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Madeleine's Reads 2022

What have you read in 2021? Post your list here and update it as you go along! (One thread per member, please.)
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Madeleine
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 5805
Joined: August 2008
Currently reading: "Keeping a Christmas Promise" by Jo Thomas
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime, dual time-frame
Location: Essex/London

Re: Madeleine's Reads 2022

Post by Madeleine » Tue October 4th, 2022, 2:27 pm

October

"Shadowplay" by Joseph O'Connor - I had high hopes for this, and started to read as part of a Victober read along with members of another book forum. It's ostensibly the story of how Bram Stoker came to mainland Britain, and found the inspiration for "Dracula", as well as his relationship with Henry Irving, the renowned actor and theatre manager, and Ellen Terry, one of the stars of late Victorian theatre and music. It sounded like a great plan for a novel, but I just couldn't get into the author's writing style, the narrative jumps around, and he indulges in long lists of well, pretty much anything in a room. I was going to give it up to 100 pages, but I gave up on page 60, when the first meeting between Stoker and Irving was written as if it were a play. I basically lost the will to read, a shame as I'm sure it's a great book for anyone who can handle the writing style, but for me it seems a case of an established author being given free rein to be playful; he has won awards for this so good for him, but it's not for me. DNF

"The Doll Factory" by Elizabeth MacNeal- this novel, her debut, is set in the early 1850s, as London prepares for the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park. Caught up in the excitement are two of the three main characters - Iris Whittle, who with her twin sister Rose works in the doll shop of the title, sewing tiny garments and accessories for the dolls sold in the shop. One of the two male protagonists is Silas, a taxidermist (and be warned there are some graphic descriptions) a strange loner who fixates on Iris after a brief exchange when they meet to watch the Crystal Palace being constructed. He already knows her, slightly, from the doll shop as they have a mutual acquaintance, a young lad, Albie, who delivers tiny scraps of material to the doll shop, and also dead creatures to Silas for his work, for he has an exhibit in the Great Exhibition, which he is very excited about. The third wheel is Louis Frost, a fictitious member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who asks Iris to be his model in return for giving her painting and drawing lessons; at first this is all above board and respectable, but Iris is so taken with the artists that she hands in her notice at the doll shop, and takes up lodgings at a respectable boarding house for young ladies. Inevitably she and Louis fall in love, Silas finds out and having been scorned by Iris, turns stalker, and from then on things become more sinister as we find out more about Silas, and his motives become increasingly disturbing. The third party of the book is almost more like a crime novel, with a race against time, and although the tension is well sustained I found the ending quite abrupt, with several loose ends. Overall I thought the book was well-written, it's very Victorian and quite Gothic - taxidermy, laudanum! - but it is also very dark at times. I did enjoy the references to the PRB, and some of the artists do make cameo appearances, and Frost has a pet wombat who provides some light relief (in real life, the artist Rossetti really did have a wombat for a pet), but I can't honestly say I enjoyed it. There is also a lovely poem, presumably written by the author, which alone makes the book a keeper. 7/10 (an extra point for the wombat!).

"A Mask of Shadows" by Oscar de Muriel - this is the 3rd book in the Frey and McGray series and was one of my Victober reads. it's centred around the legendary production of Macbeth which starred Henry Irving and Ellen Terry, with Bram Stoker as the stage manager, but the Edinburgh version of the show is plagued with problems and after being cancelled twice, just as it's about to finally go ahead, a banshee is heard (and seen) and threats written in blood are found in and around the theatre and the city. The threats are obviously aimed at someone involved with the production but it seems that all of them - actors, crew and theatre staff - have a reason to be fearful. Our intrepid duo investigate and only uncover more and more secrets, although initially they think that it is all a publicity stunt to drum up ticket sales, eventually even Frey has to admit that someone is in danger - but who? cue another enjoyable romp, with some genuinely funny moments, a bit of tragedy, and even an appearance from Oscar Wilde. The use of the real people doesn't feel forced though, and they all fit the story naturally. I did think that the book did ramble a bit though, although the last part was gripping and the eventual plot was clever, if a bit convoluted. But this isn't a conventional murder mystery, it's more of a race against time to prevent a murder or murders. Frey's family also appear, much to his horror - he says he would rather face down a banshee than his stepmother! Light touches like that relieve the tension, and it's certainly a breathless finale. 7/10
Currently reading: "Keeping a Christmas Promise" by Jo Thomas.

