Saturday 29 September 2018

Ten of the Best #135

Well hello there. It's the fantabulous weekend.

Time to catch up on all we missed - and it was quite a week. All the Presidents at the UN, the testimony of Ford about Kavanaugh's behaviour, and some rants, followed by some great music.

Hope you find something you missed, or wanted to come back to. You know what to do - click on the pics for the stories, and come back for the rest, keep scrolling if you've seen it all before.

The United Nations laughs at Trump - here's the moment. And he was late. In NYC - if anyone should know how long the traffic takes, it's him. Unacceptable.

And then my favourite Prime Minister - Jacinda Ardern from New Zealand (here's why she's so awesome) explains to Steven Colbert why the UN laughed at Trump.

Thursday 27 September 2018

Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris

When you're having a bit of a binge on mystery/ thriller books, it doesn't really matter, right? The plot can be iffy, the characters not so great, there can be lots of suspension of belief, and as long as there is figuring out to do, you'll keep reading until the end.


And in this case, more so because B.A. Paris's previous novels - Behind Closed Doors and The Breakdown were actually quite good.

In this one, Finn and Layla, madly in love, holiday in France and stop at a restroom/gas station. Layla disappears and is not seen for years. It's 12 years on, when Finn is planning to remarry, and the little Russian dolls start arriving. Which is a Layla trademark, and definitely a message, and some sort of ominous warning.

I can't work out whether it was the characters - I'm usually quite forgiving, and like most characters - even the villains, or the plot, but this was just too much for me to swallow. Finn was so stupid at times, Ellen, just pathetic, and the hurried reveal-all ending felt too contrived and rushed and unreal.

It's like an all-day hike. That first niggle - hmm, not sure about that, coincides with the first time you need to stop and take a breath; the second - you pause for longer, and wonder - is this up to standard? by the time you've been climbing a while, you feel like you could take a break the rest of the day and it wouldn't be enough. I so nearly gave up. But the pace of the book was good, and I'm just sorry that there wasn't a view at the end that made up for persevering through all the questions.


2 stars

ISBN: 9780008244873

More books.

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter

You know when a book is so eagerly awaited in your household that, on the day, on the way back from the local bookstore, when your husband sends you a text message "Did you know the new Karin Slaughter is out?" and you send one back "Yes I do, because I've already bought it", it's a Very Good Day. Seriously, because I'd forgotten it was coming out, and when I saw it, I didn't hesitate. It was done.

And boy am I glad. Slaughter gets better and better.

This one's about a mother and daughter - Laura and Andy. You know when you think you know everything about your mother, but you haven't even scratched the surface. And you know your daughter's clever and brave, but you don't want her to have even more opportunity to prove it; and then you find yourself giving her all sorts of tips and tricks to assist with survival. Yes, survival.

It starts with violence in a mall. Normal, everyday violence, if you know what I mean, until Andy thinks a little harder about it, and realises that her mom may have a little baggage from somewhere. This quickly escalates into both being questioned by police, followed, and running for their lives. And in order to know where to run, all sorts of truths must be confronted. The history is also intense - life was so different a generation ago, for women in particular.

Karin Slaughter is one of my very favourite authors, and she has outdone herself in this one. We adore Will Trent and Sara Linton, and we can't wait another year to get that next instalment, but then we read this, and Cop Town and The Good Daughter and Pretty Girls, and we discover that actually, we really can wait, after all. And we really couldn't, before.

I loved the pace, the tension, the characters, the plot, the drama, the everything.

5 Scintillating stars.


Tuesday 25 September 2018

Broken Ground by Val McDermid

"The slap of spades in dense peat was an unmistakable sound. They slipped in and out of rhythm:overlapping, separating, cascading, then coming together again, much like the men's heavy breathing."

A body? Almost definitely, I thought. But it's not. And if I gave you a thousand guesses, I doubt you'd guess what they're burying in peat (unless you've read the book).

