all quite small. As a result when I visit a big bookshop I either buy far too many books or rush out with nothing because I’m overwhelmed. This book came home after a trip to Waterstones in Truro when I clearly wasn’t overwhelmed!

The Savage Altar by Åsa Larsson

“On the floor of a church in northern Sweden, the body of a man lies ritually mutilated and defiled; and in the night sky, the aurora borealis dances as the snow begins to fall. Rebecka Martinsson is heading home to Kiruna, the small town she left in disgrace years before. A Stockholm tax lawyer, Rebecka has a good reason to return: her friend Sanna, whose brother has been horrifically murdered in the church of the cult he helped create. Beautiful and fragile, Sanna needs someone like Rebecka to remove the shadow of guilt that is engulfing her, to forestall an ambitious prosecutor, and to confront the rumours circulating in a closed and frightened community. But to help her friend, and to find the real killer of a man she once adored and is now not sure she ever knew, Rebecka must relive the darkness she left behind in Kiruna, delve into a sordid conspiracy of deceit, and confront a killer whose motives are dark and impossible to guess…”

Another bargain bin book.

Liars and Saints by Maille Meloy

“Set in California, Liars and Saints follows four generations of the Catholic Santerre family from World War II to the present. In a family driven by jealousy and propriety as much as by love, an unspoken tradition of deceit is passed from generation to generation, and fiercely protected secrets gradually drive the Santerres apart.”

This one has been hanging around for a long time, and I really don’t remember where it came from. It’s used but there’s no price on it so I suspect it was a swap book. I believe it was listed for one of the Orange Prizes, so I might try to read it for Orange January.

What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt

“What I Loved is a deeply touching elegiac novel that mourns for the New York artistic life, which was of a time but now has gone–by extension, it is about all losses swept away by mischance and time. Half-blind and alone, Leo tells us of marriage and friendship, and makes the sheer fragility of what seemed forever not only his subject, but perhaps the only subject worth considering. Scholars Leo and his wife Erica admire, and befriend, artist Bill and his first and second wives–their respective sons Matthew and Mark grow up together until the first of a series of tragedies strikes. And things get gradually worse from then on, both because terrible things happen and because people do not get over them.”

My fiance picked this up at a book sale that I had I couldn’t get to. It wasn’t a bad pick – in the early days of our relationship he brought me some horrors, but nowhe knows my taste pretty well – but it just isn’t calling, and I’m not sure that it ever will.

The Redemption of Alexander Seaton by Shona Maclean

“Is the young man merely drunk or does his tottering walk suggest something more sinister? When he collapses, vomiting, over the two whores who find him on that dark wet night, they guess rightly that he’s been murdered by poisoning. So begins this gripping tale set in the town of Banff, Scotland in the 1620s. The body of the victim, the apothecary’s nephew, is found in Alexander Seaton’s school house. Seaton is a school master by default, and a persona non-grata in the town – a disgraced would-be minister whose love affair with a local aristocrat’s daughter left him disgraced and deprived of his vocation. He has few friends, so when one of them is accused of the murder, he sets out to solve the crime, embarking on a journey that will uncover witchcraft, cruelty, prejudice and the darkness in men’s souls.”

I was looking for books for my aunt’s birthday and picked up this one for myself as there was a three for two offer. I do like the look of it, but I don’t think it’s going to be a keeper.

… and that’s the end of this batch … Any thoughts?

Still Clearing The Decks

This is a much-needed project.

I have rounded up one hundred books that I think I will be happy into pass on, once I’ve read them and written about them. They are now my home library, stacked in a corner that I will turn to whenever I think I have nothing to read.

Some will be read, some I will accept just aren’t calling me any more and ditch.

I’m posting the books in batches of ten to bring them to the front of my mind, to remind myself why I bought them, why I wanted to read them.

And also to ask for help.

Can you see a book that you enjoyed ? Or a book that you didn’t?

