tribute

Sir Antony Sher

It’s been a busy week of posts here on the blog, and I wasn’t planning to post anything today, but then the news came through that Sir Antony Sher had died. This blog is about books and writing, but please bear with me for this crossover with one of my other passions. Some of you probably know that I love going to the theatre. Going to see a show was one of the things I missed the most during the pandemic.

I’ve been lucky enough to see some amazing performances on stage through the years – some of them from names you’ll recognise from films and TV – like Mark Rylance, Judi Dench and Angela Lansbury – some of them more known to the theatre world. Antony Sher is one of the latter. When it was announced that he had been diagnosed with a terminal illness earlier this year, I was surprised that Him Indoors didn’t recognise his name (or his picture), until I checked back through his IMDB page and realised that most of his credits were for filmed versions of plays. I only saw him on stage once – playing Macbeth at the Swan in about 2000 – but it was amazing. I had been studying Macbeth at school and had struggled (as most school children do I think) with the Shakespearean language. But there was Antony Sher (and Harriet Walter) on stage making it all seem understandable and easy in a way that it wasn’t on the page. I hadn’t seen a lot of live Shakespeare at that point, but I had seen enough to know that it didn’t always work like that.

As Sher worked principally for the RSC in recent years – where his husband is artistic director – and a trip to Stratford always seems like a special effort, and the RSC in London can be quite expensive and hard to get (especially when the reviews were good), that’s my only experience of seeing him live on stage. So why am I writing about him on a book blog? Well it’s because that Macbeth really was very, very good but also because of the books he wrote about his acting.

Although I love going to the theatre, I have never wanted to be on stage myself. The closest I have got since primary school plays was playing in the band for the school musical. The process of creating a performance was a bit of a mystery to me. And that’s where Antony Sher’s Year of the Fat Knight came into my life. I liked it so much I bought his other books about creating great Shakespearean roles and they were equally brilliant. It really gave me a sense of the work and the research that goes into building a performance and creating a character – and probably made me a more critical and analytical theatre goer. Wonderful writing, wonderful acting. And an interesting life, well lived. I’m sorry that there will be no more performances to watch or books to read about them.

books, stats

November Stats

Books read this month: 31*

New books: 31

Re-reads: 0 (or at least not any I haven’t already counted once here this year!)

Books from the to-read pile: 4

NetGalley books read: 4

Kindle Unlimited read: 12

Ebooks: 6

Library books: 4 (all ebooks)

Audiobooks: 0 (again none that I haven’t already counted this year once!)

Non-fiction books:

Favourite book this month:

Most read author: Still Simon Brett (three more books in the Fetherings binge) although also two Barbara Ross books and two Lyssa Kay Adams books too.

Books bought: Not counting. I refuse. A couple on the way to the holiday and a few more in a flurry to try and finish Read the USA 2021…

Books read in 2020: 356

Books on the Goodreads to-read shelf (I don’t have copies of all of these!): 616

Ok one month to go before the end of the year and I am very behind on my read the USA challenge for the year, so I’m thinking that the next month will be all about that. But as for November, it was a mix of holiday reading, further Fetherings binging and for one I finished my NetGalley books for the month. Probably because the list was a short one this month!

Bonus picture: how could I resist using another holiday picture. Exactly. I couldn’t.

*Includes some short stories/novellas/comics/graphic novels ( this month)

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: November 2021 Mini Reviews

November was a really good month for books I want to talk about, but things were made easier on the picking front by the need to save the festive stuff for my Christmas reading post. So this round up is dominated by crime (and with a slight locked room, closed group twist) because that’s most of what else I was reading last month!

Weekend at Thrackley by Alan Melville 

Cover of Weekend at Thrackley

This isn’t a murder mystery exactly but it is another British library Crime Classic, and another featuring a closed group. Jim Henderson is invited to a weekend party at the house of a man he’s never met, but who claims to have been a friend of his father. On arrival he finds a strange assortment of guests – including one of his friends – a sinister Butler, and an attractive daughter of the house. Cue attempted robbery, a missing guest and much danger. It’s fast paced and you’re never quite sure what it’s going to do next. It’s in Kindle Unlimited too.

IQ by Joe 

Cover of IQ

Isiah is a high school dropout who solves crimes. He charges what is clients can afford- whether it’s home cooked food or a lot, lot more. It is a modern take on Sherlock Holmes in some ways – but in tough LA neighbourhood. This first book in the series shows you him in action solving the mystery of who is trying to kill a big name rapper but also shows you his backstory and how he came to be doing what he is doing. I read most of this across the course of 24 hours because it’s really, really readable. Very readable indeed.