User avatar
Madeleine
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 5805
Joined: August 2008
Currently reading: "Keeping a Christmas Promise" by Jo Thomas
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime, dual time-frame
Location: Essex/London

Re: Madeleine's Reads 2022

Post by Madeleine » Thu November 10th, 2022, 2:08 pm

November

"Mystery at the Natural History Museum" by Jim Eldridge - this is the 5th in the Museum Detective series, I've read the first one but then skipped to this one as Bram Stoker is one of the supporting characters, and Oscar Wilde, Henry Irving and Ellen Terry also appear, albeit briefly, so it sort of followed on from my last read. It starts with a dinosaur skeleton at the Natural History Museum being smashed, initially it looks like it's the result of a feud between rival fossil supply companies, with one taking umbrage at not being chosen to provide the skeleton for the museum's display. Events take a more serious turn when an attendant is found murdered, and when it turns out the victim was a blackmailer who'd also worked for Stoker at the Lyceum Theatre the net is widened. Our detectives are ex-policeman Daniel and Wilson and his girlfriend and business partner Abigail Weston, who help Daniel's former police colleagues with the investigation. The suspects range from the aristocratic trustees of the museum to the cleaning staff who come in first thing in the morning before the building opens to the public each day, and even Oscar Wilde, who is currently in prison, might be involved somehow. It was a fairly enjoyable book, though it was a little bit dry and not as strongly written as the first book. It's still a good series though, it looks like museums are a hotbed of intrigue! 6.5/10

"The Rock" by L J Ross -this is the 18th book in the DCI Ryan series and tackles the horrible crime of human trafficking. Normally Ryan's team concentrates on murder, so when a woman's body is found on the beach near the landmark Marsden Rock, they are called in, but the wreckage of a trawler nearby, with sets of handcuffs in it's hold, draws them into the world of sex trafficking. They start looking into known gangs believed to be involved in these crimes, but after another death it looks like the mastermind behind it all might be closer to home. This was more hard-hitting than the previous books, but was still a quick read, although the wrapping up of the investigation seemed a bit too cut and dried. 7.5/10

"Bambrugh" by L J Ross - this is the 19th book in the DCI Ryan series and I thought I would read it straight after the previous book so that I would be up to date with this series, as another one is due out soon. It does follow on from "The Rock" in that a character who we first meet in that book takes a much more prominent role in "Bambrugh". The later book carries on a storyline started in "The Rock" in which young policewoman Melanie Yates is trying to find out who murdered her twin sister 15 years ago, as a development in their investigation produces a link to her sister's case. In this book she takes centre stage as she becomes obsessed with finding her sister's killer, so we find out a bit more about Mel and her background, and what led up to her sister's murder, but as she becomes more and more fixed on this, her colleagues start to worry about her. Meanwhile they are busy working on a new murder case, that of an elderly lady in Bambrugh, who was initially thought to have died following a fall down the stairs (yes that old chestnut!), but when it turns out that she was very wealthy with no family, and that quite a few people might want her out of the way as she was campaigning against development in the village, the police have quite a long list of suspects to sort through. The two cases, one new and one a cold case, run alongside each other, and while the book started well enough I thought the final denouements, in both cases, wasn't very convincing, with one final reveal in particular being downright daft, and the other not very convincing. So overall slightly disappointing, and
.6.5/10
Currently reading: "Keeping a Christmas Promise" by Jo Thomas.

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