Can you see a book that you’d like to know more about?

The Way Things Look To Me by Roopa Farooki

“At 23, Asif is less than he wanted to be. His mother’s sudden death forced him back home to look after his youngest sister, Yasmin, and he leads a frustrating life, ruled by her exacting need for routine. Everyone tells Asif that he’s a good boy, but he isn’t so sure. Lila has escaped from home, abandoning Asif to be the sole carer of their difficult sister. Damaged by a childhood of uneven treatment, as Yasmin’s needs always came first, she leads a wayward existence, drifting between jobs and men, obsessed with her looks and certain that her value is only skin deep. And then there is Yasmin, who has no idea of the resentment she has caused. Who sees music in colour and remembers so much that sometimes her head hurts. Who doesn’t feel happy, but who knows that she is special. Who has a devastating plan.”

I spotted this on the Orange Prize longlist earlier in the year. I really wanted to read it, the library didn’t have it, and so I ordered a shiny new copy. I’m afraid it fell by the wayside, but now I have it in mind for Orange January.

Child of Fortune by Yuko Tsushima

“By conventional Japanese standards, Koko Mizuno is an abysmal failure as woman, wife, and mother–and she couldn’t care less. She has succeeded in remaining true to herself in a stubborn struggle against powerful conformist pressures. Yet her resistance is largely passive. Self-absorbed, indecisive, she makes her own uncharted way through life, letting her husband, lovers, even her only daughter, gradually slip away. Signs that she is pregnant after a casual affair rouse her to make decisions. Then a deeply ironic turn of events thrusts her into the cold light of a reluctant self-knowledge. Through layer upon layer of dreams, memories, defenses, and delusions, she emerges finally to take a conscious step toward the independence she cannot yet define, certain only that she herself has changed.”

I picked this one up in a charity shop when I spotted the distinctive black and white striped spine that told me it had been published by The Women’s Press. A wonderful publisher. I wasn’t sure that it was my sort of book, but the cover had a glowing recommendation from Angela Carter, and once I saw that I knew that the book would have to come home.

Another Kind of Life by Catherine Dunne

“Hannah, May and Eleanor are sisters whose early life in Dublin with their middle class parents, has prepared them for a comfortable future of marriage, children and servants. Further north, Mary and Cecilia are also sisters, struggling to make a living in the linen mills of Belfast amid rising political tension. The lives of all the sisters are destined to unfold in ways that none of them could have imagined and ANOTHER KIND OF LIFE is the intricately crafted tale of how their lives entwine, against the backdrop of the rapidly changing Ireland of the late 19th century.”

I borrowed another book by Catherine Dunne – The Walled Garden – from Harrow library years ago and loved it. I kept an eye out for her other books but nothing ever appeared. Until, some years later, I spotted this one.

Ireland by Frank Delaney

“One evening in 1951, an itinerant storyteller arrives unannounced and mysterious at a house in the Irish countryside. By the November fireside, he begins to tell the story of this extraordinary land. One of his listeners, a nine-year-old boy, grows so entranced by the storytelling that, when the old man leaves, he devotes his life to finding him again. It is a search that uncovers both passions and mysteries, in his own life as well as the old man’s, and their solving becomes the thrilling climax to this tale. But the life of this boy is more than just his story: it is also the telling of a people, the narrative of a nation, and the history of Ireland in all its drama, intrigue and heroism. “Ireland” travels through the centuries by way of story after story, from the savage grip of the Ice Age to the green and troubled land of tourist brochures and news headlines. Along the way, we meet foolish kings and innocent monks, god-heroes and great works of art, shrewd Norman raiders and envoys from Rome, leaders, poets and lovers. Each illuminates the magic of Ireland, the power of England and the eternal connection to the land.”

I was keeping an eye on this one in the library, but the moment never seemed quite right. So when I spotted a battered copy in a book sale I bought it home so I’d have it to hand when that right moment came.