The Dublin Railway Murder by Thomas Morris*

Cover of The Dublin Railway Murder

This is a meticulously researched investigation into a real life locked room mystery in Dublin in 1856. It is undoubtedly very well researched, but oh boy is the author going to make sure we know about it. The start of the book, setting out the crime is actually quite pacey but it feels like it all gets a bit bogged down in the minutiae of the investigation. There are also so many people to keep track of and that doesn’t help. I think I was expecting a bit more of a conclusion at the end, but maybe that’s me being over optimistic about what can be achieved in a book about a 150 plus year old Murder.  I picked it up because I enjoyed The Haunting of Alma Fielding, and was hoping for something similar – so a solid read, but not as good as say The Five.

Murder of a Martinet by E C R Lorac 

Cover of Murder of a Martinet

I know I’ve already written about another Lorac book this month, but this one is also really good. A horrible matriarch is murdered in the house where all her family live. If it wasn’t for the indisposition of the old family doctor, it might have gone down as natural causes, but as soon as it doesn’t Inspector MacDonald is called in. He has to try and figure out what on Earth happened in a house seething with tensions and rivalries. I liked it a lot. And apologies for the picture quality on this – it’s the best I could do with the cover it had on Kindle Unlimited…

The Ex Hex by Erin Stirling 

Cover of The Ex Hex

I’m just throwing in one romance quickly to finish! When Rhys Penhallow returns to a Graves Glen to recharge the town’s ley lines, he thinks the worst that can happen will be running into the woman whose heart he broke (unwillingly) nine years earlier. But it turns out Vivienne nursed her broken heart with tears… and a curse. Now the two of them will have to work together to fix the problems they’ve caused with the town’s magical energy. This is much less dramatic than I was expecting but was a nice sweet second chance-y romance with witches. I’m too late for Halloween but it’s still worth a look.

And in case you missed any of them, the Book of the Week posts in November were Educated, The Love Hypothesis, Murder in the Basement, These Names Make Clues and All The Feels. And here are the rest of the year’s mini reviews: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September and October. Come back tomorrow for the monthly stats!

Happy Reading!

 

Book of the Week, memoirs, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Educated

Well. I’m going to preface this with a Not For Everyone warning, and I’m going to depart from my recent well trodden path of crime and romance recommendations and go with a nonfiction memoir. And I’m only about four years behind, which is fairly par for the course for me to be honest as you all well know.

Educated is Tara Westover’s memoir about growing up in a doomsday prepping, fanatically religious household in Idaho and about how she struggled free. Her father is convinced that the end of days is coming, and that the government is plotting against him. This means that Tara is home schooled, but home school actually often involves working in the family junkyard. Her father also doesn’t believe in doctors or the medical profession in general and so injuries and illnesses go untreated. Eventually Tara manages to escape to university and finds herself in a world that she is ill equipped to deal with and lacking basic knowledge that others take for granted. But conflict with her family remains and she has to find a way to navigate that.

This needs all the warnings. I don’t think it’s giving too much to say that there is an incredible amount of violence in this – and whatever injuries you’re imaging went untreated, you are not imagining anything bad enough. I had been warned by my sister and I still wasn’t prepared. So go into this expecting: child abuse, child neglect, sibling violence, bullying and pretty much any behaviour that triggers a mandatory child protection referral if a teacher were to suspect it was going on. But of course Tara wasn’t in school so, yeah. It just goes on.

But if you want to know more about survivalists and some of the extremes of some of the offshoots of Mormonism then this will give you that. And some. Tara Westover has built a fresh life for herself and, spoiler alert, has managed to build healthy relationships – some of which are with some of her family. Unsurprisingly perhaps, her parents disagree with her descriptions of her childhood – and her mother has in fact written her own book in response to this, which she has self-published and in doing so has given all the real names of the people who Tara had given pseudonyms to. If you fancy an interesting half hour, after you have finished Educated, you can go and read the reviews of that on goodreads. I’m not sure you need to do any more than that because I think you’ll be able to draw your own conclusions from that.

