Sunday, April 14, 2019

2019 books, #21-25

Dead men's bones, by James Oswald. Kindle edition.

Perfect companion to a weekend in Edinburgh and Glasgow.  DI Tony McLean is investigating one case, that of an entirely-tattooed man found in a river, but is called away to investigate the death of a prominent MSP who has apparently smothered his daughters, shot his wife and then killed himself in his garden.  Weirdly, his boss Duguid is encouraging him to do his thing and complicate the investigation, unlike his usual request to wrap the case up quickly.  As McLean continues to dig into the case, he begins to realise he's a pawn in someone's chess game... There is a bit of supernatural stuff again in this, which I know is Oswald's USP, but I always find it ever so slightly annoying; but that doesn't detract from a really fascinating plot, and the characters are, as ever, worth reading.

Evil has a name [audiobook]. Narrated by Paul Holes, Jim Clemente and others. An Audible original.

This is a follow-up, in real life, to Michelle McNamara's I'll be gone in the dark: one woman's obsessive search with the Golden State Killer. Just months after McNamara's tragically early death, some amazing detective work led to an arrest in this series of 40-year-old rapes and murders. Jim Clemente, a former FBI profiler, and Paul Holes, the man who re-opened the investigation into the cases, tell the story of the case; there are also interviews with some of the victims where they're allowed just to tell their stories. A fascinating series, particularly if you've read the McNamara book.

The secret barrister: stories of the law and how it's broken, by the Secret Barrister. London: Macmillan, 2018.

This is an excellent book, funny and horrifying in turns; one relatively junior barrister's view of criminal law as it's currently practiced in the UK. The author takes the system to task, pointing out the impact of sentencing policy, trial practice and the impact of cuts in the legal aid system. At the same time, he acknowledges how many of the people running the courts system are trying to do the right thing against all odds.  Each chapter is illustrated with examples of actual cases, which are told with a great deal of compassion and occasionally a huge amount of humour. Definitely one worth reading for anyone with even a passing interest in the subject.

Threads of life: a history of the world through the eye of a needle, by Clare Hunter [audiobook]. Read by Siobhan Redmond.  Audible edition.

This book sits alongside Elizabeth Wayland Barber's Women's work: the first 20,000 years and Rozsika Parker's The subversive stitch: embroidery and the making of the feminine as a fascinating story of social history through textile craft. Hunter's focus is more on British history than the other two mentioned, and also brings in her own life as an artist-in-residence working with different communities.  From Opus anglicanum to the Glasgow Girls and then into contemporary craft, Hunter has interesting things to say even for people like me who felt reasonably well-versed in the history of embroidery.  The reading is lovely, a gentle Scottish voice which reflects the origins of the author and makes for extremely easy listening.

The Ronde: inside the Tour of Flanders, the world's toughest bike race, by Edward Pickering. London: Simon and Schuster, 2018.

As with several other successful cycling books I've read, this book tells the history of the Tour of Flanders by means of looking at one edition of the race (in this case, the 2011 race), and then widening the shot to give the history of the people and places discussed. It also broadens out to include the history of Flanders, and of Belgium. There are interviews with riders about their memory of that year's race, and with the organisers and team owners and directeurs sportifs. It's a fascinating book; I was about three-quarters through it when this year's race started and I got a lot more out of watching than I otherwise would...

Sunday, April 07, 2019

2019 books, #16-20

The sleeping and the dead, by Ann Cleeves. Kindle edition.

A body is found in a local lake during a summer of drought; it's identified as Michael Grey, a boy who'd attended the local school thirtyyears before. Prison librarian Hannah Morton is particularly shocked: Michael is her boyfriend, and she'd just assumed he'd left the area.  Now she's a suspect in his death, and buried memories are rising to the surface. I quite liked Peter Porteous, the lead detective, a man who thought he'd left the stress of big-city policing behind; I did enjoy this book although not as much as some of Cleeves's others...

Burial of ghosts, by Ann Cleeves. Kindle edition.

Lizzie Bartholomew has a one-night stand in Morocco with a man she imagines she'll never see again. A few months later, a solicitor comes to her with an offer of £15,000 to set up her own business, a legacy from the mysterious man on the Marrakech omnibus, on condition that she try to trace his son.  We gradually find out about Lizzie's background, the incident that has changed her life and meant she can't work in social work again, and as she digs deeper into the circumstances, the danger she's leading herself into by investigating the man's family. This is a fascinating book; it has some elements of a Barbara Vine novel in terms of being quite disturbing in parts.

Rapid Falls, by Amber Cowie. Kindle edition.

