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Madeleine's 2015 reads

What have you read in 2015? Post your list here and update it as you go along! (One thread per member, please.)
User avatar
Madeleine
Bibliomaniac
Currently reading: Christmas Lights by Karen Swan
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime
Location: Essex/London

Re: Madeleine's 2015 reads

Postby Madeleine » Sat August 29th, 2015, 11:18 am

Madeleine wrote:
Madeleine wrote:
Madeleine wrote:August

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith - first book in a new crime series written by J K Rowling under a pseudonym, and it's not a bad start at all. Down on his luck (and everything else) private investigator Cormoran Strike is hired by John Bristow to investigate the death of Bristow's sister, model Lula Landry, which has been ruled a suicide, but Bristow is convinced otherwise, and Strike has to wade through the model's chequered background, high profile friends and unreliable witnesses to find out the truth. He also has to try to sort out his own private life and personal trauma (an ex-serviceman, he's still recovering from injuries sustained in Afghanistan), and is helped by Robin, his sympathetic temporary secretary.
The story bowls along, although it's very wordy (and sweary :o), but well-plotted, even if some of the characters aren't totally convincing. Strike, although a bit of a clichéd PI (ex-girlfriend, debts etc) is a likeable character, and he and Robin, after a shaky start, gradually work together to become a good team. A promising debut into adult fiction for Rowling. 7.5/10

Midwinter of the Spirit by Phil Rickman - first official novel in the Merrily Watkins series about a young woman vicar who is offered the post of Deliverance Minister in the Shropshire area. She finds herself thwarted at every turn - by the elderly, outgoing bishop who seems to not want women at all, the new, trendy incoming bishop who seems a bit too friendly, her mentor Huw, and even her own daughter who is, like most teenagers, in a state of rebellion and meeting unsuitable friends. This isn't really a murder mystery, although there are a couple of suspicious deaths, in fact it's difficult to categorise as it touches on witchcraft - a small church is desecrated, and Merrily is convinced that there is evil within the Cathedral itself - and there are also many New Age and Pagan references too as Merrily struggles to hold onto her own beliefs whilst trying to help others. There is some quirky humour, and parts of the book are genuinely chilling - it's also been filmed for TV so it will be interesting to see how it turns out. But Merrily is a compelling character and it's very atmospheric, and certainly different to the usual crime/mystery series around. 7.5/10


A Question of Identity by Susan Hill - 7th in the Simon Serrailler crime series and a vast improvement on the previous instalment. Things have moved on from that and Simon finally has a personal life, of a sort, whilst his sister is having problems with her teenage children, funding for the local hospice and is also trying to find out what is going on between her father ( a cold fish if ever there was one) and her stepmother. Then someone starts murdering elderly women, and Simon finds himself in charge of yet another major crime unit. This was quite a gripping read, and even though as usual I guessed the killer's ID pretty much straightaway, it was still a page-turner. 8/10


Amy Snow by Tracy Rees - In this Victorian melodrama, on a cold snowy day, wealthy heiress Aurelia Vennaway finds an abandoned baby girl near her home, and insists that the infant is given refuge in the house. Her parents reluctantly, eventually agree, and Amy is raised by the staff, until she is old enough to work in the house herself. But Aurelia remains fascinated by her find and, much to her parents' horror, becomes friends with Amy - possibly because both are only children, and also because both are, in a way, prisoners of their backgrounds - Amy, impoverished, probably illegitimate and with a completely unknown history, whereas Aurelia, despite her wealth and privilege, is trapped by her parents' expectation of making a good marriage, and therefore providing an heir, along with all the usual social constraints of the time. Then Aurelia becomes ill, and takes a last chance at the freedom she might never otherwise have had, and when she dies (not a spoiler as you know this early on) her friendship with Amy is by no means over, for although Amy is sent packing from the only home she has ever known, Aurelia makes sure that her life is only just beginning, as she has a few little tasks for Amy to accomplish, as she sends her on a treasure hunt around England. I thought this was an enjoyable story, although the secret isn't hard to guess, and the social mores and constraints were described very well, and although some characters were a bit two-dimensional, others, such as Amy, Aurelia herself and the indefatigable Mrs Riventhorpe (a role for Maggie Smith if ever there was one) were very appealing and vivid. However I thought it could have done with a bit of editing, as it dragged a bit in the middle, but quite promising for as first novel. 7/10
Last edited by Madeleine on Sun August 30th, 2015, 7:44 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Currently reading "Christmas Lights" by Karen Swan