The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi

“When the battered body of a young woman is discovered on a remote Greek island, the local police are quick to dismiss her death as an accident. Then a stranger arrives, uninvited, from Athens, announcing his intention to investigate further. His methods are unorthodox, and he brings his own mystery into the web of dark secrets and lies. Who has sent him, on whose authority is he acting, and how does he know of dramas played out decades ago?”

I bought this towards the end of last year with my Orbis Terrarum Challenge in mind, but I discovered that the author was English and not Greek, so that didn’t work. But I now have the letter Z covered for my A to Z of Crime Fiction!

Sister by Rosamond Lupton

“Nothing can break the bond between sisters …When Beatrice gets a frantic call in the middle of Sunday lunch to say that her younger sister, Tess, is missing, she boards the first flight home to London. But as she learns about the circumstances surrounding her sister’s disappearance, she is stunned to discover how little she actually knows of her sister’s life – and unprepared for the terrifying truths she must now face. The police, Beatrice’s fiance and even their mother accept they have lost Tess but Beatrice refuses to give up on her. So she embarks on a dangerous journey to discover the truth, no matter the cost.”
I liked the look of this when it appeared as a Richard & Judy Book Club selection last summer and so I placed an order at the library. I found myself twenty-eighth in the queue for just one copy, and so when I spotted a copy in a charity shop I bought it. Not entirely rational, because it probably would have turned up in the library long before I pick up my own copy, but I’m afraid I’m not entirely rational when I spot a good book.


The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

“On January 15, 1947, the torture-ravished body of a beautiful young woman is found in a Los Angeles vacant lot. The victim makes headlines as the Black Dahlia-and so begins the greatest manhunt in California history. Caught up in the investigation are Bucky Bleichert and Lee Blanchard: Warrants Squad cops, friends, and rivals in love with the same woman. But both are obsessed with the Dahlia-driven by dark needs to know everything about her past, to capture her killer, to possess the woman even in death. Their quest will take them on a hellish journey through the underbelly of postwar Hollywood, to the core of the dead girl’s twisted life, past the extremes of their own psyches-into a region of total madness.”

This one came home from the library book sale a couple of years ago.

Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

“A young man is found brutally murdered, his eyes gouged out. A student of Icelandic history in Reykjavik, he came from a wealthy German family who do not share the police’s belief that his drug dealer murdered him. Attorney Thora Gudmundsdottir is commissioned by his family to find out the truth, with the help – and hindrance – of boorish ex-policeman Matthew Reich. Their investigations into his research take them deep into a grisly world of torture and witchcraft both past and present, as they draw ever closer to a killer gripped by a dangerous obsession…”

I spotted this in the 50p box, remembered reading a fair bit of praise, and so home it came. So that’s letter Y covered for my A to Z of Crime Fiction too!

The Book of Loss by Judith Jedamus

“Set in the perfectly realized world of imperial tenth-century Japan, The Book of Loss is a gripping novel of sexual jealousy at court. A renowned storyteller and lady-in-waiting to the Empress, the narrator is locked in a bitter rivalry with another woman for the love of a banished nobleman. Forced to observe the complex rules and social hierarchies of court life, she finds herself caught in a trap of her own making. Her machinations reach such a pitch that they threaten to undermine the rule of the Emperor himself. She records her plight, and her acidulous observations of courtly life, in her diary. Her voice is unforgettable–both foreign and utterly modern. Her sense of loss is unbearable, her love is all-consuming, and it will push her to the extremes of rivalry.”

This was an impulse purchase on a trip to Waterstones in Truro.

Someone Else by Tonino Benacquista

“Who hasn’t wanted to become ‘someone else’? The person you’ve always wanted to be…the person who hadn’t given up half way to your dreams and desires? One evening at a bar two men who have just met at their tennis club in Paris conclude that it is time to change their lives and decide to meet again in three years time to see whose transformation is the more radical. Thierry is a picture framer with a steady clientele, but he has always wanted to be a private investigator. Nicolas is a shy teetotal executive trying not to fall off the corporate ladder. But becoming another is not without risk; at the very least the risk of finding yourself.”