Cara's sister Anna was driving Cara and her boyfriend Jesse back from their senior prom when the car went off the road and into the river; Jesse is killed and Anna is incarcerated. 20 years later, Cara is married with a baby, and Anna, newly released from prison, is struggling with drink and mental health issues.  As Anna tries to reclaim her life, though, her memories of that night differ quite markedly from her sister's. Is the established view of what happened actually the truth?  This is really excellent and the reality of what happens creeps up on the reader...

Close to home, by Cara Hunter. Kindle edition.

8-year-old Daisy Mason has gone missing from a family party But her parents' reaction seems very odd - her mother is entirely concerned with keeping up appearances, and her father seems very reluctant to cooperate with the police. As DI Fawley investigates, things become even more unclear, and everyone is under suspicion. Tightly plotted police procedural with some interesting police characters.

In the dark, by Cara Hunter. Kindle edition.

A woman and a child are discovered in the basement of a house, during renovations next door. The elderly man upstairs claims no knowledge of them, and there are no recent missing person reports; and the woman screams every time the child is brought to her in hospital. DI Fawley and his team become embroiled in a series of complications which just make the whole situation more confusing, until the truth comes out.  This is disturbing in parts, but this is definitely a series of books to read.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

2019 books, #11-15

California Fire and Life by Don Winslow [audiobook]. Read by Jon Lindstrom. Audible edition.

Jack Wade is an arson investigator; he prides himself on his "just the facts" approach and lack of emotional engagement in the fires he looks at for California Fire and Life, under his boss, Goddamn Billy. When a woman is found burned in the remains of her house, and everything seems to be wrong, he breaks his rules and throws himself into the case. This has wonderful elements of the classic hard-boiled detective story; extremely enjoyable, with the requisite deadpan delivery from the reader.

Milkman, by Anna Burns. Kindle edition.

"The day Somebody McSomebody put a gun to my breast and called me a cat and threatened to shoot me was the day the milkman died. He had been shot by one of the state hit squads and I did not care about the shooting of this man". This beginning is pretty arresting; and I loved this book. It had elements of Joyce in the wandering, dazzling, circling prose, but then brought right back to earth with something very ordinary. I found elements of it hilariously funny, and a lot of it heartbreaking. It's set in the Troubles, and the everyday breathtaking absurdity of living in a divided community is everywhere, characterised by "the renouncers" and "the defenders". Wonderful. (I'm not sure everyone in my book group will agree - I know a couple of people were finding it quite heavy going so we're going to talk about it next month instead...)

Collected poems, by Isaac Rosenberg. Amazon: [s. l.], 2013.

This is an Amazon-printed edition compiled by a fan of Rosenberg's work; and the first collected edition of his poems.  Rosenberg's Break of day in the trenches is well-known and a staple of anthologies,  but this has all the war poems, and the pre-war poems. Unlike many of the war poets, Rosenberg was working-class, Jewish and had never had patriotic feelings about the war.  "I never joined the army for patriotic reasons. Nothing can justify war. I suppose we must all fight to get the trouble over."  The whole book runs to 72 pages, but there are some beautiful things in here. I think my favourite of those I hadn't read before is My days. Appropriate, too. (Apologies in advance if this link starts blaring sound at you - it was the only online source I could find.)

A study in Sherlock: stories inspired by the Holmes canon, edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger. London: Titan, 2011.

These are fun. Some are intended to be straightforward additions to the Holmes canon, but more are a sideways glance, and even more are pretty self-referential along the lines of the Sherlock TV series. There are stories from Lee Child, Neil Gaiman, Laura Lippman, Dana Stabenow, Jacqueline Winspear and many more, all taken into different environments, and sometimes into the world of the characters the authors usually write (Dana Stabenow's is a Kate Shugak short story)... Really enjoyable; and some of them, like the best fanfiction, make you think back to canon. (I have to confess that the one I didn't finish was the story written as a graphic novel - much more my fault than the author's...)

The cycling podcast: a journey through the cycling year, by Richard Moore, Lionel Birnie and Daniel Friebe. London: Yellow Jersey, 2018.

