Historical Fiction

A Respectable Trade – Philippa Gregory – 3/10 (DNF)

“He did not know that for the first time and painfully, Frances was feeling emotions stir and warm into life.”

respectable trade

Josiah Cole needs cash and a socially connected wife. Frances Scott needs a husband. Once married, they find themselves dependent on sustaining a particular sort of lifestyle in order to keep moving upwards. They overpay for a house, over-furnish the house, all under the resentful eye of Josiah’s maiden sister.

I know very little about slavery, at any point or place, really. Only after watching Amazing Grace did I know anything about William Wilberforce and the abolitionist movement here in the UK; only after watching and reading The Help did I really know anything about racial politics in 1960s southern USA, plus drawing on reading To Kill a Mockingbird at school (and I’ll admit to still not knowing very much). And I know even less about 1780s Bristol, the sugar trade or rum.

But I abandoned this after 370 pages out of 500 – so close to the end and yet I did not want to spend more time wasted on these insipid, fearful characters so bent on destroying their own lives.

I wanted to like this; I know very little of the topic and feel that I should know more. But I found the characters too irritating and undeserving of more of my time.

Additional info
Copy from Bookmooch, I think. Given that it seems to have been published in Canada.
Publisher: Harper Perennial, 501 pages
Order A Respectable Trade from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting
Review copies, Thriller

Can Anybody Help Me – Sinead Crowley – 7/10

“With consciousness came distress. Her eyes flickered open and met his. but her thirst was greater than her feat and she moved her hand feebly on the blanket, her fingers flickering in the direction of the bedside locker.”

Can anybody help me FINAL

(adapted from Goodreads) Struggling with a new baby in a new city with a new husband, Yvonne turns to an online support group for help and support. When one of her new friends goes offline, Yvonne is concerned but dismisses her fears. She doesn’t know the woman, after all. But when the body of a young woman with striking similarities to Yvonne’s missing friend is found, Yvonne realises that they’re all in terrifying danger. Can she persuade Sergeant Claire Boyle, herself about to go on maternity leave, to take her fears seriously?

This felt quite slow to get going (despite the nearly first-page murder), as two apparently separate storylines took their time to intermingle. Once we did get going though, there was no stopping our twisty-turny plot. Relatively straightforward to children of the internet age, some of it might be confusing to older readers. I loved it.Writing? So standard, so good, right? for a police procedural? I’ve got nothing to say on the writing – nothing exceptional, but certainly nothing that got in the way or in any way detracts from the book.

As I always do, I really like the lead police character in this one; and of course she’s a single-minded five-months-pregnant go-getter determined to absolutely get this bad guy right now. Yvonne came across as a bit pathetic, but on the whole totally believable and rounded. I was unconvinced by Eamonn as a character – he seems overly charming, too nice. But for me the most skilful bit of character-building was the online chat – Yvonne’s character chatted online in a manner that fitted her offline personality, and the other online voices were easily distinguishable and well-built up.

My knowledge of Dublin is zero (never having been), and Crowley sets the scene well with the run-down estate, the dingy pub, the pleasant terrace houses, the surety of rain at an Irish funeral. There’s a smattering of Irish dialect to make absolutely sure that you know you’re in Ireland – I didn’t mind it, and I imagine it makes the dialogue more authentic. It certainly doesn’t get in the way.

And I most definitely did not see the identity of the bad guy coming. I had a couple of indications in that general direction, but it was a huge surprise to me when it was revealed. A quick, thrilling read, and a slightly scary look into online forums (fora?) and life.

Additional info
Copy from publisher through NetGalley (which I have not used in a while!)
Publisher: Quercus Books, 400 pages
Order Can Anybody Help Me?from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting
Historical Fiction, Review copies, Thriller

Gods of Gotham – Lyndsey Faye – 7/10

“Hope, I’ve discovered, is a sad nuisance. Hope is a horse with a broken leg.”

In 1845, Timothy Wilde becomes member of the newly minted New York Police force after a fire destroys his home, his employment and his looks. Despairing of ever winning the delightful Miss Underhill’s regard, and seeking to avoid his louche brother Valentine at all times and costs, Timothy tries enforce some law and order while being kind to the impoverished Irish immigrants. When a girl in a blood-drenched lace nightgown crashes into his knees one night in full flight, he finds a purpose to his employment: to avenge a terrible evil.

Tim is a standard tragic protagonist: good-hearted and cursed; nevertheless, he is likeable, realistic and pleasantly articulate. Mercy is a touch twee, always buried in Harper Brothers’ latest or charmingly tucking a strand of hair behind an ear, and I thought a few of her actions towards the end of the book were inconsistent with the persona that had been constructed for her thus far. Valentine rides the line between good and evil marvellously, and the reader isn’t sure right until the end whether he might be the villain.

The revelation of the villain, when it eventually comes, is somewhat anticlimactic, and it is immediately obvious to the reader that he cannot be responsible for one of the deaths. I’m still not happy with the answer of who committed the final crime, nor any motive or means for doing so (maybe I was reading too fast). Nevertheless, the denouement fit my criteria of fitting hints which had been available, without being obvious to me.