I read about this one in the back of another book (The Dinner Party by Saskia Noort) from the same publisher (Bitter Lemon Press) last summer. I was in interested, and so I checked the library catalogue. There wasn’t a copy to be had in Cornwall, and so when I came across a copy in a secondhand bookshop on holiday I picked it up.

… and that’s the end of this batch … Any thoughts?


Clearing the Decks Project: The Second Ten

Let’s recap!

I have more books than house-room. A bigger house would be one solution, but we like it here and so clearing out a few books seemed a more practical alternative.

So I’ve selected a hundred books from the ridiculous number that I have unread. Those books are now my home library, to be chosen from when I need a book but don’t have one in hand. And, like library books, passed along once I’ve finished with them.

And now it’s time to introduce the second batch of ten. Do let me know if I have a book that you’ve loved and I’ll try to make it a priority. Or a book that you’ve hated and I should think twice about.

Here, with the usual apology for my camera-phone, are the books:

The Bullet Trick by Louise Welsh

“William Wilson’s stage magic career has tanked, girls sneer at him and he hits the bottle too often for someone whose livelihood depends on steady hands. Out of desperation, he makes two ruinous mistakes: he picks a policeman’s pocket and then picks up Sylvie, an American burlesque dancer in Berlin with dangerously intimate connections to the criminal underworld. The seriousness of these errors becomes slowly, agonizingly clear through a series of suspense-building flashbacks—set in contemporary Berlin, London and Glasgow—that show just how low a mostly decent man can sink, especially when a pretty woman is dragging him down and the glimmer of redemption always dances just ahead.”

I’ve read a couple of very good books by Louise Welsh from the library, but this one I bought on an impulse because the cover was so striking instead of waiting for a library copy to turn up.

The Window of the South by Robert Hicks

“Tennessee, 1864. On a late autumn day, near a little town called Franklin, 10,000 men will soon lie dead or dying in a battle that will change many lives for ever. None will be more changed than Carrie McGavock, who finds her home taken over by the Confederate army and turned into a field hospital. Taking charge, she finds the courage to face up to the horrors around her and, in doing so, finds a cause. Out on the battlefield, a tired young Southern soldier drops his guns and charges forward into Yankee territory, holding only the flag of his company’s colours. He survives and is brought to the hospital. Carrie recognizes something in him – a willingness to die – and decides on that day, in her house, she will not let him. In the pain-filled days and weeks that follow, both find a form of mutual healing that neither thinks possible.”

I really don’t remember where this one came from. All I can say is that it’s here and that as there are other period of history that interest me more it’s most likely a read and pass on book,

The Petty Details of So and So’s Life by Camilla Gibb

“Camilla Gibb tells the unusual story of two siblings, Emma and Blue, who, despite an almost telepathic connection, respond to the disruptions of their childhood and the sudden disappearance of their explosive father in remarkably different ways. In her father’s absence, Emma travels vast distances, both internal and external, in pursuit of a new family, and discovers a sense of belonging in the most unexpected of places. While Blue, her burly, tattoo-stamped brother, haunted by the brutal, criticizing voice of their father, sets off on a cross-country search for their elusive parent. In the novel’s powerful conclusion, brother and sister find value in each other’s quest, reconciled to the fact that one can love without ever truly understanding the other.”

Another bargain bin book that’s been hanging around for a while now.