User avatar
Madeleine
Bibliomaniac
Currently reading: Christmas Lights by Karen Swan
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime
Location: Essex/London

Re: Madeleine's 2015 reads

Postby Madeleine » Sat September 5th, 2015, 11:11 am

September

The Girl next Door by Ruth Rendell - this book is not really a whodunit - you know that all along - nor is it a whydunnit - again, that's known from the start. It's really about the effect that a sixty-odd year old double murder has on a group of people who are brought together years later when remains of the unfortunate victims are discovered during work on the foundations of a new building site. A group of children used to play in a network of underground tunnels in the nearby forest, and it's in these tunnels that the remains are found, and the group, now of course fairly mature adults, respond to a police request for anyone who knew the area at the time of the murders to come forward. It's a reunion of sorts, which opens up a can of worms as the group find themselves revisiting the past, and in some cases almost trying to recreate it. It's more a story about human nature, and I must admit I was drawn to it because it's set in an area very close to where I live, so it was nice to see the familiarity of the area, although I don't think the tunnels actually existed! A well-written study in human psychology, and letting go of the past. 7.5/10

Murder by the Sea by Lesley Cookman - another instalment in the cosy crime series, in which Libby and her friend Fran investigate the death of a suspected migrant worker at a local holiday resort, and the possible connection to events which took place during world War II. Another breezily written, undemanding read - it felt a bit rushed at times but the plot was surprisingly convoluted, and the characters are likeable. 7/10

This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart - "resting" actress Lucy is in Corfu, holidaying with her sister and as she gets to know the residents, both locals and Brit ex-pats/visitors, it becomes obvious that something is going on, especially after two local men die in accidents within a few days of each other. Lucy doesn't know who to trust - the rugged, abrupt Max who's staying with his father, or the debonair handsome Godfrey who has a villa down the road? She soon finds herself in over her head, and has to use all her acting skills in ways she didn't think possible. I found this book hugely enjoyable, with a lovely setting and a nice line in wry humour. And the dolphin storyline, although a bit predictable, was sweet too. 8/10

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson - this is an account of the author's journey around mainland Britain, undertaken 20 years ago and, going by the places he mentions which I've visited fairly recently, not much has changed overall (except Christchurch in Dorset, which he describes as being very run-down, is now regularly voted one of the best places to live, and is lovely). It's a humourous account of his travels, mostly by train and occasionally by hire car, and of hotels of varying standards, the people he meets and some minor adventures, usually involving getting lost, or trying to find a decent place to eat. Despite some of the reviews, I didn't find it "laugh out loud", but parts of it are very amusing, and I could sympathise with some of his difficulties, such as trying to eat with chopsticks! An overall gentle read, and there's a sequel coming out soon, in which he embarks on another trip around the UK - it'll be interesting to see if any of his opinions have changed, although I don't know if he's revisiting any of the places from the first book. 8/10

Thin Air by Ann Cleeves - 6th in the Jimmy Perez detective series set on Shetland and it's neighbouring islands. This time, Jimmy and his team find themselves on the most northerly island, Unst, after an Englishwoman, visiting with her friends for a wedding, is found dead in a small loch. Everyone on the island is pretty much either a suspect or a witness, including her friends from England, and as usual the answer lies close to home. Personally I found the outcome a little too neat, and not quite believable, but this was an enjoyable novel, well-written and very atmospheric, and another solid thriller from Ann Cleeves. 8/10
Currently reading "Christmas Lights" by Karen Swan

User avatar
Madeleine
Bibliomaniac
Currently reading: Christmas Lights by Karen Swan
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime
Location: Essex/London