This is fun. I started reading this very shortly after it came out, and after I went to the launch event; and then somehow I lost it in the pile of unread books, after reading as far as halfway through the 2017 Tour.  There are some great bits in this book - an account of the cycling world in 2017 - not least the parts I love about the Cycling Podcast. Yes, they know a lot about cycling, and things like the finances surrounding cycling, the history of particular stages, and they're prepared to discuss things like doping, the history of the sport, the precarious financial situation of a sport which relies 100% on sponsorship... But there's also a lot on the love of the thing, and the beauty of Italy, France and Spain during the Giro, the Tour and the Vuelta. And the food. Lots of stuff on the food. And it's mostly also really funny.  There are also lovely guest contributions from Seb Piquet (the Voice of Race Radio), journnalists Orla Chennouai, Fran Reyes, Ciro Scognamiglio and François Thomazeau, along with riders Ashleigh Moolman Pasio and Joe Dombrowski. While it's now approaching 2 years out of date, if you're interested in reading about the loveliness of following road racing, you might still want to get hold of this book. You'll have to buy your own copy though; I'm keeping mine.

Friday, February 22, 2019

2019 books, #6-10

The stone circle, by Elly Griffiths. Kindle edition.

The eleventh of the Ruth Galloway/Harry Nelson books. This time, another circle is found on the Norfolk Coast, as in the first book, and the coincidences pile up as the son of Erik, the leader of the first dig, appears to lead this one. Leif is one complication. A recent body found at the site of a prehistoric burial is another. And Nelson's entangled private life takes another turn at the birth of his son, while Ruth has a decision to make.  I enjoyed the last one, set in Italy, but this one takes us back to King's Lynn and North Norfolk with a side of Cambridge. I just wish I could read these more slowly - I devoured it in 24 hours...

Six degrees of assassination, by MJ Arlidge. Audible full cast recording.

This is a series of 10 half-hour episodes, really well acted by Andrew Scott, Freema Agyema and others - and a free Audible series for subscribers.  Ten years after 7/7, the Prime Minister is visiting a charity in East London when he is shot three times in the chest. Alex Townsend (Scott) and Ellen Townsend (Agyema) investigate, and find layers upon layers of conspiracy. I thought this was excellent.

The moonstone, by Wilkie Collins [audiobook]. Read by Peter Jeffrey. Audible edition.

One of my favourite books, and an excellent reading by Jeffrey. The account of the dreadful Miss Clack is particularly well done. Popularly supposed to be the first detective novel in English, and still an excellent read/listen.

The Tour according to G: my journey to the yellow jersey, by Geraint Thomas with Tom Fordyce. London: Quercus, 2018.

This starts off in a slightly awkward way, unlike Geraint's previous book; but once racing is underway, Fordyce does an excellent job of capturing G's voice and we're taken stage by stage through last year's race. As ever, I'm amazed at the recall of riders of the different stages, and there's also a great deal of humour and some interesting stuff about the Team Sky dynamics which were a subject of great interest from commentators. There's also a good chapter about the craziness of the media storm around Geraint's win, and some contributions from Tim Kerrison, Dave Brailsford, Sara Thomas and Chris Froome. Definitely brought back some of the joy of seeing Geraint win last summer.

Twelve patients: life and death at Bellevue Hospital, by Eric Manheimer. Kindle edition.

This is the book which inspired the new Prime series New Amsterdam, which I found myself binge-watching last weekend; and, as so often, the book is better than the series.  Manheimer gives an unflinching view of public medicine in New York, through twelve different patient stories, one of them his own treatment for throat cancer. He looks at the horror of illness and the extreme damage sometimes done by its cure; and also at the wider issues of poverty, immigration status, obesity, insurance (and the lack of it) and so on. But it's also a hymn to public health care, the dedication of staff, the strange families which are created around both long-term treatment and long-term work relationships, and the beauty and diversity of central New York.

2019 books, #1-5


Attempting to get back into the swing of book reviews this year; and hoping to put in some crafty-type posts as well!

The cadaver king and the country dentist, by Robert Balko and Tucker Carrington, with an introduction by John Grisham [audiobook]. Read by Robert Fass. Audible edition.

I heard about this one on one of the criminal justice podcasts I listen to; the story of coroner Dr Steven Hayne and dentist and "bite mark analyst" Dr Michael West. Hayne ran an "autopsy factory" in Mississippi, single-handedly performing the vast majority of the state's autopsies for many years, while West hired himself out as a jack of all trades in the forensic science expert witness business, specialising in science such as bite mark analysis which is now discredited as "junk science".  Between them, they made vast amounts of money, and contributed to some blatant miscarriages of justice, condemning (mainly black) defendants to prison, often for many years.  This book exposes their crimes, and is introduced by John Grisham, chair of the Georgia Innocence Project.  It asks some disquieting questions about prosecutorial conduct, the reliability of professional expert witnesses, and institutional racism in the criminal justice system as a whole. Definitely worth a read/listen.

Longstone, by LJ Ross. Kindle edition.