Now I’m fairly sure my copy of Educated came from NetGalley, but so long ago now that it’s not even funny. You can get Educated everywhere. It has been on all the lists, been recommended by everyone who you could want to recommend it. I’ve seen it in pretty much every bookshop and some supermarkets too. And of course it’s on Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: November 22 – November 28

So I can confirm, that this was the week where I realised that I have just over a month until the end of the year and a lot of states to still tick off from my Read the USA challenge this year. Thus, a bunch of books got abandoned midway through while I started a scramble to try and get some more states ticked off. And I actually did ok – with three more off the list and some stuff ordered for some of the other missing states so things are feeling a bit more possible again. But I can feel a theme for the next few weeks reading coming along…

Read:

Garment of Shadows by Laurie R King

Fangirl Vol 1: The Manga by Rainbow Rowell, Sam Maggs and Gabi Nam

Educated by Tara Westover*

Snowbound Squeeze by Tawna Fenske

The Ex Hex by Erin Stirling

If the Fates Allow by Rainbow Rowell

Model Home by J Courtney Sullivan

Started:

Blood at the Bookies by Simon Brett

Still reading:

Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson

Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym by Paula Byrne*

Theroux The Keyhole by Louis Theroux

The Tormentors by George Bellairs

As I’ve already mentioned it at the top, I can’t lie – there have been a few books bought this week because of the aforementioned reading challenge and the fact that the tbr bookshelf isn’t going to help me with some of my missing states! I did pick up books for a few of them via Kindle Unlimited though, so that’s something right?!

Bonus photo: some comfort cooking for the picture this week, because there’s nothing like coming home from a sunny holiday into top temperatures of 4 degrees to make you want to eat something that will stick to you ribs…

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley

 

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: The Love Hypothesis

I read a lot of books on holiday last week including a lot of mysteries but breaking with recent trends I’m going for a romance novel. But as I said yesterday there were lots of things I want to talk about, so I suspect you’ll be hearing about more of them soon anyway.

Olive needs to convince her best friend that she’s over her ex (because her best friend fancies him and won’t date him until Olive has found someone else). Because they’re all PHD students, Anh is demanding empirical proof of this, so Olive has a bit of a panic and kisses the first man she sees. Unfortunately the man in question is Adam Carlsen – a rising star in the science world, a professor at the uni and also known as a tyrant towards his PHD students. But for some reason, he agrees to her proposal that he be her fake boyfriend. But the more time they spend together, the more Olive finds that she may actually quite like him. But that wasn’t the deal was it? But what really is going on between them – and can it survive a science conference where Olive’s career takes a bit of a turn?

Goodness me I love a fake relationship romance and this one works really well. It’s all told from Olive’s point of view, which I wasn’t expecting, but it means that you *think* you know what’s going on with Adam, but you’re never quite sure. I don’t know a lot about the world of academia, but I did like the fact that the book explicitly addressed the issues of a relationship between teacher and a student and spelled out the reasons why it was ok and what they had done about it. I was worried for a little while that the denouement was going to rely on a Stupid Misunderstanding or People Not Having Basic Conversations which are two of my pet peeves in the romance genre, but it doesn’t and it’s actually really neatly done. I raced through it in an evening and was really sad when it was over. I was always an arts and languages person at school and not a STEM one, so I loved the details about what it’s like working in labs and working in higher levels of academia. This is Ali Hazelwood’s debut novel and I am really looking forward to seeing what she writes next.

My copy of The Love Hypothesis came from the library, but it’s out now in paperback, Kindle, Kobo and audiobook. The paperback isn’t showing any click and collect on Foyles’ website, so I suspect it may be an order it in thing – at the moment at any rate. One last thing: helpfully there are some content warnings for the book on Ali Hazelwood’s website – mild spoilers ahoy.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: November 15 – November 21

So I have a confession. I’ve been on holiday again. I valiantly went to Gran Canaria for a week to help Him Indoors use up some leave before the end of the calendar year. And it was delightful. Very chilled out and lovely and warm. I also did a lot of reading. I’m making good progress on the Barbara Pym biography – but it’s very long, and I have been reading it on the iPad and my kindle wouldn’t hook up to the Wifi to sync so I couldn’t read it on the beach – so it’s not finished yet. And I didn’t take Almost English and Heroine Complex with me so they’re still ongoing (since last holiday – eek!). But I did read really quite a lot and lots of it good. Plenty of stuff to talk about. I just need to figure out when I’m going to do it. This week is back to normal really – I just need to catch up on everything I’ve missed in the last week… wish me luck!

Read:

Weekend at Thrackley by Alan Melville

IQ by Joe Ide 

Home for a Cowboy Christmas by Donna Grant*

Wish Upon a Cowboy by Donna Grant*

Dublin Railway Murder by Thomas Morris*

Death Under the Dryer by Simon Brett

Stormy Weather by Carl Hiassen

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

Sealed Off by Barbara Ross

Shucked Apart by Barbara Ross

Started:

Garment of Shadows by Laurie R King

Theroux The Keyhole by Louis Theroux

The Tormentors by George Bellairs

Still reading:

Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson

Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym by Paula Byrne*

I have been very restrained and haven’t bought anything since the two books at the airport last weekend. Check me out!