The Horrific Sufferings of Hercules Barefooot by Carl-Johan Vallgren

“On a stormy night in 1813, a doctor is called to the aid of two prostitutes in childbirth. To one is born a healthy girl, Henriette, to the other, what can only be described as a monster: a boy, Hercules, deaf-mute and hideously deformed, and with the power to read minds. This is a picaresque fable of the love that grows between Hercules and Henriette during their childhood, and which will entwine their fates for ever. Vallgren paints a cast of grotesques in a magical and atmospheric tour of nineteenth-century Europe: the swags and tails of the bordello, where Hercules is born; the phantasmagoria of the freak show, with which he travels; the sinister grandeur of the Jesuit monasteries, in which he finds both shelter and peril; the squalor of the asylum, where he finds only pain.”

I spotted this in the Oxfam Bookshop on a day trip to Falmouth not so long ago. I picked it up because that title intrigued me, I read the first few pages and I was captivated.

Small g: a Summer Idyll by Patricia Highsmith

“This novel, set in Zurich, is centred around a group of characters who frequent a gay bar. It opens with the violent murder of a young man and follows the life of his middle-aged lover as he tries to continue his design business, cope with his grief and reconstruct his life.”

I really liked the Ripley books and so when a Patricia Highsmith title that I’d never seen before appeared in a bargain box I picked it up.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

“A lost child . . . On the eve of the First World War, a little girl is found abandoned on a ship to Australia. A mysterious woman called the Authoress had promised to look after her –but has disappeared without a trace.

A terrible secret . . . On the night of her twenty-first birthday, Nell Andrews learns a secret that will change her life forever. Decades later, she embarks upon a search for the truth that leads her to the windswept Cornish coast and the strange and beautiful Blackhurst Manor, once owned by the aristocratic Mountrachet family.

A mysterious inheritance . . . On Nell’s death, her granddaughter, Cassandra, comes into an unexpected inheritance. Cliff Cottage and its forgotten garden are notorious amongst the Cornish locals for the secrets they hold – secrets about the doomed Mountrachet family and their ward Eliza Makepeace, a writer of dark Victorian fairytales. It is here that Cassandra will finally uncover the truth about the family, and solve the century-old mystery of a little girl lost.”

I bought this home from the library but it wasn’t the right moment and so I bought a copy of my own so I could read it when the moment was right rather than waiting for it to turn up in the library again. So when that right moment does come I’ll be ready!

The Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve

“When Linda Fallon and Thomas Janes meet at a writers’ festival in Toronto, it is the first time they have seen each other for twenty-six years. Theirs is a story bound by the irresistible pull of true passion – a love which begins in Massachusetts in the early 1960s, is rekindled in Kenya in the mid 1970s and which is about to play out its astonishing final episode…”

I discovered Anita Shreve around the time of Fortune’s Rocks. I loved it and since then I’ve read most of the books that came before and after from the library, but this one never turned up on the shelves and so I bought a copy. It came home with me from London six years ago and it really shouldn’t have been hanging around for so long, but it was pushed into the far corner of a bookcase and for a long time I’m afraid I forgot it was there.

Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

“Faceless Killers is the first of the acclaimed Wallander novels. Set in January 1990, in a frozen landscape and against the backdrop of a rapidly changing Europe, this is a bleak novel that deals with the thorny issues of immigration and racial hatred. Wallander investigates a brutal double murder at a remote farmhouse in which the only possible clues are the whispered words of a dying woman and a freshly fed horse. When this limited evidence and its implications leak to the press it stirs right wing activists into action. At times Wallander seems too much like the traditional hard-drinking, hard-living, hard-boiled detective of old, but he is more than that. He is a truth seeker, trying to make sense of his rapidly changing world, his method happens to be detective work, and it is this search that lies at the philosophical heart of the novel.”

I’ve read a fair bit of Scandinavian crime over the years, but the Wallander books were always a gap. Then I saw a book of novellas, written after the novels but set before, in the library and it seemed like a good place to start. This, the first novel in the series, seemed to be the next logical step and I planned to order it from the library when the mood struck. But then a copy turned up in a charity shop at exactly the same cost as a library reservation, and so it seemed to make sense to buy it.