Another of the DCI Ryan mysteries; this time, a marine archaeologist disappears while diving for a Viking longship he believes he has discovered.  Dr Anna Ryan is there when the body is found, and Ryan isn't far behind. This one is set in and around Seahouses, which was where we often went for day trips out, and several times for school trips, so the setting added to the interest for me.  These are always workmanlike and interesting; the style sometimes grates but the plot makes them more or less unputdownable...

The sealwoman's gift, by Sally Magnusson. Kindle edition.

Set in 17th century Iceland and Algiers, this is based on a true story of slavers' raids on Iceland. As such, it's historically fascinating; there are several historical sources for the male protagonists, but very little for the females, and Magnusson attempts to fill in the gaps.  The first hundred pages or so are not for the squeamish, in that a journey on a slave ship is portrayed in its gory reality; and it says interesting things about religion, class and sexual dynamics.  I have to say that I found it pretty heavy going, but that didn't seem to be the case for most of the other people in my book group.

Gallows View, by Peter Robinson [audiobook]. Read by Simon Slater. Audible edition.

I'd forgotten how good the early Peter Robinson books were; may have to go back to them. In this one, Banks (newly moved from London to Yorkshire for a less stressful life) is faced with a peeping tom, a pair of glue-fuelled robbers and a potential murder of an old lady. He's also dealing with pressure from a local women's group who feel the peeping tom incidents aren't being treated with the necessary seriousness. Tightly plotted, and well read by Simon Slater.

If we were villains, by ML Rio [audiobook]. Read by Robert Petkoff. Audible edition.

Recommended by Jan - thanks, Jan!  This is brilliant. A group of seven young acting students are in their final year at a prestigious private college specialising in Shakespeare; up to now, the group dynamics have worked well, even if it has been predictable who will land all the leading roles. As the year goes on, though, things begin breaking down, and the framing device - the release of the narrator from prison - indicates that a tragedy of some kind has happened.  The book is broken down into acts and scenes, each act with a prologue set in the present, and the story gradually unrolls.  It's absolutely compelling from start to finish, and the reader is also excellent. Highly recommended...


Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 books

Having completely failed to do any reviews this year, I'm just going to list 2018's books here and hope to do better next year!  At least I'll have a record of what I read over the year... 70 of them. Not great; not terrible. I listened to an awful lot of podcasts this year.

It seems I've read an awful lot on the Kindle and listened primarily to stuff on Audible (including a massive Harry Potter re-listen over Christmas and New Year which isn't listed here); this has not, predictably, done a lot for my tendency to continue to collect books. Next year's plan is to read many more paper books and try to make a dent in the heaps... And then get rid of them out of the house. The sheer number of unread books is probably why I retreated to the Kindle...

In true librarian fashion; by alphabetical order of author...

Aaronovitch, Ben: Lies sleeping [audiobook]. Read by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith. Audible edition.

Baker, Rob: Beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics: a sideways look at twentieth-century London. London: Amberley Publishing, 2015.

Baxter, Stephen: The massacre of mankind: sequel to War of the worlds. London: Gollancz, 2017.

Blumenthal, Daniel: Alsace-Lorraine: a study of the relations of the two provinces to France and to Germany and a presentation of the just claims of their people. Kindle edition (originally published 1917).

Bolton, Sharon: The craftsman [audiobook]. Read by Nathalie Buscombe. Audible edition.

Castillo, Linda: Her last breath [audiobook]. Read by Kathleen McInerny. Audible edition.

Child, Lee: The midnight line [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Audible edition.

Child, Lee: Night school [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Audible edition.

Child, Lee: Past tense [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Audible edition.

Clarke, Stephen: Paris revealed: the secret life of a city. Kindle edition.

Cleeves, Ann: A day in the death of Dorothea Cassidy. Kindle edition.

Cleeves, Ann: The seagull [audiobook]. Read by Janine Birkitt. Audible edition.

Cleeves, Ann: Wild fire [audiobook]. Read by Kenny Blyth. Audible edition.

Deaver, Jeffery: The cutting edge [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Audible edition.

Doerr, Anthony: All the light we cannot see. Kindle edition.

Douglas, John and Mark Olshaker: Law and disorder. Kindle edition.

Elkin, Lauren: Flâneuse: women walk the city in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London. London: Chatto and Windus, 2016.

Francis, Felix: Pulse [audiobook]. Read by Claire Corbett. Audible edition.

Francis, Felix: Crisis [audiobook]. Read by Martin Jarvis. Audible edition.