Back at the office, DCI Karen Pirie has a new boss. You'd think, since she's a woman, life would be better for Karen, but no - the DCI and DC Jason "The Mint" Murray have DS Gerry McCartney foisted upon them, ostensibly to spy and report to Ann Markie (Dog Biscuit). Their Historic Case Unit investigates cases younger than 70 years, but "cold" in terms of evidence. Meanwhile, Karen's friend, River, a forensic anthropologist gets the peat mystery.

Karen and Jason must navigate the bad politics, blurry lines drawn between cases, while they cannot escape the feeling that one bad move will have them blown up and out of jobs.

Val McDermid weaves an imaginative plot, including Highland games, a real highlander, and ties to spy-training units in WWII.

I thoroughly enjoyed the pace, the tension, the detail and the resolution, even though it did come a little suddenly.

4 stars

ISBN: 9781408709351

You may also enjoy The Punishment She Deserves by Elizabeth George, or Snap, by Belinda Bauer.

Saturday 22 September 2018

Ten of the Best #134

Hey people - it's Saturday. Time for the Ten, or eleven or twelve best clips and articles from my social media feeds this week. Have fun.

This interpretative dance clip won for me this week. David Armand must have rehearsed so hard. I'm surprised they didn't interrupt him with a guess ten seconds into the song, but very glad they didn't. I can't stop watching it. There are more similar clips on Youtube, BTW. I know what I'm doing later.

A little history and backstory behind the Booker prize decisions over the years fascinated me - click the comment by the judges for the story from The Guardian. 

And in the BBC short story competition - judged blind - guess what happened?

Friday 21 September 2018

Friday Books - Broken Ground

Welcome to BookBeginnings and Friday56 -where we share books on Fridays. It's a great way to start the weekend.

Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader.

 Here's the beginning of the book I'm featuring today.

The slap of spades in dense peat was an unmistakable sound. They slipped in and out of rhythm:overlapping, separating, cascading, then coming together again, much like the men's heavy breathing.

So what do you think the men are doing? My first thought was digging a grave. But they're not, although this book has at least one body in peat. It's Val McDermid's latest, featuring Karen Pirie, and so far, it's great.

At Freda's Voice, you'll find the Friday56, where the excerpt comes from page 56 or 56% in your Kindle.

Here's an excerpt from page 56 of Broken Ground by Val McDermid.

She cut the music and rang the number of her best friend. She thought it was going to shunt straight through to voicemail, but at the last second, Karen Pirie's voice filled the car. "Hey River, how's tricks?" It sounded like they were doing the same thing, driving on a fast road at speed.

How often does that happen? River is listening to Amy Winehouse belt out Valerie, and Karen has Chris Rea, Road to Hell playing. Both are driving on the motorway, not far from one another, as it happens.

What are you reading this weekend? I'd love to visit your blog and check it out.

Thursday 20 September 2018

The Craftsman by Sharon Bolton

It's a brave move when an award-winning author changes direction in the writing of her novels. We're quite a fussy bunch, that way - not too much the same - it becomes formulaic, and not too different - you will lose your audience. You can imagine the discussions with the publishers.

And that's exactly why Sharon Bolton changed publishers to write this one. She grew up in Lancashire, was raised on the legend of the Pendle witch trials. (Sheds some light on how she's able to make all her novels so dark and twisty.) According to the  Pendle Witch website (that's a few hours of your morning gone now!)  [the witches] were executed at Lancaster on the 20th of August, 1612, for having bewitched to death 'by devilish practices and hellish means' no fewer than sixteen inhabitants of the Forest of Pendle.

But what else is this about? Well, Florence Lovelady, in 1999, together with 15 year old Ben, her son, returns to Sabden for the funeral of Larry Glassbrook, a man she helped convict 30 years ago, when she was a young detective and he confessed to burying children alive - he was the undertaker after all - together with clay effigies. Told in both Florence's revisiting of the places she detected in the 1960s, and her memories (sometimes dual timelines annoy - but here they flow together like tributaries of a river), we meet the local DC Tom Devins, the sexton, Dwane, Larry's wife and children, and Avril and Daphne, who run the local coven.