Firmin by Sam Savage

“This is a novel told through the voice of a rat. Firmin is born in the basement of a ramshackle old bookstore but because he is the runt of the litter, he is forced to compete for food and ends up chewing on the books that surround him. Firmin soon realizes his source of nourishment has endowed him with the ability to read and this discovery fills him with an insatiable hunger for literature and a very unratlike sense of the world and his place in it. As Firmin navigates the shadowy streets of his decaying area, looking for understanding, his excitement, loneliness, fear, and self-consciousness become remarkably human and undeniably touching. But the days of the bookshop and of the close community around it are numbered. The area has been marked out for ‘urban regeneration’ and soon the faded glory of the bookshop, the small local theatre, the unique shops and small cafes will face the bulldozers and urban planners.”

I remember being in Waterstones in Truro and finding two books I really wated to read in a three for two offer. Looking for a third I spotted this, remembered a couple of very positive reviews, and so home it came. I do like the look of it, but it’s not necessarily a keeper.

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver

“American children’s book illustrator Irina McGovern enjoys a secure, settled life in London with her smart, loyal, disciplined partner, Lawrence—until the night she finds herself inexplicably drawn to kissing another man, a passionate, extravagant, top-ranked snooker player. Two competing alternate futures hinge on this single kiss, as Irina’s decision—to surrender to temptation or to preserve her seemingly safe partnership with Lawrence—will have momentous consequences for her career, her friendships and familial relationships, and the texture of her daily life.”

I was stunned by We Need to Talk About Kevin, and so I picked this one up pretty automatically. But I’m less called to big, issue-driven, contemporary books than i used to be – the London me would have loved it and polished it off on a few daily commutes, but the Cornish me isn’t so sure. And that’s why this book has been hanging around for a while.


That’s the senond ten, and the next batch will be along soon. 

Any thoughts?

Books do furnish a room …

… but still it’s time for me to launch my CLEARING THE DECKS PROJECT

You see, I have reached the point where my rooms are over furnished. Books on shelves, books in boxes, books in piles on pretty much every available surface …

So I have rounded up one hundred books that I think I will be happy into pass on, once I’ve read them and written about them. They are now my home library, stacked in a corner that I will turn to whenever I think I have nothing to read.

No deadlines – if I do that I’ll only read the short ones to try to hit targets – but I will post regular updates.

I will make space!

My plan is to introduce those books in batches of ten over the next few weeks.

I’d love to know if there are any you could particularly recommend. Or if there is a book you would particularly like, and I’ll pass it on to you if I can.

And so to the first batch of books …

Working my way down from the top …

Serena by Ron Rash

“The year is 1929, and newly-weds George and Serena Pemberton arrive from Boston in the North Carolina mountains to create a timber empire. Serena is new to the mountains – but she soon shows herself the equal of any worker, overseeing crews, hunting rattlesnakes, even saving her husband’s life in the wilderness. Yet she also learns that she will never bear a child. Serena’s discovery will set in motion a course of events that will change the lives of everyone in this remote community. As the Pembertons’ intense, passionate marriage starts to unravel, this riveting story of love, passion and revenge moves toward its shocking reckoning.”

A spotted this in a charity shop just a few weeks ago. It was acclaimed, it was published by Canongate and it seemed to have been out for quite a while without me coming across it. So I brought it home in case it was good and I never came across it again.

The Châtelet Apprentice by Jean-François Parot

“It’s France, 1761. Beyond the glittering court of Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour at Versailles, lies Paris, a capital in the grip of crime and immorality …A police officer disappears and Nicolas Le Floch, a young recruit to the force, is instructed to find him. When unidentified human remains suddenly come to light, he seems to have a murder investigation on his hands. As the city descends into Carnival debauchery, Le Floch will need all his skill, courage and integrity to unravel a mystery which threatens to implicate the highest in the land.”