Galbraith, Robert: Lethal white [audiobook]. Read by Robert Glenister. Audible edition.

Garrett, Brandon: Convicting the innocent. Kindle edition.

Grey, Isabelle: Good girls don't die. Kindle edition.

Grey, Isabelle: Shot through the heart. Kindle edition.

Grey, Isabelle: The special girls. Kindle edition.

Grey, Isabelle: Wrong way home. Kindle edition.

Griffiths, Elly: The chalk pit [audiobook]. Read by Jane McDowell. Audible edition.

Griffiths, Elly: The dark angel [audiobook]. Read by Jane McDowell. Audible edition.

Hamilton, Alexander: The federalist papers. Kindle edition.

Harper, Jane: Force of nature. Kindle edition.

Harper, Karen: Shattered secrets. Kindle edition.

Hethrington, Percy: A day's tour: a journey through France and Belgium by Calais, Tournay, Orchies, Douai, Arras, Béthune, Lille, Comines, Ypres, Hazebrouck, Bergues and St Omer. With a few sketches. Kindle edition (originally published 1887).

Higashida, Naoki: The reason I jump: one boy's voice from the silence of autism. Introduced by David Mitchell. Translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell. London: Sceptre, 2014.

Hill, Victor: Wohlzheim: a tale of love in the Devil's half century. Kindle edition.

Izner, Claude: The Père-Lachaise mystery. Kindle edition.

James, Peter: Perfect people. Kindle edition.

Kelly, Jim: The great darkness. London: Allison and Busby, 2018.

King, Laurie R.: Island of the mad. Kindle edition.

King, Laurie R.: Mary Russell's war. Kindle edition.

McDermid, Val: Broken ground [audiobook]. Read by Cathleen McCarron. Audible edition.

McDermid, Val: Insidious intent [audiobook]. Read by Saul Reichlin. Audible edition.

McGregor, Jon: Reservoir 13. London: 4th Estate, 2018.

Macrae, Graeme: The disappearance of Adèle Bedeau. Kindle edition.

Macrae, Graeme: His bloody project: documents relating to the case of Roderick Macrae. Kindle edition.

McNamara, Michelle: I'll be gone in the dark: one woman's obsessive search for the Golden State Killer. Kindle edition.

Mancini, Ruth: In the blood. Kindle edition.

Mangan, Lucy: Bookworm: a memoir of childhood reading [audiobook]. Read by the author. Audible edition.

May, Peter: I'll keep you safe [audiobook]. Read by Anna Murray and Peter Forbes. Audible edition.

Mina, Denise: Garnethill. Kindle edition.

Noah, Trevor: Born a crime: stories from a South African childhood. Kindle edition.

Norwich, John Julius: France: a short history [audiobook]. Read by the author. Audible edition.

Raluca, Boangiu: Montpellier en 100 dates. Kindle edition.

Rayner, Jay: The ten (food) commandments. London: Penguin, 2016.

Robertson, Deborah: Declutter: the get-real guide to creating calm from chaos. Kindle edition.

Ross, LJ: Angel. Kindle edition.

Ross, LJ: Cragside. Kindle edition.

Ross, LJ: Dark skies. Kindle edition.

Ross, LJ: Heavenfield. Kindle edition.

Ross, LJ: The hermitage. Kindle edition.

Ross, LJ: High Force. Kindle edition.

Ross, LJ: Holy Island. Kindle edition.

Ross, LJ: Seven bridges. Kindle edition.

Ross, LJ: Sycamore Gap. Kindle edition.

Rutherfurd, Edward: Paris. Kindle edition.

Shaw, William: Salt Lane [audiobook]. Read by Jasmine Blackborow. Audible edition.

Stembridge, Gerard: What she saw: a novel. New York: HarperPerennial, 2017.

Symon, Vanda: Overkill. Kindle edition.

Upson, Nicola: Nine lessons [audiobook]. Read by Sandra Duncan. Audible edition.

Ward, Sarah: A deadly thaw [audiobook]. Read by Julia Anthony. Audible edition.

Ward, Sarah: A patient fury. London: Faber, 2017.

Ward, Sarah: The shrouded path. Kindle edition.

Wells, HG: The war of the worlds. Kindle edition.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017 books, #46-50

22.11.63, by Stephen King [audiobook]. Read by Craig Wasson. Audible edition.

Wow.  Just wow.  Jake Epping, a high school teacher, discovers that there's a wormhole in time back to 1958 through the back room of his local diner. The diner owner persuades him to go back in time to prevent the Kennedy assassination in 1963, and Jake has other reasons for making the journey.  Life, obviously, intervenes, too...  This is an amazing book - the details of life in the 50s, the implications of time travel, the interplay between past and present... Impossible to describe, but wonderful

The dry, by Jane Harper. London: Abacus, 2016.