Bonus photo: Of course it’s from the holiday. What else would it be. Here’s the lagoon by the beach at Maspalomas. And it was as lovely and sunny as this looks.

Lagoon and sand dunes with glorious blue sky

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley

 

Book of the Week, crime, Forgotten books, mystery

Book of the Week: Murder in the Basement

Another week, another British Library Crime Classic pick. I’m not going to apologise though because they’ve got seem to have changed their Kindle Unlimited selection and you have to take advantage of that while you can!

Murder in the Basement opens with a newly married couple moving into their first house together and promptly discovering a corpse being in the cellar. It has been there for some time and Chief Inspector Moresby’s first task is to figure out who it is. The first section of the book deals with the routine police work necessary to try and identify a body in pre-DNA times. When Moresby discover it, the reader is still left in the dark – you know it is a woman who worked at a school – but not which one. The next section of the story is a book within a book as you read the novel that Moresby’s friend Roger Sheringham wrote while working at the school and try to figure out who the victim is. And then the final section features the attempt to prove a case against the Very Obvious Suspect.

Now if I’ve made that sound complicated, I apologise but do go with me – it makes much more sense when you read it and it really is very cleverly put together and out of the ordinary for Golden Age crime novels. This is only my second Anthony Berkeley and from what I can deduce from my review of the other one I didn’t like that anywhere near as much as this one. I can’t quite work out whether part of my delight in this is because I love a boarding school story so much that seeing the seething rivalries between the teachers in the book within a book really really works for me, but it may well have something to do with it. Moresby and Sheringham are both interesting characters and the resolution is somewhat unexpected. Definitely worth a look – especially if you’re a Kindle Unlimited member.

And if you aren’t a Kindle unlimited person, the kindle edition isn’t too much to buy or you could just get the paperback. I assume the Kobo edition will reappear when it rotates out of KU.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: November 8 – November 14

For some reason I’m on a mega murder mystery kick at the morning  even more than usual I mean. I’m putting it down to there being lots of good options in Kindle Unlimited at the moment, but it could just be that it’s autumn and I want to be curled up on the sofa with a good book and the mystery options have appealed more than the romance ones so far!

Read:

These Names Make Clues by E R C Lorac

The Body in the Attic by Judi Lynn

Murder in the Basement by Anthony Berkeley

Resorting to Murder ed Martin Edwards

The Stabbing at the Stables by Simon Brett

What Child Is This by Rhys Bowen

Take the Lead by Jessica Simpson

Started:

Home for a Cowboy Christmas by Donna Grant*

Weekend at Thrackley by Alan Melville

Death Under the Dryer by Simon Brett

IQ by Joe Ide 

The Dublin Railway Murder by Thomas Morris*

Still reading:

Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson

Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym by Paula Byrne*

Two actual books and an ebook. Positively restrained!

Bonus photo: somewhat unoriginal this week I have to say, but here’s a misty morning in London.

Fitzroy Square on a misty morning

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley

 

Book of the Week, cozy crime, crime, detective, Forgotten books, mystery

Book of the Week: These Names Make Clues

I mean I would say that this is slightly cheating but you know that already because I told you yesterday that I hadn’t quite finished this because I went to see Jools Holland, so you already know that I finished this on Monday. But I did read most of it last week and it is my favourite thing I (mostly) read last week so it’s fair game for this.

These Names Makes Clues is a classic closed group mystery. Detective Inspector MacDonald is invited to a treasure hunt at the house of a well-known publisher. Along the other guests are writers of mysteries, romances and other books all with pseudonyms to hide their identities as part of the game. But before the night is over, one of the guests has been found dead in the telephone room and MacDonald is suddenly involved in an investigation filled with fake names and complicated alibis.

I really enjoyed this. I’ve recommended some books by E C R Lorac before and this is right up there. There are plenty of mysteries among the cast of suspects, even though some of them are revealed quite late on which is verging on cheating for the rules of Golden Age mystery writing but I forgave it because it’s a proper thrill ride towards the end as it all unravels. If you have kindle unlimited this is definitely worth a look as it’s currently in the rotation of British Library Crime Classics included in your membership in the UK.

My copy of These Names Make Clues came from the British Library bookshop during my book buying spree on my London trip in mid-October, but as mentioned above it’s available on Kindle Unlimited at the moment – which means I can’t find it on other ebook vendors, but when the unlimited period ends it may well pop up on Kobo again.

Happy reading!