Throwback Thursday: Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

This week I have picked a book by one of my favourite authors – Joanne Harris. I have loved all her books and in fact, Five Quarters of the Orange is in my top 20 books of all time.

Gentlemen and Players was Harris’ first book set in the crime genre and it gets a massive thumbs up!

 

51EsKeqqRpLWhat I thought

What a great book; especially the end where I did NOT see any of those twists coming. It’s the sort of book that makes you want to turn to the beginning again to see where you might have picked up clues or see what you missed.

I am a HUGE Joanne Harris fan, my favourites of hers being the “foodie” books and I must admit to being a tad skeptical when I picked this up thinking that maybe she wouldn’t do thriller novels quite as well. I was wrong – this lady is no one-trick-pony. From the first page, you know that there are a murder or two which sets the reader up for the unfolding story ahead. The story is set in a public boys school that is centuries old and has a mighty reputation to uphold and is narrated by two people, in turn, to keep us guessing. The old school teacher, Mr. Straitley, adds some real comic moments too which add warmth to the book. However, whatever you think you know about this book, think again. By three-quarters of the way through I guarantee that you will flick back wondering when you could possibly have missed the signs (not once but twice).

Verdict

I highly recommend this book; I had great fun reading it. If you have only read the “foodie” books, then this will be a really great surprise. This author can write!

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Throwback Thursday: The Suspicions of Mr Witcher by Kate Summerscale

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

My pick for this week is The Suspicions of Mr. Witcher by Kate Summerscale which I remember really enjoying when I read it.

9780747596486What I thought:

What a fascinating book this was. I expected to read about the true story of one of the most shocking crimes in 19th century England but I hadn’t bargained for also getting a fantastically written and hugely interesting social commentary of Victorian times and attitudes and behaviours with regards to the emergence of Police Detectives in this country.

Mr. Whicher, the Detective called into this particular case, was one of the first ever Scotland Yard Detectives which came with its own share of suspicion and mistrust. The case in question was the murder of a 3-year-old boy, one of the several children of a well-to-do family in a country house in Wiltshire. In June 1860, the young boy was found to be missing from his cot in the morning and later that day his body was discovered (with his throat slit and a stab wound to his chest) down the servant’s toilet outside in the grounds. It soon became apparent that the perpetrator was one of the people inside the house on that night (which consisted of the boys family, the nursemaid, and housemaid). Whicher was called in to find out which one of the family murdered the three-year-old while the whole of England became obsessed with the drama, writing into the newspapers in their thousands offering their opinion on who committed the crime.

While I found the unravelling of this story fascinating in itself, I was also delighted to see so many references to some great Victorian authors including Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. 1860 was also the year that the first victorian “sensational” novel was published and this appeared to feed the frenzy of the public. This particular case has also been reported to have been the basis for subsequent rather famous novels such as Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood , Collins’ The Moonstone and Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret all of which contain themes from this particular story. Dickens (who was also an aquaintance of Mr Whicher) even wrote letters to Collins offering his theory on what took place that night.

This book is completely non-ficiton to point that only recorded conversations and facts are included (which seems to be the reason there are alot of negative reviews about it – perhaps it seemed too dry for some). And while this is more of a why-dunnit than a who-dunnit , there are still a few surprises along the way that caught me off-guard.

Verdict:

I thoroughtly enjoyed this book; infact I could barely put it down. Summerscale stuck to the facts without trying to sensationalise the story any more than it already was by putting words in peoples mouths and the result was a hugely enjoyable novel about a shocking crime and its repercussions in Victorian society. Highly recommended.

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Have you read this? Do you like crime non-fiction and could you recommend any others?

Throwback Thursday: The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

This week’s choice is The Surgeon by  Tess Gerritsen. Taken from my earlier review:

surgeonWhat I Thought:

One of my favorite things about reading is when I discover a new author and realise that they have written a ton of books that I now have sprawling in front of me! Good times! Being a massive crime fiction fan I was delighted when I discoveredTess Gerritsen a few years ago. She is BRILLIANT!!! Rarely do I read a book and then have to move straight on to the next in the series (which is exactly what I did) because I just couldn’t get enough.