Re: Madeleine's 2015 reads

Postby Madeleine » Mon October 5th, 2015, 7:09 pm

October

Refuge by Kirsty Ferry - tale of a trio of vampires who follow each other across Europe during the Victorian period, and throughout the 20th century until they finally confront each other on Holy Island in Northumberland in the present day. This was only a short book and feels like an elongated short story; it should either have been shorter and tighter, or fully fleshed-out (no pun intended) into a proper novel, with much more character development. I felt that too much time was spent in the past, with the result being that the present day events felt rushed. An OK read but nothing special. 6/10

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff - I finally got round to reading this famous book after picking up a copy at a charity book sale whilst on holiday in the summer, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I did find it a little slow at first, as the main character, Marcus, had his hopes of following in his father's footsteps dashed after receiving a serious injury in a skirmish. His father was the leader of the lost Ninth Legion, and Marcus's greatest wish is to recover the Legion's lost Eagle, and hopefully re-establish the Legion one day. As he recovers, he hears a few clues as to the Eagle's possible whereabouts, and is eventually given permission to set out, accompanied only by his personal slave, Esca, to try to find the Eagle. As they head North, crossing Hadrian's Wall and finally reaching the wilds of Scotland, the story really takes off, and I was gripped throughout at their attempts to find the Eagle, and their even more hazardous return journey to England. I thought this was very well-written, with great character development, all the characters were believable and although along the way Marcus and Esca encountered enemies, the sense of honour and I suppose what we now call chivalry was very strong. I loved Marcus, and there are some nicely written scenes between him and Esca, and also his uncle Aquila, with whom he recuperates after his injury. A great story, and the writing style doesn't feel at all dated, despite being written over 60 years ago. 7.5/10

Prince Lestat by Anne Rice - this is the first new Vampire Chronicle book in several years - and it should have stayed that way. All the vampires can hear a Voice, basically telling them to kill each other or at best drive them mad, and for some reason they all think that only Lestat can help them - and each one of them tells us this, over and over again. If you've read the earlier books, then every single vampire which was ever mentioned pops up here, saying pretty much the same thing as all the other vamps. After 200 pages I started skipping chapters and only reading those about Lestat, but even they bored me, as he seemed to spend most of his time wondering why everyone expected him to sort out the Voice. I eventually managed to read the last 100 pages, which had the inevitable showdown, but even that was filled with endless pleas from each and every vampire not to let the Voice enter one particular character. To say this book was disappointing is an understatement, and eventually it just became boring. Anne Rice has always been an author who has a tendency to over-do things and keep on about the same thing over and over again, and this is the problem here. To be honest there's not even much of a story, and the novelty of meeting old favourites (yes Louis and Armand are there too) soons wears off. A shame as when she wants to, Anne Rice can really write, but this book is, unfortunately, grossly over-written. 1/10

A Bone to Pick by Charlaine Harris - 8/10
Last edited by Madeleine on Fri October 23rd, 2015, 11:34 am, edited 1 time in total.
Currently reading "Christmas Lights" by Karen Swan

User avatar
Madeleine
Bibliomaniac
Currently reading: Christmas Lights by Karen Swan
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime
Location: Essex/London

Re: Madeleine's 2015 reads

Postby Madeleine » Fri October 23rd, 2015, 10:31 am

[quote="Madeleine"]October

Refuge by Kirsty Ferry - tale of a trio of vampires who follow each other across Europe during the Victorian period, and throughout the 20th century until they finally confront each other on Holy Island in Northumberland in the present day. This was only a short book and feels like an elongated short story; it should either have been shorter and tighter, or fully fleshed-out (no pun intended) into a proper novel, with much more character development. I felt that too much time was spent in the past, with the result being that the present day events felt rushed. An OK read but nothing special. 6/10