“I don’t remember where this one came from, so it probably came from a local charity shop. It’s the first in what looks like a very interesting series, and fortunately the library has the next books in the series on the shelves.

The Bitch Goddess Notebook by Martha O’Connor

“Set in a small-town high school in Illinois in 1988, three misfit girls join forces with devastating consequences. Rennie, the stunningly attractive straight-A student, finds herself way out of her depth when she embarks on an affair with her married teacher. Cherry builds a shrine to Princess Diana in her bedroom while nursing her hippy mother through her coke-fuelled rages. Amy, who tears up her cheerleader’s uniform while her drunken parents concentrate on presenting a facade of perfect family life to the outside world. Together the three girls form the Bitch Goddesses, a take-no-prisoners gang of fierce teenage rebellion. They swear to stick together, whatever life throws at them, until one night at Porter’s Point when something so horrific happens it shatters their friendship forever. Fifteen years on, Rennie is a writer living in New York, struggling to keep her life on track and hiding an erotic obsession. In her Lake Superior show-home, a heavily pregnant Amy is certain that her husband is cheating on her and that she is jinxed by her past. Cherry, a model patient – obedient, co-operative, taking her medication on time – wakes in blind terror every night in an institution, dreaming of four red letters carved on human skin. The Bitch Goddesses may have grown up, but one way or another they must come to terms with a shared past…”

This was the first new book after I moved back to Cornwall. It was the comparison to Heathers on the cover that got me. I’ve started this a few times and dropped it, but this time it’s got to be read it or ditch it.

The Truth About Melody Browne by Lisa Jewell

“When she was nine years old, Melody Browne’s house burned down, taking every toy, every photograph, every item of clothing and old Christmas card with it. But not only did the fire destroy all her possessions, it took with it all her memories – Melody Browne can remember nothing before her ninth birthday. Now in her early thirties, Melody lives in a council flat in the middle of London with her seventeen-year-old son. She hasn’t seen her parents since she left home at fifteen, but Melody doesn’t mind, she’s better off on her own. She’s made a good life for herself and her son and she likes it that way. Until one night something extraordinary happens. Whilst attending a hypnotist show with her first date in years she faints – and when she comes round she starts to remember. At first her memories mean nothing to her but then slowly, day by day, she begins to piece together the real story of her childhood. Her journey takes her to the seaside town of Broadstairs, to oddly familiar houses in London backstreets and to meetings with strangers who love her like their own. But with every mystery she solves another one materialises, with every question she answers another appears. And Melody begins to wonder if she’ll ever know the truth about her past…”

I don’t read much that you could call chick lit, but Lisa Jewell I love. This one came courtesy of ReadItSwapIt.

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

“Jordan returns from California to Utah to visit his mother in jail. As a teenager he was expelled from his family and religious community, a secretive Mormon offshoot sect. Now his father has been found shot dead in front of his computer, and one of his many wives – Jordan’s mother – is accused of the crime. Over a century earlier, Ann Eliza Young, the nineteenth wife of Brigham Young, Prophet and Leader of the Mormon Church, tells the sensational story of how her own parents were drawn into plural marriage, and how she herself battled for her freedom and escaped her powerful husband, to lead a crusade to end polygamy in the United States.”

I seem to remember this being a Richard & Judy Book a few years ago. I spotted a trade paperback edition for just 50p on the library sale shelf, and so home it came.

The Ninth Stone by Kylie Fitzgerald.

“Amen Corner, London, 1864. Orphan Sarah O’Reilly has disguised herself as a boy so that she can work in the offices of Septimus Harding’s newspaper, the London Mercury. She meets Lily Korechnya, a wealthy widow who writes a column for the paper under a pseudonym. Lily has been enlisted by Lady Cynthia Herbert to help catalogue her magnificent jewel collection. She is especially struck by several large gems that belong to the Maharaja of Benares, which Lady Herbert has promised to have made into a special charm. The gems include a fiery red diamond that seems to exert an unsettling influence over anyone who touches it. Then two gruesome murders take place — first a customs officer at the docks and next a jeweller in Hatton Gardens, both of whom were strangled in an unusual, distinct way. A local simpleton, Holy Joe, is blamed for the murders but neither Lily or Sara are convinced the police have the right man. The trail of the missing gems leads them back to India, to ghosts, and the dangerous cult of the destroyer goddess Kali.”