Three of the Hadler family - mother, daughter and father - are found shot in and around their farmstead; the baby boy survives. It looks like a murder/suicide, but when Aaron Falk, a policeman who has moved away from the area, returns for the funeral, he finds it difficult to believe that Luke would have done this.  But then, Luke has always had secrets... and Falk was hounded out of the community after the death of a young boy.  There's been a lot of fuss about this as a "literary thriller"; I don't see it as being any more literary than many good crime novels, but on the other hand, it does genuinely work as a thriller. The crushing weight of the Australian drought is almost an extra character, too.  Highly recommended.

Boulting's vélosaurus: a linguistic Tour de France, by Ned Boulting. London: Yellow Jersey, 2016.

This is fun and silly, and one to dip in and out of. Boulting has taken French words, a few of which do actually have something to do with cycling, but many of which don't, and thoughtfully provided them with definitions and examples from cycling history. Some of these flights of fancy work wonderfully; some less so; but if you like cycling and French and France, this is a nice book to have by the bed, or if you keep bathroom books...

The hunting season, by Elizabeth Rigbey. London: Penguin, 2007.

Dr Matt Seleckis has never been much of one for the woods, but has moved back to Utah with his wife and young son.  After a disturbing incident at the hospital, he's more inclined to accede to his ageing father's request to a father-son hunting trip. While they're preparing, Matt meets an old friend and an unwelcome memory of one particular summer comes back, needing to be explored.  This is really claustrophobic with a creeping sense of dread - nothing's quite what it seems, and Matt's world threatens to come crashing down around him.

In bitter chill, by Sarah Ward. London: Faber, 2015.

Rachel Jones and Sophie Jenkins were abducted in 1978; only Rachel returned home. Over thirty years later, Sophie's case is re-opened when her mother commits suicide. And then there is another death. Rachel has taken refuge in a career in genealogy, but realises that the only way she will be able to live with herself in future is to investigate the past, and try to discover what really happened so many years ago.  As she does so, she and investigating detectives Sadler, Palmer and Childs uncover layers of deception, and eventually danger.  This was unputdownable, and I was very glad to find it was the beginning of a series.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

2017 books, #41-45

Gone with the wind, by Margaret Mitchell. Kindle edition.

I keep wondering why I haven't read many more books this year, but we've had some real bricks to read for book group, several of which I didn't quite finish so didn't count as reviewable...  This would have been a 993-page paperback so it had to be a Kindle book.  I hadn't read this before, although obviously had seen the film.  I didn't really enjoy the film because I hated Scarlett so much; and my opinion of her didn't really improve on reading this.  (I think she should just have been called Emma to warn the reader; literary Emmas seem uniformly awful.)  There are some moments, when she's in Tara with an entire household of hopeless and ailing mouths to feed, when I have some sympathy with her, but as soon as she starts to make her way in the world again, her natural selfishness becomes horribly rapacious, and it's painful.  What really did shock me, though, was what I find is called revisionist history of the Reconstruction, and much of that was left out of the film due to the prevailing atmosphere in 1930s America, along with the length of film production.  The idea that the Ku Klux Klan's foundation was entirely due to attacks by "uppity free blacks" on white women, though, was somewhat breathtaking, and the stereotyping of Yankee soldiers as opposed to our brave Confederate boys was a little bit nauseating in the current climate.  Parts of this book, which was named as America's favourite book (after the Bible) in 2014, definitely explain the romanticism around the Confederate statues in the south, and the myth of the noble Southern slave owner.  If you haven't read it, you probably should. I need a palette cleanser in the form of a more neutral account of Reconstruction, though.

Rain dogs, by Adrian McKinty. Kindle edition.

Sean Duffy's still there, in the Troubles, in the rain, in riot gear; but then journalist Lily Bigelow is found dead in the middle of the courtyard of Carrickfergus Castle, having supposedly fallen from the parapet.  The castle was locked, though, and the portcullis down; the only real suspect is the castle caretaker, but Duffy just can't find a motive. His superiors are as exasperated as ever at what they see as his tendency to overthink the case, but Duffy won't be bullied or rushed, and uncovers a series of plots involving local and international economic politics.  Another terrific book from McKinty.

Triple crown, by Felix Francis [audiobook]. Read by Martin Jarvis. Audible edition.