Evidenced by an average rating of 4.23 stars on Goodreads, and countless reviews saying 'I don't read witchy stuff, but I'd read anything Sharon Bolton writes', this is already a resounding success. I agree. It's creepy and menacing, the stakes are stupendous, and added to the voices of the ghosts that cry out for justice from the graves, is the young Florence (Flossie) in a tough world where women's voices are never heard, trying to do a great job despite the prejudice and sexism rife in the force.

In a word, this is brave.

It worked for me. If you 'don't read witches', you may want to start with this one. She doesn't write witches either, but hell, she can.

ISBN: 9781409174110

You may also enjoy Sharon's first novel, Sacrifice, or Dead Scared, or what about Little Black Lies, Daisy in Chains, or Dead Woman Walking?

Wednesday 19 September 2018

The Burning Chambers by Kate Moss

The Burning Chambers opens in Carcassonne in 1562, after a prologue entices us - set in a graveyard under the fierce Cape sun in Franschhoek.

Minou Joubert is 19, running her father's bookshop, and taking care of her younger brother and sister. It's a lot of responsibility, and she takes it all in her stride. The protestants are fighting with the catholics, and there are soldiers on every corner, curfews and locking of city gates at night and raids during the day.

In the shadows and the pubs, men gather and discuss plots and subterfuge, and Minou receives a note - SHE KNOWS THAT YOU LIVE, which means nothing to her. She also meets a huguenot - Piet Raydon, who needs her help.

The action moves to Toulouse, at the children's aunt's home, where the conflict and the bloodshed continues. As does the mystery of who SHE is, which involves family history, secrets kept for generations and a great degree of intrigue.

It's as beautiful as its pretty cover, steeped in fascinating history of the religious wars in France, and the first in a new series, which may just bring us to Franschhoek, South Africa. I can't wait.

I thoroughly enjoyed it.

ISBN: 9781250202161

4 stars

You may also enjoy Kate Quinn's The Alice Network, or Mistress of Rome.

Tuesday 18 September 2018

The Only Story by Julian Barnes

I'm always enticed (and more than a little intimidated) by the Julian Barnes books I see in the bookshop. They do look very literary, but also like the man knows what he is writing about. An authority on every topic and also the way to write about it.

And maybe I'm also a bit scarred - the look of Barnes's books reminds me of Ian MacEwan, the last one of which I read (Nutshell) didn't appeal. The Children Act was beautiful.

Now that I've finished my first Barnes (lent to me by a friend- I never did overcome that intimidation), I can say with assurance, that I was right to judge this one by its cover.

A love story. Paul meets Susan in the 1960s at a tennis club, where they are thrown together in a doubles tournament. He is 19, she close to 50. They fall in love, and this is a poignant look back at their story.

“Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less, and suffer the less? That is, I think, finally, the only real question.”

“Perhaps love could never be captured in a definition; it could only ever be captured in a story.”

“Strange how, when you are young, you owe no duty to the future; but when you are old, you owe a duty to the past. To the one thing you can’t change.”

It's beautiful. The author makes wonderful use of the first, second and third person narrative throughout the rendering - which would make for a good case study in a writing course.

I will be frequenting the library and my bookshop until I've read some more Julian Barnes books - nothing to fear here except the intimidation of excellent and inspirational writing.

4 stars

ISBN: 9781787330696


Monday 17 September 2018

Back to the future

Good morning. Time to rise and shine.

I love days like today. There are no more excuses. No check-ups, no hidden lurgies lurking in lungs, no clouds in the sky, and we have every reason to do this, and to do this right.

We're starting the week off with a run (or a walk, whatever your poison), and we are going to keep running (or walking) until we reach our fitness destination.

Spring and summer stretch ahead, full of promises of awesome long days, warm sunny weather. We've got our shoes, our heads in the game and there isn't anything that is going to stop us now - not even any thunderclouds and lightning, or silly splashes of rain.

We've even got our jam - it's Europe - The Final Countdown. It's old, but it feels right for today.

Who's in? Come run with me.