Another ReadItswapIt book that I haven’t got to … yet.

Bleedout by Joan Brady

“Hugh Freyl is a blind lawyer, scion of Illinois’ most influential family. He recounts this story from the grave. David Marion is Freyl’s protege and a young convicted killer whose release from prison Freyl has orchestrated. He now stands accused of Hugh Freyl’s murder. None from Freyl’s powerful inner circle will stand up for David’s innocence. The perfect scapegoat for their misdoings, he alone bears the burden of proof. Revealing the inner-workings of an untouchable elite with all their tricks, entitlements and intricate financial schemes, Brady shows us a place that could be any small American city – a place where innocence can backfire and where fear is the only effective weapon against a corrupt government.”

I went a little mad buying books on my first trip back to London after I moved back to Cornwall. I think this one came from Any Amount of Books in Charing Cross Road, just around the corner from my old office.

The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper

“When Cameron Doomadgee, a 36-year-old member of the Aboriginal community of Palm Island, was arrested for swearing at a white police officer, he was dead within forty-five minutes of being locked up. The police claimed he’d tripped on a step, but the pathologist likened his injuries to those received in a plane crash. The main suspect was the handsome, charismatic Senior Sergeant Christopher Hurley, an experienced cop with decorations for his work. In following Hurley’s trail to some of the wildest and most remote parts of Australia, Chloe Hooper explores Aboriginal myths and history and uncovers buried secrets of white mischief.”

I read a glowing review – I forget where – but the library didn’t have a copy in the county. It turned up for a mre 50p in a charity shop, and so I just had to bring it home.

The Harrowing by Robert Dinsdale

“January, 1916, and the rooftops of Leeds creak with the weight of the winter’s snows. William Redmond, soon to join the Chapeltown Rifles, wanders with his younger brother Samuel through the old haunts of their childhood – and, there, at the top of the Moor across which they are forbidden to walk, Samuel, for too long trapped in his brother’s shadow, stoves William’s head in with a stone. When William wakes, it is a different world through which he walks. His brother has vanished, the town is silent, and not a man among them will give up the secret of where he has gone. On the other side of the water, the fields of France and Belgium are torn apart by war – and, when William discovers that Samuel has been sent to the war in his stead as punishment for what he did upon the Moor, he resolves to go out there and bring him back, to put right what his family has done wrong. This will not be revenge; this will be forgiveness. And so, with the fresh wound of Samuel’s attack still screaming at the back of his head, William ventures into the hell of Flanders – a mire of death and disease and deserters – to bring back alive the brother who wanted him dead.”

This was a LibraryThing Early reviwers book. It looks good, but I just couldn’t cope with a dark book when it arrived, and so it got pushed to one side.
The Consequences of Marriage by Isla Dewar.

“When James McElroy saw the ad for a lodger with ‘Bibi Sanders’ in a smart Edinburgh street, he pictured a glamorous young landlady with whom he would form a meaningful and deep relationship. But Bibi’s in her seventies. She’s led a full life, including marriage to the domineering and difficult Callum, now deceased, and raised six children.She’s not sure what to make of James and suspects – rightly – a troubling secret in his past. When Bibi sets out to re-visit the past for the final time via a tour of Britain in her rather unexpected Volvo sports car, James decides to go with her. It’s a journey full of surprises and revelations which will change them both.”

This was my first BookMooch book – Isla Dewar is one of those contemporary authors who really should be much better known.


That’s the first ten, and the next ten will be along before too long. 

And, most importantly, books will be read!