The Surgeon is the name that has been given to a serial killer on the loose in Boston one stiflingly hot summer. He is targeting young women and his calling card is surgery so precise that the investigating team can only assume that he is a trained professional. The thing that puzzles Detectives Jane Rizzoli and Thomas Moore the most though is that the attacks are identical to ones that took place in Georgia two years ago but ended when one of the intended victims, Dr. Catherine Cordell shot the perpetrator dead. Either he has come back to life or there is a copycat at work who knows details of the case that nobody else could know. And even worse, the new attacks are taking place in Boston which is exactly where Catherine Cordell moved to start a new life…

What I enjoyed about this book as well as the fact that it was so gripping was the fact that there is a lot of forensic science involved – I love being privvy to what the postmortem tells us about the victims last hours, or the fibres and hairs that can tell us more about a perpetrator that you would ever imagine. I found it really interesting as well as being a gripping read.

Verdict: 

Fast-paced, gritty, authentic, chilling. READ IT!!!

Have you read this or any of Tess Gerritsen’s other books? What do you think?

Throwback Thursday: A Woman’s Life by Guy de Maupassant

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Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

My choice for this week is:

A Woman’s Life by Guy de Maupassant (or A Life)

I read this book back in 2010 and loved it. Here is a link to my original review.

a lifeWhat I thought:

Who would have thought that such a little book (just 202 pages) could incite so many different emotions (on the part of the reader as well as the characters)? One minute I was swooning over landscape and seascape and melting in Maupassant’s prose, and the next I was wanting to wring the protagonist’s neck!

The book starts with a young Jeanne who is in her last ever day at the convent school in 1819 and who is desperate to taste freedom and start her life after being cooped up for so long, only being able to stare out of windows and dream what her life will be like when she is finally out in the world. Jeanne’s daydreams are filled with longing and a restless spirit that is aching to see far away lands and nature and finally breathe after all these years at school. Jeanne’s parents (a Baron and Baroness) pick her up on her last day and drive her to Poplars which is to become her home by the sea. Maupassants narrative is so beautiful in parts that I longed to be there too; to experience what Jeanne was experiencing.

“First of all facing her was a broad lawn as yellow as butter under the night sky. Two tall trees rose up like steeples in front of the house, a plane to the north and a linden to the south.”

“Jeanne gazed at the broad surface of the sea, which looked like watered silk, sleeping peacefully under the stars. In the quiet of the sunless sky all the scents of the earth rose up into the air. A jessamine climbing round the downstairs windows gave a penetrating scent, which mingled with the fainter smell of the young leaves. Gentle gusts of wind were blowing, laden with the sharp tang of the salt and the heavy sticky reek of seaweed. At first the girl was happy just breathing the night air; the peace of the countryside had the calming effect of a cool bath.”

Jeanne’s first few months are spent getting to know her new surroundings and enjoying her freedom and soon she is introduced to a young man by the name of Julien who is a count and after a brief and all-consuming romance they marry. Jeanne starts to pick up clues that all is not what it seemed as early as the wedding night when he forces himself on his new bride but desperately wanting to believe that she has married the right man and stay happy she puts it to one side. I feel the need to note here (for amusement’s sake) that Julien calls his wife’s breasts Mr Sleeper-out and Mr Kiss-me-quick and certain other parts of her womanly anatomy The road to Damascus. Fortunately, these aren’t mentioned more than once.

The story is very much about the downward spiral of one woman’s life. We watch Jeanne’s hopes and desires and dreams turn into boredom and frustration and self-pity.

“Suddenly she realised that she had nothing to do and never would have anything.”

“But now the magic reality of those first days was about to become the everyday reality, which closed the door on those hopes and delightful enigmas of the unknown.”

“Habit spread over her life like a layer of resignation like the chalky deposit left on the ground by certain kinds of water.”