Last week's Monday Motivation. (From two weeks ago - Rise 'til we fall).

Saturday 15 September 2018

Ten of the best #133

G'morning everybody. It's been a newsy, entertaining week. I reckon I'll get to twelve of the best stories from your timelines without pausing for thought. Let's start with the storms in the U.S., shall we?

Plaid shirt guy clearly also disagrees with quite a lot of what Trump says.

And clearly, the lies are getting worse, not better - here's someone keeping track. I'd forgotten that August was the month in which he let rip on SA.

Friday 14 September 2018

Friday Books - The Burning Chambers

Welcome to BookBeginnings and Friday56 -where we share books on Fridays. It's a great way to start the weekend.

Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader.

 Here's the beginning of the book I'm featuring today.

28th February,1862

The woman stands alone beneath a sharp blue sky. Evergreen cypress and rough grasses bound the graveyard. The grey headstones are bleached the colour of bone by the fierce Cape sun.

"Carcassonne 1562: Nineteen-year-old Minou Joubert receives an anonymous letter at her father’s bookshop. Sealed with a distinctive family crest, it contains just five words: SHE KNOWS THAT YOU LIVE.

But before Minou can decipher the mysterious message, a chance encounter with a young Huguenot convert, Piet Reydon, changes her destiny forever. For Piet has a dangerous mission of his own, and he will need Minou’s help if he is to get out of La Cité alive.

Toulouse: As the religious divide deepens in the Midi, and old friends become enemies, Minou and Piet both find themselves trapped in Toulouse, facing new dangers as sectarian tensions ignite across the city, the battle-lines are drawn in blood and the conspiracy darkens further."

I have just finished this book, and I loved every minute. It's also the first in a trilogy, with the next one due out next year.

At Freda's Voice, you'll find the Friday56, where the excerpt comes from page 56 or 56% in your Kindle.

Here's page 56 of The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse.

The soldier turned on her. 'You, tend to this harridan, this shrew. Perhaps a spell in the pillory will teach her to curb her tongue.'

Boiling with fury, Minou crouched beside her friend. Madame Noubel's eyes were closed and a thin trail of blood was dripping down her cheek.

We're still in the 1560's on page 56, with an unexpected raid on Madame Noubel's house - her guest is suspicious to the soldiers in Carcassonne.

What are you reading this weekend? I'd love to visit your blog and check it out.

Thursday 13 September 2018

The President is Missing by James Patterson and Bill Clinton


A sitting U.S. President is missing. 

President Bill Clinton partners with No. 1 bestselling author James Patterson in a powerful, one-of-a-kind thriller filled with the kind of insider details that only a President can know.

I wish I'd read the blurb before I started the book. But I don't, so I didn't. And seriously, I think the attractive sentence here is that one - don't you agree that most U.S. inhabitants wish they could say that their sitting U.S. President had gone AWOL. I wonder how many pray for it?

Anyhoo, you can rest assured that - as with most blurbs, actually (and in this case, the title too) - that is not even the point of this. Neither do you feel that Bill Clinton has given any major insight into life at the White House, Camp David, Mar-a-Largo or any of the famous gathering-in-crisis spots of the President. As Goodreads reviewer Ron Charles penned...

"The CIA can relax. Surely, no black felt-tip pens went dry redacting classified material from this manuscript. “The President Is Missing” reveals as many secrets about the U.S. government as “The Pink Panther” reveals about the French government. And yet it provides plenty of insight on the former president’s ego."

As we know, any James Patterson novel written over the last few years, is not actually written by James Patterson, including this one. So one must assume that Mr. Patterson's ghost-writer consulted Mr. Clinton extensively. About what remains the mystery.

But back to my point - this is a story about the President and the U.S. being under attack, about a traitor in the inner circle, about cyber terrorism and the President's enemies and rivals - seeing an opportunity - circling the blood in the water. Not about a Missing President. I'd love to trash the flimsy plot - I have serious concerns about so many aspects of the hacking and computer part, or to call out the preponderance of CIA/FBI/ex-military types - all male, white and so clichéd, or to be annoyed by the presence of the token female assassin(s), who were so obviously written by males. But piercing through my angry cloud of annoyance like forked cracks of lighting is the sound of Dennis Quaid drawling through the trite dialogue in the Audible version. It was awful. Just so bad.