Faye’s novel slips into 1840s New York with ease: the rickety buildings full of Irish immigrants, the news-sellers with their cigars and flash language. The writing is too rich at times, stuffed with simile and metaphor, but smooth; the plot is well-paced without racing. Faye strides the historical crime path with confidence and well; this is a most absorbing debut.

Additional info:
This  copy was sent for review by We Love This Book, where a shorter version of this review will appear.
Publisher: Headline, 400 pages
Order The Gods of Gotham from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards giveaways.
Current Affairs, Thriller

When Will There Be Good News – Kate Atkinson – 9/10

Good News Summary: Joanna is the only survivor of an appalling crime as a small child. Thirty years later, the perpetrator is out of prison and she disappears. Motherless prodigy Reggie is her nanny and seems to be the only one concerned that she has vanished.

This is absolutely harrowing in the relentlessness of bad news (the title turns out to be very appropriate) but exquisitely written. The mix of characters is almost unbelievable, and yet they slot together into the machinery of the novel’s plot seamlessly. Reggie and Joanna are beautifully written – both pretty disturbed, but trying to make the best of a bad world.

I loved the portrayal of Edinburgh, with its dark streets and contrast between its affluent and impoverished areas. The extraneous components scattered into the plot (for example, the Bangladeshi corner shop owner and his family) add depth and weight to the scene-setting.


Death of a Perfect Wife – M. C. Beaton – 7/10

Summary: Hamish Macbeth is quite pleased with the quiet life of a parochial policeman… until a pushy housewife arrives from London and starts reforming the town. No wonder she turns up dead – but who did it?

This meets the definition of “cosy crime” exactly for me. A pleasant, polite, short (192 pages) murder mystery with a few personalities but no particular danger. PG-rated, for once, which was a nice change!

I was a bit disappointed by the style – it was all a bit simplistic for me. The characters were almost caricatures, because they were so lightly developed – each had one or two defining features and that was it. Everyone in the town had a motive and plenty of access to the poison, so there wasn’t really a puzzle to figure out who did it, we just had to wait for PC Macbeth to figure it out and tell us.

That said, the village depicted had some fun personalities and the murderer and his/her motive were amusing when they were revealed.


Current Affairs, Thriller

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – Stieg Larsson – 10/10

Having now finished the third volume in Stieg Larsson’s worldwide bestselling Millennium trilogy, I have to say this has been one of my favourite reading experiences. I haven’t read many trilogies (Harry Potter ended up at 7 books and the Brontës stuck to stand-alone books…) but I enjoyed the way that the circle closed, we had proper character development and plot resolution and mostly just a good fun read! There was a really entertaining mix of detective work, courtroom drama, complex relationships, entertaining subplots and computer hacking throughout.

“Hornet’s Nest” was right back up to the excitement of “Dragon Tattoo” – I have to admit, I am a fan of courtroom drama involving feisty women wiping the floor with idiots, but there was also some good scheming and conniving among both the goodies and the baddies which was fun to follow (or try to follow – I got mixed up with all the surnames ending in –sson). “Played with Fire” is definitely required reading for “Hornet’s Nest” as the action picks up right where it left off at the end of Book Two (dealing with the aftermath of a shoot-out at the Goteberg Corral) so the adrenaline is racing from page 3. They fixed the translation issues in Book 3 too – I didn’t pick up on anything (although I did read the whole book while enormously jetlagged, so…).

So in “Hornet’s Nest” (without giving anything away), Lisbeth somehow survives being shot, Blomkvist puts together the defence against the murder charges made against her, the Swedish secret police are being very bad indeed and are busy corrupting the “everyday” police and lots of bad guys die. Also there’s a massive giant who can’t feel pain, and Erika gets a crazy stalker after she moves jobs.

I think I need a break from Swedish surnames for a while though.

Other bloggers’ thoughts: Literate Housewife, New York Times Sunday Book Review, The Millions

Current Affairs, Thriller

The Girl Who Played with Fire – Stieg Larsson – 7/10

The second tome in Stieg Larsson’s worldwide bestselling Millennium trilogy was not as exciting as the first – I suspect this is because I already knew the characters and their foibles (their many foibles), and also because, having now read the first page of book 3, I can tell that this second instalment is actually the first part of a long second story, which is split over books 2 and 3.

Anyway. This time we delve much deeper into the characters’ personal worlds, with the murder victims being colleagues and friends of our protagonists, and an enormous quantity of back-story for Lisbeth. All of it is still skilfully told, without the exposition feeling clunky or out-of-place. There was also substantial character development (especially for Lisbeth, given all the back-story), which I was really pleased by because so often in series all the character development is done in the first book and after that the protagonist is like one of those paper clothes dolls – just apply a new set of crime mystery.

But all in all I was a little disappointed with this one – it was much slower in the setting up of the mystery. I thought there was a bit too much focus on relationships (casual or otherwise) – an increase for the worse from the first book. I was also underwhelmed by the translation this time – there were a few idioms (including “as tall as a hand’s breath”) which appear to have been transliterated from the Swedish – they applied a sudden jerk to the pace of the book.

Still a good read, but nowhere near as good as “Dragon Tattoo”.

EDIT after reading Book 3 – Book 2 might not be as exciting as 1, but it’s definitely required reading for Book 3.

Reviews from other blogs: The Millions