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff - I finally got round to reading this famous book after picking up a copy at a charity book sale whilst on holiday in the summer, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I did find it a little slow at first, as the main character, Marcus, had his hopes of following in his father's footsteps dashed after receiving a serious injury in a skirmish. His father was the leader of the lost Ninth Legion, and Marcus's greatest wish is to recover the Legion's lost Eagle, and hopefully re-establish the Legion one day. As he recovers, he hears a few clues as to the Eagle's possible whereabouts, and is eventually given permission to set out, accompanied only by his personal slave, Esca, to try to find the Eagle. As they head North, crossing Hadrian's Wall and finally reaching the wilds of Scotland, the story really takes off, and I was gripped throughout at their attempts to find the Eagle, and their even more hazardous return journey to England. I thought this was very well-written, with great character development, all the characters were believable and although along the way Marcus and Esca encountered enemies, the sense of honour and I suppose what we now call chivalry was very strong. I loved Marcus, and there are some nicely written scenes between him and Esca, and also his uncle Aquila, with whom he recuperates after his injury. A great story, and the writing style doesn't feel at all dated, despite being written over 60 years ago. 7.5/10

Prince Lestat by Anne Rice - this is the first new Vampire Chronicle book in several years - and it should have stayed that way. All the vampires can hear a Voice, basically telling them to kill each other or at best drive them mad, and for some reason they all think that only Lestat can help them - and each one of them tells us this, over and over again. If you've read the earlier books, then every single vampire which was ever mentioned pops up here, saying pretty much the same thing as all the other vamps. After 200 pages I started skipping chapters and only reading those about Lestat, but even they bored me, as he seemed to spend most of his time wondering why everyone expected him to sort out the Voice. I eventually managed to read the last 100 pages, which had the inevitable showdown, but even that was filled with endless pleas from each and every vampire not to let the Voice enter one particular character. To say this book was disappointing is an understatement, and eventually it just became boring. Anne Rice has always been an author who has a tendency to over-do things and keep on about the same thing over and over again, and this is the problem here. To be honest there's not even much of a story, and the novelty of meeting old favourites (yes Louis and Armand are there too) soons wears off. A shame as when she wants to, Anne Rice can really write, but this book is, unfortunately, grossly over-written. 1/10

A Bone to Pick by Charlaine Harris - this is the 2nd in the Aurora Teagarden series, and picks up following the disbandment of Aurora's murder book club in Real Murders. Aurora is stunned when fellow former book group member Jane Engels dies, and leaves Aurora pretty much everything - her house, over half a million dollars, and some valuable jewellery. But whilst sorting out the house Aurora finds another legacy - a skull, hidden in a chair-seat, with a big dent in it, and a note from Jane saying "I didn't do it". When the house is broken into and searched, but nothing taken, Aurora realises someone else is looking for the skull, and sets out trying to find out who it is, plus also the identity of the skull, and the whereabouts of the rest of the body. The story bowled along, with some nice humour (such as Jane's cat returning and promptly delivering 4 kittens), and some romance for Roe, as she likes to be known. But are any of her acquaintances, and new neighbours, involved, especially as sthere have been a few disappearances over the years, such as husbands leaving, and tenants suddenly moving out. An entertaining read, and Roe is very likeable. 8/10

Moondance of Stonewylde by Kit Berry - second in the Stonewylde series set in a fictional community in Dorset, in which Sylvie is discovered to have a special talent for harnessing the power of the moon, and when the Magus of Stonewylde discovers her secret, he makes sure he is the recipient of this power every month. Meanwhile Sylvie's sweetheart, Yul is determined to get her away from Magus, but this is easier said than done, for the powerful leader is hell bent on stopping Yul, even if it means killing him. I found this book not quite as gripping as the first one, and it did get a bit repetitive with Sylvie being forced to channel her moon power each month, and there was also something slightly distasteful about the author constantly harping on at how beautiful Yul is (he's only 16 in the book). There are obvious parallels with child abuse (although there is no sexual abuse in the book by older men, although there are some predictable attacks by the local bad boy who is severely punished) and also with religious communities led by a powerful dominant man who wants all the best women for himself. However it's well-written, and the pagan rituals are fascinating, and it does lead to a gripping, cliff hanger ending. Sylvie and Yul are great characters, although her mother is unfortunately an irritating woman who quickly falls under Magus's spell too. 7.5/10
Last edited by Madeleine on Wed November 11th, 2015, 11:15 am, edited 1 time in total.
Currently reading "Christmas Lights" by Karen Swan