“Sometimes she would spend the whole afternoon sitting looking at the sea; sometimes she went down to Yport through the wood, repeating the walks of old days which she could not forget. What a long time it was since she had wondered through the countryside as a young girl intoxicated with dreams!”

Maupassant has such a way with words that he drew me into Jeanne’s world and I felt the same longing she felt. It took me back to days when I had the world at my feet too and thought I could do anything, had no cares in the world – OK so my carefree days were a little different to Jeanne’s as in rather than floating round some big mansion by the sea, it was made up of nights out on the town, no mortgage to pay and a feeling of being able accountable to nobody except myself (ahh, to be so naive once more!).  I do sometimes wonder how I would have coped in those days – one part of me thinks how lovely to do nothing all day other than read my books and take little walks round the garden with my parasol in hand, and the other part thinks but what would happen when you got bored of that? A woman didn’t have a choice then. In those particular circles, they were there to look pretty and be seen but not so much heard. How dull!

Despite my sympathy towards Jeanne, not just because of her longing for something else but also because of her brutish husband and selfish son, I still found myself wanting to grab her shoulders and give her a good shake! My God, this woman can make a fuss. Her level of self-pity knows no bounds – we have hysterics, weeping, falling on someone’s breast and weeping, collapsing on a chair and weeping, we have fainting, panic attacks and wailing. There were times when I wanted to yell “get a grip, love!” at the pages.

“She continually repeated: ‘I have no luck in life.’ But Rosalie would retort: ‘What would you say if you had to earn your living and had to get up at six every morning and go out to work? There are plenty of women who have to do that, and when they are too old to work, they starve to death.’”

Quite!

This book, I believe, should have been translated as One Woman’s Life rather than A Woman’s Life as it is very much about Jeanne and her personal story.

I read quite a few Maupassant books when I was at school (we studied Boule de Suife and some of his other shorter stories) but it’s far too long since I have read anything else of his. I’m glad I did – it reminded me why I liked him. Recommended.

Since reading this book I have visited Paris and on one occasion I went to see Maupassant’s grave.

Have you read this or any of de Maupassant’s other books? Any recommendations?

Throwback Thursday: Perfect People by Peter James

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

This week’s choice is Perfect People by Peter James and is taken from my review in 2011.

PPeople

What I thought

The first thing that attracted me to this book was the cover: It looked eerie and intriguing. According to the blurb, this book has been 10 years in the planning. When the idea first came to James about writing a book about designer babies, it was just that – an idea. Now it is a reality. That makes reading this book all the scarier – we may just be looking at our future.

John and Naomi Klaesson live in California and have lost their 4 year old son to a rare genetic disorder which made them watch him die a slow and horrible death. Still young and desperate for another child, the Klaesson’s opt for paying a huge sum of money to geneticist Dr Leo Dettore who has promised them that he can prevent this child from being born with the same disorder that killed their son. What soon become apparent is that Dr Dettore can also offer them so much more scope in “designing” their next child.

This book poses so many questions and will undoubtedly make you think about what you would do in the same situation. Being faced with the option to make your child more empathetic (but would that make them a playground bully target?) or allow them to survive on only a few hours per night like many CEOs and politicians do (but would that mean that they may have sociopathic tendencies?) what would you decide? These are the dilemmas that also face the Klaessons when going through page after page of tick-box options. The Klaessons are normal people, they have normal jobs, they live in a normal house and they only thing they really want is a disease-free child…but does that mean that they can’t be tempted by anything else?

What makes this book so compelling is that it becomes apparent pretty early on that something isn’t quite right. It’s so difficult for me to be say anything more about the plot as it really would spoil it, but what I will say is that with fairly short chapters that have a tendency to end at a point where you can’t possibly put the book down, then this makes for one mighty page-turner.

Verdict

An amazing thriller. One that will make you question what you would do, one that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and one that has sufficient twists to keep you on your toes and not get too comfortable…

Have you read this book or anything else by Peter James? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Throwback Thursday: Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

My choice for this week is: Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong.