So why did I finish? Well, I had a morbid fascination with how it would turn out. Since it's probably true that most people who pick up this book share my morbidity (let's face it, I did suspect I'd be disappointed by this), we may as well get the full caricatured, clichéd, served-with-a-large-amount-of-cheese experience.

I'm not going to tell you to avoid it. I'll just tell those of you who do read it after this warning to buy me a beer and let our eyes meet over the foam. I'll know. I'll commiserate with you.

Never again.

No stars.

ISBN: 9781780898407

Wednesday 12 September 2018

Nabokov's Favourite Word is Mauve by Ben Blatt

What are our favorite authors’ favorite words? Which bestselling writer uses the most clichés? How can we judge a book by its cover?

Ben Blatt is a statistician and journalist. It's an unusual combination. But he likes the same things as me - numbers (especially statistics) and words.

Now that I've finished the book, I'm going to mess up the stats. Something like 85% of all that has ever been written is now available electronically, for algorithms to trawl through, counting words, word combinations and interesting things about the data. This compares to something like 20% a short while ago.

It's not just books - websites, articles, blogs, journals, it's all available for us to interrogate. I love this stuff - for instance, this meme that shows the most common verb usage after "he" and "she" in 100 000 plot descriptions. It isn't from the book, and if you click the graph, you'll see the article by David Robinson, another data scientist.

The trick is to ask the right questions, and Blatt does this - starting with all the sexism evident in writing - but are male authors bigger culprits than females? Well yes, they are. He then goes to the great advice that is given in writing courses - don't use "-ly" words, show don't tell, don't use clichès, and so on. It's really fun to see whether Hemingway follows his own advice, and Stephen King too.

He confines his database to the classics in some studies, and also does some interesting comparisons between fanfiction and their original inspirations. Covers, opening sentences, reading levels are all investigated, with fascinating results.

It's a light, fun read, if you're interested in this kind of thing, but I admit with no small degree of reluctance, it's not for everyone. 

4 stars

ISBN: 9781471152825

You may also enjoy Big Data by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier or Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz.

More books.

Tuesday 11 September 2018

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

When someone asked me if I'd read this book, I'd always say "yes, the classic", and that would be the end of it.

So it went until a particularly astute friend asked me, and when I responded as usual, she looked into my eyes and said - "You're thinking of Middlemarch (by George Eliot), aren't you? You haven't read this." She then found one in a second hand book store and bought it for me.

I was and I'm glad she persisted. When we start talking about Middlesex, we always manage to lose most of the audience quite quickly, so I'll start by saying it was one of Oprah's recommended books in 2007. And it won a Pulitzer. 

It reads like an intergenerational memoir, starting with the narrator - Calliope Stephanides' grandparents. They experience the Great Fire of Smyrna in Asia Minor, the destruction of their village, and travel across the ocean to the United States. They settle, struggle, and the history of immigration and racism as seen from Detroit is deftly woven into the tale.

The story also very cleverly examines sexuality and our attitudes to it, through the eyes of a hermaphrodite. This is the part of the conversation that people shut down in, and I think I know why - it's not always easy having your ideas challenged by a fictional character. But Middlesex is so well written, and you get to know the characters so intimately, that it happens quite subversively, which is the point, I suppose.

Here are some quotes I found profound.

“Emotions, in my experience, aren't covered by single words. I don't believe in "sadness," "joy," or "regret." Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I'd like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, "the happiness that attends disaster." Or: "the disappointment of sleeping with one's fantasy." I'd like to show how "intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members" connects with "the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age." I'd like to have a word for "the sadness inspired by failing restaurants" as well as for "the excitement of getting a room with a minibar." I've never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I've entered my story, I need them more than ever. ”

“I was thinking how amazing it was that the world contained so many lives. Out in these streets people were embroiled in a thousand different matters, money problems, love problems, school problems. People were falling in love, getting married, going to drug rehab, learning how to ice-skate, getting bifocals, studying for exams, trying on clothes, getting their hair-cut and getting born. And in some houses people were getting old and sick and were dying, leaving others to grieve. It was happening all the time, unnoticed, and it was the thing that really mattered.” 