User avatar
Madeleine
Bibliomaniac
Currently reading: Christmas Lights by Karen Swan
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime
Location: Essex/London

Re: Madeleine's 2015 reads

Postby Madeleine » Wed November 11th, 2015, 11:14 am

November

City of Glass by Cassandra Clare - 3rd in the Mortal Instruments series and very entertaining it is too, as Jace finds out more about his past, and the Shadowhunters face the demons in a huge battle in the titular city of glass. There's sadness too as not everyone survives, but also some nice humour; thankfully this series hasn't gone the same way as Twilight. 7.5/10

The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths - 7th in the Ruth Galloway series, in which Ruth is called in when the wreck of a WW2 plane is found in the grounds of a local country house. There's a body in the plane, and when he's identified it turns out to be the body of an airman who was believed to have been shot down in a different plane, over the sea, several days before the plane in which he was found was originally shot down. Only this body also has a bullet in it's skull. Who is he and how did he come to be there? Everything points to the owners of the big house, and as family secrets are revealed, Ruth is yet again in danger. This is another thoroughly enjoyable entry in this series, one of my favourite crime series and Ruth is a great character, funny, honest and likeable. There's a fair bit of humour, mostly at the expense of Ruth's boss, although the ending, which borders on the downright surreal, wouldn't be out of place in an episode of Midsomer Murders.8/10

A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow - this is the first in the series of crime novels set in Alaska featuring ex-cop Kate Shugak, who after a traumatic incident (she is badly scarred but we're not told of the story behind it) has gone to live on a recent homestead in the wilderness of the National Park, accompanied only by her faithful husky, Mutt. When a ranger, and then the FBI investigator sent to find him, both go missing Kate is asked to help with the search, and as with any small, close community, she finds herself hitting brick walls, and also coming up against her own family, most of whom have never forgiven her for going to the Outside World which is seen as a betrayal. But her dogged determination eventually leads to a dramatic conclusion. I quite enjoyed this, it was a fast, easy read and Kate is a likeable if flawed character, and there are some interesting other characters too. It's a good portrayal of an almost closed, pretty insular community, and the remoteness of the area is beautifully described. 7/10

A Place in the Hills by Michelle Paver - archaeologist Antonia is on a dig with her father in the Pyrenees, looking for the site of a villa once owned by the Roman poet Cassius. However her father is demanding and slovenly, although secretly he admires his daughter and whilst he hopes she has a more successful career than his has turned out, he's also jealous of her, so the atmosphere is already tense when we add the love triangle of rich English boy Myles, who's dating Antonia whilst cheating on her with someone else, and Myles's American friend Patrick, who comes to stay and promptly falls in love with Antonia. One day Patrick finds a Roman cup which is attributed to Cassius, but then it goes missing and after a tragic accident the dig is abandoned, until 12 years later when Antonia decides to go back to the Pyrenees for one last search for the missing cup. Meanwhile the modern story is interspersed with Cassius's story, and that of a forbidden love and the siege of an ancient city. I found this book a huge disappointment, the historical story was the more interesting of the two plot-lines, but sadly it only makes up barely a third of the book, which is mostly taken up with the story of drippy Antonia - yes she does have a difficult relationship with her father, and to a certain extent her mother as well, but she's wetter than a soggy tissue, and I found her incredibly irritating. Myles is the typical clichéd posh bad boy - too much money, drugs, booze and women - with the result being I found him little more than a cardboard character, and I almost wanted to boo every time he appeared. The actual story isn't bad, but because the characters were so thinly drawn and weak I didn't care about any of them, and struggled at times to carry on reading, and I'd have liked more of the historical storyline. Great setting though. 5/10

Agatha Raisin and the Blood of an Englishman by M C Beaton - latest in the cosy crime series set
in the Cotswolds, in which Agatha investigates when cast members of a local pantomime start to get killed in various ingenious ways - there's more than a touch of Midsomer Murders about his one, interspersed with Agatha's hopeless attempts at romance. A quick, easy read, with a few giggles along the way. 7/10
Currently reading "Christmas Lights" by Karen Swan