Jeff Hinckley's at it again in Francis's new thriller.  This time, he's investigating horse nobbling at the major US races, the famed "triple crown".  He goes undercover as an Irish "lad" (and oh dear, while I love Jarvis, his Irish accent isn't exactly stellar here; nor's his Puerto Rican) in a multinational crew, and keeps in touch with the US authorities with a succession of burner phones.  All the classic Francis elements are there - the teaching-us-about-an-unfamiliar-area, the derring-do, the personal peril, the getting-the-girl - and the plot rattles along very well.  Hinckley himself, however, is almost a cypher - Sid Halley, Toby Beach and Kit Fielding, just thinking off the top of my head, were memorable characters. Jeff's had three books to prove himself, and we still don't really know any more about him than we did at the beginning.  I'll keep reading these because they're immensely entertaining, but it's a bit of a quibble.

The burial hour, by Jeffery Deaver [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Audible edition.

Lincoln and Amelia return; and travel.  A nine-year-old girl witnesses a kidnapping in New York; the only thing remaining where the businessman stood is a miniature noose.  Shortly afterwards, an almost identical crime happens near Naples.  In both cases, the final breaths of the victim are recorded, set to music and put online.  Who is "the Composer"?  Rhyme and Sachs, all set to get married but bickering about their honeymoon location, fly to Italy to try to find out.  I don't think this is one of the best Rhyme books, but hey, it's Deaver, and Rhyme, and Italy, and Deaver's getting a great deal of fun out of taking Rhyme out of his comfort zone and giving him something additional to grumble about.  And while Jeff Harding's Italian accent isn't great, it's Jeff Harding.  There's a classic rug-being-pulled-out-under-you Deaver moment in there, too, which I enjoyed.

Deep France: a writers yarn in the Béarn, by Celia Brayfield. London: Pan, 2004.

Celia Brayfield's daughter goes off to college, and so rather than stay in London in her empty nest, she takes the gap year she never had and heads off to south west France with her page proofs, her cats (the extremely stupid Duchess, who lives on "Planet Pedigree", the perennially petrified Piglet, and Tarmac, the black one) and some trepidation.  The Béarn isn't the Dordogne with its huge proportion of "expat" residents (why we call them expats rather than the more accurate migrants is both obvious and depressing), but there are fair numbers of foreign residents around and despite her very good French, Brayfield seems to stick around mainly with them.  This is a lovely book - Brayfield obviously appreciates the slower more sustainable, rhythmic, seasonal way of life, and we hear about a year in a small community in one of the lesser-known bits of France, and recounts the year month by month with accompanying recipes. But she's not sentimental, either; one Kiwi couple's business is almost wiped out in a hard winter, and she's realistic about only really wanting to spend a year living in France.  I enjoyed this immensely.  As did the previous owner (this is yet another find from the Colts bookcase at Hove station - I really need to start leaving things there), given the various food splashes on the recipe pages...  One thing: the last section made me bawl on the train at the sheer optimism of it in terms of freedom of movement., people starting businesses, etc. - it was written in 2002. You might want to leave that section to read in private.

2017 books, #36-40

End games in Bordeaux, by Alan Massie. Kindle edition.

Catching up on some books read much, much earlier; it's too easy to leave books on the Kindle unreviewed because you don't physically have to put them anywhere.  I read this back in February in Paris; it turned out to be the last part of a 4-volume series, and I might go back and read the rest.  D-day has come, and the people of Bordeaux are waiting for the Nazi regime to crumble.  In the chaos of the liberation, consciences are examined; punishments are starting to be dealt out; and there's still hope that people who disappeared earlier in the war. Meanwhile Inspecteur Lannes, suspended from duty by his Vichy masters, is searching for a missing girl and uncovering allegations of historic sex abuse. It's a dark, slightly gloomy sort of book which fitted in terrifically with Paris in February...

The lion's mouth, by Anne Holt. Kindle edition.

The Prime Minister of Norway is found dead at her desk, having been shot. The last appointment she had was with a judge who, it turns out, is also an old friend, and has just been appointed chief of an enquiry into the deaths of babies in 1967.  As Hanne Willemson returns from her sabbatical in California to lead the investigation, she begins to discover other, more sinister, associations in the corridors of power, and to wonder exactly how corrupt the Norwegian establishment has become.  I really enjoy Anne Holt's books - and as a former Home Secretary for Norway, she presumably knows what she's talking about it terms of machinery-of-government!

Swallows and Amazons, by Arthur Ransome. Kindle edition.