“But maybe they understood more about life than I did. From an early age they knew what little value the world placed in books, and so didn't waste their time with them. Whereas I, even now, persist in believing that these black marks on white paper bear the greatest significance, that if I keep writing, I might be able to catch the rainbow of consciousness in a jar.” 

“The television replaced the sound of conversation that was missing from my grandparents' lives.” 

If you haven't read this, it's well worth putting on your list for "to look out for" in a second hand book store.

5 stars


You may also enjoy The Nix by Nathan Hill.

Monday 10 September 2018

Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Here I am thinking I've read so many of Bernard Cornwell's books - just checked and read a grand total of one, including this one. It must be all that vicarious reading while my husband tears through one war epic after another.

"Fools and Mortals follows the young Richard Shakespeare, an actor struggling to make his way in a company dominated by his estranged older brother, William. As the growth of theatre blooms, their rivalry – and that of the playhouses, playwrights and actors vying for acclaim and glory – propels a high-stakes story of conflict and betrayal."

This is a departure from the usual for Bernard Cornwell readers. I don't think it turns out that much less gory - although it's not set on a battlefield, Elizabethan England had its share of violent and revolting behaviour.

The tale is told whilst the players are putting on A Midsummer Night's Dream for the Lord Chamberlain's daugher's wedding. It's told from the viewpoint of Richard - the less-famous, younger brother, who wants to be an actor, only it's tough to get a break, especially when your popular brother doesn't seem to want to take a chance on you, in fact it would seem he hates you.

Then of course there's the rival theatre - The Swan, which needs material, actors and writers, setting the scene for stolen scripts and betrayal and intrigue. All set in a disapproving Puritan atmosphere. A rich and detailed account, although I fear it may feel lame compared to the Wars of the Roses, I enjoyed it.

4 stars

ISBN: 9780007504121

You may also enjoy Two Brothers by Ben Elton or Robert Harris' Imperium.

Friday 7 September 2018

Friday Books - American Wife

Welcome to BookBeginnings and Friday56 -where we share books on Fridays. It's a great way to start the weekend.

At Book Beginningshosted by Rose City Reader, you share the first line, and  a few thoughts about the book.

 Here's the beginning of the book I'm featuring today.

"A kind, bookish only child born in the 1940s, Alice Lindgren has no idea that she will one day end up in the White House, married to the president. In her small Wisconsin hometown, she learns the virtues of politeness, but a tragic accident when she is seventeen shatters her identity and changes the trajectory of her life. More than a decade later, when the charismatic son of a powerful Republican family sweeps her off her feet, she is surprised to find herself admitted into a world of privilege. When her husband unexpectedly becomes governor and then president, she discovers she is married to a man she both loves and fundamentally disagrees with--and that her private beliefs increasingly run against her public persona. As her husband’s presidency enters its second term, Alice must confront contradictions years in the making and face questions nearly impossible to answer."

Loosely based on the life of Laura Bush, there seem to be a number of readers who loved this, and also those who hated it - they found scandalous and too revealing. But it is fictional, after all. Sounds interesting, at the very least.

At Freda's Voice, you'll find the Friday56, where the excerpt comes from page 56 or 56% in your Kindle.

Here's page 56 of American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld.

Yes - this is the same Andrew from p1, but as far as I can tell, this isn't the man she marries who becomes president.

How different are those covers? I can't decide which I prefer. My book looks like the first one, which usually biases me - but this second one is also really good.

A friend has lent me this book - oh, at least a year ago. And now I need to read it. And since I've shared these excerpts, I really want to. I know what I'm doing this weekend. All 550 pages.

What are you reading this weekend? I'd love to visit your blog and check it out.