User avatar
Madeleine
Bibliomaniac
Currently reading: Christmas Lights by Karen Swan
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime
Location: Essex/London

Re: Madeleine's 2015 reads

Postby Madeleine » Mon December 14th, 2015, 3:12 pm

December

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell - this author is sometimes overlooked in the canon of Victorian authors, and this is the first of her books which I've read, but I'd certainly put her up there with the greats, along with Charlotte Bronte (with whom she was friendly) although this book isn't quite up to the heights of Jane Eyre. It's the story of Margaret Hale, who has lived a comfortable life in the Hampshire town of Halstone until her father, a pastor, suddenly decides to renounce his faith and cosy existence and move to the industrial North instead, where he intends to teach poor folk. Margaret and her mother find the move difficult, and the dirt, grime and poverty is a tough challenge after the gentle country ways of their former home. However gradually Margaret makes a few friends, including her father's star pupil, mill-owner John Thornton. However the relationship is an awkward one, and whilst Margaret has no shortage of suitors circumstances conspire against her, and her family is beset by a series of tragedies, during which the friendship with Thornton becomes fractured. Meanwhile poor Margaret becomes more put upon, and eventually moves back down to London to join her family. There are no surprises as to how it will all turn out, and there are definite similarities to Pride and Prejudice, although I prefer John Thornton to Mr Darcy. Both he and Margaret are great characters, convincing and believable and I really cared about both of them, although at times I wished that Margaret would stand up for herself a bit more - she does have her moments however, especially during the riot scene. The book has a surprisingly modern feel to it, and isn't as stodgy as some novels from this era can be, and there was a glossary at the back to help with the dialect. The only thing that let it down a bit, for me, was the rather abrupt ending - the TV series finished in a much better, although more romantic, style, and generally stuck fairly closely to the book. 8/10

The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay - this is a re-issued country house mystery in the British Library Crime classics series, and all the ingredients are present as Sir Osmund Melbury gathers his family - four daughters, one son, his sister and various spouses, grand-children, plus a few others for good measure - for a traditional Christmas celebration. But it's not long before Sir Osmund is found dead, with a bullet in his head, and the main suspect is - Santa himself. But it then transpires that there must have been two Santas - who is the imposter - and who fired the fatal shot? Plus almost the entire family stands to benefit from his death, but it's then revealed that he was in the process of changing his will - so who wanted to stop him from doing so? The local chief inspector, who knows the family well, has his hands full trying to figure it all out. I found this an enjoyable mystery, in the classic country house tradition, although I found it a bit difficult keeping up with who was married to whom, despite the list of characters at the beginning. Nevertheless it's an entertaining read - the only thing that's missing is snow! 7/10

Silent Nights - this is another British Library edition, this time of short stories, mostly set at Christmas and involving a crime of some sort or another. Like many short story collections, I found it a bit hit and miss, with some of the earlier stories, despite being by the likes of Conan Doyle and Margery Allingham, being fairly instantly forgettable. However the second part has some real corkers, my favourite being "Waxworks" which involves a young, ambitious female reporter spending the night in a waxworks museum - two men have already done this, and both died, supposedly from natural causes (neither man was in the best of health) but of course it's rumoured that Something Bad happened to them, so our heroine decides to give it a go, and of course turn it into a feature. But someone at her office has it in for her, and as the night wears on her imagination starts to run away with her. Overall this was an enjoyable book, but a bit of a pick and mix content-wise. 6.5/10

Murder at the Old Vicarage by Jill McGown - cosy country village mystery in which two detectives, Lloyd (you never find out his first name, like Morse) and Judy Hill, have their Christmas interrupted when the local vicar's son-in-law is found dead at the vicarage. He'd been violent towards his wife, so the family are the prime suspects, but the vicar is having a crisis of faith, and finds himself drawn to a young widow, who's recently moved to the village. This was an enjoyable mystery, although the reveal was no big surprise, but apparently it's one of a series, written in the 1980s, and hopefully more will be re-issued. 7/10
Currently reading "Christmas Lights" by Karen Swan


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