Taken from my review in 2009, this book is still firmly at the top of my favourite ever reads. In 2008 it won the first ever Man Asia Literary Prize and with good reason. I have hardly ever come across anyone else who has read it but I honestly recommend so highly.

Image result for wolf totem jiang rongWhat I thought:

From the very first page I was hooked. Jiang Rong creates such a vivid and compelling narrative that I found myself simultaneously gripped with the story yet trying to slow down and savour every word, so beautiful was each sentence.

Wolf Totem is semi-autobiographical and Jiang’s passion for the Mongolian grasslands shines through on every page. The description of the grasslands themselves, the wildlife, the lifestyle and survival was stunning. So few books make me believe that I am there at the actual place, but with this book I was there on horseback, hiding from wolves, fleeing for my life, braving blizzards and building campfires. I smiled, I cried, I hoped and I silently pleaded all within the space of an hour. I also fell in love with wild Mongolian wolves. To get to know them was an honour– they are clever, cunning, brave, brilliant and I loved following their story (from both sides – the good and the bad). The Little Wolf that was captured and raised by humans both enchanted me and broke my heart.

While this book is most certainly a tale of the grasslands of the last 10,000 years and what happens when modern living creeps in, it is also a book about so much more. I can’t praise this enough; I am sad that it has ended as I could have read on for another 500 pages. What a beautiful book, one I highly recommend and one I will be reading again and again.

Verdict:

It’s now quite a while since I read this and I really think I want to read it again soon; just reading this review has brought back so many memories of how wonderful it is. If you love animals, nature, different cultures, the human spirit or just damn good literature then you will love this.

 

Throwback Thursday: The Likeness by Tana French

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

My choice for this week is:

This is taken from my review in 2010.


Image result for the likeness tana frenchWhat I thought:

The story is narrated by Cassie Maddox, a Detective in Dublin’s Domestic Violence Unit. She is called out to the scene of a crime in a derelict cottage in the countryside early one morning where a young lady has been stabbed to death. It doesn’t take Cassie long to work out why she, personally, has been summoned – the dead girl is the spitting image of herself. Not only that, but the girl is ID’d as one Lexie Maddison which is the invented name that Cassie had been given several years ago on an undercover job. The girl, by the looks of all the evidence that is presented to the team, has been living as Lexie Maddison for the last 3 years in Dublin and nobody knows where she came from or who she really is.

Lexie had been living in an old manor house in the village where she was found for just 6 months with 4 of her student friends (one of whom had inherited the house from his deceased uncle). After considerable persuasion, Cassie agrees to become part of a plan to infiltrate the manor house and out the killer. By telling the 4 house-mates that Lexie didn’t die that night, Cassie then spends the next week preparing for her new role by watching videos of the 5 housemates together, learning all about Lexie’s life, mannerisms, and her friends and then she is ready to step into her new life…….

I was on the edge of my seat wondering if Cassie could pull it off and if one of the housemates had anything to do with her death or whether it is someone from Lexie’s unknown past come back to find her or even someone thinking that they had murdered the original Lexie (from Cassie’s undercover role). One thing is for sure though: the housemates are hiding something.

I just loved this book, I found that I couldn’t and put it down, nor did I want to. Despite the size of the book, I never once felt like it was too long; on the contrary, I could have gone on reading for several hundred more. I became like Cassie – so engrossed in Lexie’s life that I felt like I knew the housemates and was living there with them. I love a god thriller, but this felt like more than that to me – it is a psychological thriller and even had shades of The Secret History by Donna Tartt  (which is one of my all-time favourite books) or Red Leaves by Paulina Simons (another great college thriller).

The characters in this book are brilliantly drawn: Detective Frank Mackey (Cassie’s undercover boss) is perfect for his role (and I have heard that French’s next book Faithful Place will be narrated by him which I am excited about) as are the characters of the housemates (posh, lying around listening to classical music and reading 18th century poets for relaxation).

Verdict:

A genuine page turner!

 

Have you read this or any other books by Tana French? Which ones do you recommend?