A book group book.  I saw the recent film when it came out, and really enjoyed it; which meant that the actual plot of this book was somewhat tame in comparison without the additional spy story added in; but had forgotten quite how good the writing was, and how refreshing the children, and their freedom, was.  If it's been a while since you read this, or you never have, definitely worth a re-read. I am also remembering the look of joy on the face of one of our members who grew up in Canada, on hearing that this was the first of rather a long series!

A lesson in dying, by Ann Cleeves. Kindle edition.

The school at Heppleburn isn't an entirely happy place to be - the headmaster has a vendetta against a nervous young male teacher, and the PTA is in disarray. The caretaker, George Robson, notices all these things, and is worried about his somewhat scatty daughter joining the PTA.  Not as worried, however, as he is when the headmaster is strung up on the basketball hoop in the playground during a parents' Hallowe'en party. Inspector Ramsey investigates, and uncovers a morass of old grudges, incomer/native tensions and one final shattering secret.  I enjoyed this a great deal; haven't read any of the Ramsey books until this one.

A bird in the hand, by Ann Cleeves. Kindle edition.

Teenager Tom French is found, binoculars in hand, on the North Norfolk coast; he's been viciously beaten.  The floating population at the local bird observatory is shocked, but many of them soon move on to the next twitch. Retired civil servant and keen birdwatcher George Palmer-Jones starts to investigate, and discovers more secrets than he was bargaining for. Again, a new Cleeves series for me and one I'll follow up.


2017 books, #31-35

Another day in the death of America, by Gary Younge. London: Guardian Books, 2016.

Gary Younge picked a random 24 hours in the US, and the stories of 10 random children and young people killed by guns in that period.  The kids range from 8 to 20 years old, from a variety of backgrounds and ethnic origins; and in many cases, the deaths didn't even make the local news. The individual stories are heartbreaking; but the sheer banality of death by gun violence, and its acceptance by many families, is the most horrifying aspect of this book. Younge interweaves the history of, and attitudes to, firearms into the separate stories as a powerful howl of rage against the situation.

The absence of guilt, by Mark Gimenez [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Oxford: ISIS, 2017.

The Super Bowl is due to happen in Dallas, and the authorities uncover a plot to use a weapon of mass destruction inside the stadium.  A hate preacher is arrested and the president announces "We won!" on national TV.  Unfortunately, there's one snag: there's no evidence of a connection between the plot and the preacher.  That problem falls to new US district judge A. Scott Fenney; is he holding an innocent man, and if so, who are the guilty ones?  This is extremely well plotted with a good reveal towards the end.  It's also really quite hawkish and strays from anti-extremist to anti-Muslim an uncomfortable number of times.  Rather like the Vince Flynn books, it's slightly "know your enemies". Having said that, Judge Fenney is a good guy, and so are the characters immediately surrounding him.  I'd try another by this author, if Jeff Harding were reading it...

Blazing saddles: the cruel and unusual history of the Tour de France, by Matt Rendell. London: Quercus, 2007.

Matt Rendell's wild sense of humour is in evidence here; but he's also put together a great year-by-year history of the Tour with some anecdotes and a lot of fact (and some seriously good photos).  You get a really good sense of the different eras.  What comes over most, though, is the sheer lunacy of Henri Desgrange, the founder of the Tour and its first director, a man who said that the ideal Tour would be one only one rider could finish.  Obviously it's slightly dated now, but still an excellent read.

Presumed guilty: the British legal system exposed, by Michael Mansfield with Tony Wardle. London: Mandarin, 1994.

Michael Mansfield looks at miscarriages of justice in the British legal system, after his experience of representing the Birmingham Six and other high-profile cases.  The case he examines, though, is the murder of a man in a High Wycombe café in 1989, and the trial, conviction and subsequent acquittal of a man called Talat Sarwar.  Mansfield presents a compelling case for the adoption of the juge d'instruction system used in France, and includes a detailed description of how French prosecutors work with investigators, something I've found quite difficult to understand in the past.  Some of the things Mansfield recommends have been adopted in the 23 years since this book was written; some of the things he deplores have been reinforced.  A very interesting read, anyway.

Re: cycling: 200 years on two wheels, by Michael Hutchinson. London: Bloomsbury Sport, 2017.

An immensely entertaining history of cycling, from the earliest machines to the present day.  What I particularly like about this book is the social history element - the amount of freedom which cycling was able to give people, particularly women (and the kerfuffle about appropriate cycling attire for women is a sad and hilarious section), and the class perceptions of the activity at different periods in history.  There's also a thread running through which explains why the phenomenon of the competitive British road cyclist is relatively new, and includes Hutchinson's own history as a champion time-triallist.